23 A Death Warrant

‘Just so there is no doubt, you still want me to kill this young girl?’
‘Well, dispose of her, yes… but we would prefer it if she was betrayed as a heretic, interrogated by the Inquisition and burned at the stake.’

Jacques de Bourbon -13th March 1355

Later in the afternoon, in the chapel attached to the Palais de la Cité, Jacques de Bourbon watched as the Dauphin touched both shoulders of Bertrand du Guesclin with his sword and slapped him across the face.

‘Take this as an example of how you should treat my enemies. Arise, Sir Bertrand. We are pleased to give you the honour of a knighthood in recognition of your services to us during the prosecution of the war in Brittany; specifically your heroic defence of the Château Montmuran.’

The Dauphin left immediately.

Jacques de Bourbon managed a smile. Du Guesclin was undoubtedly the Dauphin’s man, so he would have to work with him. He shook his head. realising that inevitably that made himself the Dauphin’s man. Be that as it may, Jacques certainly did not want to be personally responsible for the tasks he was about to allocate to du Guesclin. He was pleased to have someone to do his dirty work.

‘Now, Sir Bertrand, as you know, we want you to leave Brittany for a while. There are bands of mercenaries plundering the countryside in the area north of the Garonne. They are nearly as much of a problem to us as they are to the English, but we think they could be persuaded to concentrate exclusively on the English. It will just require a little leadership; there will be no need to change the way they work, only the targets they choose. Any profit you gain from this activity will be yours to keep.’

Du Guesclin’s eyes gleamed. A few drops of saliva dribbled from his lips.

‘You are hinting to me where I might find a private army, which you would approve of me using?’

‘Well, yes.’

‘And use them in any way I wish… to make money?’

‘By attacking the English, yes. We have information that the English will try to invade Armagnac later in the year and there is a possibility they will go east, much further east.

Jacques turned away for a few seconds and temporarily focused his attention on the high altar; glittering gold and white marble and dominated by the blues and reds of a series of stained glass windows commemorating the lives of saints. An anomaly, totally to his taste, was that such unsavoury business should be carried out on consecrated ground!

When he reverted his gaze, Guesclin rolled his eyes to an impossible angle. ‘Just so there is no doubt, you still want me to kill this young girl?’

‘Well, dispose of her, yes… but we would prefer it if she was betrayed as a heretic, interrogated by the Inquisition and burned at the stake. We have an informant inside the Pope’s palace at Avignon. As you have been told, we are concerned she may marry Edward, the Black Prince, heir to the throne of England. Apparently, the Pope would approve of such a marriage. We certainly would not. We believe the Inquisition will only become involved if she refuses to marry the Prince. However, if she commits herself to a marriage with the Black Prince, then you must dispose of her any way you can before she is taken into safe keeping in England or Aquitaine.’

A cunning look came over Guesclin’s face.

‘So as long as the girl marries the Prince, the church will turn a blind eye to the fact that she is a heretic, but if she refuses to marry the Prince they will hunt down, interrogate and execute her. In that case, I will have wasted my time.’

Jacques frowned. ‘Not quite, in those circumstances, you may be of assistance to the Inquisition in their task.’ He hesitated. ‘However, there is a complication. The King would still prefer the girl to marry his son Prince Louis, in which case you may find yourself faced with members of the King’s guard trying to protect the girl from the Inquisition.’

It was Du Guesclin’s turn to frown. ‘But that means I could spend considerable time watching her with no guarantee of reward.’

‘You should be aware that this difference of opinion is just a symptom of a growing rift between the King and the Dauphin. Think about who knighted you just now. We are working for the Dauphin, not the King. The Dauphin does not favour a marriage to Louis. He believes such a marriage could undermine his own position. I believe you have already been well rewarded. However, I can now give you the Dauphin’s assurance that when Ximene Trencavel is dead, whichever way that is achieved, that reward will be doubled.’

‘And if I find a way of profiting from all this in some other way?’

‘That, Sir Bertrand is what I would expect you to do.’

‘Then you have just issued her death warrant.’

‘Good. One of the King’s Garde Ecosse will be your contact, John Stuart is his name. You will find him at the Dominican Office of the Holy Inquisition in Pamiers.’

‘A King’s guard? Won’t he want to impose the King’s orders?

‘No. It will not be a problem. I have arranged that for the immediate future all communication between Stuart and the King will come through me.

Pamiers? Why Pamiers?

Pamiers is under the control of the Inquisition but is close to Foix, where we believe Ximene Trencavel is currently living with her uncle. Stuart may be useful to you.’

‘Foix? I have heard the Château has never been captured. How will I get to her if she’s there?’

‘Someone with your skills will find a way. However, another piece of information for you. Last year it seemed probable that the Trencavel girl would marry Louis. She insisted on meeting Louis personally on what she called neutral ground, Navarre. She is likely to impose the same condition on the Prince, which means she will leave Foix.’

‘For Navarre?’

‘Probably not. There are hints of a rift between Foix and Navarre”

‘For where, then?’

‘That is one reason we have come to you, Sir Bertrand. It seems to be a guarded secret. We thought you might be able to persuade someone to talk.’

‘Tell me more about Stuart.’

He will be sympathetic to your mission. Nominally he is preventing the local lords from obstructing the activities of the Inquisition. In practice, he is preventing the Inquisition interfering in our affairs. He will almost certainly be helpful.’

‘Does he know what I am supposed to do?’

‘He will do by the time you get there.’

‘And what makes you think he will be helpful?’

‘He thinks he has a claim to be Seigneur of the Isle called Mann in the middle of the Irish Sea. But he has been deposed by the English King. The English King has made William Montacute, the Earl of Salisbury, ‘King of Mann’. Most unusual, as it required the Pope’s approval. We think it was something to do with Salisbury giving up his marriage to Joan of Kent. ‘Jacques paused and then provided an aside. ‘John Stuart hates Salisbury with a passion.’

Du Guesclin’s eyes glittered. ‘Stuart and I will get on well together. I also have good reason to hate Salisbury.’

‘Stuart will do anything which damages Salisbury or the English royal family.’

Du Guesclin nodded and made as if to leave, but stopped in mid-stride, his head hanging at an ungainly angle. He looked over his shoulder. ‘Initially, I will concentrate on the Black Prince. If I follow him he will lead me to the rendezvous. Do we know where he is now?’ He answered his own question. ‘No, don’t worry, I think I know how to find him.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel