“Such as your knife?” Cilean asked pointedly, nodding toward Jura’s empty scabbard.
“I…I fell in the dark,” Jura said haltingly, the blood rushing to her cheeks as she again remembered the man in the stable. “I will go back and find my knife. You go to this feast and I will see you in the morning.” Jura left Cilean’s room quickly, before Cilean began asking more questions about Jura’s knife and the marks on her neck the man had made.
Just the thought of the man made Jura’s body begin to warm and she was glad for the cool darkness that hid her red face.
The knife was not in the stables and she knew without a doubt that he had it. She leaned against the stall a moment and closed her eyes and cursed herself for being such a fool. Twice she had met this crude oaf and had fallen into his arms like a woman of the streets, yet she didn’t know his name or even his station in life. For all she knew he was one of the slaves who worked in the city. Except that he was clean and the Irial language he spoke in that deep, smooth voice of his was perfectly pronounced, not like the foreign slaves’ guttural attempts at the language.
He could cause her trouble, she thought. He could use the knife as blackmail. The knife was marked with her sign of two lions rampant and people would know it was hers. He had merely to show it to Daire—what had he said?—Brita’s son. If Daire saw her knife in another man’s possession, there could be trouble between the Vatells and the Irials.
“Fool!” she cursed herself aloud. “You are a stupid, loose-skirted fool who does not deserve to be a guard.” She left the stables still cursing herself.
JURA DIDN’T SLEEP much that night, and before dawn Geralt’s pounding on the door made her pull on her tunic and trousers and shove the bolt back. Ger
alt strode in angrily.
“Have you seen him?” Geralt demanded. “He has bewitched my father. Because he opened a rusty gate, my father thinks he is capable of anything. I should have pushed that gate open years ago.”
Jura, still groggy with sleep, blinked at her brother. Geralt was a dark man in a tribe of dark men, his black hair about his shoulders, his heavy black brows nearly meeting now as he frowned, the dark skin of his lips twisted in anger.
Geralt slammed his fist into his palm. “Already he talks of roads and of—” He broke off, sounding as if he were choking on the words. “He talks of trade fairs. How does he think we Lanconians survived against those who have tried to invade us? We allow no one in—not Vikings, not Huns, and most of all not those wily merchants. Who knows whether they carry an army in their wagons? Yet this…this usurper wants to open our borders to them. He will wipe us out within ten years.”
Geralt paused to draw breath but did not allow Jura to speak. “He has Brocain’s son, yet he protects the boy as if he were his own child. I say we hang the pup, and when Brocain attacks, we kill him. Zerna are our enemy. We must protect ourselves.”
“Open our borders?” Jura murmured. “I had not heard this. We will cease to exist. We will be swallowed by invaders.” It was but one more in a growing list of reasons why the Englishman should not be king. Thal’s mind was as sick as his body. She looked at Geralt. But here at last was someone who agreed with her, someone who did not think this Englishman was a second cousin to God.
“Yes, but Thal does not see it. I tried to talk to him this morning but he ordered me from his room.” Geralt’s head came up. “You have heard of the Honorium? Do you realize that we could have a foreign queen in our midst? I hear Brocain has daughters. What if one of them won?”
Jura could only stare at her brother in horror. She had not thought of this.
Geralt came to sit by her on the bed and put his arm about her shoulders. “Winning is in your hands.”
“Me?” she asked, confused.
“You must see that Cilean wins the man. You must enter the Honorium and fight as you have never fought before. You must defeat all comers until it is you against Cilean.”
“Yes,” Jura said, nodding. “Cilean will fight for him.”
Geralt gave a look of disgust. “She looks at the man with dreamy eyes. She cannot see him clearly, cannot hear what he says.”
Immediately, Jura defended her friend. “Cilean is a guard. She must see that he is a fool.”
“Cilean is also a woman and she sees him as if she were a girl just coming of age.” He raised one eyebrow. “Have you seen him yet?”
“No, but what can I see that will change what I know about him?”
“He is pale-skinned with pale hair and some of the women seem to be taken with him. They think with their bodies instead of their minds.” He was watching her closely.
She glared at him. “And you think I might be one of these women?” she said with all the contempt she felt. “I don’t care if he is as handsome as the god Naos, he will not change my mind. He has no right to be King of Lanconia.”
“Good!” Geralt said, slapping her on the back as if she were one of his guard and making her fall forward. “My father asks that you come to the castle and be presented to this imposter prince. The king was distressed that you did not attend the feast last night.”
“Did Thal go?” She was surprised.
“He cannot bear to let his English son out of his sight.” Geralt turned away for a moment and Jura knew he was trying to conceal his anguish at the way Thal was displaying his love for this son whom he had not seen since Rowan was a child. Geralt had always worshiped his father but Thal had not thought enough of his son to make him king.
Geralt turned back to his sister and he was calmer. “We have to protect Lanconia. Whatever this man does to thwart us, we have to protect the country the best way we can by working around him. First we must put an Irial queen beside him. We cannot allow a queen of another tribe to infiltrate Escalon. She would bring foreign retainers and they would open gates at night and bribe guards. No, we must stop it before it begins. We must put Cilean on the throne. Do you believe you can win against the challengers?”