‘Siege towers can be used to break into battlements or to get someone out. In this case, probably get someone out.’
Bertrand du Guesclin-16th June 1355
The contrast between the main church and the sacristy at St Volusien could hardly have been greater. The sacristy was painted white. Architraves for both doors and windows were detailed in cream marble. The whole room flickered with reflected light from the candlesticks which were aligned on the centre of the oak table which dominated the room.
Bertrand de Guesclin sat on one side of the table, John Stuart on the other.
Du Guesclin could see the doubt in Stuart’s eyes.
Eventually, Stuart spoke. ‘So Bertrand, why are we here? Your target is in the Château. We have managed to get your man inside. What can we possibly do from here?’
Du Guesclin had decided he needed additional help from the Inquisition. Stuart was his contact, but he did not particularly want to answer Sturt’s questions. However, he was quite prepared to exchange information for co-operation. ‘We are here to keep in touch. There is something going on. I used the Inquisition to get my man in there, so they insisted on a quid pro quo. I have agreed that Bewsley will give information to Dominic, who brings it back to the church. However, in turn, it has been agreed that I will be given access to any information he provides.’
‘Maybe nothing. Bewsley took a preliminary copy of the marriage contract to the Prince. He was not allowed direct access to the Prince, which does not surprise me. However, within the camp they are building a very large structure. He was told it was an even larger flagpole than the one they already have, but in his opinion, it is more likely to be a siege tower. Why? What are they going to do with it? Siege towers can be used to break into battlements or to get someone out. In this case, probably get someone out.
‘The girl! Oh! So why don’t you warn the Comte ?’
Du Guesclin glared at Stuart. ‘No!No!No! Our current plan is to kill her and leave before anyone realises what has happened, but if she were to escape… and we were to capture her… all the other options again present themselves… Now! There is something else.’ Du Guesclin leaned across the table. ‘I think it is more than likely you already know more about this than I do…’We were told that the Cathar who was supposed to be assisting the Trencavel girl to escape was captured by the Cardinals agents in Port Vendres on the Mediterranean coast and that she intended to go to Sicily.’ His eyes narrowed. ‘If the Trencavel girl is to make another attempt to escape she may head to the same destination, not Bordeaux as we had previously supposed.
Stuart did his best not to smile. ‘His name is, or was, Don Fernandino. he was based in Mallorca. It would be difficult not to come through Port Vendres.’
‘Perhaps, but the girl who is working alongside Bewsley… She is working on the Comte’s book about hunting. She lives in the lower level of the castle close to the Trencavel girl and in the last few days she has been borrowing books from the Comte’s library dealing with Monségur.’
‘Where. It is a place. No, I didn’t know either. Apparently, it is a fortress close to the border with Aragon. I need more information. Ah! here is His Holiness now.’
Augustus Domecq, Chief Inquisitor for Pamiers stalked into the room and removed his cloak with a single swirl. Du Guesclin was impressed. It was meant to attract attention, and emphasise the Inquisitor’s lean, agile body. Underneath the cloak, he wore not clerical attire, but the clothes of a soldier, a grey-green uniform.
The inquisitor wasted no time. He straddled the bench where Stuart was seated so that he faced both of them. In a single move, he had turned them into an audience. ‘I am honoured by the sudden promotion, but that title is reserved for the Pope. Monseigneur will be adequate.’ He smiled, but quickly straightened his face. ‘I was told you wanted to see me, and that you wanted to know more about Monségur. Monségur! Yes indeed.’ He sighed. ‘A thorn in our flesh, even today. It came to prominence because of its position at the crossroads of a network of secret Cathar trails. These trails run in several directions; to the Aragonese border, to the Atlantic and to the Mediterranean just above Perpignan. He winced. ‘These trails are still used by heretics when they want to communicate with each other. The trails traverse the sides of mountains and through high level passes. We have tried to plot their courses and seal them off but it has been a total failure. All our attempts to explore them, have resulted in us finding ourselves at the bottom of unscaleable cliffs, on the banks of raging rivers or on the edge of precipitous drops. The most famous of these trails is the one between Monségur and Montaillou. We know it is there, but we cannot find it.
Du Guesclin interrupted. ‘And the Château itself?’
Domecq cleared his throat. ‘Château Monségur was the site of the most protracted siege of the wars against the Cathars. It was protracted because it was continually resupplied from Cathars outside the Château, through the trails. The siege has gained a certain notoriety because over two hundred Cathars were burned to death after finally surrendering.
He frowned so fiercely that his eyes partially closed. ‘Because of that, it has become a Cathar holy place. There is a village at Monségur which was originally built to house those engaged in the siege. I suspect that today it houses some Cathar sympathisers. Quite large Cathar services are held on the meadow at the base of the Château, but when we try to apprehend them they simply fade away. The villagers cannot be totally unaware of such gatherings.’ Unfortunately, Château Monségur has been rebuilt and is one one the ‘Six Sons of Carcassonne’, considered to be an important part of the front line defences against a possible invasion from Aragon. The current constable of Monségur is Jean de Levis, Seigneur of Mirepoix. We suspect he has Cathar sympathies but he also has influence. I have been specifically ordered not to interfere with the Château and the adjacent village, which now supports its workings. He paused. ‘So what can I do for you Monsieur?’
Du Gueslin took nearly a half a minute to compose his thoughts. ‘Is it possible that someone escaping from the Château here in Foix who was heading for the Mediterranean coast would pass through Monségur?’
‘Hmmm. You are obviously talking about Ximene Trencavel. But I thought that was taken care of. Do you not believe your assassin will do his job?’ He shook his head. ‘However, to answer your question, if she were to travel on the main roads, no, she would not pass through Monségur but if she chose to use the Cathar trails, yes she would.
Du Guesclin scowled. ‘I believe our man inside the Château can do his job, but if as a precaution I asked you to block off the whole area around the village of Monségur, could you? Would you do so?’
‘Well, it would give me an excuse to raid Monségur village without disobeying my orders. It then gives us leverage to conduct further interrogations and it is often surprising what comes to light. It will not take long to raise a force to carry out such a raid, it is just a question of setting a date. How soon would you want me to carry out the raid?’
‘The soon the better. A week from now, the 23rd?’
‘I can do it slightly quicker than that. Midsummer’s day? the 21st?’
‘Good. I will accompany you. I would like to see how the Inquisition works. I might learn something… but in any case, it will enable us to work closer together.
Domecq stood up. ‘Thank you. I welcome that offer. However, I would ask you to remain a mile or two behind us as we approach the village. I do not want you to enter the village until we have secured possession of it.’
‘I see no problem with that, but if in the meantime my man manages to kill the girl?’
‘I will still go ahead with the raid but you need not accompany me. Presumably, there are other things you might then rather do.