13th March 1355
Charles de Valois, eldest son of King John of the Franks, turned to his father, arms widespread in supplication. ‘Why must I deal with him?’
‘Because I won’t.’
Charles cringed. ‘I have always thought the award of a knighthood carried with it some measure of a man’s worth.’
‘The reason we are knighting him is to give him some worth, to enable him to deal with those in our service and in the service of the Holy Church who will simply not deal with the common people.’
‘And does giving him a knighthood make him anything but a common person?’
‘In the true meaning of the word he is certainly not a common person, he is devious, perhaps even clever, unforgiving, ruthless and above all cruel.’
‘None of these things are the normal criteria for knighthood. What about the virtues of valour and chivalry?’
King John pulled a face. ‘He would not have the faintest idea what they are.’
‘So we are knighting him because…’
‘Because we need him.’
‘But why me?’
‘Because you can bestow a knighthood and because if he becomes an embarrassment, you are young enough to be, in time, forgiven.’
‘Who will give him his orders? To whom will he report?’
‘Certainly not you, we must keep our distance. Let him report to Jacques.’
A week later in the chapel which was attached to the Palais de la Cité, Jacques de Bourbon watched as the Dauphin touched both shoulders of Bertrand du Guesclin with his sword and slapped him across the face.
‘Take this as an example of how you should treat my enemies. Arise, Sir Bertrand.’
The Dauphin tried his best to smile. ‘We are pleased to give you the honour of a knighthood in recognition of your services to us during the prosecution of the war in Brittany, specifically your heroic defence of the Château Montmuran.’
The Dauphin left as quickly as he could. As he passed Jacques he whispered his apologies and added, ‘God, he smells awful.’
Jacques de Bourbon managed a smile; although he certainly did not want to be personally responsible for the tasks he was about to allocate to Guesclin, nevertheless he was pleased to have someone to do his dirty work.
‘Now, Sir Bertrand, as you know we want you to leave Brittany for a while. There are bands of mercenaries plundering the countryside in the area north of the Garonne. They are nearly as much of a problem to us as they are to the English, but we think they could be persuaded to concentrate exclusively on the English. It will just require a little leadership; there will be no need to change the way they work; only the targets they choose. Any profit you gain from this activity will be yours to keep.’
Du Guesclin’s eyes gleamed. A few drops of saliva dribbled from his lips.
‘You are hinting to me where I might find a private army, which you would approve of me using.’
‘And use them in any way I wish to make money.’
‘By attacking the English, yes.’
Jacques turned away for a few seconds and temporarily focussed his attention on the High Altar. An anomaly, totally to his taste, was that such unsavoury business should be carried out on consecrated ground!
When he reverted his gaze, Guesclin rolled his eyes to an impossible angle. ‘Just so there is no doubt, you still want me to kill this young girl.’
‘Well, dispose of her, yes… but we would prefer it if she was betrayed as a heretic, interrogated by the Inquisition and burned at the stake. We believe that will only happen if she refuses to marry the Prince. However, if she commits herself to a marriage with the Black Prince, then you must dispose of her any way you can, before she is taken into safe keeping in England or Aquitaine.’
A cunning look came over Guesclin’s face.
‘So as long as the girl marries the Prince, the church will turn a blind eye to the fact that she is a heretic but if she refuses to marry the Prince they will hunt down, interrogate and execute her. In that case, I will have wasted my time.’
‘Not quite, in those circumstances, you may be of assistance to the Inquisition in their task.’
‘If in the end she does decide to marry the Prince, then I must kill her, because the church won’t. That means I will spend a considerable time watching her with no guarantee of reward.’
‘I believe you have already been well rewarded. When Ximene Trencavel is dead, whichever way that is achieved, that reward will be doubled.’
‘And if I find a way of profiting from all this in some other way?’
‘That, I believe, Sir Bertrand is what you are very good at. Perhaps the very reason you have been knighted.’
‘Then you have just issued her death warrant.’
‘Good. One of the King’s Garde Ecosse will be your contact, John Stuart is his name. You will find him at the Dominican Office of the Holy Inquisition in Pamiers. Pamiers is close to Foix, where we believe Ximene Trencavel is currently living with her uncle.’
‘Foix? I have heard the Château has never been captured. How will I get to her if she’s there?’
‘Someone with your skills will find a way. However, another piece of information for you. Only a few months ago we were hoping that the Trencavel girl would marry Louis of Anjou, King John’s son.’
She insisted on meeting Louis personally on what she called neutral ground–Navarre. She is likely to impose the same condition on the Prince, which means she will leave Foix.’
‘For where, then?’
‘That is why we have come to you, Sir Bertrand. We thought you might be able to persuade someone to talk.’
‘Tell me more about Stuart. Is he your man or does he serve the church?’
‘He is certainly not my man, but he will be sympathetic to your mission. Nominally he is preventing the local lords obstructing the activities of the Inquisition. In practice he is preventing the Inquisition interfering in our affairs. He will almost certainly be helpful.’
‘Does he know what I am supposed to do?’
‘He will do by the time you get there.’
‘And what makes you think he will be helpful?’
‘He thinks he has a claim to be Seigneur of the Isle called Mann in the middle of the Irish Sea. But he has been deposed by the English King.’
Du Guesclin’s eyes now positively glittered.
‘The English King has made William Montacute, the Earl of Salisbury, “King of Mann”. Most unusual, as it required the Pope’s approval. We think it was something to do with Salisbury giving up his marriage to Joan of Kent.’
Jacques paused and then provided an aside. ‘John Stuart hates Salisbury with a passion.’
Once again, du Guesclin’s eyes glittered. ‘Stuart and I will get on well together. I also have good reason to hate Salisbury.’
‘Stuart will do anything which damages Salisbury or the English royal family.’
Du Guesclin nodded and made as if to leave, but stopped in mid stride, his head hanging at an ungainly angle. He looked over his shoulder.
‘Do we know where the Black Prince is now?’
He answered his own question.
‘No, don’t worry, I think I know how to find him. We have a mutual friend.’