95 — No Respite

The Earl then took Piers and John to meet the other guards and explained their new roles.‘It will only be for two nights. On the morning of the third day the ladies will be able to ride all the way to Termes, where as you know there is a substantial Château firmly under our control’And so John and Piers rode ahead, travelling alongside the party responsible for pitching the tent but separate from them. They separated company, each riding along ridges either side of the road, from where they could watch not only the progress of the tent party but also from time to time scan a wide distances on either side for any sign of movement. They saw nothing.Once the site chosen for the overnight stay had been reached. John slowly led Helios into a small dell three hundred feet away and left him untethered. All that training came in good stead, he knew that Helios would stay there but if summonsed would come to find John. He then cautiously circled the whole site, being careful not to reveal his presence. He knew that Piers would be waiting for him between the tent and the setting sun. They then decided which would be the most likely approach for any potential attackers and identified positions were they could monitor these approaches without being seen themselves. They separated again and settled down to wait.John was mentally prepared for two nights of sleepless vigil with nothing to relieve the boredom. To his amazement he had only just made himself comfortable, surrounded by bushes and underneath the face of a large rock when he heard movement. Someone was crawling through the undergrowth, no, several people were crawling through the undergrowth… no many people were crawling through the undergrowth and on both sides of him.There were too many for John to tackle them personally so being careful not to reveal his presence tried to access how many observers there were. They gave themselves away by gathering together to discuss what they had seen. Ten maybe twelve. One of them had red hair! In the remaining light of the day John and the unidentified observers were able to watch the ladies dismount and enter the tent. The horses were led down to a nearby brook to drink and then were tethered fed brushed and covered with night blankets. In the evening light Selene looked almost white, certainly very noticeable. It suddenly occurred to John that there were not many grey horses, it was almost like advertising Ximene’s presence, to anyone who knew anything about her.A fire was lit and food prepared. Then John saw a fault in the defences, the guards gathered round the fire to eat and exchange stories and songs. John could picture the campfire comraderie. He had sat round similar campfires on many nights when he had first reached Aquitaine. In the meantime the rest of the army was streaming past in the background manouvering to set up a dozen other camps but paying no attention whatsoever to the ladies tent. John suddenly realised that they had probably been given orders not to approach too close to the ladies tent.The fact remained that the eastern side of the tent was unlit and virtually unattended. It was now dark but the guards obviously did not regard their guard duty as having commenced. The situation must have been obvious to the stealthy observers as they started moving to the east almost certainly to take advantage of the situation. John waited until they had moved far enough away to be able to move without revealing his presence. He then moved as fast as he could to the west, eventually running across open ground and shouting an alarm. In the middle of their meal the guards reacted slowly and unpredictably. They moved towards John and it took precious seconds to make them realise that the threat was from the other side of the tent. John led the charge but it was too late, some of the intruders were already inside the tent. Those outside the tent did not run but moved forward to meet the advancing guards.Within seconds a dozen sword fights were taking place around the tent. John managed to evade the conflicts and rushed into the tent. The eastern wall of the tent had been ripped to shreds. Six of the women and Phillipa cowered behind a barracade made of tables and chairs. Ximene, clad only in a nightdress, faced four attackers, sword in one hand, throwing knife in the other. Another woman lay in the far corner of the tent, motionless, her nightdress covered in blood.Ximene held her sword not out in front of her but as John had taught her above her head ready to strike. One of the intruders lunged forward, clearly not expecting Ximene to be able to use the weapons. He soon regretted it Ximene feigned with the dagger and with a simultaneous motion used the full weight of the sword to drive it in a lightning curving arc. Her blade almost severed his hand from his arm and as he screamed and fell forward she calmly dispatched him by plunging the throwing knife into the side of his throat. Almost in slow motion she turned and lifted another knife from the shelf behind her. Without a moments hesitation she threw the knife at an attacker who was moving sidways in an attempt to avoid her sword. Again the knife took him in the throat just behind the ear he fell to the floor in a wriggling bloody mess. Another man rushed into the tent The new arrival had red hair.Simultaneously Piers appered at John’s side, his sword arm covered in blood, bur still able to hold his sword‘ Back to back’ John shouted. The three of them assumed the position that they had practiced so often, swords above their heads but positioned so that they would not interfere with each other. The attackers circled. They attacked several times but could not break through the defensive wall which John, Piers and Ximene presented. Suddenly the tent was filled as fights from outside spilled in through the open wall. One of the attackers produced a cross bow and was circling the tent trying to get a clear shot at Ximene. The attacker was out of luck, the Earl appeared from nowhere and felled him with a downward blow with the weighty handle of his sword. Suddenly the tent emptied, the attackers were in flight and the guards were in close pursuit.Ximene dashed to the fallen girl, She recoiled in horror“Dead, Dead, and because of me”.John felt the girl’s pulse. She was indeed dead. It was not clear whether she had died by dagger or sword.An hour later in the presence of the dead girls father it was possible to reconstruct the nature of the attack. The attackers had broken in through the undefended wall of the tent. The unfortunate victim had simply been the girl nearest to that wall of the tent.The Earl was extremely thoughtful.‘I think they intended to kill Ximene but they did not know which of the girls was Ximene. On the spur of the moment they decided to kill them all but the decision took the fraction of time, which gave Ximene a chance to grab her weapons.He looked admiringly at Ximene.‘So how does a gentle lady like yourself come to be carrying an arsenal of weaponry?’It was meant to inject some humour into the discussion, but Ximene was in no mood to be lighthearted.‘After my capture at St Ferriole and my subsequent treatment at Limoux and Carcasonne are you really surprised I now carry weapons?The Earl’s eyes met Ximene’s eyes.“and you learned to use them so effectively?… never mind I think I know!John told the Earl that he believed for a brief moment Du Guesclin had been in the tent.“ Hmm, said the Earl, if this was his doing then we are extremely lucky. However he is known for brutality and craft not bravery. He would have left when he saw spirited resistanceA guard rushed into the tent and whispered into the Earls ear. He looked startled and spoke to John. John winced, frowned and took Ximene in his arms. ‘That bastard has killed Selene’ he told her.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

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