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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 38


  Henry did not speak for a time, struggling against the tide of raw emotion unleashed by the mere mention of Eleanor’s name. He’d not wanted to make Joanna choose between them, for she was a child, an innocent who could not be blamed for loving unwisely. He’d not intended to extend that privilege to his sons, for surely they’d forfeited that right by swallowing her poison so willingly. But as he looked now at Richard, he realized that it would not be that simple, that easy. He saw emotions in Richard’s face as conflicted as his own—fear and defiance and confusion and love, love for the woman who’d betrayed him so cruelly. He was going to have to learn to live with that, with Richard’s misplaced loyalty, at least until the boy came to see the truth about his mother.

  “That took courage,” he said at last, “and you’ve earned an honest answer…this one time. I will not speak of this again, Richard. I know this is not what you want to hear. But it cannot be helped. No, lad. I cannot forgive your mother. Not now, not ever.”

  ON SEPTEMBER 29, Henry met the French king on the riverbank of Montlouis-sur-Loire, not far from Tours. The day was overcast and dark clouds were gathering ominously along the horizon. Henry and Richard arrived at the same time as the French, and after an awkward exchange of greetings, they moved into the village churchyard so they could take shelter in the church if the storm broke.

  “Before we discuss terms for peace,” Louis said earnestly, “your sons wish to express their remorse and grief that it ever came to this.”

  Henry frowned, not sure if he could long endure Louis at his most sanctimonious and self-righteous. As if he were a Good Samaritan, who wanted only to heal this lamentable family feud! But Hal and Geoffrey had taken their cue and were coming forward to kneel respectfully before him. Hal’s distress seemed genuine; Henry could not help wondering, though, what he regretted most—that he’d rebelled or that he’d lost. He did not want to let such suspicions mar their reconciliation, and he did his best to put any doubts aside as Hal and then Geoffrey expressed their sorrow, their contrition, and their resolve to make amends, to be the dutiful, loving sons that he deserved.

  When their penance was done, Henry played his part and offered them absolution, raising them up for the formal kiss of peace and then quick, paternal hugs. “What’s past is past,” he said, “and it is forgiven.”

  Beaming, Louis then embraced Hal and Geoffrey, too, but when he took a step in Richard’s direction, he was warned off by the expression on the youth’s face, and contented himself with declaring his joy that this breach was mended, quoting from Scriptures to prove his point. Honor thy father, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee; that thy days may be prolonged. And if some noticed that he’d diplomatically edited the Holy Writ by excising any mention of thy mother, none were tactless enough to comment upon it.

  Hal and Geoffrey now offered strained greetings to Richard, who was even more laconic in reply. Hal then took Henry aside, seeking a moment alone. Withdrawing into the cemetery that bordered the churchyard, they walked among the wooden crosses and flat gravestones as Henry waited, with rare patience, for his son to speak.

  “Not the most auspicious of settings, is it?” Hal said wryly, gesturing toward the moss-covered grave markers. “Making peace in a burial ground is like getting wed in a whorehouse. But I do want there to be peace between us, Papa. That I swear to you upon the surety of my soul.”

  Henry was as moved by the tears in Hal’s eyes as he was by his words, and he felt a surge of gratitude that the Almighty and St Thomas had given him this second chance, an opportunity to make things right with his sons. “I also want that, Hal,” he said, and when they embraced, he truly believed that they’d made a new beginning. From the way Hal’s eyes were shining, he could see that Hal believed it, too.

  “As much as I enjoy watching Louis wriggling on the hook,” he said, “we’d best rejoin the others so I can end the suspense about my intentions.”

  Hal was one of those anxiously awaiting Henry’s judgment, for all knew this was not a genuine peace conference. As the victor, the English king would be the man dictating the terms of that peace, and they would have to swallow his brew, however bitter they found it. He could only hope that his father would be lenient as he followed Henry back into the churchyard.

  Henry wasted no time on preliminaries. “I mean to issue a general pardon to all those who took part in the rebellion,” he said, before adding a proviso. “There are four exceptions, however, four men who will not be included in the pardon: the Scots king, the Earl of Leicester, the Earl of Chester, and the Breton lord, Raoul de Fougères. They will have to bargain for their freedom, and only after I feel they can be trusted to honor their oaths.”

  There were murmurings of relief, for all who owed homage to Henry had been well aware that he could have charged them with treason. Hal edged over toward Will Marshal to murmur sotto voce, “See, I told you that there was no cause for concern. I knew my father would not punish you for being loyal to me.”

  Will hadn’t been so certain of that, and he was savoring his reprieve. Pray God that he’d never again be forced to choose between his king and his young lord. “We were lucky, my lord,” he said softly, “so very lucky.”

  Hal thought that remained to be seen, for his father had yet to announce what provisions he’d make for his sons. “The first thing I want to do is send for Marguerite. I am sure she was well treated, but my bed has been cold without her. I am not used to sleeping alone.”

  Will was not fooled by the flippancy, for he knew how upset Hal had been by his wife’s gilded captivity. Hal was still talking about Marguerite, and Will nudged the younger man, saying, “Your lord father is about to speak again.”

  Henry waited until the audience fell silent, until he was sure all eyes were upon him. “Last year I offered what I felt to be generous terms to settle this conflict. Sadly, they were rejected. Circumstances have changed since then,” he said dryly, unable to resist reminding Louis and the Count of Flanders of the respective reality of their positions. “This was a costly war.” How costly he was not going to admit to these men—more than twenty percent of his yearly revenues had gone toward the protection of his crown and kingdom. “Alas, I can no longer offer the same terms that I did last September.”

  Addressing his sons directly now, he said, “I think, though, that you will not be displeased with what I am offering. I realize now that I was remiss in not providing incomes commensurate with your titles.” That was an argument he’d often had with Eleanor, a memory he hastily pushed away. “My lord king,” he said to Hal, “I will be endowing you with two castles in Normandy and an annual income of fifteen thousand Angevin pounds, to be spent as you choose.”

  Hal swallowed, thinking of how much more he’d been offered last year at Gisors: half the crown revenues of England or Normandy, plus four English castles or six strongholds in their continental domains. Reminding himself then, that this was still a very generous offer from the victor to the vanquished, he smiled and made a graceful acknowledgment of his good fortune and his gratitude.

  “I have already discussed this with my son Richard,” Henry continued. “He is to receive two unfortified castles in Poitou and half of my revenues from that province. To my son Geoffrey, I offer half of the income of Brittany, and all of it once he weds the Lady Constance.”

  Richard and Geoffrey expressed their appreciation in appropriately formal terms, and Henry smiled to see the three of them standing together, thinking that this was the first step toward the restoration of his fractured family. “Now…there is the matter of my youngest son’s inheritance. I regret to report that I have recently received very sad news from England. Alice of Maurienne, my son John’s betrothed, was taken sick last month and the doctors were unable to save her. We gave orders for a funeral befitting her high birth, distributed alms to Christ’s poor in her name, and this sweet child of God will not lack for prayers that she may soon depart Purgatory for the glory of Life Everlasting.”

  T
he men had not heard of the little girl’s death, and they were quick to offer conventional expressions of sympathy, with many repetitions of “May God assoil her.” There was little surprise, though, for all knew how fragile life was in those early years of childhood. Some considered it remarkable that Eleanor had given birth to ten children in the course of two marriages and only had to bury one.

  Hal felt a quick stab of pity for the little girl, thinking how sad it was to die so young, so far from her family and homeland. That was followed by great relief as he realized that Alice’s death rendered John’s marriage settlement moot, which meant there was no longer any need to surrender his castles at Chinon, Mirebeau, and Loudun, the proximate cause of the rebellion. But he felt then a twinge of shame that he could find reason for rejoicing in the death of a child.

  “Naturally,” Henry continued, “I hope to make another favorable marital alliance for John. I have decided, however, that he ought to have lands of his own. I am therefore giving him the English castles of Nottingham and Marlborough, as well as five castles in Normandy, Anjou, Touraine, and Maine. This will require, of course, the consent of my eldest son, but I am confident that he will find it acceptable now that we have restored harmony in our family and our domains.”

  Hal’s gasp was loud enough for Geoffrey to jab him warningly in the ribs. That reminder alone would not have been enough. But his gaze happened to alight upon his brother Richard, who was watching him with malicious satisfaction. Richard’s smirk acted as a lifeline to pull him back from defiant disaster. “If it pleases my lord father,” he mumbled, “it pleases me.”

  Henry had not expected any other response. “Ere we commit these terms to writing, I think it advisable to renew acts of homage. As for my sons, I will gladly accept homage from Richard and Geoffrey, but I waive this act from my eldest son, in recognition of his rank as a crowned king.” He’d thought that Hal would be very pleased by this boon, this public recognition of their status as peers. Hal showed no enthusiasm, though; he was staring at the ground, his face hidden by a sweep of fair hair.

  Turning his eyes away from his son, Henry looked coolly at the Count of Flanders. “I believe, my lord, that you have a charter to relinquish, one that gave you a claim to my castle at Dover and the county of Kent.”

  After receiving Count Philip’s assurances that it would be forthcoming, Henry decided then to give them food for thought—an example of what he could have demanded had he been vindictive or vengeful. “From here, I expect to return to Falaise to continue negotiations with the Scots king. I am willing to grant his freedom, but after such savage raids against my English subjects, I understandably feel the need to demand proof of his future good will. He will not be released from confinement until he acknowledges himself as a liegeman of the English Crown and agrees that the Scottish Church shall be subordinate to the Church of England. I shall require also that the Scots earls and barons do homage to me against all other men, and if King William should default in his fealty to me, his liege lord, the Scots lords and bishops will hold to me against the King of the Scots, and in such an event, the Scots bishops shall place Scotland under Interdict until the Scots king repents of his disloyalty. Lastly, to guarantee the safety of my borders, I will take possession of the Scots castles at Roxburgh, Berwick, Jedburgh, Edinburgh, and Sterling, with the costs of garrisoning them to be paid by the Scots treasury.”

  There was utter silence when he was done speaking, as his adversaries pondered the sad fate of the Scots king and the fearful consequences of defying the man who was King of England, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, Poitou, Touraine, and Maine, Lord of Ireland and Wales, liege lord of Brittany, now restored to the good graces of the Church and the favor of St Thomas of Blessed Memory.

  After this chilling revelation of what could have been, Henry was soon surrounded by men eager to show their good will, and it was not long before he found himself cornered by the French king, no less eager to mend fences and banish the hounds of war. Hal had backed away from the chaos, and after a moment’s hesitation, he walked over to his brother.

  “Richard…did you speak to him about Maman?”

  Richard scowled, accurately interpreting Hal’s words to mean he would not be raising that dangerous topic himself. “Of course I did!”

  “And…?” When Richard slowly shook his head, Hal bit his lip, and for a brief moment, their hostility forgotten, they looked at each other in perplexity and mutual misery.

  SALISBURY PLAIN WAS A VAST MARSH, fed by six rivers, a barren, windswept area of chalk hills and grassy downs. On a promontory north of the River Avon, a castle had been erected in the eleventh century, unusual in that it shared the precincts with a cathedral. The inner bailey contained the keep, several towers, and a palace built by a Bishop of Salisbury for the use of Henry’s grandfather. The cathedral was situated in the western half of the outer bailey, with the bishop’s palace, buildings for the canons, and three cemeteries.

  Eleanor had never passed much time at Sarum Castle; both she and Henry preferred Clarendon Palace just four miles distant, she for its greater luxury and Henry for its hunting park. So her spirits had plummeted at her first sight of the stark stone keep rising up against a bleak Wiltshire sky. Few areas in England were so desolate. The winds were constant, so brutal that the first cathedral had been destroyed in a gale only five days after its consecration. The canons complained that the winds drowned out the sounds of the Divine Office, and they suffered from the joint evil and vision maladies caused by the blinding glare of the sun upon the chalk hills. As she’d ridden through the gatehouse into the inner bailey of the castle, Eleanor was morbidly certain that Sarum would be the death of her.

  It was a great surprise, therefore, to discover that she actually preferred Sarum to Falaise. She’d dreaded being penned up in one of the cheerless, cold chambers of the great keep or, even worse, in Herlewin’s Tower along the north inner wall. But she’d been escorted to the royal palace and taken up to the private quarters on the second floor. She had a fireplace here, and access to a privy chamber, and she was even able to attend Mass through a private entrance in St Nicholas’s Chapel. Best of all, she was permitted to walk in the inner courtyard, to pick flowers in the garden if she chose. She thought she understood why she was no longer being guarded so zealously. The castle at Sarum was escape-proof, so secure that she could be given a few more liberties.

  She learned that she was in the custody of a man she knew, Ralph Fitz Stephen, one of the king’s chamberlains and sheriff of Gloucestershire. She’d had only one awkwardly polite encounter with him since her arrival, for he was rarely at Sarum. It was the constable of the castle, Robert de Lucy, who was responsible for her daily care, and he’d treated her with distant but impeccable courtesy. She knew her neighbor, too, Jocelin de Bohun, the Bishop of Salisbury, who dwelled on the western side of the outer bailey, but he’d so far paid her no visits. This was not a surprise, for he was not the most resolute of men, and wary of incurring the king’s disfavor. He’d sided with Henry over Becket, most likely because he feared the king even more than the archbishop. His loyalty had come at a great cost, for he’d been excommunicated twice by the irate archbishop, and he was destined to be remembered mainly as the man who’d offended a saint. So Eleanor had no expectations of aid from that quarter.

  Although she’d found no cause for complaint in her treatment by the constable, the chaplain, servants, or guards, she’d so far had no luck in cultivating another Perrin, and until an unexpected event in mid-August, she’d known nothing of what was occurring in the world beyond the walls of Sarum. This changed, however, when she was granted the privilege of having a visitor.

  The man ushered into her chamber was also familiar to her, Reginald Fitz Jocelin, the Bishop-elect of Bath, a cleric who’d been unwillingly caught up in the Becket conflict through no fault of his own. Reginald had a dubious background, for he was the son of Bishop Jocelin. His father had doted upon him, naming him as h
is archdeacon and thus setting him upon the path toward a church career. He’d been for a time in Becket’s household, but that had ended badly when he’d been lured away by the chance to serve the king. Becket had never forgiven him, bitterly assailing him as “that bastard son of a priest, born of a harlot,” and some felt that the archbishop’s increasing animosity toward Jocelin was actually rooted in his anger with the son.

  Eleanor never knew what prompted the visit by Bishop Reginald; he’d offered no explanations. She could only surmise that he was, in his way, striking a blow at Becket, for he’d said enough to indicate that his rancorous memories of the man did not lend themselves to an easy acceptance of the archbishop’s sainthood. But she cared little for his motives. What mattered was that, under the guise of offering spiritual solace, he’d opened a window briefly to the world. From him, she learned the astonishing news of Henry’s penance at Canterbury, and the equally astonishing results. He’d not stayed long, but when he left, she knew that the rebellion in England was dead and her only hopes rested with her sons and the French king, then besieging Rouen. As disheartening as it was to learn of her husband’s triumphs, she still preferred knowing bad news to not knowing any news at all.

  ELEANOR WAS NOT HAVING A GOOD DAY. The weather could not be faulted; it was a sun-splashed, mild October morning. But she’d begun keeping track of her time at Sarum by marking the wall with charcoal, and she’d suddenly realized that this was Joanna’s ninth birthday. She was sure that Marguerite would make much of her, sure that she’d not lack for either affection or attention. It was hard, though, missing yet another milestone in one of her children’s lives, even harder not to know how many more would be denied her.