64 — Atonement Part II

John Stanley – September 1355

They rushed down into the stables. There they found a covered cart of the type used for transport within towns. This mode of transport was shunned by all but the elderly for longer distance travel because the continual jarring from rough roads was considered unacceptable. John wondered why Don Fernandino would have resorted to such transport.
The answer was soon apparent. Don Fernandino reached into the cart and then dragged out a heavily cloaked female figure. Her hands were tied together she had a gag over her mouth and a blindfold over her eyes. Don Fernandino guided her to the room in which Ximene had, only minutes before, staged the knighting ceremony. He seated her on one of the benches surrounding the central fenced enclosure, separated her hands but tied each hand firmly to the fencing. He then pulled down the hood of her cloak and removed her blindfold.
Both Ximene and John recoiled in astonishment. It was Phillipa de Roet. Ximene rushed forward to comfort her friend. Don Fernandino pulled Ximene back gently but firmly.
‘Before you jump to any conclusions let me inform you why I have found it necessary to constrain Phillipa in this fashion.’
Phillipa struggled fruitlessly against her bonds. Don Fernandino undid her gag.
She burst into full voice immediately.
‘This is ridiculous’ she said. ‘What I am supposed to have done’
Don Fernandino then patiently explained that during the time he had been away he had explored every possible security leak for his own kidnapping, the attack during the hunt at Muret and the possible assassination. Having talked to many people he had come to the conclusion that there was a very specific informant in the Château de Foix and that the source of the informant’s information was Phillipa. Don Fernandino felt that she had not been misguided or malicious. All she had done was talk far too openly about what she knew.

John could not believe what he was hearing. he moved closer to Ximene.

Phillipa listened carefully but then objected.
‘You have got it wrong. I did know about the plan to kidnap Ximene but not far enough in advance for it to have triggered everything else.’
Don Fernandino thought for a moment. ‘I did not say that there were no others involved, but the initial information came from you.’
Phillipa shook her head and again struggled against her bonds.
Don Fernandino reached forward and grasped her chin, pulling her head into a position where she could not help but look into his eyes.
‘Hmm. It was certainly your loose tongue which led to our other problems but in fact, that is not why I have brought you here in bonds.’
He released her chin. He had achieved what he wanted. Phillipa continued to gaze directly into his eyes. He continued. “Despite what you had done I was happy to leave you in Bordeaux, where you could do no further damage, at least to us, but now? What were you doing following me in disguise. It was quite well done. Like most travellers, I joined a  group travelling in the same direction. It gave me extra security which demanded little organisation. The groups were organised by the hosts at the various inns I stayed at. On the second day, I found myself  riding alongside a very likeable young man who made a point of striking up a conversation. The next day a different young man was in the group. I thought nothing of it however  when we left  Muret.  I knew I was being followed. Four men and a woman. it was quite  I recognised you and decided to allow you to continue doing so until we reached Carcassone. I then snatched you away into the night, using Cathar trails. Before I left for Bordeaux, I had moved the wagon to Couisa and so I was able to hide you in it for the last leg of the journey. but now we have another group dashing around the countryside looking for Ximene
Phillipa turned her head to look at Ximene, her eyes pleading for assistance.
‘I followed him because I heard him talking to the Earl of Salisbury about John’s injury and knew he would lead me to you Ximene. ‘She then lifted her voice speaking to everyone in the room. ‘She is my very best friend.’
It was Don Fernandino’s turn to shake his head.
He turned away from Phillipa and looked directly at Ximene.
‘There is absolutely no guarantee that she will not betray us again. She is a gossip who gathers information of a confidential nature specifically so that she can pass it on to others. She enjoys the feeling of power this gives her. It is a characteristic which is very hard to correct.’
He paused and made sure he had Ximene’s attention before continuing.
‘I very nearly solved the problem before I snatched her away. I knew I was being followed and it would have been much easier to kill her than to capture her. To kill her as painlessly as possible is still an option.’
A look of horror crossed Ximene’s face.
‘A second option would be to consign her as a long term prisoner to one of the galley’s owned by Les Étoiles. She could take a turn on the oars and perhaps cook for the crew. There are not many women prisoners on the galleys and the presence of such a pretty girl would be good for… morale aboard the vessel.’
Ximene’s expression turned from horror to disgust.
‘Then again we could sell her into some eastern Sultan’s harem.’
Don Fernandino was acutely aware of Ximene’s reaction to his suggestions.
“There is a fourth alternative which you may consider, because, My Lady, the decision is yours to take and she is your friend” he paused. “It is your safety which we are trying to protect” he paused again “We must drive into her mind the fact that although it was done in all innocence, her behaviour has put us all at risk and caused the deaths, directly or indirectly, of a large number of people. What I recommend is that she confesses her guilt and then receives a good whipping so that her guilt and the pain of the whipping are indelibly linked in her mind.”
Phillipa’s mouth fell open. Her eyes stared in disbelief.
John moved forward and stood face to face with Don Fernandino.
“I have recently seen a whipping and know just how brutal a punishment it can be”
Don Fernandino looked at John sympathetically. “It depends what kind of a whipping you have witnessed. Objectives vary. If the whipping is intended to impress or frighten a crowd, I agree that the outcome is brutal and bloody. If however the whip is applied simply as a corrective measure it can give just the required amount of pain without actually breaking the skin. It is, when applied in this way, one of the most effective and considerate forms of corporal punishment”
He turned again to Ximene.
“The decision is yours My Lady”
For the second time he placed emphasis on giving Ximene a title. John knew instantly that Don Fernandino was deliberately testing Ximene. If she was indeed to rule her own kingdom then she would have to deal with issues of guilt and punishment virtually every day.
Once again Phillipa looked pleadingly at Ximene
Don Fernandino repeated himself with a tone of urgency creeping into his voice
“The decision is yours My Lady”
Ximene turned away and thought for what seemed to be a very long time. She did not want to appear weak. She wanted Phillipa to suffer the minimum punishment. However she had no idea how much punishment would satisfy Don Fernandino or indeed how much punishment was necessary to achieve the desired effect.
John watched her carefully and for a moment he saw the look of defeat cross her face, which he had last seen in the tent at Muret. Events were not unfolding the way she would have wished. Then as he watched he saw her face suddenly stiffen with resolve. Her solution was totally unexpected.
She turned and faced Don Fernandino.
“I remember from my own childhood that the humiliation associated with the way punishment was administered was as powerful a deterrent as the punishment itself. To satisfy you I can see that any punishment will have to be administered in public. The only people available to us are those present here and the manager and his staff from upstairs. Therefore Thierry, can you go upstairs and invite whoever is on duty to join us here, I see no reason to delay the inevitable.”
Thierry left to do her bidding. Ximene continued to speak.
“You may have gathered from my previous comments that as a child I was occasionally punished. I was often told that I would be whipped but it never actually happened. Therefore I have no means of deciding what is the appropriate level of punishment. I intend to find out. I feel I must share Phillipa’s guilt as I was the source of all the information you believe she misused. Therefore I must share Phillipa’s punishment”
She now had the complete attention of everyone in the room.
“John you will administer the punishment. You will apply the whip and you will apply it to me first. I know that you will be scrupulous in applying exactly the same punishment to both of us”
John protested vigorously as did Don Fernandino and even Phillipa. John asked her if she would insist on having her hand chopped off to find out whether it was a suitable punishment for thieves. It was all to no avail. Ximene would not listen to any of the objections. She spoke to John aggressively.
“It is less than an hour ago that you swore fealty to me; I am now giving you a direct order. She walked to the central pole on nearest side of the fenced enclosure. The bed John and Ximene had shared only the previous night bed still lay in the centre.
“Bring some of the straps and one of the whips which hang in the bath house.
She held out her hands in front of her
“Tie them together”
She looked John directly in the eye.
“Tightly” she said
“Now pull the leather reins through that hole”
There was a hole in the post about eight feet above the floor. John had to climb on the fence to achieve this task. Following her instructions he tied one end of the rein to the binding on her wrists.
“Now pull it tight”
John again did as he was told. He pulled until Ximene’s hands were stretched above her head. She was not satisfied until she was pulled onto tip toes. John then tied off the rein to a cleat on the far side of the pillar.
“Now my legs pull them either side of the post”
He pulled her legs astride and tied them to the railing either side of the post. When he had finished she was pinned tightly against the post.
Ximene could not now move her head as it was restrained by the side of the post.
“Now Phillipa” she said
“Tie her to the post immediately opposite this one. I want us to be able to see each other”
Phillipa was not such a willing participant. Once her hands were freed from the rail she fought vigorously and effectively against the imposition of any further constraints. John had to enlist Don Fernando’s help in securing Phillipa’s bonds. Eventually both girls were firmly secured into position facing each other.
Half a dozen men and two women then entered the chamber accompanied by Thierry who had summoned them. Don Fernandino made a brief statement to explain what was happening. He emphasised that what they were about to witness was punishment for a breach of security.
“Now” said Ximene “Me first, do not hold back”
John picked up the whip and swung it though the air to measure his swing.
He spoke despairingly.
“I don’t think I can do this”
Ximene replied calmly.
“Yes John you can, I know you can”
Groaning inwardly, John pulled the whip back and prepared to strike.
Ximene’s voice cut through the air.
Do you think I am stupid John? Do you think that I don’t know that the whip must be applied to bare flesh? Remove my clothes!
John lay down the whip and stepped forward to obey her instructions. He fiddled with the ties at the back of her gown.
Again Ximene growled her irritation.
‘No John I am a prisoner about to be punished. Rip off my clothes!’
Sighing deeply John took firm grip of the collar of Ximenes dress and pulled downwards. He head snapped back, before the material gave way. When it did give way her head slammed back into the pole. She shook he head.
‘Now the chemise’ John obeyed
All she was now wearing was thigh length stockings and garters.
“Now” she said. Her body stiffened in anticipation.
John realised he had no option but to obey. He applied the lash less than enthusiastically with what he judged to be medium force. There was an audible gasp from the audience. A red wheal appeared immediately across Ximene’s back and round the far side of her body. She shuddered.
“That hurt “she said through gritted teeth trying hard to keep the tremor out of her voice.
She then addressed Phillipa.
“It is your turn Phillipa. The pain is bearable; it is being inflicted on us because we have talked too freely about our plans. We must both be far more careful in the future”
John moved to the far side of the enclosure and stood behind Phillipa. He realised that Ximene wanted the punishment to be as near as possible the same so he would have to remove some of Phillipa’s clothes. Phillipa’s dress was however totally trapped between her body and the pole. He stood, helpless, wondering how to proceede.
Ximene confirmed her instructions. ‘The dress, John you must remove the dress.’
Eventually he managed to rip the back out of it so that it hung down over her skirt. The front of the dress was still intact trapped between Phillipa and the post. He stepped back and lifted his whip.
“No John” Ximene interjected “As I suspected the humiliation of all this, being exposed in front of all these people is as great a punishment as the pain. Rip off all of her clothes and pull out the front of her dress. She must be totally naked before you apply the whip!”
Phillipa whimpered in protest but John obeyed. He then stood back and applied the lash to Phillipa. She was far less stoic that Ximene. She cried out loud, her whole body shuddered and she started to whimper.
Ximene again spoke to Phillipa.
“You now see the humiliation and pain you have brought upon us. I hope you will never forget this.”
“John you must now complete my personal humiliation rip off my hose and apply the whip much lower down my back.”
John did so and once again the wheals appeared almost instantly. John saw her whole body quiver. Clearly he had really hurt her this time. She spoke again but this time could not hide the quiver in her voice.
“Phillipa listen to me. John has taught me about security. Never tell anyone anything they do not need to know about your personal plans. You will find there is no shortage of other things to talk about”
By this time John was already behind Phillipa and he applied the second lash, again trying to hit Phillipa lower down her back than the first lash. Again he could see from her reaction that the pain was severe. She now sobbed uncontrollably.
John walked to stand for the third time behind Ximene. He wondered how far she wanted this to go. There were a limited number of places a whiplash could be applied without hitting the wheals and bruising from the previous lashes. He applied the third lash. This time Ximene cried out in pain.
“That is enough John I do not want you to hit Phillipa again. Please ask everyone else to leave and then come and cut us down.
Everyone filed out. Don Fernandino whispered to John that he thought Ximene was a true warrior Queen. John ushered everyone as far as the stable and on his way back opened the cold water tap to the bathtub. He cut down and then untied both girls who rushed into each others arms. In the course of a lengthy embrace they promised that they would be much more careful in future. John examined both their backs and expressed satisfaction that no skin was broken. John guided them to the bath tub and insisted that they immerse themselves for at least ten minutes.
Remembering that he had been dismissed by Ximene earlier in the day he made himself a bed in the tower room. When he returned to the bath the girls had already left. He found them kneeling on the bed he had so recently shared with Ximene.
Ximene had produced her bottle of rose hip oil, and was rubbing it into Phillipa’s back. Phillipa occasionally jumped with pain but it could not have been too bad as she did not move away. Ximene then changed places with Phillipa, who in turn carefully anointed her with oil, gently following the welts where the whip had fallen. Phillipa then crouched over Ximene and leaning down whispered into her ear. Ximene rolled onto her back and Phillipa apologised for all the trouble she had caused. She then lowered her head and tentatively kissed Ximene. To John’s astonishment Ximene wrapped her arms round Phillipa’s neck and returned her kiss passionately.
It was a long kiss but when it ended there were more words of mutual commitment. Phillipa took the bottle of oil and carefully began to massage the front of Ximene’s body. It was at this point that Ximene noticed John was watching them. John saw her acknowledge his presence with the slightest flicker of her eyes. She said nothing however. She raised her hands above her head to make her body more accessible. Phillipa continued to massage her body. Suddenly Phillipa sensed John’s presence and turned her head to look at him. She even managed a smile.
‘What have you been doing to my friend, John?’
She ran her fingers across Ximene’s lower stomach.
She then leaned forward and gave Ximene another lingering kiss.
John was frozen to the ground. He could not bear what he saw and yet he could not look away.
Ximene saw the look of astonishment on his face.
‘What is wrong John, have I not told you that in our religion no pleasure is ‘wrong’
Phillipa and I were punished for putting other people’s lives at risk. We are now renewing the bond between us and vowing that we will never again make the same mistakes.’
She reached forward and caressed Phillipa’s breast. Phillipa grasped Ximenes hand and pulled it firmly against her body. She again glanced over her shoulder.
‘We do not want to exclude you John, come and join us. We are both prepared to forgive you. You were only doing your duty!’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

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Pseudo History