7 Safe House

Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355

‘My produce has been bought by the Bishops of Albi for their summer palace at Mazerou, please do not delay us we are required to deliver today’
The belligerent trader backed away instantly even giving his apologies.
Ximene looked admiringly at Guillam. ‘ Well done, but why?
‘The safe house we were heading is more of a palace than a castle, which is surprising considering how close to the Aragonese border it lies. Apparently it was used by the Franks for secret negotiations with the Aragonese. It was riddled with hidden passageways and secret entrances so that meetings could be held without even the servants being aware of them. There is a belief that before that it was owned by the Trencavels, your ancestors. The Chateau now belongs to the Bishops of Albi, who use it infrequently as a summer retreat. The bishops have long used a local appointee to manage the estate for them. In exactly the same way that Sabastien gained control of Monsegur, an agent of Don Fernandino has effective control of Mazerou. It is now managed and staffed by people who work for the agent. The passageways were blocked off long ago but importantly large cellars, which now cannot be accessed from the house can still be reached by a secret passageway. That is where we will hide you whilst John is treated.’
‘ And why did he leave us so quickly?
‘ Because the Bishops are known to rule with a rod of iron or rather a rod of grace. They excommunicate anyone who crosses them. The whole town of Quillian has been excommunicated on more than one occasion!’
‘And that really matters?’
‘That really matters the way the Roman Church presents it, without grace from the sacraments and particularly without burial in holy ground one is condemned to eternal damnation!’
They left Quillian behind and with great relief, just after midday, arrived within sight of Chateau Mazerou.
Guillam quickly established his credentials with the manager of the Chateau.
Maurice, the manager, seem excessively jolly for someone with such a potentially stressful task.
Ximene regarded him with some amusement
Robust and jolly, redfaced, robust and jolly.
‘The bishops are due to arrive from Albi anytime now, so you will be unable to use any of the Chateau facilities, not even the stables’
He nodded towards a relatively modern structure across the courtyard from which a row of horses were watching with great curiosity and guided them down a track to a deserted, dilapidated farm and across what had been an enclosed farmyard, A huge barn was built out of the side of the hill. Behind the farm ran a small stream. Having threaded their way through piles of decrepit farm equipment, the manager led them into the barn and into a large tackle room where harnesses and saddles could be hung. One wall was lined with cupboards, but the middle cupboard was empty. Maurice carefully removed the shelving and pushed against the back wall. It disappeared into a dark recess, opening to a long tunnel. The first part of the tunnel was equipped as private stables, which could not be seen from the tackle room once the door was closed.
It was then necessary to make a stretcher. The manager took one end of the stretcher and Guillam took the other. The tunnel ran possibly a tenth of a league before they emerged into a rather elegant arched cellar lit with many torches. There was a bed already made up with mattresses and John was gently lifted on to it.
Almost immediately Don Fernandino emerged from a staircase, looking well and rested. He was slim, very slim. He wore his hair pulled back from his forehead, which accentuated both the height of his forehead and the length of his thin nose. As he entered the cellar he carried a guitar. Not just any guitar but a guitar inlaid with marquetry outlined in shining silver . Ximene looked at him with a look of incredulity. This was the legend? This was the man who had supernatural powers? He was dressed simply as a troubadour with a white ruffled chemise and tight black hose. He sauntered across to the bed and dangled the guitar from one hand as he raised John’s cover with the other. He winced.
Ximene was fascinated by his hands; his fingers were exceptionally long and slender and his fingernails carefully manicured, not at all like a man’s hands. Close up she now saw that his face was covered with a network of fine lines.
A life of stress, premature aging?
But many of the lines are clustered round the corners of his eyes; there is much laughter in his life!
When Don Fernandino spoke he created a totally different image, his voice was clipped but strong. ‘Don Fernandino at your service… and you my dear, must be Ximene.’ He bowed slightly.
Ximene nodded.
‘This young man is in a bad way, could you boil some water and clean him from head to toe whilst I go to find the physician?’ he expected to be obeyed. He turned away, guitar still dangling from one hand and threw the other arm around Guillam.
‘Good to see you old friend. So you managed to get her out without bothering me.’ Guilliam nodded towards the bed. ‘This young man played no small part’ he lowered his voice, ‘and may pay for it with his life’
Don Fernandino put down the guitar and lifted a black cloak from the wall. ‘Well then we must save him’
The transformation was complete. From troubadour to soldier in a second! He strode quickly across the room to where Ximene was filling a large pan with water. He gently compressed her shoulders between his hands. Ximene glanced over her shoulder, startled by his strength.
‘We will save him, my dear, the physician who will return with me is capable of miracles!’
Don Fernando returned within the hour. His face now looked hard as if it had been hewn from granite
‘There is nothing I can do’ he said in voice which said there should have been something he could do, ‘ The physician, who is otherwise occupied cannot come before evening.’
He looked embarrassed, obviously he considered that he had failed Ximene Ximene still busied herself attending to John and for no particular reason washed him for a second time. She asked Don Fernandino about the Guitar
‘ I am an entertainer. I sing and play the guitar. It enables me to move from place to place without attracting attention.’ He explained further. ‘ When an entertainer performs under the bright lights every one sees him, everyone uses their imagination to make the entertainer the person they want him to be. Then at the end of the performance, when the lights are extinguished, the person they have created vanishes, he ceases to exist; until the lights are switched on again in some other place at some other time.’
Ximene stared at him, reflecting how close his own explanation was to the legends which were told about him. ‘And as a singer, how are you known?’
I am known as ‘The Shadow’.
‘Just ‘The Shadow, nothing else?’
‘ That is so my dear, I am the Shadow without a name’
Later, when the physician finally arrived he spent fifteen minutes examining John, including making an internal examination of the wound. He removed the leaches but proclaimed they had done a good job. He then applied a salve to the wound, which he said would promote healing and prevent infection. He stitched the wound using a gut thread. He then attempted to give John a potion he had made up but had no success in getting him to drink. In the end he simple poured it down John’s throat nearly choking him in the process.
‘Some will have got through!’ he said
‘I will leave this here’ he said indicating the remaining portion.
‘I will return in the morning. If at any point he should wake up, the first thing you should do is get him to drink this’
He looked at Ximene, Don Fernandino and Guillam in turn.
‘Everything I am doing here is based on Arab medicine which I learned whilst studying at Montpellier. He has a very good chance. He may be very fortunate, I think that if he does recover he will walk again. The sooner we can get him on his feet the better will be his chance of walking without a limp.
Ximene had been watching the physician carefully. She had a strong, almost proprietorial interest in John’s welfare.
He looks knowledgeable, skillful
‘Can you save his life?’
The physician returned Ximenes steady gaze and then turned to look at John.
‘You know in these circumstances a life may hang momentarily by a thread, sometimes the difference between life and death is the will to live.’
He bent down to pick up his bags when they were all surprised to hear John’s voice.
‘Ximene’ was the first word he uttered. She ran to his side. His eyes opened albeit briefly. On seeing her face he forced a smile.
‘Have no doubt’ he said ‘I have the will to live!’

The most dangerous woman in the world