19 — Comprehension

Ximene Trencavel- 20th July 1355

At Château Mazerou Estevan told Ximene that John needed no more of the potion. Despite this advice, Ximene kept some of the potion in reserve, half expecting John to experience severe pain.

Though Ximene watched carefully there was little change. John’s range of movement started to improve but after exercise, he was almost immobile. When questioned, he blamed the immobility on pain but insisted that the pain was bearable. Ximene was also disappointed that although he seemed more aware of his surroundings, his ability to conduct a logical conversation improved very slowly, if at all.

After a couple of days, Don Fernandino caught her arm as she was passing. ‘I need to talk to you Ximene.’

Ximene smiled. ‘I am never far away from you, so that should not be too difficult.’

Don Fernandino returned the smile. ‘Yes, yes, but this is not a casual conversation. I have spent some time analysing what you told me last week. I want to sit down together and see if you think I have got it right.’

‘Now?’

‘Yes.’ Don Fernandino moved a flare so that it gave good illumination to the table. ‘Sit down.’ He waited until they were both comfortably seated before turning to face Ximene. ‘Even before I first spoke to you I felt that there were powerful factors at work in the attempts to kidnap and kill you. This does not surprise me. You are not just another persecuted Cathar. You are potentially the ruler of Occitan’

‘From what you have told me there is a man called Du Guesclin who John saw at the end of the battle at Monsegur

Ximene frowned. ‘But I know very little about Du Guesclin. I only know what John told me.

‘I think Du Guesclin is important but it is difficult to see how he could have had anything to do my own kidnap. Guillam came to see me in Majorca to avoid any possibility of a message being intercepted. I told no-one about my mission to rescue you, other than to explain my absence to my regional controller in Les Étoiles. Despite this caution, I was intercepted and nearly killed at Port Vendres. How? From the time I spoke to my controller, there was hardly time to send a message to Port Vendres. And why? it would have required considerable priority to marshall the required resources in such a short period. What is worse is that Guillan decoded a message left in the room where I was originally incarcerated which enabled him to warn you in advance about the assassination attempt. I think this means that it was all being co-ordinated independent of les Étoiles. If so, how could whoever did co-ordinate it know enough about my travel plans to be able to intercept me at Port Vendres. And… if there was contact is the contact still there? I am searching for that link.’

Ximene shook her head. ‘ I can only say I knew nothing about that.’

Don Fernandino nodded. ‘But what you do know about Du Gueslin is very significant… As John is recovering I would like to include him in this conversation.’

Ximene glanced around. John was doing his leg swinging exercises and these exercises were always followed by several walks up and down the tunnel where John liked to talk to the horses. Ximene wrinkled her nose. John seemed to prefer the company of horses to people. ‘Do you think he is ready?’

‘Perhaps he has to be ready.’

Ximene gently asked John to join them. He came willingly but then sat quietly with his head bowed.

Don Fernando hesitated. ‘John?’ There was no reply, no reaction. Don Fernandino tried again.’John can you tell us all you know about du Guesclin? ‘

John raised his head slowly and screwed up his face. ‘du Guesclin?’

‘Yes, anything you remember.’

‘Some of it is only what I have been told.’ John stopped, frowned and screwed up his face once again. His face cleared. ‘The Earl told me that du Guesclin was…is…that there is personal enmity between them. Apparently, it started when Du Guesclin laid siege to Joan…Joan of Kent that is…Joan’s home in Brittany.’ John again stopped.

‘Take your time John.’ Ximene said gently, reaching out to hold his hand.

John smiled.’ The Earl rescued Joan and sent Du Guesclin away threatening to kill him if he returned. Hmm.’ He frowned but then gave a beaming smile. ‘Is this some sort of a test? If so it has worked… suddenly I remember everything. When we first started travelling towards Muret, I saw a dirty misshapen tramp sitting on a wall in Marmande. I thought nothing of it but then I saw the same tramp in Aiguillon. This time I noticed he was carrying a sword. A tramp carrying a sword? Most unusual. I reported it to the Earl who, from my description, recognised who the tramp actually was. Du Guesclin!’

Don Fernandino broke in. ‘Well, at least one of my assumptions is correct. This du Guesclin is of the north, not the south. One might ask how he came to be involved in the affairs of Occitan. He is almost certainly an agent of the Franks.’ He nodded towards John. ‘Please continue John.’

John scowled. ‘It might be better, Don Fernandino, if you did not interrupt, I am struggling to get things in the right order.’ John again bowed his head and there was then a lengthy pause. ‘Ahh! Yes, we then made a trip to Monpazier, partly to give the Earl a chance to meet one of his old retainers from Salisbury. The trip was uneventful, but then a couple of nights later, at Agen, a package arrived. The package looked as if it might be a good bottle of wine, but when it was opened, the hand and most of the arm of the Earls retainer fell out. There was also a note from du Guesclin.

Ximene shuddered. ‘Horrible, you have never told me that before.’

John shrugged his shoulders. ‘Like something out of a nightmare. I have not made it up. It actually happened. I did tell you he was an evil man.’

Don Fernandino narrowed his eyes.’ You made no attempt to punish this villain?’

‘The Earl wanted to carry out a search but the Prince said no. The Prince felt that his meeting with Ximene had a higher priority. The next time I saw Du Guesclin was after the battle of Monsegur, just before I was injured.

Ximene was surprised. ‘Suddenly, you remember that?’

John blinked several times. ‘Yes the detail is a bit hazy but I do remember seeing him again.’

‘Very good. I don’t think we could have had this conversation a couple of days ago’

Don Fernandino stared at John. ‘ Now John, think hard. Ximene has already told me about the attack during the hunt and the assassin inside Chateau Foix. I would assume from what you have just told us that you saw no sign of Du Guesclin during either of those events?

John answered immmediately. ‘No I did not.

‘You are sure?’

‘Yes, I am sure. Do you think I am still ill… perhaps I have been… but all these questions have stirred my memory. Yes, I am sure.’

Don Fernandino sighed. ‘Patience John, what I am trying to establish is whether there is any direct contact from Du Guesclin, or anyone else, with Les Étoiles. You see, if there is contact, and word of our movements is passed on to Les Étoiles, it may be difficult to get Ximene safely to Sicily. Les Étoiles control a fleet of ships and even if we travelled on a commercial passage from Barcelona they would have the ability to intercept us. I must make sure that there is no possibility of any such direct contact. If I discover a link I will have to find some way of breaking it. Now tell me about the hunt.

‘Did not see Du Guesclin. I now believe we were attacked by a force raised by the Bishop of Pamiers.’

‘And what makes you believe that?’

‘Nothing more than the uniforms they wore, grey-green with no blazon or heraldry of any kind. ‘

‘Not very conclusive.’

“If you like, but I believe it, the same force was involved in the battle of Monsegur, there they were commanded by someone who called himself the chief inquisitor for Pamiers.’

‘But at Monsegur, Du Guesclin was involved.’

‘Yes he was. I have just told you that.’

Again, patience John. Now I have real concerns. I did not think that this Du Guesclin would have contact with Les Etoiles, but the church of Rome or the Inquisition quite possibly will have. It is possible they were and still are working together. I need to get more information. In my role as the Shadow, I have contacts within the church at Pamiers. I will have to pay them a visit. If the bishop of Pamiers or the Inquisition in Pamiers were involved, I am sure I will discover how much they know.’

‘The Shadow?’

‘Yes, John, the Shadow. Welcome back, there is much we need to tell you.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel