Jura’s eyes bulged in rage. “How much you are sacrificing for us!” she half yelled.
Rowan tried to take her in his arms but she twisted away. “Jura, please trust me.”
“Like you trusted the Ultens? You went off with these little women and left Cilean and me and Brita to rot.”
“That’s not true,” he began, “I—” Rowan was confused and pleased by Jura at the same time. She was hissing at him like a jealous woman. No coolheaded guardswoman was attacking him. She was an angry wife who thought her husband was sleeping with other women. She really did care more for him than for Lanconia.
“Rowan!” Daire said urgently. “We must go. Marek will hear of this if we do not go soon. He will have all of us killed.”
Rowan moved away from Jura with regret. Never had he wanted her so much as now. He was tempted to abdicate to Geralt and get out of Lanconia. He’d take Jura with him back to England. Even as he thought this, he knew it wasn’t possible. “Give me two days,” he whispered. “I will have you out of here in two days.”
He left, and in the stillness he left behind, Cilean tried to talk to Jura, but she was too angry to listen. She felt betrayed one minute and the next she knew Rowan should have gone with the Ultens and left the Irial women behind. She was too confused to sleep. If she had married Daire, she would never have expected their marriage to stand in the way of what was good for Lanconia. So why did it enrage her when Rowan chose Lanconia over her?
Before dawn she went to the doorway to look at the silhouette of Marek’s great palace, and the thought of Rowan inside and perhaps lying with another woman made
her furious. But the way she was thinking was English, not Lanconian. And this was not the way it was supposed to be. She was supposed to think first of Lanconia, not of herself.
She leaned her head against the coolness of the stone doorway and tried to think clearly. But she could not. All she knew was that she wanted Rowan back. She did not want to wait until he grew tired of his Ulten women or until her arrogant brother had had enough. She was willing to make a wager that Geralt had never given a thought to what had happened to Cilean and Jura, much less Brita, who had humiliated him. Geralt had never had much compassion for others.
When Jura had thought Rowan was dead, she regretted that she had never had a chance to help him with Lanconia. Now she was being given that chance.
“Jura,” Cilean said softly, “have you been awake all night?”
Jura turned bright eyes on her friend. “We are going to get ourselves out of here,” she said. “And we are going to use Rowan’s English weapons: words. We are not going to kill and maim, we are going to do worse. We are going to tell these women what old Marek has kept from them, that there are men, hundreds of men, out there, and that each woman can have her own man and all the male children she wants.”
“But we don’t speak the Ulten language,” Cilean said, “and Rowan said he’d get us out in two days. Shouldn’t we do what he wants?”
“We’re going to help him,” Jura said firmly.
There was only one of the women guards who spoke the Irial language and it took Jura a while to get her to listen. She kept telling Jura to get back to work. But at midmorning every woman in sight came to a halt as Marek came down the street, lounging in a carriage, four beautiful young women hovering near him. Marek was old, fat, dirty, toothless, and ugly.
Behind him in two other carriages came Rowan, Daire, Geralt, and the Fearens. Jura could feel the quiver of excitement run through the women as they looked at these strong, healthy, virile men. Jura clenched her fists at her sides as Rowan went by. A pretty little Ulten was practically sitting in his lap.
“How weak those men look,” Jura said as if suppressing a yawn.
The little Ulten who spoke Irial looked at her in surprise.
“In my country we women wouldn’t look at such men, we would send them away,” Jura said as if greatly bored. “Can we return to work now? I would rather work than look at such weaklings as those.”
Jura could feel that she had the woman’s attention, and when she heard the woman whispering to the others, she knew it was going to work.
Not long afterward she and Cilean were back at hauling rocks from a field when the Ulten woman began asking questions about where Jura lived, and, specifically, about the men there.
Jura wiped the sweat from her brow, leaned on her pike, and began to talk of marriages between one man and one woman. She had to pause while this was translated and to allow the women to gasp over this idea.
By sundown she and Cilean were sitting under separate trees in the shade and drinking cool fruit juices while spinning stories about the hundreds of available men in the rest of Lanconia. The Ultens especially loved to hear of the strong Zerna men who had only ugly, big women.
Jura answered all their questions, even the ones about how the Irial men could possibly like women as tall as Jura and Cilean. “They manage,” Jura said with a forced smile.
That night she slept more easily than she had since being captured.
In the morning there were over a hundred women waiting for her and Cilean outside the building, and they did nothing all day except talk. Most of the women were young and did not remember when there had been men available, so Jura’s talk seemed like a fairy tale to them.
On this second day Jura did not just talk of the men of other tribes, but began to talk of the Ulten men and how unfair it was that the women had to worship them and obey them because of their scarcity. Jura told them of her own defiance of her husband, not mentioning that Rowan was her husband. The women had her repeat a few episodes in disbelief.
“And he loves you still?” one woman asked through an interpreter. “You do not have to be perfect to keep a man? He does not cast you out if you are not kind and loving and sweet-tempered at all times?”
“You can say what you actually think without fear of punishment?”