99 The Meaning of Freedom 21 June

Ximene Trencavel-21 June 1355

 

In the village, Ximene stamped her foot in anger and frustration. It was now mid-afternoon.

Guillam insisted. ‘All we have to do is go three-hundred feet down the Cathar trail, which starts behind those bushes and we will vanish. We will be safe. Every minute we wait here exposes you to danger.’

She heard him but did not really listen. ‘I will not leave without him. I know he should have been back by now. Something must have happened.’ She stared at Guillam, trying hard to gain the supremacy she knew, deep down, she possessed. ‘I am going to look for him.’

She could sense Guillam’s despair and this time she listened as he spoke.

‘Ximene, you have responsibilities for the state of Occitan and for the future of the Cathar religion. These are grave responsibilities that must have a higher priority than the fate of this one soldier, no matter how admirable he might be.’

‘No, Guillam. I also have my standards and my sense of duty. Call it my code of chivalry if you must. If my duty to Occitan and the Cathar religion mean that I must abandon a man who has already risked his life three times for me, they are worth nothing. If I must risk my life to do this then so be it. You can come with me or you can stay here.’

She mounted Selene, loaded her crossbow and moved off up the hill. She looked over her shoulder and saw that Guilliam, slowly, reluctantly, was following her.


The battlefield area was scattered with the bodies of more than thirty men. Not all of them had worn chainmail but some of them had and still, the arrows had penetrated it and brought them to a sudden and unexpected end.

‘Bodkins’ explained Guillam, picking one up and showing it to Ximene. ‘They are special, slim hardened steel arrowheads which increase the chance of arrows penetrating chain mail.’ He added a postscript. ‘Or full armour if it comes to that!  They are dreadfully expensive and yet there are hundreds of them left here.’

For the minute Ximene kept her own counsel, her worst fear was that the man with who she had been making love only a few hours ago, John Stanley, would be one of the bodies which surrounded them.

As well as those killed by arrows, there were others with horrific sword and axe wounds.

She turned to Guilliam unable to keep a sob from her voice. ‘So this is war! This is the end result of the call to arms! Not much glory here! However I cannot see John, he was wearing his Lions of Aquitaine tabard.  It is quite distinctive.’

Guillam grimaced. ‘There is no guarantee he is here. He could be anywhere. But where did you get the idea that war is in any way glorious?’

‘Every man I have ever met seems to imply that. I once told you that I would go to war to support my beliefs. Well, I have changed my mind. If ever I come to power or influence I will never initiate military action to gain an advantage. I will only consider military action if faced with an external threat.’

‘Do you realise that is exactly what happened today. The dire results of the battle were not because of the Prince’s aggression but simply because of his decisiveness in a difficult situation. If he had made the wrong decision we might have been amongst the casualties.’

They continued their gruesome task.


Suddenly, Selene whinnied; there was a reply from Helios.  The horses repeated their communication until they found Helios, just far enough into the trees that he could not be seen from the meadow. His reins trailed the ground and he stood across John’s body, guarding him as well as he could.

Ximene cradled John’s head whilst Guillam examined his injury.

‘He is breathing! He is breathing!’

Guillam worked, as any other military man would have done. He talked as he worked.

‘Oh my god! He has a broken pike head embedded in his leg. Every minute is vital if we are to save his life.’

He lost no time in extracting the pike from John’s thigh. It involved cutting more flesh to get the cleanest possible extraction. Nevertheless, it looked like a messy process.

‘Better now than when he regains consciousness.  The pain could have sent him into further shock.’ He winced. ‘There are now three issues. He could die from blood loss.’ He rocked his head from side to side. ‘But I think I can probably attend to that myself with the aid of a tourniquet.’

Guillam bound the wound tightly and then applied a tourniquet, which was only partly effective as the damage was so near to the top of his leg. As he worked he continued to talk.

‘The next issue is an infection of the wound.  He bit his lip. ‘To prevent infection we need horse urine, leaches, honey and surgical cloth. ’ I will have to go to the village to see if they have these things. The village serves as a military base so there is a chance.

He shook his head. ‘Then there is the question of a proper assessment of his condition. We must get him to a well-trained physician. There is such a physician at the safe house, near to St Ferriole, the Chateau Mazerou, where we plan to meet Don Fernandino.

He stretched out his hand to lay it on Ximene’s shoulder. ‘I am sorry Ximene. In truth is he will almost certainly die. We would all have to travel in some sort of a wagon if we can find one, We will not be able to use the Cathar trails.  It will take us five hours on the road!  Perhaps more. Then again if anyone makes up their minds to follow us, we will not be difficult to find.’

Ximene was having her own personal struggle. She felt physically ill at the sight of the blood and the gaping wound. She pushed nausea away. Perhaps John’s survival might depend on her strength. She realised that Guillam was right, that John might die on the journey but she knew she would not be able to live with herself if she simply gave up.’

Ximene lifted her own hand to touch Guillam’s. ’We must try to save him no matter what.’

Gillian frowned and simultaneously sighed. ‘I hadn’t quite finished, there is also the question of internal damage. That may determine whether he can ever walk again. In this case, where a great deal of damage has been done, that remains an unknown. You know, in some ways the kindest thing for a proud virile young man like this would be to leave him to die here, which he would certainly do and quite quickly.’

Ximene took a deep breath.

‘We will save him. We must save him.’

‘Very well. I will see what can be found in the village.’


Ximene watched Guillam leave. Suddenly she was alone, sat on her haunches with John’s head on her lap.

Everything that had gone before had been fantasy, but not now, this was real. She felt no fear, only an overwhelming sense of freedom. Freedom, if necessary, to risk her life for a just cause and freedom to give her love without reservation. Suddenly she realised, this was the freedom she had always sought. What she felt now was love, not desire, not passion, not pleasure, but love. This was not something she had learned in either the Progression or the Transition.

She smiled, squeezed John’s hand and whispered in his ear. ‘You must survive.’

Once again she surveyed her surroundings. She took a deep breath. For the first time in her life, she was proud, intensely proud, to be Ximene Trencavel.

The most dangerous woman in the world

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