The Maiden (Montgomery/Taggert 12) - Page 73

He still didn’t open his eyes. “To that tree there and no farther,” he said. “I do not want to fight anyone for you today.”

She shut her mouth on a sharp retort and went to the tree. When she returned, he was still lying there, still looking as if he were asleep. “We must get back to the others,” she said. “Daire and Cilean will worry, and where are those Fearens and Brocain’s son? Do you plan to stay here all day?”

His hand shot out and caught her ankle. “Jura, do you not sometimes want to lie all day on the bank of a pretty stream and watch the butterflies?”

She smiled down at him. “Perhaps, but it cannot be done toda

y. Geralt will—”

“God’s teeth!” Rowan gasped, coming to his feet. “I had forgotten that brother of yours. He will kill the Fearens without giving them a chance to explain. Mount and ride!” he ordered her.

Jura had trouble getting her bearings because she had been asleep last night when Rowan had carried her from the camp. She hastily gathered their few belongings, mounted her horse bareback, and went after Rowan.

Minutes later she saw that Rowan’s fears were justified. Damnation, but she hated to admit even to herself that he was right.

Geralt was always an excellent fighter, but when his temper was aroused he was fearless. He had managed to capture all three Fearens, no doubt sneaking up on them while they slept, and he was now threatening their lives if they did not tell him how they had murdered his sister.

Jura came into the clearing just in time to see Rowan throw a knife that landed in the dirt between Geralt’s feet. Jura knew there was going to be a fight. She kicked her horse forward but it was already too late. Even years later she would not be sure what happened next. The Fearens, who had come in peace, had already been attacked twice in a few hours, and their anger was directed at Geralt. When they saw their chance, they leaped, weapons ready. Young Keon, who was roused from a drunken sleep, looked up and saw the confusion, not really understanding who was attacking whom. To him it must have looked as if his beloved King Rowan was in danger.

Keon ran, sword drawn, and put his body in front of Rowan’s. A Fearen lunged at Geralt, missed as Geralt sidestepped, and the Fearen’s sword pierced Keon’s heart. Had he not been there, Rowan would no doubt have been killed.

For a moment time seemed to stand still. Keon fell to the ground without a sound while everyone stood as if frozen.

Rowan reacted first, kneeling and taking the boy into his arms.

“You will tell my father that I did not die in vain,” the dying boy whispered.

“I will tell him,” Rowan said softly.

Slowly, painfully, Keon put his hand up to Rowan’s shoulder. “I have not lived without purpose. I have died for my king.” His lifeless body collapsed in Rowan’s arms.

“This will mean war,” Geralt said with unconcern as he sheathed his sword.

Jura turned to look at her brother and could see the look of near glee in his eyes. He was glad of this boy’s death, glad of the war to come, glad that Brocain would now kill Rowan. In that moment Jura knew Geralt cared nothing for Lanconia but merely for himself and his own sense of power.

Jura looked at Rowan as he still held the boy, but she could not read his expression. His face may as well have been carved out of cool marble for all the emotion he betrayed. No doubt he too worries about the war, she thought.

Very slowly, Rowan tenderly picked up the boy in his arms and walked with him into the forest.

“We had better ride,” Geralt began. “Brocain will—”

Jura glared coldly at her brother. “You will remain here and you will wait for him, and if you harm anyone, I will kill you,” she said through her teeth.

“But Jura—” Geralt began.

She walked away from him, through the trees toward where Rowan had carried Keon. Cilean called her to leave Rowan alone but Jura wanted to find him. They would talk about what must be done now that this Zerna boy was dead.

She walked for some time before she found him and she did not approach him when she did see him. To her, it was a strange scene. Rowan had stretched Keon’s body on a rock, as if it were an altar, and Rowan was on his knees before the boy’s body.

Jura stood absolutely still but Rowan did not turn to her as he knelt there, his face in his hands. It took her a while to realize that Rowan was crying.

Her body was paralyzed as she watched him. She had never seen a man cry before, had seen very few women cry, but the sounds coming from Rowan were unmistakable. She did not go to him, did not have any idea what one did with a crying man.

She stepped behind a tree and waited and watched. She did not want to leave him, but she did not understand his reaction to the death of a Zerna boy. Was he afraid of the death Brocain had promised him? Did the prospect of war make Englishmen cry?

Her head came up when she heard Rowan begin to speak. He was talking to that God he seemed to believe was his friend. She strained her ears to hear what he said.

“I have failed, God,” Rowan said softly. “I have failed my father, my country, I have even failed my wife.”

Tags: Jude Deveraux Montgomery/Taggert Historical
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