Lady Thief Page 37

“Quite. I’ve had it melted down.”

I snorted. “So much for symbols of glory and the like.”

“I won’t need symbols when I’m sheriff. I’ll need money, and a lot of it.”

My belly twisted up at the reminder. It weren’t the archery tournament yet, but what had I been doing to see that he would lose? Not much. Mooning after Rob, without any hope for a replacement in the contest.

The smell broke my thoughts, long before we turned into the hall. The halls were filled with scents of food, like fat roasting, and something sweeter too. We turned into the Great Hall, and I saw the cause of it.

Three great spits had been built over giant copper bowls of fire in the center of the hall, three giant pigs skewered on the spits and pages slowly turning their round, heavy bodies over the fire, basting them with honey that dripped onto the flames. They must have been doing it all day.

Around the spits were huge tables filled with lavish foodstuffs. There were woven breads several feet long, geese that were in their full feathered glory but still and clear dead—one even had a tiny crown on his head. I had no idea how they could do such a thing, or if it were even meant for eating—the creature looked like it were about to leap into flight, but it never flinched.

There were pies with such decorated crusts, slathered and buttered and baked brown, and I could only guess what were in them. The tables were studded with finery, velvets, and gems, like even the furniture needed jewelry.

I frowned, and my stomach turned. There weren’t enough people here to eat a third of this food.

We took our seats, and the prince and princess entered. All the men stood for them, and the ladies just looked solemnly to them. Prince John helped Isabel to sit, and then took the wine glass that were already filled and waiting for his touch. He held it aloft.

“To Guy of Gisbourne, Lord of Leaford,” Prince John bellowed out. “Our brave champion this day and the guest of honor for our feast this night!”

The hall cheered and minstrels struck up, and I saw Isabel clapping hard, gazing upon my husband. Christ, but she were daft.

I drank to him, wishing there were more of the drink to let me forget that I were married to the beast.

Far across the hall, past the fire of the spits, I saw people coming in the back of the hall. They looked to be servants of the castle, maybe folk from Nottingham. They came closer, the fire playing in their wide, wanting eyes and making their faces look brighter and warm.

He had invited common folk to the feast? Were this Prince John’s idea, or my husband’s?

I looked to Gisbourne, and he frowned at me. Doubtful. I looked to Prince John, who were listening to a whispered word from his wife. He wrinkled his nose a touch and drank deeply, waving a hand for the food to be served.

Then his eyes caught across the way, same as mine had.

He stood, violent, so his heavy chair rocked back on its legs before settling. “What is the meaning of this?” he bellowed over the minstrels. They stopped, scared straight out of their instruments. “Guards!” he roared, using his arm like a lance of earlier in the day to doom their fate. “Remove the rabble!”

I put my arm on my chair to stand, but Gisbourne grabbed it, steel in his eyes. “Our deal is off if you say a word,” he said.

“My lord prince,” said Isabel. I whipped my head round to her, but she were only looking at the prince, beautiful and calm like the moon, staring at him, her head tilted back and exposing her throat like a lamb. “My lord, they are hungry. Surely you cannot ignore the plight of your people—they turn to you for every sustenance, both human and spiritual. You are their bread.”

The court were rapt, her pretty lies captivating them all.

He put his hand over her cheek, and she closed her eyes like it were God Himself touching her. “My princess is as beautiful as she is wise,” he told the court. “And so close to Christ’s own birth, we shall not be the only ones to feast tonight. Hertford! Where is de Clare?” he shouted, looking round.

De Clare stood and came forward, kneeling hastily before the prince’s table. “My lord prince.”

“See to it that the people of Nottingham feast tonight as well.”

Isabel swept her head down like she were to cry. “My lord prince is generous and kind,” she cried, overloud for talking to her lap, and the hall cheered. De Clare came up and whispered in Prince John’s ear, and the prince whispered back. De Clare nodded and left.

“Will he really feed them?” I asked quiet of Winchester.

“He will,” Winchester said. “The prince is capable of great generosity; I wouldn’t say it’s natural to him, but he is capable.”

They began carving the pigs and soon a plate were heaped in front of me with a trencher of bread beside it. I took some of the roasted pig and though I half expected the whole thing to taste like the cuts of bacon Tuck sometimes made, it were more like crisp-skinned ham. It were hot, which weren’t an everyday luxury, and rich beyond measure. I took a few bites and ate some of the bread, watching those around me.

Men were filthy things. They bit until the juice ran into their beards, and they swiped at their maws and wiped it wherever they could land their hands. They let bits of food drop into the rushes on the floor and the dogs had a grand time of it. They ate and ate and ate.

The wine flowed overmuch, and by the end of the meal, the minstrels were kicking up a fine tune, and Prince John clapped his hands and called for dancing. He took his wife’s hand and led her closer to the minstrels, to the bit of room between the eating tables and the ones laden with food.

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