Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 85

  “I see. So you were actually looking out for my own good. How kind of you, Papa.”

  “I am sorry, Geoffrey, I truly am. And I do understand your disappointment. But this I swear to you, that I did not mean to deceive you or to raise false hopes. Had I only known…”

  Geoffrey half-turned away, and Henry gave him the time he needed to master his emotions. When he swung around again, he did seem more composed, but his breathing was still swift and shallow, as if he’d been running a long and exhausting race. “You said I’d ‘have no peace’ if you’d passed over Richard. But what peace will I have once he is king? You think he’ll not seek revenge as soon as you are safely gone to God?”

  “That is why I intend to do all I can whilst I still live to bring about a genuine and lasting reconciliation between you and your brother.”

  The corner of Geoffrey’s mouth twitched. “And since Richard is celebrated for his forgiving nature, how can you fail?” He made an indecisive movement and Henry feared he was about to go. But instead he reached out and grasped his father’s arm. “We both know that not even God’s own angels could make Richard and me anything but enemies. He is to be king. So be it, then. You said you were sorry that I’d ‘misread’ your intentions. You can prove it by giving me the means to defend my duchy.”

  “What do you need? Money?”

  “I want Anjou.” Geoffrey’s grip tightened. “It makes sense, Papa, politically and geographically. I am more Angevin than Richard could ever hope to be, for he is Maman’s son, not yours. He cares only for Aquitaine and for the crown. Anjou would never mean as much to him as it would to me. And if I held it, he’d be far less likely to declare war upon Brittany. You know that is so. Give me that much, Papa, give me Anjou so that I can honor your heritage and protect my family and my lands.”

  Henry was moved by Geoffrey’s eloquence, and by his urgency. He wanted to say yes, to give his son what he wanted so desperately. He’d gladly have given Geoffrey Aquitaine if it were his to give. Anjou was dearest to his heart of all his domains, the land of his birth. He did not doubt that it would be in good hands if Geoffrey held it; he’d proven in Brittany that he could rule and rule well. But how could he rend his empire like that? Anjou and Normandy and England were his legacy, meant to be passed intact to his eldest son. Could he give up the dream that had sustained him through even the worst of times, the dream of establishing a dynasty that would endure long after he and all who’d known him were dust?

  “I can see how much this means to you, Geoffrey. I cannot promise you that Anjou will be yours. But I can promise you this—that I will give it very serious consideration.”

  Geoffrey was silent for several long moments. “Yes,” he said and smiled tightly. “I am sure you will.”

  CONSTANCE ADMITTED A SERVANT and instructed him to place the tray on a coffer. Following him to the door, she slid the bolt into place and then hurried over to her husband. Geoffrey was leaning back in his chair, his eyes half closed, his body as limp as if his bones were made of liquid. He looked utterly exhausted and she was not surprised, not after he’d told her he’d left Rouen just four days ago. That meant he and his men had covered more than forty miles a day, which sounded to her more like an escape than a departure.

  “Denez has brought food and wine,” she said. “Whilst you’re eating, they’ll heat water for a bath.”

  “Is that your subtle way of telling me that I reek?” he asked, opening his eyes long enough to give her a quick smile. But when she offered a wine cup, he shook his head. “I have not eaten all day, would be roaring drunk after three swallows.” She reached for the plate of meat and bread, and he shook his head again. “Later…I’m not hungry.”

  She didn’t insist, for she was scornful of women who hovered over their husbands as if they could not be trusted to take care of themselves. Geoffrey was a man grown, knew if he was hungry or not. Fetching a chair, she dragged it over and sat down beside him. “Do you want to talk about it? Or wait till the morrow?”

  “You’d let me do that?”

  “Of course,” she said, and would have risen had he not caught her wrist. She sat down again and watched him as he seemed to doze. But then his lashes flickered and he turned his head to look directly at her.

  “It is done, Constance.” She waited and after another long silence, he said, “He wanted to know what was wrong. Can you believe that? When I told him, he seemed truly taken aback and swore that he’d never meant to mislead me, to make me think that I might be king.”

  “Did you believe him?”

  “Does it matter?” He laughed, a sound that was not pleasant to hear. “He lies to everyone, even to himself. Especially to himself.” He smothered a yawn, saying, “I’ll have that wine, after all. I asked him for Anjou.”

  “What did he say?”

  “What does he ever say? He fell back upon his usual stratagem—delay and evasion, promising to give it ‘serious consideration.’ He does not seem to realize that by now we understand the code and I know damned well that he turned me down.”

  After it had become obvious to them that their hopes of a crown were illusory, they’d had several sobering conversations about their future once Richard was king. Constance wanted to discuss their options now, but she held back, for she was not taken in by his bitter bravado, and she realized that his hurt went far deeper than he’d ever admit.

  “I cannot believe that I let him play me for such a fool, Constance. I should have known better, should have known…” He drank slowly, and then startled her by flinging his cup against the wall.

  Watching the wine stain the whitewash, looking eerily like blood to her, Constance said, “It may not be as hopeless as you think. How long ere your father and Richard start quarreling again? Who is to say that he will not turn to you, this time for true? In his way, he does love you, after all—”

  “Indeed,” he said, cracking the word like a lash. “Of course Hal comes first and then Johnny, but after that, yes, he finds space in his heart for me.”

  “Hal is dead and Johnny has just made a bloody botch of his Irish command,” she pointed out. He surprised her then by coming to his younger brother’s defense, saying that his father was as much to blame as Johnny, that he’d thrown the lad into deep water without first teaching him to swim.

  “Mayhap it is better not to be loved by my father,” he said after a time, “for it can be argued that Richard and I fared better than poor Hal and Johnny. He set us loose at eighteen and seventeen, sent us into Aquitaine and Brittany to learn how to fight, how to govern. He kept Hal and Johnny close, not giving them the chance to stand on their own. As God is my witness, Constance, I will never do that to my sons, never.”

  “I know you will not,” she said, moving behind him and beginning to massage his shoulders; as she expected, his muscles were rigid, taut with tension. “Come to bed, Geoffrey, get some sleep. Our troubles will still be there on the morrow.”

  He did not seem to hear her. “I am glad he forced that talk, for now I see much more clearly. I’ll play no more of his accursed games, leave that to Richard and Johnny, and good luck to them both. What I am going to do is to safeguard our future and our duchy. I’ll need a few days to rest up…and then I think it is time you and I pay a visit to the French court.”

  This had always seemed like the obvious move to Constance. The French king had a keen interest in Brittany, an even keener interest in clipping Angevin wings, and Philippe was already showing signs of a ruthless will to rival Henry’s. Philippe would make a useful ally, if not an entirely trustworthy one, but she felt confident that her husband was more than his match. She’d never urged Geoffrey to reach out to Philippe, even though she’d long thought it made political sense, for she understood that there’d be no going back. For Geoffrey, it would be a repudiation of his own blood and she’d not thought she had the right to ask that of him. She moved around the chair now so that she could see his face.

  “Are you sure, Geoffrey?
They are still your family and—”

  “No,” he said, “not anymore. You are my family, you and our children.” His eyes sought hers. “So…what do you say?”

  She leaned over, brushing her lips against his forehead and then cradling his head against her breasts. “Well, I have always wanted to see Paris.”


  February 1186

  Paris, France

  CONSTANCE WAS NOT IMPRESSED by the entertainment provided by the French king, although in fairness, she supposed she was spoiled. Geoffrey was an enthusiastic and generous patron of the troubadours of his mother’s duchy, and as a result, he’d never had trouble attracting renowned performers to the Breton court. When she said as much to her husband, Geoffrey murmured, “Well, you get what you pay for,” reminding her that Philippe had so far shown little interest in music or literature, forcing men of talent to look to others for support, to Henry and his sons, the Count of Flanders, or Marie, the Countess of Champagne, who’d been acting as regent since her husband’s death five years ago.

  Constance was willing to concede that Philippe’s dinner in their honor was a culinary triumph; clearly the French monarch was more generous with his cooks than with his musicians. So far she’d not seen enough of Philippe to form any impressions of him, but that seemed about to change when they were summoned to join the French king and his queen upon the dais after the trestle tables had been cleared away and dancing begun. Isabelle was a pretty, slender blonde, who looked younger and acted older than her sixteen years. She was obviously attuned to her husband’s wishes, for when Philippe asked Constance jovially if he could “borrow” her husband for a short while, Isabelle immediately chimed in with compliments about Constance’s gown, saying that she would like to discuss the countess’s seamstress with her.

  Constance was not taken in by the flattery. How dare Philippe dismiss her as if she were an errant child? Had he forgotten that Brittany was hers? But as her eyes met Geoffrey’s, he winked and she reconciled herself to playing the role Philippe cast for her, the dutiful, unobtrusive spouse. “Of course you may, my liege,” she said, and then smiled sweetly. “As much as it grieves me to be deprived of your company, I know my husband will relate to me all that I miss. You see, we share everything.”

  As Isabelle did her part and drew Constance aside, Philippe said to Geoffrey with a bemused smile, “Your wife is rather spirited.”

  “Yes, she is,” Geoffrey agreed with a grin. “I’m a lucky man.” Philippe thought that was open to debate, but it would hardly be politic to insult the wife of a man whose good will he wanted. When he proposed now that they schedule a private meeting on the morrow, Geoffrey suggested instead that they take a stroll in the gardens. Such spontaneity was not Philippe’s modus operandi, but he could see no reason not to go along with it and sent a servant for their mantles, then signaled to his bodyguards as the two men left the hall.

  Geoffrey was quick to notice the men trailing at a discreet distance, for their presence seemed to confirm the tales he’d heard about Philippe’s nervous disposition. He could not imagine that being said of any member of his family—male or female—and hoped the young French king’s circumspection did not bode ill for his hopes of an alliance. In Geoffrey’s view, statecraft and kingship were not for the faint of heart.

  They walked in companionable silence through the gardens, dormant now in winter’s grip. Daylight was a limited commodity in February and dusk was not far off. The Seine had not yet been closed to traffic for the night, and they could see boats bobbing past, their lanterns swaying in the wind, brief glimmers of light against the dimming sky and icy, dark river. When they reached the end of the island, Philippe sat down upon a wooden bench, but Geoffrey chose to perch on the garden wall, a position that seemed precarious enough to make Philippe uncomfortable.

  “Do you mind sitting down here?” he said. “I’d have a difficult time explaining to the English king that his son drowned when he tumbled into the Seine.” Although Geoffrey hid it well, Philippe suspected that the other man was humoring him when he obligingly switched seats. Philippe did not care, though; he never worried what others thought of him. “This is my first opportunity,” he said, “to express my sorrow over the death of your brother, the young king. Hal’s unexpected death was a great loss to us all.”

  “Yes,” Geoffrey said, “indeed it was. It must have been a particularly sharp blow to you, my liege.”

  Philippe thought that was an odd thing to say, for Hal had been merely a brother-in-law and they’d never been close. He made no comment, though, and when Geoffrey saw he was not going to respond, he said, “After all, Hal would have been the perfect king—for France.” He saw Philippe’s eyes flicker, and he bit back a smile as he continued blandly, “My brother had many admirable virtues. He never lacked for courage and he was remarkably good-natured and so generous that he’d literally give a man the shirt off his back. He was also one of the most malleable men I’ve ever known, easily led and easily bored. Given his lack of interest in the drudgery of governing, I am sure he’d have been grateful for any guidance offered by the French Crown. When you heard of his death at Martel and realized you’d now have to deal with Richard, you must have felt as if your affectionate, docile dog had been transformed by evil alchemy into a feral, ravening wolf.”

  “That is hardly a brotherly description of Richard.” Philippe was rarely surprised by other men, and he regarded Geoffrey with suddenly sharpened interest. “So we are speaking candidly, are we?”

  “Under the right circumstances, it can save a great deal of time.”

  Philippe glanced across the garden to reassure himself that his bodyguards were not within earshot. “Fair enough. Let me begin by saying that I’ve been expecting you. I’ve watched the brazen way your father used you to put the fear of God into Richard, and I knew it was only a matter of time until you turned your eyes in my direction.”

  “Yes,” Geoffrey said dryly, “my brothers and I seem to look to Paris the way infidels look to Mecca. I am not Hal. I am not a king and I am neither malleable nor overly trusting. But that does not mean we could not forge an alliance that would be to our mutual benefit.”

  “Just what are you seeking?”

  “Security.” Geoffrey leaned closer, lowering his voice to evoke an intimacy more conducive to sharing secrets. “My father’s health is beginning to fail.”

  Philippe nodded; he’d paid a sickbed visit to Henry that past November at Belvoir Castle. “Well, he is old,” he said, from the comfortable vantage point of his twenty years, “so it is only to be expected.”

  “If you know a storm is coming, you do not wait until the wind is raging against your house ere you take protective measures. I want to be ready when that storm breaks over Brittany.”

  Philippe nodded again. “And what would make Brittany safe from the storm? Anjou? Mayhap even Normandy?”

  Geoffrey was pleased that Philippe was so quick. “Anjou,” he confirmed, “and an alliance that I can rely upon once Richard becomes king.”

  “It would certainly be in France’s interests to have more reasonable leadership in Anjou or Normandy. I’ve long thought that the Bretons are natural allies of the French, not the English. Your father’s meddling in Brittany was a shameless encroachment upon the suzerainty of the French Crown. I will not deny I find it offensive that you’ve done homage for your duchy to the Duke of Normandy and the King of England, but never to your rightful liege lord.”

  “Fortunately,” Geoffrey said, “that can be remedied easily enough.”

  Now that they’d come to it, Philippe drew a deep breath to dampen down his rising excitement. “So you would be willing to do homage to me.”

  “I would.”

  “Well, then, I do not see why we cannot come to an understanding advantageous to us both. For example, I think it would be only fitting to name you, my lord duke, as the Seneschal of France.”

  As that office traditionally belonged to t
he Count of Anjou, Philippe could not have made Geoffrey a more welcome offer. He studied the French king intently and then startled Philippe by laughing. “I feel,” he admitted, “as if I’d ventured into a foreign land, expecting to have difficulty making myself understood. Imagine my surprise to discover that we speak the same language.”

  Philippe thought that Geoffrey’s reputation for eloquence was well deserved, for he’d just articulated perfectly what the French king was also feeling—that he’d finally found the ally of his dreams, one who shared his insight, shrewdness, and sangfroid. Philippe had long known that he was more intelligent than most of those around him, and while the knowledge was undeniably satisfying, it was occasionally lonely, too. For the first time in his young life, he was discovering the pleasure of finding a kindred spirit, and he joined in Geoffrey’s laughter, laughter that sounded surprisingly carefree and gleeful to his bored bodyguards, not like Philippe’s usual, guarded chuckle at all.

  MORGAN FITZ RANULF could hardly believe he was at Lagny, site of some of the most famous tournaments of recent decades. When Geoffrey returned to the French court that August, Morgan had not expected such a marvelous surprise as Lagny. Tournaments were not frequently held in August, for even the most enthusiastic devotees of the tourney preferred not to have hundreds of men trampling through their fields and vineyards during the harvest season. But upon their arrival in Paris, Geoffrey and his men discovered that Philippe was absent from his capital, not likely to return from Senlis for another week. They also learned that a tournament was to be held that coming Monday at Lagny, just twenty miles from Paris, and suddenly Geoffrey no longer minded the wait, for while he’d never been as enamored of the sport as Hal, he enjoyed testing himself against men of equal skill. For Morgan, the Lagny tournament had even greater significance; he’d been knighted by Geoffrey in the past year and this would be his first chance to compete in one.