Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 84

  RICHARD GAVE NO ADVANCE WARNING, arrived in Rouen with a large retinue of knights and clerics. He shared his brother Hal’s sense of drama, and as he rode through the streets of the Norman city, people turned out in large numbers to watch, enjoying the visual spectacle that royalty was expected to provide; it was a source of disappointment to many that their duke had so little taste for pageantry and pomp. As they cheered his son—so handsome and splendidly attired, mounted on a magnificent white stallion—they agreed that Duke Richard was a worthy successor to his brother of blessed memory, the young king laid to rest in their great cathedral.

  In addition to Richard’s own imposing entourage, the king’s court was filled to capacity with highborn visitors and vassals, so hundreds of avid eyes were upon him as he strode into the castle’s great hall and approached his parents upon the dais. “My lord king,” he said with flawless formality, kneeling gracefully before Henry, his respectful demeanor that of subject to sovereign. Having greeted his father, he turned then to acknowledge his mother, bending over her hand with a courtly flourish. “Madame, it is my privilege to return the governance of Aquitaine to your capable hands.”

  The curious spectators realized with disappointment that courtesy could be used as effectively as any shield of wood and leather, for none could tell what thoughts lay behind those inscrutable blue-grey eyes, not even the two people who’d given him life.

  THE TABLE THAT EVENING was laden with venison from Henry’s latest hunt, but Eleanor had no appetite and merely toyed with her food. Afterward she found no opportunity to speak privately with her son and retired to her own chamber in a foul mood. She was too tense to sleep and was still up and dressed several hours later when a knock sounded at the door. She nodded for Amaria to open it, assuming it would be Henry coming to discuss their son’s submission. But it was Richard.

  “Did your father’s spies see you come here?”

  He shrugged. “It hardly matters now, does it?” he said and reached out, enfolding her in a heartfelt hug. Eleanor’s eyes misted and she blinked rapidly, not wanting him to see. Amaria had retreated to a far corner of the chamber and picked up some sewing, doing what she could to make herself as unobtrusive as possible. But she needn’t have worried, for they’d already forgotten her presence.

  “I was concerned,” Eleanor admitted, “that you might be angry with me, too, thinking that I’d benefited at your expense.”

  Richard’s surprise was obvious. “Why, Maman? You were given no more choice in this than I was.”

  “No, I was not. But I knew how difficult this would be for you and—”

  “And you were probably scared to death that I was going to act like a damned fool and doom us all,” he said with a fleeting smile. “I cannot say I was not tempted, but…well, here I am.”

  “And thank God for it,” she said fervently. “Come sit down, Richard. We have much to talk about.” Once they were seated, she reached over and laid her hand on his. “I know this is not what you want to do, but at least now you need not fear losing Aquitaine. By coming up with this scheme, your father is conceding defeat, admitting that he could not compel you to abdicate.”

  Richard tilted his head, looking at her in bemusement. Did she truly think he needed to have this pointed out? He almost reminded her that he was not the fool his brother had been. He did not, though, for even if he did not understand her grieving for Hal, he did respect it. “To give the Devil his due,” he said, “Papa did come up with the only way to pry me loose from Aquitaine. He knew I would never deny your claim to the duchy.”

  He paused. “But this time he has been too clever for his own good, Maman. The old fox has finally outfoxed himself. He will have to grant you more liberty now, can no longer keep you sequestered in some remote stronghold out of sight and mind. I’ll not deny that it is not easy for me, either to turn over the governance of the duchy or to let the world think he has won. But it will be a comfort to know that you are restored to your rightful place. And he is in for a rude surprise if he thinks he is going to get another tamed dog for his kennel. I will never follow in Hal’s footsteps, never.”

  “I know,” she said. “An argument can be made that Hal choked to death because he was kept on such a tight chain. But not only are you a very different man than your brother, your circumstances are different, too.” She leaned forward, eager to explain why he need not fear Hal’s fate, but he gave her no chance.

  “I am looking forward to seeing his face when I tell him what I intend to do. He thinks I shall be dancing attendance upon him as Hal did. But if I am not to govern Aquitaine, then I am free to follow my heart. I am going to take the cross and do what Papa would not, answer Patriarch Heraclius’s plea and lead my men to fight for the defense of the Holy Land.”

  Richard grinned, very pleased with himself for having found a way to honor his mother, thwart his father, and serve God, while having a grand adventure at the same time. Eleanor did not return his smile, though. She was regarding him gravely. “I fear that would be a great mistake, Richard.”

  “Why? What could be more important than securing the Kingdom of Jerusalem?”

  “Securing the Kingdom of England. I know you want Aquitaine. But you want the crown, too, do you not?”

  “Of course I do. It is my birthright now that Hal is dead. Why would taking the cross put it at risk?”

  “Because your father will not want you to take the cross, no more than he wanted John to do so. He will forbid you to do it and will be outraged and distraught if you defy him in this. You will be giving him an entirely new grievance. He might even be dismayed enough to reconsider the succession, especially if you are not here to defend yourself.”

  Richard was frowning. “I know he has been favoring Geoffrey shamelessly of late, his way of reminding me that I am not an only child and nothing is writ in stone. I just took it as one of his usual threats, nothing more than that. You truly think…?”

  “I did not at first. Now…now I am not so sure. Geoffrey’s governance of Normandy was cut short by your raids into Brittany, but Harry was pleased with the way he dealt with the Norman barons and clerics and he is equally pleased with the news coming out of Brittany.”

  “Why? What is Geoffrey up to now?”

  “He and Constance just presided over an assize in Rennes, summoning the Breton lords to discuss the laws of inheritance in the duchy. They have made a compact in which all agree to pass their lands on to their eldest sons. Harry was quite impressed by reports of this assize, saying Geoffrey has shown considerable political skill in winning over perpetual rebels like Raoul de Fougères. They no longer view him as Constance’s alien husband, the Angevin intruder forced upon them by their enemy, the English king. He’s succeeded in earning their respect and their trust, no small feat considering the contentious nature of the Bretons. And I regret to say that your father has compared Geoffrey’s assize to your own attempts to introduce the law of primogeniture, which resulted in a rebellion by the lords of Angoulême—”

  “That is not fair! Primogeniture was already the custom in Brittany, so Geoffrey had an easier road to travel than I did.”

  “Be that as it may, your father likes what he has seen of your brother’s rule in Brittany and he is troubled by the constant turmoil and antagonism between you and your vassals.”

  “I still say he gave Geoffrey power in Normandy to punish me, knowing how little I’d like it. You know how he is, Maman. Nothing is ever straightforward with him; the man has more coils than any serpent.”

  “And is he giving Geoffrey the county of Nantes just to vex you, too?”

  Richard’s eyes narrowed. “Geoffrey is getting Nantes?” When she nodded, he lapsed into silence for some moments. Eleanor was content to wait, wanting him to draw his own conclusions. “Would he truly do that?” he asked at last. “Would he dare to disregard the laws of primogeniture and pass over me in favor of my younger brother?”

  “Would he dare? Oh, yes. Would he actually do i
t? That I do not know,” she conceded, “but you ignore the possibility at your peril.” Her hand closed on his again. “The crown is yours by right now that Hal is dead. But only you can decide if the price is too high, Richard. You will still have Aquitaine, come what may. If you can be content with that, then take the cross and leave for the Holy Land. But if you want to be king, then it would be wiser to remain here and fight for it.”

  He rose abruptly and began to pace. “I do want the crown. But I do not know if I could endure the humiliating apprenticeship Papa put Hal through. If he expects me to be at his beck and call like a pet spaniel…” He shook his head, turning back to face her. “I cannot do that, Maman.”

  “I do not think you will have to, dearest. Hal, may God assoil him, had no lands of his own, but you will still have Aquitaine. All will know this ‘restoration’ changes nothing in truth. You are still the heir to the duchy, and men will continue to come to you with petitions and appeals. In fact,” she said, with a wry smile, “the poor souls wanting to have rights recognized will likely need to get charters from all three of us—you, me, and Harry—to make sure there are no ambiguities or uncertainties. And when rebellion breaks out again in Aquitaine, Harry will have to rely upon you to restore order in the duchy. He no longer has the boundless energy that he once had, for his youth is long gone and his health is not as robust as it used to be. You’ll be the one he turns to for support—unless you are away in the Holy Land.”

  “And then it would be Geoffrey.” He said no more after that, soon excused himself without telling her what he meant to do. There was no need, for she already knew.

  IT WAS A GOOD SUMMER FOR HENRY, for his domains were at peace and there was finally harmony at home, too. Richard treated him with deference, giving him no further reason for complaint. Now that he’d reconciled with his son, his anger with Eleanor soon cooled and he found himself enjoying her pleasure in her new status. She’d had her own household for a few years now, but she wasted no time in bringing her trusted clerk Jordan back into her service, and she bestowed lavish gifts upon favorite abbeys like Fontevrault, upon Tilda and Richenza, the loyal Amaria, her daughters in Castile and Sicily, and her new grandchild; Constance had given birth to another girl on the nativity of St John the Baptist, christened Matilda in honor of Geoffrey’s sister and his formidable grandmother, the empress.

  Henry shared Eleanor’s joy in the birth of their granddaughter; the news helped him through a difficult time—the second anniversary of Hal’s death. So, too, did the safe return of William Marshal from his pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Henry found he took surprising comfort in Will’s presence. He knew Will was a man of honor, a valuable addition to the royal household, but what mattered more to him was Will’s link to his son. For the first time in a long while, he could look upon his family with contentment. John was finally established in his own lands, and the new Pope had given permission to have him crowned as King of Ireland. Tilda and Heinrich were making ready to return to Saxony, grateful that he’d been able to end their exile. Richenza would soon be Scotland’s queen. All in all, Henry thought the future looked brighter than it had in years.

  But with the coming of autumn, these prospects dimmed. The Pope refused to grant the dispensation for Richenza’s marriage to the Scots king, much to the girl’s disappointment. Tilda and Heinrich had already departed, and Henry was glad that Eleanor was there to comfort Richenza, for he’d never been good at drying female tears. Then Henry fell seriously ill, and for more than a month, he found himself confined to Belvoir Castle, too weak to attend the truce conference he’d just brokered between the French king and the Count of Flanders.

  Worst of all, the reports from Ireland were uniformly dismal. John’s first taste of independence and authority had proven to be an unmitigated disaster. His companions, many of them younger sons, too, offended the Irish chieftains by mocking their dress, their customs, even their long beards. Instead of curbing such bad behavior, John had encouraged it. Having his own funds at long last, he’d spent money recklessly, squandering it on wine, entertainment, gambling, and frivolous whims. When he could no longer pay his routiers, they resorted to plunder and eventually deserted to the Irish. In just nine months John had managed to greatly diminish the long-standing hostility between the native Irish and the Anglo-Norman settlers, uniting them in their outrage with his inept rule. Very disappointed in his favorite son’s first foray into manhood, Henry had finally been forced to recall him.

  Henry passed a relatively quiet Christmas at Domfront, with only Richard, Eleanor, and Richenza, for John had just gotten back to England and Geoffrey and Constance remained in Brittany.

  THAT SPRING Henry met the French king at Gisors, where they confirmed the settlement of 1183, again agreeing that Alys was to have the Vexin as her dowry and this time specifying that the son she was to wed would be Richard, which Philippe took to be an acknowledgment of Richard’s status as Henry’s heir. Richard took it that way, too, and was even more encouraged when Henry agreed to stake him in a campaign against the Count of Toulouse, who’d taken advantage of the Angevin family troubles to seize Cahors and Quercy. Now that he was no longer feuding with his father, Richard was determined to get them back and he was delighted to find that Henry was willing to finance the expedition.

  Henry and Eleanor celebrated Easter at Rouen, and Henry invited Geoffrey and Constance to join them, for he was planning to return to England and wanted to see his granddaughters before he left. He and Eleanor were to be disappointed, though. Geoffrey came to Rouen, but he came alone, explaining that Constance felt their daughters were too young to make such a long journey. And Henry soon realized that Geoffrey was not there by choice. He behaved as a dutiful son, but a very distant one, and Henry was baffled by his aloof demeanor. He’d last seen Geoffrey that past summer, when he’d come to tell his parents of the birth of his daughter, and he’d seemed very pleased when Henry then turned Nantes over to him. So this change was as puzzling to Henry as it was unexpected.

  He was disquieted enough to discuss it with Eleanor, who vexed him with her pithy response: “If you want to know what is troubling Geoffrey, you ought to be asking him.” But somewhat to his own surprise, he eventually did. Putting aside his natural inclination for the oblique approach, he summoned Geoffrey to a private meeting in his bedchamber and asked his son bluntly what was wrong.

  HENRY HAD ALWAYS LAMENTED Hal’s transparency, feeling that a king should not reveal his emotions as obviously as Hal invariably did. He was no better pleased, though, with Richard and Geoffrey’s ability to guard their thoughts. Now he could only watch Geoffrey in frustration as his son said nothing was wrong, his face utterly unreadable.

  “I do not believe you,” he said at last, and Geoffrey shrugged.

  “I do not know what you want me to say, Papa.”

  “I want you to give me a truthful answer.” Crossing the chamber, he stopped in front of the younger man. “I would not be asking if I did not want to know, Geoffrey.” And when his son continued to regard him blankly, he found it easier to express his concern in anger. “Why is it that none of you can be honest with me? Is that so much to ask?”

  That seemed to strike a spark, to judge by the way Geoffrey’s eyes began to glitter. “If you truly want an answer to that question, I would suggest you consult Scriptures.”

  “And what is that supposed to mean?”

  “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. I am sorry I cannot cite the exact verse, but I daresay you’ve heard it before.”

  “You are hardly in a position to cast stones, Geoffrey. Do you think I’ve forgotten how frequently and convincingly you and Hal lied to me during the siege at Limoges? But when have I ever lied to you?”

  “Lies are not always expressed in words, Papa. And in this past year, you have done nothing but lie to me!”

  “I do not know what you are talking about!”

  “I am talking about all you’ve done to convince me—to convince R
ichard and much of Christendom—that you might pass over him and make me your heir. I see now that it was just a ruse, a means of bringing Richard back into the fold. And of course you never gave a thought about how I’d feel. Why should I mind being used as bait to lure Richard home, after all?”

  Henry was shaking his head vehemently. “That is not so. I never sought to mislead you, Geoffrey. Nor did I ever promise to choose you over your brother. I am indeed sorry if you took it that way—”

  “But not sorry that Richard did, I daresay. You knew the only way to rein him in was to make him think the crown was in jeopardy. And as your schemes usually do, it worked. My congratulations.”

  Henry felt as if he were seeing a stranger, for Geoffrey had always been the controlled one, the son who never erupted into reckless fits of fury like his brothers. It was this realization that tempered his own anger. He ran his hand through his hair, impatiently pushed it back from his forehead as he tried to decide how best to handle this. Why was fatherhood so damnably hard? He was sure he’d never given his father the grief that his sons were constantly giving him.

  “Geoffrey…listen, lad. I will not deny that I did think about it, that I considered whether you’d make a better king than Richard. Nor will I deny that I’ve occasionally wished you were the older brother. I’ve always understood you better than I did Richard. As I once told you, you are the son who most reminds me of my own father. If circumstances were different…but they are not. It would set a dangerous precedent to ignore the laws of inheritance, and Richard would never accept it. Many men would think he had the right of it, too, and you’d have no peace, not as long as he lived.”