Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  Eleanor was struck by a fleeting chill at the abbot’s words, but she told herself that they had been born only of outrage. Then she realized that Bernard was now frowning at Henry.

  “When I first saw the son, I knew a moment of terrible foreboding,” he said.

  “May I ask why?” Eleanor inquired, startled.

  “He is the true descendant of that diabolical woman, Melusine, the wife of the first Count of Anjou. I will tell you the story. The foolish man married her, being seduced by her beauty, and she bore him children, but she would never attend mass. One day, he forced her to, having his knights hold fast to her cloak, but when it came to the elevation of the Host, she broke free with supernatural strength and flew shrieking out of a window and was never seen again. There can be no doubt that she was the Devil’s own daughter, who could not bear to look upon the Body of Christ.”

  Eleanor smiled wryly. She had heard the tale before. “That’s just an old legend, Father Abbot. Surely you don’t believe it?”

  “Count Geoffrey and his son believe it,” Bernard retorted. “They mention it often. It seems they are even proud of it.” He winced in disgust.

  “I think they might have been having a joke at your expense,” she told him, remembering Geoffrey’s wicked sense of humor. God only knew, he’d needed it, married to that harridan, Matilda the Empress, who never ceased reminding him that her father had been King of England and her first husband the Holy Roman Emperor himself! And that she was wasted on a mere count!

  “One should never joke about such things,” Bernard said stiffly. “And now, my lady, I must speak with the King.” He backed away, nodding his obeisance, evidently relieved to be quitting her company. She shrugged. Kings and princes might quail before him, but to her, Bernard of Clairvaux was just a pathetic, meddlesome, obsessive old man. And why should she waste her thoughts on him when Henry FitzEmpress was coming purposefully toward her.

  What was it about a certain arrangement of features and expression that gave one person such appeal for another, she wondered, unable to tear her eyes from the young duke’s face.

  “Madame the Queen, I see that the many reports of your beauty do not lie,” Henry addressed her, sketching a quick bow. Eleanor felt the lust rising again in her. God, he was beddable! What she wouldn’t give for one night between the sheets with him!

  “Welcome to Paris, my Lord Duke,” she said lightly. “I am glad you have reached an accord with the King.”

  “It will save a lot of bloodshed,” Henry said. She was to learn that he spoke candidly and to the point. His eyes, however, were raking up and down her body, taking in every luscious curve beneath the clinging silk gown, with its fitted corsage and double belt, which emphasized the slenderness of her waist and the swell of her hips.

  “I trust you had a good journey?” Eleanor inquired, feeling a little faint with desire.

  “Why don’t we forget the pleasantries?” Henry said abruptly. It was rude of him, but his words excited her. His gaze bore into hers. “We both know what this is all about, so why waste time, when we could be getting better acquainted?”

  Eleanor was about to ask him what he could possibly mean, or reprimand him for his unforgivable familiarity to the Queen of France, but what was the point? She wanted him as much as he clearly wanted her. Why deny it?

  “I should like to get to know you too,” she murmured, smiling at him boldly, and forgetting all that nonsense about custody of the eyes. “You must forgive me if I do not know how to respond.”

  “From what I’ve heard, you’ve not had much chance,” Henry said. “King Louis is known for his, shall we say, saintliness. Apart, of course, from when he is leading armies or burning towns. It is odd that such a pious man should be capable of such violence.”

  Eleanor shuddered. All these years later, she could not bear to think of what happened at Vitry. It had changed Louis forever.

  “My marriage has not been easy,” she admitted, glad to do so. Let Henry not think she was in love with her husband. Once she had been, in a girlish, romantic way, but that was long years ago.

  “You need a real man in your bed,” Henry told her bluntly, his eyes never leaving hers, his lips curling in a suggestive smile.

  “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell Abbot Bernard,” Eleanor said mischievously.

  “Him? The watchdog of Christendom? He’d never understand.” Henry laughed. “Do you know that when he was young, and got his first erection from looking at a pretty girl, he jumped into an icy pond to cure himself!”

  Eleanor felt herself flush with excitement at his words. So soon had they progressed to speaking of such intimate matters, it was unreal—and extremely stimulating.

  “You are very self-assured for such a boy,” she said provocatively. “Are you really only eighteen?”

  “I am a man in all things that count,” Henry assured her meaningfully, slightly offended at her words.

  “Are you going to prove it to me?” she invited.

  “When?” he asked, his expression intent.

  “I will send a message to you by one of my women,” she told him without hesitation. “I will let you know when and where it is safe for us to be alone together.”

  “Is Louis a jealous husband?” Henry inquired.

  “No, he never comes to me these days,” Eleanor revealed, her tone bitter, “and he rarely ever did in the past. He should have entered a monastery, for he has no use for women.”

  “I have heard it said that he truly loves you,” Henry probed.

  “Oh, yes, I have no doubt that he does, but only in a spiritual way. He feels no need to possess me physically.”

  “Then he is a fool,” Henry muttered. “I cannot wait.”

  “I’m afraid you might have to,” Eleanor said lightly. “I have enemies at this court. The French have always hated me. Everything I do is wrong. I feel I am in a prison, there are so many restrictions on what I do, and they watch me, constantly. So I must be careful, or my reputation will be dragged further in the dust.”

  Henry raised his eyebrows. “Further?”

  “Maybe you have heard the tales they tell of me,” Eleanor said lightly.

  “I have heard one or two things that made me sit up and take notice.” He grinned. “Or stand up and take notice, if you want the bare truth! But I have been no angel myself. We are two of a kind, my queen.”

  “I only know that I have never felt like this,” Eleanor whispered, catching her breath.

  “Hush, madame,” Henry warned. “People are looking. We have talked too long together. I will wait to hear from you.” He raised her hand and kissed it. The touch of his lips, his flesh, was like a jolt to her system.

  Later that night, Eleanor sat before her mirror, gazing into its burnished silver surface. Her image stared back at her, and she looked upon her oval face with its alabaster-white skin, cherry-red rosebud lips, sensuous, heavy-lidded eyes, and well-defined cheekbones, the whole framed with a cascade of coppery tresses. She marveled that she had as yet no lines or wrinkles, but even so, wondered if Henry would desire her as much when he realized that, at twenty-nine, she was eleven years older than he was. But of course he must know that. The whole world knew of her great marriage to Louis; there was no secret about her age.

  Setting aside her fears, she stood up and regarded her naked body in the mirror. Surely Henry would be pleased when he saw her firm, high breasts, narrow waist, flat belly, and curving hips. The very thought of that steely, knowing gaze upon her nudity made her melt with need, and her fingers crept greedily down to that secret place between her legs, the place that people like Bernard regarded as forbidden to the devout: the place where, five years before, she had learned to feel rushes and crescendos of unutterable pleasure.

  It was Marcabru the troubadour who had shown her how, the incomparable Marcabru, whom she herself had invited from her native Aquitaine to the court of Paris—where his talents, such as they were, had not been appreciated. Dark and almost
satanic in aspect, he had excited and awakened her with his suggestive—and very bad—poems in honor of her loveliness, and then done what Louis never had to bring her to a climax, one glorious July day in a secluded arbor in the palace gardens. But Louis’s suspicions and jealousy had been aroused by Marcabru’s overfamiliarity in the verses he dedicated to the Queen, and he had banished him back to the South without ever realizing just how far Marcabru had abused his hospitality. It had been Eleanor’s hunger to know that sweet fulfilment once more that had driven her into the arms of Geoffrey the following autumn.

  Since then she had learned to pleasure herself, and she did so now, hungrily, her body alive in anticipation of the joys she would share with Henry of Anjou when they could be together. And, gasping as the shudders of her release convulsed her, she promised herself that it would be soon. After all, Henry and Geoffrey would not be staying long in Paris.

  “I watched you talking to the Queen,” Geoffrey said.

  “We exchanged a few pleasantries,” Henry said guardedly, filling his goblet. He never discussed his dealings with women with his father.

  “It looked like a lot more than that,” Geoffrey accused him. “I know you, Henry. Remember, boy, she is the Queen of France, not some trollop you’d screw in a haystack. And we’ve only just made peace with her husband the King.”

  “I know all that,” Henry replied mulishly. “I’m not an idiot.”

  “Convince me of that,” his father retorted. “I saw you looking at her lustfully. And I saw her casting her unchaste eyes on you. You know, Henry, she has a reputation.”

  “So rumor has it,” Henry said. “But there is no proof. Her husband has not cast her off for infidelity. Maybe the rumors have wronged her.”

  “Her husband,” Geoffrey said carefully, “does not know the least of it, I am sure.”

  “It ill becomes you to impugn her honor, Father!” Henry snapped.

  “Oh, so you are hot for her,” Geoffrey observed dryly. Then his tone hardened. “Listen, my son. I say this for a very good reason. I absolutely forbid you to touch her. Not only is she married and the wife of your overlord, and therefore doubly prohibited to you, but”—and here the count hesitated and looked away—“I have known her myself.”

  “I don’t believe you, Father,” Henry retorted. “You’re just saying that to warn me off.”

  “It’s true, God help me,” Geoffrey insisted, his voice sounding wistful. “Five years ago I had a secret affair with her, when I was seneschal of Poitou. She was there raising support for the crusade. It was just a brief thing, nothing serious, and fortunately nothing came of it. We were never discovered.”

  Henry snorted. “So what of it? What difference does it make to me having her now? You clearly don’t want her anymore.”

  “You don’t understand, boy,” Geoffrey hissed, grasping Henry firmly by the shoulders. “If you bed her, you commit incest. Such a relationship is forbidden by the Church.”

  Henry glared at him and wrenched himself free.

  “By the eyes of God, I care not a fig what the Church says!” he snapped. “A lot of things are forbidden by the Church, but they go on, and neither you, my lord, nor anyone else can stop me having my will of her—and not only my will, but a whole lot more besides. In case you’ve forgotten, she is the greatest heiress in Christendom.”

  Geoffrey’s handsome face registered shock. He shot to his feet, sending his empty goblet clattering to the floor. “She is married to the King of France,” he hissed.

  “She can be unmarried!” Henry answered. “I keep my eyes and ears open. Have you not heard what is being said at this court? That the marriage is invalid and should be dissolved? The barons believe it, the Queen is said to have urged it, even our friend Bernard, God damn him, is of that opinion. Only the King is obdurate.”

  “He will not relinquish her domains,” Geoffrey said. “It is too rich an inheritance to give up, so you can forget it.”

  “No,” Henry defied him. “Louis can’t keep hold of Aquitaine. His authority counts for little there. They’re an unruly lot, Eleanor’s vassal lords. Even her father couldn’t control them.”

  “And you think you could!” Geoffrey taunted.

  “I’d stand a better chance than they,” Henry assured him. “Louis hasn’t the resources. But when England is mine, along with Normandy, I will be ready and able to enforce my rule.”

  “You run ahead of yourself, boy,” Geoffrey said wearily. “There is no guarantee that England ever will be yours. God knows your mother and King Stephen fought bitterly over it for years, but Stephen is still enthroned there, despite what people say about God and His saints having slept through all the terrible years of his reign; and he has an heir, Eustace, to succeed him. Against that, the claim of your mother, a woman, however rightful, is tenuous indeed. She lost all hope of success years ago when she upset the English by her haughty ways.” His tone made it clear that he too had been alienated by them.

  “That’s unfair! You never loved my mother,” Henry flung at him.

  “We’ve always cordially hated each other, you know that,” Geoffrey replied sanguinely. “But that’s beside the point. Those whom God hath joined must learn to put up with each other, or live apart, as we have. As for you, my son, just forget this harebrained scheme to snatch Queen Eleanor from her husband. You will live to regret it, I promise you.”

  “There would be no snatching involved. I know, as sure as God is God, that she would come to me quite willingly.”

  “Then you’re more of a fool than I’d realized,” Geoffrey spat, retrieving his goblet and striding toward the lion-shaped aquamanile jug on the table. He poured a full measure of wine, then downed it in one gulp. “You hardly know her.”

  “Enough to know that I want her, and not just for her domains.” The young duke’s excited brain was racing ahead of him. “Yet think on it, Father: were I to marry Eleanor, I’d become master of all the land from the River Loire to the Pyrenees, a mighty inheritance, perhaps the mightiest in history. I could found an empire—an Angevin empire. I would advance our house and make you proud of me. Louis would be pissing himself at the prospect!”

  “Which is precisely why he won’t let Eleanor go,” Geoffrey reminded him. “Why should he effectively hand those rich domains to a vassal? If he divorces her, there’ll be a stampede for her hand, which is why he’s stalling. God, Henry, you can be stubborn. Just leave it alone. No good can come of it.”

  “I don’t call gaining half of France no good,” his son riposted.

  “Then think of your immortal soul, you young fool.”

  “Oh, I do think of it always, I assure you, Father,” Henry lied.

  Henry closed the door and stood regarding Eleanor in the flickering light of the candles. He was wearing the same plain hunting clothes he had worn for the investiture. In contrast, she had donned a thin loose robe of finest white samite, pinned on earrings of precious stones, and had her maids brush her long hair until it shone like bright molten fire. She found herself reveling in the power she could wield over Henry with her beauty and her body. She was headily aware of the diaphanous quality of her robe, the prominence of her erect nipples, and his obvious pleasure at what he was avidly devouring with his eyes.

  He moved quickly toward her, throwing his belt aside and ripping off his tunic as he strode across the floor. His chest was broad, lightly covered with brown hair, darker than that on his head, and his arms and shoulders rippled with muscle. Eleanor could not stop herself. With a muted cry she went to him, herself pulling down his braies to reveal his engorged penis. She was cherishing it in both hands when Henry’s strong arms folded around her, crushing her against him as he pressed urgent lips to her forehead and then sought her mouth. His fingers, rough with calluses from riding, were tugging at the embroidered neckline of her robe, pulling it down around her hips, then grasping her upper arms to hold her away from him as he stared at her full breasts. Then he bent and released the robe, which flu
ttered to the floor around her ankles, leaving her standing there naked before him.

  Lifting her up, he carried her to the waiting bed and lay down with her on the silk sheets and bolsters, his hands everywhere, caressing her until she thought she would die of the pleasure. She gave like-for-like in return, teasing and exciting him with her fingers and tongue until he could bear it no more and swiftly mounted her, thrusting deeper inside her than any lover before him, and flooding her with his desire, shouting his triumph. Afterward, Eleanor eagerly took his hand and guided his fingers to her clitoris, not needing to show him what to do next, for he clearly knew. Her climax, when it came, was shattering, for Henry, hard again, entered her once more at the moment of culmination. She had not believed such ecstasy possible.

  It was hours before they slept. Eleanor had never before had such a vigorous and enthusiastic lover, and she quickly discovered in herself an undreamed of capacity for pleasure in places she had barely known existed. Then came sleep, quiet and restful, and in the dawn, when she awakened, Henry’s arms about her once more and his manhood insistent against her thigh.

  Later, lying close to him in the afterglow of lovemaking, getting to know each other better, she knew she could never relinquish him.

  Henry’s gray eyes, heavy-lidded with fulfillment, were gazing into hers. His full lips twitched into a smile.

  “I think,” he murmured, “that I have never felt like this with a woman before.” His fingers, surprisingly gentle, traced her cheek. His dynamism, even after his passion had been spent, excited her.

  “I feel wonderful,” she told him, her eyes holding his. “Tell me this is more than just lust.”

  “I cannot deny it.” He grinned. “In truth, you are magnificent.” He stretched out his hand and smoothed it slowly along the length of her body. “But I want you for more than this. I want to know you, all of you. I want your mind as well as your body. I want your soul.”

  “From the moment I saw you, I felt—nay, I knew—that we were destined for each other,” Eleanor ventured. “Does that sound extravagant?”

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