13 Not the New Forest

‘How can we ensure the Prince gets his kill?’

‘If I might make a recommendation, my Lord, we could do worse than put it in the hands of my son, John. He understands these lands and the waters around them better than most.’

James Audley 5 March 1355

On the north-west coast of England, it was cold, bitterly so.

 

At the tip of the Wirral Peninsula, a pencil of land lying between the rivers Mersey and Dee, where the rivers run into the Irish Sea, waves crunched into the beach.


The wind ripped over the water with increasing violence, whistling around Hilbre Island. Spray from the tips of the waves filled the air with a salty mist. The mist settled on and occasionally obscured, both the beach and the wide grassy plain behind the beach, which was punctuated with bunkers of sand and low sandstone cliffs.

Lord James Audley wore furs over his overcoat and his legs were encased in knee-length boots over thick hose. He was on the Wirral discussing plans for a hunt with William Stanley who, through Audley family influence, had been appointed forester for the vast forests of Wirral, Vale Royal and Delamere.

The Stanleys were a family of mixed Saxon and Celtic descent, distant relatives of Lord James. In the aftermath of the Norman invasion, the Audleys had intermarried several times with daughters of the dispossessed families who had previously held sway on the Welsh Borders. The women they married had long used their influence to confer benefits on the rest of the Stanley family.

Lord James surveyed the windswept tip of the peninsula. ‘It certainly is different,’ he said, standing in his stirrups and gazing all around. ‘There are deer hereabouts?’ he asked.

William Stanley chuckled. ‘Lots; they thrive on this grazing.’

Lord James dismounted and brushed the hoar frost from the turf to finger the coarse grass; thick, juicy. Light sleet now filled the air. It crusted over Lord James’ furs and clung to his large nose and protruding ears. He sprang back to his feet. ‘And they find shelter over there?’ He pointed to a low ridge highlighted with a smudge of short scrub against the horizon.

William nodded assent.

Lord James remounted. ‘Let’s go and look,’ he said.

The horses thundered over the soft ground, icy blades of grass crunching under hooves. From the edge of the ridge, an impenetrable tangle of trees and shrubs could be seen. Both trees and shrubs were twisted by the wind and smothered by long grass and fleshy undergrowth.

Lord James smiled as he turned to look at William. ‘Not the New Forest.’

‘No indeed, Lord James, although the base of the Peninsula, Delamere and Vale Royal have all been given many acres of new planting and we work continually on the rest of the forest to limit the size of the areas of scrub. We are clearing trees to make it easier to ride at speed.’

‘Hmm, the Prince would not approve. He likes hunting grounds to be as natural as possible! However,this…?’ Lord James swung his arm around in an expansive gesture.

‘Is completely untouched, my Lord.’

‘Well, this is what the Prince wants. He has heard how difficult the hunting is here and yet if you get it right, how rewarding. He desires the challenge. He intended to come directly here after the tournament at Woodstock; however, his father persuaded him to visit the new abbey at Vale Royal first. He will spend tonight at the hunting lodge at Rocksavage and will arrive here tomorrow afternoon. He will expect to hunt early the following morning whilst the deer are still grazing.’


Lord James pulled his horse around and cantered along the edge of the scrub towards the mansion house at Ellesmere where the Stanleys had their home. On arrival at Ellesmere, Lord James was shown through to a room which seemed to provide the function of both library and lounge. The floor was unadorned stone; the furnishings were rustic; and despite a fire in a massive fireplace, it was extremely dark and bitterly cold.

He turned towards William.’ I must make sure the hunting is good.’ ‘How can we ensure the Prince gets his kill?’

‘If I might make a recommendation, my Lord, we could do worse than put it in the hands of my son, John. He understands these lands and the waters around them better than most.’

Lord James and put an arm around William’s shoulder, ensuring that his voice had exactly the correct tone. ‘I would like to meet your John immediately. We have not much time to complete a plan.’

Lord James then spent fifteen minutes attempting to warm himself in front of the fire. He was glad he did not have long to wait before William introduced his son.

Lord James noted John Stanley’s light but athletic build. His highlighted blond hair showed his continual exposure to the sun. His lean face, narrow nose, high cheekbones and dark bright eyes all came together well. John projected openness and honesty. He seemed attentive and keen to be of service. Lord James was instantly impressed, but could this young man deliver what was needed?

‘Tell me a little about yourself, John?’ Lord James asked gently.

The most dangerous woman in the world

List of Characters

Table Of Contents

References

characters

Table of Contents

Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. 

He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’