The Maiden (Montgomery/Taggert 12) - Page 35

“Why are you here?” he snapped.

“You ordered me here,” she said patiently. “You had your insolent Englishmen take me from the women’s quarters, with my belongings, and bring me here. I assumed I was to take on the duties of being queen—for as long as I am such,” she added under her breath.

He looked at her for a long moment. “I guess I must keep you,” he said with resignation. “Go and sit over there and be quiet.” He turned back to the table, which was littered with books and rolled papers.

Jura wondered if he had brought the books with him or if they had been taken from Thal’s meager and mostly unused library. She had no intention of obeying him, so she went to look over his shoulder.

He whirled on her. “What are you doing?” he snapped.

“Looking,” she answered, then nodded toward the map he was holding. “That is wrong. The Vatells’ border is farther north. Thal seized a good bit of the land when I was a child. My father was killed in the battle.” She turned away to sit on the edge of the bed and began unwrapping the garters on her legs.

Rowan turned toward her. “What do you know of the borders?”

“More than you do, it seems.”

He stood, picked up the map, and put it on the bed behind her. “Show me how things have changed. This map was made by Feilan over twenty years ago. Who else has my father slaughtered in order to take their land?”

Jura pushed off her boots and wiggled her bare toes. “Thal did what he had to do. Half of the Vatells’ land is in the mountains where nothing grows, and they were raiding the Irials to steal our grain.”

“So my father put an end to their raiding,” Rowan said thoughtfully. “How did the Vatells fare through that winter?”

“Not well,” Jura said. “Do you plan to hate everything about us?”

Rowan looked surprised. “How can I hate my own people? Here, show me the new borders.”

She leaned closer to him and, with her finger, showed him the smaller Vatell territory. “They are reasonable people, at least fairly so,” she said, “not like the Zernas or the Ultens. The Vatells—”

“Yes, I know,” he said impatiently. “Now show me where the Irials’ grain fields are.”

“If you know so much, why don’t you know that?”

He pointed to a place on the map. “If they have not moved, the fields are here. Protected by three rivers and guarded at regular intervals by Irial guards. The crops are barley, wheat, and rye. Sheep are raised here on this plain. The horses they have are descendants of those stolen from the Fearens, and still the young Irial men raid the Fearen camps at night. They cross Vatell country here in the dense forest then go along a goat path here until—”

“How do you know this?” Jura asked.

“When other boys were chasing a ball in the courtyard, I was hidden away with old Feilan learning the Ulten language.”

“Ulten?” Jura asked. “No one speaks that guttural mess of theirs. It is not a language but merely grunts and moans.”

Rowan leaned back on the bed, his hand under his head. “It may sound so but it is actually a form of Lanconian. For instance, your word for woman is telna while theirs is te’na. It is just a quicker way of saying the same thing.”

Jura drew her feet up under her. “A lazier way. They are lazy, slimy people. All the tribes hate the Ultens.”

“Then all the better to interbreed the tribes. The Ultens stay up in the mountains and they interbreed with each other until their brains are mush.”

“Another reason your plan of uniting the tribes will not work,” Jura said. “Who would want to marry an Ulten woman?”

Rowan looked at her with merriment in his eyes. “A Zerna man,” he said.

Jura laughed and stretched out on the bed. The map was between them as they both lay on the bed.

“During the Honorium I had nightmares about Mealla winning,” Rowan said. “The problem I have with intermarrying the tribes is wondering who will marry the Zerna women. Are they all like Mealla and the other women who entered the Honorium?”

Jura lifted her head onto her elbow. “The Fearen men might like the Zerna women. Fearen men are small, short, thin little men, and Thal always said they were angry about their size. Zerna women might appeal to the Fearens. Their children would be larger.”

Rowan grinned at her as he also lifted onto his elbow. “And the Poilens? Who shall we marry to them?”

“That’s not easy,” Jura said thoughtfully. “The Poilens believe thought is more important than food or pleasure.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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