Ximene Trencavel-10 June 1355
For Ximene, it was an out of body experience; watching a different incarnation of herself performing her role. She desperately wanted to have control of what was happening, but quickly realised she had totally relinquished any possibility of direction or guidance.
She 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.
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. In return, she kissed his stubbly cheek. ‘I wanted to see you again before I left.’
Ximene found it difficult to keep a smile from her face. Alyse certainly had a talent for acting.
Alyse led the way from the balcony to the floor of the chamber 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. Typical Pipa!
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.’
John looked directly at Alyse, apparently seeking approval. She gave it with a nod of her head. Ximene was delighted. More confirmation that the switch was successful.
Philippa 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!’
There was no response from either John or Piers except bemusement spreading over both their faces.
After a short pause, Pipa continued, quite abruptly now, ‘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.’
Ximene watched with amusement as John looked quizzically at Piers, who shrugged. John glanced again at Alyse. She nodded as emphatically as her formal dress would allow.
Ximene decided it was time for her to intervene. She moved forward. ‘Let us help you.’
‘Hold out your leg and we will get your boots off.’
‘Hold,’ John cried. ‘I am not sure I am ready for this.’
John and Piers continued to look at each other. Ximene tugged at John’s hose with some energy but he was managing to hang on to them.
Alyse laughed 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 cosy 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!’
A look of devilment crossed Alyse’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. She did not quite succeed.
Ximene slowly but deliberately removed her clothes. She glanced at her audience at several stages of the disrobing process and was pleased to see that 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.
Ximene watched through narrowed eyes as Pipa took a rather different approach. She stood directly in front of John and looked into his eyes. Her bodice was laced up the back. Alyse, in response to a signal from Pipa, loosened the ties. Once the ties were undone, Pipa signalled to Alyse to move away. 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 underskirt was a light material which in the light of the flares behind her was virtually transparent. 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, now released from any constraint, moved in rhythm with her movements. She slipped the blouse from one shoulder, then from the other. Very slowly, she allowed the blouse to fall. She continued to sway for at least a minute.
Ximene eyes opened wide. Not at all what she had intended. Pipa was making a deliberate attempt to become the focus of attention, whilst she, in turn, focussed her attention on John.
Finally, Pipa undid the tie of her underskirt and let the garment fall, leaving her naked.
Still looking into John’s eyes, she smoothed an imaginary dress. She rested her right hand on her hip and thrust her right leg forward. She took her weight on the ball of her foot and lifted her left leg clear of the floor, She then raised her other hand into the air.
Surrounded by swirling steam she became she became a beautiful and to Ximene, a very disconcerting statue.
‘Do you find my body beautiful, John?’ Pipa asked mischievously.
‘I have seen that pose before… at Clermont’ he said. ‘Do you get trained in how to do that?’
Pipa smiled, 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.
Ximene saw that John was unsure of himself, gazing around as if in search of inspiration.
Before she could offer any assistance, John asked a question. ‘Why is the water brown?’ he asked, to nobody in particular, as steam rose around him.
Ximene breathed a sigh of relief and 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.’
‘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.’
Ximene chuckled. ‘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 concentrating initially on her shoulders.
She waited patiently gently stroking the sides of his wet body. Eventually, she told him she expected to be soaped all over, and to her delight, 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. 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 how 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 you Pipa and you Alyse. Are you willing and prepared to proceed? First Pipa then Ximene nodded their agreement. All three burst into uncontrollable laughter.
‘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 and indeed what you can expect from a lady. It is normally part of our education, though I am sure it is not part of yours.’
Lady Eleanor paused. ‘So young men what have you learned about how to behave.’
John glanced at Piers and took it upon himself to answer. ‘That men may make a suit for any lady’s hand, but they then must wait until the lady gives her favour and then and only then can arrangements be made for a romantic assignment.’
Lady Eleanor smiled. ‘Good summary, but remember our code says the women are always in charge in these matters. Also, it is preferable for the award of the favour to be given in public so that there can be no doubt of the intentions of either party.
What I have just been doing is making sure that these two young ladies are completely happy with what is about to happen. I am witness to the fact that are.’
‘The circumstances tonight may not be to everyone’s taste. Personal preferences for the environment promoting sexual arousal vary enormously.
Some need to feel safe, secure, protected and warm. These preferences are associated with being wrapped in down-filled bedding, encased in secure rooms behind substantial doors.
Others place more emphasis on feeling desirable, attractive. This often equates to lengthy preparation followed by unconditional admiration from their partner.
For those who are more adventurous, laying on luxurious rugs in front of blazing fires might be more to their taste.
Some, however, need excitement, exposure or even risk.
With the time available to us we cannot offer all of these different environments tonight.
However, most people respond well to a visit to this cavern, surrounded by sculptured walls, the waterfall, the baths and the terrace. That is why I have chosen this location. In real life remember however that each partner should identify the preferences of the other and try to provide whatever environment they prefer.’
There was a moment’s silence before Ximene asked, ‘and if their preferences are totally different?’
‘Well Alyse, I believe that is what is called incompatibility and both should proceed with extreme consideration and considerable caution.’
Lady Eleanor’s eyes twinkled. ‘John, initially Pipa will be your partner. She informs me that at Clermont you did express admiration for her 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 still 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.
‘I will not find that difficult, I think Pipa is extremely attractive,’
He hesitated. ‘but just to make sure.’
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!’
Ximene was startled. More evidence of Pipa focussing attention on herself. She shrugged. There was absolutely nothing she could do about it, but it was something to be taken into account.
Lady Eleanor’s eyes flickered slightly.
She led Ximene and Pipa over to two narrow marble-topped tables over which had been spread thick piled towels. She instructed them to lie on her stomachs on the benches and then pulled John by the hand to stand beside Pipa. ‘Now John, caress her back.’
Ximene watched through the corner of her eye as John took the first tenuous steps.
‘Do it gently, John,’ Lady Eleanor said. ‘What you are trying to achieve is a gentle massage. Initially use the back of your hand it helps to keep the touch gentle. Every woman is different. Pipa, tell him when it pleases you.’
Ximene watched as John tried to understand, interpret and comply with Pipa’s requests. She asked for several different strokes to different parts of her back, However, her body gave no sign as to the degree of his success.
Lady Eleanor intervened. ‘Pipa, 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 perhaps a wriggle of pleasure would not be inappropriate. The same thing applies to you, John. Tell her again how attractive she is, tell her how much you are enjoying this. You are, aren’t you?
John raised his eyebrows and then smiled. ‘ Pipa, never in my wildest dreams when I first saw you in Clermont, when you first smiled at me, did I envisage anything like this. It is wonderful and so are you Pipa.’
A conversation started about reminisces of that first meeting which gradually extended into John describing how he had witnessed the display of lovemaking between Joan of Kent and the Earl. Pipa started asking him details of Joan’s performance and John told her precisely what he had seen.
Suddenly Pipa shuddered. ‘Would you like to see me made up like that.’ John rocked back on his heels but replied without hesitation. ‘Yes, I would.’
Pipa then provided more specific guidance. Ximene could see John’s confidence grow.
‘Now, John, 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.’
John’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.’
‘No, not really. I guessed.’
‘Well, this particular concoction does come from further east.’
John poured the oil on his hands and spread it over Pipa’s back. Now, in addition to advice, John was rewarded with the occasional murmur of appreciation. Pipa lifted her head and addressed Lady Eleanor. ‘Can I turn over now?’
Lady Eleanor replied firmly that she could not and redirected John’s attention to the back of Ximene’s legs and in particular to the muscles at the back of her knees and her feet.
Apparently satisfied with John’s progress she switched her attention to Piers. ‘You have seen what John is doing, can you repeat that with Alyse?
At first, Ximene found it difficult to respond and was admonished for her lack of response. She really found it difficult, she wanted to be John’s partner, not Piers. She was still watching out of the corner of her eye when Pipa rolled over. John immediately pulled back but Pipa reached up and pulled his hand on to her breast.
At that moment Ximene realised that she was personally experiencing pleasure, from the touch of a total stranger! Emboldened, she started telling Piers what she wanted, he learnt rapidly how to deliver the desired results. Ximene also turned over smiled and found it impossible to conceal a gentle moan.
She 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. 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.
Ximene could still watch John and Pipa and saw that all inhibitions had vanished. they talked and laughed as they exchanged caresses.
Lady Eleanor eventually decided that they had spent enough time together and asked Ximene and Pipa to swap partners. ‘Remember what I told you, everyone is different, make sure you identify the differences.’
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. She whispered encouragement as he caressed her with increasing confidence. Suddenly she too became confident as waves of pleasure washed over her.
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.’
Eventually, Lady Eleanor intervened and persuaded them to bathe again. 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.’
‘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 caressing Pipa, 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.