Bertrand du Guesclin – 30 June 1355
Du Guesclin found it difficult to believe how fast time was passing. He was irritable and impatient. He was tempted to ride away and forget about Ximene Trencavel. In fact, he might have done just that but Sebastien would not let him go.
It was taking far longer to get a response from the inquisition than he had expected. Du Guesclin spent the time forming ideas on how he might operate as the captain of a large group of Routiers. The Franks would not stop him, indeed they had already supported him.
There was, he thought, one major obstacle to his plans. The Franks would not be impressed if he failed to complete this one specific task they had given him.
Du Guesclin questioned Gerade again about what he had seen on the road leading east from Monsegur.
Gerade did not answer immediately. ‘The only thing of note was that one cart was pulled by two magnificent horses.’
‘Were they grey’
‘No they were brown, but now you mention it, there may have been touches of grey around their ears. They said they came from a farm known as the Val d’Or.’
Du Guesclin glared at Gerade. ‘It was them! It was them! I know it! She is out there somewhere on that road. I am more convinced than ever that the way we will make the most money is by kidnapping the girl and then offering her to the highest bidder. She now has few companions and no military support. He stopped, holding his head at an ungainly angle. ‘But why were they using a cart?’
He then questioned all the routiers about what they had seen on the day of the battle. Eventually, he got something which gave him hope. One of them claimed that they had seen the bodyguard who used axes take a blow from a pike.
Then a second one confirmed the story. ‘He rode on but he must have been injured. I went with Pierre to look for him but Pierre was killed with what looked like a bolt from a crossbow. I am not absolutely sure, I did not wait to find out.’
Du Guesclin did a little jump in the air. ‘That’s it, that’s why they were using the cart. The bodyguard is injured. She is virtually defenceless.’
‘Try telling Pierre that.’
It was over a week before a certificate arrived from Pamiers carried by an agent of the bishop. The certificate included a password which Du Guesclin proved he knew. Sebastien was still reluctant to release du Guesclin, but having spent over an hour examining the document finally acquiesced.
Du Guesclin then moved down the track towards Quillan. They spent nearly a week following the valley leading east from Montsegur. First of all, they searched for Val d’Or. It took a couple of days for Du Guesclin to convince himself it did not exist.
The inhabitants of this quiet, sparsely populated area were subjected to a new, extremely unpleasant experience. The Routiers visited every house and farm on the way. as they moved relentlessly towards Quillian.
They questioned every person, even children, routinely torturing one of each family in the hope of making the others talk. Houses and barns were searched from top to bottom. Wives and daughters were violated in front of husbands in an attempt to get information.
When they left they took everything of value.
‘Not a word’ grumbled Du Guesclin. ‘If they came here they must have made themselves invisible’.
Eventually they reached the top of the mountain road into Quillian.
‘So, they are somewhere between here and the Aragonese border, it is possible they are beyond our reach.’ Du Guesclin and Gerade looked down at Quillan, isolated by precipitous cliffs on every side, with the one way in, down the narrow road with hairpin bend after hairpin bend clinging to the cliff face and one way out, leading to Carcassonne.
He addressed a young man who was walking behind his horse. The young man had been badly beaten; his face was bruised and streaked with blood. His hands were bound behind his back.
‘How do we get to Aragon from here?’
The young man replied quickly. He had no desire to be beaten yet again. ‘There are only three ways. Turn right here and cross the ‘Pays du Salt’. Alternatively, descend into Quillian and follow the mountain pass over the ‘Col de St Louis’ or go further north to Couisa and go through either ‘Arques’ or ‘Rennes Les Bains ‘and then through the ‘Gorges d’Algy’
‘And these are the only ways across the Pyrenees?’
‘There are the Cathar trails, secret paths, which wend their way over the mountains, avoiding steep climbs, but demanding good knowledge of the route. I have no knowledge of them whatsoever.’
He hesitated. ‘Also there is a legend that the Cathars used to travel both ways through the Gorge du St Pierre Lyse, just upstream from Quillian, if true it would give rapid access to Aragon, but I don’t believe it. At most times of the year, the river Aude floods through the gorge and I think it would be impossible to walk, ride or swim against the flow!’
Du Guesclin turned to Gerade.
‘Pierre du Lyse, that’s probably the way they intended to go. but in a cart, it would not be possible.’
He turned to the boy again.
‘If you were badly injured and money was not a problem where would you go?’
The boy hesitated ‘Over the Pays du Salt to the leper colony at Ax Les Thermes or alternatively to the thermal baths at Rennes Les Bains. There are very skilled doctors at both places helping the people who are hoping the hot springs will cure their ailments.’
Du Guesclin looked surprised. ‘You would go to a leper colony?’
‘If I was badly injured, yes, I would. The doctors there have an excellent reputation and it is all subsidised by the King. But to be truthful the doctors at Rennes Les Bains are just as good but probably more expensive.’
‘Good’ said Du Guesclin, who had no intention of visiting a leper colony. ‘We will go to Rennes Les Bains. He kicked his heels to urge his horse forward. The young man who was tied to du Guesclin’s saddle lost his footing and was dragged, at speed, face down over a rough gravel road, before du Guesclin eventually cut him free.
Du Guesclin roared with laughter.
‘Damn’ he said ‘I knew something was slowing me down’. He rode on without a backward glance, leaving the young man as a crumpled, bloody heap in the middle of the road.
In Quillan, Du Guesclin asked the best way to get to Rennes Les Bains. He was told that the most accessible route was on the main route via Couisa from where Rennes Les Bains was only a short distance off the road to Arques. There was however another route, A short cut, little more than a track, came off the road to St Feriole, which led past Château Mazerou, the summer residence of the Bishops of Albi and on to the villages Of St Just and Le Bezu, through the Bishops’ country estates.
Du Guesclin was warned that the estates were now private hunting ground and even to enter the estate invoked instant excommunication.
Du Guesclin snorted. ‘We will take the track.’ he informed Gerade ‘It is probably the route they would have chosen if they were trying to avoid notice, who knows what we might find.’
As they turned off the road from Quillian to Couisa towards St Feriole, they found themselves travelling behind a party consisting of guards, servants and at the head of the party a large elaborate gold cross, followed by three portly men dressed in the unmistakable garb of the Roman Church. Before long the small procession turned off the track through a set of stone gateposts without a gate. Du Guesclin found himself staring a large notice on the other side of the track they were following.
Palace d’Ete des Eviques d’Albi,
Campestre de Diu.
Du Guesclin studied the note for a long time, “What does it say Gerade?’
Gerade wrinkled his nose. ‘The number is very strange. perhaps the Church has all of its properties registered and numbered, but I have neither heard of nor seen it anywhere else.’
He now scratched the back of his neck.
‘Summer Palace of the bishops of Albi. Do not enter, but it is strange’, ‘I think the last line, which I take to mean ‘God’s country’ is in Langue d’Oc the language of the south, the language of heretics, not in Langue d’Oil, the language of the north, or Latin, the language of the Roman Church.
Du Guesclin frowned. ‘Yes, that does seem strange. Nevertheless, we do not want to disturb God’s hard-working servants during their well-earned rest without good reason. At the moment we are agents of the holy church so we must do nothing to antagonise them.’
Du Guesclin shook his head, his instincts told him differently, but he pulled his horse around and lead the way down the track towards Rennes Les Bains.
Several times he turned to look at the Château until finally it was hidden by a fold in the landscape.