34 Wealth and Happiness

John Stanley – 21 June 1355

The celebrations were a little premature. There were only four of them and the ball of rock was wedged in position by tons of loose shale. They wasted a lot of time undermining the ball but realized in time that if the ball did move it would probably fall all the way to the valley below. This would mean that the entrance to the cave would be unguarded. This was something they did not want. They therefore excavated around one edge of the ball.

Helios and Selene played their part. Stones were picked laboriously from the ever widening gap between the artificial ball of rock and the adjacent natural cliff face. They ended up piled in a heap on the path. The pile of stones then proved a significant obstacle. John fashioned a makeshift plough to pull stones away down the path after they had been excavated. The use of the ploughs would have been impossible without the availability of such willing and able horses.

As they progressed the work became steadily more dangerous. The cliff face above the cave was unstable. There were inevitably rock falls. On the third day just before the time when they normally ate breakfast there was a major rock fall. Both Thierry and John were partially buried. If Estevan had not been on hand they migh not have been able to extracate themselves. They counted themselves fortunate not to suffer a serious injury. Just as serious was the fact that much of the excavation they had carried out had been refilled.

It was nearly twenty-four hours before they could start digging again. John and Thierry worked together to build a substantial shelter out of tree branches. Then all three men took turns at digging. John found himself begrudgingly admitting that Thierry was certainly not afraid of hard work.

Then on the fifth day Thierry cried out in triumph.’There is a fissure behind here, we must now enlarge the opening.’

Frustratingly it took another full day to achieve the desired opening. They then rebuilt the shelter to ensure that the passageway they had made was safe to access. Once Thierry was inside he lit a flare and the others joined him. The fissure stretched no more than ten feet in front of them but was much wider than they had envisaged it would be. It seemed to terminate in a blank wall. Struggling to overcome their disappointment they progressed towards the far end examining every inch of the walls.

There was increasing evidence that what they saw was man made or at least fashioned by man. The fissure had been opened up to be an almost perfect arch. At either side, hidden from view until the last couple of feet, were two flights of stairs. Both flights led to the same platform. From here it was possible to look back into the arched fissure.

Theirry beamed with delight. ‘It’s a loading bay.’

At the other side of the platform there was another set of steps, this time centrally located, which led down into inky blackness.

They were obviously now in a large cave, which their single flare illuminated very poorly. John lit another flare and was almost immediately rewarded with some reflections. As he turned round and round he became aware the behind them just above the platform was a conspicuous flickering light .

He pointed it out to Thierry, who immediately reached for his compass. ‘Oh!Why am I surprised, the North Star or at least a simulation of it!’

It was Ximene’s turn to shout.She had moved ahead of the others.’Water!’

‘Not just water but an underground lake’ pronounced Thierry, bending down so that he could see the reflection from the water’s surface.

He pointed out that at either side of the central steps the water extended past them to the vertical face of the platform. ‘And this is a dock as well as a loading platform.’

He turned to look at the lake again.’It is very large and the walls of the cave rise directly out of it. It looks as though we will have to swim!’
‘No, I don’t think so.’ said Estevan
‘That’s a big lake and we do not know if there are dangerous currents. How would they ever have got boats up here? If they did use boats they would have to be built in this cave and perhaps sunk after they had been used. But if it was intended to come and get the treasure then there could well be boats pulled out of the water at this side of the lake. We came down these steps because they were in front of us, we should go back to the platform and see if there are other exits!”

John smiled to himself. Estevan was now assuming that there was treasure!

Obviously the other two shared that view. They rushed back up the steps and explored the platform thoroughly. At first they found nothing but then Estevan had another thought.

“We have been provided with the North Star to tell us where north is. Just suppose the angles of the triangle have a meaning in here as well as outside! Theirry can you mark out the line which points towards the church at Brenac?’

Thierry concurred and by the light of the flare marked out the angle on the platform. It was then easy to extend the line until it reached the wall of the cave.

They looked extremely carefully at the point were the line met the wall. Suddenly they could see a hairline crack in the shape of an arch.
‘How has that been done?” John asked. ‘It looks as though a whole section of the cave wall has been cut out and replaced’

He scratched at the area within the arch tentatively with the point of his sword. The point of the sword instantly cut through a waxy covering and on a second thrust cut deep into a soft stone underneath.

They returned outside for more flares and an hour later they had cut through the arch. On the other side of the arch they found a boatyard and harbour. They soon discovered that the harbour gave access to the main lake via a low arch which faced away from the platform and therefore was invisible from both platform and steps.

Pulled up out of the water were half a dozen boats. Theirry made a cursory examination and pronounced them seaworthy.

The boats were mounted on a steep wooden slide. They knocked out chocks which held the boats in position and managed to drag one of them down the ramp and into the water. As Thierry had predicted the boat floated well. They rowed out through the archway onto the main lake and using the North Star and Thierry’s compass headed due south from the steps. They initially worked on the assumption that anything of interest would be found on the north south “Devil’s line”.

The lake proved to be quite narrow and in no time, thanks to Theirry’s navigation, they arrived at another set of steps, almost identical to those on the north side of the lake and above them a platform.

They set off to climb the steps and explore the platform. They soon saw that it was totally different from the platform on the north side. It stretched at least a hundred feet from the platform’s edge and was filled with boxes of every shape and size. John and Thierry managed to prise the lid from one of them, Estevan tackled another and Ximene a third, then another and another.

What they found was the most incredible treasure, gold, silver and jewels. Some of the treasure was in the form of artefacts but most was metal bullion and stones.

Even whilst they were celebrating their success they realized the enormity of their discovery. It was Estevan who voiced their mutual concern.

‘The world is full of people who would kill to take possession of such a treasure.’

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 Chateau 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 her!

The most dangerous woman in the world

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