74 — Mobilisation

John Stanley – 20th October 1355

For two days John enjoyed continuing hospitality from Joan of Kent. At first John was concerned that, despite what she had said, Joan might be trying to seduce him. She quickly put his mind at rest, insisting that she was a reformed character totally committed to becoming the next Queen of England. She then demanded that John told her every detail of the time he had spent with Ximene. She listened carefully and then gave her point of view of the relationship.
‘Let me see now, She saved you life, she started sleeping with her, she joined in your exercise programme she fought with you, she teased you, she used the oil, she allowed you to fit her chains. I think we can assume that this lady is really in love with you. And now what did you initiate John?”
‘The training?
“No! that was for you not for her’
‘I massaged myself with oil’
“At her suggestion?’
“ I taught her to cook’
‘ Wonderful!’
‘I threatened to tie her to the bed’
‘Ah! Before or after you tore her clothes off and whipped her’
‘And did she let you do it?’
‘ Well she didn’t say no but it suddenly seemed unnecessary’
Joan shook her head.
‘Before or after she allowed you to fit the chains’
‘I compose poems in praise of Ximene.’
Joan’s head jerked back. Her eyes wide open.
“Do you indeed! And where did you learn to do that?’
John told her about the first night with Lady Eleanor and the tuition at Foix.
Joan’s face was totally non committal.

‘Right!” Joan had obviously heard enough. She led him to the small lounge with the large fire.
‘Let’s start at the beginning. Being in love with someone is supposed to be fun!
Flirtation is a big part of that. Women like to be seduced, particularly when they are with a man they trust, so that if they say no…’ she hesitated ‘Say no firmly enough, they know they will be obeyed’
She eyed John, her eyes shining with mischief. “ From what I gather you fulfil the latter requirement.’ Her eylashes fluttered.
‘But when you meet again you must seduce her. Incidentally I don’t personally subscribe to too much troubadour activity, unless you are really, really good at it. Hire a troubadour occasionally if you must!’
She held her hands out towards him.
‘We really cannot do this with you sat at the other side of the room! Come and join me on this couch.’
John walked across the room and sat on the couch but as far away from Joan as he possibly could. She eyed him with disapproval.
‘You must take the initiative John. You must be inventive’
John smiled. ‘How? In what?
“All women are different and one of the skills you have to develop is how to discover those preferences, but you must make it fun!”
‘Lady Eleanor seemed to believe that it was the responsibility of both partners to simply tell their partner what the want or like’
Joan looked impatient.
‘I have spoken to Lady Eleanor myself. She is ready to become a perfect! She treats lovemaking as though it is an academic exercise. It is supposed to be fun!
‘So what must I do’
‘Games are good. Dice, where the penalty for winning or loosing is to give away a kiss or a caress; do you know Perudo? The possibilities are endless! Cards, where the looser must remove a piece of clothing. The penalties can be changed; can progress as your partner gives tacit approval. Make the progression slow, so that your partner has time to imagine in advance what the penalties at the next level might be! ’
John looked thoughtful ‘Oh!’
‘Role playing is also good.’ She groaned
“We can’t do this in words! I am just going to have to show you.’
Her eylashes fluttered.
“Now this will be fun’
Joan tried to impart everything she knew about how to please women.
She was a skilled teacher. She gave frequent summaries and set John tests of inventiveness. She lived up to her promise! It really was fun! John laughed more in those two days than he had in the rest of his life!
In the same way that John had described the Earl to Thierry as his “uncle” in an attempt to encapsulate the nature of that relationship, Joan now became his “aunt”, albeit an extremely scandalous aunt! John decided that was a perfect description of their developing relationship, made all the more natural because the Earl and Joan had for a long period been husband and wife.
At the end of the two days the Earl returned. That evening Joan entertained them both with a whole series of scandalous stories from her past. No wonder she was so popular! She was a skilled and humorous raconteuse.

The next morning the Earl and John rose before dawn. After a brief breakfast they saddled the horses and rode hard to Auch. As they rode, they left a stream of dust extending behind them, rising into the still morning air. The sky was clear blue and the sun was rising rapidly. As they approached Auch, the first indication of the army’s presence was a dozen or more narrow plumes of black smoke rising above the crest of a ridge. Gradually the whole of the plain and the corresponding ridge to the east came into view. The army was on the move. This was the day John had anticipated during the whole of his time with the expeditionary force.
From their vantage point it seemed as if the ground itself was moving. From this distance it could have been a carpet of red and white flowers sprayed with glitter, which in some miraculous way was ascending the slope. As it approached the summit the carpet split into three distinct streams. John knew that the red and white was provided by a multitude of tabards, pennants and flags in the colours of Aquitaine. The glitter was ten thousand different reflections of the suns rays from swords, pikes, lances, shields and armour. The scene was made all the more dramatic by the pillars of smoke rising from where the campfires had been extinguished. The area where the camp had been was like a dark stain on the otherwise intensely green plain. The remains of the tent city were now reduced to skeletons as the covering was stripped away and packed onto the baggage train. Soon the skeletons themselves would be packed away.
Spread around the remains of the tent city was a sizable force, perhaps five hundred strong spread out in a vast semi circle. This John knew was the vanguard protecting those who were packing away the last accoutrements of the camp equipment. This was the Earl’s own command. They rode forward and soon John saw familiar faces. Everyone seemed pleased to see him again and John was able to have a brief reunion with Piers. The Earl made sure that there were no problems and the orders for the day were issued and understood by all his captains. He then summoned John to join him and together they set out to find the Prince.
On the crest of the eastern ridge the Prince had established his command and was observing the deployment of his army. More than six thousand men were streaming over the ridge.
The Prince greeted John with enthusiasm but also with concern.
“Welcome back John… Ximene, is she well?
“Perfectly well, Highness”
The Earl broke in immediately.
‘In recognition of John’s service to her, Ximene has appointed him to be her ambassador to your court. He brings us great news. Ximene is well. Ximene confirms her intention to marry you. Additionally Ximene has laid claim to her families treasure trove, which is of significant value and bulk. She is hoping you could use your army to recover it for her’
Not for the first time John noticed the way that the Earl simplified issues for the Prince. The Prince looked enquiringly at John.
‘Highness, Ximene would like to keep the negotiations about recovery of the treasure separate from the negotiations concerning your marriage to her’
The Earl smiled , he had done his work well.
The Princes eyes glinted.
‘Certainly, I also see them as quite separate issues’
A moment’s pause before he continued.
“Tell me more about this treasure”
The Earl broke in once again.
“John has brought us samples of the treasure, precious stones and golden artifacts. I have had them valued and… they are priceless. There is at least a hundred times more’
Now John struggled to hide a smile. They were working together! Again the Earl had presented only a simple overview. Even more significantly he had made no mention of who had carried out the valuation. As there was no further mention of the marriage contract John had no need to mention Ximene’s commitment to freedom of worship in the lands under her control.
The Prince had already moved on.
‘John should be properly accredited as the Occitan ambassador and will ride east as part of my personal establishment’
‘If I may beg to differ, Edward’
John looked in surprise at the Earl, he had never before heard him use such familiarity. The Prince was unconcerned.
‘Yes William?’
‘John has much talent and will be of service to us far into the future. If during our advance into Occitain he continues to be attached to my command he would experience much of value to someone pursuing a military career.’
To John’s astonishment the Prince glanced towards him, clearly seeking his approval. John nodded his assent.
They all took my ambassadorial role very seriously! However I have no idea whether the Earl is interested in my welfare or whether he is pursuing some other agenda.
As they left, the Earl could hardly contain his delight.
“You certainly learn quickly John. But then you have had a good teacher. I will never forget the negotiation I had with Ximene at Foix when she wanted us to help her escape.”
John looked at the Earl in sheer disbelief. All he had done was keep quiet and let the Earl do the talking.
The three streams of soldiers were now heading in three different directions. The Earl was as unusually generous with information.
“The crossing of the river will be a time of great danger. Rivers can divide armies and leave them vulnerable to attack. The northern group, numerically much larger than the others will cross the Garonne first, directly under the walls of Toulouse. Now you can see how important was the meeting at Moissac. Thanks to the treaty agreed there we will not attempt to attack Toulouse but neither would the Toulousains prevent the river crossing.
‘Oh! And that was planned so far ahead!’
Yes indeed and this northern force will advance immediately into the Val du Midi, securing the road to and from Castlenaudray and Carcassonne, and thus provide security for other crossings to the south. Once the other crossings are complete this northern force will move to the northern edge of the Val du Midi’
John suddenly understood.
The Earl is giving me lessons. He wants me to understand strategy and tactics.
He must see me as a future leader perhaps as a commander of the rearguard.
Instinctively he felt intimidated at the prospect, but then in a new found burst of confidence repelled his self doubts.
I must not live my life constraining myself. If the Earl is prepared to give me opportunities then I must take advantage of them. It is two days with Joan that has made this change. I am a close friend of a grand-daugter of a King of England!
The Earl continued perhaps unaware of John’s internal conflict.
‘The southern group will cross second, by the bridge at Muret. They will then have to make the crossing of the Ariege, which caused us so much trouble earlier in the year. Once this crossing had been achieved they will move forward to the southern edge of the Val du Midi . Because that Ariege crossing is known to be difficult the third, central group, will make a crossing by ferry downstream of the junction between the Ariege and the Garonne. This third group will include the Prince’s own command group and will be quickly followed by the rearguard, my own direct command. This third group is being kept deliberately small to limit the number of ferries needed. I have been given the specific task to ride ahead and secure an adequate number of ferries to facilitate a speedy crossing but we will only cross when everyone else is safely established on the other side.’
It proved simple to hire enough boats to get them across the Garronne. There were numerous small docking facilities all along the river and they were able to persuade the owners of ferries to assemble at one of the larger docks, which gave adequate shielding from the current.
The Earl decided to ride back towards Muret to personnally supervise the crossing of the bridge. “You know I have told you that this business is all about trust and you have displayed on a number of occasions that you understand that. I will now give you a piece of information which will be extremely valuable to you in your position as a negotiator but I want some information in return”
John smiled inwardly. He was getting used to this, he was careful not to let the smile show outwardly. He summoned an air of naivety before he replied
“Tell me what you think will help me and then I will decide what it is worth. Alternatively tell me what you want to know and I will tell you what I need in return.’
The Earl smiled, obviously taking no offence.
“Well done John, we will start again. I want you to tell me where the treasure is and how bulky it is so that I can start planning for its transportation to Bordeaux. In return I can tell you the kind of arrangement the Prince would be interested in. We could spend weeks worrying about who speaks first. You have my word that if you tell me where it is I will help you negotiate with the Prince.’
John thought back over the period he had known the Earl.
Devious? Yes! A libertine? Yes! Honourable and trustworthy, yes!
As best as he could, whilst still paying attention to the road ahead, he described the location of the treasure to the Earl.
“The treasure is in the area which, when it was part of Aragon, was known as the Fenouillides. It is now under tenuous French control exerted from the Château de Puilaurens. In fact, Puilaurens is very close to the treasure site. We were shown a secret way through the northern leg of the Pyrenees, which almost certainly could not be used by heavily laden pack horses. You will have to take the access route opened up by and controlled by the Franks through St Louis et Parahou. Incidentally I do trust you but I have no need to. I could lead you to the mouth of the cave which contains the treasure and you would still never find it.’
The Earl was impressed.
‘That all seems very specific. Aid my knowledge of local geography. Where exactly is Puilaurens?
John told him the main points which he thought should be enough for now
“South from Carcasonne through Limoux and Couisa and then through Granes to St Louis and then slightly to the south through a narrow pass”
‘And how much Treasure?
‘At least fifty boxes and each box approximately a two foot cube, some are bigger some are smaller!’
‘Heavy. I tried to lift one!’
‘Hmm! at least a hundred horses then! No small task!’
The Earl then became aware that John was waiting.
“Oh! Yes! Now my part of the bargain! I think I mentioned to you previously that the Prince’s father got himself hopelessly in debt trying to fund his armies in France and Scotland. He fell into the clutches of the Italian bankers, Peruzzi and Bardi. They took advantage of the situation and charged punitive interest rates. Ten years ago King Edward paid them what his own clerks thought he really owed them but defaulted on the interest debts. He has been blamed for the financial crisis which has since consumed European trade but there are many other factors at play.’
The Earl took a deep breath before continuing
‘In any case the situation has not improved. The King still has to borrow from other sources. His default means that they all want the same punitive interest rates and the debt is still crippling the nation. He could use the treasure to pay off his debts and create reserves, which would limit the need for borrowing in the future. When he then chooses to borrow it will then be at more reasonable rates.
“My lord, I know that the treasure is valuable but what then would the King then do for Ximene.’
‘He would transfer substantial lands in England to Ximene. These lands would come at no cost to the King as they would be allocated from the royal estate. The transfer would be freehold, that is independent of the King’s control. Once in possession of this land Ximene could bequeath or indeed sell it to whoever she wanted without the need for the King’s permission.’
“How would we know if we were getting full value for the treasure?
‘Prior to the contract Ximene could make her own assessment of the income the lands would generate. The King would be prepared to transfer lands, which would generate an income, which would represent fair interest on the total value of the treasure. Because there would probably be a lot of land involved, the King would insist that the lands were scattered across every part of his domain. He would want to avoid the possibility of Ximene setting up another realm within his kingdom. But that would not matter as the main aim would be to generate income”
“Thank you” said John “But it makes me realise how vulnerable we, the exiled government of Occitan really are, once we have shown you the treasure what is to prevent you leaving us with nothing?”
The Earl smiled.
“Because, to the King, if not the Prince, the chance of a legitimate claim to Occitan is worth much more than the treasure itself. If Ximene holds back on an agreement on her betrothal until after the treasure is exchanged for lands, your security will be assured.
John reined in Helios. The Earl belatedly followed suit. They were then able to look each other in the eye. John watched the Earl as he asked the vital question.
“Yes I can see that is true, but why are you giving me this information?”
The Earl returned the intense scrutiny
“Because I want to use the treasure, I want to free my country from debt and if the correct formula for the marriage is not found we could end up failing to reach an agreement. That would be to the detriment of both parties!”
They shook hands and rode on together to attend to the day’s business.
John smiled to himself.
So that is what negotiation is all about. The fact that I was so insistant on freedom of religion has opened this opportunity. Ximene may not have to marry the Prince after all!
It was almost dark when they finally made the crossing. John was the only one wearing the tabard of a Royal Guard. He could feel the gaze of others in the boat wondering just who this young man was who seemed to be so friendly with the Earl and what he had done to justify elevation to Royal Guard status.
Once the whole central force was established on the east bank of the river, the Prince sent out scouts to guard against a surprise attack. It was the role that only a few months earlier John would have expected to perform. Now he found himself sitting down to eat with the Prince and The Earl. During the meal discussion was initially focussed on a plan of action for the coming negotiations. With the Earl prompting him, John spelled out the scheme that the Earl had suggested. The Prince agreed in principle and they then spent a pleasant evening whilst John outlined his adventures. He was of course very selective in the events he described. They retired early and in the morning the Prince started his invasion of Occitan.

Inevitably, the river crossings were noticed by many of those who had much to loose by the invasion and messengers were sent east to warn of the incursion.

The most dangerous woman in the world

List of Characters

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355


'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. 

He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’