“Then we should give them some of those feisty little Fearen women. They would turn a
man’s thoughts from books to more earthly delights.”
Jura was watching him. He was very good-looking and the candlelit room made that golden hair of his glow. She had an urge to touch it and even lifted her hand.
Rowan abruptly got off the bed. “You may sleep there,” he said, pointing to a seat formed in the thick stone walls. It would be barely long enough for her.
Jura started to protest the absurdity of their sleeping apart, but then she thought that this arrangement might be better. When he was killed—as he surely would be—it would be better for her not to have become attached to him. And it would be better for the succession if there was no child of his who might want to be king. And Jura didn’t know if she could deny her child a throne that would rightfully be his. No, this was better. She would stay a maiden with this man until she was widowed, then Geralt would become king and she would marry Daire and have many children.
She rose from the bed. “You say that we travel tomorrow?”
He had his back to her. “Yes, we start for the Vatells’ land, but first we stop at the Irial villages and get men and women.”
“For what?” she asked as she untied her loose trousers and slipped them off.
He turned back to her. “For marriages to—” he began but broke off at the sight of her half-nude body. He turned away again. “Go to bed,” he said in a deep voice. “Cover yourself.”
Jura smiled at his back and climbed beneath the sheepskins that were thrown across the window seat. She watched him as he undressed, his face turned away from her. He removed the tall boots and exposed his big, blond-haired calves. His embroidered tunic, which reached to just above his knees, came off next, and as he slid it over his head, Jura saw again that big, muscular body that had made her forget her senses, her present and her past, on that day at the river when she had first seen him.
The muscles in her legs began to feel as if she had just exerted them to their limit, and her breathing was deeper and slower.
Without looking at her, he blew out the candle by the bed and plunged the room into darkness.
“Rowan,” she whispered into the darkness, using his name for the first time.
“Do not speak to me,” he said loudly. “And call me ‘Englishman.’ Do not use my name.”
Jura clamped her jaws shut and cursed the stupid foreigner. With his vile temper and his unreasonableness, she gave him only a week before someone put an end to his life. Good riddance, she thought. Lanconia would be better off without him.
She turned to her stomach and thought of Daire. It would be good to be a virgin on her wedding night to Daire.
Lazily, Jura turned over in the warm bed. It was still dark. Rowan was standing ten feet away from her, fully dressed and glaring at her.
“Are all Irials as lazy as you?” he snapped. “The wagons are already gathering below.”
“Are all Englishmen as vile-tempered as you?” she answered, stretching beneath the covers.
He watched her intently and his pale skin seemed to grow paler. “Get your belongings and come below,” he said, then left the room.
It didn’t take Jura long to get her few pieces of clothing and her weapons together. The courtyard was loud with prancing horses and shouting men. Geralt, wearing black and on a black horse, was ordering men about. Daire sat on his horse to one side and near him was Cilean.
Jura smiled at her friend but Cilean turned her head away. Jura’s smile faded as she accepted bread and watered wine from a servant.
Rowan was in the midst of the men, his horse ready to go, and Jura had to admit that he seemed to be capable of organizing the expedition and the men seemed to recognize his leadership.
There were wagons filled with goods and Jura saw Lora and the boy Phillip sitting on one of them beside a driver.
“Jura!” the boy called, and smiling, she went to him.
“Good morning,” she said, offering him a piece of bread.
“Do Lanconian warriors eat bread?” he asked solemnly.
“Always,” she answered just as solemnly, and turned to Lora to smile, but the Englishwoman put her nose in the air and turned away. Jura went to her horse, falling in beside Xante as they began to ride.
It took all day to reach the Irial villages. There were other, smaller villages scattered about the Irial land, but these were inhabited by peasants, the lowest class of people, people who fought among themselves, whose family feuds were centuries old. These people had no idea whether they were Irial or Vatell or English for that matter.