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Authors: Elizabeth Chadwick

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BOOK: Lady of the English
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“Ah no, never think that!” Adeliza looked shocked. “He is proud of you—very proud, and that is why he is unyielding.

He knows your potential and he wants the best for you.”

“The best,” Matilda gave a caustic laugh. “Geoffrey of Anjou is the best? God save me from the worst!”

“Look,” Adeliza said patiently. “I know this betrothal has come as a shock, but it will work out, you will see.” She leaned over and kissed Matilda’s cheek. “I will leave you to think on it.”

“You mean my father will be wondering why you have been gone for so long?”

“The king has other matters to attend to, tonight.” Adeliza’s voice was careful and her body taut, so that Matilda knew her father must be engaged with one of the many court concubines—probably riding her as viciously as he did his hunting horse when he was in a temper. “There is no more I can say to you. Now you must think on this for yourself.”

When Adeliza had gone, Matilda resisted the urge to close the bed curtains again and retreat into her shell. Adeliza’s actions had reminded her that she had a position in the world to uphold, and responsibilities. As she ate her supper, she pondered the matter. She was backed into a corner and her only recourse was to agree to the marriage as her father desired.

He said it was an honourable thing, and, viewed with a superficial eye it was, but deep down, at the core of the matter, she knew it was shameful.

ttt

Brian looked up from the letter he had been writing to his constable at Wallingford and saw Roger, bishop of Salisbury, 70

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striding towards him, his jewelled staff cleaving the air. His dark eyes were narrow and his mouth tightly pursed. Brian rose and then knelt to kiss the sapphire episcopal ring on the clenched fist. “Will you take some wine, my lord?” he asked politely.

The bishop gestured and Brian poured him a goblet from the flagon standing on the trestle. He could almost feel Salisbury breathing fire down his neck.

“What do you know of these rumours flying about?”

Salisbury snapped, taking the cup from Brian’s hand.

Brian’s nape prickled. “There are always rumours flying at court, my lord.”

“About this proposed marriage of the empress to Geoffrey of Anjou. You are deep in the king’s confidence, you must have heard. You are neither a fool nor deaf, and neither am I, even if I am getting on in years.” His mouth twisted.

Brian said nothing, but took time refilling his own cup.

“I know he has discussed it with you, and with Gloucester,”

Salisbury growled. “When is he going to bring it before the rest of us, my lord, or does he think to leave us in ignorance?”

“I am sure I can tell you nothing you do not already know, sire,” Brian said woodenly.

“No, but I should not have to find out through back doors and keyholes. If he sends her to this marriage, he will rue the day. There will be unrest and men will rise up against him, mark my words.”

Brian arched his brows. “You know this for a fact, my lord bishop? Shall I make a list of which men you think are a threat?” He gestured towards his writing equipment. “Should I put a double guard on Waleran de Meulan?”

Salisbury flushed. “You are insolent. I remember when you were a snivelling squire, wiping better men’s backsides. You might think you are clever, but any fool can twist thread into a rope to hang himself. You cannot think this is good policy, surely?”

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“You must talk to the king on the matter, sire.”

“I expected him to talk to us; that is the entire point.” The bishop took a swallow of wine and put his cup on the table.

“Since he has not, and since I swore that I would only give my oath to his daughter if we were consulted on her marriage, I will have to consider most carefully.” He twitched the sparkling edges of his cloak together. “He is leading us into a quagmire this time. Perhaps I am not the only foolish old man in this palace tonight.”

“Sire, I believe that the quagmire already exists and the king is creating paths across it. If we fall in, then is it not our own fault?”

Salisbury gripped his crosier. “I have no intention of falling anywhere!”

Brian wondered if the bishop knew that the water was already over his boots.

“This marriage will shake the foundations of everything that the king has built up, you mark my words. Men will not be ruled by an Angevin stripling, and the match is a slap in the face for his nephews and the house of Blois. I do not know what he is thinking of!” His fist clenched around his staff, the bishop left at the same brisk stride that he had entered.

Heaving a sigh, Brian returned to his work, but his heart was not in it. In part he agreed with the bishop, even while he knew Salisbury was playing to his own agenda. The king was manipulating the situation to keep as many options open as possible, but in so doing, he was creating the potential for great instability. It did not help that Henry’s personal attitude was one of invinci-bility. He had no intention of dying and giving up his power to anyone. He might plan for the future, but he was not envisaging a time when he would not be there to oversee his strategy.

Of Matilda Brian tried not to think at all, except in terms of his duty to her as his liege lady. Anything else would have been unbearable.

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ttt

Brian ran the curry comb down Sable’s withers a final time and stood back, blotting his forearm on his brow to admire the stallion’s coat, which shone in the spring sunlight like a glossy morel cherry. He enjoyed grooming the horse himself on occasion and it was a way of checking that the stable hands had been attending to their duties in the proper manner. Like writing, it also gave him a sense of calm, of setting affairs in order and making good. It was a way of escaping the furore over the matter of Matilda’s marriage. She had kept to her chambers ever since being told about the proposed match with Anjou, while her father stamped about in a rage. Today he had ordered the baggage made ready for the betrothal journey. There had been strong protests at court because the wider circle of advisory prelates and barons had not been consulted over the marriage plans, but Henry had overridden all objections in a strident voice, his face like thunder, and no one had been brave enough to stand their ground and challenge him.

Brian ordered a groom to fetch Sable’s tack. Several new horses were expected in the stables and lackeys were mucking out the stalls and laying fresh straw. Gilbert, the king’s senior marshal, was directing operations and his eldest son had joined in with the grooms to get the job done. Brian had to leap out of the way as a large lump of dung shot out of the stable door, narrowly missing him. “Have a care,” he snapped.

The son looked over his shoulder and gave an ironic salute.

Brian compressed his lips and thought that John FitzGilbert would bear watching. Too sharp for his own good, that one.

The groom returned with Sable’s harness, and the empress walked into the stable yard, accompanied by her ladies and her knight, Drogo. She was dressed for riding and her own groom had gone to fetch her palfrey. “Domina,” Brian said, and swept her a deep bow.

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She replied with an almost impatient gesture. “If you are going riding too, you might as well escort me.”

Brian opened his mouth to say that he had other business, but the words stuck in his throat, and instead, he found himself bowing again and saying, “As you wish, domina.”

“As I wish?” She gave him a bitter look. “I should thank God for small mercies that I am so indulged.”

They left the castle and the town behind them, and took a track that led through fields and woods carpeted with celan-dines and violets. Brian felt the beauty of the day twist like a knife inside him. He rode and said nothing, because there was too much to say and he did not trust himself to speak.

At length, it was Matilda who broke the taut silence. “When I return from this ride, I am going to tell my father that I will accept this marriage with Anjou.”

He looked straight ahead and said stiffly, “That is a wise decision, domina.”

She shook her head. “I make it because I have no choice. I make it because if I refuse, the House of Anjou will become our enemy and unite with France and Flanders. I know why my father considers it a wise and prudent move.” She nudged her mare closer to Sable and fixed Brian with a steady look. “But tell me, my lord, did you think of all the consequences when you discussed the matter with him in private council?”

Shadows like delicate bruises were smudged beneath her eyes and Brian had to glance away. “Yes, domina, I did…but your father would not be gainsaid, and in truth, his reasons are sound.”

“And you cannot look at me, my lord.”

“What would you have me do?” Now he did meet her stare and forced himself not to flinch from her scrutiny. “I am your father’s liege man first, even while I honour his daughter.”

“Honour.” She exhaled down her nose. “I wonder at the substance with which we gild that word.”

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“When the time comes, I will not fail you; I swear on my own life.”

“And who will call that time, my lord—you, or I? And who will decide if you have or have not failed?”

They rode in silence again, and Brian kept his distance because he knew that if he let her in, he would fall apart under the truth of her stare and he could not allow that to happen.

She was right. Honour was both a gilded fancy and a stinking corpse, and she had not been the one to murder it in the name of strategy.

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Nine

Rouen, Summer 1127

M atilda dropped a curtsey to her future husband while rebellion surged through every fibre of her being, warring with her duty to her father, to Normandy, and to England.

Geoffrey of Anjou was a truly beautiful youth, with smooth alabaster skin, hair of warm apricot-gold, and eyes the colour of clear sea shallows. He had a prominent Adam’s apple, a voice that had scarcely broken, and a supercilious curl to his top lip that made her loathe him. Although he bowed to her deferentially, she could tell he did not mean it. This betrothal was a travesty, a golden cloak laid over a corpse. How in the name of Saint James was she going to lie in a marriage bed with him? As he slipped a great sapphire ring on to her finger, she was aware of her father smiling with satisfaction, and felt sick. Beside him, Adeliza smiled too, her face bright with the pleasure that Matilda was obeying her father’s wishes.

The marriage was not to take place until Geoffrey was made Count of Anjou. First, today came the vow of consent, pinning her down while the bars of her cage were constructed around her.

Geoffrey escorted her to the formal feast that had been prepared in the great hall of the palace of Rouen. He extended his arm for her to set her palm to his sleeve and performed LadyofEnglish.indd 76

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the formal bows and flourishes under the watchful gaze of her father and his. His swagger as he walked and the conceit in his eyes made her want to swipe him round the ear as she would a disrespectful page boy. She could think of nothing to say to him because they had nothing in common. She neither knew nor cared about his likes and dislikes, for whatever they were, none would match hers. The way he puffed out his chest and smiled with bravado at his cronies reminded her of a young cockerel that hadn’t developed its full plumage, yet still wanted to strut on the dung heap. Was she supposed to be impressed by this?

She had to share dishes with him as they dined. He did not ask what she wanted to eat, but, showing off, displayed that he could deal with the food neatly and precisely. He carved meat from a bone with an arrogant flourish of his jewelled sleeve. He dissected a pigeon with a delicacy that was intimate and almost erotic and made Matilda feel ill as she saw the smirk on his lips.

This posturing, supercilious boy was to be her consort and the father of her children?

Between courses, as Geoffrey went off with a comrade to empty his bladder, Adeliza took the opportunity to squeeze Matilda’s hand. “It’s not so bad,” she whispered with an encouraging smile. “He is truly handsome and much older than his years, do you not think?”

Matilda could feel Adeliza willing her to return the smile and agree, wanting everything to be right. But how could it be, when she had known such a different world of power, dignity, and cherished deference where her opinions and goodwill were actively sought? She could already tell she would receive no such consideration from Geoffrey of Anjou. “I do not know,”

she said, “but he makes me feel much older than mine.”

ttt

Henry of Blois, abbot of Glastonbury, folded his robes neatly over his lap and sat down on the hearth bench to regard his 77

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brothers Stephen and Theobald. Most of Rouen slept under a clear, dark sky salted with stars, but here at Stephen’s lodging, candles still burned in the sconces and a recently replenished jug of wine stood on the table. Henry poured himself a cup and drank, careful not to soil his full moustache and beard.

“The deed is done,” he said. “Against all advice our uncle has betrothed his daughter to the Angevin whelp.”

Stephen refreshed his own cup. “That is up to him.” He shifted in his chair to ease his broad frame and powerful thighs.

“You do not really believe that, do you?” Henry looked Stephen up and down. Sometimes his brother irritated him beyond belief. “Do you really want to see a woman on the throne? Are we all to become petticoat-followers?”

Stephen flushed. “It won’t come to that. Matilda is just another pawn for him to move around on his chessboard. You know what he’s like.”

BOOK: Lady of the English
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