But twenty miles from the walled city of Escalon lived the main population of Irials. When a guardsman or woman chose a mate, he/she came from these people. The guards were chosen from these people, and after they were trained, they were sent back to the village to watch and protect the Irials from invasion. In these few square miles was the only serenity an Irial was likely to know. Here children played and women sang and crops were harvested. Here fabric was woven, garments embroidered, and here the sick and old were given comfort and peace. Thousands of the Irial guard had died to protect this place.
Jura rode beside Xante for most of the way but she heard Phillip beginning to complain, so she turned back to the wagon. “Would you like to ride with me?” she asked the boy, and he looked at Lora for permission.
Lora looked as if she were fighting against herself. She turned her head away then gave a curt nod.
Phillip practically leaped into Jura’s arms as she pulled him into the saddle before her. For the rest of the journey she told him stories of the old gods of Lanconia, gods who fought and feuded, gods who had more character than the Christian God Jesus who never so much as spoke back to his mother.
“Why do you hold this pup?” Geralt demanded of her angrily as he reined his horse beside hers. “Do you grow soft toward the English?”
“He’s a child,” Jura said.
“Boys grow into men.”
She gave him a look of disgust. “He is no threat to you. He has no pretensions to your throne.”
Geralt gave the boy a hostile look and rode away.
“I don’t like him,” Phillip whispered.
“Of course you do. He is to be King of Lanconia and he will make a very good king.”
“My uncle Rowan is the king and he is the best king.”
“We shall see about that.”
It was night when the travelers arrived at the village and the wagons had to be ferried across the river, as did the horses and passengers.
The people, bearing torches, came out to greet them and see this Englishman who called himself king.
Many of Jura’s relatives ran forward to greet her. Her status had risen high since she had won the Honorium and married the king.
“What is he like?” they whispered. “Has he given you a child yet?” “Is he as handsome as Daire?” “As strong as Thal?”
They stopped talking when Rowan walked up behind her and Jura saw the eyes of some of her cousins turn liquid. There was a collective sigh.
Jura smiled at them and even felt a little pride. She turned her smile on Rowan. “May I introduce you to my family?” she asked him politely.
Later, Jura’s aunt escorted them to a room in her house. It was a small room and there was only one bed and no window seat.
Rowan seemed very quiet.
“The journey tired you?” she asked.
“No,” he said softly. “It was good of you to care for Phillip. I believe the boy is beginning to worship you.”
“He is a pleasant child and eager to learn. Perhaps he is more Lanconian than I thought.” He was sitting on the edge of the bed and removing his cross garters, and he seemed to be worried about something. It was on the tip of her tongue to ask what was wrong but she didn’t. It would be better to stay apart from this man who was her husband only temporarily.
“I assume I am not to sleep with you,” she said.
“What? No, I guess not. There are furs. I’ll make my bed on the floor. You take the bed.”
Jura frowned and removed her boots and trousers and slid into the big, empty bed. She lay awake while Rowan settled himself on the floor in the furs. The air seemed to be charged and she could not go to sleep.
“The moon is bright,” she whispered.
Rowan did not say a word and she thought perhaps he was asleep.
“Jura,” he said softly.