2 June 1355
Sometime in the last hour, the river had finally begun to recede. The threat was diminished and the Prince had decided to sleep in his own tent. It was to there that the two squires were escorted. Despite the late hour, the tent shone like a beacon in the darkness.
As they approached, the Earl reported on the discussions with the Toulousaine ambassadors. ‘They have agreed to a trading contract with Aquitaine. By any consideration, this is extremely important as it will once again give direct access to goods from the Mediterranean Sea, which in turn will give access to the exotic goods from Arabia.’
John was surprised. ‘I thought the talks were about our safety rather than trade.’
‘Patience, John. Negotiation is about finding areas of common interest. The trading agreement is a device for further involvement. It is a legitimate reason for further discussions, which could not be seen as threatening by the king of the Franks, as the royal charter to the city specifically permits it to make such contracts. However, it will give the traders of Aquitaine and England access to the city. Once a contract is in place, who could say who the visitors from Aquitaine might be? They would usually be merchants, but they could also be diplomats, military advisors or when necessary, soldiers.’
‘Oh!’ John had only asked the question to indicate his interest, but now he felt he had made himself look stupid.
‘After we settled that agreement, the ambassadors guaranteed security for our journey. In fact, it went much further; one of the Toulousains informed the Prince privately that a number of southern lords wished to know the Prince’s future intentions. These talks would have to be held in secrecy as they could potentially expose the lords to the future anger of the king of the Franks. The monastery of St Servin at Castelginest and the church of St Martin at Figulet-Auzil were nominated as meeting places. The Prince would be welcome to rest and worship as he travelled further south. It would be possible that there may be other worshippers at the churches, some of whom, quite possibly, might be great lords.’
He smiled gleefully. ‘Obviously they have guessed that the Prince could be planning to take over Occitan and they are not dismayed, or at the very least are exploring their options.’
They reached the screen across the entrance to the Prince’s tent.
‘Come in, come in,’ the Prince greeted the squires. They found Lord James and Jean de Grailly already seated. The Prince leaned back in his chair, displaying great pleasure and satisfaction. ‘I have just heard of your exploits, and I must congratulate you on your prompt action. In the end it was crucial to the negotiation. The disturbance was heard clearly in the upper room but when it was known that we had apprehended and punished the aggressor, all was turned to our advantage.’
John looked questioningly at the Earl, who shrugged his shoulders. No point in burdening the Prince with the details.
‘Wine?’ the Prince asked.
The Earl winked at John whilst they were filling their glasses, which John took to mean that everything was going well.
The Prince’s face hardened. ‘I have been warned that there may be those who resent the stand you took. There must be no suggestion that you have anything but full support from senior officers and even myself. If there was a perception that we did not approve of what you have done, you could find yourselves in increasing difficulty as your potential enemies gained confidence to move against you.’
He pinched the top of his nose between his finger and his thumb. ‘It would start with little things such as pretending to misunderstand what you have said, or omitting to inform you about important issues. It could spread from those who have a specific dislike or jealousy for what you did this evening, to others who would just enjoy the sport of making life difficult. Those taking advantage of the situation would see that actions against you go unpunished. They would become ever bolder.
‘A classic ploy would then be to ask for your help in an impossible task and make sure you take the blame for any failure. It could end with rank refusal to co-operate with you in the field, and the destruction of your career. In our profession, it could even end in your death.’
John wondered what previous incident could have provoked such sincerity.
‘This would be a most unjust reward for those who have shown great bravery in my service,’ concluded the Prince. ‘I will ensure this will not happen by making it clear you enjoy my total confidence.’
He paused and the smile returned to his face. ‘I have decided, on the advice of the Earl, to create a new body: The Royal Guard of the Prince and Duke of Aquitaine. The new body will use as its blazon the traditional blazon of Aquitaine, a single lion rampant. The new body will therefore be nicknamed The Lions of Aquitaine. I have been thinking about this concept for some time and I have been struggling to find the correct formula. Your actions have prompted me to reach a decision.
‘I do not want the guard to be too large. For it to work effectively, we must all know each other. Twenty will be adequate. It will consist of Guards who will be drawn from the ranks of squires and possibly soldiers who have served me well, but also Captains of the Guard who will be drawn from the ranks of knights and lords.
‘I will make the additional appointments as soon as possible but for now there are only four. John, yourself and Piers are the only guards and the Captal de Buch and Lord James are the foundation captains. Because his fief is in Aquitaine, the Captal de Buch will become the commander of the Princes Guard. The guard as a whole will respond to the Earl of Salisbury, who as you know is commander of my rearguard. The nature of a personal guard is always going to be closely associated with my security and therefore the activities of the rearguard. I want to avoid any potential conflict the new appointments might raise.’
Slowly, deliberately, the Prince studied each of the listener’s faces. John found himself bowing. Out of the corner of his eye he saw that the Prince had drawn the same response from everyone present.
The Prince nodded. ‘There will be no announcement as we want your appointments to be retrospective. However, when we meet the Comte De Foix there will be a welcome arranged for him at which we will wear full armour. At that parade you four will be resplendent in tabards of the royal guard of Aquitaine. Arrangements are already being made for the production of the tabards.’
The Prince personally congratulated everyone and happily chatted for over twenty minutes. John was delighted with the honour he had received especially when it was revealed that there was honorarium involved .
‘Did I hear it right? Ten pounds now and seven pounds a year for the rest of our lives?’
‘That’s what he said. We will be able to buy our own horses and armour.’
‘Oh! That’s probably what it is for… Still, never mind it is something we did not have yesterday. For life? Are you sure?’
It was only when he was back in his own tent that he realised that the major beneficiary was the Earl of Salisbury.
Lord James moved determinedly to the front of the crowd which had gathered at the entrance to the mill and gently dragged John with him. ‘You will be seen as the person who initiated this punishment,’ he whispered as they passed through the throng. ‘You must be seen to accept responsibility for it. Make sure you look unrepentant and do not flinch. Morgan will be given twenty lashes. Enough to make the blood flow but not enough to kill him. His back will be washed with vinegar before the punishment, lessening the chance of subsequent infection but also accentuating the pain. He will scream. This is what the crowd will expect. It will not do our soldiers any harm either. They will be less interested in breaching our code of conduct after this. We have our apothecary here to treat him after the punishment. He will have to ride away from here with us. An application of the apothecary’s salve should make that possible.’
John gritted his teeth and tried to look unconcerned. Stood as they now were, at the very front of the crowd, they heard every one of Morgan’s cries as the punishment, administered by a monk from the abbey in Moissart, commenced. Each of the last few lashes produced sprays of blood. When Morgan was released from his bonds, he slumped to the floor.
The Earl climbed the steps up to the porch and addressed the crowd. ‘You have seen the Prince’s justice administered,’ he said. ‘Tell everyone that your good citizens have nothing to fear from our army.’
As the crowd slowly dispersed, Lord James went personally to supervise Morgan’s treatment.
‘He is one of our best archers. We certainly don’t want to lose him,’ he explained.
Within the hour the expeditionary force was ready to leave. John made a point of helping with the packing up and worked harder than he had ever done. He felt that by the time he climbed into his saddle, a great measure of the resentment towards him he had sensed the previous night had faded.
He noticed that the Earl lost no time in issuing orders to both Lord James and Jean de Grailley. The Earl made sure that everyone knew that the day’s destination was Casteleingest, where the first of the abbeys which had been identified by the Toulousains could be found. He also made sure that everyone knew their roles once they got there.
John had quick evidence of his improved status. For the first time, the Earl shared thoughts which had no direct impact on a specific task.
‘Lord James has just asked…told me that he must still be responsible for giving detailed instructions to his own men. This is indeed sensible, so I agreed readily but with one exception—you. He accepted that you will respond direct to me. You transfer is now public. Remember, John, when you have a strong negotiating position, ask for what you want. You will be surprised how often your desires can be realised.’
Despite this pleasing development, or perhaps because of it, John grew increasingly impatient. The thought occurred to him that perhaps now he really was destined to meet Ximene Trencavel.