Chapter Twenty-Four

How many more do ye think are out there, my lady?" Agnes asked, standing beside Jenny on the wall-walk. Agnes had been working so hard for the last week that Jenny had insisted she come outdoors for some air.

Jenny looked out at the incredible spectacle that had resulted from King Henry's order that the Wolf participate in what had once been a "local joust."

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Nobles, knights, and spectators from England, Scotland, France, and Wales had arrived by the thousands, and the valley and surrounding hills were now completely carpeted with the brightly colored tents and pavilions that each new arrival had erected for his comfort. It looked, Jenny thought, like a sea of colors splotched with patterns and dotted with banners.

In answer to Agnes's question, Jenny smiled wearily. "I'd guess six or seven thousand. More perhaps." And Jenny knew why they were here: they were here in hopes of pitting thek skills against Henry's legendary Wolf.

"Look, there's another group," Jenny said, nodding to the east, where mounted riders and footmen were swarming over the rise. They'd been arriving in groups of one hundred and more for nearly a week, and now Jenny was familiar with the routine of England's riding households. First came a small group, including a trumpeter blasting upon his horn to announce the arrival of his illustrious lord to the vicinity. The job of this first group was to ride to Claymore and announce the imminent arrival of their lord—which now made no difference because every chamber at Claymore, from the sixty in the gatehouses, to the tiniest loft above the hall, were already filled with noble guests. So crowded was the castle that all attendants and servants to the nobles had been obliged to be left outside the gates, where they fended nicely for themselves in the family pavilions.

After the trumpeters and scouts arrived, then came a larger group, including the lord and his lady, mounted on lavishly draped horses. Then came troops of servants and wagons bearing the tents, and everything the noble household would require: tablecloths, plates, jewels, pots, pans, beds, and even tapestries.

It had all become a common sight to Jenny in the last four days. Noble families, accustomed to traveling as far as a hundred miles between their castles, thought nothing of coming at least that far to see what promised to be the largest tournament in their lifetimes.

"We ain't never seen the likes o' this—none of us," Agnes said.

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"Are the villagers doing as I bade them?"

"Aye, milady, and grateful forever we'll always be to you for it. Why in one sennight we've all made more coin than we've made in a lifetime, and no one's dared to try 'n' cheat us like they've done every other year when they come for the tournament."

Jenny smiled and lifted the hair off the back of her neck, letting the late October breeze cool her nape. When the first dozen families had arrived in the valley and the tents had begun to go up, livestock had been demanded from the villeins for private use, and a few paltry coins tossed at the heartbroken families who'd raised the animals.

Jenny had discovered what was happening, and now every cottage in the valley, and all the livestock, displayed badges which bore the head of a wolf—badges which Jenny had appropriated from guards, knights, armor, and anywhere else she could find them. The presence of the badge indicated that any object bearing the badge was either the Wolf's or under his protection. "My husband," she had explained as she handed out the badges to the hundreds of serfs and villeins assembled in the bailey, "will not permit his people to be treated in such a vile way by anyone. You may sell anything you wish, but," she advised them, smiling, "were I in your place, with something everyone wishes to buy, I'd be careful to sell to those who will offer you the most—not the first person to offer you anything at all."

"When this is all over," Jenny replied, "I'll discover where we can get the new looms I told the women in the village about. If the coin they've made this sennight is put toward things like those looms, then the profits from your looms will make you more profits and more. Come to think on it," Jenny added, "since this tournament is an annual affair, all of you ought to plan to have added livestock and all manner of other things, too, to sell next year. There's great profit in it for you. I'll discuss the matter with the duke and our bailiffs, then I'll help all of you to make plans if you'd like."

Agnes looked at her with misty eyes. "Ye've been a blessing sent here by the Lord himself, milady. We all think it, and we're that sorry for the welcome you got from us when you come here. Everyone knows I have yer ear, me being your personal maidservant, and they ask me erry day to make sure ye know how grateful we feel."

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"Thank you," Jenny said simply. With a wry smile, she added, " 'Tis only fair to tell you, though, that my ideas on the profits to be made from the tournaments and looms and things are those of a Scot—we're a thrifty lot, you know."

"Yer English now, if ye'll pardon me speakin' out 'o turn. Yer married to our lord an' that makes you one 'o us."

"I am a Scot," Jenny said quietly. "Naught will change that, nor do I want it to."

"Yes, but tomorrow, at the tournament," Agnes said with nervous determination, "we're hopin, all 'o us at Claymore and from the village—that ye'll be sittin' on our side."

Jenny had given permission for all the castle serfs to attend the tournament either tomorrow, which was the most important day, or the day after, and the atmosphere within the castle walls was positively tense with excitement amongst all who lived or worked there.

She was spared the need to reply to Agnes's unspoken question about where she intended to sit at the tournament by the arrival of mounted riders who were ready to escort her from the bailey. She had told Royce she meant to visit the Merrick pavilion on the western edge of the valley, and he had agreed—because he had no choice, Jenny knew—but only on condition that she be escorted there by his men. In the bailey she saw the "escort" which Royce evidently deemed necessary: all fifteen of his private guard, including Arik, Stefan, Godfrey, Eustace, and Lionel were mounted and armed.

At close range, the valley of brightly colored tents and striped pavilions was even more vivid and festive than it had seemed to Jennifer from the wall-walk. Wherever there was room, practice jousts were taking place, and in front of every tent where a knight was lodged, his banner and spear had been stuck into the ground. And everywhere there was color: tents with broad stripes of reds and yellows and blues; pennants and shields and badges emblazoned with red falcons, gold lions, and green bars—some of them almost completely covered with so many symbols Jenny couldn't help smiling at the display.

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