10 June 1355
Bertrand du Guesclin arrived in Palmiers to recommence discussions with John Stuart.
‘I have a competitor.’
As usual, Stuart looked surprised. ‘What do you mean?’
‘I spent days watching the hunt. Each one, the bitch found a way to ride ahead of the pack or to ride in a different direction from the pack. She was easy pickings.’
Stuart blinked an eye. ‘So what went wrong?’
‘The Cardinal gave me ten men. I had ten of my own. Twenty men. All they had to do was snatch one teenage girl.’
‘So what went wrong?’
‘It started well enough. The Cardinal’s informer, what’s his name… Dominic, gave us good information on the location of the hunt. Because of the relatively large area the deer were running to, we were spread a little thin in order to surround the area but at the same time use what cover was available. I repeat all we had to do snatch a teenage girl. ‘
John stuart scratched his head. ‘ And I repeat, what went wrong?’
‘Everything. The girl herself, shot the first of our men to approach her. She didn’t hesitate, hit him in the middle of the chest. He will be lucky to survive. Doesn’t deserve to survive. If he had held back a bit she might have been faced with three or four of us.’
‘“Oh! But you still had nineteen men against this one girl.’
‘It gets worse. She rode round in a massive circle before heading back towards Muret. Our lot came out one by one and chased her, instead of trying to cut her off. She is a good horsewoman, she was riding a good, no outstanding, grey horse. They didn’t stand a chance of catching her.
‘So she just rode away?’
“Not quite.’ One of them did eventually try to cut the corner and then suddenly out of nowhere came this rider wielding axes, also on a magnificent grey horse.’
‘Axes on a horse?’
‘Yes and he can use them. One man dead and another two who will probably never walk again. The others simply ran away.
The stupid men think he had axes instead of hands. He managed to strike terror in their souls. It is supposed to be me that does that. I have a competitor. I will have to find out who he is and hunt him down.’
‘So what can I do to help?’
‘I have given up on the girl. we now know, again through Dominic that she is being taken back to Château Foix. I will settle for the bounty on the her head. It looks to me as though she will marry the Black Prince and be whisked off to England. We will get no chance to deliver her to the Inquisition, so I will provide an assassin and need him to be able to access the Château.’
‘What can I do about that?’ John Stuart asked.
Du Guesclin glared at him. ‘Don’t be stupid. Dominic has been supplying us with information. Now I want to use him to get somebody into the Château. The Château might need additional cooks for a big feast … anything! Once we have our person inside, Ximene is as good as dead!’
John Stuart went away to consider his options.
Dominic had now been an instrument of the Inquisition for a lengthy period. He attended confession regularly and was required to report on everything that happened in the Château.
In fact, since his original visit to the confessional back in April, he had acquired little extra knowledge. In the upper Château, he was now isolated from events in Lady Eleanor’s quarters. He did not meet with Alyse, Pipa or Ximene. Nevertheless, every time he visited the confessional, his confessor wanted something, and warned that if he kept anything to himself, he would be considered to have reverted to the heretic faith. Dominic knew that meant unspecified torture to save his soul.
When Dominic had been included in the support team for the Comte’s summer hunt, it been a bonus. It had provided much information which had been of interest. It was strangely satisfying to have a personal confessor assigned to talk to him in a remote town like Muret.
Today, on his return to Foix his mind was full of information about the English presence in the Château.
To his surprise his confessor after listening politely, did not seem particularly interested.
‘What we need now is to get a member of the inquisition inside the Château. This has become essential to the interests of the Holy Church and will be a measure of your devotion.’
Dominic desperately searched his mind for anything that might help.
“I think the best opportunity would be for a clerk. I am personally working on a marriage contract between the Comte’s niece Ximene and Prince Edward of England. The task is taking too long and is interfering with work on the Comte’s next book. The Comte is currently searching for additional clerical effort.’
‘We will find a suitable candidate. Your role is to make sure he is acceptable to the Comte,’ the confessor said.
Dominic’s heart sank. ‘I can certainly introduce him, but he must have a fair hand and he should know something about contracts. The Comte will make him pass a test.’
‘We will find a suitable candidate. Once in the Château you must find a way of giving him easy access to Ximene Trencavel. He will do the rest.’