Suddenly, Rowan grew fearful. What would a power-hungry woman like Brita do to a child like Jura who was in her way?
As silently as he could, he began to follow Brita. As he moved around a tree, he halted then hid. Brita was talking in a secret way to one of her guard. The man nodded and disappeared into the trees while Brita went back to the camp.
Rowan followed the guard. The man slipped through the trees along the edge of the camp and watched the people in the camp. He stopped and crouched and Rowan moved to see what this man saw. Jura was in plain view as she moved among the Vatell people.
Rowan watched in horror as the guardsman drew a bow and arrow and took aim at Jura. Rowan did not think of the consequences of what he did; he only acted. He drew his knife, threw it, and sank it into the back of the man’s neck.
The Vatell guard fell dead without a sound.
Rowan knew he had to get rid of the man’s body quickly. He pulled his knife out of the man, picked up the body, draping it over his shoulder, and ran toward a small stream. He managed to hide the body under a rotting log. After checking that no part of the dead man was exposed, he went back to camp.
Brita was waiting for him, and although her lips smiled, her eyes glittered angrily. “You were gone a long while.”
He grinned boyishly. “I saw my wife,” he said honestly, hoping to diffuse her with the truth. “I had to soothe her.”
“And how did you soothe her?”
He moved closer to Brita. “The way I always soothe women. With my arms and my lips. Is that not the way you like to be soothed? Tell me now so I’ll know when we are married.”
“Are we to be married? If you spend your time with your wife, perhaps—”
Rowan leaned forward and kissed her. He could feel the woman’s excitement and he would have been flattered except that he knew she wanted him as a king and not as a man. “Jura is the sister of a man some say should be king. If she is angered, or worse yet, if she is harmed in any way, Geralt would raise an army. I do not want us to be killed before we have even tried to unite the tribes.”
Brita frowned. “Perhaps,” she said, “but I do not like to share what is mine.” Her head came up. “I must see to something,” she said, and hurried away.
Rowan closed his eyes for a moment. No doubt she was going to see if her guardsman had killed Jura as she had ordered. He wondered what she would think when Jura was alive and the guard was nowhere to be found. No doubt she would know exactly what had happened or at least she would suspect.
How right Jura had been, Rowan thought with a sickness in his stomach. She had warned him from the beginning of Brita’s treachery, but he had been so sure that he had known what he was doing that he had gone alone into Vatell land. Now his own life and Jura’s were in danger. They were sitting in the midst of their enemy and leading them toward the unsuspecting Irials.
Jura was right: Rowan had led them to this by his arrogance and superiority.
Now he had to get them out of this. He had to quell Brita’s suspicions long enough to get them closer to Irial land, then he and Jura could escape. Or perhaps he could somehow hold off Brita until after the Irials and Vatells had married, but however he did it, he must make Brita think he wanted her if he was to keep Jura safe.
His insides clutched together. And that meant he could not meet Jura tonight and spend the night with her. He had to stay within sight of Brita or she might send someone else to kill Jura.
Wearily, Rowan mounted his horse. It was time to ride.
JURA MADE SURE Rowan saw her leave the camp that night and she did not go far, but he did not come to her. She moved to sit where she could watch B
rita’s tent. Rowan had entered but he had not left.
She tried to control her rage by telling herself that she never expected him to keep his word, but it didn’t help her much. At dawn her eyes were red and her heart felt as if it had turned to stone.
She mounted her horse to ride and twice she felt Rowan’s eyes on her, but she didn’t look at him.
At midday she saw Rowan dancing attendance on Brita, popping a morsel of bread in her mouth. When Rowan looked up and saw Jura, she turned away.
That night was their last night before reaching Irial land. Jura tried to keep her mind empty of thoughts as she settled into her blankets to sleep. She was awakened in the middle of the night by one hand held over her mouth and another one clamped on her right hand, in which she already held her knife.
“It is me,” Rowan said into her ear.
Jura increased her struggles and was pleased when she heard a painful exhale of breath from Rowan, but the next moment she lost consciousness as Rowan’s fist clipped her jaw.
She woke to find herself lying on the bank of a stream, Rowan pressing a cold cloth to her face. She started to rise but he pushed her back to the ground.
“Jura, please be quiet. Does your head hurt?”