In the Shadow of Midnight - By Marsha Canham
Le Citadel, Rouen, April 1203
He had deliberately cut the pad of his thumb open on a sharp edge of stone, then pushed tiny bits of gravel into the bleeding wound so that the slightest pressure would send sharp pains up his arm, commanding his full attention. He was exhausted, ill, weary beyond words, but he could not afford to let his concentration slip. He could not appear weak or intimidated in his uncle’s presence. He could not allow the accumulated filth, stench, and despair of these past nine months of imprisonment show him to be unworthy of the noble Angevin blood that flowed through his veins.
He was Arthur, Duke of Brittany, Geoffrey’s son and heir, and by right of blood succession, heir to the throne of England upon Richard the Lionheart’s death.
It was said that all Angevin spawn were descendants from the witch Melusine—a sorceress who had escaped the fiery waters of the river Styx and come back to earth half-woman, half-serpent.
From the devil they came and to the devil they would return.
Yet they had been handsome men—Henry of Anjou, his sons Richard and Geoffrey. They looked the way kings were supposed to look: tall and powerfully built, as blond and bright as gold, with blazing blue eyes. Only John, the runt of the devil’s brood, was set apart from the others. Stout and bullish, darker than Satan, with a sly, vulpine face, he made up in greed and ambition what he lacked in stature and appearance.
After years of living in the shadow of his warrior brother, the great Lionheart, John, as the last surviving son of Henry II, had placed the crown of England on his own head at Westminster. He had already ruled as regent for almost a decade while his brother was off leading armies and fighting Crusades, and those who supported John’s continued, corrupt rule turned a blind eye to the fact that there existed another claimant, a Plantagenet prince who was as blond and blue-eyed and regal of bearing as the revered Pendragon king for whom he had been named.
Unfortunately, Arthur had been a mere boy of fourteen when Richard fell to an archer’s arrow at Chalus. He was no match in terms of military strength or cunning for his uncle, Prince John. Moreover, Arthur had spent his entire life in Brittany. He had never set foot on English soil and the barons of England, even those who feared John’s excesses, were more wary of the influence the French king, Philip II, had had on the young and impressionable Arthur. Even William the Marshal, Earl of Pembroke, who loathed John with the same passion as he had loved Henry and Richard, decided it was better to deal with the devil they knew than with a boy who boldly displayed the fleur-de-lys on his coat of arms.
As expected, the domains of Brittany, Anjou, Maine, and Touraine had risen in support of Arthur. Normandy’s barons, those who had the strongest ties with England, supported the wisdom of William the Marshal. The Aquitaine, the rich and vast province that had come under England’s rule with the marriage of Henry and Eleanor, was still and ever loyal to the dowager queen, who, though seventy-eight years of age when she had cradled the golden head of her dying Lionheart, had also known that in order to avoid a bloody civil war, she must support her son over her beloved grandson.
Rejected and betrayed, Arthur had fled to Paris to live under Philip’s protection. At fifteen he had been knighted by the French monarch and wed to the dauphine, Marie. At sixteen, with the might of his father-in-law’s army behind him, Arthur had marched on Normandy, declaring his intention to reinstate himself as a claimant to the throne of England. Foolishly advised, his first point of attack had been the dowager’s castle at Mirebeau. Eleanor, by then a bent, frail figure who walked the ramparts with the aid of a cane, collected her defenders around her and held the castle until John arrived to relieve the siege. Arthur, who had advanced on Mirebeau with less than a third of his forces, was surprised by his uncle’s swift and deadly response. Surrounded and vastly outnumbered, he had no choice but to surrender. He had been taken prisoner and held at Falaise; more recently moved to Rouen to await John’s decision as to what to do with this bold and handsome young prince who reminded him all too painfully of the two great kings who