41 Gifts from Grenada

‘The Emir of Grenada was visiting the Alcazar at the same time as Lady Eleanor and gave her two purebred foals from his stable. When she returned to Foix she gave them to me. They are twins, named Helios and Selene, the Sun and the Moon.’

Ximene Trencavel-18th April 1355

When Ximene awoke, Agnes was already in her room opening the curtains. She then sat on the foot of the bed as servants scurried around lighting the fire, removing the privy and taking orders for breakfast. She smiled a most brilliant smile. ‘Thank you for what you did last night, Ximene.’


‘I still don’t actually know why I was there.’

‘No, I suppose I didn’t make it clear. You see, I am now prepared to bear Gaston’s child and this would be as good a place to do it as anywhere. It is as good as a prison. No man would be able to contaminate me whilst I am in here. It would be good if yourself and Alyse would stay with me to relieve the boredom of isolation… a lot better than going to a nunnery, which I think would drive me to distraction. Gaston enjoyed last night and that means he would raise no objections to you being with me.’

‘I can’t make that offer, Agnes. I am due to meet the Prince in less than two months and Gaston will be accompanying me. I have no idea what will happen after I meet the Prince. If the negotiations are successful perhaps the Prince will take me directly to Bordeaux or even England for my marriage. But Alyse could stay here with you.’

‘Oh. It would be much more fun with the two of you. Tell me, are you related to Alyse?’

‘Yes, we are some sort of distant cousins.’

‘It was obvious last night and in fact, I would have thought you were closer than distant cousins. Last night you could have been taken for twins.’

‘Oh! But you were prepared in exactly the same way. The way it worked out, you could have been taken for our older, more glamorous sister.’

‘Good, that was exactly the effect I wanted. Gaston certainly enjoyed it. He wants to go to the spa this afternoon and again he would like to make an occasion of it. Will you come with us? Can you organise some wine?’

Ximene wrinkled her nose. ‘Agnes, I really don’t think that is a good idea. I think Gaston is quite attracted to Alyse and…’

‘Don’t concern yourself; As I told you Gaston would never force himself on her.’

‘But you ought to know… if Gaston made his suit properly, Alyse would give him her favour.’

‘Oh… that would be different. I had better have a chat with Alyse and agree on some ground rules… also, if that is what she wants to do she will need some tips on how to satisfy him. But you are right, it may be inappropriate for her to be with us this afternoon. Gaston will be disappointed. I will have to improvise…’

Agnes was silent for long enough that Ximene was desperate to reply but could not think of a satisfactory response. Finally, Agnes continued.

‘…If that is what Alyse wants it will also be necessary for her to have a separate residence. Can she live down here whilst you are away?’

Ximene raised her eyebrows. ‘Agnes, Alyse does live down here… well, most of the time. But it can’t become her official residence. It would be very difficult when grandmother returns.’

Agnes shrugged. ‘Hmmm, there obviously are some details to be sorted out.’


She quickly moved on to another topic, leaving Ximene’s mind in a whirl.

‘Ximene, you gave me a lot of help last night without questioning my motives. What can I do in return; what do you really want?’

Ximene had to force herself to answer the question and push everything else to the back of her mind.

‘I want the opportunity to train for the hunt. I can practice my archery but I need to make sure that my horses are in good condition. I want to ride every day until I leave for Muret and I do not mean a trot around the city walls, I mean hard riding through open country and through forest trails.’

‘Would you like to go this afternoon? I will see Gaston immediately. I am sure he will accept.’

Ximene threw her head back and laughed. ‘Do you realise, Agnes, that Gaston has refused to allow me to do this for over a year? Do you know how closely Gaston has guarded me? The most I have got him to agree to is a gentle tour of the town walls and even then surrounded by guards.’

‘Leave it to me, Ximene. You helped me, now I will help you.’

She turned and left the room, pausing at the door to wave goodbye, a beaming smile illuminating her lovely face.


Ximene found Alyse in her bedroom, not with her head in a book but trying on a range of dresses and costumes. There must have been twenty on the bed. Even a cursory glance showed that they were all of the highest quality. Ximene nodded towards the bed. ‘Gaston?’

Alyse nodded and smiled.

‘You will become his mistress?’

‘No, I will become Princess Agnes’ companion. It is all totally in accordance with what we have been taught. Gaston will have to make his suit and do it formally.’

‘An affair of the heart? With Gaston?’

‘He is an attractive man and he is obviously attracted to me. This relationship will allow me to mix in a different level of society! Once Agnes’ confinement is over, he will find me accommodation, either in Bearn or even in Bordeaux.’

Ximene sighed. ‘Affairs of the heart, though wonderful, are often transitory. You will both move on.’

‘I know that, but by then I will have met many other powerful men. I will be able to choose which of them will father my child. I will start a dynasty. No arranged marriages for me.’

Ximene sighed. ‘Is that really what we have been taught? I suppose that is the practical result of our beliefs, except it seems to me that your objectives are all material. What about the spiritual world?’

‘That depends on how I handle the relationships. I will be open and honest in all my dealings. It will be all for love.’

‘Then I can only wish you well. I suppose in a way I envy you. I wish I had such a clear view of what I shall do.’

‘But I am not burdened by such onerous responsibilities.’

‘Thank you for reminding me… Now, I have asked to go riding this afternoon. I want both my horses in peak condition for the hunt. Will you come with me?’

‘Ximene, I know how you ride. I could not keep up.’

‘You could.’

‘No, really, I know I could not.’

‘I will have to ride alone then. But I really wanted to exercise both horses.’

‘Well, you can still do that do that. Juan will ride with you. He will enjoy it and he rides much better than me.’

‘Oh! Good. I wonder if Gaston will really let me go? ‘


At precisely two, Ximene, Juan and half a dozen guards slowly descended the ramp. Agnes, Alyse and Gaston came down to see them off and stood together in the lower courtyard. Agnes had a possessive hand on Alyse’s shoulder; for all the world the image projected was that of proud parents and their eldest daughter.

Ximene was riding the horse she regarded as her own, Selene, and Juan was riding Selene’s twin brother Helios. Ximene looked over her shoulder and pulled Selene over so that she walked alongside Helios. ‘Juan, you know how tightly he has controlled me for the last twelve months. It is almost unbelievable that he has agreed to let me out. Is Agnes some kind of a witch to have such control of him, or has Alyse something to do with this?’

Juan just shrugged his shoulders.

Ximene looked around her. The guards were young men very little older than herself who spread out around her, riding in front as well as behind. One older man who she assumed was the commander of the small group chose to ride close alongside her. Ximene bristled with indignation. She was surrounded, controlled. She took the road leading to the narrowest of the Foix valleys, leading almost due west through Castelnau.

Initially, she tested out the guard’s attentiveness by indulging in a series of quick sprints punctuated by walks. She quickly discovered that the guards’ horses could not match her own for speed or stamina. The older guard, in particular, struggled to get back in position after each sprint. He eyed Ximene’s horses with open admiration, breathing nearly as hard as his horse.

‘Excuse me Milady, my name is Henri de Vivar. Can I ask about your horses, they are magnificent.’

No one, not even Gaston, had ever used that form of address to her before. As far as she knew her grandmother’s title was not hereditary, so she felt quite justified in answering a question with a question. ‘My lady? Why do you address me so?’

Henri looked surprised.’It is only correct as you are the rightful Comtess of Carcassonne… And Albi… and…

‘Yes, yes of course… My horses? Yes, they are purebred Andalucian. Several years ago my grandmother took Juan…’ she nodded in Juan’s direction. ‘and his sister Alyse, to visit King Pedro of Castile at the Alcazar in Seville. They are all from the same family as King Pedro’s wife Maria. The Emir of Grenada was visiting the Alcazar at the same time and gave her two purebred foals from his stable. When she returned to Foix she gave them to me. They are twins, named Helios and Selene, the Sun and the Moon.’

‘Magnificent. You are very lucky, my lady. They are not only magnificent but unique, especially seeing the two of them together. Incomparable.’ After admiring the horses openly for a full minute longer, Henri held his head to one side. ‘You should know that my father was Lady Eleanor’s guard when she came here. A decision was made that he should merge with the Compte’s guards but he always considered that his loyalty lay with Lady Eleanor. I feel the same’

‘But the Comte trusted you as my guard today.’

‘Of course, both Lady Eleanor and the Comte know that my loyalty lies with you. I would defend you with my life. Several of the young men acting as your guards today are members of my family and they feel the same devotion.’

Ximene smiled. ‘Thank you, Henri.’

Ximene slapped Selene’s rump and the horse jumped into a full gallop. Juan trailed behind but quickly recovered ground. The riders in front of them were surprised by the sudden spurt and were left standing. Soon all the guards had been left far behind. The road had narrowed and the grass verge reduced steadily in size until Ximene and Juan were riding along a narrow track and swerving through a slalom of trees.

Ximene took an even narrower side track and dismounted hurriedly behind a dense thicket of shrubs. Juan followed suit and they waited together as the guards thundered past.

They grinned at each other as the drumming of hooves faded into the near distance.


When they eventually returned to the Château, they found Alyse in a sombre mood. Without any apparent reservation, she told them that she had waited patiently in Lady Eleanor’s apartment for Gaston or Agnes. ‘At one stage I giggled helplessly at the thought it might be both of them, in a joint mission to commission me as Gaston’s mistress. I experimented with dress, makeup and hairstyles as I awaited Gaston’s call, but it never came. Nor was there any invite to dinner.’ She sighed. ‘Not for the first time, I seem to have got things wrong.’

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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.