20 June 1355
John sat on the edge of the window balcony where he had spent the night. Ximene looked over shoulder without ceasing to comb her hair. She grinned. “Almost domesticity. Tell me again, why have you been ignoring me?
‘I can only repeat, it was you who said we should not be seen together.’
In public, yes. But here? You have just spent a night in my bedroom and you haven’t attempted to lay a hand on me.’
John shook his head, slowly. ‘I thought the woman was always supposed to be in control, You did not lay a hand on me.’
‘No… no, I suppose it was just not the right time. You are guarding me but the Earl, or Piers is probably just outside the door. Anyway today is the day.’
It was almost a repeat of the first day at Muret. John danced in attendance whilst Ximene carried out a multitude of self imposed tasks.
However she wasn’t only concerned with a choice of jewellery.
‘John come with me to the cavern. There is something I must do.’
John pulled a face. ‘What? Move the body?’
‘No. That is now someone else’s problem. Or at least after tonight it will be. What you do not know is that my shot which killed that man was my second shot. My first shot missed. I want to find out what I did wrong.’
They pulled out the wooden deer, from where it was stored, to a central position in the cavern, and Ximene fired shot after shot, without missing once.’
‘You finished?’John asked, glancing at the, body still in the bath, ‘this is no longer a pleasant place.’
Ximene frowned. ‘There is nothing intrinsically wrong with my technique, I must just have been nervous.’
John shook his head. ‘You and me both, come on let’s get out of here.’
Lady Eleanor was waiting for them. ‘Gaston has asked to see you, Ximene.’
‘No I won’t go, if he were to annoy me and I lost my temper he might lock me away and that would ruin everything.’
‘That would be most unlikely, he wants you at the dinner tonight,’
‘I won’t take the risk, I don’t want to see him before the dinner. Tell him I am too busy choosing a dress.’
Lady Eleanor then tried to shoo John away, protesting that the ladies, including Ximene, really did want to try on some dresses.
John refused. ‘Please get your dresses and all go into the lounge. I will guard the door. There may have been more than one assassin, we must take no chances.’
The ladies, including Ximene and Lady Eleanor obeyed him without question.
It was a new experience for John, he had never thought of himself as assertive. He listened as the chatter and eventually laughter inside the room reached a crescendo.
He was still there when the Earl arrived. The Earl was in his courtier image, this time black slashed leather with a dark grey infill.
The Earl’s eyes darted from side to side, ‘ Where is Ximene, you were supposed never to leave her side.’
John gestured to the door. ‘She is safe in here, as are all the ladies.’
The Earl knocked on the door. “Milady Ximene, it is William. I need to speak.’
It took a couple of minutes before Ximene emerged, still chuckling. She was dressed in a sumptuous pure white dress, with a narrow unbelted waist and a high collar.
‘We have been practicing how quickly we can change from formal dress into riding clothes. We have been having races. It really is good fun and we are gradually getting better.’
Quite. Now… can we go to the library? The Earl swallowed hard.”…you too John”
‘Very well, The first thing you need to know is that Guillam has taken Don Fernandino to a safe house and has offered to guide Ximene to that location. The Prince has approved this arrangement and therefore you are going to Sicily and not to to Bordeaux.’
Ximene danced up and down with excitement.
John however was sensitive to subtle changes in the Earls tone of voice.‘And you do not approve? He asked’
The Earl’s eyes flashed with annoyance.
‘There is another matter causing me some concern. ‘The Prince now proposes the whole of the expeditionary force should ride with you to Château Monsegur. It can be reached by road in three or four hours.’
‘A Cathar holy place. Guillam has told the Prince that you can rest there.’
John waited as the Earl walked to the door and then slowly returned.
‘Ximene you could still stop this nonsense by changing your mind and coming to Bordeaux.’
‘No, William, No. You have just offered me what you know I want and now you want to take it it away. Tell him John, you know how much I want complete freedom.’
The Earl raised an eyebrow. ‘Yes, go on, tell me John.’
John’s teeth clamped together and his eyes opened wide. He realised he had to respond. ‘Milord, I believe Ximene has never wavered in her determination to go to Sicily.’
The Earl glared at John. ‘So John, you finally show your hand, but as you know, it is only what I expect.’
He smiled briefly before shaking his head. ‘This is quite the most foolhardy enterprise in which I have ever been involved. Ximene would be much safer travelling along the Cathar trails, which are known to Guillam, Don Fernandino and probably no one else. It is midsummer. There would be little personal discomfort involved in travelling the whole distance to Don Fernandino’s hideaway, without resting at Montsegur.
John broke in. ‘Milord, this is all new to the Lady Ximene and myself. We have never refused to use the cather trails, we have never insisted on resting at Monsegur.’ He glanced at Ximene and she nodded. John realised with a shock that he was in charge, he was representing Ximene.’
The Earl reached out and put his hand on John’s shoulder. ‘ We John? We?’ He nodded and turned away. He appeared to be talking to himself. ‘But the truth is that the Prince has determined to find an excuse to visit Montsegur. The Prince knows that a hundred years ago many Cathars were burned to death there, at the end of the Albigensian Crusade, after a siege which lasted many years. The Prince wants to see it for himself.’
John felt Ximene move closer to him.
The Earl again turned to face them.
‘Anyway, we cannot let him take this trip unaccompanied. It means that at the very least our expeditionary force must travel to Monsegur with him. On the paved road to Monsegur there is a guard point. I have not had the chance to assess its security.
The Prince is of the opinion that the Comte’s guards will not be able to stop us if we pass them at night, without warning, and that might well be true, but they will be aware of our passage. The guards could then guide others to follow us.’
There were the faint strains of musicians tuning up. The Earl finally permitted himself a smile.
‘Oh well, that is all for tomorrow. The evening begins. Bonne chance, John, bonne chance, Ximene’
The guests from outside accessed the upper castle through the hairpin ramp and main entrance at the north end of the pinnacle of Rock.
The Prince, Jean de Grailley and Lord James arrived early evening. They left their horses at a temporary stable which had been provided at the lower end of the ramp and ascended on foot. The Earl hurried to join them.
Outside in the courtyard there was a network of ropes and chains The artisans had erected several large candelabra on and appeared to be still working on the lighting.
John checked Piers uniform and stood patiently as Piers returned the favour. He then picked up a huge metal shield, which had been taken from the walls of Lady Eleanor’s dining room. It was now emblazoned with the lion rampant, the insignia of Aquitaine.
Piers picked up a second shield, now finished in the same way.
John was nervous and not just because there were many unknowns in the plan he had worked on for two weeks.
He felt strange wearing the uniform of a Prince’s guard when he was now committed to serving Ximene.
Serving Ximene? Perhaps in the eyes of the Joan, the Earl and the Prince. No, it was now a reality. He had represented Ximene’s interests and preferences above those of the Earl. There was no turning back.
John tested the massive handle which had been attached to the reverse of his shield by the engineers; immovable!
As they climbed the spiral staircase, John had to change the orientation of his shield to match the profile of the staircase and he knew that Piers must be doing the same thing immediately behing him.
Eventually he emerged into the bright lights of the great hall with its elegantly shaped but roughly finished domed roof. The room was absolutely full of people. The scene glittered with light, not just from the candelabra and the table lights but from the jewellery adorning both men and women. The dominent colours of the costumes were black for the men and white for the women,but there were also splashes of red, turquoise and deep blue.
Soft background music filled the room but John could not immediately see the musicians. John positioned himself at the right hand side of the mouth of the stairwell. and adjusted his position to match that of Piers who took his place on the left.
Ximene, Lady Eleanor, Guillam and Catherine de Roet and finally Paon de Roet emerged from the stairwell in single file
Gaston immediately approached, kissed Ximene’s hand and took her away into the centre of the room.
John saw the Earl waving frantically. ‘Come on Piers’ John worked his way towards the Earl but it was not easy in such a crowded room. A sideways glance told him that piers was having similar difficulty.
In the end the Earl move towards them ‘Come with me, pretend to be in attendance to me but the three of us must surround Ximene.
Gaston was presenting Ximene to a very tall, slim man with a pinched face and the most elaborate dress.
They were still some distance away when the Prince cut across their path. ‘ How dare he invite Louis of Anjou, tonight is supposed to celebrate my union with Ximene.’
The Earl growled under his breath, ‘ It’s his way of announcing that no agreement has yet been finalised. Getting her out of here is not a moment too soon.’
The Price moved on, his face flushed, his hands clenched by his sides.
John glanced at the Earl. “Louis of Anjou?’
The Earl’s eyes narrowed. ‘Chief competitor for Ximene’s hand. It is a calculated insult. There have been wars started for less. It must mean that my assessments of our last discussion with Gaston were wrong and Ximene was right. Anyway we will have the last laugh. She will leave with us in less than two hours’
At this point the music raise in both volume and tempo, the smell of food permeated through the hall . Gaston escorted Ximene to the table, with Louis in close attendance . A major domo took charge of the seating. The Earl swore. John looked at him curiously, he had never heard the Earl swear before.
Even John, with virtually no experience of the implications of seating arrangements,understood the reason for the Earl’s annoyance.The Compte had positioned Louis of Anjou to his right, then Ximene and then the Prince. Surely, considering the occasion the Prince should have been positioned closer to the Comte than Louis!
To the left of the Comte sat his wife Agnes, beyond her sat Pierre-Raimond the Compte de Comminges. Beyond him again was Pipa’s parents Paon and Catherine Roet. This choice of seating symbolically separated the Prince from his liegeman. Beyond the Prince to his right sat Lady Eleanor and then Guillam and finally the Earl.
Four of the Comte’s guards were centred behind him which effectively pushed John and Piers outwards John found himself behind Lady Eleanor. The Prince looked over his shoulder to check the final arrangement. John realised that the Prince was trapped there was nothing he could do. He would have had to shout across Ximene and Louis to make a protest to the Comte.
Ximene also knew that the seating arrangement was an affront to the Prince. She was near enough to him to feel his resentment. She wanted to sympathise, she almost reached out to touch his hand. She resisted the temptation.
Doubts entered her mind. She could not be sure if Gaston knew of the plans for her escape. She noticed that two of the comtes guards have now been placed at the head of the stairwell. Her mind whirled. She made a conscious effort to share her conversation between the Prince and Louis and looked desperately across the Prince to where John was standing, apparently unconcerned leaning forward to speak to her grandmother.
Each course was brought in as a procession accompanied by a fanfare of trumpets and martial music. Pheasant, baby pig, venison, and duck relentlessly followed each other. During each course jugglers, mummers, acrobats and troubadours performed. The fact that the room was long and narrow, led to some spectacular running acrobatics very close to the table.
During the quieter passages it was possible for John quite naturally to convey instructions to both Lady Eleanor and Guillam. To a casual observer it appeared they were discussing the performers.
Immediately the dessert course had been served, Lady Eleanor pronounced herself to be fatigued. No one was surprised when Guillam escorted her from the room. When they passed the guards they attracted no attention whatsoever. It was only a few minutes later, as everyone was looking forward to what was promised as a memorable end of feast entertainment, that a cry went up that there was a fire on the hill.
‘The English camp is on fire.’
‘Come and see.’
‘The soldiers could be trapped.’
Everyone dashed outside to observe the spectacle. There was indeed a raging fire. The Prince called on all his adherents to leave in order to fight the fire. People ran in all directions. In the middle of the confusion, Ximene slipped away down the spiral staircase. John moved along to Pipa’s parents and after a suitable gap indicated that they also should leave. It all seemed to take so long. The guards were so distracted that they hardly noticed them go. John forced himself to count to ten before he signalled to Piers to depart. There was a animated conversation between the guards and Piers but after heart stopping moments he was allowed to leave.
Once more, John counted to ten whilst he walked around the room to approach the steps. He was concerned that because the room was clearing, as more and more people rushed outside, his movement might be noticed. He approached the guards cautiously.
” Oh you are another one who’s horse is in the town?’ John nodded. ‘ It will probably be all over by the time you get there.’
John advanced down the first twist of the spiral staircase. At this point he manoeuvred his shield above his head and pulled it down firmly so that it bit into the masonry either side of the stairwell, blocking access. As he did this, Piers met him coming up the stairs with a rope, which was quickly threaded through the handle of the shield. They both then pulled on the free end of the rope until it was tight and tied it off. John knew that the far end of the rope was firmly attached to two large sacks of earth. There was now no way that the shield could be moved from above. Just to be certain, they repeated the process with Pier’s shield a little further down. As they descended the remainder of the stairwell, John noted with satisfaction that all four bags were hanging from the ropes, meaning the full weight of the sacks was holding the shields in position.
As he emerged from the base of the stairwell, he was greeted by the cheery faced artisan, who he recognised as one of the engineers from the expeditionary force. They ran across to the mouth of the other stairwell. It was completely blocked with the chairs and segments of the tables from the bathing balcony. They were all tied together by a long chain, which had been tightened by hooking a grappling iron fitted to the end of the chain through a huge staple, which had been installed half way down the stairwell, late in the afternoon. The whole cascade had then been pulled tight against a complete table which had been placed across the top of the stairwell. The chain had been tied off around the table legs. The result was that to come up the stairway, guards would have to hack their way through a ten foot maze of substantial wooden sections.
They ran to the edge of the courtyard. Overhead the network of ropes from which hung the candelabra, now carried a structure which now hung over the wall of the courtyard. Out of the darkness, a platform with ladders below it appeared over the wall lifted by a traction system mounted on the structure. A second artisan pulled the platform into the wall using one of the overhead rope assemblies. He triumphantly tied it off and announced that the steps he had created were safer than the spiral staircases. And so it proved. The access ladders were all enclosed in frameworks and the bottom of each frame was boarded, providing both stiffness to the structure and a landing for those using the steps.
The small group descended to the banks of the river without any problem and were mounting their horses nearly a tenth of a league away when they heard shouts of greater urgency coming from the castle. They rode as quickly as they could alongside the walls of the town and crossed the bridge over the Arriege. Once over the bridge they rode into the trees to await the arrival of the Prince. They had not long to wait. In the dead of night they felt as well as heard the approach of two hundred riders. The Prince was at the column’s head. He stopped only to ask John if Ximene was safe and to look back at the Château, now silhouetted by the light from the burning camp.
‘We did a good job of building the bonfire,’ he muttered to John,
‘Perhaps we should have burned the Château itself whilst we were about it,’ replied John.
12 thoughts on “Chapter 57 (Edit) The Escape 19/6/55”
I have altered the introduction to this chapter to inform readers that he has finally agreed that John and Ximene are going to Sicily and not to Bordeax and that he has decided to ride with them as far as Monsegur.
I have tried to limit the number of words but this has to be agreed in advance. It would be extremely unlikely to be an on the fly decision on the flight from Foix.
I am loosing Control > Watch having characters state what in reality they might hold back. Can make dialogue feel overly contrived. John (and the reader) can work this out…
Just a note that again the minutiae of the planning can get a little uninteresting for the reader. The chapter in which John’s changed status was revealed to him (the first citizen of Occitan) was of high interest, whereas this section that follows is back to the escape without too much acknowledgement of how things have changed for him. The details of the escape hold less interest to the reader than John’s developing relationship with Ximene, for example, which is partly why I’d tried to keep the pace moving in the previous chapter (reader knows what the alarming news was, and doesn’t need to witness it being explained to John.) These are all matters of focus, and the kind of thing I would point up in an initial reader report, giving the writer time to make considered changes to the manuscript as a whole. The manuscript is working fairly well with what you have, but as we draw to a close I will keep thinking about what the reader takes away from the manuscript, and where the areas of greatest dramatic interest are. I had been expecting more on Ximene and John’s romance, for example. Ok – just wanting to record my thoughts; more to come!
‘Oh well, that is all for tomorrow. The evening begins. Bonne chance, John.’ > I’d be tempted to end first scene here.
They took a collective deep breath as they prepared to ascend the spiral staircase.
Beware treating multiple characters as one. Need to make clear from the outset whose PoV this new scene is being written from.
Just a note that I think we might be on the way to exceeding the 170,000 word count. I have 167,131 to the end of this chapter and looking ahead can see approx 11,000 to go.
John and Piers were left virtually alone but saw Ximene isolated.
After all your work is setting up John’s very particular role, don’t allow him to be interchangeable with Piers as we come to the novel’s conclusion.
The Prince’s face was like thunder, his jaws clamped together. There was an unannounced guest. Louis of Anjou, the other prominent suitor for Ximene’s hand.
An important moment. Slow down and really let the reader into the scene here.
Avoid cliched phrasing too; ‘face like thunder.’
At this point the music started and it became difficult to find or communicate with people.
More could be done to help this scene come alive. We need to really get a sense of these crowds; the people in their finery? the mood of the crowd? Are these people Ximene / John would usually like or despise?
Having a clear PoV character would really lift this section.
Some additional thoughts as I finished the end of the chapter: this meal is really part of your finale, and it’s really important it feels suitably impressive. Can we follow John’s PoV and get a reflection back to where he came from, and how much his life has changed through the course of the novel.
We weren’t surprised by the Comte’s treatment of the Prince, as you had already told the reader he was preferring other suitors. This takes away the impact of the scene, and rationing information is certainly something you can work on. You tend to lay out all the information as we go along, which means the reader can lose interest in a plot twist, as the developments are simply accepted when they occur. They lose their power as reader already saw the way things were going. Imagine if even Ximene thought all was moving in the Prince’s favour, and the Comte behaves as a terrible host by playing the two men off in front of one another. And poor John watching it all from the sidelines, flustered by his desire for his charge!
One of the reasons I’ve been keen to trim down your text is sometimes the padding can distract the reader from your most important areas of focus. It’s a long book, and a big ask to keep a reader’s attention for this long. Sometimes I must admit to not caring too much as to what happened to Ximene. And yet the reasons – her maltreatment by the Comte, her gutsiness (I loved the scene where she executed her own escape for the Transformation dinner!), her delightfully murky liaison with John – are all in the text, but at times obscured by so much other material in between. Here, for example, it’s been a while since we witnessed the Comte being objectionable to Ximene or Ximene and John’s passion for one another, so these bits get forgotten and the reader feels a little unexcited about the novel as a whole.
There’s some great stuff in this novel, but the end is so important as it’s where the reader tends to make judgment on what they’ve read. Did it all add up? Was it all worth it? Will they buy the next book? The mechanics of the escape itself isn’t that exciting – it’s the human dramas (John and Ximene, and his divided loyalty) that make it so, and so far I can’t see the ultimate conflict promised.
You are not helped in this chapter by trying to deal with multiple characters at once, which makes your telling of events less precise.
It may be a question of working on your outline to pull your focus into shape a little more. Many of my writers submit a plot outline to me with suggested changes and additional scenes before writing the fresh material.
Do you want me to keep going to the end of this draft, making additional comments as relevant, then leave you a little time to address these more general points?
If you do work more on this chapter before I pick up tomorrow, be sure to work on my already edited material. I noticed going back over the chapter with the red highlighting that I had to re-correct some typos and grammatical error; I think because you reverted to the original rather than using the edited version when making your alternative chapter.
I’ll probably have more comments on the ending as I read the final chapters. Do just confirm you want me to go ahead and do that. As I noted, my original text doc tells me we are very close to the 170,000 words at this point, so we would just need to agree what we will do about any additional word count.
Many thanks, Brian
What i really appreciate about your editing is that you see things through the eyes of a reader and that is exactly what i was looking for.
You have now taught me something else. That the plot should include relationships not just physical events.
I have always plotted the events and then used people to give a window on those events.
The “Chapter 57 escape” clearly needs work. I agree with everything you have said. There must be something about the relationship between John and Ximene. I also agree that appearing as the Prince’s guard when he has already committed himself to swear allegiance to Ximene must do some thing inside his head.
However, In Chapter 52 there was a fairly lengthy scene between Ximene and John in which Ximene queries John about how he felt about the Transition and then concludes that in the short term they should not spend too much time in each others company, which makes John feel rejected. This is only eight days before “the escape”
A the beginning of the “ the assassin” only one day before the escape I did include a short scene where Ximene appeared to relent, inviting John to bathe with her, which you felt was unnecessary. It could be replaced , enhanced to progress the relationship.
I really do not want Ximene to meet Gaston again. I believe there is nothing to add but perhaps there might be something about the way she avoids such a meeting’
I accept that the relationships are what is important.
I will review ’The escape’, but please before I do that look at the three remain chapters. I really do not know wether you have done any advance reading, but if you have not there may be one or two surprises for you.
Now the Quasi Contractural issue. I really do not know how you have done your count but I enclose a Pdf export from the spread sheet I am using.
The Pdf Document will not post here, so I have sent it by e- mail
You will see that the original total, which is what we are working to for payment, is 170,435 words. At 11 pounds per thousand words this represents 1875 pounds. To date I have paid you 1900 pounds which I believe covers our agreement.