51 Away from Prying Eyes

‘If you ever betray any of the trust I am about to place in you, I will have no hesitation in hunting you down and killing you.’

John Stanley-13th May 1355

The next morning, the sun had not yet risen when John was woken by the crier, a resonant voice echoing through the clear morning air.’Fifth hour of the day, this thirteenth day of the month of May, in the year of our Lord thirteen fifty-five, the twenty-eighth year of the reign of our most-honoured King Edward.’ The day again dawned bright and clear.

Thanks to the packing which had been done the previous day, the company was soon on the move. They travelled all day through heavily-wooded countryside. Sunlight splattered through the branches of the trees, making complex and ever-changing patterns of light and shade on the forest floor. The scent of cypress was almost overpowering. A thick carpet of pine needles created an unreal silence punctuated only by the calls of a multitude of birds.

John gazed around in wonder. There was no sign of habitation, not even a sign of forest management, and yet it all looked orderly, hypnotically attractive. John remembered the forests of folklore, where children could be threatened by wolves and bears, come across witches and elves, and yet hide under piles of leaves to find their salvation.


At midday, they stopped near a small stream and they cut themselves chunks of meat from cold roasts which the cooks had prepared the night before.

There had been no formal announcement of any change to the squires’ responsibilities or organisation. John settled down to eat with Ewan, Henry and Edward after he had made sure that Lord James had been attended to.

‘Tonight we must pay special attention to grooming the horses. Lord James feels that we must put in an extra effort to keep them in good condition. After all, as we travel east we will be totally reliant on them.’

Ewan’s reaction was entirely predictable. ‘And are you going to be able to continue to boss us around after we are transferred to the Earl?’

John smiled. ‘Shall we wait and see what the Earl has in mind? Let’s not to jump to conclusions.’


Towards the end of the day, the Earl of Salisbury chose to ride alongside John. John initially assumed that in some way Ewan had persuaded the Earl to change his role. He was therefore somewhat apprehensive.

The silence between them was accentuated by the silence around them. Eventually, the Earl chose to strike up a conversation. He talked to John in a very relaxed fashion about his role as commander of the rearguard. He explained, ‘It is not just about protecting the Prince from attacks from behind. It is also about gathering information about any circumstances which may threaten the Prince. This may on occasion demand discussions with potential enemies. It is a tightrope I walk at times. I could easily be accused of conspiring with the enemy if the Prince did not trust me. In a more normal military situation, I would have several experienced people to assist me. However, in our small force, I have reorganised the structure of the squires to help me make better use of available resources.’

John was struck dumb by the familiarity assumed by such a great person. He nodded his assent.

The Earl continued. ‘In fact, I have another ulterior motive. Since the Prince praised you for the role you played in rescuing people after the shipwreck, I have watched you carefully. You attracted my attention again when you devised that system for monitoring everyone’s progress in training.’

‘Milord, it was Lord James…’

‘Don’t protest. I know how it happened. It is a skill I may well need some time. You have everything I need in an associate. You are quick, strong, good in close combat, considered deadly in your use of those axes of yours, and are able to accept instructions without question. In addition, you have a good feel for security issues. For instance, you heard the whole of the briefing the Captal gave us on the subject of Ximene Trencavel two nights ago, but even though I have listened carefully I have never heard you discuss what you heard with anyone else.’

John was surprised. It had never occurred to him to pass on privileged information. Not even to Estelle. He glanced at the Earl querulously, suddenly wondering whether Estelle had been a test and whether her questioning had been instigated by the Earl.

The Earl continued, ‘I need help from people I can trust, and I take you to be just such a person. I want you to transfer your allegiance to me. From now on you will become my squire. I will provide your training and your wages. I will also in due course ensure that you have your own horse and armour.’ He paused and made firm eye contact with John. ‘However, our business will be the Prince’s security. There is a potential penalty for being involved with me. You will become privy to many important details of state and the personal secrets of important people. If you ever betray any of the trust I am about to place in you, I will have no hesitation in hunting you down and killing you.’

John struggled to keep his face suitably non-committal. Internally he was both unconcerned and incredulous, wondering what possible set of circumstances would lead to him betraying the Earl. He diverted attention, hoping to hide his confusion. ‘Excuse me, Milord, does Lord James know about the change?’

The Earl chuckled, clearly understanding the thrust of the question. ‘Lord James is a good man and a great soldier. I will explain this to him in terms which will be acceptable to him. When this current mission is completed you may wish to return to him for a more formal military training.’ Again he paused and looked quizzically at John. ‘Then again, you might enjoy working with me. Oh! Just one last point. There will be no formal announcement of your new status. I will only ask for you to accompany me when I am engaged in activities concerned with the Prince’s security.’ He paused again. ‘I also intend to use Piers de Windsor in a similar role. Sometime tomorrow you should take the time to talk to him. However, one of our rules is that you will never exchange information unless you know positively it is already shared or unless I call a conference to discuss a particular issue. You will not, therefore, discuss Ximene Trencavel with Piers at this stage.’

John’s eyebrows rose. The thought suddenly occurred to him that he might have been chosen specifically because he did know about Ximene and the true purpose of this mission. Perhaps it was nothing to do with his having impressed the Earl, it was just the Earl’s way of ensuring he told no one else! He consoled himself that at the very least it added a new dimension to his adventure, for he was to be given the opportunity to learn about a world he had not known existed.

The Earl spoke quickly and easily. ‘Welcome to the business of guarding the Prince’s security.’ The Earl rode away and, after what he considered to be a suitable delay, John sought out Lord James.

Lord James was obviously less than pleased. ‘Yes, John, I know about the new arrangements. There is nothing I can do about it. Anyway, you should be flattered. This whole rearrangement of the squires is really because the Earl wants you to be under his control, not mine. I can only wish you well. He paused and looked around. ‘There is, however, something I do not understand and you ought to know. In the period when I was organising the transport from Bristol, I met with the Earl to finalise arrangements. He learned that you had become my squire and was immediately interested in you. Why would that be?’

John could only shake his head in wonderment.

Lord James continued. ‘No, I don’t know either. However a word of warning. The Earl never does anything without a reason. You are entering a different world. Keep your eyes open and be prepared for the unexpected. Despite the changes, I still feel responsible for you. If ever you feel under threat do not hesitate to seek my advice.’

By early evening they were just outside the town of Langon. Before pitching camp they all took the opportunity to look down at the mighty Garonne River. It was narrower than John had expected, but everyone was impressed with its speed and power.


Later, John spent the evening watching the river traffic. Heavily-built and fully-loaded boats sailed against the current. They were powered by the prevailing wind. Their sails looked to be stretched to the limit and they moved upstream with difficulty. Even at a distance, John felt he could hear the timbers groaning under the strain. Another stream of ships, travelling in the opposite direction drifted with the current, sails furled. Some berthed at the quays at Langon, others drifted past, their progress only emphasising the inherent speed of the river. The quays were so extensive and the ships so numerous that there was a continual stream of ships travelling in both directions, almost as if they were attached by an invisible chain.

As he was watching, John saw that the Black Prince had embarked on one of the ships and was already on his way upstream. A voice from immediately behind him gave an explanation of the Prince’s embarkation.

‘He has two houses over there, one a relatively modest mansion in the town of La Reole and then outside the town, the Château Levison. This is the first of the personal secrets of important people that you gain access to. In fact, it is barely a secret. When the Prince is in Aquitaine, Joan, Countess of Kent, is often to be found in one or the other of these residences even though she is still married to Thomas Holland. The Prince rushes now to spend the night with Joan, away from our prying eyes. It is, of course, a risk. I am never comfortable when he is beyond my protection. But there are retainers at his house, who could deal with all but the best-prepared assailants and the Prince himself is accomplished in the military arts. In any case, my concerns are irrelevant. I could not have stopped him even if I wanted to…’

John turned to face the Earl, for he recognised the voice.

The Earl continued. ‘I understand why he wants to see her. It is my privilege to have been Joan’s husband for a short period. I married her originally as a cover for her relationship with the Prince but over the years we have also come closer together. She is a remarkable lady.’ His voice vibrated with emotion.


John risked asking perhaps the ultimate question.

‘I wonder if she knows about Ximene?’

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.’

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.