ight. I made a vow, a stupid vow that has punished me more than you, but a vow to God nonetheless and I must keep it. If you would only—”
“Where do you plan to go tomorrow?” she asked. She didn’t want to discuss how awful he made her feel: desirable one moment and the next thrust away with all the contempt she had for the Ulten robe.
“You are returning to the Irials. I am going to find Brita.”
She smiled meanly at him over the fire. “I have the map. No, you will not find it on me, even if you could bear to touch my person, for I have committed it to memory. I am going with you. We will find Brita and we will talk to her.”
“Why didn’t I marry a sweet biddable Englishwoman?” Rowan mumbled. “Here! Take this.” He thrust a rabbit leg at her.
“You have made no sacred knightly vows concerning rabbit legs?”
“Only shrews,” he answered. “Now eat so we can sleep and leave early tomorrow. We have many miles to cover.”
“Maybe,” Jura said, and smiled sweetly at Rowan’s glare.
She slept quite well that night even if Rowan’s getting up twice did wake her.
“Wake up,” he said before dawn, and threw the hideous Ulten robe on her. “That should cool my interest in you.” He handed her bread and cheese. “Be ready to ride quickly.”
“Yes, oh sire,” she mocked.
They rode for two hours before Jura told him to halt and follow her down a narrow road leading into the forest. It was a road made for foot traffic and twice Rowan hacked at branches to provide room for the horses.
At noon they stopped to eat cold meat pies Jura had brought with her.
“We should change clothes,” she said. She looked at his greasy hair. “An Ulten and a…whatever you are, each alone is all right, but we make an unappetizing pair. We will not get near Brita’s city dressed like this.”
“What did you have in mind?”
“Ten miles from here is the manor house of a rich relative of Brita’s. I thought perhaps the man and his wife might not miss a few garments.”
Jura watched Rowan’s face, and to her surprise, she found herself thinking that the man’s good looks were marred by his artificially darkened hair. Now he was frowning and she wondered if he disliked following a plan made by a woman.
“I would have to know where the clothes are kept and I doubt if it will be easy getting in and out of the house. You must swear you will return to the Irials immediately.”
“I do not swear things with the ease that you do. Cilean visited this house a few times when she was a Vatell captive, and I know something about it. You will follow me and—”
“I will not follow you,” he said. “You will remain hidden in the forest until we return.”
“We shall see,” Jura said, smiling.
The stone of the big manor house was silhouetted in the moonlight and the only sounds to be heard were the soft nickers of horses and the clank of a steel sword as a Vatell guard passed.
Rowan and Jura flattened themselves against the wall and waited, and when the guard passed, Jura motioned Rowan to follow her through a small wooden side door into the larder. Here hung ducks and geese and haunches of venison and freshly cooked chickens and meat pies awaiting tomorrow’s dinner.
Jura cautiously opened the door and slipped through into a narrow hallway, at one end of which there was light and the sound of people’s voices. She started toward the light but Rowan grabbed her tunic back. He pointed to a steep, dark, stone circular staircase a few feet away. Holding his sword before him, Rowan started up the stairs.
It was easy to find the master and mistress’s bedchamber as it was the only walled-off room on the second floor. They hid in the shadows once as a maid hurried past, then slipped into the room and went immediately to a large chest against the wall.
The Vatells dressed much like the Irials, with cross-gartered boots, their knees exposed below a heavy tunic. Rowan pulled a blue tunic of lightweight wool from the chest.
“No,” Jura whispered. “That will make your eyes too blue. They show too much as they are.”
“Oh,” Rowan asked with interest, turning to look at her, their noses almost touching. “I had no idea you noticed my eyes.”
“I have a few times,” she murmured.
He seemed to be ready to kiss her when the door latch was raised. As quick as lightning, Jura made a leap inside the big chest and Rowan followed her and closed the lid over their heads. They were pressed together tightly, warm body to warm body and, unfortunately, weapon to weapon. Something was pressing hard into Jura’s ribs and she was sure it was Rowan’s broadax. She did not dare shift for fear of being discovered.