80 Exclusion

‘ He wanted to visit the old Cathar meeting house in St Felix. It was there in 1167 where the first world council of the Cathar faith was held. He desperately wanted to see it with his own eyes.’

John Stanley-1st June 1355

At a hard gallop, they could have been at Muret within a few hours. John was barely able to control his mounting excitement, and at the same time was beside himself with anxiety.

Progress was tediously slow, with the repetitive task of waiting for the Prince to visit different monasteries. It was only a week but each day passed painfully slowly.

John’s ingenuity was strained by trying to find a different challenge for each successive day. He lost his appetite both for camp food and homespun camp entertainment. He found some relief in spending hour after hour practising his archery, but even that was frustrating. Morgan made him change his grip on the bow and the way he placed his fingers on the string. The new position felt awkward and seemed to place an unnecessary strain on his shoulders, forcing him to learn how to use the bow all over again. In his darker moments, he wondered if this was Morgan’s subtle way of obtaining revenge. Then, out of the blue, he began hitting targets more reliably than ever before. Soon afterwards he commenced practising with moving targets. Initially, they used a swinging target suspended from the bough of a tree, but soon Morgan was hurling a ball of straw at ever-changing trajectories. Finally, Morgan taught John the rarely used skill of accuracy at extreme range. He showed John how there was an optimum elevation of discharge for every distance, and how to allow for the wind.

In the evening, John spent more and more time with Piers, listening to tales of gods and goddesses. At the end of every tale, his thoughts turned to Ximene. He took it for granted that she would be beautiful, but would she be also vulnerable, as the goddesses in the stories invariably were?


On the seventh day, Piers returned to the camp at a full gallop. John saw him arrive and ran to meet him realising that something must be amiss. ‘Quickly John, the Prince needs assistance.’

‘What? How? He waited an answer which never came. ‘Never mind you can tell me as we go.’ John ran to his own horse waving his hand above his head as he did so. ‘Mount up! Mount up! Hurry! He vaulted into the saddle and rode in a circle round the camp to pick up any stragglers. Once they were all riding towards St Felix, the location for that day’s visit, he rode hard to catch up with Piers, who had taken the lead. ‘Well?’

‘They, the townspeople, shut the gates against us. St Felix is on high ground, so we retreated to avoid becoming target practice. We then came across the Lords we had intended to meet.’

At a fork in the road Piers indicated the correct path. ‘When I left, the meeting was proceeding but in a field, out of view of St Felix. The Lords had also been prevented from entering the village. One of them had attempted to force his way in and had been quite badly beaten. The Earl was concerned that as we attempted to withdraw from St Felix, the townspeople could emerge and surround us. Not a desirable situation, so he sent me for reinforcements. ‘They rode on for another ten minutes and then Piers pointed to the right of the road. ‘Ah! There they are, in that gully surrounded by trees.


The Earl rode to meet them. ‘The Prince is furious, he wanted to storm the town but I have talked him out of it, we have neither time nor adequate manpower to mount a siege, and that is what it would turn into. ‘He shook his head. ‘No time or materials to build siege engines.’

He glanced at the Prince. ‘What really upset him was that he told them who he was and they just laughed. Also, he wanted to visit the old Cathar meeting house in St Felix. It was there in 1167 where the first world council of the Cathar faith was held. He desperately wanted to see it with his own eyes.’

The Prince waited until they had all dismounted. ‘Thank you for coming so promptly.’ He smiled at John. ‘To do so you must have been well prepared.’

He held out a hand towards the lords. My major concern is the safety of my friends.’ We must keep them safe until they are well clear of St Felix. Earl?’

The Earl scratched his nose. ‘We must let the townspeople see that we have a substantial force which includes archers. They will not dare to leave the shelter of the town if they know they could be targeted. First, we will give them a brief demonstration of what we can do.’

The Earl split the archers into three groups. ‘John, join the third group, every man will count. Our friends come from Castres, Castelnaudary, Fanjeux, Bram and Montreal. They will all depart using the road to the east, on the far side of the town.

He bowed towards the lords. Now, we will move around the town slowly and take up a position alongside that easterly road. We will move in and out of the cover of the trees, without ever coming in the range of whatever weaponry they have. The townspeople will have no idea exactly how many men we have. When our friends are well on their way we will then discharge several volleys of arrows over the town walls. In this way, they will be dissuaded from any inclination they may have to emerge to attack us. We can then return in an orderly manner to our camp.’

John frowned. ‘But wouldn’t it be better to draw them out of the town and teach them a lesson?’

The Earl smiled. ‘Not today commander, not today.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

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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.’