‘I know who you are. You are Prince Edward, son of the King of England and Duke of Aquitaine. Your father will be appalled to hear that you are interfering in the works of the Church.’
Ximene Trencavel – 18th March 1355
John scrambled into his clothes, taking time to don his chainmail. He glanced through the arrow slits and then ran to the battlements.
The Prince was already there, intently studying the movement of a medium-sized force snaking its way through the valley below. The force consisted of five mounted riders, but at least one hundred foot soldiers.
A second and then a third blast split the morning air. The riders below spun around, trying to locate the source of the trumpet blasts.
From his vantage point at the top of Monségur, John saw that their own expeditionary force was now taking a position higher up the valley. John surmised that they had been following the intruders but were still concealed from them behind a gentle ridge, which ran across the valley.
Lady Eleanor, Guillam and Ximene ran up the steps to the battlements.
Clearly, the Prince was unimpressed by what he saw. ‘That is not a military force, the balance is all wrong. They look more like a local constable’s force out to repress civil disorder.’
He was about to continue when Lady Eleanor interrupted him.
‘I know exactly who they are,’ she said quietly. ‘I even recognise their tabards—grey green—the colour of the Roman Church’s diocese of Pamiers. Every Lord in the diocese will have been forced to contribute to that force, perhaps some will have been recruited from beyond the diocese. The Lords will not have offered experienced soldiers. In the main, they will be thieves, murderers and rapists offered a chance of freedom by volunteering their services.’
She looked at Guillam, and he took up the story. ‘When Eleanor and I were young, a similar force surrounded the village of Montaillou and then took all the inhabitants into custody, imprisoning them in their own houses before subjecting them to the Inquisition. Must be nearly forty years ago now.’
Lady Eleanor pinched her lips and closed her eyes. ‘Guillam managed to rescue me, but his mother was eventually burned at the stake.’
‘This force,’ said Guillam, ‘is exactly what they need to make that kind of raid. A large number of foot soldiers who will first surround the village. Once the perimeter is secure, they will move steadily inwards to push all the inhabitants into captivity. Then the Inquisition will commence.’
John raised his eyebrows. The same livery as the attackers during the hunt at Muret! The holy diocese of Pamiers! The bishop’s men.
The Prince frowned. ‘And you think their target is the village? Why? Is it possible they are looking for us?’ He winced.’ Or for Ximene? Did our deception of substituting Alyse fail? And if so, why?’
‘It must be Ximene.’ said Sebastien. ‘Those who man the Château are under the protection of Jean de Levis and he would never give his permission for such a raid.’
Ximene started. ‘Oh! Our horses are stabled within the village. We will be unable to rescue them.’
Guillam nodded. ‘Worse than that, those two grey thoroughbreds that John and yourself ride are bound to attract attention. Questions will be raised about the owners’ identities and whereabouts. And if they do take control of the village and the valley surrounding it, our on-going journey will be far more difficult, if not impossible.’
‘If we move quickly,’ said the Prince, ‘we have a chance to drive them away from the village and back towards our force. If we can make them retreat towards our position, they will be forced to surrender or our archers will decimate them. Even as we speak, the Earl is moving our forces on both sides of the valley to the highest ground.’
Suddenly the bishop’s men changed formation, They stopped and gathered together in a defensive phalanx. The horsemen also turned and patrolled restlessly around the central group.
The Prince did not lift his eyes from the valley. ‘They have seen our men and are considering attacking them. At the very least it will cause a delay. Sebastien, is there a way to descend from Monségur to the village without using the steps to the meadow?’
‘Yes, indeed, Sire. Many. The reason they are not regularly used is that they all involve the lateral traversing of cliff faces at varying degrees of difficulty. The most treacherous leads us directly to the village.’
‘Good,’ said the Prince. ‘Guide us.’
John soon found that the new route required a head for heights. In places, the path was only a footprint wide, and the reward for overbalancing, a drop of a hundred meters. Nevertheless, they came to the village quickly and, more importantly, reclaimed their horses.
The Prince glanced around and frowned. ‘Guillam you should lead Ximene and Lady Eleanor on the Cathar trail to the east immediately. John, you will remain with me, as I need at least two mounted soldiers against their five to have any chance of driving them towards our forces. Sebastien, although we could certainly use your help, you are excused from involvement in any fighting. To be seen to be associated with us would prevent you from continuing in your current role.’
Sebastien nodded. ‘Thank you for your consideration, sire, But I am inevitably involved as I must organise the defence of the village.
Eleanor pulled Guillam to one side and spoke urgently in his ear.
Guillam then approached the Prince. ‘Sire, I do not want to expose Eleanor to any further risk. We do not know what we will encounter on the far side of the village. He pointed to a neglected cottage on the other side of a stream from the village. We shall wait there then. If your efforts are successful, John can return here and escort Lady Eleanor to join you. If not, then at midday we must accept the risk and all continue to my rendezvous with Don Fernandino.’
Sebastien nodded. “Good choice, there is little chance of anyone noticing you there, but you may decide to move into the village after I have organised its defences.’
The Prince thought for a moment. ‘There is not the time to consider all the options, do as you wish. Hopefully, they will not get as far as this.’ He nodded, mounted his horse and moved off. ‘Come, John, we have no time to waste.’
John mounted Helios and galloped hard up the steep slope leading to the meadow so that by the top of the slope he was riding alongside the Prince. It was only as they emerged onto the meadow itself that the bishop’s men noticed them.
The Prince’s own force, from their vantage point further up the hill, saw them immediately. Three horsemen detached themselves and, giving the bishop’s men a very wide berth, came to join the Prince and John. They carried with them two extra war lances.
Piers rode directly to John and shook his hand before turning to take his place, in the line of riders facing the bishop’s men. The Earl took up position alongside the Prince. ‘Lord James has been left in charge of the archers. He will control them well. The archers are now under your command. A yellow flag is the signal to fire.’
One of the riders from the bishop’s force came forward to meet them. ‘I am Augustus Domecq, the Chief Inquisitor of Pamiers,’ he announced. ‘We are here to perform God’s work. On good authority, we believe that there are heretics in the village of Monségur. We intend to surround the village and question all the villagers to ascertain who among them is of the heretical persuasion. Please remove yourself from our path. Every minute we delay increases the chance the heretics may escape.’
The Prince smiled; at least, his mouth took the shape of a smile. ‘Father, this is not a good day for you to pursue this task. We have business of our own in Monségur that also needs urgent attention. If there are heretics in Monségur they will still be there tomorrow or the day afterwards. Please accept our offer of an escort as far as Montguilliard so that there is no danger of your men being hurt accidentally as a result of our activities.’
White hot rage inflamed the Inquisitor’s eyes. He clamped his jaws together, clearly, he was not used to being obstructed. ‘I know who you are. You are Prince Edward, son of the King of England and Duke of Aquitaine. Your father will be appalled to hear that you are interfering in the works of the Church.’
The Prince spoke very slowly but respectfully. ‘Where I come from, the Church does not concern itself with enforcing the law. The Church contributes to the formulation of law but enforcement is the responsibility of civil administrators. This avoids confusion concerning the motives of either. I believe the same principle applies in Foix. So, Your Reverence, either accept our offer of an escort to Montguilliard or we will remove you to that location.’
Domecq’s rage turned to venomous invective. ‘You, Sir, are now damned in the eyes of God. Our force, dedicated to the service of God, is greater than yours. With God’s help, we will destroy you!’ He whirled his horse around and rode away. When he rejoined his force the foot soldiers began to form into several smaller phalanxes and made ready to attack.
The Prince turned to the Earl. ‘Are they within range?’
The Earl nodded.
‘There is no alternative, we must not let them advance to the village, and we must not get involved in a melee where our archers could not be utilised.’
The Earl raised a yellow pennant on his lance. There was a moment’s delay before the first flight of arrows began falling on the bishop’s troops. From their reaction, John thought that they were genuinely surprised that they were within range. Probably none of them had ever encountered the longbow before. Their leaders were undecided and hesitated for a vital minute, while volley after volley of deadly arrows descended on them. Dozens of men fell where they stood. The mounted men turned to attack the archers on the southern side of the valley, shouting to the foot troops to follow them.
‘Now we will see whether our training was successful,’ the Earl muttered, to no one in particular.