Jura frowned at this and listened harder.
“I begged to be released from this task,” Rowan said. “I told You I was not worthy of it. I am a coward and lazy, just as my old tutor said. I cannot unite this country. It is not mine to unite.”
He put his head in his hands and cried again. “Jura saw through me. Jura knew that I would fail. Oh, God, I was not the one to be chosen for this. Better that someone else had been born Thal’s son. Now this boy has died for me, to save my worthless soul. I cannot go on. I will return to England and leave Lanconia to true Lanconians. Forgive me, Father, for having failed You.” He began to cry again.
Jura leaned against the tree and found that there were tears in her eyes also. She never knew he doubted himself. How could he believe himself to be a coward? He had walked against the Zerna alone. How could he doubt that he was the true king after all he had done in so short a time?
How could she have doubted him? she asked herself. What more must he do to prove himself? Why hadn’t she sided with him from the beginning? She prided herself on her logic and clear thinking but she had never thought clearly about Rowan. She had fought him every step of the way.
More tears came to her eyes. Was it because, as Rowan had said, she was afraid of loving him? Had she fought him not out of logic but because of a weak emotion such as love? Had she perhaps loved him from that first tempestuous meeting at the riverside? Maybe then she had known that he had the power to take her soul from her.
Rowan was still crying and suddenly Jura knew she had to do something to keep him from leaving Lanconia. She had a vision of what would happen to her country if Rowan were not there trying to unite the tribes. If Geralt were king, he would plunge the country into war.
And Jura would…She thought she might die without this man. How used to his soft, tender ways she had become. How used to his strength. No matter how she ridiculed him, how she fought him, he always had the strength of his belief in himself. Now she saw that he had doubted himself all along. Why hadn’t she helped him?
She looked around the tree at Rowan and saw the slump in his shoulders, saw the defeat in his body. She had to help him now.
But how? An Englishwoman would no doubt hold him and caress him, and Jura was surprised that that is what she wanted to do. She wanted to put her arms around him and let him cry on her shoulder while she stroked that fine hair of his.
And make him feel worse, she thought. To offer him sympathy would be the worst thing she could do. She had to somehow make him believe in himself again.
Rowan was standing now and looking at the body of Keon. Jura felt tears in her eyes again as she looked at Rowan’s ravaged face. He did care about Lanconia, not just the Irials, but all of Lanconia, that he could grieve so over this Zerna boy. Thal had been right to allow Rowan to be raised out of the country. Thal had been right and Jura had been more than wrong.
And now she had to do something about having been so loudly wrong.
Quietly, she slipped through the trees, away from Rowan, then turned and acted as if she were just coming toward him. She made a great deal of noise but Rowan did not turn toward her as he merely stood there, his back to her, looking down at Keon’s cold face.
She straightened her shoulders. “What are you doing here?” she demanded belligerently. “We must ride to the Fearens.”
Rowan did not turn around, and she almost put her hand out to touch his hair, but she withdrew it.
“What is this?” she asked loudly, gesturing toward Keon’s body. “You mourn a Zerna boy? Or is it Brocain’s wrath you fear? When it comes to war, we Irials will win.”
“There will be no war,” Rowan said softly. “I will give myself to Brocain. I hope I can appease him.”
Jura winced but said, “Good! Then Geralt will at last be king.”
Rowan didn’t react.
“As he should have been all along,” she said, but still got no reaction from Rowan. “But tell me, before your sacrifice, do we go to the Fearens or not? Do we leave Yaine waiting for Brita?”
“It is no longer my concern. I am not Lanconian.”
The sympathy she felt for him was leaving her. She frowned. “That is true. A Lanconian never would have started this absurdity of uniting the tribes. It can never be done.”
“Perhaps by someone other than me,” he said sadly. “I was the wrong choice.”
“Yes you were. Geralt will do a much better job than you. He will have no trouble uniting everyone. He will not cause the death of innocent boys.” She watched Rowan’s face and she thought she saw some sign of life.
He turned to look at her. “Geralt unite the tribes?”
“Yes, of course. He will do a grand job, don’t you think? Brita has already seen his power and she knows how strong he is. Yaine has only to see it also.”
“Brita has seen Geralt’s power?” Rowan asked. “But Brita…”
“Oh yes, I can see it in her eyes. She fears my brother.”
“She means to have him on a platter. She will marry that stupid boy and rule all of Lanconia.” There was light returning to Rowan’s eyes.