8 June 1355
Guillam had left the camp at Muret early on the morning of the departure and watched the procession leave for Foix, taking care not to reveal his presence.
When Thierry broke away from the main column, Guillam followed him, staying far enough behind to be out of sight, but occasionally using hills and rocky outcrops to make sure he was still in touch.
It seemed to Guillam that all he had to do was follow Thierry through the first few towns to know his intentions.
Thierry followed the road through Pamiers, Lavelanet and on towards Quillan. No sign of turning back to Foix. Guillam concluded he was definitely going to Perpignan, but where in Perpignan?
When in late evening Thierry, having crossed the first ridge of the Pyrenees, made a stop at Caudies, Guillam dismounted just in time to remain concealed. He watched until he was sure that Thierry was intending an overnight stop and then found himself some accommodation.
He was up before light and in a position to watch Thierry leave. It took less than two hours to reach Perpignan. Guillam bought a wide-brimmed hat as an elementary disguise and moved closer as Thierry entered the city.
Thierry turned into a side street and entered a bar. Guillam smiled. He knew the bar, a familiar safehouse. If he had lost Thierry on the journey, he would have ended up here anyway.
When he entered the bar there was no sign of Thierry, but Guillam knew where he would be. He quietly walked though to a back room. Good. Nothing had changed. The back room had a rear door which Guillam shut and immediately pulled at the nearest barrel to the rear door.
The front of the barrel swung open.
After the initial surprise, introductions and an exchange of pleasantries, Guillam examined Don Fernandino.
‘Ughh, what a mess. Thierry, we need a jar of medical quality honey, leeches or maggots, some horse urine and some medical linen.’
Thierry looked more than a little lost, so Guillam chivvied him on. ‘An apothecary. Quick as you can.’
Still Thierry hesitated.
Guillam pointed to the scar on his neck. ‘I have had a number of serious wounds and I made a point of paying attention to what was done to save my life. We need what I have asked for.’
After Thierry had left, Guillam tiptoed across the room and quietly opened the door. He waited until Thierry had closed the false barrel door behind him before he recrossed the room and sat down on Don Fernandino’s bed.
‘I intend to get you out of here as soon as possible, but first these wounds need some attention.’
‘You don’t trust Theirry?’
‘That I don’t really know, my friend. The fact that you are alive looks promising, but moving you to somewhere he does not know about would be a sound precaution.’
It wasn’t long before they heard the sounds of the lower door closing and Thierry thumping his way up the stairs.
He had obtained everything Guillam had requested and Guillam set to work.
Guillam helped Don Fernandino remove his clothes and washed down the whole of his body with the horse urine, despite Don Fernandino’s protestations.
‘Ugh, it stinks. What good does that do?’
‘I don’t really know, but there is something in it which stops infection. It is widely used by military physicians. Now, this might hurt.’
Guillam cleaned every wound with the urine, making sure that all dirt and debris was cleaned away. He placed the maggots on every wound and bound them in with linen-moistened with honey.
‘The maggots will eat up any remaining infection and the honey is not just to hold them in. It also helps to prevent recurring infection, from outside the wound.
‘Thierry, can you get some new clothes for Don Fernandino? These are filthy and probably infected from several septic wounds.’
Thierry grunted his acquiescence.
As soon as he had left, Guillam raised his eyebrows. ‘I can do nothing for your knee, can’t even guess what the injury might be. We really need to get you to a physician. However, in the short term you should rest and we will get some food inside you.’
Don Fernandino pursed his lips. ‘I have thought of somewhere I can go which will not be known to Thierry. Château Mazerou. There is a surgeon in the nearby village. It is, however, three hours ride from here.’
‘Then we must wait a while.’
Three days later, Guillam asked Thierry how travel to Sicily could be arranged.
‘It won’t be difficult, but I will have to return to Port Vendres.’
‘I thought you would. Before you leave could you take me to the place where you found Don Fernandino? I would like to see if I can get any clue as to whom might be behind all this.’
‘You’re wasting your time. There is nothing there.’
‘As you wish. It is on my way, so it is no great imposition.’
Guillam was surprised to find that the room was in fact a suite of rooms, in a very imposing building.
Thierry asked the concierge for a key.
Guillam looked at Thierry and frowned. ‘How did you find him here?’
‘I asked round the local bars to identify any newcomers, strangers. In the end the gypsy cart and horses were a giveaway. They are still in the stables below with the two black thoroughbreds which were tethered behind the cart.’
‘Is someone still paying for it?’
‘No, but I told the concierge I might rent it myself.’
‘And the horses?’
‘I offered to buy them but the concierge wants them for himself.’
‘Well, thank you. I may be here an hour, possibly a little longer.’
Once Thierry had left, Guillam gave a casual glance around the room. By the window a chair lay on its side and there was blood on the floor alongside the chair, entirely consistent with Don Fernandino’s version of events. He shook his head. He was not here to question Don Fernandino’s story.
He walked to the door where although someone had tried to wipe it up there was the unmistakable trace of a blood stain.
He went down stairs to the stables and found the two gypsy horses and the thoroughbreds stabled next to each other. A cart stood in the far corner of the stable.
A weatherproof canopy protected dozens of bags. He opened one bag and found that it contained a variety of artefacts which might have been traded by gypsies. He chuckled. Here was evidence of one of the aliases which Don Fernandino undoubtably used and which helped him disappear. Several of the bags were smeared with blood, which once again confirmed the story.
He went back upstairs and rifled through every shelf, cupboard and drawer he could find. Remarkable… Absolutely nothing. It was as if the room had been cleaned and if so, who had done that? He moved towards the door.
On a small dusty table just outside the door was a marble tablet engraved in decorative script with the first three letters of the alphabet. It was just like the tablet Lady Eleanor had in the porch outside her door; its purpose a paperweight for deliveries by couriers.
He lifted up the tablet and sure enough there was a folded piece of paper. It appeared to be addressed to Don Fernandino but the rest of it was gibberish. The message was obviously in code.
He looked again. It was a code used by Les Etoiles with which he was familiar. It wasn’t really addressed to Don Fernandino, it was about him. The name was a key to a substitution code. The key preceded the alphabet. Any duplicates in the key were ignored. It was then possible to convert letters from the code to the standard alphabet.
Without a pen and paper the message was difficult to decode. He resorted to scribbling with his finger on the dusty table.
Further instructions. The task has changed. We are no longer content to prevent Ximene Trencavel escaping. We now intend her assassination… No further action is required in Perpignan other than the disposal of Don Fernandino.
He wiped the table clean and hurried from the room. No matter now if Don Fernandino was ready to ride or not.
6 thoughts on “Chapter 54 (Edit) The Rescue 14/6/65”
Just a note before I sign off that I’ve slowed down a little in my reading towards the end, and I’ve been thinking about why that is. One reason I think is that as a reader I don’t feel invested enough in a character like Guillam as a lead. It feels here as though the focus is all on advancing the narrative, and there may need to be a little more work on character development to bring the draft back into balance. Don Fernandino and Guillam both feel slightly underdeveloped as characters, which means it is risky giving them a prominent part in tying the story up. I wonder if you might try to help the reader invest in these characters a little more earlier in the manuscript. As we creep towards the ending, I’m also very aware that your chapters are very ‘neat’ – each one building another block of the story, emphasized by your chapter titles. Having each block almost feel so complete means there isn’t much forward momentum as you read – making the process feel a little laborious at times. I’ll pick up again tomorrow and look at ways of countering this, but I just wanted to record my responses here for now.
I have left my initial replies below so that you are aware of my thought processes.
However I have decided that I would rather keep this “on stage”. Therefore if it is too slow I must speed it up.
I have taken over 1000 words out of this (reducing it by approximately 50%) Wether it is now worth keeping is something you must judge.
Thanks for explaining that.
This is great feedback. If it feels slow to you then it will feel slow to other readers.
This is in fact an investment for book two where don Fernandino plays an important role, but probably inappropriate at this point in book one.
The whole chapter could go. That would leave Guillam turning up at Foix with a warning message, but how he found the message “off stage”
This could of course be done but i think you warned me against that a couple of chapters ago.
Maybe there should not be a message at all, Eleanor tells The Earl about Thomas Bewsley and the Earl’s sixth sense does the rest?
However, the attack on don Fernandino was a deliberate way of raising tension earlier in the story. His recovery, movement to Mazerou and Guillam’s knowledge of where he was now located, would also be “off stage”
I think perhaps you have found a weakness of mine. Perhaps you already know.
Yes, I use story building blocks.
Personally I dislike books or films which give no explanation of what is happening, apparently trying to create a mystery where none really exists and the reader/viewer spends the second half of the book/film saying ‘oh that is what it is all about.’ and hopefully “isn’t that clever”.
In my opinion the only time this is appropriate is when the story itself is about a character struggling to solve a mystery.
I was furious when I first read Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants” It seemed to me he had deliberately created a story, for which people would argue about its meaning for fifty years. Why?
Perhaps my views have softened as I perceive that other people enjoy the argument, but it is not what I want to do.
Deep down, I want to tell a story, not impress my readers with how clever I am.
My ideal, from which I may well fall short, is that the reader is unaware of me as an author. The story and images associated with the story, simply appear in the readers head.
However, all stories, even our individual lives, have unknowns and the possibility for alternative paths.
Some unknowns are physical and emotional threats from those who oppose our ideology, objectives or simply dislike us.
This naturally builds tension because when a decision is taken, a path is chosen, it is often irreversible, at least for people with ambition.
There are of course people who make an art form of not making decisions, of avoiding commitment, of avoiding conflict, of always being in a position of changing their minds. They feel comfortable but they achieve nothing.
They rationalise their lack of achievement by seeing themselves as in some way discriminated against.
I have no inclination to write about them but I do use them as gatekeepers or barriers to progress, occasionally as a catalyst, roles they often perform in real life.
I don’t feel the reader needs to know much about them, just to feel frustration when they get in the way.
For me, Guillam is an interesting character, he has great potential but he has allowed himself to be dominated by Lady Eleanor. I did in fact make a substantial investment in him at the time when the original plan for Ximene’s escape was devised.
He then dropped off the radar as he waited for Don Fernandino to arrive at Beaufort.
The fact that I find him interesting and that in this chapter we get a glimpse of his potential, may, of course, have no appeal to many readers. Perhaps they might have reached the stage in story, where readers want to read about the two main characters and nobody else. If so I must somehow accommodate their needs.
Hi Brian. You’ve done a good job cutting this down a little. I think it’s ok now.
The dialogue in particular when we first meet DF again is much improved.