Pope Benedict XI – 3rd November 1341
‘It is true, your Holiness’
Jaques Fournier, now Pope Benedict XI, frowned and walked the full length of his chamber before replying.
He had personally supervised the building of his palace at Avignon and he was well pleased with the result. He lived in a splendour which exceeded that of any King.
This chamber exemplified what he had striven to achieve. A perfectly laid stone floor long enough to intimidate anyone who approached his throne. On either side delicate arches reaching upwards to support, and guide the eye, to a colourful, decorated ceiling, apparently giving glimpses of heaven.
Pope Benedict had given the monk an audience, only because the Papal Legate to the Occitan lands had given a strong recommendation that he did so.
He returned to the monk, deliberately, slowly. ‘How did you find this out?’ Is she really the heir to the Trencavel estates?’
‘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 Pedilla family.’
‘And her mother is from the Foix family.’
‘Holiness, with respect, you were born in that area, you know what it means.’
‘I am asking you.’
The monk gazed at the ground. He had hoped he would be able to avoid saying it.
‘She will probably be educated as a Cathar’
‘And how old is she now?’
‘No more than three years.’
‘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.’
‘We broke a Cathar cell. The heresy is mixed up with a desire to establish a new state of Occitan. There are Perfects active again across the whole of Occitan; the lords do nothing to interfere, there is a secret society called the Les étoiles de la mer , The Stars of the Sea which helps them come and go at will.’
‘And you can do nothing, the Inquisition can do nothing?’
The monk gulped and stammered uncontrollably.
‘They, the Cathars, have structured themselves differently. They have established small independent cells which have no contact with other cells. The have what they call Messengers who co-ordinate the cells but the Messengers only contact one person in each cell, who is never the leader of the cell. Neither the cell leaders nor the contacts know the identity of the Messengers. That secrecy is then repeated for the movements of 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.’
Pope Benedict pursed his lip. ‘The messengers are totally independant of the commander?’
Not totally, messengers are summoned to meet the commanders, but the messengers never see the commanders 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.’
The monk sighed, ‘With regard to the summons we assume they must use a system of post boxes, but they could be anywhere.’
Pope Benedict took a deep breath, he wanted to go no further.
‘Thank you, you may go.’
The monk left, vowing that he would redouble his efforts.
Pope Benedict wasted no time. He summonsed three members of the Curia, the churches administrative apparatus. All three had been brought to Avignon from the diocese of Pamiers. When he had been Bishop of Pamiers, they had led the intelligence activity which he had personally funded. He trusted them but it was also an arrangement which meant there were no direct links to the Pope’s earlier life. his earlier activities.
‘I never expected to be having this conversation, I was elected Pope on the basis that I had eliminated the Cathar faith, but it would seem that my claim was a little optimistic.’
The three listeners looked expectant but none of them spoke. The Pope continued.
“I want you now to reactivate all the agents we used when we eliminated what we thought were 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.’
‘But first stop the agents talking to the Inquisition, I have my doubts about the effectiveness or loyalty of some members of the Inquisition in Occitan. I am going to dismiss them all and I want you personally to choose the replacements. Then and only then, do whatever is necessary to get the information you need. In particular I want you to identify and infiltrate an organisation called Les étoiles de la mer’
In unison the 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, the name should be familiar to you?’
‘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, a very dangerous baby!
The Pope hesitated. ‘It is not an exaggeration to say she is the most dangerous woman in the world!’