A Devil of a Man (2) - No Peace for the Wicked
As soon as the ship landed on French soil, any doubts that Robert Miller had about his protégé's fragility vanished. He realised that the boy had balls.
They were walking on the cobbled streets of Calais, towards their garrison, with a group of volunteers, when a couple of rowdy youngsters from his village made an insulting remark about one of his sisters, who were happily married and had an impeccable reputation.
It only took a few seconds for John to bash their heads together so hard that it addled their brains. They would not be fit enough to shoot any arrows for a long while and the King would be short of two archers.
Fortune favours the bold and there is no one bolder than John Hawkwood who has fought valiantly at the battles of Crécy and Poitiers, under the command of William Bohun and has caught the eye of the Earl of Oxford, John de Vere, who makes him a captain in charge of 250 men.
Lady Luck is on his side when the Black Prince hears of his exploits and makes him a knight.
He is thirty-three and a lot of water has flowed under the bridge since he was forced to leave behind the girl he had married and the humiliation he suffered at the hands of her father. His resentment has not abated and he unleashes his fury on the enemies on the battlefield.
After all these years, he has accepted the inevitable conclusion that he will never see Beatrice again.
He has heard from some soldiers newly, recruited in Sible Hedingham, that she had given birth to a beautiful girl nine months after he left and that her future hung in the balance: she was going to marry an old, rich widower or be confined to a nunnery if she refused.
His instinct is to desert, go back to England and try to rescue the situation but his mentor dissuades him.
“Don't do it, John. Think of the consequences; you might be tried for treason and your life would be at risk.”
Risk is something that he faces daily during battles but he isn't prepared to gamble his life in an act of folly, so reason prevails.
“You are a wise counsel, Robert. Excuse my foolishness.”
“I am glad you are seeing sense. Anyway, doesn't Blanche warm your bed anymore?”
John felt like a hypocrite, professing that he missed the presence of his lost love and yet having a relationship with a beautiful and passionate camp follower.
“It is only a casual affair,” he said shrugging his shoulders.
“You'd better stick with her, son,” replied the old man, “she is a good girl and thinks the world of you.”
But even as he spoke knew that he was wasting his breath. The young man was too restless and not ready to settle.
It had not been the romantic boy meets girl situation, but a random encounter.
After an epic confrontation between two opposing factions, a disconsolate girl was busily searching for her missing mate among the bodies strewn on the ground. Seeing a man with a red cross painted on his tunic, holding a sword, she was unsure whether he was friend or foe but as he sheathed his blade, she was reassured that he didn't intend any harm and asked for his help.
“I'm looking for my fiancé, François,” she sobbed.
Knowing very well that all the Franco/Bretons had been obliterated, John Hawkwood, not wanting to upset the girl even further, hugged her and said diplomatically.
“Do not distress yourself. If he is alive, he will come back to you in his own time.”
It is possible she did not understand him or maybe she realised that waiting for her boyfriend was a lost cause because she wouldn't disengage from that embrace that was becoming friendlier by the minute. It was very comforting to feel his hot body against her.
She meekly followed him to his tent as if that was what she was expected to do and became a regular visitor when he was not otherwise occupied.
He thought it ironic that her name, Blanche, was in contrast to her dark, Mediterranean, complexion.
As it usually happens, conflicts don't go on forever and so, accordingly, a peace treaty between the English and the French was signed at Bretigny in 1360.
king Edward III renounced his claim to the French throne but was richer by three million crowns, the ransom paid for the release of King John of France who had been captured and held in the Tower of London, plus the acquisition of all of Aquitaine and other lands.
All this was very well for the king and the aristocracy who could return to their castles and their riches but as His Majesty had dismissed his troops following the peace treaty, there were thousands of unemployed soldiers no longer on the payroll of the monarch.
Many decided to return home and resume their original profession. Robert Miller, who had previously worked in a mill chose to become a baker because of the association of wheat and flour, of which he knew a great deal
Some who had married local girls stayed and worked the land or got involved in other agricultural activities, like winemaking.
There were no opportunities for the ones whose skills only related to fighting; they were in a sort of limbo.
John Hawkwood had 250 of such men, and there were other groups totaling 12,000 needing to make a living.
During the war, they had supplemented their wages by plundering the towns and villages that had staged the fights.
Although they had been ordered to vacate forts and castles, they stayed in residence to mount new sorties to loot more locations.
In the course of opposing the French, a lot of alliances had been forged and all the war's participants had gained a smattering of each other's languages. This was vital for communication.
Among all the captains of disparate groups of men, the major exponents were the German Albert Sterz and the Englishman John Hawkwood.
They convened a meeting and it was unanimously agreed to amalgamate all the units into one big organisation to be called the 'Great Company'.
The main objective:: to enrich themselves at the expense of others, by raiding and plundering the countryside.
But why go after tiddlers when greater fortunes can be had and they are not a million miles away?
The two co-founders of this assorted band wanted to cast the net wider.
They knew just the place where the biggest fish was.
© Luigi Pagano 2024