Chateau Alençon, Normandy – 1046
The castle wasn’t blockaded, but Mabel and her father were shut up inside as if it was. For nearly two months, they dared not leave for fear of personal attack. The family of William d’Echauffour—who was called Fitz Giroie—had come for vengeance. Mabel’s father wouldn’t give them the satisfaction of meeting on the field. He’d done no wrong; he didn’t need to defend himself by combat.
Instead, the brothers, nephews and friends of Fitz Giroie pillaged the countryside all around like common brigands and bandits. That the Duke of Normandy didn’t act to stop them was an outrage, even if he was barely a man. All he had to do was give the order to his Constable, Ralph de Gacé. Alençon belonged to Normandy. They were his people being slaughtered and raped, his lands being burned.
“I knew it when I saw the red curls,” her father told her as she strolled with him in the courtyard, the most exercise she could get these days. “Duke Robert was so proud of his boy’s giant head, he didn’t care that it was covered with the hair of Judas. I warned him he should get a true heir on that Princess of England. ‘Red hair brings ruin,’ I told him. And look at the state of Normandy. Going to hell.”
Mabel agreed. There was constant, uncontrolled feuding amongst the duke’s vassals. All his childhood guardians had been murdered, except de Gacé, who had probably been the murderer. Since Duke William had been knighted two years before, things had quieted down. But his vassals were running wild again, attacking the Bellêmes.
“If he can’t control things,” Mabel said, “then they need to find someone who can. Why was a bastard allowed to rule, anyway?”
“They wanted to keep his father happy. Duke Robert was a devil when crossed. That’s why I liked him so much. A generous man, a great friend, but you had to know the boundaries. ‘Keep them close, but keep them worried.’”
“But when he died they should have put his son in a monastery. There were other, better men to be duke. There was William’s uncle, the Count of Arques. And there was Guy of Brionne, his cousin. Why choose the one who was a bastard?”
“None of them were men. There were only boys to choose from, and feuding factions who controlled them. William had the most powerful men to back him and use him. Duke Robert chose his friends well. Remember that, dearest. Choose your friends well, and your enemies carefully.”
Mabel bit her lip at that. Her father had made some powerful enemies by disciplining one of their friends harshly, and publicly. Though it was justified, Mabel thought perhaps it would be better if one punished one’s enemies quietly.