THERE FOLLOWED MONTHS OF preparation during which I grew more and more excited. The boredom of the Court was over. I could look forward to the months ahead with sheer delight. I could think of nothing but the Crusade. It was wonderful to feel such excitement about a good cause. I was taking a company of my most favored ladies with me, so there was constant chatter in my apartments, as we discussed what clothes we should need. We were going to bring grace and refinement to the camp. That would be our main duty.
Louis was happier. He felt he was going to expiate all his sins in this venture. There were fewer nightmares and Vitry was hardly mentioned during those exciting days. He still spent a great deal of time in prayer. But he was content.
The country was to be left in the charge of Suger. He and Louis had had their differences, but in his heart Louis knew that the minister his father had bequeathed to him was a man to be trusted completely. Suger was for France. It was true that Louis was more influenced by Bernard, but he knew that Bernard was the emissary of the Pope and worked solely for Rome, while Suger thought first of France. Suger was without any doubt the man to take over the reins of government.
However, some in the country were not happy. A great deal of money was needed to finance the expedition, and that meant higher taxes to be borne by the people. There were some murmurings about that. But not as many as might have been expected. People had a feeling that God had commanded this crusade and they did not want to offend Him.
Petronilla was sad. She would have enjoyed coming so much and I should have liked to have her with me. It was at times like this that the ban of excommunication could make itself felt.
Poor Petronilla, she must stay at home and console herself with her attractive husband.
We heard that Bernard’s campaign in Germany had been as successful as that in France. The Emperor Conrad would be setting out with his army and we should all meet somewhere along the route to Jerusalem. Dispatches had been coming in from various places on the route. We had permission to pass through certain countries on our way where we should be given an honored reception.
We were to leave Paris in June of that year 1147 and from there make our way to Metz, where men from all over the country would join us.
I had said goodbye to little Marie and tried to explain to her that her father and I were going away on a mission because God had asked us to.
There was to be a ceremony at St. Denis before we left, and Pope Eugenius had come to France to bless the enterprise. It was a magnificent sight. From the cathedral hung flags and banners. Everywhere were men with red crosses emblazoned on their tunics; the streets and squares were crowded. People had come from miles around to witness the impressive ceremony.
We assembled in the cathedral. I caught a glimpse of Adelaide of Savoy. My mother-in-law eyed me with dislike and disapproval. I expected she was thinking me bold and brazen to accompany her son on this expedition. But I cared nothing for her.
The Pope was offering the chest containing the relics of St. Denis for Louis to kiss and this he did with solemnity. Then Eugenius took the banner of France, the oriflamme shimmering with red and gold, and presented it to Louis, who as he took it, looked inspired, ready to fight for God and the glory of France.
So we rode out of Paris on our way to Metz for the meeting of the men who would come from all the four corners of France. I had rallied those of Aquitaine and was proud that so many of them had answered the call. I rode at the head of my ladies. They looked beautiful. I had insisted that there must be nothing drab about them. Their task was to bring beauty and relaxation to the men. But we were crusaders none the less. Our soldiers would feel refreshed and inspired because of our company. This we firmly believed.
At first everything was idyllic. We put up our tents each night and as the weather was good we sat in the open. Fires were made; we cooked; we sang and told stories. Those who liked such things enjoyed them while the more pious spent the time in prayer.
And so we passed into Germany to learn that the Emperor Conrad had gone on ahead with his army. We should meet up with him, we believed, in Constantinople, where the Byzantine Emperor Manuel Comnenus, we hoped, would offer us hospitality.
The euphoric atmosphere waned a little. Food became scarce. There was trouble in one of the German towns when hungry crusaders seized food which was being unloaded, and a fight, which was scarcely a holy one, broke out; that caused a great deal of unpleasantness. These peaceful towns would not tolerate a marauding army descending on them and stealing their provisions even if they did call themselves holy crusaders.
Louis was distressed when the citizens of Worms refused to trade with the crusaders and the shortage of food increased. This was Germany, not far from home, and many were asking themselves how they would fare in really hostile countries. It became clear that some of the enthusiasm for the crusade was beginning to wane.
After that fracas some men left the army and returned to their homes.
It seemed best to go on as quickly as possible, and so we set out, trying to forget the unfortunate incident which had resulted in a number of desertions.
So we pressed on to Constantinople.
We were greatly relieved to arrive there. I was attracted at once to the Emperor Manuel Comnenus. He was young and full of fire and ambition, indeed a man whose company I could enjoy.
He came to meet us surrounded by a glittering cavalcade. He had an easy charm but there was a watchfulness about him. He was particularly charming to me and told me that an apartment should be prepared for me which would naturally be unworthy of me but which was the best he could offer.
He told us that the Emperor Conrad had already arrived and was on the point of departure for the next stage of his journey.
What a joy it was to live in a palace after months of being on the move! I and my ladies reveled in it. Our saddle-bags were unpacked and we dressed ourselves in a manner suited to such a Court and we were very merry.
We talked together a great deal about Manuel Comnenus, whom we all agreed was a singularly attractive man. He gave us all his rapt attention. He was serious with Louis and his advisers, a little frivolous with the ladies, and his looks and gestures expressed his admiration for me. It seemed to me that he was the sort of man who knew how to be whatever everyone wanted him to be. That needs a great deal of shrewdness and I was sure Manuel was not lacking in that quality.
To be in Constantinople stimulated my imagination. It was a wonderful city, founded by Constantine the Great, from whom it derives its name—the City of Constantine who had been baptized in Rome by Pope Sylvester in the year 326. Small wonder that riding through the streets of this great historic city, with its Emperor beside me, I felt inspired. I told myself that whatever hardships lay ahead I should always be grateful for the opportunity to join this crusade.
We were greeted warmly by the Emperor Conrad and had many interesting conversations comparing our journeys. He had suffered less hardship than we, although he did admit that it was the army which had been treated with respect and when some of his men had gone off alone they had encountered hostility.
I realized that an army descending on a town could provide difficulties for the inhabitants, even though they made a peaceful transit.
In due course Conrad departed. We were not quite ready to do so yet and Manuel continued to treat us as honored guests, talking a great deal about himself and his country and the continual watch that had to be kept for the Turk whose covetous eyes were always on Constantinople.
I found Manuel of great interest and this was due, in some measure, to the fact that I was unsure of him. I knew he felt insecure and his main aim was to protect his territory. He had unexpectedly become Emperor four years earlier. He had been the youngest of four brothers, but so clever had he proved himself, and so hazardous was the position of the empire that, when two of his brothers died, his dying father had insisted that his youngest son inherit after him, taking precedence over the remaining elder brother. The villainous Turks consistently threatened them, and a very astute and wily ruler was needed to keep them at bay. I was not surprised that Manuel attempted to turn every situation to his advantage.
He told both Louis and Conrad that if he helped them he would expect them to return any of the cities they took which had previously been his, and captured by the Turk. Both Louis and Conrad felt that they were not in a position to promise this and they replied that there would have to be consultations. So the matter was left in abeyance.
We continued to be entertained after Conrad’s departure. We were taken to Constantine’s Palace and there saw many holy relics—the cross and crown of thorns among them, which impressed us greatly.
Then a disquieting incident occurred. It began when Manuel said he had something to tell us which would cheer us. A messenger had come to the palace with the news that Conrad had had a resounding victory and had defeated the Turkish army. The way was clear now for us to go ahead.
It was disconcerting to discover by chance that it was quite the reverse when a member of Conrad’s army found his way back to Constantinople. He was bedraggled, weary and half dead from exhaustion. He begged to see the King of France. Louis was always accessible and the man was brought to us. He told us how utterly Conrad’s army had been defeated. It seemed that they had been led into a trap where the Turks were waiting for them. Taken by surprise, they had been overwhelmed and were now a defeated army.
The Bishop of Langres assembled the commanders together, with the King, to discuss this matter. I insisted on being present. I was, after all, the Queen of France and one of the leaders of the expedition, even if it was a band of women I was leading.
The Bishop said at once: “There is treachery here. Conrad’s men were cut to pieces because the Turks were lying in wait for them. How did they know the road the Germans would take? Depend upon it. They were betrayed.”
“By whom?” asked Louis.
“Need you ask, sire? By the Emperor Manuel Comnenus most certainly.”
“How could he, a Christian, lead Christians to the Infidel?”
“With the utmost ease, my lord. He is no friend to us. Of that I am sure.”
“But the Turks are his enemies.”
“He needs to placate them. No doubt they had offered bribes.”
“I find it hard to believe that of any man,” said Louis, “and especially a Christian. Manuel has been a good host.”
“My lord, that does not prevent his being an enemy. Conrad’s army is in retreat. The Turk will be awaiting the coming of ours.”
“What shall we do?” asked Louis. “Confront Manuel? Ask him if this be true?”
The Bishop raised his eyebrows to the ceiling, as well he might. My poor Louis was no diplomat. One of his greatest weaknesses was to believe all men were like himself—a trait of the innocent, perhaps. I thought: Save me from good men.
I was not sure about Manuel’s treachery but I could well believe it existed.
“We are among traitors,” went on the Bishop.
“We must act with great care,” said Louis. “Until we are sure of Manuel’s good faith we will tell him nothing.”
“He already knows a good deal. We could beat him at his own game.”
The Bishop’s next words made me catch my breath. “We have a well-equipped army here. We could capture Constantinople.”
Louis stared at him.
“Our plan is to go to Jerusalem, to make the Holy Land safe for Christian pilgrimage.”
“That is why we should make sure that this is a safe haven for them, and not ruled by a traitor who has just sent a fine army to destruction.”
“I would engage in no war but a holy one,” said Louis.
The Bishop sighed.
Several of the others spoke.
“My lord Bishop,” said one, “you are not sure of Manuel’s treachery.”
“Did he not tell us that Conrad was victorious? Surely that could only have been so that he could lead us into the same trap.”
“He could have been misinformed.”
I knew how these men were feeling. They wanted to move on. They wanted to go to the Holy Land. They wanted the glory that would come with the capture of Jerusalem. No one at home would understand the importance of taking Constantinople.
As I listened I began to see that the Bishop might well be right. Although I was attracted by Manuel, I knew an ambitious man when I saw one, and I was fully aware that he would sacrifice everything to gain his own ends . . . the German army . . . our army . . .
Had I been the commander I should have said: Let us take Constantinople. But of course they would not listen to me. I shrugged my shoulders. The inevitable would happen. We should leave Constantinople and march on. But at least we could be wary of any traps Manuel might set for us.
We took our farewells of Manuel and listened with skepticism to his protestations of friendship. None of us betrayed our doubts of him—not even Louis, who did not really believe in them, which was the only reason why he was able to deceive Manuel. The rest of us were more subtle and some of us could put up as good a front of deception as Manuel himself.
We crossed to Asia Minor and when we were encamped there Manuel’s treachery was proved without a doubt when we came upon Conrad with the remains of his shattered army.
The sight of him saddened us. He was no longer the confident warrior wielding the sword of righteousness; he himself had been quite badly wounded; he was a defeated man.
He sat in the royal tent with a very few of us—myself and some of Louis’s most trusted advisers. I was sorry to see among them Thierry Galeran, a man I detested and who, I was sure, reciprocated my feelings. He was a eunuch chosen, because of his immense strength, to be Louis’s bodyguard. He was more than that; he was also a diplomat and considered to be brilliant. He always slept in Louis’s tent that he might be ever alert for the King’s safety. He seemed to have become one of Louis’s chief advisers. I suppose a woman such as I was would feel a natural anathema to such a man. But he was ever-present and I knew that Louis paid great attention to what he said. He would stand there, often silent, listening, and I was sure he missed nothing. He was alert as Conrad told the story of his betrayal.
“Our guards were led up through a ravine, and as we came into the open stretch of land they were waiting for us. Our men could only emerge in threes and fours, so we were an easy target. The Turks are fierce fighters. Even in fair battle an army needs all its skills to equal them; but when one is led into such a trap . . . My gallant army . . . we came out with such high hopes . . .”
“Then there is no doubt,” said Louis, “that Manuel is a traitor.”
He had at last accepted what the rest of us had known for some time!
Conrad decided that his army could not continue in its present state. He would perhaps go by sea to Palestine. He was unsure and we decided that we would go on without delay.
Louis and his advisers had a plan of action. They were now on dangerous land where they could encounter the enemy at any moment. They must be prepared and act with the utmost caution. At least they had learned something from Conrad’s experiences.
There were the usual prayers and exhortations to the Almighty.
“We have God on our side,” said Louis. “We cannot fail.”
“Conrad was set on a course of righteousness just as we are,” I reminded him.
“God works in a mysterious way. He tries us . . . He tests us.”
“I hope He will remember that we are fighting in His cause and not forget as He did with the Germans,” I said.
Louis was shocked at what he called my near-blasphemy.
“But,” I went on, “we shall never win through if we do not face the facts. We are fighting a dangerous enemy and we have to rely on ourselves rather than divine help. No doubt the Mussulmans are praying to their god. So perhaps this is a war of the gods.”
“You talk in such an unseemly manner and you should not,” said Louis.
I laughed and turned away.
However, when they did meet the Turks our army was ready and with righteousness on their side put up a magnificent fight. This was at Phrygia close to the Meander River. I watched the battle from a point of vantage on a hilltop. Our men were dedicated, but so were the Turks. I had never seen such fierce fighting. It was quite terrifying—particularly when one could not be sure which way the battle was going.
My relief was intense when I began to see that our men were gaining the advantage. The carnage was terrible but the Turks suffered more than our army; and at last the battle was won. It was a great victory. We had lost few men comparatively. This was just what our army needed, for many of the men had become dispirited by the sight of Conrad’s bedraggled army and I wondered how much more would be needed to set them thinking longingly of home and the quickest way to get back to it.
Now they were victorious and glowing with the triumph of conquerors, rejoicing in the spoils of battle, for they had gained not only a victory over the Infidel but some of his treasure.
There was feasting and revelry in the camp that night.
The Bishop of Langres commented that such an army could have taken Constantinople.
“Nay,” countered Louis. “We came here to expiate our sins, not to stand in judgment or punish the Greeks. When we took up the cross, God did not put into our hands the sword of His justice. Sinners such as Manuel Comnenus will face God on Judgment Day. We are here to fight the Infidel, and our aim is to set up Christianity throughout the world.”
Much as Louis hated war, he was triumphant on that night. “God is telling us that He is pleased with what we are doing in His cause,” he said.
There were songs of rejoicing in the camp—many of them glorifying the battle and the bravery of the men.
“This is what they need,” I told Louis. “You see how wise I was to bring the minstrels with us.”
He was not sure. He thought the time should have been spent praying and giving thanks to God.
I laughed at him. I knew I was right.
If only our triumph could have continued; but the fortunes of war change suddenly.
We were on the march again. We knew that very soon there would be another encounter with the enemy. They would have gathered together their scattered forces, and those proud people would wish to avenge their recent defeat.
There was a conference among the advisers.
Thierry Galeran pointed out that the saddlehorses which were necessary to carry our finery were an encumbrance. This was a reproach to me. I did not think it necessary to explain my reasons to such a man. He said that, as we were such an unwieldy cavalcade, it would be a good idea to split up and that I with my ladies should go on ahead.
“We will need soldiers to protect them,” said Louis.
“We can send a small force with them.”
“Our best troops will have to go to defend the ladies,” insisted Louis.
Galeran replied that we had exposed ourselves to danger by coming and if the best troops must accompany us, they should take us to a plateau which overlooked the land through which the army would have to pass. They would therefore be in a position to view the advancing army and if the fight was going against us they could hasten to the rescue of those fighting below.
This was agreed and at Pisida we split up and I, with my ladies and a troop of the best guards in the army, went on in advance.
The countryside was so beautiful as we came into the valley of Laodicea. The sun was warm and we were all hot and tired. I had rarely seen such an enchanting spot. Waterfalls gushed from the hillside, and exotic flowers bloomed among the grass. There was a certain amount of shade from the bushes.
“We will tarry here for a while,” I said.
The commander of the guards came to me and respectfully pointed out that the King’s orders had been that we encamp on the plateau where we could have a good view of the surrounding country.
I could see the plateau in the distance. It looked stark and uninviting.
I said: “I insist that we rest here for a while. Let us have a song to while away the time.”
So we sang and the time passed so pleasantly and sudden that—it seemed without warning—darkness came upon us. I could see no reason why we should not encamp there; it would give us a restful night and we could go to the plateau at the first light of dawn. The commander was uneasy but he could scarcely disobey my orders.
After a good deal of head-shaking and consideration of the fact that it would not be easy to move in the darkness, it was agreed that we should stay.
The decision proved disastrous.
Louis, some way behind us with the army, was being attacked by the enemy. At first they were harassed by small parties, and then the Turks were descending on them in force. Encumbered by the packhorses, the French fought back furiously, but they were no match for the Turks. Louis told me afterward that his great concern was for me and the ladies, but he believed that we would be on the plateau by that time with the picked troops who, when they looked down, would see what was happening and come down and deliver an effective attack on the enemy.
Desperately he fought his way through to a spot where he could look up to the plateau and to his dismay realized that the troops were not there. Of course they were not. They were in the beautiful valley of Laodicea.
Louis almost lost his life on that occasion and probably owed it to the fact that he looked more like an ordinary soldier than a king, so no one noticed him particularly. He said afterward that God did not intend him to die then. His horse had been killed and he was on foot believing that his last moment had come, not knowing which way to turn to escape the slaughter, when suddenly he saw a high boulder beneath a tree. He believed God had put it there for him. He stood on this and hauled himself up into the tree. The leaves were thick and he was completely hidden. From there he watched the terrible disintegration of his army.
We did not realize immediately that something was wrong. We reached the plateau and waited for the army to catch up with us. Scouts were sent back to find out what had happened and it was only when the poor wounded remnants of our army—Louis among them—came to our camp that we were fully aware of the disaster.
I had never seen Louis so distraught. He was like a different person. He was haggard; there was blood on his clothes; no one would have believed this poor creature was the King of France. His army had been overcome; all the baggage was stolen; we had lost countless horses and, worst of all, many of our men. We hardly had an army now, and as the dreadful truth swept over me I felt we could not long survive. I was filled with remorse, blaming myself. If we had not delayed in the valley, would the outcome have been different? The Turks were a ferocious enemy, determined to avenge their recent defeat but, if the guards had been in a position to go to the rescue of the rest of the army, surely it would not have been such a disastrous defeat.
In spite of my guilt, Louis was overjoyed to see me safe. Despite his lack of desire there was no doubting his affection, and as far as he could love a woman he loved me. It seemed strange to me that I, who appeared to have such a strong sensual appeal to most men, should attract him. I often thought that he would have been happier with a pious woman, one who could have shared in his devotions. I was grateful that he did not blame me, although it would have been quite reasonable for him to have done so.
He said: “It was horrible. All the time I was wondering what had happened to you. I dared not think what might have been your fate if you fell into the hands of those barbarians.”
“I should probably have ended up in a harem,” I said.
“Don’t speak of it. The thought sickens me.”
But this was no time to brood on past disasters; he had to act quickly. Here we were in a hostile land far from our objective. We had lost not only my fine clothes and jewelery, our musical instruments and all that was going to make the journey worthwhile for me, but the litters which at times had been necessary for my ladies and me, essential food and most important of all a large proportion of our army.
We were in a sorry condition.
I cannot recall that time without horror. We thought we were in a bad state but we had no notion of what was to follow. We dared not stay where we were, yet we feared to move. We knew that the country we had to traverse was overrun by Turks. Many of our survivors were wounded. They needed rest, which was impossible; they needed food, which we lacked. What could be done?
Louis took on a certain dignity. Perhaps he was better in adversity than in triumph. He prayed more than ever, which was to be expected; but he did act.
“We must go on,” he said. “We must make for Antioch. The Prince of Antioch will surely help us.”
Antioch! The name had a magic ring for me, for my uncle Raymond was now the Prince of Antioch. I remembered how he had impressed me when he visited my father’s Court long ago. I tingled with pleasure at the memory. He had then seemed to me the most handsome and enchanting man I had ever seen. Of course I had been a child, but I remembered telling him and myself that I should never forget him. Now the prospect of seeing him was like a beacon in a dark night. I believed that if only we could reach Antioch in safety all would be well.
“There,” said Louis, “we should be amongst our own. Raymond is the Queen’s uncle. He could not refuse to help us. Yes, we must make our way as best we can to Antioch.”
There followed one of the most wretched periods of my life. The hazardous journey had begun and when we set out, in spite of all that had happened, not one of us had any notion of what we should have to endure.
The weather was cruel. There was torrential rain which flooded the rivers. Many of our tents were washed away—as were our horses and even some of our men. There was mud everywhere. We were cold and hungry. The men were growing more and more disillusioned, and there was murmuring among them. Surely, if they were in truth following God’s will, He would not allow this to happen to us. There were long terrifying days when we were harassed by Turkish snipers. One never knew when an arrow would come whizzing one’s way. These turbaned barbarians would suddenly dart out on fast ponies, shooting as they rode. One could bear that as long as they kept their distance. The horrifying moments were when they descended on us, their yataghans—swords with a single-edged blade—flashing in their hands, and to know that there was murder in their hearts and that our men were exhausted, angry and disillusioned.
Every day when I awoke after a fitful and uncomfortable sleep, I would ask myself: Shall I live until this day is out? Is this my last?
I said to Louis: “We should have listened to Suger. He was right. We should never have come.”
“It was God’s will,” said Louis.
“So said Bernard. But he was wise enough not to accompany us.”
“He believed it was not his place to do so. He could serve God better where he was.”
“He could certainly serve Him more comfortably. So could we all.”
Louis did not like such comments. After all, Bernard was reckoned to be a saint and very close to God. I did not share his reverence. All I could think of was that we should have listened to Suger.
Gone were my beautiful garments—no doubt adorning some harem woman. All my beautiful jewels . . . gone. And here I was, unkempt, with nothing with which to beautify myself. If the Infidel had allowed me to keep my gowns, I felt I could have borne anything else. Now I was getting desperate. I wanted to go home.
What was the use of wishing that? We were a long way from home and from Jerusalem and we had no alternative but to continue with the journey.
The horror of those days lives with me still—a nightmare from which it is impossible to escape. I had never imagined I could be in such surroundings. What were we doing here? I would cry to Louis and myself: Why did we ever embark on this fools’ mission?
Louis could only say that it was God’s will, and if we should die in His service we had the comfort of knowing we should go straight to Heaven. I wished I had his faith.
Meanwhile we had to go on; we had to live through those days of wretchedness and fear. There were occasions when I almost hoped that a Turkish arrow would provide me with a way out of this torment.
There was not enough fodder for the horses; many of them died. We lived on their flesh. I hated the smell of roasting meat when we lighted our campfires. We baked bread in the ashes of those fires—and somehow we managed to survive.
If we could reach Pamphilia, we might find shelter and provisions and perhaps guides to take us to Antioch.
Antioch. I said it over and over again to myself. If only I could see my uncle Raymond, I was sure everything would be well.
So the days passed, never without a fear that the enemy would destroy us. We labored on until, exhausted beyond description, we saw in the distance the walls of Satalia, a little port in Pamphilia.
A shout of joy went up from every throat. Never could any traveler who had been almost without hope have felt such overpowering relief.
We spurred on our tired horses—those of us who had them still—and even the animals seemed to have acquired fresh vitality. The long march was over. We were there.
As we came into the city, we were surprised to see how few people there were. Many of the houses seemed deserted. We made our way to the governor’s palace.
He came out to greet us. He was welcoming but melancholy. He would have been delighted to treat us as we deserved, he said, but there had been so many raids on the town that many of the people had left. He could give us a little food but he was not sure whether it would be enough for our needs. We had come at a difficult time.
He took Louis and me with some of the commanders into the palace, where food was prepared for us. There was not enough shelter for all our soldiers. Some of them went to the deserted houses and stables, fending for themselves as best they could. At least we had roofs over our heads.
The governor was anxious to help—as well as he could. He advised us that our best plan was to get to Antioch as soon as we could.
“That is what we propose to do,” said Louis.
“How far is it?” I asked.
“My lady, it is forty days’ march and the country is infested with Turks. It would be a hazardous journey.”
I cried: “It will be similar to that which we have already suffered. Oh no. I do not think I could endure that.”
“You could go by sea,” said the governor.
“And how long would that take?”
“Then by sea we must go,” I said.
“What of transport?” asked Thierry Galeran, who was as usual at Louis’s side.
“I will do my best to find boats to carry you there.”
I felt greatly comforted. In three days we should be in Antioch.
But it seemed that God was determined to try us. With the memory of the cries of the burning victims of Vitry in his ears, Louis could endure hardship. I could not. And when I saw the vessels which were to carry us on this journey, I knew that our troubles were by no means over.
In the first place there was not enough transport to carry us all; and those boats that would were only just seaworthy.
There were many conferences as to what must be done.
Clearly some of us would have to undertake the forty days’ march to Antioch. This caused great consternation. Louis was distraught. How could he sail away and leave his men behind? Yet how could he take them with him?
“There is only one thing to do,” he said. “We must take everyone with us.”
“The ships would sink before they were a mile from the shore,” he was told.
“How can I leave my men behind?”
Galeran said: “They will just have to continue with the march. They have come so far. They have endured great hardship but they knew that the crusade was not a pleasure trip. They are expiating their sins. They will have to march.”
“While I sail in one of the ships!” cried Louis. “Never! I shall place myself at the head of them.”
Galeran reasoned with him. He was the King. He was the leader of the expedition. He must not expose himself to unnecessary danger. There was only one thing to do. Sail to Antioch with those who could be accommodated in the ships.
“How can I do this?” wailed Louis. “How can I?”
“It is clearly God’s will,” was the answer. “If He had intended all the men to go He would have provided the ships.”
Louis was at length convinced that this was so, and he and I, with the ladies and principal knights and commanders, boarded one of the ships and set sail for Antioch, after Louis had left all provisions behind for the men who must march.
He was greatly distressed by this and fretted continually as to the fate of those left behind for the long march.
And so we left. We had lost three-quarters of the army.
Three days, we had been told. It was more like three weeks . . . three weeks of abject misery. I wondered how I survived them. There were times when I should have been happier to die than go on. No sooner had we left the land than storms beset us. We were driven miles off our course. Antioch seemed farther away than it had when we were on the march. I longed to be back on land, riding along through the mud and slush, beset by the fear of Turkish arrows—anything but this fearsome pitching and tossing, fearing at any moment that this was my last, and hoping that it was.
The winds tore at us, throwing our flimsy vessel hither and thither on that dark and angry sea. There were days and nights of despair when I thought we were never going to reach Antioch. But one morning I awoke to find the ship steady and the sun shining. We had sailed up the River Orontes to the harbor of St. Symeon.
A great joy came to me when I heard the shout, “Antioch! Praise be to God! We are there!”
My joy was soon replaced by horror. I should see my uncle soon and what did I look like? My hair was unkempt, my face pale, my gown tattered and dirty. Oh, this was cruel! To meet him again thus.
He was waiting to greet us—Prince Raymond of Antioch. I thought I had never seen anyone so handsome as my uncle. He was tall and blond, a prince in every way. As we came ashore, his eyes were searching for me. I learned very soon that one of our ships had already arrived so he knew of our misfortunes and was prepared for us.
And there he was standing before me. I felt ashamed. I was so accustomed to men’s eyes lighting up with admiration, and now I had to appear before the most charming of them all in my present state.
He said: “It is Eleanor, my little niece.” He took me in his arms and kissed me. “I should have known you anywhere. You are as beautiful as you promised to be.”
I touched my face and laughed uneasily.
“You have suffered a great deal,” he said, his voice soft and tender, his eyes alight with compassion. “Well, you are here now. You are safe, praise be to God. You are going to rest and all will be well.”
He turned to Louis to greet him, and soon we were on our way to the palace.
When I think of the Court of Antioch now, I think of paradise. In the first place it bore a strong resemblance to the Courts of Aquitaine. Raymond and I were of a kind—products of Aquitaine. He loved luxury and soft living as I did. Yet he was ambitious. He had come far since my childhood when he had visited my father’s Courts as a penniless younger son who was going to England to make his fortune. Well, he had made that fortune. He was the ruler of Antioch, and he had made it like part of Aquitaine.
During those idyllic days which followed I was to discover Antioch. It was here that I began to know myself and to see how I was wasting my life. I was to see that Raymond was all that Louis was not; happily could I have lived the rest of my life in Antioch.
Raymond’s Court was the most civilized I had ever known. It had its origins in the distant past, having been developed by the Romans. It had passed through many hands since then and, it seemed to me, had preserved all that was good from them. Because its climate was so fertile, fruit and flowers grew in abundance; I was not surprised that in the East it was known as “Antioch the Beautiful” and “Crown of the East.”
I learned later that Raymond’s was an uneasy possession. Antioch was too strategically placed to be safe; it had passed through too many hands—the Arabs, the Byzantines, the Turks and now the Christians held it. “For how long?” must be the question forever in the minds of those who lived the luxurious life within its walls.
Raymond had beautiful apartments prepared for me. I was to bathe, for he had hot and cold baths as the Romans had; he had carpets on the mosaic floors; and there was that rarity, scented soap. How I loved the comforts he had prepared for me.
I found laid out on my bed a robe of purple velvet, and no garment has ever given me so much delight. I took off my stained and filthy clothes; I lay in my scented bath; and when my hair was washed and I wrapped the velvet robe about me, I felt wondrously happy.
Everything about the palace was perfection. There was glass in the windows and from them I could see the beautiful gardens surrounding the palace—the fountains, the lush green grass, the brilliantly colored flowers—beauty everywhere. I was constantly reminded of my beloved Aquitaine.
A banquet was prepared for us. Raymond sat at the head of the table, Louis on one side of him, I on the other; and it was to me that he gave his attention.
How gracious he was! How charming and sympathetic! He listened to our account of our sufferings; he applauded our piety in making this dangerous journey. Jerusalem must be made safe for pilgrims, he said. We must stay in Antioch until we were quite refreshed; he would do everything in his power to help us.
I was in a daze of happiness. It was not only due to the fact that we had emerged from our ordeal to this paradise; it was not only the prospect of a stay in such surroundings: it was Raymond. I was sure that there was no man on Earth who could combine his fine qualities with such handsome looks and overwhelming charm.
And what was so gratifying was that he seemed to find the same joy in me as I in him. He understood me so well. His first act was to send bales of material for me to choose from, and with them came seamstresses who would carry out my instructions with all speed. Beautiful silks and velvets . . . all magnificently woven. He presented me with jewels.
And there in his Court were the minstrels . . . the poets just as there had been in my grandfather’s. He had the charm of my grandfather, which was not surprising since he was his son.
Raymond’s wife Constance, through whom he had inherited Antioch, was very gracious to me. I thought she was lucky to have such a husband and I wondered if she was a little jealous of the attention he paid me. She would tell herself, though, that I was his niece; I remembered it too; but for that fact, it would seem that he was wooing me, so tender was the attention he bestowed on me.
What happy days! He arranged banquets and tournaments for us. He was determined to please us. Such things, of course, were little to Louis’s taste, and all the time he was yearning to continue the journey. It was only because of the persuasion of Galeran and his knights that he consented to stay. We must all recuperate, they told him. We were all in a poor state of health and in no condition as yet to face further hardships. All needed a stay in such a place; they needed good food; many of them had been wounded; they needed rest.
I had apartments separate from Louis in the palace. Thierry Galeran slept outside his door. The man irritated me more than ever. I knew he regarded me with dislike, and I had no desire to have him near me. Louis was nothing loath. In fact, I think he was relieved not to have me in his bed, complaining about those long prayers and being a continual reproach to him and perhaps a temptation. All I knew was that I was glad to be away from him.
I spent a good deal of time with Raymond. When we rode out with a party to hunt he contrived to be alone with me. (It might have been that those in attendance were aware of his desire and helped to further it.) We had many interesting and illuminating conversations.
He talked a good deal about his coming to Antioch and the days of our childhood in Aquitaine.
“I have tried to make this place a little like it,” he said. “Does one ever forget one’s native land? And I have you here with me . . . Queen of France but still the Duchess of Aquitaine.”
“That is what I like best of all,” I told him.
“And Louis, of course, only shares it with you. If you two parted, he would lose Aquitaine and you would still be its Duchess.”
It was the first time I had thought of leaving Louis. Often I had been exasperated and wished myself free of him, but Raymond spoke of it as though it were a possibility.
“Why?” I cried. “Do you think I could leave Louis?”
He gave me that dazzling smile of complete understanding. “You, my dear Eleanor, you, the Queen of the Courts of Love, married to such a man! How incongruous it must be! Oh, I understand how the marriage came about. Do not marriages of such as we are often happen in this way? They are affairs of state and should be treated as such.”
“Before my father died he made this marriage for me.”
“Indeed he did. He found you a crown. What a pity he did not find you a man to wear it.”
“Louis exasperates me,” I said.
“I can understand it. I marvel. There he is, with the most beautiful woman in the world, he who should have been a monk.”
“He was brought up to go into the Church, as you know. But for a pig . . .”
Raymond laughed. “What a sobering thought! Our destinies left to the judgment of pigs!”
I laughed with him. “But for a pig I should have married Louis’s brother. Would he have been a better proposition, I wonder.”
“He could hardly have been worse.”
“And your marriage, Raymond?”
“It is not unsatisfactory. It was necessary, as you know.”
I nodded. “All those years ago I remember so well your coming to our Court. You had everything then . . . but lands and money.”
“A very sad lack, I do assure you.”
“But one which you were determined soon to remedy. You were going to England to the Court of King Henry.”
“So I did and he was good to me. But I was just a landless youth . . . son of William of Aquitaine, it is true, but a younger son.”
“Determined to make his way.”
“And the opportunity came with the death of Bohemund I, who was slain by the Turks in ’30. Bohemund was a great fighter. He came out on a crusade as you and Louis have. Antioch was then in the hands of the Mohammedans, and it was necessary to take it from them to make the road to Jerusalem safe for Christians, so Bohemund fought to free it; and when he had done so, instead of continuing with the crusade, he settled in Antioch, made himself its Prince, and kept the city safe from marauding Turks. On his death his son, Bohemund II, became Prince of Antioch.”
“And when he died?”
“There is where I came in. He left only one daughter, Constance, his sole heiress, and an ambitious widow, Alice. She proposed to marry Constance to the son of the Byzantine Emperor, and there was great consternation throughout Christendom, Antioch being a place of great importance on the way to Jerusalem. There was I, at the Court of King Henry, looking for a way to fortune. Why should I not be sent to Antioch to marry the girl? I was unmarried. I was young and strong. They thought I had the qualities of a ruler. It was my great opportunity.”
“And you took it.”
“It was not so easy. There was Alice to be confronted. I guessed I should have trouble there. I came to Antioch. Alice received me. She was very gracious and seemed to have some affection for me.”
“That does not surprise me.”
“But she wanted the Byzantine for Constance.”
“And you for herself?”
“You have guessed.”
“What a difficult position you were in!”
“I had had a long and arduous journey to Antioch. There were many who knew my purpose and were bent on stopping me. I was in disguise most of the time . . . as a pedlar sometimes, at others a pilgrim. Having managed to overcome all those hazards, I was not going to miss that for which I had come—which was marriage to Constance . . . and Antioch.”
“I am sure you were very resourceful.”
“I had to be. My future was at stake. Alice insisted that I marry her, and there was nothing I could do but appear to submit, so preparations for our wedding went ahead. But before the wedding day I quietly married Constance, who was then nine years old. It was not difficult, for it was what the people of Antioch wanted and they helped me in this. They had chosen me as their leader, and the only way I could become that was through marriage with their heiress.”
“It was a fait accompli. What could she do? The people were for it. They wanted a Prince and they had chosen me.”
“And how wise they were! I knew, when I was a child, that one day you would be one of the great rulers of the world. And you see I was right.”
“You see me thus at this moment, my dear one, but I am most insecure. If the Turks came here to attack me in their hundreds of thousands, I should be lost. I should be unable to stand against them. The occasional raid . . . the general harassment . . . that can be dealt with. The people are loyal to me. They enjoy life here. They would fight with all they have to retain it. But the Turks are a ferocious people. They fight for their religion as we do and there is no greater cause than that.”
“I am surprised to hear you talking thus, Uncle. You seem so content here.”
“I live in the present. I fancy you are like me in this. Indeed, have you ever known anyone who understands you as I do? I share your thoughts, your emotions.”
He had come close to me and was looking intently into my face.
“No,” I said vehemently, “I never have. When I am with you I feel I am right back in my own beautiful country. I have missed it so much . . . ever since I left it.”
He kissed me with passion.
I was delighted and startled. I said: “That was scarcely an avuncular kiss.”
“What are such relationships,” he said, “when people know they are as close as you and I? What matters anything . . . race, creed, blood ties?”
My heart was beating very fast. I said slowly: “I suppose that is so.”
He held me against him. “I have never known this feeling for any other,” he said.
I replied: “Nor have I felt for any other what I feel for you. It is because you and I were brought up in the same country. There we spent those early and important years. Aquitaine will always be home to us. You have made another Aquitaine here. How wonderful it is to be here! After all I have suffered . . . you cannot understand the hardships.”
“I can, my beloved. I have suffered something like them myself. That is why I want to stay here . . . make this my Heaven upon Earth. Could I have a more beautiful setting?”
I agreed vehemently that he could not.
“Out there . . .” He waved his arms to indicate the world outside Antioch. “. . . there is strife . . . everywhere, it seems. In England, where I was helped by King Henry when I was more or less a boy and starting out on my adventures, there has been trouble since his death. Stephen on the throne, Matilda claiming it. Stephen Matilda’s prisoner . . . Matilda reigning. What sort of a country is that to live in?”
“Two claimants to the throne is certain to cause strife. Who is the better ruler?”
“Neither is good, and coming after Henry it is even harder for the people to bear. Matilda wants the throne for her son. It’s natural. After all, she is the granddaughter of the Conqueror and Henry’s direct heir. Stephen only comes through the female line. If he were a strong man it might have worked for I do not think the people want Matilda.”
“Well, all that is far away.”
“And our concerns are here . . . in Antioch.”
“It is so wonderful to be here. Everything is so cultured . . . so gracious. And to hear people speaking our language as we speak it—moves me deeply.”
“I have brought many Poitevins into Antioch.”
“The poets and the musicians . . .”
“I wanted to make it as much like my father’s Court as possible.”
“What an outstanding man he was.”
“He lived his life fully, did he not? He obeyed no rules. Who else but my grandfather could have carried off Dangerosa and lived with her at his Court as he did?”
“She came very willingly.”
“One would expect that with such a man.” He turned to me. “Eleanor,” he went on, “since you have come here I have been so happy.”
“And I . . . Uncle. It is still like a dream to me . . . after all that suffering to come to a place like this . . . and you. It was like dying and then finding oneself in Heaven.”
“Pray do not talk of dying. You have much living to do yet and why should we not create a Heaven here on Earth?”
“That is what you have already done.”
“Now that I have you here, yes. I never want you to go. I want you to stay here . . . with me . . . for as long as we both shall live. You are silent. Does it seem so impossible to you?”
“I fear so, though it enchants me.”
“There has always been a special bond between us.”
“Then we must accept what Fate has given us.”
“You mean . . .”
He held me tighter.
“There should be complete intimacy, complete understanding between us. I love you.”
“But . . . you are my uncle.”
“My dear, what of that? Why should an uncle not be in love with his niece? Who can decide where love shall come? I love you. I need you to make my contentment complete. I am planning now to keep you here. I live in fear that Louis is going to suggest moving on. I am going to do my utmost to prevent that . . . and you will help me.”
“I never want to leave you.”
“Then you feel for me as I do for you?”
“Yes . . . yes . . . I do. I should be the most desolate woman on Earth if we were parted.”
“Then I am happy. I will show you a little arbor in the grounds of the palace. I will see that we are undisturbed. There we shall be alone and we shall discover how much we need each other. Will you come, Eleanor? Will you?”
I did not hesitate for a moment. “Yes,” I said eagerly. “I will come.”
And that very day Raymond and I became lovers.
He was my uncle. He was married to Constance and I to Louis. But I did not care. I was happy. At last I knew what it was to love and be loved by a man. I could see nothing wrong. It was the shameful fumblings of Louis which disgusted me. This glorious emotion, this unbounded happiness which now uplifted me, made me happy beyond guilt.
I had changed. My women noticed. They said I was more beautiful than ever. Raymond continually told me that. We were in each other’s company whenever we could be.
It was impossible to keep a relationship such as ours secret. When he was present I could not keep my eyes from him. Even he, a man of the world and, I have no doubt, hero of many romantic adventures, must betray his feelings. I was aware of the love in his eyes; the ardent desire must be evident to all.
I knew this was what I needed in my life. It was ironic that I should have found it in this oasis in the heart of the most cruel country I had ever known and with my own uncle.
Louis had become quite repulsive to me. I told myself I could never share his bed again. What a mercy that he was the man he was! I was already thinking of how I could escape from him.
“You could ask him for a divorce,” said Raymond.
“And even so we could not marry.”
“Popes are very amenable to a bribe.”
“Ah,” he said. “There is Antioch. But you could stay here. Divorce Louis and you will still be Duchess of Aquitaine. You and I could return now and then to our native land.”
I pictured it. Raymond and I together at the Court of Poitiers, lying on cushions, entertained by jongleurs, singing our songs to each other.
It was an impossible dream. And those visits to Aquitaine? We should have to make the long journeys across hostile country. The idea of doing that again filled me with horror: And how could I go back with my uncle as my lover . . . and would Constance, the heiress of Antioch, allow us to?
But it was pleasant to dream. Sometimes, when I look back, my stay in Antioch seems like a dream . . . a dream from which I had to wake inevitably in time to harsh reality.
In between our bouts of fierce love-making we talked. Raymond took me completely into his confidence and was as frank as he would have been with his most important ministers. He told me of his concern for Antioch and how he planned to strengthen the city. It was the gateway to Jerusalem. Christendom should remember that.
He said: “I am going to put a proposition to Louis and his advisers. Soon he will be talking of moving on. There is no doubt that the whole company is in better health than it was when it arrived. Those who plan crusades do not always realize the need for safe havens on the road to Jerusalem where crusaders can stay for a respite, to deal with their sick and wounded, to replenish their packhorses. It is nonsense to raise such money—much of which is lost on the way and falls into the hands of the enemy—and to ignore the ports of call. Louis should have taken Constantinople.”
“It was suggested by the Bishop of Langres, but Louis was so eager to proceed with the journey to Jerusalem.”
“As I say, there is a lack of foresight.”
“He would believe the best of Manuel Comnenus. Louis believes the best of everyone until something is proved against them. He would not accept the fact of Manuel’s treachery until he saw Conrad himself bleeding and wounded, and heard what had happened from his lips.”
“He must be made to understand. Even here in Antioch we live in habitual fear. We are surrounded by the enemies of Christianity. It is known that Christians find refuge here. The Saracens have their headquarters at Aleppo. From there they send out their men to harry the Christians. What we need is to take Aleppo and make it a safe haven for Christians. What a missed opportunity not to take Constantinople. The French army was in a good condition then. They could easily have taken it. It would have been a great victory for Christendom.”
“You would like to see Manuel Comnenus defeated?”
“I would indeed. That Greek is as much our enemy as the Saracens themselves. Of course he betrayed the Germans. He would have been delighted if they had all been destroyed. We of Antioch are his vassals. He could take us tomorrow if he were minded to. Why cannot people see that if we are going to hold Jerusalem we must make the route safe? I should like to see a string of cities all along the road to the Holy City . . . all in the hands of the Christians.”
“In France and Europe generally they have no conception of what traveling is like. They think it compares with taking a journey across France . . . and even that can be dangerous. But they have no idea what it is really like.”
“Louis should have. He has experienced it.”
“Are you going to suggest this to Louis?”
“In due course. Perhaps you could prepare him.”
“I think there will be little hope of convincing him. He is determined to go to Jerusalem. He thinks that only when he is in the Holy City, when he kneels at the shrine, will his sins be washed away and he be able to forget Vitry.”
“Nevertheless, speak to him. Make him see that we must make the way safe for Christians.”
“What do you propose? That you join forces with him and march against Aleppo?”
He nodded. “It is essential that we destroy the Saracen stronghold. You have some wise men among you. The Bishop of Langres, for instance. He saw the need to capture Constantinople.”
“If you were successful in capturing Aleppo, he would want to march on to Jerusalem. What then of us?”
“You could stay behind.”
“If only that could be!”
“My dearest love, one does not say ‘If’: one knows what one wants and says ‘I will.’”
I could believe that with my powerful lover. I was sure he was capable of achieving anything. The only thing I could not bear to contemplate was parting from him.
I sought out Louis.
“What are your plans?” I said.
He replied that we were to leave Antioch in the very near future.
“Did you know that at Aleppo, not very far from here, the Saracens have their stronghold? It is from there that parties are sent out to attack Christians. When we leave Antioch, we shall have to endure what we did before.”
“We knew the road was not easy. You should not have come. It is no place for women.”
“From what I have seen it is no place for men either. The way should be made safe for Christians.”
“Life is not meant to be easy.”
“What nonsense. Life is meant to be enjoyed, and if the way to Jerusalem can be made easier, it is folly not to make it so. There should be more places where pilgrims and crusaders could be sure of a haven. It should be our aim to make it so.”
“My aim is to go to Jerusalem and kneel at the shrine . . . to confess my sins and ask for absolution.”
“I am sure it would please God more if you helped to make the way safe for those who go to worship Him. There should be more places like Antioch on the way.”
A look of derision curved Louis’s lips. “Places like Antioch!” he cried. “What is this place? It is given over to pleasure. Life is soft and easy here. That is not the good life.”
“Why then did God make such a place where living is easy and comfortable and the fruits of the Earth grow in abundance?”
“You are bemused by this place.”
“Who would not delight in it after all we have suffered? It seems sensible to me to make the way easier for those who come after us. We should have taken Constantinople.”
“It was not what we came for.”
“We allowed the treacherous Greek Manuel Comnenus to destroy Conrad’s army. If we had gone first, it might have been ours.”
“Our plan was to go to Jerusalem.”
“But for the hospitality of my uncle we should all be dead by now.”
“We should have died in a holy endeavor.”
I sighed impatiently. “Can’t you see that God is showing us what to do?”
“I doubt God would show you.”
“He showed the Bishop. Remember how he urged you to take Constantinople?”
I noticed Thierry Galeran in the room. He sat so quietly that one was hardly aware of him. I was irritable suddenly. “Can I never be alone with you, Louis?” I said.
“You are alone.”
“What of that . . . er . . . person?”
“Galeran is always here.”
Galeran rose and bowed. I could see the dislike in his eyes. “My lady, it is my duty to protect the King on every occasion.”
“What do you think he has to fear from me?”
He lowered his eyes as though he were afraid to meet mine.
“You may leave me with the Queen,” said Louis. “Wait outside the door.”
Galeran bowed once more and left.
“That creature . . . one can hardly call him a man . . . annoys me.”
“He is a good and faithful servant.”
“You take too much notice of him.”
“Not only is he noted for his strength but his intellect.”
“To make up for his lack of manhood, I dare swear. I do not trust such. Louis, do think about what I have said. Consult with your advisers. I am sure they will agree that the way to Jerusalem must be made safe.”
“Has your uncle been talking to you?” I remained silent. “I know,” went on Louis, “that you are frequently in his company. The whole Court knows that.”
“He is my uncle, Louis. It was years since we had seen each other. Has he not treated us with lavish hospitality?”
“Lavish indeed. We do not need singing and dancing to beguile our evenings.”
“Perhaps you do not, but others might. All of us do not want to spend our evenings on our knees.”
“We are on a sacred journey.”
“Which we could not have continued without my uncle’s hospitality.”
“He owes that to God.”
I was exasperated but I knew it would be no use talking to Louis.
On the way out I saw Galeran. He was standing close to the door. I was certain that he had listened to everything Louis and I had said.
In the arbor, when I told Raymond about Louis’s responses, he said he might be able to arouse in Louis’s advisers an understanding of the need to protect the route and he would appeal to their logic.
“Louis is after all the King,” I reminded him. “If he did not agree that it was wise, they would doubtless do what he ordered.”
“He is stubborn indeed.”
“It is true that he relishes suffering. He has never complained. He even wanted to march overland to Antioch because his men had to. It took some persuading before he joined the ship. Raymond, I don’t know how I shall endure living with him . . . after this.”
“You need not. You must ask for a divorce.”
“On what grounds?”
“Consanguinity. After all, there is a close relationship. That can usually be found even if one does have to go back some way.”
“I must speak to him, Raymond. I will not be dragged away from you.”
“That is something we must avoid at all costs,” he replied.
We always left the arbor separately. Sometimes I went first, sometimes Raymond. Although the whole Court knew that there was a very special relationship between us, we had to observe certain proprieties. Lovers are generally so bemused by their love for each other that they have little thought for the impression they may be giving to others. They hide their faces and think they cannot be seen. Perhaps we deluded ourselves into thinking that the outstanding tenderness and love we obviously had for each other was that which naturally existed between an uncle and his favorite niece.
On that day I left after Raymond, and as I did so I thought I heard a movement in the shrubbery close by. I stood listening. Not a sound. I thought I had been mistaken. Few people ever came this way, and certainly not at this hour.
It was fancy. So I thought then. But of course I was lulled into that sense of security which is often found in lovers.
Raymond called a conference with his advisers and Louis’s. I was present.
Raymond stated his case with clarity. He was a vassal of the traitor Manuel Comnenus. They knew that the Emperor Conrad, as fervent an upholder of the Christian Faith as they themselves, had suffered at the traitor’s hand, his forces annihilated, his mission ended. And why? Because he was yet another of those Christians betrayed en route. It had happened in the First Crusade. Would they help him prevent its happening again? Logical reasoning would show such intelligent men that there was need for action.
I watched earnestly, willing them to agree with him.
Some of them—certainly the Bishop of Langres—saw the point. He said: “If we could have these safe places at intervals along the route, Christians would be able to fight off the marauders with confidence, knowing they were on their way to a respite. I would agree with the Prince.”
Louis spoke and I hated him at that moment. “We have not come to fight wars,” he said. “We have come to worship at the shrine of Jerusalem. I shall never allow myself to be led in another direction.”
“This is a fight for Christianity,” insisted Raymond.
“Christianity is for peace,” replied Louis softly.
I could see the fanatical look in his eyes. He was seeing Vitry burning; he was hearing the agonized cries of the victims. I knew that Raymond was pleading a lost cause.
We met later in the arbor.
“Louis is a fool,” cried Raymond.
“A fool and a monk.”
“How could they have married you to such a man?”
“That is what I ask myself.”
“You will not stay with him.”
“I feel that I cannot.”
We made frantic love. We were both disturbed and afraid, although Raymond did not admit it. We knew we were approaching a climax and were unsure what would happen next. It was easy to talk of leaving Louis, of spending the rest of my days in Antioch and Aquitaine—but how possible was that!
I left first on that occasion. And as I passed the shrubbery, I was aware of a shadow there.
I halted and cried out: “Who is there?”
To my horror Thierry Galeran emerged.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded.
“I saw you go into the arbor, my lady. I knew you would tarry there some time. I came to protect you on your way back to the palace.”
I felt the hot color flooding my face.
“Are you . . . spying on me?”
“My duty is to serve the King.”
“And how can you do that prowling about the grounds?”
“I thought it my duty, my lady.”
He was insolent. There was one thought hammering in my mind: He knows.
Perhaps I should have been aware that the whole Court knew. Neither of us, I thought on reflection, had been exactly reticent.
“You alarmed me,” I said. I wanted to humiliate him. My women said that he was very sensitive about his condition. I had never heard why he had been castrated. I wondered if some enemy had done this to him. “At first,” I went on, “I thought you were going to assault me. Well, never mind . . . That is something you could not understand.”
It was his turn to flinch.
I held my head high and walked ahead of him toward the palace. I was very disturbed. Had Louis set him to spy on me? Hardly. It was not Louis’s way. No. Thierry Galeran had taken it upon himself to do so; but I was certain that what he had discovered would be reported to Louis.
I decided that I would confront Louis before Thierry Galeran could do so.
I went to him. He looked rather embarrassed to see me. So perhaps he knew. He would have been aware of my fondness for Raymond but it would never have occurred to him that we could be lovers.
I had changed. Love had changed me. I knew now what I wanted. Before, I had been vaguely dissatisfied. Now I was entirely so. I would not stay with Louis.
I found him at his devotions which irritated me further.
“Louis,” I said. “I must speak to you . . . alone.”
He nodded and signed to those about him to leave him.
Before I could speak he said: “We shall be leaving Antioch in a few days’ time. I have been discussing this with those concerned and they believe we can make the necessary preparation, and in, say, three days resume our journey.”
“It is folly,” I cried. “It is going to begin all over again . . . all the hardship and misery . . .”
“We all know that our goal is Jerusalem. There has never been any doubt of that, and however hard the road is we must take it.”
“Louis,” I insisted, “you have already lost the bulk of your army. Do you intend to lose the rest?”
“We came for a purpose. God will look after us.”
“He has been a little remiss in that direction so far,” I said wearily.
“We are here now. We have come through so far.”
“And what of those who have not? What of those who have died either from the sabers and arrows of the Turks or from very revolting illnesses? Do you call that looking after?”
“Eleanor, you frighten me sometimes. I fear that God will take some terrible revenge on you. You talk blasphemy.”
“Perhaps He might like those of us who speak the truth. After all, what is in my mind has been put there by Him. But enough of this theology. If you are foolish enough to leave, I shall not come with you.”
“You cannot mean that!”
“I do, Louis. I am not leaving Antioch.”
“How can you stay behind?”
“Perfectly easily . . . as my uncle’s guest.”
“Your place is with your husband and the French army. Have you forgotten that you are the Queen of France?”
“That is a matter about which I want to speak to you.” He looked puzzled.
“Louis,” I said, “let us be frank. You and I are not suited, are we? I believe there are times when you regret our marriage. As for myself, I regret it all the time. We cannot go on. I want a divorce.”
“Divorce! How can you suggest that? You are the Queen of France.”
“Queens have been divorced before. I shall not be the first.”
“But . . . why? It is impossible.”
“Why?” I asked. “Because you are not meant to be a husband. You know it is the Church to which you give your devotion. I might want to marry again. I want a divorce.”
“You would renounce the crown of France!”
“Yes, I would. I should no longer be Queen of France and you Duke of Aquitaine. But it would be better for us, Louis. We should be so much happier without each other.”
His face puckered as he looked at me. He was bewildered and unhappy. I was amazed. In spite of everything, he loved me in his way. It was not a passionate desire such as I had for Raymond, but it was a steady affection, an admiration for my beauty, I supposed, though it was difficult to believe that Louis was susceptible to that. He had really been very patient with me. He found a wife embarrassing. He was continually trying to avoid physical contact; and yet, all the time, in his way, he loved me.
I felt a little touched, but it did not prevent my determination to get away.
“I believe you have not given this matter enough thought,” said Louis. “My poor Eleanor, you have suffered a great deal on this journey, and here you live in luxury provided by your uncle. You have always been too fond of pleasure and you should pray for help to conquer that. I think perhaps you are a little overwrought.”
“No,” I cried. “I do really believe we should be happier apart.”
“We have taken solemn vows. On what grounds could we break them? It would be a terrible sin in God’s eyes.”
“Consanguinity is a sin.”
“Consanguinity? What consanguinity?”
“Families like ours always have links with each other. There must be close blood ties between us.”
“Eleanor, what are you saying? I think you are tired. You have suffered a great deal.”
“I am tired of a marriage which is no marriage.”
“What do you mean? What of our daughter?”
“One child in all these years! Why? Why? Because you are more of a monk than a normal man. How can a woman get children in such circumstances? You are not meant to be a king, Louis. And you would not have been . . . but for a pig.”
Louis said: “It is God’s Will that I am as I am. It was God who put the crown on my head. It is His Will that you are my wife. This is something I accept and you must needs do the same.”
“Louis, will you consider this matter of a divorce?”
“No,” he said vehemently.
I thought I saw the beginning of one of his violent rages which could spring up like a storm at sea.
“Think of it,” I said, and left him.
It was not long after that when he came to me. He dismissed my women. I thought: He has seen Galeran. He knows the truth now.
I was right.
He was staring at me in horror. I imagined he was picturing me writhing in Hell fire for which he was now sure I was destined.
“A most disturbing suspicion has come to my mind,” he said.
“I know what it is,” I retorted. “Your spy did his work well.”
“Spy . . .”
“Galeran. He has been very watchful of me.”
“I cannot believe him.” He was almost pleading. “If you tell me it is a lie, I will believe you.”
“If it is that Raymond and I are lovers, it is no lie.”
He looked completely taken aback. He stammered: “The man is your uncle.”
“You and he. This is more than adultery. It is incest as well.”
“Have done,” I said. “Raymond and I love each other. That is something you cannot understand, Louis. I know that full well. But we love each other and I am going to stay in Antioch. For the first time in my life I know contentment. You may be a monk, Louis, but I am no nun. I have done with the old life. I have endured it too long. I want to be free.”
“I am astounded. I could not have believed this of you.”
“Which shows how little you know me.”
“To break your marriage vows . . . and with your uncle!”
“He is a man, Louis, and you and your spy could not understand that. I have endured this life too long. I will no more. You can go, as you plan to, with those poor men who must follow you to their misery and possibly death. But I shall stay here.”
“You cannot do this, Eleanor.”
“I can and I will. It is finished between us, Louis. No more of that reluctant intercourse. You should be rejoicing for I am sure you hated it as much as I did. Just think of it! You can pray all night if you wish and none to reproach you. See the good sense of this. We are not for each other. You want to spend your life in prayer and meditation. I want to live mine. Two such people cannot live together in harmony.”
“It is indeed time we left this Court of sin.”
I laughed. “You were glad enough to come when you were starving and sick. You are ungrateful, Louis. If I were my uncle, I would turn you out at once.”
He was tight-lipped and controlling his rage.
“We shall leave at the earliest possible moment and you will be with us,” he said.
“No,” I cried. “Never.”
And I left him.
I told Raymond of that interview. He said he had guessed Louis would not agree to a divorce.
“I have told him that when he leaves he will go alone.”
“Perhaps in time then . . . Who knows?”
“He could not believe it when I told him, although that snake Galeran has been spying on me for a long time. But now Louis knows.”
“The marriage could be annulled on grounds of adultery.”
“I do not care on what grounds as long as I am free.”
Raymond was thoughtful. I supposed he was worried about the effect this would have on Constance if it became generally known that he was my lover. I imagined that there had been love affairs in his life before. Perhaps Constance—married to one who must surely be the most attractive man in the world—was ready to accept his infidelities and look on them as a necessary evil.
“Louis has said nothing to me of his departure,” said Raymond.
“He is determined to go.”
“We shall have to see what happens.”
“But I shall stay here with you, Raymond.”
“I could endure nothing else,” he said fervently.
A mood of wild recklessness came over me. Raymond had made me realize what I was missing in life and I had no intention of going back to the old ways. I wondered at myself for allowing my youth to have been frittered away with a man like Louis. Time was passing. I must begin to live my life as it must have been intended that I should.
I was longing for Louis to be gone.
There seemed to be tension throughout the palace. It was only natural, said Raymond, that a man like Louis should be completely bewildered to discover that his wife was in love with another man—and that man her uncle. He was as one who did not know which way to turn.
“He will accept the inevitable,” said Raymond. “I think perhaps he wants to get away from a place which has been the scene of his rejection.”
So it seemed.
I had retired for the night and dismissed my women. I was in no mood for sleep. I sat at the window looking out onto the beautiful gardens and wondering what would be the outcome of my dilemma when I heard a gentle scratching on the door.
I went to it and opened it. A page stood there.
“My lady,” he said, “the Prince wishes to see you at once. Without delay, he said. It is of the utmost importance.”
“Where is he?” I asked.
“He awaits you in the arbor of which you know. I am to escort you there.”
Excitement gripped me. It seemed natural that he should choose the arbor for our meeting-place. I wrapped a cloak about me, put on stout shoes and went out with the page into the night.
The scented air, the soft darkness made my spirits rise. What a lover he was! What I had missed all those years!
I was close to the arbor when a tall figure emerged from the bushes.
“Raymond!” I cried.
But it was not Raymond. To my dismay I recognized the craggy features of Thierry Galeran.
“What . . .” I began. I could see that he relished the situation and that added to my fury. “What do you want?” I cried.
“You will see, my lady.”
“Raymond,” I called.
“Alas, for you, my lady, I do not think the Prince will hear. It may well be that he sleeps in his apartments with his wife.”
A terrible fear came to me. I had been trapped and to my dismay I saw that Galeran was not alone. Several men loomed up from behind the bushes, and a cloak was thrown about me.
“What are you doing?” I cried.
“You will soon discover. Come . . . we are going now.”
I struggled. “I shall not . . .”
But Galeran had picked me up in his arms. The strength of the man was amazing.
“Quick,” he ordered. “This way.”
And so I was taken. I struggled, trying to kick, but my arms and legs were bound and I was placed on a horse. We went on through the town, which was deserted for it was well past midnight. I wanted to cry out, but it was no use for no one would hear me.
Outside the town Louis and his army had gathered.
My hands and feet still bound, I was placed in a litter.
And so, in the quiet early hours of the morning, I left Antioch—Louis’s prisoner.
How I hated Louis during that journey! I was incensed by the indignity of my abduction and I blamed myself for so easily falling into the trap. I was hoping all the time that Raymond would come and rescue me. What a forlorn hope! As if he could muster an army from those pleasure-loving subjects of his! As if they would agree to come and snatch the Queen of France from her husband!
I felt trapped and embittered.
It was not until we were several days from Antioch that I was allowed my freedom.
My hatred for Galeran was even greater than that I had for Louis. He was the one who had actually carried me off. There was an inborn animosity between us.
But when the first shock began to wear off, I could not hate Louis. He was so ineffectual. Everything he did seemed to end in failure. And he did love me . . . at least enough to plan my abduction.
But what a sorrowful journey it was! I could not stop thinking of those beautiful gardens, the hanging flowers, the richness of the palace. Every comfort known to man was in that palace. It was a paradise and I had lost it. I asked myself when I should see Raymond again.
I soon realized how futile it was to waste recriminations on Louis. He apparently did too, for he did not refer to my affair with Raymond. I suppose we both tried to appear as normal as possible in the circumstances because we were aware of the gossip which must be circulating.
The journey, too, was arduous, although we did not suffer the hardships we had before. I thought a great deal about my future; and there was one point which I did feel determined on—that I was not going on living the life Louis expected me to. I must, in due course, when we had both had a chance of getting used to the idea, discuss with him the matter of divorce.
And finally we reached Jerusalem. A shout went up from the men when the stone walls of the Holy City came into sight. Waiting to greet us at the Jaffa Gate was Queen Melisende, who was Regent for her son Baldwin, who came with his mother.
The people of Jerusalem welcomed us waving palms and olive branches.
“Blessed be he who cometh in the name of the Lord,” they sang as we walked with them to the Holy Sepulcher. I thought how uneasily they lived in this city, constantly expecting attack. No wonder they were delighted to see the crusaders—even though it was such a depleted and forlorn-looking army.
So we arrived at the Rock of Calvary and the Tomb of Jesus.
Louis flung himself onto his knees. This was the moment for which he had been waiting. I knew that to him everything he had suffered had been worthwhile. He had reached his goal; the crime of Vitry was forgiven; his sins were washed away. Louis’s faith was complete. He was in a mood of exultation as he laid the oriflamme on the altar.
He prayed there for a long time, and after that he was led by Melisende and Baldwin through the city to walk along the Via Dolorosa and to visit all the shrines. There was a look of ecstasy in his face. He showed no sign of exhaustion and was almost reluctant to be taken at last to his lodgings in the Tower of David.
I missed Raymond’s lavish hospitality; and how I missed him. There were times at night when I wanted to cry weakly in my bed. What would become of me? I wondered. Of one thing I was certain. Something must happen. I could not go on in this way.
I think Melisende and even young Baldwin were aware that I was under some cloud. They did not treat me in the way I was accustomed to be treated. I knew my own attendants—so many of whom I had brought with me from Aquitaine—were shocked at the way I was treated. To have been roughly handled by the eunuch Galeran was most demeaning. They were quite outraged on my behalf.
I thought: As soon as we leave this place I shall take some action. I must be free of Louis.
Could I go back to Antioch? Would that be possible? And what of Constance? What would her action be? She had accepted the manner in which Raymond had treated me, the attention and the gifts he had showered on me, but she had thought that was as an uncle to a beloved niece. Now she would probably know that I had been her husband’s mistress. Would she be shocked as others had been?
The future looked bleak.
It was not easy to talk with Louis. Now that he was in the Holy Land, he was like a man bemused.
A few days after we came to Jerusalem, Conrad arrived. He had sailed from Constantinople, to which he had returned after losing his army. But he did not go to Manuel Comnenus, of course. He was fully aware who had betrayed him. He no longer had an army. He came as a humble pilgrim.
He was embittered. To have been led into a trap by one in whom he had placed his trust was one of the greatest blows he had ever suffered. All he had left of a great army was a band of ragged pilgrims. But at least he had reached Jerusalem.
I thought how foolish these men were. They risked their lives—which was all very well if that was what they wanted; but they risked the lives of others too. They were inspired by preachers like Bernard—who had the good sense not to accompany them; they set out with hope and glory in their hearts and suffered privation, degradation and often death. For what? To pray at a shrine? Could they not live the lives of Christians more fully by carrying out the teaching of Christ in their homes?
I was impatient with them, with the world and most of all with the cruel fate which had married me to Louis and deprived me of my lover.
Having reached Jerusalem, Louis was in no hurry to leave it. He was in his element visiting the shrines, spending hours at them on his knees. But he must render some service to the Kingdom of Jerusalem. Even Louis realized this. There were conferences with Melisende, Baldwin and Conrad, and it was decided that they must make an attack on one of the cities of the Mussulman princes who were harassing Christians on their way to the Holy City.
They decided to lay siege to Damascus.
The largest and one of the most beautiful cities in Western Asia, Damascus was prosperous and set in a plain bounded by the Black Mountains in the south and the Anti-Libanus range in the northwest. They chose it because to capture that town for the Christians would redound to their credit throughout Christendom.
Louis needed such a victory. The crusade had shown little but disaster so far—but then I had a feeling that anything he undertook would end in disaster.
I scarcely listened to their plans for conquest. My heart was in Antioch. Every morning when I awoke I would wonder what Raymond was doing and whether he was thinking of me as I was of him. What had his feelings been when he arose on that morning and discovered that I had been taken away from him?
How could I be interested in this foolish dream of conquest which these little men were concocting?
They had an initial success and were soon encamped about the walls of Damascus, calculating how long the inhabitants would be able to hold out without food and water.
How trusting Louis was! He believed that those about him who professed to be Christians were as guileless as he. He was no warrior. He was fully aware of this, as he hated war. But this venture, he would assure himself, was in the name of Christianity. The truth was that he could not bear the thought of returning home with his depleted army and nothing achieved except prayers at the shrine of Jerusalem and the expiation of his own sins. His people would say he was saving his soul at the cost of all those lives which had been lost on the way. Wives and mothers would revile him for taking their men away from him. All those fine words, all that waving of crosses . . . what was that now? He had to have a victory to make the project worthwhile and to make those at home proud of their country.
Alas, poor Louis. He was surrounded by dishonest men. None of them appeared to have any heart for the battle. We learned afterward that young Baldwin himself accepted bribes from the governor of Damascus for messengers to be smuggled out of the besieged city who could reach Nureddin, the Emir of Aleppo and Mosul. Nureddin was a fierce fighter; his name was dreaded throughout the area; he was a legend, as fanatical a Mohammedan as Louis was a Christian, as determined to maintain his religion throughout the land as the Christians were to uphold theirs. He was even more dedicated than his father, Zengi, and his had been a name to strike terror into his enemies.
Word came to the men who lay outside Damascus: “Nureddin is coming.”
The thought of the bloodshed which would inevitably ensue was too much for the besiegers. They decided to return to Jerusalem and ignobly retreated and when the people of Damascus saw that they were retreating—frightened at the mention of Nureddin’s name—they sent out cavalry to chase them away.
And so ended the attempt to take Damascus.
A feeling of lassitude spread through the ranks. What was left of the army had lost its enthusiasm for the crusade. The men were nostalgic for France. Of what use was it to stay in Jerusalem? They could not spend their days visiting shrines. How many times had they traversed the Via Dolorosa, halting where Jesus had halted with his cross, praying, singing hymns of praise. They had done it—and they wanted to go home.
Many of them left, Conrad with them. He had lost his army and was nothing but a humble pilgrim now.
I said to Louis: “It is time we left.”
He nodded gravely, but he made no attempt to leave. Each day he was at the holy shrine; he said he found great contentment in prayer.
I wondered whether he had no wish to return home because he would return defeated. Moreover he knew that I was waiting to take up the matter of our consanguinity. Perhaps he feared to return to a people who might despise him—a poor king who had lost an army and was on the point of losing a wife.
Months were passing and still Louis would not go home. Few of those who had come out with him remained.
I was relieved when letters came from Suger urging him to return, reminding him that he was a king with a kingdom to govern.
I saw the letter he sent back to Suger. “I am under a bond,” he wrote, “not to leave the Holy Land save with glory and after doing somewhat for the cause of God and the kingdom of France.”
“How,” I demanded, “are you going to achieve these feats of glory when you have no army now?”
“I must do something. We should have taken Damascus.”
“You should have taken Constantinople when you had a fine army. You could have done that with ease. But you did not see that and so . . . you have lost your army and what have you to show for all the expense paid for in taxes by the people of France and Aquitaine? Nothing! Nothing at all.”
He covered his face with his hands and I knew by the way his lips were moving that he was praying.
I wanted to castigate him with words, but somehow I could not do so. He was such a pathetic figure.
Suger wrote again. “Dear Lord and King. I must cause you to hear the voice of your kingdom. After having suffered so much in the East and endured such evils, now that the barons and lords have returned to France, why do you persist in staying with the barbarians? There are those who would ravish your kingdom. We invoke your piety, your majesty and your goodness. I summon you in the name of the fealty I owe you to tarry no longer. If you do, you will be guilty in the eyes of God of a breach of that oath which you took when you received your crown.”
I think that letter of the worthy Suger really shook Louis out of his complacency and brought home to him the fact that he must delay no longer and begin the journey home.
He wrote to Suger: “I am coming now.”
It was a relief to me to take some action at last. We had been more than a year in Jerusalem—a year since I had seen Raymond. I still thought of him constantly, remembering so much that was precious to me, reliving those enchanting moments, wondering if I should ever again set eyes on his dear face.
Easter was celebrated with much ceremony in Jerusalem and when it was over we were ready to go. It was two years since we had left France—two years during which I had faced hardship such as I had never imagined, and ecstasy too. They were the strangest and most illuminating years of my life so far, and I was quite different from the young woman who had left France at the head of her Amazons, setting forth on the great adventure.
I remembered that time when our depleted army had prepared to leave for Antioch. What had happened to those who did not sail? I could not bear to contemplate what the answer might be. But how tragic it was that now we needed only two ships, for there were no more than three hundred people left of that great assembly which had set out two years before.
I chose which ship I should sail in and ordered that the baggage be put aboard. I had some beautiful Eastern silks and brocades. All the wonderful garments and jewels which Raymond had given me had been left behind when I had been abducted, and everything else had been picked up later. Some of the fashions interested me, and when I was in Jerusalem I had had to do something so I searched for attractive items.
There was a question of how we should divide ourselves, and I told Louis that I refused to travel in the same ship with Thierry Galeran. I could not endure the man and he had shown me so clearly that he was my enemy. I knew that he would be close to Louis all the time, that Louis listened to him, took his advice and relied on him.
“I do not wish to deprive you of your bodyguard,” I told him, “so I shall travel with my ladies in one ship and you and he may go in the other.”
Rather to my surprise Louis made no objection. He knew that when we reached France my first concern would be to set negotiations for divorce in progress.
So we set sail for Acre.
I had not imagined that our troubles would be over. I had learned what an uncomfortable and dangerous venture sea-traveling could be. Nor was I wrong.
There were the usual hazards of weather to contend with, but at least it was summer. There was one great danger which we suddenly realized. Manuel Comnenus was at war with Roger of Sicily, and ships of those two rulers roamed the Mediterranean in search of each other. Being neutral, we had not feared trouble from either, and it was an unpleasant surprise when we encountered ships of Manuel’s navy. They surrounded us and boarded us and we were told that we were prisoners of Manuel Comnenus and were ordered to follow them back to Constantinople.
Once again I thought of Louis’s folly in not teaching Manuel a lesson when he had been in a position to do so. I wondered what he and his familiar, Galeran, were thinking now.
What would have been our fate I have no idea but, as we were preparing to obey orders, several ships of the Sicilian navy came on the scene. Learning what had happened, they fought off the Greeks and soon Manuel’s ships were in retreat. The Sicilian sailors behaved most courteously toward us and eventually we were able to continue our journey.
It had been an alarming experience. I wondered what would have become of me if I had been taken to Manuel Comnenus.
Now there was the sea to face.
We sailed on, never losing sight of the other ship and just as I was beginning to believe that we were nearing our destination and would soon be on the last lap home, we ran into a heavy mist. It lasted for a day and a night and when it lifted there was no sign of the ship in which Louis was sailing.
The mist was followed by a storm which drove our ship along the coast of North Africa. We were forced to land and were given some hospitality by Berber chiefs and were able to stay while the ship was repaired and stores were loaded. Then we set sail again.
I was beginning to feel that this ordeal would never end. We were becalmed for several days and I lost count of them. Food was running low and there was little water; and there we were motionless on a sea without a ripple to disturb its glassy surface. I began to think that this was the end.
Then one day I was aware of movement. The blessed wind had come at last to relieve us. I heard the sailors shouting. We were indeed moving.
Days passed. I was too ill, too tired, too listless to move, and still we sailed on. At last we were in sight of land, and that day we came to Palermo.
It was fortunate that we had landed on friendly territory. King Roger, whose navy had saved us on the high seas, was now our host, and when he heard that my ship had put in at Palermo he sent word that I was to be royally entertained.
What bliss to lie in a bed, to eat delicately presented food, to know the comfort of waking on land! I never wanted to be in a ship again.
There I learned that Louis’s ship was missing and that in France it was believed that we had both been lost at sea.
For two weeks I lived quietly in the lodgings which King Roger had ordered should be put at my disposal. Most of my ladies were too ill to attend me, and there was nothing we wanted to do during those weeks but lie in the shade and watch the brilliant sunlight dancing on the water, which was now as benign as it had been malevolent when we were at its mercy.
There was news. Louis’s ship had arrived in a port near Brindisi in Italy. I heard that he had been very anxious, fearing what might have happened to me, and that when he was told of my safe arrival at Palermo he was overjoyed.
I must come to him, he said. The Bishop of Langres was very ill and he dared not move him.
I was relieved to hear that he was safe. My feelings for Louis were so mixed that although I wanted to be rid of him, I would have been very sad to hear that he was dead. I knew he was a good man and that his motives were of the best, but he had failed me in all that I looked for in a husband and, having experienced love with Raymond, I could not live the rest of my life with such a travesty of a man as Louis.
In due course I joined him in Calabria. He was delighted to see me and reiterated that his greatest concern had been for my safety, telling of his almost unbearable anxiety when the mist had lifted and he found that our ships were separated.
I said I too had suffered anxieties on his account.
He looked at me pleadingly and I knew he wanted me to say that we should forget our distressing talk of divorce and try once more to be content with each other. But I was unmoved and as determined to leave him as ever.
There was no point in staying in Calabria. Now we must make our way home.
“We should,” said Louis, “visit Roger who has done so much to help us. It would be most discourteous not to do so.”
I agreed. I had heard that the Court of Roger, who called himself King of Sicily, was luxurious; and I felt I needed to rest a while in such surroundings before beginning the rest of my journey.
Roger was at Potenza and he received us royally. He was gracious, and it was pleasant to be in the company of an attractive man who made no secret of the fact that he admired me.
But it was at Potenza that I heard the tragic news which made me wish I had not survived.
Soon after we left Antioch, Nureddin had attacked the city and Raymond had successfully routed the enemy’s armies. Nureddin would have accepted a truce which would promise Antioch freedom from harassment for a number of years. Raymond was a proud man, I knew that well. How he would have laughed at Louis’s retreat from the walls of Damascus at the mere mention of Nureddin’s name. Instead of a truce he decided on a further attack. I knew he was impetuous. He had not stopped to think, in his desire for me, what effect our relationship would have on Constance and Louis. He was like his father, I supposed. He had all the charm, all the good looks, everything that makes an ideal man . . . in peace time; but he could not have been a shrewd warrior otherwise he would not have gone forth to attack the mighty Nureddin with so small a contingent.
It was King Roger himself who told me about it.
“Of what could he have been thinking? To go out and attack such a man with a small force! Did he think he was going to frighten Nureddin and make him believe reinforcements were coming up? Nureddin is not the man to know fear, and there were no reinforcements. Raymond fought bravely, but he was doomed. He must have known it.”
He was slain. I could imagine with what rejoicing the news must have been received in the enemy’s camp. He was the bravest of the Christians, their most respected leader. The Mussulmans respect bravery. They put his head in a silver box and carried it to Nureddin.
I could scarcely bear to listen. I thought I was going to faint.
“The Queen is overcome,” said Roger.
“Raymond was her uncle,” explained Louis. “There was great affection between them.”
My uncle! My lover! And the most handsome, the most perfect man in the world. And they had killed him. Why did they wage their senseless wars? Why must they always kill what was good and fine in life?
I said I would retire to my apartment. I wanted to be alone. I wanted to remember every moment of our time together.
Raymond, my love, so alive, so different, the one I had been waiting for all my life—and now he was dead.
In spite of my sorrow, I was more determined than ever to leave Louis. I should never see Raymond again; my hopes of returning to Antioch and living there in luxury, Duchess of Aquitaine and beloved of Raymond, had gone forever. Raymond had died and Louis, in spite of all the hazards he had faced in the last two years, still lived.
I said to him: “Louis, I must have a divorce.”
“You have not given enough thought to what this would mean,” he replied.
“I have thought of little else . . . for months.”
“Your lover is now dead and you could not have married him had he lived even if he planned to divorce his wife on some trumped-up charge.”
“This is a matter between ourselves,” I said firmly. “I want a divorce.”
“We are in Italy,” said Louis. “We should not leave without visiting the Pope.”
I considered this. If I were to get my divorce, I would need the help of the Pope. It seemed to me a good idea to have a meeting and if possible discover what his attitude would be.
When I was presented to Eugenius, my hopes were raised, for he was benign to both of us. True, he treated Louis with especial respect. He said he had found favor in the sight of God for all he had endured and, although the result had not stored up treasures on Earth, it certainly had in Heaven.
Louis was delighted and there were plenty of opportunities for prayer.
When Eugenius heard that it was our matrimonial difficulties we wished to discuss with him, he was mildly perturbed. But he was one of those men who believe himself equal to any situation and for that reason almost always was.
He said that in such matters there were usually two sides, and it would be an advantage to all, he was sure, if he heard us separately.
I thought that was good sense, for there was much I would not want to say in the presence of Louis. I looked forward to our interview but I knew it was no good trying to explain to a celibate such as Eugenius was—or should be—how I could no longer endure Louis’s inadequacies.
Eugenius had already talked to Louis, and he received me with a show of great kindness as though telling me that, although he disapproved of divorce, he was ready to listen to what I had to say.
First he told me that Louis did not want a divorce, that he loved me as dearly as he had on the day he married me and that he was ready to forget all differences between us and would try to make the marriage the success it had been in the beginning.
I had thought about this a great deal ever since I had known I was to have this meeting with Eugenius.
I knew that it was useless to say that my nature was such that I could no longer endure to be married to a man who lived like a monk. Louis had presumably most gallantly refrained from mentioning my adultery with Raymond, which I am sure the Pope would have deplored and perhaps most certainly then might have agreed to the annulment. I was not sure that I wanted it on those grounds as I wondered that, if it were and I were condemned, would my possessions have been in jeopardy? I was not sure on that point; but I thought it would be unwise to bring up the matter. I had to admit that Louis was not the man to take advantage of such a situation. But perhaps he thought that if my affair with Raymond was brought to light it would reflect unfavorably on him. How could I be sure what was the reason for his silence; but I did believe that Louis would always be an honorable man.
I decided to use the line most likely to win approval from the Pope and at the same time protect myself from scandal.
“Holy Father,” I said. “I have been anxious for some time about my close relationship with the King. We are third cousins and as you know through all the years of our marriage we have been blessed with only one girl. It is the only time I have conceived, and I ask myself, is this due to God’s displeasure because of that close relationship forbidden by Him?”
Eugenius was thoughtful. “The relationship . . .” he murmured. “Yes, there is a degree of consanguinity.” It was the right course to take.
“But,” went on the Pope, “I do not think it insurmountable. There could be a dispensation. It would give me great joy to see you and the King living in harmony.”
“I should always be concerned regarding this closeness between us.”
Inwardly I was smiling. I thought of that entirely intimate relationship with one who was indeed close to me in every way . . . my own uncle. But I dared not think of him now. I had to try to forget him, for thinking of him could only bring me sorrow.
I could see that Eugenius was a little impressed by my suggestion. It was extraordinary that a youngish and fertile woman should have failed to conceive during so many years, and when she did to produce a girl when the country needed a male heir for in France a girl could not inherit the throne. Any other point which I could have brought forward would have carried no weight, I could see. On consanguinity my hopes rested.
Eugenius was thoughtful. “You need children,” he said. “You need a son who will be heir to France. France needs an heir.”
“That is true, Holy Father. You will understand, I know, that my husband is a man who spends more time in prayer and religious contemplation than most men.”
“He is a good man of the Church.”
“But it needs more to be a good King of France. Holy Father, I need children. I need to give France its heir. Yet how can I when my husband is hardly ever in my bed?”
“It is of course necessary for him to be there . . . on occasion.”
“He has no desire to be.”
Eugenius looked grave. “I must ponder this matter,” he said.
I bowed my head and left him.
There was something innocent about Eugenius; I honestly believed he wished us both well and that he had a great regard for Louis was obvious. Louis was at heart a churchman such as Eugenius himself.
Perhaps I had given him the impression that if I could have sons all would be well. I had been obliged to do that, for the only excuse I could give for wanting a divorce was the fear that our close relationship displeased God. Louis, I gathered, had said that he longed for us to be in harmony together, that he loved me and never wanted another for his wife.
What happened would have been farcical if it had not been so distressing for me, because it put me into a situation from which I could not escape.
Eugenius behaved like a nurse to two bewildered children. He thought he knew what was necessary to make us happy and he determined to do his best to give it to us.
He had a room prepared in which there was a great bed. This room he hung with relics and he sprinkled the bed with holy water. First I was led to it, then Louis. We were to share it.
We all knelt down and Eugenius prayed to God to bless us and to give us proof of His goodness and mercy toward two children who had lost their way. He saw us in bed together and then left us. I was both amused and despairing. I could see no way out of this. I thought cynically: I wonder he did not wait to see the act and to have anthems sung while it was being performed.
Louis was in earnest. He did his best. I was passive. What else could I do?
In the morning Eugenius greeted us with immense satisfaction. He thought he had solved our problem and saved us both from the ignominy of divorce. He was so pleased with himself for having dealt as he believed so satisfactorily with the matter, and with us for supplying him with a problem which enabled him to show his skill. He showered blessings on us. He told us how high the kingdom of France stood in his esteem. He prayed there would always be complete harmony between us.
And then we made our journey to Paris. There was no great welcome for us. Our crusade had done nothing for France. It had cost too much in lives and property. There was murmuring throughout the realm.
Suger, however, was delighted to see us back. He had, as we had known, ruled the country well during our absence; but it would take the people a long time to forget husbands and sons who had set out full of zeal and met death on the way to Jerusalem.
I had my own troubles. The Pope’s bed had proved fruitful and I was pregnant.
That winter was harsh. I had little to comfort me except my daughter Marie, now a child of five. It was wonderful to see her again and to find her charming and intelligent. She scarcely remembered me but we were soon good friends.
It was difficult to go on with my plans for divorce now that I was expecting Louis’s child. The Pope had been rather clever after all and I had to admit to a certain awe and uneasiness that perhaps God had concerned Himself with our affairs as I had actually conceived among the relics and holy water. I had less respect for those symbols than most because I had been brought up in my grandfather’s Court where they had been of little account. But I did wonder now.
I was desolate and, strange for me, listless. I half wanted the child and half did not. I had some maternal instincts, as Marie had shown me; but on the other hand this new child was an impediment to my divorce, of which I was thinking more and more.
The Seine was frozen over; people were saying it was one of the coldest winters in living memory.
So I lived through that dreary time, and in the early summer of the next year my child was born. To the dismay of Louis and his ministers I produced another daughter. For myself it mattered not. I loved little Alix just as much as I should a boy . . . perhaps more. I did not care for the future of France.
My great desire was to escape from it.
I continued to think of the divorce.