The Maiden (Montgomery/Taggert 12) - Page 56

“Of all the—” Lora began, but Rowan stopped her.

“Let him be,” Rowan said. “I for one would like to go to bed. We shall make plans in the morning.” He started to take his nephew from Jura but she held the

boy fast.

“He will stay with me tonight,” Jura said as if daring Rowan to contradict her.

Anger showed in his eyes because he knew Jura did not want to spend the night in his bed. He straightened and left the room, pulling Lora with him.

Cilean went to Jura. “I see that things have not changed with you two. I had hoped…”

“There is no use to hope. He is English and he will never learn our ways.”

“Hmmm,” Cilean said. “Before he left he wanted no woman with him, but now he wants two women to guard the backs of the men. It seems that he is learning some of our ways.”

Jura stood, carefully holding Phillip so as not to wake him. “Do you have a place the child and I can sleep? Tomorrow the Irials will meet Brita and everyone will need strength for that.”

Cilean nodded and led her friend to another house where a bed awaited her.

Jura woke in the morning to Rowan roughly shaking her. “I am leaving now to get Brita and the Vatells. As my wife you must be there to see them marry.”

“And see the beginning of their misery,” Jura mumbled, holding on to Phillip as the boy began to wake.

Rowan left her alone while she dressed. Lora came to get Phillip and did not speak to Jura.

As soon as Jura left the stone house, she felt the tension in the air. There was no one in sight and the village had a strange deserted air about it, as if God had decided to take all the people away with Him to heaven. Jura took a piece of bread from a table and ate it as she walked toward the river.

What she saw was an eerie sight. All the Irials, freshly washed and in clean clothes, were lined up along the riverbank. No one was speaking, not even a child was crying or a dog barking as they watched the arrival of the Vatell men and women.

The Vatells rode horseback, sometimes double, or came in wagons or little carts. Jura had seen them crying for nearly a week at the hideous prospect of having to marry the Irials, but there were no tearstained faces now. The Vatells were also washed, their clothes still damp from cleaning, their hair slicked back from early-morning bathing. They sat erect on their horses or wagons and they were looking intently at the people standing across the river.

Jura moved forward to stand just at the back of the Irials.

“See the one in the third wagon,” a woman near Jura whispered. “If I were choosing, I would choose him.”

“No,” a younger woman whispered, “the one I want is there on that black horse. See his calves? There is strength in that body.”

Smiling, Jura began to walk along the back of the long row of people. The people were beginning to talk and all the talk was of bedding.

Jura thought the day seemed to be growing warmer than usual. In fact, little beads of sweat were beginning to form on the back of her neck and on her upper lip. For some reason, she began to remember vividly that day she had first met Rowan, that day when she had been wearing only her tunic and he had worn only a loincloth. She had sat on his chest and his hands had traveled up her legs, up toward her breasts. And his mouth had—


She came out of her daze to turn and look at Cilean. “You are far away,” Cilean said softly. “And who would you choose?”

Jura looked at the people now fording the river. Rowan rode beside Brita. A few weeks ago she had hated his blond hair and white skin but now he stood out like a single star in a black sky. He not only had different coloring but he was broader and thicker than the Lanconians. Once she had thought him fat and ungraceful, but she knew his body to be the product of years of muscle-building exercise and that there was no fat on him. She also knew how his skin felt under her fingertips.

Cilean’s laugh made Jura blink.

“He may displease you elsewhere but he does not displease you in bed,” Cilean said knowingly.

Jura turned away. “He is a clumsy oaf,” she said, but she felt damp with perspiration. “Has food been prepared for these people? We have had a long march and they are hungry and tired.”

“Yes,” Cilean said, laughing. “They look as hungry as our people. Rowan says the tribes are to spend the day together and near sundown we will choose mates.”

“We?” Jura asked. “You plan to marry tonight too?”

“If I see someone I like. There are a few guardsmen who look interesting, but I want to go with Rowan to Yaine and I do not relish leaving a new husband behind. Come, let’s get these people to work. The morning fires haven’t been lit.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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