Now she believed everything about him, and with good reason. And knowing it hurt a thousand times more than any wound Royce had ever received.
"If you cry," he whispered, stroking her shining hair, "you’ll feel better." But he knew instinctively what he suggested was impossible. She’d been through so much, and held her tears back for so long, that Royce doubted that anything could force her to shed them. She had not cried when she spoke of her dead friend, Becky, nor had she wept over William’s death. A fourteen-year-old girl with enough courage and spirit to confront her armed brother on the field of honor would not cry for her husband whom she hated. Not when she didn’t cry for her friend or even her brother. "I know you won’t believe this," he whispered achingly, "but I will keep my word. I will not hurt your family, nor any member of your clan at the tournament. I swear it."
"Please let go of me," she said in a suffocated voice.
He couldn’t help it, his arms tightened. "Jenny," he whispered, and Jenny wanted to die because, even now, she loved the sound of her name on his lips.
"Don’t call me that again," she said, hoarsely.
Royce drew a long, painful breath. "Would it help if I said I love you?"
She jerked free, but there was no anger on her face. "Whom are you trying to help?"
Royce’s arms fell to his sides. "You’re right," he agreed.
Jenny left the chapel two days later after speaking to Friar Gregory, who’d agreed to remain at Claymore until a permanent priest could be located. Royce’s knights were practicing, as they did early each morning, at the skills that kept them fit for battle. Hour after hour, they worked their horses, leaping them over ditches and piles of sandbags, springing into the saddle without touching the stirrups. The rest of the time outdoors they spent practicing at the quintain—a post set into the ground with a crossbar so well-balanced that it could be set whirling with a light touch of the hand. On one end of the crossbar hung a suit of armor with a shield. On the other a long, very heavy sandbag. One after the other, over and over again, each knight would back his horse to the far end of the bailey and charge full-tilt, from different angles each time, at the "knight" on the cross bar. Unless their lance struck the "knight" precisely on the breast, the crossbar whirled and the rider was dealt a mighty blow from the sandbag—which never missed its target.
Occasionally, all the knights missed, depending upon the angle and the obstacles erected in front of the quintain. All the knights, except her husband, Jenny had noticed. Unlike the other knights, Royce spent less time at the quintain and more time working with Zeus, as he was now. From the corner of her eye, she watched Royce at the far end of the bailey, his bare, heavily muscled shoulders glinting in the sun as he took the destrier over increasingly higher jumps, then galloped him flat-out while twisting the horse into the tight figure of an eight.
In the past, she’d been able to ignore this daily practice, but with the tournament looming ahead, what had seemed like mere exercise before, now became a deadly skill which Royce’s men were perfecting to use against their opponents. So absorbed was she in surreptitiously watching her husband that she never heard Godfrey come up beside her. "Zeus," he commented, following the direction of her sidewise gaze, "is not yet the horse his sire was. He lacks a full year of training."
Jenny had jumped at his first words, and now she said, "He—he looks magnificent to me."
"Aye, he does," Godfrey agreed. "But watch Royce’s knee—there, did you see how he had to move it forward before Zeus knew to turn? Thor would have made that turn with a pressure no greater than this…" Reaching out, Godfrey very lightly pressed Jenny’s arm with his thumb. Guilt shot through Jenny at the thought of the splendid horse whose death she’d caused; Godfrey’s next words didn’t ease it: "In battle, having to guide your horse as firmly as Royce will have to do in the tournament, could cost your life."
Eustace and Gawin, who’d just dismounted, came over to join them, and Gawin—having heard Godfrey’s remark, was quick to take umbrage on Royce’s behalf. "There’s naught to worry about, my lady," he boasted. "Royce is the finest warrior alive—you’ll see it in the tournament."
Seeing his men watching him from the sidelines, Royce pulled Zeus out of another turn and then trotted over to them. With Jenny concealed by Godfrey and Gawin, he didn’t notice her until he stopped in front of the group and Gawin burst out, "Let Lady Jennifer see you ride at the quintain!"
"I’m certain," Royce declined after a questioning glance at his wife’s politely uninvolved expression, "Lady Jennifer has already seen more than enough of that from all of us."
"But," said Godfrey with a meaningful grin as he seconded Gawin’s request, "I’ll wager she’s never seen you miss it. Go ahead—show us how ’tis done."
With a reluctant nod, Royce turned Zeus into a tight circle and then sent him leaping forward from a dead stop.
"He’s going to miss on purpose?" Jenny asked, cringing in spite of herself at the sickening thud made by the sandbag whenever it struck a knight who missed.
"Watch," said Gawin proudly, "there’s no other knight who can do this—"
At that instant, Royce’s spear struck a mighty blow on the "knight’s" shoulder, not the shield, the sandbag whirled like lightning—and missed as Royce ducked low and to the side of his horse’s flying mane. Jennifer barely checked the impulse to clap in amazed surprise.
Baffled, she looked first to Eustace, then to Godfrey for an explanation; " ‘Tis his reflexes," Gawin provided proudly. "For all his muscle, Royce can move at the blink of an eye."
Royce’s smiling voice came back to her, reminding her of what had been one of the happiest nights of her life: Watch any warrior dodging lances and you’ll see dance steps and footwork that will dazzle you.
"He’s just that fast—" Gawin snapped his fingers for emphasis "—with a dagger or sword or mace."
This time, Jenny’s memory was of the dagger protruding from William’s chest, and it banished the other bittersweet memory. "That was a nice trick at the quintain," she said without any emotion, "however, ‘twould serve him naught in battle, for he could never lean to the side of his horse like that in armor."
"Oh, but he can!" Gawin crowed, delightedly. Then his face fell as Lady Jennifer politely walked away.
"Gawin," Godfrey said furiously, "your lack of perception frightens me. Go polish Royce’s armor and keep your mouth closed!" In disgust he turned to Eustace and added, "How can Gawin be so clearheaded in battle and an utter dolt when it comes to anything else?"