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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 54


  PHILIPPE RECOVERED FROM HIS ILLNESS and was crowned at Rheims by his uncle the Archbishop on All Saints’ Day. Henry’s three oldest sons attended the coronation. Hal carried the crown for his young brother-in-law and then held it steady for Philippe during the ceremony once he realized it was too heavy for the boy. But Louis could not attend. He’d suffered a stroke soon after his return to France, one which left him unable to speak and partially paralyzed.

  CHAPTER THIRTY

  April 1180

  Reading, England

  UPON LEARNING THAT GEOFFREY would be returning to England that spring, Ranulf and Rhiannon decided to make the long journey from Wales, for they’d not seen Morgan in more than a year. Since Henry published his itinerary a month in advance, they knew he’d be at Reading, and arrived at the Cluniac abbey of St Mary and St John the Evangelist on an overcast afternoon in early April.

  Ranulf rose early the next morning, as was his habit, choosing to let his wife sleep in, for it had been an arduous trip for them both; he was sixty-one now and Rhiannon only a few years younger, and he knew the day would be coming when they’d not be able to chase after their son or the king like this. Upon his entry into the guest hall, he was delighted to be told that Hal and Geoffrey had arrived late the night before, after he and Rhiannon had retired, and instead of breaking his fast, he went in search of his son.

  He had no luck until he found Will Marshal in affable conversation with Abbot Joseph. Morgan was with the king, they told him; he had offered to show his young kinsman their family tombs, for not only was the abbey’s founder, Henry’s grandfather of blessed memory, buried here, so was the son who’d died at age three, and more recently, the Earl of Cornwall. Ranulf headed for the gatehouse that connected the north and south garths, and entered the church. Not finding Henry and Morgan within, he lingered long enough to say a prayer at his brother Rainald’s tomb, thinking that the most burdensome aspect of aging was that a man had to bury so many of his friends and loved ones.

  Exiting via a side door into the cloisters, he came upon his son and nephew. They were laughing together in one of the carrels, tossing a coin back and forth. At the sight of his father, Morgan hastened over to enfold Ranulf in a boisterous embrace; the latter was startled to realize that Morgan was now the taller of the two.

  “The king has been telling me about the new silver penny,” Morgan exclaimed, with the enthusiasm that was a large part of his charm; he was invariably curious about all things, great and small. He showed his father the coin, with a short cross on one side and on the reverse, the king’s crowned head, under the inscription Henricus Rex. “This is one of the first to be struck, as they are not to be exchanged for the old coins until Martinmas. He says I can keep it, too, so I’ll have the only one in England for the next seven months!”

  He paused, then, to glance questioningly back at Henry. “It seems like a lot of work and trouble, my lord. Why not just continue using the old coins?”

  “Over time, they become debased, Morgan,” Henry explained. “Knaves file the edges off the coins and melt the clippings down to make counterfeit coins, so they are not worth as much. Sometimes, too, the moneyers who operate the mints cheat, mixing the silver with cheaper metals when they make the pennies. Coin clipping is a serious offense, and those caught pay dearly for it, but greed can entice men into all sorts of lunacy.”

  Ranulf inspected the new penny; since no Welsh princes minted their own money, these coins would be circulating in Wales, too. “I appreciate your tutoring Morgan in money matters, Harry,” he joked, unable to resist teasing his son. “Judging from the way he spends, he needs all the lessons he can get.”

  “All of today’s youth are money-mad,” Henry said cheerfully. “Compared to my lads, though, Morgan is as frugal as a Cistercian monk.”

  Morgan smiled dutifully, for he knew he was expected to acknowledge adult humor, no matter how lame, and Ranulf felt a surge of pride in his son’s good manners. When he suggested that Morgan go to the guest house and greet his mother, the youth still remembered to excuse himself politely before he went dashing off to find Rhiannon.

  “He is growing up so quickly,” Ranulf said, his the bittersweet satisfaction of a father recognizing that his son is fast approaching the borders of manhood.

  “Be thankful for it, Uncle. Lads his age are vulnerable to so much—their own foolhardy impulses and, even worse, the calculating flattery of men eager to take advantage of their youth and inexperience.”

  Ranulf assumed Henry was thinking of his own wayward sons, and made a sympathetic murmur of agreement, all the while hoping that Morgan would show better judgment than his royal cousins. But then Henry said that Philippe’s youthful mistakes were likely to haunt him well into his manhood if something was not done, and Ranulf realized that he was speaking of the fourteen-year-old French king, not Hal and his brothers.

  “I did not know about the French unrest,” Ranulf said, “until we stopped in Chester to ask Maud to accompany us. The only news that had trickled into Wales was of Louis’s apoplectic seizure and Philippe’s lavish coronation.”

  “I wish you could have persuaded Maud to come with you.”

  “She took Roger’s loss very hard,” Ranulf said quietly, and Henry nodded somberly, saying that they all had.

  Ranulf still found it difficult to talk of Roger’s death, and nudged the conversation back to the subject of the French turmoil. “Maud told us that Philip of Flanders has been hovering over young Philippe like a hungry hawk, and Philippe has stopped listening to anyone else, including his mother and his uncles. Is it truly as bad as that?”

  “Worse,” Henry said, and as they began to stroll along the cloisters walkway, he told Ranulf about the troubles at the French court. “Philippe is ruling as if his father were already dead, with the ever-helpful Philip there as guide and tutor. His first act was to dismiss all of Louis’s councilors and replace them with men of his choosing—or Philip’s, depending upon whom you believe. The lad is now in Flanders with Philip, waiting until Lent is over so that he may marry Isabelle of Hainault, Philip’s ten-year-old niece.”

  Ranulf whistled. “How did Adèle and her brothers react to that?”

  “About as well as you’d expect. Adèle was so disquieted that she began to fortify her dower lands. When Philippe heard that, he gave orders to seize her lands, and she felt threatened enough to flee to her brother Thibault in Blois.”

  “Jesu,” Ranulf whispered. How could a family tear itself apart like this? Had the French learned nothing from Harry’s feuding with his sons? “Poor Louis…”

  “Wait until you hear the rest, Ranulf. Hal and Geoffrey brought with them a truly amazing letter, from the French queen Adèle and her brothers, the Archbishop of Rheims and the Counts of Blois and Sancerre, entreating me to come to their aid.”

  Ranulf was dumbfounded. The houses of Blois and Anjou had been enemies even before Stephen of Blois had stolen the English crown from Henry’s mother. That they should now be seeking to ally with England’s king against their own son, nephew, and sovereign seemed utterly incomprehensible to him.

  Henry read his thoughts easily enough, and smiled grimly. “I know, Uncle. The world has gone mad. I realized that as I stood in the crypt of Canterbury Cathedral and listened to the French king beg me to intercede with Thomas. After that, I did not think anything would surprise me. But I was wrong.”

  Ranulf shook his head slowly. “What will you do, Harry?”

  “Damned if I know.”

  ABBOT JOSEPH HAD TURNED OVER his private quarters to the king, and Henry and Geoffrey were seated in the abbot’s bedchamber, listening as Hal raged about the shameful way Louis was being treated.

  “They even took away Louis’s chancery seal, Papa, so that he could not revoke any of Philippe’s acts! It is outrageous enough to dishonor an anointed king like that, but the man is Philippe’s father. How can he be such an ungrateful wretch?”

  Henry was beginning to think that he
was the only one still able to recognize or appreciate irony. But he noticed then that the corner of Geoffrey’s mouth was twitching, and it reassured him that at least one of his sons could see the madness of this moment. As their eyes met, Geoffrey smiled and shrugged, and to Henry, that rueful acknowledgment meant more than the formal public apologies he’d gotten from his sons at Michaelmas 1174.

  “Marguerite is distraught,” Hal confided. “In truth, the blame does not lie as much with Philippe as it does with the Count of Flanders. He has the boy doing his bidding as if Philippe were one of his lackeys instead of the King of France. It is pitiful, like watching a fly caught in a spider’s web!”

  Henry had rarely seen his son so irate, and he wondered how much of Hal’s indignation was on Marguerite’s behalf, for he did not think Hal was all that fond of his father-in-law. “You both have the advantage of me,” he said, “for you know Philippe better than I do. Tell me more about him. What sort of man is he likely to become?”

  “An annoying one,” Geoffrey drawled, and Hal grinned.

  “Geoff’s assessment is not kind,” he said, “but accurate. Of course, in fairness to Philippe, he is young yet, so there is still hope. If I did not know he was fourteen, though, I’d swear he was forty, for he is so very serious and earnest about everything. And he can be a bit of a prig. Not only does he not curse, he has actually forbidden swearing in public, and anyone who does must pay a fine of twenty sous! He is the only person I’ve ever met—male or female—who is uneasy around horses. He has shown no interest whatsoever in tournaments or music or jongleurs, which baffles me exceedingly. And he does not seem affectionate by nature, at least not with his sisters. For certes, he has never shown much warmth to Marguerite, and Marie thinks he is a horse’s arse.”

  Henry had never met Eleanor’s eldest daughter, but he decided he’d like her. “You are not painting a very appealing picture of the lad, Hal.”

  “I suppose I am not,” Hal conceded. “He does have his good qualities. He is clever enough and well mannered and pious, and he does not seem to hold grudges. But he is also very naïve. Putting his trust in Philip proves that, and so does the nonsense he believes about the Jews. Do you know what he told me, Papa? That the Jews meet secretly in caves beneath Paris where they sacrifice Christian children!”

  Henry blinked. It had been his experience that only the uneducated believed the stories of ritual murder periodically raised against the Jews. “I’d heard that he had the Paris synagogues raided and seized all their property. Is that why he did it?”

  “Part of the reason,” Geoffrey commented. “He also has a good eye for profit, and he told me he plans to cancel all the debts that Christians owe to Jewish moneylenders, whilst reserving to the Crown one-fifth of the amount. He assured me, though, that he will be calculating the sum on the debt principal only, not wanting to benefit by usury.”

  “You are making him sound like a hypocrite,” Hal protested, “and in this I do believe he is sincere, that he well and truly hates the Jews. His father always protected them, even protesting to the Holy Father when the last Lateran Council forbade Jews to hire Christian servants. Philippe is very critical of Louis’s leniency, and he does not look kindly upon your policy toward the Jews either, Papa. He told me he disapproved greatly of your decision to allow English Jews to be buried in other towns than London.”

  “I daresay I can live with Philippe’s disapproval,” Henry said. “The Jews often serve as bankers of the Crown, and Louis understood that. Philippe will learn that lesson the hard—”

  “Be that as it may,” Hal interrupted, “you must find a way to free Philippe from Philip’s baneful influence, Papa. I promised Marguerite that we’d do what we could for her father.” He’d moved to the open window and, catching sight of several of his knights crossing the garth, he found a reason to excuse himself, and was soon striding out into the sunlight, calling to Will Marshal and Peter Fitz Guy.

  Henry was pleased when Geoffrey remained, for he wanted to get his younger son’s views of the French crisis. “You did not say that much,” he observed, and Geoffrey smiled, saying that few men could compete with Hal or Richard in laying claim to a conversation.

  “It did surprise me,” Henry admitted, “to hear Hal speak so harshly of Philip of Flanders. I’d not go so far as to say Hal idolized the man, but he did seem rather fond of the ground upon which he walked. So this is quite a reversal.”

  Geoffrey was laughing. “Have you ever known a spurned lover to take rejection well? Philip spent years cultivating Hal’s good will. For certes, he did not pay for Hal’s tournament expenses out of the goodness of his heart. Hal’s nose is out of joint because Philip has dropped him like a hot coal in favor of a more promising prospect, young Philippe.”

  Henry frowned, for he did not want to see Hal’s outrage as personal pique; that implied Hal’s sense of justice was only engaged when his self-interest was. Why was it that his sons were so critical of one another? “Do you agree with Hal’s appraisal of Philippe?”

  “Yes…up to a point. I think Hal is too quick to put all the blame on Philip. Philippe may be callow, and God knows he lacks Hal’s style or Richard’s swagger. But he is no man’s fool and no man’s puppet. He knows his own mind, Papa. I do not believe he’d have heeded Philip unless he also believed that his uncles exercised too much influence at Louis’s court. Paris is rife with rumors that Philippe means to take the seneschalship away from Thibault and bestow it instead upon Philip. But if there is any truth in that, it would be like ridding your woods of foxes by bringing in a pack of wolves.”

  Henry leaned back in his seat, his expression pensive. “Men have always observed how closely Hal resembles my father, and he does have the same coloring and features. But I think you are the one who is most like him.”

  Geoffrey glanced up with a surprised smile. “I take that as a compliment.”

  “You should, for I’ve known few men as shrewd or as astute as my father. It is not too much to say I owe him my kingship. It is true that my blood claim came from my mother, but if my father had not won Normandy at the point of a sword, I may not have been able to win the English crown. Because he did take Normandy and then turned it over to me, Stephen’s barons were forced to choose between their English and Norman estates, and his support began to bleed away.”

  “At the very least, I doubt Maman would have agreed to wed you if you were not already Duke of Normandy and not merely the Count of Anjou’s heir,” Geoffrey said daringly, and was both pleased and relieved when Henry laughed.

  “You’ve got my father’s sense of humor, too, lad. He always had a feel for the vitals.”

  As far back as he could remember, Geoffrey had looked at his world with oddly dispassionate eyes; sometimes he felt as if he were watching someone else’s life. He knew that he was about to make a mistake, but he’d never before experienced a moment of emotional intimacy like this with his father, and he could not help himself. “You were not yet seventeen when he handed Normandy over to you.”

  Henry stiffened, for he knew where this was going. “That ground has been ploughed over and over again, lad.”

  “But I need to know, to understand. Your father could have held on to Normandy until you were of age, and few would have blamed him. Why can you not do the same for me and my brothers?”

  “Because—” Henry broke off and shook his head. “Let it be, Geoffrey.”

  Geoffrey couldn’t. “Papa, I need to know!”

  “Because—because I cannot trust you and your brothers the way my father could trust me!” The bitter words were no sooner out of Henry’s mouth than he wished he could call them back. “I did not want to say that,” he said at last, “but you kept pushing…”

  “I wanted an honest answer,” Geoffrey said slowly, “and you gave me one. I’ve no cause for complaint.” But even as he sought to make light of it, he was shaken, for he’d recognized a truth that did not bode well for the future. The wound inflicted upon his f
ather by their rebellion had not healed, would never heal. And that meant his father would never be willing to share power, not until he drew his last mortal breath.

  PHILIPPE’S RELATIONSHIP with his family and nobles continued to deteriorate, as more and more of his barons became alarmed at the influence wielded by the Count of Flanders. Philippe had announced plans to have his new queen crowned with him that June on Whitsunday. But Philip advised him to have the coronation performed earlier so that none could hinder it, and Philippe and Isabelle were secretly crowned by the Archbishop of Sens at the abbey of St-Denis on Ascension Day. As French kings were traditionally crowned only by the Archbishop of Rheims, Philippe’s uncle was outraged by the slight, and war seemed more and more likely until Henry persuaded the young French king and the count to meet him near Gisors in late June.

  THE DAY WAS HOT and despite the shade offered by the tree known as the peace elm, the men were soon sweating. Henry found himself reminded of the many times he and Louis had assembled here in past years. It seemed strange to see Louis’s place taken by this fledgling. Philippe was still two months shy of his fifteenth birthday, still in that awkward gangling stage, his pallor hinting at his serious illness last summer, his face framed by a halo of tousled brown hair, bristling like a hedgehog’s quills. Henry could see little of Louis in the boy.

  Henry’s patience was fast fraying, for he’d made what he considered a very fair offer, agreeing to make peace with Philippe upon the same terms that he and Louis had accepted three years earlier at Ivry. He knew he’d surprised them, for he was known to take ruthless advantage of an adversary’s weaknesses and Philippe’s vulnerabilities would have been obvious to a blind man. They were quite willing to avoid hostilities with England, but they were balking at one of his conditions—that Philippe reconcile with his mother, Queen Adèle, and her brothers.