4 The Valley of Gold

Guillam de Clermont-Dessou – 22 June 1355

On the road to the east, towering cliffs, flicked with limestone,  rose on either side of the road. Precipitous streams and waterfalls flowed over every discontinuity in the structure of the cliffs. The cascading waters formed tributaries to a steadily more impressive river running down the centre of the valley.   The road crossed and re-crossed the central river, which was soon a torrent. The river was then further topped up by black floods emerging from tunnels at the base of cliffs.

Thunder echoed up and down the valley.

Guillam looked around him, unaware of the rugged beauty. He said nothing to Ximene but they were travelling too slowly for his liking. Guillam carefully guided the cart over the smoother parts of the torturous track but the rocks and shrubbery at the base of the cliffs barely left room for the cart to pass. There was nowhere to hide even if he had wanted to.

Eventually, to his delight, they emerged from the narrow gorge into a wider fertile valley. The sound of the river, now running over a much wider, shallower, bed turned from a roar to a gentler burbling sound.

It was now possible to pull off the road, far enough to be hidden, so that he could check if anyone was following them. Nothing, No one.

As they progressed further, farmers started moving stock and produce to markets, so they were by no means the only people on the road.   Soon they were travelling in a convoy, indistinguishable from a dozen other carts.  Guillam noticed however that there were no women on any of the other carts.

‘Ximene you are the only woman I can see in this procession we have joined. Hide away, join John under the hay.’

Ximene hurriedly scrambled into the space and Guillam rearranged the produce.

As he did so Ximene again checked to confirm John was still breathing.

She spoke to him softly. ‘John, you must not leave us, there is still much for you to do’

John moved an arm. ‘Guillam he moved! Possibly he heard me!’

Guillam’s action to hide Ximene was not a moment too soon. A single rider approached from behind checking every wagon. He wore the smoky green tabard of the Bishop of Pamiers. He made a cursory review of the contents of the cart.

‘Where have you come from today?’ he asked.

‘Our farm is called Val d’Or,’ Guillam replied.

‘Valley of gold; does it live up to its name? and where is it exactly?

Guilliam gulped.

‘You would have passed the drive about two leagues after Monsegur.’

The rider nodded. ‘Good produce, fine horses, perhaps it is the valley of gold’

Guillam’s eyes narrowed.

As the rider rode on, there was a sudden quite loud groan from the back of the cart. John must have partially recovered consciousness. The riders head whipped around. Guillam bent forward and groaned loudly himself ‘Terrible upset stomach’ he explained, ‘just hope it’s nothing worse’.

The Death was still on everybody’s mind. The rider rode hurriedly on.

They made good progress for the next hour and a half, but then the rider reappeared riding back towards Monsegur. Guillam watched his second approach with some trepidation but the rider gave him a wide berth and gave the cart hardly a second glance.

Guillam was elated when for the first time in the day they passed out of the shadows and enjoyed the full rays of the sun bringing much-needed warmth. The road was much better and even the traffic on the road changed, There was some obviously local traffic, just from farm to field or one farm to the next. Now many women shared wagon seats. Some even drove wagons.

When the traffic was at its quietest, Guillam stopped to allow Ximene to emerge. ‘This road is much better but we still must be cautious, we have no idea how far that ride went or where he went to, it is possible he has set up roadblocks.’

The descent into Quillan proved to be hair raising. Guillam pointed to the mountains which reared skywards all around the town.

‘Quillan is situated at the bottom of a small valley, only a rent in the mountains. It straddles the Aude river which emerges in a torrent through a narrow gorge. Quillian is a dead end. The only road in or out, other than the hair raising road we are now descending leads to the north, to Carcassonne,’ There is, however, a side road called the Col de St Louis which goes over the mountains to Perpignan.

Whilst he was talking, it became increasingly difficult to control the horses. Selene and Helios had to hold back the weight of the wagon on the steep downhill track and seemingly endless hairpin bends. It was not a task with which they were familiar, bringing the full weight of the wagon and its load to bear on their backs and haunches. In the end, Ximene climbed down from the cart and walked alongside Helios, holding his harness in her hand and, in a soothing voice encouraging them both, helping them to calm down. Selene took her lead from Helios, but progress was, by necessity, slow.

At the bottom of the serpentine road, they approached the gates of Quillan. There were streams of people moving in and out of the town.

Ximene was apprehensive. ‘Just listen to their accent, they are all Frankish. We would get little support here if they knew what we are doing.’

Suddenly they were approached, quite belligerently, as they took the road north towards Couisa and Carcassone.

A bulky man, who moved quickly for someone his size, circled the cart and then sprinted forward to grab the horses reins. ‘You have excellent produce in your cart. I will buy the lot at a good price.’

Guillam tried to tell him it was not for sale but their assailant would not take no for an answer. ‘Stop and I will do a detailed inventory of what you have got. I can probably give you more than you think.’

Their assailant tightened his grip on the reins. It seemed that he would forcibly take them into the centre of the town and to the certain discovery of their true task.

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