36 — Gymnazo

Ximene Trencavel – 1st September 1355

Suddenly for John the world changed. He decided he never wanted to be separated from this woman. He was lost in admiration for the depth of her knowledge  and overwhelmed by he sensuality. He wondered if that is what love is? A combinination of a multitude of factors?

As the lessons progressed John made sure that they were blended with riding, running and lifting weights so that, strength and fitness continued to improve.

To his surprise, he found that regular reading had a similar effect. The more he read, the more his ability to absorb new information increased, the more questions were raised, the more his thirst for knowledge increased! Inspired by Ximene he started to document the training regimes and the development of their strength and fitness.

In early September John introduced extra activities into the training programme. He started to teach Ximene the basics of using a sword, a mace and an axe. The mace and the axe were such deadly weapons that, without the possibility of creating protective clothing, all he could do was teach her the requirements for handling the weapons.

He remembered that the way he had learned to use the axe, as a very young man, was by chopping wooden logs. He selected a suitable tree and showed Ximene how to cut it through. Alternate stokes were applied to each side of the original cut. On both sides wood was removed in substantial curling flakes. Having made a start he demanded that Ximene try her own hand.

The next day it became obvious that despite her development Ximene found the axe impossibly heavy to handle. John analysed her action and realized she lacked strength in critical muscles in her upper arms and shoulders. Oh! It is what Aristotle said… find the correct exercises for each activity! Ximene must develop the muscles she needs to use the Axe!

John rigged a rope over the branch of a tree and tied one end to a basket. He put two large stones in the basket and asked Ximene to stand under the branch with her back to the basket.
‘Now reach up and grab the rope… as high as you can… yes that is about right… now pull down until your hands are about level with your waist.’

Ximene did as she was told and lifted the basket very easily. John was pleased.

‘The action is almost exactly the same as that needed to swing an axe, now all I have to do is get the correct balance between weight and the number of repetitions.’

John put another stone in the basket. Still too easy.

He added a much larger rock and judged it to be about correct. Ximene could lift the basket but not without difficulty.

‘Excellent! Do three sets of twenty lifts every day’

Swords were a different matter. After the work with the axe the sword felt light in her hands. John started with the real weapon. He taught her how easy it was to cut through light branches with a well aimed cut of a sword. He showed her the diameter of the branches she had cut and compared them to his forearm. If you hit it right you can sever an arm as easily as these branches he told her. In order to show her how a sword was used however, her created wooden facsimiles of battle swords, which gave a real feel for the weapon. John taught her everything he had learned at Tewksbury and Biscarrosse.

In particular he taught her that the correct stance with a sword was to hold it overhead ready to use a heavy downward swing if attacked. They spent days practicing with the wooden swords, secure in the knowledge that they would not incur a serious cut. Nevertheless they both found that blows they did receive produced bruising and pain.

Ximene was progressing well. John’s major worry was that she would become over confident in her skill at manipulating the sword. He cautioned her many times that there were people who were strong and ruthless, liked to fight and did not care whom they hurt.
“What we need is a tournament for ladies, so that you could gain experience of a real fight under controlled conditions.”

Ximene enthusiastically agreed!

From time to time they returned to the axe. The combinition of the weight of the weapon and the need for extreme accuracy still defeated her. John took a selection of rocks and weighed them more carefully on a massive set of scales he had noticed in a dark corner of back barn . He then was able to measure Ximene’s improvement more accurately. She was improving! He then concentrated on timing.

Suddenly it all came good. Stroke after stroke hit the target, wood sprayed to the floor in an endless stream. Once several logs were lying on the floor John taught her how to cut them in half by standing on the log, legs apart and directing all the force of the axe downwards. It was still hard work but easier than felling a vertical branch. It was an incredible difficult period for Ximene, every night she went to bed with muscles sore from the exercise. She pushed through the pain for day after day after day.

The Mace was then much easier. Once the different technique of the swing was mastered she already had acquired the strength and fitness to utilize the weapon. Now it was simply a question of accuracy. John mounted a substantial log on top of two posts he had secured in the ground. Ximene then swung and swung the mace adjusting her stance for both standing and running use until she could hit the target every time.

John returned to the real sword again and showed her how it could be combined with the use of his throwing knives. “They work well together; the knife can be used to parry a thrust or a slash from an opponents sword, but if you hold the sword in front of you, it provides the perfect balance for a throwing action. If you develop this skill there is a strong chance you will surprise your opponent!”

This skill required little strength or stamina, so for several weeks every day ended with practice with the throwing knives. John then remembered something Lord James had told him; that in confined spaces it could be difficult to swing a sword, axe or mace. It often came down to fist fighting. John therefore introduced close combat skills. He showed Ximeme the way in which an apparently decorative band around her wrist could be pulled down to cover her knuckles and thus protect them from the impact of a blow to someone else’s body even when the blow ended up striking hard bone.

Again Ximene progressed well. She was fast in her movements and quick in her thinking. Even though they were practicing by hitting each other with open hands, John found her a formidable opponent. She was also brave to a fault. She was always prepared to take a hit in order to strike herself. John warned her repeatedly that on occasions, the hit she took, in a real contest, could mean her defeat.

He discussed more deadly skills he had learned at Tewksbury. He showed Ximene how the technique could be used that if she was ever forced into really close combat.

‘Nine times out of ten this would break your opponents neck, resulting in instant paralysis and almost certain death.’

John allowed Ximene to practice the hold many times until she was confident she knew what was required.

I really do trust this woman! Several times she has been in a position to end my life, had she so desired!

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel