Even to Jenny, who knew him, he looked terrifying as he started across the field. She saw him look toward his own gallery, and she sensed his momentary mistake when he saw a woman seated in the chair at the front of the gallery that had been meant for Jenny. But instead of riding toward it, or toward any of at least a thousand women around the field who were frantically waving their veils and ribbons at him, Royce swung Zeus in the opposite direction.

Jennifer's heart slammed into her ribs with a sickening thud when she realized he was coming straight toward her. The crowd saw it, too, and grew silent again, watching. While everyone in the Merrick gallery began to shout curses at him, Royce rode Zeus clear up to within lance's reach of Jenny and halted him. But instead of tipping his lance forward for the favor he knew she would not give him, he did something more shattering to her, something she had never seen done before: He sat there, Zeus shifting about restlessly beneath him, and he looked at her, then he deftly but slowly twisted his lance, setting the end on the ground.

It was a salute! her heart screamed. He was saluting her, and Jenny knew a moment of pain and panic that surpassed everything, even William's death. She half rose out of her chair, not certain what she meant to do, and then the moment was past. Wheeling Zeus around, Royce galloped to his end of the field past the Frenchman, who was adjusting the visor on his helmet, settling it more firmly on his neck, and flexing his arm as if testing the weight of his lance.

Advertisement

Royce spun his horse to face his opponent, lowered his visor, couched his lance… and was still. Perfectly still—violence, cold and emotionless; leashed for the moment, but waiting…

At the first note from the trumpet, Royce crouched low, dug his spurs into Zeus, and sent him hurtling down the course straight at his opponent. His lance struck the Frenchman's shield with so much force the shield flew off to the side and the knight toppled backward over his horse, landing on his bent right leg in a way that left no chance the leg was unbroken. Finished, Royce galloped to the opposite end of the field and waited, facing the entrance. Unmoving again.

Jenny had seen Ian MacPherson joust before and thought him magnificent. He came onto the field looking as lethal as Royce in the MacPherson colors of dark green and gold, his horse at a ground-eating trot.

Royce, she noted from the corner of her eye, did not move his gaze from Ian MacPherson, and something about the way Royce watched him convinced Jenny that he was judging the future chieftan of Clan MacPherson, and that he was not underestimating Ian's threat. It dawned on Jenny that Royce and Ian were the only two knights in German armor, its starkly angular lines emulating the human body. In fact, the only ornamentation on Royce's armor were two small, concave brass plates the size of a fist, one at each shoulder.

She lifted her sideways gaze to Royce's face and could almost feel the relentless thrust of his narrowed gaze pilloring Ian. So absorbed was she that Jenny had no idea Ian MacPherson had reined to a halt in front of her and was at that moment extending his lance tip to her…

"Jenny!" Becky's father grabbed her shoulder, drawing her attention to Ian. Jenny glanced up and let out an anguished moan, paralyzed with disbelief, but Aunt Elinor let out a cry of exaggerated delight: "Ian MacPherson!" she crowed, snatching off her veil, "You always were the most gallant man," and leaning slightly sideways she tied her yellow veil on the frowning knight's spear.

-- Advertisement --

When Ian took his place down the field from Royce, Jenny noticed at once the subtle difference in Royce's stance: he was as motionless as before—but now he was leaning slightly forward, crouched, menacing—eager to be unleashed on the foe who'd dared seek a favor from his wife. The trumpet blasted, warhorses plunged, gaining momentum, hurtling forward; spears leveled, adjusted, deadly points glinting—and just as Royce was about to strike, Ian MacPherson let out a blood-chilling war bellow and hit. A lance exploded against a shield and an instant later Ian and his magnificent gray horse were toppling to the ground together, crashing, then rolling sideways amidst a cloud of dust.

An ear-rending roar went up from the crowd, but Royce didn't remain to enjoy the hysterical accolades. With cold disregard for his worthy, fallen foe, whose squire was helping him to his feet, Royce wheeled Zeus around and sent him galloping off the field.

The tournament was next, and it was what Jenny had been dreading most, for even at home, they were little less than full-fledged battles with two groups of opposing forces charging each other from opposite ends of the field. The only thing that prevented them from turning into full-scale massacres were a few rules, but as the herald finished announcing the rules that would cover this tournament, her dread multiplied tenfold. As usual, there was the ban against any weapons with sharp points being brought into the lists. Striking a man whose back was turned or striking a horse was prohibited. It was also forbidden to strike a man who took off his helmet for a period of rest—however, only two such periods would be permitted to any knight, unless his horse had failed him. The winning side was whichever one had the most men still mounted or uninjured.

Beyond that, there were to be no rules, no ropes nor fences dividing the forces once the fighting began. Nothing. Jenny held her breath, knowing there was one more decision to be announced, and when it was, her heart sank: today, the herald cried out, because of the skill and worthiness of the knights, broadswords would be allowed as well as spears, if bated.

Two cavalcades of one hundred knights each—one headed by Royce, the other by DuMont—rode onto the field from opposite ends, followed by squires carrying spare lances and broadswords.

Jenny's whole body began to tremble as she looked over the knights on DuMont's side: her father was there, as were Malcolm and MacPherson and a dozen other clans whose badges she recognized. The field was split between the English on one end and the French and Scots on the opposite. Just as in life, these men were divided into the same sides on the tourney field that they took in battle. But it was not supposed to be this way, her heart screamed; a tournament was fought for individual glory and for exhibition, it was not for the triumph of one enemy over another. Tournaments fought between enemies—and there had been some—had been blood baths! Jenny tried to calm her wild foreboding, but without a trace of success; every instinct she possessed was already screaming that something unspeakable was going to happen.

Advertisement

Trumpets sounded three warning blasts, and Jennifer began to pray mindlessly for the safety of everyone she knew. The rope, which had temporarily divided the field in half, tautened; the fourth blast split the air, and the rope was jerked away. Two hundred horses thundered down the field, the earth trembling beneath them as broadswords and lances were raised—and then it happened: twenty of Jenny's kinsmen, led by her father and brother, split off from the charge and headed straight at Royce, wielding broadswords with a vengeance.

-- Advertisement --