John nodded his head and snatched a quick glace at Thierry, who appeared not to have heard what Estevan said. For the first time scince John had first met Thierry he looked overwhelmed.
They filled their pockets and bags with as many different samples of the treasure as they could find. They took the lids off box after box just to confirm they were all filled with treasure.
They made a pile of jewels and artefacts, sorting and resorting them to try to make an assessment of the enormity of their discovery.
Then Ximene found a small flat box, totally different from any of the chests. ‘Please John can you open this, be careful, amongst all this treasure whatever it contains must be very special to be given it’s own container.’
The lid came off relatively easily and there in the light from the flares was a glimmering gold disk. Ximene held her face in her hands. They had found the gold seal of the Trencavel family.
I knew, I knew. The seal was supposed to be formally broken by the King of the Franks in Carcassonne after our last unsuccessful attempt to regain our lands. However it has always been rumoured that the seal, which was broken was a clay copy of the seal painted with gold. This, this the original! It proves that the rightful ownership of all of this is the Trencavel family, is me.
Ximene sat on the pile of treasure weeping profusely. The others stood around, silent, gazing at Ximene.
John looked around, near total darkness, but every ripple on the lake reflecting the light from the flares. It looked as if the lake was on fire. In the background there were the surreal finely wrought pillars and arches of the loading bay and harbour. He turned his attention back to Ximene sitting on a pile of jewels flickering in the light of the flares, bent over cuddling the golden seal to her breast sobbing uncontrollably.
It was Ximene who made the decision. ‘There is nothing else we can do here, we must leave all this and then decide how we can recover it.’
They all agreed that the evidence of their work should be obscured. It was impossible to re-block the archway. They swept the debris into the lake. They reasoned that without the knowledge of the correct angle the archway would be difficult to find. They decided that the easiest way to then hide their discovery was to obscure the outer entrance. To do this they used the technique, which had been previously used. They dislodged rock from above so that it caused a minor landslide which hid all evidence of their excavations.
They spent the last night on the mountain.
Thierry stared into the fire. ‘I have up to now been very satisfied with my life but that has been, by a long way the most exciting thing iI have ever done.’
Estevan nodded. ‘ Unbelievable.’
Stunned by what had been discovered, John pulled Ximene away from the fire and whispered into her ear so that Thierry would not hear. Their conversation, necessarily fragmented, covered the ownership of the treasure. Ximene was adamant that it should be used to benefit her people.
‘But how?’ asked John. ‘We, you, your representatives, “Les Etoiles”, whoever, cannot keep coming back to take away another bar of gold, whenever they come across a deserving cause…’
The next day they traveled back to Château Mazerou in virtual silence.
John suddenly became aware of a possibility which at the same time as being full of potential was at the same time frightening. He found an opportunity to whisper to Ximene. ‘It would take a small army to move the treasure. To then store it safely in an accessible place so that it could be gradually sold off would require the same small army to guard it. To invest it at a satisfactory return would require a major bank to accept it and still require a small army to transport it to the bank’s custody. Just such an army as we require is about to leave Bordeaux on a very different mission. This army is about to invade this very area. The Prince who controlled this army is keen to win your hand in marriage!’
In the end they gave up the conversation. Whispering when traveling on horseback over rough country was just about impossible.
They were so pleased when they finally reached Mazerou. They piled The treasure they had removed for the cave on a table. Ximene asked them to pick something from the pile to become their own personal possession. John chose the clear sparkling stone which had noticed when it first shone in light of the torches in the cave. Estevan chose a red gemstone and then rushed away to check on his patients. Thierry chose a small gold ornament. Whilst he was making his decision, Ximene thanked him for his help. Ximene herself chose a small dagger in a gold sheath and then professed her intention to go directly to her bed. Having locked Thierry in his cell, John made sure the horses were comfortable before he joined Ximene. She looked as if she was asleep but lifted herself on he elbows as John climbed in beside her.
John asked her about the choice of the dagger.
‘It has most unusual markings, do they mean something to you?’
‘No, no I have no idea what the markings are. I just wanted to choose something for myself like the rest of you. It symbolizes that the treasure is not really mine, even if we can find a way to use it, I hold it in trust for the people of Occitan. Do you really think the Prince would help us?’
John’s face fell but he could only tell the truth. ‘I remember a conversation with the Earl of Salisbury when he identified the problems the Prince and his Father are having with raising money. I think it extremely possible that the Prince would be interested in transporting and helping you capitalize on the treasure.’
Ximene’s eyes flickered but then she looked weary. ‘I am tired now, can we go to sleep.’
Ximene slept soundly but John certainly didn’t. They had found fabulous wealth but he realized what the future might hold. Ximene was so committed to using the treasure to help her people that she would sacrifice herself, and marry the Prince.
He realised then and there that if that happened despite all the talk about marrying Pipa, he would never be able to betray the Prince. He would in all probability loose Ximene, loose Pipa, loose both of them! internally he began to prepare himself for the loss.