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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 92


  “Indeed it is not. The bulk of the money was to be spent when the king was able to travel himself to the Holy Land. In any event, Guy de Lusignan and his barons drew heavily upon the funds this year to increase their army in the face of Saladin’s growing threat.”

  “And that was a great success,” Hawisa said caustically. “I daresay the king considers that money well spent.”

  “I assume the rest of it is being used to defend Jerusalem, and Harry would never begrudge a penny of that,” Willem insisted. Seeing that his wife did not look convinced, he said, “You cannot blame the king for fearing for the safety of his sons in so dangerous a place as Outremer. And as it happens, I did ask him why he was not more concerned about the threat to the Holy Land.”

  Hawisa’s eyes brightened with interest. “Did you now? And what did he say?”

  “He gave me one of those looks of his, where he cannot believe anyone could ask so foolish a question. And then he said, ‘Of course I care about the fate of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. But I care more about the fate of the Kingdom of England.’”

  CHAPTER FIFTY-ONE

  January 1188

  Gisors, Normandy

  HENRY WAS AT BARFLEUR waiting for favorable winds when he learned of the French king’s new threats. It seemed that Philippe was no more pleased than Henry by Richard’s decision to take the cross, for he was warning that Richard must wed Alys before he departed for the Holy Land or Gisors must be returned at once to the French Crown. If not, he would lay waste to Normandy. Henry reluctantly delayed his return to England and agreed to confer with Philippe at their traditional meeting place, the ancient elm tree near Gisors Castle.

  Henry was not sanguine about their chances of reaching an accord. He could not really blame Philippe, for in the latter’s place, he’d have been making the same demands. But he was not about to yield up Gisors, for he was convinced the Vexin was rightfully part of Normandy. Neither he nor Richard wanted the marriage, though. Richard had never shown any interest in Alys, and Henry had learned to his cost how dangerous a marital alliance with the French was, for he was convinced that Hal would not have been so easily led into rebellion had he not been the French king’s son-in-law. The last thing he wanted was to give Philippe an opportunity to suborn another one of his sons. He felt some pity for Alys, but if the price of her freedom was the loss of the Vexin or outright war, it was too high to pay. A king must do what was best for his realm.

  The conference started badly with Philippe insisting at the onset that there’d be no compromises on this issue, and Henry saw they were in for a long, difficult day. Only half listening to arguments he’d heard many times before, he found his attention wandering: to the crowd of onlookers eager to watch the spectacle of two kings in conflict, to the lowering winter sky that was threatening snow, and then to approaching riders. Even at a distance he could see they were well mounted and richly garbed, his gaze drawn to a man wearing a stiff linen miter that marked him as a prince of the Church.

  No longer even making a pretense of listening to Philippe, Henry watched as they dismounted, the spectators parting to let them pass. The prelate was resplendent in a blue chasuble and purple dalmatic, both of finely spun silk, brandishing a crozier with a delicate ivory crook. But his face was unfamiliar. By now Philippe had paused to watch, too, and shook his head when Henry asked, “Is he one of yours?”

  Identification came from the Count of Flanders. “I know him!” he exclaimed in surprise. “We met in the Holy Land…Joscius, the Bishop of Acre.”

  “No,” Henry corrected, for he’d spotted the lamb’s wool pallium around the man’s shoulders. “He’s no longer a bishop, Cousin. We’re being honored by a visit from the Archbishop of Tyre.”

  Greetings were prolonged for the archbishop was accompanied by a number of high-ranking churchmen and the two kings by many of their lords and barons. But once the amenities had been observed, the archbishop drew Philippe, Henry, and Philip aside and shared with them the heavy burden he’d been carrying since leaving Outremer that autumn. As dire as the news of the battle at the Horns of Hattin had been, this was far worse. After a brief siege, the Holy City of Jerusalem had been captured by the Saracens.

  AS WORD BEGAN TO SPREAD, the grieving swept through the crowd like a rogue wave, engulfing men and women alike. People wept openly, cursed aloud, fell to their knees on the frozen ground to pray. It had been less than a hundred years since the first crusaders had retaken Jerusalem for Christendom, but no one had expected the city to fall to the infidels. Surely the Almighty would never let such an atrocity happen?

  The kings and their highborn vassals were no less stunned than the spectators. The Count of Flanders was striding up and down, slamming his fist into his palm again and again. Philippe was making the archbishop repeat the story, as if he expected the ending to change upon hearing it again. And Henry’s shock was giving way to horror, for he was a student of history and he knew what had happened when Jerusalem had been captured by the Christian army in God’s Year 1099. It had been a massacre. Men, women, and children alike were shown no mercy, and it was reported that the bodies of the slain Muslims and Jews had been stacked up in the streets like kindling and knights rode in blood up to their horses’ ankles. The archbishop was still occupied with Philippe, and Henry beckoned to one of his companions, clad in the distinctive red cross and white mantle of the Knights Templar, the warrior monks who prided themselves upon being the soldiers of God.

  “Tell me the worst,” he demanded. “How many died when Jerusalem fell to Saladin?”

  To his amazement, the knight shook his head. “There was no slaughter of the citizens.”

  “Are you saying that Saladin allowed the city to surrender peacefully?”

  This time the Templar nodded. “Balian de Ibelin, the Lord of Nablus, was commanding the defense of Jerusalem. When he saw they were doomed, he went to Saladin under a truce and asked to be permitted to surrender. Saladin refused, reminding him of the thousands of Muslims who’d died when the Christians had taken the city. Lord Balian warned him that if they had nothing left to lose, they would kill all of the Muslim prisoners they held, then they would destroy the Dome of the Rock and all the Holy Places in the city, those sacred to Christians and Muslims both, and burn Jerusalem to the ground. Saladin then agreed to ransom the citizens. You saved thousands from slavery or death, my lord king.”

  “Me? Ah…Balian paid for the ransoms with the money I’d provided for the Holy Land.”

  “Yes, my liege. We paid ten dinars for a man, five for a woman, and two for a child.” The knight paused, for it was not easy to speak well of his infidel enemies, not after the blood of his brother Templars had flowed so freely at the Horns of Hattin. But he was an honorable man and felt compelled to admit that “they did show some mercy. Saladin protected patients at the Hospital of St John, and he freed hundreds at Lord Balian’s behest and spared the elderly. His brother asked him for a thousand Christians and then set them free. About seven thousand men and eight thousand women and children were still sold as slaves. With your money, though, we were able to buy the freedom for seven thousand of the city’s poor.”

  “Thank God for that,” Henry said softly. He was pragmatic by nature and could take comfort from the fact that it could have been so much worse. As he looked around, though, he saw that few would see the loss of Jerusalem in that light. For them, all that mattered was that the Holy City was now in the hands of the infidels. And it was only then that he realized what this dreadful defeat would mean for him. He glanced quickly toward Philippe, saw that the French king had not yet recognized how adroitly they’d been ambushed, and he smiled grimly. Philippe would not long remain in ignorance.

  And indeed, Archbishop Joscius was already stepping forward. “It is only fitting that I speak to the people, tell them what has occurred,” he said, and gestured to some of his companions, who began to shout for silence. When the throng finally quieted, he took up a jeweled cross and raised it high.<
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  “Behold the cross of our salvation,” he cried in a rich, resonant voice that confirmed Henry’s suspicions; the archbishop was a polished orator. “But alas, this is not the most precious of Christendom’s holy relics. This is not the fragment of the True Cross. That was stolen by the infidels at the Horns of Hattin, and we’ve heard it was paraded through the streets of Damascus to jeers and mockery.”

  He paused for his audience to react and then held his hand up to quiet them. “When I was chosen to tell the Holy Father in Rome of the dreadful calamity that has befallen us, our galley had black sails so that all would know we were the bearers of evil tidings. Everywhere on our journey, we have left wailing and lamentations in our wake. Men and women of faith cried out to Mary, Mother of Mercy, we poor banished children of Eve, mourning and weeping in this vale of tears.”

  Again he flourished the cross aloft. “You know those words of the Salve Regina, have sung it in our churches for the feasts of the Purification, Annunciation, and Nativity of Our Lady. But how many of you know its origin? How many know it was composed by the Bishop of Puy-en-Velay or that he was the first to take the cross from Pope Urban of blessed memory?

  “For that is the message I bring to you this day, good people. The time for tears is past. More is demanded of you, of us all. Because of our sins, the enemy of the cross has devastated with the sword the Promised Land, has dared to invade the Holy City itself. But we must not lose faith, for when God Almighty has been soothed by our repentance, He will bring us gladness after our grief.

  “I say to you,” he thundered, turning suddenly to face the assembled kings and nobles, “‘you soldiers of Hell, become soldiers of the Living God. It is Christ Himself who issues from His tomb and presents to you His Cross. Wear it upon your shoulders. It will remind you that Christ died for you and that it is your duty to die for Him.’ So said Pope Urban when he first called upon men to take the cross. His plea is echoed by our Holy Father today. He has charged me to remind you of your duty as sons of the Faith. And to those who undertake this quest with a humble heart and who die in repentance for their sins, he promises a plenary indulgence for all their sins and eternal life.”

  The crowd was cheering wildly now, but he never took his eyes from his true audience, the men of rank and power, the two kings and their vassals. “Who will answer the call? Who will come to the defense of Zion? Who will free the Holy City from men who do not know God?”

  Henry looked around appraisingly. Philippe appeared impassive, showing the public stoicism expected of royalty, but a muscle was twitching in his cheek. The Duke of Burgundy and the Counts of Flanders, Blois, Champagne, Sancerre, and Ponthieu were listening to the archbishop with as much outrage as the prelate could have wished. Henry was sure they’d be trampling one another in their eagerness to answer the archbishop’s call. But now all eyes were turning to him and to his adversary, the French king. Suppressing a sigh, Henry stepped forward and in silence utterly remarkable for such a large crowd, he knelt before the archbishop.

  “I, Henry, by God’s Grace King of the English, Duke of Normandy and Aquitaine, Count of Anjou, do hereby pledge myself to the recovery of the Holy City. My lord archbishop, I ask to be allowed to enter the way of God and to take the cross from your hand.”

  There was a roar from those watching, as loud a sound as Henry had ever heard, and within moments the field was echoing with the chant that had launched the first crusade. Even those who knew no Latin but the response to the Mass knew this, the battle cry of their Church: “Deus vult!” God wills it!

  “Nothing would give me greater pleasure, my lord king,” the archbishop said smoothly as one of his archdeacons appeared at his side. Crusader crosses were usually small and crudely cut from whatever cloth was available. The one that the archbishop offered Henry now was of fine linen embroidered with gold thread. The eyes of the two men caught and held, Henry conveying an ironic appreciation of the archbishop’s tactical talents and the latter offering an equally ironic acknowledgment of the unspoken compliment. And then Henry rose and raised his cross high for all to see, setting off another spate of cheering.

  Philippe stepped forward hastily then, giving Henry a look sharp enough to stab before he knelt and he, too, asked for the cross. Philip of Flanders could barely contain himself, rushing toward the archbishop as soon as Philippe was done, followed by Marie’s son, the young Count of Champagne, his uncle the Count of Blois, the Duke of Burgundy, and other men of rank, jostling as they awaited their turns. So many men sought to answer the archbishop’s call that he dispatched the other prelates to accept these vows, and for a time there was considerable chaos. An emotional day became even more so when some people cried out that they saw a cross shimmering in the sky above them and this celestial sign of Divine Providence encouraged even more men to volunteer for God’s army. The response was so great that the more practical-minded among them suggested that crosses be assigned according to realm, and it was soon agreed that the men of Flanders would bear green crosses, the French would bear red ones, and Henry’s vassals would wear white.

  It was some time before the archbishop had a moment to himself, and he accepted gratefully when one of his archdeacons proffered a wineskin, for by then his throat was sore and his voice hoarse. He could not remember ever being so exhausted, both physically and emotionally. Nor could he ever remember feeling such a sense of peace. The Bishop of Tripoli had joined him, saying, “I confess I did not see the cross in the sky myself. By the time I looked, it was gone. But none would argue that this has been a day for miracles.”

  The archbishop glanced at his friend and then across the field, where the kings of England and France were being mobbed by their supporters. “The greatest miracle,” he said with a smile, “was getting those two to take the cross.”

  CONSTANCE KNEW she was sprinkling salt into an open wound, but she could not seem to help herself. Lying awake in the dark of a cold February night, sharing her bed with a stranger, she could not keep her memories at bay, could not stop comparing her two wedding days. She remembered well how unhappy she’d been as she struggled to play the role of Geoffrey’s blushing bride. Looking back upon it, she realized that her barons had not shared her discontent. By then they’d had six years to take Geoffrey’s measure, had a better idea of the man she was marrying than she did.

  This time around, the Bretons and she were of one mind—embittered that the English king had forced his own man upon them. They’d not bothered to make much of a pretense of amiability either, proof that they expected the young Earl of Chester’s influence to be limited in scope. The duchy was bilingual, with Breton and French both in widespread use. The Breton tongue was more likely to be heard in the western areas such as Léon; lords such as the de Vitrés and the barons of Fougères were native French-speakers, as Constance herself was. But the wedding feast had resonated with the sounds of Breton, an effective means of isolating their new duke, for Randolph of Chester spoke only French. He had spent enough time in Brittany, though, to understand the insult he was being offered by his wife’s vassals.

  Randolph stirred and Constance stiffened, listening intently until his soft, even breathing assured her that he still slept. Even though their initial coupling had not been a success, giving her no pleasure and him very little, she knew that with youths of eighteen, the flesh was always willing and a naked woman in his bed would be a temptation he was not likely to resist. His eagerness had been part of their problem; she could tell he was embarrassed by how quickly he’d spilled his seed. Geoffrey had taught her well and she could easily have shown him those tricks a man could use to prolong his pleasure. But why should she? She’d wanted only to get it over with as quickly as possible, for it had been harder than she’d expected—having to submit to the wrong man’s intimate caresses. Her mind may have accepted the unwelcome reality of her marriage, but her body still felt violated.

  It had not helped that she’d felt Geoffrey’s presence so strongly, that her memo
ries had been so merciless. It was too easy to envision Geoffrey watching from the shadows, offering a sardonic commentary on Randolph’s lovemaking. She knew she had to exorcise him from her head and heart if there was any hope of reaching an accord with her new husband. She knew, too, that she might even feel a flicker of pity for Randolph if she let herself, for he was laboring under some severe handicaps—thrust into a land that was not his own, having to cope with vassals who did not want him there and a worldly older wife who did not want him, either.

  But if his plight was awkward, what of her own? Widowed at twenty-five, left with three young children to raise and protect on her own, caught between the French and English kings like those ancient sailors forced to brave the perils of Scylla and Charybdis. Where was the fairness in that? Was it fair that Geoffrey had died so needlessly? That he’d left his wife and family in such peril? Was it fair that she must now share her body and her bed with this callow lordling? That she would never again know the pleasures to be found in a man’s arms?

  Unlike her first wedding, when she’d abstained from wine to be sure she’d be able to govern her tongue, she’d lost track of the cups she’d drained this night, hoping that if she were tipsy enough, she’d find it easier to submit to Randolph. It hadn’t helped much. She was definitely not sober, but all that wine had done little to dilute her misery. If she ever did get to sleep, she’d likely awaken in the morning with a wretched headache, too, what Geoffrey had called “the drunkard’s penance.”

  Was he going to haunt her like this for the rest of her days? Go away, Geoffrey, she entreated silently. Please go away. Do you truly want me to go away, darling? She knew it was not really his voice that was echoing in her ears, but it sounded so real, so like him. “No,” she whispered, “no…” and shut her eyes tightly as she tried to squeeze back her tears.