19 June 1355
Guillam had returned with some alarming news and John had been ordered not to leave Ximene’s side day or night. An order he would willingly have given himself.
He was in the middle of changing his clothes before attending to his duty when he remembered something Lord James had told him during training at Biscarrosse.
In attempting to enter a castle, a frontal assault is rarely the best way. Far better to use subterfuge to sneak inside, and then hide away, until the opportunity arises to take action.
In this castle, he pondered, where would someone hide?
He pulled his belt tight, slotted his sword into its sheath and went to find Ximene. Not in her bedroom, not in the lounge, not in the study, library locked. She must have gone to bathe.
He ran down the corridors where previously he had only sauntered. As he ran his shadow loomed large, flickering in the light of one torch after another.
He skidded to a halt at the entrance to the cavern. There, in front of him was another figure casting shadows, unaware of his approach.
John pulled on his duelling gloves, drew his sword and crept up behind the figure. From the corner of his eye, he could see Ximene disrobing in the opposite corner of the balcony. The preparations for the escape had resulted in most of the tables and chairs being removed from the balcony. Only two remained, lying on their side. The figure in front of him hid behind one of the tables. Ximene was placing her robes over the edge of the other table and was partly hidden by it. She moved towards the top of the staircase.
The shadowy figure rose from behind the table, sword in one hand, dagger in the other. John ran forward, intending to hit the intruder over the head with the hilt of his sword.
The intruder sensed him coming and stepped aside. John found himself on the far side of the intruder, now in a position to shield Ximene from attack.
Ximene ran down the staircase and vanished into the shadows at the far side of the cavern.
John found himself facing a long slim sword pointing straight at his throat. The intruder grinned. ‘Thomas Bewsley at your service.’
Bewsley grinned again. ‘Boy on a man’s job. Fresh clean tabard. Chainmail vest. Look carefully at my sword. An Estoc. No cutting edges, but a sharp point, specifically designed to skewer people wearing chain mail. Light in weight, wonderful for deflecting slashing attacks.’
‘You will have to get near me first,’ said John, staring to dance from side to side on the balls of his feet, moving away from Bewsley.
‘They have armed you with a period piece. It would be good for slicing meat,’ Bewsely chuckled.
‘The joint I have in mind is your shoulder,’ John replied, changing his grip and holding his sword above his head. He stepped closer and tempted Bewsley into a lunge.
John grabbed the blade of the Estoc with his gloved hand and pulled Bewsley towards him, at the same time slashing downwards. He overdid it, crashing into Bewsley as his sword sliced the air. Bewsley wrapped his arm around John and landed a glancing blow from his dagger in the middle of John’s back. Regardless, it did not penetrate the mail. John frantically pushed Bewsley away from him, reminding himself that he was supposed to be making Bewsley come to him. He took a few steps backwards but suddenly found himself teetering on the top step of the staircase.
The shadows on the walls of the cavern danced and John became aware that one of the torches was at his left hand.
Bewsley pushed in strongly, parrying John’s attempts at defence, which is what John had been hoping for, but John was now off balance.
John tried another horizontal slash and then grabbed the torch from its holder and thrust it into Bewsley’s face. Bewsley screamed, but John overbalanced and together they tumbled down the steps to the floor of the chamber.
John was first to his feet.
John realised that though Bewsley’s weapon was deadly, to be skewered by it he had to be trapped within range. He retreated, keeping his opponent at bay with a succession of slashes which Bewsley parried with increasing difficulty. Water splashed in every direction as they fought.
Bewsley was beginning to breathe heavily, and as he retreated, John took time to search the flickering shadows for Ximene. He continued to back away and one of his slashes finally ripped into Bewsley’s shoulder.
Bewsley backed away, apparently taking time to assess the damage. Then he launched another attack. Not wanting to be too predictable, John moved forward. He penetrated Bewsley’s defence several times and saw his eyes tighten in frustration.
Perhaps it was time. He retreated once again, tempting Bewsley to come to him. Twice in succession when Bewsley lunged he scored hits on Bewsley’s body. Perhaps it was this success, perhaps it was the sideways glances searching for Ximene, but in a moment he stepped backwards into one of the baths.
Bewsley stood over him before he could find his feet. The villain tossed his dagger to one side and grasping the hilt of his sword in both hands, raised it above his head.
John thought all was over, but suddenly Bewsley fell forward on top of him. John struggled to get out from under Bewsley as the bath water bloomed red.
‘Enjoying your bath, John?’ asked Ximene, stood naked on the stairs from the balcony, calmly reloading her crossbow.