56 The Young Commander

John Stanley-3 June 1355

Piers leaned against the tent pole, one leg crossed over the other, with a languid smile on his face.

‘That was much more difficult than the trick with the girl at Marmand.’

John broke off from his self imposed task of tidying the tent.

‘What was?’John scowled. As usual Piers was watching on, but doing nothing himself.

‘Me going to meet the Southern Lords and you as Field Commander.’

‘Oh it was all you, was it, nothing to do with the Earl?’

‘I have been working on it ever since the visits were agreed.’

‘So why didn’t you make yourself Commander?’

‘Just a question of priorities, Lords, even southern Lords, have daughters. This will mean that at some time in future I will have access to their households and their daughters.’

‘But why give me command, why not leave Lord James or the Captal behind?’

‘Wouldn’t have worked. They are both disturbed with the way they have been outmanouvered by the Earl, perhaps jealous of him. If the Earl was going with the Prince then they would be determined to go too.’

Piers glanced over his shoulder and picked up a bundle of straw. ‘Here comes the Earl, not a word!’

The Earl halted at the door of the tent. ‘Good to see you keeping yourselves tidy, but as of mid day you won’t have time for that. John you will be in charge, Lord James has appointed Ewan Fitz-Robert to assist you with domestic chores.

‘What?’

‘I know a bit of the background’,  he chuckled. ‘Lord James thinks the experience will be good for both of you.’

He put his arm round John’s shoulder ‘The task you have been given is not necessarily an easy one, it will be an idle period and idleness can easily lead to mischief.

You have however an excellent background to deal with this- reinstitute the training programme from Biscarrosse, combine it with some form of competition. Given a lead they will readily follow.’ He paused ‘Make a special point of using Morgan the Singer as a mentor in archery”

‘But why choose someone who has every reason to resent me? Isn’t there every chance he will try to undermine my authority?’

The Earl waved away John’s concern. ‘He will not dare transgress. Your appointment as a Lion of Aquitaine will tell him that you have the total support of the Prince. It is important to me because he must learn that your action was correct, and second, because he is by far and away the most accurate sharpshooter in our force. You must build bridges with him. He must be available to us unconditionally.’

‘Sharpshooter?’

‘During our training at Biscarrosse, we were trying to turn everyone into sharpshooters. However, most archers are more skilled in launching arrows into the air to fall almost vertically on our opposition. The arrows fall generally within a ten foot area but no more accurate than that. Where the enemy is tightly grouped, this is very effective. In a battle situation, as for instance at Crecy, these archers are called “ordinancers”.

‘At Crecy, the ordinancers won the battle. The Franks got bogged down in a muddy valley and the arrows rained down on them. It would be easy to say they were decimated, but in fact, for them, it was worse than that. They were annihilated.

‘Sharpshooting, picking a single, often fast moving, target and hitting it first time, is a totally different skill. It is essential where the enemy is not grouped together and when the enemy is attacking. Morgan is a sharpshooter without compare.

‘But my own skills with the bow have improved. I managed to win the tournament at Clermont!’

‘John, you did very well that day, but you were competing against amateurs. Perhaps you should practice with Morgan. You may improve further. Certainly, you will learn how good he is!’

‘Well then, I will make him welcome.’

The Earl then summoned Piers to join them.

‘If my worst fears are realised, we could be entrapped. If so we will take refuge in whichever church or monastery we are visiting. Piers, at my command you will make a run for it come back to camp and get help from John. John you must be ready to provide that help.

John looked at the Earl quizzically. ‘If I am in command, can I ask a question, why don’t we all come with you then no one would be at risk.’

‘It’s a good question but no. The Prince does not want it to look like an invasion-not yet anyway.’

John nodded and glanced sideways at Piers.

At midday, when the Prince left for his appointment at St Servin in Castelginest, John immediately set about organising the training. He asked Ewan to perform the role he had himself performed at Biscarrosse. To his surprise Ewan carried out his assignment without a murmur. It told John more about his change of status than anything else possibly could.

He then asked Morgan to take charge of the archery concentrating on his own speciality, sharpshooting.

Towards the end of the day, Morgan approached John.

‘Thank you for allowing me to be part of this. It is far better than sitting around waiting.’

‘You deserve some recognition, Morgan. The Earl believes you are the best sharpshooter.’

John looked at him sympathetically. ‘How do you feel?’

‘Sore, it’s not something you would want to go through twice, or once for that matter! My back is so stiff. But they apply salve every night, and it is improving.’

He eyed John carefully. ‘Some of the others resent your intervention, but I don’t. We had been warned and I had taken too much drink.’

He left it at that. John knew that there would be no more difficulties between them.

‘Morgan, the Earl suggested that I train with you. I carry a bow and would like to be able to use it to maximum effect. I would like to become a sharpshooter.’

‘I will teach you everything I know.’

The most dangerous woman in the world