‘It’s just like the Roman mosaics of Diana hunting, with nymphs bathing in a nearby stream,’
Eleanor Garcia de Padilla – 17th March 1355
‘So, Eleanor, it is agreed. It is just the timing which is a little unfortunate. We will involve Don Fernandino, but I will not use a courier.
I am determined to maintain the utmost security around our plans. Therefore, I am going to brief Don Fernandino directly in Palma de Mallorca.’
His voice softened.’Having made that decision, I will not be able to come with you to Clermont to help you prepare for the festival. Neither will Ximene if it comes to that, as she will be preparing for the hunt.’
Eleanor couldn’t help but voice her concerns. ‘I have no idea exactly what you have planned. I want to make sure that Ximene understands what will be done and is fully committed.’
‘Hasn’t she discussed it with you?’
‘No, and I find that strange.’
‘I gave her a lecture about the need for security. Perhaps she was waiting for you to raise it with her. I think she would have expected us to talk.’
‘Well, she has said nothing. I did not want to talk to her until you told me everything was finalised.’
Guillam grunted. ‘I did not want to speak until I had every detail finalised in my mind. If everything remains in my mind there is no risk of knowledge of our plans becoming widely known. However, I believe you have a right to know. Sit down and I will explain it to you.’
Guillam knocked on the door to Ximene’s bedroom but got no answer. The student lounge was empty, but in the study they found Dominic packing his meagre possessions in preparation for his move to the upper Château. Dominic looked far from happy. Tall and slender, he would have been impressive if not for his permanent scowl.
Eleanor spoke to him sympathetically as she had always believed him to be a much nicer person than he was given credit for.’You’re about to leave? I hope you will enjoy working with the Comte, he certainly needs someone with your clerical skills to help him with his book.’
Dominic continued packing.
Eleanor continued in the same tone of voice. ‘By the way, Have you seen Ximene?’
‘I don’t go looking for her, not since the dinner. The others may have had a good time, but I did not. Ximene pretended I didn’t exist and spent most of her time with Pipa. His cheeks reddened. ‘They are always together, you know. It’s as though they are a couple. They are down in the hot springs together now; go and look if you don’t believe me!’ He grabbed his bag and stormed out of the room.
Eleanor watched him go and, with one eyebrow raised, turned to Guillam, who carefully scratched behind his ear.
‘Well, at least we know where she is.’ he said.
Eleanor and Guillam did not exactly creep into the cavern, but neither Pipa nor Ximene noticed their arrival on the balcony.
As they gazed down into the chamber, Pipa lay in the bath nearest the waterfall. This was the favourite bath as it was the warmest, continually spattered with water rebounding from where the waterfall impacted the floor. Eleanor gazed at Ximene who stood at the base of the stairs. At first, Eleanor thought Ximene was simply striking a pose until an arrow flew from a tiny crossbow in Ximene’s grasp.
Eleanor watched in admiration. ‘It’s just like the Roman mosaics of Diana hunting, with nymphs bathing in a nearby stream,’ she whispered to Guillam.
The arrow flew true and sank into a padded board made roughly to the shape of a deer. It was not just a good shot, it was a great shot. It hit the board at the joint between the front leg and the neck, exactly at the point that would bring any deer to its knees.
Ximene cheered herself. ‘Twelve months since I’ve taken part in a hunt, but I have lost none of my skill!’
Pipa clapped enthusiastically. ‘Well done, five in a row. Come here. You deserve a reward.’
Guillam and Eleanor watched as Ximene laid down the bow and walked towards the bath. Pipa rose from the water and embraced Ximene. For what seemed like minutes their bodies pressed against each other as they indulged in a warm kiss, a moment accentuated by the gentle spray of water from the fountain that drizzled from their bodies in rivulets.
Guillam pulled Eleanor away until they were well out of earshot.
‘What a beautiful sight, but it looks as if Dominic could be right. We are planning to give Ximene freedom of choice. Perhaps the range of options is wider than either of us suspected!’