Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 88

  “Thank you, my lord brother.” Marie rose with another perfunctory curtsy. “Shall I take you to the abbot now?”

  Philippe did not appear to have heard her. He was staring into space, scuffing the dirt with the toe of his boot, his head lowered so she could no longer see his face. “What a waste,” he said thickly. “What a bloody waste…”

  GEOFFREY DIED ON AUGUST 21, just a month from his twenty-eighth birthday. He was buried with great honors before the high altar in the cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, with all the French court in attendance. Philippe grieved openly, and he and Marie each founded two chantries to pray for Geoffrey’s soul.


  August 1186

  Rennes, Brittany


  Always a light sleeper, Constance opened her eyes to see one of her attendants leaning over the bed. “What is it, Juvette?”

  “The chamberlain is here, Madame. He says he must speak with you.”

  Sitting up, Constance reached for the bed robe that Blanche was holding out. She slid her feet into her slippers and was standing by the time Juvette admitted the chamberlain. He’d obviously been roused from sleep, too, for his clothing appeared to have been donned in haste. “I beg your pardon for disturbing you, Madame, but Sir Gérard de Fournival has just ridden in and he insists that he must speak with you straightaway, that it is urgent and cannot wait till morning. Will you see him?”

  “I will.” While the chamberlain went to fetch Gérard, Constance tightened the sash on her robe and smoothed back her hair. She wore it loose when she was sharing a bed with Geoffrey, for he liked to play with it during their lovemaking. Tonight Juvette had braided it neatly in a long plait so it would not tangle while Constance slept. Only a woman’s husband and family usually saw her uncovered hair, but Constance was not about to bother with a wimple or veil for Gérard. She was striving to appear composed, but her pulse had begun to race. Geoffrey would not have used a man of Gérard’s rank to deliver a routine letter. What had gone wrong in Paris? Did Philippe have a change of heart, deciding that Richard might make a more useful ally? Had Geoffrey’s father learned of their plans? Or was the threat coming from Richard? Whatever Geoffrey’s message, she did not doubt it would be a warning of some kind, and she was braced for bad news as Gérard was ushered into the bedchamber.

  Gérard looked like a man who’d spent days in the saddle. His boots and mantle were travel-stained and muddy, his hair windblown. Constance saw only his eyes, though, bloodshot and red-rimmed, filled with pain. “My lady…I…”

  “Tell me, Gérard,” she said hoarsely, and he knelt at her feet, giving her a look of such naked misery that her breath stopped.

  “Your lord husband…” He no longer met her eyes, saying in a rush, “He is dead, my lady. God help us all, he is dead…”

  Constance heard Juvette’s muffled scream, the chamberlain’s gasp, the whining of her favorite spaniel. She saw Gérard’s bowed head, the chalk-white faces of her ladies, even the toes of her felt slippers, peeping out from the hem of her robe. She was acutely aware of her surroundings, but none of it seemed familiar. She felt as if she were floating, no longer tethered to reality as she knew it. She found that she was sitting on a coffer and Gérard was kneeling beside her, clutching her hand in his. Now that he’d begun talking, he could not seem to stop, and she was being pelted with words. Gérard was gripping her fingers so tightly that her rings were being driven into her flesh, but she welcomed the pain, for it gave her something to focus upon, something to think about beside harrowing images of dust, blood, and plunging hooves.

  They were all hovering around her now, fanning her as if she’d been made faint by the summer heat, trying to get her to take a few sips of wine, asking if they should send for a doctor, and Juvette, who knew her secret, made hesitant mention of a midwife. At that, Constance’s head came up sharply. “No!”

  Her face looked drained of all color, and she’d bitten her lower lip deeply enough to show flecks of blood. But her voice was infused with steel. “No…I want no one.” She stared at them defiantly. “Leave me,” she said, and they reluctantly obeyed.

  After she was alone, she sat motionless while her spaniel whimpered and licked her hand. Moving like a sleepwalker, she finally rose and started toward the bed. But she could not bring herself to lie down upon it, to sleep alone in her marriage bed. Placing her hand protectively over her abdomen, she realized that Geoffrey had died not knowing for certes that she was pregnant. Her child would be born without a father, would never know Geoffrey. And her daughters were so young. How long would they remember him? How long would her own memories last? Would the day come when she could no longer see his face, hear his laughter, remember the feel of his arms around her? What a sad, dreary, dangerous place her world would be without Geoffrey.

  She sank to her knees by the bed, but she could not pray. “It makes no sense,” she whispered. “Why?” Even she was not sure if her cry was meant for the Almighty or for her husband. She knew only that there’d be no answer, and burying her face in her hands, she did something she’d once have thought impossible. She wept bitterly for a son of Henry Fitz Empress.

  AFTER THE POPE HAD REFUSED to grant a dispensation for the marriage of Henry’s granddaughter to the Scots king, Henry took it upon himself to find William another wife, the daughter of the Viscount of Beaumont, whose mother was a natural daughter of the first King Henry and therefore the English king’s cousin. Not content with providing a highborn bride, Henry offered to host the wedding feast, and on this late August day, he was holding court at Woodstock, which would be the site of the Scots king’s marriage in early September. Illustrious guests had already begun to arrive, and the great hall was crowded with bishops and barons and their ladies.

  Henry was standing on the dais, dictating to a scribe at the same time that he was discussing Richard’s campaign in Quercy with his son Geoff, the Earl of Essex, and his justiciar, Ralf de Glanville. Fortunately his clerk was a veteran of royal service and was able to distinguish between Henry’s asides to his advisors and the thoughts to be set down in the letter.

  “The last I heard, Richard and the King of Aragon were on the verge of capturing Cahors,” Henry revealed with obvious satisfaction, and if the men found it odd that Richard was once again exercising authority in Aquitaine, they were too worldly to let such sentiments show on their faces. Interrupting himself to speak with a servant, Henry turned back to the others with a smile. “Morgan Fitz Ranulf has just ridden in,” he told them, explaining for Ralf de Glanville’s benefit that Morgan was his uncle’s son. “He has been in my son Geoffrey’s service for several years, is likely on his way to visit his parents in Wales.”

  “I am gladdened to see you, Morgan,” he said, brushing aside the younger man’s formal obeisance and waving him up onto the dais. “I assume you’re heading for Wales, will give you a letter for your father. Ranulf is not ailing, is he? Or your mother?” He smiled again when Morgan shook his head and invited his cousin to dine with him that evening, thinking that would provide an opportunity to interrogate Morgan about Geoffrey, for he’d not heard from his son in months.

  “My liege…” Morgan had never shouldered such a daunting responsibility, did not know how to go about it. Was it better just to blurt it out? Or ought he to lead up to it? “May I speak with you in a more private setting? I do not bring good news.”

  Morgan had no way of knowing it, but those were the same words that the prior of Grandmont had used to inform Henry of Hal’s death. His memories of that dreadful day were never far from his mind, and as he looked now at his young cousin, his breath hissed through his teeth, for he read the truth of Morgan’s mission in his forlorn, unhappy face.

  MORGAN SHIFTED FROM FOOT TO FOOT, uncomfortable with the silence. But when he glanced toward Geoff, the other man shook his head and he deferred to his cousin, keeping his eyes on Henry, though. He’d listened without speaking as Morgan had stumbled through an a
ccount of Geoffrey’s last days and then moved across the solar to the window. Morgan yearned to slip away, for there were still awkward questions to be asked about Geoffrey’s death and he did not want to be the one to answer them. He looked over again at Geoff and Willem. Neither one spoke; they seemed content to take their cues from Henry, and Morgan could not tell if they shared his fervent desire to disappear.

  This was by far the most difficult task of his life, and yet he’d volunteered for it, for he’d soon realized that neither the French king nor the Countess of Champagne nor Geoffrey’s knights cared about breaking the news gently to Henry. He was convinced that Henry had treated Geoffrey shabbily. But his own father had often insisted that Henry’s love for his children was heartfelt, and Morgan thought the king deserved to hear of his son’s death from a sympathetic source. Trapped now in Woodstock’s solar and feeling more and more like Daniel in the lion’s den, he found himself thinking that the bearers of such tragic tidings ought to have bells or clappers so they could warn others of their approach, much as lepers did.

  When Henry finally spoke, Morgan flinched, for this was the question he’d been dreading. “Why was Geoffrey in Paris?”

  “I…I do not…” he stammered, for he could neither lie to the king nor tell him the truth.

  “He was there to take part in the tournament,” Geoff said quickly, and both Morgan and Willem winced at the transparency of the falsehood, for that did not explain why Geoffrey had been given a lavish state funeral by the French king. Geoff soon saw the weaknesses inherent in his “explanation” and, realizing the futility of trying to protect his father from the truth, he said no more.

  Henry had spoken with his back still to them. When he turned at last, Morgan was shocked by how ravaged he looked, and he knew that Henry was not taken in by talk of tournaments, that he understood what Geoffrey’s presence in Paris meant. Once again a son had died in rebellion against him, and this time he’d been denied even a chance to make things right between them. For Geoffrey there’d been no sapphire rings, no promises of forgiveness, no avowals of affection. And as he realized what a burden this would be for Henry to bear, Morgan felt his own anger with the king ebbing away, replaced by an overwhelming sense of sorrow for his cousin and the father left to mourn him.

  SEPTEMBER BEGAN WITH A PROMISE of perfection, and the women had been lured out into the gardens. They set up a trestle table under a shady chestnut tree and enjoyed wine, bread, cheese, and honeyed wafers. Afterward, Eleanor’s granddaughter Richenza played the French game jeu de paume with her attendants and several of Maud’s and Eleanor’s ladies; even Amaria gamely joined in as they dashed about the gardens batting the ball back and forth. Eleanor and Maud prudently assumed the role of spectators, watching with amusement as the younger women laughed and shrieked and attracted several knights who were quite happy to join in the fun.

  “This was an excellent idea, Maud. I have not seen Richenza so merry in a fortnight.”

  “I am glad to be of assistance.” Eleanor had explained that Richenza was downcast as the nuptials of the Scots king drew near. Only fourteen, she’d set her heart upon becoming Queen of Scotland and she was not yet reconciled to the Pope’s verdict. Pleased that she’d been able to cheer the girl up, Maud resolved to arrange for her granddaughters to spend some time at Winchester with Richenza. “Is Harry looking at another match for her?”

  “Actually, he had an offer, one which would have made her a queen. Béla, the King of Hungary, expressed interest in wedding the English king’s granddaughter. But Harry seemed to feel that Hungary was the back of beyond and he never gave Béla a definite response. Béla eventually grew tired of waiting and approached the French king for Marguerite. Philippe was happy to accept the offer, and she will be departing for Hungary at summer’s end.”

  Eleanor sounded sad, and Maud easily understood why. The remarriage of Hal’s widow was bound to stir up hurtful memories. “I’ve talked with my daughter-in-law about marrying again,” she confided, “for it has been five years since Hugh died. She says she has no interest in taking another husband and reminded me that I’ve been a widow for more than thirty years!”

  Eleanor had never been surprised that Maud had not remarried, for widowhood was the only time in a woman’s life when she was not under a male’s authority. Maud had obviously relished her independence, raising her children, traveling, and proving to be a generous patron of the Church; she’d even founded a priory at Repton in Derbyshire. Eleanor suspected that she’d also discreetly taken lovers. No, it was very easy to understand why Maud had found life more enjoyable as a widow than as a wife.

  “I always appreciated the irony, Maud, that canon law includes widows in the class of miserabiles personae, the miserable wretches deserving of special protection. I suppose the Church fathers thought any woman without a husband had to be an object of pity. Speaking for myself, I expect to have the chance to discover the joys of widowhood, for I plan to outlive Harry if only from spite.”

  Eleanor grinned and Maud grinned back, but she was not completely sure that the queen was joking and she felt a pang of regret that their precarious rapprochement had been a casualty of Henry’s double-dealing. She’d seen them take tentative steps toward a marital peace as the years passed, and then watched sadly as it all ended when Henry used Eleanor to win his clash of wills with their son. “Are we caught up now on family gossip?” she asked lightly. “So far I’ve learned that Richard is wreaking havoc on the Count of Toulouse’s lands and your daughter in Castile has given birth to another girl and you have not heard lately from Geoffrey but you recently received a loving letter from Joanna in Sicily. Any other interesting rumors to relate?”

  “I do have some news about my youngest son. Believe it or not, Harry has sent him back to Ireland.” Eleanor grinned again at the expression on Maud’s face. “For a man who rarely makes the same mistake twice, Harry acts like a dog chasing its tail where our sons are concerned. You may have heard that Hugh de Lacy, his justiciar for Ireland, was slain this summer. John had blamed de Lacy for much of his Irish follies, claiming the justiciar had acted to hinder his rule, and Harry of course accepted John’s story as gospel. So when he learned of de Lacy’s death, he decided it would be a good idea for John to return to Ireland and lay claim to de Lacy’s estates in Meath.” Her smile fading, she said, with real regret, “In all of Christendom, only Harry and John think that his second try will be any more successful than his first…and I am not even sure about John.”

  “Grandmother!” Richenza was back, followed by Denise, Eleanor’s newest lady-in-waiting. “Grandfather is here! He just rode into the bailey!” Her duty done, the girl spun around and ran to greet Henry, with Denise right behind her. So only Maud was there to hear Eleanor mouth a colorful profanity.

  “That does not sound like the most loving of spousal greetings,” she said dryly, and Eleanor summoned up a taut smile.

  “The last time Harry was at Winchester, we had a particularly heated quarrel—about Richard, of course. We did not patch things up when he left, so I’d rather our first meeting not be a public one.”

  “In other words, you’ve not yet forgiven him. Well, this is why friends have their uses. I’ll go out and welcome him whilst you slip out the side gate and return to your own chambers. I happen to be very good at creating a distraction,” Maud said with a wink and walked briskly along the path to the garden’s main gateway.

  There she saw Richenza, the ladies, knights, and other men clustered around a small group of riders dismounting in the bailey. Making her way through the growing crowd, she greeted her cousin with a graceful curtsy and a playful smile. “My liege, you came all this way to visit with me? I am very flattered.”

  She started to offer an explanation for Eleanor’s absence, but Henry gave her no chance. Stepping forward, he drew her into a wordless embrace, holding her so tightly that she knew something was wrong even before he murmured against her ear, “Thank God you are here, Maud. Eleano
r will have need of you.”

  Ignoring the other spectators, he moved toward the gardens. Maud trailed after him, but he gave her no chance to question him, opened the gate, and entered. When he closed the gate behind him, Maud took that to mean he did not want her to accompany him and she halted uncertainly, watching as he strode along the path. She was not surprised to see Eleanor emerge from the arbor, for the queen had finely honed instincts; on reflection, she’d probably concluded that his unexpected visits always boded ill.

  “Cousin Maud?” Turning, she was delighted to recognize Morgan, and she kissed him fondly on both cheeks before asking him what she’d not had time to ask Henry. “We bring the worst news a mother could get,” he said somberly. “Geoffrey was injured in a French tournament and died a few days later.”

  “Oh, no!” She clapped her hand to her mouth, staring at him in horror, and then swung back toward the gardens. Henry had reached Eleanor by now. Thankful they were out of earshot, Maud watched, tears stinging her eyes. She knew when Henry had revealed his heartbreaking message, for Eleanor spun away from him, then sank down on the nearest bench. When Henry followed, she flung up her hand, as if to hold him off, and Maud’s tears flowed faster, for what could be sadder than parents unable to console each other over the death of a child?

  Morgan did not know how to comfort her, but he did his best, putting his arm around her shoulders and sharing her sorrow. It was not long before Henry was heading back toward them, head down, steps heavy and plodding. As he came through the gate, Maud embraced him, pressing her wet cheek into his shoulder as she whispered the only words she could, a choked litany of “I am so sorry.”