Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 82

  “Come in, Geoffrey,” he said coldly. “It has been suggested to me that the lot of you are possessed. Others think that you must be secretly in the service of the French king, for no one benefits more than Philippe from our family bloodletting. As for myself, I do not know what to believe, for I can no more explain your inexplicable behavior than I can walk upon water. So I’d truly like to hear you speak for yourselves. Tell me why you are seeking to do what none of my enemies could, why you are so set upon following in the footsteps of Cain.”

  Geoffrey was silent, able to recognize a rhetorical question when he heard one. His brothers were not as prudent. “But you told me to take Aquitaine!” John protested. “I thought that was what you wanted, Papa!”

  Richard was almost as quick as John. “I have nothing to apologize for. I was the one wronged, was merely defending myself!”

  Henry dealt with Richard first. “The trouble is, Richard, that you always show what Hal called ‘an excess of zeal’ in dealing with your enemies. You were hardly defending your borders when you raided deep into Brittany.”

  The blatant unfairness of that took Richard’s breath away. That was how warfare was conducted, as his father well knew, being an astute practitioner of the art himself—when at all possible, carry the war to the enemy. But Henry had already turned his attention toward John.

  “That is not the best defense to make, Johnny, for it raises troubling doubts about your judgment and common sense. It was obvious that my words were spoken in anger, not to be taken seriously.”

  Geoffrey wondered if he’d said that, too, about the knights who’d been motivated by one of his fits of temper to murder an archbishop in his own cathedral. But he had no time to appreciate the irony of it, for he was now the one in the line of fire.

  “At least Johnny has his youth and inexperience to explain away his misdeeds. That cannot be said for you, Geoffrey. In fact, I see your sins as twofold. Not only did you make war upon your brother, but you dragged Johnny into it, too. I expected better of you.”

  Geoffrey prided himself upon his inner discipline, but this tested his self-control to the utmost. He could not help glancing toward John, disappointed although not truly surprised when his younger brother kept quiet. John flushed as their eyes met, but his pang of guilt was more easily overcome than his instincts for self-preservation. He’d never understood how his brothers could defy their father so boldly, envying them their swagger and their apparent indifference to Henry’s anger. He’d been blessed—or cursed—with a vivid imagination, and when he thought of his life, he envisioned a turbulent sea, with the only land the small, unstable island of his father’s favor, an isle that could disappear under the waves in any storm.

  “Well, Geoffrey?” Henry demanded. “Have you nothing to say?”

  Eleanor had long ago mastered that skill so useful to kings, the ability to read others as a monk read his Psalter, a faculty also useful to prisoners, and she caught the warning signs—the jut of Geoffrey’s chin, the clenched muscles along his jawline. Deciding it was time to intervene, she said coolly, “I have something to say. I, too, expected better of you, Geoffrey, and I am very disappointed in you. But John is not a child and is old enough to answer for his own mistakes.”

  That earned her a grateful look from Geoffrey, a sullen one from John, and a mistrustful one from Henry, who claimed control of the conversation again. “This is how it will be. I have convened a council for this week; the archbishopric of Canterbury has been vacant since April and it is time to select a successor. At that council I am going to have the three of you make a public avowal of peace, swear not to take up arms against one another again, and give none any reason to doubt the truth of your reconciliation.”

  Neither Geoffrey nor John raised any objections, but Richard was shaking his head in disbelief. “And that is it? They attacked my lands without provocation or justification and they are not to be punished for it? Where is the justice in that?”

  “The sooner we put this embarrassment behind us, the better,” Henry said impatiently. “The last thing I want to do is to drag this farce out any longer than need be. All of you are to do as you’re bidden for once with no further arguments. And heed me well on this. It is not to happen again—ever. Now it is done and let that be the end of it.”

  No one spoke up, but they all knew this was not “the end of it,” even Henry.

  CONSTANCE HAD BEEN WILLING to accompany Geoffrey to London, but he’d insisted that she remain in Brittany with their child, saying that there was no reason they both should have to endure his father’s recriminations and he might well be kept in England for the foreseeable future. But to her surprise, she’d gotten a message from him in mid-December, summoning her to meet him in Rouen. The winter was mild enough for her to bring their seven-month-old daughter, and she arrived in high spirits, pleased that they’d be able to celebrate Aenor’s first Christmas together and bringing Geoffrey a gift sure to delight him—word that she was pregnant again. He reacted as she’d expected and they celebrated the news in bed. Afterward, they had food sent up to their chamber and enjoyed a private supper for two.

  “THIS IS DELICIOUS, GEOFFREY.” Constance’s expectations had been low, for it was an ember fast day, but the castle’s cooks had prepared a savory blanc manger made with almond milk, rice, and pike instead of chicken. “Give me another helping…and I am not being a glutton. After all, I am eating for two now.”

  “To judge by the way you’ve made that pike disappear, you could be carrying twins.” Reaching under the covers, he slid his hand across her abdomen. “Though as flat as your belly is, it is hard to imagine you swollen up like a melon.”

  “Thank you for the compliment…I think. It is early in the pregnancy yet; my midwife says he’ll most likely be born in the summer.”

  “He’ll be born? So the midwife also told you that you’re carrying a boy? Did she happen to mention what color eyes he’ll have?”

  “Tease me all you like, but I know it will be a son. I just know. Indeed, since we already have Aenor, I hope I birth only boys from now on.”

  “Why? It can be argued that a ruler with too many sons is no better off than the one without any. I’d say my family history proves there can be too much of a good thing.”

  “I like to think we’ll raise our sons better than your parents did, Geoffrey. Surely it cannot be that difficult to foster affection between siblings.”

  “Even amongst the spawn of the Demon Countess of Anjou?”

  “You are entirely too proud of your fire-and-brimstone heritage,” she said with mock severity, but when he grinned, she could not help grinning back. “I’d rather have sons because daughters are more vulnerable to the vagaries of fate. Once she is married off, a girl is utterly dependent upon the whims of her husband. I remember all too well how it was for me—suddenly uprooted from my family and the only world I knew, sent off to be raised in the household of the man responsible for ruining my father. I’d not want that for a daughter of mine, and since girls are born to be pawns, better to have only sons.”

  “But I was given no more say in our marriage than you were, Constance,” he protested. “Sons, too, are expected to wed for their family’s benefit.”

  “It is not the same, Geoffrey. In the eyes of the Church and the law, a wife is subject to her husband’s will, and if he maltreats her, what remedy has she? I would not want a daughter of mine to find herself a pampered hostage like Alys or humiliated like Philippe’s queen.”

  Geoffrey had never given much thought to the plight of highborn brides, but he discovered now that it was very troubling to imagine Aenor in an alien land, under a stranger’s control. “My sisters seem content enough, though. So if we take care in choosing the husbands for our daughters, surely we can avoid some of those pitfalls,” he said, while silently vowing that Aenor would not be wed until she was at least twenty.

  “I hope so,” Constance agreed, without much conviction. She had revealed more of herself
than she’d intended, for she was not accustomed to sharing her most intimate thoughts. Lying in bed with her husband, though, she found it surprisingly easy to speak with such candor, and she realized how much she’d come to trust him in the three years since their marriage. Marveling at the unlikely turns her life had taken, she reached over to snatch a slice of bread from his plate, for she was still ravenous. “I was so eager to tell you of my pregnancy that we did not discuss why you’re in Rouen. How did you manage to slip your father’s tether?”

  Geoffrey set their tray down in the floor rushes, keeping a dish of dried figs for Constance to munch on. “Make yourself comfortable, darling, for this is quite a story. My father raged at us as expected, and somehow I found myself shouldering the blame for Johnny, too. I am sorry to report that my little brother practices Hal’s kind of seamanship. Whilst he did not exactly push me out of his ark, neither did he throw me a lifeline.”

  “What penalties did your father impose upon you?”

  “This is where it gets interesting—none. We all had to swear to uphold the peace in a public ceremony, but that was it. Richard almost had a seizure, he was so wroth.”

  “I can well imagine,” she said dryly. “What of Aquitaine? Does your father still intend to claim it for John?”

  “I think he has reluctantly concluded that Richard will hold on to Aquitaine until his dying breath, for he has begun to talk again of Ireland for Johnny. The lad seems to be of two minds about his prospects, eager for his first taste of freedom, but greatly disappointed that it shall not be Aquitaine. Understandable, for governing the Irish is like herding cats.”

  “So Richard has won…” Constance had known this for some time; Henry’s intervention had made it inevitable. She still felt a keen regret, though, for the dream was not an easy one to relinquish. It would have been a great thing, to be wife and mother to kings. Nothing could have protected her family more than a crown.

  “That remains to be seen.”

  “What do you mean, Geoffrey? You said that your father could not consider changing the succession as long as Richard holds Aquitaine.”

  “I know, but I am no longer so sure of that. Listen to the rest of my account and then judge for yourself. My father next turned his attention to the vacant See at Canterbury. He wanted the monks to elect Baldwin, the Bishop of Worcester, but they balked. So he sent Johnny and me to Canterbury to make the monks see reason.” He smiled at the look of astonishment on his wife’s face. “An odd choice, no? Failed rebels one day, royal agents the next. I thought Richard was going to choke on his outrage, God’s Truth!”

  “And did you succeed in this mission?”

  “I did, and my father was very pleased, Richard less so. I said ‘I’ and not ‘we,’ for Johnny was more interested in entertaining two Canterbury sisters, not exactly whores but not nuns either, and as alike as two peas in a pod.”

  “Are you saying that you are back in your father’s favor, Geoffrey?”

  “Well…I am here in Rouen at my father’s behest. He sent me to Normandy to govern it in his name.”

  “Geoffrey!” Constance was gazing at him with wide, dazzled eyes. “Then he must truly be thinking of choosing you, not Richard, as his heir!”

  “One step at a time,” he cautioned. “I think he is giving serious consideration to naming me as Duke of Normandy. And Richard certainly thinks so, judging by the threats he made to me. Who knows? He may well be the first man who gave up a kingdom in favor of a duchy.”

  Constance was deceived neither by his nonchalance nor by his jesting. He might not admit it, but he’d dropped his defenses, for the first time seeing their dream as more than a beguiling chimera, a bewitching illusion shimmering always on the horizon. Now it was taking on shape and substance, might actually be within their grasp.

  “If your father has the sense to choose you over Richard,” she declared, “then I am prepared to forgive him for all the wrongs he’s done me and mine.” Geoffrey burst out laughing, and while she did not understand why he found that so humorous, she was glad to share his laughter, glad to embrace his hopes for the glittering future that suddenly seemed within their reach.

  HENRY AND ELEANOR celebrated their thirtieth Christmas Court at Windsor. He then moved on to Winchester, leaving Eleanor at Windsor with Tilda, Heinrich, and their children. It was there that the Archdeacon of Lisieux found him, bringing welcome news from Rome. The Pope had brought about a reconciliation between Heinrich and the Emperor Frederick. Delighted, Henry summoned Eleanor and his daughter and son-in-law to Winchester so they could celebrate his success and the end of their exile.

  Henry also began to make plans to send John to Ireland and finally gave Richard permission to return to Aquitaine. Without even waiting for the spring thaw, Richard declared war against his brother and launched punitive raids into Brittany. Once more the Angevin empire was riven to its core by internecine hostilities.


  May 1185

  Winchester, England

  THE COUNTESS OF CHESTER was content to watch the festivities from a window-seat, for she was tired and feeling her years on this early May evening. She’d brought her grandson to Winchester to meet her cousin the king, only to learn that Henry had changed his plans because of Richard’s assault upon Geoffrey’s lands in Brittany. He’d hurriedly taken ship at Dover, celebrating his Easter Court at Rouen with the Patriarch of Jerusalem as he pondered how to deal with Richard’s latest defiance. While Maud welcomed the opportunity to visit with Eleanor and Tilda, she was not looking forward to making a Channel crossing in pursuit of Henry.

  “I am getting too old for all this to and fro, Randolph,” she said, wryly amused when her grandson took her words at face value and apologized solemnly for taking her away from home and hearth. Noticing that he was glancing wistfully across the hall, where a jongleur was entertaining with some adroit sleight of hand, she relieved him of the duties imposed by blood and courtesy, and watched with a smile as he headed over to get a closer look at the conjuring tricks.

  “My lady?” Turning at the sound of a soft voice, Maud found herself gazing up into the face of a young woman, one who looked somewhat familiar. Accepting the wine cup proffered by the girl, Maud recognized her in time to pretend that she’d known the identity of the French princess all along, thanking Alys and inviting her to sit in the window-seat.

  “Is that your son Hugh’s boy?”

  Maud nodded. “I am taking Randolph to confer with the king about his future. He has been in wardship since Hugh’s death, of course, but he is fifteen now and we need to begin making plans for when he reaches his majority. The earldom of Chester is a great inheritance and a great responsibility. Fortunately, I think the lad will be up to the challenge.” Unlike his father, she thought sadly, may God assoil him.

  Alys politely agreed that Randolph seemed quite mature for his age, and they passed the next few minutes in inconsequential conversation as the younger woman nerved herself to reveal the reason she’d sought out the countess. Maud was telling her that the April earthquake had done great damage to Lincoln Cathedral when Alys decided she could wait no longer. “Madame, you are known to speak your mind freely. I am hoping that you’ll not be offended if I, too, speak forthrightly.”

  Maud did not like the sound of that. She felt that Alys had legitimate grievances, but she was, above all, a realist, and she knew there was nothing she could do about it. “Speak my mind, do I?” she said. “I’ve never heard my lack of tact described so delicately.”

  “I am not asking you to betray any confidences,” Alys said hastily. “It is just that I know so little about what is occurring beyond these walls, only what I happen to overhear. I would be grateful if you could answer a few questions, Lady Maud. For example, I know the Patriarch of Jerusalem came to England to seek the king’s aid for the defense of the Holy Land. Is it true that the king was offered the crown and actually turned it down? And is it true that Lady Matilda’s daughter will no
t be accompanying her parents when they return to Saxony?”

  Those questions seemed innocuous to Maud, and easy enough to answer. “I daresay you know that the King of Jerusalem is cousin to King Henry, and you know, too, that he has been afflicted by leprosy. He is a young man of great courage and ability, but he is also dying and when he does, the crown will pass to his sister’s son, who is a small child. Patriarch Heraclius hoped that King Henry would agree to take the crown himself, believing that no one else could keep Outremer from falling to the infidels. King Henry put the proposal to his great council in London, but they did not want him to accept it.”

  “Why ever not?”

  “The king asked them if they thought he could still fulfill his coronation oath to safeguard the realm if he were to accept the crown of Jerusalem, and they concluded that he could not,” Maud said blandly, stifling a smile, for given such a broad hint by Henry, they could hardly have answered otherwise. “So the king told the patriarch nay, offering to provide money and soldiers for the defense of the Holy Land. The patriarch was distraught, and asked the king, then, to send his son. John was eager to go, from what I’ve heard, pleading for the chance, but the king would not agree to it. The patriarch was not mollified by the king’s offer of gold and men, chastised him bluntly for failing in his duty as a Christian king. King Henry would not be swayed, though, saying he could not leave his kingdom. And when they met the French king at Vaudreuil, the patriarch had another failure, for your brother Philippe said that he could not take the cross at this time, either.”