‘Come on John.’ Ximene turned and ran back down the steps.
John shouted down to those waiting below. ‘ Get away to a safe distance, Ximene and I are going to try to save the horses.’
Both Don Fernandino and Phillipa shouted objections, but John turned and followed Ximene.He looked at her blankly looked at her blankly.
‘What have you got in mind?’
‘Can’t you open the gates?’
‘ Not time.’
‘ There must be something.’
John screwed up his face. ‘Heat and smoke are both potential killers.’ He looked back at the advancing fire front and raised his eyes to look beyond it. However, the place of the Golden Eagle is less than one-quarter of a mile to the south. If we can reach there we will be relatively safe. It is a huge open space.’
Ximene shook her head. ‘But how do we get there? The fire front is wall to wall’
‘Horses at full tilt can run at nearly thirty miles an hour, at least for short periods. They can, therefore, cover one-tenth of a league in about thirty seconds. If we could protect both ourselves and the horses against heat and smoke for thirty seconds we could well escape! We must ride through the wall of flame.’
Ximene looked at him apprehensively. This was the man she had chosen brave, decisive, If she had not sent him away probably none of this would have happened, but was this a viable plan?
‘Curtains’ John shouted.‘Look for the most exclusive residence, we need heavy curtains.’
They started to search the houses immediately adjacent to the stables. They did not have to look far. The third house they entered had heavy purple drapes to every window. They pulled them down and hurried back to the stables.
John dashed to the drinking trough ‘Soak them. Soak them in water, it will help resist the heat and absorb the smoke’.
It took a lot longer than they really had to soak the curtains in the small trough. By now the crackling of the advancing fire and the roar of the established fire behind it were deafening.
Ximene released every horse in the stables. She could not look after them all but at least if they were free they had some chance of surviving. Helios and Selene were unsaddled and a curtain was draped over the front and rear quarters of both horses. Because the effect was to make them feel cooler neither horse objected. The saddles and bridles were then replaced. A strap was tied round by each horse’s nose to ensure the fullest possible coverage and then, carefully, holes were cut to give the horses adequate vision.
John and Ximene then turned their attention to themselves. They mounted their own horse and covered themselves with a curtain. Each of them then cut holes in their own curtain to allow them to see clearly.
Ximene hesitated trying to estimate the risks.
John grabbed Selene’s reins. ‘There is no point in waiting. if we don’t move, the drapes would give us minimal protection.’
Ximene shugged. They urged their horses out of the stables and raced across the fire front seeking the widest street which was least affected by the fire. There was no perfect solution. They turned and retraced their steps. It seemed to be getting worse by the second.
John screamed, ‘This one will have to do and charged towards the inferno. For a moment Ximene thought she could not follow but Selene made the decision for her, She found herself charging past John past him, Both horses slowed as they approached the fire front but suddenly again took over control from the riders. It was as if they smelled safety ahead of them. The problem was not just heat and smoke but debris blocking the road. Helios quickly regained the lead threading his way through a maze of burning timbers and reacting instantly to debris falling from several buildings adjacent to the street. He hurdled major obstacles. Selene followed willingly putting her trust in her brother and her beloved mistress. Ximene was suddenly unafraid; she, in turn, had implicit trust in Selene and she realised in John. Nevertheless, she had been accused of being a witch. Now she was riding through Hades!