Much to his irritation, it didn’t take long before he found himself actually liking the Wilder prince. Barbarian he might have been, he was surprisingly knowledgeable. Then again, this young man had been raised with the intention of ruling his country, rather than simply supporting his brother’s reign. “But what if there is no loot to divide among the men?”
“There’s always loot.” Jurgen shook his head. “Just sometimes its intangible. Take your own history. Those bandits your people yanked out of the woods to help. Was it pay that was offered?”
“No, it…” Wendel slowly nodded. “It was restoring their status as citizens of a country.”
“Pride.” Jurgen shrugged. “You’d be surprised how far that’ll take a man. Paying your men is all well and good, but doesn’t you little if your opponent has more gold.” He waved a hand. “Learn their names, listen when they speak, tell them when they’ve done well, even if it’s just a quick nod of approval.” Jurgen looked over at him. “Man will fight dragons for a leader who treats him with respect.”
“Is that how Wilders do it?” Wendel raised an eyebrow. “I thought you just followed whoever promised a good fight at the end of the trip.”
Jurgen laughed. “But that’s part of it, yes?” He shook his head. “You respect your men, but you don’t coddle the bastards. That’s why we decided ruling your people wasn’t worth the effort. Need your swaddling clothes changed too often.”
“And here I thought it was just because your people were too lazy to bother with the work of governing.” Wendel rolled his eyes.
“You have confidence in your men. You tell them that. You tell them they are the most vicious fucks that were ever born and that their enemies are mere dogs before them. You tell them that, and you believe it…” Jurgen shifted a little in the saddle. “And they’ll believe it too, and they’ll charge when you tell them.”
“Or stand…” Wendel slowly nodded. Then he took another look at Jurgen. “Soldiers I have. It’s rangers I need. Where do I get them?”
“Well, you could pay a bunch of my people…”
“That would turn the nobility against me.” Wendel shook his head. “Or I rather think I would.”
“Then you get them the same place you got them the first time. You need a man who can sneak into a camp and come back with something you can use…” Jurgen gave him a serious look. “Then it sounds like what you need is a thief.”
He laughed a little. “Prince Jurgen…” He smiled. “If your people weren’t a bunch of undisciplined lunatics, I rather think you’d be dangerous.”
“Prince Wendel…” Jurgen smirked. “We’re dangerous because we’re a bunch of undisciplined lunatics.”
“That helps me with my army, but there are still the nobles to consider. Many will back my brother because of what he promises.”
“Then you make it clear that first off, he can’t keep those promises. Then you make it clear that following him might give them some small benefit, but not following you will cost them everything.” Jurgen gave him a level look. “Who is the most powerful of the nobles arrayed against you?”
“You answered that quickly.” Jurgen blinked.
“It’s not really a matter for debate.” Wendel sighed. “Frankly, I think he’s hoping my brother and I will kill each other and he’ll be able to come in and set himself up on the throne himself.”
“Well, that makes the solution even easier then.” Jurgen grinned again.
“And this solution?”
“Kill the jackass.”
“It’s not that easy.” Wendel started shaking his head.
“Yes, it is.”
“It’s really not.”
“Yeah, it is.” Jurgen laughed. “You call him out. Challenge him. Make him come to you, make sure people will laugh if he doesn’t. Kick him right in the pride.” Jurgen shrugged. “Then, kick his ass.”
“I…” Wendel opened his mouth. Then he closed it again. He tilted his head and frowned. Then he nodded to himself. “Actually, that’s rather good advice.”
“Little brother…” Jurgen took a deep breath. “I appreciate how much faith you have in my fighting prowess, but uh…” He pointed. “I think that’s about a third of the Thatelan army down there.”
“Perhaps we could sneak past?” Wendel frowned, then turned toward Liam. “Like you got me through last time.”
“We are sneaking.” Liam pointed east. “That way.”
Wendel followed, but Jurgen grumbled as they kept riding. They’d run into trouble three times, though Liam had managed to keep them out of the way of larger groups of enemy forces. He shook his head when he looked down the bluffs. “Blood and ashes. They are camped on the beach.”
“It won’t be a problem.” Liam shook his head.
“Brother, unless you can pull a navy out of your ass…” Jurgen glared at him. “Perhaps if we —”
“Jurgen.” Wendel’s voice sounded slightly impressed.
“What?” Jurgen glanced over his shoulder at him.
“Well…” Wendel gave a small shake of his head, then shrugged and pointed south. “Your brother pulled a navy out of his ass.”
He looked in the direction Wendel was pointing, and saw four ships. “Those are…” He blinked.
“Ilael vessels.” Liam pulled up the reins of his horse, and headed down the embankment toward the shore. Right where he’d told them to be.
By the time they arrived on the beach, there were two rowboats and a raft waiting for them. It took him a moment to realize the raft must be to transport the horses. A dark-skinned man strode forward to meet them, and as soon as Lammert reached him he poked him in the chest. “Slis ma toranan voi?”
“Le senadai mayralith.” Lammert shrugged.
The man glared at him. He crossed his arms, then uncrossed them and smacked Lammert in the arm. “Hey now.” Jurgen strode over, pulling his brother away from the man and moving between him. He glared down at the smaller man. “Nobody hits him but me.”
“Who are you?” The man blinked. “I am —”
“I don’t give —”
“Jurgen —” Lammert started to speak up.
Jurgen waved a hand at him and kept talking. “— shit who you are. Step back before I slice you in half.”
When Lammert tried to step back between them, Jurgen grabbed him and yanked him back again. The man’s eyes narrowed. “I suggest you get your hands off him before I have you keel-hauled.”
“You and what —”
“Jurgen.” Lammert raised his voice, making Jurgen turn toward him. To his surprise, his brother started laughing. “Baako, this is my brother, Jurgen Draak.” He stepped forward, moving between them again. “Jurgen, this is Baako.” He gave a small shrug. “My father.”
“Your…” Jurgen stared. “What?”
“So the language you were speaking earlier…” Jurgen looked up at him as the boat started heading toward the ships.
“Ilael.” Liam nodded.
“And you’re Ilael.” Jurgen gave a small shake of his head. Then he gave a small, bitter laugh. “Because they rescued you and I didn’t.”
“Jurgen…” Liam sighed.
“What about that is untrue?” Jurgen looked away, staring at the water. “I should have gone with you.”
“If you had, you’d likely have been killed as the others were.” Liam put a hand on his brother’s shoulder. His crew had wisely left him some space to talk to his brother, though it was clear a few of them were intimidated by the Wilder in their midst.
She watched as Prince Wendel and his men stepped aboard the ship. Almost immediately, Wendel went to help the men working the hoist. She looked down into the boat, and saw her husband smile up at her. She smiled back, then turned toward the next man coming up the ladder. He was only slightly shorter than her husband, but far more muscular. He took a look around the ship, glanced at Liam, and then his eyes fell on her. He nodded. “You’re Adaeze.”
“How did you know?” Adaeze raised an eyebrow.
He glanced again at Liam. “The way he smiled when his eyes fell upon you.” He shrugged, and took a step toward her.
Almost before she realized what was happening, she was enveloped in a hug. She laughed, and hugged the man back. “Either you’re Jurgen, or Wilders are much friendlier than I’ve been told.”
His laughter answered hers. “Can both not be true?”
When he released her again, she reached out and caught hold of her husband’s hand. She pulled him close, and he bent to touch his forehead to hers. She half closed her eyes before going slightly onto her tiptoes to kiss him. Then she stepped back, and looked up to where Uduak was smiling on the deck. She glanced at where the horses had been taken to the hold, then looked up at Uduak again and yelled, “secure, Captain.”
“Find me the wind,” Uduak yelled back.
Uduak offered the Jurgen a bit of pickled ginger from a jar. When he gave it a confused look, she nodded. “It will settle your belly.”
“It’s…” He took a deep breath, then accepts the bit of root. “It’s not terrible, just unpleasant.”
“Happens to some, their first time upon the water. When it is mild like this, it usually goes away.” She looked up at him. He wasn’t quite as tall as her lamb, but much broader in the shoulder and heavily muscled. Liam was simply tall. His brother made the men of her crew look like half-grown children. She sighed. And she was being unfair.
“You don’t like me.” Jurgen raised an eyebrow at her.
And she clearly wasn’t hiding her feelings as well as she should be. Uduak sighed again, then shrugged. “I have not yet decided how I feel about you.” She looked at where Liam was sitting with Adaeze. Adaeze was laughing as she fed him a shucked oyster.
Jurgen followed her gaze, then took a deep breath before looking back at her. “When he told me…” He exhaled. “I wanted to hate you for taking my brother from me.”
“But you didn’t.” Jurgen shook his head, then looked up at her. “I’ve been searching my memory, and I can’t…” He looked down at his hands. “When your eyes fall on him you smile. I cannot remember the last time my mother smiled when she looked at him. I can’t remember the last time she touched him, let alone embraced him.” His smile was sad. “You’re his mother. How can I hate you for that?”
She was silent for a moment, then she looked at Liam. Slowly, she turned back to Jurgen. “I wanted to hate you, for letting him wander off on his own. Then I saw you on the shore, rising to his defense.” She folded her arms, and leaned on the railing. “You and a man named Koert were his only regrets upon taking to the water. I am…” She unfolded her arms, and put a hand on Jurgen’s shoulder. “Pleased you have come with him this trip.”
“Your daughter.” He glanced at her. “Ama.”
“What about her?” She blinked.
“She’s Liam’s sister.”
He’d called his brother Liam. “She is.”
“Well, I’m not sure how Ilael do family lines, but that makes her my sister too.” He met her eyes. “So I think it’s only right that you make sure everyone gets fair warning I’m going to have to kill any man that touches her without her leave.”
“Well, Jurgen…” She patted his arm. “If you can find any part of them after Liam and I are finished, you can hit it with your axe.”
“Good to know.” He grinned, then it faded. “What clan mark did they wear?”
“The Unitafels that…” He glanced at Liam, then back at her. “Could you draw it for me?”
“I…” She slowly nodded, then met his eyes and smiled viciously. “Yes. I can.”
Jurgen smiled as he joined his brother, Prince Wendel, and a couple of the Ilael. “Have I mentioned I approve heartily of Ilael fashion?” He glanced at the bare-chested men and women. Most of them also went barefoot. His brother dressed the same. Watching Liam on the rigging had nearly given him a fit of panic, but Liam had proved to be remarkably agile. It was a shock to realize that there was something at which his brother was vastly more skilled at than himself.
“It takes a bit of getting used to.” Wendel had adopted the local fashion, though his men were still suffering in their garb. “Especially when they start dancing.”
“It’s fun to see just how red you turn.” Adaeze smiled at Wendel. Her accent was getting easier to understand, and he found himself liking the way she rolled her rs. A bit of a trill. The part that amused him most was the moment Liam had set foot on the ship, he’d started doing it too. As naturally as anything. It had been that moment he’d realized Lammert really had been left behind on the other side of the mountain. Liam sat on a pile of ropes, his wife curled up next to him.
“Liam, I’m having trouble understanding this relationship of yours…” Jurgen shook his head at her.
“What is the trouble?” Adaeze narrowed her eyes.
“Well, for starters…” Jurgen looked her over. “You’re beautiful. Intelligent. Amusing. Strong.” He turned toward Liam. “You tricked her into marrying you, right?” He looked back at Adaeze. “Did he spin you a tale, like the frog who tried to get the princess to kiss him? Because I hate to break this to you, but uh…” He winked at Liam, who rolled his eyes. “What you see is what you get.”
Adaeze straightened, then gave Jurgen a level look. Her eyes danced merrily. “I was lost at sea a hundred miles from shore, as a storm raged around me. A wave took me below, and I felt myself drowning.” She leaned into Liam. “Then his hand caught mine, and he plucked me from the dead below, pulling me from the water.”
“That’s…” Jurgen stared at her for a moment. “That is one hell of a first meeting.” He shrugged. “I ran into my wife, she got mad, we fought, and she broke my nose and knocked me on my ass.”
“So…” Wendel stared up at him. “So you married her?”
“Of course.” Jurgen blinked. He smiled. “My Diantha is a goddess of war.” He looked up when another of the Ilael women came over, this one carrying wooden mugs and a pitcher. “And here comes yet another goddess.” He smiled up at the woman.
“Jurgen, this is Efua, one of our shamans.” Liam gestured.
“Efua.” Wendel stood to give her a small bow. “It’s good to see you again.”
“And you, Prince Wendel.” She poured a white liquid into a mug, then offered it to Wendel before offering Jurgen a mug. Liam and Adaeze both declined, so she filled herself a mug and sat down. “Prince Jurgen. Liam has told me about you. He claims you cut the arm off a troll and —”
“I did not…” Jurgen exhaled. “Beat a troll to death with it’s own arm.”
“No, he said you knocked a different troll off a mountain.” She took a sip from her cup. “I think that may be more impressive.”
He saw Liam blink at him, then turn his gaze to Efua. Then he looked back at Jurgen, then at Wendel, then at Efua again. Then he started shaking his head. “No.” Adaeze started to put her hand over his mouth, and Liam moved his head aside. “No, absolutely…” He was unsuccessful at dodging Adaeze’s hand a second time, and whatever he was protesting was muffled.
Adaeze smiled at Efua. “I’m going to take my husband to bed now.” She stood, then pulled Liam to his feet.
“But…” Liam stared at her.
“Now.” Adaeze gave him a pointed look, then caught his hand and pulled him meekly after her.
“Huh.” Jurgen smirked. “I like her.” He glanced from Wendel to Efua. “So how do you two know each other?”