84 — The Diversion

Don Fernandino smiled. ‘Very well, there is an opportunity. One I believe we can take advantage of.’ he moved to the window and looked down at the scaffold. ‘These executions are very much for public consumption. There will be a substantial delay after Ximene arrives at the scaffold. She will be asked multiple questions by some priest or other to ‘prove’ her guilt. It does not matter what answer she gives there will be a script to demonstrate that everything she says confirms that guilt! At least in their eyes.’

John frowned. ‘And how will that help us?’

‘It is the period when the questioning occurs which will give us our opportunity. The questioning will take five minutes at least, probably longer. It will give us time to snatch her away.’

John was puzzled. ‘At that time, there will be hundreds possibly thousands of people in the square.’

Don Fernandino pursed his lips. ‘You are correct and it will probably be thousands. Those crowds are the other part of our opportunity. A path to the scaffold will have to be left clear to allow Ximene to be dragged to the pyre. It will require almost all of the militia to achieve that, there will be few of them actually on the platform guarding Ximene, whilst the questioning takes place.

John frowned. ‘But with such crowds, it will be difficult if not impossible to get to Ximene.’

Don Fernandino smiled. ‘ But suppose we could find a way of manipulating the movement of those crowds? The church and the secular authorities think that the questioning justifies what they are doing, to the crowd. In fact, the crowd grows restive. They want to see someone die, someone burned at the stake. All we have to do is cause panic in the crowd when they are restive and control will be lost almost immediately.’

‘But how? John and Pipa spoke in unison.

‘Fire, we will use Fire.’

He gazed around catching the eye of each one of them in turn. When I was talking to the waitress earlier today I managed to discover where the restaurant buys the sawdust which it uses on the floor of the restaurant. The same supplier is where they get their firewood. I then asked where it is possible to hire horses and a large four-wheeled cart. There is a stables which offers such a service. All these suppliers are in the northern part of the Bastide where there is a concentration of tradespeople and service providers.

He stopped and pinched his nose between his finger and thumb. ‘Now, we are running out of time. We must go to the commercial area. You must pose as new arrivals, hoping to open a butchers shop. To give us credibility we must lease a shop front with a storeroom and stable behind. That is where we will hide after we have rescued Ximene. Identifying it as a butchers shop is important as I want to buy quite large quantities of Sawdust. Sawdust is normally used on the floor in a butchers shop as well as in restaurants and therefore that purchase will attract no attention.’

It proved difficult to find a suitable shop front, and time was passing. They then had a stroke of luck. A butcher had just vacated a property to move to Castelnaurdy. Once they had finalised the purchase and hired the horses and cart, John and Piers set about removing the ceiling and the roof cladding from the staircases in both apartments immediately behind the scaffold, leaving them open to the air.

While this work proceeded, Don Fernandino loaded the cart with boxes of sawdust and firewood. To casual observers, it just looked as though new proprietors were moving in. Once behind closed doors however, the boxes were broken up and piled up in the stairwells of each of the properties. Don Fernandino picked up a handful of sawdust and opened his fingers. Most of the sawdust stayed in his hand. ‘Excellent.’ He murmured. ‘More than fifty percent coarse chips. just what I wanted. We don’t need this here, it is for the fires you will light at the other side of the square.’

By now it was nearly midnight. John then climbed into the storeroom which contained supplies of wood, pitch, and cloth which was used in the execution pyres. He did not touch the wood–the absence of which might have been noticed–just boxes and boxes of rags soaked in pitch. The rags were then stuffed into the base of the stairwells. They then turned their attention to the cart. Wooden walls pierced by arrow slits were built on every side. Internal steps were fitted to the side walls and a system of restraining belts fixed above the first step. Finally everything was in place.

Don Fernandino then presented John with a roll of cloth. When he opened the cloth he found inside two dozen or more arrows.‘Bodkins’ explained Don Fernandino. ‘Armour piercing arrows! Guillam found them on the battlefield at Monsegur the day you were badly injured. He brought them to Mazerou. I had no idea when they would be useful but now I know. It means that you do not have worry who is wearing chain mail or armour. Every hit you make will disable your target!’ Don Fernandino then spent nearly an hour practising his own archery skills. The pyre was now complete and those who had been building it had left. He was not satisfied until from the apartment window he could hit the heart of the pyre with every arrow.

From a second roll of cloth Don Fernandino then produced half a dozen arrows with small cages just behind the arrowhead. The cages were filled with a waxy substance. ‘Fire arrows, not entirely reliable as they are occasionally are extinguished in flight but six will be enough. In any case the pyre is very close, most probably I will only need one.

Piers and John then took the cart to the properties on the south side of the Square, directly across the square from the scaffold . There they repeated the task of removing the roof above the stairwell and filling the upper part of the stairwell with a mixture of wood and rags soaked with pitch.

Box upon box of sawdust was positioned in amongst the wood.

The town was now deserted. Piers led the cart and two horses to the stables behind the most easterly of the properties they had rented at that side of the square.

John experimented and was delighted to discover that not only Helios but Selene would follow him wherever he went. He returned to Piers and stabled them alongside the other two horses.

They slept fitfully in the few hours before dawn. Shortly after first light John, realising he had to synchronise his actions with Ximene’s arrival, walked back along the road towards Limoux. Underneath the gates of La Cité he saw Ximene approaching. She was being dragged to the Bastide, gagged and blindfolded. Her hands were tied behind her back. She was being pulled using extremely long ropes and restrained from behind with similarly long ropes. Whilst John was watching she fell. They continued to drag her along the rough road until she managed to stagger back to her feet. John found it difficult to restrain himself. Ximene was dirty and covered with blood on her arms and legs from a multitude of falls. There was nothing John could do.

For the most agonising half-hour of his life, he walked alongside her accompanied by a thousand other people as she was slowly and painfully dragged to the gates of the Bastide. Once there Ximene was passed into the hands of her executioners. They wore long hoods and were obviously hardened to this task. They released Ximene from her bonds and removed her gag and her blindfold. Her hands were still tied behind her back. They then loaded her into a small cart and commenced the journey from the gate to La Place de l’Aigle Dor.

John then moved quickly. He went ahead and stood at the south side of the square. He could see the scaffold at the north side and noted with satisfaction that the wind blew strongly at his back. He knew that the whole rescue mission would be triggered by his actions. The timing was crucial. John waited patiently. Finally Ximene, firmly held in the cart was taken past him. She was a quarter of the way across the square when John decided the time was right. He put a light into the pile of wood in the stairwell of his own lodgings and sent Piers to do the same in the other property on the north side of the square. He waited to make sure it was well alight.

He noted with satisfaction that the fire roared instantly. The draught created in the stairwell was just like a chimney and even before he left, the main fabric of the building was catching fire. It was almost frightening to see how fiercely it roared. Piers emerged from the other property amidst a cloud of smoke signaling that the fire he had lit was also burning well.

What John could not judge was whether the fires would create the effect which Don Fernandino had predicted. An effect which was desperately needed.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

Table Of Contents



List of Places

Table of Contents

Pseudo History


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.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.