89 At the Point of a Sword

John Stanley 19 June 1355

A servant located John and summoned him to attend a meeting in Lady Eleanor’s Rooms.

Ximene caught his arm as he passed her in the corridor. ‘I am going to the cavern to bathe, it will probably be my last chance.

‘Are Alyse and Pipa going with you?’

‘No, but I thought you might like to come.’ Her eyes gleamed. ‘ It might  be your last chance.’ John nodded and making his excuses, dashed up the stairs desperately hoping the meeting did not last too long.

The Earl was sat across the table from Guillam. Lady Eleanor stood behind Guillam with her arms around his neck. The Earl was speaking as John entered the room but paused, turning to face John and indicating that John should join them at the table.

He held out his hand towards Guillam. ‘ Guillam has told us that he has found Don Fernandino and moved him, secretly, to a safe house of his own choosing. He is now receiving medical care and will recover.’

Guillam nodded to John. ‘It was a difficult journey. When I found him he was in great pain and could hardly walk.’

The Earl leaned forward.’ But now he is safe?’

‘I believe so, yes, but in a way I abandoned him. I had to find Ximene again as soon as possible.

‘You only just got here in time. She will be leaving tomorrow. We are going to help her escape and taking her to Bordeaux, but now you are here there may be other options.’

‘Well before you do any of that you ought to know that Ximene is in extreme danger. I found a message in the house where Don Fernandino was originally incarcerated…’

The Earl’s mouth compressed into a narrow line as Guillam explained the content of the message. ‘We have less than twenty-four hours before we escape but it is long enough for an assassin to strike. An assassin might choose to smother, stab or poison his target. He might choose to push his target off the battlements. But first, though, he has to obtain access to his target.

Lady Eleanor shook her head. ” I know everyone very well, even some of the Comte’s guards we do not particularly like. They have all been here a long time, I cannot believe any of them could be an assassin.’

‘Unfortunately, Eleanor, people can be forced to do things they would not normally do,  but I agree it is much more likely to be an outsider.’

Eleanor started ‘Well there is an outsider. Alyse told me about him. He arrived a couple of days ago to work on the marriage contract. The newcomer asked Alyse to draw a map of the castle and declared an intention to meet Ximene so that he can seek her advice on terms of the contract.’

‘Oh! Eleanor, you should have told me, we really must be very careful.’

The Earl pointed a finger at John. ’John find Ximene immediately and do not leave her side until we implement our plan tomorrow evening. Change into your guards uniform, which will act as a deterrent to any potential assailant and always wear your sword.’

As John moved to the door, the Earl continued to issue instructions.

‘For the next twenty-four hours eat nothing sent down from the kitchen. I will get Piers to bring food from the camp for tonight and tomorrow…and eat nothing at the dinner.’

‘Won’t that be noticed?

“Toy with the food but do not eat anything.’

John almost skipped from the room. To be ordered not to leave Ximene’s side for the next twenty-four hours. An order he would willingly have given himself.

He was in the middle of changing his clothes when he remembered something Lord James had told him during the training at Biscarrosse. ‘In attempting to get inside a castle a frontal assault is rarely the best way. It is better to use subterfuge to sneak inside, and then hide away until the opportunity arises to take action.

Exactly the situation they now faced. Hideaway? In this castle where would you hide away? The answer leapt at him… the caves.

He pulled his belt tight, slotted his sword into its sheath and ran to find Ximene. Not in her bedroom, not in the lounge, not in the study, library locked, she must have already gone to bathe.

He ran down the corridors where previously he had only sauntered. As he ran his shadow loomed large, flickering in the light of one torch after another.

He skidded to a halt at the entrance to the cavern. There, in front of him was another figure casting shadows, unaware of his approach.

The preparations for the escape had resulted in most of the tables and chairs being removed from the balcony. Only two remained, lying on their side. The figure in front of him hid behind one of the tables.

John drew his sword and crept up behind the figure. Ximene was in the opposite corner of the balcony, disrobing in preparation to take a bath. Ximene was placing her robes over the edge of the other table and was partly hidden by it. She then moved towards the top of the staircase.

The shadowy figure rose from behind the table, sword in one hand dagger in the other. John ran forward intending to hit the intruder over the head with the hilt of his sword but was marginally too slow.

The intruder sensed him coming and stepped to one side. John found himself on the far side of the intruder. Nevertheless, he was now in a position to shield Ximene from any attack.

Ximene ran down the staircase and vanished into the shadows at the far side of the cavern.

John found himself facing a long slim sword pointing straight at his throat. The intruder grinned. ‘Thomas Bewsley at your service, and you are?’

‘Ximene’s Bodyguard.’

Bewsley grinned again. ‘Boy on a man’s job. Fresh clean tabard. Chainmail vest. Look carefully at my sword, it is an Estoc. No cutting edges, but a sharp point, specifically designed to skewer people wearing chainmail. Light in weight, wonderful for deflecting slashing attacks.’

John remembered Alan’s instructions at Much Marcle. “Keep your distance and let him come at you, keep moving from side to side”.

‘You will have to get near me first’ John said, starting to dance from side to side on the balls of his feet, but moving away from Bewsley. He slashed his sword at Bewsley’s face. Bewsley ducked and lunged. He missed John by less than an inch and was back on guard before John had completed the slash.

‘They have armed you with a period piece. It would be good for slicing meat.’ Bewsely chuckled.

‘The joint I have in mind is your shoulder.’ John replied, changing his grip and holding his sword above his head. He stepped marginally closer and he tempted Bewsley into another lunge.

John dodged the lunge, stepped forward and at the same time slashed downwards. He overdid it. He ended up crashing into Bewsley and his sword sliced through fresh air.  Bewsley wrapped his arm around John and landed a glancing blow from his dagger in the middle of John’s back.  It did not penetrate the mail. John frantically pushed Bewsley away from him, reminding himself that he was supposed to be making  Bewsley come to him. He danced a few steps backwards but suddenly found himself teetering on the top step of the staircase.

The shadows created on the walls of the cavern by the frenetic movement, suddenly intensified. He became aware that one of the torches, was at his left hand.

Bewsley pushed in strongly parrying John’s attempts at defence, which is what John had been hoping for, but John was now off balance.

Desperately John tried another horizontal slash and then grabbed the torch from its holder and thrust it into Bewsley’s face. Bewsley screamed, but John overbalanced and together they tumbled down the steps to the floor of the chamber.

John was first to his feet.

Infuriated, Bewsley dashed at John. John realised that though Bewsley’s weapon was deadly, to be skewered by it, he had to be trapped within range. He retreated, keeping his opponent at bay with a succession of slashes which Bewsley parried with increasing difficulty. At every step water splashed in every direction.

John began to feel more confident. Bewsley was beginning to breathe heavily. It might come down to the same issue of fitness which had helped him during the archery competition.

As he retreated John took time to search the flickering shadows for Ximene. He continued to back away and one of his slashes finally ripped into Bewsley’s shoulder.

Bewsley backed away taking time to access the damage. Then he launched another attack. Not wanting to be too predictable John moved forward. He penetrated Bewsley’s defence several times. He saw Bewsley’s eyes tighten in distress.

Perhaps now was the time. He retreated once again tempting Bewsley to come to him. Twice in succession when Bewsley lunged he scored hits on Bewsley’s body. Perhaps it was this success, perhaps it was the sideways glances searching for Ximene, but he lost his orientation and stepped backwards into one of the baths.

John was lying full length in the bath unable to move to either side. Bewsley stood over him. He tossed his dagger to one side and grasping the hilt of his sword in both hands raising it above his head, it’s point directed at John’s chest.

John tried to move but couldn’t he was trapped, he saw Beasley’s muscles bulge as he aimed his final blow, but suddenly he stiffened, arched his back, twisted his head, dropped his sword and fell forward on top of John. John struggled to get out from under Bewsley as the bath water turned red and a red stain spread across the floor. A crossbow arrow protruded from Bewsley’s back.

Ximene, stood naked on the stairs from the balcony, calmly reloading her crossbow. She cautiously crossed the floor only lowering her weapon when she was sure Bewsley was dead. ‘Are you enjoying your bath, John?’ she asked.

The most dangerous woman in the world