Settings
Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 64


  Richard stiffened, Henry took an involuntary step forward, and a low buzz swept the hall. Hal let the suspense build for a few moments longer, noticing that his brother’s eyes had fastened suspiciously upon the reliquary. Holding it up as if it were an actor’s prop, he said loudly, “As sorry as I am to say it, I cannot trust the lord duke’s sworn word without additional validation. Therefore, I would have him swear homage to me upon these blessed holy relics so that there will be no doubts as to his good faith.”

  Bedlam ensued, even more chaotic than Hal had hoped. Cat-quick, Richard was on his feet, his face flushed with incredulous fury, his lips peeled back in a snarl that went unheard in the confusion. Henry looked no less dumbfounded, staring at Hal in disbelief and, then, utter outrage. Quarrels were breaking out across the hall, as Richard’s followers began to exchange insults and threats with Hal’s household knights. Watching from the sidelines, Geoffrey kept his face carefully impassive, but inwardly, he was relishing the moment, a master puppeteer who’d succeeded even beyond his expectations.

  Richard had leaped onto the dais, was telling Hal in no uncertain terms exactly what he could do with those holy relics, and if his suggestion was anatomically impossible, it was nonetheless an eloquent declaration of his mood at the moment. By then Henry had reached them and, as Richard cursed his brother to Hell for all eternity, he grabbed Hal in a grip that would leave bruises. “Have you lost your bloody mind? Come with me—now!”

  Hal was not pleased to have his dignity disparaged like this, but Henry’s fingers had clamped onto his wrist like talons, and he decided against attempting to break free, not wanting to be seen physically brawling with his father in public. As Henry pulled Hal toward the stairwell, Richard turned on his heel and made a dramatic departure, slamming out of the hall as people scattered out of his way and his men made haste to follow.

  Constance moved to Geoffrey’s side with a low, throaty “well done” meant only for his ears. They were soon joined by several of the bishops, and when they entreated him to act as peacemaker between Henry and Hal, he graciously agreed to do what he could in the interest of family harmony.

  As he mounted the steps, Geoffrey could hear the yelling, only slightly muffled by the closed door. Entering without knocking, he found his father and brother glaring at each other, both shouting at once, neither listening. Geoffrey closed the door, and then leaned back against it to watch. Henry was as angry as he’d ever seen him, giving off as much heat as a flaming torch, berating Hal bitterly for his lunacy, his irresponsible, selfish blundering, saying all that he’d kept bottled up for years. Hal was more in control, but he was angry, too, defending himself by casting as much blame as possible upon Richard.

  His chest heaving, his blood pounding in his ears, Henry at last exhausted even his hoard of invectives. Once his rage no longer burned so hotly, his suspicions began to flare up. “With that insulting demand, you alienated Richard to the point where he’s not likely to ever agree to do homage again. Is that what you had in mind, Hal—to cripple my efforts to make peace between you?”

  “Of course not!” Hal exclaimed indignantly, and Geoffrey decided it was time to intervene, not wanting to give their father a chance to dwell upon those suspicions.

  “Hal is not alone in his mistrust of Richard, Papa,” he said, moving to step between them. “I share it, too. I daresay you do not want to hear this, but we know Richard better than you do, and he has given us reason, time and time again, to doubt his good will, to suspect his good faith. Hal’s method may have been lacking in subtlety, but he was only trying to protect himself, hoping that a sacred oath might be more binding upon Richard than the one he intended to make.”

  Henry was inclined to give Geoffrey more credence at that moment than Hal. But their treacherous, ravening Richard did not resemble the man he’d bargained with last night. “Whatever your suspicions, Hal, you could not have handled it worse. I am not even sure I can repair the damage you’ve done this day.”

  When Hal would have argued further, Henry cut him short. “We’ve said enough,” he said curtly. “Better that we discuss this later, once our tempers have had time to cool.” And turning away, he left the chamber, left them alone together, hoping that Geoffrey might be able to convince Hal that compromise was an important aspect of statecraft. He’d spoken the truth when he’d confessed that he did not know if Richard could be placated, knew only that he dreaded trying. Could he truly blame Richard if he suspected collusion, if he’d concluded that he’d been led into an ambush?

  Retreating to his own chamber, he pondered the best way to heal this ugly breach between his sons. He could think of only one way to convince Richard of his good faith, and while it would not be easy for him to do, his son had spoken true yesterday. They had to trust each other. If he still held to his part of the bargain and ordered Eleanor’s release, that should convince Richard that he’d known nothing of Hal’s duplicity.

  Deciding that once again he must be the one to come to Richard, he rose tiredly from the bed, limping slightly for his bad leg was sensitive to wet weather. The bailey was muddy, but at least the rain had eased up. Catching sight of his steward, he called the man over; it might be best to avoid any surprises, to give Richard warning that he was on his way. When he instructed the man to carry this message to his son, though, the steward flushed in dismay.

  “I am sorry, my liege,” he mumbled, looking anywhere but at Henry’s face. “I thought sure someone would have told you…The lord duke is gone. He and his men rode out immediately after the…the altercation in the hall. He did not even take the time to pack, left his clothes behind in his chamber.”

  HAL ESCORTED MARGUERITE to her mare, assisted her to mount. She was pale, but her eyes were dry. She’d shed her tears already in the privacy of their bedchamber as she’d argued against being sent to her brother’s court in Paris. She did not want to go. She could not counter Hal’s contention that it was too dangerous for her to remain as long as war might be looming. She’d had no answer for him when he’d reminded her how she’d been caught by Henry at Poitiers and held in honorable confinement for several months. She still did not want to go, for she did not trust Hal’s protestations of innocence. She suspected that he was still conspiring with the rebel lords against Richard, and she had a terrifying premonition that if they were parted now, she might never see him again.

  He’d laughed away her fears, assuring her that she had no cause for concern, that even if Richard forced a war, he’d be in no danger. Holding her hand in his, he pressed a kiss into her palm and promised that he’d soon join her in Paris. She mustered up a brave, farewell smile, trying very hard to believe him.

  Constance was no happier than Marguerite. She’d quarreled with Geoffrey for days, to no avail, for he was stubbornly set upon having her accompany Marguerite to Paris. She’d preferred to return to Rennes, but he insisted that she’d be safer in France in the event the war went badly for them. She’d finally stopped arguing, although she had no intention of humoring him. Once they were well away from Angers, she meant to inform her escort that there’d been a change of plans and they’d be heading back to Brittany.

  Standing in the castle bailey with Geoffrey, she found herself reluctant to mount her mare, reluctant to leave. She realized that her reluctance was illogical; she could not very well ride to war with him. Yet she continued to linger, delaying her departure with needless questions and last-minute admonitions. It was disconcerting to recognize the real reason for her disquiet—fear for his safety. She was not accustomed to worrying about someone else’s welfare, and did not like the sensation in the least. Nor did she want to sound foolish by urging him to take care. Instead she wrapped her arms around his neck and gave him a kiss that was not at all wifely, breathing in his ear a promise to celebrate his victory with a game of the novice nun and the lecherous monk.

  Geoffrey laughed, said with an incentive like that, how could he possibly lose, and helped her up into the saddle. Henry
had come out to bid his daughters-in-law a safe journey, and he joined Geoffrey as the women’s escort mounted and they headed off. Hal went back indoors, but Geoffrey remained in the bailey to watch their departure.

  So did Henry. He looked drawn and tired, for he’d not been sleeping well. He’d sent an urgent message after Richard, but so far there’d been no reply. He knew, though, that Richard would have to come to Mirebeau for the peace conference with the rebels of Poitou and the Limousin, and he hoped, then, that he’d be able to give Richard the reassurances he clearly needed. How he would reconcile Richard and Hal, he did not yet know, but he told himself that he could only take one step at a time. For now, he had to concentrate upon making peace between Richard and his defiant barons, and with that in mind, he drew Geoffrey aside.

  “I want you to go to Limoges on my behalf. Do whatever it takes, but convince Viscount Aimar and the others that they must meet with me at Mirebeau. Assure them that I will hear their grievances and Richard and I will work out some sort of accord. Can you do that for me, Geoffrey?”

  His son looked startled, but then he smiled. “I can do that,” he said.

  CHAPTER THIRTY-SIX

  January 1183

  Angers, Anjou

  HENRY WALKED TO THE HEARTH and thrust a parchment into the fire, wrinkling his nose as an acrid smell of burning sheepskin filled the chamber. When he’d been unable to dictate the letter to his scribe, he’d dismissed the man and tried to write it himself, to no avail. The words just would not come. How could he tell Eleanor that the curse of Cain had afflicted their two eldest sons? He wanted to believe that he’d be able to patch up a peace between Hal and Richard, but for once his innate optimism and boundless self-confidence were guttering like candles in the wind. The survival of his empire had been predicated upon the premise of family solidarity. He’d envisioned Hal as ruling over a loose federation, ably supported by his brothers in Aquitaine and Brittany. He’d expected that they would be allies, never enemies.

  No, he could not burden Eleanor with such knowledge. At least he could take action, do what he could to mend the breach. She could only grieve and blame herself—just as he was blaming himself. As suspicious as he still was of her influence over their sons, he knew this was not her doing; she would never have deliberately tried to set Hal and Richard at odds. Better that she not know. He’d reluctantly sent Tilda an oblique warning, for she and Heinrich had settled in at Domfront Castle in Normandy, and they’d likely hear of the confrontation at Angers. With luck, though, the Channel might keep gossip and rumor from reaching Eleanor’s ears, at least until he’d been able to repair these fraying brotherly bonds.

  He was watching the parchment burn when Willem and Geoff were escorted into the solar, and some of his edginess eased in their familiar presence. Thank God Almighty that there were still a few men whom he could trust. They were discussing his plans for the Mirebeau council when Hal joined them, and he entered enthusiastically into the conversation, criticizing the various Limousin barons as if these same men had not been his conspirators only a few months past. Henry watched his performance without comment, wondering how this stranger had gained possession of his son’s body. He refused to believe that Hal had always been this shallow and self-centered, could only assume that he’d somehow missed the warning signs that Hal was losing his way. He refused, too, to look too far into the future. A man who’d always been one for long-range planning, now he took one day at a time. Today he must reconcile his sons and then reconcile Richard and his barons. Tomorrow…tomorrow he would figure out how to keep Hal from heeding the seductive whispers of the serpent and taking another taste of the forbidden fruit.

  They were interrupted briefly when a servant entered and murmured a few words for Henry’s ear alone. His gaze fastening upon his son, he knew Hal would soon be seeking entertainment elsewhere, and he gave the man a low-voiced directive with that in mind. As he’d predicted, it was not long before Hal lost interest and found an excuse to depart, but it gave Henry no satisfaction that he was now able to read the younger man so accurately. He wished that, like Eleanor, he could have remained in blissful ignorance of his eldest son’s failings, both as a man and as a king.

  Once Hal had gone, Henry moved over to warm himself by the fire before telling Geoff and Willem that his best agent had arrived and was about to be ushered up to the solar. “I told Matthew to wait until my son went back to the great hall,” he said, and shook his head when they offered to leave. “No, there is no need to go. You’ve met him already, Willem, and it is time that you did, too, Geoff.”

  A memory stirred for Willem. “I remember. The young man who was spying upon the French king for you. His name was…Luc, no?”

  “Well, that is the name he was using,” Henry said, with a faint smile. “He has not been at the French court for well over a twelvemonth, though. His mother was born in the Limousin, and after she was widowed, she chose to return to her family in Limoges. She took ill last year, and Luc hastened to Limoges to look after her until she recovered. He’d intended to return to Philippe’s service, but when he discovered that one of his cousins was a household knight of Viscount Aimar’s, he thought that might be a better place to fish than Paris and arranged to be taken on, too.”

  Henry smiled again. “I suspect he was finding life rather dull at Philippe’s court, whereas the Limousin was bound to be a fertile ground for intrigue and rebellion, which is mother’s milk to him. I am surprised that he did not discover Hal’s plotting, for he misses little and my son plays at conspiracy as if it were a game of camp-ball. I can only assume that Aimar was more careful.”

  Geoff looked away lest his father see his anger, for he knew his was an expressive face. He did not have a forgiving nature, as he’d be the first to admit, and he’d never forgiven his half brothers or the queen for their betrayal. He was an admirer of Richard’s battle skills and he thought that Geoffrey was showing a deft touch in his dealings with the Breton lords, but he had no use whatsoever for Hal, was one of the few at court who was utterly immune to the young king’s charm.

  When Luc was escorted into the chamber, Willem had to remind himself that nigh on nine years had passed, for the younger man seemed to have kept time at bay; he looked much as he had when Willem had last seen him, on the road to Rouen. He still put Willem in mind of a wolf masquerading as a domestic dog, sleek and supple and dangerous.

  Stepping forward, Luc knelt at the king’s feet. Henry’s welcoming smile faded as he got his first look at Luc’s face. His agent was so somber that he knew at once something was very wrong. Gesturing for Luc to rise, he braced himself for yet more bad news. “What have you come to tell me?”

  “What I wish could have been done by someone else, my liege,” Luc said in a low voice, and when his dark eyes locked with Henry’s grey ones, the older man was chilled by what he saw in them—pity. “My lord king, there is no easy way to say it. Your son has betrayed you.”

  Henry’s relief was so great that he laughed aloud. “You need not tread so carefully, Luc. I already know of my son’s scheming with the Viscount of Limoges and the others. The young king made a full and public confession at my Caen Christmas Court.”

  Luc sighed and then shook his head. “You do not understand, my liege. I am not speaking of the young king, but of your other son, the Duke of Brittany.”

  Henry was incredulous and, then, enraged. “That is a lie!”

  Luc faced his anger without flinching. “My lord king, do you truly believe I would give you such grief if I were not sure? I ask you only to hear me out.”

  Henry was regretting his flare of temper. Luc had earned better than that. He was mistaken—obviously—but he was not lying. “Speak, then,” he said. “I will listen.”

  “The lord duke arrived in Limoges last week,” Luc began, and Henry could not help interrupting.

  “I know that, Luc. I sent Geoffrey to Limoges, instructing him to persuade Aimar and the other barons to meet me next month at Mireb
eau. So there is nothing suspicious about his presence there.”

  “I know his peace mission was the public reason given for his arrival in Limoges. But what troubled me from the first was that Aimar and the others welcomed Lord Geoffrey more like an ally than a mediator. I had no proof, nothing to go on but my instincts. They’ve served me well in the past, though, and so I kept my eyes open and my ears pricked. The duke is a cautious man, not one to boast of his shifting alliances, but I got lucky. I happened to overhear him instructing a courier, and so I trailed inconspicuously after them into the stables. He gave the man a sealed letter, told him that it must be delivered to Lord Raoul de Fougères without delay and warned him of the urgency of his undertaking.”

  “I do not find it strange that he’d be sending a message to one of his Breton barons,” Henry said, but he was now sounding more defensive than defiant, for he, too, put a great deal of trust in Luc’s instincts.

  “It could well have been utterly innocent,” Luc admitted. “I knew only that I wanted to get my hands upon that letter, and so when the courier rode out, I followed him. I did not expect to get a chance to steal it until that evening, but the fool stopped in a Limoges tavern on his way out of town, and put away enough wine to need to relieve himself in an alley nearby. I slipped in behind him and clouted him ere he even knew I was there.”

  Luc would normally have digressed from his account at this point, explaining there was a spot behind the ear that could render a man unconscious ere he hit the ground, for Henry was interested in esoteric facts like that. Now, though, he knew better, for the king’s color was taking on a waxen hue. “I took his purse and ring, too, to make it look like a robbery, and I am sure that was how he explained it to the lord duke when he eventually woke up, doubtless conjuring up three or four brigands against whom he’d struggled fiercely.”