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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 45


  “I cannot count all the sermons I’ve heard priests give over the years,” Amaria said with a grin, “railing at female vanity and the sinful use of dyes and face paints. But women will always do whatever they can to hold the years at bay and to make themselves look attractive to men.”

  “Why go to all that trouble, though?” Eleanor mused. “After all, none but you can see the grey. It is not as if my husband is going to be demanding his conjugal rights any time soon, and I cannot say that I have plans to take a lover.”

  Amaria chuckled. “Women rarely plan to take a lover. It just happens.”

  “Not for queens. The one essential for love affairs is privacy, and royal palaces have even less privacy than nunneries.”

  Amaria had heard, of course, of the scandalous stories of the queen’s youth, and would have loved to know the truth of them. She would not have blamed Eleanor for cuckolding the French king, thinking that he deserved horns if any husband did. Outspoken though she might be, she was not foolhardy, and that was not a question she’d have dared to ask. Instead, she decided to broach a subject that had been causing her some unease of mind.

  “Madame…you do not think the king would truly force you into taking holy vows, do you?”

  “He might if he thought he could get away with it,” Eleanor said, sounding much too nonchalant for Amaria’s liking. “But whatever Harry’s failings, slowness of wit is not amongst them. He knows his grand scheme would work only if I agree to cooperate.” Glancing over her shoulder at Amaria, she smiled coolly. “I am not as quick to gamble as I once was, though, so I told Richard to appeal to the Archbishop of Rouen on my behalf.”

  Amaria sighed with relief. “I am so glad to hear that,” she admitted, and then spun around with a gasp as the door banged open. She backed away hastily as Henry stormed into the chamber. He was in such an obvious rage that her first instinct was to flee, but she was reluctant to leave Eleanor alone with him for that very reason, and so she stealthily retreated into the shadows, trying to make herself as inconspicuous as possible.

  She need not have bothered; Henry never even noticed her, so focused was he upon the object of his anger—his infuriating, conniving wife. Setting down the mirror, she regarded him with provocative calm, saying, “Do come in, my lord husband,” as if he were the one in the wrong.

  “I thought you’d like to know that your latest scheme was highly successful. Your sons gallantly rode to your rescue tonight, proclaiming themselves your champions. It is a wonder you did not give them tokens of your favor to flaunt, so that all would know they were your knights.”

  “However little you like it, Harry, they are my sons. Is it truly so surprising that they are protective of me?”

  “What did you tell them precisely? That I was going to load you down with chains and haul you off to a nunnery in the dead of night?”

  “As a matter of fact, I did not mention your threat.”

  “You expect me to believe that? As if you’d pass up any chance to portray me as the knave and you as the innocent, sacrificial lamb, the damsel in distress!”

  “I did not tell them because I did not take your threat seriously. I know how you rave and rant when you lose your temper. I also know that once you cool down, you rarely if ever carry these threats out, so I saw no reason to share them with our sons, not unless you forced me to it. More strife is the last thing our family needs.”

  “St Eleanor of Aquitaine,” he mocked, “so wise and forbearing. It is rather difficult, though, to reconcile that angelic image with the woman who urged my sons to rebel against me!”

  “That was a mistake.”

  He stared at her in disbelief. “A mistake? You destroyed our family and you call it a ‘mistake’?”

  “Yes, damn you, a mistake! Are you going to tell me that you’ve never made a mistake, Harry?”

  “No,” he growled, “I made a great one on May 18 in God’s Year 1152.” And with that, he turned and stalked out, slamming the door resoundingly behind him.

  Amaria leaned weakly against the wall for a moment. To her surprise, the queen did not seem as distraught as she ought to have been after such a blazing row. Deciding, though, that they both needed wine, she went over without being asked and poured two cups.

  Bringing one back to Eleanor, she made an attempt to sound blasé as she said, “May I ask what happened on May 18 in 1152, my lady?”

  “Harry and I were wed in Poitiers.” Eleanor took a swallow of the wine before saying, “Usually he could never remember our anniversary.”

  Amaria did not know what to say, so she busied herself hunting in the floor rushes for the brush, which she’d dropped when Henry barged into the chamber. Eleanor drank in silence, seemingly lost in her own thoughts. When their eyes met, though, she smiled, a smile that somehow managed to be wry and rueful and bleak, all at the same time.

  “Harry and I have more in common than quick tempers,” she said. “We rarely make mistakes, but when we do, they tend to be spectacular.”

  Amaria could not argue with that, not when she considered the consequences of those mistakes. The queen’s rebellion had cost her dearly, might mean imprisonment for the rest of her days. The king’s rash, angry words had resulted in a martyr’s death upon the floor of Canterbury cathedral. She could only hope that the king’s decision to crown his son would not prove to be a mistake of the same magnitude, for all their sakes.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

  July 1176

  Poitiers, Poitou

  THE BISHOP’S CLERKS smiled at the sight of the two men walking in the gardens, for they were a study in contrasts. John aux Bellesmains,

  Bishop of Poitiers, was a tall, willowy, and elegant figure, towering over the diminutive John of Salisbury. Their history went back more than twenty years, begun in those distant days when they and Thomas Becket had been clerks together in the household of Archbishop Theobald of Canterbury. John aux Bellesmains had been elevated to his bishopric at the same time as Thomas, and now John of Salisbury would have his own See, too, having been elected by the chapter of Chartres on July 22. He was on his way to Sens for consecration, but he’d detoured to Poitiers to see his old friend, and on this muggy afternoon in late July, they were making up for lost time, sharing confidences both personal and political as the sun rose higher in the sky and the city sweltered under the summer heat.

  Once they’d seated themselves in the shade and accepted wine and fruit from the bishop’s attentive servants, John of Salisbury raised his cup in a mock salute. “To your military exploits, my lord bishop. You are a man of many talents, for certes. You did remember to use a mace, though, and not a sword?”

  Salisbury was indulging in some canonical humor, for warlike bishops had been known to carry a mace into battle as a means of avoiding the stricture against priests shedding blood, on the dubious grounds that Scriptures said nothing against battering an enemy’s brains into mush. His companion smiled, somewhat sheepishly, for he’d never expected to garner military acclaim. “Actually,” he said, “all I did was raise the local levy, providing the men for the defense of Poitou when the rebels sought to take advantage of Count Richard’s absence in England. I did not take the field against them, so credit for the victory at Barbezieux must go to Richard’s second-in-command, Theobald Chabot.”

  “I know,” Salisbury admitted with a grin. “I could not resist teasing you, old friend. How goes the rebellion? I’d heard that the king sent Richard and his brother Hal back to Poitou with enough gold to hire half the routiers in Hell.”

  “Richard has been very successful since his return; he’s clearly inherited his father’s flair for command. After winning a battle near Bouteville, he took the Viscount of Limoges’s castle at Aixe, then the city of Limoges itself. He is currently laying siege to Angoulême, where the Counts of Angoulême and the Viscounts of Ventador, Limoges, and Chabenais have taken shelter. When the castle falls, he’ll have captured all of the main rebels in one fell swoop. Not bad for a l
ad not yet nineteen.”

  Salisbury was not acquainted with Richard. He did know Hal, though, from his days in Becket’s household, and asked now, “And Hal? Surely he deserves some of the praise, too.”

  Bishop John smiled thinly. “I’d not suggest that in Richard’s hearing. Hal went off to Paris to visit his father-in-law, did not even make an appearance in Poitou until midsummer. He finally joined Richard in besieging the castle at Châteauneuf-sur-Charente, but once the castle was taken, he lost interest. He’s been holding court here in Poitiers for the past fortnight.”

  Salisbury knew his friend well enough to catch the unspoken echoes of disapprobation. Since the bishop would hardly fault Hal for not displaying enough warlike fervor or bloodlust, he assumed there was more involved than Hal’s lack of enthusiasm for siege warfare. “I’ve not seen Hal since last year, when he and the king made a pilgrimage to Canterbury. Thomas was always fond of the lad. It hurt him when Hal refused to see him in those last weeks of his life. What has he been doing in Poitiers to incur your disapproval?”

  “What he does best,” Bishop John said dryly, “which is charming every man, woman, and child who happen to cross his path. The Poitevin barons not in actual rebellion have been drawn to Poitiers like dogs to vomit. They have been fawning over Hal as if he were the blessed Archangel Michael, telling him how much they wish he were their liege lord rather than Richard.”

  Salisbury’s jaw dropped. “Are you saying Hal is seeking to subvert his brother’s vassals?”

  “He’d insist he has no such intention, but he does nothing to discourage such seditious talk. I cannot tell if he truly wants to undermine Richard’s authority in Poitou, or if he merely enjoys hearing his brother belittled. Either way, it does not bode well for the future.”

  “No, it does not,” Salisbury agreed, and then sought to lighten the conversation by sharing the latest gossip from England. The Bishop of St David’s had died that past May, and there were rumors that the malcontent Earl of Norfolk had died in the Holy Land, where he’d gone to expiate his many sins. The Almighty truly worked in mysterious ways, he observed, for few men deserved such a sanctified death less than Hugh Bigod, but then he made John laugh by saying cheerfully that at least the miscreant earl’s stay in Purgatory would surely last an aeon or two.

  “My lord bishop.” One of John’s servants was coming up the garden walkway. “The queen has just arrived, Your Grace, and asks to see you straightaway.”

  “By all means. Have her join us here in the gardens, Milo, and see that refreshments are brought out.” As the man retreated, Bishop John glanced toward Salisbury with a smile. “I wonder if a time will ever come when we hear the words ‘the queen’ and do not think of Eleanor.”

  Salisbury knew Eleanor, too, although not as well as Poitiers’s bishop. “Not in our lifetimes,” he predicted, watching with alert interest the young woman just entering the gardens.

  Noting that Marguerite’s attendants had lagged behind, the two men exchanged thoughtful looks, for that indicated her visit was not a routine social call. “Madame, this is an unexpected pleasure,” Bishop John said, hastening to meet her. “May I introduce an old friend, John, the Bishop-elect of Chartres.”

  Marguerite’s eyes flicked uneasily to Salisbury’s cherubic face, then back to Bishop John. “Your Grace, I have an urgent matter to discuss. May I rely upon your utter discretion, and that of your friend?”

  “Of course. Whatever you tell us will be kept as secret as anything we’d hear in the confessional.”

  Marguerite let them seat her upon a wooden bench. “Do you know Adam de Churchedune, my husband’s vice-chancellor?”

  The bishop nodded. “I believe he was a clerk to the prior of Beverley ere joining the young king’s household. What of him, my lady?”

  “It seems he has been serving two masters, my husband and his father. He was caught trying to send a confidential message to King Henry in England.” Marguerite dropped her eyes to the hands clenched in her lap. “Adam was concerned that my husband had taken up with what he called ‘highly suspect company.’ He particularly objected to the presence of the de Lusignans and several lords who’d taken part in the last rebellion against King Henry, men whom he suspected of aiding and abetting what he called ‘the current crop of rebels.’ It…it was not a letter that portrayed my husband in a favorable light.”

  “Ah…I see. And the young king is irate?”

  “More than that, Your Grace. I have never seen him so angry. He says that Adam has betrayed him, and he is set upon punishing him severely for his lack of loyalty. He and his household knights are trying Adam for treason even as we speak, and I greatly fear that he may well do something he’d regret for the rest of his life.”

  “Has he forgotten that Adam de Churchedune is a cleric, and not subject to the king’s courts?” Bishop John spoke calmly, although his composure was belied by the sudden taut line of his jaw. “Surely there were men there who dared to remind your husband of that salient fact?”

  “Yes, several spoke up, including Baldwin de Bethune and Will Marshal. But my husband is listening to others, to men who are urging him to make an example of Adam. They have made it sound as if my husband’s honor, his very manhood, is at stake…” Marguerite’s voice faded away, and when she looked up at the bishops, tears were brimming in the corners of her eyes. “Your Grace, you were the only one I could think of, the only one who might stop this madness ere it goes too far. When I left, they were clamoring for the death penalty!” Despite the summer sun, she shivered. “I may not know much of political matters, not like Queen Eleanor, but even I know how outraged the Holy Father would be, how angry King Henry would be. I entreat you, my lord bishop, do what you can, for poor Adam’s sake and for my husband’s sake, too.”

  AS THEY WERE ADMITTED to the royal palace, John gave his companion a searching look. “Are you sure you want to accompany me? This could get very ugly.”

  Salisbury nodded emphatically. “You know I was a witness to Thomas’s slaying. You may not know that I was amongst those who ran from his killers. The monks and his clerks fled, leaving him alone to face those brutes. Only one man, a monk who did not even know him, dared to come to his aid, and he paid a grievous price for his courage, had his arm all but severed.”

  “Thomas would not have wanted others to die with him. Did he not warn the killers that they were not to harm any of his people?”

  “He may not have asked it of me, but I asked it of myself, and was found wanting. I swore upon the Rood that it would not happen again.”

  “Deus vult,” the other man said quietly, and then turned to a hovering servant. “Take us to the king,” he commanded, in a tone that would brook no refusal. They were led across the courtyard toward the great hall, where a large crowd had gathered under the open windows, jockeying for position, putting the bishops in mind of those eager multitudes who would turn out for a public hanging. Their own attendants cleared a path, aided by shouts of “Make way for the bishop!”

  Inside, they were hit by a blast of hot, humid air. So many men had squeezed into the hall that they were trampling on one another’s feet, elbows jabbing into ribs, necks craning toward the dais. Bishop John moved forward with a ruthless will that would not be denied; the much smaller Salisbury slid into the space he created and followed, feeling, with an incongruous flash of humor, like a little skiff bobbing in the wake of a war galley.

  Hal was seated on the dais, surrounded by knights and barons of Poitou. He looked very handsome and very regal, his good looks enhanced by his anger, giving him high color and a smoldering intensity that riveted all eyes upon him. Most of the men seemed to share his agitation; they looked either indignant or excited or both. The bishop did find a few somber faces, but not many. He wasted no time scanning the spectators, his gaze searching out the man at the center of this storm, the unfortunate Adam de Churchedune.

  Adam had the stunned expression of a man unable to understand what was happening to
him, the dazed disbelief of one realizing he was going to drown within reach of shore. “My lord,” he pleaded, “I am truly sorry if I have offended you, for that was never my intent. But you do not want to do this—”

  “Yes,” Hal cut in, “I do! Your treachery deserves nothing less. The sentence of death stands.”

  “That is a grim jest,” the Bishop of Poitiers said loudly, “but I assume it is a jest, nevertheless, for you cannot pass a death sentence upon this man.”

  All heads swiveled in his direction. Adam spun around, stretching out his arms toward the bishop like a man grabbing for a lifeline. “Your Grace, I beg you to help me!”

  Hal’s reaction was no less dramatic. He jumped to his feet, stood watching as the bishop moved toward the dais, his head high, his shoulders squared, feet planted apart, every line of his body communicating tension and defiance. “My lord bishop,” he said curtly. “What are you doing here?”

  “Apparently stopping you from making a grave mistake, my lord king,” the bishop said, with equal coldness, and as hostile murmurings swept the hall, Salisbury felt a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. Why had John taken such a harsh approach? Would they not have been better served by more conciliatory tactics?

  “With all due respect, my lord bishop, you do not know what is occurring here, what this man has done. He has betrayed me, has been spying upon me and reporting back to my father! What could be more despicable than treachery like that?”

  “I am not here to defend what he has done, my liege,” the bishop said, and Adam seemed to shrink before their eyes as the hope stirred by John’s appearance was snatched away.

  Hal was momentarily thrown off balance. “Well,” he said, “I am glad to hear that.”