Jenny’s scream was drowned by the roars of enraged disapproval from the English as the Scots converged on Royce like the Horsemen of the Apocalypse. In the moments that followed, Jenny witnessed the most breathtaking show of swordsmanship and strength she had ever beheld: Royce fought like a man possessed, his reflexes so quick, his swing so powerful, that he took six men off their horses with him when they finally brought him down. And still the nightmare worsened; unaware that she was standing along with everyone else in the galleries, she tried to see into the pile of men and metal, her ears bursting with the clanging, clashing, and clanking of sword on steel. Royce’s knights saw what had happened and began hacking a path to him, and then—from Jenny’s vantage point—it looked as if the entire outlook of the battle changed. Royce lunged up and out of the heap of men like an avenging demon, his broadsword grasped in both hands as he raised it over his head and swung it with all his might—at her father.
Jenny never saw the twist of Royce’s wrists that brought his sword down on a highlander instead of her father, because she had covered her face and screamed into her hands. She didn’t see the blood running down beneath Royce’s armor from the savage gashes her brother had dug when he rammed his concealed dagger into the vulnerable spot at the neck between Royce’s helmet and breastplate; she didn’t see that they’d hacked through the light armor at his thigh, or that when they’d had him out of sight they’d hammered at his back and shoulders and head.
All she saw when she uncovered her face was that, somehow, her father was still on his feet, and Royce was attacking MacPherson and two others like a coldly enraged madman, swinging and hacking… and that wherever he struck, men fell like savaged metal sheep.
Jenny bolted from her chair, and almost fell over Brenna, who had clamped her eyes closed. "Jenny!" Aunt Elinor cried, "I don’t think you ought—" but Jenny didn’t pay attention; bile was rising up in her throat in a bitter stream. Half blinded by tears, she ran to her horse and snatched the mare’s reins from the startled serf’s hands…
"Look, my lady!" he burst out enthusiastically, helping her into the saddle and pointing at Royce out on the field, "did you ever see aught like him in yer life?" Jenny glanced up once more and saw Royce’s broadsword explode against a Scotsman’s shoulder. She saw that her father, her brother, Becky’s father, and a dozen other Scots were getting up off the ground, which was already running with blood.
She saw impending death.
The vision tormented her as she stood at the open window of her bedchamber, her pale face tipped against the frame, her arms wrapped around her middle, trying somehow to hold all the pain and terror inside of her. An hour had passed since she left the tourney, and the jousting had been under way for at least half that time. Royce had said he accepted eleven matches, and he’d already fought two before the tournament. Based on the herald’s announcement that jousts following the tournament would begin with the most skilled jousters first, Jenny had little doubt all of Royce’s matches had followed the tournament in succession. How much more impressive, she thought with vague misery, it was for King Henry to demonstrate to one and all that even exhausted, his famous champion could defeat any Scot foolish enough to challenge him.
She had already counted five completed matches—she could tell by the awful jeering roar from the crowd when each loser left the field. After four more matches, Royce would be off the field; by then someone would surely have brought her word of how many of her people he’d maimed or killed. It did not occur to her as she reached up and brushed a tear from her cheek that anything might have happened to Royce; he was invincible. She’d seen that during his jousts at the beginning of the tournament. And… God forgive her… she’d been proud. Even when he was confronting Ian MacPherson, she’d been so proud…
Her heart and mind ravaged by divided loyalty, she stood where she was, unable to see the field but able to hear what was happening. Based on the prolonged, ugly jeering coming from the crowd—a sound that was becoming more pronounced at the end of each match—they weren’t getting much of a show from the loser of each match. Evidently her Scots weren’t even worth a bit of polite applause…
She jumped as the door to her bedchamber was flung open and crashed into the wall. "Get your cloak," Stefan Westmoreland snapped ominously, "you’re coming back to that field with me if I have to drag you there!"
"I’m not going back," Jenny countered, turning to the window again. "I have no stomach for cheering while my husband batters my family to pieces, or—"
Stefan grabbed her shoulders and spun her around, his voice like a savage whiplash: "I’ll tell you what’s happening! My brother is out there on that field, dying! He swore he’d not raise his hand against your kinsmen and, the moment they realized that during the tournament, your precious kinsmen massacred him!" he said between his teeth, shaking her. "They tore him to pieces in the tournament! And now he’s jousting—Do you hear that crowd jeering? They’re jeering him. He’s so badly injured, I don’t think he knows any more when he’s been unhorsed. He thought he’d be able to outmaneuver them in the jousts, but he can’t, and fourteen more Scots have challenged him."
Jenny stared at him, her pulse beginning to race like a maddened thing, but her body was rooted to the floor, as if she was trying to run in a nightmare.
"Jennifer!" he said hoarsely, "Royce is letting them kill him." His hands bit painfully into her arms, but his voice broke with anguish. "He is out there on that field, dying for you. He killed your brother and he’s paying—" He broke off as Jennifer tore free from his grip and started running…
Garrick Carmichael spat on the ground near Royce as he rode off the field, victorious, but Royce was oblivious to such subtle insults. He staggered to his knees, vaguely aware that the roar of the crowd was slowly and unaccountably rising to deafening proportions. Swaying, he reached up and pulled off his helmet; he tried to transfer it to his left arm, but his arm was hanging uselessly by his side, and the helmet fell to the ground. Gawin was running toward him—no not Gawin—someone in a blue cloak, and he squinted, trying to focus, wondering if it was his next opponent.
Through the haze of sweat and blood and pain that blurred his vision and fogged his mind, Royce thought for a moment he saw the figure of a woman running—running toward him, her uncovered hair tossing about her, glinting in the sun with red and gold. Jennifer! In disbelief, he squinted, staring, while the earsplitting thunder of the crowd rose higher and higher.