Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 55

  Philippe was letting Philip do most of the talking, but he was watching Henry intently, taking in every word, every gesture. Unlike his father, his face was not a window to his soul, and Henry noted approvingly that it was impossible to know what he was thinking, for that was a valuable skill in a king, one Hal had so far failed to master, much to his disappointment. Glancing up at the sun, he measured the passing time, and then said in an abrupt change of tone:

  “I think it will be in all our interests if we speak frankly, cast aside the ambiguous, elusive language of statecraft. I need not point out, my lord Philippe, that you may be facing the Devil dogs of rebellion and war if an accommodation is not reached with me and your royal kinsmen. That would not be an auspicious way to begin your reign. And you take the risk that I may not always be feeling so benevolent. The time might well come when I can no longer resist the temptation to profit at the expense of your youth and family troubles.”

  Philippe’s eyes flickered, but he showed no other reaction. Philip was scowling openly. “Is that meant as a threat?”

  “A threat, a warning, call it what you will,” Henry said, and then, like the others, he was turning to watch the approaching riders. As they drew nearer, it became evident that one of them was a woman, and when Philippe’s face suddenly flamed with color, Henry hid a smile, knowing that the young king had recognized his mother. Sauntering over, he gallantly helped the French queen to dismount.

  Adèle of Blois had been only fifteen when she’d wed Louis, and twenty years later, she was still a strikingly handsome woman. Moving toward her son, she made a graceful curtsy. “My lord king.” And when she added, “My son,” Philippe no longer looked like the ruler of a great realm, more like an errant youngster whose sins were about to be made public.

  “I thought it was time,” Henry said blandly, “for mother and son to talk face-to-face, without intermediaries or mediators.” Draping his arm around Philip’s shoulders, he suggested that they go for a walk in order to give the French king and queen some privacy. The Flemish count’s body was rigid, resistant, but Henry was not to be denied, and Philip reluctantly let himself be led away once he realized that it would take physical force to disengage the English king’s grip.

  “Let’s get out of the sun,” Henry said amiably, “so we can talk candidly.” Moving into the shadows of a leafy willow tree, he leaned comfortably against the trunk as he regarded the Count of Flanders. “I cannot say I blame you, Cousin. A gyrfalcon coming across a newborn lamb alone and unprotected will want to make a meal of it. But once the gyrfalcon realizes that the flock’s ram is close at hand, it flies off in search of easier prey.”

  “Very amusing,” Philip said coldly. “You are enjoying this.”

  “Actually, I am. There are times when the exercise of power can be very gratifying, Philip.”

  “I am Philippe’s godfather and, now, his uncle by marriage. That gives me the right to offer him advice and counsel and comfort.”

  “Need I remind you that your mother and my father were sister and brother? That makes us first cousins, but that would hardly give me the right to meddle in Flemish affairs, would it?”

  “I know what I can get from Philippe. What can I get from you, Cousin?”

  “We once had an agreement under which I paid you a yearly fief-rent of one thousand pounds in return for the service of five hundred of your knights. I am willing to renew that agreement.”

  Philip considered the offer. “Why should I settle for that when I can obtain so much more?”

  “Enough about offers and profits and benefits, Cousin. Let’s speak instead of debts, of what is owed.” There was no longer any amusement in Henry’s voice. “For years you did all you could to estrange me from my eldest son. You owe me a blood debt, my lord count, but until now I have made no effort to collect it. You might want to think about that, think about it long and hard.”

  Philip was ten years Henry’s junior, had effectively ruled Flanders since he was Philippe’s age. Renowned for his knightly prowess on the battlefield and in the tournament, he was not a man who was easily intimidated. But he was also a realist, one who’d always known when it was time to fish and time to cut bait.

  Correctly interpreting his silence, Henry said, “I think we understand each other. Shall we go back and see how the family reunion is going?”

  Emerging from the willow’s screen, they walked without speaking for several moments. They were soon close enough to see that Philippe and Adèle had drawn apart from the others and were conferring quietly together, their faces earnest and intent. Seeing the last of his hopes fluttering away on the wind, Philip came to a sudden halt. “At least you can tell me why you are doing this for Louis’s son. I am entitled to that much.”

  Henry had stopped, too. “Because,” he said, “there were none to do this for my sons.”

  LOUIS CAPET, seventh of that name to rule France, died on September 18 of that year at Barbeau, the Cistercian abbey he’d founded, and Philippe’s reign officially began.


  July 1181

  Winchester, England

  ELEANOR HAD JUST FINISHED dictating a letter to a scribe. “Thank you, Edwin,” she said, and as he departed, she exchanged a look of amused understanding with Amaria, both of them sharing the same thought: that her circumstances had definitely taken a turn for the better. She was permitted to write and even to receive letters now, although she was sure that they were read before being dispatched or delivered. Henry had named Ralf de Glanville as his new justiciar, and she was technically in his custody, although Ralph Fitz Stephen continued in his role as her warden. She’d confided in Amaria that she suspected de Glanville was interpreting the rules of confinement as generously as possible, for he’d struck her as a highly capable man with an eye for the main chance, one too shrewd to make an enemy of their future king’s mother.

  “I was writing to my daughter in Castile,” she told Amaria. “Not yet twenty and already the mother of two. My grandchildren are certainly getting singular names: Berengaria and Sancho, Richenza, Lothair, and Otto.” She wondered if there’d ever be an Eleanor. Hal would name a daughter after her if Harry was dead, but would he dare do so whilst his father lived? Richard would, and Geoffrey…mayhap; her third son remained the one she found hardest to read.

  “We may as well go down to the great hall,” she said, “for the dinner hour is fast approaching.” Amaria was helping her adjust her wimple when they heard footsteps in the stairwell, and a moment later, the Countess of Chester was announced.

  Eleanor’s delighted smile faded at the sight of her friend’s face. “Maud? What is wrong?”

  Maud’s eyes filled with tears. “My son…Eleanor, my son is dead.”

  “DRINK THIS, DEAREST,” Eleanor urged. “Amaria fetched it from the buttery just for you.” She’d held the other woman as Maud wept, knowing there were no words to ease so great a grief. When Maud felt like talking, she listened; when she did not, Eleanor kept silent, and gradually the story emerged. Hugh had taken ill soon after Easter and his condition steadily worsened. He died a fortnight ago at his manor in Staffordshire, only in his thirty-fourth year, leaving a young widow, an eleven-year-old son, and four daughters. Death came for them all in God’s Time, but Eleanor thought it was harder to accept when it came in a man’s prime. Parents should not outlive their children.

  “I’ve done my share of mourning.” Maud’s sobs had subsided, but tears still streaked her cheeks. “I lost my parents and my husband, though widowhood was a blessing of sorts. Then Roger was taken, as were all of my brothers except Will, the worst of the lot. Until now I thought my greatest heartbreak was my son Richard, that he never lived to manhood. But now Hugh is gone, too, and all I have left is my daughter.”

  “Not so. You have Hugh’s children. And Bertrada, for you’ve often said she is more like a daughter than a daughter-in-law. She is going to need you, Maud, with five children to raise on her own.”

“Hugh had a fine crop of bastards, too,” Maud said, smiling sadly, “four that he acknowledged as his. He’d want me to make sure they were taken care of…Ah, Eleanor, how have you done it? How have you survived nigh on eight years of confinement without going mad with grief or rage or sheer boredom? Teach me how, dear friend, teach me to accept God’s Will as you have done.”

  “It is an ongoing struggle, Maud. Too often I have days in which my captivity seems to be Harry’s will, not the Almighty’s. But I persevere, for as a wise Welshwoman once pointed out, what other choice have I?”

  “What choice do any of us have?” Maud acknowledged, and they talked for a while of her son, finding comfort in memories of happier times. They spoke, too, of Eleanor’s first husband. Eleanor admitted that she prayed for Louis’s soul, which convinced Maud that she had indeed learned to let go of many of her earthly grudges. Eleanor also shared sad news of her own, that her daughter Marie had been widowed that February. The Count of Champagne had been captured in the Holy Land and although the Emperor of Byzantium ransomed him, his health had suffered in captivity and he’d died on his way home to France.

  “Enough,” Maud cried at last. “No more talk of death or regrets or unhealed wounds. Tell me something cheerful, something hopeful, even if you have to make it up!”

  “As it happens,” Eleanor said, with a sudden smile as luminous as her eyes, “I do have good news—a letter from my daughter Joanna. She is with child.” And Maud discovered that she could take solace from that, from this reassuring proof that the circle of life was eternal and her son Hugh would live on in his children until the day that they’d be reunited at God’s Throne.

  AS MORGAN AND HIS ELDER BROTHER walked along the quays of the Rouen waterfront, they were attracting glances from passersby, and Bleddyn finally noticed. “These Norman maidens are bold ones,” he joked, “for they are definitely looking you over, lad.”

  Morgan grinned. “I’ll not deny that women find me irresistible, but you’re the one drawing all the attention. They are not accustomed to seeing men with mustaches but no beards, are doubtless wondering what odd and alien land you come from.”

  “Passing strange that you should say that, Morgan, for I find the sight of your beard to be just as odd. Who knew you were old enough to shave?”

  “Clearly your memory is failing in your old age,” Morgan shot back, “if you’ve forgotten that I turned seventeen in February.” As much as he was enjoying this brotherly banter, he was somewhat surprised by it, too. Bleddyn was almost thirteen years his elder and they’d never before bandied jests and gibes as equals, so he was particularly pleased that his brother was no longer treating him like a fledgling newly fallen from the nest.

  When Bleddyn had first sought him out at the castle, he’d gone cold with fear, terrified that he was bringing word of a family tragedy. To his vast relief, Bleddyn assured him that their parents were quite well; he was here with the Lady Emma, who had stopped in Rouen on her way to visit her young son at Laval. Morgan had been astonished to learn that Bleddyn was now serving Emma’s husband, given the long-standing hostility between Davydd ab Owain and their father.

  Bleddyn had laughed at his surprise, assuring him that Davydd was actively pursuing friendly relations with the English Crown and Ranulf’s status as the king’s favorite uncle mattered more than his past friendship with Davydd’s slain brother Hywel. Nor did he see any difference between his serving the Prince of North Wales and Morgan’s serving the English king’s son, he’d pointed out dryly. And Morgan had conceded defeat, stopped bedeviling Bleddyn about the loathsome Davydd, and took him out to see the city of Rouen.

  So far he’d shown Bleddyn the marketplace, the partially completed cathedral, the archbishop’s palace, and the belfry tower from which two alert monks had spotted the French king’s sneak attack and rang the great bell “Rouvel” in time to alert the citizens and stave off attack until Henry could come to their rescue. Bleddyn did not have any particular interest in Norman towns, but he was willing to indulge his young brother and listened patiently as Morgan bragged about the leper hospital Henry had built five years ago and the stone bridge paid for by his mother, the Empress Maude, and the fact that Rouen had once been a Roman outpost known as Rotomagus. But when Morgan suggested that they visit the tomb of William the Bastard in the Abbey of St Ouen, Bleddyn balked, and expressed his desire to find a tavern, the sooner the better.

  “Thank God!” Morgan exclaimed. “I could not take you to the most interesting neighborhoods, for I doubt your wife would appreciate that, so I had to make do with the marketplace and the churches.” Coming to a halt, he glanced around, and then took Bleddyn’s arm. “There is an excellent tavern up ahead, but it is too close to the River Renelle and the tanners’ quarter; as good as their wine is, it cannot compete with the stench. I know another place, though, a bit on the shabby side, but it’ll do us well enough.” And he led his brother into a maze of alleys, showing such an intimate knowledge of the less reputable areas of the city that Bleddyn realized his little brother was indeed growing up.

  Once they were seated at a corner table with two henaps of red wine, Morgan brought Bleddyn up to date on the latest political news. The king had expected to cross the Channel after Easter, but then Philip of Flanders had besieged a French castle. He’d met the Flemish count and the young French king at Gisors again, managed to persuade Philip to withdraw his forces, and was now on his way to Cherbourg with the Scots king, where he planned to sail for England, just missing the Lady Emma by a few days.

  Bleddyn doubted that the Lady Emma was heartbroken by that, for time had not reconciled her to living in Wales. “So what is this I hear about a great row between the king and your lord? Since Geoffrey has been given permission to wed the Breton heiress, what other grievances does he have?”

  “They made peace ere the king departed Rouen, but Geoffrey has good reasons for his discontent.” Morgan took a swallow of wine, then lowered his voice even though they were speaking in Welsh. “I am guessing you are not that familiar with Breton affairs,” he said, and laughed when Bleddyn insisted that Brittany claimed his last thought upon retiring at night and his first upon awakening in the morning.

  “Well, Breton history is complicated, so bear with me. The king initially supported Constance’s father, Conan, in his fight for the duchy with his stepfather. But Conan could not keep the peace and, as his liege lord, Cousin Harry finally grew tired of putting out Breton fires. So fifteen years ago, he forced Conan to abdicate and betrothed Constance to Geoffrey, although he did allow Conan to keep his vast English estates. You’re probably wondering why he had English lands. It is because his father was the Earl of Richmond; his claim to Brittany came through his mother. When Conan died five years later, the Honour of Richmond then became part of Constance’s inheritance.”

  Bleddyn’s eyes were glazing over, but he nodded attentively, and Morgan continued. “Then there is the county of Nantes. It was once ruled by the Breton dukes but twenty-some years ago, the people rebelled and offered it to Cousin Harry’s brother Geoffrey. But he died suddenly two years later, and both Conan and Harry claimed Nantes, Conan because it had once been ruled by his uncle and Harry because he was his brother’s legal heir. Not surprisingly, the king won that dispute.”

  Bleddyn was beginning to see which way the wind was blowing, for it was his experience that Welsh and English rulers shared the same vices—a hunger for more than they already had. “So the bone of contention between Henry and Geoffrey is either Nantes or Richmond, depending upon which one the king is holding back.”

  “I think Geoffrey expected that much, knowing his father as he does. But he was not expecting Cousin Harry to hold on to both of them, for that is two-thirds of Constance’s inheritance. Geoffrey does not often lose his temper, but when he learned that he’d get neither Nantes nor Richmond, he flew into a rage. It availed him naught, though, for the king remained adamant, and eventually they patched up their quarrel. But…” He
let his words trail off, busied himself in finishing his wine.

  Bleddyn thought that Morgan was bound to be torn in his loyalties, and said encouragingly, “Think of me as your confessor. Your secrets will be safe with me, for who am I going to tell—Welsh sheep?”

  Morgan did need to discuss this, and he smiled gratefully at his brother. “The king has been very good to me, Bleddyn. I did not see him all that often, of course, but he always took an interest in my education, always made me feel welcome. It is different, though, with Geoffrey. As his squire, I see him every day, and he treats me as his cousin, not just as a retainer. It troubled me greatly to see him so distraught over this. I’d never seen him so angry before. He even said…”

  “What did he say, Morgan?”

  “He said that much of the blame lay with his grandmother, the Empress Maude. He claimed that she taught Cousin Harry to treat men the way a wild hawk was tamed, by offering it meat and then snatching it away ere the hawk could eat.”

  “Well, that method is said to work with hawks, making them more obedient and biddable. Whether it works as well with sons remains to be seen.” Bleddyn set his henap down, barely touched. “Listen, lad, I was not entirely candid with you earlier. I offered to be part of Lady Emma’s escort, and I did so because I wanted the chance to talk with you about your future.”

  Morgan was flattered, but puzzled, too. “I daresay you have a wealth of advice to share with me; big brothers always do. But you could not entrust it to a letter?”

  “No, it needed to be done in person. Morgan, I have misgivings about the path you’re following. I know what it is like to be the proverbial fish out of water, neither fully Welsh nor truly English. When I was nineteen, I chose the Welsh way, cast aside Gilbert Fitz Ranulf and became Bleddyn ap Ranulf. You were too young to remember, but it caused serious dissension between our father and me. As he saw it, I was rejecting his heritage, rejecting him. We eventually made our peace, but I hurt him, and I was sorry for it. It was the only path for me, though, and I’ve never regretted it.”