‘We are not at any risk at all. John has his array of weapons but I have my belt. With it is possible to descend the steepest of slopes. From the battlements we will be able to descend and escape the Bastide. We were taught how to do this in our training in Biscarrosse but it is easy, anyone can do it’
They ran down to the stables and Piers pulled the belt from his saddle bag. It was unusual in that there were a number of metal rings hanging from it. There was a multitude of ropes in the stables and he selected the longest one. He then climbed up to the hay loft and tied off the rope to a roof support and threaded it through two of the rings on the belt. He then backed over the top of the wooden wall, which enclosed the stables below. They saw that he hung backwards and walked slowly down the wall. The way the rope was threaded through the two rings on his belt made it easy to let it out the rope at a rate, which matched that at which he wanted to descend. He then piled some straw underneath the wall and invited the others to practise this unusual skill.
John declined.‘I do not need to practice, I was taught how to do it at Biscarrosse. I am not as good as you but I can do it’
Don Fernandino volunteered.
He obviously found the act of walking backward into space quite difficult but once he had his feet on the wall he descended with ease.
Both Phillipa and Ximene encountered the same problem, they both let out the rope without moving their feet, with the result that they were hanging head downwards. Piers taught them to kick outwards from the wall. The belt was positioned so that once away from the wall their feet dropped and they could then let out more rope. Both girls asked for a second practice so that they became confident in their ability to control this unusual maneuver.
‘Good’ said Piers ‘Now all we have to do is climb onto the ramparts, attach a rope to any suitable anchor point and descend to the ground outside. Before the fire front hits the wall, we can be half a league away.’
They ran out of the stables and found the nearest steps up to the battlements. There was no shortage of anchor points as the ramparts had been prepared to utilise mangolet stone-throwing machines, which had to be anchored down firmly. In no time Piers had tied off the rope to a shackle and descended to the ground below. He showed off his skill, his feet only touched the wall three times during the descent. John pulled the rope back up to the top of the ramparts. Don Fernandino went next. The fact that the drop was much greater than in the stables caused him no concern. He realised that all he had to do was apply the same principles for a longer distance. Phillipa was concerned but it only took a brief look at the advancing fire front to convince her that the descent was an acceptable risk.
Now it was Ximene’s turn. To John’s amazement she refused point-blank.
‘ No’ she said turning to face John ‘My…’ she immediately rephrased her statement. ‘Our horses are down there, we cannot leave them to a miserable death. We must save them’