70 Stars of the Sea

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‘From what I hear, his judgement was at the best variable and at worst fundamentally flawed. I disown any involvement in this venture.’



Don Fernandino-21st May 1355

The headquarters for Les Etoiles for the western Mediterranean was in Palma de Mallorca. As a matter of courtesy, Don Fernandino had informed the coordinator of his intention to visit Ariège.

There were then several days delay before he was summoned to meet the newly appointed regional commander.

Don Fernandino arrived at the appointed time but was then kept waiting for half an hour in the central courtyard. There was nothing to do but admire the marble staircase, floor and walls, a fountain and the profusion of palms. A large unglazed window dominated the courtyard. Many different thoughts invaded his mind, but all with a common theme. Les Etoiles had changed.

He had been appointed overall security advisor and at first, he had been flattered, but recently the appointment seemed to be more about controlling him than taking advantage of his experience. Now when he undertook a specific task, he was required to work with one of the regional commanders. The commanders demanded to know every detail of his plans. he felt that this in itself was a security risk.

For over a hundred years, Les Etoiles had operated through individual independent cells, meaning the destruction of one cell had little effect on the rest of the organisation. But now…?

This commander was worse than most. Don Fernandino told him as little as possible, but the commander was persistent.

When he finally descended the staircase, the commander stood looking out of the window, apparently admiring the view. ‘Whatever Guillam may say, it seems to me this girl is not at risk. She simply wants to avoid marrying a partner her guardian has chosen for her.’ He turned and looked intently at Don Fernandino. ‘Someone of your experience would serve us better negotiating the extension of our trading routes to the east and improving the security of those which already exist.’

Don Fernandino narrowed an eye. ‘Guillam has been an outstanding servant to Les Etoiles. There was a time when the whole organisation depended on his judgement.’

The commander smiled cynically. ‘From what I hear, his judgement was at the best variable and at worst fundamentally flawed. I disown any involvement in this venture. If you run into difficulty, we will make no effort to provide assistance.’ He turned to climb the long marble staircase to the palatial suite of rooms he had established above the base.

Don Fernandino was left alone in the courtyard, with an overwhelming premonition of disaster.

The following afternoon, using the mountains behind Cap de Creus as a navigational guide, the captain turned the boat determinedly to the north. Cap de Creus is the point where the southern leg of the Pyrenees dives abruptly into the Mediterranean. The rocky coast is made up of hundreds of tiny inlets and coves, the crystal clear waters usually topped by creamy foam. The winds which spring up every afternoon on these seas are invariably strong, their direction unpredictable.

If it had not been for the wind and the spray it hurled from the rising seas, the day would have been uncomfortably hot. Don Fernandino felt the change of course and the subsequent change of rhythm as the boat no longer battled through the waves.

Deep in thought, Don Fernandino pulled his cloak around him and, with some difficulty, climbed the stairs to the deck. The boat was now heading for the southernmost tip of Cap Bear, thereby avoiding the potentially dangerous inshore waters. This would be the last change of course the captain needed to make. Don Fernandino clung to the rails at the top of the stairs and watched as the crew made adjustments to the profile of the sail. He continued to think through his concerns.

In addition to the controllers, Les Etoiles had appointed a manager of passenger transport. The position was held by an experienced captain, Thierry d’Arques, but Don Fernandino disapproved of the fact that he knew in advance the name of every passenger. Thierry reported directly to the council and had to justify every non-paying passenger. On the other hand, an enemy of the Cathar faith who was prepared to invest in the cost of a voyage could travel on any of the ships. Another potential breach of security.

Cap Bear grew from a smudge on the horizon to a series of indented rocks towering above the boat. Don Fernandino looked in admiration at the rugged cliffs plunging directly into the sea. The solidity of the cliff face was emphasised by the powerful impact of the waves, producing an ever-changing panorama of surf. In fact, the surf was a little too close for his liking!

Don Fernandino considered the plan that Guillam had brought to him to be a good plan. Like all good plans, its simplicity was its strength. However, the plan wasn’t his own, and too many people, including a papal legate no less, knew about the hunt. This represented a major weakness.

He moved gingerly along the deck to lean with his back against the mast. The boat soon passed the most northerly point of Cap Bear.

At Porte Vendres, the harbour entrance is a long natural channel of deep water indented into the cliff face. In the late afternoon, the sun shone directly along the inlet, divesting the water with an intense luminescence, intensified by the contrast of the dark cliffs surrounding the inlet.

Don Fernandino forced himself to ignore the scenery and concentrate on ways of reducing the risk. He had formulated a modification to the plan, which he and only he knew about. He had learned that Ximene had a dark complexion, as did he. He had decided that immediately after the escape they would disguise themselves as gypsies and mix with the gypsy families who converged on Rennes le Bains every August. Whilst the forces of the Comte, the Pope, perhaps even Les Etoiles, chased around the countryside looking for Ximene, she would spend a couple of weeks bathing in the hot springs at Rennes le Bains and enjoying gypsy celebrations before travelling on, indistinguishable from dozens of other gypsies travelling south. They would not use the transport provided by Les Etoiles but take a boat directly from Barcelona to Sicily. Ximene would apparently vanish without a trace!

He looked ahead, impatient now, sure that the plan he had chosen was the best possible choice. The boat rolled to an even steeper angle as it turned into the narrow entrance. Don Fernandino braced himself against the mast. He felt a sudden rush of blood, the like of which he had not experienced since he was a young man.

He was soon in sight of the port and its quay surrounded by pink, white and tan houses. Like most of this part of the Mediterranean coast, the country behind Porte Vendres, though covered with vegetation, looked dry and scrubby. In the far distance, he could see high mountains and what he thought could be the last vestige of snow.

As he got closer, he could see that the quayside had not changed since his last visit. It was lined with a row of rather ill-matched commercial buildings, mainly acting as storage for goods in shipment, but also providing fish processing and chandlers’ facilities. The quay itself was littered with the brick-a-brac of a busy port. At the outer end of the quay was a much larger but somewhat dilapidated building. Above the building was a faded board proclaiming the name ‘Aventuras Comerciante’, another of the public faces of the Les Etoiles.

Unknown to Don Fernandino, from the harbour many eyes watched the boat’s progress.

The harbour master at Porte Vendres was keen to complete a busy day. Despite the title, he was virtually a tax collector on traffic through the port. His task was to inspect the cargoes and collect the dues imposed by the King of Aragon. He looked with interest at the new arrival. The boat approached at an incredible speed, driven by the strong easterly winds. There was foam at the bow and behind it, a long white wake stretched almost to the horizon. Even from this distance, the harbour master could see that the boat was adorned with the carvings and paintwork commonly seen on ships of war. The sail suddenly billowed out and the boat slowed, almost to a stop.

A second observer walked casually to the window of the Aventuras Comerciante building, with an inventory in his hand. Joan of Kent would have no difficulty recognising Thierry d’Arques. His clothes were different from those he had worn as a captain but they could not conceal his superb physique.

A third observer had arrived only half an hour earlier. He had a vantage point from the elevated driving seat of the gypsy wagon, which was central to Don Fernandino’s plan. The wagon was already loaded with gypsy clothes, artefacts and typical gypsy merchandise. The driver was patient, impassive. He sat erect and he wore a faded tabard, though it was not emblazoned with any arms. The wagon was drawn by two Vannes, typical gypsy horses, but behind it were tethered two pure-bred black horses.

Two further observers sat behind a low wall on the headland overlooking the entrance channel. One of the men uttered a sigh of satisfaction and then they walked, bent double, behind the wall to where their horses were tethered in a dip. It did not take them long to ride round to the port itself and they were able to watch the boat glide across the sheltered harbour and come to rest in front of Aventuras Comerciante. They watched as the port official checked the boat’s papers and checked the cargo for compliance. It was obvious that the official knew the master of the boat. They laughed and joked as the formalities were completed. A team of stevedores was summoned and the unloading began.

The gypsy horses were increasingly disturbed because of the movement of the stevedores around them. The driver of the wagon was now working hard to keep it in one position.

The two men nodded at each other.

Back on the boat, Don Fernandino prepared to disembark. The formalities were complete and the harbour master was giving him good wishes for a safe journey. The harbour master and the boat’s captain turned to go below, nominally to check that cargo was totally in agreement with the manifest. Don Fernandino knew, however, that some hospitality would be dispensed before the harbour master returned to the quay. Don Fernandino climbed the ladder and nodded a greeting to the wagon driver but even as he did so, a knife whistled through the air. He heard rather than saw the knife hit the driver, who slumped from his seat on to the cobbled quay.

As Don Fernandino twisted around, he caught a glimpse of a sword swinging through the air. He attempted a classic parry with his arm, even though he had not yet drawn his sword, then felt a searing pain as his opponent’s weapon stuck home. Despite the pain, he was in the act of drawing his own sword when he was hit hard by a slash from the sword of the initial assailant, who had now closed in. He fell to the ground.

He was aware that the horses, now thoroughly spooked, were both rearing and complaining. The wagon started to move. He attempted to struggle, but the two men threw him heavily over the tailgate of the wagon.

For Don Fernandino, everything went black.


Table of Contents

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

Table Of Contents



List of Places

Table of Contents

Pseudo History


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.