Anne followed Henry outside where he extended his arm to her. She took it without trepidation. As he led her through the snow covered maze of castle gardens, the frosty December air filled their lungs, and their breath showed clearly. Both wrapped themselves in fur-lined cloaks to protect against the cold. At length, he spoke to her. “Ah yes, Lady Anne, the Lady Anne. I thank you for tearing yourself away from the queen. I am glad to have this chance to talk with you. We have not spoken since that day on the ship to England.”
Anne cleared her throat. “I beg your pardon, Sire, but I believe you did the speaking on that day.”
Her reproach made Henry smile. “Well, today you shall speak. I would very much like to hear from you on certain matters.”
“I doubt that my humble thoughts can be up to your standards, My Lord.”
“I know they can, and that is why I shall come right to the point. I brought you out here with me to discuss my son, Richard.”
Anne shook her head. “Please, I beg your pardon once more. I cannot tell you much of Richard. It has been a long time.”
“Now, Anne, I have heard all about your romance in Poitiers.” He said “romance” with a flourish.
“Once again I submit that was years ago.”
“Yes, but I saw the way you look at one another now. I noted how he flushed upon the first sight of you again, and do not think that I failed to notice how you trembled when he approached.”
“Perhaps I trembled; I cannot remember. Maybe it was the cold.” Anne shrugged.
“Yes, My Dear, you trembled, and you cannot blame the cold. Lady Anne, you are a very clever woman. In many ways you remind me of the queen.”
“I take that as a compliment, Sire.”
“Well, having said that, I know that you understand there can never be a match between you and my son.”
“My Lord, I have no pretensions... “
“Yes, yes, I am fully aware of that you have told the queen.” He stopped walking and looked her straight in the eye. “I have discovered your strategy, my dear.”
Anne smiled. “My strategy? You make it sound as if we are at war.”
“You are a beautiful woman, one that any man in his right mind would want to bed.” Henry winked.
Anne added, “And a wealthy one. Do not forget my wealth.”
“Lady Anne, your weapon is sex. Oh, do not look so shocked. I know your plan.
You realize that once you give yourself to Richard the excitement and the mystery of the hunt will be gone. You will lose him. So, you use your denial of sex to keep him interested. Every so often, you show a hint, a glimmer of hope, dangle yourself in front of him like a toy, in order to keep his attentions.” Henry nodded his head in triumph.
Without hesitation Anne laughed. “I was not aware of this plan, My Lord. It is a risky plan at best, is it not? That is to say, without sex how am I to make the relationship a fulfilling one? Eventually he will tire of the game and look elsewhere.”
“Do not tell me that you underestimate my son’s love of the hunt.”
“May I tell you something in confidence?” She squeezed his arm and drew closer to him.
“I will not deny that I have a great deal of affection for your son.” She spoke in a mock whisper. “Indeed it is my greatest fear that he will tire of the game, as you call it; that he will became bored with me and seek another.”
“Then why not just make love to the man?” Henry thundered.
Anne kept her voice quiet. “It is because I love him that I will not. I cannot.”
“Let me reiterate. You can never hope to marry him. I do not care if you are his mistress, but I will not have you do anything to ruin or prevent his marriage. You are of a lesser station in life than he.” Henry waved his finger at her.
“Oh, I am willing to forgive his station,” Anne grinned at him.
Anne continued, “You see, My Lord, I am to inherit the Marseilles and, above all else, must come duty and honor. I must, and will always, put the Marseilles before any other desires. Now, I believe there is something I can tell you about Richard after all. Richard is also very concerned with duty and honor, even above me.”
“And what if I were to say that Richard is freed from his obligation to Alice? Would you marry him then?” Henry queried.
“No, I would not.” She nodded with determination. “It would be an unwise match for your realm, and therefore, it would be an unwise match for Richard. Besides, if
I may be so bold, I do believe that as long as you hold Richard to his contract for Alice, you have an excuse to keep her close to you. I too am a keen observer of people, My Lord. You are in love with the Princess Alice.”
Henry laughed. “I may be an old man, but I am not dead yet.” He patted Anne on the cheek and continued. “Well, Lady Anne, we have confessed our secrets. What now?”
Anne turned to look Henry in the face without fear and with sheer honesty. “Your Highness, you have kept me prisoner for all these years, and I do not know to what end. I, however, have been completely forthright with you. Therefore, you should know that I mean no deception in what I am about to say. I do not pursue a marriage with
Richard, nor will I ever do anything to prevent his marriage to another. I have duties of my own to fulfill. If at any time my relationship with Richard is interfering with him doing the duties bestowed on him by God, and yourself, then I shall end it. I solemnly promise you this.”
Henry regarded her for a moment then replied, “For your part, I do believe you will keep your promise. You are just stubborn enough to do whatever it takes. Now
I know that, I cannot release you. I must keep you close, My Lady, because in doing so I will keep Richard close.”
They rounded a corner and headed back in the direction of the keep. “May I at least send some correspondence to my father?” It sounded more like a request than plea.
“He would like to hear from you.” Henry nodded. “I have been corresponding with him these many years now. Something tells me you know that though.”
“Yes, I do. Your court can be very small.”
“Yes, then you must know about the letters from a Raymond of Castile.”
“No, I did not. Pray, is he still prowling about?” Anne shuddered.
“Oh yes, and he offered all sorts of outrageous rewards in exchange for you. I hear from that pain in the ass at least once a month. He even came to court a couple of years ago.” Henry wrinkled his nose.
Anne shook her head. “You would think that by now he would have found some other rich woman to marry.”
“You would think, but apparently not.” Henry furrowed his brow. “He does not seem to have much help from his brother, King Alfonso. I believe his brother thinks Raymond is as worthless as I do.”
In the distance, they could see Marshal hurrying toward them, his cloak billowing out behind him, his hand gripping the pommel of his sword. Everything about him spoke of urgency.
“Ah, here comes Marshal. I must see what disaster has befallen our happy season.
Good day, Lady Anne. I shall see you later this evening, perhaps.” Henry kissed her hand and left her.
The afternoon sun sank low now, but Henry still schemed. Outside, he spoke with Marshal about how Geoffrey’s wife and Young Henry’s wife screamed insults at one another, while the queen looked on very much amused. Henry instructed that the two women be separated and he would deal with each one. Marshal ran off to complete this unhappy task, at sword point if necessary.
Henry blustered into the castle bellowing, “Richard! Richard! Someone fetch my son!”
A young page scurried down the hallway and out of sight. Henry marched back to his chambers. He tossed his gloves, cloak, and hat onto the bed, and cleared the room of everyone. Then, he took a seat in a large chair, shifting a little, and once again until satisfied he had struck just the right pose. Presently a knock came, and Richard entered the room.
“You sent for me, Sire?” Richard gave a curt bow.
Henry waved off the bow. “Cease with the formalities; I am, after all, your beloved father.”
Richard remained stone faced. “Is something the matter?”
Henry gave his son a charming smile. “No, quite the contrary. I have reached a conclusion as to what is to be done with Lady Anne.”
“After much thought, I have decided she will be released into your custody.”
Richard shook his head in disbelief. “My custody? Why? What is your purpose father?”
“Now, that is painful.” Henry bristled. “I simply wanted to reward you for your good behavior these past years. You have proved your loyalty.” Henry pouted. “I thought you would like my gift.”
After a quiet moment, Richard replied, “I am not sure what to say.”
“Express your gratitude, then bear your news to the lady. I will go face the queen and inform her of my decision,” Henry instructed Richard.
Richard warned, “The queen will not like it.”
“She will get used to the idea,” Henry sniped. “Now, go to the lady. I must be off to the queen before she hears it from someone else.”
With apprehnesion, Richard left the room.
Within moments Richard sped into the queen’s chamber. He found Anne there in the process of folding a blanket for the bed.
“Why, Richard, where have you been? I had an interesting conversation with the king.” Anne placed the woolen blanket down on the bed.
“You must pack your things and hurry.” He picked up her cloak from a chair.
“I do not understand.”
“Please, pack your things and be quick about it.”
Anne reached to take the cloak from him, but he grabbed both of her wrists.
“Anne, the king has given you to my custody, but I do not trust him. He is plotting something; I can tell. I have got to get you out of here and safely to Poitiers before he has a chance to go back on his word.”
“But what of the queen? I do not want to leave the queen,” Anne stammered.
Richard released her. “She will understand. I know she would want you to take this opportunity.” Anne just stood astounded. “Please, Anne, just do as I say; trust me.”
As his words sank in, Anne grew animated until finally she flew around the room gathering her few items of clothing and other possessions, tossing them into her trunk. “I will leave anything behind that I can spare.”
“Baldwin and Andrew will accompany you and keep you safe. The courtyard is full with knights preparing to leave, and you can slip away unnoticed. Be prepared to ride hard to Poitiers. You don’t mind that, do you?”
“I will join you as soon as is possible.”
She wheeled around. “But, Richard, is it dangerous for you to stay?”
“I promise to be extremely cautious and leave at the first glimmer of trouble.”
Richard squeezed her hand. “Be careful yourself and stay close to Andrew and Baldwin.
You know I trust them completely. Now, I must go tell them to prepare, and make sure Henry is distracted so that you may slip away unnoticed.”
“I guess I shall see you in Poitiers then?” Anne wrinkled her brow.
“Yes, soon. Goodbye, Anne.” He pressed his forehead against hers. “Be safe, and I shall see you very soon.” He gave her a departing kiss and rushed from the room.