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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 46


  John had reached the dais by now. “Whether he is guilty of a betrayal is not the issue. It would seem to me that this is a matter best taken up with your lord father, but again, that is beyond my purview. My only concern is with the punishment you are threatening to inflict upon him. As I said, that cannot be.”

  Hal began to bluster again. “That is not for you to say!”

  “Yes, it is. Adam de Churchedune is not subject to the jurisdiction of your court. He is in minor orders and can be judged only by Holy Church.”

  Hal scowled. “He is not a priest, has never taken holy vows!”

  “That is irrelevant. The Church’s position has always been quite clear upon this subject. It matters not if a man is in minor orders or if he be one of the Pope’s own cardinals. In either case, he is to be judged by the Church and only the Church.”

  The mutterings were becoming louder now, the antagonism needing only a spark to burst into flame. Salisbury moved over to stand beside his friend, wondering if the Church was to get two new martyrs. Hal knew the sentiment in the hall was with him, and that realization was both encouraging and daunting. “I say he is to be judged here and now and by me, the liege lord he wronged! Go home, my lord bishop. You are not needed here.”

  John looked around the hall, his gaze so piercing that not all of the men could meet his eyes. “Have you forgotten that bloodstained floor at Canterbury Cathedral?” he demanded. “St Thomas died for the very principle that you would violate. His quarrel with the king began because he would not agree to let clerics be judged in royal courts. Do you truly think that I could stand aside whilst you defy the Church and defame the blessed martyr’s holy memory? I tell you that you shall not harm this man,” he said, thrusting his arm toward Adam in a gesture reminiscent of an Old Testament prophet. “If it is God’s Will that I die in his defense, so be it.”

  The image he’d called up of the archbishop’s mangled and bleeding body had a sobering effect upon the men. Even those most eager to see Adam suffer for his sins were starting to have second thoughts. Salisbury took heart from the sudden silence and decided it was time for the voice of reason to balance his friend’s splendid defiance. Approaching the dais, he addressed Hal with all the polite persuasion at his command. “My liege, I remember you well from your time in Archbishop Thomas’s household. You are a good son of the Church, would not want to bring upon yourself the shame and infamy that engulfed your lord father after the archbishop’s murder.”

  One of the de Lusignans saw that Hal’s resolve was weakening, and shoved his way toward the young king. “Do not heed them, sire. Your House has a proud tradition of holding your ground against the Church’s encroachments. Remember what befell an arrogant Bishop of Séez who dared to defy your grandfather, Count Geoffrey of blessed memory. The count’s men deprived him of what no priest needs—his manhood.”

  But he’d gone too far. Hal did not want to be associated with so brutal a deed. “My grandfather denied that they were acting upon his orders,” he said, turning some of his frustration and thwarted fury upon the de Lusignan agitator. “Will Marshal always warned me that you de Lusignans were an untrustworthy lot. I ought to have paid more heed to him.”

  The de Lusignans were as known for their fiery tempers as for their sharp double-dealing, and the man gave Hal a look now that was murderous. But Marshal had shouldered his way over to Hal’s side, and he did not want to be challenged to a duel by combat, for Will’s lethal skills and enduring grudge against the de Lusignan clan would make him a very deadly foe, indeed.

  Hal glanced at Will, appreciating his silent support and remembering that Will had argued against this from the beginning. Wishing he’d listened, he came down the steps of the dais, putting a swagger in his step as he halted before the Bishop of Poitiers. “I like it not,” he said coolly, “but I will spare that wretch out of the respect I have for you, my lord bishop.”

  Adam’s gasp was almost a sob. He sank to his knees like a man whose body no longer had the strength to support him, his breath wheezing like a broken bellows. Salisbury reached over and put a hand on that heaving shoulder, giving it a reassuring squeeze. But the Bishop of Poitiers had yet to take his eyes from Hal.

  “Do I have your word upon that, my lord king?”

  There were more resentful mutterings at that. Hal’s brows drew together, his mouth tightening. But the bishop continued to look at him expectantly, challengingly, and at last he gave a grudging promise that he would not seek to execute Adam for his treachery. Glaring at the quaking figure of his vice-chancellor, he warned, “I will not forget, though. Nor will I forgive.”

  IT WAS ONE OF THOSE RARE, perfect summer days, splashed with golden sun, cooled by errant breezes, the sky the brilliant shade of blue more often seen in September than mid-August. The gardens at Winchester were in full bloom, and Eleanor and Amaria were enjoying the fragrant scents, the flight of gossamer-winged butterflies, and the antics of the spaniel that was Henry’s recent gift to Joanna.

  “Melusine!” Amaria called, seeking to stop the puppy from digging in a raised flower bed of scarlet peonies. When the little dog ignored her warning, she bent down and scooped it up into her arms, where it began to chew contentedly upon the lacings of her gown. “What an odd name for a dog. What made your daughter choose it, Madame?”

  “Melusine was the name of the Demon Countess of Anjou,” Eleanor said, smiling. “Her husband was very happy with her, but he became suspicious when she rarely attended Mass and always left before the consecration of the Host. So one day he ordered four of his knights to step upon her mantle and hold her there. Whereupon she gave a fearful scream, revealed herself to be the Devil’s daughter, and flew out a window, never to be seen again. Harry has such interesting ancestors.”

  “Speaking of the Devil,” Amaria said with a grin. “Is that not your lord husband amongst those riders who’ve just passed through the gatehouse?”

  Eleanor was not surprised by Henry’s arrival, for Joanna had told her that he’d arranged to hold a church council at Winchester in order to spend time with her before she departed for Sicily. Eleanor was surprised, though, by what Henry did once he’d dismounted. After glancing across the bailey toward the gardens, he handed his reins to a groom and walked in her direction.

  As he entered the garden gate, Amaria took Melusine and discreetly withdrew out of earshot. Eleanor seated herself on a turf bench and watched him approach. Coming to a halt a few feet away, he gestured toward Amaria and the puppy. “Is that the dog I sent Joanna?”

  Eleanor nodded. “It was love at first sight. Guess what she named it? Melusine.”

  Henry’s mouth curved at the corners. “I knew it was a mistake to tell her that story. Where is she? Inside at her lessons?”

  “No, she went into the city. It seems that one of the nuns of St Mary’s speaks Tuscan, and has agreed to teach her a few phrases. I explained that each region of Italy has its own dialect and what they speak in Tuscany might not be understood in Sicily, but you know Joanna once she gets an idea into her head.”

  “You did remind her that William is of Norman descent and his first language is French?”

  “I did. But she has her mind set upon being able to ‘speak to my people,’ as she puts it.”

  Henry’s smile was touched with sadness. “I hope the Sicilians appreciate how lucky they are.” He hesitated and then sat beside her on the bench. “Is she nervous about the marriage?”

  “Of course she is, even though she’d never admit it. She did confess to some unease, though, when the Bishops of Troye and Capua arrived at Winchester to make sure she was pretty enough to satisfy their king.”

  Henry felt a flicker of resentment even now. “I never heard of such a thing,” he said indignantly. “Royal marriages are matters of statecraft, a means of forging alliances. Yet William would have his men inspect Joanna as if she were a prize filly! He is fortunate I did not end the negotiations then and there.”

  “I assured Joann
a she had no cause for concern, and indeed, they were bedazzled by her. In truth, though, I can understand William’s concern. He may be allying with England, but he’ll be living with a flesh-and-blood woman. Is it so surprising that he’d prefer a pleasing bedmate? He is said to be quite handsome himself, so he and Joanna ought to have beautiful children.”

  Henry could think of few subjects less appealing than envisioning his ten-year-old daughter as a man’s bedmate, and he was irked with Eleanor for discussing it so nonchalantly. “Joanna is a child herself,” he said sharply. “I just pray to God that her husband remembers that.”

  Eleanor understood then. This was the father here in the garden with her, not the king. “Harry…Joanna will become his wife, but not his bedmate, not yet. You know that the Church frowns upon consummation of the marriage until the girl reaches a more suitable age, at the very least until she has her flux.”

  “That sounds well and good—in theory. But how can we be sure that it prevails in practice?”

  “We cannot,” she said, with unsettling candor. “But from what we know of William, he does not sound like a man who’d enjoy deflowering a little girl. We have to remember that we judged him to be a worthy husband for Joanna. We should remember, too, that self-interest encourages men to follow the Church’s teachings in this matter. A very young wife is more likely to die in childbirth, and the babe, too. Princes and kings know that, and do not want to put their heirs or their alliances at needless risk.”

  “I know, I know,” he said impatiently, before admitting, “The husbands of our older girls seem to have taken their ages into account.”

  For a moment, they thought of their absent daughters. Tilda had been wed at age eleven to the Duke of Saxony and Bavaria, a man more than twenty-seven years her senior, a man older than her own father. She’d become a mother three times already, but she’d not had her first child until she was sixteen. Her sister, named after Eleanor, but known now by the Spanish Leonora, had wed the King of Castile at an even younger age than Tilda or Joanna; she’d been just nine. She was only in her fifteenth year now, and so far, they’d heard nothing of any pregnancies.

  Eleanor was astonished that they were actually having a conversation that was not only civil, but easy and unforced, even intimate. “We have to trust him, Harry, to do right by Joanna.” Unable to resist adding playfully, “After all, he is called William the Good. Surely that is a cause for reassurance?”

  “He’s called that because his father was known as William the Bad,” Henry said, with a faint glimmer of sardonic humor. “It is just that…that Joanna is so fair…”

  “Ah, I see. You fear that he might be tempted by her beauty, tempted enough to ignore the reality—that she is still a child.”

  “Are you saying it never happens?” he challenged. “I’d wager that Louis consummated the marriage on your wedding night, and you were all of…what, thirteen?”

  Eleanor blinked in surprise. “Well, yes,” she conceded. “How did you know?”

  “For God’s sake, woman, no man would sleep chastely in your bed, not even a born monk like Louis!”

  He was on his feet now, beginning to pace as she watched him in amused amazement. “Careful, Harry, that sounds suspiciously like a compliment.” She was at once sorry for the gibe, not wanting to spoil this unlikely rapport.

  He shot her a sharp look, but surprised her again by not stalking off. Was he that troubled by Joanna’s marriage? Or had he something else on his mind? She decided to take advantage of the fact that they were still talking, see if she could extract some information from him about their sons. “I hear that Richard has been very successful since he returned to Poitou,” she said, waiting to see if he’d respond.

  “Yes, he has done well. I had a message from him just four days ago, telling me that he’d taken Angoulême and was sending the captive counts to me for judgment.”

  Eleanor was delighted; she hadn’t known that Richard’s triumph had been so sweeping. “We have a son to be proud of,” she said, and their eyes met and held for a heartbeat or two before he glanced away.

  “You have not heard, though, about Hal’s latest lunacy.”

  “No,” she said cautiously. “What has he done?”

  “He caught his vice-chancellor, Adam de Churchedune, sending me a warning that he was consorting with rebels and riffraff, and he flew into a wild rage, lost all reason.”

  Ah, Harry, what did you expect? But the words never left her lips, for she very much wanted to hear what had happened. If he felt the need to discuss it with her, it must truly be dreadful. “What did he do?”

  “He charged Adam with treason and sentenced him to death.”

  Eleanor’s eyes widened; she’d not been braced for a blow like this. “Holy Mother Mary,” she whispered. “Are you telling me he executed a man of God?”

  “No, but that was due only to the fortuitous arrival of the Bishop of Poitiers. He faced Hal and his lackeys down, and God bless him for it. Hal reluctantly agreed not to proceed with the death sentence.” Henry paused, gazing up at the sky as if searching for answers, slowly shaking his head. “But once the bishop had gone, he took a harsh vengeance upon Adam. He had the poor man whipped naked through the streets of Poitiers, preceded by a herald who proclaimed that this would be the fate of all who betrayed the trust of their lord. He then had Adam cast into prison.”

  “Christ Jesus. Is he still confined? Can you not intervene on his behalf?”

  “I did as soon as I learned what happened. I arranged to have him released and taken to a monastery in England.”

  Henry stopped pacing, running a hand absently through his unruly hair, as she’d seen him do so many times over the years. But then he turned back toward her, with narrowed eyes and set mouth. “Well? Is this not when you charge to Hal’s defense, make excuses for what he’s done, and place all the blame squarely at my feet?”

  “No…his actions cannot be excused or justified, mayhap only understood.”

  He gave a bleak laugh. “I would to God I did understand! I tell you, Eleanor, I am at my wit’s end with the lad. I could almost believe him possessed. At least that would explain his folly. I am at a loss what to do next. I tried keeping him with me last year, tried to get him interested in governing, to no avail. So then I gave him the freedom he demanded, sent him into Poitou to aid Richard. And this is how he repays me!”

  “Ah, Harry…I do not know what to tell you. Hal has gone so far astray that I am not sure we can get him back onto the right road.”

  “Would you even bother to try? Why not just sit back and enjoy the blood-letting? This is what you were aiming for when you urged our sons to rebel, was it not?”

  She was taken aback by his sudden flare of hostility; she’d been lulled into unwariness by the genuine give-and-take of their conversation. “God, no,” she said softly. “I never wanted that.”

  “You say that with such sincerity. Almost enough to make me believe you—almost.” He reached out, grasped her arm, and pulled her to her feet. “You do not get to shrug your shoulders and wish me well. This is as much your doing as mine. At the least, you can try to repair the damage you’ve done. You owe me that much and you owe it to Hal.”

  His fingers were digging into her arm, but she did not protest, for she did not think he was aware of it. “I would if I could, and that is God’s truth, Harry. But I do not know how to heal Hal’s wounds, to heal any of our wounds.”

  He looked down into her face, and then abruptly released her and stepped back. “So what then? We just watch as Hal gallops headlong for the cliff’s edge? What am I supposed to do, Eleanor? How do I reach him?”

  She found herself blinking back tears. “You must let him go, Harry. Even if he goes over that cliff, you have to set him free.”

  “What does that mean? Set him free to do what?”

  “To make his own mistakes, no matter how costly. I know that would not be easy for you, but you have no choice, not any longer. You made Hal a
king, and now we must live with it.”

  “‘Live with it’?” he echoed incredulously. “Is that what you’d have told Adam de Churchedune?”

  “I regret what happened to Adam de Churchedune as much as you do. But if you’d not set him to spy upon Hal—”

  “Here it comes! I am only surprised it took you so long. Hal nearly executes a man, nearly causes a dangerous rupture with the Church, and of course it is somehow all my fault!”

  “I did not say that! But surely you must see now that you made a mistake, that putting a spy in Hal’s household was not the approach to take.”

  “What I see is that I was right to worry about him, that I was right to think he needs supervision, that he is not to be trusted with a king’s authority or with men’s lives!” Henry was flushed, bitterly disappointed that this was her response, that he’d turned to her in his despair and she’d used it as a weapon against him. “I should have known better,” he said and, swinging about on his heel, he strode from the garden, not looking back.

  ON SEPTEMBER8, Joanna sailed from Southampton for Barfleur, accompanied by her uncle Hamelin, the Archbishops of Rouen and Canterbury, and the Bishops of Ely, Évreux, and Bayeux. Henry had provided for her so extravagantly that it took seven ships to transport her and her party. Upon her arrival in Normandy, she was met by her brother Hal, who escorted her into Poitou, where Richard was waiting. He accompanied her through Aquitaine to the port of St Gilles, where she was formally turned over to the Bishop of Siracusa, and bade farewell to her brother, uncle, and most of the English prelates. On November 9, she sailed for Sicily.

  CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

  December 1176

  Nottingham, England

  A STORM WAS THREATENING and the Bishop of Worcester and his companions were relieved to reach Nottingham’s great castle before it broke. They hastened to dismount in the middle bailey, glad to turn their mounts over to waiting servants. Upon being told that the king was in the great hall, they headed in that direction. Roger noticed, though, that his sister’s steps were lagging, and gave her a curious glance.