As to their captor not murdering them if he caught them, that much was likely true; however, there were other—unthinkable—male alternatives to outright murder that he had at hand to retaliate against them. Her mind conjured up an image of his dark face all but hidden by at least a fortnight’s growth of thick, black beard, and she shivered at the memory of those strange silver eyes as they’d looked last night with the leaping flames from the fires reflected in them. Today his eyes had been the angry gray of a stormy sky—but there had been a moment, when his eyes had shifted to her mouth, that the expression in their depths had changed—and that indefinable change had made him seem more threatening than ever before. It was his black beard, she told herself bracingly, that made him seem so frightening, for it hid his features. Without that dark beard, he’d doubtless look like any other elderly man of… thirty-five? Forty? She’d heard the legend of him since she was a child of three or four, so he must be very old indeed! She felt better, realizing he was old. ‘Twas only his beard that made him seem alarming, she reassured herself. His beard, and his daunting height and build, and his strange, silver eyes.
Morning came and still she’d come up with no truly feasible plan that would satisfy their need to make all speed as well as hide and to avoid being set upon by bandits, or worse. "If only we had some men’s clothing," Jenny said, not for the first time, "then we’d have a much better chance, both to escape and to reach our destination."
"We can’t very well just ask our guard to lend us his," Brenna said a little desperately, as fear overwhelmed even her placid disposition. "I wish I had my sewing," she added with a ragged sigh. "I’m so jumpy I can hardly sit still. Besides, I always think most clearly when I’ve my needle in my hand. Do you suppose our guard would secure a needle for me if I asked him very nicely to do it?"
"Hardly," Jenny replied absently, plucking at the hem of her habit as she gazed out at the men tramping about in war-torn clothes. If anyone needed a needle and thread, it was those men. "Besides, what would you sew with the—" Jenny’s voice dropped but her spirits soared, and it was all she could do to smooth the joyous smile from her face as she turned slowly to Brenna. "Brenna," she said in a carefully offhand voice, "you’re quite right to ask the guard to secure you a needle and thread. He seems nice enough, and I know he finds you lovely. Why don’t you call him over and ask him to get us two needles."
Jenny waited, laughing inwardly as Brenna went to the flap of the tent and motioned to the guard. Soon she would tell Brenna the plan, but not yet; Brenna’s face would give her away if she tried to lie.
"It’s a different guard—I don’t know this one at all," Brenna whispered in disappointment as the man came toward her. "Shall I send him to fetch the nice guard?"
"By all means," Jenny said, grinning.
Sir Eustace was with Royce and Stefan looking over some maps when he was informed by the guard that the ladies were asking for him. "Is there no end to her arrogance!" Royce bit out, referring to Jenny. "She even sends her guards on errands, and what’s more, they run to do her bidding." Checking his tirade, he said shortly, "I assume it was the blue-eyed one with the dirty face who sent you?"
Sir Lionel chuckled and shook his head. "I saw two clean faces, Royce, but the one who talked to me had greenish eyes, not blue."
"Ah, I see," Royce said sarcastically, "it wasn’t Arrogance that sent you trotting away from your post, it was Beauty. What does she want?"
"She wouldn’t tell me. Wants to see Eustace, she said."
"Get back to your post and stay there. Tell her to wait," he snapped.
"Royce, they’re no more than two helpless females," the knight reminded him, "and small ones at that. What’s more, you won’t trust anyone to guard them except Arik or one of us," he said, referring to the knights who made up Royce’s elite personal guard and were also trusted friends. "You’re keeping them bound and under guard like they were dangerous men, able to overpower us and escape."
"I can’t trust anyone else with the women," Royce said, absently rubbing the back of his neck. Abruptly, he lurched out of his chair. "I’m tired of the inside of this tent. I’ll go with you and see what they want."
"So will I," Stefan said.
Jenny saw the earl coming, his long effortless strides bringing him swiftly toward their tent, two guards on his right and his brother on the left.
"Well?" Royce said, stepping into their tent with the three men. "What is it this time?" he demanded of Jenny.
Brenna whirled around in panic, her hand over her heart, her face a picture of flustered innocence as she hastened to take the blame for annoying him. "I—it was I who asked for him." She nodded in the direction of the guard. "For Sir Eustace."
With a sigh of impatience, Royce withdrew his gaze from Jenny and looked at her foolish sister. "Would you care to tell me why you did?"
It was actually all she was going to say, Royce realized. "Very well, then tell me."
"I… we"—she cast a look of sheer misery at Jenny, then plunged ahead—"we… would like very much to be given thread and needles."
Royce’s gaze swung suspiciously to the person most likely to have conceived some way of using needles to his own physical discomfort, but today Lady Jennifer Merrick returned his gaze levelly, her face subdued, and he felt an odd sense of disappointment that her bravado had been depleted so quickly. "Needles?" he repeated, frowning at her.
"Yes," Jenny answered in a carefully modulated voice that was neither challenging nor submissive, but calmly polite as if she’d quietly accepted her fate. "The days grow long and we have little to do. My sister, Brenna, suggested we spend the time sewing."
"Sewing?" Royce repeated, disgusted with himself for keeping them bound and under heavy guard. Lionel was right—Jenny was merely a small female. A young, reckless, headstrong girl with more bravado than sense. He’d overestimated her simply because no other prisoner brought before him had dared to strike him. "What do you think this is, the queen’s drawing room?" he snapped. "We don’t have any of those—" His brain stalled as he searched for the names of the contraptions which women at court spent hours of every day sewing upon with embroidery thread.
"Embroidery hoops?" Jenny provided helpfully.