For the Love of God, p.1Michelle Sagara
For The Love of God
by Michelle Sagara
Rosdan Press, 2011
Novels by Michelle Sagara
The Book of the Sundered
Into the Dark Lands
Children of the Blood
Lady of Mercy
Chains of Darkness, Chains of Light
Chronicles of Elantra
Cast in Shadow
Cast in Courtlight
Cast in Secret
Cast in Fury
Cast in Silence
Cast in Chaos
Cast in Ruin
Cast in Peril
The Queen of the Dead
*Forthcoming in 2012
Copyright 2011 by Michelle Sagara
All rights reserved
Cover design by Anneli West, Four Corners Communication
pattern: photoshop brush by nadinepau-stock.deviantart.com
“For Love of God” Copyright 1993 by Michelle Sagara. First appeared in Alternate Warriors, ed. Mike Resnick.
Table of Contents
For The Love of God
Other Short Stories
This is meant to be an alternate history. Well, no, it is an alternate history, but the length doesn’t lend itself to the form, or at least, the length doesn’t lend itself to the form in my hands. To me, alternate histories at their best show the deviation point, or at least, create enough inferences and implications that readers will understand what that point is. They also examine the historical focii of the time by showing how that incident caused large, ripple down changes as events then progressed in a more or less natural way.
I’ve had readers who are unfamiliar with the time period ask me what the deviation was, which is a clear indication that I failed to present it well, so I will say up front that the story is about Thomas Becket and Henry II, and in this story, Thomas Becket isn’t killed.
I did a fair amount of research at the time, so I would have enough of a sense of the period and politics that surrounded the event in order to write it, but it was a period that held interest for me outside of the constraints of the story. Now, almost twenty years later, I’ve forgotten so much, it would be frightening if I didn’t constantly forget things like where I put the house keys, my glasses (and given my eyesight, this is always cause for back-breaking hilarity, and yes, many times the answer has been: on my head) and the pen I grabbed so I could jot down a phone number. I would, on the other hand, never, ever have considered myself an expert.
I think that’s what makes alternate histories so interesting to write — I learn a lot. It’s also what makes them so incredibly time-consuming. I can Google information about present-day things, but I find wikipedia less useful when I need a much broader/deeper understanding of specific windows.
At any rate, the story itself is a vignette, and it’s far more about the emotional state of a man who is forced to choose between the two great devotions of his life than it is about the actual history, and of course because Becket didn’t die, the changes permeate outwards in a way that might not be immediately recognizable to those who didn’t to the earlier pre-writing reading.
Ummm, sorry about that.
— Toronto, 2011
For The Love of God
When they came to the place of which God had told him, Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar, upon the wood.
Then Abraham put forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.
He has always loved Henry.
Not a moment passes where he is free from that knowledge, and even the solace of prayer is a double-edged blade, for Henry and God are ever intertwined.
The sun is high, and the sky so perfectly clear and beautiful, it might be the eye of God, all-seeing, ever beneficent. Herbert mumbles something; the wind catches and twists his words. For a moment, no more, Thomas, Archbishop of Canterbury, Holy legate of the Apostolistic see, is caught in time and memory.
But a moment is enough.
The king’s court is in London at this turning of the season, and Thomas, son of Gilbert Beket, a man he hardly knows and never claims as kin, has been sent forth from Thibault, Archbishop of Canterbury’s house, into the wider nets of the world. Thibault is old and canny; a monk by training and learning, a man to whom Latin comes almost as a mother-tongue. He has instructed Thomas in the ways of the church; has elevated him to a clerk of his household; has done what he can to hone and sharpen Thomas’s able wit.
This is all he can offer Thomas; for reasons that were never made clear to Thibault, Thomas demurred when offered a place in the order and roles of the Priesthood.
“Let me instead serve you in the manner of worldly law,” Thomas had said, and to this, Thibault had grudgingly agreed. Thomas, styled Thomas of London, never gave the archbishop any cause to regret his service—and in turn, when young Henry, count of Anjou, had taken his place upon the high seat of England, Thibault had made haste to suggest Thomas as likely chancellor.
Thomas arrives, a single man upon a single horse, at the palace gates; the entrance into a new life. In full sight of the guards of the king, he gets down from his horse, and kneeling in the cobbled streets, makes obeisance to the skies.
He is alone, again, but free from the duties that the archibishop’s house imposed upon him. He feels as if he has discovered freedom for the first time. These courts, this world—perhaps, perhaps they might be his.
He enters into his majesty’s court. Nothing will ever be the same.
He had not thought to like this Henry, this new, hungry king. They are worlds apart in almost all things. Henry is twenty-two, and Thomas thirty-five; Henry is worldly, the flower of English perfection; Thomas is an echo of that greater glory. He is nervous with the court routines; nervous with its many ladies and lords. Henry is at home among the wolves.
So he is surprised the first time that Henry requests a private audience with his new chancellor. Worried, even. He has heard, for months now, the word “commoner”, whispered at his back when people are sober, and more openly when they are not. He is not at home in the courts, any more than he was at home in the politics of the church.
It is with misgivings that he makes haste to respond to the summons of the king. He wonders who will laugh at him in the audience chamber, as he tries to measure and calm his step. Who will be promoted to his office in his place?
But when he arrives at the audience chamber, it is empty. A page waits to announce his entrance to the king before disappearing into the wide, cold halls. Henry stands by the fireplace that takes up the entirety of a wall. He holds a goblet in his hand; he wears no crown. He does not look up as Thomas enters.
Quietly, Thomas walks over to Henry. He begins to kneel at his feet, and Henry sets the goblet down upon the mantle. “Don’t.”
Half-crouched, Thomas freezes. “Your majesty?”
“I did not call you here to have you scrape and bow,” the king replies. “Stand up, Thomas. Look at me.” Thomas obeys so quickly that Henry’s lips quirk up in a smile; it is an odd one. “Thomas Beket.”
Thomas of London feels his knees weaken, but he nods.
“A hungry commoner. My royal chancellor.”
He nods again; his cheeks are reddening.
But then the jest stops; the king’s face changes; levity strikes like lightning, stripping away all game, all pretense. “I know what it’s like to be on the outside; to be hungry. There is not another n
This time, when Thomas kneels, Henry does not demur. “Yes, your majesty. Yes, Henry.”
Henry’s laugh fills the hall with joy.
And no one, from that day on, calls Thomas a commoner where any ears friendly to the king can hear it.
Herbert settles one knee against the grass, and Thomas forgets about the gates of Henry’s grand estate. He shakes himself, bitterly, against the chill in the air, and draws his robes of office tight.
“It is almost time,” Herbert says softly.
“Yes.” Thomas does not look at his aid; he has no need. During the long years of exile, Herbert has been one of few constant and loyal voices. And at this moment, God forgive him, Thomas hates that voice.
“Holiness,” another voice says; John of Salisbury kneels directly before him, coming like sudden cloud before Thomas can avert his eyes. “The book.”
In shaking hands, Thomas takes the well-worn, much honored bible from the hands of his follower. “That will be all, John.”
John clears his throat and looks nervously at the grass blades his knees are crushing. “The Queen is on the field,” he whispers.
“Do you believe in God?” Henry, well-satisfied after the morning’s hunt, leans back against the cushions that are scattered before the burning fire. He is unattended, save for Thomas, and that is agreeable to both of them. Before Thomas can answer, Henry’s loud and booming laughter echoes against the heavy stone walls of his chateau. “Thomas, you are still too easily scandalized! You are the talk of the court.” His laughter dies into the crackle of broken wood. “But do you believe in God?”
Henry is never easily put off; Thomas, chancellor and royal favorite, knows this well. “Yes,” he says, because only truth will serve. “I do. But more, I believe in, and serve, my King—the King of all England.”
“Flattery?” Henry laughs again; wine trickles down the corners of his lips as he drains his goblet and sets it rolling across the floor. “Then let me tell you, Thomas, I’ve a woman in my sights that only Divinity could explain.”
Thomas smiles; this is the Henry the whole court knows, and loves half in spite of itself. “Queen Eleanor has barely forgiven the last.”
“What is one more mistress? She’ll accept it; what choice has she?”
Thomas sees the standard of the Aquitaine. The standard-bearer is a proud young boy, surrounded as he is by pavilions and the ladies of the Queen’s court. Even at this distance, Eleanor is unmistakeable; her deep, burgundy gown trails artfully down her legs and across the dais she occupies; her hair, swept up in jeweled combs, catches sunlight, adorning the harsh, proud profile of her face. He hears, or thinks he hears, her open laughter as the strains of a lute take wing. At her right hand sits her son and heir to the Aquitaine.
Was it worth it, Henry? Was Rosamund worth Eleanor’s anger? He has no way of asking the king of England, but he wonders it nonetheless.
“Not now, John. Give me a moment’s repose.” There; his voice is edged and temperamental. John, recognizing this, retreats anxiously. But not before quietly pointing out the standard of the King of France. Louis, Capetian monarch, crosses the green, preceded by his most trusted advisors, and the bearer of his standard. He bows to Eleanor, and Eleanor, with great and elaborate grace, makes haste to curtsey. The King holds out his hands, and she places hers within them; words are exchanged, old allegiances reaffirmed.
Thomas knows that Eleanor intends her favorite son, Richard, to rule England at the end of this day. And Richard, youthful and brash, is very much his father’s son; it is ironic that he, so like to the Angevin dynasty and not the Poitou, should be the one to find Eleanor’s favor.
Richard has his father’s skill at arms.
He has always loved Henry—but never so much as now: In the battle for Toulouse. Henry’s wild, reckless grace, Henry’s skill at arms, Henry’s ability as a tactician—they fly in the face of sanity and order. On horseback, or on the field, unhorsed, Henry is a man to be reckoned with; a leader to follow.
And Thomas is his most trusted servant.
“What are you thinking, Thomas?”
Pensive, Thomas says nothing. Henry asks again, and Thomas shakes his head, gesturing with a ring-heavy hand.
“Come, tell me. I command it.”
It is a jest between them, this lowering of the voice, this severity of chosen word. Thomas sighs. “I learned the use of sword once. When I was young.”
Henry raises a brow. “You’ve never mentioned it.”
“There was hardly any cause. I never thought I would be on the fields of battle.”
“Were you any good?”
Thomas shrugs, surprised at how the memories hurt him. “I was, once.”
“Why did you stop?”
He does not know how to answer. Henry, however, will have an answer, and at length, Thomas says only this: “My father could not afford the lessons.” It is a lie.
In response, Henry spits to the side. Then he smiles his dangerous smile, and his eyes narrow into blades. “You’ve a penchant for war, then? Make war for me.”
“Yes, ‘w-war’.” Henry laughs. Thomas loves that laugh; it defies the very heavens with its depth and its savagery. “I have duties of import to attend—and I would trust no other but you with this task. Take xxx, yyy, and zzz. In my name.”
Thomas is silent.
“I know you’ve watched me; God knows you’ve advised me well in my course of war, though you claim to know nothing. Lead my men, Thomas. I trust you. You will not fail me.”
Thomas the chancellor bows low, and grasping Henry’s hand tightly, kisses him. “No, Lord. I will not fail.”
Nor did he. But he never explained all of the truth to the Angevin monarch. He is weary; his hands shake; the bible is suddenly too heavy, too weighty for him. He sets it down gently on the grass, and bows his head over clasped hands.
Earthly glory is not for you, Thomas. Shun it.
He had not listened.
He listens now.
He has always feared God.
As a child, even the angels were a terror; a dream of gilded death, a threat that only day absolved him from. But as each man, in the night he would turn to sleep, and from sleep to the dreams of the will of God. Thomas Beket—for that is who he was as a youth, even if that child is long dead—met with angels in the shadows of sleep.
The angels were not kind. Cold and severe, like his father, they came with their golden keys, their painful words.
These we offer you, Thomas Beket. Only take them, and you will serve God, and by God be called to the Heavens.
He mouths the words of his refusal, silent now, where once he might have shouted them aloud. Although, in this memory, he is only a child, he knows the shape and feel of sin: It is the width and breadth of the world that he longs for. The angels are not happy, but they nod.
You will be God’s warrior; you cannot turn from it. We will wait until you see the truth of this.
But he yearned for a life of adventure, of daring—every child’s dream. He took to his lessons with the sword far better than those with the book; his Latin, poor, was poorly loved. Only when Gilbert Beket sought the church for his son, did Thomas relent.
“A man of the cloth,” his father had explained in cold and measured tones, “does not wield a weapon of the world.”
By God’s will, he set aside the sword, but by Henry’s he had lifted it again. The sword is fasted to his hand; his hands are red, although only he can see it; he will neve
“Henry,” the king says to his oldest, and his dearest, son. “Tend to the ladies; Thomas and I must speak.”
Henry the prince nods to Henry the king, and smiles shyly at Thomas the chancellor—at the man who has become almost a father.
Thomas bows to his leige-lord, but only his body rises from the posture when the time for its end has come. His eyes seek the grooved, dark wood of the floor at Henry’s feet.
“Thibault is dead,” Henry says, coming, as always, to the point.
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