"I think I do," William quietly replied and all heads turned to him. "We can't get the girls out by force, but stealth might do the trick. Instead of sending an army out to challenge him, let me take a few men with me. We'll dress as merchants, or friars, or something, and we'll follow the Wolf's army until we can get close to the girls. Jenny," he said fondly, "may well realize what I say is true. If so, she'll be watching for us."
"I say we attack!" Malcolm burst out, his desire to pit himself against the Wolf again overwhelming his reason, as well as what little concern he had for his sisters.
Both young men turned to their father for an opinion. "Malcolm," the earl said fondly, " 'tis like you to want to take a man's approach—to exact revenge and damn the consequences. You'll have your chance to attack when Jamie sends us reinforcements. For now"—he glanced at William with a glimmer of new respect—"your brother's plan is the best we have."
During the next five days, Jenny began to recognize the routine followed by the resting army. In the morning, shortly after dawn, the men arose and practiced with their weapons for several hours, making the fields and valley ring with the ceaseless, discordant clanging of sword against shield, broadsword against broadsword. The Wolf's archers, whose skill was legendary, practiced daily also, adding the twang of their bows to the clanking of metal on metal. Even the horses were taken out each day and drilled, their riders galloping them at breakneck speed in mock charges against imaginary foes, until the sounds of warfare continued to drum and echo in her ears long after the men ceased for the midday meal.
Sitting just inside Royce's tent, her fingers busily sewing at the blankets, Jenny listened to the endless clamor, trying unsuccessfully to keep her worries under control. She couldn't imagine how her father's army would survive when pitted against the finely honed "war machine" the Wolf had made of his men, not could she help worrying that Merrick keep would be unprepared for the sort of assault it was bound to receive. Then her worries shifted to Brenna.
She hadn't had more than a brief glimpse of her sister since the night of their ill-fated escape. Stefan, the earl's younger brother, was evidently responsible for keeping Brenna prisoner in his tent, just as the earl of Claymore had assumed responsibility for Jenny; however, the earl had forbidden the girls to be together. Jenny questioned him repeatedly about Brenna's safety and he'd replied with seeming honesty that Brenna was perfectly safe and being treated as a guest by his brother.
Putting her sewing aside, Jenny stood up and went to the open flap of the tent, longing to walk about. The weather was lovely for early September—warm during the day, though cold at night. The Wolf's elite guard—fifteen men whose sole responsibility was to Royce, not the army—were practicing on horseback at the far side of the field, and though she longed to walk outside in the sunshine, even that was forbidden to her by her captor, whose attitude toward her seemed to harden more each day. The knights, especially Sir Godfrey and Sir Eustace, who'd been almost polite before, now treated her like an enemy whose presence they were forced to endure. Brenna and she had duped them, and none of them were likely ever to forget or overlook it.
That night, after she'd eaten, Jenny again brought up the subject most on her mind. "I wish to see my sister," she said to the earl, trying to match his cool mood.
"Then try asking me," he said shortly "not telling me.
Jenny stiffened at his tone, paused to assess her predicament and the importance of achieving her goal, and after a meaningful hesitation, she conceded with a nod, and sweetly said, "Very well, then. May I see my sister, my lord?"
"Why in God's name not?" Jenny exploded, momentarily forgetting her meek pose.
His eyes sparked with laughter. "Because," Royce commented, enjoying sparring with her even though he'd decided to keep her at arm's length physically and mentally. "As I've already told you, you are a bad influence on your sister. On her own, without you, she'd never have imagination or courage enough to plan an escape. And without her, you can't consider leaving."
Jenny would have dearly loved to call him names that would have scorched his ears, but to do that would only defeat her purpose. "I don't suppose you'd believe me if I give you my word not to try to escape."
"Are you willing to do that?"
"Yes. Now may I see my sister?"
"No," he rejoined politely, "I'm afraid not."
"I find it amazing," she announced with magnificent, regal disdain as she slowly arose, "that you aren't certain an entire English army can confine two mere females. Or is it cruelty that makes you refuse me?"
His mouth tightened, but he said nothing, and immediately after supper he left and did not return until long after Jennifer had gone to sleep.
The following morning, Jenny was astonished to see Brenna being led toward the tent. The gray habits they'd buried near the stream were too filthy to wear and, like Jenny, Brenna was now garbed in tunic, hose, and high soft boots obviously borrowed from one of the pages.
After embracing warmly, Jenny pulled her sister down beside her and was about to launch into a discussion of possible means of escape, when her gaze fell upon a pair of men's boots that were visible between the base of the tent and the ground. Boots with the golden spurs that were forbidden to any but a knight.
"How have you fared, sister?" Brenna asked worriedly.
"Very well," Jenny answered, wondering which of the knights was out there and if whoever it was had been ordered to listen to what the girls said. A sudden, thoughtful look crossed Jenny's face and she added slowly, "In fact, had I known how well treated we would be amongst them, I'd not have attempted our foolhardy escape."
"What?" Brenna gasped, her face agog.
Jenny signaled her to keep silent, then she cupped Brenna's face between her hands and physically directed her gaze to the black boots just outside the tent. In the barest whisper, she said, "If we can convince them we no longer wish to escape, we'll stand a much better chance of getting an opportunity to do it. We have to leave, Brenna, before Father surrenders. If he does that, 'twill be too late."
Brenna nodded her understanding and Jenny continued, "I know 'tis not at all the way I felt when first we were captured, but to tell you truly, I was badly frightened alone in those hills the night we attempted to escape. And when I heard that wolf howl—"