21 Responsibility

Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355

When they awoke the following morning they both knew that the disposal of the treasure was an issue which must be finally faced . Ximene felt great responsibility weighing down on her. She started the discussion before leaving the bed.
‘I do want to retain control of this magnificent find and it has massive implications for us.’
‘I know’
‘Probably the only person who can help us move the treasure is the Prince. The only person who can negotiate with the Prince on my behalf is you! This means you must rejoin the Prince immediately and sound out the possibilities.’
‘ And do you expect the Prince to invade Occitan and give freedom of worship’
‘ Yes, I think that would be ideal and the wealth from the treasure should make that possible’
‘Ports? Navies? Fortresses? Mercenary armies?’
She then looked sad.
I don’t know John but you must ask! I believe that if you are successful and the Prince is willing to help it could mean that I must marry him. I know that you set great store on loyalty to those you have sworn fealty. I realize that my marriage to the Prince will put a real barrier between us’
John bowed his head. ‘How soon must I go’
Oh! No! was last night just some kind of parting gift. Something to remember her by?
They both scrambled into the nearest available clothes. This was obviously going to be a serious conversation.
John queried Ximenes decision.
‘What’s so urgent? he is probably going to come to us, or at least close to us’
‘We have got to give him time for due consideration, you must go immediately.’
The haughty, regal Ximene was re-emerging before John’s eyes.
‘But who will guard you whilst I am away?’
‘What, a guard that you lock away every night?’
‘No. We should now give some freedom. I have watched him carefully. He has made no sign of trying to get away, and during the trip back here after finding the treasure he could have done so if he wished. We could hardly have pursued him into a village let alone a town and we passed close by several of them.’
‘It’s an unacceptable risk’
‘No I think I can trust him.’
‘How do you know you can?’
Ximene stamped her foot
‘All right then I will come with you’
‘That would also be dangerous and anyway it would put you entirely under the Princes control. The reason we are here is because you wanted to avoid that’
‘True so what do think I should do’
‘Delay my trip until Don Fernandino returns’
‘We have no idea what has happened to Don Fernandino, Thierry may be right he may never return!’
‘Give him one more week’
‘No. It could be too late for the Prince to redirect his army.’
‘Well! You make the decision then’
‘Then I chose Thierry! We will give him two days complete freedom and if he leaves us in that period then we will have to make a run for it’
Her face softened but only slightly
‘Before you leave will you swear fealty to me as Princess of Occitan, which people seem to think I should be. I am after all putting all my hopes for my future into you hands’
‘Of course I will Ximene, you know that I will always be devoted to you’
Then seconds later he found the need to qualify the statement.
‘However, as you have just said, you want me to start the negotiation on your behalf. It will not be easy for me. I have already sworn fealty to the Prince and if there were to be any conflict between the two of you that prior oath would get in the way’
‘Of course it would, John’ Ximene replied coldly.
‘Well, be assured that there will be no conflict. If necessary I will marry the Prince and I will be your sovereign.’
Internally Ximene groaned.
It is no longer what I really want. So much for becoming one! So much for giving the Prince his freedom to marry Joan. However I have a responsibility to use the treasure well!
She paused. Ximene’s transformation was complete. She now assumed the poise of a person who expected to be obeyed.
‘John will you leave me for a while. I need time to think about my responsibilities and the way I want to lead my life’
It was not a request it, was a command and John recognized it as such. John reeled from the chamber, acutely aware that for the first time since he had met Ximene he had been dismissed from her presence.
I choose Thierry! Could she actually have said that?
He reflected on everything that had happened since their arrival at Chateau Mazerou.
The worst thing, which could have happened, was the finding of the treasure. It has changed everything. No! No that’s not true, despite last night, the change in attitude actually co-incided with Thierry’s arrival! I always sensed that Theirry is a rival for Ximene’s affection. Now if I leave to rejoin the Prince’s army Ximene will be left with Thierry.
He released Thierry from captivity
‘There you are free to go!’
‘Go! I don’t want to go anywhere’
‘I thought you wanted to find Don Fernandino’
‘ Yes that was the original intention, but you both seem to think he will be here anytime now so I am waiting. In any case the trail is dead. Do you really know where he is?
Thieirre was icily calm, his gaze steady. It infuriated John. He grabbed Thierry’s shoulder and half dragged, half pushed him down the tunnel towards the stable.
‘Come with me’ John was polite but assertive. ‘Up to now you have shown little, perhaps no interest in my position rank or status.’
Thierry attempted to interrupt. Again John talked over him. John continued
‘After Ximene becomes the Duchess of Aquitaine the Prince intends to reinstate her as Princess of all the Trencavel lands, possibly under the title of Princess of Occitan. Tomorrow I will leave to re-join the Black Prince’s army. You, Thierry will be totally responsible for Ximene’s welfare after I leave. I will not hand over this responsibility lightly. I will still feel personally responsible and if you let me down and any harm comes to Ximene I will hunt you down and kill you. And I will have the means at my disposal to do so’
The very same words, which the Earl used to warn me! Am I really just a creature that the Earl had created?
Thierry retained the same calm visage and the same steady gaze.
‘You have no need to worry John, I share completely your concern for Ximene’s welfare. I have not known her as well as you…’
Was that a criticism of how close we have become?
‘But she is the epitomy of everything a Princess and a woman should be. I adore her! I would willingly die rather than allow her come to harm!’
It rang true. It was like an echo of his own feelings. Suddenly John found himself believing in Thierry. It was a life changing experience.
If Ximene were to shift her affection to Thierry it would be completely acceptable to me. I truly love her. Good God help me! All I really want is her happiness. Oh! Does that make me a Cathar? I just called on the Good God, Not just God! Well at least in affairs of the heart I think I must be!
He found himself embracing Thierry.
‘That is all I could ask. Guard her with your life.’
When he returned to what he still regarded as his bedroom, John felt that he should knock to gain admittance to Ximene’s prescence.
Ximene was waiting for him. Whilst he had been away Ximene had bathed and then donned a formal dress, crisp black material was lined with silver; high waisted with a skirt full to the floor sitting over layers of petticoats. The dress had a high tight bodice and high collar. There was the mearest suggestion of lace underneath the bodice and the smallest triangle of flesh showing at her throat. Her hair was covered by a mantilla.
So this has been her dressmaking project! She has a truly royal aura.
‘Give me your sword, John and kneel before me.’
John did as he was instructed.
Ximene addressed him.
‘As Princess of Occitan, I welcome your oath of fealty, John Stanley. It is now my great pleasure, using the powers I have inherited from my ancestors to invest you as a Knight of the Realm of Occitan.’
She held the sword above her head as John had taught her and swung it gently down in a simulation of a cutting action and touched his right shoulder gently with the blade. She then repeated the movement to touch his left shoulder. She then held the sword at her side and slapped him across the face.
‘Take this as an example of how you should treat my enemies. Arise Sir John, I know that everything you do from this moment on will bring glory to my name and to the realm of Occitan’
John rose to his feet. He was thinking how regal she had sounded. She had managed in those few words to engender real pride within him at the honour she had bestowed upon him. He instinctively leaned forward to give her a kiss but she moved her face to prevent contact being made. Instead she pressed the dagger she had chosen to be her own into John’s hand.
‘Take this with you together with the sparking stone you chose for youself it will held show the diversity and value of our find’
Thus, John Stanley accepted responsiblity for the fate of the greatest treasure in the world and the welfare of potentially the richest, not to say the most dangerous woman in the world! At the same time he realized that the spell that the innocence of their love had held over them had been broken. He had only just realised how deeply he was in love with her and now she had put what seemed to be an insurmountable barrier between them!
At that moment his attention was distracted by Thierry, who once again burst in unannounced.
‘At long last’ Theirry cried. ‘Don Fernandino has arrived!

The most dangerous woman in the world