85 — Place de l’Aigle d’Or

John sprinted to the stables.

The fortified cart emerged. Piers was at the reins and behind the cart, ran Helios and Selene—saddled—but tethered on a long rein. John found it difficult to climb into the cart, even though it was moving very slowly. This pleased him. If he found it difficult, so would anyone else.

Piers drove down along backstreets to the east of the square and then turned west at the road which crossed the northern edge of the square and was now obstructed by the scaffold. They stopped just short of entering the square. From this position, John was able to see the whole square and most importantly, the scaffold and the pyre on top of it.

No one paid ant attention to this strange vehicle which might have been mistaken for an undertaker’s cart. The crowds were all intent on Ximene as she was forced onto the scaffold.

She was met by a priest and the questioning process began. Even at a distance it could be seen that Ximene was disinclined to take part. She was struggling against her executioners who were trying to force her to face the priest.

Don Fernandino proved to be correct—the Crowds became increasingly restive.

John winced. There were half a dozen well-armed soldiers standing around the periphery of the scaffold. Where had they come from, he wondered?

He believed that as a result of training and Morgan’s instruction, under ideal conditions he could release a well-aimed arrow every ten seconds, one minute to deal with all the guards—but from a moving carton an uneven surface? He frowned and removed his belt containing his throwing knives. He rebuckled it so that it hung over his left shoulder and tucked underneath his right arm.

Suddenly clouds of smoke blew across the square. John was amazed how realistic the illusion Don Fernandino had created turned out to be. It started with the plume of smoke from the fire John himself had started. The coarse woodchips, now alight, were lifted by the updraught and fell like burning rain over the square.

The crowd ran forward, away from the fire, crushing up against the scaffold and at the same time sweeping the militia aside. Burning chips of wood now rained down on the pyre which suddenly burst into flame. John knew it was caused by an incendiary arrow fired by Don Fernandino but even he did not see the flight of the arrow. After a short delay the two corner apartments behind the scaffold burst into flames. John knew this was because Don Fernandino had lit first one and then the other stairwell. Nevertheless the illusion was perfect. It looked as though the pyre, now burning fiercely fanned by the southern wind, had jumped into the nearby buildings.

The crowd screamed in alarm, as they were faced with a second blaze much closer to them than the original fire. Those nearest the scaffold tried to retreat the militia ran with them, leaving an open space in front of the scaffold In their flight they ran into those still trying to flee from the southern fire. Burning chips of wood still rained down on the square. The crowd, faced with fire on two sides then tried to flee the square. They fell over one another in their haste; all semblance of order was gone.

John released Helios and Selene from their tethers and prodded Piers in the back. ‘Now’ he said.

Their charge across the northern edge of the square went initially unnoticed as it was full of people running in every direction. Helios and Selene, trained to follow John, charged after the cart, Both horses moved forward to run at the side of the cart, and their progress took on some aspects of a cavalry charge.

People scattered frantically to get out of their way. John belted himself to the side of the cart to give himself some stability and he now took aim.

His first shot hit the nearest of the armed guards in the middle of the chest. The bodkin did its job, penetrating whatever chain mail he was wearing. With a look of intense surprise he clutched at the arrow before his knees buckled and he collapsed.

John was again taking aim before he hit the floor. Ximene struggled with the guards holding her arms. She broke away from one of them. As he reached out to regain his grip, the second arrow took him in the shoulder, once again he collapsed in a heap. Ximene stamped on the second guard’s foot and swung round. With all the force she could muster she kneed him between the legs. He reeled away from her presenting John with another target, but the cart lurched beween his feet and He missed.

It became obvious that the guards were now aware of the approach of the cart. Instincts of self-preservation prevailed and they ducked for cover. With the pyre now a conflagration there was little cover to be had. Three of them jumped from the scaffold and ran across the square. However the one who had survived John’s third arrow hesitated, turned around and headed for Ximene. By now the cart was pulling alongside the scaffold. By design the sides were the same hight as the scaffold floor. ‘Jump Ximene, Jump’ shouted John. Her hands were still tied behind her back but she obeyed him. In the seconds before she jumped John had released himself from his belt and was, therefore, able to catch her. John knew there would still be danger and he scrambled back to his feet. The remaining guard was still running towards them. He showed every intention of jumping aboard.

John pulled one of his throwing knives from his belt. He did not see a man, he saw a wolf. Suddenly he was back on the Wirral Peninsula. A wolf had been circling his campfire and was now intent on attacking him. He saw the wolf’s yellow eyes getting ever closer. He threw the knife.

The guard screamed in agony as the knife buried itself in his eye socket. He tumbled from the scaffold and was dead before he hit the floor.

The cart now completed the charge across the square and Piers chose to exit by the street directly in front of them. Suddenly they were lost amongst the thousands fleeing the fire. Piers turned north at the next intersection. By now John had cut through the rope binding Ximene’s wrists. They snatched a brief embrace. Piers pulled hard on the reins. Using the steps on either side, Ximene and John were able to mount Selene and Helios. Piers jumped on behind John and they raced to the butcher’s​ shop and the apartment above where Don Fernandino and Pipa were waiting for them.

Ximene and Pipa embraced and danced around in exhilaration.

Don Fernandino however still had a stern countenance. He pulled Piers and John to the window. ‘We were supposed to wait here until the fuss died down.’ he said, and pointed out of the window. ‘However, we have done our job too well.’ The streets were full of people running to the northerly gate, which was closed, presumably as another security measure against the proximity of the Black Prince’s army. As they looked to the south a wall of flame was advancing towards them fanned by the fierce southerly wind. Looking out of the window John could already feel the heat. They had rescued Ximene but now faced the possibility of being burned alive, trapped against the northerly wall of the Bastide.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

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Pseudo History