Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355
They became so used to Ximene’s presence that other more strategic discussions spilled over from the tower room to the cellar.
Guillam was speaking as they emerged from the stairwell
‘So we need to take specific action?’
‘You will not use Les Etoilles to take Ximene to Sicily?’
‘No, in fact I don’t want to move her at all until I have found out who organized my kidnap and who was behind the ambush of Ximene and the probable attempt to murder her at Foix’
“ You think all three are related’
‘ I do but I can’t work out how, I am virtually sure that Les Etoilles were involved but there do seem to have been other forces at work’
‘And how will you get more information?’
‘Not by staying here. Even as we speak a tour is being arranged for the Shadow. He will visit Foix, Palmiers, Muret and Auch, and Bordeaux.’ He smiled grimly. ‘One of the secrets of my success is that I have managed to infiltrate the Inquisition at several locations including Palmiers.’
‘It is always possible that the Compte d’ Armagnac was involved, anything to spite the English’
‘People from Chateau Foix were taken there. They may know something which means nothing until it is compared with other pieces of information’
Gullam paused realizing that he was in possession of a potentially valuable piece of information.
‘Incidentally the inquisition at Palmiers is probably involved. The small army which managed to follow us to Monsegur belonged to the Bishop of Palmiers.’
Later in the day Ximene heard another fragment of conversation.
‘Guillam, I have a problem with my plan in that I have no contacts in Bordeaux, but you have. If this young man recovers enough to guard Ximene I would like you to meet me in Bordeaux to open some doors there’
Ximene’s heart leapt, she already knew Don Fernandino well enough to realize that if he made a statement, no matter how conditional, it meant he believed it to be possible.
He thinks John will live and more than that he will regain his strength and act as my bodyguard.
Despite increasing evidence that John would survive and that her primary objective had been achieved, Ximene continued to sleep with John. He was in too much pain to be aware of or concerned with her presence. However on the third day he was conscious for a lengthy period, he was able to talk and able to feel pain.
Ximene learned that the physician’s name was Estevan. He insisted on John leaving the bed and walking around the room with the aid of crutches. To Ximene it seemed so cruel. Estevan insisted that John put some weight on the damaged leg even though it clearly caused him much pain. Initially Ximene was pleased when Estevan departed and John got a chance to rest. During his absence she concentrated on keeping John comfortable and clean. She took almost obsessive delight in changing his dressings and washing his body.
John recovered quickly. Suddenly he was far more conscious of her presence in his bed. In the night he stretched out his arms to pull her into him.
I really should stop sleeping with him now. Even Grandmaman and Guillam sleep in separate beds most of the time. Grandmaman tells me that it reinforces the concept that sexual activity is always at the female’s invitation. But now I find I really enjoy the intimacy of sleeping together. He is never demanding. I am in control but all too often I encourage his advances by snuggling close to his body. I should not let this happen. It will teach him bad habits. He will expect my prescence. I will stop sleeping with him soon. I really will!
By the end of the second week the physician was encouraging John to walk all the way down the tunnel. Suddenly Ximene realized that the physician’s apparently brutal regime was producing results. She hardened her attitude and she then also started to bully John to do more and more every day. She became hardened to the pain he was obviously suffering. In her mind that became irrelevant compared with the progress he was making towards full recovery. By the end of the third week, John could take all of his weight on his damaged leg and also move it as part of a normal walking motion, though still supported by crutches.
Estevan did not hesitate to initiate a more demanding regime. He got John to stand by a table and take his weight on his hands. He then demanded that he took his weight on his good leg and swing his injured leg in all four directions as far as he was able. Initially John was limited in what he was able to achieve by his tolerance of pain. Slowly, under pressure, he found himself able to swing the injured leg in every direction. It was then and only then that the physician declared that he should be able to walk and probably run without impediment. He had observed how Ximene had learned his routines and ensured that John complied with them.
‘Push him hard’ he told Ximene.
‘The harder he works the more complete will be his recovery. Ximene complied!
Now John was awake for most of the day Guillam and Don Fernandino were far more circumspect in their conversations. When Ximene took them meals to the upper room however, they talked quite openly and did not seem to mind if she overheard what they said.
‘We must start a completely new organisation’ Don Fernandino had a very determined edge to his voice. ‘Initially the organizing group should be only the two of us! The organization should have some perfectly legitimate occupation. Trading is ideal. It generates income and it is something we both know”
‘But you had something else in mind?’
“Yes, it would give dispossessed Cathars a way of creating an income but it would mean we could give good performers more and more responsibility and trust. We could have a series of stages of promotion and at each stage reveal more and more about our true purpose’
‘And that purpose would be?
‘To take over control of trading towns and in secret create a culture which would allow the Cathar faith to flourish. If the towns were in strategic positions on trade routes, it would be self fulfilling’
‘Each town would develop on its own merits. We would supply finance, strategic planning skills, training, but they would never know who we are or how many other towns were involved. If one town failed it would have no effect on the others’
‘And we would be?’
Don Fernandino smiled broadly. ‘ You already know. You heard me tell Ximene the first day she arrived here’
We would be ‘L’ombre sans nom’. ‘The shadow without a name’
‘Perfect… but how do we expand from this? We need a wealthy and trustworthy patron.’
‘Are there any candidates’?
‘ I think we can rule out the Compte de Foix.’ They both chuckled.
‘Nevertheless we need someone like him, someone with power, influence and wealth’
They returned to the subject again and again. Working on details of organization and planning. Ximene was unable to hear everything they said, but enough to know that they were determined to fulfill their dream.
By the end of the fourth week the Estevan declared his task complete.
‘The only factor now which will determine the degree of your recovery is how hard you work. You have done very well but do not slacken off. Having said that, be sensible, if you are very sore at the end of any day… ease off the next day. The day after however, you must exercise as hard as you did previously. From my point of view the top priority should now be to get you to some sunshine. It is not easy using crutches to climb stairs but I want you to try. Every day you should double the number you can climb. The reward is that at the top of these stairs there is daylight and some wonderful views!
As he excercised, John also reflected on his relationship with Ximene.
It has changed everything. She is no longer a mysterious, distant princess, she is like my sister!
Even though we share a bed, just like my sister, in some strange way it would be inappropriate to make love to her. Even my kisses are now chased tokens of affection. I still love her, perhaps love her more, but it is a different kind of love.
It took John only three days to climb to the tower room. It just so happened that his first view out of the glazed window was early morning and on the edge of the woods, which covered the hill above the castle he saw a herd of deer grazing.
Have no doubt, I have the will to live!
Nevertheless only two day later, John began to worry about his future. He was shocked to find that when he first walked without crutches to visit Selene and Helios that he was soon out of breath. At first he though this was some aspect of his injury, which in a way it was, but he soon realized that loss of blood, infection and four weeks of inactivity had destroyed the fitness he had so carefully developed since Biscarrosse. He determined to regain that fitness. He thought back to the training regimes he had been taught by Lord James. He stopped short at the memory.
Was that only four months ago?