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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 36


  Henry laughed. “Ah, Brien, you will want for nothing for the rest of your born days,” he promised. “Land, gold, it will all be yours for the asking.”

  Brien laughed, too. “For now, my lord, I ask only for a bed and a meal to fill my empty belly!”

  Others were crowding into the bedchamber now, drawn by the uproar, and in the ensuing pandemonium, it was left to Henry’s squire Warin to realize the full significance of Brien’s message. “My lord,” he cried, tugging on Henry’s sleeve in his urgency to be heard. “Brien said that the Scots king was captured on Saturday, around dawn. My liege, that was when you were completing your penance at St Thomas’s tomb!”

  There were exclamations of wonder and most of the men made the sign of the cross. Henry stared at the squire, and then sat down abruptly on the settle. “You are right, Warin,” he said in awe. “This is indeed his doing.”

  WORD WAS SPREADING LIKE WILDFIRE throughout the palace, and Henry’s bedchamber was soon thronged with celebrants, both jubilant and reverent. Willem and Ranulf had pushed their way through to Henry’s side, and Gilbert Foliot had also succeeded in reaching the king. “My lord,” he cried, “should we ring the bells to awaken the city?”

  “No,” Henry said, “let them sleep. The morning will come soon enough.” Glancing around, he knew that none of these blissful, boisterous men would get a wink of sleep. Neither would he, for his exhaustion was magically vanished, his fever forgotten. “We might as well move these revelries over to the great hall,” he said, grinning when his declaration was met with raucous cheers; he knew these men would have cheered if he’d announced they must all take holy vows.

  “I do want to awaken my cousin, the Bishop of Worcester,” he said. “Send someone to fetch him, Gilbert. And once he gets here, I want to go to the abbey church and give thanks to St Thomas for our victory, for his miracle.”

  FOR HIS TWO-HUNDRED-SEVENTY-MILE DASH, Brien was rewarded by Henry with “ten liveries of land” and an estate in Norfolk.

  HAL AND THE COUNT OF FLANDERS had decided to send their fleet on ahead of them, and their ships had sailed into the same storm that had inundated Canterbury. During those hours that Henry did penance for his sins, their fleet was scattered by the high winds, and the threat of invasion was over. Just as people gave credit to the martyred archbishop for the capture of Henry’s greatest enemy, they saw the dispersal of the Flemish fleet as yet another proof of St Thomas’s favor.

  CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

  July 1174

  Northampton, England

  RANULF HALTED ON THE STEPS of the great hall, watching as a large group of horsemen rode into the castle bailey. When he recognized their leader as Henry’s illegitimate son, he hastened over to bid Geoff welcome and as soon as the latter dismounted, they embraced with the euphoria that all of Henry’s supporters shared these days.

  “I’ve brought seven hundred knights with me,” Geoff said proudly. “Can we find beds for them all?”

  “We’ll manage,” Ranulf assured him. “Your men are going to be disappointed, though, for the fighting is done.”

  Geoff blinked in surprise. “All done?” he asked, trying to conceal his own disappointment. “I heard that the garrison at Huntingdon Castle surrendered. But what about Hugh Bigod and the Earl of Derby?”

  “Hugh Bigod skulked out of his lair and pleaded for the king’s mercy two days ago. And on Tuesday we will be receiving the submissions of the Earl of Derby, the Earl of Leicester’s constable, Roger Mowbray, and our disgruntled bishop, Hugh of Durham.”

  Geoff could only shake his head in amazement. “Then the rebellion in England is truly over!”

  “I think that happened the moment the Scots king was taken at Alnwick. For all the talk of rats deserting a sinking ship, they have nothing on rebel lords trying to save their skins. They damned near trampled themselves in their rush to make peace with the king. Speaking of kings, you missed quite a spectacle this morn—the arrival of the Scots king.”

  “I would have enjoyed seeing that,” Geoff said, with vengefulness that he knew did not befit a bishop-elect. But he did not care, wanting to savor every moment of their victory over Henry’s enemies. “Was he taken before my lord father in shackles?”

  “No, but he arrived with his feet tied under his horse, an affront not usually inflicted upon kings. For all that he calls himself William the Lion, he seemed more like a docile stable cat to me. He managed to cling to his dignity, but there was no bravado, none at all. He is going to have to pay a huge price for his freedom, and he well knows it.”

  Leaving the castle steward to figure out where to lodge these new arrivals, they started across the bailey. “You’ll be a sight to gladden your father’s eyes,” Ranulf said. “He was right proud of your triumphs in the North. Who knew you had the makings of a first-rate battle commander?” he joked, amused when Geoff actually blushed. “I should warn you, though, lad, that your father is hobbling about with a crutch, and he is as bad a patient as you’d expect him to be.”

  “Was he wounded in the siege of Huntingdon?” Geoff asked, sounding so alarmed that Ranulf hastened to offer reassurances, explaining that Henry had been injured the day before when the Templar Tostes de St Omer’s horse had lashed out suddenly, striking the king in the leg.

  That allayed some but not all of Geoff’s concerns, for he knew how easily wounds could become infected; he’d never forgotten the fate of a boyhood friend, who’d died in agony after stepping on a rusty nail. Once they entered the great hall, he headed for the dais, so eager to see his father that he barely heard the greetings and congratulations trailing in his wake. Henry was just as delighted to see his son, and waved Geoff up onto the dais so they could talk with a modicum of privacy. He brushed off Geoff’s concerns for his injury, saying wryly, “It is downright embarrassing, getting kicked by a horse at my age. And it was not even my horse!”

  Ordering chairs for Geoff and Ranulf, he did his best to get his aching leg comfortable on a cushioned footstool, and then made his son very happy by asking to hear all about Geoff’s military exploits. Geoff needed no further urging and launched into a detailed account of the captures of Roger Mowbray’s castles at Kinnardferry and Kirkby Malzeard and his success in penning up the rebel garrison at Thirsk. Henry listened attentively, asked all the right questions, and waited until Geoff was done before sharing his own news with his son.

  “A messenger reached me this morn with unwelcome word from Normandy. After learning that I’d sailed for England, the French king recalled Hal and the Count of Flanders and they are now laying siege to Rouen.”

  “You’ll be returning, then, to Normandy,” Geoff exclaimed, his eyes alight. “May I go with you? It may be our only chance to fight side by side!”

  Henry had never understood the appeal that war held for other men. Even in his youth, he’d not been bedazzled by dreams of glory, had always looked upon war as a necessary evil, a king’s last resort. “You’re sounding rather bloodthirsty for a bishop, lad,” he teased. “Speaking of that, we will have to get the Pope’s approval of your election once the rebellion is finally over. Would you fancy going to Rome yourself? Let me know if so, and I’ll make the necessary arrangements.”

  Geoff’s face shadowed, and he glanced away, saying nothing. Henry did not notice. Ranulf did, though. He knew most people would share Henry’s view, that he was bestowing a great honor upon his son, especially one born out of wedlock. But Ranulf had learned a hard lesson with his own eldest—that sons did not always share their fathers’ aspirations, and he understood, as few others did, that an unwanted honor could be a heavy burden. Giving the reluctant bishop a sympathetic look, he sought to change the subject before the silence could become awkward, and admitted that he hoped to go home to Wales now that the rebellion in England was won.

  “I wish there were a way to lure you and Lady Rhiannon to my court and keep you here,” Henry said. “But I know I cannot compete with the siren songs of Wales. Go with my blessings,
Uncle. You’ve more than paid your dues. As have your Welsh countrymen.” Turning to Geoff, he lavished praise upon his Welsh ally, Rhys ap Gruffydd.

  “Not only has he kept the peace along the marches, Rhys even led a contingent of Welshmen to fight for me in England, laying siege to Derby’s stronghold at Tutbury.”

  Geoff was impressed. “The Welsh are usually ones for taking advantage of English strife.” At once regretting his candor, he glanced apologetically at Ranulf. “No offense, Uncle. How will you reward Rhys for his loyalty, Papa?”

  “By giving him what he most wants—a free hand in Wales. I wish it were so easy to reward your rogue prince, Ranulf. Davydd ab Owain has been no less steadfast for me than Rhys. But now he is asking for a boon in return, one I’d rather not bestow upon him.”

  “What does he want?” Ranulf asked curiously. “Horses, cattle? Gold? Surely not a border castle? I doubt even Davydd would be that brazen.”

  “What he wants,” Henry said, “is my sister. Did you notice that Benedictine monk over there, Ranulf? That is Brother Simon, sent from Basingwerk Abbey to ask for Emma’s hand in marriage. Davydd wants to be able to boast that he is the King of England’s brother-in-law, I suppose. He also knows that she’d bring a few English manors as her marriage portion. I daresay he’s heard that she is a beauty, too, and that never hurts. I’d as soon tell him nay. I liked Hywel, the brother he killed, and I agree with your dismal view of his character. But I will probably have to give my consent if I hope to keep the peace along the border. As thin-skinned as Davydd is, he’s like to take a refusal as a mortal insult.”

  “Yes,” Ranulf agreed reluctantly, “he would.” He did not know Emma well at all, remembered her as very fair and rather prideful, but he sympathized with any woman yoked to Davydd ab Owain. “What will Emma think of this?”

  Henry shrugged. “She probably will not like it much at first. My family seems cursed with strong-willed women, and Emma is definitely one of them. But it is a good match for her. Whatever his other failings, Davydd is a prince. If she bears him sons, they can expect to rule over most of Gwynedd one day.”

  Geoff did not know the Welsh prince at all and barely knew his aunt Emma, so he did not have any real interest in whether they wed or not. “Do you know what I find most miraculous, Papa? That the Scots king was captured at the very same hour that you were concluding your penance at Canterbury!”

  Henry laughed, a laugh Geoff had not heard in quite a while. “Thomas was ever one for showing off,” he said with a grin, “and he always had a flair for drama. He wanted there to be no doubts whatsoever that he and the Almighty had forgiven me. Not even Louis Capet can argue otherwise now.” Glancing from his son to his uncle, he surprised them, then, by offering a rare, unguarded glimpse into the depths of his soul, saying quietly, “It is a blessing to be at peace with God again—and with Thomas.”

  “I shall honor St Thomas for the rest of my days,” Geoff promised, and Henry’s gaze lingered upon his face.

  “You are my true son, Geoff. The others, they are the baseborn ones, the bastards.”

  Geoff was speechless. Swallowing with difficulty, he blinked back tears, which Henry and Ranulf tactfully pretended not to see. Looking from one to the other, Ranulf felt a deep and abiding gratitude that Harry’s wounds no longer bled. God Willing, mayhap now they might begin to heal. “You asked me once if I thought Thomas was a saint,” he said, smiling. “Who could have guessed that it would be Thomas himself who’d answer you?”

  ONCE HE WAS SATISFIED that the English rebellion was quelled, Henry turned his attention to ending hostilities in France, and landed at Barfleur on August 8, exactly one month since he’d sailed for England. He’d brought back with him the Earls of Leicester and Chester and the unfortunate Scots king, and after depositing them safely at Falaise, he struck out for Rouen. By the night of August 10, he was within fifteen miles of the city, and ordered his men to make camp for the night, intending to enter Rouen on the morrow.

  LIFTING A SMOLDERING OIL LAMP, Henry leaned over to illuminate a parchment map. “Take a look at this,” he directed, and Rhys ap Gruffydd’s son Hywel crossed the tent to study the map. Rhys had dispatched Hywel as a gesture of solidarity at the start of the rebellion, and since Henry now had one thousand of Rhys’s Welshmen at his disposal, it made sense to put them under Hywel’s command.

  “This is Rouen, here. It is not an easy city to besiege, protected by the River Seine on one side and by hills on the other. I’ve been told that the French did not have enough men to surround the city, and they have concentrated upon the east. They are employing their soldiers in eight-hour shifts, so that they can continue bombarding Rouen day and night with their siege engines and crossbowmen. But because the townsmen still control the bridge to the west, they have continued to bring in supplies and need not fear being starved into submission.”

  “So we can march right into the town through the west gate,” Hywel said, marveling at the ineptitude of the French commanders. “It sounds like a waste of time, effort, money, and men. What is the point of laying siege to a city unless they are cut off from reinforcements?”

  “You’d have to take that up with Louis Capet,” Henry said cheerfully. “As for me, I am just thankful that my foes are conducting this campaign with the military skills of a mother abbess. Look over here, Hywel. This area east of Rouen is heavily wooded. I well remember the havoc you Welsh wreaked upon my men on my last incursion into Wales. It was like fighting phantoms, forest demons who’d strike without warning, then fade back into the shadows ere we could retaliate. What I propose is turning your men loose upon our French friends. Can you circle around behind their lines and cut off their supply wagons?”

  Hywel grinned. “I thought you were going to offer us a challenge. That will be too easy!”

  Henry grinned, too. “I promise to find you something more perilous next time,” he said, and then turned as one of his men ducked under the tent flap.

  “My liege, a man has just ridden into camp, bold as you please, and asked to see you. He said to tell you—this is going to sound daft, but he said ‘planta genesta.’”

  He sounded so puzzled that Henry burst out laughing. “I will see him straightaway,” he said, and dismissed the other men in his tent, allowing only Willem to remain as they awaited the mysterious stranger.

  “I am not going to ask,” Willem said at last, and Henry took pity on him, saying with a smile, “Planta genesta is the Latin name for the broom plant. My father liked to wear a sprig on his cap, and when I was thinking of a code word, that just came to mind.”

  “I take it I am about to meet one of your spies?”

  “One of the best, Willem, one of the very best,” Henry said, as a young man was ushered into the tent. He was as dark as a Saracen, with unfashionably long hair and slanted black eyes that laughed up at Henry as he knelt before the king. “Willem,” Henry said, “meet…well, you may call him Luc.” Gesturing for his visitor to rise, he pointed toward the table. “There is a flagon of wine; help yourself. Why are you not at the siege with Louis?”

  Luc rose as lithely as a cat, and then strode over to pour himself some wine. “The French king heard an alarming rumor that you’d sailed for Normandy. I kindly volunteered to ride to Barfleur and keep vigil, for it occurred to me that would be an easy way to pass on my report once you arrived. It was a surprise, and a pleasant one, to find you almost within hailing distance of the city walls. Your eerie ability to appear in a puff of smoke has saved me a two-day ride!”

  “Glad to oblige,” Henry said. “So Louis does not know for certes that I left England? The way his agents serve him, it is a wonder he even knows about the sinking of the White Ship.”

  Luc grinned. “He is already out of sorts, sure that St Laurence is sorely offended with him. Wait till the morrow when he finds you in the city. He’ll think he’s died and gone to Hell!”

  “We can only hope.” Henry had been in the saddle since dawn and his injured
leg was throbbing. Sitting on his bed, he swung the leg up and propped a pillow under it. “Why does Louis think he’s affronted a saint? What did he do…hear Mass only twice in one day instead of his customary three times?”

  “No, my liege. The saint has a greater grievance than that.” Luc finished his wine, went to pour more. “Louis has always revered St Laurence, and so he proposed to the citizens of Rouen that both sides observe a truce in honor of the saint’s day. They quickly agreed, and this morning they opened the gates and the townspeople began to venture forth. They were soon playing games and dancing, and some of the knights from the garrison staged a mock tourney, all within sight of the French army. Many of the younger men and women gathered by the riverbank and began to shout insults across the water. The Count of Flanders was enraged by their mockery, and he and a few other lords—the Counts of Dreux and Blois and Évreux—sought out the king and urged him to catch the townsmen off guard and launch a surprise attack.”

  Henry had lain back on the bed. Sitting upright at that, he said with a tight smile, “Let me guess what happened next. Louis was horrified by the very idea of such sacrilege, refused to consider breaking the truce, and then let himself be talked into it.”

  “You’d have made a fine prophet, my liege.” Luc’s smile held no more humor than Henry’s. “That is exactly what happened.”

  “Obviously something went amiss, though, or Louis would not be back in camp, brooding over the wrong done St Laurence. Why did their surprise attack fail?”

  “St Laurence was not pleased with their double-dealing. Two monks had gone up into the bell tower, which offered a clear view of the French camp. They saw the stealthy preparations under way, and began frantically ringing the bell. If not for their warning, Rouen might have been lost. As it was, the citizens fled back into the town, and by the time the French reached the walls with their scaling ladders, the gates were barred and men were ready for them. There was fierce hand-to-hand fighting on the walls, but the French were driven back. When Louis sent me off to watch for you, they were going at it like stags in rut, trading accusations and blame for the blunder.”