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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 89

She’d lost both her sons, and Henry almost asked her how she’d survived such a loss, but Eleanor’s need was greater and he said only, “Go to her, Maud.”

  As she slipped through the gate and hastened into the gardens, Henry glanced over at his young cousin. “Now is not the time, lad. But she’ll want to hear about Geoffrey’s last hours. Be sure to tell her that her daughter Marie was with him till the end. That might help…a little.”

  Morgan nodded, and they walked in silence back to the now subdued crowd of onlookers. Henry held out his arms and Richenza ran to him, wept against his chest as she told him how much she’d liked her uncle Geoffrey and how distraught her mother would be by his death. Henry had not been sure if he should be the one to tell Eleanor, at last concluding that he owed her that much. Despite her rebuff, he was glad now that he’d made the trip to Winchester; at least he could console their granddaughter. Holding the girl, he looked over her head, his eyes seeking Morgan’s.

  “You said you were returning to Wales. But what then, lad? What will you do?” When Morgan admitted that he did not know, Henry paused before saying quietly, “I would like you to come into my service, Morgan. I know you are not yet ready to consider your future. But when you do, remember that there will be a place for you here.”

  Caught off balance, Morgan murmured his thanks, then stood watching as the crowd parted to let Henry and his granddaughter pass. After a few moments, he sensed someone had come up beside him, and he turned, looked into the sympathetic eyes of Will Marshal.

  “Did he ask you to be one of his household knights?” the older man said, and smiled when Morgan stared at him in surprise. “I thought he would, just as he did with me.”

  “His offer to you makes more sense, though, Will, for you are a renowned soldier. Whereas I am just…”

  “One of his last links to his son,” Will finished for him and Morgan finally began to understand.

  THE SURRENDER OF CAHORS was a sweet victory for Richard and Alfonso of Aragon. For their armies, it was not as rewarding; they’d been forbidden to sack the city since it had not been taken by storm. Some of Alfonso’s soldiers were tempted to see how much they could get away with, but Richard’s men soon disabused them of that fancy, warning that even Mercadier’s fierce routiers knew better than to defy their duke’s orders. So the streets were reasonably calm as the Aragonese king rode into the city to meet Richard at the cathedral of St Étienne.

  Alfonso was very pleased with their campaign so far. They had the Count of Toulouse on the run, reduced to sending urgent pleas to his liege lord for help. But so far, Philippe had not responded and they’d retaken most of the lands seized by Count Raimon during Hal’s rebellion. For Alfonso, it had been a satisfying summer. He enjoyed fighting alongside his friend and was relishing their mutual foe’s humiliation. If they could be sure Philippe would stay out of it, they might even take the war to the russet rock walls of Toulouse.

  Once he and his men reached the cathedral garth, Alfonso headed for the chapter house, where he expected to find Richard and the Bishop of Cahors. He suspected Bishop Gerald must be cursing his ill luck, as this was the second time his city had been taken by an Angevin army; Henry had captured Cahors when he’d sought to assert Eleanor’s claim to Toulouse. Alfonso fervently hoped that Count Raimon was losing sleep now that Richard was in a position to finish what his father had begun.

  They’d almost reached the cloisters when they encountered some of Richard’s household knights. They seemed in high spirits and veered in Alfonso’s direction as soon as they saw him. André de Chauvigny and Rico Fitz Rainald were arguing good-naturedly about which one got to “tell the king the good news,” and Alfonso regarded them with a mixture of amusement and impatience. “Well, someone tell me!”

  André’s cousin Nicholas stepped into the breach. “The most remarkable occurrence, sire. Our lord’s brother has died after being trampled during a tournament outside Paris.”

  Alfonso whistled in surprise. “The Duke of Brittany?” he said, just to be sure there were no misunderstandings, although he could not see why John’s death would matter to anyone but Henry. And when they gleefully confirmed Geoffrey’s identity, he continued on to the cloisters, marveling at Richard’s great good luck.

  The chapter house was crowded with men, but the bishop’s woes had been forgotten in the excitement over the news from Paris. The prelate was standing off to the side with some of his canons, looking disgruntled. His sense of disapproval only intensified when Alfonso strolled in and greeted Richard with a breezy, “Well, the Lord God has been uncommonly busy on your behalf, separating the wheat from the chaff.” And he was further scandalized when Richard laughed.

  “Come on,” Richard said, leading Alfonso back out into the cloisters, where his men dropped back to afford them a modicum of privacy. Richard gave Alfonso a concise summary of the report he’d gotten of Geoffrey’s death, and then said, half seriously and half in jest, “I do think God is on my side, Alfonso, for Geoffrey was not in Paris by happenchance. It seems that he and Philippe discovered they shared many of the same vices: a taste for conspiracy and a hunger for lands not theirs.”

  “Lucky for you then that Geoffrey’s aim was off.”

  “Not so lucky for my father, though,” Richard said and smiled grimly, “for I am all the old man has left now.” He paused and then added carelessly, “Except for the whelp, of course.”

  BROTHER EUDDOGWY HAD DUTIFULLY SOUGHT to obey his Benedictine vows of obedience, poverty, and chastity. The last one had given him the most trouble and some sleepless nights, but those temptations were safely behind him, for lust was a sin more likely to afflict the young and Brother Euddogwy had gone grey in the service of his God and his Church. He’d never expected to be tripped up by obedience, but he’d been in a state of rebellious resentment ever since his prior had sent him to minister to the spiritual needs of the English king’s son.

  At first Brother Euddogwy had welcomed the novelty of it. His prior had explained that Count John’s chaplain had fallen from his horse and broken his leg. Since he was confined to bed as his injuries healed, there was a need for a priest at the castle to say Mass and hear confessions. Since Brother Euddogwy was the only one of the brethren of Monkton Priory to have been ordained, he was the only possible choice. But the prior assured him that as their priory was within sight of Pembroke Castle, he need not sleep there, could return at nights to the monks’ dorter. Moreover, his services would not be required for long. Count John and his men were sailing for Ireland as soon as they got favorable winds.

  And so Brother Euddogwy had no misgivings, no forebodings as he’d begun his new duty. It took him only a few days, though, to become convinced that he’d been given an unwelcome glimpse of Hell. He knew he was not a worldly man, had passed all his years in this quiet corner of South Wales. The priory of St Nicholas had been his home since boyhood, for after his father died, his mother had pledged him to the Benedictine brothers as an oblate. Once he was old enough, he’d become a novice and in due time, he’d taken his holy vows, so impressing his superiors that he was encouraged to take the next step—priesthood. He’d always been content with his lot in life, kindly both by nature and experience, and when he heard the confessions of the townspeople and his brethren, he imposed light penances, never resorted to harangues and threats of eternal damnation as some of the other Pembroke priests did. He truly believed that most people wanted to do the right thing, just needed guidance to steer them away from sin.

  His benign view of mankind was severely challenged, though, by the retainers and mesnie and soldiers of Count John. Like John, most of them were younger sons eager for a taste of independence, and many seemed to have confused freedom with disrespect, insolence, and provocation. They swaggered into town in search of trouble and usually found it. They certainly found women willing to barter their bodies for coins, wine, or a chance to socialize with these cocky young knights. It was Brother Euddogwy’s shocked opinion that the behavior
he’d seen in the castle’s great hall was the sort of debauchery he imagined took place in bordels, those infamous houses for women of ill repute.

  He was as distressed by their blatant bad manners as he was by their lechery. They bullied the castle servants and the burghers of Pembroke, shouted rudely at reputable wives and mothers, drank and gambled and squabbled among themselves. And they seemed to go out of their way to be offensive. His name attested to his dual heritage, Euddogwy from his Welsh mother and Huybeerecht from his father, who’d been a respected member of Pembroke’s Flemish community. Count John’s knights thought that was hilarious and insisted upon calling him Euddogwy Fitz Huybeerecht instead of Brother Euddogwy, competing with one another to mangle the names beyond recognition. They made no secret of their contempt for the Welsh, and Brother Euddogwy pitied the Irish, who would soon have these overweening hordes descending upon them.

  The only light in this darkness was provided by an unexpected source—Father Bartholomew, the count’s impaired chaplain. He was amiable, courteous, and had an inexhaustible store of spellbinding stories, for he’d spent a few years in the young king’s household before being chosen to serve Count John. When the scandalous goings-on in the great hall would get to be too much for him, Brother Euddogwy would retreat to the chaplain’s bedchamber, where Father Bartholomew mesmerized him with accounts of the royal court, convincing the monk that the Angevins truly were the Devil’s brood.

  There seemed no end to his trials, either, for the bad weather had yet to break. On this rainy September evening, it had been more than a fortnight since the prior had dispatched him to this dung heap of sin, and he was guilt-stricken to find himself struggling with rebellious impulses that no dutiful Benedictine ought ever to entertain. After getting John’s permission to retire for the night, he took one last disapproving look at the antics in the great hall and escaped out into the rain. He was trudging along the town’s sludgy Main Street toward the Westgate when he was hailed by a mud-splattered rider on a lathered horse.

  “A moment, Brother, if you will. Can you tell me if the Count of Mortain has sailed yet for Ireland?”

  “No, he has been delayed by the foul weather.” Brother Euddogwy suspected this was a royal messenger; he was young and fit and did not look as if he’d be daunted by bad roads, storms, or outlaws. “Are you one of the king’s serjeants?” He was, indeed, the rider confirmed, and when he learned of Brother Euddogwy’s connection to the castle, he leaned from the saddle and shared his news. He did not need directions, for the wooden paling of the stronghold’s palisade loomed out of the damp mist. But when he continued on toward the gateway, Brother Euddogwy walked alongside him, for Count John might have need of spiritual comfort in light of the message he was about to receive.

  The scene in the great hall was a raucous one, a cheerful mélange of knights, minstrels, servants, disreputable-looking women, and dogs, who were dicing, performing bawdy songs, responding to cries for wine, laughing shrilly, and barking. Brother Euddogwy flushed, as if this unseemly uproar somehow reflected badly on him, but the serjeant took it in stride. Weaving nimbly among the clots of merrymakers, he soon made his way to the dais, with the monk following in his wake.

  John was lounging in a high-backed chair with a blonde in his lap; she was younger and prettier than most of the women in the hall, for a king’s son naturally had the pick of the litter. He looked bored, seemed to be half listening to the girl’s prattle and the fawning courtiers hovering at his side, but Brother Euddogwy had learned that his careless pose was deceptive; he missed little of what occurred around him. His gaze soon settled upon the bedraggled messenger, and he beckoned the man up onto the dais.

  “I am Master Lucas, my lord. I come from your father the king, and alas, I am the bearer of sad tidings.” He knelt and waited patiently until John shouted for silence, then drew out a sealed letter. “King Henry bids you return to England straightaway, as he no longer wants you to make the journey to Ireland.”

  That was not well received by John’s mesnie, and they made their disappointment known with profanity-laced protests. John did not look pleased, either. “I wish my lord father would make up his mind,” he said peevishly, reaching out to take the letter.

  Since he seemed in no hurry to open it, the serjeant took it upon himself to speak up. “That is not the message, my lord, merely its consequences. I regret to tell you that the Duke of Brittany was fatally injured in a French tournament.”

  There was a shocked silence and then, to Brother Euddogwy’s horror, the hall burst into tipsy cheering. He watched in disgust as John was mobbed by his knights and hangers-on, each one wanting to be the first to congratulate him that he was now second in line to the English throne. That had not even occurred to the monk, but John’s men were euphoric, for this was every younger son’s dream, to be elevated by the Almighty.

  Whatever John might have said was drowned out in the riotous din. Brother Euddogwy could not read his face, but he did not seem in need of religious comfort, so the monk took the serjeant to find the steward, who’d arrange for a meal and a bed. He then went to see the bedridden chaplain, feeling that Father Bartholomew ought to be told of the duke’s death.

  He was heading again for the castle gateway when he heard footsteps behind him, and one of John’s squires came running across the bailey. “Brother, wait! My lord wants to see you!”

  That surprised the monk, and he was even more surprised when he was led, not back to the hall, but to John’s private chamber. John was alone, pacing back and forth, his face shuttered and remote. “Come in, Brother. I want to ask you something.”

  “How may I serve you, my lord?”

  “I would like to have a Requiem Mass for my brother. Can you make the arrangements?”

  “Of course, my lord!” Brother Euddogwy beamed, delighted by a natural reaction to tragedy after what he’d seen in the hall. “The castle chapel is not large enough, but we can use the priory church. Or if you’d prefer, I am sure the priest at St Mary’s will gladly make his church available.”

  “Whatever you think is best.”

  This was the first time that Brother Euddogwy found himself warming to the king’s son, and since he’d not been dismissed, he ventured to express his regrets and offer solace if he could. “I am very sorry for your loss, my lord. You and the duke were close, then?”

  “No,” John said, “actually we were not. Whilst I was growing up, I thought my brothers were the spawn of Satan. But in the last few years, we’d gotten to know each other better. And when I needed him, he was there for me, providing generous support for my Poitevin campaign.”

  Brother Euddogwy did not know how to respond to that, for only the Angevins would see a rebellion as an opportunity for brotherly bonding. “I will ask my prior if we may say daily prayers for your brother’s soul, my lord.”

  “Thank you.” John moved to the only source of heat in the chamber, a brazier heaped with coals. He held his hands over the flames, glancing over his shoulder at the monk. “Does it ever stop raining in Wales?” he said, and then, “I wish it had been Richard.”

  PHILIPPE WASTED NO TIME in demanding the wardship of Geoffrey’s daughters. Since Geoffrey had done homage to him for Brittany, he was the duke’s rightful liege lord and ought to have custody of the little girls. Henry naturally did not agree, contending that the right of wardship was his. Neither king bothered to consult Constance.

  CHAPTER FIFTY

  March 1187

  Nantes, Brittany

  THE DUCAL CASTLE at Nantes was crowded with highborn Breton lords, their ladies, and retainers. Constance’s mother Margaret had come from England for her daughter’s confinement. Two of Constance’s female friends, Clemencia de Fougères and Mathilde de Mayenne, were present, too, and both young women had been escorted by their male kin, Clemencia by her grandfather, Raoul, and Mathilde by her husband, André de Vitré. Clemencia’s betrothed, Alain de Dinan-Vitré was also there, as was Maurice de Lire, the Sene
schal of Nantes, and several churchmen.

  Normally the men would not have accompanied the women at such a time. Not only were males barred from the birthing chamber, the process of childbirth was shrouded in female tradition and myth. But Raoul de Fougères and the de Vitré brothers, André and Alain, were men of power and influence, men with a keen interest in the future of their duchy, and they’d seized this opportunity to be among the first to learn the results of their duchess’s confinement.

  They were seated in chairs by the smoking central hearth in the great hall, passing the hours drinking and making idle conversation. The one subject they assiduously avoided was what was occurring in Constance’s birthing chamber. They were superstitious enough not to want to discuss it beforehand, but they all knew what was at stake, possibly the very survival of their duchy. If Constance gave birth to a third daughter, it was just a matter of time until she’d be compelled to make another marriage, and she and her lords would have little say in the matter. The husband would be chosen by the English or French king, depending upon which one prevailed in their competing claims to lordship over Brittany.

  They’d been very lucky in Constance’s first husband, for Geoffrey had proven himself to be dedicated to the duchy’s welfare and shrewd enough to ingratiate himself with the Breton barons. They doubted that they’d be so fortunate again, for it was Geoffrey’s status as the king’s son that had enabled him to assert so much independence. Constance’s next husband was likely to be a mere puppet of the English or French king; they’d see to that.

  If, however, Constance gave birth to a boy, that altered the dynamics, as the focus would shift to her son. Her role would change, and she’d be acting as regent for the infant duke. Henry and Philippe would still want her safely wed to a husband of their choosing. The new husband’s influence would be circumscribed, though, for he would not be the father of the heir. Geoffrey’s unexpected death had plunged his wife into grieving and the duchy into great peril, its future dependent upon the sex of the child being born on this Easter Sunday in late March.