"Care of us?" Jenny repeated blankly.
"Er…" he amended quickly and vaguely, "that she’s making her tisanes and curatives while she’s with you? To ensure you stay well."
Jenny nodded absently, clutching Malcolm’s dagger, vaguely thinking of Aunt Elinor’s many trips to the woods for her herbs. She was about to mount her horse when Brenna’s desperate, pleading look finally reminded her of the carefully worded message Brenna had sent to her last night. "Father," she said, turning to him, and she did not have to feign her longing,
"would it be—possible for Brenna to return with me and spend the eve at Claymore with me? We’ll ride to the tournament together."
For a moment her father’s face hardened, then a small smile appeared at his lips and he nodded instantly. "You can guarantee her safety?" he added almost as an afterthought.
For several minutes after Brenna and Jenny had ridden off with their armed escort, the earl of Merrick remained outside his tent with Malcolm, watching them.
"Do you think it worked?" Malcolm said, his icy, contemptuous gaze riveted on Jenny’s back.
Lord Merrick nodded and replied flatly, "She’s been reminded of her duty, and her duty will overcome whatever lust she has for the Butcher. She’ll sit in our pavillion and she’ll cheer for us agin’ the English while her husband and all his people look on."
Malcolm made no effort to hide his loathing for his stepsister as he asked snidely, "But will she cheer while we kill him on the field? I doubt it. The night we went to Claymore, she practically flung herself at him and begged him to forgive her for asking you to send her to an abbey."
Lord Merrick swung around, his eyes like chips of ice. "My blood flows in her veins. She loves me. She’ll bend to my will—she already has, though she doesn’t realize it."
The bailey was ablaze with orange torchlight and packed with smiling guests and fascinated serfs, who were watching Royce knight Godfrey’s squire. For the sake of the six hundred guests and three hundred vassals and serfs in attendance, it had been decided that this part of the ceremony would take place in the bailey, rather than within the chapel.
On the sidelines near the front, Jenny stood quietly, a tiny smile touching her lips as her sorrows were temporarily overcome by the ceremony and pomp that accompanied the ritual. The squire, a muscular young man named Bardrick, was kneeling in front of Royce, clad in the symbolic long white tunic, red mantle and hood, and black coat. He had fasted for twenty-four hours and spent the night in the chapel praying and meditating. At sunrise, he had made his confession to Friar Gregory, heard mass, and partaken of the holy sacrament.
Now the other knights and several ladies who were guests were participating in his ceremonial "arming" by carrying each piece of his shiny new armor forward, one at a time, and laying them beside him at Royce’s feet. When the last piece of armor had been laid out, Royce looked over at Jenny, who was holding the golden spurs that were the ultimate symbol of knighthood, since they were illegal for any but knights.
Picking up the long skirt of her green velvet gown, Jenny walked forward and placed them on the grass near Royce’s feet. As she did so, her eyes were drawn to the golden spurs on the heels of Royce’s knee-high leather boots, and she suddenly wondered if his knighting on the battlefield at Bosworth had been anything so grand as this.
Godfrey smiled at her as he went forward carrying the last and most important piece of equipment: a sword stretched across his hands. When that had been placed beside Bardrick, Royce bent forward and asked him three questions in a low, stern voice which Jenny couldn’t clearly hear. Whatever Bardrick answered had evidently satisfied Royce, because he nodded. The traditional accolade came next, and without realizing it, Jenny held her breath as Royce raised his hand in a wide arc and struck Bardrick a resounding slap across his face.
Friar Gregory quickly pronounced the blessing of the church on the new knight and the air was rent with cheers as "Sir" Bardrick stood up and his horse was led forward. In keeping with tradition, he made a running mount of the steed without touching the stirrups, then he rode about the crowded bailey as best he could, tossing coins to the serfs:
Lady Katherine Melbrook, a lovely brunette only slightly older than Jenny, came up to her and smiled as she watched the knight cavorting on his horse to the accompaniment of minstrels. In the past week, Jenny had been surprised to find that she liked several of the English—and even more surprised because they seemed to have accepted her.
It was such a dramatic change from their behavior at Merrick on the night of her betrothal that she had remained slightly suspicious of it. Katherine Melbrook was the single exception, however, for she was so outspoken and friendly that Jenny liked and trusted her from the very first day, when she had laughingly announced: "Serfs’ gossip has it that you are something between an angel and a saint. We’re told," she’d teased, "that you tore a strip off your own steward for striking one of your serfs two days ago. And that a miscreant lad with an excellent throwing arm was treated more than mercifully."
Their friendship had sprung up from that, and Katherine had regularly been at Jenny’s side, helping to ease matters and direct servants whenever Jenny and Aunt Elinor were busy elsewhere.
Now she drew Jenny’s attention from Sir Bardrick as she teasingly said, "Are you aware that your husband, even now, watches you with a look that even my unromantic husband describes as tender."
In spite of herself, Jenny glanced in the direction Katherine Melbrook was looking. Royce was surrounded by a group of their guests, including Lord Melbrook, but he seemed to be absorbed with the conversation amongst the men.
"He looked away the instant you turned," Katherine chuckled. "He was not, however, looking the other way tonight when Lord Broughton was hanging at your skirts. He looked ferociously jealous. Who would have guessed," she rambled on cheerfully, "that our fierce Wolf would become as tame as a kitten after less than two months of being wedded?"
"He is no kitten," Jenny said before she could stop herself, and with such feeling that Katherine’s face fell.
"I—please forgive me, Jenny, you must be in a dreadful state. We all understand, truly we do."
Jenny’s eyes widened with alarm that her private feelings about Royce had somehow become public. Despite their estrangement, they had agreed more than a week ago, when unexpected guests began arriving at the gates for the tournament, that they would not inflict their differences on their guests. "Everyone understands?" Jenny repeated cautiously. "About what?"