The Prisoner of Foix
The Prisoner of Foix
In 1355 Ximene ( Sheamaine) Trencavel is trapped in the northern Pyrenees, incarcerated in a chateau, whose defences have never been breached, surrounded by deep valleys that are manned as intensively as conventional fortifications.
Her uncle and guardian, Gaston, Comte de Foix is promoting Ximene as the rightful heir to the extensive lands of Occitan, ignoring the fact that they were stolen by the French during the Albigensian crusade one hundred years earlier. By auctioning her hand in marriage to the royal houses of Europe, Gaston expects to gain substantial personal rewards. Ximene wants to escape from his control but is also determined to take advantage of every opportunity he has created.
Ximene espouses the Cathar faith, declared heretical by the Roman Church, and which they have ruthlessly persecuted during the whole of the French occupation. Now Ximene wants to free the people of Occitan from French tyranny and make the new Occitan a Cathar haven.
Edward of Woodstock, heir to the English throne—the Black Prince, is one of the bidders for Ximene’s hand. The Prince is favoured by Pope Innocent VI, who believes that after the marriage the English will then take control of Occitan, creating a third power in Europe equivalent to the French and the Holy Roman Empire and thereby reduce papal dependency on any of them. The Pope also believes that the Prince will prevent Ximene from re-establishing the Cathar faith.
The Prince accepts Ximene’s right to negotiate her own marriage contract and arrangements are made for them to meet during Gaston’s summer hunt at Muret, on neutral ground outside of the tightly guarded valleys surrounding Foix. Ximene identifies the hunt as an opportunity to escape from Gaston’s control.
John II, King of the Franks, faced with the possibility of loosing one-third of his realm, assigns Bertrand du Guesclin to hunt down and murder Ximene before she can marry the Prince. Du Guesclin is an evil man who boasts of using terror as his secret weapon. At the same time Pope Innocent instructs the Inquisition to arrest Ximene and burn her at the stake if she does not marry the Prince. Unaware of this double threat, Ximene remains committed to her dreams of freedom for herself, independence for Occitan and freedom of worship for members of the Cathar faith.
John Stanley is a forester’s son, working for his father on the Wirral Peninsula in northern England. John helps the Prince make a spectacular and unusual kill during a deer hunt. The Prince is impressed and arranges for John to join a small expeditionary force being formed to protect him during the journey to Muret. In the service of the Prince, John learns about the purpose of the journey and discovers that because of her inheritance and her devotion to the Cathar faith, the papacy has labeled Ximene, ‘The most dangerous woman in the world.’ John conjures images of Ximene and fantasises about meeting her.
As a result of his loyalty, bravery and skill, in defeating a bully, surviving a shipwreck and winning an archery competition, John grows in stature and status. He attracts the attention of Joan of Kent who is not only the Prince’s mistress but a member of a most noble ménage a trois, the third member of which is William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury. Salisbury is the Prince’s best friend and during the journey to Muret becomes John’s mentor, capable of determining John’s destiny.
Joan of Kent decides she is no longer content with a role of the Prince’s mistress and becomes determined to marry the Prince herself. She plots to ensure that John meets Ximene, hoping his involvement will distract Ximene from any intention she may have for marrying the Prince. Her opportunity comes when John saves a serving maid from an attack by a drunken soldier, thereby preventing a serious diplomatic incident. As a result Salisbury, influenced by Joan, arranges for John to be appointed to the Prince’s personal bodyguard. This appointment makes it virtually certain that John will meet Ximene.
Du Guesclin trails the expeditionary force, knowing that the Prince will lead him to Ximene. During his journey he commits atrocity after atrocity.
In Foix, Ximene finalises the plans for her escape. She has a cousin—Alyse, to whom she bears an uncanny likeness. She uncovers and foils a plan by Gaston to put Alyse in her place; marry Alyse to the Prince and keep Ximene herself in captivity at Foix with the intention of making her his mistress. Ximene recognises the value of having someone who can impersonate her but is unsure how it can best be utilised. Nevertheless Ximene and Alyse practise imitating each other, hoping to achieve a situation where no one, no matter what the circumstances, can tell them apart.
When John and Ximene do meet, during the hunt, there is an instant attraction between them. Ximene explains to the Prince her determination to escape her guardian’s control and convinces him that this would remove a barrier from the process of negotiating a marriage contract. She also convinces the Prince that John, as a member of his personal bodyguard, should accompany her on her flight, to offer additional protection but also to become a conduit for future negotiations.
During the hunt, Ximene’s escape plans go badly wrong. Du Guesclin strikes. John intervenes and rescues Ximene, but to little avail as Gaston immediately removes her to protective custody in Foix.
John accompanies the Prince to Foix where the negotiations are intended to continue. Ximene sets out to seduce John, as part of winning him over to her cause, but quickly decides that he is totally lacking in any sexual knowledge or technique and worse, he is overawed by close contact with her. She arranges for John to participate in a Cathar Transition, the process by which all young Cathars are given practical experience of sexual activity. John believes that his partner in the Transition is Alyse but Ximene makes use of their similarity, to swap places and therefore is personally involved in John’s instruction without him being aware of it.
Ximene discovers additional evidence that Gaston’s real plan is to keep her a prisoner at Foix and gradually force himself upon her. With the Prince’s help, a successful escape plan is formulated and executed. An integral part of the plan is that Alyse will take Ximene’s place in the Prince’s party and travel with him to Bordeaux enabling Ximene to break away without her departure being noticed.
Influenced by Joan’s continuing manipulation of events the Prince confirms that John should travel with Ximene to her chosen destination of Sicily and offers to provide an escort for the first part of her journey as far as the Chateau Monsegur.
Inspired by the visit to Monsegur, a Cathar holy place, Ximene decides she must consummate her relationship with John without delay. They are interrupted when the expeditionary force comes under attack from a small army, led by Du Guesclin. In the ensuing battle, the Prince’s superior tactics win the day. The field of battle is littered with the opposition’s dead and dying. However at the completion of hostilities, John fails to return to where Ximene is waiting.
Despite advice to the contrary, Ximene insists that she must find John. She decides that her duty to Occitan and the Cathar religion is worth nothing, if it means that she must abandon a man who has already risked his life for her three times. She loads her crossbow and slowly rides back towards the battlefield. She feels no fear, only the exhilaration of freedom; freedom to live her life as she wants to live it, freedom, if necessary, to risk her life for a just cause, freedom to give her love, without consideration of cause and effect.