Jura did not move.
“Rowan,” Cilean said as he moved toward Jura.
Rowan walked toward Jura, his hand outstretched. “May I give you a kiss of luck?” he asked softly.
She recovered herself. “You have kissed enough for tonight,” she spat at him.
It infuriated her that he chuckled. “I have something of yours,” he said, and held out her knife. She snatched it from him, careful not to touch his fingertips. “Do I get no thanks for its return?”
Jura was suddenly aware of Cilean standing a little behind Rowan and listening intently to this exchange. “I must go,” she said. “Stay and wish Cilean luck.” She turned away and fled from the two of them.
She was blind from her anger and did not see or hear Daire until he caught her. Thinking he was Rowan, she struggled fiercely until she realized Daire was holding her.
“Who has harmed you?” he asked, fury in his voice. “What are you running from?”
She clung to him. No one paid them the least attention as many couples were embracing drunkenly and the noise of their singing and brawling was deafening.
“Come,” Daire said, and led her away to a farrier’s lean-to. It was quieter with only a horse for company. “What has happened?”
She put her arms around his neck. “Nothing. Nothing at all, just hold me, kiss me.” He kissed her but it didn’t rid Rowan from her mind. “Tomorrow Cilean will win and be married to the Englishman. Could we be married tomorrow also?”
Daire was frowning at her. “Why this sudden interest in me and my kisses? Why do you want to act like a woman?”
She pushed him away. “But I am a woman. Because I do not dress as Thal’s English daughter doesn’t mean I am less of a woman.”
“I know you, Jura. I have known you since you were a child. Your emotions do not rule your head.”
“They haven’t until now!” she yelled at him, then pushed away from him and began running back to the barracks.
Cilean was waiting for her and she was very, very angry. “You plan to win for yourself, don’t you?” Cilean said with controlled fury. “He kissed me, but he thought I was you. Behind my back you have wooed him and lied to me. You have never been my friend. Our friendship is nothing but lies.”
Cilean slammed from the room, leaving Jura alone and trembling. He had done this. Since he had come to Lanconia, everything in her life had changed: Thal hated her, Cilean hated her, Daire was suspicious of her.
The only way to prove to them all that she was not deceitful was to make sure that Cilean won tomorrow. Cilean would win and Jura would be free of Rowan. She could marry Daire and he would keep her nights so busy that she would think of no other man. Her attraction to Rowan was only physical, and it was no wonder since she was a virginal eighteen-year-old woman. What she needed was a strong, healthy man in bed beside her and she could forget this soft Englishman.
Soft, she thought. If he were soft, she wouldn’t have had the trouble she had now.
As she undressed for bed, she resolved to fight to the death if need be in order to win for Cilean. She and Cilean would be pitted together with the poles and the moment Cilean so much as lifted her pole, Jura would fall down, vanquished, the loser.
This time tomorrow Cilean would again be her friend and Daire would be her husband. This time tomorrow she would no longer be a maiden.
IN THE MORNING Cilean looked tired and refused to speak to Jura. Jura tried to reassure her friend but Cilean turned away.
The women marched to the field and Jura could feel her blood pumping with anger. Her arms would be torn from their sockets before she lost an event.
The lots were drawn and to her horror Cilean drew Mealla in the wrestling match. The other contestants were visibly relieved, especially because Mealla didn’t seem to realize that the matches were games. She played to win.
Jura tried to whisper encouragement to Cilean, but Cilean glared at her. “This should please you. Now you will be queen. Do you mean to poison Rowan and give the throne to your brother? Or is it Rowan himself that you want?”
Jura straightened her spine. “If you cannot beat a Zerna, you do not deserve to be queen.” She moved away from a scowling Cilean.
On this last day she had to win only three times and the last game would be against Cilean—if Cilean won the wrestle. If Cilean lost, then Jura would have to fight Mealla, and Jura knew that, win or lose, she would not like the outcome of that match. She would become Rowan’s wife or Mealla would become queen.
Cilean had to win.
Jura won the first three games easily. She outran one of the Irial trainees then placed six arrows in the dead center of the target to beat a Fearen girl who had surprisingly made it to the finals. The third game was harder: she had to leap a pole set high above the ground. She made it but just barely. She nearly wept with relief when the heavier Zerna woman knocked the pole down and so lost the match.