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  To Natalie

  Who could recruit me



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  About the Author

  By the Same Author



  By the time Roger, the youngest of Tancred de Hauteville’s brood, made ready to leave Normandy, the surname of the family was not the obscure appendage it had once been. In twenty years, since the two eldest sons had departed to take mercenary service in Italy, the de Hautevilles had become renowned throughout Christendom: from being obscure knights with nothing but their lances and their fighting ability, they had come to such startling prominence, to serve as an example to all young men who aspired to greatness.

  William, known by the soubriquet Bras de Fer, had fought his way to land and titles only to die in his prime. In his wake had come his brothers Drogo and Humphrey to both expand the family holdings and elevate the family name. Two more brothers now held valuable fiefs, but if William Iron Arm had led the way, the half-brother who eventually succeeded to his legacy, known to the world by the single soubriquet of the Guiscard, had surpassed him.

  Styled Count of Apulia, he was as famous for his cunning as his military prowess: Robert de Hauteville dealt on equal terms not only with the temporal power of the papacy, but with the imperial authority of the Holy Roman Empire based in Germany, while being in constant conflict with the Eastern Empire ruled from Constantinople. The lands he now held, from the Apennines to the Adriatic seaboard, had for five centuries been the property of Byzantium and, being valuable, the empire was locked into endless attempts at recovery: Apulia and Calabria were thus cockpits of continual warfare, shifting allegiances, endemic betrayal and ceaseless intrigue.

  If Robert Guiscard had trouble with the empire in the east he was not spared turmoil in his own backyard: apart from Lombards, Greeks and the native Italians there were other powerful confrère barons south of Rome. No Norman willingly bowed the knee to another and that, on occasions, included his blood relatives. Thus when the baby of the family made up his mind to head south, it was not by invitation: a brother who shared the name and the family ability as a warrior could be as much of a pest as an asset.

  All of those who had preceded Roger had left without comment from their father’s liege lord, the Duke of Normandy; it was testimony to how much they had risen that when Roger aired his intentions he was summoned to meet with William the Bastard, an order he would disobey at his peril. Escorted by a party of the family lances, warriors owed in fealty and feudal obligation to the duke, he set out for Falaise, the city his suzerain had chosen as his main residence.

  There was, however, one place he was determined to visit, and it was not on the way. It was necessary to bypass Falaise to find the Monastery of St-Evroul-sur-Ouche. It required artifice to persuade the noble abbot, Robert de Grantmesnil, that this near-penniless knight was accidentally passing by his door – and even more to persuade him that he should be allowed contact with his half-sister and ward, Judith of Evreux. Roger and she had met the year before at the annual gathering of knights called to render homage to their suzerain. Seven years his junior, she was already a beauty, he was the most handsome of his family; for both, on a mere meeting of eyes, it had been instant mutual attraction.

  Only pleading by a distraught Judith melted the relative’s initial rebuff: Judith was, after all, a cousin to the duke and the idea of Roger de Hauteville paying suit to such a well-connected beauty was risible – she was destined for a more prosperous hand than his, some great magnate with land, castles and lances. His brother might be Count of Apulia but Roger was a landless nobody. Yet the man was not made of stone and her tears were genuine, so he let her have her fantasy that she could somehow marry for love.

  ‘Italy?’ Judith asked, in a near whisper.

  They sat in an arbour with a pair of nuns close enough by, placed there to ensure no proprieties were broken, like the touching of hands. Roger, tall, blond and blue-eyed, had been treated by these Brides of Christ like some kind of rabid despoiler and when the two youngsters sat, their chaperones had ensured there was a gap between them of a full arm’s length. That was enough for two people enamoured of each other; they sat quietly talking in the way only those who have deep affection for each other can: inconsequential to a listener, heart-searing to the participants.

  There was no need to explain the need to go south, given it was a well-worn path for the impoverished knights of Normandy. To prosper at home meant a close connection to the duke, not something a de Hauteville was likely to be granted, given the family history.

  ‘I would have you come with me,’ Roger said. ‘Allow me to ask the abbot to let you accompany me?’

  ‘As what?’

  ‘As my wife, Judith, what else?’

  There was no need to utter a refusal: her crestfallen look was enough. ‘I had to beg for this, Roger, a few moments alone, and you know I cannot wed anyone without the permission of Duke William. I am his to give away.’

  ‘Added to that which we had last year our time alone cannot amount to more than half a glass of sand.’

  From the church came the sound for which the monastery was famous, the voices of its choir, backed by the musicians her half-brother employed and encouraged. St Evroul was renowned throughout Christendom for this: folk of means travelled long journeys to sit in the chapel and listen to the sweet harmonies, never departing without leaving gifts to an already well-endowed establishment for the sake of their souls.

  ‘It may be all we will ever have. If you go to Italy I may never see you again.’

  ‘I have lances with me.’

  She knew what he was saying, and if she had doubts they were assuaged by the determined look in his eye, but Judith also knew that to elope was impossible. Duke William would send men after her and, if caught, she would be ruined, forced to take the veil while Roger would likely spend the rest of his life in a damp and rat-infested oubliette. On her breast she wore a pin surmounted by a freshwater pearl, which she took off and stuck to his blue and white surcoat, moving close enough to have the two nuns on their feet, alarmed at the contact.

  ‘Go south, Roger; become a great man, as I am sure you must, and every time you touch this remember me.’

  Judith was gone in a flash: she did not want the man with whom she had fallen in love to see her cry. Roger sat for a while, touching the pearl, then rose slowly and walked, a figure with a bowed head, to join his accompanying lances.

  Those steel-tipped lances were for show and he had required the permission of his elder brothers to take them along: once, not long past, they would have been necessary for safety. Duke William had come into his title carrying not only the stain of bastardy, but his own tender years, succeeding aged but seven. He had
inherited a province containing numerous powerful vassals unwilling to bow the knee to either his illegitimacy or to his youth, making it a dangerous place to travel, banditry being a brother to rebellion.

  During the period in which the de Hautevilles had prospered in Italy, William of Normandy had, with the aid of his uncles, loyal barons and, on more than one occasion, the King of the Franks, fought to first hold on to then subdue his ducal estates. The final battle, fought at Val-ès-Dunes, had cemented his position, allowing William to become master in his own domains. That this was so was immediately obvious to Roger on being greeted by a man secure in his own authority; he had first seen his duke as an easily impressed ten-year-old, when William, only three years his senior, had been invested as a knight by the Frankish king to whom he was nominally a vassal.

  The dukedom of Normandy, ceded to the Viking leader Rollo two hundred years previously, was in theory a province of Paris, but being both bellicose and powerful, subsequent dukes had made this a strained relationship, more often one expressed in conflict than alliance. Young and weak, William had needed his powerful neighbour to the east: now, master in his own house, he was more of an equal than a vassal. The Frankish King Henry, sensing his rising strength, was rumoured to be planning to invade Normandy, this time as a mortal enemy.

  ‘It is a time when I need all my fighting men around me.’

  ‘My liege,’ Roger replied, ‘you have so many that one as insignificant as I will not be missed. Besides, you will have three of my brothers who will rally to your service. They have sworn to remain in Normandy.’

  The reference to the number of brothers made the seated William frown, leaving Roger to speculate on the reason: was it that so many of his Norman knights had chosen Italy as the place in which to seek prosperity, or was it the memory of the murder committed by Roger’s brother, Serlo, immediately after William had been knighted? Drunk, Serlo had stabbed a potent vassal of the duke, at a time when standing instructions had been issued that no weapons were to be drawn regardless of any perceived slight. Serlo had fled to England to avoid retribution and was still there in the service of the lords of Mercia.

  ‘I should have had all twelve,’ William growled, ‘though my justice would trim that number by one.’

  ‘I believe, sire, that the reason you do not have all of my family in your service rests with decisions made by your father.’

  Surrounded by courtiers it was an unwise remark to make, for they reacted with hissing or horror to what they saw as lèse-majesté – odd, since a good half of them would have no idea of the reason Roger had spoken so: the matter to which he referred had happened many years previously. William, alone, might have ignored any allusion to what was an ancient disagreement but he could hardly do so in the presence of so many adherents, some of whom advised him, some of whom protected his person and all of whom would flatter him, such was the way of court life.

  ‘You dare to question the actions of my late father?’

  To those three brothers who still lived in the Contentin, as well as many of their contentious neighbours, Roger was known as more diplomatic a person than was the habit of either his own father or his rumbustious siblings. But he was very proud of his name and his lineage, not least of the man he had loved most in the world, his father Tancred, warrior parent to warrior sons and a man who never feared to remind authority they held their power by the consent of those governed, not by force. It was in that memory he spoke.

  ‘No more than he dared to question the motives of mine.’

  William shot to his feet, a mistake if he sought to overawe a man a good two hands taller than he. For all his lack of height he had presence, so it was an equal contest, underlined by the even tone in which Roger continued to speak.

  ‘My father asked your father to take my half-brothers into ducal service and he declined for fear of their blood.’

  The look of fury had Roger speculating again: Tancred’s first wife, Muriella, had been the illegitimate daughter of Richard, this duke’s grandfather, so any reference to her could be construed as a reference to that condition of birth, not something to be alluded to in his presence, this again obvious by the vocal disapproval mouthed by his courtiers. But it had undertones some of those would miss, which included the allegation, never wholly laid to rest, that William’s father had murdered his own elder brother to gain the title. Tancred de Hauteville, faithful warrior to Duke Richard, had known them both as children and had made no attempt to hide his greater love for the eldest son.

  ‘I have no need to fear your blood, do I?’

  The tone was harsh; how easy it would have been to reply in kind, to lay bare before this prince and his arse-lickers that he was no better a man that any of Muriella’s sons. Roger might have a different mother but he was part of a family who, proud of their Viking blood, were famed for their temper. Yet he had, and sometimes he wondered if it was a curse, the ability to see where his own abrasive words would lead and to act to avoid it. He thus spoke in an almost emollient voice.

  ‘That is true, My Lord, but if you were to say that I can have no pretensions to your title, I am bound to remind you that my father swore a sacred oath to your grandfather that, by allowing him to marry his daughter, no offspring of that union would aspire to anything other than that already held. I would take it amiss, and I believe be entitled to do so, if any man was to question my father’s honour.’

  William was checked by that: powerful he might be but there were rules for princes as well as vassals. To go in the direction this man before him was suggesting he might pursue was to open up a can of worms. It did not oblige him to apologise for any imputation of dishonour, but it did mean it would be unwise to labour it.

  ‘Had your father,’ Roger continued, ‘consented to take my brothers into his service as familia knights, as was, I believe, promised to them, they would have laid down their lives to protect both his life and your own, as was their duty. That he refused to do so because he mistrusted their ambition, that he falsely believed they would seek to usurp your position, drove them to mercenary service. I think by their actions and successes they have proved such an act to be a profound mistake.’

  That brought forth another hiss from those around them: this fellow was talking to their liege lord like an equal.

  ‘And you?’ William demanded.

  Roger had him then: he had not set out to trap William of Normandy, reputed by all to be a shrewd statesman and a charismatic leader, but sharp as he was the duke had walked into a snare in which Roger de Hauteville could remind him publicly, before his entire assembled courtiers, that his rank was not much greater than that held by his own family now. He was, and it pleased him to realise it, paying the man back for the insult his father had delivered to old Tancred, loyal and true, all those years ago.

  ‘I am proud most of all of my eldest brother, your namesake, who became Count of Apulia in his own right, a title that has passed on to the present holder, Robert, and it is to him I owe assistance before any other. Not to take service with my own brother would, to me, be a denial of my duty to a loyalty that transcends that which I owe to your house.’

  Looking into the face of a man too angry to speak, lest by doing so he would show how much he had been bested, Roger bowed, turned his back, and left, thinking that if his father could see him now, looking down from his place in heaven, where for all his transgressions he must surely reside, he would be smiling.

  Roger was not: asking for the hand of Judith of Evreux, a faint hope in any case but one he had been determined to pursue, had died completely with that confrontation.

  Preparations for departure had been put in place before the journey to Falaise so Roger had only days back at home before he was ready to leave. Unbeknown to him he performed an act carried out by William Iron Arm twenty years before: he went to the top of the tower to look over the family lands. There had never been enough to satisfy twelve sturdy sons, hence the need to near beg the late duke and, following on
from his refusal to take those sons into service, the need to go south to Italy.

  All had been born into a world where only by successful combat could the offspring of a petty baron prosper and they had been raised with that in mind. From the top of the tower, stone now in place of the wooden structure William had ascended, Roger could look over the de Hauteville demesne, the small hedged fields, some pasture or directly tilled by family serfs, others let out to tenanted villeins. Hemmed in by trees he could follow the course of the stream where he had first learnt to swim and fish, and to one side of that the open field used as a manège, where he had been taught to ride a pony as a boy, then to handle both horse and weapons as a youth and a man.

  It was a contented property: Tancred had been a benign master, seen by some as soft, but he had reminded his sons that the horses they rode, the mail they wore and the weapons they carried came from the toil of these peasants and tenants. If it was a place of tranquillity and security it was still surrounded by trouble, less now than when Roger had been born. At that time the family had been in constant dispute with powerful neighbours who claimed overlordship of the de Hauteville domains, an assertion furiously refuted by his father. That had been laid to rest: this round stone tower on which he stood was proof of that.

  Built to replace a motte-and-bailey structure of wood and earth, a proper donjon had been a dream of Tancred for years, a sign of his status, a smack in the eye to those who claimed they held authority over his land. Brothers William and Drogo had sent the funds for the construction, fruits of their successful campaigns, but it was Iron Arm who had persuaded the Duke William to grant permission for its construction – no such structure could be raised without it – by writing to him as an equal in power and prestige.

  Not overly emotional, Roger nevertheless felt the tears prick his eyes as he recalled the day of completion. Tancred had been aged then, a shadow of his old warrior self, but still a tall man, grey-haired, grizzled and scarred. He had wept at the sight and also at the loss of his sons to another land, for he knew he would never again clap eyes on those who had gone. That was Tancred: a doughty fighter, a prolific lover who had produced fourteen children with his two wives and yet an honourable husband who had never strayed from his marital bonds, a man passionately proud of his unruly brood.

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