Ximene Trencavel – 17 March 1355
Ximene was spending another day in discussion with Alyse about issues of governance and law. They both turned as Guillam entered the room. Alyse gently touched Ximene on the shoulder, nodded to Guillam, and left the room.
Guillam checked that the door was firmly closed. ‘She is a smart young woman, she must realise that there is something unusual happening.’
Ximene shook her head.
‘She has said nothing.’
Guillam hesitated. ‘Ximene, you should know my personal opinion… Which is… that at this point in time there are probably thousands of young women throughout Europe who are about to enter into dynastic, often forced marriages. It may be surprising to you but many of those marriages are successful, even happy.
In your case, there is an excellent chance that the Prince could be just the partner you need. He comes from a rich, powerful family, with sympathy for your cause, who could deliver a haven for those who share our beliefs. And I need to know. Why are you even considering rejecting him? What makes your freedom so special?’
Ximene was silent, searching for something to offer him. Why should she consider herself special?
She began to speak softly. ‘I have been taught well. Much of what I have learned has come directly from my grandmother, though it has been reinforced by studies of the sacred books. From everything you have said, I believe you are a fervent believer in the Cathar faith?’
‘Well, I am not!’
Guillam opened his mouth to speak, but Ximene cut him off.
‘No Guillam, hear me out. I will not tell my grandmother what I am about to tell you out of respect for her beliefs. But you have told me how you feel about all this, so I must now respond and tell you how I feel.’
‘In the Cathar religion, there is no shame, let alone sin, associated with obtaining pleasure from sexual activity, any kind of sexual activity. Indeed the Progression and the Transition are specifically intended to impart the knowledge of how to give and receive pleasure. This is not the only thing which distinguishes the Cathar faith from the Church of Rome but it is what makes life much easier for most individuals.’
Ximene paused, Guillam encouraged her to go further. ‘Yes?’
‘I have been taught that the material world is the world of the devil – hell if you like. The spiritual world is quite different. I believe that inside each one of us is a tiny piece of the spiritual power of the universe trapped here on earth and that when we die that little piece returns to be part of infinity.’
‘As do I. The power is the Good God?’
‘Perhaps, but not an old man with a grey beard, simply the power of the universe, use whatever image you like. Our objective should be to escape this evil world and attain union with Good God. To this end, we should limit the number of children we bring into this world as every child represents another soul exposed to torment. The only justification for having any children is to allow for the continuance of our beliefs and perhaps the eventual conversion of the whole of the human race, ultimately the facilitation of the removal of all of them from this evil place.’
Ximene took a deep breath.
‘Possibly taking all this into account the Cathar religion puts women in charge of sexual activity, and assignments are always at the time and location chosen by the female partner.’ Ximene paused. ‘This creates circumstances whereby many people have multiple partners. Any children, whether or not the parents marry, inherit from both mother and father. Each partner’s wealth is equally divided. Females inherit the same share as males. All this makes the faith extremely valuable to women, giving them a significant influence.’
‘And to men,’ added Guillam. ‘The inheritance rules are fair to younger sons. The Courts of Love create a non-threatening environment for either sex. But Ximene, why are we discussing this, we both know all this very well.’
Ximene took care to engage eye to eye contact. ‘So now, something you do not know. That is the sum total of Cathar teaching that I accept. The rest of the teaching is just theological mumbo-jumbo, nearly as bad as that preached by the Roman church. My own Transition went badly wrong. I learned about pleasure but not about love… Not, I think, what was intended, as affairs of the heart are supposed to take precedence over contractual marriages.’
‘Oh! So you would not be interested in creating a Cathar haven?’
‘For me a dilemma. I would love to share my own simplified version of the Cathar faith with everyone but it would be just as wrong for Cathars to impose their will on others as it was for the Roman church to impose its will on Cathars. Gaining my own freedom is the first step in seeking a solution in which all people can live together harmoniously even if they have different beliefs. No religion should seek to impose its beliefs or its laws on others, and the State should ensure that they are not able to indulge in such discrimination. On the other hand, there should be a set of basic non-discriminatory laws governing social behaviour which apply to the whole community and should be respected and adhered to by everyone.’
‘Exactly the same, as long as they accept the laws of the State and do not in any way discriminate against other religions.’
Guillam stoked his chin.’ There are many who dislike the Jews because of their propensity for accumulating wealth and the fact that in all their dealings they favour fellow Jews.’
‘Don’t we all discriminate in favour of our own families?’
‘Perhaps… rather differently. And the Muslims?’
‘Hmm. I have never personally met anyone who professed to be a Muslim. I do not see any reason to treat them differently.’
‘Well…It is something to bear in mind. I spent a lot of time in the Levant developing trade routes. I made some good friends, who only pretended to be Muslims and who warned me about the political undertones of what is supposed to be a religion.’
‘A central belief is that it is their duty to impose their own ‘Sharia’ laws wherever they go. Sharia Law would prohibit the laws of inheritance we have just discussed. Almost every aspect of our Courts of Love would be considered sinful under those laws and the penalty would be whipping or stoning to death.’
‘Further than that, they could be working to introduce their laws without the lawmakers being aware of it.’
‘Well… they would have to comply with the laws of the state, not their own laws, or they would not be permitted to become citizens.’
Ximene locked in the eye contact with Guillam, seeking an indication of his approval. She got no encouragement, but she continued anyway.
‘I want to establish a nation-state independent of Rome, free from the Inquisition, in which the State does not impose any particular religion and which does not allow the persecution of… nor give special privileges to anyone because of their religious beliefs. I would not want that compromised by any group wanting to pursue its own agenda.’
Guillam frowned. ‘That is not too different to what we had a hundred years ago, but eventually, in Occitan, there were nearly as many members of the Roman Church as there were Cathars. The Crusaders were organised from outside the State but those who followed the Church of Rome provided aid to the Crusaders and helped in the persecution of those who had Cathar beliefs.’
‘But that was because the Crusaders always intended the Church of Rome to take over the processes of law. The Inquisition was introduced almost immediately. It takes us back to the teachings of Aristotle; the importance of those who make the laws, and by inference the difficulty of appointing those who will create laws which do not discriminate in favour of any particular segment of the population.’
‘Oh! Aristotle… And how can that be achieved?’
‘I honestly do not know. It is what I must investigate when I am free to do so. Based on what I have been told by Alyse, England comes close to that ideal. Alyse is smart and thinks deeply, but that is only one person’s opinion.’
‘So what do you think?’
Ximene lifted her head. ‘My resolve has softened even since last we spoke. I would be prepared to marry the Prince if he could promise to provide what I am searching for. In reality, what he decides to do may well depend on the detail of the marriage contract. I want to escape, to be free, to have complete control of that negotiation.’
‘Ximene this is going much further than we originally discussed.’
‘Not really, I am simply filling in the details.’
‘And an independent Occitan?’
‘To me, that has always been a secondary objective, only necessary to permit the creation of an ideal State.’
Guillam raised an eyebrow. ‘You realise that there are those for whom the creation of an independent Occitan is more important than all else? They would fight for you to achieve that but fight against you if you do nothing to give them the independence they crave. They see you as both the justification and the means to achieve what they want. Independence will give them greater power and wealth. For them, it is nothing to do with the Cathar faith or even the culture of Occitan.’
‘When I am free I will need to talk to some of these people. I am inexperienced in such matters but even now I realise it may not be possible to meet everyone’s objectives. Some difficult decisions may have to be made.’
‘To achieve your objective it may be necessary to fight for it. Will you accept raising an army to fight for your ideal State?’
‘If it comes to that, yes, Guillam, I would.’
‘You have spoken well, Ximene. If we have learned anything in the last hundred years, it is that we must pay attention to essential worldly issues. So your negotiation with the Prince would be about sanctuary for people of our faith, for all faiths and about the creation of your ideal State, not about titles or kingdoms?’
‘Then I am prepared to accept the risks involved in helping you to escape, so that you may conduct that negotiation without coercion.’
A humble smile emerged on Ximene’s face. ‘Thank you, Guillam.’
Guillam was a good man, but not an easy man. He did not suffer fools gladly and he was experienced in these issues. Yet…yet, he had just pledged himself to her cause. She now had no doubt. She was going to be free!