Bertrand du Guesclin-31st May 1355
Not for the first time, Du Guesclin wondered which task he should be following.
In the last week, they had passed half a dozen small towns all of which might have been vulnerable to attacks similar to the one he had carried out at Monpazier. Several other towns, if Du Guesclin had more men at his disposal, could have been taken by an all-out attack.
Du Guesclin decided that this was where his long-term plan should be. Images of murder, pillage and rape ran pleasurably through his head.
He shook his head to concentrate on the immediate future. The execution of just one girl would deliver a huge pay packet. In any case, he knew Salisbury was involved in this and anything which damaged the Earl he considered to be worthwhile.
From a thicket of shrubs, on the crest of a small hill overlooking the Prince’s camp, De Guesculin and Thomas, who was now firmly ensconced as Du Guesclin’s lieutenant, watched the Prince and five knights leave. He recognised the Earl but had no knowledge of the other members of the Prince’s party.
‘Six of them. No matter how tempting, just too much for us to take on.’
They watched the start of the archery competition. ‘At least twenty archers, probably professional archers. No thanks, we just would become moving targets for their practice.’ He slid backwards, gathered the routiers together and issued hurried instructions. ‘Follow me but stay far enough behind to just keep me in sight. Amazingly for a big man, so overweight, Du Guesclin seemed to vanish into the undergrowth.
As he followed the Prince’s party Du Guesclin found it difficult to keep his mind on the task in hand. He could not stop himself speculating on how Salisbury could be separated from the group and disposed of, but decided, in the end, that must remain a task for another day.
He watched as the Prince, the Earl and two companions entered the monastery, leaving two others to guard the entrance. He growled in annoyance at what seemed to be a dead end, but then decided he wanted to know what was happening inside the monastery; what was the purpose of the Prince’s visit?
Telling his companions to stay well hidden, Du Guesclin very slowly circumnavigated the monastery, crossed the stream and carefully moved towards the chapel at the rear of the cloisters, which he judged to be the outer door to the sacristy; the tradesmen’s entrance. He slipped inside and in a cupboard found a monk’s cowl. He donned it hurriedly over his own clothing. Peeping round the sacristy door he saw a dozen monks performing their devotions.
Guesclin had learned many things in pursuit of his chosen career and one was perfect compliance with the protocols for serving mass and moving around a church. He attracted absolutely no attention. Eventually, he found what he was looking for; a side altar surrounded by ornate screens where eight men were in deep discussion. To his annoyance, he could not get near enough to hear what was being said, but he now knew what the participants looked like.
He also had learned about body language and the way in which the body’s posture can indicate what role a person is playing in a conversation. The Prince was not pleading for support; he was telling an audience what was going to happen.
Not moving too quickly Du Guesclin withdrew carefully from the church.
Du Guesclin was always pleased to be in the company of another who had not been blessed by nature. Everything about John Stewart’s face and body was too thin. It was more than looking undernourished. It was if an enduring meanness of spirit had infected his very features. His right eye did not blink, it was permanently open and the eyebrow above it was also frozen in perpetual astonishment. However, the quiet in Stuart’s office in the heart of the Inquisition at Pamiers came as a blessed relief after the frantic noise of the reception area.
‘Who were all those people?’ Du Guesclin asked.
‘It has a life of its own,’ replied Stuart, ‘The Inquisition here in Pamiers employs over a hundred people. Clerks, spies, freelance informers and there are always streams of people trying to divert enquiries away from themselves. My real job here is to make sure that none of the King’s interests are damaged by its activities… I was told to expect your arrival. What can I do for you, Sir Bertrand?’
‘What do you know about my mission?’
‘That you are to kill Ximene Trencavel if she agrees to marry the Black Prince, which puts you in direct conflict with the Inquisition here, who have instructions to bring her to trial if she doesn’t.’
Du Guesclin blinked and then smiled. ‘Actually, I am instructed to kill her anyway, but it is preferred that she be dealt with by the Inquisition. Anyway, I think I have resolved that particular conundrum. We obtained a confession from a somewhat reluctant aristocrat who met the Prince some days ago. Unfortunately, he did not want to co-operate with us so it was necessary to persuade him… In the end, after losing most of his bodily appendages he told us that agreement has been reached with England, or more specifically with the Black Prince, to invade Occitan. The Prince intends to take possession in the name of Ximene Trencavel and restore the Cathar religion.’
‘You have evidence of this?’
‘In fact, I do. I extracted the confession in the presence of a, particularly bloodthirsty priest. Incidentally, if the Inquisition is looking for recruits he would fit in very well.’
John Stuart thought for a moment and then left the room. Du Guesclin was left to his own thoughts for over half an hour before Stuart returned and ushered in a cleric dressed in the scarlet robes of a cardinal.
‘His Eminence is the Legatus a Latere for the Cathar Heresy. He speaks for the Pope on anything to do with Cathars. Can you repeat what you have just told me?’
Du Guesclin did as requested. Cardinal Amaud Littorale listened carefully.
‘I believe what you say. You do not need to bring the priest to see me.’
‘Ximene, her grandmother and possibly her guardian are vile heretics. The Church, however, works only on hard evidence and is always in the first instance, prepared to forgive misguided transgressors.’
Du Guesclin tried hard to appear as though he believed this. The unfortunate John Stuart looked as he always did, permanently astonished.
The Cardinal continued. ‘We had hoped that by a union in holy marriage with Prince Edward, he might have brought her back to the fold. If the Prince is offering to re-establish the Cathar religion in Occitan even before he meets Ximene, this brings doubt on the validity of our strategy.’
John Stuart broke in. ‘I did warn you, Your Eminence.’
‘And I thought that as a loyal member of the King’s Scots Guard, you were representing the influence of the King of the Francs.’
‘Your Eminence, my loyalty to the holy Church will always take precedence over my loyalty to any temporal power.’
He still looked surprised.
The Cardinal turned again to Du Guesclin. ‘It would appear that our objectives begin to align. You have been open with me; I will now be open with you. We obtained information from a reliable source inside the Château, that Ximene intends to escape the control of her guardian during a hunt, which has been organised at Muret in the immediate future. She was to have been aided by one of the worst of our heretical enemies. Through other contacts, we have been able to foil that attempt to assist her and we have been able to neutralise the heretic. Furthermore, our contact from Foix has managed to secure a place in the hunting party. Though the church in Muret he will be able to pinpoint Ximene’s activities for us.’
‘You have done well,’ said Du Guesclin.
The Cardinal nodded graciously and continued, ‘In view of the information you have brought to us we must now take action. In the interest of saving her soul, Ximene Trencavel should now be brought to the Inquisition. She must be disgraced and humiliated and those who have seen her as a potential saviour must be intimidated. You will play an important role in all this.’
Du Guesclin gave a smile of satisfaction.