“And he could take a few hundred Irials with him,” Jura said. “A noble purpose will not save their lives when Brita attacks them.”
“Perhaps she won’t. Pe
rhaps God will help King Rowan as He did when he opened the gate.”
“What?” Jura gasped. “God does not protect bad leaders, he kills them and their followers off. Cilean, you cannot have completely lost your mind. You cannot believe Brita will allow three hundred Irials to cross her borders and send them greetings—except in the form of arrows.”
“I am going with him,” Cilean said. “I heard his shouting to you that he would go alone to her first and I am going with him. You know I spent three years as a Vatell captive and I know a way to get to Brita’s city through the forest.”
“You will be killed,” Jura whispered.
“It is a chance I have to take because what he wants to do is right. And, Jura, mark my words, he will try to do it whether I go with him or not. You should have seen him on the way to Escalon. He rode up to those three Zerna boys as if God had put a protective cloak about his shoulders. And he faced Brocain without a guard, and he demanded that Brocain give him his eldest son. And Brocain obeyed him. Jura, you should have seen him.”
Jura shook her head. “I see him every day and I see the way he makes no attempt to learn our ways but insists we learn his.”
“That’s not true. He knows our language, our history. He dresses like us and—”
“He dresses in clothes my mother made for Thal.”
Cilean stepped forward. “Jura, please listen to me. Give the man a chance. Maybe he can unite the tribes. Think of it! Think of being free to ride without a guard. He talks of trading goods instead of stealing.” Her voice lowered. “And think of trading with other countries. We could wear silk like his sister Lora.”
“Jura, please,” Cilean begged.
“What can I do to help? He can go dancing with Brita for all I care. I just don’t want him leading my people into slaughter.”
“Go with us.”
“What?” Jura yelled. “Go sneaking about where I shouldn’t be and sacrifice my life to the dreams of some fool of an Englishman I don’t even like?”
“Yes,” Cilean said. “It is our only chance. If we can get Brita alone and let him talk to her, I think she might listen. I think the man could talk a mule out of its skin.”
Jura leaned back against the stone wall. If she went with him, it would surely mean her death. No one could sneak up to Brita’s city and capture the Vatell queen without being caught—and tortured.
But what if they won? What if by some twist of fate they were able to get to Brita and allow this silver-tongued king to talk to her? Could Rowan persuade her to send her young men and women to marry the Irials?
“Think how strong we would be,” Cilean said. “If we united only the Irials and the Vatells, we would have twice the strength of any other tribe.”
“Don’t tell Geralt that,” Jura said, and wished she hadn’t. It sounded a bit like she wasn’t loyal to her brother. “Have you talked to the Englishman yet? Who else would go besides the three of us?”
“Daire, of course,” Cilean said. “Brita hasn’t seen her son since he was a boy. She won’t hurt him.”
“Unless she considers him more Irial than Vatell. Who else?”
“That should be enough,” Cilean said. “We don’t want a crowd. The fewer we are, the quieter we will be. Now, shall we tell Rowan? That is, if we can get him away from the women. Perhaps it’s good I’m not married to him because I think my jealousy would overwhelm me.”
Jura looked out the doorway. The sunlight on Rowan’s hair made him easy to see, but now he was surrounded by pretty young girls who couldn’t seem to resist touching this blond king. Rowan had that innocent look men wear when they want to appear helpless so they can get whatever they want from a woman.
“Jealous of a gaggle of silly girls?” Jura said under her breath. “It will take more than that to make me jealous. Come, let us tell him our plan—our last plan on earth—before he starts talking again and persuades a hundred mothers to abandon their babies to follow him.”
Rowan’s blue eyes almost turned black. “The earth will open up and deliver its dead,” he said softly. “The sky will rain blood. The trees will wither and blacken. The stones will turn to bread before I go sneaking into Brita’s camp accompanied by two women and my wife’s former lover.”
Jura gave Cilean an I-told-you-so look.
“Rowan, please,” Cilean said, “listen to me. I know the way through the forest. Daire is Brita’s son and Jura is strong and agile and—”
“A woman!” he shouted. They were inside Jura’s aunt’s house away from curious ears. “Don’t you Lanconians know the difference between men and women? A woman cannot fight.”