Captive Queen by Alison Weir

  “Yes, you were right,” Eleanor agreed. “No one could blame you for being angry. I just wish you could have curbed your temper a little and not made such a spectacle of yourself.”

  Henry stiffened. “Don’t you dare preach to me, Eleanor!”

  “I am not. I was embarrassed. And, if I may venture to say so without your biting my head off or throwing a tantrum, I think the punishment you handed down was severe in the extreme.”

  Henry raised himself up on one muscular elbow. “Do you? Pah! The citizens of Limoges—and your people at large—need to be taught who is master here. Stern measures are called for. It’s called strategy, my dear.”

  “Those walls are brand-new and strong, the latest in defenses. You were admiring them yourself. They took years to build, at great cost. If you force the people to pull them down, you will be hated and resented. Could you not rescind the order and think up some other punishment?”

  “I would rather be hated and resented than not have my vassals fear me,” Henry declared. “How would it look, retracting my order? I would be seen as a weak man whose word is not his bond, one to be cozened and wheedled out of decisions. No, Eleanor, once my mind is made up, it is made up for good. There is no point in trying to dissuade me.”

  “You might have taken counsel of me first,” she protested. “I am the duchess, after all, and these are my people.”

  “You are my wife, and your part is to obey me,” Henry flared. “I am heartily sick of playing a subordinate role in this duchy. Now get on your back and learn who is master!”

  No man had ever spoken to her like that, but Eleanor was too shocked to object as Henry forced her thighs apart and thrust himself between them, ramming his manhood into her with little care about hurting her. Not that it did hurt—not physically, anyway, for she usually thrilled to rough handling—but this was the first time that Henry had taken her in anger or used her body to enforce his own supremacy. Afterward, as he slumped at her side and his heavy breathing quietened, she lay there grieving, knowing that, without her being able to help it, the balance in their relationship had altered, and fearing it might never again be possible for them to come together as equals after this.

  Henry, by contrast, seemed unaware that there had been a change. He was up early the next morning, pulling on his tunic and hose and splashing cold water on his face.

  “Are you getting up?” he asked.

  Eleanor gazed at him wearily from the pillow. She knew what this day must witness, and wanted no part in it.

  He came toward her and sat on the bed.

  “I am going to supervise the dismantling of the walls,” he said, bristling with determination. “I want you with me, to show that we are united in our anger.”

  “No,” she said firmly. Henry snorted with impatience.

  “Up!” he barked. “Get up! Like it or not, you are coming with me.” He grabbed her arms none too gently, pinching the soft flesh, and dragged her into a sitting position.

  “Very well,” Eleanor said icily, realizing that further protest would only result in an undignified scuffle that she could not hope to win. She slid off the bed and pulled on her shift. “Grant me at least the courtesy of ten minutes to make myself presentable.”

  Alone with her women, she asked for her black mourning gown to be brought. “That, and a black veil—and my ducal coronet. No jewels.”

  “You look like a bloody nun,” Henry exclaimed when he saw her. “Why the weeds?”

  “How perceptive you are!” she retorted. “I am mourning the loss of my people’s love.”

  “Don’t be so dramatic,” he scoffed.

  “After yesterday’s display, you are in no position to talk,” Eleanor snapped, adjusting her veil. “Well, I am ready,” she added quickly, seeing him framing a biting reply. “I suppose you are still insisting on this cruel, harsh order being carried out?”

  “Come!” was all Henry said.

  They emerged from their tent to a maelstrom of activity. Scaffolding was being erected, tools commandeered, and surly, glowering men—long lines of them—were being impressed to do the demolition work. Even the master masons, loudly protesting, had been given no choice. Women, and even children, were scurrying to and fro with huge baskets, or carrying messages conveying orders, while great carts stood ready to carry away the rubble. The atmosphere was subdued, the resentment of the people palpable. When Henry appeared, there were muffled curses.

  He leaped up onto a large boulder and signaled to his men-at-arms to sound the alarum. The activity ceased, and hundreds of pairs of angry eyes turned to the stocky figure of the duke. Eleanor, standing miserably behind him, almost shaking with resentment, could see burning hatred in those eyes—and a desire for revenge.

  “People of Limoges!” Henry cried in ringing tones. “I hope you will not forget this day, and I hope you will learn from it. When Madame the Duchess and I next visit you, I trust you will treat us with greater courtesy. And maybe you might like to rebuild these inconvenient walls so as to allow better access to your kitchens!”

  There was a sullen silence. Then someone in the crowd threw a stone. It missed, but Henry was not in a forgiving mood.

  “If I catch the varlet who did that, I’ll have him castrated,” he threatened. “And anyone else who thinks they can mock my justice. Now, back to work, all of you.” He jumped off the boulder and strode over to Eleanor, then grasping her purposefully by the hand, led her along the perimeter of the plateau on which the old city was built, following the line of the doomed walls. Behind them tramped his armed escort. The citizens saw them coming as they bent furiously to their task, not daring to slacken, for Henry’s anger was still writ plain upon his face. Finally, he and Eleanor arrived at a vantage point at a safe distance from the demolition work and stood there to watch, as citizens who had lavished good money and pride, not to mention the sweat of their backs and the blood of their willing fingers, building their defenses, grudgingly pulled them apart, stone by stone. As the walls of Limoges began crashing to the ground in clouds of yellow dust, Eleanor felt the destruction like a physical pain. Yet her face remained impassive, for Henry was watching her, as if daring her to protest; but she would not allow him that satisfaction.

  After Henry finally let her return to their pavilion, when the choking dust became too much to bear, she just wanted to flee as far from Limoges as possible, or crawl into a hole like a badger, for she keenly felt her citizens’ grief and anger, and the conviction that, in failing to save their walls, she had betrayed them. She burned with fury against Henry, and even more so when they met for dinner later and he made no reference to the events of the day and was his usual genial self. In bed he was once again the ardent lover, by turns demanding and tender, and Eleanor almost managed to persuade herself that all was well, but found it hard to respond because she was deeply preoccupied with concern about what her people now thought of her.

  She could not stop brooding. It seemed to her that this marriage that she had defied the world to make had become, in its own way, as much a form of captivity as her union with Louis had been in another. This was not the partnership she had planned for, but a vile endurance, she told herself angrily. She had been duped, no doubt of it. Henry’s passion had driven her sense of power, but now she saw that it had all been an illusion. Yes, they’d had mutual aims, and he had been happy to consult and defer to her, but only when it suited him. The reality was, he had the mastery of her, by all the laws of God and man—and was determined to assert it, even if it meant riding roughshod over her feelings and sensibilities. She seethed at her own helplessness, chafing against the invisible chains that bound her.

  There were, of course, no cheers as they rode away from the destruction that was now Limoges, but the rest of the progress passed without incident, and Henry cheered up considerably when the people of Gascony showed themselves more than willing to be recruited for his English offensive, and ready to provide him with ships and supplies. He put it down to word
of his strong and uncompromising rule going before him. In the future, these godforsaken southerners would think twice about defying him! Small wonder they were groveling.

  At last they came to the Talmont, that pretty village nestling above the Gironde estuary on a promontory of high white cliffs. Here, Eleanor’s family had built a hunting lodge, a place much beloved by her. Yet even here her subjects’ antipathy toward Henry was palpable. She cringed when, on the first day they arrived at the mews, her falconers took no pains to hide their dislike, and kept Henry waiting an unconscionable time in his saddle for a bird; and when it was brought to him, he was not pleased to find that it was a lowly sparrowhawk—a bird deemed suitable only for priests or women—instead of the royal gyrfalcon he had been expecting, and which was his right. She, on the other hand, had a most noble hawk perching on her glove. It had been horribly embarrassing, because for all the servile excuses that no suitable falcon was available, quite clearly the slight had been deliberate.

  She said nothing. Secretly, she was gratified to see Henry so discomfited. Let him reap what he had sown!

  On the surface, however, they were existing in a tacit state of truce. The weather was still good, despite the lateness of the year, and they rode out hawking daily, admired the spectacular views from the cliffs, went to mass in the squat stone church of St. Radegonde, and enjoyed each other’s bodies every night. And gradually, unwillingly, Eleanor found herself succumbing again to her husband’s charm and dynamism.

  “I could live here quite happily,” Henry said, stretching, as they lay abed one sunny morning.

  “It is beautiful in summer,” she told him, her tone still a little clipped and formal, for resentment was yet festering in her. “There are hollyhocks everywhere.”

  “Then we will come back next year,” he promised. His eyes sought hers.

  “You are still angry with me about Limoges,” he said.

  “You had your way. There is nothing more to say.” Eleanor shrugged, her eyes veiled.

  “But you are holding aloof from me,” Henry complained. “I fuck you every night, and in the mornings too, but I can’t reach you.”

  “What did you expect?” she asked. “You have no cause to find fault with me. I played the part of submissive wife to perfection, at the risk of alienating my subjects. I allow you the use of my body whenever you want it. I am with you in bed and at board. Many couples rub along with less.”

  “But we had so much more!” Henry flared.

  “We did,” Eleanor agreed vehemently. “It was you who decided to play the aggressive husband, you who set at naught my hopes for a partnership of equals. I am a captive in this marriage!”

  “So I’m being punished,” he retorted.

  “No, that is how things are now.” Eleanor made to rise from the bed, but Henry caught her wrist.

  “I love you, you know,” he said urgently.

  Tears welled in her eyes.

  “I love you,” he said again, staring at her.

  Slowly, she came into his arms, her body racked with uncontrollable sobs, and clung to him.

  “There now,” Henry soothed. “Now you are mine again. By the eyes of God, I will make things right between us!” As he fell to kissing her hungrily, Eleanor allowed herself to relax a little. Could things really be once more as they had been before Limoges? She had thought not, but now saw that she must stop nurturing this resentment, and give her feelings for Henry a chance to flower again. As they were flowering now, God be thanked—or cursed, was it?—under the onslaught of his caresses …

  Returning to Poitiers in December, Eleanor’s heart was heavy. Henry was bound for England at last, and impatient to be gone.

  “I should make haste,” he told her. “I must stop at Rouen on the way to visit my Lady Mother the Empress. It’s the least I can do, since she’s been so generous with funds for this venture. And I want to consult her about my invasion plans.”

  Eleanor fumed inwardly. He could rarely be pressed to discuss them with his wife, and still made no secret of his opinion that women should not interfere in politics. But clearly he was willing to make an exception for his mother.

  As if reading her thoughts, Henry said, “She is to govern Normandy while I am abroad—there is much to talk over with her. And she knows England well—and King Stephen.”

  “By all accounts she knew him very well!” Eleanor said tartly.

  “Don’t believe those old tales,” Henry said lightly. “But he did have a chivalrous regard for her, despite their being enemies.”

  “I wonder at your naivety!” Eleanor grimaced. He threw her a filthy look.

  “Remember it’s my Lady Mother of whom you are speaking,” he reminded her. “Although I wouldn’t have put it past her! She’d have eaten him for breakfast, poor weakling that he is.”

  “I should like to meet her,” Eleanor said, not meaning it.

  “You will, one day,” Henry told her. His disinterested tone betrayed no awareness of any possible grounds for antipathy between his mother and his wife. Eleanor wondered if he knew about her own affair with his father. He had never mentioned it, and neither would she, ever.

  Henry’s quick, restless mind had moved on.

  “I’m leaving Anjou and Aquitaine in your hands,” he said. “I know you will rule them both well.” Eleanor was surprised and touched, and felt not a little guilty for having jumped to unfair conclusions about him; for not only was he trusting her to look after her duchy in his absence, but also his own county of Anjou, the domain of his forefathers. He was trying to make amends, she suspected.

  She smiled at him at last, her eyes brilliant.

  “I will not fail you, my lord,” she promised.

  In the early hours of the morning, Eleanor awoke. It was still warm in the bedchamber, for two braziers had been left burning. In their flickering red glow she could see Henry lying naked on his stomach beside her, the sheet tangled around his legs. He was watching her drowsily, a rare gentleness in his eyes.

  “You’re awake,” she whispered.

  “How can a man sleep with you lying next to him?” He chuckled, feasting his eyes on her full breasts and her long limbs stretched luxuriously before him. “There is no one like you, Eleanor. There never has been, and I doubt there ever will be.”

  “So there were others before me?” she teased, really wanting to know. Henry had never spoken of any previous encounters with women, although she had heard rumors.

  “Legions!” he grinned. Eleanor made to thump him with her pillow, but he stayed her hand. “I am a man, with a man’s needs. Of course there were others. But believe me when I say that none compared to you. They meant nothing.”

  She believed him, yet still felt a pang of jealousy.

  Henry was regarding her closely. “Now you tell me,” he said, “what happened in Antioch?”

  Eleanor was startled. “What have you heard about that?” she asked warily, feeling herself flush.

  “That you cuckolded Louis with Raymond, the Prince of Antioch, your own uncle, for Christ’s sake, and were bundled out of the city in shame.” Henry’s gimlet gaze was fixed on her face. “Is it true?”

  “Yes, it is true,” Eleanor admitted. “You know how barren of love my marriage to Louis was. Like you, I took my pleasure where I found it—but I paid for it dearly. Louis barely spoke to me for a whole year.”

  “And did you take your pleasure with anyone else?” Henry demanded to know. He was no longer bantering with her.

  “Yes, twice, and that only briefly,” Eleanor replied in a low voice.

  “With my father?” he asked, his expression unreadable.

  “You knew?” She was shocked.

  “He told me before he died. He begged me not to marry you.”

  “But you defied him—and, knowing that, you did marry me.” Eleanor was incredulous.

  “Of course.” Henry pulled her toward him. “That’s how much I wanted you. For you, I have defied my own father, the King of Fran
ce and the Church itself!”

  “The Church?” Eleanor echoed.

  “Yes, my ignorant lady. Don’t you realize that your coupling with my father places us within the forbidden degrees of consanguinity, closer than you ever were to Louis?”

  “I was not married to Geoffrey,” Eleanor said.

  “That’s immaterial. Our marriage is forbidden—or it would be if the Church had known what you’d been up to.”

  Eleanor felt a shiver of fear; it was as if the carefully constructed edifice of her world had been rocked. She saw that by her rash actions she had put at risk everything she now held dear. A tremor coursed through her. Henry felt it and tightened his arms about her.

  “Fear not,” he soothed. “I won’t betray our little secret, if you won’t.”

  “But what of the legality of our marriage?” Eleanor asked, shocked, seeing the foundations of their glorious future, the empire they were building, rocking and then crumbling …

  “I care not a fig for that.” He grinned. “We Angevins came from the Devil, remember? Why should I bother myself about a trifle like that? No one knows, so no one can question it. Should it really matter to us?”

  “No,” she said after a pause. “It matters not one whit.”

  “What does matter,” Henry said purposefully, “is this …” He pulled her on top of him and thrust himself up inside her, fully aroused. “I swear to you, Eleanor, that no Pope or bishop will part us. You are mine forever, mine … oh, God!”

  Afterward, sated, he lay with her in his arms.

  “Who was the other man?” he asked.

  “The other man?” Eleanor, relaxed and contented, had no idea what he was talking about.

  “You said you took your pleasure with two men besides Raymond of Antioch.”

  “This sounds like an inquisition,” she said, only half joking.

  “It is,” Henry said. “I need to know. You are my wife and, God willing, will be the mother of my sons.”

  “And if I tell you, will you also tell me about the women with whom you have slept?” she challenged him.

  He snorted. “I’ve forgotten most of them. They were just casual encounters. One was called Joanna, another Elgiva … Oh, and perhaps I should mention Hersinde, Maud, Lucy, Ghislaine, Marie …” He was laughing.

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