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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 87


  MARIE HAD LOST ALL INTEREST in the tournament after Geoffrey’s narrow escape. She’d accompanied him back to his tent, not departing until she was sure that he had indeed suffered no more than bruises, scrapes, and contusions. She’d have preferred to go to her lodgings at the abbey of St Pierre, but she’d left her young son in the stands with her ladies and his nurse, and she did not trust them to keep Thibault out of mischief. Upon her return, she found that the mêlée had long since broken up into smaller presses, continuing the fighting out of sight and sound of the spectators. But Thibault was still so excited that she had to promise she’d bring him back later to watch the awarding of the prize.

  True to her word, Marie and Thibault were back in their seats several hours later. She knew they’d have a wait, but she did not have the heart to deny her son, whose enthusiasm for the tourney had not been diminished by his uncle’s mishap. To Thibault, the day had exceeded his expectations, and he was soon proving to be a handful for his harried nurse, bouncing up on his seat to watch knights returning to the field, squirming and wriggling and demonstrating that no adults could hope to match the boundless energy of puppies, colts, and small boys. Marie kept a sharp eye upon him, for she was not a novice to motherhood, and her vigilance soon paid off, for she was able to stop Thibault from dashing down onto the field when he sighted her eldest son.

  The young Count of Champagne rode over, delighting his little brother by swinging him up into the saddle and taking him for a slow gallop around the lists. After turning Thibault over to one of his knights, Henri reined in beside the stands and Marie hastened down the steps to meet him. His flaxen hair was tousled, his face smeared with sweat and dirt and there was a reddish stain on his hauberk that was worrying until she could be sure the blood was not his.

  “Maman, I heard what happened to my uncle Geoffrey and so I stopped by his tent. He insisted that he was unhurt and said he means to attend the dinner tonight.”

  “What? Why must you men be so loath to use the brains God gave you?”

  Henri grinned, for this was a conversation they’d had before; his mother was convinced that males were born without any common sense whatsoever. “I’d want to go, too, if I were in his place,” he admitted. “It is a matter of pride. But…” Lowering his voice, he said, “The thing is that I do not think he is as well as he claims. He is very pale and hollow-eyed, like a man trying to pretend he’s not suffering from a morning-after malaise. I think it would be best if he keeps away from the revelries tonight; they can last till dawn, after all. I thought mayhap if you talked to him…” Finding a smile, he joked that she was a force to be reckoned with and Geoffrey would not dare to defy her. But Marie was not misled by his attempt at humor; Geoffrey must look like Walking Death if her daredevil son Henri had taken notice.

  TENTS OF THE NOBILITY were often so large that they had to be erected with winches, and Geoffrey’s was a spacious one, but it was so crowded that Marie did not at once see her brother. Geoffrey knew most of the tournament participants and friends had quickly gathered once word spread of his fall. A number of French knights and lords were there, too, their presence confirming Marie’s suspicions that Geoffrey and Philippe were plotting together. She finally found Geoffrey seated on the edge of his bed, talking with the renowned French knight Guillaume de Barres. One glance was enough to convince her that he was in pain; her husband had suffered from chronic headaches and she knew the signs: the tightness around Geoffrey’s mouth, the vein throbbing in his temple, the ashen cast to his skin.

  Marie was, at forty-one, still a beautiful woman and an accomplished flirt. She drew upon that charm now to disperse the men clustered around her brother. Sitting beside Geoffrey, she asked if he had seen a doctor. He swore he had, saying the physician had been impressed that his injuries were so trifling. Marie hoped he was right, but did not let that distract her from her purpose, and launched into her argument why he should not attend the night’s dinner.

  Much to her surprise, Geoffrey did not dispute her. “I am not feeling so good,” he admitted. “My headache has gotten worse and I’m having some pain here.” He gestured vaguely toward his abdomen. The mere thought of food roiled his stomach, but he saw no need to share that, saying with a flickering smile, “So you need not fret, Sister. I shall keep to my bed tonight, I promise.”

  “I am glad to hear that.” But the more Marie scrutinized Geoffrey, the more uneasy she became. “I want you to come back with me to the abbey,” she said. “Their infirmarian is experienced in the healing arts, and I can vouch for his skills, which I cannot do for your tourney leech. Do it for me, Geoffrey, I implore you.”

  “You’re forgetting the Church’s hostility to the tournament, Marie. I doubt that the abbot would be pleased if one of his monks tended to a sinful tourneyer.”

  “And you are forgetting that my husband’s father was a great patron of St Pierre’s. Not only is he interred in their church, his son Hugh was the abbot there for seven years. Trust me when I say the monks will bid you welcome.”

  Marie was both relieved and disquieted when Geoffrey raised no further objections, for if he was willing to see the infirmarian without being coaxed into it, he must be in considerable pain. “Henri promised to stay with Thibault through the ceremonies, so we can go straightaway,” she said, determined not to give him a chance to change his mind. But then he turned to face her, and she felt a throb of fear, for the pupil of his left eye was so dilated that it looked black. “I’ll be back,” she said and jumped to her feet, going in search of Gérard de Fournival, for she knew the French knight better than the others in Geoffrey’s mesnie.

  Gérard did not protest when she told him Geoffrey was going to see the abbey infirmarian. He did balk, though, when she told him to find a horse litter or cart. “I cannot do that, Madame! The duke would be shamed to ride in a conveyance meant for women and the elderly. I’ll order horses saddled—”

  “We have more urgent concerns than the duke’s pride,” she snapped. “I fear he has suffered a serious head injury.”

  Gérard stared at her and then beckoned to the closest of Geoffrey’s knights, Matthew de Goulaine and Morgan. After a brief murmured exchange, they both hastened toward Geoffrey. At their approach, Geoffrey started to rise, but he felt so dizzy that he had to grab Matthew’s arm for support.

  “I am all right,” he insisted, “just a little light-headed.” Releasing the knight’s arm, he stepped back to show he’d regained his balance. But then his knees buckled. They caught him before he fell, maneuvered him toward the bed. Marie and Gérard were beside him now, and when his sister grasped his hand, Geoffrey tried to squeeze it reassuringly. “My head hurts…” he said indistinctly, and by the time they got him onto the bed, his eyes had rolled back in his head and he’d gone limp in their arms.

  GÉRARD DE FOURNIVAL sat up with a start, surprised that he’d actually dozed off even though he’d slept little since Geoffrey’s collapse. Getting stiffly to his feet, he glanced quickly toward the bed where his liege lord and friend lay motionless, as he’d done for the past two nights and a day. The infirmarian and another monk moved quietly about the chamber, but Gérard found their composure to be oddly comforting; these aged men of faith had seen too much to fear death. Some of the knights were napping, sprawled in the window-seat, slumped in chairs, or on the floor. A few of them—like Morgan and Matthew and Geoffrey’s friend Ivo de la Baille—were still staving off sleep, for keeping vigil was all they could do for their duke now. Marie was not present, and Gérard assumed she’d gone to check upon her son, for only the duties of motherhood had taken her away from her brother’s side.

  Gérard stretched and winced as his knotted muscles protested, then crossed to the open window. Dawn was streaking the sky in delicate shades of pink and pearl, the last of the night stars flickering out like quenched candles. It took Gérard a moment to remember the day of the week…Wednesday, the feast day of St Bernard of Clairvaux. Gérard would normally have implored the sai
nt’s intercession on his day, but Bernard was a newly made saint, and the mortal Bernard had been a fierce foe of Geoffrey’s parents. “From the Devil they came and to the Devil they’ll go” had been Bernard’s terse judgment upon the Angevins. Would he bestir himself on Geoffrey’s behalf?

  Geoffrey had been taken to a private chamber rather than to the large infirmary hall and, from the window, Gérard had a view of the abbey garth, watching without interest as riders were admitted. But then he leaned forward in amazement. “Jesu!”

  That attracted the attention of the other men, and Morgan and Ivo came to stand beside him, though they saw nothing unusual about these new arrivals. “That man on the chestnut palfrey,” Gérard cried. “It is my brother Roger!” They looked at him blankly, unable to understand how he could be so excited about a family reunion when their lord might be breathing his last. Seeing their lack of comprehension, Gérard said impatiently, “Roger is the French king’s best physician!”

  THE MEN WERE DISMOUNTING by the time Gérard came striding toward them, with Morgan and Ivo on his heels. Hastening forward, he enveloped his brother in a grateful embrace. “Never have I been so glad to lay eyes upon you, Roger! Your arrival here is so providential that the Almighty Himself must have directed you to Lagny!”

  “Not the Almighty, the king.” Roger handed his reins to one of his companions. “The countess’s messenger reached Senlis late yesterday afternoon. King Philippe was sorely distressed to hear of the Breton duke’s injury and dispatched me at once with orders to spare neither expense nor effort to save him. We rode all night,” he said, sounding vaguely surprised that he’d proved up to such a great exertion, for a royal physician’s life was not usually so arduous. “Now…tell me what you know.”

  “The infirmarian thinks Duke Geoffrey has a grave head injury. He cannot be sure if his skull has been fractured, for there was no open wound. He lost consciousness briefly when it happened, but once he came around, he was quite lucid, although he did complain of a headache that got worse as time went on. But we’ve not been able to rouse him since he collapsed in his tent. Can you help him, Roger?”

  “God Willing,” Roger said, reverting to the professional tone he used with patients. He did not like what he’d just been told, but he saw no need to share his misgivings with Gérard. If the duke’s prognosis was as poor as he feared, there’d be time enough for that. “God Willing,” he repeated resolutely. “Take me to him.”

  THEY WAITED IN THE ABBEY GUEST HALL while Roger conducted his examination, were soon joined by Marie and Henri. The hosteller sent servants over with food and wine, but none of them had any appetite. They sat without talking, for there was only one voice they wanted to hear now—that of the French king’s physician. When Roger was escorted by one of the monks into the hall, they went to meet him in such haste that several benches were overturned.

  A royal physician was expected to have the social skills of a courtier, and Roger greeted Marie and her son with the deference due their rank and the sympathy due their kinship to Geoffrey. Once the formalities had been observed, he looked from the countess to his brother and then said quietly, “Was the duke shriven?”

  “Yes, he was. He heard a votive Mass of the Holy Spirit on Monday morning, and then my chaplain heard his confession ere the tournament began…” Marie’s words faltered for she could still hear Geoffrey’s laughing voice, joking that he never passed up an opportunity to seek absolution of his sins any more than he passed up an opportunity to sin anew. “Are you saying that there is no hope?”

  “I am saying that he is in God’s Hands, Madame,” Roger said carefully, “for his wounds are beyond my abilities to heal.”

  Marie closed her eyes for a moment and then turned away without speaking. After a brief hesitation, Henri hurried after her. The other men were struggling with disbelief, for even though they’d known of the severity of Geoffrey’s injuries, they’d been holding on to hope. Gérard and Morgan were the most incredulous, for Gérard had enormous confidence in his brother’s medical skills and Morgan was by nature an optimist, always expecting the best outcome, never the worst.

  “But…but there must be something you can do,” he stammered. “I know head wounds are dangerous, but even so…One of the Breton lords, André de Vitré came back from pilgrimage last year and he told Duke Geoffrey about some miraculous surgeries performed in the Holy Land, about a Christian knight saved when the doctors bored into his skull. Can you not do something like that?”

  “No, I cannot. I am not a surgeon—”

  “But we could find one, Roger!” In his urgency, Gérard grabbed his brother’s arm in an iron grip. “I know surgeons are not held in high regard by physicians, but surely that would not matter now? If there is nothing you can do and a surgeon could—”

  “This has nothing to do with my well-founded misgivings about most surgeons. I know about the procedure in question. It is called trepanation, and is done to drain blood and pus and noxious humors from the skull. But it is rarely if ever successful when the patient is unconscious or feverish and the duke is both. I could not in good conscience recommend—”

  “Surely it is worth trying!”

  “If you would have me speak bluntly, Gérard, it is too late. Dilation of one or both pupils is a sign of bleeding in the brain, and the duke’s other symptoms are not encouraging. His skin is cold and clammy to the touch, his pulse is weak, and his breathing has become shallow and uneven. Moreover, I fear that he has suffered damage to his liver or spleen—”

  “That is not so,” Morgan interrupted, “for I helped the infirmarian to undress my cousin. His body was badly bruised and scraped, but there were no contusions on his belly—”

  “Internal injuries do not always show external signs. What I found far more significant than the presence or absence of bruises was the swelling of the duke’s abdomen. This usually means that the liver has been lacerated and is bleeding into the abdominal cavity. Either injury would be grievous enough to kill a man.”

  They stared at him, momentarily stricken into silence. “What are you saying, Roger? That we just sit back and let him die!”

  “I said nothing of the sort,” Roger said testily. “We’ve been trying to get him to swallow yarrow and white willow, though that is obviously not easy. And there most certainly is something you can do for the duke. You can pray for him. Now, I need to see the hosteller about getting a meal.”

  They watched him go, and then, by common consent, headed for the abbey church, where they lit candles and prayed for Geoffrey’s recovery. When they returned to the infirmary, they found Marie and the abbot standing by the bed. Marie clutched a jeweled reliquary, and they felt a flicker of hope, remembering that St Pierre had one of Christendom’s most sacred treasures—a nail from the Holy Cross. Leaning over, Marie kissed her brother’s forehead, then opened the reliquary and placed the nail in his hand, gently closing his fingers around the blessed relic. Then she and the abbot knelt by the bed and began to pray. Geoffrey’s knights knelt, too, and added their voices to hers.

  MARIE WAS SITTING ON A BENCH not far from the infirmary hall. Several of her attendants hovered nearby, close enough to be summoned, far enough away to give her the semblance of privacy. The day had been a scorching one and dusk had not yet dispersed much of the heat. There was not even a breath of wind, and Marie’s tears dried on her cheeks almost as soon as they trickled from the corners of her eyes. She’d lost track of time, would never know how long she sat there, so weary that her thoughts drifted without direction or purpose. She was heedless of passersby, the curious eyes of monastery guests, the silent solicitude of her own knights and ladies. It took a sudden stir of excitement and noise to dispel her sorrowful reverie, to bring her back to the August eve and the illusory peace of the abbey. Looking up, she gazed dully at the man coming toward her. It was only when he was several feet away that she rose to her feet and made a dutiful curtsy to her brother the French king.

  She was puzzled b
y Philippe’s presence at Lagny, but not enough to dwell upon it. He always looked rather untidy, but he seemed more disheveled than usual, his unruly brown hair flopping across his forehead, his clothes layered in dust, his eyes glazed with fatigue. He surprised her by reaching out, taking her hands in his. “Sister…is it true? The porter at the gate said that Geoffrey…?”

  “Yes, it is true. Geoffrey died as Vespers was ringing. Just like Hal…” She was not sure why that was relevant, but her tired mind was blurring her losses and she could not separate Geoffrey’s death from Hal’s, the brothers she’d loved, taken too soon.

  Philippe released her hands and stepped back. She thought he would go, but instead he sat down heavily on the bench, gestured for her to do the same. Marie obeyed and they sat in silence for a time, while Philippe’s men milled about in some confusion, unsure whether to wait or take their horses on to the abbey stables, sure only that Philippe would not welcome their intrusion. Marie glanced at him, thinking it was very unlike Philippe to ride all the way from Senlis in such haste; he’d shown no such compunction when their father lay dying. But his unexpected presence here might be a blessing, might forestall any unpleasantness with the Church.

  “We must give him a fitting funeral,” she said firmly, as if daring him to object. When he did not, she continued, less defiantly. “There might be trouble with the Church, though.”

  Philippe seemed lost in his own musings, but at that, he turned to look at her and she was stunned to see his eyes were wet with tears. “Why?”

  “The Church forbids men who die in tournaments to be buried in consecrated ground,” she reminded him. “The last Lateran Council reiterated the ban just five years ago.”

  “I’d forgotten that,” he said, surprising her again, for Philippe had a memory to rival the English king’s. “It is of no matter. None will protest, and if they do, they’ll regret it.”