Ximene shivered with excitement and apprehension, a strange experience, as if she shared the feelings with somebody else.
Ximene Trencavel – 18th March 1355
Next morning, Guillam asked Ximene to join Lady Eleanor in her private lounge. Lady Eleanor sat in one of two chairs in front of a roaring fire. Guillam invited Ximene to occupy the other chair and then, rather awkwardly, stood between them with his back to the fire.
Lady Eleanor waved her hand from Ximene to Guillam but said nothing. Neither did Guillam. Ximene looked quizzically from one to the other. Finally, it was Lady Eleanor who broke the silence.
‘There is something we must ask you, Ximene.’ She hesitated, clearly thinking about the best way to frame the question. ‘How many people know about the hunt? Last night we saw you practising in the cavern.’
Ximene blushed. ‘Oh, you saw me with Pipa.’ She gave a slow, knowing nod. ‘Look, we are very close. I suppose we love each other, but I like men too. Dominic was not the best partner for the Transition. Some of the love I didn’t share with him spills over now and again. Don’t take it too seriously.’
Eleanor smiled and waved her hand in the air. ‘That’s not what the question is about, Ximene. Our faith teaches us that no sexual pleasure is sinful. If, in fact, you were to find no sexual attraction in your marriage to the Prince, a relationship with a woman would be fortuitous: it would be unlikely to attract much attention. No, why we have asked you to talk, what we really want to know is …’
Guillam blinked and bent forward, putting a gentle hand on Eleanor’s shoulder as he did so. ‘Eleanor, I love you deeply, but what you have just said must be, for Ximene, extremely confusing. We have spent day after day speculating on how to help Ximene escape to independence and the first thing you say takes us right back to an assumption that she will inevitably marry the Prince. You must push that from your mind if we are to make plans for Ximene to flee.’
‘Sorry, sorry, it just … popped out.’ Lady Eleanor’s face fell. ‘Yes, I think that is best that I push it from my mind. I am only concerned about Ximene’s welfare, and I can’t help feeling that a marriage to the Prince would be the preferable solution.’
Guillam walked to the centre of the room and turned to face Ximene. ‘The reason we have asked you here this morning is partly to confirm our joint agreement on what should be done, but more particularly to talk about security. Last night we could not help but notice that you have already been practising for the hunt. We must know how many people know about the hunt.’
‘Oh that. Everybody knows about the hunt, Gaston never stops talking about it! Gaston thought I escaped to avoid the boredom of being confined to the Château. Which, in part, was true. He told me about the hunt because he thinks it will alleviate my boredom.’
‘Has he told anyone else that the hunt will be at Muret?’
‘I don’t know, but I don’t think Gaston is making a secret of it, not here within the Château anyway.’
Guillam stroked his chin.
‘And meeting the Prince during the hunt?’
‘He must have talked about it. Pipa knows, and I didn’t tell her.’
Guillam groaned. ‘Many people know about the hunt, others know it will be at Murat and some of those people know that you will be meeting the Prince.’
He turned away to gaze into the fire. When he turned once again to face Ximene, his face suddenly brightened. ‘I do not think that matters, it might even work in our favour. In fact, I think you should make a big effort to be enthusiastic about meeting the Prince. What we must keep a very close secret is that you intend to escape.’
Ximene lowered her eyes.’Of course, Guillam. I will tell no-one.’
Two days later, in the early evening, Ximene lowered her head as Guillam planted a passionate kiss on Eleanor’s lips. ‘We must delay no longer. You should go to Clermont immediately. Make it clear to Gaston that he is entirely responsible for Ximene’s safety during the hunt. He will take that seriously, but once the hunting starts, he will be distracted. Ximene will then be left to her own devices. We will return just before the arrival of the Prince.’
Guillam turned and left with a flourish. He descended via the lower spiral staircase to the south-eastern gate, pulled on a waterproof cape and waited as his horse was extracted from the stables.
Eleanor called Ximene to the window to watch him go. As horse and rider descended the ramp, a curtain of rain obscured the view, followed by a peal of thunder directly overhead.
Ximene shivered with excitement and apprehension, a strange experience, as if she shared the feelings with somebody else. The feelings were so strong that she looked over her shoulder, but there was no-one in the room but Lady Eleanor.