6. A Suitable Liaison


 

‘Couldn’t a liaison with a powerful man keep me safe? Couldn’t the right man protect me?’

 

Ximene Trencavel – 3rd February 1355.

The Château, town, and valley of Foix, surrounded by the foothills of the Pyrenees were in every sense of the word, strongholds, each one nesting inside the other. Soldiers manned the four mountain passes outside the town as tightly as the battlements of a conventional fortification.


The town itself was bounded by two rivers and fortified on the third side.

The upper level of the Château, supported on an outcrop of rock high above the town, was unmistakably a fortress rather than a palace, and thus made little allowance for the comforts of life. Accommodation was in two towers, with the rooms served by narrow circular staircases. The small private rooms in the towers were simply inadequate for any public function. For this reason, the main hall, a link between the towers, served not just as a reception room but also as a library, office, conference hall, and dining room. The main hall was really only a roof space above the massive cistern, which collected rainwater in sufficient quantities so that even the most extended siege could be withstood. The hall and cistern had been fortified, but the emphasis had been on strength, not craftsmanship.


Six years earlier, Ximene’s parents died within weeks of each other. Her uncle, Gaston Phoebus—Comte de Foix—had immediately declared himself her guardian and moved her to Bearn, his modern palace in the west.

Then, after a brief visit to Paris for his marriage to Agnes of Navarre, having convinced himself there was a need for greater security, he moved Ximene to the Château de Foix. He had deemed it appropriate that a female relative should act as a chaperone. Ximene now lived within the Château with her grandmother, Lady Eleanor Padilla.

Eleanor’s quarters offered more comfort than the upper Château. A series of reception rooms and bedrooms, terraces and gardens, had been constructed around the lower rock. Direct access linked these apartments to the hot water springs in the ancient cavern where Ximene had so recently bathed. Builders had constructed the apartments from stone excavated locally but with a much better finish than the fortification above. Over the years, Eleanor had softened her surroundings with drapes, tapestries, couches and elegant tables. She had even arranged for glazed windows, an impossibly extravagant luxury.

In the library, three large bookshelves gave testament to her commitment to learning. Sacred books of the Cathars, the last copies in existence, filled one of the bookshelves. Hung on the fourth wall, a tableau depicted the major events of the Albigensian Crusade, when the lands of Occitan had been ripped from their rightful owners and allocated to Frankish crusaders. Separate panels showed the Pope blessing crusaders, crusaders slaughtering Cathars, crusaders dragging Cathar women from their homes, the Inquisition torturing the Cathars, and finally, Cathars burning to death at the stake. Underneath, in the Occitan language, an inscription read, ‘All this was inflicted on us because we follow Magdalene’s teaching.’


Eleanor was waiting for Ximene in the library. Ximene apologised for her tardiness but Eleanor shook her head.

‘I neither need nor want an apology. My heart aches for your predicament. This should be a big day Ximene, exactly twelve months after your Progression. Now you really do enter adult life! You should be planning for your first adult function and be trembling in the anticipation of finding out which man will declare his love for you.’

Eleanor closed her eyes.

To Ximene it seemed an attempt to shut out reality. ‘Grandmother…’

Eleanor opened her eyes and continued. ‘I have heard your friends have planned a dinner at the hunting lodge at which they will begin to practice the principles of the Courts of Love. I am so sorry, darling, but Gaston has told me very forcibly that you must under no circumstances leave the Château.’ Eleanor walked towards Ximene with open arms, then enveloped her in a loving embrace.

Ximene pulled away. ‘Grandmother, you promised to help me escape from Gaston. To live my own life, to be free. Why has nothing happened?’

Eleanor sighed and pointed at the tableaux behind her. ‘None of that has changed. Outside the walls of the Château, for those who share our faith, for those who want independence for Occitan and therefore particularly for you, lies great danger. Gaston is only concerned for your safety. He believes that once you leave these walls you could and probably would be targeted.’

Ximene’s eyes widened. ‘You talk of escape from Gaston’s clutches but you have done nothing! Suddenly I realise, you have done nothing.’

Eleanor bowed her head. ‘You are right, Ximene. I have done nothing; the risks are too great.’

Ximene glared at her grandmother. ‘I have no kingdom, no possessions. What threat can I be to anyone?’

‘I have to admit that I have extolled Gaston’s virtues as a guardian, but in truth, he has made your predicament worse by promoting you as the rightful heiress to Occitan. He expects to gain personal benefits from the negotiation of a marriage contract. Your grandfather did not return here to reclaim his inheritance but simply to live on the land he loved. Gaston has changed all that. Rightly or wrongly, the Pope has taken that seriously.’

‘What on earth does the Pope think I could do?’

‘Marry someone of the same religion, attract the support of those dispossessed by the Crusade, set up a new Occitan, provide a refuge for Cathars, send missionaries to other countries, undermine the Roman Church’s power base, starve the Pope of the material wealth he values so highly.’

Ximene frowned. ‘Would I even want to do all of that?’

‘The Pope will want to eliminate any risk that you might. Therefore you could face capture, torture, burning at the stake!’

‘We have talked often about what the future holds. Couldn’t a liaison with a powerful man keep me safe? Couldn’t the right man protect me?’

‘A marriage?’

‘Not necessarily. If I really do have rights to Occitan, perhaps it could be a political liaison. A mutual defensive pact.’

Eleanor smiled. ‘I do not mind that you are brave and optimistic but at the same time naive. It is exactly what the best young people should be. The smile broadened. ‘Well, now there is the potential for a suitable liaison. You have met Monsieur Froissart, so you know he was not here to hunt with Gaston or to help Gaston write his book. He was here because the Pope would like you to marry the heir to the English throne, Edward, the Black Prince. Monsieur Froissart is here to evaluate your potential as a partner for the Prince.’

‘Do you think I care what the Pope wants or whether that hook-nosed, beady-eyed little frog approves of me?’ Ximene shook her head vigorously. ‘I suppose I should be flattered.’ Her eyes flashed towards the ceiling before she buried her face in her grandmother’s shoulder, pleased to be able to hide the resentment she felt welling up within her. Internally she committed herself to find a way to control her own future, She then pulled away, turning towards the door to hide her feelings.  ‘I must dress; the day is slipping away.’

 

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.