54 — The Target

John Stanley – 26th  September1355

On their return to Mazerou, Thierry again studied the shape of the hills around the southern target. He carefully sketched the profiles, measured and noted the compass bearing of the most prominent features. Rolling up his sketches he announced himself ready to go.

The following morning, John told him that Estevan was coming with them.

Thierry ‘s jaw dropped. ‘We might be on the track of treasure, and you want to bring a Moor with us. Did I not make myself clear? They are not to be trusted!’

‘Well’ said John taking care to keep emotion out of his voice. ‘Yesterday we moved towards an accomodation of each other’s feelings but that does not mean you are now in control. You have two chances, you either accept Estevan as a member of our small team, or you don’t go at all. We will simply leave you locked up here and do it without you!’

‘You can’t do it without me, you need the compass’

John smiled and reaching inside his own pocket pulled out the compass box. ‘You left it in the saddle bag of your horse. It is disassembled but I think I can put it together.

John then went to a particlarly large bundle of straps hanging on a hook on the wall and reaching behind it, pulled out the scroll of Thierry’s drawings. Thierry lurched forward as if to grab the scroll and nearly impaled himself on the point of John’s sword,

“Ximene moved quickly forward. Stop it, stop it this will do no good for any of us. John sheath your sword’

‘ Not until he accepts Estevan’s role’

Thierry laughed without humour. ‘And his role is… what?’

John narrowed his eyes. ‘ Estevan is a mathematician.. When we get to the target there may be many kinds of puzzles to solve. Some of those puzzles could be mathematical in nature. Estevan could well become a valuable resource.’

Thierry turned to Ximene. ‘And what do you think Milady’

‘I want Estevan to come with us.’

Thierry gave a slight bow ‘So be it. I would not argue with you Milady. So now can I have my compass and drawings back.’

John did not lower his sword. Ximene glared at him.‘ Stop it John, he has agreed to what we want.’

The two men glared at each other but in the end John lowered his sword. Not a moment to soon, as Estevan entered the chamber.

Two hours later, led by Thierry, they rode past Quillian and into the mouth of the Gorge de le Pierre-Lys. The river Aude foamed over rocks and surged through channels between them. They approached a point where the sides of the gorge rose directly from the river.

John reined in Helios. He shook his head. “The Map is accurate. This is so narrow .’ He  pointed at the river.  There is no way we can go through that.’ 

Thierry smiled. “When I made my first ride to warn you I was guided through here by someone who knew the old Cathar tracks. Just as I did for the targets,  I made sketches  in case I wanted to use it again”

As they approached the rock face he led his horse down the river bank and into the river.

“Follow me exactly. It is the same trick as the one we will use to find the target point.” 

“We will head for that rock” he pointed towards a very distinct rock formation on the opposite bank.

They continued in a straight line until they were almost at the foot of the rock They found themselves now isolated in a raging torrent of water. but on a narrow shelf where the water was only ankle deep.

“Now that rock” He pointed out another formation.

“And once again” pointing with his hand.

The final change in direction brought them back to a river bank, at  the far side of the vertical cliffs. They climbed out of the water onto an easy path through the rest of the gorge. It was amazing. They had passed through what had seemed to be impassable but the water had never risen above their ankles. In places the rocky shelf was slippery but it was never unmanageable.

John turned to look at their route. The underwater shelf was already undetectable.

By mid day they were in the Fenoullides  valley on a track alongside the much gentler Bouzlane river.  They paused to admire  the Château of Puilaurens, a major structure perched high on a pillar of rock, which Maurice had identified for them. John knew that meant they were close to the southern target,  

Thierry looked carefully at the sketches he had made. ‘ Now for some mountaineering, we cannot avoid.  We have to climb that.” He said nodding towards a ridge of rock which at the top merged into the clouds. The ridge stretched east from Puilaurens and was only separated from it by a narrow valley.

At the very base of the ridge, they tethered their horses and continued on foot. After only a few minutes they stumbled across a path, badly overgrown but probably wide enough for a cart. Theirry pronounced that it headed in the right direction.

They returned for the horses and were able with due caution to continue to climb on horseback. The track zig – zagged up the face of the rock for mile after mile without ever becoming too steep. At one point it brought them back to the opposite side of the valley from Puilaurens, but now they were looking down on the Château! They pushed on upwards. Eventually, they reached a point where the track divided.

The first route they took proved to be a great disappointment. Almost immediately, it  seemed probable that this track led back  to the valley floor but it took them nearly an  hour to be sure of this. Then, on the way back the track  there was another division , which they had not noticed when they passed it the first time. once again they took the wrong branch and the track petered out into dense woodland. This again caused an hours delay. Eventually, they reached the point at where the alternative route they had originally rejected was again available to them. They decided to camp for the night. Theirry immediately set about lighting a fire and providing a store of firewood. As they worked, Thierry confided his thoughts rather than giving instructions.

‘All these high ridges are inhabited by both bears and wolves. It is absolutely essential to keep the fire going during the hours of darkness. It will keep any predators at bay and perhaps just as importantly stop them blundering into our camp by accident.’

Estevan took in on himself to lead the search for firewood. Very quickly he collected enough wood for a bonfire. 

He then astounded the others by sprinking a reddish powder over kindling and over two small branches. He rubbed the branches together holding them above the kindling and the fire bust into life so vigorously that he had to jump backwards to avoid the flames.

He grinned from ear to ear. ‘Still working on that’ he said. ‘At least it doesn’t explode any more.’

Thierry shook his hand. ‘ I was wrong about you, thank you, now tell me how did you do that.’

Ximene smiled at John, wrapped her arms around him and whispered in his ear. ‘You see he is not all bad.’

John could not help stiffening. ‘I am still not sure but he has certainly turned your head.’

Ximene laughed. ‘Only a little.’

They ate a simple supper and slept between the horses and the fire.

It was difficult to sleep as there were frequent noises of animals moving through the undergrowth. John rescued the belt containing his throwing knives from his saddlebag and fastened it around his waist, making it even more difficult to sleep. On several occasions one or other of the horses whinnied in protest at some perceived threat. Each time it happened it took John several minutes to settle them down again

At first light, Thierry tried his best to identify the actual point of the target. In the end he gave up. ‘It is the trees which cause the problem’ he complained. ‘It is a problem which does not exist at sea!’

John smiled.  ‘Ah! Yes the trees.’

They agreed that the best solution was to continue to head upwards,  As they got higher, mature trees grew from the centre of the track. They were  hoping eventually to find a location where they could lookout over the tops of the trees. Eventually Thierry identified a point on the cliff face not far above the path, which would give him the view he wanted. From below Ximene John and Estevan could see him checking and rechecking his angles. Finally he climbed down, slipping and sliding on the loose rock. He smiled broadly; perhaps the first time John had ever seen him do this.

“I think I have been able to identify all of the significant points I noted, but they are not lined up as they should be. It is of course true that when observed from a different angle the shapes are slightly different, but I am very confident. I am also sure that this track is still heading in the right direction. You know it is beginning to look as though this track was originally created to access the place we are looking for!”

By mid afternoon they had reached the end of the track. It stopped in mid air. They were faced with a sheer drop of more than one hundred feet. Just before the precipice, the track was covered with rubble from a slip of granular limestone. Again they prepared a campsite and lit a fire.

Thierry and John both climbed the cliff above the track until they found a position where they could see the surrounding countryside. Thierry made compass measurements and compared what he saw with his sketches. In a voice, which conveyed both excitement and disappointment, he pronounced himself satisfied that this was indeed the spot.

“The shapes of the hills are not identical to the shapes on the map at Mazerou but that can be explained by the uneven growth of trees. I am sure however that this is the correct spot. But what is there here? Nothing!

Meanwhile on the path beneath Estevan was exploring the minor landslide. He spoke to Ximene in an exited tone of voice. ‘In the whole of our climb, I did not see another landslip, what could have caused one at this spot?’

Estevan commenced an examination of the loose rock at the side of the path. Within seconds he was tearing at the pile of rubble with his bare hands.

‘Just look at this!’ he shouted over his shoulder. ‘The landslip camouflages the fact that there is a huge rock here. Look at the rock! It has been roughly hewn to be in the shape of a huge ball!’

Thierry and John hurriedly scrambled down to the path where Ximene was waiting for them. Estevan rose from his scrabbling.
‘Look at this! Look at this! After that boulder was rolled into place the rock face would have been dislodged further up so that the rubble camouflaged the shape of the hewn rock. I think this is probably it! I think we have found the target.’

All four of them cheered with excitement and they hugged each other. John watched as Ximene and Thierry danced around holding hands. Was she being won over by the skills he displayed, by his commitment to her cause or simply because he was an unbelievably attractive man! He made no comment. At this moment Thierry was a vital member of a very small team!

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

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