‘There! In the trees! Du Guesclin and he is heading back towards the village.’
John Stanley-21st June 1355
The sharpshooters skill was to pick out obvious leaders; those who carried banners; in particular, anyone who charged ahead of the main group. Not one of the four armed horsemen got within a hundred feet of the archers. Augustus Domec thought better of the situation and fled to the west between the two groups of English archers.
John thought that Lord James probably decided to let him go as his flight indicated to the others a path of escape.
Within seconds of the Inquisitor’s flight, the rest of his force followed suit.
‘Now,’ said the Earl, lowering the yellow pennant. ‘Ride with your lances raised so that they can see them.’ He turned to John. ‘Abandon your lance, John. Ride behind the front line and use your axes on anyone we overrun who looks like attacking us from behind. There will not be many, as after the initial charge we will ride just fast enough to keep them running.’
The Earl nodded to the Prince, who rose slightly in his seat. ‘Charge.’
There were only five of them but the thunder of hooves created by a full-blooded charge sent a thrill through John’s body. It seemed to affect Helios as well, and John found it difficult to hold him back. John’s eyes widened as the Earl’s prediction was fulfilled. The charge slowed to a trot and almost immediately some of the bishop’s men who had previously run sideways turned to pursue the advance, intent on attacking the riders from the rear. It could have been a blind spot, but John saw them coming and cut them off. One swing of his axe was enough to sweep them off their feet and none came back for a second attempt. It was not long before Helios understood what they were doing. He began to swerve towards oncoming attackers even before John gave instruction.
The Prince’s expeditionary force lost not a single man, yet over half of the bishop’s force lay dead or dying on the field. After half a league of pursuit, the Prince declared the battle over.
John rode Helios in circles, anxious to identify any remaining resistance. Suddenly in the shrubbery which surrounded the meadow, through a break in the foliage, he glimpsed a person with red hair. It was a fleeting glimpse but the body shape was unmistakable. Du Guesclin! Apparently operating completely independent of the clerical forces. And he was moving towards, not away from, Monségur. John shouted to the Earl. ‘There! In the trees! Du Guesclin and he is heading back towards the village.’
‘You are absolutely sure, John?’ The Earl rode in the direction John had indicated. He was followed by the Prince and the Captal de Buch.
John thought immediately of Ximene. “The village, the village. Piers! come with me.’ John allowed Helios his head and rode directly for the village. He caught a glimpse of other riders using tracks cutting through the shrubbery. His eye was taken by one horse whose coat was made up of unusually symmetrical white and tan diamonds.
Under pressure from the Earl, other riders emerged from the forest. Seeing John and Piers ahead of them, they immediately turned in a huge arc to head back towards Montguilliard.
John followed them, hoping to drive them into range of the archers. However, The riders hesitated as they too realised just how vulnerable they would be. As they reined in their horses, John overran them and before he could take evasive action, he was among them, surrounded. He decided that he must direct maximum force against a single rider and deal with each one in turn. The stratagem worked. His axe sank into the shoulder of one assailant then into the side of another. He found himself without an opponent. Several of them again decided to take the chance of running between the archers but only one made it. The others were cut down by withering fire from the sharpshooters. The rest of the riders saw this happen and ran for the cover of the surrounding forest.
John was about to chase them into the forest when the Earl cut across his path. “No, John. You have no idea what lies in wait. It could be an ambush,’ His eyes roved the area. ‘The cover of the undergrowth would simply provide an opportunity to cut you down as you pass. I got close enough to smell our quarry, and you were right. It was Du Guesclin but he turned away from the village to find cover, so I let him go.’ He turned to face John. ‘Trust me, it hurt to do so.’
The Prince appeared alongside John. ‘Well done. but now we must continue to move quickly. We will continue to drive them back towards Foix. John, wait half an hour and inform Lady Eleanor that she may join us. Travel quickly and be vigilant. You must reach us before we arrive at Montguilliard where we will turn towards St Girons and ultimately to Bordeaux.’