116 At the Point of a Sword

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‘There is ample time for an assassin to strike. An assassin might choose to smother, stab or poison his target. He might choose to push his target off the battlements. But first, though, he has to obtain access.’


John Stanley – 17th June 1355

‘Sir, Monsieur Stanley.’ The library door rattled. ‘You are needed at once in Lady Eleanor’s lounge.’

John carefully unlocked the door, slid out and then relocked the door behind him.

Ximene caught his arm as he passed her in the corridor. ‘I am going to the cavern to bathe.’

‘Are Alyse and Pipa going with you?’

‘No, but I thought you might like to come.’ Her eyes gleamed. ‘It is a place where we can be alone.’

John nodded. ‘I will be there as soon as I can.’ He then ran towards the lounge, desperately hoping the meeting did not last too long. Just outside the lounge, the Earl stood impassively, hands on hips. On one side of him stood Guillam and on the other side stood Lady Eleanor. They were both talking over each other.

The Earl put his finger to his lips and gently guided them into the room. He turned as he heard John’s approach. Good, come inside and shut the door.’

Guillam sat at the table. Lady Eleanor moved to stand behind him with her arms around his neck.

The Earl faced them across the table but turned as John closed the door. ‘Guillam has told us that he has found Don Fernandino and moved him, secretly, to a safe house of his own choosing. He is now receiving medical care and will recover.’

Lady Eleanor broke in, ‘Yes, but more importantly, Guillam has discovered that Ximene is in great danger.

Guillam nodded. ‘It was a difficult journey. When I found Don Fernandino he was in great pain and could hardly walk.’

The Earl leaned forward. ‘But now he is safe?’

‘I believe so, yes, but in a way I abandoned him. I had to find Ximene again as soon as possible.

Lady Eleanor again interrupted impatiently. ‘Because Ximene is in great danger.’

Guillam’s voice quavered. ‘I found a message in the house where Don Fernandino was originally incarcerated…’

The Earl’s mouth compressed into a narrow line as Guillam explained the content of the message. ‘You only just got here in time. Ximene will be leaving in a few days time. We are going to help her escape and taking her to Bordeaux.’ The Earl hesitated and smiled. ‘However, now you are here there may be other options.’ He paused. ‘ We can deal with all that later.’ He frowned. ‘There is ample time for an assassin to strike. An assassin might choose to smother, stab or poison his target. He might choose to push his target off the battlements. But first, though, he has to obtain access.’

Lady Eleanor shook her head. ‘I know everyone very well, even some of the Comte’s guards we do not particularly like. They have all been here a long time, I cannot believe any of them could be an assassin.’

‘Unfortunately, Eleanor, people can be forced to do things they would not normally do, but I agree it is much more likely to be an outsider.’

Eleanor started. ‘Well there is an outsider. Alyse told me about him. He arrived a couple of days ago to work on the marriage contract. The newcomer asked Alyse to draw a map of the castle and declared an intention to meet Ximene so that he can seek her advice on the terms of the contract.’

‘Oh! Eleanor, you should have told me, we really must be very careful.’ The Earl pointed a finger at John. ’John find Ximene immediately and bring her here. Change into your guards uniform, which will act as a deterrent to any potential assailant and always wear your sword.’

As John moved to the door, the Earl continued to issue instructions. In the time before we leave, eat nothing sent down from the kitchen. I will get Piers to arrange for food to be brought from the camp. He or John will cook for you tonight and tomorrow….and eat nothing at the function.’

‘Won’t that be noticed?

“Toy with the food but do not eat anything.’

John was in the middle of changing his clothes when he remembered something Lord James had told him during the training at Biscarrosse. ‘When trying to gain entry to a secure fortress, a direct assault is not the only option. Often it is possible to use guile to gain entry when the occupiers are off guard. Once inside it is possible to hide and wait until the time is ripe to strike.

Exactly the situation they now faced. Hideaway? In this castle where would you hide away? The answer leapt at him… the caves.

He pulled his belt tight, slotted his sword into its sheath and ran to find Ximene. Not in her bedroom, not in the lounge, not in the study, library locked; she must have already 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. 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.

John drew his sword and crept up behind the figure. Ximene was in the opposite corner of the balcony, disrobing in preparation to take a bath. Ximene was placing her robes over the edge of the other table and was partly hidden by it. She then 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 but was marginally too slow.

The intruder sensed him coming and stepped to one side. John found himself on the far side of the intruder. Nevertheless, he was now in a position to shield Ximene from any 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, and you are?’

‘Ximene’s bodyguard.’

Bewsley grinned again. ‘Boy on a man’s job. Fresh clean tabard. Chainmail vest. Look carefully at my sword, it is an Estoc. No cutting edges, but a sharp point, specifically designed to skewer people wearing chainmail. Light in weight, wonderful for deflecting slashing attacks.’

John remembered Alan’s instructions at Much Marcle. “Keep your distance and let him come at you, keep moving from side to side.’

‘You will have to get near me first,’ John said, starting to dance from side to side on the balls of his feet, but moving away from Bewsley. He slashed his sword at Bewsley’s face. Bewsley ducked and lunged. He missed John by less than an inch and was back on guard before John had completed the slash.

‘They have armed you with a period piece. It would be good for slicing meat,’ Bewsley chuckled.

‘The joint I have in mind is your shoulder,’ John replied, changing his grip and holding his sword above his head. He stepped marginally closer and he tempted Bewsley into another lunge.

John dodged the lunge, stepped forward and at the same time slashed downwards. He overdid it. He ended up crashing into Bewsley and his sword sliced through fresh air. Bewsley wrapped his arm around John and landed a glancing blow from his dagger in the middle of John’s back. 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 danced a few steps backwards, but suddenly found himself teetering on the top step of the staircase.

The shadows created on the walls of the cavern by the frenetic movement, suddenly intensified. He 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.

Desperately 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.

Infuriated, Bewsley dashed at John. 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. At every step water splashed in every direction.

John began to feel more confident. Bewsley was beginning to breathe heavily. It might come down to the same issue of fitness which had helped him during the archery competition.

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 taking time to access the damage. Then he launched another attack. Not wanting to be too predictable John moved forward. He penetrated Bewsley’s defence several times. He saw Bewsley’s eyes tighten in distress.

Perhaps now was the 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 he lost his orientation and stepped backwards into one of the baths.

John was lying full length in the bath unable to move to either side. Bewsley stood over him. He tossed his dagger to one side and grasping the hilt of his sword in both hands, raising it above his head, its point directed at John’s chest.

John tried to move but couldn’t, he was trapped. He saw Bewsley’s muscles bulge as he aimed his final blow, but suddenly Bewsley stiffened, arched his back, twisted his head, dropped his sword and fell forward on top of John. John struggled to get out from under Bewsley as the bath water turned red and a red stain spread across the floor. A crossbow arrow protruded from Bewsley’s back.

Ximene, stood naked on the stairs from the balcony, calmly reloading her crossbow. She cautiously crossed the floor only lowering her weapon when she was sure Bewsley was dead. ‘Are you enjoying your bath, John?’ she asked.


Table of Contents

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.