"Nay!" Brenna burst out. "We won’t. We can’t."
"Listen to me!" Jenny whispered so sternly that Brenna swallowed the rest of her protest. "If we become separated, you must know the rest of the plan so that I can—catch up with you later." When Brenna nodded reluctantly, Jenny took both her sister’s clammy hands in her own and squeezed them tightly, trying to infuse some of her own courage into Brenna. "North is toward that high hill—the one behind the pen where the horses are kept. Do you know which one I mean?"
"Good. Once I’ve gotten the horses and we’re mounted, we’re going to stay in the woods, working our way to the north, till we’ve topped the hill. Once there, we’ll angle west as we head down the hill, but we must remain in the woods. When we’re in sight of a road, we’ll ride parallel to it, but we’ll need to stay in the woods. Claymore will probably send someone to watch the roads, but they’ll be looking for two nuns from Belkirk Abbey, not two young men. If we’re lucky, we’ll meet up with some travelers and join their group, which will add to our disguise and increase our chances of success.
"Brenna, there’s one thing more. If they recognize us and give chase, you head as fast as you can in the direction I just told you, and I’ll veer off in another direction and lead them away from you. If that happens, stay under cover as much as you can. It’s no more than five or six hours to the abbey, but if I am caught, you must go on without me. I don’t know where we are now. I assume we’re across the border in England. Ride north by northwest and when you come to a village, ask for direction to Belkirk."
"I can’t just leave you," Brenna cried softly.
"You must—so that you can bring father and our kinsmen to my rescue."
Brenna’s face cleared slightly as she understood she’d be ultimately helping Jenny, not abandoning her, and Jenny gave her a bright smile. "I feel certain we’ll be at Merrick keep together by Saturday."
"Merrick keep?" Brenna blurted. "Should we not remain at the abbey and send someone else to inform father of what has happened?"
"You can stay at the abbey if you wish, and I’ll ask Mother Ambrose for an escort so I can continue on home sometime today or tonight. Father will surely think we’re hostages here, so I must reach him at once, before he accepts their terms. Besides, he’ll have questions to ask about how many men there are here, what arms they bear—things like that, which only we can answer."
Brenna nodded, but that was not the entire reason Jenny wished to go in person to Merrick keep, and they both knew it. More than anything, Jenny wanted to do something to make her father and her clan proud of her, and this was her golden opportunity. When and if she succeeded, she wanted to be there to see it in their eyes.
The guard’s footsteps sounded outside, and Jenny stood up, a polite, even conciliatory, smile fixed on her face. Brenna stood up, looking like she was about to face certain death.
"Good morning," Jenny said as Sir Godfrey escorted them toward the woods. "I feel as if I haven’t yet slept."
Sir Godfrey, a man of perhaps thirty, cast an odd look at her—undoubtedly, Jenny thought, because she’d never spoken a civil word to him; then she stiffened as his frowning gaze seemed to drift down her habit, padded now with men’s clothes beneath it.
"You slept little," he said, evidently aware of their late-night efforts with a needle.
Their footsteps were muffled by damp grass, as Jenny walked on his left with Brenna stumbling along on her other side.
Feigning a yawn, she cast a sidelong glance at him. "My sister is feeling rather peaked this morn from our late hours. ‘Twould be very nice for us if we were permitted a few extra minutes to refresh ourselves at the stream?"
His deeply creased, sun-bronzed face, turned to her, watching her with a mixture of suspicion and uncertainty, then he nodded agreeably.
"Fifteen minutes," he said and Jenny’s spirits soared, "but I want to be able to see the head of at least one of you."
He stood sentinel at the edge of the woods, his profile turned to them, his eyes, Jenny knew, dropping no lower than the top of their heads. So far, none of their guards had exhibited a lustful desire to glimpse them in any state of partial undress, for which she was particularly grateful today. "Stay calm," Jenny urged, leading Brenna directly toward the stream. Once there, she walked along the bank of the stream, moving as far into the woods as she dared without giving Sir Godfrey cause to barge into the woods in pursuit, then she stopped beneath the low limb of a tree that hung above a stand of brush.
"The water looks cold, Brenna," Jenny called, raising her voice so the guard could hear and would hopefully feel no need to watch them too closely. As she spoke, Jenny stood beneath the branch of the tree and carefully loosened her veil and wimple, nodding to Brenna to do the same. When both short veils had been removed, Jenny carefully ducked down, holding the veil above her head as if her head were still in it, and gingerly hung it on the limb just above her. Satisfied, she crouched and moved swiftly to Brenna who was likewise holding her headpiece above her head, and took it from Brenna’s shaking fingers, attaching it as best she could to the bush.
Two minutes later, both girls had shed their habits and were stuffing them beneath the brush, heaping leaves and twigs over the gray cloth to hide it from view. In a moment of inspiration, Jenny reached into the pile of clothing and twigs and snatched out her handkerchief. Pressing her finger to her lips, she winked at Brenna and bent low, scurrying in a crouch until she was about fifteen yards downstream, in the opposite direction they intended to go. Pausing only long enough to attach the white handkerchief to a thorny branch, as if she’d lost it in flight, she turned back and raced toward Brenna.
"That ought to mislead them and get us much more time," she said. Brenna nodded, looking doubtful and hopeful at the same time, and the two women looked at one another for a moment, each checking the other’s appearance. Brenna reached up and pulled Jenny’s cap lower over her ears and tucked in a stray wisp of red gold hair and nodded.
With a smile of appreciation and encouragement, Jenny grabbed Brenna’s hand and led her swiftly into the woods, moving north, keeping to the perimeter of the camp, praying that Godfrey would give them the full fifteen minutes he promised, and perhaps more.
A few minutes later they had worked their way around behind the pen where the horses were cordoned off, and they were crouched low in the brush, catching their breath. "Stay here and don’t move!" Jenny said, her gaze scanning the immediate vicinity for the guard she felt certain would have been stationed near the warhorses. She saw him then, fast asleep on the ground on the far side of the pen. "The guard’s asleep at his post," she whispered jubilantly, turning to Brenna, then she added quietly, "If he awakens and catches me trying to take the horses, follow our plan on foot. Do you understand? Stay in the woods and head for that high hill behind us."