Standing outside the tent beside Arik, Jenny watched as Royce reached down to take his lance from Gawin. He glanced at her, hesitated a split second—a pause that seemed somehow meaningful—then he turned Zeus and started to ride toward the ring. It hit Jenny then what he had hoped for but had not asked for, and she called out for him to wait.
She hurried into Royce’s tent and snatched up the shears they’d used to cut cloth strips to bind his wounds. Running up to the black destrier who was restless now, pawing the ground with his front hoof, she stopped and looked up at her smiling husband. Then she bent and cut an oblong piece from the hem of her blue silk gown, reached up and tied it around the end of Royce’s lance.
Arik walked up beside her and together they watched him ride onto the tourney field, while the crowd thundered with approval. Jenny’s gaze riveted on the bright blue banner floating from the tip of his lance, and despite all her love for him, an aching lump of tears swelled in her throat. The shears in her hand hung like a heavy symbol of what she had just done: from the moment she’d tied her banner on Royce’s lance, she had severed all her ties with her country.
She swallowed audibly, then jumped in shock as Arik’s flattened hand suddenly came to rest atop her head. As heavy as a war hammer, it stayed there for a moment, then it slid down to her cheek, pulling her face against his side. It was a hug.
"You needn’t worry we’ll awaken him, my dear," Aunt Elinor said with absolute conviction to Jenny. "He’ll sleep for hours yet."
A pair of gray eyes snapped open, searched the room, then riveted with lazy admiration on the courageous, golden-haired beauty who was standing in the doorway of her chamber, listening to her aunt.
"Even without the tisane I gave him," Aunt Elinor continued as she went over to the vials and powders laid out on a trunk, "any man who returns, wounded, to participate in five more jousts would sleep the night through. Although," she added with a bright smile, "he did not take much time routing the lot of them. What endurance he has," she said with an admiring smile, "and what skill. I’ve never seen the equal to it."
Jenny was more concerned with Royce’s comfort at the moment than with his feats when he reentered the lists. "He’s going to hurt terribly when he does awaken. I wish you could give him more of the potion you gave him earlier, before he went back onto the field."
"Well, yes, it would be nice, but it’s unwise. Besides, from the looks of those scars on his body, he’s accustomed to dealing with pain. And as I told you, ’tis not safe to use more than one dose of my potion. It has some undesirable effects, I’m sad to say."
"What sort of effects?" Jenny asked, still hoping to do something to help him.
"For one thing," Aunt Elinor said in a dire voice, " ‘twould render him unable to perform in bed for as long as a sennight."
"Aunt Elinor," Jenny said firmly, more than willing to sacrifice the pleasure of his lovemaking for the sake of his comfort, "if that’s all there is to worry about, then please fix more of it."
Aunt Elinor hesitated, then reluctantly nodded, picking up a vial of white powder from the top of the trunk.
" ‘Tis a pity," Jenny observed wryly, "that you couldn’t add something to it—something to keep him calm for when I tell him Brenna is here and that Stefan and she wish to be wed. He did so want a life of peace," she added with a tired chuckle, "and I doubt he’s ever been through more turmoil than he has since he set eyes on me."
"I’m sure you’re right," Aunt Elinor unhelpfully replied. "But then, Sir Godfrey confided to me that his grace has never laughed as much as he has since he’s known you, so one can only hope he enjoys laughing enough to compensate for a life of upheaval."
"At least," Jenny said, her eyes darkening with pain as she glanced at the parchment on the table that had been delivered to her from her father, "he will not have to live in daily expectation of my father attacking him in order to set Brenna and me free. He has disowned us both."
Aunt Elinor glanced sympathetically at her niece, then she said philosophically, "He has always been a man who was more capable of hate than love, my dear, only you never saw it. If you ask me, the one he loves best is himself. Were that not so, he’d have never tried to marry you off, first to old Balder and then the MacPherson. He has never been interested in you except to further his own selfish goals. Brenna sees him for what he is because he is not her true father, and so she is not blinded by love."
"He disowned my children, too—any I ever have—" Jenny whispered shakily. "Imagine how much he must hate me to disown his own grandchildren."
"As to that, ’twas not what you did today which hardened him to your children. He never wanted any if they were sired by the duke."
"I—I don’t believe that," Jenny said, unable to stop torturing herself with guilt. "They would have been my children as well."
"Not to him," Aunt Elinor said. Holding a small glass up to the light, she squinted at the amount of powder it contained, then she added a pinch more. "This powder, if administered in small amounts for a few weeks, has been known to render a man completely impotent. Which is why," she continued as she poured some wine into the glass, "your father wished me to accompany you to Claymore. He wanted to be certain your husband would not be able to get you with child. Which, as I pointed out to him, meant that you, too, would be childless, but he cared naught about that."
Jenny’s breath froze, first in horror at her father’s actions and then at the thought that Aunt Elinor might have been following his instructions. "You—you haven’t been putting any of it in my husband’s food or drink, have you?"
Unaware of the tense, thunderous gaze leveled on her from the bed, Aunt Elinor took her time stirring the mix with a spoon. "Heavens no, nor would I have. But I cannot help thinking," she added, carrying it carefully toward the bed, "that when your father decided not to send me to Claymore after all, he must have arrived at some better plan. Now go to bed and try to sleep," she ordered sternly, unaware that she had just added to Jenny’s pain by convincing her that her father had, indeed, intended to lock her away in a cloister for the rest of her life.
Aunt Elinor waited until Jenny had gone into her chamber. Satisfied that her niece would get some badly needed rest, she turned to the duke, then gasped, her hand flying to her throat in momentary alarm at the ominous way he was glaring at the glass she held. "I prefer the pain, madame," he said shortly. "Take that powder out of my chamber. Out of my demesne," he amended implacably.