John Stanley – 10th December 1355
‘Wonderful isn’t it. Built by the Romans, modified by the Moors, The southern palace of the Ramnulfids until 1100, when the Palais d’Aquitaine was built .
The Earl of Salisbury stood in the middle of the central open courtyard and spun around, arms extended as if he wished to point to every feature at the same time. ‘Now it is mine.’
The courtyard was surrounded by two stories of elaborate Moorish arches carved out of limestone into intricate patterns. The floor of the courtyard was paved in white marble. The centrepiece was a circular pond also tiled with white marble with and a fountain delivering water to a height of two and a half feet.
The Earl walked towards the fountain and held out his hand allowing the water falling back into the pond to tricle over his hand. ‘At the risk of repeating myself, wonderful. The fountain looks Moorish but it isn’t. It was installed by Eleanor of Aquitaine’s father. A pump driven by the flow of the river lifts water to a central storage tank which drives the fountain. Overflow from the pool runs back to the river.’
He smiled. ‘Of course, the building is not actually mine. It has been allocated as the headquarters of the Royal Guard of Aquitaine. Notice the change in title. John, we are no longer just the Prince’s bodyguard. although that remains one of our tasks We are the Royal Guard responsible for all aspects of state security. The stables and the barracks for the members of the guard are on the ground floor and officers quarters are on the first floor.
‘The Earl smiled. ‘Come with me.’ He led John up a wide set of steps leading to the first floor. The first rank of officers are known still known as captains and they cannot aspire to that rank unless they are a Knight or the son of an Earl. The recent reorganisation has introduced the rank of commander. To aspire to that rank it is necessary to have performed with exceptional honour in the field. Appointments as a commander are made only by the Prince and require my approval.
He led the way to a suite of rooms in the southwestern corner of the building. These are my own quarters. Quite palatial; reception room, office, study, bedroom and bathroom. To recognise the creation of the additional rank of commanders, I am now known as the Earl Marshal of the Royal Guard.’
He shook his head. ‘And for me… once again, Sir John, you are a problem. You don’t quite fit in. You are a knight of Occitan and that qualifies you to be a captain. You showed great courage and skill during the chevauchee and in the past, on occasions, you have been made a field commander, so you are an outstanding candidate for promotion to commander. But… you have sworn allegiance to Ximene and Occitan, which under the existing rules, disbars you from membership altogether. I would like, however, to find a formula for you to have a close relationship with the royal guard and with me. You have many talents I would like to use.’
For the last ten years, I have been responsible for protecting the Prince against potential external threats. This meant that an inevitable part of my task was to understand where the threats might emanate. On occasions to gain that understanding, I might have to talk to potential enemies. That meant I was forced to walk a tightrope. I could easily be accused of conspiring with the enemy if the Prince did not give me his complete trust.
Ideally, I would like you, Sir John, to play a greater part in the intelligence gathering which is an integral part of maintaining knowledge of where the threats might lie. ‘
The Earl put his arm around John’s shoulder. ‘I will give it some thought. But now to a different but closely related matter. do you who Phillipa de Roet actually is?
‘Yes, I do. Prince’s cousin, her mother is Queen Phillipa’s sister and that her grandmother was a French princess.’
‘Not only a French princess but a Valois. It will give her access to the court of the king of the Franks in Paris if we introduce her in the right way and she has agreed to use that opportunity to gather information for me.