Authors: Angus Donald
It was with an aching head and a leathery tongue, but a sense of deep satisfaction at the forging of a new friendship, that we set out on foot the next day a little before noon, dressed in the finest clean clothes we possessed, for the Maison des Consuls. Tronc had said that only the belted knights needed to wait upon the Chapter and the rest of us might remain at the inn – he said this with a wary eye on Nur, who had not spoken a word to him during the entire course of her stay. But Tuck, John, Gavin and Thomas seemed quite happy to spend another day in idleness.
As the hot sun towered above us, Tronc, and half a dozen of his liveried men-at-arms, Robin, Nicholas, Roland and myself left the inn and walked through the guarded city wall that separated the Bourg from the Cité, into the main square. Without the cheerful bustle of the Haberdashers’ Fair, it seemed vast, drab and intimidating.
We marched across to the grand doors of the Maison des Consuls, which occupied a large part of the eastern side of the square, and were immediately granted admission. The inside was built in similar massive proportion to the square – a huge cool space built from thick timbers and the slim red bricks of the region and bustling with servants and lackeys of all kinds. We were told to wait in an anteroom until the Consuls were ready to receive us, and while we kicked our heels on a long pine bench, I admired an enormous fresco painted on the white plaster of the wall directly in front of us.
It was an image of a group of rich money changers or bankers of some sort standing by a long bench passing sacks filled with golden coins between them; one man in a strange square hat was recording the accounts in a ledger, and smiling broadly. All these men seemed to be very satisfied with themselves and their apparent wealth and I could see that this land was one of golden plenty. I wondered idly what it would be like to be very, very rich. An image of Westbury came into my head as I had last seen it – black, reeking and destroyed. What I could do with that manor if I had the kind of wealth that these men possessed, I mused. I could build my own castle, of fine dressed stone if I chose, and Goody and I need never be troubled by enemies again. Would I ever have wealth enough to build a castle? The answer to that questions was plain – and it was like a cold, wet blanket cast over my soul.
A servant in red-and-black livery broke my reverie and told us that the Consuls were ready, and we four knights rose as one man and filed into the grand audience hall, leaving Tronc’s men-at-arms to wait in the anteroom.
We found ourselves in a large, long room panelled in dark wood, standing at the centre of a horse-shoe of tables that occupied three sides of a square and were covered with a snowy linen cloth. At this hollow square sat the twenty-four Consuls of Toulouse. They were all men of middling years, none of them younger than twenty-five, and they almost all had the plump, prosperous look of the golden men in the anteroom’s fresco. Around the walls of the large chamber, every yard or so, was stationed a man-at-arms, with a red-and-black shield, a spear and a belted sword at his waist. A piggy little man with small eyes and an enormous paunch, who sat in the centre of the horse-shoe swathed in a fur-trimmed mantel, rapped the table with a gavel to call the Chapter to order, then he spoke in a slow, deep voice in Latin.
‘Strangers to our city, I am Master Vital Barravi, the Senior Consul of this Chapter, be so good as to name yourselves and your business within our precincts.’
Robin stepped forward briskly. ‘Master Consul, I am Robert Odo, Earl of Locksley, and these are my companions, the noble knights Sir Alan Dale, Sir Nicholas de Scras and Sir Roland d’Alle. We have journeyed from the north, by sea and by land, and we hope merely to pass through the County of Toulouse, staying at most two or three days in your city, with your gracious permission, then to continue east to visit the city of Montpellier, and consult the learned doctors of medicine there on a grave matter. We mean no harm to the Count of Toulouse nor to his city nor the lands that we must pass through to reach our destination.’
Robin’s words were greeted by a general muttering among the Consuls, as each man turned to his neighbour and rumbled some comment, too quiet to make out.
It was not a welcoming sound.
‘So you say,’ said the Senior Consul, wrinkling his round, snout-like nose, ‘but your personages are not known to the gentlemen of this Chapter, and I must inform you that we have heard ill tidings of you.’
The man rummaged on the white linen on the table in front of him and briefly picked up a large piece of parchment. Then he looked up, his reddish eyes glittering. ‘It is my unfortunate duty to inform you that grave charges have been laid against you, by another outlander, but a person of birth and rank, and the Chapter must determine if these charges have any substance or merit before we may allow you to enjoy the freedom of our city.’
I felt as if a cold hand had been placed upon my bare neck – this meeting was no formality, as Tronc had promised; it seemed to me that, despite the Viscount of Carcassonne’s reassuring words, there was plenty to fear. I glanced at the row of men-at-arms standing around the walls of the chamber and estimated forty men, and the fingers of my left hand brushed the hilt of my sword.
Robin spoke, his demeanour as cool as a trout in a mountain steam. ‘Would the Senior Consul be so good as to enlighten us as to the nature of the charges that have been levelled against us? I’m sure there must have been some sort of silly misunderstanding.’
‘The charges are not levelled against you all – they are directed only at you, Lord Locksley. You have been accused of the crime of theft – something we take very seriously. You have been accused of fraudulently depriving a most Christian institution in the city of Paris of a very large sum of money. I refer, of course, to the Order of the Poor Fellow-Knights of Christ and the Temple of Solomon – you have been accused of stealing the goodly sum of five hundred livres in silver from the Paris Temple.’
I quickly surveyed the room once again: Sir Nicholas de Scras’s black and purple bruised face seemed almost pallid, Tronc looked bemused, Roland appeared to be quietly furious. I observed the company of standing soldiers, alert, ready to prevent any attempt at escape; the stern-faced Consuls seated on three sides of a square, the grave accusation of their leader lingering in the air like smoke above a battlefield. This gathering of smug, wealthy Toulousain dignitaries, I recognized with a sinking heart, was far from a kindly welcoming committee.
This gathering was, in fact, a trial.
It was a trial for Robin’s life.
I do not think I have ever known a better man under pressure than my lord of Locksley. When the porcine Senior Consul Vital Barravi finished intoning the charge of theft against the Templars in his grave Latin, Robin just laughed, a deep, relaxed belly laugh that shocked the assembly more than any other response possibly could.
‘You find this amusing?’ Consul Barravi was on his feet, his chubby little fists clenched in anger. ‘This is a jest for you?’
‘Forgive me,’ said Robin, wiping the apparently genuine tears of mirth from his eyes. ‘I ask your pardon – all of you. But I have heard this absurd nonsense before. It is risible. I am the Earl of Locksley – I have lands stretching from Scotland to Normandy – why would I trouble myself to pilfer a paltry five hundred livres?’
A voice behind us spoke, the Latin crisp but tinged with the harsh tones of northern France: ‘You are indeed the Earl of Locksley, no one here denies that,’ the voice said. ‘But you are the outlawed Earl of Locksley. Driven beyond the law and out of decent Christian society by King John of England for your many black crimes. Even these gentlemen of Toulouse will have heard of your infamous name, a
nom de guerre
that you commonly adopt while carrying out your vile crimes – the name of Robin Hood.’
I will not say that the assembled Consuls all gasped in awe at the mention of the name of Robin Hood, but a few straightened in their seats and the muttering arose once more around the tables as each man began to speak urgently with his neighbour.
I glanced behind me and saw two figures standing beside the grand door of the council chamber. I did not know who the man on the right was – he was a handsome young knight with a wide mouth, smiling eyes and reddish hair – but I knew
he was. He and his companion wore black caps, black robes and a white cloak over the top with a red cross marked on the left breast. They were Templars. And the second man, the one who had spoken, was Gilles de Mauchamps.
I had half-expected his presence here ever since I heard the nature of the charges levelled against Robin, ever since I first heard the word Templar spoken by these plump merchants. And with a slow dawning of hatred, mingled with a little fear, like a deadly poison gradually spreading through my body, I stared at the ugly features of the man who had burned Westbury and killed so many of my friends and my servants – and who was now grinning across the chamber at us with an unmistakable air of triumph.
Then Tronc spoke.
‘Most noble Consuls. I trust that you know me and my family, and that my standing is good enough for me to speak a word or two before this august gathering.’
The was an eager chorus of assent from the lines of seated men, and the piggish Senior Consul said, ‘By all means, my lord’, with a flourish of his little trotter.
‘This is not a court of law,’ Tronc began. ‘This is, as I understand it, an
meeting of the Chapter to determine whether the Earl of Locksley and his companions are decent, honest folk, fit to reside for a very short time in Toulouse.’
He paused and there were a few nods and mumbles from the Consuls. Nobody denied it.
‘And so this is what I propose,’ Tronc continued. ‘Lord Locksley has been accused. Firstly, his accuser must present his case and his evidence. Then the Earl must be allowed to answer the charges. Does that not seem fair and reasonable?’
‘Very good, my lord,’ said Consul Barravi. ‘It is a most reasonable suggestion. And marvellously well put, my lord, if I may say so. A worthy contribution. Bring forward the Frenchman – let the Templar make his case and demonstrate his proofs.’
Gilles de Mauchamps strode forward, giving us a spiteful smirk as he moved past us. I saw with a little flame of pleasure that his left hand – the hand Robin had pierced with the arrow – was missing. In its place was an empty sleeve. I truly hoped its amputation, presumably after the puncture wound had turned stinking and bad, had been exceedingly long and painful.
His fellow knight came forward as well and held up a scroll, which he unrolled slowly and held in front of de Mauchamps. Gilles began to read aloud from it. It was, as far as I could tell, much the same document as the one he had read out before my gates at Westbury earlier in the year, just as dull and filled with dates and numbers, but the chief difference being that my name had been changed for Robin’s. When he finished, the Chapter was quiet for a few moments.
‘You have made an accusation that on such and such a date this man did steal from the Paris Temple such and such a sum,’ said Tronc, in a kindly voice, as if trying to be helpful to a small and rather backward infant. ‘But, other than your say-so, do you have any proof that the Earl of Locksley was the culprit?’
‘We know the Earl of Locksley is guilty,’ Gilles said. ‘He is the notorious thief Robin Hood. His very name and his reputation condemn him in the minds of all law-abiding folk. There is no doubt that he is guilty. The Grand Master of the Temple himself has charged me with bringing him to justice. Look, his friend there, the man who calls himself Sir Alan Dale, he is the villain who took out the original promissory note for two pounds one shilling and sixteen pence. Sir Alan Dale does not trouble to deny it. The sum stolen was exactly that, plus five hundred pounds. Alan Dale serves Robin Hood. One must therefore assume that it was the Earl of Locksley who stole the money!’
‘So, then … no actual, erm, proof?’ said Tronc kindly. ‘Just your assumptions. Hmm. What say you, my lord of Locksley.’
‘The whole thing is a pack of lies,’ Robin said softly, with a wonderful open-faced sincerity. He stood straight, he half-smiled – he seemed preternaturally honest. ‘But I can explain something to the noble Consuls here. This man is my enemy – as, I’m grieved to say, are all the Knights Templar. I wounded him in battle not long ago’ – Robin pointed at Gilles’s empty sleeve. ‘He has clearly concocted this ludicrous story of forged notes and fraudulent withdrawals to embarrass me as some cowardly form of revenge.’
‘You call me a coward!’ Gilles was red-faced and shouting.
a coward – and a liar,’ my lord responded coolly.
‘You Godless outlaw bastard…’
I reached for my sword…
‘Order, order! I will have good order in my chamber.’ Consul Barravi was pounding furiously on the table with his wooden hammer, trying to wrest back control before a full pitched battle broke out.
The little man pounded the oak with his gavel on and on and gradually Gilles stopped roaring and a quiet descended. I noticed that the smiling red-haired knight looked embarrassed by the behaviour of his Brother Templar.
‘May I speak, sir?’ said Tronc.
The Consul Barravi nodded silently – he was now beetroot red in the face and I saw that his gavel had snapped in two.
‘I do not think we can achieve much more here today,’ Tronc said. ‘Tempers have grown hot; high, intemperate words have flown. I propose that, while the Chapter deliberates, and seeks further information from this noble gentleman of Paris’ – here Tronc nodded at Gilles – ‘these travellers should be remanded into my personal custody at the Maison Trencavel—’
‘No, by God, I say, no!’ Gilles’s voice had grown loud again. ‘The outlaw Robin Hood must be handed over to me and my men, immediately. This wet-behind-the-ears boy is their friend and ally – he cannot be trusted to keep them here.’
His fellow Templar was by now openly wincing.
‘This young gentleman is the Viscount of Carcassonne,’ said Consul Barravi in a shocked voice, ‘and the lord of Beziers, Albi and the Razès … and the nephew of our own beloved Count Raymond of Toulouse. When you insult him with your foolish, unmannerly comments, you insult us all…’ Barravi swallowed a breath. ‘Indeed, I have had enough of your impertinence, sir. It shall be done as my lord Trencavel suggests: these travellers will be handed over to him forthwith and he will act as their custodian until the Chapter has completed its deliberations.’