63 Twelve Hours 5th June

Ximene Trencavel-5 June 1355

Ximene waited until John and Piers had left the tent. She turned and eyed her grandmother. ‘Well?’ She raised an eyebrow.


‘I am sorry Ximene. There is something wrong. We arranged for your escape to take place sometime over the next week. It did, of course, depend on the arrival of the Prince, but Don Fernandino was supposed to meet the cavalry Guillam has recruited at Beaufort nearly a week ago. He has not arrived.’

‘So what do we do now?’

‘Guillam has stayed behind, but as soon as Don Fernandino does arrive and arrangements have been finalised, he will join me here.’

‘And if Don Fernandino does not arrive?’

‘After you have met the Prince, and decided what you want to do, hopefully, our plans can still go ahead. You must hunt every day. Before the hunt you or me, occasionally both of us, will ride just far enough to be able to see the tower at Beaufort. I have arranged with Guillam that he will fly a large white flag when Don Fernandino arrives. It will give us perhaps an extra day’s warning to be ready to leave. If Don Fernandino does not arrive in the next two weeks, Guillam will take charge himself. Now, how long does Gaston plan to stay here?’

Ximene frowned. ‘I am not hunting tomorrow, as they intend to go after a bear that has already been attracted by bait. Gaston proposes to kill it using a spear. It is considered thrilling and very dangerous. And it is. I was with him when he did the same thing in some caves he took me to on the way here… it really is dangerous.’

‘Caves?’

‘Hmm, he was in the process of seducing me and the bears nearly put an end to that. ‘

‘What?’

‘Don’t worry. It is over now.’

‘But you must tell me.’


Ximene rolled her eyes. ‘Anyway, aside from all that, He would not mind if we hunted for another month, by which time boar will be in season.’

‘Good. We need to remain here for at least two weeks.’

‘I don’t think that will be a problem. I will just keep talking to the Prince.’

Lady Eleanor walked over to the tent opening to look out, then returned to sit beside Ximene.

‘There is another complication. Those two boys who have been appointed as your guards. They will see themselves literally as your bodyguards. They have been selected by the Prince in recognition of their past bravery and loyalty.’

A crackle of branches and some passing voices startled both ladies, before Lady Eleanor continued. ‘They will stay with you and will not shirk any conflict to protect you. John Stanley, in particular, is skilled at armed combat. I saw him win an archery contest at Clermont…’

‘Clermont?’

‘There is a lot I need to tell you, Ximene…anyway, John Stanley most unusually carries two battle axes. He certainly can use the bow, and my guess is that if he carries the axes he will be able to use them. Our difficulty is that we do not wish harm to come to Don Fernandino or Guillam’s cavalry, who are helping you escape. Nor do we want harm to come to these young guards who will try to prevent it happening.’

Ximene frowned. ‘So, what are you suggesting?’

‘Obviously, we need to find a way to distract them but having watched them over the last few minutes, I can tell you that they are both infatuated with you, they will not leave your side.’

‘Oh! Well, we might turn that to our advantage. Use me as a distraction. I could form a relationship with John, then bring him into our confidence and persuade him to let me escape. If we found an excuse to keep Piers as your guard and then if John as my guard did not interfere, then the difficulty could be overcome!’


Lady Eleanor raised her eyebrows. ‘Ximene… what has been happening whilst I have been away? I am more used to you asking for solutions rather than offering them! So you would be prepared to encourage John? Develop some form of relationship with him?’

‘You think I couldn’t?’

‘No, not at all, but are you sure you want to. Careful, Ximene. He has almost certainly been brought up in the Roman Church. If you encourage him too much, he might feel ownership. Their experience leads them to believe that women must subjugate themselves to men.’

‘I will make sure he understands our differences. I will be able to keep him under control. It is not as if I intend to marry him.’

‘Be careful Ximene, If we’re talking about John, there are other issues. His sudden rise to prominence makes me believe he must have a sponsor. That may mean his allegiances will always lie elsewhere. Well, you have less than twelve hours to judge whether he would accept such a proposition and then cement some agreement with him. Don’t forget that if that if you vanish without a trace he will carry the blame. This will not be an easy thing for him to do.’

Ximene adopted a conspiratorial tone. ‘John could disappear with me and then reappear after I have made independent contact with the Prince. Once that happened any blame attached to John would surely be absolved.’

Lady Eleanor glanced sideways at Ximene. ‘I started this conversation, but you are still grossly underestimating these guards. I judge John Stanley to be a person who is the very embodiment of the spirit of chivalry. I do not believe he will do anything against the Prince’s interests, as long as he continues to be one of the Prince’s bodyguards.’

Ximene’s eyes danced. ‘There you have it,’ she said. ‘We must involve the Prince in all this.’


Lady Eleanor posed, with a finger to her lips and a sparkle in her eye.’ First, pray tell me; why John Stanley? I only ask because the last time I mentioned John Stanley’s name, Pipa felt a sudden need to take off her clothes.’

Ximene’s eyes opened wide. ‘What, Pipa, my best friend Pipa? How on earth did she meet John Stanley?’

‘I will tell you, but first, tell me about the bears.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

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