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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 91


  “I was not being critical of your stratagem,” Richard insisted. “Of course I am not willing to yield the Vexin to Philippe. And since I have no great interest in wedding Alys, what else can we do but put Philippe off? What I am saying is what we both know, that you do not want to meet the French army on the field. So how much time are you willing to waste here whilst you and Philippe swap threats? Of course we can always go with one suggestion being bandied about—that you resolve your differences by choosing your best knights to joust on your behalf. The last I heard, men were proposing Philip of Flanders, Henri of Champagne, and the Count of Hainault as the French champions, and Will Marshal, your friend de Mandeville, and me as yours.”

  By now Henry and Richard were both laughing, for in that, they were in full agreement: that war was not a game and ought not to be treated like one. “Very well,” Henry said, “let him keep those damned castles…at least for now. I’ve matters to deal with in Brittany, cannot spend the rest of the summer camping out here in Berry.”

  Henry paused then, looking pensively at his son. “We can accomplish a great deal when we are united, Richard. If there is trust between us, what could we not do together?”

  If that was meant as an olive branch, Richard made no move to grasp it. “Yes,” he said, “trust is essential,” but he knew better, for he knew the old man would never trust him. Once that awareness had hurt, but no more. He no longer cared if he had his father’s trust or respect. He wanted only what was his birthright, to be openly acknowledged as the heir to the English throne, and he meant to do whatever he must to secure his legacy…starting with a trip to Paris.

  LÉON WAS ONE OF THE MOST REMOTE, inaccessible areas of Brittany, and its viscount had liked to boast that he “feared neither God nor man.” He’d long posed a threat to ducal control of Brittany, and more than once Henry had led campaigns to quell his rebellions. He’d eventually broken faith one time too many and Geoffrey had seized the barony, compelling the viscount to make a penitential pilgrimage to atone for a lifetime of spectacular sins and disinheriting his sons. Upon Geoffrey’s death in Paris, the sons promptly rebelled again, capturing two ducal strongholds. After concluding the truce with Philippe, Henry led an army into Brittany and retook the castles. He then visited Nantes in order to see his grandson.

  HENRY WAS CRADLING ARTHUR IN HIS ARMS, looking for the moment more like a doting grandfather than the man who cast such a formidable shadow over Brittany. Constance was neither charmed nor placated by this glimpse of her father-in-law’s softer side and had to dig her nails into her palm to resist the urge to snatch her son out of his grasp. The Breton barons were just as unhappy and, like their duchess, more angry than grateful for his punitive expedition into Léon, as his campaign only underscored their subordination to the English Crown. Not that they needed a reminder, for after Geoffrey’s death, Henry had dismissed Raoul de Fougères as Seneschal of Brittany and replaced him with the Angevin lord, Maurice de Craon.

  Arthur, a curious, lively baby, seemed content in this stranger’s embrace, but Constance was reaching her breaking point and signaled to the nurse, hoping Henry would take the hint. He did and reluctantly handed his grandson over to the woman, saying to Constance, “I think he looks like Geoffrey, don’t you?”

  “Yes.”

  Constance’s elder daughter was tugging at Henry’s tunic. He’d brought lavish gifts for the children: an expensive ivory rattle, carved wooden tops, whistles, felt puppets, balls, and poupées for the girls, one of linen and the other of wood, with yellow yarn hair and their own wardrobe. What had won Aenor over, though, was his willingness to kneel on the ground and show her how to spin the tops. Now she brandished her favorite new toy, a leather ball stuffed with wool and dyed a bright shade of red, entreating her grandfather to “play catch” with her.

  Before Constance could intervene, Henry assured Aenor he’d like nothing better, and clasping her little hand in his, he suggested that he and Constance take a stroll in the gardens. This did not meet with the approval of her barons, who had been sticking closer to their duchess than her own shadow, but Henry had already started for the door, matching his pace to Aenor’s toddler’s steps, and Constance had no choice but to follow.

  The day was overcast without even a hint of a breeze, for so far September had been as humid and sultry as August. With Constance’s spaniel leading the way, they crossed the castle bailey and entered the gardens, fragrant with the last flowering of summer blossoms. Constance settled upon a turf bench, watching with a stiff smile as her daughter and the English king tossed the ball back and forth. He showed surprising patience with the little girl, continuing to play until she lost interest and began to throw the ball for the spaniel. Only then did he return to Constance and drew her to her feet, saying that they could talk as they walked.

  They circled the grassy mead in silence, for Constance was not able to feign pleasure in his company; she thought he should count himself lucky that she managed to be civil. Henry paused in the shade of a pear tree, for it afforded them a good view of Aenor, but was distant enough to allow them to speak privately.

  “I have been dealing with the duchess,” he said, “but now I would talk with my daughter-in-law. You have never liked me, Constance, and in all honesty, you have not given me much reason to be fond of you either. But we share a common interest that matters more than our personal ill will.”

  “Yes…the Duchy of Brittany.”

  He ignored her sarcasm. “That, too. But I am speaking about your children, my grandchildren. Their future is inextricably entwined with that of the duchy, and I want to make sure that they do not suffer because of adult missteps or mistakes.”

  “What mistakes do you have in mind?”

  “For one, the decision Geoffrey and you made to ally yourselves with the French king.” Henry’s voice was even, his face impassive, as if he were speaking of mundane matters, not the rebellion of his son. “As a stratagem, it had much to recommend it, with one great flaw. It had hopes of success only if Geoffrey lived to carry it out. Without him, you were likely to find yourself at Philippe’s mercy, and that is indeed what happened.”

  Constance said nothing, and after a moment he resumed. “Philippe has made his intentions very clear. He means to deprive you of both legal and physical custody of your children. He will send the girls off to live in the households of their future husbands, men he will handpick for them. I would expect him to keep Arthur in Paris, ruling on his behalf until he comes of age. For your duchy, that will be more than twenty years with Philippe’s hand firmly on the helm, twenty years in which to mold your son into a ruler who’d put the interests of France above those of Brittany. As for you, he’ll marry you off as quickly as possible to a man of his sole choosing, possibly even one of inferior rank since his primary concern will be the loyalty of your new husband, and you can expect to live out your days on a remote manor far from the Breton borders—”

  Constance could stand no more, for he was giving voice to all the fears that had haunted her nights since Geoffrey’s death. “I know,” she said sharply. “I know full well what I would have to look forward to—the loss of my children and my duchy and a miserable marriage to one of Philippe’s lackeys. This is what always happens, is it not? What highborn widow gets the wardship of her own children? Even my mother, the Dowager Duchess of Brittany, sister to the Scots king. When her English husband died, the custody of their young son was not given to her. Why should I care whether my life is ruined by English or by French doing? What difference does it make to me?”

  “Because it need not be that way. I do not want to take your children away from you—”

  “And I am to believe that? Saint Henry, champion of widows and orphans! Say what you intend for me, for Brittany, but do not insult my intelligence, too. Why should I expect any more justice from you than I can from Philippe?”

  “Because these are my grandchildren, of my blood. Can you truly doubt what family means to me? Surely I’
ve proven it each time that I forgave my sons for betraying me yet again, as I would have forgiven Geoffrey for his conniving with the French king!”

  He was no longer dispassionate, his voice rising, and Aenor stopped playing to look toward them in concern. “All is well, sweeting,” Constance said hastily, and they both mustered up reassuring smiles for her benefit. Turning back to Henry, she said quietly, “You say you do not want to take my children away. What does that mean exactly?”

  “It means that they remain with you. I want what is best for them and…and I know it is what my son would have wanted. This is what I am proposing, Constance. You retain the custody of Arthur, Aenor, and Matilda.” The corner of his mouth curved in a hinted smile. “Arthur. Eleanor. How did you ever let Matilda slip in there? I’m surprised you did not call her Melisande since you seem to enjoy picking names sure to vex me.”

  “Geoffrey wanted to name Matilda after his sister,” she said simply for she was not up to trading barbs with him, not now. “You say I can keep my children with me. And where would we all be? England?”

  “Ruling Brittany from England would not make a great deal of sense.” He heard her swift intake of breath, and said, “I expect you to continue to govern Brittany on Arthur’s behalf. I also expect, of course, that you’ll be willing to be guided by my counsel when necessary.”

  “And you would expect me to wed a man of your choosing.”

  “Naturally. I do not think you will be disappointed with my choice, though, for he is very highborn, my cousin, in fact. He holds a rich earldom in England, but he also has vast estates in Brittany, so the match makes sense. Moreover, he is a fine lad, clever and courtly and ought to make a satisfactory husband, a kind stepfather.”

  “You are talking about the Earl of Chester.” When he nodded, she blurted out, “But…he is just a boy, fifteen or sixteen!”

  “He is seventeen. I intend to knight him at year’s end, so he will be eighteen or nigh on to it by the time of your marriage. I was thinking of a date sometime in February, ere the start of Lent, and I assume you would prefer that the ceremony be held in Brittany.” When she did not respond, he reached out and tilted her chin up so that their eyes met. “I understand that you might not be ready to wed again, lass. Unfortunately, it is too dangerous to let you remain unmarried for long. If you were to fall into Philippe’s hands, all our plans would be set at naught if he were able to marry you off to one of his ‘lackeys,’ as you so aptly put it.”

  He released her then and stepped back. “I daresay you want to give it some thought. You’ll want to consult with your barons, too, of course.”

  Not trusting her voice, she merely nodded, but he did not press her for more. She sank down upon the edge of the freestone fountain as he crossed to her daughter, bent over to whisper in the little girl’s ear. He then continued on along the pathway as Aenor came running toward her, with the dog yipping at her heels.

  “Grandpapa said you wanted to give me a hug.”

  Constance gathered the child into her arms, holding her so tightly that Aenor soon started to squirm, protesting, “I cannot breathe, Maman!”

  “I am sorry, poppet.” Aenor stayed on her mother’s lap, turning so she could splash her fingers in the fountain, and Constance watched her play, smoothing back the child’s chestnut curls. When she whispered a name, though, Aenor looked up, her expression quizzical.

  “Are you talking to Papa? I talk to him a lot, Maman.”

  “I am glad you do, Aenor.” Constance smiled at her daughter, a smile that was edged in self-mockery. What was she going to do, ask for advice from a dead man? What did she expect Geoffrey to tell her? She already knew what she must do—what was best for her children and her duchy. The spaniel had begun to bark and she glanced up, saw Raoul de Fougères and André de Vitré coming toward her. She took several deliberate breaths, then rose to her feet and went to meet them.

  HENRY HAD BEEN SHOCKED AND ALARMED when Richard departed Châteauroux in the company of the French king. But worse was to come. Reports soon came from Paris about the newfound friendship of the two men, reports of a growing intimacy that could only bode ill for the English Crown. Henry did his best to coax Richard away from the French court, and when his messengers went unanswered, he delayed his planned return to England. By now his spies were warning him that Philippe had persuaded Richard his inheritance was in peril, that his father planned to disinherit him in favor of John, claiming that a plan was afoot to marry Alys to John. Richard’s response was swift and characteristic. Leaving Paris, he rode for Chinon, where he seized the treasury and then withdrew into Poitou to fortify his castles. Henry eventually prevailed upon him to discuss their problems in person, and they held a tense meeting in Angers not long after Henry’s return from Brittany. He was able to convince his son that Philippe’s charges were untrue and Richard then did homage to him again. No one believed that a true and lasting reconciliation had been achieved, though, not even Henry.

  But events were occurring in the Holy Land that were to have a profound effect upon the Angevin empire. In July, Guy de Lusignan had been lured into a disastrous battle against Saladin. The result was a catastrophic defeat for the Christian army. Guy was taken prisoner, over a thousand of his twelve hundred knights were either slain or captured, the knights of the military orders of the Templars and the Hospitallers were executed, and Saladin captured the most sacred of relics, the Holy Cross.

  Word of the battle at the Horns of Hattin reached Europe by October. Pope Urban III died of a seizure upon hearing the news, and his successor at once urged another crusade to rescue the Holy Land and the city of Jerusalem. Richard learned of the defeat in early November. The next morning, he sought out the Archbishop of Tours and took the cross. Henry’s multitude of enemies commented that he seemed more distraught by his son’s action than he did by the news of Saladin’s victory.

  WILLIAM DE MANDEVILLE wrapped himself in a blanket and slid out of bed. Caen Castle was filled to overflowing with guests attending Henry’s Christmas Court, but Willem’s rank and friendship with the king guaranteed him one of the better accommodations, and the chamber was spacious, heated by a wall fireplace that was now burning low. Willem’s squires were stretched out on pallets close by the hearth, theirs the sound sleep of young men who’d downed more than their share of wine during the course of the evening. He hadn’t the heart to awaken them and foraged for himself until he found a flagon of wine and a loaf of manchet bread, hastening back to the bed with his windfall.

  “Bless you,” his wife proclaimed, eagerly breaking off a chunk of the bread. “I ought not to be so hungry, for I ate a goodly amount of food at supper tonight, but I feel as if I’ve not had a decent meal in days.”

  “I’m glad to be of service,” Willem said with a smile, for it amused him that Hawisa, who was as slender as a willow wand, had an appetite that would have put a burly quarryman to shame. “I am glad, too, that you are here for the Christmas Court.” That was not something he could take for granted, as Hawisa had a mind of her own and was not one to be summoned like other, more docile wives. He supposed it was to be expected that a great heiress was strong-willed, and because he was easygoing by nature, her assertiveness had rarely caused troubles in their marriage. All in all, he was very satisfied with the wife that Henry had given him, marveling that their eighth anniversary was not far off. “I am very glad that you’re here,” he repeated and handed her the wine cup.

  She took a swallow and then gave him a wine-flavored kiss. “So…tell me all the gossip. Is the king still swiving that wench with the red hair? Is it true that young Chester is going to wed the Duchess of Brittany? What sort of devilment has John been up to in Caen? Have you heard how the French king’s baby is faring? They say he is as sickly and pitiful as a stray kitten, and I doubt that Philippe will get many more off that little queen of his; I heard that she almost bled to death expelling the afterbirth.”

  She paused for another swallow of wine and another qu
ick kiss. “And is it true that the king was in a tearing rage when he was told that Richard had taken the cross? I heard that he would not come out of his chamber for days, just like when Archbishop Thomas was slain!”

  Willem chose to address her last query first, reaching over to steady her grip on the wine cup. “That is not so. The king was not happy about it—I’ll not deny that. And he did some brooding for a few days, but he was not so much angered as he was troubled. He was also vexed, of course, that Richard had done this without consulting him first.”

  “If he thinks Richard will ever be as biddable as John, he is blinder than old Peter, my almoner. Some hawks are too wild to be tamed, can never be broken to the creance and jesses.” Hawisa devoted herself then to eating the bread but was soon ready to resume her interrogation of her husband. “I know you have a great fondness for the king, love, and I’ll not deny he has been right good to you. But I do not understand why he has so little interest in the Holy Land. Most men would be proud that their son had taken the cross as Richard did. As I recall, he was not happy when Hal took the cross, either, and he would not let John go back with the Patriarch of Jerusalem. Nor has he fulfilled his own vow to go on pilgrimage to atone for the archbishop’s death.”

  This was their one serious bone of contention, that Hawisa did not see the king as Willem did. He did not want another argument on the subject, but he could not keep a defensive note from entering his voice. “Yes, Harry did vow to take the cross, but soon after, his sons and queen rebelled, and he could hardly leave, then, could he? And since then his kingdom has been in ferment thanks to those same sons. He has been extremely generous, though, with his financial support, has given the vast sum of thirty thousand silver marks for the defense of the Holy Land.”

  “Yes, but you told me once that the money is being held by the Templars and Hospitallers, cannot be dispensed without the king’s consent. Is that not like giving a gift with the proviso that you can always change your mind and take it back?”