‘The Bishop has now declared Ximene to be a witch. They are all terrified of her. They say they will not feel safe until she is dead, A party of the bishop’s guards has been dispatched to Carcassone to make arrangements for her to be burned at the stake.’’
Phillipa de Roet – 25th October 1355
It was a beautiful autumn day. Clear blue skies, warm sun but with a freshening breeze from the south.
Pipa, riding Selene, trailed behind Don Fernandino as they climbed the hill leading to St Feriole.
in other circumstances it would have been a wonderful ride through the foothills of the Pyrenees, but not today. Today they had to find and rescue Ximene.
Don Fernando reined in his horse and halted in the village. He turned to Pipa. ‘We have not had the best of relationships, Pipa but I now desperately need your help.’
He pointed to the road leading north out of St Feriole. ‘Granes, Rennes, Campagne sur Aude, Esperaza, Couisa, Limoux, Carcassonne. They will be heading for one of these places. We will call at every one and use my contacts to get any information which might be useful. Many of my contacts are members of Cathar cells. It is vital to our ongoing security that they do not see my face.’
Pipa blinked. “Really?’
‘Yes, really. but I don’t mind if they see your face.’
‘If any of the cells is ever broken by the Inquisition. I would not mind them revealing that their commander is a pretty blond haired young woman.’ He smiled. Pipa didn’t.
Don Fernandino continued. ‘Here are the passwords which you will need to get them to talk.’
It took them half a day to reach Couisa. Pipa applied herself to her task whilst Don Fernandino remained in the background. She consulted Don Fernandino’s contacts but also talked to any other people she met. By the time they reached Couisa, they knew that the hunting party had been organised for the Bishop of Limoux. A little later, by the bridge in Couisa, Pipa found someone who told her that the hunting party had been seen returning with a young woman as a prisoner and that they had left on the road to Limoux.
They rode furiously to Limoux. The town was alive with rumour and speculation. There was much conflicting information to be considered, but in the end, they concluded that Ximene had been taken to the residence of the Bishop of Limoux, in the centre of the Town.
Don Fernadino bit his lip. Let us find somewhere to review what we have been told and perhaps learn a little more. In the town square, there is a restaurant where in my role as The Shadow I sometimes give concerts. It is on the opposite side of the Square from the bishop’s palace and it is patronised by the bishops household staff, so we may learn more about Ximene’s whereabouts. We will be welcome at this restaurant and I may sing a few songs so that we blend into the background. Are you sure you don’t dance.?’
Pipa blinked. ‘I told you no, and you did not get round to giving me lessons. If you must sing, I will sit at the bar and listen, not only to your songs but to any gossip. It does have a bar?’
‘Yes, indeed it does.’
They wended their way through the tables outside the restaurant which today were deserted. Don Fernandino glanced upwards at the sky now darkened by clouds, as the wind gathered strength and intermittently howled through the square ‘First Sirocco of the year.’
‘Wind from the south which increases in strength for several days. Often it becomes strong enough to damage buildings.’
They pushed their way in through the door and then through heavy curtains. Though it was only late afternoon, the restaurant was relatively dark. Huge oaken pillars and beams provided a large open space surrounded by tables. eatable was illuminated by a candelabra holding three candles At the rear of the room was a bar which also acted as a servery.
The area behind the bar was illuminated by three torches. The light from the torches made the bar a focal point for the whole room.
Don Fernandino was indeed recognised and welcomed. Before they asked the were shown to a table and served a light meal.
Whilst they were eating the bar began to be populated with staff leaving Bishop’s Palace. They talked openly about a heretic being captured.
“That would be Ximene” ventured Pipa.
Don Fernandino nodded but held his finger to his lip as another stream of people entering the bar. Pipa strained to overhear another topic of conversation which was held in hushed tones. Eventually several of the bishop’s staff engaged in an animated conversation one of the waitresses. Pipa and Don Fernandino could only catch snippets of the conversation. Pipa leaned across the table.’ sing a couple of songs. It is time I visited the bar. She jumped to her feet, sat at the bar and turned to face the room. Almost immediately the waitress approached her and asked her about her relationship to The Shadow .
Pipa grinned, ‘ I don’t sing and I don’t dance but I am under tuition.
The waitress returned the grin. ‘Of course. I understand.’ She made to move away but Pipa slipped from he stool and caught the waitress by the hand. ‘Are we at some sort of risk?’
Pipa nodded at the group of recent arrivals. ‘ They look excited… no that is not the right word… apprehensive.’
Pipa returned to don Fernandino with a grim look on her face. ‘The heretic, Ximene? was questioned by the bishop and then locked in an office awaiting transportation to the Inquisition in Carcassonne. One of the original hunting party entered the room and closed the door behind him, possibly intending to rape her. The heretic struck him dead with a magic spell. The man just fell down seconds after he entered the room. Everybody agrees there was no mark on his body, he just fell down dead. The Bishop has now declared Ximene to be a witch. They are all terrified of her. They say they will not feel safe until she is dead, A party of the bishop’s guards has been dispatched to Carcassone to make arrangements for her to be burned at the stake.’
Don Fernandino groaned. ‘ Now we really do need help, come with me. perhaps we could get the Prince involved.’
He made his apology to the owner of the restaurant, they left hurriedly and rode as fast as they could to Rouffiac d‘Aude . As they approached Le Moulin Blanche Don Fernandino heaved a sigh of relief and pointed to a shaded meadow at the side of the inn, where John Stanley was grooming Helios and Piers sat on a log watching him. Don Fernandino greeted John with delight.
Pipa flung her arms around Piers and then clung desperately to John
John’s eyes narrowed. ‘It is really good to see you’ he said. ‘But I am surprised. I know Piers was supposed to send a message asking you to meet him here, but we never sent the message. I know about Piers mission to prevent Ximene being threatened by the advance of the Prince’s army, but in the event, it was not necessary. I know where Chateaux Mazerou is and the Prince is going nowhere near there. Tomorrow we were going to go to the hunting lodge at Couisa where I expected to find you and from where we could escort you back here to rendezvous with the Prince. Obviously, ypu have come here for a different reason?’
Don Fernandino told them all that he knew. ‘Can we get the Prince to help?’
“I am sure he would but it would take several days’
John explained the progress made by the chevauchee. He explained the difficulties, the resistance they had met and how it had been gradually overcome. ‘It has been incredibly messy but the formal forces who have been harrying us are in full retreat. The Prince is determined to pursue them and hopes to provoke a set piece battle which would then break all resistance. By now they will be close to Beziers. It might take as much as a week to get him here.’
Don Fernandino’s mouth tightened. ‘Well then, we will have to do the best we can, just the four of us.’