Brenna's head lurched around and she too stared at Aunt Elinor, but Jenny was too immersed in her own guilt and uncertainty to register much alarm over Brenna yet. "You don't understand about William, Aunt Elinor. I loved him."

"He loved you, too." Brenna said feelingly, and Jenny felt slightly better until Brenna added, "Unlike Father, he loved you more than he despised our 'enemy.' "

Jenny closed her eyes. "Please," she whispered to them both. "Do not do this to me. I—I know what is right…"

Advertisement

She was spared the need to say more, however, by the sudden blast of clarions as the trumpeters rode onto the field, followed by the heralds, who waited until there was a semblance of quiet and then began proclaiming the rules:

The tournament was to be preceded by three jousting matches, the herald cried out, the three matches to be between the six knights judged to be the finest in the land. Jenny held her breath, then slowly expelled it: the first two combatants were a French knight and a Scotsman; the second match was Royce's against a Frenchman named DuMont; and the third was Royce's against Ian MacPherson—the son of Jenny's former "betrothed."

The crowd went wild; instead of having to wait all day and perhaps two to see the Wolf, they were going to see him twice in the first hour.

The rules at first seemed perfectly ordinary: the first knight to accumulate three points won the match; one point was given a knight each time he struck his opponent hard enough to splinter his spear. Jenny assumed it would take at least five passes for any knight to accumulate three points, considering that it was no mean feat to successfully level a lance, take aim atop a galloping horse, and strike an opponent at precisely the right spot to shiver a lance—particularly since the smooth surface of the armor was designed to make the lance skid off. Three points, and the match, were automatically awarded to a knight if he actually unhorsed his opponent.

The next two announcements made the crowd roar with approval and Jenny cringe: the jousts were to be fought in the German style, not French—which meant the massive regular lances would be used, rather than poplar ones—and the deadly spear heads would not be blunted with protective coronals.

The bellows of enthusiasm from the crowd were so loud there was a long delay before the herald could finish by announcing that the tournament would follow the trio of jousts and that the remaining jousts would take place throughout the next two days. However, he added, due to the illustriousness of the knights attending, the jousts that followed the tournment would be organized according to the importance of the knight if such could be determined.

-- Advertisement --

Again the crowd roared with enthusiasm. Instead of having to watch obscure knights joust with even lesser ones, they'd have their greatest pleasure served first.

Outside the ring, the constables had finished checking saddle fastenings to make certain no knight intended to use leather straps, rather than good horsemanship and brute strength, to stay on his mount. Satisfied, the chief constable gave the signal, the heralds trotted off the field, and then kettle drums, pipes, and trumpets began to blast, announcing the ceremonial parade onto the field by all the knights.

Even Jenny was not proof against the dazzling spectacle that followed: six across, the knights paraded onto the tourney field wearing full armor, mounted on prancing warhorses decked out in dazzling silver bridles and bells, colorful headdresses, and trappings of brilliant silks and velvets, that displayed the coat of arms of the knight. Polished armor glinted in the sun so brightly that Jenny found herself squinting as before her eyes paraded tabards and shields emblazoned with coats of arms showing every imaginable animal from noble beasts like lions, tigers, falcons, tiercels, and bears to whimsical dragons and unicorns; others bore designs of stripes and squares, half moons and stars; still others bore flowers.

The blindingly bright hues of color combined with the ceaseless roar of the crowd so delighted Aunt Elinor that she clapped her hands for an English knight who rode by with a particularly stunning coat of arms bearing three lions rampant, two roses, a falcon, and a green crescent.

At any other time, Jenny would have thought this the most exciting spectacle she'd ever beheld. Her father and stepbrother rode past along with what she judged to be about four hundred knights. Her husband, however, did not appear, and the first pair of jousters ended up riding onto the field to the disappointed roar of "Wolf! Wolf!"

Before confronting each other, each of the two knights trotted over to the gallery where his wife or his lady love was seated. Tipping down their lances, they awaited the ceremonial bestowal of a favor—her scarf, ribbon, veil, or even a sleeve, which she proudly tied on the end of the lance. That accomplished, they rode over to opposite ends of the field, adjusted their helmets, checked visors, tested weights of lances, and finally awaited the blast from the trumpet. At the first note, they dug spurs into their mounts and sent them hurtling forward. The Frenchman's spear struck his opponent's shield slightly off center, the Scotsman swayed in his saddle and recovered. It took five more passes before the Frenchman finally took a blow that sent him crashing to the ground amidst a pile of shining steel legs and arms and the accompaniment of deafening cheers.

Advertisement

Jenny scarcely noticed the outcome, even though the fallen knight was practically at her feet. Staring at her clutched hands in her lap, she waited, listening for the call of the trumpets again.

When it came, the crowd went wild, and despite willing herself not to look, she lifted her head. Prancing onto the field, his horse draped in gorgeous red trappings, was the Frenchman she had particularly noticed during the parade, partially because he was physically huge and also because the couteres that protected his elbows were enormous, pleated pieces of plate that fanned out into points that reminded Jenny of bat wings. Now she also noticed that although he wore a handsome baronial necklace at his throat, there was nothing "whimsical" or beautiful about the gruesome figure of a striking serpent emblazoned on his breastplate. He turned his horse toward one of the galleries for the usual bestowal of a favor, and as he did so, all the noise of the crowd began to die away.

A tremor of dread made Jenny quickly divert her gaze, but even without looking, Jenny knew when Royce finally rode onto the field—because the crowd suddenly became eerily still. So still that the periodic blasts of the trumpeters tolled out into the awed silence like a death knell. Unable to help herself, she lifted her head and turned; what she saw made her heart stop: in contrast to the gaiety and color and flamboyance everywhere, her husband was garbed entirely in black. His black horse was draped in black, its headpiece was black, and on Royce's shield he did not display his coat of arms. Instead there was a head of a snarling black wolf.

-- Advertisement --