“Go!” Jura snapped. “You have caused enough trouble. Tomorrow you may thank our king for your life.”
Reluctantly, Geralt turned away, up the path to look for the others.
“Jura, I am not hurt so much,” Rowan said softly. “You can bandage me and I can travel.”
Tenderly, she used Rowan’s knife to cut away his tunic and examine the shoulder wound he had received from an ax blade.
Rowan put his hand to her face. “You have called me king and Lanconian. Do you mean to say that you love me? Do you hope for my death so that you may marry Daire?”
She looked long and hard into his blue eyes. “I was raised by Thal to think of war first and I loved Daire because he caused me no conflict of interest. With Daire I would have chosen Lanconia over my marriage. But you have always confused me. You have shown me real love: a love for my country that goes beyond war and a love for a man that is…”
“A love that permeates me.” She put both hands on his face. “Rowan, my husband, if you were to die, I think my soul should die too. For every drop of blood that comes from your wound, my heart sheds an equal amount. This…this pain I feel when I am near you, I did not know it was love.”
He kissed her softly. “I feel I have earned your love, Jura. I have suffered and bled and withstood great abuse to gain your love.”
“That is not so,” she protested, then a bit of a smile touched her lips. “It has been worth it?”
“Yes,” he said softly. “I thought I wanted a woman like…like these Ultens, who would soften my life, but you are more than a wife to me. You have helped me, Jura. You have helped me to understand the Irial way.”
She pulled back from him. “Helped you? I have kept you from being killed. You would never have done what you have without me. If I hadn’t been unconscious, I would not have let you enter this Ulten city alone. You trust too much. You believe everyone is full of goodness.”
“Except you, Jura. You’re full of fire and brimstone and you take credit for everything. I am the one who has united Lanconia. I am—”
“With my help,” she said loudly.
Suddenly, Rowan smiled. “I guess we work well together. Perhaps we should continue to work together. Now are you going to let me bleed to death or are we going to stay here and let that stupid brother of yours go after Brita and start a war?”
“Geralt is not stupid. He is…”
“Yes?” Rowan asked, one eyebrow raised.
“Perhaps we should give him a tiny corner of Lanconia and tell him it is his own kingdom. He could cause much trouble to us as we unite the rest of the tribes, and we don’t want him angering the Zerna men when we give them the Ulten women.” She began tearing the bottom off her tunic to bandage Rowan’s shoulder.
“What! Give those sweet little Ulten women to the Zerna men?”
“Those ‘sweet’ women as you call them nearly worked Cilean and me to death, and one of them took a whip to me.”
“Yes, but—” he protested, but Jura kissed him, and, as always, he thought of nothing else, not Lanconia or the Irials or where Brita was. He had loved Jura from the first moment he saw her and he would always love her. And now they had years ahead to unite the tribes and to love and argue. He smiled against her lips and hugged her to him. He was happy
Over the top of the ridge came Cilean and Daire, and they paused when they heard the raised voices of Rowan and Jura.
Cilean smiled. “I think they are unhurt.”
“Jura loves him,” Daire said, and there was finality in his voice but no regret. “I think she would give her life for him.”
Cilean looked at Daire. “It hurts you to have lost her so completely?”
“I feel like a protective older brother losing an adoring little sister. I know now that Jura and I never…lusted for one another.” He smiled in memory. “Not like the Ulten women.”
“So!” Cilean said coldly. “You like those soft women who do not know a sword from a hair comb?”
Daire looked at her in surprise, then his eyes warmed. “Cilean, I love the way your breasts move when you throw a lance. Shall we go down to our king and queen? The sooner we get out of here and find Brita, the sooner you and I can get married.”
He started walking down the hill, but it took Cilean a moment to recover herself. Then, smiling hugely, she followed Daire.