Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 3

  Savigny’s abbot had turned his own quarters over to his royal guest, and Abbot Robert offered to show Roger the way. Observing the older man’s sedate pace and calm demeanor, Roger realized that he did not seem nearly as disquieted as the bishops. “I’d almost forgotten,” he said, “how well you know the king,” and Abbot Robert’s mouth hinted at a smile.

  “I know this much,” he said amiably. “The king does not like to make war. But when he does, he does it very well, and sometimes the wisest tactic is a strategic withdrawal.”

  “Indeed,” Roger agreed, and they entered the abbot’s great hall, overflowing with the king’s servants, household knights, barons, and clerics. Roger was running the gauntlet of greetings, had just reached the Bishop of Evreux, when the bedchamber door opened and Henry strode into the hall.

  As usual, he did nothing to call attention to himself and his clothing would have been remarkably plain and unadorned for a minor border lord, much less the man who ruled the greatest empire since Charlemagne. But Henry had no interest in the trappings of power, only in the exercise of it. Nor did he need to strut and preen as Roger had seen other men of rank do, as Thomas Becket had done during his years as the king’s elegant, worldly chancellor. Yet Henry was always the focus of all eyes, even upon those rare occasions when his identity was not known. Even as a youth, he’d had it, the force that gave him the mastery of other men. It was as if he were a lodestone, a magnet that attracted light and luck, not metal.

  That was so fanciful a thought that Roger laughed softly to himself as he moved toward his cousin the king. Henry was delighted to see him, reaching out to clasp Roger’s hand in both of his, forestalling a formal obeisance. “At last! I’d begun to fear you’d been waylaid by bandits or Breton demons!” Adding with a gleam of mischief, “Not that one so virtuous and worthy would have anything to fear from the forces of darkness. What evil spirit would dare to defy a bishop?”

  “Your Grace’s faith in my sanctity is most heartening,” Roger said dryly, “given that some claim your lineage can be traced to the Devil.”

  Henry’s grey eyes flashed, but with amusement, not anger. “Ah, yes, the righteous Abbot Bernard once declared that my lord father was the Devil’s spawn, or words to that effect. As I recall, my father laughed at him, much to the sainted Bernard’s indignation.”

  Roger knew that story well; it was legendary in their family. The man Henry sardonically called “the sainted Bernard” was likely to become a genuine saint, as the Holy See had begun the canonization process. But impending sainthood had not tempered Henry’s disdain, for Abbot Bernard had been a bitter enemy of the counts of Anjou, claiming that the Angevins sprang from a depraved stock, doomed and damned. Roger did not doubt that Abbot Bernard was a holy man, blessed by the Hand of the Almighty, but neither did he deny that Bernard’s earthly behavior had not always been saintly. God’s Lambs were not always meek, mild, and forgiving, and for a moment, he thought sadly of his friend and martyr, Thomas Becket.

  Shaking off the memory, he reminded himself that today’s needs must take precedence over yesterday’s regrets. Meeting Henry’s gaze evenly, he said, “I hear, my lord king, that you’ve a sudden yearning to see the Irish isle again.”

  Henry’s expression was not easy to read, for he had the irritating ability to appear utterly inscrutable when it served his purposes. “Yes,” he said, “you’ve heard right. Come on in,” jerking his head toward the open bedchamber door, “and I’ll tell you of my travel plans.”

  SEVERAL MEN WERE GATHERED in the bedchamber, only one of whom Roger was pleased to see, his uncle Rainald, Earl of Cornwell. The others—Arnulf, Bishop of Lieieux, Geoffrey Ridel, Henry’s acting chancellor, and Richard of Ilchester, Archdeacon of Poitiers—were trusted royal councilors, but they had also been avowed enemies of Thomas Becket. Fending off his uncle’s bear hug of a greeting, Roger acknowledged the bishop and archdeacons with cool civility, and then turned to face Henry.

  “You are not truly ending the talks ere they begin, Harry?”

  “Of course not.” Henry accepted a wine cup from Rainald, gesturing for Roger to help himself. “On the morrow, Arnulf will seek out the legates and offer to mediate our differences.”

  “And what are those differences?”

  “They demanded that I repudiate the Constitutions of Clarendon.” Henry’s smile was without humor. “And you know how likely I am to agree to that, Cousin.”

  Roger did. Henry had attempted to define and clarify the ancient customs of the realm by putting them down in writing, a radical proposal to his conservative bishops, who had been accustomed to vague, ambiguous terms that could be accepted or repudiated as circumstances warranted. But they were practical men for the most part, well aware that there must be accommodation between Church and Crown; if the king refused to unsheathe his secular sword to enforce spiritual penalties, how effective would those penalties be?

  Compromise was anathema, though, to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Thomas Becket had refused to accept the Constitutions in any form whatsoever, arguing that the Church, not the king, was the giver of laws. But Henry had forced the issue, for accommodation was possible only if there was trust on both sides, and Henry no longer believed he could trust his former friend and chancellor. Becket had eventually given in and ordered the bishops to accept the Constitutions, only then to repent and recant his sworn oath. Within less than a year, Becket had fled into French exile, and the Pope, reluctantly dragged into this dangerous dispute, had backed Becket’s position and came out in opposition to the Constitutions of Clarendon. The stalemate had endured for the remainder of Becket’s life, looming ahead of them now like an uncharted rock, threatening to sink all hopes of a peaceful settlement.

  That would not happen, though, as long as Roger drew breath. He was going to steer this ship into a safe harbor if it was the last thing he ever did. “When I was in Rome last year to plead your case at the Holy See, I spoke at some length with several of the cardinals. I gathered that the Church’s objections to the Constitutions were not so much based upon the contents; they accepted your argument that the customs set down were indeed the traditional practices of the realm, more or less. Their concerns were with the oaths that you demanded of all the bishops. Never had such oaths been required by any of your predecessors. We balked at taking vows that might conflict with canon law, as you well remember, Harry. It was only when Thomas’s resolve briefly weakened, that we had to agree—”

  “His resolve ‘briefly weakened,’ did it?” Henry echoed sarcastically. “That is a very kind way to phrase it, Cousin. I believe his exact words to you and the other bishops were, ‘If the king would have me perjure myself, so be it. I will take the oath he demands and hope to purge the sin by future penance.’”

  Roger winced, sorry but not surprised that someone had broken the confidentiality of the bishops’ conclave; informants clustered around kings like bees at a hive. “I admit that was not Thomas’s finest hour and his behavior at Clarendon is not easily defended. But I need not remind you, Cousin, that your behavior has not always been defensible either. What matters is how we settle this issue now. Would you be willing to agree not to demand such an oath of your prelates in the future?”

  When Henry nodded, Roger glanced toward the Bishop of Lisieux. He had no liking for the other man, but he did not deny that Arnulf was highly intelligent, well educated, and an accomplished diplomat. “That would be a beginning, my lord bishop.”

  Arnulf’s smile was both confident and complacent. “Indeed, it would,” he said and gestured toward a parchment sheet filled with scribbles, scratched out words, and ink splatters. “My lord king and I were discussing this very matter ere you arrived. There must be a way to satisfy the cardinals without making an explicit renunciation of the Constitutions. How does this sound? ‘The King of the English vows to abolish any new customs which have been introduced into his realm to the prejudice of the Church.’”

  Roger considered the wording. “Y
es, that might do it.” Shooting his cousin a sharp look, he said, “This vow is acceptable to you, Harry?”

  “Of course. I do not see this as a controversial issue, for I am confident I have not introduced customs detrimental to the Church, for certes not knowingly,” Henry said blandly, and Roger sighed, for he’d expected as much. Fortunately, the papal legates would expect as much, too. They’d not be going into this blind. Remembering that he held a cup of claret, he took a swallow, warmed as much by a surge of optimism as by the wine. It was beginning to look as if both sides might win this war.

  Setting his cup down on the table next to Arnulf’s draft, he asked to be excused so that he could wash away the dust of the road. Henry let him reach the door before he asked the question Roger had hoped to avoid.

  “Do you not want to know what the cardinals told me about Becket’s killers?”

  Roger already knew the answer to that deceptively innocuous query. “It is my understanding that the killers are on their way to Rome to do penance for Thomas’s murder.”

  “Yes,” Henry said, “and what penance do you expect the Pope to impose?”

  “I would not know,” Roger said untruthfully, a lie that Henry pounced upon with zest.

  “What penance can he impose, Roger? To take the cross and journey to the Holy Land. Does that seem sufficient punishment to you for the murder of an archbishop?”

  Roger frowned, for Henry had just demonstrated the logical absurdity of the Church’s insistence upon disciplining their own. The Constitutions of Clarendon had been the result, not the cause, of the conflict between Henry and Becket. It had begun with Henry’s desire to make clerics subject to secular law. The Church had long claimed sole authority to judge the offenses of men in holy orders or the crimes committed against them. Even men who’d merely taken religious vows must be tried in ecclesiastical court, not the king’s court. No matter how heinous his transgression, a clerk was beyond the reach of royal justice, and the harshest penalty the Church could impose was degrading, depriving him of his orders.

  Henry had been outraged by these mild punishments, and he demanded that clerks convicted of serious crimes in an ecclesiastical court should then be stripped of the Church’s protection and handed over to his courts for sentencing. Roger still remembered the litany of horrific crimes Henry had assembled to bolster his argument: more than one hundred murders committed by clerics in the eight years since he’d become king, including the scandalous case in which an archdeacon poisoned the Archbishop of York and, as punishment, was deprived of his archdeaconry.

  Roger remembered, too, the case that sometimes troubled his dreams even now. A clerk in Worcestershire had raped a young girl and slain her father. When Henry insisted that the man be turned over to a royal court, Becket had ordered Roger, as Bishop-elect of Worcester, to imprison the man so he could not be seized by the king’s justices. Roger believed in the principle defended so passionately by Thomas Becket, that the clergy had Christ alone as their king and were not subject to royal jurisdiction. It was easier to argue, though, when the consequences of that principle—the abused daughter and widow of the murder victim—were not kneeling at his feet pleading for justice.

  “A pity,” Henry said coolly, “that Thomas was so adamant, so scornful of compromise on the issue of jurisdiction. Had he been more reasonable, his murderers would not have gone free. Ironic, is it not, Cousin?”

  Roger could have pointed out that Becket would not have been murdered if Henry had not lost his temper and spoke those fatal words that sent four men to Canterbury Cathedral, thinking they were fulfilling the king’s wishes: What miserable drones and traitors I have nourished and promoted in my household, who let their lord be mocked so shamefully by a lowborn clerk! But he did not, for what purpose would it serve? It would change nothing. He looked at Henry, hearing an echo of his cousin’s hoarse, desperate denial. As God is my witness, those men did not murder him at my bidding. The real pity, he thought, was that Harry’s remorse had faded so fast.

  WITH THE MEDIATION of Archbishop Rotrou of Rouen, Bishop Arnulf of Lisieux, and the Archdeacon of Poitiers, peace was made between the English king and the Roman Church. It was agreed that Henry and the papal legates and bishops would ride south to Avranches and Henry would there do public penance for his part in the murder of the Archbishop of Canterbury and receive absolution of his sins.

  FROM THE CASTLE BATTLEMENTS, Henry had a superb view of the bay and, in the distance, the celebrated abbey of Mont St Michel. It was one of the marvels of Christendom, built upon a small, rocky island that was entirely cut off from the mainland at high tide. It had a dreamlike appearance, seeming to rise out of the sand and sea foam like a lost vision of God’s Kingdom, its high, precarious perch above the waves so spectacular and dramatic that at first glimpse, pilgrims did not see how it could have been the work of mortal men.

  It was low tide now and the dangerous, shifting sands had been laid bare. Henry could see a few tiny figures trudging across those sands toward the abbey, but not as many as would be expected. He knew why, of course. Many of the pilgrims had delayed their crossing upon hearing that the King of England would be doing penance upon the morrow at Avranches’s cathedral of St Andrew the Apostle. That would be a sight to behold, a rare tale to bring back to their towns and villages upon completion of their pilgrimages.

  Henry narrowed his eyes, as much at that unwelcome thought as at the unrelenting gusts of sea-borne wind, belying spring’s calendar with its chill. Glancing at his closest companion, he said, “It has been far too long since I visited your abbey. Mayhap we can make time ere I must depart for Caen. When was I there last—when I came with Louis?”

  Abbot Robert pretended to ponder the question; as if he did not have every one of the king’s stays seared into his memory like a brand! A royal visit was the greatest honor imaginable, but it was also a great expense and a great strain, for the striving after perfection on such an occasion was both exhausting and utterly elusive. Thinking of Henry’s sojourn with the French king, he smiled at the memory, for it had always amazed him that Henry should have been able to win over the man who’d been Eleanor’s first husband. Of course that unlikely peace had not lasted, but it had endured long enough for Henry to arrange an even more unlikely marriage between his eldest son, Hal, and Louis’s daughter, Marguerite, child of the woman he’d wed after divorcing Eleanor.

  “I believe that was indeed your last visit, my liege,” he confirmed, all the while marveling at the vagaries of fate. He had devoted much of his life to a history of his abbey and his times, and he wondered what future historians would make of the improbable story of Henry Fitz Empress and Eleanor of Aquitaine.

  A great heiress and a great beauty, she’d wed the young French king at thirteen, easily winning his heart, for he’d been pledged to the Church at an early age, would have happily served the Almighty if his elder brother had not died in a fall from his horse, and he retained a guileless innocence, a monkish simplicity that was ill suited to the worldly sophistry of the royal court. Their marriage had been neither happy nor fruitful, for they were as unlike as fire and milk. In fourteen years of wedlock, Eleanor had given birth to only two children, both daughters, and when their union was finally dissolved on the grounds of consanguinity, the true reason was her inability to give him a male heir.

  Barely three months later, she had shocked their world by wedding Henry, then Duke of Normandy, who was nine years her junior. Louis the king was horrified that so dangerous an adversary as Henry should have access to the riches of Eleanor’s Aquitaine, and Louis the man was mortified and hurt that Eleanor should have defied him by choosing such an unsuitable husband, one ambitious, bold, clever, and lusty. Their swift, secret marriage had led to war with France, and Louis’s humiliation was complete when Henry needed but six short weeks to send his army reeling back across the border, and but two years to claim the English crown. Eleanor then proceeded to salt Louis’s wounds by giving Henry five sons and thr
ee daughters, losing only William to the deadly perils of childhood.

  At least Louis had the consolation of envisioning his daughter as Queen of England. But even that had not gone as planned. Two years ago, Henry had mortally insulted Thomas Becket by allowing the Archbishop of York to crown his fifteen-year-old son, a coronation that Becket had futilely forbidden. But in the chaos and confusion, Marguerite had not been crowned with her young husband, giving Louis yet another grievance against his Angevin rival.

  A sudden clamor turned Henry’s attention from the abbey to the town below them. The streets were winding and narrow, accommodating the hilly terrain, and he could only catch glimpses of riders and horses. But then the wind found a fluttering banner of red and gold and he smiled. “My son is riding into Avranches,” he announced. “I should have known from the cheers.” He glanced toward the abbot, wanting to share his pride and pleasure with his friend. “You’ve not seen the lad for years, have you, Rob? Wait till you see how he’s grown—already taller than me and he’s just three months past his seventeenth birthday!”

  Others had followed Henry onto the battlements: his uncle Rainald, his cousin Roger, his justiciar, Richard de Lucy, and Hamelin de Warenne, his half brother. Hamelin was the illegitimate son of Henry’s father, Geoffrey, Count of Anjou, taken under Henry’s wing after Geoffrey’s untimely death. Hamelin had flaming red hair, an open, freckled face that made him seem much younger than his thirty years, an impulsive nature and, thanks to Henry, a very wealthy wife who’d brought him the earldom of Surrey. His affection for Henry was equaled only by his awe, and he beamed now to see his elder brother in such good spirits.

  “Does Hal know why you summoned him to Avranches?”

  Henry shook his head. “He thinks he is here just to swear to those agreements I am making with the Church.” Seeing Abbot Robert’s puzzled look, he explained, “I have a surprise in store for the lad.”