The Black Fleet

John Stanley-22 September 1364

Three weeks later John Stanley, Morgan the Singer and a dozen of the Princes Guard  stood on the weather deck  of The Hopeas it gently cruised the waters of the Gulf de Morbihan.  It was in no way hiding. It’s black painted hull and blood red sails made it stand out against the blues, greens and sepias of the bays and islands of the gulf. Two other ships of a similar configuration sailed in a criss-cross fashion across the entance to the gulf.

Oliver de Clisson strode the deck of the Hope like the master mariner he was. ‘Hard about…Now.’ He watched carefully as the ship carried out the manouvre seamlessly.  He nodded to the other boats. ‘ Looks pretty doesn’t it?  But cruising around the Gulf is not as easy as it looks.  There is little room between the islands for even straightforward changes in direction. If the wind should change at the wrong moment it can get…exiting.’

John nodded. ‘So you prevent the Franks from re-supplying  the Castle at Auray. Have there been many attempts to do so.?

Oliver grinned ‘None’ When my mother Jeanne waged a personal war against the Franks there are stories that when she captured a Frankish ship she would execute all but two of the crew. The two who were spared would carry the tale back home and in that way her reputation would grow ever more frightening to other sailors.

He strode the deck leaned on the rail  beore returning.  I have never believed these stories, my mother was a caring mother, but other people did…and still do.  Hence we retain the same colours, black hulls, blood red sails. In the last two weeks a miscelleny of craft have approached the mouth of the bay, and left without making any attempt to break through.

He shrugged  his shoulders. ‘John Montfort  and Charles de Blois have declared the conficlict at Auray to be a fight to the death, so perhaps the caution was, in fact, well founded.’

He pointed to the bow. ‘Come, let us look at Auray.’  The river is narrow and cuts deep into the ridge lying to the north west of the gulph.  The Château is to the west of the river. It is currently held by the supporters of Charles du Blois and has been under seige by the supporters of John Monfort for several months. The old town is on the opposite bank and is occupied by Monfort’s men. They have a trebuchet over there which is particularly well positioned to attack the Château without threatening those taking part in the seige activities.

We have been told that Charles de Blois is approaching from the east with a substantial force to relieve the seige, but there seems to be a delay, beause of additional troops coming from Paris’

John sucked in a deep breath. ‘du Guesclin.’

‘Really, that pig, How do you know?’

Trust me I know. Oliver… can you take me up the river as far as the Château.

I will go close.  I have beeen up the river several times to transfer information and to let those in the Château know that their position is  hopeless; but in this narrow river we have to turn using oars and ropes from the shore. I don’t want to get too close and  risk being fired on from above. Why did you ask?

John held a finger too his lips. ‘ Similar concerns. Will those carrying out the siege recognise the Hope and see you as friends.’

Oliver puffed out his chest. ‘Of course . I told you about the legends. We are very well known.’

Good, I want to go ashore on the right bank and I do not want to be killed,  by being mistaken for a supporter of du Blois.

Two hours later John sat in the tent of John Chandos who he knew quite well from the time they had spent together during the rescue of Ximene’s treasure and then acting as the representitives of the Black Prince, witnessing of feudal oaths from the lords of the Garrone valley

Chandos sipped from a mug of ale, and looked at John cautiously.

Before he could speak, there was the roar of a trebuchet missile as it soared across the river and a muffled splintering crash,, as missile scored a hit somewhere within the courtyard of the Château. John could not help glancing upward, but of course, within the tent he could see nothing.

Chandos also looked upward. ‘We fire half a dozen missiles in succession at random intervals.  It means that within the Château no one will venture out of heavily fortified areas.’

He shrugged his shoulders. ‘The have told us that if they are not relieved by Michaelmas day, 29th September they will surrender…but we do not want that; we want to draw Charles du Bois here and finish it once and for all.’

John stroked his chin and took a gulp of beer. ‘Only seven days away, Only just enough time.’

‘Enough time for what?  Why are you here John? I had heard roumors that you had changed sides and were training a new Frankish army just outside Paris.’

John smiled, he was only just getting used to fact that people knew who  he was and were interested in what he was doing . ‘And who gave you that information?’

‘The  Duke of Lancaster  or rather his new lady friend Pipa de Roet.’

John shook his head. Pipa never changed.

Chandos continued. ‘Interestingly I also heard from a completely different source , that at one time Pipa was romantically attached to you, so it seemed credible.’

John nodded. ‘My relationship with Pipa may have been  a little different than people think, but thank you for asking the question. I think it is important that no-one doubts where my true loyalties lie.’

John explained the origins of the task in Paris, without mentioning the role played by Ximene Trencavel.

Another roar, another splintering sound. Both men stopped talking and glanced upward.

Chandos nodded. ‘So you are the support the Prince promised. Fourteen man! I repeat why are you here?’

John smiled mirthlessly . ‘First of all the thirteen  men I have brought with me  are not mercenaries. This must not be made public but they respond directly to me and through me  to the Prince.’

He narrowed his eyes. ‘They are battle hardened but more importantly battle wise.  Twelve superbly fit and disciplined knight. i trained them myself.  My  archer, Morgan, is probably the best long bow archer to be found anywhere in Europe. I did not train him, he trained me.  We are here to kill Du Guesclin. It will be a battle within a battle, but if we win, you will win.’

John leaded forward. ‘Now specifics. I want you to to give me command of a dozen archers. Archers who can ride.  I also need horses for the archers and for the rest of my men, plus half a dozen pack horses. We intend to fire hundreds of arrows.

We  will leave your camp to carry out some training, trimming our battle plan to meet the peculiarities of the landscape,  but first I want to go over the strategy you propose to deal with du Blois and  du Guesclin.’

John frowned. ‘How much do you know about du Guesclin?

Only what I hear. Clever, ruthless. A thorn in the flesh of the Prince and The Earl of Salisbury but I have no personal knowlge of him.

John winced. ‘Well I have that personal experience. everything you have heard is correct. However, my own strategy depends on the fact that du Guesclin is two different men.

When in a position of strength he is effective, crafty perhaps even clever and above all else cruel. However when he finds himself in difficulty, he is completely different.  He will be not hesitate to run, rather than face defeat or even battle. I want to meld our strategies to ensure you put pressure on Du Guesclin. He will run and I will be waiting to finish him off.

Before we do anything however… before we even talk about strategy, can you dismantle the trebuchet on the east bank of the river and either burn it or bring it over here.

‘What? Why?’

It is on the east bank . Charles de blois is approachin from the east. You will difficult to defend it. Do you really want to be bombarded by your own trebuchet?

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

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