Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355
‘Gypsies, gypsies and more gypsies’ Du Guesclin was not pleased. The deep river valley, which ran through Rennes les Bains, and the village clinging to both faces of the towering cliffs above the river were filled with gypsies. The women and children bathed naked in the natural rock pools in the river, which was warmed by a dozen hot springs. The taverns in the streets above were filled with the sounds of violins, guitars and the gypsy base, which gave the music a special feel. In the streets whole families gathered to sing and socialise, children dangled from knees and fed at mothers breasts.
Du Guesclin warned his men. ‘Do nothing to offend them. We are outnumbered and if crossed they would cut your throat as soon as look.’
The packed streets certainly did not make their search any easier.
‘Mix with them, enjoy yourself, but make sure it is always on their terms. See if they know anything.’
Du Guesclin left them to it and took himself to the baths fed by the thermal springs. Even that was not too easy. He had to endure seemingly endless lectures about the therapeutic benefits of bathing in the waters and a potted history of the fact that the hot springs had been used to cure all manner of ailments since pre-roman times.
He put up with all this because he wanted to observe everyone who was using the baths and the medical services associated with them, hoping to find his prey or at least evidence of their whereabouts. He feigned a stiffness of the limbs and a skin disorder to gain entry to the medical treatment. The net result of all this was that for the first time in his adult life Du Guesclin was clean. He was persuaded to shave and his hair was cut to a manageable length. He discovered he liked the feeling. The treatment rooms had accommodation and a restaurant attached to it. Du Guesclin took a room and became a regular at the restaurant. He noted that the other patients were relatively well dressed and so he purchased new clothes. It was during the process of making the new clothes that the tailor discovered the papers, proving him to be a knight of the realm. The Tailor simply handed them back, but soon the small facility was abuzz with the knowledge that a Knight of the Realm was amongst their number. Suddenly he found himself being addressed as ‘Sir Bertrand’. Again he rather enjoyed the experience.
People approached him and started conversations. Du Guesclin suddenly realised that in this different persona he could reach people he could not normally reach. His eyes were opened to new possibilities. From this privileged position he would be able to gain information, which could be acted on by the routiers without any apparent involvement on his part. He made a point of talking to every one he could.
He cast his mind back to his original briefing in Paris. Slowly he developed a standard presentation.
‘I am here in the south, at the direct command of the King to mobilise militias to provide a defensive structure to resist an expected invasion by the English heir to the throne, le Duc du Galles, la Prince Noir. I am on my way to Beziers to establish a fallback position and will then work my way back westward up the Val du Midi as far as Villefrance or possibly Castenet, all the way working to improve our defences.’
What he did not tell his listeners was that he was also going to be recruiting as many groups of Routiers as possible and looking for information on defensive weaknesses, which could be fed to the Routiers. Du Guesclin smiled to himself as he told his story to his impressionable audience. His plan was to commit as many atrocities as possible during the Prince’s advance to destroy the Prince’s reputation and to enrich himself and his Routiers at the same time’
He watched and listened and encouraged but no one so much as mentioned anyone who could be the young couple he was looking for.
Du Guesclin was still in Rennes les Bains, enjoying his role as a minor celebrity. However on his trips into the village he noticed that the routiers had become introspected. They had associated with a particular group of gypsies and ceased circulating, ceased asking the wider populace for information.
He pulled Thomas to one side. “You must keep talking, keep asking. Just because they didn’t see anything yesterday doesn’t mean that they will see nothing tomorrow.”
‘Yes but the festival is over they are all leaving and most of them are heading for the warmer weather in Aragon’
“One more time, Thomas, one more time’
Du Guesclin returned to the spa and received a most unexpected reward for his perseverance. A thin but elegant man who Du Guesclin had talked to several times before now introduced himself as Lambert de Limoux.
‘My great grandfather was one of the crusaders who crushed the heretics in Occitan. He was made Seigneur of Limoux, a town just to the north of here. We have lost our title but we are still significant landowners in Limoux and the surrounding countryside. I am apprehensive about this English invasion. Can you visit us on your journey west from Beziers and help strengthen the defences around Limoux?
Another one offering himself willingly. Well I have been through my considerate phase, yes we will visit you and we will take you for everything you have!
His reply had a totally different tone.
‘I will be delighted to visit you whilst making my preparations. Limoux is not on the main route through the Val du Midi and we could hide a large force there to emerge and attack the Prince from the rear should he get past Carcassonne.’
Du Guesclin sighed. It was a reward for his efforts but not the reward he was looking for. ‘Now however I have definitely run out of time. Tomorrow I must leave for Beziers to commence preparations to resist ‘La Prince Noir’.’