Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 6

  But Henry had done more than circumscribe Eleanor’s role as his queen. He’d usurped her role as ruler of Aquitaine. Within two years of his coronation as England’s king, he’d demanded that her barons do homage to him, homage previously reserved for her alone. The riches of Aquitaine had gone into his coffers. The coins issued in her domains bore his name, not hers. When their daughter had wed the King of Castile two years ago, he had given the province of Gascony as her marriage portion, not consulting Eleanor as he disposed of lands she’d expected to go to her heir, to Richard. Even after he’d permitted her to return to Poitiers, he continued to control her financial and military resources, keeping the real power in his own hands.

  No, Rosamund Clifford was only one of Eleanor’s grudges. The girl may have ignited the fire, but the fuel was already stacked up, awaiting such a spark. The saddest aspect of it all to Maud was that she was sure her cousin was utterly unaware of the depths of his wife’s resentment. She thought that he was undoubtedly the most brilliant man she’d ever known, with one great failing. He seemed unable to view their world from any perspective but his own. Just as he’d been oblivious to Eleanor’s discontent, he could not comprehend why his eldest son was so unhappy to be a king in name only. Maud had seen the damage his blindness had done to his marriage. She could only hope that it would not prove as harmful with his sons.

  Another quarrel had broken out in the gardens below them, this one between Richard and Geoffrey. Richard had demanded a turn in their game of quoits, Geoffrey had refused, and now they were debating the issue in loud, belligerent voices. Glancing at Eleanor, Maud said diplomatically, “I imagine the lads are too near in years to get along with each other. I’d wager they both are closer to Hal.”

  “Not really,” Eleanor admitted. “Hal and Geoffrey have their differences, though they usually patch them up. But Richard and Hal are like chalk and cheese, squabbling over the most minor matters. I keep hoping they’ll outgrow it,” she added, not very convincingly.

  Maud was surprised, for Hal was very easygoing, with a flair for friendship. “It is only natural,” she ventured, “that Richard would be jealous of Hal. It must be difficult for a youngster to understand why his older brother inherits the crown and the—” She got no further, for Eleanor had begun to laugh.

  “Jealous? Richard? Good Lord, no! Richard cares not a fig for England.” Gazing down at her second son, she said, with absolute certainty and great satisfaction, “Richard does not begrudge Hal his crown or kingdom, not as long as he gets Aquitaine.”

  ON THE FOLLOWING DAY, the Sunday after Pentecost, as church bells pealed and the citizens thronged to watch, Richard was escorted through the city streets to the abbey of St Hilaire. There Archbishop Bertram of Bordeaux and Bishop John of Poitiers offered him the lance and banner that were the insignia of the duchy, and he was officially recognized as Count of Poitou and Duke of Aquitaine.

  MAUD HAD ATTENDED many opulent feasts in her life: Christmas fetes, weddings, a coronation. She soon decided that Eleanor’s revelries in her son’s honor would rank among the most memorable. The great hall was shimmering in light, sun streaming from the open windows, and ablaze with color, the walls decorated with embroidered hangings in rich shades of gold and crimson. New rushes had been strewn about, fragrant with lavender, sweet woodruff, and balm. Because the hearth had not been lit, the guests were spared the aggravation of smoke spiraling up toward the rafters, and the air was sweet to breathe, perfumed with honeysuckle and violet, their seductive scents luring in from the gardens butterflies as blue as the summer sky.

  The tables were as splendid as their surroundings, draped in snowy white linen cloths, set with silver wine cups and salt nefs and delicate finger bowls. Maud, her son Hugh, and daughter-in-law Bertrada were among the honored guests seated at the high table, giving her an ideal vantage point to observe her fellow diners and the happenings in the hall. Clearly Eleanor had spared no expense to make Richard’s day as perfect as possible. A small fountain bubbled with wine, candelabras flared with candles of wax, not tallow, and Maud was impressed to see that every guest had been provided with a knife, for it was normally expected that people would bring their own utensils.

  The food and drink were equally praiseworthy. Eleanor had ordered rich red wines from Cahors and Gascony, costly sweet wine from Cyprus, and for the fortunate guests at the high table, the celebrated Saint Pourçain from her Auvergne, a wine so outrageously expensive that even Maud had rarely tasted it.

  A trumpet fanfare announced the arrival of each course, followed by ewers bearing lavers of warm, perfumed water so guests could wash their hands. The dishes were carried in on large platters and then ladled onto smaller plates called tailloirs at each table so that the diners could help themselves. It was common practice for three people to share a tailloir, but here, too, Eleanor had been lavish and each dish was meant for two guests, with those at the high table accorded an unheard-of honor, individual dishes for each one. Maud could not recall such a luxury at her cousin’s coronation, not even at the famously extravagant fetes hosted by Thomas Becket in his days as Henry’s chancellor.

  She was so delighted by the quality of the food that she contemplated, half-seriously, bribing Eleanor’s cooks to join her household. The guests were offered goose stuffed with herbs, garlic, grapes, and sage. There were grilled oysters and a lamprey torte with walnuts, mint, cloves, and saffron. A delicate soup of almond milk and onions, with sops of bread. Pike in a white wine galentyne sauce. A blancmange of venison meat, blanched almonds, rice, and sugar. The cooks had done themselves proud with the lighter dishes, too, providing an almond tart doucette and another of cream custard, and the sweet wafers known as angel’s bread. Eleanor had even imported oranges from Spain so that her cooks could prepare a comfit with the candied rind, honey, and ginger.

  When the meal was finally done, Eleanor’s almoner collected the trenchers—stale bread used as plates—to be distributed to the poor, and the trestle tables were dismantled so there would be room for entertainment. Harpists and flutists had played while the guests were eating, but now livelier diversion was provided: tumblers and daredevils juggling torches and swords. Maud had been invited to join Eleanor and Richard upon the dais, so she had one of the best seats in the hall, but she found her fellow guests more interesting than the performers.

  Virtually all of the highborn of Aquitaine and the lands farther south were present. Eleanor’s own family was there, of course, to share Richard’s triumph. Raoul de Faye, her maternal uncle and seneschal. Her other uncle, Hugh, Viscount of Chatellerault, his new wife, Ella, and his son, William. Her two nieces, Petronilla’s daughters, Isabelle and Alienor. Her sister by marriage, the Lady Emma of Laval, Henry’s half sister, recently widowed, but so beautiful that it was unlikely she’d remain unmarried for long. If anyone but Maud thought it odd that Henry was absent, that opinion was not voiced. According to Eleanor, Henry had gone into Brittany to deal with yet another rebellion, but it was obvious to Maud that he was not missed.

  The lords of Poitou were well represented. Saldebreuil de Sanzay, constable of Poitou. The Count of La Marche. Count William of Angoulême and his son, Vulgrin. Geoffrey de Rançon, Lord of Taillebourg. Porteclie de Mauzé, a distant cousin of Eleanor’s, and Sir Hervé le Panetier, her steward. Aimar, Viscount of Limoges, and his wife, Sarah, a daughter of Maud’s uncle Rainald. Maud was particularly interested in the presence of the Counts of La Marche and Angoulême and the Viscount of Limoges, for they’d been the ringleaders in a rebellion against Henry just four years ago. She wondered if they were signaling by their attendance that they were hostile to Henry, not Eleanor and Richard. Or had they simply not wanted to miss such a celebrated fete? The Archbishop of Bordeaux and Bishop of Poitiers were present, as was the abbot of Tournay. And there was a large contingent from the lands to the south of Aquitaine.

  Just as Henry cast a long shadow, so, too, did the other conspicuous absentee: Raimon St Gilles, Count of Toulouse, the m
ost powerful lord of the south and the most hated. Like his father before him, Raimon was ambitious, ruthless, and always dangerous. Count Raimon had long been a sworn enemy of the Dukes of Aquitaine, for Eleanor’s father had a claim to Toulouse. Maud thought the claim to be rather tenuous, arising out of a disputed inheritance involving Eleanor’s grandmother. Eleanor took it very seriously, though, enough to have convinced both of her husbands to assert her claim by force. Neither Louis nor Henry had succeeded in prying Toulouse from Count Raimon’s grip, but their failures had not discouraged Eleanor and she continued to consider Toulouse as rightfully part of her domains, part of Richard’s inheritance.

  The jugglers had completed their performance, and a troubadour had taken center stage. The audience quieted, and he began to sing a lover’s plaint, imploring his lady that she could make of him a begger or richer than any king, so great was her power over him.

  Maud joined the other guests in applauding enthusiastically. “That was wonderful,” she exclaimed. “Who is he?”

  “That is Levet, Raimbaut d’Aurenga’s joglar.” Seeing Maud’s blank look, Eleanor leaned over to explain further. “A joglar is similar to a jongleur, a court performer. Most troubadours do not sing their own compositions, not those of high birth like Raimbaut or Countess Biatriz.”

  Maud had glanced curiously toward Raimbaut d’Aurenga, regretting that she was no longer young, for this southern lord was as handsome as he was talented. But her head swiveled back toward Eleanor at the mention of Countess Biatriz. “The Countess of Valentinois? She is a troubadour, too?”

  “She calls herself a trobairitz, but yes. She is very gifted and I hope that we’ll hear some of her songs tonight. Raimbaut’s sister the Lady Tibors, is a trobairitz, too, I believe.”

  Maud was fascinated, for it was very unusual in their world for women to compose poetry. The only female writer she knew was Henry’s half sister, the Abbess of Shaftsbury, who wrote skillful lais and fables under the name Marie de France. And here were two women poets as guests at Eleanor’s table. Why did women troubadours flourish here and not elsewhere?

  A slender, dark-eyed woman followed the joglar, and Maud’s interest sharpened, for surely she must be going to perform one of the compositions of the Countess Biatriz. Much to her disappointment, the song was in the lengua romana, the language of the south. “Is she not going to sing in French?”

  Eleanor shook her head. “I forgot that you do not know the lengua romana. In my grandfather’s youth, the dialect of Poitou was very similar to the lengua romana or lemozi, as they call it, but nowadays Poitevin is more like the French of the north. Most of those in my lands speak both tongues, and I made certain that Richard was tutored in the lengua romana. Slide your chair closer and I will translate for you.”

  “I’ve lately been in great distress over a knight who once was mine,” she quoted. “She says she loved him to excess, but he betrayed her because she could not sleep with him. Night and day she suffers, lamenting her mistake.”

  Maud’s eyes widened. “Is it common for women of the south to be so blunt-spoken?”

  Eleanor grinned. “In one of the other verses of that song, she declares that she’d give almost anything to have her handsome knight in her husband’s place!”

  Maud shook her head in bemusement. “Life is truly different in these southern regions, especially for women!”

  “Women are more free to speak their minds,” Eleanor agreed. “And men even listen to us at times, for power is not solely a male preserve. Here we do not follow the practice of primogeniture. The eldest son does not inherit his father’s estate; it is divided up amongst all the sons. And often it is bequeathed to a daughter. Take the Countess of Mauguio over there. She inherited Mauguio upon her father’s death and held it in her own right through two marriages. Last year her son dared to call himself Count of Mauguio and began to intrigue with the House of Montpellier, long an adversary of her family. She was outraged by what she saw as his betrayal.”

  “I do not blame her,” Maud exclaimed. “I have so often heard sad stories like this, women swept aside like so much chaff by male kin unwilling to wait for their inheritance.”

  “Ah, but this is not France or England. The Countess of Mauguio struck back swiftly, disinheriting her impatient son in favor of her granddaughter.”

  Maud was amazed. “She could do that?”

  Eleanor’s eyes reflected the closest candle flame, taking on greenish glints in its flickering light. “This is not England or France,” she repeated proudly, and Maud could only nod, thinking, Indeed not!

  Raimbaut d’Aurenga’s joglar had taken up a gittern again, making ready to sing another of his lord’s compositions. His earlier French rendition had been a courtesy for the Poitevin guests, but now he chose his own language, the lyrical lengua romana of the troubadour.

  “Cars, douz e fenhz del bederesc

  M’es sos bas chanz, per cui m’aerc;

  C’ab joi s’espan viu e noire.”

  Without Eleanor to translate for her, the words held no meaning for Maud. She discovered it was easy to be caught up in the flow of the language, though, for it held a melodic harmony that French or English lacked, putting her in mind of the softer sounds of Spanish or Italian. It was a beautiful tongue, this lengua romana, but an alien one. And as she listened, she fully comprehended for the first time that this was an alien world, too, Eleanor’s Aquitaine.


  November 1172

  Gisors Castle, Norman Vexin

  MARGUERITE WISHED that she did not feel so shy with this stranger who was her father. She did not doubt that the French king was a kindly man, a good man, quick to smile, slow to find fault. The vices of his youth—his temper, his stubbornness—had been mitigated by the passage of time and his piety was acclaimed by all. She knew he was in his fifty-third year, an age that seemed ancient to a girl not yet fifteen. His flaxen hair was sparse around his crown, like a monk’s tonsure, and his eyes were heavy-lidded, but still as brightly blue as a summer sky; she’d always been thankful that she’d inherited his fairness and not the unfashionable dark coloring of her dead mother, a Spanish princess she could not remember. She’d heard it said that he’d been comely in his youth, and she supposed it might well be true. But if she could visualize Louis in his prime, she could not see him wed to her husband’s mother. Each time she’d tried to envision Louis and Eleanor together, her imagination failed her.

  It occurred to her that she could count on the fingers of one hand the times she’d been alone with Louis, for she’d been sent to King Henry’s court before she’d celebrated her first birthday. But she’d grown up knowing that she was the daughter of the King of France, knowing what a proud heritage that was, and never doubting that this father she’d so rarely seen had not forgotten her. Now, though, she was discovering that they had little to say to each other and when Louis suggested that they seek out her husband, she felt a surge of relief, for Hal was never at a loss for words.

  A TILTYARD HAD BEEN set up in the northern end of the upper bailey, and the young King of England had drawn an admiring audience. A skilled rider, Hal had made several successful runs at the quintain, hitting the target dead-on each time, whereas his competitors were not so fortunate. As Louis and Marguerite approached, a knight struck the shield a glancing blow and was unhorsed when he was smacked by the sandbag attached to a wooden pivot. When it was Hal’s turn again, he drove his ten-foot lance into the shield with enough force to set the quintain post vibrating.

  “Well done!” Louis called out, loudly enough for Hal to hear, and then, in a lower tone, to Marguerite, “The lad could not look more like a king with the blessed crown of Jerusalem upon his head.”

  “I think so, too,” she agreed, so ardently that Louis smiled, pleased that she seemed to have found such happiness in her marriage. At that moment Marguerite happened to notice the boy watching from the sidelines, a pale, solemn child with an untidy shock of brown hair, her half br
other, Philippe. So jubilant had Louis been upon Philippe’s birth on an August evening seven years ago that he became known as Philippe Dieu-Donné, the God-given. Louis had already sired four daughters, but Philippe was his heart’s joy, an only son born late in life to a man who’d long despaired of begetting a male heir. Never had Marguerite seen such a doting father and, as she glanced over at her little brother, she found herself thinking unkindly that no one would ever say of Philippe what Louis had just said of Hal.

  Once Hal caught sight of them, he tossed his lance to a squire and swung from the saddle. He greeted Louis with a flourish, acknowledging their kinship both by marriage and vassalage, for he’d done homage to the French king for the duchy of Normandy. Slipping his hand into Marguerite’s, he entwined their fingers together, a silent but subtle declaration of unity that Louis noted approvingly. He was very pleased with this young son-in-law of his, for Hal was good-natured and gallant, but also malleable and overly eager to claim his kingship, chaffing at the bit like a finely bred stallion ready to run.

  “Come, walk with me,” Louis said, shepherding them in the direction of the gardens, bare and fallow under a pallid November sun. Passing through the wicker gate, he seated himself upon a wooden bench, gesturing for them to join him. “Your invitation to meet me at Gisors gladdened my heart,” he murmured, “and was a most welcome surprise, for I’d heard that you planned to remain in England into the new year, holding your Christmas Court at Winchester.”