77 The Transition

Ximene Trencavel-10 June 1355

Ximene watched carefully for any sign that John or Piers knew that she had swapped places with Alyse. She saw none. What she did see was a bewilderment as they struggled to cope with the environment they found themselves in. She found it difficult to keep a smile from her face. Alyse certainly had a talent for acting.

Alyse took Piers’ hand and leant in to kiss his cheek. ‘I bathed earlier,’ she said, as she let go of his hand and moved over to face John. She took his hand in hers. ‘I have to leave for the upper castle.’ She smiled sweetly as John raised her hand to his mouth and gave a perfect rendition of the chivalrous kiss.

She kissed his stubbly cheek. ‘I wanted to see you again before I left.’

She indicated that they should descend from the balcony to the floor of the chamber. Alyse led the way and Ximene followed. As they did so, another girl emerged though swirling steam.

‘Oh!’ she said. ‘You are hot, sweaty and dusty. I suppose that is what one can expect in soldiers. You lead such a hard and dangerous life!’

Ximene again stifled a chuckle. It was as if it had been scripted.

John glanced at Piers, eyes open wide. Piers shook his head.

John eventually found his voice. ‘Pipa where did you come from.’

Pipa grinned. ‘Oh yes, I deceived you at Clermont, at least a little bit. Surely you must have realised that all was not what it seemed when I obtained the services of both a bowyer and a fletcher so easily? I will explain all a little later, but for now, you must bathe.’

Ximene saw more confirmation that the switch was successful. John now looked directly at Alyse, apparently seeking approval. She gave it with a nod of her head.

Phillipa was still talking. ‘Ximene has been invited to dinner with the Comte. I do not know how she puts up with it. Boring meals with boring people.’

Alyse broke in hurriedly. ‘Yes, but I will return later this evening so we can talk.’

Pipa spoke again, addressing the boys, ‘Would you like a drink? Limoux is actually my favourite but we do have Claret for those who must!’

And then, quite abruptly, ‘Whilst I am getting you a drink and your silence means that you are getting Limoux, put your clothes over there on the bench. You will not need chainmail for the next couple of days and we will have the rest of your clothes washed.’

John looked quizzically at Piers, who shrugged. He glanced again at Alyse. She nodded as emphatically as her formal dress would allow.

‘Let us help you.’

‘Hold out your leg and we will get your boots off.’

It was only when the girls started to assist with undoing belts and untying tunics that John realised the intent was to leave him naked!

‘Hold,’ he cried. ‘I am not sure I am ready for this.’

John and Piers looked at each other. Ximene tugged at John’s hose with some energy but he was managing to hang on to them.

Alyse was laughing with delight. ‘Oh! My boys, you are so shy. Stop protesting. How are you going to wash properly if you don’t have help? Perhaps you intended to wash each other’s backs. That would be nice and cozy would it not?’ she teased. ‘If you would prefer it, I could find a boy or two who would love to help you with all manner of things!’

The was a look of devilment on Ayse’s face.

‘This struggle is unseemly. It would seem that our two heroes are shy and need some encouragement. I have no intention of getting undressed as I am due upstairs in about ten minutes, but I think that you two girls should set an example. Alyse, you go first.’

Ximene tried hard to turn the smile on her face from amusement to seduction. It was not quite the way she had imagined it.

Ximene slowly but deliberately removed her clothes. She glanced at her audience at several stages of the disrobing process. Good, both of the boys were paying close attention.

Once naked, Ximene positively flowed across the floor and into the nearest bath. She then relaxed, satisfied with her impromptu performance. She closed her eyes and sighed as steam from the warm water rose around her face.

‘Pipa,’ prompted Alyse.

Pipa took a rather different approach. She stood directly in front of John and looked into his eyes. She disrobed without moving her gaze. Her bodice had a number of ties, which she could not reach.  Alyse lent her a hand, gazing mischievously at Piers as she did so. Pipa signalled to Alyse to move away once the ties were undone.  She then pulled the bodice forward, allowed it to drop to the floor.  She untied her belt and dropped her overskirt, kicking it away. Her blouse was laced up the front. She pulled the knot undone and still gazing into John’s eyes, slowly unlaced the blouse.

She moved her body ever so slightly, swaying one way and then the other. Her breasts moved in rhythm with her movements. Her underskirt was a light material which in the light of the flares behind her was virtually transparent. Again she undid the tie and let the garment fall. Finally, she slipped the blouse from each shoulder. Very slowly, she allowed the blouse to fall, leaving her naked. Still looking into John’s eyes, she smoothed an imaginary dress. She rested one hand on a hip and thrusting her right leg forward, took her weight onto the ball of her foot. She lifted her other hand into the air and only broke eye contact to allow him to admire her body. John saw it was almost identical to the pose Joan had struck at Clermont.

‘Do you find my body beautiful, John?’ Pipa asked mischievously.

‘Do you get trained in how to do that?’ he asked.

Pipa turned on her heel and after three long strides jumped into the second bath, spilling quite a lot of it in the process. Alyse jumped sideways to avoid the plume of water. Having wagged her finger at Pipa, she returned to the boys.

‘Now it is your turn.’

John cautiously but deliberately removed the remainder of his clothes.  Alyse pulled him in and kissed him firmly on the lips, pressing him against raised seams, pleats and embroidery.

Alyse stepped back, emphasising that she was taking the opportunity to admire his physique.

Looking John in the eye, she said crisply, ‘Tonight you will be given a very quick version of the training every Cathar receives during the Transition.’

Alyse then touched her lips with her finger and pressed the finger against John’s lips and turned to leave. She waved as she swept up the stairs. ‘See you later,’ she said. ‘I will let you decide who will scrub whose back and when.’

Piers was already in the bath nearest the waterfall. John eased himself into the remaining bath.

‘Why is the water brown?’ he asked, to nobody in particular as steam rose around him.

Ximene readily replied, ‘I believe it is from the dissolved minerals.  Bathing in this water is supposed to be very good for you. It does not taste very good, so drinking water is normally collected from the roof or brought in barrels. However, when this castle is under siege this spring water can be stored and after a couple of days it is drinkable. That is the real reason this castle is impregnable. It has its own water supply with which an enemy cannot tamper.’

The tension was broken, and Ximene rose from her bath and walked over to a box on the wall under the terrace and returned to the foot of John’s bath. Her wet body gleamed in the light of the torches. ‘Stand up, John. I will soap you down.’

‘What?’

‘It’s soap. It is perfumed and it makes you feel good. Don’t you have this in England?’

John shook his head.

‘It was invented in Egypt nearly two thousand years ago.’

Egypt, again!

‘This came from Marseilles.’ Ximene applied the soap to John’s body, rubbing his shoulders and neck. Foam flowed down his body and Ximene’s hands followed it. The experience was beyond John’s wildest dreams.

Out of the corner of her eye, Ximene could see Pipa soaping Piers down in the same way.

Ximene, with diligent attention to detail, soaped down the rest of his body and then poured bucket after bucket of water over his head.

‘Now it is my turn,’ she said.

John cautiously applied the soap to her body, but when he realised that she raised no objection to anywhere he applied the soap, he continued with enthusiasm.

Ximene sank into the bath and pulled John down after her.

‘Occasions like this make nudity feel normal,’ John observed.

‘And isn’t it?’

‘Not to me. Sorry I made such as fuss about taking my clothes off earlier.’

Half an hour later, John, Piers, Pipa and Ximene lounged on the benches at the side of the terrace chattering amiably. They had thick woollen robes thrown around their shoulders but none of them made any attempt to tie them. Ximene felt a little shudder of pleasure. Eventually assisting with each other’s bathing had come quite naturally.

Lady Eleanor appeared and descended the steps. ‘Good. I see you are all relaxed and comfortable. Perhaps we should start the second lesson.’

Lady Eleanor took Ximene and Pipa to one side.

‘This cannot possibly be the same as a full transition. There is not the time for John and Piers to go through the whole process and teach them to cope with rejection as well as acceptance.

So if we proceed there will be no opportunity for you to exercise your right to reject either one of them. So now I must ask. Are you willing and prepared to proceed? Again to make things easier I will take it on my self to explain to them how they should behave and the skills they will need to acquire.  This may expose you to some things that you might not have chosen if left to your own devices. I now ask you in all seriousness, do you want to proceed?’  First Pipa then Ximene nodded their agreement. All three burst into uncontrollable laughter.

‘Come with me you should hear what I have to say to the boys.’

Lady Eleanor was still smiling broadly as she sat down between John and Piers.

‘John, you asked me to provide guidance and to tell you everything I know. You have already learned this evening something about the way we live. Now I…’ She hurriedly corrected herself.  ‘… We, intend to take that a stage further. If you are to mix in our society, you must have some practical experience of what our ladies expect from a man. It is normally part of our education, though I am sure it is not part of yours. What I have just been doing is making sure that these two young ladies are completely happy with what is about to happen. They have confirmed that they indeed are.’

Lady Eleanor’s eyes twinkled ‘Trust me, you will enjoy this. John, initially Pipa will be your partner. She informs me that at Clermont you did express admiration for her, albeit somewhat ineffectually, and that she responded by giving you her favour.’

John frowned. ‘Oh!’ His brow cleared. ‘Pipa! Your ribbons were so useful. They were so light that they moved in the slightest breeze. I used them to judge the wind. They helped me win the contest.’

Pipa looked at him long and hard and then turned to Lady Eleanor.

‘I am not sure I can continue with this. This man is surely without feeling.’

Lady Eleanor looked extremely serious, but there was an irrepressible twinkle in her eye. ‘John, you need to reassure Pipa that you do indeed find her attractive. Can you do that?’

John looked at Pipa. The truth was that she was very attractive, even though her hair was now wet and tousled. He suddenly found it easy to compose his thoughts.

Dear, dear Pipa, you are someone to savour,

How could I possibly forget the award of your favour

Your body flows in gentle curves

No praise would exceed what it deserves.

Please, please, just tell me what to do

And I will, henceforth, be so good to you

I would be most unhappy to suffer rejection

Be assured from now of my continued affection.

Pipa looked at him, narrowing her eyes. She took off her robe and for the second time, that night stood naked in front of him. She held the robe at arm’s length ‘Here is another favour. Never tell me you did not notice me giving you this one!’

Lady Eleanor’s eyes flickered slightly. ‘Good. I will leave you to reach some agreement. In the meantime, I will be talking to Piers and Alyse.’

She led Ximene over to a narrow marble-topped table and spread a thick piled towel over it. She instructed Ximene to lie on her stomach on the bench and then asked Piers to caress her back.

‘Do it gently, Piers,’ she said. ‘What you are trying to achieve is a gentle massage. Every woman is different. Alyse, tell him when it pleases you.’

Ximene asked for several different strokes to different parts of her back. Piers tried to understand, interpret and comply with her requests. Her body gave no sign as to the degree of his success.

Lady Eleanor intervened. ‘Alyse, I am disappointed in you. You know that you must give advice if you don’t like what John is doing. Also, you could offer more encouragement. Words of praise and a wriggle of pleasure would not be inappropriate.’

After Lady Eleanor’s intervention. Ximene provided more specific guidance and responses. Ximene felt the difference as Piers’ confidence grew.

‘Now, Piers, try this.’ Lady Eleanor gave him a bottle. ‘This is massage oil. It is specially blended from carrier oil, in this case, wheat grain but it contains ancient aromatic oils, specifically frankincense and myrrh.’ Piers’s head jerked round to look at Lady Eleanor. She smiled. ‘Obviously, you have heard of them, but you were never told how they might be used.’

‘… and they originated in Egypt.’

‘You know?’

‘No, not really. I guessed. Something I was not taught at school. ’

‘Well, this particular concoction does come from further east.’

Piers poured the oil on his hands and spread it over Ximene’s back. Now, in addition to advice, Piers was rewarded with the occasional murmur of appreciation. Ximene lifted her head and addressed Lady Eleanor. ‘Can I turn over now?’

Lady Eleanor replied firmly that she could not and redirected Pier’s attention to the back of Ximene’s legs and in particular to the muscles at the back of her knees.

Piers learnt rapidly what pleased Ximene and how to deliver the desired results. Ximene was clearly enjoying herself, she smiled and uttered a gentle groan. Ximene realised with a shock that she was really experiencing pleasure, from the touch of a total stranger! Lady Eleanor left them to experiment in order to commence a similar learning experience for John and Pipa.

Ximene had turned over and had reached the stage of wriggling with pleasure when Lady Eleanor returned to them. ‘That was the easy part, Piers. Most men, however, find it difficult to accept caresses from a woman. You must now refrain from touching Alyse but allow her to explore your body. As she showed you, it is good etiquette to let her know when she gives you pleasure and to let her know any preferences you may have. Change places with Alyse’

Piers hesitantly lay on the table. ‘I am not sure I have any preferences.’

Ximene soon showed him some options, which both surprised and delighted him. She applied oil to every part of Piers’s body and then rubbed herself against him. Lady Eleanor then suggested they stand and caress each other, stressing that conversation about what was most pleasurable was essential to make the most of the experience.

Lady Eleanor eventually decided that they had spent enough time together and asked Ximene and Pipa to swap partners.

Ximene smiled. Now she would find out what she wanted to know! John applied more oil to her body. She was very specific in describing her preferences. To her delight, John proved to be very responsive.

When it was her turn to massage John she held nothing back. When he told her about what he had enjoyed with Pipa she responded quickly and attentively. She whispered encouragement as he responded with increasing confidence.

Eventually, Lady Eleanor intervened and persuaded them to bathe again. John was very happy with life. Ximene squeezed herself into John’s bath. She put her arms around his neck.

‘Well, did you enjoy that?’

‘Yes, I did. You do not see sexual pleasure as anything unusual or shameful, do you?’

Ximene laughed. ‘Absolutely not. It shows us what the ultimate union with the Good God might be like.’

John considered carefully his response. ‘For me, it’s not so much the pleasure as the release from shame and fear.’ He grinned. ‘For the rest of my life, I will be able to enjoy the company of women without reserve.’

He pushed her away from him and rubbed his finger gently up and down across her nipples.  Ximene shivered with pleasure and smiled. ‘I really like that.’

John sighed. ‘Lady Eleanor has just told me that it takes a hundred experiences of intense sexual pleasure and open discussion of what works and what doesn’t, before a man and a woman can be sure of each others’ needs.’

Ximene smiled.

‘It goes further than that, John. We believe that only through a wide range of partners could anyone, man or woman, know the full range of possibilities for pleasure! There will be other women, John, but you will never forget that this first experience was with me… and Pipa of course.’

John frowned.’ And do you think Ximene would like the things that you have taught me?’

Ximene laughed out loud. ‘Oh! I am absolutely certain she would.’

She was silent for a moment before she asked almost as an afterthought, ‘Did you really enjoy Pipa touching you? Would you like to spend more time with her?’

John stared at Ximene. ‘That question tells me how much I still have to learn.’

Lady Eleanor broke what could have been an awkward silence by announcing that she intended to serve dinner.

The most dangerous woman in the world