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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 95


  Some of the others viewed him with mistrust for he’d been raised with Philippe in Paris, but Will Marshal’s look of disapproval now was aimed at Renaud’s cynical appraisal of Henry’s chances of victory. “I have more faith in the king’s vassals than you do,” he insisted, but he saw Renaud’s pessimism mirrored on many of the other faces.

  Renaud himself did not look impressed by the rebuke. “If you are right, Sir William, Saumur ought to be swarming with men eager to display their loyalty to the king. But the hall does not look all that crowded, does it? Whether we like it or not, rats rarely swim toward a sinking ship.”

  There was another awkward silence, for most of the men were not comfortable with such blunt speaking. If Henry’s ship was floundering, they were at peril, too. Once again it was Will Marshal who took charge. “I cannot speak for any others,” he said brusquely. “But I will not be amongst those who abandon their liege lord, and if you are right, Renaud, it is a shameful commentary upon our times. As I said, no man of honor would betray the king.”

  Renaud de Dammartin opened his mouth to argue further. But before he could speak, Baldwin de Bethune leaned over and clamped his hand warningly upon the younger man’s wrist. Baldwin was a close friend of the Marshal’s. Renaud considered him a friend, too, though, and he looked at the Flemish knight in surprise.

  Baldwin shook his head, almost imperceptibly, and Renaud saw several of the men were gazing over his shoulder toward the stairwell. He turned in time to catch a movement in the shadows, and felt a sudden unease that he could not explain. No one spoke for several moments, not until Baldwin said softly, “He’s gone.”

  “Who is gone?” Renaud demanded, though he was not sure he wanted the answer to that question.

  “The king’s son. I saw him standing in the stairwell, listening to us.”

  Renaud cursed softly. “You do not think he thought I was advocating a wait-and-see approach, do you? I am here with the king now, am I not?” He was more disquieted than he wanted to admit, though, so much so that it did not occur to him to ask the natural question. Will did, and Renaud felt some relief when Baldwin said it was the Count of Mortain, not the chancellor, for Geoff’s fiery loyalty to the king was legendary. Lord John was more of an unknown quantity, and Renaud assured himself that there was no reason to think he’d go to the old king with what he’d heard.

  After that, they found safer topics of conversation. Morgan was among those listening to a minstrel’s plaintive song of lost love when he received an unexpected summons to the king’s bedchamber. Baffled and a little bit nervous, Morgan followed a servant from the hall. The snow was coming down so heavily now that when he glanced over his shoulder, he could no longer see the footprints they’d tracked across the bailey. Why would the king want to see him?

  Flames were crackling in the hearth, and Morgan was grateful when Henry instructed him to warm himself by the fire. The king was seated in a cushioned chair, his leg propped up on a stool. He looked very tired and caught up in thoughts that were far from pleasant. “I had sorrowful news today, Morgan,” he said, his voice so low that Morgan could barely hear his words. “A message from Brittany, from the Lady Constance.”

  Morgan felt a flicker of unease. “The duchess…she is well, my lord?”

  “No…she is heartsick. Her daughter is dead.”

  Morgan gasped, then said haltingly, “Which…which one?”

  “Matilda, her younger. A sudden fever.” Henry closed his eyes for a moment. “Constance says she was not sick long…”

  “Sire, I am so sorry. I hope it is of some comfort to the duchess and to you that she is with her father now.”

  Henry looked up, his eyes glistening. “At least Geoffrey was spared this. It is an awful thing to lose a child, Morgan. I hope you never learn what it is like.”

  Morgan nodded mutely, not knowing what to say. “I will pray for her soul,” he promised at last, but Henry did not reply. It soon became apparent to him that the king had forgotten he was there. He waited a while longer and then quietly withdrew. Henry did not seem to notice, continuing to gaze into the flickering, wavering flames.

  CHAPTER FIFTY-THREE

  June 1189

  La Ferté-Bernard, Maine

  IN THE MONTHS since Richard’s dramatic public repudiation at Bonsmoulins, Henry tried in vain to reestablish communications between them, entreating his son to return to the English court. But even when he dispatched the Archbishop of Canterbury as his messenger, Richard refused to meet with the prelate. The truce between the English and French kings had expired when Henry was too ill to attend the conference, and that spring Philippe and Richard began to stage raids into Henry’s domains, much to the dismay of those who’d taken the cross and were eager to depart for the Holy Land. The arrival of a papal legate, the Cardinal John of Anagni, rekindled hope, though, for the Church was determined to make peace between the warring crusader-kings. The cardinal succeeded in gaining their agreement to arbitration, and a meeting was set up at Whitsuntide at which time their grievances would be submitted to the cardinal himself and the Archbishops of Rheims, Bourges, Rouen, and Canterbury.

  THE CARDINAL WAS A TALL, elegant figure in a silk cappa magna and linen miter banded in gold, his impressive bearing enhanced by his regal aplomb. This was obviously not a man to be intimidated by those who wielded secular power and many of the witnesses took heart, daring to hope that the Peace of God would prevail.

  It was soon evident, though, that neither Philippe nor Richard was in a conciliatory frame of mind. Philippe wasted no time in articulating their position, that war was inevitable unless Henry acceded to their demands. They reiterated the conditions they’d set forth at Bonsmoulins, that Alys be wed at once to Richard and that Richard be formally recognized as the rightful heir to the English crown. And they added a new proviso, insisting that John take the cross and accompany them to Outremer.

  John looked startled to find himself suddenly the center of attention. Henry ignored Philippe, although he had been the speaker, and looked coolly at his elder son. “Are you saying that the success of our holy war depends upon the presence of the Count of Mortain? That is indeed a great compliment, one I am sure he appreciates. But I do not believe that the Blessed Mother Church approves of compelling a man to take the cross.”

  Richard was quick to take up the challenge. “I’ll let you worry about the state of his soul. But his body will be in the Holy Land with me. I will not even consider departing myself unless he goes, too, for reasons I am sure you well know, my lord king.”

  John flushed, the cardinal frowned, and Henry gave Richard a look that was far from fatherly. Before he could respond, though, Philippe stepped in, not wanting Richard to openly accuse Henry of seeking to disinherit him. That was at the heart of Richard’s quarrel, of course, but Philippe thought that it was important to couch their complaints in more elevated terms. He’d taken the cardinal’s measure and did not think the prideful papal legate would want to be dragged into a family squabble. It must seem that greater issues were at stake, just as he and Richard must seem reasonable and sincere.

  Thinking that there were definite drawbacks to having an ally as impetuous as Richard, Philippe said quickly, “My lord cardinal, I would hope that we’ll not be distracted from the true purpose of this meeting. I do indeed support the Duke of Aquitaine’s insistence that his brother accompany us to the Holy Land. And justice demands that the duke be acknowledged as the English king’s heir. The law of primogeniture very clearly states that an inheritance is passed on to the eldest son, and since the death of the young king, that son is Duke Richard. But our greatest grievance lies in the shameful treatment of my sister, the Lady Alys.”

  He paused deliberately to give Henry a look that was both indignant and sorrowful before turning back to the papal legate and the bishops. “My sister was betrothed to the English king’s son in God’s Year 1169…nigh on twenty years ago, Your Grace. She is now twenty-eight years old, well past the accept
ed age for matrimony. My lord father of blessed memory was greatly troubled by the English king’s refusal to honor the plight-troth and tried repeatedly to remedy her predicament, and I in my turn have done what I could for my unfortunate sister. Again and again I have implored the English king either to marry her to the duke as he promised or return her and her dowry to France.”

  Philippe shook his head sadly. “In truth, my lords, I do not know why the English king continues to be so arbitrary and unfair. Those are questions best addressed to him. I can say only that I will no longer abide her continuing exile. She deserves better than this, and as her closest male kin, it is my duty to act on her behalf. She must marry the English king’s son, or she must come home and Gisors and the Vexin must be returned to the French Crown.”

  As he glanced around at their intently listening audience, Philippe was gratified by what he saw: heads nodding in agreement and challenging looks being directed in Henry’s direction by members of the cardinal’s retinue. Let the old fox talk his way out of this snare!

  Seeing that all were waiting for his response, Henry let his gaze linger upon the French king’s face, not even glancing toward Richard. “So the Lady Alys’s marriage is what matters most to you, my lord king?” When Philippe nodded gravely, Henry smiled, with such satisfaction that the French king felt a prickle of foreboding.

  “I am pleased to hear that,” Henry said, “for this means we can resolve our differences here and now and turn our attention to what matters most—going to the rescue of the Holy City. You would have your sister wed, my lord king? Fine. I am quite willing to see it done and with no further delay. But let her wed the Count of Mortain.”

  There was a stunned silence and then pandemonium. Richard’s shock gave way almost at once to utter outrage, and he cried out angrily that this insulting proposal justified all of his past suspicions. Philippe was no longer feigning indignation, glaring at Henry as he scornfully rejected the English king’s “games-playing.” Richard’s men and the French were voicing support for their lords, the assembled prelates were murmuring among themselves, and John was gazing at his father in disbelief. Was it too much to have expected Papa to mention this beforehand?

  “I do not understand why you refuse even to consider it, my liege,” Henry said, looking at the French king with a puzzled air. “If the marriage of the Lady Alys to my son will put an end to this needless strife between us, what are your objections?”

  “You’ve just proved that all my suspicions were correct,” Richard snarled. “Your intent has always been to put John in my rightful place!”

  Henry gave Richard a dismissive glance, keeping his eyes on Philippe. “It is for you to answer, my liege,” he said, “not one of your vassals.”

  Philippe was as angry now as Richard. “Your duplicity knows no bounds, my lord! You expect us to forget your years of bad faith and double-dealing as you play us for fools? I daresay you’ll be bargaining with the Devil on your deathbed…but not with me. I’ve had enough, will waste no more time here today.”

  But as Philippe turned to stalk off, he found his way barred by the papal legate. The cardinal was also furious, but his anger was not directed at Henry. “The English king told me that you were using your sister’s marriage as a pretext, an excuse for aggression against his Norman lands. I was doubtful, but I see now that he was right. If your sole concern is your sister’s welfare, why would you refuse his offer? If you suspect that he intends to name the Count of Mortain as his successor, I would think that ought to make the marriage even more valuable in your eyes. Of course if your real interest is in continuing this war, then your refusal makes deplorable sense.”

  “I am surprised, my lord cardinal, that you are so trusting, so easily swayed. You do not truly think he’ll let Alys marry John, do you? This is a bluff!”

  “Prove it, then, by accepting his offer,” the cardinal challenged, and waited for a response that was not coming. “Your silence speaks for itself, my liege. Let me now speak for the Holy Church. If you persist in this war and thus doom the Holy City, I will lay your lands under Interdict until you come to your senses.”

  “You dare to threaten me with an Interdict?” Philippe said incredulously. “As a good son of the Church, I will match my history against the English king’s any day of the week! But I will not allow you to meddle in this matter. I have every right to punish a rebellious vassal, and lest you forget, he is indeed my vassal.”

  “You have been warned, my lord king.”

  “And you have been bought, my lord cardinal. Take your threats and your saddle bags filled with English gold and go back to Rome.”

  Philippe’s accusation set off another uproar, and arguments began to break out all over the field. Richard shouldered his way forward to voice his own anger with the cardinal, the exchange becoming so heated that the bishops hastened to intercede between the two men. Fuming, Richard finally allowed the Archbishop of Rouen to draw him away, but he was only half listening as the prelate assured him that the cardinal bore him no malice, that his sole concern was the coming quest to the Holy Land. His eyes searched the crowd and when he found his father, he was not surprised to see Henry standing apart, watching the commotion like a playwright observing a drama of his making. And despite his fury, Richard felt a flicker of grudging admiration.

  Philippe was storming off, trailed by his lords and clerics, and the cardinal was preparing to depart, too. One of Richard’s squires had brought his stallion up and he reached for the reins, swinging easily into the saddle. Before he could signal to his men, though, he noticed his brother, standing by himself a few feet away. On impulse, he nudged his mount in John’s direction.

  “To give the Devil his due,” he said, “he does know how to stir a pot.”

  John shrugged and Richard leaned from the saddle so that his words reached his brother’s ears alone. “A bit of advice, Johnny. An infidel who converts at knifepoint will not be valued as much as one who converts of his own free will.”

  John looked up at him, his face unreadable. “I do not know what you mean, Richard.”

  “A pity,” Richard said laconically, and turned his horse away. John stood motionless, watching him go.

  HENRY WITHDREW SOUTH to Le Mans after the conference fell apart, hoping that Philippe would heed the cardinal’s warning once his anger cooled. He’d gambled all upon one throw of the dice, having concluded that his only chance was to drive a wedge between Richard and Philippe. Without the French king backing him up, Richard’s threat would be blunted, and he’d either have to accept Henry’s olive branch or depart on his own for the Holy Land. But he’d underestimated the intensity of Philippe’s hostility; either that or Philippe considered Richard so useful an ally that he was willing to defy the Church in order to safeguard that alliance. At least he’d been able to win the cardinal’s support. But it would not count for much if Philippe was willing to wage war even under the threat of an Interdict. Henry found it hard to believe that the young French king would be so reckless.

  He soon learned that his hopes of a peaceful settlement were no more substantial than shadows and smoke. The very next day, Philippe and Richard launched a surprise and successful assault upon his castle at La Ferté-Bernard. In quick succession, they moved on to capture the castles of Montfort, Maletable, Beaumont, and Ballon. The loss of Ballon was particularly disturbing, for it was just fifteen miles from Le Mans.

  WHEN JOHN WAS ADMITTED to his father’s chamber, he found Henry playing chess with Geoff. Henry greeted him with a smile and pushed his chair back from the table, but John was not impressed that his father would interrupt the game for him. When other men told him how lucky he was to stand so high in the king’s favor, he was hard put not to point out that a diet of promises was a thin gruel. For all his father’s fondness and fine talk, he had yet to grant the incomes of Mortain, and the Gloucester heiress seemed likely to join Alys in a chaste old age.

  “I heard that some of the Breton lords have throw
n their lot in with Richard and Philippe, joining them at Ballon,” he said. “Is it true?”

  “Yes,” Henry admitted. “You know Raoul de Fougères. He’s never one to miss a rebellion.”

  John was not cheered by Henry’s humor, not with their scouts reporting that the French king and Richard were heading south, toward Le Mans. “I do not understand why you insist upon staying in Le Mans, Papa. Surely it would make more sense to withdraw into Normandy where your army is gathering. Here you have only your household knights and your Welsh routiers. Why put yourself needlessly at risk?”

  Henry had already had this discussion with Willem and Geoff and several others, all of whom had advocated a retreat into the greater safety of Normandy. “Le Mans has always been the city closest to my heart, Johnny. I was born here and my father is buried in the cathedral. I have promised the citizens that I will not abandon them.”

  His father’s logic eluded John altogether. He looked at Henry in frustration, but he had no chance to continue the argument, for it was then that Will Marshal was announced. John stepped aside so Will could confer with Henry, just in time to catch Geoff surreptitiously shifting several of the chess pieces on the board. John did not like his half brother any more than Richard did, and when he realized what Geoff was up to, he shook his head, thinking that only Geoff would cheat to lose.

  Henry beckoned Will into the chamber. “Will, my scouts report that Philippe and Richard have turned in the direction of Tours. But I want to be sure it is not a trick. On the morrow, take several of our men and find out if they are indeed heading away from Le Mans.”

  Will promised to leave at first light and then asked about the defensive ditches they’d dug outside the city walls. John saw that Henry was going to be occupied for some time and quietly slipped from the chamber.