“Come with me.”
“Is someone hurt? Someone needs me?”
“Yes, your husband needs you. Lanconia needs a queen. You need children of your own before you completely steal mine, and you need what I have to offer,” Lora said.
“I don’t understand.”
“You will. Now come along. We have work to do.”
Jura allowed herself to be led from the room, out of the house and into another house where Lora was staying. Lora had taken over the simple farmer’s stone dwelling, and trunks and boxes were piled to the roof. She called for young Montgomery to stop flirting and come and move the heavy trunks for her.
“I am going to dress you in the English fashion,” Lora said.
Jura backed toward the door. “I’ll not wear one of your tight-waisted gowns,” she said. “If we were attacked, I could not fight.”
“The only one who will attack you tonight is your husband,” Lora said, then turned at a sound from Montgomery. “I didn’t give you enough work to do that you eavesdrop on women’s talk?” She went toward Jura. “Daire asked you to marry him, didn’t he? What caused him to propose?”
Jura smiled warmly in memory. “I beat him in an archery contest.”
Both Lora and Montgomery gaped at her.
Lora recovered first. “There is a basic difference between English courtship and Lanconian courtship,” she said softly. “I don’t believe an Englishman would ask a woman who beat him in an arms’ skill to marry him.”
“But it is necessary for a woman to be strong.”
“It is also sometimes necessary to be soft,” Lora answered gently. “And tonight you will be soft. Montgomery!” she snapped. “Have you uncovered that trunk yet?”
The boy, obviously fascinated by the women’s conversation, opened an oak, iron-bound trunk. Lora looked through it until she pulled out a heavenly, beautiful gown of deep, dark sapphire-blue velvet.
“It is my longest gown and I believe it will fit you perfectly.”
Jura backed away from the gown as if it were poison, but then a ray of the setting sun touched it and she moved clos
er. She had never seen such fabric and the woman in her ached to feel it against her skin. “I could not wear…” she began, but hesitated, then looked at Lora. “Your brother would like this better than my being a good shot?”
“Jura,” Lora said with serious intensity, “when I have finished with you, my brother will fall to his knees before you and beg you to forgive him for any unkind word he has ever said to you.”
Jura snatched the dress from Lora’s hand. “Let us begin.”
Lora ran Montgomery from the room and began to dress Jura.
Jura was used to the loose-fitting tunic and trousers she wore as a guardswoman, and she had worn gowns for ceremonial occasions, but she had never worn anything like this English gown. First, there was a tight-fitting dark gold tunic that laced up each side. Lora called the fabric Italian brocade. Over this went the rich, thick blue velvet surcoat that had the sides cut away to show the deep curve of Jura’s waist and hips.
Lora unbraided Jura’s dark hair and it fell in ripples made from the braids to her waist. About Jura’s forehead, Lora placed a simple circlet of pure gold, and on her feet were soft leather slippers instead of the tall boots Jura usually wore.
Lora stood back and looked at her sister-in-law critically. “Yes,” she murmured, “yes.”
“I…I look all right?” Jura asked. “As good as Brita?”
Lora laughed at that. Jura had no idea of her beauty or the power it gave her. To Jura, power was being able to shoot well, ride well, to stand close to a man in battle. But this beauty of hers was a new power altogether.
“Brita is a chamber pot next to you,” Lora said, making Jura smile. “I want you to go out that door and go straight to your husband. Don’t rush, but let everyone see you, and when you get to Rowan tell him that you will be waiting for him in his tent after the marriages. Don’t tell him where it is, let him find out, and don’t say anything else except that you will meet him in his tent. If he tries to talk to you about what is good for Lanconia or what must be done with this Vatell queen, merely tell him to bring his lute—then leave. Understand me, Jura? Do not let him treat you as a man.”
“As a man?” Jura whispered. “I do not think I understand the English mind.”
“And he doesn’t understand a Lanconian guardswoman. I don’t know how you two met before the Honorium, but I’ll wager it wasn’t when you were beating the men in war games.”
Jura smiled in memory. “No, it was not.”