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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 77


  Going back to her daughter’s letter, she smiled again, only this one was genuine. “At last, some good news! Tilda says that Geoffrey has been summoned to meet Harry and Richard at Angers. God Willing, we can restore family harmony, although how long it will last…”

  Maud was surprised that Eleanor seemed so eager to see Geoffrey forgiven, for she’d assumed that the queen would have been very wroth with him for the part he’d played in the assault upon her favorite son. Striving for tact, she said, “You bear Geoffrey no grudge, then?”

  Eleanor’s smile disappeared as if it had never been. “I am not happy with him. Nothing is more important, though, than bringing peace to our family and our domains. I have lost one son this summer, and I will be damned if I will lose another.”

  HENRY WAS STANDING upon the dais in the great hall at Angers, conversing with the bishop and several of his barons. Losing interest, Richard drifted over to an open window. He was growing impatient, for they’d been waiting since noon for his errant brother to make his appearance. One of the castle dogs had followed him and he was roughhousing with the hound when Geoff joined him. Their alliance of expediency still endured, for both men had been equally outraged by the claims of sainthood being made on Hal’s behalf. They began to discuss the latest developments now, for Geoff had just learned that Robert de Neubourg, the dean of Rouen Cathedral, had been the one making the loudest demands for the recovery of Hal’s body.

  “I think the dean is intent upon feathering his own nest,” he said darkly. “All know his uncle Rotrou’s ailment is likely to be mortal, and all know, too, that he is keen to succeed Rotrou as the next Archbishop of Rouen. What better way to court votes from the canons than by securing a ‘saint’ for their cathedral?”

  Richard wondered why Geoff sounded so indignant, for he took it for granted that men acted out of self-interest. “Well, you did not think he truly believed in Hal’s holiness, did you? The only ones who could swallow that fable are madmen, drunks, and gullible ceorls. At least they were not such fools in my duchy. There were no ‘grieving crowds’ lining the roads in the Limousin or Poitou. That lunacy did not start until they’d crossed into Anjou.”

  “It is hard to see a man as saintly when you’ve been watching him plundering your abbeys and terrorizing your clerics,” Geoff agreed, but Richard was no longer listening. Nudging his brother, he gestured and, turning toward the window, Geoff saw that Geoffrey had just ridden into the bailey. “Will you look at that?” he said in surprise, for Geoffrey was not only accompanied by his duchess, but it appeared as if half the barons in Brittany were in his entourage. Geoff had not expected that, for Geoffrey had never shown Hal’s partiality for pageantry and spectacle.

  Richard was surprised, too. “The milksop! Does he hope to hide behind his wife’s skirts?”

  “No, he has something more subtle in mind.” Neither of them had heard Henry’s approach, and they both jumped at the unexpected sound of his voice. Kneeling on the window-seat to get a better view, he said, “He is a clever lad, Geoffrey. He is reminding us that he is Duke of Brittany by right of his wife, that he owes nothing to me. And the presence of his Breton lords testifies to the widespread support he enjoys amongst his barons—in case I should be rash enough to contemplate trying to divest him of the duchy.”

  Geoff and Richard exchanged looks of mutual aggravation, for their father sounded almost admiring of Geoffrey’s political acumen. They’d already concluded that Henry was not likely to punish his son more harshly than he had the Viscount of Limoges, but it was still exasperating to get confirmation of their qualms. “Uprooting Geoffrey from Brittany sounds like a fine idea to me,” Richard said acerbically, although he knew that had never been an option.

  Henry didn’t reply, watching as Geoffrey helped Constance to dismount. His attention was drawn then to a minor commotion on the edge of the crowd. Ranulf and Bleddyn had shouldered their way through the bystanders and were thumping Morgan on the back, bantering and laughing, showing such pleasure in their reunion that Henry felt a sharp pang of envy. Why could his relations with his sons not be as simple, as easy?

  CONSTANCE GAVE GEOFFREY’S HAND a quick squeeze, and then he began that long walk toward the dais where his father and brother awaited him. He was determined to show no emotion, not willing to give Richard that satisfaction. Unfastening his scabbard, he put his sword upon the steps and then knelt. “My lord king, I am here to seek your pardon for the part I played in the rebellion. I offer no excuses for my actions, can only hope that you find it in your heart to forgive me.”

  Henry wondered how often he’d have to play out this farce with one of his sons. They always said the right things, showed the proper contrition. But their words rang hollow, and when he looked into their eyes, he saw strangers. He found he had no stomach for yet another of these public mock-capitulations and got abruptly to his feet. “Come with me,” he said brusquely, and without waiting to make sure Geoffrey was obeying, he strode from the hall.

  THEY FACED EACH OTHER in the castle solar, a chamber shadowy and stifling, for Henry had jerked the shutters into place, not wanting to risk eavesdroppers gathering below the window. Leaning back against a table, he regarded his son in baffled anger. Geoffrey’s betrayal had been more painful than Hal’s, for he’d never seen it coming. By that spring, he’d had few illusions left about his eldest, but he’d honestly thought Geoffrey was trustworthy. Finding that it was not so had been a severe blow, both to the king and the father. “You realize,” he said at last, “that if you’d not thrown in with Hal, it is likely he’d not have been able to rebel.”

  He left the rest of the sentence unsaid, but Geoffrey found it easy enough to finish the thought. “And Hal might still be alive. So I am to atone for Hal’s sins as well as my own. Who else am I to answer for? The French king? The Viscount of Limoges?” Geoffrey knew he was in no position to offer defiance, but that implied accusation had stung, all the more so because the same thought had crossed his own mind. He braced himself for Henry’s fury. To his surprise, though, it did not come.

  Henry looked at him in silence and then astonished him by saying quietly, “That was not fair of me. I do not blame you for Hal’s death, nor would he want me to. It may not have happened until he was on his deathbed, but at the last he accepted full responsibility for his actions, took all the guilt for the rebellion upon himself.” There was a dull, throbbing pain behind his right eye, and his bad leg had begun to ache. He shifted so that more of his weight rested against the table, keeping his eyes upon his son’s face. “I do not want to hear your apologies or promises of future loyalty, Geoffrey. We both know how little such words mean. What I do want from you is honesty. You may speak your mind without fear of consequences. I want—I need—to know why.”

  Geoffrey blinked in amazement. “Jesus God, Papa, you know why!”

  “No, I do not.”

  “How could you not know? Because you refused to grant us Richmond and Nantes.”

  “That may be the pretext, but it was not the cause. You knew it was only a matter of time until they came into your hands, for I’d promised them to you. Why were you not willing to wait?”

  Despite Henry’s demand for utter candor, Geoffrey knew he could not tell his father that his promises were dross, as unsubstantial as cobwebs and smoke. He compromised by offering as much truth as he dared. “Nantes is the heart of Brittany and the Honour of Richmond belonged by rights to Constance’s father. When he died, it should have passed to her, and all know it. Have you never thought that by holding on to these lands, you diminish me in my wife’s eyes? And the eyes of her barons?”

  Henry was not sure how Geoffrey had managed to back him into a corner. “That is nonsense! Your barons know it is a delay, not a denial. Even after your recent treachery, I am not saying these lands are forfeit, although few would blame me if I did. But I cannot help feeling grateful that I held on to them, for if you’d had control of Nantes, that would have enabled you to launch attacks
directly into Poitou. My giving you Nantes might well have made it possible for you to win your rebellion.”

  Geoffrey stared at him. “Christ, Papa, if you’d given me Nantes, I would never have rebelled,” he said wearily, and after that, there seemed nothing more to say.

  TILDA SMILED AT THE SIGHT meeting her eyes: her ten-year-old son, Heinrich, manfully struggling to pull a bow-stave back, with some unobtrusive help from his grandfather. “Suppose we find you a smaller bow on the morrow,” Henry suggested tactfully, “and then we can have a real lesson.”

  “Will you shoot it one more time?” Heinrich entreated, and Henry obligingly showed the boy the proper stance and how to nock the arrow—“always on the left side of the stave.” Drawing the bowstring back, he loosed the arrow, and Heinrich gave a jubilant shout when it flew across the garden and thudded into the trunk of a chestnut tree. “Can you do that again?”

  “No, dearest, he cannot,” Tilda intervened, “for it is past your bedtime.”

  “But it is still light out, Mama!”

  “Heinrich, you know full well that it stays light in August until long past Compline,” Tilda reminded him, but he continued to argue until Henry weighed in on Tilda’s side. Conceding defeat, then, he made a reluctant retreat as the adults hid their smiles until he was out of view. “It is kind of you, Papa, to offer to tutor Heinrich in the use of a bow. He has always wanted to learn, but my husband told him it was not worth mastering since the bow is a weapon for the lowborn, the routier.”

  “He is right about that,” Henry agreed. “No man of good birth would go into battle with a bow. But the lad needs to know how to shoot it if he ever expects to bring down a deer.”

  Tilda’s husband did not share Henry’s passion for the hunt. She had no intention of telling him that, however, for Heinrich’s lack of enthusiasm would be beyond his ken. Deciding to take advantage of this rare time alone with her father, she linked her arm in his and steered him toward the closest bench. “May I ask you a question, Papa?”

  “Of course, sweetheart,” he said quickly, but she caught the flicker of a smile as he added, “I cannot promise to answer it, though, not until I hear what it is.”

  “You need not worry,” she assured him with a smile of her own. “I will not ask anything awkward or embarrassing.” In other words, she thought, nothing about her mother. “I am puzzled by something you did last month. I understand why you insisted that Geoffrey surrender control to you of his Breton castles. But why did you demand the same of Richard? He…he was not happy, saw it as an affront to his pride.”

  “Believe me, lass, I know. Richard is never one to suffer in silence.” Henry was quiet for a moment, deciding how much to tell her. “I was not trying to demean Richard, Tilda. But I’ve become increasingly concerned about the hostility between Richard and his barons. God knows, they are no easy lot to govern and you can rarely go wrong suspecting the worst of Eleanor’s Poitevins. Richard is too quick, though, to apply the whip and spurs. Passing strange, for he is a superb horseman, but he rides men too hard, and I have not been able to get him to see that.”

  Tilda had heard her husband voice the same opinion. She did not see, though, how it helped matters to put Henry’s men in command of Richard’s castles. “Mayhap it would ease Richard’s resentment if you made a formal announcement that he is to be your heir?”

  Henry was amused by her fishing expedition and decided to let her hook one. “As it happens, lass, I plan to do just that next month.”

  Tilda was glad to hear it, for she was troubled by her family’s discord. She’d been deeply shocked by the rebellion, and she could take little comfort from the peace that followed Hal’s death, for she feared it was not likely to last. Heinrich had warned her not to mediate between her father and brothers, saying it would serve for naught and might jeopardize their own position at Henry’s court. Tilda was usually willing to defer to his wishes, but she would have ignored his admonition if she’d thought she might succeed. She knew, though, that she’d be wasting her breath, that neither her father nor her brothers were willing or able to see any side but their own.

  “Papa…I have a favor to ask of you. I would like you to give me permission to go to England.” Before he could respond, she reached over and touched his arm in silent supplication. “Please, hear me out. I want my children to meet their grandmother. Surely that is not so much to ask?”

  “No, of course it is not. But there is no need.”

  Tilda felt a rare stab of anger. Why were the men in her family so stubborn? “You did promise me, Papa, that I could see Maman. How much longer must I wait?”

  “You misunderstood me, Tilda. I meant that there is no need to go to England. I have sent word to Ralf de Glanville to make arrangements to bring Eleanor to Rouen.”

  “Truly? Papa, thank you!” Tilda flung her arms around his neck, and he laughed, wondering why daughters were so much easier to content than sons.

  “Truly, lass. She ought to be here by Michaelmas.”

  AMARIA LOOKED UP from her embroidery as the queen came into their chamber. She knew at once that Ralph Fitz Stephen must have given Eleanor good news, for there was becoming color in her cheeks and her eyes were filled with light.

  “You will never guess what Sir Ralph told me. How would you fancy a sea voyage, Amaria?”

  “Madame?”

  “My husband has summoned me to join our family in Rouen. Who says the Age of Miracles is past?”

  “My lady, that is wonderful!”

  “I will be able to see my daughter and grandchildren at long last, to spend time with Richard, to pray at Hal’s tomb, and to escape this wretched, wet isle, at least for a while! It has always amazed me that I’ve been able to avoid the joint evil, for it is like living underwater in England,” Eleanor said, and laughed.

  “Your son’s plea must have touched your husband’s heart, Madame. Did you not tell me that his last wish was for the king to forgive you?”

  “So Tilda said in her letter.” Eleanor sat down in the window-seat as Amaria hastened over to pour wine for them both. Clinking their cups playfully together, they drank to “a quick departure and calm sailing.” But after a time, Eleanor set her cup down and when Amaria glanced over, she saw that the queen was no longer smiling.

  “Madame, is something amiss?”

  “I am not sure, Amaria. I find myself wondering,” Eleanor said, “what he is up to now?”

  CHAPTER FORTY-FOUR

  September 1183

  Rouen, Normandy

  AS THEY APPROACHED THE DOOR of the great cathedral, Henry’s step slowed and Eleanor gave him an inquiring look. “I am sorry,” he said, very softly, “but I cannot do this.”

  “I understand,” she said, just as softly, and then, for the benefit of their audience, “I just had an idea, my lord. Whilst I go inside, you can go over to the palace to see Archbishop Rotrou, and we will meet you there afterward.”

  Robert de Neubourg had stopped when he realized they were no longer following him. “I think that is an excellent suggestion, my liege. I am sure a visit from you would cheer my uncle greatly, for he grows weaker by the day, poor soul.”

  Henry found something ghoulish about the dean’s preoccupation with his uncle’s health; he suspected Robert was far more concerned with the looming church vacancy than with Rotrou’s mortality. All that mattered to him now, though, was escaping what he was not yet ready to do—pay a visit to his son’s tomb. Seizing upon Eleanor’s subterfuge, he gave her a grateful smile, declaring that he would go straightaway to see Archbishop Rotrou, and was soon striding off, with most of his entourage hurrying to keep pace.

  The others stayed with Eleanor and Tilda, following as the dean escorted them into the cathedral. They found excuses to remain behind in the nave, though, knowing that the queen would want privacy while she prayed at her son’s tomb. Holding a lantern aloft, the dean led the way down the stairs, keeping up a running commentary about the large crowds coming to the you
ng king’s sepulcher. “Shall I ask one of the canons to clear the crypt of pilgrims so you may pray in peace, Madame?”

  When Eleanor agreed, he beckoned to the young canon standing vigil by the door. After exchanging a few words, he turned back to the queen and her daughter. “The pilgrims have already been removed, Madame, for your sons are within and they wanted time alone with the young king.”

  Eleanor was so startled that she almost slipped on the worn stone steps. Richard and Geoffrey together? She very much wanted to believe they could resolve their differences at Hal’s tomb, but that did not seem likely to her, not knowing her sons as she did. Robert trailed after her as she continued down the stairs and would have entered with her had Tilda not intervened, diplomatically suggesting that the dean show her around the cathedral whilst the queen prayed. He looked disappointed, not wanting to miss the queen’s reunion with her sons, but the Duchess of Saxony was smiling at him expectantly, and he yielded as graciously as he could, casting one last wistful glance over his shoulder at the queen as the canon opened the door for her.

  The undercroft was lit by wall torches, but Eleanor still wished she’d thought to ask the dean for his lantern. Candles flamed around Hal’s tomb, and she could make out Geoffrey’s figure, kneeling in prayer. She did not see Richard, though. As she stepped forward, movement caught her eye, and she found herself facing her youngest son. She’d not seen John for almost two years, and those had been eventful years for him. He’d grown quite a bit, although he was obviously not going to be as tall as his brothers. His body had taken on the unmistakable signs of adolescence, and if he was not yet ready to flaunt a beard, he did look as if he had to shave now and then. Her son at sixteen.