Rene Bonfils – 23rd 1355
The next morning, once John And Ximene had shown readiness to accept his leadership, Thierry started to plan the treasure hunt. He spent a whole day studying the map. Then he spent the next day studying it again. John grew impatient and suspicious. He sent Ximene up to St Feriole to invite Estevan to join them and whilst she was away, he took the opportunity to re apply dye to Selene and Helios. Obviously the horses were more readily recognizable than they were themselves!
When Ximene returned she confirmed that Estevan was more than keen to join them.
‘ Like most people he is pleased to be able to see the end of something he started. His only concern was Thierry’s attitude. He sensed Thierry’s attitude and knows that racial hatred can run deep’
‘Leave that to me. I think I know how to change his arttitude!’
Eventually Thierry asked if he could test out his understanding of the map by viewing the surrounding countryside. Again John was suspicious. Thierry insisted on visiting Brenac, Bains de la Campagne and Rennes les Bains. John passed on the warnings about the dangers of visiting the towns, which Thierry brushed to one side.
‘I travel through these towns frequently, there is nothing mysterious about two young men travelling together. We will be at no risk’ He thought for a moment ‘ On the other hand if we do meet anyone, let me do the talking. I have a local accent and speak Occitan, you emphatically do not ’
John had to admit that Thierry was thorough. He had made numerous sketches both of the shape of the hills and a summary map showing the viewing points from which the hills should be visible.
‘Remarkable!’ Thierry concluded by the time they had reached Brenac. I can actually judge where we are on the map from the shape of the hills on my sketches. That evening he spent even more time on making sketches and the next day insisted on riding to the most easterly point, La Soulaine, which involved riding through Le Bezu, and Valdieu. They crossed the river upstream of Rennes les Bains and after a couple of false starts found a relatively easy route to the top of La Soulaine.
It was soon obvious that there was no clear view of either north or south target from this point. They were however able to identify other points of the pentacle from this vantage point. Thierry studied his map.
‘The line from the centre point passes directly over those two ridges which lie in front of us’
Thierry then declared there was nothing else to learn. They stayed less than ten minutes, though John was reluctant to leave this magical place which provided an endless vista of mountains folding one into the other occasionally punctuated by purplish eruptions of much steeper dramatic peaks.
They had made the last part of the climb on foot and by the time they were again in the saddle John he raised no objection when Thierry suggested they called in at Rennes les Bains, on the way home for refreshment. They found themselves sitting in a Square, on the edge of the narrow ravine, which ran through the village in pleasant afternoon sunshine.
Then and only then Thierry started to talk in a more relaxed fashion. “My family originally came from the countryside just to the north. It is known as the Corbiers. They were just another family dispossessed during the Albigensian Crusade. In my childhood I learned the hills and mountains to the north of here relatively well, but I am not so familiar with those to the south. We have an hour or so before we must return. Tell me everything you know John’
John obliged, but was very selective in the information he gave to Thierry.
Thierry chuckled ‘ The devil’s line? The moor told you that? Gives it an aura of mystery and fantasy doesn’t it?
John felt indignant ‘I have no reason to doubt what he said’
Thierry did not seem to realize that his throw away comment had been badly received. He paused and then gave his preliminary summary
‘If there is treasure at these target points it could be Visigothic, Cathar or just the accumulated wealth of the Trencavel family. Perhaps all three, moved into hiding places during the final days of the Albigensian Crusade. Certainly the use of this three dimensional map suggests to me it is relatively recent. These maps are easy to read but incredibly difficult to produce. Despite my lack of local knowledge I think we should focus on the southern target.’ He now took some time to gauge John’s reaction and decided to explain his reasoning.
‘The valley in which the Boulzane river rises, the Fenouillides, was Aragonese until one hundred years ago. If people were seeking to hide treasure at that time they would be more likely to leave it out of reach of the Crusaders who only invaded the lands north of the Pyrenees. Of course if treasure is buried in the middle of mountainous countryside then after ten years or so re-growth of foliage would totally hide any excavations. That would mean that without access to a map like the one you found it would be almost impossible for the person who buried the treasure to find it again!”
Theirry suddenly seemed to relax. He sipped his beer and turned his face to enjoy the sunshine. He smiled.
‘When I came looking for Don Fernandino, I certainly never expected to find myself involved in a Treasure hunt! But tell me…’ He hesitated. ‘Do you mind if I ask a personal question?’
John bristled . A fleeting memory dictated his response. ‘Ask me and then I can decide’
Thierry blinked. Now he was aware that John was annoyed. He decided to continue regardless. ‘When I was in Murat, I was told by someone… I cannot remember who… that you were some sort of personal bodyguard who had been assigned to look after Ximene.
John sighed with exasperation. ‘This man knows exactly what I am.” He could not control his growing anger.
“Listen to me Thierry, it is relevant to our current situation. Despite my current role, which is to guard Ximene with my life, I am a member of the Royal Guard of Aquitaine, the Black Prince’s personal guard, not only that but I have been squire to the Earl of Salisbury who is commander of the Prince’s rearguard and ultimate commander of the Royal Guard. Think of him as my uncle, it explains the relationship well”
‘Yes,Yes, I think I knew that you were some sort of a favourite but I don’t understand’
“Don’t understand what?’
Once again he denegnates my position what on earth is he trying to achieve?
‘What I want to know is…are you and Ximene lovers, as far as I can see you sleep together and both your faces show signs of bruising? Did you have a lovers fight?’
John glared at him. “ I am Ximene’s bodyguard, I never let her out of my sight, She expressed a desire to train with me and there was an… accident in training. However being as you are asking the question I love Ximene, as one would love one’s Queen, and she may well one day become my Queen! I would willingly die to protect her!”
Thierry smiled. He did not pursue the conversation. He had learned far more from John’s anger than from the words he had used.
“ Sorry Sorry, just thought I would ask, it will help me understand how to behave when we are together.’ He paused ‘but if you were lovers I would not be surprised. Ximene is very beautiful and now you mention training, I have noticed her superb body. Very unusual but so attractive. If she was not the future bride of the Black Prince and if you were not guarding her so closely, I would be trying hard to get her into my bed!’ John stared at him in disbelief.
How could he say such a thing and to me! Oh! I left myself open by denying I was Ximene’s lover”
He stood up ‘ Come I think we should be moving’
“ Yes you are right we should’.
John realized that he had no money and for months had had no need for any. Thierry wandered into the inn to pay. It was several minutes before he returned.
He mounted his horse and pulled it around so he could easily talk to John.
‘Now we have selected the southern target I would like to visit the centre of the easterly pentacle on the way back.’
They left Rennes Les Bains, climbed back onto the plain and from the route to Mazerou diverted to the far side of the limesone ridge, which ran across the plain, until Thierry was satisfied he was standing on the centre of the pentacle. There was certainly nothing remarkable about this spot just a sloping patch of boggy ground.
Thierry was obviously pleased however he pointed back to the precipitous termination of the ridge known as La Pic. Beyond it on the much larger ridge above Le Bezu they could see a white triangle of limestone outcrop.
‘The line to the southern target lies directly over those two points and there is another ridge behind Bezu. Once again the direction is clearly identifiable from the map and the drawings I made based on the map’
He carefully folded his drawings back into their waterproof tube.
‘We could climb all three ridges and put markers on them but I honestly don’t think we need to. Using my sketches I can easily find my way around. Tomorrow we should go directly to the southern target.
When they were back at Mazerou Thierry again studied the shape of the hills around the southern target. He carefully sketched the profiles, measured and noted the compass bearing of the most prominent features. Rolling up his sketches he announced himself ready to go.
As soon as Thierry was released from his cell the following morning, John told him that Estevan was coming with them. Thierry stared in disbelief.
“We might be on the track of treasure, and you want to bring a Moor with us. Did I not make myself clear? They are not to be trusted!’
‘Well’ said John taking care to keep emotion out of his voice.
“ You have two chances, you either accept Estevan as a member of our small team, or you don’t go at all. We will simply leave you locked up here and do it without you!’
‘You c’ant do it without me, you need the compass’
John smiled and reaching inside his own pocket pulled out the compass box.
‘You left it in the saddle bag of your horse. It is disassembled but I think I can put it together. You showed me how, remember?”
John then went to a particlarly large bundle of straps hanging on a hook on the wall and reaching behind it, pulled out the scroll of Thierry’s drawings. Thierry lurched forward as if to grab the Scroll and nearly impaled himself on the point of John’s sword, which was unsheathed so quickly that it did not seem to require any effort.
“Ximene moved quickly forward. Stop it, stop it this will do no good for any of us. John sheath your sword’
‘ Not until he accepts Estevan’s role’
Thierry laughed without humour.
‘And his role is… what?’
‘The clues which led us to identify the target points were essentially mathematical. Estevan is a mathematician who helped us solve the puzzle. When we get to the target there may be other puzzles to solve’
Thierry turned to Ximene.
‘And what do you think Milady’
‘I want Estevan to come with us’
Thierry gave a slight bow
“So be it. I would not argue with you Milady. So now can I have my compass and drawings back’
John did not lower his sword.
Ximene glared at him.
‘ Stop it John, he has agreed to what we want’
The two men glared at each other but in the end John lowered his sword. Not a moment to soon, as Estevan entered the chamber.
Two hours later, led by Thierry, they rode past Quillian and into the mouth of the Gorge de le Pierre-Lys. The river looked to be in near full flood, foaming over rocks and surging through channels between them. Nevertheless as they approached the point where the sides of the gorge rose directly from the river, Thierry was full of confidence.
As they dismounted he told them the source of his confidence.
“When I made my ride to warn you I was guided through here by someone who knew the old Cathar tracks. I made sketches here as well in case I wanted to use it again”
As they approached the barrier he led his horse down the river bank and into the river.
“Follow me exactly. It is the same trick as the one we will use to find the target point” he told them.
“We will head for that rock” he pointed towards a very distinct rock formation on the opposite bank. They continued in a straight line until they were past the barrier. They found themselves now isolated in a raging torrent of water.
“Now that rock” He pointed out another formation.
“And once again” pointing with his hand.
The final change in direction brought them back to the bank and to an easy path through the rest of the gorge. It was amazing. They had passed through what had seemed to be impassable and yet the water had never risen above their ankles. In places the rocky shelf was slippery but it was never unmanageable. John turned to look at their route. The underwater shelf was already undetectable.
By mid day they were passing the Chateau of Puilaurens, a major structure perched high on a pillar of rock which Theirry informed them was now occupied by the Franks. Thierry looked at some sketches he had made.
“We have to climb that” He said nodding towards a ridge of rock which at the top merged into the clouds. The ridge stretched east from Puilaurens and was only separated from it by a narrow valley. At the very base of the ridge they tethered their horses and continued on foot. After only a few minutes they stumbled across a path, badly overgrown but probably wide enough for a cart. Theirry pronounced that it headed in the right direction.
They returned for the horses and were able with due caution to continue to climb on horseback. The track zig – zagged up the face of the rock for league after league without ever becoming too steep. At one point it brought them back to the opposite side of the valley from Puilaurens, but now they were looking down on the Chateau! They pushed on upwards. Eventually they reached a point where the track divided.
The first route they took proved to be a great disappointment. After a while it became obvious that this track led back down to the valley floor but it took them nearly two hours to be sure of this. Then on the way back the track divided again at a point, which they had not noticed when they passed it the first time. They took the wrong branch and the track petered out into dense woodland. This again caused at least an hours delay. Eventually they reached the point at where the alternative route they had originally rejected was again available to them. They decided to camp for the night. Theirry immediately set about lighting a fire and providing a store of firewood. As they worked, Thierry confided his thoughts rather than giving instructions.
‘All these high ridges are inhabited by both bears and wolves. It is absolutely essential to keep the fire going during the hours of darkness. It will keep any predators at bay and perhaps just as importantly stop them blundering into our camp by accident.’
Estevan took in on himself to lead the search for firewood. In less than an hour he collected enough wood for a bonfire. He then worked with Thierry to build a fire they could sit by. He then astounded the others by sprinking a reddish powder over kindling and over two small branches. He rubbed the branches together holding them above the kindling and the fire bust into life so vigorously that he had to jump backwards to avoid the flames.
He grinned from ear to ear.
“Still working on that” he said
‘At least it doesn’t explode any more’
Thierry shook his hand.
“ I was wrong about you, thank you, now tell me how did you do that’
Ximene smiled at John wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear.
“ You see he is not all bad’
John could not help stiffening.
I am still not sure but he has certainly turned your head
They ate a simple supper and slept between the horses and the fire. It was difficult to sleep as there were frequent noises of animals moving through the undergrowth. On several occasions one or other of the horses whinnied in protest at some perceived threat.
At first light Thierry tried his best to identify the actual point of the target. In the end he gave up.
“It is the trees which cause the problem” he complained.
“It is a problem which does not exist at sea!
John smiled to himself. Just the same problem he had described earlier to Thierry and which had been dismissed out of hand.
They agreed that the best solution was to continue to head upwards, hoping eventually to find a location where they could lookout over the tops of the trees. Eventually Thierry identified a point on the cliff face not far above the path, which would give him the view he wanted. From below Ximene John and Estevan could see him checking and rechecking his angles. Finally he climbed down, slipping and sliding on the loose rock. He smiled broadly; perhaps the first time John had ever seen him do this.
“I think I have been able to identify all of the significant points I noted, but they are not lined up as they should be. It is of course true that when observed from a different angle the shapes are slightly different, but I am very confident. I am also sure that this track is still heading in the right direction. You know it is beginning to look as though this track was originally created to access the place we are looking for!”
By mid afternoon they had reached the end of the track. It stopped in mid air. They were faced with a sheer drop of more than one hundred feet. Just before the precipice the track was covered with rubble from an earth slip. Again they prepared a campsite and lit a fire. Thierry and John both climbed the cliff above the track until they found a position where they could see the surrounding countryside. Thierry made compass measurements and compared what he saw with his sketches. In a voice, which conveyed both excitement and disappointment, he pronounced himself satisfied that this was indeed the spot.
“The shapes of the hills are not identical to the shapes on the map at Mazerou but that can be explained by the uneven growth of trees. I am sure however that this is the correct spot. But what is there here? Nothing!
Meanwhile on the path beneath Estevan was exploring the minor landslide.
He spoke to Ximene in an exited tone of voice.
“In the whole of our climb I did not see another landslip, what could have caused one at this spot?’
Estevan commenced an examination of the loose rock at the side of the path. Within seconds he was tearing at the pile of rubble with his bare hands.
“Just look at this!” he shouted over his shoulder
“The landslip camouflages the fact that there is a huge rock here. Look at the rock! It has been roughly hewn to be in the shape of a huge ball!”
Thierry and John hurriedly scrambled down to the path where Ximene was waiting for them. Estevan rose from his scrabbling.
Look at this! Look at this! After that boulder was rolled into place the rock face would have been dislodged further up so that the rubble camouflaged the shape of the hewn rock. I think this is probably it! I think we have found the target.
All four of them cheered with excitement and they hugged each other. John watched as Ximene and Thierry danced around holding hands. Was she being won over by the skills he displayed, by his commitment to her cause or simply because he was an unbelievably attractive man! He made no comment. At this moment Thierry was a vital member of a very small team!