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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 22


  “I mean,” Henry said, “to put an end to this needless war as soon as possible. I would not offer Louis so much as a stale crust of bread. But with my sons, I am prepared to be more generous.”

  “How generous, my liege?” the Earl of Arundel asked cautiously, and when Henry told them, they stared at him in astonishment, shocked that he could be so magnanimous after such a grievous betrayal by those of his own blood.

  “Are you sure, my lord?” Willem thought he knew Henry as well as any man did, but he’d not been expecting this. “Sure that you can forgive them?”

  Henry was amazed that the question could be asked. “Of course I can forgive them, Willem. They are my sons.”

  After that, it was quiet in the council chamber, for none doubted he’d spoken from the heart, and none dared to ask if he could also forgive his queen.

  CHAPTER ELEVEN

  September 1173

  Gisors, Normandy

  HENRY AGREED TO MEET his sons and the French king on September 25 between Gisors and Trie in the Norman Vexin, at a huge, spreading elm tree that had often been the site of peace conferences. Accompanied by the Earls of Essex and Pembroke, the Constable of Normandy, the Archbishop of Rouen, his son Geoff, and his household knights, Henry arrived at noon. The French were already there. Henry reined in his stallion, but made no move to dismount.

  It had been six months since he’d last seen his sons. In the past, he’d been separated from them for longer than that, most recently during his sojourn in Ireland. But he was acutely aware now of the changes that those months apart had wrought. Richard seemed to have added a year or two to his age, for his shoulders had broadened and his stubble had become a full-fledged golden beard. A shadow on Geoffrey’s upper lip and peach fuzz on his cheeks had not been there at Christmas. The sight of Hal was the most painful. The sunlight gilding his curly, fair hair, he looked regal and resplendent in a scarlet mantle and matching cowhide boots with gold turned-down tops, a natural magnet for all eyes—just as on that night at Chinon when he’d saluted Henry with a dazzling smile and a silver cup of drugged wine.

  Hal was standing beside the French king, with Richard and Geoffrey close by, proclaiming to the world that they were united, allies, and he—their father—was the enemy. Henry fought back a wave of baffled hurt and anger, waiting until he was sure his voice would not betray him. Ignoring Louis, he locked his eyes upon Hal.

  “I am not here to negotiate with you and your brothers, Hal, nor to bargain with you. I have come to tell you what I am willing to offer to mend this rift between us and restore peace in our family. You may choose between England and Normandy. If you choose England, you will have half the crown revenues and four royal castles. If you prefer Normandy, you will be entitled to half the ducal revenues, plus all the revenues of Anjou, and three castles in Normandy, one each in Anjou, Maine, and Touraine.”

  Hal’s mouth had dropped open; his eyes were as round as moons. Without waiting for his response, Henry shifted in the saddle so that he faced Richard. “I am offering you, Richard, half the ducal income from Aquitaine and four castles.”

  Richard’s reaction was more guarded than Hal’s, but his surprise was still evident and Henry suppressed a smile, thinking that they suddenly looked less like defiant rebels and more like lads getting an unexpected birthday treat. Turning his gaze upon his third son, he said, “For you, Geoffrey, I am willing to be no less generous. As soon as the Pope sanctions your marriage to Constance, you will come into the full inheritance of Brittany.”

  A stunned silence fell, broken at last by Hal. “May we have time to think it over?”

  Henry was disappointed that it could not be resolved then and there; he truly did not see why they’d need to discuss his offer. But he did not want to appear to be pressuring them. “You may give me your answers on the morrow. And know this, that I am willing to put the past behind us, as if this foolhardy rebellion had never been. Whatever our differences, you are my sons, of my blood, and nothing is more important than that.”

  Henry signaled, then, to his men, swung his stallion in a circle, and rode away without looking back.

  HENRY WAS STAYING at Gisors Castle, and Louis had chosen to lodge at Chaumont-en-Vexin, a formidable royal fortress just six miles away. Not long after their return, Raoul de Faye was standing on the steps of the great hall, his eyes roaming the bailey. When he finally saw his brother, the Viscount of Châtellerault, emerging from the stables, he shouted “Hugh!” so urgently that the other man looked around in alarm. By then, Raoul was halfway across the bailey. He pulled Hugh aside, his fingers biting into his brother’s arm, but Hugh did not protest, for he’d never seen Raoul so angry, so agitated.

  “Have you spoken yet to Richard or his brothers?”

  Hugh shook his head. “No…have you?”

  “I had just a few words with Hal. I did speak with Louis, though, and that gutless weasel wants to accept Harry’s peace terms and skulk back to Paris. When I reminded him that Harry had not said a word about Eleanor’s fate, do you know what he told me? He said very piously that it was not for him to meddle in the sacrament of matrimony, that what happened in a marriage was between a husband and his wife and the Almighty. He has no stomach for continuing the war and is willing to let Eleanor pay the price for his blundering, God curse his craven, sanctimonious soul!”

  “Lower your voice,” Hugh warned. “You’re attracting attention. What of Hal? What did he say?”

  “Enough to make me suspect he wants to take Harry’s bait. Did you see how his eyes lit up when Harry offered him half the crown revenues? I’d wager he’s already planning how to spend the money. He and Louis are together in the solar now, and if he has any doubts, you may be sure Louis will argue them away.”

  “He does not have a brain in that handsome head of his, does he?” Hugh said bitterly. “Does he not realize that—Wait, there’s Geoffrey!”

  Geoffrey looked startled to see both his great-uncles bearing down upon him with such haste; he hadn’t realized men their age could move so fast. When Raoul demanded to know if he was willing to accept his father’s offer, he did not answer at once; he was learning to be wary even with family. He’d talked it over with Hal and he was leaning toward acceptance, for he knew that he could not hope for more than Henry had offered, not at fifteen. He also knew that these men would not be happy to hear that, and so he temporized, saying only, “I admit it is tempting, but I have not made up my mind.”

  His evasion did not work, though, for they began to berate him for his indecision, but then Raoul spotted Richard coming around the corner of the mews. They immediately called out his name, hurrying to intercept him. Geoffrey was forgotten, but he was accustomed to being utterly overshadowed by his elder brothers, and he chose to overlook the slight and follow them, sure that this would be a conversation he ought to hear.

  Richard had halted, although he made no attempt to meet them halfway. As soon as they’d reached him, Raoul put to him the question he’d just demanded of Geoffrey. Richard answered readily. “No, I am not willing. He offered money, and much more than I expected, but only money. Nor did he make any mention of my mother and the part she played in the rebellion.”

  Raoul heaved a great, gusty sigh. “Thank God Jesus that someone else noticed that! His offer is a bribe, a lavish, tempting bribe, but a bribe all the same. It is a bribe, though, that your brother seems willing to take. He and Louis are meeting even as we speak, laying their plans for the morrow—”

  “Where?”

  When Raoul said the solar, Richard spun around and headed across the bailey, so swiftly that the others were hard pressed to keep up with him. The great hall was crowded, and several intense discussions were going on, the most heated one led by the Count of Dreux, Louis’s volatile younger brother. Robert was gesturing emphatically, his face a mottled shade of red, and those gathered around him seemed to be in agreement, for they were nodding and murmuring among themselves. The Earl of Leicester was pacing b
ack and forth by the open hearth. As soon as he saw Richard, he swerved toward him.

  “Richard! We need to talk. Your father said nothing about your allies. If you make peace with him, what happens to me or Hugh of Chester?”

  Richard brushed by him as if he’d not spoken, and plunged into the stairwell. Taking the stairs two at a time, he did not pause before the solar door, shoved it open, with Raoul and Hugh on his heels and Geoffrey a few steps behind. Louis and Hal were seated at a trestle table with Henri of Blois, the Count of Champagne, his brother Étienne, the Count of Sancerre, and Louis’s youngest brother, the Archbishop of Rheims. There were other men there, too, but Richard did not know their names, clerks and priests who labored anonymously for the French king since his chancellor had resigned the year before. They turned startled faces toward the door as Richard burst into the chamber.

  “I am sorry I am late. The messenger you sent to fetch me must have gotten waylaid or lost. Surely you did send someone to find me, for this is as much my decision as it is Hal’s.”

  It did not take much effort for Louis to imagine those barbed words coming from Henry’s mouth. He was genuinely fond of Hal, but he’d never warmed to Richard, and he realized now how easily that indifference could turn into active dislike. Forcing a smile, he said, “Come in, Richard. I assure you that we were not trying to keep anything from you.”

  Richard ignored him as completely as Henry had done just hours earlier. “Hal, is it true you mean to accept the offer?”

  Hal was irked by his peremptory tone. He chose to let it go, though, for too much was at stake for their usual brotherly squabbles. “If he’d made this offer to me at Christmas, I’d never have rebelled. So, yes, I am accepting it. Why would I not?”

  “I can understand that you’d not want to be burdened with any real authority. Having to govern would interfere with your tournament time. But did you spare even a thought for our mother’s safety?”

  Angry color scorched Hal’s skin. “Of course I did! That was the first thing my father-by-marriage and I discussed. He pointed out that she has not taken an active part in the rebellion. All that our father knows for certes is that she let you and Geoffrey go to Paris with me, and that is easily explained. If I assure him that she did not know of my plans, that none of it was her doing, I am sure—”

  “Christ on the Cross! I cannot believe we came from the same womb, for you do not have the sense God gave a goat!”

  Hal shoved his chair back, coming quickly to his feet. “How dare you—”

  “Enough!” Raoul shouted, loudly enough to drown out Hal’s outraged response. “If you do not want to hear it from Richard, hear it from me, then, Hal. You know I have a spy at your father’s court. He has reported that Harry does not believe you or your brothers would have rebelled if you’d not been beguiled into it, and he has no doubt who bears the responsibility—the French king and your mother. He does not just think she aided and abetted you. He is convinced that she was the instigator, for as long as he can blame Eleanor, he need not blame himself.”

  “You exaggerate,” Louis said sharply. “I have spies, too, at his court, Hal, and they tell me something quite different.”

  Hal looked from Louis to Raoul to Richard, then back to his father-in-law. “If my mother is to bear the blame for this—”

  He got no further, for the door banged open again. This time the intruder was Louis’s brother Robert. His suspicions flared as soon as he saw Henry’s sons, and he glowered at Louis. “What is going on up here? Why are we not discussing this in council, Louis?”

  Louis glared back at him. “It is not for you to question me, my lord count,” he said coldly, making use of his brother’s title as a pointed reminder of their respective status as sovereign and subject. “It was my intent to summon them once I’d spoken with my son-in-law.”

  Robert was not impressed by Louis’s assumption of kingly authority. “I am gladdened to hear that,” he said, and smirked. “I shall go back to the hall and tell the others that we are about to hold a council meeting.” And he exited the solar before Louis could stop him. Louis was furious, but Robert had maneuvered him into a corner and he saw no other option than to hold a council. Rising, he gathered his dignity about him as if he were donning robes of state, and strode from the solar. The others were quick to follow.

  Raoul lingered behind, though, and stepped in front of the Count of Champagne as he started toward the door. Henri of Blois and his brother Thibault were the most influential of Louis’s lords, his sons-in-law by their marriages to his daughters by Eleanor, Marie and Alix, and brothers-in-law by his marriage to their sister, Adèle. Raoul had not often crossed paths with them until the rebellion, and he’d been surprised to find that Henri was quite likable. His beautiful, elegant countess had joined him in Paris, eager to meet her young half brothers, and they’d developed an immediate rapport. Raoul was very taken with Marie, too, for she reminded him of a youthful Eleanor, and as she was quite curious about the mother she’d not seen since she was seven, Raoul had passed some pleasant evenings in Marie and Henri’s company.

  It was Henri to whom he turned now, for the count knew Louis far better than he did, and he was desperate to glean insights about the French king, to learn anything that might help him to avert this impending catastrophe. “You cannot approve of this so-called peace, Henri, for what does France stand to gain by it?” He did not ask the count how he would benefit. His brother Thibault would get Amboise Castle should they win, but rather remarkably, Henri had demanded nothing of Hal in return for his support.

  “Not much,” Henri admitted. “If it were up to me, I’d not be so quick to agree to terms with the English king. But it is Louis who wears the crown, and as much as that galls his brother Robert, it is Louis who decides if it is to be peace or war. And as you saw, he has chosen peace.”

  “Why? I do not understand the workings of that man’s mind. Why go to such great lengths to stir up a rebellion against Harry and then call it off as if it were a game of camp-ball halted by rain? I know he wants to see Harry humbled, weakened. So why will he not do all he can to make that happen?”

  “Ah, Raoul, you do not understand Louis at all, do you? You share the English king’s view of him as somewhat simple, easily swayed by others, with sand where his backbone ought to be. But he is more complicated than that. He is very devout; his great tragedy is that he was plucked out of that monastery when his elder brother died, for he’d have been far happier as the monk he was meant to be. As a good Christian, he loathes war; as a king, he is forced to wage it. But in his heart, he believes that shedding blood is a mortal sin, so when his campaigns go awry, as they usually do, he concludes that the Almighty is punishing him for violating the commandment that states, ‘Thou shalt not kill.’”

  “But he started this war, not Harry. Why goad Harry’s sons into rebellion if he were not willing to see it through to the end?”

  Henri smiled faintly. “I said he was complicated, not consistent. Louis hates the English king almost as much as he loves God. For more than twenty years, Harry has bested him at every turn. He could not keep Harry from wedding his queen, or from winning the English Crown, or from expanding his realm until it now rivals Charlemagne’s. Had he not been so starved for success, he’d not have let himself be talked into that farce at Verneuil. But you may be sure that any satisfaction he gained from it was all too fleeting, a poisoned brew by morning, for even if he does not always heed it, Louis is cursed with a conscience, a most inconvenient virtue for a king.”

  The count paused, as if deciding how candid he ought to be. “A man so beset with self-doubts does not deceive himself about his capabilities. He may not admit it, but he knows he is an inept battle commander, Harry a brilliant one. He thought Thomas Becket had given him the weapon he needed, a way to defeat Harry beyond the battlefield, and when the archbishop was so foully murdered, midst his grief there was satisfaction, too, that Harry would finally reap what he had sown. You can im
agine his frustration when Harry managed to avoid excommunication and then to make his peace with the Church. You have to feel some sympathy for him, Raoul. He is like that figure in Greek myth…what was he called? The poor king condemned forever to roll a stone uphill, only to have it roll back down again. Well, that is Louis, constantly struggling to thwart Harry at something, anything, and constantly losing.”

  “I might have more sympathy for the man,” Raoul said tautly, “if he were not so willing to make my niece the scapegoat for his sins.”

  “Does that truly surprise you? He has never forgiven Eleanor for daring to wed Harry rather than waiting dutifully for him to select a husband for her. And he has never forgiven her for then giving Harry five sons when she gave him only daughters. But if you cannot muster up sympathy for Louis, neither can I find sympathy to spare for your niece. She meant to use Louis for her own ends, so she can hardly complain once she discovers that he was using her, too.”

  Raoul felt resentment flicker, but he did not allow it to catch fire. He’d long known that Eleanor’s French allies were of two minds about her part in the rebellion. They welcomed the aid offered by the Duchess of Aquitaine, but they were not comfortable with the rebel queen, the faithless wife. Raoul held his tongue, though, for he’d not yet gotten what he needed from Henri. “What if we could make Louis believe that this was one war he could win? That if he held firm, he could have a great victory over Harry?”

  “If you can give him that certainty, the king will prevail over the monk, to borrow that memorable phrase coined by your niece. But it will be no easy task. I know that at times it seems as if he can be led by the nose like a bridled gelding. But he can also be very stubborn, his the stiff-necked obstinacy of the weak. And between them, Robert and your young Richard have him determined to make peace on the morrow, if only to punish them for their defiance. So it will not be enough to convince him that he can finally gain that victory over Harry. You will have to offer him a way to save face, too, to reverse himself without sacrificing his pride.”