‘Never ever again raise something with the Prince that I do not know about in advance. I am far from convinced that in the longer term there might not have been a different solution but it is too late now. It would appear we are committed to an extremely difficult attack on a well-defended fortress.’
John Stanley-11th June 1355
John gently removed Pipa from his knee, stood up and took a deep breath. ‘I agree, we must get you out of here. We trained to take you from this or any other castle if the Prince failed to make an agreement with your uncle. Now we will just have to do it.’
Lady Eleanor frowned. ‘With respect John, it sounds as if you have made a decision. Surely you need the Prince’s agreement?’
For a moment John deflated, but only for a moment. ‘The Prince approved my appointment as Ximene’s bodyguard. The Earl then confirmed it…or maybe it was the other way round. Anyway, they cannot now avoid listening to my advice concerning Ximene’s safety.’ He shook his head. ‘You are of course right It is still the Prince’s decision, Come on Piers, we must get back to the camp.’
They changed into their uniforms and left. An hour later they were back in camp. In the event, the rush was unnecessary. The Earl had not yet returned to camp, and they had no option but to settle down for the night.
’Told you,’ said Piers. ‘Never sleeps in a tent.’
John snorted. Piers could be a shade repetitive.
After breakfast, John went to see Lord James to explain the situation and ask for his advice.
Lord James look at John with a wry smile. ‘You have made me aware that there were things happening at Muret that I was simply not aware of. ’He paused. ‘I can do nothing.’ The wry smile intensified. ‘You know in some ways John, it was you who created this situation. At Moissac, you declared yourself a King’s guard and the Earl took advantage of that. Before Moissac, I could probably have interceded with the Prince on your behalf, but I cannot now. You will have to wait until the Earl returns. He briefly closed his eyes. ‘There is still a little mystery which neither of us understands. As we discussed previously the Earl has taken a special interest in you and there is a reason for everything he does. Take care.’
Reluctantly John returned to the Earl’s tent. Whilst he waited he took Helios out for a ride and almost subconsciously surveyed the valleys around Foix. He realised that he was commencing the planning for Ximene’s escape.
The Earl returned mid-afternoon and John told him immediately of the situation in the castle.
The Earl frowned. ‘Let me get this straight. She wants our help to escape from the Château, and she will accept whatever destination we deem most appropriate.’
John replied without hesitation. ‘Yes, I believe her words were, “I will comply with whatever plans the Prince has in mind.’
The Earl nodded slowly then squinted at Piers. ‘Were you there Piers?’
‘Do you concur with John’s interpretation? Are you absolutely sure?’
The Earl pursed his lips. ‘Very well, Come with me. We must discuss this with the Prince.’ Having stridden to the lead, halfway to the Prince’s tent he turned back to John. ‘I want him to hear exactly what you have just told me.’
The Prince did not offer them a seat but listened carefully—attentively—to everything John said. The Prince made no attempt to interrupt, even to ask a question.
When John had finished, the Prince buried his head into his cupped hands and groaned gently. ‘So it has come to this. No small miracles, William?’ He stared at the roof of the tent. ‘She says she will impose no conditions but that is not the point. To give her the freedom she wants means that we must help her escape from the Château. Everyone will know what we have done.’ He waved his arms in the air. ‘We will be depicted as having stolen her away from the Comte, who happens to be her guardian but is also my liegeman for Bearn. The very essence of these arrangements, and indeed of chivalry itself, is that I must also protect his interests. We have had these discussions before and you know I have tried to avoid this situation, I am tempted to say no.’
‘Sire,’ John stopped as the Prince turned to look at him. ‘Milord …’ John realised he was about to question a prince of the realm, the Prince of the realm. There was no turning back. ‘I am only learning about these things but in the code of chivalry isn’t there something about protecting women?’
The Earl interrupted him. ‘John…’
‘ No, William let him speak.’ The Prince stopped, slowly a smile spread across his face. He turned quickly through three hundred and sixty degrees before again facing his audience. ‘Yes,’ he raised his index finger, and gave eye contact to each listener, ‘If the Comte is oppressing his ward or even imposing undue pressure on her, that is a different issue. She becomes the fabled damsel in distress; chivalry demands we rescue her. If Ximene wants to escape the Comte’s clutches …’ He gazed at the roof of the tent, ‘then we must oblige. We have all the expertise to enable us to break into a castle and find and remove a target. For once the target will be a willing accomplice. Just do it, do whatever is necessary.’
Silence followed the Prince’s order.
The Earl looked at the Prince through one narrowed eye ‘I must remind you, Edward, the circumstances have changed. We no longer have the ability to deliver Ximene into the safety of Les Etoiles’ security. That leaves one alternative. She must return to Bordeaux with us. I am not convinced that she will accept that, despite what she might or might not have said last night under duress.’
The Prince blinked three times then shrugged his shoulders. ‘Just do it; do whatever is necessary. If it is the only way of keeping her safe, then she must come with us to Bordeaux, but we are rescuing a maiden in distress. If there are other alternatives which will comply with her requirements then please explore them. Come back tomorrow with an outline plan.’ He smiled broadly. ‘Quite a challenge. As far as I know, the fortification of the Château de Foix has never been breached. It has quite a reputation.’
The Earl took his leave and suddenly, as they walked back to his tent, his demeanour changed. He caught John by the arm. ‘Never ever again raise something with the Prince that I do not know about in advance. I am far from convinced that in the longer term there might not have been a different solution but it is too late now, It would appear we are committed to an extremely difficult attack on a well-defended fortress.’
As they rode towards the Château, John turned to the Earl. ‘Apparently, the Comte could not reach an agreement with the Prince or Ximene?’
The Earl answered sharply. ‘John, I was there for most of the evening; you were not. There was no disagreement. Indeed, the meeting ended with an agreement… an agreement that a marriage contract will be drawn up to incorporate Ximene’s and the Prince’s requirements. Indeed, it was agreed that a separate contract will be drawn up between the Prince and the Comte. There is to be a dinner held at the Château in a few days time to celebrate the agreement. ’ The Earl allowed time for his statement to sink in. ‘Be careful not to form opinions about matters on which you have no knowledge.’
‘But I saw how upset Ximene was. I heard what she said.’
‘And I will now give her the opportunity to tell me how she feels. Whatever did upset Ximene, took place between her and the Comte, after the Prince and I left.’
‘Yes, Milord, but just one other thought. You said it would be difficult, but in my opinion, we could probably get her out quite easily. We could storm the lower gate. It is not heavily defended.’
The Earl now growled in reply. ‘Right now John you are not the commander of anything. Don’t get ahead of the situation.’ He spoke abruptly. ‘I want to talk to Ximene first then I will decide how to get her out in whatever way exposes her, and us, to the minimum risk.’
Once again, they left their horses in the Place de l’Arget and climbed to the southern gate, where after the now familiar questioning they gained entry.
After preliminary pleasantries, The Earl asked Lady Eleanor for a private audience with Ximene. She nodded her agreement, ‘I will find her and bring her to you immediately.’
The Earl turned to John. ‘Despite your involvement in all of this, I want to talk to Ximene alone. I must sound out Ximene’s feelings and preferences without any outside influences. And John…. without doubt you are becoming an outside influence. I will have to decide what to do about that. In the meantime, I have now taken charge. Do not do anything until I come back to you.’