The weeks of separation that Richard envisioned turned into months. The Queen stayed in Poitiers to ensure the support of her vassals there while her sons went to war against their father. Anne remained with Eleanor. At length, the time came when the Queen knew she must travel to Paris.
The morning of their scheduled departure found Anne in the courtyard overseeing the trunks loaded onto a large cart. Two men grunted as they tried to lift hers. It was her father’s trunk, but he gave it to her when she left Marseilles. The mere sight of it made her grin. The trunk carried a reputation. Painted white with blue geometric designs on it, the chest was large enough to serve as a coffin, and Anne’s servants often referred to it as The Reliquary of the Magdalene. When the contents rumbled as it was being moved, they joked that those were the gardening tools that St. Mary Magdalene received from the risen Christ. Looking at the trunk now made Anne’s heart ache for her father.
Just as the men finished loading it, two riders barreled into the courtyard. Before Anne got a good look at them, both bounded up the steps, and into the castle. Their haste sent a cold shiver down her spine.
Moments later Eleanor and the two men emerged from the castle. “Anne!” Eleanor waved her over. Anne walked to the queen as the men headed for the stables. “The news from Paris is that my sons have met their father, but all is not going as well as we hoped. We need to get to Paris as soon as possible. Louis is not exactly a brilliant military commander.”
“I feel the sooner we leave the better.” Anne added.
Eleanor grinned. “Unfortunately for Henry, my vassals resent his authority and remain loyal to me.”
“I wrote my father to tell him that I will be doing some traveling in your service.”
“Have you received a reply?”
“No, not yet.” Anne shook her head. “There has not been time.”
Eleanor took her arm. “Do not fear. All in Marseilles is well. After all, Henry is not there to muck it up. I plan to leave within the hour.”
Anne raised her eyebrows. “So soon? Do you think the packing will be completed?”
“I highly doubt it,” Eleanor lamented. “If we take only the absolute necessities with us, our load will be lighter, and we can travel faster. The King’s troops have been spotted near here. As far as they know, I am at Poitiers and have no knowledge of their coming.”
“How long until they arrive?”
“Three maybe four hours at the most. We haven’t a moment to lose.” Eleanor turned to Anne. “Come, dress us. Then we must leave.” She turned back to the messengers. “Make sure our horses are ready!”
Within an hour they were ready to ride. Their party included three more ladies, and four knights who served as escort. Also, a local priest drove a small cart, bumping and bustling its way along behind them carrying only the barest necessities of clothing and food.
The group started out from the castle, and as it cleared the large gate emerging into the town, Eleanor paused and looked back. She took in the sight of her beloved castle. In a quiet shaky voice, Eleanor whispered to Anne, “Of all the castles I know, Poitiers is my favorite. The Tour Maubergeon particularly tugs at my heart. My Grandfather, Duke William IX, built the donjon for his mistress, my grandmother, Amauberge, nicknamed The dangerous. Henry never, nor would he ever build a donjon just for me. The rectangular keep is protected by four square towers that project from each of the corners.” Eleanor pointed to each tower. “The four towers remind me of my four living sons. Three side with me, and the fourth, John, with his father.
“My Lady?” Anne could see tears in the queen’s eyes.
After a moment Eleanor sighed. “It is just that I love this place so dearly. When I return everything will have changed. Either Henry will have submitted to us, or I fear I will never see Poitiers again.”
Their lead escort, a tall knight with the dark features of southern France, urged, “Your Highness, we must be going.”
“Yes, yes, I know.” Eleanor rolled her eyes.
They rode on and left Poitiers for the uncertainty of the north and three of her sons.
The company of travelers rode hard for most of the day. Late in the afternoon, they stopped to rest in a clearing off the road. Suddenly, Master Blondel rode into the clearing.
Their escort gasped. “Master Blondel?”
“The king’s troops discovered that the queen is on her way to Paris, and they are after her!”
“How far behind are they?” Elenor gripped her reigns tighter.
“I’m afraid you haven’t much time, Your Highness. I would only give you a couple hours’ time. They are riding very hard.” Blondel was still winded from his ride.
“Damnit!” Eleanor swore.
The exclamation took Blondel and the others by surprise. “My Lady!”
Shaking his head, the escort offered, “There is a chateau nearby. We could seek shelter there and send word to your sons and King Louis.”
Eleanor didn’t hesitate. “No, that will be no good. That chateau is not easily defended, and our other forces should stay put.”
“Your Highness, I have an idea…” Anne started.
“Just a moment I need to think.” Eleanor dismissed her.
The escort snapped at Anne, “Be quiet; the queen’s got to think!”
Determined to be heard Anne raised her voice, “The king’s forces are going to be looking for the Queen and her ladies.”
“Thank you for stating the obvious.” The escort glared at her.
“What I am suggesting,” Anne sounded more forceful, “is that they would not be looking for a group of young men traveling together.”
The escort shot back at Anne, “Are you suggesting the queen dress herself as a man?”
“Well, yes, if it works! There will be many people on the road and we can blend in more easily if we are disguised.”
“Do you doubt our loyalty to the queen?” The escort looked like a threatened fluffed out cat.
“Oh do shut up!” Eleanor interrupted their argument. “She is right. You are just angry because you failed to think of it first.” She paused. “Alright, do we have enough clothing here to disguise ourselves as young men?”
The priest driving the cart replied, “Not really. It’s just women’s clothes that got packed in the cart.”
Eleanor thought for a moment. “Here is what we will do then. I want Anne to come with me as well as two knights. The rest of you wait here for the caravan to catch up to you. When the rest of the company arrives, send them on the direct route to Paris.
Those with me will take the back roads to Paris. You there.” She motioned to the escort. “Give us your clothes. You too as well Blondel.”
“They can’t very well go naked. If they were found, the king’s troops would know our disguise.” Anne recommended.
Eleanor nodded. “True. Well, then we certainly do have enough clothing here to make us a couple of well dressed ladies, don’t we?”
“Ah! A woman! I am to dress as a woman?” Blondel protested.
“Master Blondel, remember it is in the service of your queen.” Anne chided him.
With the help of the other three ladies, they quickly exchanged clothing, and within a matter of minutes, the escort turned to Master Blondel, who fidigeted in Anne’s brown traveling dress. “This had better not be in any of your songs.”
“I wouldn’t dream of it,” Blondel muttered.
Anne gave Blondel a grateaful smile.