Still no one moved. Montgomery whispered, “What’s wrong with them?”
Xante, as if he were walking in his sleep, very slowly dismounted his horse. His movements amid the absolute stillness seemed dramatic and of great significance. Rowan watched him, wondering what this man planned now to make his contempt known.
To Rowan’s utter astonishment, Xante moved to stand in front of him, dropped to his knees, bowed his head, and said, “Long live Prince Rowan.”
Rowan looked over his head to Lora, who still sat on her horse. Lora looked as bewildered as Rowan felt.
“Long live Prince Rowan,” someone else said, then another, and soon the chant became a shout.
Watelin, Rowan’s knight, a most sensible man, came forward. “Shall we get the wagons through, sire, before the fools decide you’re a demon instead of a god?”
Rowan laughed, but before he could answer, Xante was on his feet, glaring at Watelin.
“He is our prince,” Xante said, “our Lanconian prince. We will take his wagons through.” Xante turned and started bellowing orders to the guardsmen and peasants alike.
Rowan shrugged and mounted his horse as he smiled at Lora. “It seems that opening a rusty old gate was the right thing to do. Shall we enter our kingdom, dear sister?”
“Princess sister, if you don’t mind,” Lora said, laughing.
Inside the walls, men and women of the guard stood quietly with their heads bowed as Rowan and Lora passed them. Rowan searched each face, hoping for a sight of Jura, but she was nowhere to be seen.
At the front of the old stone fortress, Rowan helped Lora dismount. “Shall we go to meet our father?” he asked, and Lora nodded.
JURA WAS THE only person on the long training field. There were targets for lance and bow practice at either end, bare patches for wrestling practice, a foot-race course, obstacles for jumping. Now, with one lone woman on the field, it looked enormous. The other guardswomen had rushed back to the city when a runner had come to say the new prince was approaching.
“Prince, ha!” Jura muttered, and heaved her javelin at the target and hit it square in the middle. He was English and he wanted to take her brother’s rightful place on the throne. At least she was comforted by the knowledge that all Lanconia agreed with her. For once, all the tribes were united in something: this Englishman was no more their king than the English Edward was.
At a sound behind her, she whirled, her javelin aloft. The point stood ready at Daire’s throat.
“Too late,” he said, smiling. “I could have used a bow from the edge of the field. You should not be here alone with no one standing guard.”
“Daire, oh Daire,” she cried, and flung her arms about his neck. “I have missed you very, very, very much.” She wanted to touch him, hold him, kiss him—and rid herself of the memory of the man by the river. Last night she had awakened with her body drenched in sweat and all she could think of was that stranger, a man she had never seen before, a peasant for all she knew, some muscular woodcutter on his way home to his wife and brats. “Kiss me,” she pleaded.
Daire kissed her, but it wasn’t the same as the kiss of the man in the forest. She felt no burning desire, no uncontrollable lust. She opened her mouth under his and put her tongue in his mouth.
Daire drew back, a frown on his face. He was a handsome man with his dark eyes and high cheekbones, but he wasn’t as handsome as the man in the woods, Jura thought involuntarily.
“What is wrong?” Daire asked huskily.
Jura dropped her arms and turned away to hide her red face, afraid he might read her thoughts. “I have missed you, that is all. Can’t a woman greet her intended with enthusiasm?” Daire was silent for so long that she turned to look at him. They had been reared together. Daire was of the Vatell tribe, and on a raid led by Thal, Daire’s father had killed Jura’s father. Thal had killed Daire’s father, then the twelve-year-old boy had attacked Thal with a rock and a broken lance. Thal had slung the boy over his saddle and taken him back to Escalon. Since Jura’s mother had died two weeks before, Thal took in Jura and Thal’s son Geralt and supervised the education and training of all three children. Jura, only five at the time, and feeling lost and lonely at the loss of both her parents in so short a time, had clung to the tall, silent Daire. As they grew up she never stopped clinging to him. But just because she had spent most of her life near him didn’t mean she could tell what he was thinking.
“Has he come?” she asked, wanting to make him stop looking at her as he had when she was six and had eaten some dried fruit of his then lied when he asked her if she knew who had stolen it.
“He has come,” Daire said softly, still watching her.
“And did the people hiss at him? Did they let this English usurper know what they thought of him? Did they—”
“He opened St. Helen’s Gate.”
Jura let out a guffaw. “With how many horses? Thal will not be pleased when he hears how his cowardly son—”
“He opened it with his palms.”
Jura stared at Daire.
“He wanted the gate open so he could get his wagons through, so he ordered his men to use a battering ram. It had no effect, so Prince Rowan put his palms against the gate and prayed for God to help him. The gate swung open.”