Men at Arms


The workmen were arriving. The French priest had gone so he couldn't see that we would be building a castle. The local priest and Agnes also didn't know. It would be a surprise when they returned.

I was very busy for the next few hours arranging for all the new people to be housed. Sir Henry, walking with a stick, and Hubert were walking over the knoll working out how and where the castle should be built. I was pleased that there were other sergeants to help me. While Sir Henry had been helpless I had been in sole charge. I had enjoyed the power but the responsibilities had been difficult sometimes.

In the evening Sir Henry sent for me. He and Hubert were sitting at a table with castle plans spread across it. Giles was taking notes of what the two men agreed.

"John, thank you for coming," Sir Henry said. "Hubert brought me some startling orders. Most of them are welcome. One concerns you personally. Hubert?"

"John," Hubert said, "the Duke, acting in the King's name, has made you a Knight..."

A knight? My legs nearly betrayed me in shock. I bowed my head.

"Thank you, sir," I said.

"Not sir, not to me, Sir John." Hubert replied. "I'm just a knight too. To me you are John. I'm Hubert."

"Thank you, Hubert," I replied.

"But you should still call Henry sir at least," Hubert added. "He's been made a Lord, a Baron. He is Baron Henry now, Baron of this village which will be a town. He can name it whatever he wants to."

"I haven't decided whether to change the village's name," Baron Henry said. "I'll discuss it with Agnes when she returns. Until then I don't know what to call myself."

He laughed.

"I'm Baron Henry of an unnamed place and Castellan of an unbuilt castle. I can wait. For now? I'm just Baron Henry."

"There's more John," Hubert said. "Young Giles here has been made Baron Henry's squire. And you, John, are deputy castellan of the unbuilt castle. Until it is built you are responsible for defending the village and the workers. The defences you have built in a few short weeks with so few men are admirable. We will extend them during the next week to include the knoll. After that, we will start on the castle itself."

"Hubert and I have decided that the village will be surrounded by the outer bailey of the castle" Baron Henry added. "We will have an outwork that includes the water mill. We will also take walls down across the road to the river but they will be for controlling the use of the road, and for collecting taxes, not a serious defensive structure. We intend to defend the village and the new castle against anything the French can do. We're staying, Sir John."

"The King and Duke recognise that your occupation of this village was almost accidental, but it is a fortunate accident," Hubert said. "It has been the cause of your promotions, but the castle will block French advances threatening our flank on the way to Calais. Tactically it isn't a very valuable position. The road and river are secondary routes. But strategically, in the scheme of the English presence in France, it is worth the time, effort and money to build a strong position."

"Sir," I said, addressing Baron Henry, "this morning I proposed marriage to Jeanne, the woman I have been living with. She accepted me and I am delighted that she did. What will this mean for us?"

"John, you should call me 'my lord' not sir. That's unimportant. What might seem important to your fiancée, my congratulations to both of you, is that she will have the title of Lady when she marries the new knight. Which reminds me. Please kneel."

I knelt in front of Baron Henry. He unsheathed his sword, tapped it on both shoulders, and said "Arise, Sir John."

We both laughed in sheer joy. He didn't expect to rise in the ranks of the nobility. I had never even dreamed of becoming a knight.

"When Agnes returns to find her village turned into a building site I think I might follow your example, John. A castellan needs a Lady to run the castle even if the castle doesn't exist. I hope she will enjoy being a Baroness instead of a headsman's wife."

"I wish you well with your proposal, my lord," I said.

We resumed our boring discussions about where to site workshops, where to get materials to build the castle, and how to feed so many new mouths. We would need to be re-supplied from Calais in a few weeks time. It would be easier now. As Hubert had travelled to us the workmen had built a new road. It would be made more permanent when the weather improved but it would be passable unless we had a very heavy snowfall for days.


I didn't tell Jeanne that I had been made a knight until we were in bed. She didn't believe me at first. She thought I was joking. When I added that I would be Deputy Castellan of the castle under the new Baron Henry it began to dawn on her that I was serious. I was a knight. She still didn't make the jump to the next stage. If I am a knight, and I had proposed to her, and she had accepted? She squealed when I told her she would be a Lady, wife of Sir John.

Like me, she had never expected to be noble. She was the widow of a small scale farmer who had been forced to join the French army. From a farmer's widow to a Lady was a big step. We rolled around in the bed, hugging, kissing, giggling and laughing loudly.

That night we made love gently, carefully and slowly. After all we were gentlefolk now, weren't we? Or she would be when we married. I woke to find soon-to-be Lady Jeanne snoring quietly on my shoulder.


Three weeks later my palisade had been moved to a new earth bank a few yards further away from the village. Where the palisade had been stone walls were growing slowly. The bank and palisade now reached the edges of the knoll. At the top there was a wooden watch tower. From that tower the sentry saw a small number of French soldiers approaching. I was told that they were in sight. I rode out to meet them.

Behind Sir Paul and his soldiers were the local priest and Agnes. I exchanged pleasantries Sir Paul. He noticed my new gilded spurs and congratulated me. He commented on the obvious progress on our defence works.

"You've seen us at work, Sir John," he said. "I'm not coming any closer to your works. I hope we can live as peaceful neighbours."

"I hope so too," I replied. Agnes hadn't noticed what the French officer had called me.

He and his escort wheeled their horses and rode away leaving me with the local priest and Agnes.

"What is happening?" Agnes asked as we got closer. She could see the scale of the works.

"Sir Henry will tell you," I replied, "when you have given him your news from Paris..."

"Oh, yes, that. I suppose we should tell Sir Henry first," Agnes said.

"You should."

I helped them to dismount and took them to Baron Henry. He and Agnes hugged as if they had been parted lovers for months, not weeks. Grace brought drinks for us.

"Well, Agnes and Sir Priest, what is the result?" Baron Henry asked.

The priest spoke for both of them.

"It was fortunate for you Sir Henry that we two went to Paris. The Bishop believed us. He and both Kings have accepted that the English were in occupation of the village and the surrounding territory on Christmas Day. That other priest would have lied. I couldn't believe it. He intended to lie. I was shocked."

"Thank you," Baron Henry said, "both of you. I have news too. My King has decided to build a castle here. He has appointed me as Castellan of that castle, and John as my deputy. I am now a Baron. John is now Sir John. You, Sir Priest have some marriages to perform. My clerk-at-arms Giles is now a Squire and wants to marry Marie. John, now Sir John, wants to marry Jeanne."

Agnes congratulated me.

"And I, Agnes, have something to ask you," Baron Henry said. "Will you marry me?"

"Shouldn't you go down on one knee?" Agnes retorted.

"My legs are nearly healed," Baron Henry objected, "but getting down on a knee would be very difficult. Can we pretend I did? Please, Agnes?"

"Very well. We'll pretend."


"And what, Henry?"

"Will you marry me?"

"Yes, Henry."

"Thank you, Baroness-to-be Agnes."


"Yes, you will be Baroness Agnes. John's Jeanne will be a Lady, wife of a knight, but you will be a Baroness, wife of a Baron."

"Priest?" Agnes asked. "Will you marry us, please?"

"Of course, your ladyship," the priest replied, "When?"

"Now?" Baron Henry suggested.

"Of course not," Agnes said, "In a week. The bride has to get ready."

"In a week then?" The priest looked at Baron Henry. He nodded.

"And can you marry me too?" I asked.

"Yes, Sir John."

"There is one thing to be settled before the marriage, my new fiancée," Baron Henry said. "What our name is to be. My title will be Baron of this village. My King has said I can choose what the village should be called. What do you think, Agnes?"

"The village is Journy now, or, although we rarely use it, in full it is Journy-sur-Canche to distinguish it from other places called Journy. How about Journy-des-Anglais?"

"Journy-des-Anglais sounds perfect, Agnes. I will be Baron Journy. You will be Baroness Journy."


News of the three impeding marriages started a trend. Many of Baron Henry's soldiers were worried they might lose their home comforts and freely available sex to the younger newcomers. I don't think they should have been that concerned. They were Baron Henry's soldiers. They would stay with him. The workers building the castle would move on when their work was done. There were still a couple of hundred unattached women in the village who might be interested in the newcomers.

But whether they were right to be worried didn't matter. In the next few days over thirty of them had proposed to the women they were living with, and all were accepted. Another dozen or so had proposed by the end of the week. Only two men who had preferred to live in the barn had remained single.

Baroness-to-be Agnes organised everything with the priest. There would be a joint wedding for all the soldiers and their brides in the morning. In the afternoon there would be a triple ceremony. Giles would marry his Marie first; I would marry my Jeanne; and Baron Henry would marry Agnes last.


Agnes went to see the women whose husbands were with the French forces. What did they want to do now the village was to be held by the English? All except one, whose husband was a drunken wife-beater, decided they would like to move to French territory. Sir Hubert bought their houses and land to use for his workers until there were habitable areas in the new castle.

I went to see Sir Paul. We arranged a date for the women to be escorted in their travel to the French castle carrying the money from the sale of their houses. He and I also agreed to set up a formal meeting place on the border of our territories. It would be manned by English and French soldiers on a crossroads.

We built a double cottage. The English sentries were in one half, the French in the other. Over the next few months a hamlet grew up around that cottage where people could trade across the border. The second building was a drinking house which stocked French wines, English beer and cider. Sometimes the sentries had to stop fights there. It was rarely between the French and the English, usually between soldiers on the same side.


The weddings went well. The celebrations afterwards left most of the grooms in no state to consummate the marriages. Giles, Baron Henry and I had a smaller party in Baroness Agnes' house. None of us drank enough to impair our bedtime activities.

This time, on our honeymoon night, I insisted on riding Lady Jeanne. She objected at first, not seriously, but she had her revenge later that night, pounding up and down on me vigorously. I expected to wake up tied to the bed again. I was surprised and pleased to find Jeanne hugging my back as she snored. When she woke up she rode me again.


We had saved the village from fire. We had claimed the village by being in it on Christmas Day. But the women of the village had captured us. We were Englishmen with French wives and enjoying our capture.

Eventually the castle was completed and occupied. Lady Jeanne and I had several rooms in the keep as the Deputy Castellan's quarters. Most of the time we lived in Jeanne's more comfortable house, and every night in her warm delightful bed.

There was peace in our part of France for ten years even though there was fighting elsewhere. Baron Henry and Baroness Agnes died before war restarted. I succeeded Baron Henry as Castellan originally as a temporary expedient but after we had defended the castle and now town of Journy twice against significant French forces I was made Baron John (of Journy-des-Anglais). Baroness Jeanne celebrated my promotion by riding me to unconsciousness before tying me up in a bundle in her bed. I might be Castellan but Jeanne still owned me as her captive Englishman.


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