‘All we do know is that if you had not been there, Ximene may well have been dead or in captivity by now!’
John Stanley – 8th June 1355
Next morning, Ximene received a note written in the Prince’s own hand congratulating her on her escape.
John, however, was treated rather differently.
The Earl’s voice had an edge to it John had never heard before. ‘How did you end up so isolated from the rest of the hunt?’
John stared back. ‘It was the plan.’ He gazed around to make sure no one could hear. ‘It was the plan; we were supposed to distance ourselves from the rest of the hunt. That is how Ximene was to escape. We did not think it would be yesterday, but we were practising the best way to do it.’
The Earl sighed. ‘So you were. Well, it won’t happen now. I had to tell the Comte about the kidnap attempt. Incidentally, he missed the bear again and is not in a good mood. The Prince and I are going to a meeting with him now to try and calm him down.
The Earl was away for several hours and when he eventually returned to camp his demeanour had not improved. ‘The Comte de Foix is particularly annoyed. He has asked all the questions about how you came to be separated from the rest of the hunt which I asked you myself. I think he suspects us of planning to remove Ximene, which of course we will not admit.’ He winced. ‘We have had to work hard to stop him cancelling the dinner tonight and taking Ximene back to Foix immediately. However, he insists that he will be escorting Ximene back to Foix, leaving at first light tomorrow.’ He winced again. ‘It was the best we could do.’ He frowned and then raised his eyebrows. ‘Meanwhile, the Prince has redoubled his efforts to make the dinner a success.’ He sighed and said in a calmer voice, ‘In case I have to talk to the Comte again, I must know the facts. I assume there must have been a password. Did the assailants know the password?’
‘I believe not. I heard Ximene asking for the password but I don’t know everything that was said.’
‘Find out. Next: what were they wearing?’
‘Chainmail vests but not leggings, grey-green hose and grey-green long-sleeved tabards with no blazons, which made them almost invisible against a background of woodland.’
The Earl held his hands in the air and shook them above his head.
John eyed him cautiously. ‘There is one other thing I must tell you about. We were being guided to deer runs closer to Beaufort, but I advised Ximene to choose the most easterly run, nearest to the camp.’
The Earl’s eyes narrowed. ‘And why did you do that, was it a cautionary measure?’
‘No, no, I just thought it would give a better chance of a kill, but if we had taken the runs originally suggested to us, we would have been surrounded by attackers. It is unlikely we would have escaped so easily.’
The Earl started. ‘Oh…Oh. I will make some quiet enquiries about who actually chose the location for the hunt this afternoon. There may be a clue in that or there may not. All we do know is that if you had not been there, Ximene may well have been dead or in captivity by now!’
After a short pause in which he surveyed the surrounding woodland, the Earl continued, ‘Now. Back to Ximene. We must not slacken in our protection of her, the intention may have been to kidnap her, but there is a possibility the intention was to assassinate her. You and Piers must both come to the feast tonight. The Prince has made a decision to hold the feast in the open air. This will make it possible for far more people to attend.’ He frowned. ‘We will just have to hope there is no dense fog. The site he has chosen is a natural amphitheatre. As it slopes towards the river, the head table will be put at the bottom of the slope. The other tables will be on the higher levels of the slope running parallel to the head table rather than at right angles to it. In this way, everyone present will be able to see the head table where Ximene and her grandmother will be seated alongside the Prince and the Comte de Foix. Piers and yourself will be seated as near to the ladies as we can possibly get you. You can wear swords, as that is normal ceremonial wear, but John, I want you to conceal your axes and longbow underneath the table before anyone else arrives.’
He gazed around again. ‘Lord James is conducting a massive exercise right now to mount enough flares to illuminate the whole amphitheatre and the trees surrounding it. The tables will carry nearly a thousand candles. Do not get distracted or drawn into those preparations. Your job is to guard Ximene. Do you want me to tell Lord James specifically that you are not to be disturbed from your guard duties?’
‘Thank you, Milord, but that is not necessary.’
The Earl’s eyebrows rose. ‘Incidentally, did you find out what the password was?’
John looked at him curiously. Was this some form of test? ‘Yes, of course, but there are things which, at this point in time, you do not need to know, my Lord.’
The Earl laughed out loud and vanished into the darkness still chuckling loudly. John chuckled himself, thinking that the Earl had no idea that this reply referred to far more than a password!