46 The Mysterious Woman

‘Whatever the danger, we must do our duty. Ximene must be brought under our control.’ He paused for effect. ‘And then I must do my duty.’

John Stanley-11th May 1355

On a narrow strip of sand, a rustic table stood between a shimmering lake on one side and open woodland on the other. On the far side of the lake, high sand dunes provided a dramatic backdrop. During dinner, the conversation had been punctuated by the low roar of waves breaking on the beach at the far side of the dunes.


By now John knew that Jean de Grailly, Captal de Buch, was a Knight of the Garter and a close confidant and personal friend of the Prince. The Captal sat at one end of the table, where he had recently enjoyed dinner. Rather unnecessarily, as the Prince had asked the Captal for his thoughts on their forthcoming mission, he banged his fist on the table to attract attention. ‘We are talking, gentlemen, about the most dangerous woman in the world.’

The Black Prince sat opposite the Captal and on either side sat the two senior officers of the small expeditionary force, Lord James and the Earl of Salisbury.

The Captal checked that he was indeed the focus of attention. He took three deep breaths before continuing. ‘She is nominally the heiress to the counties of Albi, Toulouse, Beziers, Carcassonne and Razes. Her family, the Trencavels on one side and St Gilles on the other, ruled these counties as independent kingdoms. Some think that they were the rightful rulers of the whole of Occitan. However, one hundred and fifty years ago the Albigensian Crusade removed all their wealth, property and status by force of arms. The Trencavels were singled out for special attention because of their determination to uphold the Cathar religion, its beliefs and culture. The Roman Church judged this religion to be, of its very nature, heresy, hence the justification for the Crusade.’

John overheard the briefing because of his position as squire to Lord James. That night he waited on the table and busied himself clearing away the remains of the meal as the briefing started. Next, he ensured the four men’s goblets remained topped up with the best red wine of all their supplies.

The Captal continued, ‘Later in the year, the Prince will lead a vigorous attack on the rebellious Comte d’Armagnac. Once the Comte has been brought to order, we will move further east to attack the Frankish bastides in Occitan. It is the Prince’s intention…’he nodded to the Prince, ‘to take back Occitan from the northern Franks, who, having confiscated it, populated the land with their own people and subsequently gave special privileges to the interlopers. We think this attack might lead to English expansion into Occitan. At the very least it will distract the Franks from planned English advances in Normandy and Anjou and help stabilise Aquitaine.’

The Captal took a sip of wine. ‘This major offensive will take place later in the year. We are hoping to utilise an army of at least six thousand men, so mobilisation will take some time. This present mission is connected with, but quite separate from that major offensive. There have long been rumours that at least one of the Trencavel family, the previous lords of Occitan, has survived. It is now an established fact. Her name is Ximene Trencavel and she is currently under the guardianship of her uncle, the Comte de Foix. The Comte is my cousin; his father was the brother of my mother. That means that although I have never met Ximene and did not even know of her until recently, she is a close relative of mine. The Pope has asked King Edward to take Ximene into safe keeping. The intention is that Ximene should marry the Prince.’

The Captal nodded towards the other end of the table where the Prince looked less than delighted at the prospect.

‘That does not mean however that the Comte will surrender Ximene to us just for the asking. He is conducting what is virtually an auction for her hand in marriage and therefore offering the rights to the vast and politically important lands of Occitan.’

He looked around the table, gauging the reaction of his audience. ‘The Prince wants to meet her before the major offensive. A gathering has been arranged for early June.’ He glanced at both the Earl and Lord James in a moment of silence. ‘We are about to meet Ximene during a hunt organised by the Comte de Foix and we hope to win the Comte’s support for the Prince’s suit. Unfortunately, it is a visit fraught with danger. ‘I…We, do not completely trust the Comte. We have reports that Ximene is virtually his prisoner. The Prince is not her only suitor. The King of Aragon is said to be prepared to go to war to bring Occitan back under his control and the King of the Franks is keen for Ximene to marry his son Louis d’Anjou.’

‘In addition, she is known to have inherited the heretical Cathar beliefs. If she comes to power she may attempt to reintroduce the Cathar heresy to Occitan. Another Crusade could result if she were to succeed. ‘

The Earl and Lord James both nodded slowly.

The Captal again breathed deeply. ‘All this is happening because of the existence of one woman. The Pope himself once called her “The most dangerous woman in the world.” Our task, gentlemen, is to remove Lady Ximene from the tender care of the Comte de Foix and bring her back to Bordeaux where a marriage agreement might be reached. During the negotiations, we must ensure the Prince’s safety.’ He smiled, ‘She will marry the Prince and have beautiful children who will give the English Crown a legitimate claim to all of Occitan.’

The Prince nodded and gave a strained smile. He added his own postscript to the Captal’s address. ‘Whatever the danger, we must do our duty. Ximene must be brought under our control.’ He paused for effect. ‘And then I must do my duty.’ He threw the last of his wine into the lake and stalked off to his tent.

John watched fascinated as the setting sun sent silver ripples across the lake. His mind was filled with visions of a mysterious woman. For a moment he was transfixed, before he remembered his duties and retreated to the makeshift kitchen.

One thought on “46 The Mysterious Woman”

  1. Oh, the terror of being stuck fast underwater with no way to get out! I was scared stiff until John found a way to reach the surface and breathe again. John and Stewart’s life-saving method for the drowning crew was a stroke of genius. I half-expected them to be made knights when all the survivors gathered on the sand around the Prince.

Comments are closed.

The most dangerous woman in the world

List of Characters

Table Of Contents

References

characters

Table of Contents

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.’