56 — The Target

John Stanley – 26th  September1355

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.

The following morning, John told him that Estevan was coming with them.

Thierry ‘s jaw dropped. ‘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. ‘Yesterday we moved towards an accomodation of each others feelings but that does not mean you are now in control. 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 can’t 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?’

John narrowed his eyes. ‘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 Aude foamed over rocks and surged 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 rock face 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 almost at the foot of the rock 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 Château of Puilaurens, a major structure perched high on a pillar of rock. 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 Château! 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.’

Ximene laughed. ‘Only a little.’

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,  Mature trees grew from the centre of the track. They were  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!

The most dangerous woman in the world

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355


'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. 

He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’