‘You may find it impossible to avoid a Roman marriage. In the event, most girls enjoy the ceremony. It makes them feel like a queen for that day and in your case, it would be for significantly longer than a day.’
Ximene Trencavel-13th March 1355
Eleanor’s jaw clamped tight and the colour drained from her face. She rose to her feet and moved towards the door.
‘No, no don’t confront him. Do you know, if he wants to whip me again I will opt for it to take place in the main hall. I think I would prefer the indignity of being stripped and whipped in public rather than to let him do it again in that small room.’
Eleanor’s eyebrows rose. ‘You think he enjoyed it? Oh! You think he has designs on you?’ Eleanor sighed. ‘I do hope you are wrong, but I suppose it is possible.’
‘Escape, Grandmother. Escape!’
‘What can I do? Gaston is ever more vigilant.’
Ximene snorted. ‘I learned just now, upstairs, that I am approved of. You knew the horrible little man was going to give his approval, but you did not tell me. Gaston only told me a few minutes ago.’
‘Ximene, darling, it’s just there seemed no point in discussing it with you until it became a definite opportunity. Gaston is now making specific arrangements for you to meet the Prince.’
‘Oh! So you have already talked to Gaston but you chose not to tell me. I know. We are going hunting. We hope to catch a Black Prince.’
Eleanor made as if to answer, but Ximene gave her no chance to speak. A torrent flowed from Ximene’s lips. ‘Well, I don’t see it as an opportunity. Does the Prince understand that a marriage, even a Roman marriage, is a worldly contract, designed to stabilise the inheritance of wealth and power and nothing more than that?’
‘Ximene, what I know is that the Prince has sympathy for our religion and is powerful enough to protect you, something I thought you were looking for.’
‘Do you know Gaston has just told me upstairs that the Pope will be pleased. Pleased? The Pope would like me to undergo a Roman wedding! You have told me yourself that it is only since the Crusade that the Church of Rome has insisted on turning a simple marriage contract into a ceremony of their church.’
Eleanor sighed. ‘Yes, that is true.’
Ximene’s voice rose an octave. ‘By linking their form of marriage to concepts of legitimacy, inheritance and right to rule, they are able to place a tithe on the distribution of wealth. They maintain that love outside of marriage or sexual pleasure without the intention of procreating children is a sin. A sin! Not what we believe! The Pope and his church want more children so there are more people to fight their wars, more people to tax. It is just another example of their love of material possessions. That is what you have taught me, isn’t it? Why should I be interested in what the Pope wants? He and his church are servants of the devil.’
Eleanor lowered her head temporarily before looking Ximene directly in the eye. ‘You are throwing my own teaching back at me. You know I would like nothing better than to find a way, a simple way, out of all these difficulties, but I too have my responsibilities.’ She cleared her throat. ‘It’s not so much what the Pope wants, dear. It really is an opportunity. The English kings have never allowed the Inquisition into their territory. They do not publicly support our religion but they tolerate it. When our women were forced to marry crusaders, they carried our faith north with them. Some of the English royal family share our beliefs, so they would be unlikely to have a different policy for Occitan. Whatever the Pope believes, they would deprive the Inquisition of its power. Occitan could once again be independent, our culture and religion saved.’
Eleanor pulled Ximene into a close embrace and whispered in her ear. ‘I am only interested in your welfare, darling. I want you to be happy; I want you to be loved. You don’t have to be a princess or a queen to achieve these things, but it might be a safer option.’
‘If,’ Ximene hissed, ‘ever I do give myself to a man, it will be for love or at least because I like him, and I won’t need a ceremony of the Roman Church to confirm its validity.’
Eleanor gave a dry smile.’You may find it impossible to avoid that. In the event, most girls enjoy the ceremony. It makes them feel like a queen for that day and in your case, it would be for significantly longer than a day.’
‘It is not what I want, grandmother. As you have taught me so well, affairs of the soul, unions of spirit, often outside of sterile marriages, should always take precedence. If I am to take part in a Roman marriage, the Prince must understand and accept this.’
Eleanor nodded, but without enthusiasm.
Ximene gazed at her grandmother, hoping her face showed the sympathy she found it difficult to feel. ‘Think back to your own life; when Guillam went to fight against the Roman Church you were forced to marry grandfather, but now after grandfather’s death, Guillam is back. I think you loved Guillam all along.’
Eleanor sighed and tried to speak, but Ximene was not for stopping.
‘I know why you agreed to marry grandfather,’ she said. ‘It was to ensure that the heirs to Occitan would be educated as Cathars. As it turns out, I am the sole successor. I believe you think I carry total responsibility for the survival of the faith, for the resurrection of Occitan.’
Lady Eleanor’s mouth dropped open. ‘No, that is not true. I was given no options.’
Ximene took a deep breath. Watching her grandmother’s heartfelt denial filled her with shame. She lowered her voice. ‘And the worst part is, despite my doubts I have now accepted it as my destiny.’ She sought eye contact with her grandmother and held it determinedly for several seconds. ‘Help me escape. Once I am totally independent, I will consider my marriage options and how they may or may not enable me to fulfil my destiny.’
She allowed her voice to vibrate with emotion. ‘Independence will give me control of my life, that is what I want above all else.’
Eleanor lowered her head suddenly compliant. ‘Very well, Ximene. I will seek Guillam’s assistance. He will know what to do.’
Ximene sighed and a smile played on her lips.