Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355
At Chateau Mazerou, once it was clear that John would recover Guillam announced that his job was also complete. ‘I must return to Eleanor. I will go to her in Bordeaux, Don Fernandino will travel with me so that I can introduce him to the Prince and at the same time inform the Prince that you are both safe and well. Don Fernandino will then return to organise your final escape. Eleanor and I will then retire to Montcler. You be welcome if you visit us there’.
He glanced around the claustrophobic cellar. ‘You will be safe here, however with caution you should make the attempt to get some fresh air.’
Don Fernandino concurred,
‘With care you should be able to walk or ride through these hills at will. Just be careful when entering or leaving the stables.’
At the moment there is little I can do here and there is so much which must be done elsewhere. I will return within a month by which time John will be able to travel. We will then recommence our journey to Sicily’.
Ximene knew of course that they were pursuing a quite different agenda!
How long will they actually be gone? How long will I be left here with John?
She shuddered with pleasure at the very thought.
I am not using him any more, I feel genuine affection, who knows what will happen when we are thrown together for a month or more?
Once Guillam and Don Fernandino had left, Maurice visited Ximene and John ‘The Bishops are now in residence’ he told them.
‘It is significantly cooler here than in Albi at this time of year. Although they have no knowledge about the cellar or its connection to the barn nevertheless we must be careful.’
He paused and signaled them to climb the stairs.
‘Come with me’
On the first landing of the stairwell, which functioned as an occasional lounge or library, Maurice pointed to a panel on the wall. It was an elaborate piece of marquetry representing a map of the surrounding area. It was unusual in that it was three-dimensional showing the relative heights of the surrounding hills. He tucked his nails under one edge of the panel and it swung open revealing a set of shelves and the inside of a set of double doors at the far side.
‘It is similar to the arrangement in the stable tackle room,’ he explained
‘Except that the shelves are not readily removable. At the other side of the doors lies the kitchen larder. There will always be an extensive provision of food and wine on these shelves.’
He shook his head
‘To be honest I am not sure Don Fernandino would approve but in my eyes, when the bishops are in residence, it is far less risky than carrying food and wine through the barn. If you have any requirements leave a message in the blue jar on the top shelf. We will always do our best to oblige!’
There was another result of Guillam and Don Fernandino leaving. Ximene had become aware that her relationship was different.
We sleep together but he treats me like a sister, if we were to take to separate beds now he would probably not make any advances. It will make life here far more interesting far more exciting if I can stir some passion. I want him to see me as a sexual partner not a sister!
Therefore the day after Don Fernandino’s at Ximene’s suggestion they set up a bed, their bed, their only bed, in the upper room! They spent some time setting the bed up against the wall opposite the window. Outlined on the wall was what John took to be a pennant, the triangular shape was drawn in black but there was also a gold five-pointed star close to the widest part of the pennant. The pennant seemed to be drawn on an area of the wall where there were a multitude of cracks radiating out from and through the pennant. It was almost as though the paint had in some way affected the fabric of the stone. John scratched the stone with his fingernails.
‘Despite all these cracks it isn’t soft. Strange! Black and gold, the same colours as your tabard, is that a Trencavel pennant?’
“ Hmm, I think not…just don’t recognize it… thought I suppose it could be given the history of this place. If you look closely at the little dots on my tabard you will see that they are not stars at all but gules, a different heraldic feature altogether. It is a bit military for a bedroom don’t you think? Perhaps we would be allowed to paint it over!”
On the first night, in the late evening they left the stables and with great caution descended to the stream. There were purplish tones in the rapidly descending darkness and the air was fresh and clean but carried many pleasant scents. The stream burbled through ornamental gardens, full of many different varieties of cypress trees. The gardens were now overgrown and neglected; presumably ornamental gardens did not appeal to the bishops of Albi. The mountain flowers that had invaded the formal beds bloomed profusely and smelled of lemon and cinnamon. At some time in the past the bed of the stream had been widened and a paved bath had been installed. The bath had been dammed on the downstream side so that it was possible to lie comfortably completely immersed in the mountain stream. The water was too cold to enter too easily. John removed his clothes but Ximene waded without removing her chemise.
John splashed her playfully and she responded, to the accompaniment of squeals of delight from both of them. John held his finger to his mouth to indicate the need for quiet but continued to splash Ximene until her white chemise was plastered to her brown body and almost transparent. She then held him tight as they both sank into the icy water, which proved to be too cold to linger, but they were left feeling clean and invigorated.
As they dried themselves using the coarse towels they had been given, Ximene stroked the scar, which now disfigured John’s right leg. This simple action created a completely different reaction than any which had occurred over the last four weeks.
Oh! So he still can be aroused. I must not let this opportunity pass!
She buried her head in his chest and they slowly returned to their room, kissing each other every few steps. They had little sleep that night. Ximene made it very clear that she was not ready to allow him to enter her body. She also made it clear that she was keen to explore every other way of giving each other pleasure. She spent the early part of the evening kneeling across his stomach. She alternated between lying forward so that he might caress her back and then kneeling upright so that her breasts were fully available to his hands. She then knelt alongside him and massaged his back gently.
John made a valiant attempt to kneel alongside her. He was still sore and did not have the required flexibility in his upper leg.
‘Don’t worry John, lie on your back. I will spend the rest of the night giving you pleasure. Don’t concern yourself with my needs, not for tonight anyway!’
Well this is not a very Cathar way of doing things but at least I am still in control.
The very next morning John was faintly surprised by what had occurred.
I was hardly able to move but I did not need to; she did everything, so much for treating her as if she was my sister.
He ran over the events of the night in his mind, and smiled broadly
It was wonderful, but this cannot continue, I must force myself to full recovery.
Later in the morning, he walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the chateau, from St Feriole. Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. He stood up and looked around. He felt very satisfied with this place.
“ I feel that we have been guided to this place. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the Elysian Fields I dreamed of when I was close to death.’
He told Ximene of the dream and how she had come to him in the dream. “ I was so close to death Ximene. If it had not been for you I might well have died. However I have survived and now we are living, together, in what feels like Paradise. I can’t remember, is Paradise beyond the Elysian Fields?’
He looked around once more
‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be temped to join me, to train with me’
Ximene was surprised. It was the first time John had shown his romantic face. She laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, which she had cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.
Ximene performed a little pirouette.
This should please him. Hopefully I look like a greek goddess. I heard him muttering about Greek Gods and Goddesses when he was struggling to regain consciousness, I was going to work on that connection, but now he has created the perfect opportunity. He will think I can read his mind!
‘And I will be the goddess’
John took a deep breath.
‘You are a Goddess’
I have no real idea what a Greek Goddess should look like! Did they really wear so little clothing! They could not be more beautiful than Ximene is today!
John flung his arms around Ximene and kissed her full on the lips but then instantly broke away.
‘I have work to do’
Ximene watched in disbelief.
How can he resist me?
John walked slowly down to the river and selected several stones of varying sizes and then scooped up a large number of water washed pebbles. He ripped a pair of hose into two and rolled the pebbles into the material. He looked around again, drawing in huge lungs full of mountain air. Ximene had been watching all the preparations. Her resentment turned to with amusement
She lay back on the bank of the stream band was about to surrender herself to a happy slumber, but as he started to use the tools he had assembled she gradually became more interested.
To begin he exercised his legs, lying flat on his back with the weighted hose on each foot. He lifted each leg in turn, a foot from the floor, perhaps twenty times. He was of course noticeably weaker in his injured leg. He then stood up, again struggling because of the lack of flexibility in his injured leg and worked on his arms, He held two of the smaller of the stones he had selected from the river in his hands and pumped away with his arms raising each hand to his shoulder in vigorous rotation. Finally he lay down on the ground on his stomach and pushed his arms straight so that the whole of his weight was taken on his toes and fingers.
‘Now,’ he shouted to Ximene, ‘Put the largest rock on my back’.
Ximene could not lift the largest rock and John had to lie down again so that she could pull it onto his back without lifting it. John then pushed his arms straight three times before collapsing under the weight of the stone. He then repeated all of the exercises four more times.
By this stage he was sweating profusely. He went down to the pool and started to strip off his clothes, but glanced several times at Ximene to seek reassurance that total nudity was acceptable. She finally realized why he was hesitating and again laughed out loud.
‘Yes take it all off! I will see nothing that I have not seen one hundred times in the last four weeks.’
At the same time as she watched him bathe she reflected that this was by no means the same.
For four weeks I have cared for a badly injured man who seemed unlikely to survive. Now I am watching a reborn Adonis bathe in a mountain steam.
She disliked the thought, as it was another reference to Greek legend. Just what was playing with their minds today?
She looked again at John with a more objective eye
I have never before seen him naked, in an active mode and in full daylight. He considers himself totally unfit after his injury, yet he has not an ounce of fat on his body and he is extremely well muscled. It is true! He is the embodiment of an Adonis and he will be mine!
Just then John obviously felt he had spent enough time testing the water and he dived forward. For a brief second the whole of his body left the water and then he was gone.
As he swam under water, the ripples on the pond persisted for a very long time, highlighted by the late afternoon sun. They were wider echoes perhaps, of that earlier time at Biscarrosse when the Prince had tossed the last of his wine into the lake, in despair at the thought of being separated from Joan of Kent! But of course Ximene knew nothing of that!