Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 59

  Hal knew his retort had missed its mark as soon as the words left his mouth, even before Richard laughed at him. “When men fight, they bleed and sometimes they die, for war is not as pretty or fanciful as your tourney games. War is real, so little wonder you like it not.”

  “Rot in Hell!” Hal spat, but Geoffrey decided to intercede before things got totally out of hand, and interrupted Hal in mid-curse.

  “We’re attracting an audience,” he warned, nodding toward the bailey below, and the others saw that he was right. As their voices had risen, men were beginning to look upward, including Henry and Heinrich. When her husband beckoned to her, Tilda was only too happy to comply, for she’d been shaken by what she’d just witnessed. Geoffrey escorted her down to the gardens, but she could not forget that ugly scene up on the battlements and came to a sudden stop while her husband and Henry were still out of earshot.

  “They sounded as if they hate each other, Geoffrey. How did it ever get to this?”

  “Blame the Demon Countess of Anjou,” he said flippantly. “If we’re the Devil’s spawn as our enemies claim, we are only being true to our nature. But it is not only Hal and Richard, sweeting. If I were drowning, Brother Richard would throw me a lifeline with an anchor attached to it, and in all honesty, I’d do as much for him.”

  Tilda stared at him. She did not know this man, did not know any of them. What had happened to her family? And standing there in the warm, sunlit bailey, she shivered, suddenly sorry that she’d ever come home.

  THAT AUTUMN HAL made another demand for territory of his own, insisting that Henry give him Normandy. When Henry refused, Hal withdrew to Paris in a rage and announced he was taking the cross and going to the Holy Land to fight the infidels. Henry entreated him in vain to reconsider. He did not agree to return to his father’s court until Henry promised to increase his allowance to a generous one hundred Angevin pounds a day with an additional ten pounds a day for Marguerite and to pay for the cost of maintaining one hundred knights in Hal’s household for a year.

  Henry had decided to hold his Christmas Court that year at Caen and spared no expense to make it a memorable occasion—as an official welcome for his daughter and her husband and proof that the tattered family loyalty of the Angevins was once more intact and flying high. Heinrich had gone on pilgrimage to the Spanish shrine of Santiago de Compostela while Tilda remained in her father’s care, but he returned in time for the December festivities. So did Hal and Marguerite. Only John and Eleanor were absent, both of them left behind in England.


  December 1182

  Caen, Normandy

  AN ICY RAIN HAD BEEN ASSAILING the riverside city of Caen since midday, but the king’s solar that evening was a cheerful scene, shutters barred against the storm, a hungry fire in the hearth. Henry’s Christmas Court had drawn princes of the Church, barons and their ladies, and more than a thousand knights. The gathering in the solar was an informal one, though, for Henry was determined to spend some time with his family in as much privacy as a king could reasonably expect.

  Richard was due to arrive any day, but the others were all present: Tilda and her husband, Geoffrey and Constance, Hal and Marguerite. If any thoughts were spared for Eleanor, the ghost at the feast, they were not expressed aloud and Henry was in a mellow mood, delighted to have his daughter back, relieved to have lured Hal away from the Paris court and his too-helpful young brother-in-law. It was one more worry for Henry that the seventeen-year-old French king had begun to show greater steadiness of purpose and will than Hal, who was fully ten years Philippe’s elder.

  Tilda was comfortably ensconced on the settle, with her father on one side and her husband on the other. Hal and Marguerite were together in a window-seat and Constance was seated in a high-backed chair, with Geoffrey lounging on cushions at her feet. Henry’s grandchildren had just been ushered out of the solar, reluctantly sent off to their beds, and the echoes of their carefree laughter seemed to linger pleasantly in the air. Marveling at the resilience of the very young, who were able to take even exile in stride, Henry found himself hoping that their stay at his court would be an extended one. It had been a long time since he’d been able to enjoy the simple pleasures of parenthood.

  “Have you talked to Richenza about a name change?” he asked his daughter and Tilda gave him a shy, sideways smile.

  “Yes, Papa, we have. We explained that Richenza is a foreign-sounding name to Norman or English ears and highborn brides often take names more familiar to their husbands’ subjects, like my sister Leonora. Richenza seemed comfortable enough with the idea, but wanted to choose her own name. Fortunately, she does not have Joanna’s fertile imagination, and she decided she’d like to be called Matilda, after me.”

  Henry was pleased that his mother’s name was being kept alive in a new generation; Matilda was the Latin form of Maude. Hal and Marguerite expressed their approval of Richenza’s new name, but Constance mused aloud whether Richenza’s brother Otto would change his foreign-sounding name, too, and Henry gave his daughter-in-law a tight smile, sure that she was amusing herself at his expense. He was very fond of Marguerite and he’d done his best to like Constance, too, but she did not make it easy, putting him in mind of Eleanor on her worst behavior. She was adept at delivering pinprick wounds with a smile, planting her barbs with a specious air of innocence. He was not going to let his son’s caustic wife ruin the Christmas revelries, though. He could only hope that Geoffrey thought Brittany was worth her peevish tempers.

  He’d begun to question Tilda and Heinrich about the son they’d had to leave in Brunswick when a servant entered with welcome word: his son Richard had just ridden into the castle bailey. Richard made his appearance soon afterward, for he’d not bothered to change from his travel clothes and his boots were still caked with mud. He greeted his father and Heinrich with rather formal courtesy, kissed his sister on the cheek, and gave courtly kisses to his sisters-in-law. But he acknowledged his brothers with a flat, toneless “Hal” and “Geoffrey,” greetings they returned with equal terseness, the tension so palpable that even Henry, blind believer in family unity, could not help noticing.

  He had no time to fret about it, though, for Richard at once revealed what was on his mind. “I do not understand,” he said, “why my mother was excluded from the Christmas festivities.”

  Henry stiffened. These arguments about Eleanor had been occurring with more and more frequency, but this was the first time that Richard had thrown down the gauntlet before others. His son did not even wait for his response, saying curtly, “You know how much she wants to see Tilda and her grandchildren. How can you justify keeping her away?”

  Henry was sorely tempted to remind his troublesome son that he did not have to justify himself to anyone, one of the prerogatives of kingship. But because he wanted to extinguish this quarrel as quickly as possible, he said only, “It is neither the time nor the place for this discussion, Richard.”

  Richard would not be distracted, though, knowing his father was a past master at such evasive tactics. Instead, he sought allies and turned toward his sister. “Tilda has not seen our mother in fifteen years. You think she was not disappointed by this arbitrary decision of yours?”

  Tilda’s husband closed his hand over hers, giving a warning squeeze. She understood his concern; her father had been extremely generous to them, providing a lavish allowance while continuing his efforts to shorten the length of their exile. But Richard was right; she wanted to see her mother very much, and her father’s vague promises had done little to fill that void.

  “I admit I am eager for Maman to meet your grandchildren, Papa,” she ventured, in a vain attempt to satisfy her husband, her father, and her own conscience.

  “And it shall happen, Tilda,” Henry said, in a much softer tone of voice than he’d used with Richard. “I promised you that we will arrange for your return to England this spring, at which time you may visit with your mother to your heart’s content.”
Still smarting over Richard’s “arbitrary” accusation, he regarded his son coolly. “You seem to have forgotten how perilous Channel crossings can be. Even in good weather, it is dangerous. It’s less than seven years since your brother Hal’s chamberlain and three hundred souls drowned when their ship went down off the French coast. Did you truly want your mother to risk a crossing in December, of all months?”

  Richard started to speak, stopped himself, and Henry felt a satisfying moment of triumph, for even this stubborn son of his could not refute the truth. December crossings were dangerous, and they all knew it. But it was then that Constance chose to dip her oar into troubled waters, saying in the painstakingly polite tones of one earnestly seeking information, “But ought that not to have been a decision for the queen to make? She may have considered the risk worth taking.”

  Henry drew upon a lifetime of self-control to say calmly to his daughter-in-law, “Forgive me for speaking bluntly, my dear, but this is not truly your concern, is it?”

  Constance always knew when a strategic retreat was called for, and she withdrew from the field. But Henry’s rebuke now drew Geoffrey into the fray. “Surely you’d agree that it is my concern, Papa. I am no happier about Maman’s absence than Richard. And my wife is right—you should have offered her the choice.”

  “Whether that be true or not, the fact remains that it is done and cannot be undone. I do not see any point, therefore, in continuing this discussion.”

  “I expected you to say that.” Richard strode forward, stopping in front of his father. “And you’re right. It is too late to redeem my mother’s Christmas. But the time is past due to discuss her continuing confinement. She is about to begin her tenth year as your prisoner, and for what reason?”

  Henry got to his feet, not liking the way Richard loomed over him when he was seated. “Enough, Richard. Let it be.”

  “You’ve forgiven all the others who took part in the rebellion. You welcomed that French fool Louis to Canterbury, whilst knowing that he bore as much blame as anyone for the revolt. You pardoned the rebel lords, even that dolt Leicester, a man who drew his sword upon you, for Christ’s sake! You ought to have sent the bastard to the block, but instead you restored his lands. The only one who continues to suffer for her past sins is my mother, and I want to know why. I want you to tell me here and now why you refuse to set her free!”

  “I’d be interested in hearing that answer myself,” Geoffrey interjected, and Hal now chimed in, too, saying that he also wanted to know.

  Henry looked from one to the other, saw that they were all allied against him in this, and that knowledge was as bitter as gall. “I told you once before that I would not discuss my wife with you, Richard, and nothing has changed. I would suggest that you apologize to your sister for your bad manners and that for the remainder of the Christmas Court, you remember this. If you will not accord me the respect due your father, then by God, you’ll give it to your king. Now this conversation is done, and I’ll say no more on it.”

  For a long moment, he stared down his sons, daring them to protest. They did not, but their silence was shrouded in hostility and he knew it. Bidding good night to Tilda, Heinrich, and Marguerite, he left the solar without looking back.

  By the time Henry reached the bottom of the stairwell, he’d still not decided whether he’d return to the great hall or withdraw to his own chamber. But when he opened the door, he came to a halt, for the storm had intensified and rain was coming down sideways. He’d left his mantle behind in the solar and, after his dramatic departure, he did not want to go back for it. Sheltered from the worst of the wind, he gazed out across the deserted bailey, thinking that this bleak sight was a good match for his mood.

  He particularly resented the accusation that he meant to keep Tilda and Eleanor apart. As if he’d be that cruel! The perilous Channel crossing had definitely been a factor in his decision; why else would he not have summoned Johnny to join them? And if he’d wanted to enjoy one Christmas without having to share his daughter with Eleanor, what of it? He was entitled to that much.

  Tilda’s coming had forced him to face a painful truth—that his children sided with Eleanor. He thought he understood why their sons continued to agitate for her release; they had to feel guilty that she’d paid so high a price for their rebellion. And he’d not blamed Joanna for failing to comprehend the enormity of Eleanor’s offense, for she was just a child. But Tilda was a woman grown, and he’d expected better from her. Heinrich saw the truth of it. What greater sin could a wife commit than to turn upon her own husband? Why was Tilda so willing to forgive it?

  The answer seemed all too obvious. His children loved their mother in a way that they did not love him. Assuming that they loved him at all. He doubted that Richard did, could find nothing in his second son’s eyes but resentment and reproach. Since wedding that Breton bitch, Geoffrey had grown more distant, more guarded. And Hal was…Hal. More and more, his eldest son was beginning to remind him of the man who’d stolen his mother’s crown—Stephen, so charming and good-hearted and courageous, so utterly inept at the mastery of other men. Thank Christ for Johnny. There were times when it was only the thought of his youngest son that kept him from utter despair.

  The rain had yet to slacken off, and it occurred to him that, just as he was trapped by the storm, he was trapped by his own family, by his inability to give his sons an honest answer to Richard’s angry question. But how could he tell them that their mother’s continuing confinement was their fault? The truth was that he’d have freed Eleanor long ago if only he could trust them. He still did not fully comprehend why she’d rebelled, but he no longer doubted the sincerity of her regrets. Nor did he still believe that she’d throw herself at once into plots and conspiracies if he set her free. He did not fear, as he once had, that she’d do all in her power to revenge herself upon him. But he never doubted that if one of their sons rebelled again, she’d draw upon the considerable resources of Aquitaine on behalf of that son, offering her unqualified support. Especially if that son was Richard.

  He’d never underestimated his wife’s shrewdness or her cunning or her ability to dissemble, to beguile others into doing her bidding. He’d valued her for those very qualities—until she’d turned them against him. But even if she’d made it safely to Paris nine years ago, her presence would not have tipped the balance in their favor, for men like Louis and Philip of Flanders would never have heeded the advice of a woman.

  Henry laughed suddenly, mirthlessly. Any man who thought women were the weaker vessels had never met his mother—or his queen. Thank God Almighty that she’d not been able to take the field against him. But now she had Richard, the son who was most like him, the son who loved him not. He remained confident that he would prevail if Richard ever rebelled again. But Richard would pose a greater challenge than any foe he’d fought, and he was too pragmatic to deny it. Until Richard and his brothers proved that they could be truly trusted, the way a man ought to be able to trust his sons, how could he risk letting Eleanor go? And yet, how could he say that to Richard or Geoffrey or Hal? How could he confess that he still harbored such doubts and misgivings about their loyalty? He could only ask the Almighty and St Thomas to show his sons the error of their ways, to pray that they saw the light ere it was too late.

  Raised voices came to his ears now, muffled in the winding stairwell. Either his sons were squabbling again or making ready to depart. He looked out dubiously into the wet, gloomy night, remembering when he’d been utterly indifferent to such storms, when his body had not yet begun to show the results of so many years of hard riding and careless confidence in his own invincibility. Shivering as he stepped out into the rain, he could take no comfort from the irony of it—that he and his exiled wife were sharing the same wretched Christmas.

  THE LAST MONTHS of God’s Year 1182 were among the most miserable of Will Marshal’s life. Without the favor of his lord, the young king, he felt like a ship gone adrift, lacking moorings or direction. Because
the other knights of Hal’s mesnie did not know why they’d fallen out, speculation ran rampant and Will found himself the target of gossip and innuendo, vulnerable to the malice of his enemies. And enemies he had, for his privileged position in Hal’s household and his spectacular tournament successes had long provoked the envy and jealousy of lesser knights. Too proud to acknowledge the talk, Will did his best to ignore the whispers and stares, but his heaviest burden was that he could not confide in his friends, could not reveal the cause of the young king’s displeasure—not without betraying Hal’s confidence.

  Will was accustomed to being Hal’s confidant, basking in their friendship even though he knew it had cost him the good will of the old king; Henry blamed him for failing to curb Hal’s whims and reckless spending. Will did not think that was fair, but he accepted that kings were often unfair and there was naught to be done about it. What he could not accept was the sudden change in his status. Hal no longer sought his advice, no longer wanted his companionship. It was as if the last twelve years had never been.

  It had begun that autumn when Will noticed Hal’s preoccupation, his moodiness. He’d always believed that his duties involved more than protecting Hal from an enemy’s lance, a foe’s sword thrust; he was often called upon to protect Hal from himself. He’d encouraged Hal to reveal the source of his distraction, and finally it had all come spilling out—the blandishments of the Poitevin lords, his hunger for lands of his own, and his loathing for his brother Richard. Will had been appalled once he realized Hal was entangling himself in such a lethal spider’s web, and he’d spoken out forthrightly against it, with a blunt candor that kings did not often hear. Hal had been furious and ever since their quarrel, he’d kept Will at a distance. Will did not even know if he still intended to follow through with this folly. In his despair, he’d considered approaching the queen, but he’d soon abandoned that idea; Marguerite was not cast in the same mold as her mother-in-law. All he could do was to wait—for Hal’s temper to cool, for his common sense to reassert itself. What he would do if neither happened, he did not know.