114 Breaking the Code

‘No I genuinely feel he saved me. At least one of my attackers was badly wounded, there was blood all over the floor when they dragged him out of the room.’ 

Guillam de Clermont Dessus – 14 June 1355

Guillam left the camp early on the morning of the departure from Muret. He watched the procession leave for Foix, taking care not to reveal his presence. When Thierry broke away from the main column, Guillam followed him, staying far enough behind to be out of sight. He used hills and rocky outcrops to make sure he was still in touch. It seemed to Guillam that all he had to do was follow Thierry through the first few towns to know his intentions.

Thierry followed the road through Pamiers, Lavelanet and on towards Quillan. No sign of turning back to Foix. Guillam concluded he was definitely going to Perpignan, but where in Perpignan? In the late evening Thierry, having crossed the first ridge of the Pyrenees, made a stop at Caudies. Guillam dismounted just in time to remain concealed. He watched until he was sure that Thierry was intending an overnight stop and then found himself some accommodation.


He was up before light and in a position to watch Thierry leave. It took less than four hours to reach Perpignan. Guillam bought a wide-brimmed hat as an elementary disguise and moved closer as Thierry entered the city.

Thierry turned into a side street and entered a bar. Guillam smiled. He knew the bar, a familiar safehouse. If he had lost Thierry on the journey, he would have ended up here anyway.

When he entered the bar there was no sign of Thierry, but Guillam knew where he would be. He quietly walked through to a back room. Good. Nothing had changed. The back room had a rear door which Guillam shut and immediately pulled at the nearest barrel to the rear door. The front of the barrel swung open.


After the initial surprise, introductions and an exchange of pleasantries, Guillam examined Don Fernandino.

‘Ughh, what a mess. Thierry, we need a jar of medical quality honey, leeches or maggots, some horse urine and some medical linen.’

Thierry looked more than a little lost, so Guillam chivvied him on. ‘An apothecary. Quick as you can.’

Still, Thierry hesitated.

Guillam pointed to the scar on his neck. ‘I have had a number of serious wounds and I made a point of paying attention to what was done to save my life. We need what I have asked for.’

After Thierry left, Guillam tiptoed across the room and quietly opened the door. He waited until Thierry closed the false barrel door behind him before he recrossed the room and sat down on Don Fernandino’s bed.

‘I intend to get you out of here as soon as possible, but first, these wounds need some attention.’

Don Fernandino looked surprised, thoughtful. ‘When I try to walk, my knee hurts like hell, but it is internal, nothing shows externally. You don’t trust Theirry?’

‘That I don’t really know, my friend. The fact that you are alive looks promising, but moving you to somewhere he does not know about would be a sound precaution.’

‘He really did save me’ Don Fernandino paused. ‘Or if he didn’t it was a great piece of acting.’ Another pause. ‘No I genuinely feel he saved me. At least one of my attackers was badly wounded, there was blood all over the floor when they dragged him out of the room.’

‘You were badly wounded yourself. All sorts of tricks can be played.’


It wasn’t long before they heard the sounds of the lower door closing and Thierry thumping his way up the stairs. He had obtained everything Guillam had requested and Guillam set to work.

Guillam helped Don Fernandino remove his clothes and washed down the whole of his body with the horse urine, despite Don Fernandino’s protestations.

‘Ugh, it stinks. What good does that do?’

‘I don’t really know, but there is something in it which stops infection. It is widely used by military physicians. Now, this might hurt.’ Guillam cleaned every wound with the urine, making sure that all dirt and debris was cleaned away. He placed the maggots on every wound and bound them in with linen-moistened with honey. ‘The maggots will eat up any remaining infection and the honey is not just to hold them in. It also helps to prevent recurring infection from outside the wound.’

Guillam turned to Thierry.‘ Thierry, can you get some new clothes for Don Fernandino? These are filthy and probably infected from the septic wounds.’

Thierry grunted his acquiescence.


As soon as Thierry left, Guillam raised his eyebrows. ‘I can do nothing for your knee, can’t even guess what the injury might be. We really need to get you to a physician. However, in the short term, you should rest and we will get some food inside you.’

Don Fernandino pursed his lips. ‘I have thought of somewhere I can go which will not be known to Thierry. Château Mazerou. There is a surgeon in the nearby village. It is, however, at least five hours ride from here.’

‘Then we must wait a while.’


Three days later, Guillam asked Thierry how Ximene’s travel to Sicily could be arranged.

‘It won’t be difficult, but I will have to return to Port Vendres.’

‘I thought you would. Before you leave could you take me to the place where you found Don Fernandino? I would like to see if I can get any clue as to whom might be behind all this.’

‘You’re wasting your time. There is nothing there.’

‘Nevertheless.’

‘As you wish. It is on my way, so it is no great imposition.’


Guillam was surprised to find that the room was, in fact, a suite of rooms, in a very imposing building.

Thierry asked the concierge for a key.

Once inside the rooms, Guillam looked at Thierry and frowned. ‘How did you find him here?’

‘I asked around the local bars to identify any newcomers, strangers. In the end, the gipsy cart and horses were a giveaway. They are still in the stables below with the two black thoroughbreds which were tethered behind the cart.’

‘Is someone still paying for the stabling of the horses?’

Yes, me, I can’t lose, the horses are valuable.

‘Well, thank you. I may be here an hour, possibly a little longer.’

Once Thierry left, Guillam gave a casual glance around the room. By the window, a chair lay on its side and there was blood on the floor alongside the chair, entirely consistent with Don Fernandino’s version of events. He shook his head. He was not here to question Don Fernandino’s story. He walked to the door where although someone had tried to wipe it up there was the unmistakable trace of a blood stain.

He went downstairs to the stables and found the two gipsy horses and the thoroughbreds stabled next to each other. A cart stood in the far corner of the stable. A weatherproof canopy protected dozens of bags. He opened one bag and found that it contained a variety of artefacts which might have been traded by gypsies. He chuckled. Here was evidence of one of the aliases which Don Fernandino undoubtedly used which helped him disappear. Several of the bags were smeared with blood, which once again confirmed the story.

He went back upstairs and rifled through every shelf, cupboard and drawer he could find. Remarkable… Absolutely nothing. It was as if the room had been cleaned and if so, who had done that? He moved towards the door.

On a small dusty table just outside the door, there was a marble tablet engraved in decorative script with the first three letters of the alphabet. It was just like the tablet Lady Eleanor had in the porch outside her door; its purpose, a paperweight for deliveries by couriers. He lifted up the tablet and sure enough, there was a folded piece of paper. It appeared to be addressed to Don Fernandino but the rest of it was gibberish. The message was obviously in code.

He looked again. It was a code used by Les Etoileswhich he was familiar with. It wasn’t really addressed to Don Fernandino, it was about him. The name was key to a substitution code. If the key was inserted in front of the alphabet and any duplicates in the key were ignored, it was then possible to convert letters from the code to the standard alphabet.

This was easily accomplished if the alphabet was written underneath the combined key and alphabet but without a pen and paper? The message was difficult to decode. He resorted to scribbling with his finger on the dusty table and on the shelves around the room.

The task has changed. We are no longer content to prevent Ximene Trencavel from escaping. We now intend her assassination… No further action is required in Perpignan other than the disposal of Don Fernandino.

He wiped the table clean and hurried from the room. No matter now if Don Fernandino was ready to ride or not. He stooped to reconsider. The wagon could make Don Fernadino’s travel much easier.

He stared at the gipsy horses. trained to pull a wagon but too easily identified. He unloaded the gipsy artefacts from the wagon, storing them neatly at the back of the gipsy horses’ stable. He covered the artefacts with the waterproof canopy. He then harnessed the thoroughbred horses to the wagon; planning to swap them for some unremarkable carthorses, so that their progress would be, in itself, totally unremarkable.

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.