When Jennifer nodded, he looked relieved.
"Yes, well, have you ever seen a siege? Seen what happens?"
" 'Tis not a pretty sight to be sure. There's a saying that 'when two nobles quarrel, the poor man's thatch goes up in flames,' and 'tis true. It's not only the castle and its owners who suffer, 'tis also the villeins and serfs. Their crops are filched by defenders and attackers alike, their children are killed in the fray, and their homes are destroyed. It's not unusual for an attacker to deliberately set fire to the countryside about the castle, to destroy the fields and orchards, and even to murder the laborers, to prevent them from being enlisted by the defenders."
Although none of this was completely new to Jenny, she'd never before been at the site of a siege during it or immediately afterward. Now, however, as she sat in the peaceful little chapel that stood on land that Royce had once laid siege to, the picture took on an unpleasant clarity.
"There's no doubt that some of these things were done by your husband when he laid siege to Claymore, and, while I'm certain his motives were impersonal and that he acted in the best interest of the Crown, the peasantry cares little for noble motives when they've been impoverished by a battle in which they have nothing to gain and everything to lose."
Jenny thought of the clans in the highlands who fought and fought, without complaint about the deprivations, and shook her head in bewilderment. "It's different here."
"Unlike the members of your clans, especially the highlanders, the English peasantry does not share in the spoils of victory," Friar Gregory said, understanding her dilemma and trying to explain. "Under English law, all the land actually belongs to the king. The king then bestows parcels of this land upon his favored nobles as rewards for loyalty or special service. The nobles choose the sites they wish for their own demesne and then they grant the peasant a measure of land for himself, in return for which the vassal is expected to work two or three days a week on the lord's fields or to give manorial service at the castle. Naturally, they are also expected to contribute a measure of grain or produce from time to time.
"In times of war or famine, the lord is morally—but not legally—obliged to protect the interests of his serfs and villeins. Sometimes they do protect them, but usually only if it's of benefit to themselves."
When Friar Gregory fell silent, Jenny said slowly, "Do you mean they fear my husband won't protect them? Or do you mean they hate him for laying siege to Claymore and burning the fields?"
"Neither." Ruefully, Friar Gregory said, "The peasantry is a philosophical lot, and they expect to have their fields burned every generation or so when their lord is embroiled in a battle with one of his peers. But in the case of your husband, it's different."
"Different?" Jenny repeated. "In what way?"
"He has made a life of battles, and they fear that all his enemies will begin descending on Claymore one after another to exact revenge. Or that he will invite them here to feed his love of war."
'That's ridiculous," Jenny said.
"True, but it will take time before they realize it."
"And I thought they'd be proud because he's—he's a hero to the English."
"They are proud. And they're relieved and confident that he, unlike his predecessor, will be willing and able to defend them if the need arises. His strength, his might, is greatly to his advantage in this instance. Actually, they're completely in awe of him."
"Terrified of him, it would seem," Jenny said unhappily, recalling the way the maids reacted to his presence.
"That, too, and for good reason."
"They have no good reason to be terrified of him that I can see," Jenny replied with great conviction.
"Ah, but they do. Put yourself in their minds: their new lord is a man who's called the Wolf—named for a vicious, rapacious animal who attacks and devours its victims. Moreover, legend—not fact, but legend—has it that he's ruthless to anyone who crosses him. As their new lord, he also has the right to decide what taxes to levy upon them, and he will naturally sit in judgment on disputes and mete out punishment to wrongdoers, as is his right. Now then," Friar Gregory said with a pointed look, "given his reputation for mercilessness and viciousness, is he the sort of man you'd want deciding all this for you?"
Jenny was irate. "Oh, but he isn't merciless or vicious. If he were half so bad as that, my sister and I would have suffered a fate far worse than we did at his hands."
"True," the priest agreed, smiling proudly at her. "Now all that's left is for your husband to spend time with his people so that they can draw their own conclusions."
"You make it sound very simple," Jenny said, standing up and shaking out her skirts. "And I suppose it is. Hopefully, it won't take the people long to realize he—"
The door being flung open made them both turn around in time to see an expression of relief cross Royce's angry features. "No one knew where you were," he said, stalking toward Jennifer, his booted footsteps ringing ominously on the polished wooden floor of the chapel. "In future, do not disappear without letting someone know where you've gone."
Father Gregory took one look at Jennifer's indignant face and politely excused himself. As soon as the door closed behind him, Jenny snapped back, "I wasn't aware I'm to be a prisoner here."
"Why did you attempt to leave the castle?" Royce demanded, not bothering to pretend he didn't understand what she meant.
"Because I wanted to talk privately with Friar Gregory without having every serf in the bailey watching us and overhearing," Jenny informed him darkly. "Now, it's your turn to answer my question. Why am I forbidden to leave this place? Is this my home or my prison? I will not—"
"Your home," he interrupted, and to her complete confusion, he grinned suddenly. "You have the bluest eyes on earth," he added with a low, appreciative chuckle. "When you're angry, they're the color of wet blue velvet."
Jenny rolled her eyes in disgust, momentarily pacified by his answer that this was her home. "Wet velvet?" she repeated wryly, wrinkling her nose. "Wet velvet."
His white teeth flashed in a devastating grin. "No? What should I have said?"
His smile was irresistible, and Jenny fell in with his teasing mood, "Well, you might have said they're the color of—" she glanced at the large sapphire in the center of the crucifix "—of sapphires," she provided. "That has a nice ring to it."