Authors: E.M. Powell
PRAISE FOR THE AUTHOR
‘With her fast-paced mysteries set in the tumultuous reign of Henry II, E.M. Powell takes readers on enthralling, a
Nancy Bilyeau, author of
‘Both Fifth Novels are terrific. Benedict and Theodosia are not merely attractive characters: th
ey are intensely real peopl
Historical Novels Review
‘From the get-go you know you are in an adventure w
hen you enter the world of E.M. Powell’s 12th centu
ril pins you down like a knight’s lance
to the chest.’
—Edward Ruadh Butler, author of
ALSO BY E.M. POWELL
The Fifth Knight
The Blood of the Fifth Knight
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
Text copyright © 2016 E.M. Powell
All rights reserved.
No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.
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Cover design by Jason Anscomb
For my father, the late Patrick C. Powell. I hope he’s proud of Maggot.
Every tree, as a lordly token,
nds all stained with the red blood r
War that demons might wage is woken,
Wails peal high as he raves again
Heroic Romances of Ireland
by A. H. Leahy
The Priory of the Order of St John of Jerusalem, Clerkenwell, London
8 March 1185
Today, he would receive his crown. As the youngest son,
John had heard
at the idea that he would ever have a kingdom to call his own. Even his own royal father, the great Henry: siring child after child, boy after boy, by his mother, Eleanor. She whelped them out, year on year, leaving them to jostle like too many puppies for too few teats. As the last son, there was nothing for him.
Henry’s mocking, dismissive name for him as a boy, taken up with glee by so many. Worst of all, by his older brothers, who used the humiliating taunt until he would cry with rage, setting about them with his small fists even as they laughed at his feeble attempts.
Its shame had never left him, with the crumbs of territory that Henry had granted him only whetting his appetite for power and never close to sating it.
But from today, he’d be Lackland no more. He would have his crown. And what a crown.
‘Pray rise to welcome Heraclius, Patriarch of the Holy City of Jerusalem!’ The cry of the grand master of the Hospitallers came from the high doorway, echoing up to the curved and vaulted stone ceiling of the candlelit
The dozens of barons and abbots seated on the dais around the circular room rose to their feet in a rustle and clink of their ceremonial
John stood up too, glancing to the highest seat of all. Of course, Henry didn’t stand. The King sat in his carved wooden chair, straight as his ageing spine would allow.
The grand master strode in, his flowing black robes emblazoned with the white cross of his order.
Heraclius followed him more slowly, weighed down by the sumptuous, gold-embroidered vestments of Jerusalem. The small party filing in behind him bore padded cushions of scarlet silk on which a number of items rested, the sight of which made John’s heart race.
The keys to the tower of David. The standard of the Holy City. And, most precious of all, the key to the Holy Sepulchre itself, its metal dull against the glow of the silk but which he could swear heated his flesh by its very presence.
He pulled in a long, calming breath as Henry inclined his head to the Patriarch. ‘We welcome you to our holy priory, Heraclius.’
The narrow-faced Patriarch bowed deeply. ‘Truly it is a sign from God that you have summoned me to a place that is dedicated to the Holy City.’
And a place that bore the name of John. Yes, this was a sign. The sign for which John had waited for eighteen long years. His hands quivered now that his prize was so near, and he slid them out of sight beneath his fur-trimmed cloak.
Lackland no more.
Henry waved to his court to retake their seats.
John did so too, arranging his visage into a mask of noble serenity, the better that those present should marvel at the glorious moment at which a man became a king.
‘I offer you the warmest of welcomes to my council, Patriarch Heraclius,’ said Henry. ‘I have
your request for a number of weeks.’
, to be precise.
impossible weeks since the Patriarch’s arrival at Henry’s court in Reading. How the man had gone on about the Holy Land and its being in danger. How leprosy consumed its ruler, Baldwin. How the sacred land was in danger of falling into the hands of the infidel. On and on, the man’s impassioned pleas reducing the whole court to tears. Well, not the
: John had had trouble stifling his yawns. The only thing that had kept him awake was wondering which parts of Baldwin had dropped off and in what order. But he’d sat bolt upright at the
conclusion: could Henry send an Angevin prince to assume the crown of Jerusalem?
Henry had nodded sagely and said he would convene a council to give it grave consideration and issue an answer.
John had known. Known what his father planned.
eldest brother, Henry,
had been dead for almost two years.
was still embroiled in reassigning
uncooperative older brothers, Richard and
only left him, John. He would have Jerusalem.
He had of course been excluded from the council. For that he was truly grateful. Listening to this room full of wrinkled old men puff and blow for
the last week
about a matter to which they already had a conclusion would have had him dead with boredom.
The Patriarch smiled. ‘I am humbled and grateful for your grave consideration, your Grace.’
‘We have our responses for you,’ said Henry. ‘I have asked all at my council to advise me for my soul’s safety, and I will abide by their wise opinions.’ He nodded to the baron seated nearest the door. ‘You may speak.’
John swallowed hard and prepared himself for the first momentous confirmation of his new power.
‘My answer is guided by God,’ said the old baron, toothless, but clear as day. ‘And it is that his Grace needs to attend to his rea
Stunned, John grabbed for the ornate wooden arms of his seat.
The Patriarch looked as if the baron had slapped him across th
The baron went on. ‘His Grace, full of charity and holiness, will send money to the aid of the Holy City.’
John’s glance flew to Henry. Surely his father would let loose his famous wrath at the ridiculous suggestion of the dithering old nobleman? But no. No.
‘I thank you for your gracious consideration,’ said Henry, ‘and praise God the Almighty for guiding your decision.’
Henry nodded to the next baron, who cleared his throat before announcing: ‘My answer, guided by God, is that his Grace needs to attend to his realm here. His Grace, full of charity and holiness, will send money to the aid of the Holy City.’
The same words. The exact same words. John’s grip on his chair tightened to hold in his shout of disbelief, the Patriarch’s expression matching the shock surging within him.
Henry appeared as calm as a man enjoying a garden walk and sought the next response with a grave nod.
An abbot this time, opening his wet mouth to trumpet the words like a sermon. ‘My answer, guided by God . . .’
Rage pounded in John’s chest as baron, baron, abbot, baron – the whole infernal circle – continued to spew out the same reply.
His father listened to each one as if it were a real opinion instead of something he had imposed upon them.
John could only stare and stare, fearing his building fury would choke him.
‘. . . to the aid of the Holy City.’ The last man finished to a silence disturbed only by the roar of the blood in John’s ears.
Henry turned his gaze to the Patriarch. ‘Truly, an answer guided by God. I shall make sure your armies are well funded.’ He gave a magnanimous smile.
Heraclius did not return it. ‘Guided by God, your Grace? By
?’ His voice climbed in his displeasure, the colour rising in his face to match. ‘Does God wish that his own city should fall to the infidel?’
Henry’s expression darkened to a frown. ‘You would question my judgement? That I fight for Christendom?’
‘You fight only for yourself! Like when you had Saint Thomas Becket, your holy archbishop, murdered when he would not bend to your will.’ Heraclius’s sharp accusation brought forth a stream of outrage from the council.
‘Shame on you, sir!’ cried a baron.
‘The King has received God’s forgiveness.’ An abbot waved an angry fist in the air. ‘He does not need yours!’
John leaned forward in a rush of renewed hope. Becket’s murder was a stain on Henry’s reign, his soul. The Patriarch’s rash speech would surely sway the King.
Henry’s expression did not change as the black-robed master stepped closer to the Patriarch. ‘Enough. You forget your place.’
Heraclius thrust him to one side. ‘I forget nothing. I remember in my prayers every day that Becket’s sacred head was sacrificed to his martyrdom. You can take mine too. I will not be silenced. You condemn us all to the infidel’s sword.’ He pointed a finger at Henry. ‘You may as well be a Saracen.’
The horrified clamour at Heraclius’s words drowned out John’s gasp of delight. That would do it. He looked at his father, waiting for the roars in response to the goads, the insults. The capitulation that would follow.
Henry raised a hand and silence fell, broken only by the
fast, enraged breathing. ‘I forgive you, Heraclius, for your harsh words. Becket’s death still brings us all to grief that is near madness.’
A subdued chorus of ‘Amen’ met his words.
Henry continued. ‘God has called my son Henry back to Him, but I have my remaining three sons, Angevin princes all, to hold my kingdom and to serve me. Now it is time for my son John, whom I have asked here today, to undertake a venture of the
John inclined his head at his father’s words, renewed certainty hot within him now. Henry liked to create a spectacle. All of what had gone before had been just that. Now was when he would make
‘One I have clear in my mind.’ Henry stood, and all rose wi
John stood too: tall and proud. And ready.
‘For the time has come.’ Henry paused.
Now. Finally. John held in his smile of triumph as he met his father’s eye. He needn’t have feared. All was as he’d surmised. The Holy Land was his.
‘Today,’ said Henry, ‘I make the solemn and proud dedication of my son to assume’ – he opened his hands – ‘the Lordship of Ireland.’
John’s mouth fell open. The most meagre crumb of them all. ‘Ireland?’
‘Ireland?’ repeated a stunned-looking Patriarch.
‘Ireland.’ Henry gave a firm nod.
‘But, Father.’ John thrust himself from the dais and stepped before Henry. ‘I should be defending Jerusalem. The Holy Land. Not an island that is of no consequence in the world.’
Henry’s fists clenched. ‘No consequence?’ came his instant
. ‘It is within my realm. Mine! And as ever it remains in need of pacification. Its lordship has been in your name for the best part of ten years, and the day has come when you are of an age to deal with it. You should be honoured to serve me, boy.’ Henry jabbed a finger at him. ‘Honoured!’
‘Of course I am, Father, but I would be better to take the crown of Jerusalem than the crown of Ireland, for God would want that, and He would . . .’ John stuttered to a halt, lost
what God might want. He fell to his knees on the hard stone of the floor and joined his hands, aware of how noble a sight this public humility would make. ‘I beg you, your Grace.’
Henry’s expression softened a little.
Yes, that was it. Beg – make his father feel powerful, generous. ‘I beg you, implore you, with all my heart, and my – my soul.’ But dread grasped at him as Henry shook his head slowly.
‘John, there is to be no crown of Ireland sanctioned by Rome.’ Henry’s voice tightened in his anger. ‘The Pope refuses to allow it. Refuses me.’ His hard eyes bored into John’s. ‘So you remain Lord of Ireland. Under my superior lordship.’
‘What?’ John shot to his feet. ‘No crown? Father, you
Henry held a hand up. ‘Remember to whom you speak. And the decision is that of the whole council. Guided by God.’
John looked left, right, behind, the better to meet every eye, to view every impassive face. No one uttered a word, but they might as well have clamoured a chorus of humiliation to the high ceiling:
‘Guided by God,’ repeated Henry as John met his gaze once more. ‘My council.’
‘Your council?’ He glared at his father. ‘That is what you would call this assemblage of – of nodding know-nothings?’
Henry drew breath to speak but John’s shout stopped him.
‘Fools! You’re all fools!’ Shocked gasps broke out as he shoved his way past the Patriarch, dashing the key of the Holy Sepulchre to the ground in a ring of metal on stone. He made for the closed entrance, unheeding of Henry’s roars to remain.
‘Fools, I tell you!’ One hard blow from his hands drove the door open, sending the monks guarding it staggering back as he burst out.
He didn’t care. His steps echoed hard in the stone cloister as he marched away, the door closing on his father’s continued shouts and bringing silence to the near-darkness of evening.
His fool of a father too. And that meddler in Rome. Leaving the cloister, he spurned the tidy gravelled path that led to his apartments, cutting instead across the lawn. He needed to get to his rooms as quickly as he could, to let out some of this rage. Rooms to which he had
farewell as a man on the brink of his great destiny, and which he should have re-entered as a king. Instead –
He halted in the coolness of the gathering dusk, the race of fury in his chest threatening to break out in tears.
Worse, a nothing that had been planned. Every simple-pate in there had rehearsed and sung Henry’s tune. The Patriarch could have been talking to seats taken by donkeys for all the notice taken of his excellent proposal. John kicked and kicked at the soft, neat grass, sending clods of earth and dirt into the air. He could wring every neck in there: scrawny, muscled, flabby. They all denied him his greatness, the power that was his by birth. By right. Who were they to deny him?
He booted up another sod of earth, then set off across the dark lawn. Lights shone from his grand
, as they did from all the other buildings. The savoury smell of roast meat came
n the c
ool air: final preparations for tonight’s celebration to honour the
. A feast where all the nobles would gather and sate their
appetite with the best food, the finest wines, joined by their wives. The whole court turning out to witness the humiliation of Lackland.