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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 62


  HAL WAS PLEASED with the outcome of his dramatic declaration, for all had gone as he’d expected. Richard was infuriated. Henry’s attention had been diverted from Hal’s wrongdoing to his brother’s encroachment into Anjou. He’d impressed people, particularly the clerics, by his willingness to swear upon the Holy Gospels. His own knights were inspired by his boldness, and Richard’s men were suddenly on the defensive. He did feel a prickle of remorse that Marguerite was so proud of his candor, knowing she believed that the conspiracy was now part of the past, but he assured himself that he’d make her understand when the time came.

  The only surprise was that Geoffrey had not sought him out afterward for an explanation. He’d have liked to think that Geoffrey had instinctively understood what he was doing, but that unguarded, shocked expression on his brother’s face argued otherwise, and as the evening wore on, he went looking for the Breton duke, to no avail. It was only when he found Geoffrey’s squires, Jehan and Morgan, flirting in a window-seat with the castellan’s fetching daughter that he learned Geoffrey and Constance had departed some time ago.

  HAL STILL MARVELED that his brother seemed to enjoy such a satisfying sex life with the prideful, sharp-tongued Constance, but he could imagine no other reason for their abrupt withdrawal from the hall. After bounding up the stairs to their private chamber, he made sure to knock loudly on the door and waited until he heard Geoffrey call out, “Enter.”

  He was half expecting to find them in bed, but they were still fully dressed, seated together by the hearth. Smiling, he greeted his sister-in-law warmly before asking if he could borrow her husband for a brief time.

  “You may speak freely in front of Constance.”

  Hal blinked, for he could not imagine trusting Constance the way he trusted Marguerite. He had no real interest in his brother’s marriage, though. “As you will,” he said affably. “I thought you might have some questions for me.”

  “Did you, indeed?” Geoffrey’s eyes had always been changeable, but now they were as grey as flint and just as welcoming. “Unfortunately, they’re questions I ought to have asked you last summer at Limoges. You were so busy instructing me how Richard and I would captain our arks that we never got around to discussing your own views on seamanship. A pity, for it would have been useful to know that you were a believer in lightening the load when you ran into rough waters. At the very least, it would have prepared me when you chose to push our allies over the side. I can only wonder why you did not throw me overboard, too—unless you’re saving me for a particularly severe storm.”

  Hal was genuinely shocked by the accusation and, then, offended. “Jesus God, Geoff, I’d never do that! You’re my brother.”

  “So is Richard,” Constance pointed out coolly, and Hal gave her the sort of vexed look that she was accustomed to receiving from his father.

  “I can understand that you are unhappy with me, Geoff,” he said, striving to sound apologetic even though he thought Geoffrey was being needlessly contentious. “I ought to have alerted you to what was coming. But I had no time, truly I did not. You know about my chapel quarrel with Richard. I had to find a way to deflect his accusations. As for ‘pushing our allies over the side,’ that is absurd. Richard already knew they were conniving against him. Nor did I mention any names.”

  Geoffrey and Constance exchanged a meaningful glance, one that spoke volumes without a word being said. “Richard suspected they were conniving against him,” Geoffrey pointed out, “but he did not know for certes—not until you helpfully made a public confession. Do you truly think Aimar and the others will be pleased with the work you’ve done this day?”

  Hal shrugged. “It does not matter whether they are pleased or not. They’ll still be keen to ally with me, for where else can they go?”

  Geoffrey was silent for a moment. “I cannot decide,” he said slowly, “whether you’re a complete fool or an utter cynic.”

  “Look, Geoff, we had to put Richard in the wrong. Well, I’ve done that and quite adroitly, I think. Now the pressure will be on him to yield that accursed castle. In all honesty, can you envision him doing that?”

  Geoffrey was still frowning, but he had to shake his head at that. “No, I cannot,” he admitted.

  “Exactly! And when he balks, we both know Papa’s temper will catch fire, as it always does when his will is thwarted. I’ve proven my good faith by confessing freely to my part in the plot. Now it will be up to Richard to prove his, and when he refuses, he’ll become the legitimate target for our father’s wrath. Once Papa is publicly defied like that, how likely is it that he’d go racing to Richard’s rescue?”

  “Not likely,” Geoffrey had to agree. “You do make a plausible argument, I’ll grant you that.”

  “Of course I do. I’d given this careful thought,” Hal insisted, apparently unaware he’d just contradicted his earlier claim—that he’d not had time to consult Geoffrey. “As for Aimar and the others, leave them to me. I’ll smooth their ruffled feathers easily enough.” Crossing to Constance’s side, he kissed her hand with a flourish, and departed with a jaunty bounce in his step, a smile lingering at the corners of his mouth.

  It was quiet for a time after he’d gone. Constance was the first to break the silence. “You cannot ever trust that man, Geoffrey.”

  “I know. But then I trust no one, darling.”

  She arched a brow, but did not make the obvious response, the one that most women would have asked, and because she did not, he amended his statement. “Except for you, of course.”

  “You’d have to say that,” she pointed out, and when their eyes met, they both laughed.

  RICHARD HAD COME in grudging answer to the king’s summons, but he was in no conciliatory mood, unable to understand how his father kept allowing himself to be taken in by Hal’s act. “You may as well save your breath,” he warned, “for I will not give Clairvaux up.”

  Henry had been expecting just such a response. “Why did you decide to fortify the castle at Clairvaux?”

  Richard was surprised by the reasonableness of that question. “It is not as clear-cut as Hal pretends it to be,” he said, less truculently. “Clairvaux was once part of Poitou. It is not as if I started building a castle in the heart of Angers.”

  “I have a map of Anjou burned into my brain, know where Clairvaux is.” Henry’s tone was mild enough to take any sting from his words. “But why Clairvaux? Why do you think you need a castle there?”

  It was not an accusation; Henry sounded as if he truly wanted to know. “The work at Clairvaux was not done with Hal in mind, at least not directly. Clairvaux is just six miles from Châtellerault, and as you know, Châtellerault controls the crossing of the Vienne on the Poitiers road.”

  Henry nodded thoughtfully. “But the present Viscount of Châtellerault is your cousin; his father Hugh was Eleanor’s uncle.”

  “And you think our shared blood will guarantee Guillaume’s loyalty? The way blood binds me and Hal?”

  Henry acknowledged the accuracy of Richard’s thrust with a bleak smile. “So you have reason to doubt Guillaume’s fidelity. Fair enough. But would it not have made life easier for us all if you’d come to me first, explained why you wanted to fortify Clairvaux? As it is, you gave Hal the perfect excuse for heeding the siren songs of your malcontent barons.”

  Richard had not expected his father to see that Clairvaux was as much a pretext as it was a grievance. “It would have been more prudent,” he conceded, and then flashed a sudden smile. “But prudence is not one of my more conspicuous virtues, is it?”

  “No, I cannot say that it is,” Henry agreed dryly. But there were worse vices than a lack of prudence, far worse.

  “You do not sound as if you hold me much to blame,” Richard said cautiously, for he had little experience with this evenhanded sort of justice; as far back as he could remember, his father had favored Hal.

  “I do not. I am not saying you are an innocent, mind you. But your sins in no way justify what your brother
has done.”

  To Richard, that admission was sweet balm for a wound he’d never have acknowledged. They were standing by the fireplace, and he gazed for a time into the shivering, shooting flames. “But you still want me to give over Clairvaux.”

  “Yes, Richard, I do.”

  Richard almost said it was not fair. He did not want to sound like a spoiled, pampered lordling, though, did not want to sound like Hal. If his father’s maltreatment of their mother was his most grievous sin, crowning Hal was surely his most idiotic one. Bertran de Born had accompanied Richard to court, and the troubadour had been quick to lambaste Hal’s public confession, calling him the “King of Fools.” His mockery changed nothing, though. Hal was God’s Anointed, and Richard knew he had to deal with that, however little he liked it. Tonight he suspected that his father did not much like it, either, and there was some comfort in that realization, for much of his resentment had been fueled by Henry’s failure to see Hal as Richard saw him.

  “I will never turn it over to Hal,” he warned, and Henry nodded.

  “I would not ask that of you, promise to keep it in my hands. I will even consult with you ere I choose a castellan.”

  “Well, I trust you more than Hal,” Richard said, a joke that was too bitter for humor. “But if I surrender Clairvaux—even to you—Hal wins.”

  “Does he?” Henry asked blandly, and his son looked at him with an emotion that he’d rarely felt for his father, one of reluctant admiration. Papa was right. What pleasure would Hal take from a “win” like that? Without Clairvaux, he’d have no pretense for further plotting. The more Richard thought about it, the more he could see the irony of such a solution. He’d still have to sacrifice some pride, and that would not be easy. But the look on Hal’s face when he understood he’d been outfoxed might well be worth it.

  “I’ll give it over to you—and only to you. But you’re just putting a bandage upon a festering belly wound, Papa, and I think you know that.”

  Henry did, but he was not yet willing to admit it, not even to himself. “For now,” he said wearily, “I’ll be content enough if I can stop the bleeding.”

  HENRY KNEW THAT THE SURRENDER of Clairvaux was a temporary solution to a problem that threatened not only the peace of his realm but even the survival of his empire. He’d always envisioned a federation of loosely linked self-governing states, with Hal reigning over England, Normandy, and Anjou, Richard over Aquitaine, and Geoffrey over Brittany, each one following the customs of his own domains, but bound by a common interest, a mutual commitment to a dynasty capable of dominating all the great Houses of Europe. This was to be his legacy. But in those early days of January, he was forced to face a troubling truth—that upon his death, his sons might well turn upon one another, tearing apart all that he’d labored and fought for and attracting a multitude of enemies drawn by the scent of blood.

  This was the greatest threat he’d ever faced, for it came from within. But, as was his way, once he acknowledged the problem, he set about finding a means to resolve it. One of his greatest strengths had always been his ability to remain dispassionate; only in his clash with Thomas Becket had that ability failed him, with tragic consequences. Now, though, he found himself caught up in the same sort of emotional turmoil, unable to judge his sons as a king, not a father. His awareness of this weakness eroded some of his innate self-confidence, and for one of the few times in his life, he sought validation and support from others.

  There had never been many allowed into his trusted inner circle, and death and distance had whittled the number down even further. His parents were dead. So were his brother Will and his greatly mourned cousin Roger. Thomas Becket had been elevated from king’s confidant to holy martyr. Ranulf was in Wales, and Eleanor banished from his bed and to the outer edges of his heart. He’d always assumed that he’d have his sons as allies once they were grown, but that fire had burned down to ashes and smoldering cinders, giving off neither heat nor light. And so he reached out now to the only ones whose loyalty was neither suspect nor tainted by past betrayals, and confided in his friend Willem and his son Geoff.

  They listened in sympathetic silence as he unburdened his heart, confessed to his fears that his family’s unity was broken beyond repair, and at last admitted that the son he’d loved the best was the one who’d inflicted the deepest wounds. Hal’s bright luster was dimming, and he could no longer deny his doubts about the sort of king his eldest would be. How was he to rout the demons let loose at Caen? How was he to patch together a peace between his sons that would not die with him?

  Pacing restlessly in his bedchamber at Le Mans, the room in which he’d taken his first breath nigh on fifty years ago, he told them that he’d convinced Richard to surrender Clairvaux. But if he could not reconcile Richard and his rebel barons, he feared that Hal would be tempted again to taste that forbidden fruit, and there would be no shortage of serpents to beguile him. As for Richard, he was a fine soldier and showed promise of becoming a brilliant battle commander, but he’d yet to learn that there were times when he could win more by concessions than by threats and intimidation. So it was his intent, Henry explained, to summon Richard’s disgruntled lords to a peace council at Mirebeau, where he hoped to address their grievances and persuade Richard that compromise and flexibility were also arrows in an archer’s quiver.

  Neither Willem nor Geoff saw much chance of success in these plans, for they were convinced the barons of Aquitaine were as changeable as the shifting sands, and trusting Henry’s sons was like toting water in a sieve. They would never have admitted that to Henry, though, and so they nodded and made appropriate responses indicating agreement and optimism. And when he told them that he also meant to have his sons renew their oaths of allegiance to him and to enter into a compact of perpetual peace with one another, they struggled to hide an emotion that Henry had rarely if ever invoked in others—a sorrowful sense of pity. But they did not know how to heal Henry’s ailing family any more than he did, and so they could only hope—as he did—that a solemn oath could avert the coming calamity.

  After they’d gone, Henry slumped into a chair, stretching his legs toward the fire. If he’d been on the other side of the Channel, he’d have called for a horse and ridden for Winchester. It was not that he expected Eleanor to have the answers that eluded him. But only the mother of their sons could understand the depths of his despair. He’d been sleeping poorly since Hal’s dramatic confession, and he must have dozed for a time, for he jerked upright in his seat to find Geoffrey leaning over him.

  “Let me get you some wine, Papa,” he said. “I was about to knock when I heard you cry out. A bad dream, I suppose.” Handing Henry a wine cup, he stepped back. “Can you spare some moments for me?”

  “Of course.” Henry drank, then set the cup down in the floor rushes. “Would you be willing to do homage again to your brother if I asked it of you?”

  “Why not?” Geoffrey said, sounding puzzled. “As Duke of Normandy, Hal is the liege lord for Brittany, so why would I object?”

  “Why, indeed,” Henry murmured. At least one of his sons was amenable to reason. “I am going to need your help, Geoffrey, in settling this feud between your brothers. Richard has agreed to yield Clairvaux, but we both know that will not be the end of it.”

  Geoffrey’s eyes had widened. “Did he, by God?” he said softly. “That is a surprise.”

  “Mayhap if you talked to them…”

  “I doubt that they’d heed me, but I’m willing to try, of course, if you wish it.”

  “Good lad.” Henry roused himself to ask Geoffrey if he wanted wine, too, and then leaned back in the chair, closing his eyes. He could not remember the last time he’d been so bone-tired. It seemed so long since he’d awakened each morning eager for what the day would bring. When had the joy begun to seep from his life? When had his losses begun to loom so large?

  “Papa, I came here to talk with you about the Honour of Richmond. Constance and I will have been wed two years
come August, so we have been patient. But how much longer must we wait for what is rightfully ours? If you’d rather give me Nantes, that is your choice. But Richmond or Nantes, one or the other. I can see no reason why you’d continue to withhold them. It is a matter of fairness if nothing else.”

  Henry opened his eyes reluctantly. Geoffrey had been handsomely provided for, given a great heiress and a duchy. How many third sons could say that? But no matter how much he gave them, his sons always wanted more. And if he handed Richmond over to Geoffrey now, that would only add to Hal’s discontent, only strengthen his belief that his brothers were reaping benefits that had been denied to him.

  “I will endow you with the Honour of Richmond, but not just yet. This would not be the best time to do that, not whilst Hal and Richard are at each other’s throats. Once I’ve resolved their differences, I will give consideration to your request. Till then, you must be patient. It is not as if you need the incomes from Richmond, after all. The revenues of Brittany are more than sufficient to provide you and Constance with all the comforts you could ever need. I daresay Hal would thank God fasting for your resources.”

  Henry saw the shadow that crossed his son’s face, and sighed. “I promise you that I will give you both Richmond and Nantes, when the time is right.” Getting stiffly to his feet, he looked longingly at his bed. As weary as he was, mayhap tonight he’d be able to sleep through till dawn. “Can you summon my squires, lad? I sent them off so I could speak with Willem and Geoff.”

  “I’ll see to it.”

  Geoffrey had not moved, though, and Henry gave him a quizzical look over his shoulder. “Was there something else you wanted to discuss with me? Besides Richmond?”

  “No,” Geoffrey said. “We’re done.”

  CHAPTER THIRTY-FIVE

  January 1183

  Angers, Anjou