1 Fortress of Faith

  

‘It is not an exaggeration to say that this baby could soon become the most dangerous woman in the world!’

Pope Benedict XII – 3rd November 1341

The foundations of the Palais des Papes were firmly embedded in the Rocher des Doms, an outcrop of rock at the northern end of the city of Avignon.

 

Pope Benedict XII had personally supervised the building of the Palais and he was well pleased with the result.


It was a fortress; a symbol of wealth and power, strong enough to protect him from any of his enemies. It was also the administrative core of the Church of Rome, providing accommodation for the hundreds of managers and clerical staff, as well as storage for the voluminous paperwork they collected or created then filed for future reference. Last, but not least, The Palais was also the Pope’s personal residence, enabling him to live in a splendour which exceeded that of any King.

The chamber in which the Pope now stood, exemplified what he had striven to achieve. A perfectly-laid travertine floor, wall to wall, uncluttered by furniture. On either side of the floor, delicate arches reached upwards to give support, but also to attract the eye to a colourful, decorated ceiling, apparently giving glimpses of heaven. The chamber was specifically designed to overawe, perhaps intimidate, anyone who approached his throne.


The geographical area between the Pyrenees, the Mediterranean and the Massif Centrale, has been known variously since Roman times as Septimania, Languedoc or Occitan. At the specific request of Amaud Littorale, the Papal Legate for this area, Pope Benedict XII decided to give an audience to a Dominican monk, Jaime Duras. Amaud had convinced the Pope that Jaime had information which the Pope should hear first-hand.


‘It is true, your Holiness.’

The Pope frowned, walked the full length of the chamber, then returned to Jaime, deliberately, slowly.

‘How did you find this out? Is she really the heir to the Trencavel estates?’

‘And some say St Gilles estates as well. It is no real secret, it is freely talked about.’

‘And her faith?’

‘Well, she has been baptised into the Holy Church.’

‘You sound doubtful.’

‘Her grandmother is of the de Padilla family.’

‘Yes?’

‘And her mother is from the Foix family.’

‘Yes?’

‘Holiness, with respect, you were born and educated in that area, you know what it means.’

‘I am asking you.’

Jaime gazed at the ground. ‘Almost certainly, she will be educated as a Cathar.’

‘And how old is she now?’

‘No more than three years.’

‘A baby! So what causes the interest?’

‘There are a number of major landlords talking up her cause. The Frankish rule has never been popular in Occitan.’

‘And from where did you learn that?’

The monk hesitated. ‘I am aware of your many achievements in eradicating the Cathar heresy and eliminating its adherents, but now, only twenty years later, the Cathar heresy has re-emerged. The heresy is now mixed up with a desire to establish a new state of Occitan.’

He hesitated again. ‘As a case in point, the Seigneur of Mirepoix, Jean de Levis, whom we both know well, is said to have fallen under the influence of his mother, Constance de Foix, and is supportive of the creation of an independent nation of Occitan. The de Levis were the family which benefited most from the Albigensian Crusade. The lands of Mirepoix were awarded to his family because of his service to the Crusade, yet now, the Cathar heresy is active again across the whole of the south, and the lords, including Jean de Levis, do nothing to interfere. I am not saying that Jean de Levis is a heretic, but some of his co-conspirators almost certainly are. There is a secret society called Les Étoiles de la Mer, The Stars of the Sea, which helps their priests come and go at will.’

‘And you can do nothing? The Inquisition can do nothing?’

‘We broke a Cathar cell,’ Jaime gulped and stammered uncontrollably. They, the Cathars, have structured themselves differently. They have established small independent cells which have no contact with other cells. They have what they call Messengers who co-ordinate the cells but the Messengers only contact one person in each cell; no one in the cells knows the identity of the Messengers. That secrecy is then repeated for the movements of their priests, the Perfects, controlled by a Commander, who we believe is part of the Les Étoiles.’

‘And, once again, how do you know all this?’

‘From the cell we broke, but we identified neither Messengers nor Perfects. ‘

Pope Benedict closed his eyes and frowned. ‘The Messengers are totally independent of the Commander?’

‘Not totally, Messengers are summoned to meet the Commander, but the Messengers never see the Commander’s face.’

‘And how is this summons issued?’

‘That is something we do not know. Despite our best efforts, we were unable to get any further information. Several of those we interrogated died under torture. I have told you everything we discovered.’ Jaime sighed. ‘With regard to the summons, we assume they must use a system of post boxes, but those post boxes could be anywhere.’

Pope Benedict took a deep breath, he wanted to go no further. ‘Thank you, you may go.’

Jaime left, vowing that he would redouble his efforts.


Pope Benedict wasted no time. He summoned three members of the Curia, the church’s senior administrative apparatus. Whilst he waited for them to arrive he pursed his lips, ‘And why, Amaud, did you bring the monk to see me? You could have told me all that yourself.’

Amaud smiled. ‘ He got his information first-hand. I believed you would have wanted some corroborating evidence, a second opinion.’

‘Yes, I suppose that was a sensible precaution.’

The Pope greeted the new arrivals and then continued. ‘I never expected to be having this conversation. I was elected Pope on the basis that I had eliminated the Cathar heresy, but it would seem that my claim was a little optimistic. I want you now to reactivate all the agents we used when we eliminated what we thought was the last of the Cathar Perfects. We have continued to pay retainers and by now they may be – should be – part of the secret Cathar cells which I believe are being reformed.

I am going to ask Amaud to lead this initiative, but you all must play your part. In particular, I want you to identify and infiltrate an organisation Les Étoiles de la Mer.

Amaud nodded acceptance. In unison, the remaining trio muttered, ‘Yes, your Holiness.’ They stood to leave but the Pope was not yet finished.

‘Oh! And I want to know everything there is to know about a three-year-old female child, named Ximene Trencavel.

‘A baby?’

‘Yes, but not a baby for long. It appears she will be educated as a Cathar and is probably the rightful heir to the Trencavel lands; a potent mix!

The Pope hesitated. ‘It is not an exaggeration to say that this baby could soon become the most dangerous woman in the world!’

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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.’