William Montacute-3 June 1355
It was nearly midnight. They had moved only a short distance and were now camped on a lush meadow close to the river and within fifteen minutes ride from Castelingest.
The Earl swirled the remnants of his wine inside his goblet, then stood, picked up the bottle and refilled the first the Prince’s goblet and then his own. He then sat down again cautiously, as if he was fearful of spilling his wine. In fact he was carefully considering a whole series of issues which he felt he had to share. ‘I think we have a problem Edward. As I understand it, you have been told by your father that you must never see Joan again’
The Prince grimaced and then nodded.
“An order I have already disobeyed, you know that I saw her in La Reole? It was the Earl’s turn to nod.
The Prince continued.
‘You told me that she would be at Clermont, so I asked her to go to La Reole.’ His face dropped. ‘I could never just abandon her. I told her face to face when we met at La Reole. Now, I will rely on you to keep her safe.’
‘That I will always do. or try to do, but there is another problem.’ The Earl hesitated.
The Prince was all attention. ‘Yes? What?
‘Well as you know I took a little time to meet Joan at Clermont, and it turned out to be very interesting.’ He made sure he had the Prince’s eye contact. ‘Joan has not given up. She has managed to get the Queen to agree to her marrying you if your marriage to Ximene Trencavel should for any reason fall through.’
‘Oh, She did not make me aware of that’
‘Also Joan took the opportunity at Clermont to meet Lady Eleanor…de Henestrosa?’
‘Yes, yes, I know who she is, Ximene’s grandmother.’
Lady Eleanor made determined efforts to have totally separate discussions with Joan and myself. I told her you are totally committed to marriage with Ximene, but I believe Joan may have told her something quite different.’
‘There is more. The Queen’s offer to Joan is conditional that she should never see me again, which leaves Joan out there on her own, effectively barred from seeing either of us by the dictates of your royal parents.”
‘Where is she now? Is she safe?’
‘I have made sure she is safe.’
‘I cannot just reject Ximene out of hand. Her guardian would know that there was no good reason for my refusal. My father would find out and he would be furious. He really believes that marrying Ximene would be the key for reinvigoration our southern empire and you know he may be right, but we must look after Joan.’
The Earl nodded. ‘I will find a way, I promise you I will find a way.’
After a short silence the Earl frowned and by making determined eye contact again made sure he had the Princes’ attention.
The Prince blinked. ‘Something else?
‘Yeees, earlier this evening you were talking about riding to Castelingest and for that matter the other venues where you might meet Southern Lords. You expressed a desire to go alone, to create an impression of being peaceable, approachable. I think I should advise you against that. In any case it would expose you to risk but with Du Guesclin about… Du Guesclin knows your safety is my responsibility, and he would like nothing better than to make me look a fool. Add to that the ransom the you would bring…’
The Prince sighed. ‘I know you see these things differently than I do, but I also know that my security is your core task and not only that it is the task I have given you. You have become my conscience. So what do you recommend?’
‘First thing tomorrow morning I think both Piers De Winter and John Stanley should make an oath of allegiance directly to you.’
The Prince smiled and raised his eyebrows questioningly.
‘It Will complete their appointment and give us five of your bodyguards who could accompany you on your visit. However if they all go it will leave the rest of our little army without a leader, not something I would do by choice, so one of the guards must stay behind. In the circumstances I think either the Captal or Lord James would regard it as a slight to be left out so either John or Piers must stay behind, effectively in command.
As you know, I have used Piers as my courier when we have been in different locations. I would like the Lords to meet him so that if we need to contact any of them subsequent to you meetings they will know who he his and accept his role as a courier. That leaves John Stanley as Field Commander… for a very short period.
Oh! Well I have no problems with that. John has always impressed me and it will be another way of reinforcing the support we have given him since his action last night. Ahh! I understand. As he has publicly sworn allegiance it will set him apart. His appointment will be more acceptable. Agreed!