SYBELLEby Roberta Gellis
Sybelle, youngest heiress to the magnificent Roselynde dynasty, continues the story of power and wealth in a land torn by the threat of Civil War. The time has come for the tempestuous amber-eyed heroine to select a husband. But, an independent and powerful woman, she will not relinquish her pride, influence, and unusually extensive dowry to the will of just any suitor…until she meets Walter de Clare, the rugged, handsome knight who dares to rebel against King Henry III.
Neither the devastation of battle nor nasty court tangles are able to destroy two free spirits whose love is so fiercely determined to survive.
Lady Alinor raised her head from the letter she had just read and stared blankly at her husband. From the expression on Lord Ian’s face when he first read the letter, she had been prepared for disconcerting though not tragic or dangerous news. But now Ian looked back at her, his surprised disbelief already melting into exasperated amusement.
They sat, as they often did these days, in a wall chamber rather than in the great hall of Roselynde keep. Although the hearth was small and could not accommodate the huge logs that roared and spat in the fireplaces of the great hall, the small room was also free of sweeping drafts. In good measure this was owing to the brilliant tapestries that covered the walls. In addition to providing the chief beauty of the room, for the jewel-like tints of the cloth showing the hunting scenes relieved the gloom and gave an impression of warmth to the eyes, the tapestries actually did keep out the damp chill that oozed from the rubble-filled stone walls while they reflected heat from the dancing fire.
There was a sense of peace in the small chamber, of protection from the winds of November that lashed the sea into great breakers, which crashed against the cliff below the enormous stone walls of Roselynde. There was also protection from the noise and bustle of activity in the great hall. As they grew old together, Alinor and Ian prized more highly whatever time of quiet they could seize. There was not much. The fits and starts of King Henry III kept England in turmoil and, at the present time, had brought many powerful barons into open rebellion.
“Is it a jest?” Alinor asked, holding up the letter.
“Oh, no,” Ian replied. “It is signed and sealed officially. It is no jest. That is a formal invitation to the wedding of our son, Simon, to Rhiannon, daughter of Llewelyn, Prince of Gwynedd.”
Alinor slammed the letter down on the small table beside her so violently that the goblet of wine on it jumped several inches. Ian’s lips twitched. Alinor’s temper, although somewhat mellowed by sixty years of life, was still volatile.
“Then the old man is losing his grip on his wits,” she snapped. “One does not make a wedding in the middle of a war when the families of the bride and groom are on opposite sides.”
“Llewelyn is no older than I,” Ian reminded her, laughing, “and I wish my wits were ever as sharp as his are now.”
Immediately, Alinor’s expression softened, and she rose to embrace her husband affectionately. “There is nothing wrong with your wits,” she murmured. “It is your heart that is at fault, my love, from being too soft and easily moved.”
Ian returned his wife’s embrace and kissed her. “Well, heart or head,” he said cheerfully, “there is nothing wrong with Llewelyn. In a way it is not so ill a time for a meeting.”
“I think you are as mad as he.” Alinor laughed. “Have you also forgot that the barons of the southwest are in active rebellion?”
Ian sighed. “I wish I could forget it. No, but just think. That surprise attack of Llewelyn and Pembroke’s on Grosmont has left the king with hardly a stitch to clothe his men, an ox to feed them, or a penny to pay them. He is sitting at Gloucester, but what can he do? The vassals have withdrawn, and the mercenaries are grumbling and rebellious. At the moment, Henry is helpless.”
“Perhaps, but he is screaming that he will have his revenge. Could it be,” Alinor asked thoughtfully, “that Llewelyn believes he can embroil us in the rebel cause?”
“He knows me too well for that.” Ian smiled. “Of course, Llewelyn would not object if my going to Wales for my son’s wedding increased the king’s anxiety. But it is safe for us, Alinor. Henry gave us permission for the marriage. And even more important, I think even the Bishop of Winchester is growing frightened now. Certainly, he will not move against us. Most likely he will simply look the other way and say nothing, to avoid alienating us further.”
“Then why did Llewelyn decide to have the wedding now? Is it pure mischief?”
“An expensive piece of mischief. No, what Llewelyn really wants is news.”
“Nonsense,” Alinor replied irritably. “What news can we give him? We have not been near Henry since last summer. Llewelyn must know that even Geoffrey has avoided the king since Henry broke his oath to Richard.”
“I do not think Llewelyn needs news of Henry,” Ian pointed out. “I am sure he has spies in that area, perhaps in Gloucester keep itself, to tell him what Henry says and does. What Llewelyn wants is news of England, of the temper of the barons and of the clergy.” He grinned, looking for a moment boyish despite the marks of advancing age. “Llewelyn wants to know how much longer he has to stuff his coffers with the loot of raids before the king offers Richard peace.”
Alinor’s hand rested on her husband’s shoulder. The sparkle of green and gold went out of her fine eyes, leaving them dark. “Will there be peace soon, Ian?”
He covered her hand with his own. “Soon? That I cannot say, but I have hope, dear heart. As you know, Henry is not one to stick to a purpose when it becomes dangerous or even uncomfortable to do so. Moreover, he fears the disapproval of the Church.”
“Not with the Bishop of Winchester to assure him constantly that he is doing right.” Alinor dropped a kiss on her husband’s temple and went back to her seat.
“But I think the choice of Edmund of Abingdon to be Archbishop of Canterbury will change that,” Ian said. “Edmund is no man’s creature, and he will not fear to speak out urging conciliation on both sides—
“Which every bishop who is not Winchester’s henchman has been doing for near a year,” Alinor interrupted impatiently, her eyes sparkling again.
Ian smiled at her. “But Henry’s belief is strong, and Edmund will have the primacy of the Church about him even if he has not yet received the pall.”
“So Edmund is holy,” Alinor agreed, “yet he cannot be more holy than the Bishop of London, and Roger has not been able to bring about a reconciliation.”
“Because Roger is a bishop as Winchester is a bishop,” Ian said. “In the king’s mind, neither is closer to God, although it must be apparent to the whole world else that Roger will go straight to God’s knee when God sees fit to call him to heaven.”
“And Winchester will go straight to the devil,” Alinor snapped.
Sadness filled Ian’s eyes. “No,” he sighed. “Despite all the trouble he has caused, Peter des Roches is not evil. There is no evil intent in him. God would not damn a man for lack of understanding.”
“He was once your friend and you will never cease to love him,” Alinor said in an exasperated voice. “But Winchester has been no friend to this realm these two years past. It was he alone who set the notion into Henry’s head that a king must be all-powerful and rule without the advice or consent of his barons, regardless of law or custom And it was Winchester who deliberately forced Richard Marshal to rebel, thinking that if he could break the Earl of Pembroke, the rest of us would bow meekly and allow the king to have his own will in all things.”
“But Winchester meant it to bring peace and order to the land,” Ian pointed out soothingly.
“He meant it to bring the land resistless into his hand,” Alinor snapped, and then, seeing the trouble in her husband’s face, she jumped up, kissed him again, laughed, and went back to her seat. “Very well,” she continued, “I will credit Winchester with good intentions. I will only wish him purgatory instead of hell, but I hope it is for as many aeons as he has caused us years of misery.”
That made Ian laugh also. “Your notions of mercy, my love, chill my blood. But what I wished to make clear is that you need not fear that Winchester will cry anathema on us when we go to Builth for the wedding.”
To Ian’s surprise, his wife did not answer. Instead, she looked away to the doorway leading to the great hall of the keep. Ian also turned his head. Instantly, the trouble that had lingered in his eyes despite his laugh vanished into a warm smile of welcome to his eldest grandchild. He had long since stopped reminding himself that Sybelle’s mother was his stepdaughter and not his own get. He knew Alinor remembered her first husband with love, but she did not resent Ian’s calling Joanna his daughter and Sybelle his granddaughter.
Sybelle dropped a kiss on the top of her grandfather’s head as she passed, but she made direct for Alinor, holding out a stalk of flax. “I think this has soaked long enough,” she said.
Alinor took the stalk in her hand and teased at it with her nails, then felt the fibers. “Yes,” she agreed, “but send one of the maids to tell the women to get on with the work. I want you to write to your mother and father and tell them that Ian and I will leave for Wales in five days’ time.”
“Wales?” Sybelle repeated, her beautiful amber-colored eyes widening. “Is something wrong with Simon?” she asked in a frightened voice.
“No, no,” Ian assured her, and, simultaneously, Alinor said caustically, “Aside from his being even more insane than usual, I do not believe so.”
Sybelle looked from one grandparent to the other. “Whatever has Simon done now?” she asked apprehensively.
Simon was Sybelle’s favorite, a dearly loved playfellow in her youth; although he was her uncle he was only six years older than she, and now he was her dearest friend and confidant. However, there could be no doubt that Simon was a sport, an unusual growth in a family dedicated to the expansion of its lands, wealth, and power. Thus, Simon was often in disgrace with his parents, more particularly with his practical and hot-tempered mother. However, rather than showing signs of rage, Alinor’s bright eyes glittered with laughter.
“For once he has done something right,” she said, “since we have just received a formal invitation from Prince Llewelyn to Simon’s marriage to Rhiannon.”
“Oh, wonderful!” Sybelle exclaimed. “I knew he would convince her.” But then her eyes widened again. “But why do you go to Wales now? Surely—
“Surely Lord Llewelyn is as full of mischief as a dog is of fleas,” Alinor remarked tartly. “Unless it is Simon who has conceived this lunacy—a wedding in the middle of a war! The date is the first day of December.”
Sybelle smiled again. “That is not lunacy. It is superstition. Simon always said he would marry on the day you did, Grandmama. He said it worked for my mama and papa, for surely they are very happy together.”
“Happy marriages are not made by the date of the wedding,” Alinor replied, but her expression had softened and her voice was softer, too, as she went on. “Happy marriages come of goodwill, good sense, and honest desire on both parts. In any case,” she continued with a lift of her brows, “as things are between Simon and Rhiannon, the wedding could have been left until December first of next year when, please God, our going to Wales would not tempt the king to cry treason.”
“Come, Alinor,” Ian protested, grinning at her, “you are only being contrary. You know this is none of Simon’s doing. Agreed that Simon wished to marry on December first, he would have been content to take Rhiannon before any priest with a few witnesses and be done with it. And Rhiannon would not care. The wedding must be Llewelyn’s idea. I have told you his probable purpose.”
Sybelle had not really been listening to this exchange, and her bronze-gold brows were drawn together in a frown. “May I go with you?” she asked. “I do not know whether Papa will be willing to go—not that he would not like to, but I know he does not wish to hurt King Henry more than he has done already. But I…I would like to see Simon married and to see Rhiannon again.”
“And to see Walter de Clare, perhaps?” Alinor asked, and then added, “No, I am not teasing you, Sybelle, I am asking you a serious question. Whenever Walter has come among the family, his eyes sought you out. True, there is no certainty that he will be at Builth, but he was with Richard Marshal when last we heard of him. Richard will certainly he invited to Simon’s wedding, and it is likely, if Walter is with him, Walter will come also because he and Simon have known one another since Simon went for fostering. I know your father would like the match between you and Walter. He likes Walter, and the lands are what we need.”
“Alinor,” Ian said sharply, “do not press Sybelle with talk of Geoffrey’s preference and Walter’s estates. Roselynde is rich enough and strong enough. We need no maiden sacrifices.’’
“I am not pressing her,” Alinor protested. “I am asking her—or warning her, perhaps. It is my feeling that Walter will ask for her as soon as he sees her again. I believe he would have asked Geoffrey for her sooner, except that Walter feared he would be named a rebel and disseisined at any moment.”
“That is most reasonable,” Ian pointed out. “It was wise and honest not to press his suit. I must say that I believe Walter de Clare to be a man of strict honor.”
Sybelle, as was proper, had said nothing while this discussion of the man who might become her husband had taken place. She had listened with interest, of course, but without anxiety—in which she was different and more fortunate than most girls. In general, marriage was not a matter of liking or loving but of political alliances and transfer of property. The opinions and desires of the women involved were seldom consulted. Sybelle, however, did not fear being forced into a hateful and terrifying marriage. She had, in fact, already refused many matches that had been suggested.
Nonetheless, during the past year, Sybelle had noticed that the expressions of relief her parents had worn when she first turned away suitors had changed to concern. She began to realize that, at sixteen, it was overtime for her to be married. It was also true that she had found Walter de Clare attractive. This had puzzled her a little, for she was surrounded by very handsome men and Walter was not especially handsome.
Not that there was anything distasteful in Walter’s appearance. He was as tall as Simon or Ian and as heavily built as her uncle Adam. Still, compared with Simon’s breathtaking beauty, which he had inherited from Ian, and even Adam’s superlative good looks, Walter was plain. As Sybelle thought the word, Walter’s face appeared in her mind’s eye, a strong, square chin; a wide, mobile mouth, which looked good-natured and always smiled at her but which she thought could be both hard and cruel; a high-bridged beak of a nose; blue eyes. Sybelle’s thoughts paused. The eyes were really nice. They glinted with humor and intelligence.
“Oh, I believe so, too.” Alinor laughed, agreeing with Ian’s description of Walter’s strict honesty. “He is as bad as you, Ian—and I do not say that as a compliment. No, really, he is worse. He is like Simon—I mean my first husband,” Alinor said to Sybelle, who had looked surprised. “My Simon was a great one for being so honest he would run his head into a stone wall.”
But Sybelle had not looked surprised because she had confused Alinor’s son with her first husband, both of whom were named Simon. She was surprised because she realized for the first time that Walter de Clare was, from what she had heard, like the grandfather she had never known. Her mother’s father had been thirty years older than his wife and had died when Joanna was nine years old. Much as Joanna loved her stepfather—and she adored him—she had been determined that her own father’s memory should not die. Sybelle had been told everything that Joanna remembered of her father’s appearance and personality.
Much of what Joanna had told her daughter was idealized, of course, but Sybelle did not realize that. And although Alinor spoke less frequently of her first husband, what she said confirmed Joanna’s tales. Sybelle, too, adored Ian, but a powerful admiration for her natural grandfather had been driven into her. Alinor’s identification of Walter with her first husband meant more to Sybelle than her grandmother guessed. However, the connection between the men made Sybelle feel oddly shy, and she took refuge in avoiding the subject.
“But you always say it is Grandpapa who is so honorable that he runs his head into stone walls,” Sybelle teased.
“It is Simon who was your grandfather, Sybelle,” Ian reminded her. Although Ian thought of Alinor’s children from her first marriage as his own, he had been Simon’s squire and best friend. He did not wish Simon’s memory to die, either. The double reminder brought a faint flush to Sybelle’s cheeks, but she only said, merrily, “Yes, I know. Mama often talks of him. It is comforting to have three grandfathers—two here and one in heaven. No matter how wrong I am, I always have someone to take my side.”
Alinor raised her brows as she watched her granddaughter’s lovely face. Perhaps the faint flush of color had some special meaning, but perhaps it was only a result of the memory of some piece of mischief. Sybelle was a perfect blend of mother and father in appearance—Joanna’s brilliant red hair and Geoffrey’s light brown mingling into a glowing bronze, Joanna’s milk-white skin, and Geoffrey’s golden mingling into a soft, lustrous, creamy complexion. However, the eyes were all Geoffrey’s, and, unfortunately, the sense of humor was all Joanna’s. Sybelle, too, would butter a path to see someone carrying an armful of eggs slide down.
“Now, mistress,” Alinor said with mock severity, “you may distract your grandfather into talk of other subjects, but I am not so easy to befool. It is both good and bad to have a man like Walter, who will live and die by his honor. God knows it has cost me much pain and worry to have husbands of that kind. I must warn you that Walter de Clare is not the man to turn aside, even from a disaster staring into his face, if honor bids him go forward.”
“So it must be,” Ian said strongly. “Where there is no honor, there is no man. There is only a beast that walks on two legs.”
“Oh, tush!” Alinor exclaimed, using her late husband’s favorite expression. “There is no lack of honor in Geoffrey, but he does not go about butting walls down with his head—at least, not often. But what brought Walter de Clare to my mind in the first place was what you said, Ian, before Sybelle came in, about Winchester finally taking fright and not wishing to make more enemies. If Walter also feels Winchester will stop urging the king to vengeance, he will almost certainly come to an open declaration of his intention. Or, if it is not now, it will be soon. Thus, Sybelle must know what she wishes with regard to him.”
Sybelle’s color, which had gone back to normal, rose again. “But I do not know.”
“Do not talk like a silly chit,” Alinor said sharply. “You must know whether or not Walter is to your taste.”
“Alinor!” Ian exclaimed. “If Sybelle is undecided, we can put off Walter.”
“That is not fair to him,” Alinor pointed out, gratefully noting that Sybelle was looking at her and had not noticed the expression of astonishment followed by cynicism on Ian’s face.
Ian knew that it was most unlike Alinor to worry about what was fair to others when her own family’s interests were involved. Alinor could be kind and just—and mostly she was. However, to her, the interests of Roselynde and those bound to it by blood were paramount, and everything else was subordinate. Although Ian was not given to seeing beneath the surface of things, over twenty years as Alinor’s husband had sharpened his perceptions. He realized that it was Sybelle, not Walter, about whom Alinor was concerned—and yet that was not completely true. Seemingly, Alinor wanted Sybelle to choose Walter, and once he came into the family he, too, would be “hers, to her,” someone to be cared for with devotion. While these thoughts ran through Ian’s head, Alinor had continued speaking with calm thoughtfulness.
“At least, if the answer is more likely to be no than yes, I think Sybelle must tell us now so that we may warn Walter that a contract is unlikely. I am not asking Sybelle to commit herself absolutely, only to say whether Walter does or does not appeal to her as a possible husband. It is clear enough that she likes the man, but a woman can like a man without the smallest desire to lie with him—in spite of what most priests think—and that would not serve for a marriage.”
“It serves for many marriages,” Sybelle remarked. Her voice was indifferent but she did not have equal control over her complexion, and her color was high again.
“Not for a woman of this family,” Alinor said firmly, and then laughed. “It is only love that tames us of Roselynde.”
“And not too well, even so,” Ian retorted sardonically
“How can you say that?” Alinor exclaimed, widening her eyes with a totally false expression of injury. “Have I not always been most meek and obedient to your will, my lord’“
Ian groaned and covered his eyes with his hand, and Sybelle giggled. “Grandmama!” she protested. “Consider poor Father Edgar. You know he is not so young, and that stool m the confessional is very hard. He will be forced to sit on it for hours if you claim to be meek and obedient.”
“There is no need to confess meekness and obedient,” Alinor remarked with deliberate miscomprehension, her eyes sparkling with laughter. “And, you unnatural child, you should first consider the discomfort for your grandmother’s rheumy knees in kneeling rather than that of Father Edgar’s well padded posterior.’’
“Rheumy knees!” Sybelle exclaimed. “There is nothing rheumy about your knees when you want to mount a horse. They only become rheumy for kneeling, which you detest.”
“Did I not say she was unnatural?” Alinor complained to Ian. “Such disrespect for an aged and enfeebled grandmother!”
“There is nothing unnatural about it,” Ian replied with mock gravity. “Were you not only now saying that her grandfather Simon was more honest than diplomatic? It is perfectly natural for Sybelle to have inherited that honestly.”
“She also seems to have inherited his ability to divert me from my purpose,” Alinor said wryly, but she put out her hand and touched her granddaughter affectionately. “But it will not do. If you wish to come to Wales with us, Sybelle, my love, you must at least be ready to say no at once. I am sure that if Walter sees you in the suggestive atmosphere of a wedding, he will be catapulted into a declaration.”
And if he is not, Ian thought, Alinor will arrange it, but he said nothing. He, too, had noticed the varying color in Sybelle’s face; he, too, liked Walter and thought the marriage would be most suitable. There would be time enough to interfere if he found that the pressure being put on Sybelle was making her unhappy. And Sybelle’s answer to her grandmother’s prodding confirmed his decision.
“I do not wish to say no,” Sybelle admitted. “I know I must marry soon, and Walter is attractive to me, but…but I am not sure he will make a good husband.”
In Hemel two days later, Sybelle’s parents, Lord Geoffrey FitzWilliam and his wife. Lady Joanna, also were discussing the subject of Simon’s marriage to Rhiannon. They had received both their daughter’s letter, informing them that Ian and Alinor would attend the wedding, and Prince Llewelyn’s invitation within an hour of each other.
It was just dusk and the torches along the walls of the great hall had already been lit. Hemel was old, and the narrow slit windows, deep-set into the thick walls, provided little light even on a sunny day. Covered with thin, scraped, oiled skins to keep out the worst of the wind and cold, the windows might just as well not have existed in a November dusk.
However, the lord’s place by one of the great hearths was cozy enough. A huge fire roared and leapt in the fireplace, tall wrought-iron candlesticks holding fat candles of real beeswax gave light without smoke or stench, cushioned chairs provided comfortable seating, and carved footstools raised the feet above the drafts that swept along the floors. Nonetheless, many of the servants seated on stools or even on the thickly strewn rushes that covered the floors were more at ease than their master and mistress. Their lives, if not necessarily happy, were at least simple. They had only to obey; they were not troubled by divided loyalties or theoretical questions of right and wrong.
Joanna watched her husband anxiously. She knew the contents of the letters he had just read, and she wanted very much to see her half brother, Simon, married, for she loved him dearly. Because her mother had been as deeply involved in political affairs as her stepfather and usually traveled with him wherever he went, when Joanna was a girl she had often had the care of Roselynde and of Simon. He was as much eldest son as youngest brother in her heart.
Nonetheless, Joanna did not feel she could urge Geoffrey to go to Wales. In the conflict that the Bishop of Winchester had engendered between the king and his barons, Geoffrey had been torn by divided loyalties. His every instinct and his intelligence bade him side with Richard Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, and uphold Magna Carta. However, Geoffrey was blood cousin to the king, although through two generations of illegitimacy. Even more important, Henry had been very good to Geoffrey.
Until the advent of Winchester, Geoffrey had been a trusted councilor, and he controlled many royal castles. Moreover, Henry had stubbornly resisted Winchester’s desire to strip Geoffrey of his honors and holdings, despite the fact that Geoffrey had opposed Winchester’s advice and Henry’s fancies. The king’s trust demanded loyalty, and Geoffrey had proven that loyalty, however much it went against the grain for him.
Then came the debacle at Usk. Again against advice, not only of Geoffrey but of every baron knowledgeable in Welsh affairs, the king had listened to Winchester and had attacked Pembroke’s keep at Usk with a mixed army of English levies and foreign mercenaries. But the attack had been doomed to failure even before it started. Raids by Prince Llewelyn’s Welsh bands on the baggage train had destroyed siege instruments and deprived Henry’s army of essential supplies of food and weapons. And the scorched-earth policy Richard Marshal had learned from his Welsh vassals had made it impossible for Henry’s men to live off the land or to restore what had been lost, which precluded a protracted siege. Several direct assaults had been resisted with far greater loss to the king’s army than to the defenders at Usk.
To save the king from retreating like a whipped cur with his tail between his legs and looking like an utter fool, a truce had been arranged. Pembroke yielded his castle on the terms that it would be returned in fifteen days, undamaged and with supplies intact, and that the king would then call a council in which the complaints of Pembroke, Gilbert Bassett, and other barons would be considered. Geoffrey, the Bishop of St. David’s, and several other churchmen and noblemen had gone surety that the king would keep his word and Usk would be returned to Richard. Instead, a trap had been set to catch and imprison the earl for the “crime” of demanding that Henry obey the terms of the truce.
Richard escaped the trap, and Usk fell back into its master’s hands with hardly a drop of bloodshed. In fact, Pembroke could have demanded that the churchmen use their powers of excommunication against the king and that the noblemen who went surety bring their retainers and fight against the king’s forces to regain Usk. But the earl did not go so far as that, although his craw was full of Henry’s deceit and treachery. When Henry brought a second army to Wales to punish Richard for his “treachery and insolence,” Richard agreed to a surprise attack on the king’s encampment at Grosmont, which his ally Prince Llewelyn planned and led. The attack had stripped the king’s army naked, although there was little bloodshed.
Because the Bishop of Winchester had alienated the whole barony of England, both by his sneers and his attack on Magna Carta, which defined their rights and privileges, few of the lesser vassals would respond to the levy called. Because they were either sureties for the fulfillment of the king’s oath to the Earl of Pembroke, which absolutely precluded fighting against him, or were simply so disgusted with Henry’s behavior that they would condone it no longer, most of the great vassals also refused to answer the levy.
Thus, the king’s second army was made up almost exclusively of foreign mercenaries under captains from Poitou. The only exceptions were Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, and William Longespee, Earl of Salisbury—Geoffrey’s father. Roger Bigod’s attendance was owing to a combination of youth, inexperience, a passionate love of fighting for the sheer joy of it, and the fact that he was the king’s brother-by-marriage, having married Henry’s sister Isabella. The Earl of Salisbury’s presence was a different matter entirely, and it was owing to Geoffrey’s father’s presence at Grosmont that Joanna did not need to hint, even indirectly, that she would like to see Simon and Rhiannon married.
Geoffrey looked up from Prince Llewelyn’s letter and met Joanna’s anxious eyes. “Yes,” he said, “we will go to the wedding.” His lips were thin and bitter when he spoke.
There was a brief pause while Joanna continued to examine her husband’s face. “You are always so good to me, Geoffrey,” she said slowly. “I do wish to see Simon married, you know that. Nonetheless…”
Geoffrey uttered a mirthless bark of laughter. “There is nothing you would ask of me that I would not do, Joanna, but I am not doing this for you. Partly I am doing it to give Henry and Winchester an additional fright. If they were honorable men themselves, they would know that I would do nothing and say nothing in Wales to their detriment, and therefore their hearts and minds would be at peace. However, they are such fools and so little believe in men’s honor that they will doubtless think I intend treason because I go to see my brother-by-marriage wed.”
“But will that not be dangerous?” Joanna asked.
Her husband’s expression softened. “Do you mean to William and Ian? My love, you cannot think I would do a thing that would endanger my sons just to teach any man a lesson. The boys are at Oxford. We will take them with us. What could be more natural than that they should attend then uncle’s wedding?”
First Joanna looked delighted, but almost immediately a thoughtful frown replaced the expression of pleasure. “Will that not be going a step too far—to take the boys without permission? You do not really wish to break with the king, do you?”
To Joanna’s surprise, Geoffrey did not immediately assure her he would be faithful to his cousin the king. He acted as if he had not heard her questions. “How could I wait for permission and still come in time for the wedding?” he asked cynically in return. “I shall, of course, write to the king and explain what I have done.” For a moment the bitterness disappeared from Geoffrey’s face and his eyes glowed golden with mischief at the thought of Henry’s probable reaction to such a letter, but the amusement did not linger. Still, his eyes did not dull but grew more brilliant with anger. “And I hope he flies into such a rage that he does cry treason. Let him come here and gnaw at Hemel’s walls while Ian and Adam come at him from behind. Between us, we will—
“Geoffrey…” Joanna leaned forward and placed a hand over his, which had formed into a clenched fist. “You know you do not mean that. And you know Henry will not cry treason unless you force him. For all his kicking and screaming like a spoiled infant, he loves you.”
“Does he?” Geoffrey asked tightly. “Does he? It was only to spite me, to hurt me, that he ordered my father to lead his own men. Poor Papa, he is so crippled he can barely ride. It costs him such pain… That was cruelty, naked cruelty!”
“But was it Henry’s?” Joanna asked. She was grateful and relieved that the subject had come up in this natural way. She had tried several times to soothe Geoffrey’s anguish, but he had, as was his unfortunate habit, closed his bitterness inside himself. “Henry is fond of your father,” she continued. “To me, it appears more like a move Winchester might suggest, thinking that to spare your father you would violate the oath you made to Richard. And I will add this, I do not think it beyond Winchester’s duplicity to have summoned your father on his own, telling him that he must speak and act as if his coming to the king was his own idea and desire.”
“But why would Papa… Oh, God! Very likely you are right, Joanna. Of course, that snake would have written to Papa and said that the king was greatly angered—which, I must say, must have been true—and that if Papa would come with his men, Henry would be appeased and do neither me nor my sons harm. Bishop! That one should be a bishop in Satan’s church, not God’s.”
“Well,” Joanna temporized, “we do not know which man was at fault, and very likely we will never know. Having given his word, your father will stick to it, buckle and thong, that it was his own idea—you will see.”
Geoffrey nodded, his gaze abstracted. Plainly he was reconsidering his plans in a light less owing to a raging fury with the king. Watching his face, Joanna could have wept for joy. Ten years in age seemed to have lifted from him and an aeon of bitterness. Unlike Ian, Geoffrey was not suffused with love for all mankind—nor womankind, either. Geoffrey regarded humanity in general with a jaundiced eye, and he saw clearly the defects even of those he loved best. Nonetheless, those he loved, he loved hard, despite their imperfections. There were not many outside of his father and stepmother, their children, and his relations by marriage, but prominent among those were King Henry and Henry’s brother, Richard of Cornwall.
If Geoffrey was often irritated by Henry’s fits and starts, the enthusiasms that went too far, the way Henry pushed blame on others, and his occasional temper tantrums, he was also closest to the king in his love of music and art. Geoffrey truly appreciated the soaring cathedrals Henry was having built and the marvelous sculptures with which they were being decorated. Henry had made Geoffrey rich, and Geoffrey gave lavishly of those riches to the king’s artistic pursuits—men and money and his own labor to carry loads of stone on his back and set them in the mortar with his own hands. Geoffrey thought less of his soul and God at such times than he thought of pure beauty, but he felt God would forgive him.
In all the years, despite all the rages and petty spites that were characteristic of him, Henry had never done anything to hurt the cousin who shared his love of beauty. The fact that Henry had been cruel to his aged father had shocked Geoffrey and had shaken his faith in his friend and cousin. Thus, Geoffrey had reacted too strongly to the summoning of his father when he himself, who had acted as Salisbury’s deputy for years, had refused to be part of the second unjust attack on the Earl of Pembroke.
Joanna had divined all of this. Geoffrey did not speak of it, but she knew him well. In fact, Joanna did not particularly believe what she had said about Winchester being at fault in the summoning of Geoffrey’s father to war. She was not herself really fond of Henry. Had he been her child, he would have been taught to curb himself and apply himself to the business of kingship instead of designing cathedrals and admiring statues and pretty songs.
Nonetheless, she was well content with the suggestion that blamed Winchester, for it had lifted part of the burden of her husband’s unhappiness. Joanna hoped that the country, or at least the government, would soon be rid of Winchester. The lack of success of Winchester’s plans might easily make Henry turn on him. On the other hand, Henry might well be king for a very long time. If Geoffrey were going to bear a grudge, it had better be against Winchester than the king-
Her eyes dwelt on her husband fondly. At the moment Joanna felt only tenderness, but she was well aware that a turn of his head or a particular glance from his eyes could in a flash transform fondness into passion. Then, because she had thought of it, the warmth of desire flicked her, together with a sense of joy and gratitude that passion had lasted between them. As if she could not want him without his knowing it, Geoffrey looked at her. Immediately, Joanna’s color rose; her skin was normally so white that even the most delicate blush was obvious. Knowing that her complexion had changed made it worse, of course; Joanna blushed harder and lowered her eyes.
Worry pricked Geoffrey when he first saw that Joanna was blushing. Although she did not lie, it was not unknown to him that Joanna could bend the truth to suit her purposes with all, or more than, her mother’s skill. He had wondered which part of what she had said to him should be subjected to severe examination, and then he had almost laughed. When Joanna shifted the emphasis on facts so that they added to a new and different sum, she always looked as innocent as an angel. It was then, as Joanna’s eyes dropped, that Geoffrey connected the flush, the momentary unwillingness to meet his gaze, and Simon’s wedding. All anxiety left his face, and he chuckled softly.
“I think I am going to enjoy this trip to Wales—if I survive,” he teased. “If thinking of a wedding has this effect on you…”He rose suddenly and limped to the back of her chair—long step, short step—and put his hand on her neck. “We do not need to wait for the journey,” he said, and the laughter was gone from his voice, which had deepened and thickened.
There was a palpable hesitation before Joanna shook her head slightly and tilted it back so that she could meet her husband’s eyes. “They are setting up the tables for the evening meal already,” she murmured.
“After the meal, then, oh shamefaced maiden? And shall we go up separately to our chamber so that we do not shock the castlefolk?” Geoffrey was teasing again, but his lips were fuller than usual and his eyes were bright.
Joanna laughed. “After the meal,” she agreed. “It would be too much to think of them all staring at the food on the tables and waiting for us.” She lifted an eyebrow. “I do not like to be rushed.”
“I promise not to do that,” Geoffrey said softly, and ran his fingers over the back of her neck as he removed his hand.