A dozen sarcastic retorts sprang to her lips, but Jenny had no heart to speak them. She felt like she was dying inside as she looked at him. Royce turned to leave, but the sight of William's dagger lying upon the chest against the wall suddenly made her feel almost desperate to defend her dead brother's actions. As her husband reached for the door handle, she said, "I have thought it through, and I think William must have reached for his dagger not because he meant to use it, but because he was cautious of his safety while alone with you in the hall. Or perhaps he feared for my safety. 'Twas obvious you were enraged with me at the time. But he would never have tried to attack you—never from the back."
It was not an indictment, simply a statement of conclusion, and although Royce didn't turn to face her, she saw his shoulders stiffen as if bracing against pain while he spoke. "I reached the same conclusion the night it happened," Royce said tightly, almost relieved to have it out in the open. "From the corner of my eye, I saw a dagger being drawn at my back, and I reacted instinctively. It was a reflex. I'm sorry, Jennifer."
The woman he had married would not accept his word, nor his love, but, oddly, she accepted his apology. "Thank you," she said achingly, "for not trying to convince me or yourself that he was an assassin. 'Twill make it much easier for us—for you and I to…"
Jenny's voice trailed off as she tried to think what lay ahead for them, but all she could think of was what they had once shared—and lost. "For you and I to—treat each other courteously," she finished lamely.
Royce drew an unsteady breath and turned his head to her. "And that's all you want from me anymore?" he asked, his voice rough with emotion. "Courtesy?"
Jenny nodded because she could not speak. And because she could almost believe the look in his eyes was pain—a pain that surpassed even her own. "That's all I want," she finally managed to say.
A muscle at the base of his throat worked as if he were trying to speak, but he only nodded curtly. And then he left.
The moment the door closed behind him, Jenny clutched at the bedpost, tears streaming from her eyes in hot rivers. Her shoulders shook with violent, wrenching sobs she could no longer control; they tore from her chest and she wrapped her arms around the post, but her knees would no longer support her.
Canopied galleries with chairs placed on ascending levels lined all four sides of the enormous tournament field and were already crowded with gorgeously garbed ladies and gentlemen by the time Jenny, Brenna, Aunt Elinor, and Arik arrived. Flags flew from the tops of each gallery, displaying the coats of arms of all the occupants within it, and as Jenny looked about, searching for her own banner, she immediately confirmed that Katherine had been correct: the galleries of her countrymen were not integrated with the others but were set facing the English —locked in opposition even now.
"There, my dear—there is your coat of arms," Aunt Elinor said, pointing to the gallery across the field. "Flying right there beside your father's."
Arik spoke, startling the three women into near panic with the sound of his booming voice, "You sit there—" he ordered, pointing to the gallery flying the Claymore coat of arms above it.
Jenny, who knew this was the giant's order, not Royce's—which she wouldn't have obeyed anyway—shook her head. "I will sit beneath my own coat of arms, Arik. Wars with you have already emptied our gallery of many who should have been there. Claymore's gallery is packed."
But it wasn't. Not quite. There was a large, thronelike chair in the center of it that was conspicuously empty. It had been meant for Jenny, she knew. Her stomach twisted as she rode past it, and the minute she did, all six hundred guests at Claymore and every serf and villager within sight of the field seemed to turn and watch her, first with shock, then disappointment, and, from many, contempt.
Clan Merrick's gallery, flying the falcon and crescent, was between Clan MacPherson's and Clan Duggan's. To add to Jenny's mounting misery, the moment the clans across the field saw that she was riding to their side, an ear-rending cheer went up that continued growing in volume the closer she came. Jenny stared blindly ahead and made herself think only of William.
She took her seat in the front row, between Aunt Elinor and Brenna, and as soon as she was settled, her kinsmen, including Becky's father, began patting her shoulder and calling proud greetings to her. People she knew—and many she didn't—from the galleries around her lined up in front of her to either renew their acquaintance or ask for an introduction. Once she had longed only to be accepted by her people; today, she was being worshiped and petted like an adored national heroine by more than a thousand Scots.
And all she'd had to do in order to accomplish it was to publicly humiliate and betray her husband.
The realization made her stomach cramp and her hands perspire. She'd been here less than ten minutes and already Jenny didn't think she would be able to endure more than a few minutes of it without becoming physically ill.
And that was before the people who had crowded around her finally moved away, and she found herself the cynosure of nearly every eye across the field on the English side. Everywhere she looked, the English were either looking at her, pointing at her, or drawing someone else's attention to her.
"Just look," Aunt Elinor said delightedly, nodding at the infuriated, glaring English, "at the wonderful headpieces we are all wearing! It was just as I expected —all of us were quite carried away with the spirit of the day and have worn the sort of thing that was in style in our youth."
Jenny forced herself to lift her head, her gaze running blindly over the sea of colored canopies, waving flags, and floating veils across the field from her. There were steeple-shaped caps with veils trailing all the way to the ground; caps that stood out on both sides like giant wings, caps shaped like hearts with veils, like cornucopias with draperies, and even caps that looked as if two square pieces of veiling had been shaken out and hung over long sticks that were standing in the ladies' hair. Jenny saw them without seeing them, just as she was vaguely aware that Elinor was saying, "and while you are looking about, my dear, keep your head high, for you have made your choice—though a wrong one I think—and now you must try to carry it off."
Jenny's head jerked toward her. "What are you saying, Aunt Elinor?"
"What I would have said before if you'd asked me: your place is with your husband. However, my place is with you. And so here I am. And here is dear Brenna on your other side, who I strongly suspect is concocting some wild scheme to stay behind and remain with your husband's brother."