69 — 24th October — Stanley!

The Prince’s army was spread across the Val du Midi, from the Montagne Noire in the north to the Montagne d’Aleric in the south. The technique used was straightforward. Every sizeable city, town, hamlet or Château was visited and asked to surrender to the Prince.
The Earl and his vanguard stayed close to the river, within sight of the crossing at Toulouse but with scouts upstream watching the crossing at Muret. The Earl arranged for a small tent to be pitched on top of a hill on the junction between the Garonne and the Ariege. He raised a pennant, his own pennant, with the quartered eagles and diamonds, not the Lion of Aquitaine.
‘Now we must wait’ he said, to know one in particular.
Just after mid day, a single horseman emerged furtively from the woodland surrounding the hill.
‘He is here’ breathed the Earl ‘but he does not want to risk being seen with us. We will go to him’ the Earl walked to meet the visitor and asked John and Piers to wait by the tent.
He then walked back to the tent with the stranger and they both entered the tent and pulled down the flap.
When the flap was raised again, the stranger was dressed as a member of the Lions of Aquitaine, indistinguishable from Piers or John.
‘Gentlemen may I introduce Francoise Delpuech, Seigneur de Falgarde. He will travel with us and help us with translations from Occitan. He will also help me with my planning. I will depend on him to help me understand local reactions to our invasion. As we will be in a war zone and therefore all at risk, the four of us will from this point onwards share all information so that there will be continuity should any of us be killed or injured. Shall we sit’
John and Piers learned that Francoise was one of the potential supporters the Prince had met during the earlier journey round Toulouse.
‘I have kept my promise but this is never what we expected’
The Earl looked surprised.‘What did you expect’
‘Oh! That the Prince would marry Ximene Trencavel, establish an Occitan state in exile, decide how the state would be subdivided and then, and only then invade in support of the agreed landholders.’
‘ The Prince believes that this is simply a statement of intent; that it will reduce the Frank’s expectation of defending Occitan’
‘Can I ask you, is the Prince doing this simply to impress Ximene or has she made it a prerequisite of a marriage contract.’
John was about reply but a glance from the Earl told him it would not be appropriate. The Earl replied himself
‘No Ximene has not been involved in any way, it is simply the way the Prince believe things should be done. He will challenge every independent Lord and they will either surrender or fight. If they surrender or are beaten in battle they will be required to swear alliegence to the Prince.’
‘Also he is deeply resentful of the way in which the Routiers attack our citizens in Aquitaine and he believes that the bastides here in Occitan give the routiers shelter’
‘So he intends to punish them?’
‘ Yes, It is a view I share. We have a mind to destabilise the Frankish structure in Qccitan in the same way that the Frankish backing of the Routiers has enable them to destabilise both the Argenaise and Armagnac’
‘And he will give charters in his own name to the towns and cities surrendering him even if the are ethnically Franks not Occitans?’
‘We shall see! We shall see!’
They packed up camp and the whole of the vanguard moved east following in the steps of the main army. Francoise was their eyes and ears. A repetitive pattern became clear. Some towns and villages spoke Frankish as their first language. They offered stiff opposition. If the townspeople put up a fight they were asked to surrender. If they did not surrender the town was sacked. Every effort was then made to make the town uninhabitable and to drive the inhabitants north. In many other towns and particularly the villages Occitan was the preferred language. Typically these places would offer no opposition and even offered advice about other towns and hamlets inhabited by people from the north and where defensive weaknesses might lie.
Soon however, other patterns began to emerge. There was sporadic organised opposition. It was soon learned that these organised forces came from the east , Carcassonne, Narbonne and Beziers. There was evidence that they were being supported from the north and organised by members of the Guarde d’Ecosse, the King of the Franks own Scottish bodyguard. Simultaneously the Routiers became active.
Francoise was distraught
‘The Routiers are making raids of their own! They did not discriminate between Frankish and Occitan villages and farms. They kill and loot and it is all blamed on the Prince’s forces.’
‘Can we do anything to retain our good name?’
‘Sadly no. The Prince’s forces are far from innocent in this regard. In the towns which have been sacked, everything left behind has been seen as booty, it has been taken to store houses which are well guarded’.
John protested. ‘This is straightforward theft! What has happened to the Prince’s code of conduct?’
The Earl was clearly not happy but resigned. ‘ This is an army, a large army not an expeditionary force. It is widely accepted that plunder presents a way of giving soldiers a reward for their efforts’
‘ Can’t we tell the various commanders to put a stop to it?
The Earl grimaced. ‘The commanders themselves normally claim ten per cent of its value. We cannot put a stop to it’
By the end of the week the routiers took to raiding the stores, not to return the plunder to the original owners but to enrich themselves. Soon a disproportionate number of the Prince’s army were guarding stores of plunder instead of pursuing the primary objective of the invasion. A private war broke out between the lower ranks of the Prince’s army and the Routiers. The situation rapidly got out of control.
The Routiers hid out in rocky outcrops, woods and forests and emerged under cover of darkness to attack isolated groups of soldiers. They became increasingly daring.
The Earl was called to a meeting and returned with a grim look on his face.
‘We have been asked to make targeted sweeps of areas either side of our main force to prevent the Routiers attacking our troops. Take care, it will be dangerous work. If you find anyone in hiding shoot first and ask questions afterwards.’
In the course of the next few weeks John took part in several sweeps through surrounding woodlands. It was not work he enjoyed. There was a continual problem of differentiating between the Routiers and dispossesed franks camping in the open.
There is nothing honourable in driving people from their homes. What makes it worse is that they speak the same language that I do whereas our supposed allies speak a different, alien language. The people we dispossess protest continually that they are fourth or fifth generation inhabitants.
Francoise was now even more distressed
‘ We not achieving anything. No one believes we will win or even stay. Initially the Occitan people were delighted by the punishment being handed out to the Franks. All that has changed and so quickly! Now, they are mainly concerned about what would happen to them when the army moves on. They are sure that the fact that they have escaped molestation will not go unnoticed. Some are going so far as to remove and hide their own possessions. They intend to bring them back slowly at some time in the future. They want to hide the fact that they have been spared the looting.’
John was desparately short of sleep,there seemed to be an impossible work load to try and keep the Routiers under control. It was difficult to retain morale. Francoise’ comments made it all seem a dreadful mistake.
‘Is there anything we can do Francoise?’
‘Pull out and start again. I am convinced we are doing more harm than good. We are exposing the Occitanes to more risk than we are removing. We need a stucture, to govern the land under our control. What is needed is the establishment of just laws and the punishment of law breakers. We need a permanent presence not a token invasion, and do you know, in any change we will have to accommodate the franks who live here.’
John stared at him.
Francoise was right, what did Aristotle say? A constitution with honourable obectives, lawmakers who constuct the constitution, politicians who apply the constitution!
The Earl attempted to counter the argument.
‘ But surely Francoise the fact that we have been able to travel so far so fast must be undermining the Frankish morale’
‘I think not. It will probably suit their purpose admirably. After this chaos the Franks we be welcomed back with open arms. In fact I must now think of my own situation. I must return to my own domaign , so that I may prepare for it’s defence and for the return of my Frankish overlord’
The Earls voice was quietly resigned.
‘You must do what you think fit. I realise you took a risk in joining us in the first place. Thank you. I wish you well’
John watched him go and immediately sought out the Earl.
‘Is he right, should we retreat’
‘ No, he is not right, though his feelings are understandable. If only we could pin the Franks down to a set piece battle and win that battle, everything would change, but in any case we cannot retreat, there is the treasure to consider, and Ximene, we cannot abandon either of them. We must just grit our teeth and see it through.’
Because of the growth of organised opposition, progress slowed. It had been agreed that at Carcassonne, John would leave the army. His task then would be to find Ximene in Couisa to await the arrival of the Prince and his army on the return trip. He began to think they would never get there.
This is not the kind of fighting which soldiers talk about when they return home. I feel soiled by my involvement in this. Perhaps if a replacement government had been put in place in advance this could have been successful. From what Ximene said at Monsegur I don’t think she believes it would. I must discuss this whole situation with Ximene. I must find Ximene!
The endless task of hunting down routiers continued. Slowly John aquired a sixth sense. He began to be able to smell danger. Though the Earl made no specific appointment, he started allocating tasks on the southern boundary to John directly. He gave similar assignments to Piers on the northern flank.
Carrying out one sweep in the company of a troop of thirty other soldiers, John came upon four men molesting a woman and her two teenage daughters. The woman and one daughter were being held whist two other soldiers dragged another daughter towards a nearby barn. For John it was deja-vu. He remembered the incident at Moissac. He did not hesitate. He drove Helios between the two groups and leaped towards the men who were just entering the barn. The man nearest to him raised a sword to defend himself. Hardened by weeks of guerrilla fighting, John did not hesitate. He smote the man with the edge of his sword just above the ear. The sword carved deeply into the side of his head killing him instantly. John dismounted and pursued the second man, now just inside the barn. The man turned and ran towards the rear of the barn. Alarm bells rang inside John’s head.
The girl who had apparently been attacked was running, not away from her supposed attacker but with him. At the back of the barn there was a misshapen man with long arms and red hair. Du Guesclin! John turned round and saw a major force, two hundred strong, steaming down from the hills surrounding his position. They were in an ambush. Instinctively he took charge of the situation.
‘To me. To me’ he cried.
‘Follow me over there’ He pointed the direction with his sword.
He remounted Helios and led a charge across a swampy stream and up a hill at the far side.
‘Dismount,’ he ordered.
He pulled a squire, probably older than himself , by the tabard.
‘Take the horses, all the horses, down the far side of this hill. It is possible we may need them to escape. He suddenly became aware that he was in command
‘Sharpshooters hold you fire, Ordinancers hold your fire’
He waited until the pursuing forces were in the middle of the swampy ground.
‘Ordinancers now.’
Flight after flight of deadly arrows hummed in great arc before descending almost vertically on their pursuers.
The timing was perfect. The pursuing riders slowed down, impeded by the soft ground and soft targets for the archers. Riders lurched from their saddles. Horses reared and fell, riders found themselves trapped under water. A small number of riders broke through onto the slope leading up to the position John had chosen.
‘Sharpshooters pick your targets.’ A pause to allow targets to be selected
‘Sharpshooters now.’
John was just preparing to deal with an individual intruder with his axes when the horseman he had targeted was taken by a sharpshooter’s arrow.
He made a quick assessment of what was happening elsewhere on the battle field
‘Ordinancers increase your range, fire at those attempting to escape.’
Volley after volley of arrows now descended on those fleeing the battlefield.
Then on the edge of the woods on the far side of the stream hill John saw Du Guesclin again. It was the red hair he recognised most readily but although John had only seen him twice and briefly at that, the body shape was unmistakable.
Du Guesclin was encouraging his men to return to the fray and he was, John judged, out of the normal range for sharpshooters. John’s own bow was still attached to Helios’ saddle, but his experience in training, using poor quality weapons, had taught him how to make allowances for almost every variable. He grabbed the bow of the nearest ordinancer, who yielded it without a query. He held out his hand.
Again without question he was handed the special arrow with the narrow hardened tip.
John listened to the wind and felt for its strength and direction. He made a snap judgement on the extra elevation needed to achieve maximum range. In his mind he saw the arrow strike home. No time for second thoughts! He caressed the release of the arrow, which for an agonising time seemed far too high.
Then, however, du Guesclin toppled from his horse, head thrown backwards and clasping his chest with his hand. The rest of the attackers fled.
The most significant battle of the whole campaign was over. In the celebrations, which followed there was initially just cheering with relief for the dangerous situation they had dealt with.
As those present realised the significance of what they had achieved, a chant commenced, from one voice initially but taken up eventually by everyone who had taken part in the battle.
‘Stan,,,ley, Stan…ley, Stan…ley’
John felt it was hardly justified but in the end he accepted the accolade. He remounted Helios and rode to the crest of the hill they had just defended. He waved his sword in recognition of the chant of approval. The chant continued.
‘Stan…ley, Stan,,,ley, Stan…ley’
Helios seemed to enjoy it more than John himself. The enduring image carried by those who were there was of a magnificent grey horse standing almost vertical on its hind legs, pawing the air, with an equally magnificent rider in complete control, both silhouetted against the evening sun.
Later in the evening, John searched fruitlessly for du Guesclin’s body. As he knew from his own experience a grievous injury did not necessary mean death. Du Guesclin might have lived to fight another day, he could still be a threat to Ximene, to the Prince, to the Earl and indeed to John himself.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel