Devil's Brood

Devil's Brood

Devil s Brood 99

  The men hastily made their obeisances, but he acknowledged only the Abbess Gillette and the Archbishop of Tours before continuing on into the choir and halting by the candlelit bier. For a time, Richard gazed down at his father, and then he knelt. Barely long enough to say one pater noster, some thought indignantly. Richard’s face was inscrutable, a mask of royal reserve. Rising to his feet, he did not speak to his brother Geoff, who was kneeling on the other side of the bier. He did signal to Will Marshal and Maurice de Craon, though, gesturing for them to follow him as he strode through the door leading out into the cloisters.

  Although Compline had been rung, summer daylight was not easy to rout and was still holding the night at bay, so the men had no need for torches or lanterns yet. Richard was regarding Will in silence, grey eyes giving away nothing. “The other day you intended to kill me, Marshal, and would have had I not deflected your lance with my arm.”

  Maurice started to speak, thought better of it. Will’s nervousness was washed away by the rising tide of his indignation. “My lord duke, it was never my intent to kill you. I am still strong enough to direct my lance where I want it to go. Had I wished, I could have struck you instead of your horse. And I cannot repent of that, for it ended the pursuit of the king.” He raised his head, then, meeting Richard’s eyes steadily, bracing for the worst. But the duke’s mouth was curving, ever so slightly, at the corners.

  “You are forgiven, Marshal. I bear you no malice.”

  “I am gladdened to hear that, my lord,” Will said, knowing Richard must be able to see his relief, but too thankful to care.

  Richard was looking over Will’s shoulder. Turning, Will saw that some of the knights had followed them out into the cloisters and were hovering at a discreet distance. They came forward quickly when Richard beckoned to them.

  “That is true for the rest of you, too,” he said. “You have nothing to fear. Loyalty to the king is an admirable trait, not one I’d want to discourage.” And now that inkling of a smile was unmistakable. “Indeed,” he continued, “I value men such as you more highly than those who abandoned my father to be on the winning side.” Glancing back toward Will then, he said, “After the funeral on the morrow, I want you to leave at once for Sarum. I will have letters for you to deliver to my lady mother and others, naming her as regent until my return to England. I want it known that her wishes are to be obeyed in all matters.”

  Will was promising that he would when there was a stir and some of the men parted to let Geoff pass. “My lord duke,” he said coldly, managing to make his very formality sound insulting. “I am gratified to hear that you are following the noble example set by our father in showing magnanimity to defeated foes.”

  “Brother,” Richard said, and he somehow turned that fraternal greeting into an insult, too.

  Geoff’s eyes softened as he glanced toward Will and the other knights. “I think you should know that our lord father gave the lady of Pembroke and Striguil to the Marshal in recognition of his steadfast and admirable loyalty.”

  Richard looked over at Will, and then shook his head. “No, he did not give her to the Marshal. Rather, he promised her to him. I am the one who will give her to him, sure that she will be safe in his hands.”

  Will dropped to his knees. “Thank you, my lord!”

  “Sire,” Renaud prompted, “the king your father made gifts to the rest of us, too.”

  Richard’s gaze moved from face to face. “I will honor his promises. You need not fear. Now I would take my leave of the lady abbess and my lord archbishop. I shall pass the night at Saumur, will return on the morrow for the funeral.” Richard started to turn away, then paused. “Bury richly the king my father, Will.”

  ELEANOR’S RELATIVE FREEDOM had been curtailed once Richard declared war on Henry. She no longer had such easy and unquestioned access to visitors, her household was reduced, and surveillance was once more intrusive. Her confinement was not as stringent as in the early years of her captivity, but she very much resented these new restrictions, saying bitterly to Amaria that she felt like a hawk with clipped wings, cruelly kept from flight within sight of the sky.

  The windows of her chamber were unshuttered, open to the humid Sarum air. Eleanor was playing chess with Amaria when Sir Ralph Fitz Stephen and the justiciar, Ralf de Glanville, sought admittance. Rising, Eleanor stood watching as they came toward her, their faces grave, their eyes apprehensive.

  “The king is dead,” she said before either man could speak.

  Their mouths dropped open, and they regarded her for a moment with awe and unease before the justiciar rallied. “Yes, Madame, that is so. The lord king died at Chinon on the sixth of July, not long after being compelled to make peace with the Duke of Aquitaine and the French king. I regret we can tell you no more than that, for we’ve had word only of his mortal illness and his funeral at Fontevrault Abbey.”

  “Fontevrault,” Eleanor said softly. The abbey where he’d meant to exile her, now his burial site. “I would have a Requiem Mass said on the morrow for the repose of his soul.”

  “Of course, Madame.”

  “Afterward, I shall return to Winchester, for Sarum has never been to my liking.” Eleanor looked at them challengingly, but they raised no objections whatsoever, to the contrary, seemed eager to oblige her.

  “It shall be as the queen commands.”

  Once they’d gone, Eleanor moved to the window, stood gazing out at the starless summer night. Amaria was watching her uncertainly, not sure what—if any—comfort to offer. “My lady, it must be a great relief to recover your liberty and my heart rejoices for you. And of course you are gladdened that Lord Richard will now be king, as am I. But…do you not…not…”

  “Mourn?” Eleanor did not turn around. “I’ve been mourning for months, Amaria, ever since I learned about Bonsmoulins. After that, I knew it could only end like this.”

  WILL MARSHAL WAITED as the queen read her son’s letter. She’d moved to the open window for better light, and Will marveled that a woman of her age could take the harsh glare of the sun and still look so handsome. He found it hard to believe she was just five years away from her biblical three score and ten. But then he found it hard to remember that he was past forty. He’d loved Hal, had developed a great respect for Henry, and was very grateful to Richard for bearing no grudges. But he’d always had a special bond with the queen, who’d ransomed a young knight of no consequence, not only saving his life but putting him on the path that now led to Isabella de Clare and possibly even an earldom. He deeply regretted the king’s unhappy death. He was glad, though, that Eleanor would flourish now that her son ruled, very glad, indeed.

  “It seems congratulations are in order, Will.” Eleanor glanced up from Richard’s letter, a smile playing about her mouth. “So you are to be married?”

  “Indeed, my lady. From here I go to seek out the damsel in London.” His smile was joyful, but wry, too. “She is very young, seventeen or so. I hope she’ll not be disappointed to find herself wed to a man so much older than she.”

  Eleanor was touched, surprised that a boy’s shyness could still survive under the polished, worldly mien of this accomplished courtier and knight. “Dearest Will,” she said, “you think your renown has not reached English shores? Isabella will be so bedazzled to wed the famed Will Marshal that she’ll never notice a grey hair or two at your temples.” She grinned then, and he had to grin back. “I am loath to cut short your time with your bride, but do not tarry with her too long, Will. There is much to be done, and I shall have need of your services.”

  “Of course, Madame. I assume you will be making the arrangements for the duke’s coronation?”

  She inclined her head. “But that is only one of the tasks I must undertake. My son is not that well known in England, for he has passed little time here. I want to do what I can to make sure his welcome will be a warm one.”

  Will did not doubt she would succeed; he’d known few men with the shrewdness and political acumen
of the queen. He’d begun to hope that he might actually evade the question he’d been dreading, but it was then that Eleanor said, “You were with my husband until the end. Tell me about those last days.”

  Will was quiet for a moment. “How much do you want to know, Madame?”

  Her eyes narrowed. “As bad as that?”

  “Yes, my lady, as bad as that.”

  Eleanor found herself hesitating, uncharacteristically irresolute. She did not truly want to know how Henry had suffered; she already had enough bad memories to last a lifetime. Yet she felt oddly obligated to hear it all. One final act of atonement? Irony was not likely to be an effective shield, though. “Tell me,” she repeated, and Will did. He’d have spared her if he could, but he respected her too much to lie to her after she’d asked for the truth.

  She listened in silence, but when he told her of John’s betrayal, her eyes burned with tears. “I’d been told that John and Richard had made their peace, but I assumed it had happened after Harry died…”

  Will shook his head grimly. “I would to God it had been like that, Madame, for this was the true mortal blow. I know the king made mistakes, many of them, but he did not deserve a death like this.”

  “No,” she said, very low, “he did not.”

  Neither spoke for a time, and then Will roused himself to tell her the rest, the most shameful part of this sad story. “By ill chance, neither Geoff nor I were with him when he died, and whilst we were being summoned, some of his servants and men stole what they could. They’d dared to search his body, and when we entered the chapel, we found him lying there on the bed without even a blanket to cover him. One of his knights at once removed his own mantle and wrapped the king in that. We did the best we could, found a fine robe to bury him in, and a scepter, and lacking a crown, we made do with gold embroidery. We were distraught that we had no ring for his finger, but fortunately he’d given one to his squire for safekeeping, and Hugh produced a jeweled ring of great beauty. We had no money for alms, though, and several thousand of Christ’s poor had gathered as word spread. Stephen de Marcay, the king’s seneschal, insisted that there was no money left in Chinon’s treasury, and I reminded him how much he’d benefited from the king’s favor, saying that he may have none of the king’s money but he had plenty of his own which he’d amassed in the royal service. But the ungrateful wretch claimed he could do nothing, and so we had to turn the people away, which would have grieved King Henry greatly…”

  He waited, and when she said nothing, he crossed to her side, kissed her hand, and bade her farewell. She did not speak until he reached the door. “Will…tell the Lady Amaria that I would be alone.”

  “I will, my lady,” he said and closed the door quietly behind him.

  Eleanor moved to the table and poured wine with an unsteady hand. But she did not drink, for her chest felt congested, her throat too tight to swallow. Her hand tightened around the cup and then she dashed it to the floor, sent the flagon flying with another sweep of her arm.

  “Damn you, Harry, I am not going to let you do this! After all the grief you gave me over the years, I am not going to let you torment me from the grave, too!”

  Sitting down upon the edge of her bed, she closed her eyes and counted her scars as if they were pater noster beads. The expression on his face during their dreadful confrontation at Falaise. Look upon the sun, you’ll not be seeing it again. I will never forgive you, never. I offered to make you the abbess of Fontevrault, but it can just as easily be an impoverished Irish convent, so remote and secluded that not even God could find you.

  No, she did not lack for reasons to curse his memory. She had sixteen of them. She need only think of all those lonely Christmases, all those wasted years. She need only remember how he’d used her to compel Richard to surrender Aquitaine, careless of the damage he might be doing between mother and son, or the awful sound of the key turning in the lock on her first night of captivity at Loches Castle.

  But memories were as elusive as quicksilver, as hard to control. Other images jostled for attention. Harry holding her as they grieved for Joanna’s baby. Despairing together over Hal’s follies. A lifetime of tears and laughter. Lusting after crowns and each other. Their wedding night, his first words after their lovemaking. Good God, woman…Forget what I told you in Paris; I would have married you without Aquitaine. Laughing when she called him a gallant liar, and laughing, too, when she related scandalous stories of her grandfather, exclaiming gleefully, Between the two of us, we’ve got a family tree rooted in Hell!

  Yes, there were good memories, too, thirty-seven years of good and bad. Quarrels and reconciliations. Eight cradles and too many gravestones and Rosamund Clifford and power that rivaled Caesar’s, an empire that stretched from the Scots border to the Mediterranean Sea. She lay back on the bed, hot tears seeping through her lashes and trickling across her cheeks until she tasted salt on her lips. One more memory was taking shape, with painful clarity. Another bitter argument, angry words traded back and forth, accusations and reproaches and her scornful warning that echoed now across the years as the Final Judgment upon their marriage.

  We’ve schemed and fought and loved until we are so entangled in hearts and minds that there is no way to set us free. God help us both, Harry, for we will never be rid of each other. Not even death will do that.

  FROM THE TWELFTH-CENTURY Annals of Roger de Hoveden:

  Queen Eleanor, the mother of the before-named duke, moved her royal court from city to city, and from castle to castle, just as she thought proper; and sending messengers throughout all the counties of England, ordered that all captives should be liberated from prison and confinement, for the good of the soul of Henry, her lord inasmuch as, in her own person, she had learnt by experience that confinement is distasteful to mankind, and that it is a most delightful refreshment to the spirits to be liberated therefrom.

  RICHARD SOON MET THE ARCHBISHOPS of Rouen and Canterbury and sought pardon for taking up arms against his father after taking the cross. He was then girded with the ducal sword of Normandy on July 20 in Rouen. Two days later he met with the French king near Chaumont and reached terms that would prevent a further delay of their crusade.

  In the meantime, Eleanor was very active in England on his behalf. After securing the treasury in Winchester, she rode to London and then began a royal progress through the southern shires. She issued edicts establishing uniform weights and measures for corn, liquid, and cloth, as well as a currency valid anywhere in England. She freed the English abbeys from their obligation to stable and provide for the king’s reserve horses and magnanimously gave these mounts to the monks. She continued to release those imprisoned for offenses against Henry’s harsh and unpopular forest laws, and she allowed those who’d been outlawed under these laws to return, “for the good of King Henry’s soul.” And wherever she went, she demanded oaths of fealty from all free men in the name of Lord Richard and the Lady Eleanor.

  Her efforts were so effective that Richard was given a tumultuous welcome upon arriving at Portsmouth on August 13. Two days later he got an equally enthusiastic reception in Winchester and was reunited with his mother, the queen.

  RICHARD WAS LAUGHING. “You know, Maman, your enemies are going to accuse you of practicing the Black Arts. How else explain how you emerged from sixteen years of confinement still looking so elegant and comely, not to mention having more energy than a kennel full of greyhounds. I hear that between your travels and councils and proclamations, you managed to find time to found a hospital for the poor in Surrey. I assume that upon the seventh day, you rested?”

  “Not for long,” she said, laughing, too. “If you want your coronation to be as splendid as I suspect you do, that is going to take a great deal more work.” Sitting beside him in the window-seat, she exercised a mother’s prerogative and reached over to brush his hair back from his forehead. “You were telling me about the meeting with Philippe.”

  Richard made a mock-sour face. “I had to bribe him
with another four thousand marks, and that in addition to the twenty thousand he extorted from my father at Colombières, then agree to relinquish my rights in Auvergne and give up two fiefs in Berry. I had no choice, though, not if I hope to depart for the Holy Land ere I am too old to fight. But Philippe is going to be troublesome. It is hard to believe that one came from Louis’s loins. You think he could be a foundling?”

  He laughed again; laughter came very easily to them both on this August afternoon. “I have made a good match for Richenza; I do not know why we bothered to change the lass’s name when none of us call her Matilda. I am wedding her to the son of the Count of Perche.”

  Eleanor nodded approvingly; she’d be marrying into a highborn family and the marital alliance would strengthen their northeast borders. “And what of John’s marriage to Avisa of Gloucester?” She kept her voice noncommittal; John had arrived with Richard, but she’d yet to have a private moment with him.

  “I’ll be in Marlborough ere the end of the month to give the bride away. In addition to the Gloucester estates, I am settling upon him lands worth four thousand a year in the counties of Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, and Somerset. Our father had promised it to him again and again, but not surprisingly, he never got around to actually doing it.”

  Eleanor regarded him thoughtfully. “I know you’ve been implacable with the men who abandoned Harry toward the last, dismissing them from your service in favor of those who’d stayed loyal, even seizing the lands of Raoul de Fougères and Juhel de Mayenne. It is always wise policy to reward loyalty to the Crown, of course. But you seem to have made one exception, are showing John great generosity.”