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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 93


  LATER IN THE MONTH, Henry convened a council at Le Mans, where it was decided that a tax would be levied upon a tenth of all the movable property and revenues of his subjects, what would be known as the Saladin Tithe and would become extremely unpopular even among churchmen. Those who took the cross were exempt from the tithe; any debts they owed were postponed until their return, and their property was taken under the protection of the Church. Men found themselves under increasing pressure to take the cross, and those who did not were mocked and presented with distaff and wool as an obvious slur upon their manhood. Crusading fervor swept through Christendom, and rulers vowed to set their differences aside and unite for the defense of the Holy Land.

  It was expected to take well over a year to make the necessary preparations, but Richard was not willing to wait that long, and he sought Henry’s permission to raise money on the security of Poitou and to receive public acknowledgment of his status as heir apparent before he departed. But Henry insisted that Richard wait, arguing that they should travel to the Holy Land together. Richard’s demand for official recognition was once more brushed aside. Richard was not dissuaded and began to make his own arrangements for an early departure. It was then, though, that another rebellion broke out in Poitou, begun when a friend of Richard’s was slain by Joffroi de Lusignan and quickly joined by the Count of Angoulême and Geoffrey de Rançon. Richard swooped down upon them, once again captured the impregnable castle of Taillebourg, sparing the captured rebels only when they agreed to take the cross.

  Richard had little time to enjoy the resumption of peace in his duchy, for his old enemy, the Count of Toulouse, seized this opportunity to make trouble, maltreating Poitevin merchants passing through his lands. Richard retaliated by capturing one of Count Raimon’s closest advisors and refusing all of the count’s offers to ransom the man. Count Raimon then arrested two English knights making their way home from a pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela. Outraged by this sacrilegious attack upon pilgrims, Richard launched a major assault upon Toulouse, capturing seventeen castles with impressive speed and driving his army into the heart of Raimon’s domains.

  An alarmed French king then came to the defense of his liegeman and raided into Berry. To the dismay of the Church and those men who’d pledged to recover the Holy City, the accord reached at Gisors seemed about to go up in the smoke of burning towns in Toulouse and Berry.

  JULY HAD BEEN AN INCLEMENT MONTH so far, and the castle at Sarum was being buffeted by high winds and thunderstorms. Eleanor had been surprised by Henry’s unexpected arrival that week, for Sarum was out of his way; he was planning to sail for Normandy in response to the latest crisis and his fleet was awaiting him at Portsea. Her transfer to Sarum had shown Eleanor that she was back in her husband’s bad graces, because of his deteriorating relationship with Richard; each time his son dared to defy him, his suspicions invariably spilled over onto her, too. But during his brief stay at Sarum, she’d come to the startling conclusion that he’d made a deliberate detour in order to bid her farewell. She’d attempted to find out if he was ailing again, to no avail. No one was better than Henry at giving evasive responses to questions he did not want to answer, and she finally decided that as he aged, he was coming to share the natural anxiety of all sensible people when making a Channel crossing.

  That theory lasted no longer than his announcement that he planned to sail if the winds were in his favor, the rain and choppy seas notwithstanding. Gazing at her husband in exasperation, she could only shake her head in feigned disbelief. “If it is your destiny to drown, why do you need to give fate a helping hand?”

  Her scolding sounded so familiar that Henry could not help smiling. “Since when have I let bad weather interfere with my plans? Have you forgotten that we sailed in a God-awful storm to claim the English crown?”

  Eleanor remembered that turbulent voyage all too well, although it seemed so long ago that it might have happened to two other people. Knowing it was futile to argue once he’d made up his mind, she focused instead upon the crusader’s emblem stitched to the shoulder of his mantle. “Well, they say the Almighty looks after those who’ve taken the cross, however halfheartedly they took their vows.”

  He was not offended by her gibe, for Eleanor was the only one with whom he could be truly honest about the crusade. Even with close friends like Willem, he could not confess his misgivings, for Willem had already undertaken one pilgrimage of his own and was eager to undertake another. Nor could he confide in his sons, for Richard’s crusading fever burned fiercely and he did not feel comfortable talking to John man-to-man, his instincts still to shelter his last-born.

  “If you think I was halfhearted,” he said, “you ought to have seen Philippe Capet trying to hide his lack of enthusiasm. I think he was convinced that I’d taken the cross just to spite him. But one of the few advantages of aging is that you learn to recognize when defeat is staring you in the face, wearing an archbishop’s miter. Not even Merlin himself could have escaped that trap.” Moving to the window, he pulled the shutter back to gaze out at the dismal, rain-drenched bailey. “I do care about the recovery of Jerusalem, Eleanor. But I cannot help putting the interests of my own kingdom first. Philippe and I are struggling against the tide, though, and all we can do is try to stay afloat.”

  Eleanor could sympathize, for Poitiers mattered more to her than the Holy City. Moreover, Louis’s disastrous crusade had raised doubts in her mind about the efficacy of such a quest. “It is not always easy to be a good Christian and a good king.” Unable to resist adding, “Or a good father and a good king.”

  “Or to be a good mother and a good wife,” he shot back, and she acknowledged his riposte with a wry smile.

  “That is not as difficult as you seem to think, Harry. Let me prove it. Let me tell you a simple way to resolve your differences with Richard and restore peace, both to our family and your empire.”

  He raised a brow. “Can you also turn water into wine?”

  “No, nor can I turn a rebellious, resentful son into a respectful, contented one. But you can, Harry, and it would be so easy. You need only make a public declaration that Richard is your heir, to be king after you. That is all it would take.”

  “You just proved my argument for me. If I were foolish enough to take your advice, Richard would benefit greatly, all at my expense. If there were no longer any doubts about the succession, I’d have no leverage at all, no way to exert any influence over Richard.”

  “But you’d not need leverage if you formally named Richard as your heir, for he would have no grievances then. All he wants is his birthright. As your eldest surviving son, he is entitled to inherit the kingdom in his turn. You need only say so, without evasions or equivocations, and you remove the main cause of contention between you.”

  “I’d like to give you the benefit of the doubt, assume that you honestly believe what you’re saying. How can I, though, when you know the sorry story of Richard’s past history fully as well as I do. Does your memory really need refreshing, Eleanor? Must I remind you that last year’s near-war with Philippe ended with Richard riding off with him to Paris? Or that all reports had them acting closer than brothers? Have you forgotten what Richard did next? He rode to Chinon, seized the treasury I kept there, and hastened into Poitou to fortify all his castles against me.”

  Henry had been endeavoring to sound matter-of-fact, but he betrayed his inner agitation by the color rising in his face. “And that is not the half of it. Richard never fails to believe the worst of me. Indeed, I think it gives him pleasure. He nurses his suspicions the way a miser hoards his coins, and nothing seems too far-fetched for him to believe. I have even heard that he suspects me of providing money to the Poitevin rebels and the Count of Toulouse. Supposedly I am the mastermind behind all the strife in his duchy, hoping to create enough unrest to keep him from going to the Holy Land.”

  “Oh, my,” Eleanor said, biting her lip to keep from smiling. “You know, that sounds just devious enough to
have come from your brain, Harry.”

  “I did nothing of the sort!” he snapped, so indignantly that she could not doubt his sincerity on this much, at least.

  “I believe you. But you cannot blame Richard for giving it some credence. You’ve always been too clever by half, Harry, and now you are reaping what you’ve sown. You’ve spun such fine webs over the years that I suppose it was inevitable you’d eventually ensnare yourself in one.”

  “I am glad that you find this so amusing.”

  “Believe me, my lord husband, I find nothing even remotely amusing about any of this. I will not deny that Richard trusts you no more than you trust him. But why is that? Because of your determination to keep him in suspense about his heritage. Because you gave him reason to think you were considering Geoffrey in his stead and you continue to raise suspicions with the favor you show John. Because you even sought to take Aquitaine away from him!”

  “I meant to deprive him of nothing! I was only trying to provide properly for Johnny, as any father would. You keep blaming me for not acknowledging Richard as my heir. Well, I offered to do just that after Hal died. But Richard scorned the offer, surely the only man in Christendom who’d choose a duchy over a kingdom!”

  “Dear God in Heaven!” Eleanor was staring at him in dismay. “You have not given up on that, have you? You still hope to coax or coerce Richard into yielding up Aquitaine to John!”

  He was too angry to deny it. “What if I do? As you delight in reminding me, Aquitaine is your legacy. It makes more political sense to have it ruled by its own duke, as Brittany is. If Richard becomes king, he’ll have little time for personal rule over that hornet’s nest of rebels and malcontents!”

  “‘If Richard becomes king?’ That truly goes to the heart of the matter, to your reluctance to anoint your successor. The only thing worse than not learning from your mistakes is learning the wrong lessons. Richard is not Hal, and your refusal to see that may end up costing you dearly!”

  He glared at her, then swung around to stalk out. He halted at the door, though, standing motionless for a moment and then slamming his fist into the heavy oaken wood. When he turned back to face her, his mask was gone. “Do you think I wanted it this way? I loved my father dearly, never imagined that my sons would not love me.”

  “Ah, Harry…”

  “I lost Hal and then Geoffrey, and Richard…he was always yours, never mine. If it were not for Johnny…Can you not see why I want to do right by him? He is all I have left.”

  She was shocked by what he’d just done, dropping his defenses to give her a glimpse of an open, bleeding wound. Crossing the chamber, she came into his arms. He held her so tightly that it hurt and they stood like that for a timeless moment, one in which they recognized all that still bound them together and mourned all that had been lost.

  When Henry released her and stepped back, he was once more in control of himself. “I would ask you to come with me to the Holy Land,” he said lightly, “but it has been agreed that women are to be banned from the expedition, save only laundresses of good character.”

  “My legacy, I daresay,” she said with a smile. “Apparently the stories of my pilgrimage with Louis have passed into legend.” He smiled, too, encouraging her to make one last attempt. “Harry, I am imploring you to give some thought to what I’ve said. There is still time to make things right with Richard.”

  She’d half expected him to react in anger again. Instead, he took her hand in his, pressed his lips to her palm, wondering if their marriage might have been different if she’d given to him the utter, unconditional loyalty that she gave to Richard. “I hope Richard realizes how fortunate he is to have you as his advocate.”

  She almost told him the truth, that her fears were not for Richard. Time was Richard’s ally, not his. But she knew he’d never forgive her if she admitted that she saw him now as the vulnerable one. So she said only, “I will pray for your safe voyage to Barfleur.”

  HENRY SAILED IN A VIOLENT STORM, but he found conditions no less turbulent upon his return to Normandy and the rest of the summer was taken up with skirmishing, raids, threats, and futile peace conferences. At one held near Gisors that August, it went so badly that Philippe angrily ordered the ancient elm tree be chopped down. A second meeting in October at Châtillon-sur-Indre was no more successful. It began promisingly, with the agreement that Philippe would return the gains he’d made in Berry and Richard would relinquish his conquests in Toulouse. But then Philippe demanded that Henry surrender his castle at Pacy as a “good faith pledge,” and the council broke up in acrimony.

  Richard’s frustration grew by the day, for he could not depart for the Holy Land as long as this sporadic war raged between England and France. He received some unexpected support that autumn when the Count of Flanders, the Counts of Blois and Champagne, and other French lords balked at continuing to wage war against their fellow crusaders, and faced with the defection of a large part of his army, Philippe reluctantly agreed when Richard proposed another peace council at Bonsmoulins in November. Henry was willing, too, and Richard set the plans in motion. But he was determined to end this impasse one way or another, and he had a secret parley with the French king before they were to gather at Bonsmoulins.

  CHAPTER FIFTY-TWO

  November 1188

  Bonsmoulins, Normandy

  RICHARD’S NEW CHANCELLOR, Guillaume de Longchamp, was meeting his duke at the Cistercian abbey of La Trappe, not far from the conference site at Bonsmoulins. He was unpopular with Richard’s knights, partly because of their natural distrust of clerks and partly because of Longchamp’s physical flaws. The young men agreed that Longchamp was one of the ugliest individuals they’d ever seen: short and swarthy, with close-set black eyes, a flat nose, and a receding chin. Moreover, he was crippled, lame in both legs, and theirs was a world in which deformity was often seen as the outer manifestation of inner evil.

  As the chancellor limped toward the abbey guest hall, he was aware of the hostile scrutiny of a handful of Richard’s knights. He knew what was said of him, that they referred to him behind his back as a “dwarf” and “elf” and “gargoyle.” He knew, too, that they resented him all the more because he was not meek and obsequious, because he refused to act like one of society’s misfits. He believed that his superior intellect mattered more than his physical defects and saw no reason why he must defer to these fortunate young men with handsome faces and healthy bodies and empty heads. He could hear their muttering as he was admitted into Richard’s presence without delay; it vexed them no end that he stood so high in the duke’s favor.

  Richard smiled at the sight of him. “Come with me, Guillaume,” he directed. “We need to talk in private.”

  As he followed Richard across the hall, Longchamp took satisfaction in the disgruntled expressions on the faces around him. Let them call him arrogant and presumptuous. Their enmity did not change the fact that he was the duke’s confidant, viewed as utterly trustworthy by a man who did not find it easy to trust.

  Once they were alone in Richard’s chamber, he waved his chancellor toward a seat even though he remained on his feet. The only way that he ever indicated his awareness of Longchamp’s physical frailty was by this casual concern for the older man’s comfort, acknowledging Longchamp’s special needs without making a fuss about it. It was as close as Longchamp had come to acceptance in a life of rejection and he valued it almost as much as he did the chancellorship. His ambition had drawn him to Richard, after an earlier stint as a chancery clerk. But his fierce absolute loyalty was rooted in these small acts of unexpected kindness.

  “How did your meeting with the French king go, my lord?” And when Richard said it had gone well, Longchamp felt secure enough to venture a small jest. “Has he forgiven you, then, for calling him a ‘vile recreant’ at Châtillon-sur-Indre?”

  Richard grinned. “He’d have forgiven much worse, Guillaume. I made an interesting discovery at Mantes. Philippe is not only eager to ally himself wi
th me. He is downright desperate to bring it about. He is a very clever lad, the French king. But he shares the same weakness that my father does—a tendency to undervalue his adversaries.”

  “Will he support you at the Bonsmoulins conclave?”

  “Yes, he will. We are going to demand that my father formally recognize me as his heir. I can no longer abide his infernal games-playing, need to have this settled ere I can depart for the Holy Land. If my foes think I may not become king, they’ll take advantage of my absence to stir up rebellions in Aquitaine and start courting my little brother’s favor in hopes of playing king-maker.”

  “Do you truly think your lord father would dare to disinherit you in favor of John?”

  Richard took his time in answering. “I am not sure, Guillaume. I do not doubt that he’d rather see John succeed him than me. Would he actually do it? If he thought he could get away with it, probably. He must know that I’d never accept it, though, and John’s reign would be the shortest in English history. Of course Philippe swears by all the saints that there is no doubt whatsoever, that he means to put John in my place even if it means war.”

  Richard had been pacing as he talked. Stopping abruptly, he glanced toward his chancellor with an expression Longchamp could not easily read. “Philippe never misses an opportunity to sing that song. To hear him tell it, my father spends every waking moment scheming to rob me of my rightful heritage. But according to what I was told at Mantes, that is not exactly true. Apparently he found time to pay some nocturnal visits to my betrothed.”

  Longchamp could not believe he’d heard correctly. “I…I am not sure I understand, my lord.”

  “I think you do. Philip of Flanders was the one to break the news to me, but he was doing Philippe’s bidding. They claim that my father seduced Alys a few years back and this is the real reason why he is loath to allow our marriage. I suppose he thought I might balk at sharing her favors once we were wed.”