12 Master of the Hunt

‘If Ximene were to marry the Prince she could become the undisputed Queen of Western Europe. Who could refuse such a prospect?’

Eleanor Garcia de Pedilla – 2nd March 1355

The following morning, an hour after dawn, Gaston asked Eleanor to attend a meeting in the Great Hall.  

Despite having asked her to meet him, the Comte continued to focus his attention on the documents in front of him, barely acknowledging her presence.

She tapped her fingers on the table irritably.


Other than the grey in her hair, Eleanor believed her appearance gave little indication of her age. Her lover, Guillam de Clermont-Dessous had told her that she was one of those fortunate women who do not noticeably age, but year by year gain grace and serenity. She knew he was biased, but she found herself agreeing with his assessment. She sat, back straight, with her shoulders in the perfect position to make the most of the curve of her back and the swell of her breasts.

She glanced sideways at Gaston Phoebus, Comte de Foix. Nothing Gaston ever did was without political overtones and most of the time she disagreed with his objectives and the way he went about achieving them. Ten years ago the Comte had made Eleanor Ximene’s chaperone. Typical of his style of conducting relationships, he had then told Eleanor in quick succession; that she was an extremely attractive woman; a widow with excellent connections in Castile and Aragon; highly regarded by the peoples of Southern Occitan; that none in the world could be a better chaperone for Ximene.

Even the title he had given her had been twisted around. Her title had originally been a Castilian honour. The correct form of address was Dona. However, Gaston had decided to play down the Castilian side of Ximene’s heritage. Taking into account his English alliances he always referred to her as Lady Eleanor. Consequently, everyone else at Foix, even Ximene herself, knew her by that title.


Eleanor was of the opinion that Gaston now regretted his decision to bring her to Foix. She had come to this conclusion after observing that over time it had become increasingly difficult to talk to him about anything but trivialities. In amongst the trivia, he had however managed to convey that all he had ever wanted from her was to bring a motherly touch to Ximene’s governance and to bring softness and compliance to Ximene’s character.

Eleanor was sure that there was another reason; that he hoped her presence would protect him from any accusations which might have arisen from his being a male guardian of a very young girl. He must have been very disappointed in Eleanor’s approach. From the very beginning, Eleanor had involved herself in the politics of the situation. She winced. Her involvement had not been notably successful.


She turned her attention to a map, painted in various shades of sepia, directly onto the rough wall at one end of the great hall. The map depicted the whole of historical Occitan subdivided into the holdings of the Comtes and great lords as if they were a collection of independent states. The map failed to mention the ultimate rulers of the various sectors of the territory. It was as though they didn’t exist.

Eleanor’s attention returned to Gaston. He habitually wore the simple clothes of a master of the hunt, accepting the necessary dullness of the greens and browns of this uniform, a palate that was only partly relieved by his flowing, golden-blonde hair. Even now, inside the Château, he faded into the background of the sepia map. Gaston loved hunting beyond all else and the book he was writing on the subject occupied much of his time.

A guard entered the room, whispered briefly in Gaston’s ear and left again. Finally, Gaston turned and spoke to her. ‘Ximene escaped from the Château to the dinner last night. Don’t tell me you didn’t know.’

Eleanor did not.

‘I ought to have had her flogged.’

Eleanor eyed him with disdain.

Gaston smiled and leaned forward over the table that separated them. ‘Eleanor, it is time we learned to work together. The next few months will be critical for Ximene’s future. Together we must bring her under control. I do find dealing with her very difficult.’

Eleanor bit her lip. ‘Gaston, I appreciate that you have provided a home for Ximene, where she is protected from all her potential enemies, but… ‘

Gaston cut her off. ‘I am caught, constrained by the conflict between England and the Franks. Ximene’s marriage could be the key to everything I want to achieve. We must continue to keep her safe. ‘He cupped his chin in his hand. ‘Something you do not know is that twelve months ago I considered Louis of Anjou as a suitable candidate for Ximene’s hand. I knew of Ximene’s determination to meet any suitor before considering marriage, so I tried through my wife Agnes to arrange a meeting in a neutral location… Navarre. Louis rejected the whole concept out of hand and so currently he is not a contender. However… I have not forgotten him and at some time in the future when Ximene is more mature he may come back into contention.’

Eleanor jumped. This was something she did not know. ‘Did Ximene know about this assignation?’

‘Absolutely not. Why tell her when the arrangement was a failure?’

‘And now?’

Gaston stood and took a piece of red chalk from a drawer in his desk and carefully plotted a point on the map. He stood back to admire his handiwork. ‘We have set the location for my summer hunt here at Muret on the banks of the Garonne.’ He moved forward and tapped the map with his chalk. ‘It is here that the historic meeting between Ximene and the Black Prince will take place.’

Eleanor was immediately interested. ‘This was agreed by Monsieur Froissart?’

‘Yes.’

‘Do we know the Prince will actually come?’

‘I learned from the previous experience. As you know I sent a portrait of Ximene to the Prince. When he sees the portrait, I am sure he will want to meet her.’

‘And if he comes, does he now have your support for Ximene’s hand?’

‘There is little doubt, Lady Eleanor, that once the Black Prince meets Ximene, he will want to marry her. When that happens, we will make it clear that there are other suitors, and many negotiations may be necessary before he can claim her as his bride.’

Eleanor looked carefully at Gaston. She knew that the Black Prince had a long record of avoiding marriage and that one reason, perhaps the main reason for that was his love, no, obsession, with Joan of Kent. She did not want to pursue this point with Gaston or reveal her own sources of information. ‘Why Muret?’ she asked.

‘I have long wanted to hunt on the lands of the Comte de Comminges. It is reputed to be remarkable. There are deer, boar and bears in profusion. We will be able to test out all the different hunting techniques in one concentrated period—the chase, the drive, the stalk. The Black Prince, a connoisseur of hunting himself, will enjoy it, guaranteeing his attendance. Ximene can show off her prowess as a horsewoman. It will impress the Prince.’ He returned to Eleanor, placed his hands on the desk, his face conspiratorially close to hers. ‘You know, Lady Eleanor, Ximene is the embodiment of Diana, goddess of the hunt. When she hunts with the Prince he will realise that.’

‘And that would be why for the last twelve months you have confined her to the Château, effectively making it impossible for her to hunt!’

‘I do not want to broadcast her location. I have never admitted to the King of the Franks, or anyone else for that matter, that Ximene is here, claiming that she does not live with me and I do not know her whereabouts, which is true!’ He shrugged. ‘She lives with you and at any time could be in any one of your rooms.’

Eleanor tried to hide her irritation. ‘Gaston, do you really believe that these kinds of semantics impress anyone?’

‘In any case, I doubt the Prince would come here. This is Frankish territory, after all. On the other hand, I do not want to take Ximene to my palace at Bearn. That is under the control of the English, and they could easily steal her away. No, it seems to me that the forest around Muret is the perfect location. The Comte de Comminges still leans towards affiliation with the English, so can act as host. We will just happen to be holding our summer hunt in the same location. If it is handled well, no one except those involved, need ever know that the Prince and Ximene have met.’

‘And what say will Ximene have in these negotiations?’

‘King Edward’s ambassador agreed to the format but not the details of the marriage contract. I made it clear to him that the final agreement lies with Ximene.’ He hesitated theatrically and raised a single brow, ‘Perhaps with your guidance.’

A flash of frustration crossed Eleanor’s face. ‘And will you exert conditions on that agreement?’

‘Absolutely not. Ximene can be Comtess of Occitan, Princess of Aquitaine and Queen of England. Her husband will almost certainly consider himself to be the rightful King of the Franks. If they pursue that claim with success, she could become the undisputed Queen of Western Europe.’ He smiled. ‘Who could refuse such a prospect?’

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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.