72 Rearguard Action

‘ If we are in difficulty, we will find some other way out. Forgive me, but I don’t think plucking people from the river in the pitch black is a very good idea, but thank you for the offer.”

John Stanley-23rd May 1355

Next morning, when Piers awoke, he chuckled, ‘Told you; never sleeps in a tent!’

Sure enough, John looked over to see the Earl’s mattress was undisturbed.

They emerged from the tent to find the Earl was already eating breakfast. They knew better than to ask where he had been.


Breakfast completed, the three of them left Agen at a gallop. The road did not follow the river at first but skirted the outer limit of the floodplain. Behind them, clouds of dust rose in the air as the horses’ hooves cut into the uneven surface of the road. As they neared Moissac, the hills extended gradually towards the riverbank and they found themselves winding slowly along the face of densely-wooded slopes. In places, there were sheer drops to the river.


Nevertheless, in less than two hours they were sitting on the hill to the north of the Moissac looking down on a splendid panorama, assessing the strategic implications of the layout of the town and the surrounding rivers.

The Earl pointed to the far bank of the River Tarn, which passed through the town. ‘What you see before you is essentially similar to the River Lot at Aiguillon. There is a weir and there are similar mills on either bank. Here, however, there is a bridge over the Tarn, which has existed since Roman times. More importantly over there on the southern bank of the river, there is an island, the Ile de Beaucaire. It has been suggested that we can cross the river Tarn by the bridge and occupy the island as our base.’

The three men descended into Moissac and threaded their way through the town on their way to the bridge.


For the first time, John experienced radiant heat from buildings rather than directly from the sun and it was only mid-morning! The few people they saw scuttled out of their way into shadows, into narrow side streets or into nearby houses closing doors behind them.

The Earl nodded towards the closing doors. ‘We are soldiers and that is enough. They suffered badly during the Albigensian Crusade and even now, a hundred years later, bitter memories linger. The Franks took control here by starving the people out. They stole animals, burnt the crops, ripped out vines and olives, poisoned wells and chopped down fruit trees. Unfortunately, these people expect no different from us.’ He hunched his shoulders as if he was carrying a great load. ‘What we will be asking for is guaranteed safe passage. What we are offering in return is a guarantee that Toulouse and the surrounding area will not be attacked when the Prince returns with a substantial army later in the year. But in the longer term, the Prince has set himself a task to win them over. It is absolutely essential we do not offend these people in any way.’

A contingent of Toulousaines was waiting for them as they crossed the bridge. Despite the tension of the situation, they greeted each other cordially. The Toulousaines showed that the island was in effect two islands, with a mill bridging the gap between them. The building which housed the mill also housed an inn. It was agreed that the English force could cross the bridge from Moissac and would be allowed to access the island. The actual meeting would take place in a room on the upper floor of the mill, which could be reached by a separate external stairway. Only six people from each side would be allowed to enter the meeting.

The Toulousains issued an invite for the Prince’s soldiers to take part in a meal they proposed to organise at the inn. The Earl thanked them for their offer but replied that he must make a full review of the island before accepting their kind invitation. As they rode around the island, he paid particular attention to the primitive quay, which had been built with several different levels to accommodate the rise and fall of the river. The access to the lower levels could be seen, but the water level was now within a couple of feet from the uppermost level. The quay was in a poor state of repair.

He spoke softly. ‘I have proposed that the Prince arrives by boat so that he could never be surrounded by the Toulousaine forces. But there was a second reason for that decision. If there were to be any difficulty at all, a boat tied up at this quay would give us the ability to evacuate the whole force down the river Tarn, then into the Garonne and if necessary back as far as Agen. My concern is that if the river system rises any higher, this quay will become inoperable. Because of the uncertainty, I must review my decision.’

He dismounted, tethered his horse and indicated that Piers and John should do the same. They toured the island on foot. ‘Four of our number must, at all times, remain outside of the inn, effectively on guard. These four will be changed every hour on the hour so that everyone gets an opportunity to eat. Otherwise, I have decided that it is a good opportunity to fraternise with the Toulousaines and hopefully make a good impression on them.’

He walked back towards the mill. ‘We can access the inn without violating the security of the mill itself.

The Earl stuck his index finger in the air, pointing it first at Piers and then at John, as he spoke. ‘We must be careful…watchful at all times, of the Toulousaines and of the rising river.’


They rode back over the bridge and visited the port of Moissac on the other side of the river. John saw a boat flying the lion rampant, the ensign of Aquitaine. He frowned and turned to the Earl, smiling. ‘Something else we did not need to know?’

The Earl laughed. ‘I have always believed we would need a boat, but in any case, we needed to carry additional provisions to Agen. With the agreement of the Toulousaines, this vessel left Agen for Moissac yesterday afternoon. I felt we could not rely on a local boat to handle an evacuation in an emergency.’

They climbed on board and visited the captain in his well-appointed cabin. The Earl filled him in on the final details of the plan, stressing the need to be ready to make an evacuation.

The captain listened, but the furrows on his weathered face deepened. ‘If the water goes above the upper level of the quay and I try to come alongside, the force of the water could be enough to capsize the boat. I have seen it happen. It will not be possible to pull alongside the quay on the island if the water levels continue to rise. I will not be able to take the Prince across the river and later, if you do need to evacuate, the best I can do is hold my position a little downstream. The wind is in the right quarter to make that possible. You will have to jump in the river and I will do my best to pick you all up. I suggest you do everything you possibly can to avoid difficulties.’

‘Thank you, Captain,’ said the Earl. ‘We will set up flares all along the quays, such as they are. Please review the situation at eight pm whilst it is still light. If you still judge you cannot come alongside the quays, return to Agen at your convenience. If we are in difficulty, we will find some other way out. Forgive me, but I don’t think plucking people from the river in the pitch black is a very good idea, but thank you for the offer.’

The Earl turned to John. ‘Ride back and inform the Prince to come via the bridge. Tell him what is necessary to minimise the risk.’ He took John to one side so that his plan could not be overheard by either Piers or the captain.


John rode hard, back along the road to Agen, terrified he might not communicate the plan correctly to the Prince. And anyway, would the Prince listen to a mere squire?

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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.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.