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Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 98


  “You owe me no apologies, Geoff, for your reluctance is proof of the love you bear me. In truth,” Henry said, trying to smile, “I would as soon miss this spectacle myself. As much as I fancied hunting, I never cared for a bear-baiting.”

  His attempt at humor only made it harder for Geoff, who hugged him tightly, then boosted him up into the saddle. Geoff then retreated back into the great hall to grieve and to curse his brothers, the French king, and himself for not being there when his father had such need of him.

  HENRY SOMEHOW MADE IT ALL THE WAY to Colombières, actually was the first to arrive. By now he was in such pain that his men insisted he await their coming in the commandery of the Knights Templar at Ballan just a few miles to the east. They should have been relieved when he agreed, but his acquiescence only alarmed them all the more, for it proved how ill he truly was. Upon reaching the commandery, Henry almost fell when dismounting and had to lean against a wall for support. When he opened his eyes, Will Marshal was at his side, looking so concerned that he could hide the truth no longer.

  “The pain has gotten so bad, Will. It began in my heel, then it spread to my legs. Now my whole body is afire.”

  “Come inside, sire, and rest for a while,” Will said firmly, and giving Henry no chance to object, he put his arm around the older man, helped him into the commandery and into bed. They’d brought along the doctor they’d engaged in Angers, but there was little he could do. The Templars fetched a basin of cool water and they took turns putting compresses upon Henry’s forehead, while sending one of his knights to inform Richard and Philippe that Henry was too ill to attend the conference.

  Morgan was leaning over the bed, trying to coax Henry into taking a few swallows of wine when the knight returned. One look at his face and they knew the news he brought was not good.

  “Gilbert, let’s go outside,” Will said quickly, but he was not in time. Gilbert Pipard hastened toward the bed, where he knelt and looked at Henry with tears in his eyes.

  “I am so sorry, my liege. I failed you. I told them you were ill, but they did not believe me. Duke Richard…” His mouth twisted, as if he’d tasted something rancid. “He told the French king that you were feigning this sickness, that it was just another one of your tricks, and they demand that you come to Colombières straightaway.”

  Henry’s knights were outraged and began to swear, calling Richard and Philippe every vile name they could think of, and most of them had a considerable vocabulary of obscenities. Henry said nothing, though. Struggling to sit up, he managed to lurch to his feet, retaining his balance only with Morgan’s help. The Templars had been watching in dismay, and they sought now to persuade Henry to remain abed, warning him that it might be the death of him to get back on his horse.

  Henry had bitten his lower lip so deeply that he tasted blood on his tongue. “It does not sound,” he said hoarsely, “that I am being given a choice.”

  “JESUS WEPT!” The involuntary cry came from Philippe, genuinely shocked by his first sight of the English king. This man was not feigning illness. He was dying. After glancing at Richard, who showed no emotion, Philippe hastily ordered one of his men to spread a cloak upon the ground. “My lord, there is no question whatsoever of your standing. Do seat yourself on this mantle.”

  “I have no need to sit,” Henry said stonily. “I am here to learn what you want from me.”

  Philippe shrugged. “As you wish. But ere we speak of peace, you must first submit yourself utterly to my mercy, agree to be guided in all matters by my counsel and advice and not gainsay whatsoever I have decreed.”

  Henry looked at him, saying nothing, for he did not trust his voice, feeling as if he would choke on his rage and humiliation. Philippe was waiting for his response, though. He opened his mouth, not sure what he would say, when thunder sounded directly overhead. Both Henry and Philippe flinched, as did many of their men, none sure what this meant. Was thunder in an empty sky a sign of Divine displeasure? And if so, who was the object of the Lord’s Wrath? A second thunderclap rumbled, and Henry was almost thrown when his stallion shied and bucked nervously. With Morgan on one side and Renaud de Dammartin on the other, holding on to his legs to keep him erect in the saddle, he agreed to place himself at the mercy of the French king.

  “Very well,” Philippe said, with a brief satisfied smile. “These are the terms you must meet. You will agree to do homage to me for all of your lands on this side of the channel. You will surrender custody of my sister, the Lady Alys, to a guardian chosen by the Duke of Aquitaine, and agree that he shall marry her upon his return from Jerusalem.”

  For the first time, Henry looked over at his son. Richard was standing a short distance away, listening impassively, his face revealing nothing of his thoughts. Had the circumstances been different, Henry might have appreciated the irony of it. So Richard had talked Philippe into delaying the wedding yet again. Philippe was going to find that it would be no easy task to get Richard and Alys to the altar.

  Philippe waited until he had Henry’s attention again before continuing. “You shall pay the French Crown an indemnity of twenty thousand silver marks to compensate me for the expenses I incurred in this war. You will have your barons on both sides of the channel swear fealty to Duke Richard, acknowledging he is your rightful heir. You may not avenge yourself upon those of your lords or knights who have withdrawn their allegiance to you and pledged themselves to the duke. To make sure of this, none of them need return to your service until the month ere we set out for Jerusalem. The departure date for this journey will be mid-Lent of the coming year.”

  Philippe paused, as if realizing how pointless this last provision was, for few of the men at Colombières imagined that Henry would ever be able to fulfill his crusading vow. “All of your barons shall swear that their allegiance to you is contingent upon your compliance with the terms of this treaty. And as a pledge of your good faith, you are to surrender to me and to the duke your city of Le Mans and your castles of Château-du-Loire and Trou until these terms have been honored. If you would prefer to yield the castles of Gisors, Pacy, and Nonancourt, that is also acceptable to us.”

  “I agree to your terms,” Henry said tersely. “Is there anything else you demand of me?”

  “You may defer your act of homage until your health is on the mend,” Philippe said, with such an air of magnanimity that Henry’s men seethed in silence. “But you must openly acknowledge your reconciliation with Duke Richard by giving him the kiss of peace.”

  Until now Richard had been regarding Henry’s surrender as dispassionately as if he were merely a spectator, not actively involved in the proceedings. A shadow crossed his face and then he stepped forward, obviously intending to approach Henry so he need not dismount. But Henry was already struggling from the saddle, held upright with some discreet assistance from Morgan and Renaud.

  Richard reached out to offer support, but Henry ignored the gesture. As commanded, he gave his son a brief kiss of peace, but as he pulled back, he hissed in Richard’s ear, “God grant that I live long enough to avenge myself upon you!”

  Henry’s lacerated pride then suffered another wound, for it was evident even to him that he could not ride back to Chinon, and a horse litter had to be found. Philippe and some of the French lords joined Richard, and they all stood watching in silence as Henry was borne away from Colombières.

  UPON HIS ARRIVAL AT CHINON, Henry found a delegation of Canterbury monks awaiting his return. They were feuding with their archbishop and, undeterred by war and rebellion, they’d managed to track him down to seek his support in their quarrel. Henry once would have been amused by the ludicrous incongruity of it, but now he was past finding humor in anything, and after promising curtly to dictate a letter to the Canterbury chapter, he took to his bed.

  One of his men had remained behind to be given the list of those who’d disavowed allegiance to him and could not be punished, not returning to Chinon until after nightfall. Henry had refused to eat, speaking little
and staring into some dark vista that only he could see. But he showed a flicker of interest when Roger Malchael was ushered into his bedchamber.

  “You have the names of those who betrayed me, Roger? Read them to me.”

  Geoff and Will frowned, not wanting Henry to deal with still more misery in his weakened state. But there was nothing enfeebled about Henry’s will, and they knew better than to object. Roger was already obeying, approaching the bed and breaking the seal on the parchment roll. Once he looked down at the list, though, he sucked in his breath before glancing up at Henry in dismay.

  “May Jesus Christ help me, sire! The first name written here is Count John, your son!”

  Henry jerked upright in the bed, then fell back, gasping. “I do not believe it!”

  “I am sure Roger has misread the name,” Geoff said swiftly, but Will said nothing, standing apart and watching sadly as the last act of the tragedy was played out.

  “Let me see it,” Henry demanded and Roger obeyed, looking as stricken as if he were handing over a draught of lethal poison. For a long time, Henry stared down at John’s name without speaking, and then he crumpled the list in his fist, let it flutter into the floor rushes. When Geoff tried to offer comfort, he muttered, “Say no more,” and turned his face away from them, toward the wall.

  THAT NIGHT HENRY’S FEVER FLARED even higher, and he lapsed into delirium. Geoff stayed by his side, putting wet cloths on his burning skin, fanning him and flicking away the flies; it was too hot to close the windows. Will and Morgan and Maurice de Craon also kept vigil at his bedside. Most of the time they could make no sense of his feverish mumblings, but occasionally he said something intelligible, and when he did, they winced and fought back tears, for he was cursing his sons, cursing himself and the day he was born, in his anguish mumbling over and over, “Shame on a conquered king.”

  Wednesday evening, he surprised them by regaining his senses. He whispered words of love to Geoff, calling him his “true son,” and asking that a ring be bequeathed to his son-in-law and another one to Geoff. But when Geoff urged him to confess so he could be absolved of his sins, Henry closed his eyes again, saying nothing. Geoff began to sob, and the other men were just as distraught, appalled that Henry was putting his immortal soul at risk.

  Deliverance came from an unlikely source. Renaud de Dammartin had been watching from the shadows, so quiet that the others had assumed he’d fallen asleep. But now he rose and approached the bed, leaning over to whisper something in Henry’s ear. Henry’s lashes flickered, and he looked at the young knight, then murmured his son’s name. Geoff bent over, listened intently, and straightened up with a radiant smile.

  “Yes, Papa, I will!” Turning toward the others, he said joyfully, “He wants to be shriven!”

  AT HENRY’S OWN REQUEST, a bed was made up for him before the altar in the chapel of Ste Melanie, and he was carried down the stairs and across the bailey by his son and knights. There he made his confession, his voice so faint that the archbishop had to put his ear close to Henry’s mouth, and was absolved of his sins, while outside the chapel, Geoff leaned against the wall and wept.

  It was Will who eventually pulled Renaud aside, demanding to know what he’d said to change the king’s mind. Renaud gave Will an enigmatic look and then grinned. “You really want to know? I asked him if he wanted to be trapped in Hell for all eternity with Richard.”

  Will didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. He shook his head, managed a bemused smile, and then started back toward the chapel, for he wanted to keep vigil with Geoff. But his steps began to flag, and instead he swung about and disappeared into the shadows of the vast yew tree in the middle bailey, where he grieved privately and alone for his dying king and for his young lord, who’d also joked in those final moments of his mortal life in that stifling chamber at Martel.

  HENRY’S DELIRIUM SOON RETURNED, and he did not speak coherently again, dying the next day after a hemorrhage that stained his bedding with dark blood. He was fifty-six, had ruled almost thirty-five years as King of England and even longer as Duke of Normandy and Count of Anjou.

  CHAPTER FIFTY-FIVE

  July 1189

  Fontevrault Abbey, Anjou

  THE NUNS HAD NEVER seen their self-possessed abbess so fretful. Gillette’s position was one without parallel in Christendom, for she ruled over no less than four monasteries, including the male priory of St Jean de l’Habit, the priory of St Lazare, which had been founded to treat those unfortunates afflicted with leprosy, and the priory of Ste Marie-Madeleine, which offered sanctuary and salvation to women who’d sinned and repented. Only at Fontevrault were men subject to the authority of a woman, and there had been occasional discipline problems caused by resentful or rebellious monks in the early years.

  But these minor scandals had ceased during the kingship of Henry Fitz Empress, for he had taken a keen, personal interest in the welfare of the Angevin abbey. And Abbess Gillette had soon shown herself to be a fair but firm mother superior, rising through the ranks from cellarer to mistress of novices to grand prioress and eventually to the ultimate office. There was no doubt, though, that she was now faced with the most daunting challenge of her nine-year reign.

  There could be no greater honor than to have their abbey chosen for the burial of a king, particularly one who’d been such a generous patron of Fontevrault. Henry had exempted them from royal taxes, conferred an annual stipend, founded one of their sister houses in England as penitence for the murder of St Thomas, entrusted the nuns with the education of two of his children, and provided in his will for a bequest of two thousand silver marks. He deserved a royal funeral that was one for the ages, but they had neither the time nor the resources for such a majestic pageantry. They’d gotten word only that morning that the king was dead.

  IT WAS A MEAGER AND MELANCHOLY FUNERAL cortege that made its way from the castle at Chinon. It was with great difficulty that Henry’s men had found for him the trappings of sovereignty, for much had been left behind at Le Mans. They were deeply distressed that they were unable to dispense alms to the poor, and to Will Marshal, there was a dreary familiarity about the straitened circumstances, evoking painful memories of Hal’s unhappy death. They moved slowly in the summer heat, bearing the funeral bier upon their shoulders, somber crowds gathering by the roadside to watch them pass. They were not yet within sight of Fontevrault when they heard the tolling of the abbey bells, and then the wind brought to them the melodic sound of prayer. The nuns were coming out to meet them in solemn procession, with flaring torches and pealing bells and the sacred music of the Benedictus, reverently chanted by the sisters and monks as they advanced to welcome the king to his last resting place. And Will and Geoff, who’d been anguishing over the selection of Fontevrault, knowing that Henry had wanted to be buried at Grandmont, felt a sweet sense of relief, sure now that they’d chosen well for him.

  GEOFF HAD INSISTED UPON ACCOMPANYING his father’s body into the church, but his knights had gathered in the guest hall to quench their thirst, ease their hunger, and fortify themselves for the night’s vigil. They found, though, that most of them had little appetite. Renaud de Dammartin was one of the few able to eat with relish, and one of the few, too, to dare to broach the subject of their uncertain prospects as men who’d been on the wrong side of a bitter internecine war.

  “Do you think Richard will attend the funeral?” he asked, stabbing a chunk of bream with his knife.

  “I do not know,” Will said honestly. “I sent him word, and now it is up to him.”

  Renaud drained his wine cup before sighing melodramatically. “A pity,” he said, “that my lordship of Lillebonne Castle should be so brief. I was looking forward to having my own hunting preserve.”

  The other men could not help feeling a sense of personal loss, too, midst their mourning for Henry. Their hopes of the promised heiresses and wardships and grants had died with the king, and that disappointment might be the least of their troubles. Their eyes sought Will, for he
had the most to fear. Not only had he lost a great heiress and a king’s favor, he’d bested Richard in combat, inflicting a public humiliation upon a man no less prideful and hot-tempered than his sire. At least Will already had the manor of Cartmel, given to him by Henry upon his return from the Holy Land. Assuming that Richard let him keep it.

  Maurice de Craon had less to fear, for he was a powerful baron in his own right, and therefore not as vulnerable as Henry’s household knights. He’d eaten little, absently crumbling a piece of bread as he regarded the Marshal. “We might as well speak candidly,” he said. “You are the most likely to suffer from the new king’s displeasure, Will. I want you to know that I would be pleased to offer you horses or money, whatever you need to get through the bad days ahead.”

  “I cannot offer you as much as Lord Maurice,” Baldwin said quickly, “but all I have is yours, Will.”

  Several others chimed in, touching Will with their loyalty and generosity. But he could not help feeling shamed, too, that he should, at this time in his life, be dependent upon the charity of friends. He knew he’d not have to beg his bread by the roadside, could always find a place in the Count of Flanders’s mesnie. But it would not be easy to become a landless knight again, not at his age.

  “I thank you, my lord, thank you all. But I cannot accept, not knowing if I could repay you. I shall put my trust in the Almighty, as I’ve always done.” He cocked his head then, listening. “They are pealing the bells for Vespers,” he said, getting to his feet. The others did, too, following him back toward the abbey church for evensong.

  THE OFFICE OF THE DEAD SERVICE known as the Placebo had ended, but the abbey church was still full. The nuns were kneeling by the funeral bier, set up before the high altar, and many of Henry’s knights had also lingered to pray. Morgan said a prayer for Geoff, too, asking the Almighty to give him strength, for his grieving was painful to see. He was admiring the elegant marble columns and domed roof, thinking this was one of the most beautiful churches he’d ever seen, when Henry’s squire Hugh came dashing into the nave. He paused by Morgan long enough to gasp out, “He is here!” before hurrying to warn Will and the others. Morgan spun around to see Richard framed in the nave entranceway.