The two pages washed their faces next morning at the well in the courtyard, and after an early breakfast mounted their ponies and rode off with Count Bertram and the others.
All day they rode, and at nightfall came to a pretty little stream. It was the river Dives, and close by was a village where the party passed the night in an inn much like that of Falaise, only smaller and smokier.
The next day they followed the stream till late in the afternoon, when at last it spread out through flat meadow lands and by and by emptied into the sea near the old town of Dives where Duke William was waiting for his forces to gather.
"Oh, look!" cried Henri, who was gazing eagerly ahead. "Do you suppose that long white line is the sea?"
"Yes!" said Alan, with equal eagerness. "And yonder must be the town of Dives." And then, as they came still nearer, "Oh, see the ships! And all the tents and flags and horses!"
Everybody urged on their horses, and soon they had reached the gathering place and were looking about with wonder at the throng of soldiers, and stir and bustle everywhere going on. Every inn and house in the town of Dives was full, and of the hosts who had come to join Duke William, far the greater number were camped in the tents pitched in the grassy meadows between the town and the sea.
Everywhere flags and pennons were fluttering, and so many war horses were grazing in the meadows that Henri, laughing, said to Alan, "I guess if Gilles could see all those he wouldn't think so much of that Guibray fair!"
"No!" cried Alan. "And wouldn't his eyes get round if he could get a glimpse of those ships!" And Alan's own eyes grew very round indeed as he gazed at the bright colored sails crowding the mouth of the river and gleaming in the distance along the edge of the sea.
Count Bertram and his friends soon arranged for some tents, and the party went into camp like the others. Alan and Henri ran errands and helped all they could; and though they were tired out when dark fell, they were so excited they could hardly sleep when not long after sunset all the camp-fires were covered up and quiet fell over the town and meadow.
The fires were all promptly covered, for Duke William himself was hard by in a great timbered house which he had caused to be built months before near the river bank, as he needed a comfortable place in which to stay while he attended to the building of his fleet.
The next morning the two pages went to look at Duke William's house (which is still standing), and found it very large and attractive.
"I wonder if that is Duke William's device?" said Henri, pointing to a carved stone lion holding his paw on a shield and looking down at them from the gateway.
"Yes," said some one standing near, "that is, part of it. You know the duke's device is three lions, the same as on the flag of Normandy; and if you stay here a little while, you will probably see Duke William himself. He generally comes out about this time."
The boys ventured inside the open gateway and into the courtyard; the house, built around this, had a peaked roof and many gables and dormer windows, and around the second story ran a wooden balcony with a flight of steps leading to the courtyard.
Presently a door opened from one of the rooms facing the balcony, and a man stepped out and came down the stairway and through the courtyard.
He was followed by several knights and pages, and when one of the latter passed near Alan, "Is that Duke William?" he hurriedly whispered.
"Yes," answered the page, as he scampered on after the others.
Alan and Henri followed, too, all the while looking hard at the duke whenever they got a chance. He was a tall, handsome man, strong and powerfully built; he had a high forehead, and his hair and small mustache were both closely cropped; but, though little over forty years old, his face showed stern, careworn lines, for Duke William's life had been full of struggles and he had been obliged to fight his way from babyhood up.
"He looks like a duke,—don't you think so, Alan?" asked Henri.
"Yes, indeed!" said Alan. "And he is splendidly dressed, too, only I thought he would have on the crimson velvet mantle and big crown that Master Herve said dukes wear."
"Well," said Henri wisely, "I don't suppose he wants to wear those things while he is attending to his army out here. I think he looks much better in what he has on."
The boys kept following the ducal party at a respectful distance, and watched with interest as Duke William went down to the water's edge and began looking over the boats.
"They look a good deal like the dragon ships Herve told us Rolf the Ganger came in," said Alan, "only they aren't so gayly painted as he said those were."
"No," said Henri, "and I guess they are some bigger than his. But they have the red and blue sails, and long rows of oars, and are all curved up high at the ends and carved just like Herve said. I don't see any dragons, but there are some with heads carved on them!"
"I see two dragons!" cried Alan, as with keen eyes he searched the high prows of the hundreds of long narrow ships crowding the river.
As the boys watched, great quantities of salted meat and other provisions were stored on those of the ships that were set apart to carry supplies; and baggage and tents and weapons of all kinds were loaded on others. For Duke William expected to set sail within a week at most.
But though all the soldiers gathered and all was ready, still the ships floated quietly at the mouth of the river Dives; for there was no wind to swell the sails and carry them toward Britain. The long oars alone were not enough to take the heavily loaded vessels without the aid of sails, and no one then had even dreamed of such as thing as a steam-boat.
The ships floated quietly at the mouth of the river Dives.
Duke William and all the fighting men grew more and more impatient as windless day after day passed by till almost two weeks were gone. But though everybody else anxiously watched and waited for the wind, Alan and Henri could not help but be secretly glad of the delay. For as they were not old enough to go along, they knew that just as soon as the fleet sailed they would have to go back to Noireat, which would be very lonely and quiet. Count Bertram had arranged for them to return home with some young squires from one of the neighboring castles.