57 — 8th October — The Return

John Stanley – 30 September 1355

It was not a request it, was a command.

John recognized it as such. He reeled from the chamber, acutely aware that for the first time since he had met Ximene he had been dismissed from her presence. She choose Thierry!  Could she actually have said that?

He reflected on everything that had happened since their arrival at Château 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.

Nevertheless without delay he released Thierry from captivit ‘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. John was furious. He grabbed Thierry’s shoulder and half dragged, half pushed him down the tunnel towards the stable. ‘Up to now you have shown little, perhaps no interest in my position rank or status.’

Thierry attempted to interrupt.  John talked over him.  ‘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.’

He cringed internally as he framed the threat. The very same words, which the Earl used to warn him ! Possibly he was just the Earl’s creation?

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…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.
He realised that if Ximene were to shift her affection to Thierry it would be completely acceptable to him.  He loved her without any reservation. ! All he wanted is her happiness.

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.

‘Give me your sword, John and kneel before me.’

John did as he was instructed.

‘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.’

John realised that in that instant he had accepted responsiblity for the fate of the greatest treasure in the world and the welfare of potentially the richest, not to say the most dangerou, woman in the world! At the same time he realized that the spell which the innocence of their love had held over them had been broken.

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

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