Brenna swallowed, shook her head, and promptly burst into tears. "No—" she cried hysterically, "although he grew very angry because I—I couldn't stop w-weeping. I was so very scared, Jenny, and he's so huge, and so fierce, and I couldn't s-stop crying, which only p-pro-provoked him more."
"Don't cry," Jenny soothed. "It's all over now," she lied. Lying, she thought sadly, was beginning to come very easily to her.
Stefan threw back the flap of Royce's tent and walked inside. "My God, she's a beauty," he said, referring to Brenna, who had just departed. "Too bad she's a nun."
"She's not," Royce snapped irritably. "She managed, between bouts of weeping, to explain she's a 'novice.' "
Royce Westmoreland was a battle-hardened warrior whose firsthand knowledge of religious rights was virtually nonexistent. His entire world, since he was a boy, had been military, and so he translated Brenna's tearful explanation into military terms he understood: "Apparently, a novice is a volunteer who hasn't completed his training or sworn fealty to his liege lord yet."
"Do you believe she tells the truth about that?"
Royce grimaced and swallowed more of his ale. "She's too frightened to lie. For that matter, she's too frightened to talk."
Stefan's eyes narrowed in what might have been jealousy over the girl or merely annoyance at his brother's failure to learn more of value. "And too beautiful to question too harshly?"
Royce sent him a sardonic look, but his mind was on the matter at hand. "I want to know how well fortified Merrick castle is, as well as the lay of its land—anything we can learn that will be of help. Otherwise, you'll have to make that trip to Merrick you started on yesterday." He set the tankard down with a resolute thud upon the trestle table. "Have the sister brought to me," he said with deathly finality.
Brenna scooted backward in terror when the giant, Arik, entered their tent, the earth seeming to tremble with each of his footsteps. "Nay, please," she whispered desperately. "Don't take me back before him."
Ignoring Brenna completely, he stalked over to Jenny, clenched her arm in his enormous fist and hauled her to her feet. Legend, Jenny realized a little hysterically, had not exaggerated the size of Arik's war axe: its handle was as thick as a stout tree limb.
The Wolf was pacing restlessly within the confines of his large tent, but he stopped abruptly when Jenny was thrust inside, his silver eyes raking over her as she stood proudly erect, her hands bound behind her. Although her face was carefully expressionless, Royce was amazed to see veiled contempt in the blue eyes staring defiantly into his. Contempt—and not a trace of tears. Suddenly he recalled what he'd heard of Merrick's eldest girl. The younger was called the "Jewel of Scotland," but legend had it that this one was a cold, proud heiress with a dowry so rich, and bloodlines so noble, that no man was above her touch. Not only that, she was purported to be a plain girl who'd scorned the only offer of marriage she was likely to receive and had then been sent to a nunnery by her father. With her face streaked all over with dirt, it was impossible to tell how "plain" she was, but she certainly didn't possess her sister's angelic beauty and temperament. The other girl had wept piteously—this one was glaring at him. "God's teeth, are you truly sisters?"
Her chin lifted higher. "Yes."
"Amazing," he said in a derisive voice. "Are you full sisters?" he asked suddenly as if puzzled. "Answer me!" he snapped when she remained stubbornly silent.
Jenny, who was far more terrified than she showed, suddenly doubted he meant to torture her or put her to death at the end of an interview which began with innocuous questions about her genealogy. "She is my stepsister," she admitted, and then a spurt of defiant courage overcame her terror. "I find it difficult to concentrate on anything when my wrists are bound behind me. It's painful and unnecessary."
"You're right," he remarked with deliberate crudity, recalling she'd kicked him in the groin. "It's your feet that should be bound."
He sounded so disgruntled that amused satisfaction made her lips twitch. Royce saw it and could not believe his eyes. Grown men, warriors, quailed in his presence, but this young girl with the haughty stance and stubborn chin was actually enjoying defying him. His curiosity and his patience abruptly evaporated. "Enough polite trivialities," he said sharply, advancing slowly on her.
Jenny's amusement vanished and she retreated a step, then she stopped and made herself hold her ground.
"I want answers to some questions. How many men-at-arms does your father keep at Merrick castle?"
"I don't know," Jenny said flatly, then she spoiled the effect of her bravado by taking another cautious step backward.
"Does your father think I mean to march on him?"
"I don't know."
"You're trying my patience," he warned in a silky, ominous voice. "Would you prefer I ask these questions of your tender little sister instead?"
That threat had the desired effect; her defiant expression turned desperate. "Why wouldn't he think you're going to attack him? For years, there have been rumors that you're going to do it. Now, you have an excuse! Not that you need one." Jennifer cried, frightened past all reason when he began advancing on her again. "You're an animal! You enjoy killing innocent people!" When he didn't deny that he enjoyed it, Jenny felt her insides cringe.
"Now that you know that much," he said in a dangerously soft voice, "suppose you tell me how many men-at-arms your father has?"
Jenny hastily calculated that there must be at least 500 left. "Two hundred," she said.
"You stupid, reckless little fool!" Royce hissed, grabbing her arms and giving her a hard shake. "I could break you in half with my bare hands, yet you still lie to me?"
"What do you expect me to do?" Jenny cried, quaking all over, but still stubborn. "Betray my own father to you?"
"Before you leave this tent," he promised, "you'll tell me what you know of his plans—willingly or with some help from me you won't enjoy."
"I don't know how many men he's gathered," Jenny cried helplessly. "It's true," she flung out. "Until yesterday, my father hadn't seen me in two years, and before that he rarely spoke to me!"
That answer so took Royce by surprise that he stared at her. "Why not?"