The Maiden (Montgomery/Taggert 12) - Page 21

“Yes, of course I can,” she said—at that moment she was sure she could.

“Good.” He stood. “Come with me. You are to meet my father’s son.”

Jura grimaced. “Now? Before breakfast?”

“Now. My father demands it.”

Feeling as if she were being led to her own execution, she hurriedly finished dressing and followed Geralt. She didn’t bother putting on her long gown but, instead, wore her guard uniform of trousers and tunic with her big blue wool cloak flung over one shoulder. She hesitated over her empty knife scabbard, then decided to wear it pushed toward her back, hidden by her cloak.

Geralt was complaining that she was taking too long to dress, so she flung open the door and left behind him. Her brother did not pay her the courtesy of walking beside her but strode ahead, Jura trailing behind him as if she were his annoying little sister—which she was.

He led her to the men’s training ground, to the edge of the field where the archery targets were set up. Jura paused a moment to look at the scene before her. In the shade of a tree to her left lay old Thal, gaunt and gray from his illness, on a bed covered with a pile of pillows. She had never seen the hard old man accept any softness in his life, but here he was surrounded by embroidered feather pillows atop what looked to be a tapestry. In a chair beside him sat a beautiful young woman with golden hair and wearing a long dress of some fabric that glowed and shimmered in the daylight. A little boy, golden-haired like his mother, stood near her chair. The three of them were looking toward the archery range at the back of two men.

One of the men they were watching Jura knew was the young captive Zerna, for he wore the distinctive purple-and-red-striped tunic of that tribe. Jura dismissed him, because, even with his back to her, it was the other figure who commanded attention.

He was nearly as tall as a Lanconian, perhaps, Jura grudgingly thought, as tall as some of them, but he was heavier. Fat, she thought, he was covered with fat from his lazy life. His hair was trimmed to just above his collar and the sun flashed off it. It was not white as she had been told but the color of old gold, and looked to be as soft as a girl’s.

If Jura had not been angry before she saw him, she would have been, for he wore a tunic that her mother had embroidered for Thal years ago. It had been loose on Thal but it hugged this man’s plump shoulders, and the sumptuous blue and green embroidery emphasized the broadness of his back. Below the tunic showed his heavily muscled thighs and the cross-gartered boots clung to his big calves.

Jura sniffed. Perhaps he fooled other women, but he wouldn’t fool her. She was used to handsome men. Wasn’t Daire beautiful enough to make the moon jealous?

She straightened her shoulders and went forward to greet her king while Geralt moved away to the center of the training field and his men.

She hated to see Thal as he was now: weak and helpless, just waiting to die, but she would never tell him so. There had always been animosity toward him on her side and grudging respect on his. She had always felt that it was his fault for the early deaths of both her parents. She had been five when she had been orphaned and Thal had taken her into his court, and she had wanted comfort and consoling, but Thal had told her to stop sniveling and had given her a sword to play with. Daire had started teaching her to shoot a bow and arrow when she was six.

“You sent for me?” Jura asked, looking down at Thal. Her expression showed what she felt about the softness of his bed and she refused to look at the Englishwoman.

“Ah, Jura,” Thal said with a smile. He looked like a fatuous old man, not the great Lanconian warrior who had repelled thousands of invaders. “Such a beautiful day. Have you met my daughter?”

Jura did not change her expression. “You have one true child, a Lanconian son.

” She heard the Englishwoman’s gasp of breath and Jura smiled to herself. It was good that someone let these intruders know they were not wanted.

Thal sighed and lay back against his pillows. “Ah, Jura, why are you so hard? These are my children as much as Geralt is.” He looked past Jura and smiled, and she knew that his son, the Englishman who wanted the throne, was approaching. “Here is someone who will no doubt make you smile.”

Jura stiffened her spine, hardened her jaw, and turned to meet this man she already hated.

The first jolt that ran through her when she saw him made her knees buckle. He put out his hand and caught her forearm and even that slight touch sent chills through her body.

Him! How could he be the one she had had her secret trysts with? How had she not seen his golden hair? Then she remembered that at their first meeting his hair had been wet and dark, and their encounter in the stables had been in the darkness.

She jerked her arm from his grasp and somehow managed to turn her back on him.

“You have met before?” Thal asked knowingly.

“No,” Jura managed to say.

“Yes,” Rowan said at the same time.

Jura stood rigid, her back to him, refusing to look at him. He was standing too close to her to allow her to think, but already she realized how she had been used. He thought that if he could get her on his side, then perhaps Geralt and the men who followed Geralt as the true prince would come to this English usurper.

“I have had the honor of seeing the lady,” Rowan said from behind Jura. “But only from afar.”

To Jura’s horror, he slipped his hand to her back and clutched the tail of her braid.

“And I had heard of you, also,” Lora said politely, but Jura did not look at the woman. “I heard only of your skills of war but not of your beauty.”

Jura stood rigid, looking at the tree in front of her.

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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