Captive Queen by Alison Weir


  “Yes, God help me!” Henry flung back. “I wish I could get more and disown these ungrateful Devil’s spawn …”

  “Then perhaps you should marry one of your whores, and do just that! Mayhap Rosamund de Clifford would oblige, or did you abandon her long ago, as you abandon most of the women you’ve fucked?”

  It was the first time in six years that the name Rosamund had been uttered between them. For Eleanor, it had been a long shot, for she had heard nothing more of the girl since that terrible night when Henry admitted his love for her—and had, indeed, not wanted to hear of her. He had rarely been in England since then, so she supposed the affair died a natural death. But now she could see by his expression that she had been horribly wrong.

  “I have never abandoned Rosamund,” he said, deliberately aiming to hurt her. “She is here, in Limoges. She traveled incognito, with a separate escort, and I have slept with her every night since I arrived. There—does that satisfy your curiosity? I told you, Eleanor: I love her. Nothing has changed. I do not love you. I prefer to hate you.”

  “It’s the other side of the same coin,” she riposted, wondering why tears were threatening to spill down her face. “Tell me, Henry, do you hit her as you hit me? Does she please you in bed as much as I did?”

  He looked at her darkly. “Rosamund would never give me cause to strike her. She is a gentle soul. And yes, she brings me much joy—more than you ever did! Look at yourself in the mirror, Eleanor, and ask yourself why I no longer lust after you. Look at the harridan you have become!”

  He is doing this to bait me, she told herself. It is his way of being revenged for what he sees as a betrayal. I must not take it to heart—and anyway, what need have I to? I no longer love him, so why should I care? But she was honest enough to realize, to her dismay, that she did care—that she wanted to rake her nails down Rosamund’s alabaster cheeks and ruin her beauty, that she wanted to fling herself at Henry and beat the breath out of his chest for being so cruel—and so stupid! Instead, she rose to her feet with immense dignity, picked up a candle, and made to leave. But Henry stopped her, reaching out and taking hold—none too gently—of her arm.

  “You and I are finished, but my sons are yet young,” he said. “By reason of their age, they are easily swayed by their emotions and misplaced loyalty. I am beginning to suspect that a certain red-haired fox has corrupted them with bad advice and stolen them away from me. Isn’t that so, Eleanor?” His grip tightened.

  “You are a fool, Henry,” she told him with scorn. “You delude yourself. You are the cause of this tragedy.”

  “No, I am not a fool, or deluded,” he insisted. “I can see clearly that my own wife has turned against me and told her sons to persecute me.”

  “You are sick!” she cried, and twisting free, ran down the stairs.

  She could not face going to bed. Instead, she found herself pacing up and down in those same cloisters where she had confided her concerns to Raoul de Faye. Within her, the tempest raged. They were destroying each other, she and Henry, and there was no help for them. Since Becket’s death he had changed, coarsened, become abrupt and unkind. He had betrayed her, abused her, and slighted her; he had said cruel, unforgivable things. She would not believe them, she must not …

  “Eleanor?” A man slipped out of the shadows. It was Raymond of Toulouse, his face full of concern—and something else that she recognized as desire. “Forgive me for intruding, but you are troubled. Can I help?”

  How long had he been there? Had he been waiting in the hope of waylaying her? He had been bold indeed to address her by her given name rather than her title. What could that betoken but amorous interest? And how had he guessed that nothing could have been more welcome to her wounded soul on this terrible night?

  She went to him unspeaking, finding refuge in his arms, and sweet pleasure in his kiss. Afterward, having stolen furtively up with him to his chamber, she watched his eyes roving over her as she disrobed, then lay naked on his bed, and knew that she was not the aging harridan that Henry had so cruelly called her. Ah, it was bliss to feel her body come alive again after so long, to shiver under a man’s caress, and squeeze eager fingers around his virile member, surprising herself by the erotic response deep inside her. She could not be old if she felt like this, she told herself, as Raymond rolled and tumbled her on disarrayed sheets, riding her vigorously until she cried out in pleasure that was almost pain.

  When it was over, and he had subsided, panting, beside her, she tried to tell herself that sex had been better with him than with Henry, but her self-delusion lacked conviction. Henry had been by far the more accomplished lover—she was honest enough to concede that. But what had most struck her had been the strangeness of it, the predominance of physicality and the lack of emotion. She was forced to admit to herself that there was nothing so erotic as the touch of a familiar, loved body, and the meeting of true minds.

  She fought back tears, angry with herself for allowing sentiment to get the better of her. Why must she continually chase this fantasy of re-creating the past, when the past had probably never been as good as she remembered? Even Henry had told her that, in his usual brutal fashion. We can never go back, she said inwardly to herself. There will be no more second chances for us. We are different people now, shaped and honed by our experiences, with scars that even time cannot heal. Where there was love, there can now only be hatred. Henry and I seem fated to destroy the good in our lives, and we will no doubt end up destroying each other. What happened to us, she cried silently, that we should have become such enemies?

  “What is troubling you, sweet lady?” her new lover asked suddenly, snuggling up to her under the heap of furs. So emotional did Eleanor feel that she poured out the whole sorry tale of the rift in her family, even confessing how she had written to Louis.

  “Some might call it treason, but truly I did not intend it that way.”

  Raymond was silent for a moment. “I understand,” he said at length, “although many would not. Yet I think you are right to support your sons.”

  “I suppose this night is another betrayal.” Eleanor smiled sadly. Her lover immediately sat up, his black-haired body lean and muscular in the candlelight.

  “Don’t tell me you have never lain with another,” he exclaimed. “You, with your reputation.”

  “This is the first time since I married my lord,” Eleanor confessed. “And the first time I have known a man in more than two years.”

  There was a disconcerting pause.

  “Why me, then?” Raymond seemed shocked.

  “Nothing could have seemed more right at the time,” she told him, fearing that things were going badly wrong.

  “But I assumed that you and the King had long had an arrangement to go your own ways in such matters. The way you flirted with me, and led me on … I thought he knew you had amours.” Already, he was moving away from her in the bed. “God’s blood, what have I done? I swore fealty to my overlord today, and here I am, already breaking my oath, and dishonoring my suzerain by bedding his wife. And you let me! My lady, you talk of betrayals, but it seems to me you know not what the word means. Yes, this is betrayal—and you are to blame!” With that, Raymond leaped from the bed, pulled on his robe, and held open the door. Furious and ashamed, Eleanor struggled into her gown, threw her cloak over it, and swept past him, her cheeks burning.

  “I will say no more of this, on my honor,” he called after her.

  “Who are you to talk of honor?” she muttered under her breath.

  ——

  Having crept back to her bower and woken her sleeping ladies, explaining that she had been kept late with her lord—and how true that was!—Eleanor lay sleepless, hating herself for what she had done, and knowing in her heart that after all these years of fidelity, she had now broken most of her marriage vows, and humiliated herself before a man who was one of her vassals. Worse still, she had revealed to him dangerous secrets. Could she count on Raymond to keep his word? Would he say
no more of it, as he had promised? He would know that concealing treason was almost as bad as committing it. And if Henry found out any of this, his vengeance would be terrible; she knew it. She lay shaking in her bed, just thinking about it.

  She was filled with self-loathing, yet she hated Henry more, for having been the cause of this unholy mess. And she hated Raymond too, for sinning with her and then holding her to blame. Yet deep inside her, she was secretly pleased that she’d had her small revenge on her husband—even if he never got to hear of it. It would be her private triumph, proof that she could fight back—and that she still had what it took to seduce men, despite the cruel things Henry had said of her. And she was still convinced that she was right to take up her sons’ cause, and that, if necessary, force—and any other means possible—must be used to make the King see reason.

  Henry looked up from his book—it was a favorite, Geoffrey of Monmouth’s History of the Kings of Britain, and he was in the habit of reading it again and again because it contained the stirring stories of King Arthur, which he loved. Today, Geoffrey’s history was affording him a brief refuge from the maelstrom of troubles that surged around him, so he was irritated to hear a knock at the door.

  “Enter!” he barked, and Count Raymond of Toulouse came in.

  “Sire? I was told I might find you here. Might I have a private word with you?”

  Cursing inwardly, Henry laid down his book. “Sit down, my lord,” he invited grudgingly. Raymond obeyed, then sat there, looking uncomfortable—and curiously flushed.

  “Yes?” Henry prompted.

  “Sire,” the count blurted out, “the court is busy with gossip, and I am hearing strange things that I think you should be told. May I speak freely?”

  Henry regarded him warily, but he believed Raymond to be a man of honor who surely would not speak lightly. “Pray do,” he said.

  “Then I advise you, Lord King, to beware of your wife and sons!” the count said earnestly. To his consternation, Henry burst out in harsh laughter.

  “Do not concern yourself,” he rasped. “My sons are headstrong and led astray by those around them who preach sedition. My wife is a fond and foolish mother who should know better than to indulge them, and who has corrupted their minds with folly. This is not news to me, although I thank you for your care for my safety. But never fear, the situation is under control.”

  He dismissed Raymond, who departed in evident relief, but when he was alone once more, Henry fell to brooding. Was Eleanor up to something? He did not think, after his threats, that she would go so far as to privately involve Louis—anyway, the Young King had done that openly, quite brazenly, in fact. He did not believe her capable of such perfidy, or of forgetting her nuptial vows.

  It was his sons who were the culprits in this. In their rash ambition, they posed the greater danger. He was haunted by a prophecy of Merlin, which he had read in his book: “The cubs shall awake and shall roar loud, and, leaving the woods, shall seek their prey within the walls of cities. Among those who shall be in their way they shall make great carnage, and shall tear out the tongues of bulls.” Were the cubs that the seer had foretold his own sons?

  He would not wait to find out. They must be stopped, and now. Briskly, he gave orders that certain knights of the Young King’s household be sent away; they, he believed, had been dripping sedition into his boy’s ear. To the latter’s howls of protest, he remained deaf.

  The gathering broke up. The kings returned to their kingdoms, the counts to their domains. Henry himself planned to go north with Eleanor and their sons to Poitiers; when he had set the affairs of the duchy in order, he would press on to Normandy. The Young King he would take with him. He would not let the boy out of his sight. He would make sure there was not the slightest opportunity for any intrigue.

  “I am not a child!” Young Henry had once shouted.

  “Then stop acting like one,” his father said tartly. “Then I might begin to take you seriously.”

  Henry genuinely trusted that his eldest son was the cause of all the present trouble, and the one to be watched. Richard could safely be left with Eleanor, to share control in Aquitaine. Kept apart from Young Henry, Richard would be harmless, he was convinced. Geoffrey he would summon, to keep them both company, and to divert Richard. And so, with his house in order, or so he believed, he soon departed from the duchy and dragged his seething heir off to Normandy.

  46

  Poitiers, 1173

  Young Henry had escaped! Eleanor shook—she knew not with joy or fear—when she heard the news. He had endured his father’s vigilance as far as Chinon, clearly aware that he would soon be breaking free of it. Then he had stolen out of the bedchamber that Henry insisted they share, bribed the guards to lower the drawbridge, and ridden for Paris as if the four horsemen of the Apocalypse were at his heels. In vain did Henry send men in pursuit, and soon it dawned on him that his son’s flight had been planned down to the last detail, no doubt with the secret connivance of King Louis.

  One day, and that not far distant, she knew that men would point the finger at her, accusing her of being Young Henry’s accomplice, yet she was as astonished at his escape as the rest of the world, and holding her breath to see what would come of it. She could not but rejoice that he had escaped his father’s repressive vigilance, which had become so destructive, and prayed that Henry would now see sense. She had lost all patience with him.

  She sent relays of messengers secretly to Paris. She had to know what was happening. They brought back momentous news.

  “Lady, King Louis and the Young King have pledged themselves to aid each other against their common enemy.” That could only be Henry, she realized, although the sweating man on his knees before her had not dared to say so.

  “Lady, the King has sent a deputation of bishops to Paris to ask the King of France to return his son. When King Louis asked, ‘Who sends this message?’ he was told it was the King of England. ‘The King of England is here!’ the French King said. ‘But if you refer to his father, know that he is no longer King. All the world knows that he resigned his kingdom to his son.’” Eleanor could not resist a smile at that; she had not known that Louis had it in him to throw down the gauntlet in this manner.

  “Lady, the Lord King is preparing for war; he is looking to the safety of his castles and his person. Many of the barons of England and Normandy have taken the Young King’s part and declared for him!”

  This was becoming serious.

  “What of William Marshal?” Eleanor inquired. That wise man of integrity: how would he view all this?

  “He is for the Young King.”

  War! Eleanor could not believe that things had gone this far. Louis was making threats, Henry’s barons were rallying to arms, and his sons were chomping at the bit to teach him a lesson. And suddenly, with the malevolent Bertran de Born at his side, the Young King materialized in Poitiers, hurriedly embracing his mother.

  “I am come in secret,” he told her. “I need your aid, and that of my brothers.”

  “Tell me truly, my son,” Eleanor asked seriously, “what you hope to gain from taking up arms against your father.”

  “I thought you supported me!” he flared.

  “I do; I believe you have a just grievance. But we all need to be clear what the objective is. Do you intend to force the King to share his power with you, or do you mean—as report has suggested—to overthrow him and rule in his stead?”

  “Would it make a difference to your supporting me?” Ah, she thought, so he does understand the moral issue at stake.

  “It might have done once,” she said bitterly, “but your father has since forfeited all right to my loyalty. I am as a widow; he has insulted and abandoned me, and he has treated you, his sons and mine, with contempt—and I will not stand by and allow it. A rotten branch must be cut off before it infects the healthy tree.”

  “You are prepared to go that far?” Young Henry was staring at her in amazement.

  “Yes,
” she told him. “Your father has forced me to make a choice between my loyalty to my husband and king, and my desire to protect the interests of my children. I am a mother. There can be no contest. Whatever love and duty he once had from me, as of right, he has killed, stone dead.” She stepped forward and hugged her tall son.

  “What has he done to you?” he asked angrily.

  “He struck me, that you know. I do not care to go into the rest.”

  “You do not need to,” the Young King fumed. “None of us are blind. We know about the Fair Rosamund.” The words were spat out with a sneer.

  “It seems I was the only one who didn’t,” Eleanor said lightly. “But now we must forget about all that, and discuss this war with your brothers.”

  She summoned Richard and Geoffrey to her solar. Constance arrived too, full of her own opinions, but Eleanor shooed her away impatiently. She did not want the silly girl meddling where she had no business to. The Young King’s brothers were surprised to see him, and listened gravely, and in mounting fury, to what he and their mother had to say.

  “It is up to you what you do,” Eleanor told them both. “You are almost grown to man’s estate, and I will not treat you like children.”

  Richard got up and embraced Young Henry. “I choose to follow my brother rather than my father, because I believe he has right on his side.”

  “Well said!” Eleanor applauded. “And you, Geoffrey, will you join with your brothers against your father the King?”

  Geoffrey drew himself up to his full height; at fifteen, he was undergoing a growth spurt, but he would never be as tall as Young Henry and Richard, of whom he was intensely jealous. Unlike them, he was dark and saturnine in appearance, and it was rapidly becoming evident that he had a character to match. He was clever with words, perhaps the most intelligent of all Eleanor’s brood, but untrustworthy and ruthlessly ambitious.

  “Naturally, I support my brother,” he said smoothly. “I too am a victim of our father’s pigheadedness. I should be ruling Brittany without his endless interference.”

 
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