Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355
Ximene was consumed by guilt.
I told John never to hope that he could own me and yet here I am now imagining that he will be mine! I am nothing better than a hypocrite. Worse! I saw him as Adonis, which would make me Venus, the goddess of love! Could I possibly be hypocritical; so self obsessed, so arrogant? In reparation, tonight I must be his slave!
Via the blue jar she asked for candles and she illuminated the tower room as if it was a shine. She had gathered rose leaves and immersed them in tepid water to intensify the aroma. She helped John into bed, as he was very stiff as a result of the day’s exertions and then just as she had done when he was desperately ill she brought warm water and carefully washed every inch of his body.
She undid the belt and removed the abbreviated chemise. Making sure he was watching she then washed every inch of her own body.
Then only then, feeling cleansed of what she saw as her sin, she straddled his body and encouraged him to repeat the caresses of the night before. He had no idea what had triggered it but he was bombarded with an excess of attention, and a determination to give him pleasure.
Ximene teased him that he was unable to conceal his pleasure.
‘Only the gentlest touch and you quiver with delight. You must learn to conceal your pleasure from me. In that way I will be forced to find more inventive ways to caress you.’
John’s competitive nature made him respond instantly.
What an interesting game. I wonder how long I can keep it up and what she will do to defeat me? Of course this game can be played the other way round . I wonder how long she could conceal her own pleasure?
It was mid morning before they descended from the tower room. They decided the time had come to bring Selene and Helios into the fitness programme. The horses were now returning to their true colour but patches of the dye still remained. They carefully led them up the banks of the river until they were sure they could not be seen from the Chateau. Ximene then led Helios to stand alongside a large rock from which John could mount him. John still found the process difficult and painful. It made him aware of how much progress he still had to make.
Nevertheless, with Ximene’s help he found himself in the saddle. They rode up the valley past the training place and on towards the mountains. The horses enjoyed the exercise and so did their riders. As they progressed to higher ground clouds of turquoise butterflies rose in front of them. In an hour looked out at a vast panorama of mountains, hills and valleys. They lunched on bread, cheese and wine and then returned to the training ground. The horses drank deeply from the pool and John started his exercises. Ximene was impressed that he exceeded yesterday’s performance in every area.
This is obviously how fitness and body tone is developed.
She waited until John was finished and then asked him a question, which had been forming in her mind since the previous day
“ If I was to do these exercises with you would it make me stronger, could I become as strong as you”
John answered without giving it much thought. In physical terms the answer was obvious.
“If your desire is to be fitter and stronger, I have absolutely no doubt it would help”
He then considered the advice he had just given.
“I have to say Ximene, within my limited knowledge, I am surprised that a women would subject herself to a rigorous training programme, why would you want to do this?’
Ximene thought for a while.
I don’t want to tell him that I just want to be a part of something he obviously enjoys; that I want to be as close to him as possible. That would be too trite. It is the kind of statement he ought to be making to me.
Ximene chose the words to make her reasons simple and appealing.
“Can I join you John, so that as you work to regain your fitness I can develop my own? You may not always be alongside me. I want to improve my capability to look after myself”
It is true. I can’t continually search for men to look after me. I want to develop increased strength, power and even skill in martial arts, so that in the majority of circumstances I could look after myself!
And so they began. Once Ximene had shown she intended to take it seriously so did John. At the start he gave Ximene small weights and demanded high numbers of repetitions. As the days passed, she quickly gained fitness and strength. As she worked harder and harder she found pleasure in joining John in the pool after exercise. They both found that enjoying each other’s caresses after exercise and immersion in cold water was a different, exciting experience.
Ximene was content.
I am growing closer to him, but not necessarily in the way I originally intended
Ximene was soon able to handle heavier weights and to undertake the full range of exercises. They trained the horses to follow them and this made it possible to ride to various high points in the immediate vicinity and then enjoy the exhilaration of running back down. Soon they were doing it the other way round, running to the high points and then riding back. Up until this point Ximene had been training in the cut down chemise, but on the guelling hill climbs she dispensed with even that and ran naked. By the end of two weeks the horses had learned to follow their own riders so that if John took a different route from that taken by Ximene the horses also would separate and follow their own rider.
The countryside they ran and rode through was always deserted, and they were totally unaware of the small group of gypsies who were camped at the very head of the valley on the high ground just above Rennes les Bains. These gypsies were indulging in a little poaching at the far extremity of the Bishops reserve but just within it. The very nature of the gypsy’s activity meant that they moved with great stealth. For days on end, from the deep cover of scrubs and trees they watched in amazement as the naked athletes traversed the hills.
In Rennes le Bains itself du Guesclin decided he must let people know what he was really looking for. He extended his presentation.
‘Because I am in this area I have been asked to find an English agent who has escaped from custody. Despite his youthful appearance he is ruthless and dangerous. However it is probable that he has been badly injured in the escape attempt. He is accompanied by a young girl, who has a southern accent and is fluent in langue d’oc, the language of Occitan. Have you seen anyone in the medical facility or indeed in the village who might fit this profile’ Even when he extended his enquiries to the medical staff there were still no positive responses.
There were responses of a different nature however. For the very first time in his life one of the ladies who was receiving treatment offered herself to Du Guesclin without the need for any coercion. He was amazed to find that he treated her with consideration and gentleness. The following morning he shook his head,
I must be going soft, I could have done anything to her; indulged my most bizarre fantasies, but because she came to me so willingly I could not do it. Initially I thought she must have something to tell me; that perhaps she had seen the axe boy but no… she knew nothing and neither does anyone else. I am running out of time!
After three weeks of training together John felt he was close to full fitness. He could now mount and dismount Helios without any difficulty. To his astonishment Ximene had progressed even faster and was now capable of anything he could do, admittedly with slightly lighter weights. John looked at her in awe. Although she still had the soft curves of a young woman, when she moved muscles rippled. She was obviously proud of her new body and when they were together in the tower room she dispensed with the wearing of clothes. Often before the light had faded from the sky she would exercise again, taking care that John could watch her and admire her.
She competes with me even in this! I believe she wants to beat me in everything we do. Even our lovemaking game has become fiercely competitive. I admire her intensely and enjoy being with her, but do I love her? The truth is I don’t know because I have never been in love with anyone else! Perhaps is her insistance that we cannot own each other, which keeps true love, whatever that might be, at bay.
Ximene was also aware that their relationship was lacking something.
We are more like colleagues in some complex long-term plan than lovers. We share sexual pleasures but there is no romance and indeed no emotion in our relationship. Grandmaman was always insistent that there was nothing special about the actual act of penetration and it should only be used for the procreation of children, but I wonder. Does that ultimate intimacy trigger a different relationship? If I became a temptress instead of a warrior would that make a difference? Perhaps I should revisit the feminine within me. What did Joan tell me at my progression?
John was aware that she was making herself some new clothes and that she did not want him to know too much about what she was doing. She swept away her handywork when he approached.
‘What surprises me is that you know how to make clothes.’
‘All Cathars have do some physical work every day and I chose dressmaking’ she smiled at the memory. ‘I was inspired by Joan of Kent of all people’
John’s eye raised in surprise.
“ I did not even know that you knew Joan of Kent’
“ You do not know everything’ she told him with not another word of explanation. ‘Now go away, I am busy’
John ambled off to tend to the horses.
I wonder what else I don’t know, and more to the point what can possibly be secret about making new clothes
He did not have to wait long to find out. The following night she did not exercise and left the room for a surprisingly long time. When she reappeared she was wearing a serving maids outfit similar the one she had worn on the first night at Muret. No! that was not true. It was different. She paused at the end of the bed where John had been dozing. She carried a tray on which was a jug of wine, bread and cheese.
“ Time to eat M’ Lord’ she announced.
John was instantly awake. The outfit she was wearing had a long chemise, which buttoned down the front. It had a laced bodice which was not much wider than a belt. The shoulder straps were extremely narrow and were obviously designed for little else but decoration. The skirt touched the ground at one side but was only four or five inches long at the other revealing that the chemise was almost transparent. John could clearly see the outline of Ximene’s leg, framed in candlelight.
Once she could see that she had John’s full attention She bent forward to place the tray on the bed. Her bodice was loosly laced. John was able too see nearly to her waist.
He was astonished to find himself instantly aroused.
For weeks I have seen her naked but now she is fully clothed … well nearly fully clothed…and I find it incredibly exiting.
She stood up again arms akimbo.
She then very carefully undid two buttons of her chemise and pulled it first off one shoulder then off the other. The straps of her bodice now hung loosely against the sleeves of her chemise.
‘ Would there be anything else you require m’lord?’
Some of the very few personal effects she had brought with her were now revealed. She produced a small leather bag and reaching inside pulled out a small polished silver mirror and three small bottles each with its own brush. She placed the mirror on the table. She opened one of the bottles, dipped a brush into the bottle and applied silver blue cosmetic paint excruciatingly carefully to her eyelids. She opened a second bottle and applied a neutral paint to her cheeks. The paint was matched to her natural skin colour. It was in fact slightly darker than her natural skin. The effect was to emphasize the hollow of her cheeks and accentuate the contour of her cheekbones. Obviously pleased with the result she turned to John. He was instantly aroused by the resultant effect and did not know why. From a third bottle she applied red paint to her finger nails and then her toe nails, lifting her skirt far higher than was really necessary to perform the latter task
She is doing this for me, it is meant to excite me. How strange, that is in itself what I find exciting.
It took nearly half an hour. John watched enthralled. When she had completed the self imposed task, she came to sit on the end of the bed where John sat transfixed temporarily unable to move. She pulled back her hair and flickered her eyelids. Some silver had emerged from the blue and in the half light it was for all the world as though Ximene had control of two delicate, intensely coloured butterflies which fluttered above her eyes.
She then extended her fingers, raising and lowering each one in turn, perfectly synchronized and choreographed to emphasise the painted nails. Standing again, she put one foot after the other on the bed alongside John so that he could admire the toe nails. She stretched out her hands grasping her leg above the ankle and slowly pulled her hands upwards making sure that her skirt was raised above the knee and that the nails were only a visual entry point for an extensive view of her leg and thigh.
With one leg still extended she bent over and picked up a long slice of bread. She picked up a piece of soft cheese and spread it along the bread with her fingers. She then pushed the bread into her mouth and proceeded to remove the cheese by sucking and licking. Her eyes shone with mishief.
‘You did not answer milord is there anything else you require’
John nodded but he struggled to speak. “ You are teasing me Ximene, I know that and it is fun, but yes, as you have asked I will tell you, I would like you to remove your skirt. Ximene fiddled with the ties of her skirt and allowed to fall to the floor, stepping away from it decorously. Framed in the candle light, she pirouetted gently allowing John to see through her chemise from every angle.
‘I think you chose badly milord, it would perhaps have been more interesting if you had asked me to remove my chemise first. It would have been a struggle but the result would have been more interesting… for you. Perhaps you might choose that option… tomorrow night’
She dipped her knees, scooped up her skirt and left the room hurriedly extinguishing the candle as she went. John stared into the darkness in disbelief.
He was left with an image in his mind of Ximene clad in only the skirt and the bodice, her breasts inevitably naked. She returned almost immediately and climbed naked into bed. Despite her closeness and the warmth of her embrace her John could not dismiss the other image from his mind.
It is a gentle form of sorcery, where did she learn to do these things? From her Grandmother? Incredible, Lady Eleanor seems so removed from worldly matters!
Ximene did give John the option of choosing what she should remove the next night but was wearing a much deeper corset which covered her breasts. The game continued for several nights with Ximene making many subtle changes to her dress to keep it interesting, until she brought it to an end by completely disrobing without offering John any options. John had no complaints, she took over half an hour to remove her clothes. Ximene was delighted with the game.
John had clearly enjoyed it. It is one of the little mysteries of life. He sees me naked all the time but is far more exited by this little game. He allowed me to play the game, he enjoyed being teased. And now suddenly he is so considerate and sensitive.
Summer turned to autumn and still they continued their idyll.
To his surprise John discovered that Ximene knew absolutely nothing about cooking. If she wanted to be more able to look after herself then John decided she should have at least the basic cooking skills. They placed requests for raw food in the blue jar. It was impossible to cook in the cellars as the smoke would have given away their presence. They rode up into the hills where John showed Ximene how to prepare a fire pit, light a fire and cook a variety of roasts and casseroles. After they had eaten they often ended the evening sitting by the embers of the fire, wrapped in each others arms, enjoying the sunset.
Ximene was impressed by John’s cooking and asked him to write down some of the recipes. They had to ask for writing materials, again via the blue jar.
At that point Ximene discovered that John’s ability to read and write was no more than adequate.
Ah! now here is something I can do for him.
In return for training in martial arts she started to teach him how to compose various documents and how to improve his potential reader’s comprehension of what he had to say. She put a note in the blue jar asking for books. Not surprisingly, considering the functions of the chateau, the books, many of them, which found their way to the shelves of the cupboard, were the classics. Stories of Greek and Egyptian gods mingled in with Egyptian, Greek and Roman history. Ximene scanned the books quickly and expressed her satisfaction.
“ Look, the books contain Aristotle’s Politika, “Affairs of State” and Ethika, “Behavior of people”. This is so fortunate John, together they help to explain how the world is organized and how to influence others to your own advantage.
She sorted the books into a different order.
‘ The geometry of Pythyagoras, the mathematics of Euclid, The maps of Ptolemy, they are all here!
Ximene was busy thumbing quickly through the books. “They are all in langue d‘Oil, the language of the Northern Franks” Ximene said.
“Good then I can read them”
Ximene lifted her head and turned to look at John. ‘The trouble with translations is that the translator can alter the meaning. It would be much better if you could go back to the original Greek’
Does that mean she can read Greek? She is only the second person I have met who can read Greek. Can the Earl read Greek?
John replied in a way which he hoped did not make him seem too ignorant. ‘Hmmm! my friend Piers told me more or less the same thing, he also told me many of the stories he remembered from school, but I can’t read Greek’
Ximene did not give it a second thought
Now this is something substantial, which I can do for him in return for his training.
‘Well we will just have add that to the list. In the short term these translations will have to do. What do you want to read about John?’
John reflected that his first surprise in terms of gaps in his knowledge had been the festival at Clermont. “ Amun and Amunet, would do for a start, will they be in here?
So John started a course of studying in which his personal research was frequently enlivened by Ximenes highly entertaining tuition. Once again their relationship changed. They found an area in which the competiveness slowly dissolved into a relationship where they worked as a team.
Ximene searched diligently through the books for topics of interest.
‘Listen to this, from Politica’ Aristotle states that a constitution is necessary for the organization of any city or state and that the constitution must reflect the objectives of the state.’
She gazed upwards clearly searching her memory.
‘There is an inherent link to “Ethica”, in which he says that the objectives of the state must be morally good. The state should not be organized to maximize wealth or even to promote liberty and equality but to promote a good life for all it’s citizens’
She then returned to her main theme.
‘Aristotle puts lawgivers who create the constitution on a higher level than politicians who maintain and prevent subversion of the constitution.”
John stared at her in amazement
“ You have already studied all these books?
‘A high proportion of them’
‘And do all countries have consitutions, lawgivers and politicians’
‘They might be given different names but yes, they do or the state simply will not work’
He suddenly realized how prejudiced he was.
I was initially attracted to the idea of meeting Ximene because of the mystery surrounding her, then I found her attractive, beyond my wildest dreams, but I never expected her to be educated, for no other reason than because she lived in a remote mountain stronghold. And in my world the last place you would expect to find such a broad education would be in such a beautiful, sensual woman!
Ximene cut across his thoughts. She had found another topic.
‘Amazing! Aristotle actually uses gymnastics as an example of how individual skills can be utilized within the state. He identifies gymnastics as a science on the same level as medicine. He says that gymnasts study what sort of training is advantageous for what sort of body, what sort of training is best for most bodies, what sort of training is best for specific activities, and what capacity is appropriate for someone who does not want the condition or knowledge appropriate for athletic contests or combat. John! That is what we are doing. We must develop it as a science”
Oh! I have just realized. To you know where the word gymnast came from?
John shook his head.
‘John it comes from the noun Gymnos meaning “naked” and the verb Gymnazo, meaning “to train naked”’
She ran across the room and wrapped her arms around his head. His head was crushed against her breasts. They both laughed long and delightedly.
Suddenly for John the world changed.
I never want to be separated from this woman. Is that what love is?
As the lessons progressed John made sure that they were blended with riding, running and lifting weights so that their strength and fitness continued to improve. To his surprise he found that regular reading had a similar affect. The more he read, the more his ability to absorb new information increased, the more questions were raised, the more his thirst for knowledge increased! Inspired by Ximene he started to document the training regimes and the development of their strength and fitness.
In late August John introduced extra activities into the training programme. He started to teach Ximene the basics of using a sword, a mace and an axe. The mace and the axe were such deadly weapons that, without the possibility of creating protective clothing, all he could do was teach her the requirements for handling the weapons.
He remembered that the way he had learned to use the axe, as a very young man, was by chopping wooden logs. He selected a suitable tree and showed Ximene how to cut it through. Alternate stokes were applied to each side of the original cut. On both sides wood was removed in substantial curling flakes. Having made a start he demanded that Ximene try her own hand.
He attempted to show her the correct grip on the axe by standing behind her, pushing up against her back and wrapping his arms around her. She made no attempt to follow the advice but wriggled vigorously against him. He forgot about training, swung her round and kissed her passionately. They sank to the ground giggling helplessly. There was no more training that day!
Ximene was delighted.
Good! he was distracted from what he was doing and paid attention to me. At long last he took the initiative. There is no doubt he understood that my reaction meant that I was willing!
The next day it became obvious that despite her development Ximene found the axe impossibly heavy to handle. John analysed her action and realized she lacked strength in critical muscles in her upper arms and shoulders
Oh! It is what Aristotle said… find the correct exercises for each activity! Ximene must develop the muscles she needs to use the Axe!
John rigged a rope over the branch of a tree and tied one end to a basket. He put two large stones in the basket and asked Ximene to stand under the branch with her back to the basket.
‘Now reach up and grab the rope… as high as you can… yes that is about right… now pull down until your hands are about level with your waist.’
Ximene did as she was told and lifted the basket very easily. John was pleased.
The action is almost exactly the same as that needed to swing an axe, now all I have to do is get the correct balance between weight and the number of repetitions
John put another stone in the basket.
Still too easy.
He added a much larger rock and judged it to be about correct. Ximene could lift the basket but not without difficulty.
‘Excellent! Do three sets of twenty lifts every day’
Swords were a different matter. After the work with the axe the sword felt light in her hands. John started with the real weapon. He taught her how easy it was to cut through light branches with a well aimed cut of a sword. He showed her the diameter of the branches she had cut and compared them to his forearm. If you hit it right you can sever an arm as easily as these branches he told her. In order to show her how a sword was used however, her created wooden facsimiles of battle swords, which gave a real feel for the weapon. John taught her everything he had learned at Tewksbury and Biscarrosse. In particular he taught her that the correct stance with a sword was to hold it overhead ready to use a heavy downward swing if attacked. They spent days practicing with the wooden swords, secure in the knowledge that they would not incur a serious cut. Nevertheless they both found that blows they did receive produced bruising and pain.
Ximene was progressing well. John’s major worry was that she would become over confident in her skill at manipulating the sword. He cautioned her many times that there were people who were strong and ruthless, liked to fight and did not care whom they hurt.
“What we need is a tournament for ladies, so that you could gain experience of a real fight under controlled conditions.”
Ximene enthusiastically agreed!
From time to time they returned to the axe. The combinition of the weight of the weapon and the need for extreme accuracy still defeated her. John took a selection of rocks and weighed them more carefully on a massive set of scales he had noticed in a dark corner of back barn . He then was able to measure Ximene’s improvement more accurately. She was improving! He then concentrated on timing. Suddenly it all came good. Stroke after stroke hit the target, wood sprayed to the floor in an endless stream.
Once several logs were lying on the floor John taught her how to cut them in half by standing on the log, legs apart and directing all the force of the axe downwards. It was still hard work but easier than felling a vertical branch. It was an incredible difficult period for Ximene, every night she went to bed with muscles sore from the exercise. She pushed through the pain for day after day after day. The Mace was then much easier. Once the different technique of the swing was mastered she already had acquired the strength and fitness to utilize the weapon. Now it was simply a question of accuracy. John mounted a substantial log on top of two posts he had secured in the ground. Ximene then swung and swung the mace adjusting her stance for both standing and running use until she could hit the target every time.
John returned to the real sword again and showed her how it could be combined with the use of his throwing knives. “They work well together; the knife can be used to parry a thrust or a slash from an opponents sword, but if you hold the sword in front of you, it provides the perfect balance for a throwing action. If you develop this skill there is a strong chance you will surprise your opponent!”
This skill required little strength or stamina, so for several weeks every day ended with practice with the throwing knives.
John then remembered something Lord James had told him; that in confined spaces it could be difficult to swing a sword, axe or mace. It often came down to fist fighting. John therefore introduced close combat skills. He showed Ximeme the way in which an apparently decorative band around her wrist could be pulled down to cover her knuckles and thus protect them from the impact of a blow to someone else’s body even when the blow ended up striking hard bone.
Again she progressed well. She was fast in her movements and quick in her thinking. Even though they were practicing by hitting each other with open hands, John found her a formidable opponent. She was also brave to a fault. She was always prepared to take a hit in order to strike herself. John warned her repeatedly that on occasions, the hit she took, in a real contest, could mean her defeat.
He discussed more deadly skills he had learned at Tewksbury. He showed Ximene how the technique could be used that if she was ever forced into really close combat,
“Nine times out of ten this would break your opponents neck, resulting in instant paralysis and almost certain death.’
John allowed Ximene to practice the hold many times until she was confident she knew what was required.
I really do trust this woman! Several times she has been in a position to end my life, had she so desired!
Ximene was content but at the same time concerned. There were events taking place elsewhere which she knew would ultimately return to disturb both their lives.
What was keeping Don Fernandino? What information would he bring back from the Prince? Would the Prince still want to marry me? Will the Prince support freedom, complete freedom, for Occitan?