Bertand du Guesclin – 4th July 1355
‘Gypsies, gypsies and more gypsies.’ Du Guesclin was not pleased.
The deep river valley, which ran through Rennes les Bains, and the village itself, clinging to both faces of the towering cliffs above the river, were both crowded with gypsies.
Women and children bathed naked in the natural rock pools in the river, which was warmed by a dozen hot springs. High above the river, taverns, in tree-lined squares echoed with the sounds of violins, guitars and the gypsy base, which gave the music a special feel.
The music permeated through every open space and whole families gathered to sing and socialise; children dangled from knees and fed at mothers breasts.
Du Guesclin warned his men. ‘Do nothing to offend them. We are outnumbered and if crossed they would cut your throat as soon as look.’
The packed streets certainly did not make their search any easier.
‘Mix with them, enjoy yourself, but make sure it is always on their terms. See if they know anything.’
Du Guesclin left them to it and took himself to the baths fed by the thermal springs. Even that was not too easy. He had to endure seemingly endless lectures about the therapeutic benefits of bathing in the waters and a potted history of the fact that the hot springs had been used to cure all manner of ailments since pre-roman times.
He put up with all this because he wanted to observe everyone who was using the baths and the medical services associated with them, hoping to find his prey or at least evidence of their whereabouts. He feigned a stiffness of the limbs and a skin disorder to gain entry to the medical treatment.
The net result of all this was that for the first time in his adult life Du Guesclin was clean. He was persuaded to shave and his hair was cut to a manageable length. He discovered he liked the feeling.
The treatment rooms had accommodation and a restaurant attached to it. Du Guesclin took a room and became a regular at the restaurant. He noted that the other patients were relatively well dressed and so he purchased new clothes. It was during the process of making the new clothes that the tailor discovered the papers, proving him to be a knight of the realm.
The tailor simply handed them back, but soon the small facility was abuzz with the knowledge that a Knight of the Realm was amongst their number. Suddenly he found himself being addressed as ‘Sir Bertrand’. Again he rather enjoyed the experience.
People approached him and started conversations. Du Guesclin suddenly realised that in this different persona he could reach people he could not normally reach. His eyes were opened to new possibilities. From this privileged position, he would be able to gain information, which could be acted on by the routiers without any apparent involvement on his part. He made a point of talking to everyone he could.
He cast his mind back to his original briefing in Paris. Slowly he developed a standard presentation. ‘I am here in the south, at the direct command of the King to mobilise militias to provide a defensive structure to resist a possible invasion by the English heir to the throne, le Duc du Galles, la Prince Noir. I am on my way to Beziers to establish a fallback position and will then work my way back westward up the Val du Midi as far as Villefrance or possibly Castenet, all the way working to improve our defences. I am also seeking my enemy, an agent of la Prince Noir, whom I badly injured in a battle who but who escaped. It is possible that in the recent past he sought medical assistance here.’
What he did not tell his listeners was that he was also going to be recruiting as many groups of Routiers as possible and looking for information on defensive weaknesses, which could be fed to the Routiers. Du Guesclin smiled to himself as he told his story to his impressionable audience. His plan was to commit as many atrocities as possible during the Prince’s advance, to destroy the Prince’s reputation and to enrich himself and his Routiers at the same time.
He watched and listened and encouraged but no one so much as mentioned anyone who could be the enemy he was looking for.
At the end of the second week, he gathered his band of routiers together.
‘So, have you heard anything?
There was no response. ‘Anything at all any of you’
Again there was no response.
Du Guesclin snorted. ‘You must have had some conversations.What did you talk about.’
A blond haired young man pushed forward, hesitantly.
‘Well, I don’t really want to live a tent for however long we intend to live here so I have been looking for accommodation.’
There were a couple of catcalls.
‘Found a lady friend?’
The speaker grinned.’ It would have been a different story if I had found somewhere. There would have been no shortage of offers to share.’
There was a general roar of disapproval.
Du Guesclin intervened. ‘No, No let him speak.’ He waved the young man on with his hand.
‘Well the place is absolutely full. Gypsys or those who want to trade with gypsys, Guests at the spa. But there was something rather strange.’ There was one house which is unoccupied. It is apparently leased for the whole of this period. It was leased and paid for in advance, but no one has turned up. The house, a fairly large house, is empty. I just thought it was strange,
Du Guesclin jumped to his feet. ‘It is strange. Suppose it was rented for the girl, her bodyguard and her associates. It means they were intended to come here but never made it this far.’
His face fell. ‘However, why would they have planned to come here before the bodyguard was injured. I had assumed they might come here for treatment. Look it does not make sense. They could be anywhere…’
He narrowed his eyes. But keep talking, somebody, somewhere, might know something.’