“My blood boils for Jura,” Rowan answered firmly. “Call the Honorium.”
Thal nodded. “It will be done, but stay away from her. Let no one know of your intention to win her. You do not know what anger you will stir up if you slight Brita’s son. I will say the Honorium is to show your intention of being fair to all the tribes. All the tribes will have a chance to put a queen on the throne. Now, you must go. Send Siomun to me so that I may announce the Honorium.”
“I thought perhaps you would like to see your daughter and your grandson.”
Thal’s eyes widened. “Lora? The infant girl I left behind? She is with you?”
“Yes, and she brought her son Phillip. He’s a clever child.”
“Not as clever as you were as a child, I’ll wager,” Thal said, smiling. “Yes, do send them in. I just pray Lora wants no unsuitable man.”
Rowan smiled. “I don’t think so, although she seems somewhat taken with Xante.”
Thal laughed until he began to cough. “That ol’ war horse? Ah, that would be a good match. He has never been married and it would take a woman of great fire to melt his old heart.”
“Lora can do it if anyone can.” Rowan rose, then on impulse lifted his father’s hand and kissed it. “I regret…I regret that—”
“No!” Thal said sharply. “No regrets. You are what I prayed every night you would be: you are of no tribe. You are a Lanconian king who has loyalty to no particular tribe. You can unite the country. I just hope the wife by your side—No, no regrets. Send my daughter to me, and the boy.”
“Yes, my father,” Rowan said, and started to leave the room.
“Son,” Thal called, “get Siomun to give you some proper clothes so you won’t look like an Englishman.”
Rowan nodded and left the room.
Outside Thal’s room, Rowan leaned against the dark stone wall and closed his eyes, feeling the enormity of the burden of faith his father was placing on him. He had always thought he was to be king of a single country, but now he found he was to unite six tribes who hated each other, six tribes who stole from each other, killed each other without guilt. He took a moment to pray for guidance from God. He would do the best he could and rely on God for help. And Jura, he thought, opening his eyes. Jura would be there to help him too. He made his way through the dark corridor and stopped when he heard Lora’s voice raised in anger, followed by Xante’s deep chuckle.
“If I may interrupt,” Rowan said, “our father would like to see you and Phillip and, Xante, could you find someone named Siomun for me?”
“Yes, my lord,” Xante said reverently, and walked away.
“First Siomun,” Rowan whispered, “then Jura.” He followed Xante, whistling.
Jura left the training field with regret but the young man who had come to her said she was needed urgently. It seemed odd that she was needed in the stables, but lately everything had been odd. Ever since Thal had sent for his English son, her world had turned upside down. She would go now and find out who wanted her, then she would find Geralt and offer him what comfort she could.
The stables were dark and empty of people
. She thought with disgust that now the Zerna could attack and win because of the disorganization of the Irial.
“Hello?” she called but no one answered. She drew her knife as her suspicions rose and began to creep slowly along the hall, her back to the horses’ stalls.
As cautious as she was, she was not prepared for the hand that shot out and clamped about her mouth. Another strong arm knocked the knife from her hand and she was pulled back into the darkness of a horse stall.
She began to struggle but, as if her strength were nothing, the man turned her about in his arms and clutched her body to his. Even though she couldn’t see his face in the darkness, her body told her it was him.
When his mouth swooped down on hers, she responded with all the passion she felt. Since yesterday she had told herself that her reaction to this handsome stranger was a fluke, something that could not happen again. It had been the time and the place. She had been lonely for Daire, and, too, when she saw the man, both of them had been half naked. It was no wonder she had reacted as she did. She had also minimized the passion she had felt. It was natural to feel so good at the kiss of such a good-looking man.
But Jura had forgotten her feelings by half. She had not remembered the way she felt in this man’s arms, the way her body weakened and quivered at his touch.
When he lifted his head, her arms were about his neck, her fingers entangled in his hair—and she wanted more of him.
“Jura,” he whispered, and his voice seemed to penetrate her. “We will be together now,” he murmured against her lips.
She opened her mouth against his, like a flower opening to a bee, wanting her pollen to be taken. Together meant making love, and she was ready for him. She did not think of the consequences or where they were. For all she cared, they could be in the midst of a banquet hall.
She opened her legs a bit, pressed her hips against his, and let him hold her upright as he supported her weight.
“My love,” he whispered, kissing hungrily at her neck as if he were trying to eat her skin. “We will be together. I have arranged it.”