John Stanley – 20th October 1355
Instinctively he felt intimidated at the prospect, but then in a new found burst of confidence repelled his self doubts.
I must not live my life constraining myself. If the Earl is prepared to give me opportunities then I must take advantage of them. It is two days with Joan that has made this change. I am a close friend of a grand-daugter of a King of England!
The Earl continued perhaps unaware of John’s internal conflict.
‘The southern group will cross second, by the bridge at Muret. They will then have to make the crossing of the Ariege, which caused us so much trouble earlier in the year. Once this crossing had been achieved they will move forward to the southern edge of the Val du Midi . Because that Ariege crossing is known to be difficult the third, central group, will make a crossing by ferry downstream of the junction between the Ariege and the Garonne. This third group will include the Prince’s own command group and will be quickly followed by the rearguard, my own direct command. This third group is being kept deliberately small to limit the number of ferries needed. I have been given the specific task to ride ahead and secure an adequate number of ferries to facilitate a speedy crossing but we will only cross when everyone else is safely established on the other side.’
It proved simple to hire enough boats to get them across the Garronne. There were numerous small docking facilities all along the river and they were able to persuade the owners of ferries to assemble at one of the larger docks, which gave adequate shielding from the current.
The Earl decided to ride back towards Muret to personnally supervise the crossing of the bridge. “You know I have told you that this business is all about trust and you have displayed on a number of occasions that you understand that. I will now give you a piece of information which will be extremely valuable to you in your position as a negotiator but I want some information in return”
John smiled inwardly. He was getting used to this, he was careful not to let the smile show outwardly. He summoned an air of naivety before he replied
“Tell me what you think will help me and then I will decide what it is worth. Alternatively tell me what you want to know and I will tell you what I need in return.’
The Earl smiled, obviously taking no offence.
“Well done John, we will start again. I want you to tell me where the treasure is and how bulky it is so that I can start planning for its transportation to Bordeaux. In return I can tell you the kind of arrangement the Prince would be interested in. We could spend weeks worrying about who speaks first. You have my word that if you tell me where it is I will help you negotiate with the Prince.’
John thought back over the period he had known the Earl.
Devious? Yes! A libertine? Yes! Honourable and trustworthy, yes!
As best as he could, whilst still paying attention to the road ahead, he described the location of the treasure to the Earl.
“The treasure is in the area which, when it was part of Aragon, was known as the Fenouillides. It is now under tenuous French control exerted from the Château de Puilaurens. In fact, Puilaurens is very close to the treasure site. We were shown a secret way through the northern leg of the Pyrenees, which almost certainly could not be used by heavily laden pack horses. You will have to take the access route opened up by and controlled by the Franks through St Louis et Parahou. Incidentally I do trust you but I have no need to. I could lead you to the mouth of the cave which contains the treasure and you would still never find it.’
The Earl was impressed.
‘That all seems very specific. Aid my knowledge of local geography. Where exactly is Puilaurens?
John told him the main points which he thought should be enough for now
“South from Carcasonne through Limoux and Couisa and then through Granes to St Louis and then slightly to the south through a narrow pass”
‘And how much Treasure?
‘At least fifty boxes and each box approximately a two foot cube, some are bigger some are smaller!’
‘Heavy. I tried to lift one!’
‘Hmm! at least a hundred horses then! No small task!’
The Earl then became aware that John was waiting.
“Oh! Yes! Now my part of the bargain! I think I mentioned to you previously that the Prince’s father got himself hopelessly in debt trying to fund his armies in France and Scotland. He fell into the clutches of the Italian bankers, Peruzzi and Bardi. They took advantage of the situation and charged punitive interest rates. Ten years ago King Edward paid them what his own clerks thought he really owed them but defaulted on the interest debts. He has been blamed for the financial crisis which has since consumed European trade but there are many other factors at play.’
The Earl took a deep breath before continuing
‘In any case the situation has not improved. The King still has to borrow from other sources. His default means that they all want the same punitive interest rates and the debt is still crippling the nation. He could use the treasure to pay off his debts and create reserves, which would limit the need for borrowing in the future. When he then chooses to borrow it will then be at more reasonable rates.
“My lord, I know that the treasure is valuable but what then would the King then do for Ximene.’
‘He would transfer substantial lands in England to Ximene. These lands would come at no cost to the King as they would be allocated from the royal estate. The transfer would be freehold, that is independent of the King’s control. Once in possession of this land Ximene could bequeath or indeed sell it to whoever she wanted without the need for the King’s permission.’
“How would we know if we were getting full value for the treasure?
‘Prior to the contract Ximene could make her own assessment of the income the lands would generate. The King would be prepared to transfer lands, which would generate an income, which would represent fair interest on the total value of the treasure. Because there would probably be a lot of land involved, the King would insist that the lands were scattered across every part of his domain. He would want to avoid the possibility of Ximene setting up another realm within his kingdom. But that would not matter as the main aim would be to generate income”
“Thank you” said John “But it makes me realise how vulnerable we, the exiled government of Occitan really are, once we have shown you the treasure what is to prevent you leaving us with nothing?”
The Earl smiled.
“Because, to the King, if not the Prince, the chance of a legitimate claim to Occitan is worth much more than the treasure itself. If Ximene holds back on an agreement on her betrothal until after the treasure is exchanged for lands, your security will be assured.
John reined in Helios. The Earl belatedly followed suit. They were then able to look each other in the eye. John watched the Earl as he asked the vital question.
“Yes I can see that is true, but why are you giving me this information?”
The Earl returned the intense scrutiny
“Because I want to use the treasure, I want to free my country from debt and if the correct formula for the marriage is not found we could end up failing to reach an agreement. That would be to the detriment of both parties!”
They shook hands and rode on together to attend to the day’s business.
John smiled to himself.
So that is what negotiation is all about. The fact that I was so insistant on freedom of religion has opened this opportunity. Ximene may not have to marry the Prince after all!
It was almost dark when they finally made the crossing. John was the only one wearing the tabard of a Royal Guard. He could feel the gaze of others in the boat wondering just who this young man was who seemed to be so friendly with the Earl and what he had done to justify elevation to Royal Guard status.
Once the whole central force was established on the east bank of the river, the Prince sent out scouts to guard against a surprise attack. It was the role that only a few months earlier John would have expected to perform. Now he found himself sitting down to eat with the Prince and The Earl. During the meal discussion was initially focussed on a plan of action for the coming negotiations. With the Earl prompting him, John spelled out the scheme that the Earl had suggested. The Prince agreed in principle and they then spent a pleasant evening whilst John outlined his adventures. He was of course very selective in the events he described. They retired early and in the morning the Prince started his invasion of Occitan.
Inevitably, the river crossings were noticed by many of those who had much to loose by the invasion and messengers were sent east to warn of the incursion.