14 Conflict

Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355

It was the most beautiful early autum. However, as a result of her martial arts training Ximene had developed some patches of calloused skin. She optimistically put a message in the blue jar asking for a remedy. She received in return a jar full of oil, rose hip oil extract mixed with virgin olive oil. She liked the feel of the oil and so applied it liberally every morning. John had suggested that he might help but she refused. He did not ask again but relaxed enjoying her beauty. In his view, it was one of the delights of the Cathar culture that he was not expected respond until Ximene gave him an invitation so to do. He learned quickly that just because Ximene sat on a low table, facing him, massaging oil into her thighs this was not an invitation; it was just an opportunity to admire her.

At Chateau Mazerou there was no awareness of these preparations for war. However, whilst enjoying the weather and reveling in John’s considerate attentions, Ximene was now becoming increasingly anxious.
Where is Don Fernandino ? Have they managed to find the Prince or have they been captured on the way? If so, who has captured them and will that lead to the invasion of our haven. Will I have to use my new found skills if we are attacked?
It made her think of her own vulnerability.
I must get a true measure of how I am progressing in the development of my military skills. I must discover where my weaknesses lie.
‘ You were right John, when you talked about a tournament. I need a real fight, and you are the only person available. The time has come John; I must fight you, I need to test my learning. You and I must fight a real fight using bare knuckles.’
John looked at her as though she was mad.
‘It is a good idea’ he said slowly, which was his way of indicating that it was not a good idea.
‘But you might get badly hurt’. He looked at her with exaggerated gravity. ‘If this is to have any meaning, I will have use all my skill and hit you as hard as I can’
Still sitting, Ximene turned and looked at him with sheer defiance in her eyes.
‘John do not forget, I might hurt you’
The next day they went up to their training field. John explained that if they had cuts and bruises after the fight, the pond would be useful. Ice cold water always made a good start to any recovery or healing process. They walked to the centre of the grassed area and Ximene bound a piece of wet leather over her knuckles as John had agreed she could do. He helped her tie off the binding and then kissed her on the cheek. Without thinking John then removed his clothes.
Ximene looked at him quizzically, seeing him naked was no longer unusual but to her it seemed a strange thing to do at this juncture.
‘Why on earth have you done that?’ she asked. ‘We are here to make war not love’
John replied that it was usual in competitive close combat, as it prevented an opponent getting any leverage from pulling on clothing. Ximene calmly took off her own clothing. John gasped. He was embarrassed to have treated Ximene just as an opponent.
‘I cannot fight you in these circumstances, how can I possibly fight a naked woman, ?’
Ximene’s answer was to take a fighting stance, clench her fists and bulk up the muscles of her upper body. Nevertheless she smiled
‘Now you have told me that clothes can be used to advantage by one’s opponent, this is how we will fight, I do not want you to have any advantage’
She bounded from side to side and skipped towards him. She feinted with her left hand and scored the first hit, a right handed blow to John’s stomach.
The fight lasted less than five minutes. John found himself leaving her opportunities because he did not want to hit her directly on her breasts. She had learned well and took advantage of every opening. She sensed John’s hesitancy and he suddenly found himself taking blows to every part of his body. He regretted having given her permission to bind her hands. She was now taking advantage of this to hit him hard. He responded by throwing his own punches more determinedly. She was very quick and was able to move inside his punches to use her elbows to advantage. He attempted to control this by grappling with her but discovered that somewhere in the preparation process she had managed to apply oil to her skin. He could not get a grip on her and again she used her elbows. He found himself sore and bleeding from a dozen places. He decided to finish it quickly but could not lay a finger on her as she swayed and counter punched. He was beginning to feel slow and clumsy. Suddenly he had a stroke of luck. Ximene slipped as she swung a punch and he landed a clean swing just above her right eye. Her eye brow exploded. To his surprise she did not go down but countered with two other punches. John felt his nose flatten from the first punch and the second one hit him on the temple. He felt himself losing consciousness and in a reflex reaction swung his last punch. He knew he made contact but he did not know where. As he fell, he felt Ximene fall across him, so he knew he must have hit her hard.
When he came round Ximene had managed to drag him to the edge of the lake. Her body was covered in blood, but she was attempting to wash his face. He dragged himself into the water pulling Ximene after him. He reminded her that ice cold water was the best way to start the recovery process. Her eyebrow was split from one end to the other. The cut was so bad that it ran up onto her forehead. There were deepening bruises on both her cheekbones and her lower lip gaped open. Despite the immersion in cold water the bleeding would not stop ‘I am sorry, so sorry’
Ximene was defiant.
‘ I won, You went down first and you were unconcious longer’
All John could do was stare at her in disbelief.
He pulled on his own clothes, helped Ximene with hers and helped her mount Selene. He rode behind her on the return to Mazerou, concerned that she might loose conciousness and fall from the horse. He need not have concerned himself. Indeed once Mazerou was in sight she urged Selene into a canter.
Nevertheless the bleeding just would not stop and to make things worse the eye below the cut had now filled with blood and nearly closed; the eyelid a purple ball.
John expressed his concern once more and then left to find Estavan. Estevan listened to what John had to say and declared himself immediately available. He examined Ximene carefully and glanced sideways at John.
‘How could you do this? Why would you do this?’ he asked. ‘I did not believe you when you told me what had happened but now I do. I am a physician but I did not know that a woman could develop her body in this way. I thought it was something only men can do, obviously not. Training is one thing, fighting is another. You could have killed her’
Estavan glared at John. In return John smiled weakly.
‘You underestimate her, she defeated me, I just swung a lucky, or from her point of view an unlucky punch’
Estevan declared that both Ximenes eyebrow and her lip needed stitches.
‘Within a week the lip will heal and be hardly noticeable but no matter how careful I am, I connot conceal the damage to her eyebrow. The cut is deep and it extends beyond the hairline. She will be visibly scarred for the rest of her life.
He set about the stitching process. It took a relatively long time but other than deep breathing Ximene accepted the process without complaint. Once he had finished he piled pillows under her head and gave her a portion.
Estevan once again looked at Ximene with admiration as he packed his bag. He pulled John out of the room .
‘She will sleep soon but it will take two to three weeks for the eye to recover. Remarkable, I never expected to meet a goddess.’ He paused looking back towards the room. ‘She is the physical embodiment of the goddess Diana but please remind her that she is in fact mortal, that eyebrow will be vulnerable for a long time. It would be preferable if she did not fight again unless she was in great danger.’
They walked down the tunnel. John shut the stable door as Estevan left and retraced his steps to the tower room. He suddenly realised that he was so concerned about Ximene that he had forgotton to ask Estevan about his own nose, which certainly hurt and might well be broken.
As he re-entered the room Ximene was still awake.
‘ I am very concerned about you John’ He fingered his nose, which did not wobble and seemed to be straight.
‘ Does it look bad’
‘No it is not your nose I am worried about. It is your fighting. You should have beaten me much more easily than you did. How would you have gone if I had been a powerful enemy? Not well I think. We need to fight again to give you more practice’
With that she fell asleep.
John spent the next few days finding reasons not to fight her again. In the end he settled on one that seemed most acceptable… that it would crazy to fight again until her wounds were completely healed.
Internally he had made a rather different decision.
I will never do that again. I will find one excuse after another!
However, they continued the training program. John decided, as he had been advised so long ago by Lord James, that training every second day was adequate for retaining the fitness they had developed.
He spent the rest of his time developing his reading and writing skills.
The day after the fight he was seaching for everything he could find about Diana, the Goddess whom Estevan had compared to Ximene.
He had half memories of what Piers had told him, which we more or less confirmed by these books. Diana was a Roman goddess of hunting and was normally depicted with a bow and hunting dogs. She was synonymous with Artemis, an earlier Greek god. John read on and became more and more intrigued with what he read.
Ximene was still busy with her dressmaking. She came to John from time to time encouraging him to read aloud and helping him with difficult passages.
She asked him to read aloud a segment from Homer at which the book was open. She listened carefully, attentively. She was impressed with the noticeable improvement.
‘Very good, but you are still not picking up the metre and rhythm of what you are reading.’ Let me show you.
Homer’s subject was Artemis.
‘I sing of Artemis, and shafts of gold,
who cheers on the hounds,
pure maiden, hunter of deer, delights in archery,
sister to Apollo with the golden sword.
When satisfied this huntress who delights in arrows
slackens her supple bow and goes to the rich land of Delphi,
in the great house of her dear brother, Phoebus Apollo,
she orders the lovely dance of the Muses and Graces.
There hangs up her curved bow and her arrows,
And leads the dances, gracefully arrayed’
John was visibly impressed
‘Ah! the way you read, it sounds like poetry or even a song in plain chant. But it doesn’t rhyme!’ His face fell almost instantly
‘Why do you think this is important to me, Ximene. I struggle with politics and ethics. It is only when you explain them that it makes sense. My ambition is to become a knight and even that is almost impossible. Even if I do become a knight, for most of the time I will be just a soldier, a junior officer in the king’s army. As long as I can read and write reasonably competently that is all that will be expected of me.’
Ximene showed little sympathy.
‘It’s what you must strive for John, you must want to be better than others, it will help you reach your full potential.’
She smiled internally.
Exactly the phrase grandmaman chose to encourage me!
“ If you want to influence people you must realise that they will inevitably be impressed by elequence and the tenor of your voice. It is not just the words you use but the way you use them.’
John looked at her pityingly.
‘To be a person of influence I would have to become an Earl, and that will never happen’
Ximene smiled, struggling to think of an intermediate target, which would make sense.
‘Try John, it will improve even your efforts as a jongleuse. You don’t have to have rhyming couplets to make a poem or song you know.’
‘I thought you liked my poetry’ he said, taken aback by what he interpreted as criticism.
‘ I do, trust me, I do, no one has ever praised me as eloquently as you do, but it does not mean that you cannot improve. Also it would be good to introduce more variety’
John said nothing, but his head dropped.
Ximene knew it was a crisis. And in the same instant she experienced a crisis of her own.
He cannot see what I can see. His ambitions are too modest.
In the short term I must take the lead and allow him to grow.
I have a vision of how it must be, but it is too early to put it in words, to early to share it with him.
She took his head in her arms.
‘ John please try, you are capable of almost anything if you try’
John responded well, The days passed full of hard work and satisfaction. There was no sense of the passage of time, it was if they were in eternity. From day to day their skills developed. As they transferred skills and knowledge from one to the other their attachment grew. It was one of those happy circumstances in which both partners in a relationship find everything they ever expected in their partner. Ximene slowly gained confidence that John could become part of her vision.
When John was studying Ximene would stroke his shoulders , enough for him to feel her support but not enough to distract him. She took to sitting on his lap , simply to be as close as she could. She helped John document his training regimes and record the relation between weight, repetition and improvements in strength and stamina. With attachment came increasing dependency, and from dependency came the slow grown of a more conventional love.
Inevitably with love came fears and jealousy. Slowly, ever so slowly, tensions developed as individually they both thought more and more often about the future. Both of them felt fear of separation, envy of any potential relationship other than their own and a desire for each moment to last for ever.
Ximene decided the time had come to share her vision, or at least part of it.
‘I will not marry the Prince, but I want to do it in such a way that it will actually enable him to marry Joan’
John’s face lit up
‘Is that what you want, is that what he wants?’
‘Yes I believe the answer to both those questions is yes’
For the first time the underlying guilt, which John had been unable to ignore was removed. For the first time he felt free to take the initiative.
That night he took the initiative in the seduction process. He told her to lie with her hands streched out above he head as he caressed her body. When she moved her hands as the pleasure became too intense he scolded her.
“Do as you or told or would you rather me tie you to the bed?
Ximene was not sure that was what she wanted but she giggled delightedly.
At last he feels himself to be my equal. It was seeing me as his future queen, which inhibited him. Now he is free of that! But he still does not understand the way we must live our lives and he is not yet ready to share the total concept.
Despite this final reservation, the next week was wonderful for both of them.
However Ximene was still too optimistic, the mere mention of the Prince eventually triggered memories and doubts in John’s mind.
The thought came from nowhere, on a beautiful day filled with sunshine, blue skies, the smell of wild flowers and the sounds of birds singing as John’s arm round Ximene’s shoulder, they strolled through their valley, .
Why did Ximene choose the serving maid persona for her teasing game? Is there some universal understanding that serving girls are sexually available? Does it in fact cross the boundary between those who follow the Roman Faith and the Cathars. No ,no, that cannot be right! The Cathars believe that the woman must always be in control. In truth throughout the game Ximene always was in control.
Nevertheless John was reminded of the events at Moissac, Ewan’s attack on women in general and of course the way the Earl had turned it all to his advantage. Finally he though about the oath of fealty he had made to the Prince on his appointment to the “Lions of Aquitaine” and the threat the Earl had made. He shivered. How would all this turn out?
Ximene was instantly aware of John’s introspectivity. It was as if they had been caught in an icy shower. She knew instinctively that he was beginning to think about a return and admitted to herself that she was becoming increasingly preoccupied with her own situation and how she could deal with it.
What on earth was happening in Bordeaux?

The most dangerous woman in the world

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