15 The Equinox

As summer continued to slip away the tower room became chilly at night. The incredible Maurice produced some feather filled duvets but cowering between the covers did not appeal to either of them. The bishops had now left, scurrying back to the warmth of Albi.
Ximene was the first one to grumble.
‘I really don’t like the cold. Do you think we should more back to the cellar? It is almost too cold for me to excercise’
Next day she moved her exercise period to the time when the tower room had been warmed by the sun. Without fail, after exercise she performed her massage routine. She loved the feel of the oil on her skin and she knew John enjoyed watching her.
Which he did! He wanted to play his part. He had learned from Lady Eleanor that Cathar women were more attuned to words of praise from men than the man’s physical appearance. He spent long periods therefore, thinking about what he might say which was amusing and or flattering. Despite Ximene’s advice and the examples from Homer, he still found it easier to compose rhyming verse
Laying back in bed, he found the inspiration from the rose hip oil and the end of summer.

“For sure the temperature will fall tonight.
My dearest love, I must hold you tight,
Allow me to hold you in my arms,
I’ll give you warmth whilst I succumb to your charms.
It’s your eyes initially held me enthralled,
Now they shine bright with blue and gold
What a discovery, oil from rose hips.
That silkens your skin and brings a shine to your lips
It gleams on your body and your long long legs
Please, please answer for me the question it begs.
Do you apply the oil with great diligence?
To condition you skin or for its sweet fragrance.
Or perhaps your display is for me to attract
As if my attention is something you lacked
Whatever the reason it brings me much pleasure
To gaze on your body as I lie here at leisure
But now I feel love and dare I say passion
With you in full view this is difficult to ration
So now I must ask you, don’t think me too bold,
To join me in bed and get out of the cold.

“Very nice John”, Ximene answered with a smile. “You do keep reminding me how much you care for me. Please never stop, I do appreciate it.”
The devilish glint came to her eye. “But I will tell you what I do want. I want us to change places. I want to lie on the bed whilst you apply oil to every part of your body”
John was astonished. “I had no idea that you would like to watch me in the same way I like to watch you.”
Ximene laughed. “Well I would and I will.”
She jumped onto the bed and pushed him out. He crossed to the window looking thoughtful. He started to rub in the oil as if it was liniment prescribed by a physician for some muscular ailment.
For a while Ximene rolled around laughing but then sat up struggling to keep a straight face. “No John, we are not preparing for some athletic feat. You are trying to seduce me by showing off your body to its best advantage. Try to relax. Apply the oil slowly. Use your hands to emphasis every muscle.” She smiled in encouragement.
John was a good learner. Within five minutes he was comfortable with what he was doing and even began to strike poses, which showed off his body to its best advantage. He found that the exercise was strangely relaxing even though he was massaging himself. At the same time the continuing use of one muscle against another to strike poses was in itself hard work. Nevertheless the bulking and rebulking made muscles seem, even to his own eyes, larger and of a better profile than they had ever been.
Ximene moved to the end of the bed and reached out and touched his thigh. She shuddered, not just once but twice, in quick succession. “John that was wonderful. From what I have seen you like to watch me undress, exercise or oil my body because it gives you pleasure. I have come to believe it is an essential part of the lovemaking process. What I have just experienced is something a little different. It was special because I was close to a source of raw energy. I could see and feel the latent power. It was very, very exiting but somehow different from lovemaking. However, already I want to see you do it again”
John grinned.“I think not just now, I feel as though I have been exercising hard”
Ximene grasped his hand and pulled him towards her. It was the first time they had embraced when both their bodies were slippery with oil
The next morning Ximene wanted to repeat the experience. The day started even chillier than recent days. John climbed out of bed first at Ximene’s insistence and shivered in the first light of dawn. He had started to apply the oil and glanced towards Ximene to obtain a gesture of approval. She was sprawled across the bed but had the cover pulled up underneath her chin. He was about to move towards her and pull the cover away when suddenly on the wall behind the bed he saw a strange effect.
Surrounding the pennant on the wall were what John had always taken to be cracks in the stone. Suddenly they had far more meaning. Now the pennant and a perfect square around it were highlighted by the first light of dawn. The “cracks’ were all contained within the highlighted area and ended at its extremities. He knew the strange effect emanated from the window as his own shadow obscured various parts of the image. He quickly dodged to one side. Ximene looked askance at this strange and sudden movement. John could now see other lines projected onto the wall, most of them within the confines of the pennant. Another star appeared, positioned so that it appeared to be falling off the narrow edge of the pennant.
“ Look Ximene, look behind you.”
Initially Ximene appeared disinterested as it interfered with what she really wanted to do, which was to spend a lazy period admiring John’s naked body. Eventually at John’s insistence she turned around and looked at the wall. Once she saw the image her attitude changed totally. She grabbed the writing materials and feverishly started to copy the projection. Even as she was writing she was asking questions.
“How can this happen? What is special about that window? Is it like the solstice, is today some special day? Then, even more urgently. “Help! Quickly! John the illumination is moving… as the sun continues to rise…it is fading !”
John did not attempt to copy the diagram. He jumped forward, pen and ink well in hand and traced the lines directly onto the wall.
“What does it mean? What does it mean?” Screamed Ximene
John realized the question was not entirely rhetorical but partly addressed to him. “I have no idea… Oh! I think it is a map, but what kind of a map? What we thought were cracks in the wall are actually part of a map, physical features, perhaps local rivers. The pennant is therefore not necessarily a pennant!’
The display had now faded away. John ran to the window, and observed that there were lines embedded in the glass, which he had previously thought were just imperfections. John looked at Ximene’s sketches to compare them with what he had traced onto the wall. There was a broad measure of agreement.
John was disappointed with what he had drawn. “I thought I could see different colours, the star on the right appeared block the light and looked black wheras the bigger star was shown in glimmering gold.”
Ximene broke in. She had some additional lines on her drawing, which she had recorded marginally earlier than the lines John had put directly onto the wall.
“There were also lines connecting the two stars which appeared to define alignments between them. Finally the outer triangle, which we had assumed was a pennant, was I believe a thicker black line which may mean the triangle has some special importance. And look the left hand point of the triangle coincides with the left hand point of the second star’
She drew the extra lines on the wall. John thought for a moment studying the lines.
“ Oh… these aren’t just stars, they are pentacles, probably perfect pentacles, I have been reading about them. Look how important to the construction of the whole diagram is the left hand point of the star on the right. It appears to be positioned horizontally to the left most point of the bigger star on the left. As you say it is from that point that the upper and lower sides of the outer triangle diverge.’
Ximene was still adding lines.
“There were also lines running though the left hand point of the larger star, which are perpendicular to the upper and lower sides of the triangle.’
She stepped back to get a better understanding of what she had drawn.
‘What is very strange is that those alignment lines then intersect precisely with the opposite angles of the triangle. Looked at a different way, the vertical side of the triangle looks to be simply joins the two intersections. If it is a map then I think the intersections are targets which this strange display was intended to help us find.”
She looked with satisfaction at her completed handwork. She could hardly contain her excitement.
‘John I know we both wanted a hard training session this morning, but can we abandon it? I don’t think I can do anything else until I have a better understanding of the message we have been sent! ’
She tided up her drawing of the additional lines on the wall.
John looked at the additional lines. ‘It all seemed so precise. The upper and lower angles of the triangles at the right hand side do indeed seem to be targets. Oh, If the lines have something to do with a plan of this area perhaps we should make a copy of what is on the wall and compare it with the marquetry on the cupboard door !’
They ate a simple breakfast and did just that. In the event it was the rivers, which provided a key. When they looked at the marquetry map they realised there was a direct correlation. The rivers ran through the deepest valleys shown on the map. It was possible therefore to make direct comparisons. They realised that they needed to know the names of the various rivers, hills, mountains, towns and villages in the area. They left a message for the Maurice asking for help. There was a frustrating delay of over an hour before he responded.
Without telling him about their discovery they asked him for the names of the various locations and prominent features shown on the marquetry map. He was very obliging at first but then when John started asking about the position of the points on the second star he suddenly showed concern.
‘Why are you asking about these towns and villages? I hope you are not intending to visit them!’
He gave an explanation.
‘At various stages over the last five hundred years this area has been depopulated. The Visigoths left for Aragon and further south. The final stage of depopulation occurred a hundred years ago during the Albigensian crusade.” He looked sympathetically at Ximene,“But of course you know all about that”
He sighed and pointed to the area which John and Ximene knew was covered by the golden star. “The City of Rhedae once covered the whole of this plain. Some people say that it was the largest and richest city ever to have existed.”
He paused and sighed again. ‘Now, other than Rennes itself it is deserted! There are recurring questions about what happened to the riches. Some people say that the whole of the Visigothic treasure was transported to Toledo, the Visigothic capital south of the Pyrenees. Others say that the final fall of Rhedae, in the face of Frankish aggression, was so rapid that there was no opportunity to move the treasure. If the second group is correct the treasure may still be here, somewhere!”
John and Ximene exchanged glances.
Maurice saw the glance but misinterpreted it. “You have seen for yourselves! It is deserted and you can explore it at will with no risk! The towns and villages are however another issue. The Franks took over this chateau for their own purposes and the towns and villages have also been taken over by the northern French. The towns are populated by suspicious, defensive people. Anything, which happens beyond their own community is witchcraft or worse. Strangers are to be suspected of any foul deed and are to be imprisoned and abused at their whim. Be extremely careful!’
They thanked the manager for his advice and after he had departed returned to their studies. As they oriented themselves with the marquetry map they found that from an examination of the hills and valleys they could pinpoint the position of Chateau Mazerou itself and St Feriole on the hill above it. They had walked up and down the valley leading to the training ground and the mountains beyond so many times that although they were now looking from above they found it easy to identify first the mountains then the valley and finally the position of the Chateau itself. Pleased with this recognition they cast their eyes wider.
John bent down and looked upwards along the valley where the chateau lay.
“Look” he said “The model is incredibly accurate, if you look from this angle the hills look exactly as they are when we are out riding!”
Ximene took him at his word and also bent down to look along the valley from the same angle. “It would be better to get this map horizontal on a table top and preferably in daylight.” she said
John examined the marquetry and decided it was a substantial piece of wood in its own right, attached to the cupboard door. He went down to the tackle store and found a long curved bar with a chiselled edge at one end which he felt was probably intended for removing foreign objects from the hooves of horses. It was the ideal tool for the purpose. Starting very cautiously he was able to prise the map away from the cupboard door. What they then lifted down was heavy, large and difficult to handle. Nevertheless, they managed to get it to the upper room.
Whilst lifting the map up the stairs John noticed some writing on the back of the board. He told Ximene about his discovery. They leaned the map against the wall. On vellum glued to the back of the board, there seemed to be a title and at least two sentences beneath. They were indistinct and in a language John did not recognise.
Ximeme screwed up her eyes, ‘The words were difficult to read, but I do know that it is Occitan.’
She paused considering not just the words but the translation which would inevitably have to follow.
‘The title says “Campestre de Diu’, literally translated it means “Land Of God”. But I am not sure, Occitan has many subtleties, it could mean “Holy Ground”’
To John the two translations were synonymous but it did raise questions about the overall message.“And the words below?” he asked.
Ximene apologized
“I cannot read them all, it seems this is extremely old !”
She spent some time writing down what she could decipher.
“Looking at what I have written I am not confident of its content. Occitan is still spoken by the majority of people in Southern France but there are many dialects, some of which I am not familiar with.
The first few words are easy ”Given into the care of the lords of Razes who are known as Trencavel, the Nutcrackers” She turned to look at John with awe in her eyes.‘That is a direct reference to my family, my ancestors”.
She continued ‘Totas las personas nàisson liuras e parièras —-itat e en dreches. Son —————- e de consciéncia e mai lor se cal —– entre elas amb un eime de frairetat. Oc!” She took a deep breath. “I think the translation should be “All human beings are born free and have equal dignity and rights. In freedom they should use their consciences to act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood. Yes!’
Again she paused. “It is an interesting statement. It comes very close to the declaration of faith and duty professed by the Cathars. In fact my knowledge of that piece of Cathar catechism has helped me make the translation. I think, therefore, that when the title is taken into consideration there are very clear religious overtones in this message. But why hide and then display it in this mysterious way?”
John was by now turning the map around in preparation for lifting it onto the table.
He pointed out that there was some writing in the form of marquetry on the front of the map.
Ximene read it out. “Viure lum de Linus. Oh! John it means see the light of Linus. I know who Linus was, he was the last Cathar Bishop of Rome, Some say he was the true founding father and the son of a British Prince. Cathars honour his name on the twenty-third of September, Oh! That is today! See the light of Linus that would be first light today!’ She paused, deep in thought. “But none of this makes sense. Glass for windows is I am sure a relatively recent invention, and without that glass window all this would be meaningless!
They placed the map on the low table. It was now possible to lie on the edge of the bed, in comfort, and spin the map to the required angle to study the arrangement of hills and mountains
John looked at Ximene hesitantly.
“Ximene, can you use your bottle of gold paint? I know that there cannot be much left and I am as fond of seeing you apply it as you are of using it but it would be ideal for transferring our lines onto this dark wood!”
Ximene reluctantly agreed but it was nearly two hours before they committed themselves to scribing the first line. Suddenly they realised that the gold star was easily identified. The points of the star lay exactly on five high points on the map.
They were the village of Rennes, the Chateau of Blanchefort, La Soulaine, a hill which also lay on the easterly side of the outer triangle, La Bezu, one of two hills which dominated the plain and finally the western most point which as John had already noted was the focus of so many alignment lines. This point was again on high ground, the peak of a ridge at the north western end of the Serre de Lauzet. This initially seemed so incredible that both John and Ximene independently and then together checked the correlation. There was no doubt about it! Five significant hills occurred in such a way that they were evenly distributed to form the points of a pentacle! If lines were then drawn between them, an image of a pentacle could be produced. Carefully they marked not just the points of the star but the interconnecting lines. They looked at the finished result with great satisfaction. They then turned their attention to the second pentacle. After consultation with the tracing of the image on the wall it became clear that Chateau Mazerou itself was one of the points on the second pentacle!
John asked Ximene to bring her silver blue paint to mark the second pentacle. They used projections from the first to position the points accurately. It soon became obvious that the second pentacle was totally different. Only one point was on high ground, on a ridge to the immediate west of the Aude River, at the edge of the Pla de Buichet. Two of the other points were in the Aude River valley, in the towns of Campagne Sur Aude and Quillian The final and most westerly point on which the north and south sides of the triangle converged was Brenac, a small village in the upper reaches of a secondary valley leading south from the Aude.
There was a difficulty in deciding at which angles the north and south sides of the triangle should be drawn. John again revisited the stables and broke away one of the slats of the fences which separated the stalls. Using this as a straight edge he experimented with different angles until both the side of the triangle and the perpendicular from the other side of the triangle, which also passed through Lauzet met on the north south line which passed close to Soulaine.
After much trial and error he achieved this. He now could see where the eastern angles of the triangle lay. Both lay on very high ground. However, neither lay on any particularly significant geographical feature. John was quick to realise the implications of what they had done.
“Did you hear the mention of treasure” he said. Ximene nodded. “If you were going to hide away treasure in somewhere where it would be difficult to find, a key would have to be left intended for the rightful inheritors. This may well be that key. We have no means of knowing how this remarkable piece of marquetry was produced. However we now know that it is accurate with regard to the chateau and the rest of the valley below St Feriole. There is no reason to suppose that something, which is so accurate local to Mazerou would be wildly inaccurate anywhere else in the surrounding area.
By now it was late in the afternoon. John was enthusiastic
‘So what we have is a large triangle with one point known and the other two points in the middle of nowhere on high ground on a north south line. The points on the north south line can be pinpointed by lines drawn through one of the points of the large pentangle. We can go out tomorrow morning and visit all of the important points and discover if we can make any sense of this’
Ximene was obviously fatigued.
“I need a warm bath.” she said.
“Bathing in streams is delicious when the weather is good but right now I need a warm bath. When we first arrived, when you were still unconscious, the manager apologised that there were no hot baths. He told us that there were baths down here in the cellars but we should not use them as they drew from the same hot water storage as those used by the bishops who would be aggrieved if they could not bathe. I have never seen them but can we ask again? Can we use them if the bishops have left?”
John optimistically put a request in the blue jar. It took only thirty minutes for Maurice to visit them.
“I was waiting for this request” he said.
“It is getting colder by the day”
In the stables at the beginning of the tunnel, hidden behind a hay feeder was a second tunnel which ended in a large domed room which was close to being a perfect hemisphere. This room was obviously used as an overflow store from the stable as there were all manner of harnesses saddles and straps hanging on the walls. The room also containing two large wooden tubs.
On the two sides of the room at right angles to the entrance were two low arches also close to being perfect semi circles. Directly opposite the entrance was a third arch which had however been roughly walled up.
The manager told them that the water came from a head tank heated by a boiler upstairs. “Feel free to use these tubs whenever you like. You can adjust the temperature of the bath by using this second tap which comes from a cold water head tank”
He then acted as the host. He indicated the walled up arch.
“The chamber at the other side of that wall has direct access from the main house. It serves as the bathing room for the bishops and their guests. All these chambers pre date the chateau, in fact the chateau was built over them, using them as foundations.” He pointed to the open arches
“The two side chambers can be used for accommodation. If you are using the bathhouse you may wish to use these rooms afterwards, it will save a lengthy cold return trip to the tower.” The other two rooms were identical. Behind the arch heavy wooden screens had been erected. In the middle of the screen was a heavy door, lockable from the outside by a large swinging beam. Once inside it could be seen that the annexes were also hemispherical, but much smaller that the main room. John lit additional torches so he could see them better. The walls were lined with iron rings at the eight foot and ground levels. There were also central wooden frames stretching from floor to roof surrounding a central enclosure, fifteen feet square. A low fence about two feet high surrounded the whole of the central area.
Ximene came to a quick conclusion.
“These are dungeons, or interrogation chambers, whichever term you prefer. The rings on the walls were so that prisoners could be restrained throughout their ordeal. The central framed enclosure was somewhere prisoners could sleep in between interrogations, assuming that you did not want them to die chained to the wall. The structure was intended to provide facilities for restraint even when the prisoners were asleep. Also the posts around the central enclosure permitted the prisoner to be chained from post to post. It meant that when a whip was used the whip could wrap around the victim’s body causing far more pain!
She realised that John was looking at her quizzically
“How do I know this? There were similar facilities in Chateau Foix. As a small child I was threatened with incarceration in one of these chambers if I did not behave. These rooms have obviously not been used for a long time.”
She looked around. It is warm down here. Bring our mattress from the tower room. This is where we will sleep down here tonight! Put them inside the central enclosure!
Much later after the hot water had filled the baths and they had soaked in the tubs they helped each other wash and dry, Ximene retired to the central enclosure. It was necessary to step over the railings to get to the mattress. They then held each other in a lingering embrace. John felt an inner warmth despite the strange surroundings
Suddenly it feels so normal to hold her tight. We really are becoming one. I don’t yet know how we can help The Prince and Joan to get married or wether I will be blamed for Ximene’s decision but I am sure we will find a way.
Ximene felt the sun shine again. She smiled happily.
“I am exhausted. Hold me”
She was asleep before he had settled alongside her.

The most dangerous woman in the world