Chapter 1: Some With Arrows
Château de Châlus-Chabrol, April 1199
Geoffrey marched through the dimly lit corridors, ignoring the poorly disguised hostility of his brother's sentries with the same ease with which he'd ignored the chilly welcome of his brother's knights. Princes did not concern themselves with the opinions of peasants. Besides, there were other things commanding his attention.
The guards on either side of the closed door stood up straighter, but did not try to stop him entering the room they were meant to be guarding. Perhaps they had no orders to the contrary; perhaps they were blessed with the sort of well-honed instincts that might prevent them from insulting someone they may well have to kneel to before long.
The overcrowded room was stuffy and overheated, and Geoffrey only just managed not to recoil from the stench of sweat and disease.
"Get out," he ordered the men within. Apart from the doctor and a priest Geoffrey did not recognise, these were all Richard's men — William de Roches, André de Chauvigny, Mercadier, a couple of others. They were men who'd followed Richard all the way to the Holy Land and back; men who'd follow him all the way to hell if need be. God in His infinite wisdom had seen fit to place them in the service of Richard the Lionheart, King of England, Champion of Christendom, and serve him they did — earnestly, devotedly, faithfully — as if by their loyal service to this mortal man they might be brought closer to the grace and glory of God.
Their opinion of Geoffrey was somewhat less flattering, which was to say they did not think him the Antichrist, but just about. They wouldn't follow him to the nearest well if they were dying of thirst, let alone anywhere else, and they certainly did not take his orders. It made it all the more satisfying when Richard backed him by croaking a broken, "Leave us," from the bed.
None looked too happy at the prospect of leaving their wounded king alone with the man most likely to profit from his passing — André looked downright mutinous — but they'd followed Richard's orders for too long not to follow them now. They walked, marched, or shoved past Geoffrey towards the door, angry and frustrated and spoiling for a fight. Their quarrel was with the Almighty, not Geoffrey, but he was closer at hand and made for the far more satisfying target. He had fought too many wars against Richard to endear himself to any of them.
Mercadier was the last one out of the room. He stopped next to Geoffrey, his hand on the hilt of his sword. "Try anything funny and I'll cut your throat faster than you can say England. My lord."
Richard's pet mercenary was no diplomat. Neither was Geoffrey when there was nothing to be gained by it.
"You better hope he does live, Mercadier, for if he dies yours will be the first head I put on a spike."
Their positions made clear, neither had more attention to spare for the other. Mercadier walked out, the door swinging shut behind him, and Geoffrey forced himself to move farther into the room. Richard lay on the bed, resembling nothing so much as a corpse. His chest was bruised black and blue, and blood soaked the linen bandages wrapped around his shoulder. He breathed with effort, his every breath a wet, raspy thing that seemed more torment than comfort, as if even so small a movement as necessary to fill his lungs caused him pain.
A lowly bowman had managed what Saladin could not, and the irony tasted bitter in Geoffrey's mouth. Richard's renowned military skill was but recklessness masquerading as courage — he'd been courting death since he was old enough to hold a sword — but if he was so hell-bent on getting himself killed, he should have had the decency to do it in Acre or Jaffa or Jerusalem, where the rivers ran red with the blood of crusaders and Geoffrey did not have to watch. Opportunities had certainly abounded.
Watching his brother's broken body on the bed, a memory came to Geoffrey, unbidden and unwelcome, from that first doomed revolt against Henry. Geoffrey had been thrown clear off his horse and almost lost his head to the blade of one of his father's men. He'd rolled out of the way just in time to avoid the worst of it and suffered no more than a nasty cut to his arm and a rather more serious blow to his pride. In the aftermath, and in the face of Richard's taunts and Hal's gentle mockery, he'd rebuffed the surgeon's attempts to do more than hastily patch him up.
"It's just a graze," he'd said with all the arrogance of youth.
He'd dragged himself to bed hours later, feverish and nauseous, the pain in his arm sharp and burning. Arnaud, his squire, alarmed by his master's condition, had asked if he should fetch the Queen, as if Eleanor had ever been one to play the doting mother to any of her children, sick, healthy or otherwise. Geoffrey — foolish and proud and too young to know any better — had told him to stop fussing and threatened to have him whipped if he breathed a word of it to anyone.
As the infection spread, so did his fever, and his scared squire had finally done the one thing he could think to do and ran to Richard's tent to beg his cousin William, Richard's squire, for help. William was older than Arnaud, and more accustomed to the tempers (and threats) of their young Angevin lords, and had not hesitated to wake Richard up.
Geoffrey remembered little from that infernal night, but he remembered Richard's cool fingers on the side of his face, and the low, exasperated tone of his brother's voice calling him a fool. Richard had snapped at the two squires to stop standing there like a pair of halfwits and to go fetch a doctor. He'd pulled his hand away and Geoffrey had whimpered, a low, pitiful sound that at any other time would've earned him nothing but scorn and mockery. Richard hadn't mocked him for it, though, not then, but simply shushed him and stayed there, running strong, steady fingers through his hair until the surgeon arrived.
It had been a lifetime ago, well before Hal's death had thrown the succession into disarray, back when they were too busy fighting Henry to fight each other. Whatever small modicum of goodwill had existed in those early days was long gone — had been long gone even before Richard decided that nothing short of taking the cross could atone for his many sins, Geoffrey chief among them.
Not that Geoffrey was bitter about it.
"Come— Come to smother me with a pillow?" Richard asked as Geoffrey crossed the room.
"Hardly seems worth the effort." Richard's eyes were sunken and feverish, his cheeks hollow. Every line of his face spoke of agony and anguish and sleepless nights, and if Geoffrey had doubted the severity of his brother's injury, he did not doubt it now. "Were you so sure of God's favour," he asked, deliberately sitting on the bed and ignoring the way Richard gasped in pain at the movement of the mattress, "that you thought chain mail was beneath you?"
"You can't be— You can't be shocked by the arrogance of it."
No. Just by the stupidity.
Châlus was nothing; it was a hovel. Its position was inconsequential, its capture irrelevant, and if Richard had been wearing his chain mail as common sense dictated one ought to when being shot at by castle defendants, he'd have suffered no worse than a bad bruise. And perhaps it was only fitting that hubris should be Richard's downfall, but Geoffrey found no amusement in it, for all that he'd too often wished he could run Richard through with a sword himself.
"Rumour has it I'll be king before morning," he said conversationally, turning his hand to grasp Richard's forearm when his brother did likewise — the one indulgence he'd allow himself.
"You shouldn't— Shouldn't believe everything you hear."
"Shouldn't I?" Geoffrey's thumb moved across Richard's skin without conscious thought, an instinctive, mindless reflex such as might save a man in battle or make him suck in a breath underwater. "Are you still convinced you can play dice with the Almighty and win, brother?"
Richard snorted, the sound immediately turning into a groan of pain. "No," he said through gritted teeth. "God forgive me if I ever did." God would, no doubt. Henry and Eleanor weren't the only ones who played favourites with their children. Richard drew in another laboured breath. "It won't be you, Geoff," he said, and for a moment Geoffrey did not follow the non sequitur. And then he did.
"Who else is there?" It was a rhetorical question; there was no one else. Henry had been cursed with too many sons; Richard with none at all — none that counted, at any rate. There was no one else to choose from, not unless— "John." Geoffrey could feel the blood turning to ice in his veins. "You'd make that walking pustule king over me?"
Richard's gaze did not waver.
"I'm leaving you everything— Everything this side of the Channel—"
"But not England?"
"England and Normandy go to John."
The words refused to become meaning for several long moments during which Geoffrey could not feel a thing. And then he felt it all: every slight, every barbed word; every time Eleanor favoured Richard, every time Henry doted on John; the absurd, unexpected sting of rejection when Richard put an end to whatever sick, perverse thing existed between them and went off on crusade, coming back with fame and glory and a wife.
"You would carve up Father's precious empire?" Rather than make me king? went unsaid, but the truth of it cut hard and deep. It was almost a relief, in a way. Anger was easier than grief.
"What's the point," Richard said, his voice strained but steady, his fingers digging painfully into Geoffrey's arm, "of me leaving you or John something neither of you can hope to keep?"
"Fuck you, Richard." Geoffrey made to jerk his arm free, but Richard tightened his grip on him with surprising strength.
"I'm leaving you the Aquitaine. Do you understand?"
Geoffrey did. He understood. And he hated Richard for it, for offering him the Aquitaine like something precious, like a gift, as if he weren't entitled to it, as if he ought to be thankful. And he hated what it did to the heavy, dull ache in his chest, to the part of himself who was still fifteen and in pain, and pathetically grateful for his brother's fingers combing through his hair.
Instead of pulling away, Geoffrey leaned in, his face only a few inches from Richard's.
"Screw your Aquitaine," he snarled. "I'll have it all, do you hear me? England and Normandy and everything else, even if I have to burn your beloved Aquitaine to the ground to raise the funds. And if you have a problem with it, you have but to come and stop me."
With that he shoved to his feet and stormed out of the room.
Chapter 2: Some With Traps
Geoffrey was as good as his word.
Richard's men were doing their level best to conceal the severity of the king's condition, but it would not take long for it to reach John's ears. The young Count of Mortain employed half the spies this side of Channel — the half not in Eleanor's service — and as soon as he heard, he'd start putting his own plans in motion. It was doubtful whether he would take Richard's scheme with any more grace than Geoffrey had. None of Henry's children had ever learned to share; in this one thing at least, they were their father's sons. John would want it all and would try to take it. Geoffrey expected no less and planned accordingly.
He was not so much a fool as to march his army across the border into Poitou — there was no profit in antagonising the barons whose support he'd need — but there was more than one way to start a fire, and Geoffrey had enough tinder to burn down the continent.
He started by sending envoys to Paris. The relationship between Philip and Richard had long ago crumbled under the crushing weight of two crowns, but Philip and Geoffrey had remained close. That Philip held him in affection, Geoffrey did not doubt, nor did he doubt that Philip would give John the full support of the French crown without so much as having to be asked. Geoffrey could hardly fault him for it. If he were king of France, he'd also prefer an English king he could outfight, outwit and outsmart. Still, he had no intention of allowing it to happen. He needed Philip's backing. Failing that, he needed Philip to stay out of it.
Much like John had spies all over Brittany, Geoffrey had them all over England, and he immediately set them to work gathering information, whispering treason and sowing the seeds of discontent from Cornwall to the Welsh Marches, and all the way up to the Scottish border. Next he dispatched envoys to every corner of Richard's English and continental domains with promises of coin and lands in exchange for military support and oaths of loyalty. John would be making similar offers, of course, but Geoffrey had deeper pockets, and enough sense to pitch his lies just right. John always took it one too far.
Finally, having extended the hand of friendship to his neighbours, Geoffrey wasted no time in stabbing them in the back. The trick to it, like to so many other things in life, was not getting caught. Groups of armed brigands cropped up all over Normandy, Anjou, Maine, Aquitaine, Touraine, England. Geoffrey made sure they became quite the nuisance in Brittany too, for it would not do to look guilty. They wore John's colours, and spoke John's name and claimed John's authority as they burned and pillaged their way across the French and English countrysides, attacking villages, sacking monasteries and stealing crops. There may have been some among their numbers who knew or suspected who was truly paying their wages, but most of them would, if asked, claim with absolute conviction that they were the Count of Mortain's men.
It was not war as Richard would have waged it. Geoffrey's chivalric fool of a brother believed in the blunt honesty of a blade crushing a man's skull, in the honour and glory bought and paid for in blood in the field of battle. Geoffrey would much rather be clever than honourable, and he didn't care whether songs were sung about his bravery, so long as he won.
He had just ridden into his castle in Rennes, when his steward ran out into the courtyard, looking flustered and harried.
"My lord," he said, out of breath, coming to a halt next to Geoffrey's horse. "The Queen is here. She demands you attend to her immediately."
Geoffrey did not need to ask which queen. Ten years after Henry's death, and eight years after Richard's marriage to Berengaria of Navarre, whenever anyone mentioned "the Queen," it was still Eleanor they meant. Perhaps there were women who could've stepped out from under the very large shadow cast by the formidable Eleanor of Aquitaine, but Richard's mousy little wife wasn't one of them.
There was no reason for Eleanor to be here. Last he'd heard she'd been by Richard's side, and there he would have expected her to remain, unless— Geoffrey stopped short, dread turning his blood to ice. Unless Richard were dead.
No. He couldn't be. Geoffrey would have heard. He had men in Richard's household and paid good money to be kept informed of anything worth knowing. The slowest spy in his service would still have managed to outrun an old woman in a litter. Richard couldn't be dead. Geoffrey would've heard it by now if he were.
He found Eleanor in the solar, sitting on a chair as if on a throne, flanked by two of her ladies.
"Madam," he said by way of greeting, his expression carefully neutral. At seventy-seven, Eleanor was still a force to be reckoned with. There was no frailty in her frame, nothing but intensity and a keen intelligence in her gaze. "To what do I owe the pleasure?"
"You have offered Normandy to Philip." It wasn't a question. It was an accusation.
"Are we to waste no time with pleasantries, then?" Geoffrey strolled leisurely to the table and poured himself some wine. "How are you, Geoffrey? I have missed you, Geoffrey."
"Normandy is not in your gift to offer, Geoffrey."
"Then you have no reason to suppose I did."
Fair, faithful Normandy, as sweet as any maiden, and just as ripe for the plunder. He would happily have offered Philip the Aquitaine, but Geoffrey rather thought Philip would've seen through that.
Eleanor scoffed, a look of wry amusement crossing her face. "Is that meant to sound clever?" she asked, dismissing her ladies with an elegant wave of her hand.
"It's meant to sound truthful and reassuring. Did it?"
"Your delivery needs work."
"I'll be sure to dedicate long hours to it once I'm king." He walked around the table and offered her a cup. Manners were important in his family. Up until the bloodshed started, at any rate. "How is dear Johnny?"
"Plotting and scheming, much like you. Philip must be happy as a clam." At least someone was. Eleanor leaned back on her chair, eyeing him thoughtfully. "Sometimes I think God meant to punish me by giving me such clever children," she said. "My life would be so much more restful had I had stupid ones. But you're not half as clever as you think you are, my little autumn blossom. You can't fight Philip and John both."
"It's lucky I don't intend to, then."
"Because you threw Philip a bone? Why should he accept Normandy from you when he can just take it from John along with everything else while the two of you claw at each other like alley cats?" Eleanor rose to her feet and drew closer to him, her expression turning soft and motherly and utterly unlike herself. "Richard is leaving you half of France," she said, lifting a hand to his face, fingers barely brushing the skin. "Is that so little? Anjou, Maine, Touraine, Brittany—"
"I have Brittany," Geoffrey said, grabbing her wrist. He wasn't Richard, and she couldn't manipulate him with soft words and gentle touches. She was about forty years too late for that.
Eleanor's expression hardened. "Constance has Brittany." It was the sort of important distinction that might've saved Henry a lot of grief had he only managed to remember it in regard to the Aquitaine and his wife. "He's leaving you the better part of everything he owns, and you're sulking over a trinket."
"Is that what we're calling the English crown?" Letting go of her hand, Geoffrey retreated towards the table and refilled his cup. "Tell me, Mother," he said, his back to her. "Do you truly care whether John and I tear each other apart? Whether he or I prevail over the other for England, or Father's empire, or your precious Aquitaine? Whether Philip crushes us both?"
"You think I don't?"
Geoffrey could still feel her touch on his cheek, could still hear the gentleness in her tone.
"I think the only son you cared to see succeed you has succeeded you." He turned to face her. "I think it's a matter of profound indifference to you whether John or I end up with a crown on our heads, or locked in a cell, or dead in a shallow grave. I think you're here because Richard asked you to, and I think you'd rather be at Châlus holding the hand of your precious dying lamb than here, giving out motherly advice to a son you never loved or liked or half the time remembered you had. So why don't we put an end to this charade so that you can go and do just that?"
Geoffrey had meant to attack her, but he didn't need to hear the bitterness in his own tone to know that all the blood on the floor was his.
Eleanor had gone perfectly still. "How well you think you know me," she said after a moment. "And how very wrong you are. I've birthed ten beautiful, perfect children and lived to bury half of them. Yes, I've had my favourites. Parents do. But I've loved all my children, Geoffrey. Even John. Even you."
"I almost think you believe that."
Eleanor closed the space between them and set down her cup on the table before looking up at him, this woman who still looked so much like the elegant, regal, remote mother from his childhood, who'd never had any use for him except as a weapon to be used or forgotten or discarded, as suited.
"Poor, dear Geoffrey," she said, blue eyes just like Richard's, "who's always felt cheated of his fair share of attention, power, lands, love. Am I leaving anything out?" She ran her fingers through his hair, the sort of casual, motherly gesture in which a stranger might read affection. "Well, you're right about one thing, at least," she continued, stepping away, letting her hand fall. "I don't care who's king after Richard is gone. I'm so very tired of crowns and lands and grown men bickering like children over who gets what. What does it matter? What does any of it matter? I've plotted and schemed for longer than you've been alive, and what has it ever got me?"
"Asks the queen," Geoffrey said, and had to clear his throat.
"Oh, yes, and how very deprived you must be feeling, my lord duke. How heavy the burdens of a king's younger son." There was steel in her voice, in her gaze, in her bearing. "Your brother's death will make you the wealthiest, most powerful man in Europe, and here you stand feeling slighted. If you are as clever as you think you are, you will try to keep what he's giving you instead of risking it all in a fit of pique because John got a pony too. And that, my dear boy," she said, turning away, "is all the motherly advice I have left to give."
She was almost at the door when Geoffrey surprised himself by calling after her, "Maman." Eleanor stopped short, tilting her head without turning back. "The Aquitaine—" he began and immediately stopped, unsure of what he wanted to ask. Unsure of whether he wanted to ask it at all. "Are you glad, at least, that it's me and not John?"
Eleanor stood silent for a moment, unmoving, as still as a statue. "It's as you said," she answered at last, an edge to her voice. "The son I wanted to succeed me has succeeded me. And now my beautiful, perfect boy is dying, and I truly cannot muster the energy to care about what follows."
She walked out without another backwards glance and Geoffrey stayed where he was, rooted in place, anger and resentment building in his chest — at Eleanor, at Richard, at his own damnable weakness in asking the question, in caring about the answer.
"My lord?" His steward stood by the door, looking uncertain.
"Have my horse saddled."
Chapter 3: Rooted in Hell
Geoffrey had been named after Henry's sire, Geoffrey of Anjou, who was himself the descendant of Geoffrey Greymantle, said to have married the devil's own daughter. Much was blamed on this Demon Countess of Anjou and on her demonic blood. The story went that she had gifted her descendants with a fierceness that bordered on recklessness, with a curious lack of family feeling, and with an unquenchable lust for power and titles. From her they'd also inherited their violent, vicious tempers, so often to blame for sins great and small — from a raised voice to an uprising, to Thomas Becket lying dead on the floor of his own cathedral.
Whether or not it was a true tale (though few who'd ever met Henry or Richard felt inclined to dispute it), Geoffrey had always thought himself above the failings of his line. His father might well have considered their Angevin tempers a virtue, but only a fool overplayed his hand in a fit of rage, and Geoffrey was no fool. Whatever else he might be, he was too smart to let his temper get the better of him.
It was becoming increasingly hard to maintain that particular piece of self-delusion.
A large part of his plan hinged on unleashing a not insignificant amount of chaos and violence on Richard's lands and pinning the blame for it entirely on John. That was not best achieved by spending the better part of two months personally leading raids across Poitou. He knew it to be a reckless, misguided thing to do; he knew it to be the height of idiocy. He did it anyway, his fury spilling out and spreading like wildfire across the fields, villages and abbeys between Nantes and Poitiers.
In the meantime, Richard got better. Against all odds, against all expectations, Richard got better. The news of his brother's recovery reached Geoffrey in a small village some thirty miles from Thouars. After dismissing the courier and reading and re-reading the missive, he walked into the small but well-kept village church and allowed himself a moment in which to feel grateful, in which to feel glad, a moment in which to thank God. And then he walked out and ordered the building set on fire.
This would have been the moment to call off the dogs of war, to return to Brittany and lick his wounds. A more sensible man would've done just that, but a more sensible man wouldn't have been in Poitou to begin with. Instead of ordering his men north, Geoffrey led them south, deeper into Richard's territory. It was hard not to imagine that John might be dealing with disappointment in much the same way.
No Plantagenet prince — from Hal to John, to Henry himself — had ever been overly burdened by a fear of consequences, and Geoffrey wasn't either. He might be reckless, but he wasn't a fool, and while he'd have done better to stay in Brittany, well out of Richard's reach, it's not as if he'd announced his presence in Poitou to the world. A small group of men could go where an army could not and strike quickly and anonymously. By the time troops were sent to deal with the threat, they were long gone. The fact that the spring had seen an unusually large number of bandits and highwayman causing trouble all over the French countryside contributed to their general safety. Geoffrey was a needle in a very large haystack. He'd made sure of that.
Not sure enough, it turned out. Consequences finally caught up with him on the thirtieth day of the month of May, a Sunday, as if God Himself meant to rebuke him for daring to spill the blood of His flock. A group of armed men bearing the colours of the House of Thouars descended upon Geoffrey and his men near a Benedictine Monastery some fifty miles to the west of Poitiers. Geoffrey's men were outnumbered two to one, but the soldiers had been expecting a half-starved group of thieves, not a small but well-organised band of routiers led by the Duke of Brittany, who — whatever his other failings — was as skilled a battle commander as any of his brothers, even Richard. The skirmish that followed was fast and brutal, and by the end of it five men were dead, only one of whom Geoffrey's.
Despite the easy victory, Geoffrey couldn't shake off his annoyance at having lost a man to the hapless band of ill-trained rabble that Guy de Thouars called a patrol, and his mood was in no way improved by the headache he'd been nursing since the previous day.
They stopped for the night by a creek in the middle of nowhere and Geoffrey barked orders at his men to set up camp and organise watches, and then walked towards the creek, meaning to wash off some of the sweat and blood from that day's work. The sun had just disappeared over the horizon, but there was still enough light for him to easily see the way. He'd just knelt down at the edge of the water when he saw movement from the corner of his eye. His hand immediately flew to the dagger at his waist, but he didn't even have time to turn before something heavy hit the back of his head and the whole world went dark.
When Geoffrey came to, the ground was swaying gently under him and for a moment he couldn't remember what had happened or where he was. A sack covered his head, blocking his vision. The spike of panic that shot through him only added to his sense of disorientation. Geoffrey struggled to think around the sharp, pulsating pain in his head, around the nausea rising in his throat. He made himself keep breathing, steady even breaths that did little to relieve the panic or the nausea, but that still helped focus his mind.
He was on a horse. His hands were tied behind him, the rope digging painfully into his wrists. His captors had strapped him to the saddle to keep him upright, and though he couldn't see, he could hear them riding next to and in front of him. Half a dozen men, maybe more. It took him a moment to identify the language they spoke as Barbantic, but the moment he did all his panic fled, replaced by pure, burning rage. Mercadier's men. Geoffrey was going to wring the neck of that over-reaching, upstart whoreson if it was the last thing he did.
Someone laughed a few feet in front of him, and Geoffrey recognised the voice of one of his own men. That one he was going to flay alive personally.
They rode through the night. With his hands tied behind him, Geoffrey had to rely almost entirely on his legs for balance, and it was perhaps a good thing that he was strapped to the saddle or he would've fallen off the horse out of sheer exhaustion. None of the mercenaries paid any mind to his promises of gold or lands or punishment. Threats proved as ineffective as bribery, but he kept making them. It was something to pass the time.
By the time they reached their destination, the sun had started to rise. Geoffrey could make out the change in the light even through the fabric covering his eyes. Bells rang in the distance and the sound of hooves on pavement echoed on the surrounding streets. Despite the early hour, the town was alive with the sounds of human living — voices and the clattering of crockery and the sound of shutters being thrown open.
Poitiers, like as not. Royal summons came in many forms.
His horse came to a halt, and rough hands untied the straps around his waist and legs before unceremoniously pulling him from the saddle. The moment Geoffrey's feet touched down, his legs buckled under him, sending him crashing to the ground. Without his arms free to break his fall, he landed heavily on his side.
"Now, now, is that any way to treat our honoured guest?" came a familiar voice, dripping with sarcasm. Mercadier.
"I am going to have your head for this."
The mercenary knelt by his side. "Perhaps," he said, wrapping a large, strong hard around Geoffrey's arm. "But not today." He pulled Geoffrey up, and Geoffrey forced his legs to cooperate. He was at enough of a disadvantage as it was.
"I want to see my brother."
"The king has no time to spare on ungrateful, disloyal cunts. My lord," he added as an afterthought, the smirk audible in his tone. "But I'm sent to make sure you have all the comforts due to your station."
Mercadier pushed and shoved Geoffrey through a maze of corridors and stairwells, gripping his arm hard enough to bruise. Geoffrey let him. There was no point in resisting. Even had he not been blindfolded and restrained, he would still have been alone and unarmed in the heart of his brother's territory, surrounded by his brother's men. Let Mercadier have his fun. A king's shadow was a cosy place to be, but Richard would not protect him forever, and Geoffrey could wait. Sooner or later he'd make the mercenary pay for every last word, every last indignity. There were men in Geoffrey's employment whose job it was to poke and prod, and take people apart one pound of flesh at a time, until they revealed every last one of their secrets, until they were ready to sell out their mothers. It was slow, painstaking, necessary work. Mercadier they could have for sport.
An irregular stone almost made Geoffrey lose his footing and he would've fallen but for Mercadier's firm grip on his arm.
On second thought, he'd murder the bastard himself.
They went up, not down, and while there were those who might have found some comfort in that, Geoffrey was not one of them. A cell was a cell, whether up on a tower or down in a dungeon. Eleanor could attest to that. So could Richard.
"I'd have put you down in the dark with the rats myself," Mercadier said lightly, removing the sack covering Geoffrey's head. "But the king was feeling merciful."
Geoffrey flinched at the sudden brightness, and it was several moments before he could fully take in his surroundings. It was several more before he had enough command of himself to school his features into something resembling composure. A cell was a cell was a cell, but this room reminded Geoffrey of nothing so much as a coffin. It was small and narrow, with bare stone walls, a bare stone floor, and a small, narrow opening in the far wall that let in barely any light, blinding though it had seemed only a few moments ago. The only pieces of furniture were the bed, which was little more than a pallet, and a table pushed against a corner. There were no tapestries, no chairs, no comforts of any kind. Richard's displeasure was loud and glaring in every detail of the barren space.
"Cosy" was Geoffrey's only comment as Mercadier cut the bindings around his wrists.
It mattered not. If Richard meant to humble him, he was bound for disappointment. Geoffrey was too exhausted to care where he slept. A bed was a welcome luxury after weeks of sleeping by campfires, even a bed such as this. And besides, as slaps on the wrist went, he'd had worse — often from Richard himself.
Sleep proved elusive, though. After a night spent on the saddle with his arms tied behind him, Geoffrey's entire body ached, and there was no comfortable position to be found in the narrow, lumpy bed, or anywhere else for that matter. The slowly encroaching walls became increasingly hard to ignore, particularly as there was nothing else to engage his attention. A slow, boring day turned into a cold, uncomfortable night. June had brought a dry, warm summer to Poitou, but it could have been November inside the chilly, stone cell. There was no fire, no candles, and only a moth-eaten, flimsy blanket to keep away the cold. The pettiness of that was almost reassuring in its familiarity.
The next day was much the same. Servants brought him food, water to wash with and a clean change of clothes, but none of them so much as looked at him, let alone answered any of his questions. He might as well have been a ghost — invisible and unseen and ignored. Not that he cared, of course. Peasants were below the notice of princes.
Richard did not come, Richard did not send for him. It was as if having safely locked Geoffrey away in a cell, he could now forget he even existed. Long, empty days stretched on impossibly until Geoffrey could see the shape of the next forty years of his life. It was nonsense, of course. Richard would let him out, eventually. It was a game of patience, and Geoffrey would not blink first. He refused to blink first.
On the fifth day, when a servant walked in with a platter of food, Geoffrey seized him from behind, tightening a constricting arm around the man's throat.
"Can't ignore me now, can you?"
Two guards ran in, drawn in by the sound of pottery shattering against the stone floor, and immediately stopped short, momentarily at a loss as to how to handle the situation. The room was too small and too narrow for either of them to flank Geoffrey, and they were loath to draw their weapons against the king's own brother, whatever his crimes. Mercadier would doubtless have had fewer scruples on that score, but these were but simple, lowly guards, unaccustomed to defying their betters.
The older of the two was the first one to get over his hesitation. He jumped over the bed to slip behind Geoffrey and hit him with a powerful blow to the kidney that made Geoffrey grunt. The unlucky manservant's frantic attempts to free himself from Geoffrey's punishing chokehold grew increasingly weaker, but neither the man's desperate gasps nor the guard's furious attempts to dislodge him were enough to make Geoffrey let go of his prey.
The guard behind him threw an arm around Geoffrey's throat and pulled viciously back, putting all his weight on it, and Geoffrey let go of the servant and hit back with his elbow, trying to force the guard to let go. The other guard, seeing an opening, pushed the scurrying servant out of the way and lunged for Geoffrey, who used the guard holding him back for leverage and kicked at the second guard with brutal efficiency, sending him stumbling back. This ingratiated him to neither one of them, and whatever scruples they still had against roughing up a duke quickly deserted them.
By the time they extricated themselves from the room, Geoffrey lay crumpled on the floor and the room was a wreck. He could taste blood in his mouth, but even that could not stop him from smiling savagely at the devastation that little display of temper had wreaked in those cramped quarters. Not half bad for a ghost.
Later that day, Richard sent for him.
Chapter 4: Violent Delights
"The king will see you now." Mercadier stood in the doorway, an unpleasant smile on his face. Geoffrey matched it with one of his own.
"Kind of him to make time for family."
He followed the mercenary through the deserted corridors of the Palace of Poitiers, two guards on their heels. Geoffrey had expected to be granted a public audience — Richard had never shied away from humbling his brothers in public — but he was neither terribly surprised nor greatly displeased by finding himself in his brother's private chambers. Richard was never so easy to manipulate as when Geoffrey had him all to himself. Priests and bishops and cardinals across England and France had always been quick to single out ruthlessness as King Richard's chief failing, but Geoffrey disagreed. In a king, ruthlessness was a virtue. Sentimentality was not, and Richard had always suffered from it, however little it was in evidence amid all the blood and carnage.
Richard's bedchamber was everything a king's bedchamber ought to be: spacious, comfortable, richly furnished. A fire was burning in the hearth despite the season, there were tapestries on the walls, and the large, heavy bed was almost as wide as the glorified hole in the wall where Richard had seen fit to imprison a king's son, and his own brother at that.
"My king." If Mercadier bowed any lower, his forehead might just touch the ground, and such flexibility much surely come in handy when licking Richard's boots. "The prisoner is here."
"My king," Geoffrey echoed with all the sarcasm at his command, bowing gracefully.
Richard had lost weight and the signs of his slow recovery were written large across his face and frame, but his eyes when they met Geoffrey's were as they'd always been — hard, cold and deeply unimpressed.
"Have you anything to say for yourself?" he asked, and for a fleeting moment Geoffrey could see Henry in his brother's face.
"Only that your hospitality leaves something to be desired."
"I ought to have put you in irons."
"You ought to have done many a thing, brother," Geoffrey said pointedly. "You chose not to." Their whole lives were a never-ending sequence of things they should have done, should have said, should have stopped themselves and each other from doing. On and on it went. "Do not blame me for your failings."
"No." Richard drew closer to him, pitching his voice lower as if they were the only two people in the room. "But I blame you for your own. Tell me, brother, what do you imagine I'd do to any other of my vassals who took it upon himself to attack my lands and slaughter my people?"
It was the sort of academic question scholars might entertain, but Geoffrey would stake his fortune on the fact he'd never have to learn the answer first-hand.
"Oh, the usual, I suppose." He could hear the guards shifting in place behind him, could see Mercadier just at the edge of his vision. "Seize their lands, raze their castles. Depending on how great their transgressions or how small their consequence, you might even throw them in a dungeon or demand they be put to death." He let his gaze drop to his brother's lips, let it linger there just long enough for Richard's frown to deepen. "Is it to be my fate, brother?" he asked with a mocking smile, looking back up at Richard. "Am I for the hangman's noose?"
"You think this is a laughing matter?"
"I think your threats might have more bite to them if I hadn't heard them all before." From Richard, from Henry. There were no original threats left in their family. "Words are air. I'm your heir in all but name, whatever your lofty plans for John. Kings with no sons must perforce cherish their brothers. Even brothers such as me."
Richard smiled, a predator's smile, sharp and dangerous. "You may well be right about that, but you're wrong if you think that gives you licence to do as you please with no fear of consequences."
Mercadier had slipped from view, but Geoffrey could hear the man's light footsteps somewhere behind him.
"And what consequences did you have in mind, brother?" He resisted the urge to reach for where he normally kept his dagger. "A slap on the wrist, a stern telling off? Shall I look properly contrite while you trot out one of Henry's old lectures?"
"We're past lectures. Seize him."
The two guards lunged at him. Geoffrey had been expecting it and managed to wrench his right arm free of their hold and hit the guard to his right with a powerful blow to the head. Before he could shake off the other guard, Mercadier struck him in the back of one knee, knocking him off balance and immediately tightening an arm around Geoffrey's throat.
"Strip him down to his waist," Richard ordered in a dispassionate voice, his expression blank.
The instinct to fight back was louder than the knowledge struggling was pointless. There were three of them and just one of him, and Geoffrey knew it was better to let them do as they pleased rather than give them the satisfaction of forcing him to submit, but blind, impotent rage left no space inside his mind to do anything but struggle in vain as they tore off his tunic and dragged him across the room.
It took him a moment to notice the chains hanging from the heavy columns at the foot of the bed, and another one to see the scourge left on top of the counterpane, but when he spotted them it brought the whole world to a standstill, all his rage turning to panic, turning to dread.
"Richard," Geoffrey started, panic driving his renewed efforts to shake off his assailants. It was no use. One of the guards ended up on the floor, coughing up blood, but Mercadier and the other man succeeded in dragging Geoffrey all the way to the foot of the bed and forcing his arms up long enough to lock each manacle firmly around his wrists.
The metal was cold and hard against his skin, and the chains forced his arms up uncomfortably, stretching his entire body up so that his feet barely touched the ground. He kicked back, using the chains for leverage and hitting nothing but air. He did it again, all the while pulling uselessly against the manacles, desperately trying to get the columns or the chains to give.
"Enough." Richard was suddenly behind him, a warm, steady hand on Geoffrey's naked back, and Geoffrey went still, his panicked, laboured breathing loud to his own ears.
"Don't do this." He meant it as a warning, as a threat: Don't you dare. It came out humiliatingly like a plea.
Richard drew closer against him, his body warm against Geoffrey's back, the fabric of his tunic soft against Geoffrey's skin.
"You did tell me to come and stop you," he said in a low voice. "Consequences, little brother. Consider them next time."
And with that he stepped away, the soft pressure of his fingers on Geoffrey's back the last thing Geoffrey noticed before he became once again painfully aware of the guards sniggering behind him, of Mercadier's mocking gaze on him, of the scourge left on the bed in front of him.
From where he was suspended at the foot of the bed, facing the headboard, Geoffrey could not see most of the surrounding room, could not see any of the other men, but he could hear them moving behind him — footsteps, the rustling of clothes, the clinking of metal. It only heightened the feeling of being prey, of being trapped, and that was almost worse than the knowledge of what was to come.
Something moved over his head, passing in front of his eyes, and Geoffrey barely had time to register it before he felt the thick piece of leather against his lip. He instinctively tried to turn his head away, but Mercadier increased the pressure.
"Open up. You'll thank me for it." Geoffrey doubted it, but he opened his mouth all the same, biting down on the leather and allowing the mercenary to tie up the gag around his head. "You know," Mercadier said, his thumb brushing the back of Geoffrey's neck. "I'm going to enjoy this."
He reached around Geoffrey for the scourge before stepping out of view and Geoffrey forced himself to focus on his breathing. It was just a flogging. It would be painful and humiliating, but it would not kill him. It was just a flogging.
Geoffrey was no stranger to violence. He'd had a sword in his hand since he was tall enough to hold one, and his scarred body bore testament to a life spent at war. Violence did not scare him. Pain did not scare him. But he had been born a king's son. Outside the mock battles of the tournament circuit and the real ones in battlefields across England and France, no one had ever lifted a hand to him. No one had ever dared. The humiliation cut deeper than the fear.
A soft whistle of air broke through his jumbled thoughts, followed by the heavy impact of the scourge on his back. For a fraction of a second, Geoffrey did not feel a thing and then pain exploded across his back, driving all the air from his lungs. Before he had time to process any of it, Mercadier hit him again, layering the second blow on top of the first one, across Geoffrey's upper back, followed immediately by a third.
Geoffrey bit down on the leather between his teeth, willing himself to remain silent, forcing himself to remain still. A memory came to him unbidden of the one time — of the few times — someone had struck him like an errant child. Richard hadn't been king then, not that first time, but he'd never needed a crown to act like a tyrant.
As if summoned by those thoughts, Richard moved into view, settling down on a chair by the side of the bed, his cold gaze fixed on Geoffrey. That was somehow worse than the fierce, relentless bite of the scourge on Geoffrey's back, as if having taken away everything else, Richard was now taking away even his ability to hide. Geoffrey glared at his brother for a brief moment before a particularly hard blow wrenched a stifled scream from his throat. His body jerked forward, seeking to escape the next strike, an instinctive, pointless gesture. The chains did not have enough give to allow him to move more than an inch. Geoffrey forced himself to hold still with an effort of will and stared defiantly back at Richard until the next blow dragged a sob from him, tendrils of pain spreading across his back like fire.
It wasn't long before he could no longer control his reactions enough to stop himself from crying out with every strike, not long before he could no longer stop himself from desperately trying to flinch away to avoid the worst of it. All his thoughts scattered under the heavy weight of the scourge, like sand slipping through his fingers, and Geoffrey could no more think than stop himself from thinking, images drifting like clouds through his mind: Richard lying weakly on that bed in Châlus; Richard in Paris, laughing at something Philip said; Baldwin of Forde holding the crown above Richard's head in Westminster Abbey. Richard's hand on Geoffrey's buttocks, hot and heavy, the sting of the blows on his arse less painful than the flush of embarrassment Geoffrey felt as he lay across his brother's lap, breeches pulled down around his thighs. Richard had fucked him afterwards, fast and hard, and after they'd lain in bed for a very long time, kissing and touching and not talking. Geoffrey had fallen asleep pressed against Richard, his brother's arm around him. It had felt like forgiveness. A month later, Richard had left for the Holy Land.
It took Geoffrey some time to realise the blows had stopped. It would have been a relief if he had it in him to feel anything but the loud, sharp pain radiating across the expanse of his back. Someone untied the knot of the gag at the back of his head, and he whimpered as they gently removed the leather from between his teeth.
"You took that well," came Mercadier's voice close to Geoffrey's ear as the mercenary held him up, an arm around his unmarked lower back, while one of the guards unlocked the manacles around his wrists.
"Fuck— Fuck you."
Mercadier chuckled, widening his stance to accommodate Geoffrey's weight as his arms came down. "Can you stand?"
"Get your fucking hands off me."
Mercadier let go and Geoffrey staggered backwards, struggling to stay upright. And then his legs buckled under him and he fell to the floor, with just enough presence of mind to shift his weight so as to fall on his side. The impact reverberated painfully across his injured back all the same and his vision went white around the edges. Nausea and pain clawed at him, sharp and insistent, but Geoffrey ignored them, rolling to his stomach and pulling his knees under him, fully intending to rise to his feet. Just as soon as the world stopped spinning.
Voices echoed above him, garbled and distant, and Geoffrey was only faintly aware of steps and movement, and of the sound of the door closing. He started when a hand touched his arm.
"Easy," Richard said. "It's just me."
There was no conceivable reason why that should have been reassuring, but it was. Richard knelt down in front of him and Geoffrey shifted forward despite the pain, leaning his forehead against his brother's shoulder.
"Glad I'm alive?" Richard's breath was warm on Geoffrey's ear, his hands steady and familiar as they moved up and down his arms.
"Not— Not just this minute," Geoffrey said, and Richard laughed, a soft huff of breath that tugged at all the miserable, lonely parts of Geoffrey. God in heaven, he'd missed that sound. He'd thought he'd never hear it again.
Geoffrey closed his eyes, letting the pain wash over him, focusing on the steady, rhythmic pressure of Richard's hands on his arms, on Richard's solid presence against him. Richard lifted a hand to the back of his neck, burying his fingers in Geoffrey's hair, and Geoffrey let out a sigh, fingers curling on his brother's tunic.
"Did you—" Geoffrey ran his tongue over his lips and tried again. "Did you enjoy your little spectacle?"
Richard did not pause the soft movement of his fingers on the nape of Geoffrey's neck. "I did," he said easily, a note of amusement in his voice. He moved his other hand between them, running his knuckles down Geoffrey's chest before grabbing Geoffrey's groin. "So did you, it seems." The sudden pressure on his cock drew a startled gasp from Geoffrey, who instinctively arched his back, trying to get away, causing pain to light up anew across his shoulders. "Steady." Richard tightened his grip on him. "None of that, little brother. Settle down. That's it."
Geoffrey sucked in a ragged breath and pressed harder against Richard's shoulder, biting his lip to keep silent, pathetically glad that Richard couldn't see his face. He'd been half hard already — despite the pain or because of it, the world shrunk down to the heavy blows of the scourge and Richard's piercing eyes on him. Now it didn't take much for Richard's clever, familiar fingers to coax him to full hardness, rubbing and squeezing and stroking him over the fabric of his breeches. When Richard pulled his hand away, Geoffrey made a choked noise of protest, but Richard only shushed him, struggling for a moment with the laces of Geoffrey's breeches before finally freeing his aching cock from the tight, confining fabric.
"Does that feel good?" he asked, calloused fingers stroking the sensitive skin, and Geoffrey could barely draw in enough breath to fill his lungs, let alone speak.
"Yes," he finally managed, not so much a word as a quick exhale of air given shape. Words were impossible, but it was becoming increasingly hard to keep quiet. The room around them was filled with the sound of Geoffrey's laboured breathing, with the strangled little noises catching in his throat, with the faint moans he could no longer bite back. He tilted his face up to nuzzle Richard's neck, and Richard kissed his temple, a soft brush of lips on skin.
Richard's hand on the back of Geoffrey's neck trailed down, a feathery touch that suddenly sent a searing stab of pain through Geoffrey when Richard's fingers dug into the inflamed skin between his shoulders.
"Richard—" Geoffrey gasped, unable to breathe, a whine rising in his throat. "Please—"
"You get what I choose to give you, princeling," Richard said, tightening his grip on him when Geoffrey made to pull away. "Whether that's a kingdom and a crown or a shed in the woods or this right here. Do you understand?"
Geoffrey whimpered, his mind straining under the conflicting sensations — Richard's nails digging into his back, Richard's breath warm and familiar on his overheated skin, Richard's practised fingers stroking his throbbing cock faster and faster.
"Do you understand, Geoff?" Richard repeated, dragging his nails across Geoffrey's shoulders.
"Yes. Please— Yes, I—" Geoffrey came with a sob, the strength of his climax washing away everything else, even Richard, and for a few precious moments there was nothing else in the world but warm, bright pleasure, all-encompassing and uncomplicated.
When the world reassembled itself around him once more, Geoffrey was at first aware only of the dull ache in his back and of the impossibly loud sound of his own breathing. He struggled to sit back on his heels, the room around him spinning. He knew in some distant corner of his mind that he ought to be angry, indignant, incensed, knew there were words he ought to say, but his mind was a jumbled, tangled mess of half-conceived thoughts that went nowhere. It was only when Richard shifted, making to get up that Geoffrey's mind reeled enough for him to reach for Richard, fingers tightening on his brother's tunic.
Richard leaned forward, dipping his head to catch Geoffrey's lips with his own in a brief, chaste kiss. "I'll be but a moment," he said in a hoarse voice, his expression too guarded for Geoffrey to read anything in it. Just then he could barely make sense of words.
Richard came back after several moments with a damp cloth and cleaned Geoffrey up without comment before helping him to his feet and leading him towards the bed. Geoffrey lay on it with a groan, the movement pulling uncomfortably at his skin. The mattress was soft and comfortable under him, like lying on a cloud, and it felt to Geoffrey as though he must be. A warm, fluffy cloud that moved gently under him, like a boat. Or maybe the room was the thing that was moving and the bed and him with it, floating in the air high above Poitiers, which was possibly nonsense, but just then he couldn't be sure.
The bed dipped next to him, the reality of the movement pulling Geoffrey down from his cloud just long enough to realise it was Richard sitting down behind him. Geoffrey's head was turned the wrong way and lifting it felt like too much effort, so he simply shifted his hand so that the back of his fingers were pressed against Richard's leg.
"Mercadier did not break the skin," Richard said, his voice at once too loud and impossibly far away. He carefully touched Geoffrey's back, fingers feather-light and cold, coated in something thick and smooth that smelled like sage and yarrow. "It will bruise and you'll be sore, but no worse than that."
Some sort of scathing remark was called for, but Geoffrey's mind was too slow and drowsy for him to manage anything more than a mild, "I'm all gratitude," that barely just managed to sound sarcastic. He closed his eyes, letting himself drift off, anchored only by Richard's gentle touch as he spread the salve first on Geoffrey's back and then around his wrists, where the manacles had chaffed the skin. "Are you sleeping with him?" Geoffrey surprised himself by asking, aware enough to form the words yet close enough to falling asleep to ask the question.
Richard leaned over him, warm and solid, and placed a kiss on the side of his face.
"No," he said and pulled away, rising to his feet. Geoffrey barely had time to mourn the loss before Richard was climbing on the bed from the other side, coming to rest next to Geoffrey, his back up against the headboard. Geoffrey drew closer to him, pressing his face against Richard's thigh and wrapping an arm over his legs. A warm hand dropped on top of Geoffrey's head, gentle fingers combing through his hair.
"Don't do that again," Geoffrey said, his voice muffled and slurred.
"Having you flogged to within an inch of your life?"
"Almost dying. I couldn't bear it."
Richard's fingers stilled for half a heartbeat and then resumed their steady, rhythmic movement through Geoffrey's hair.
"Get some sleep, Geoff."
For once Geoffrey had no trouble doing as he was told. He couldn't have stayed awake if he'd tried. He closed his eyes and drifted off to sleep, lulled by Richard's solid presence next to him and by the soothing pressure of his fingers running through his hair. When he woke up hours later, he was alone on the bed.
Chapter 5: Not Wisely But Too Well
The room was almost entirely cast in darkness. The fire had burned down to embers and the few candles cast but a small circle of light that did little to banish the darkness. Geoffrey lifted his head from the pillow and looked around until he spotted Richard standing by the open window, a dark silhouette against the night sky.
Pushing back the covers, Geoffrey rose to his feet, moving carefully around the twinge of pain that even the smallest movement caused to ripple across his back. The room was cold, but he welcomed the cool air against his skin the same way he welcomed the pain. They helped clear his mind.
"You know what occurs to me?" Geoffrey asked, padding across the room, his voice clear and loud in the relative silence. "I am your heir in everything but name." He stopped in front of the open window and reached for Richard's goblet. Richard let him have it, his face half in shadows, his expression a study in inscrutability. "Leaving England to John — you knew I wouldn't take that lying down." The stone wall was cool against his side as he leaned against it. "And you knew John couldn't hold on to anything you gave him."
Richard looked away. "Do you have a point?"
"Many. But let's start with this one: you couldn't have planned it any better had you meant for me to do precisely as I did."
"Not everything is a ploy, Geoffrey."
"No. But most things are." Certainly most things in their family. None of them could so much as walk in a straight line; it was all twisting, winding roads. "So what was the point of it? To annoy me? To frustrate John? You couldn't have meant for me to burn down half the French countryside just for the hell of it."
"If you're going to be clever, leave it till the morning. It's late and I'm not in the mood. Go to bed."
Geoffrey stared at Richard for one long moment, mindlessly turning the goblet in his hands. Resolving to change tack, he pushed away from the wall and stepped closer to Richard, running a hand up his chest.
"I will if you come with me."
"Stop it," Richard said, grabbing his wrist, but Geoffrey was undeterred, driven as much by spite as by the need — unwise, inconvenient and slightly desperate though it was — to recover some of the proximity from earlier. He pressed against Richard and kissed the curve of his neck, soft and teasing.
"Were you hard earlier, brother?" he asked, nipping the skin. "While Mercadier had his fun with me or later while you brought me off…" Richard loosened his grip on Geoffrey's wrist and Geoffrey pressed his hand back against his chest, slowly trailing down. "Did you think about fucking me? Imagined my lips around your cock? You always did like me on my knees."
Richard moved so quickly that Geoffrey had no time to react. One moment they were standing nose to nose, the next Geoffrey was pushed against the wall, Richard's hand around his throat. The goblet clattered loudly against the floor, and the impact of the hard stone against his bruised back dragged a pained gasp out of Geoffrey. His first instinct was to try to break free; Richard's first instinct was to push him back against the wall, his grip tightening around Geoffrey's throat — not enough pressure to stop him breathing, just enough pressure to hold him still.
"I said stop it."
"Touched a nerve, brother?" Geoffrey all but growled, his heart hammering in his chest, his back on fire.
"This thing between us," Richard said, low and grave, standing so close that Geoffrey could feel his breath on his skin. "It is wrong. Unnatural. It's a sin."
No doubt. But they were standing close enough that Geoffrey could feel Richard's growing interest, close enough that he no longer even minded the rough stone wall against his naked back, so long as he could have Richard like this, warm and solid and hard against him. And if that meant he'd burn for it, then he'd burn, and that was all there was to it.
"So is wanting me," he said, smiling a little at the way Richard's gaze dropped to his lips, the way his fingers flexed ever so slightly around his throat. "And you do. And if the wanting is as much as sin as the taking, what exactly is the point of self-denial?"
"Sometimes I think you were put on this earth for the sole purpose of tempting me."
Geoffrey's smile widened at that, sharp and brittle. "Of the devil we come and to the devil we'll go, isn't that how the story goes?" Geoffrey Greymantle and his Demon Countess, who'd birthed a family tree soaked in blood and strife and unnatural, sinful acts. Geoffrey pressed the heel of his right hand against Richard's straining cock. "And isn't it a little late in the day to start playing the saint, brother?"
With a frustrated snarl, Richard pulled Geoffrey away from the wall and turned him around, forcing his hands up to grip the windowsill.
"Have it your way," he said savagely, his lips brushing Geoffrey's ear, his hard cock pressed against Geoffrey's buttocks. "If you want to be bent over and used like a whore for my pleasure, I shan't stop you." Yanking down Geoffrey's breeches, Richard forced a knee between his legs, sweeping one of them to the side. "It's true I've always liked you on your knees, little brother." His breath was warm against Geoffrey's skin, but his voice was ice cold. "But I like you like this too, a warm hole for me to fuck." Richard's hands pressed down harder on Geoffrey's. "Stay here. Don't move."
He stepped away and Geoffrey made himself take a deep breath, tightening his grip on the windowsill and willing his arms to stop shaking. It was all too easy to blame it on the cold air from the open window. Geoffrey had just got his way, as he knew he would. He always did. There was no reason for the hollow ache in his chest.
Richard returned with a small jar. It was the salve from earlier and when the smell of yarrow and sage hit Geoffrey's nose, he could almost feel Richard's fingers as they'd been just hours before, gentle and warm on his back. There was no gentleness now. Geoffrey yelped, startled, when Richard pushed one thick finger all the way inside him and instinctively tried to shift away, but Richard shushed him, his other hand on Geoffrey's hip, holding him still.
"Steady," he said, pushing in and out of Geoffrey with ruthless, cold efficiency.
Geoffrey tried to relax, he tried to enjoy it. That shouldn't have been so very difficult. Richard was thorough, he took his time; he knew how to make it good and he did, finding that spot inside Geoffrey that turned his legs weak and torn soft moans and mewling little sounds from his throat every time Richard touched it. It shouldn't have made him so wretched.
"Is this what you wanted, brother?" Richard leaned over him, three fingers deep inside him, and Geoffrey couldn't even bring himself to care about what Richard's weight on top of him did to his inflamed back.
"Will you please just fuck me already?" he said, his voice a wreck. Richard twisted his fingers and Geoffrey cried out, a desperate, broken sound. His cock was hard and leaking, and the agony of not being allowed to touch himself was almost worse than the sharp pain across his shoulders.
"I asked you a question, princeling."
"Yes! Yes, it's what I wanted, goddamn you. Now will you please—" Geoffrey gasped, unable to finish the sentence, words turning into a strangled moan.
"Liar," Richard said softly, lips brushing Geoffrey's cheek, and Geoffrey had to turn his face away, scraping his forehead on the windowsill. It might not be what he wanted — though Richard wouldn't get him to admit that if he put a blade to his throat — but if it was what he could get, he'd take it.
Richard sighed, the sound moving like a wave where his chest touched Geoffrey's back. "Fool," he said — almost like an admission, almost like an accusation. His fingers had gone still inside Geoffrey and he pulled them out carefully.
"Not like this. I want to see you."
But Geoffrey did not want to be seen. He felt naked, exposed, all his nerves stripped raw. He was held together by stubbornness and pride, and neither would bear close scrutiny.
"I'm not asking, little brother."
Richard stepped away, taking all his warmth with him, and Geoffrey closed his eyes for a moment and took a deep breath before forcing himself to straighten up. Instead of pulling his breeches up, he let them drop to the floor and stepped out of them, finally turning away from the window.
The room was almost entirely cast in darkness, but Richard had taken a chair by the fireplace, in the circle of light cast by the few candles still burning in the tall, iron candelabrum. He lounged on the chair as if on a throne, relaxed and at ease. Though he was still mostly dressed, he had pulled out his cock and was stroking himself with slow, lazy movements, the jar of salve on the small table next to him.
"Come here," he said when Geoffrey stopped at the edge of the circle. Geoffrey went to him, his steps steadier than he felt. He straddled Richard's legs, letting him pull him to his lap, relishing the sudden warmth — from Richard, from the dying coals in the fire. "There," Richard said, wrapping a large, calloused hand around Geoffrey's aching cock. "Isn't this better?"
Geoffrey let out a soft, pained moan and tried to move his hips, needing more friction or pressure or something, but Richard stilled him, tutting at him. "No. Tell me what you want." It wasn't a question made any easier to answer by the way Richard kept rubbing the pad of his thumb over the head of Geoffrey's cock. "Geoff."
"For you to stop talking," Geoffrey snapped and Richard chuckled, tightening his fingers — just the hint of a threat.
"Answer the question, princeling."
Geoffrey closed his eyes and leaned his forehead against Richard's, focusing on the pressure of his brother's fingers on his cock, on the way Richard was shaking under him with barely restrained want, on anything but on plaintive, pathetic, raw need in his own voice when he said, "Kiss me," when he kept saying, "Kiss me, please. Just—"
Richard's lips met his, hot and familiar and demanding, his free hand warm where it cupped Geoffrey's face, and Geoffrey melted into it with a sigh, some of the ice receding under Richard's warm lips and gentle hands.
"I've missed you," Richard said against his lips, a whispered, breathless confession. "All I could think about as I lay dying was that I'd never have you like this again; that I'd gladly trade my chance of salvation for another night such as this. How's that for blasphemy?"
He wrapped a large hand around both their cocks as he spoke, rubbing them together, and Geoffrey moaned, a choked noise that sounded suspiciously like a sob and that he immediately muffled against Richard's mouth in another frantic, desperate, bruising kiss.
"Fuck me," he said. "I need you inside me. Please—"
Richard shushed him, running a soothing hand down his arm, lips brushing the corner of Geoffrey's mouth. With his other hand he reached for the open jar on the table, dipping two fingers inside it. He coated his cock with the salve before nudging Geoffrey to lift his hips. Geoffrey could barely restrain his impatience as he lowered himself onto Richard's cock, ignoring the slight burn as it speared him open. And it did burn. Richard was big, and it had been a while.
"Breathe, Geoff." Richard ran both hands down Geoffrey's sides and over the curve of his ass, slightly adjusting his angle, slowing him down. "Easy, little brother."
"You're stubborn," he said, his tone soft and tender, affectionate in a way it so seldom was. Affection had never had a place in their family except as currency, and none of them had ever developed the habit except perhaps Hal, whose sunny, easy-going disposition was one of those unexplainable aberrations of nature, like solar eclipses or snow in June. Richard and Geoffrey, like John, were of true Angevin stock — cold, callous, calculating.
No one would have known it just then, though, watching Richard whisper breathless endearments as Geoffrey impaled himself on his cock. No one would've known it watching Geoffrey nuzzle his brother's cheek and blindly search for his lips, eager and needy.
Geoffrey sucked in a breath when Richard pushed those last few inches inside him, feeling the whole world slip away and vanish, as if nothing else existed but Richard, in and under him, his body warm against Geoffrey's chest, his breath warm on Geoffrey's skin, his hands steady and familiar as they ran over Geoffrey's arms, down his back, over his buttocks. His cock thick and hard deep inside him.
It was said like a sigh, barely a word, but it still rang like a bell in Geoffrey's mind and he started to move, biting his lip to stifle a moan. All too soon, however, there was nothing he could do to stop the moans and sighs and the string of nonsense falling from his lips as he fucked himself on Richard's cock. It was like dropping a pebble in a well. Once you let go, the only way was down.
Richard's hands were steady on Geoffrey's hips even as the rest of him shook with urgent, frantic need. He spurred Geoffrey on with filthy little remarks and muttered encouragements, a marginally more intelligible counterpoint to Geoffrey's own incoherent ramblings. Soon neither of them had any breath or focus left for anything but moving together, both of them increasingly uncoordinated. When Richard wrapped his fingers around Geoffrey's cock, it took no more than a couple of strokes for him to spend with a groan, his heart hammering in his chest, his blood loud in his ears. Richard wasn't very far behind and it took no more than a moment for Geoffrey to feel him shudder under him, his fingers digging into his skin.
Though the sun had yet to rise, the sky outside had already started to brighten. Soon it would be morning. Geoffrey lay half on top of Richard on the bed, their legs tangled together.
"You wanted me angry and out of the way," Geoffrey said, breaking the companionable silence.
He propped himself up on one elbow, looking down at Richard. "England and John. You wanted me angry and busy elsewhere."
It was so obvious that Geoffrey wondered at not having seen it earlier. Richard couldn't have come up with a better way to get rid of him if he'd hung the English crown from a stick and dangled it in front of Geoffrey's horse all the way from Châlus to Calais. And having successfully sent Geoffrey away, he'd proceeded to do much the same with Eleanor, tasking her with bringing Geoffrey to heel despite her having little interest in such a task, and none at all in Geoffrey himself. But Richard had asked, and she had gone, and neither she nor Geoffrey — for all their renowned cleverness — had realised that Richard had sent them away from Châlus with an ease that all the orders and threats in the world could not have achieved. Richard had wanted them gone. He hadn't wanted them to watch him die.
And it was perhaps not so very strange that Eleanor and Geoffrey had not seen that. They schemed and plotted a great deal — enough to recognise it in others, certainly enough to recognise it in each other — but none of their plots tended to benefit anyone but themselves. Neither of them was likely to notice selfless impulses where selfless impulses were to be found.
"It's too early in the day for that brain of yours to start picking at things," Richard said, pulling Geoffrey's head down for a kiss. "Go to sleep."
But Geoffrey wasn't sleepy, and what's more he didn't want to sleep. He didn't want to wake up alone.
"It seems a little unfair to have me punished for something you orchestrated."
"I didn't put the sword in your hand."
He all but had, but Geoffrey did not press the point. "I want you to make me your heir. Officially."
Richard looked up at him, tracing the edge of Geoffrey's face with lazy fingers. "That seems like an interesting reward for treason."
"It wasn't treason." Not technically.
"Not this time."
They glared at one another for one long moment. Geoffrey was the first one to look away. "Very well," he said curtly. He made to roll away and hissed when the sudden movement sent a stab of pain through his back.
"Settle down, will you?" Richard grumbled, pulling Geoffrey back down on top of him. Geoffrey let him do it because he didn't truly care to move away, but he still let out an angry, frustrated, unhappy sigh.
Silence fell between them. Somewhere outside the open window the town was beginning to stir.
"In a month we leave for Rouen," Richard said after a moment, his chest moving under Geoffrey's head. "There you will renew your oaths of fealty to me."
"You will. And after a few months, when the court moves to Chinon for Christmas, I will formally acknowledge you as my heir."
Geoffrey lifted his head and looked at his brother. Richard looked back at him, his left hand coming to rest on Geoffrey's face.
"We're leaving for Rouen in a month," Geoffrey repeated. "And until then?"
"Until then you stay here, with me. As my prisoner." And it might have sounded dire but for Richard's fingers, soft and warm on Geoffrey's cheek. Geoffrey felt a smile tugging at his lips.
"Those terms are— acceptable," he said, dipping his head to brush his lips lightly over Richard's.
Sentimentality. Richard was undefeated in the field — lucky bowmen notwithstanding — but there were other battlegrounds where much could be achieved if one only knew where to press.
Geoffrey nestled back against his brother, warm and comfortable and content. Unable to repress a yawn, he finally closed his eyes and let the familiar feeling of Richard's fingers combing through his hair and the rhythmic rise and fall of Richard's chest lull him to sleep.