Early the next day Don Fernandino and John paid their respects to the Prince.
Once again he was polite but formal.
“ How is Ximene? Can she travel? What should we do next” He gave them no time for a reply
“I need to stay here for a few days to arrange for an orderly retreat to Bordeaux and to make sure we are safe whilst we are recovering the treasure. I have also sent out riders to collect as many loose horses as possible. The Earl has told me that we will need a substantial baggage train to deal with the treasure.’
John took it on himself to reply
“ Sire, we need to get some treatment for Ximene’s injuries. We have contacted a physician overnight and he will meet us at a hunting lodge which Don Fernandino has rented in Couisa.”
‘Good, wait for me there, I will not be more than two or three days”
The Prince delegated twelve of the Lions of Aquitaine and a full troop of of archers and pikemen to ride with them,
‘I do not want to lose Ximene again.’
At the hunting Lodge whilst waiting for Estevan John took Ximene down to the river to bathe. Ximene protested.
“Are you trying to kill me John? This river is icy at this time of year. He insisted that it would help the healing process. John stripped off and plunged into the icy water. Ximene waded in to join him and he slowly and carefully removed her clothes. They melted into each others arms.
“Slowly, John, Slowly.” Ximene said.
“This has been a traumatic experience and I will take some time to recover”
John nodded but allowed his hands to caress her back as he had learned to do at Foix.
“It has been traumatic for me too”
Estevan arrived within two hours, weighed down with salves and potions to attend to Ximene’s injuries. One of the servants at the hunting lodge found clean clothes for Ximene and John changed into a completely new “Lions” uniform, which the Prince had sent for him.
Whilst Estevan was attending to Ximene, John took the opportunity to visit a local inn with the other Lions. They split several bottles of local wine. John enjoyed the socialising. They were all of equivalent rank and John found himself totally accepted. The jealousy he had felt earlier had not transferred itself to these young men. All they wanted to talk about was John’s great victory during the Chevauchee and the escape from Carcassonne. He was also asked many questions about who Ximene actually was. By the end of two hours they had built a great rapport. John was delighted.
He had re-established his relationship with Ximene and he no longer felt like an outsider.
The next month passed quickly as there was so much to do. John was thrust back into the role of Ximene’s Ambassador. Estevan excluded John from Ximene’s care other than bedside visits of limited duration.
‘She desperately needs rest, both physical and emotional. Some people never recover from an experience like this’
John was tempted to dismiss this advice, but the lodge was now continually disturbed by a succession of discrete visits by local sympathisers. Most of the visitors expected that Ximene would marry the Prince. He confided in Ximene.
‘We will have to be very discreet and with you confined to bed my every visit is noticed.’
She nodded and squeezed his hand.
Ximene slowly recovered and played a greater and greater part in the discussions.
On Estevan’s advice John produced a schedule, which limited the bedside conferences to no more than two a day. A recurring topic was that there should be a widespread uprising to throw the Northern Franks out of her lands. John scheduled a private meeting for himself.
“ Do not encourage them to revolt. There are lots of Northern Franks who have been in Occitan for over a hundred years and are devoted followers of the Church of Rome”
“ But they have no right to be here, they have stolen my people’s land”
“ Try and tell that to them, Ximene. They are third or even fourth generation, they think this is home”
“We would welcome them to stay, we would permit them to follow their own religion, as long as they allowed us to follow ours”
John hoped that putting his point firmly would not alienate Ximene.
“That is not true Ximene, you talk about righting wrongs, about returning land to it’s former owners… and then alternate that with concerns that the Prince has not thought it through, which incidentally I now know to be true”
‘You know to be true’
“ Yes, the Chevauchee was badly conceived. He thought that he could engage the Franks in battle and beat them. That everyone in Occitan would then swear allegience to him in accordance with the principles of chivalry and everything would be wonderful.’
‘They wouldn’t fight! They ran away and then attacked us on the flanks as we advanced’
Ximene looked at him in admiration remembering all the things she had been told.
‘I believe you personally won a major battle, in the eyes of these soldiers in Couisa you are a hero’
‘ Not a major battle. Well, I suppose I did play my part, but I was not fighting soldiers who understand chivalry and would comply with its rules. I was fighting thieves and vagabonds! It had nothing to do with ownership of land or religeous beliefs ’
Ximene did not give up her previous argument.
“ The only place I would change land ownership would be at the upper level , there would be no need to throw people off their land at the lower levels”
“ Ximene you are wrong, all these bastides are outside of the feudal system, They are owned and governed by their own elected representitives,’ he struggled to think of a comparison ‘ Like minature Holy Roman Empire’s.’
He look as deep into her eyes as possible.
“For longer than I care to remember our main activity was throwing the northern French out of their homes. It requires force. It is not a pretty business; if you throw a man out of his home there are women and children affected as well”
“ I didn’t know that was what you were doing.”
“ Well not me personally, but I was part of an army which was doing just that. There were thousands of them, left without shelter, and that is what the native occitanes expected us to do. All these people who cluster around you now are I fear more concerned with personal financial advantage than freedom of religious belief”
“ So what do you recommend”
“Now I am going sound like the Prince. There must be an honourable war against the Franks who created this problem. If we win that then we can change the government of Occitan. Remember Aristotle; constitution, lawmakers, politicians, militia.”
“ Yes I remember. You asking did every state need these elements and my answer was yes. Even though it is so personal to me, there is no reason why this should be different. What must we do”.
‘Well the question you ought to ask is how do we make them fight. Probably by attacking their home territory up North. If we win, and the Prince became King of the Franks we would then be able to allocate royal estates to those who have been dispossessed and discriminate favourably in favour of those who have suffered. We could look carefully at deeds and perhaps split lands between traditional and new owners. It becomes a governance issue. It could be controlled! And you don’t have to rush! We have negotiated for settlement on the treasure in advance of any marriage contract.
Ximene reached out and grasped John’s hand.
Oh! Something has changed! He is becoming the man I wanted him to be! Even now he begins to stride the stage!
“You have learned well John, and I understand what you say, it is just that I so desperately want to help my people”
She cast her eyes downwards “Do I need to marry the Prince?”
“Wouldn’t it be unfair to acquire the wealth he is offering me and then refuse to marry him.”
“ Emphatically not. It is their idea to separate the treasure negotiations from the marriage”
Ximene nodded approvingly, she had noted the ‘their’. “If I did not marry the Prince, would he then, if he defeated the Franks, help change the government in Occitaine”
“ If he can take the Frankish throne, yes. He would make you Duchess of Occitan. If he simply wins a war, probably not.’
“You sound very sure about some of this John, has he decided not to marry me?”
“No, I don’t think he has made that decision, and don’t assume that his decision to delay the marriage negotiation means anything. The Earl tells me his father intends to make him Prince of Aquitaine and virtually split the English empire in two at least until his death.
“ So I would be a princess?”
John sighed. This conversation was now not going the way he wanted.
“Yes indeed you would”
“ Tell me again, why would it suit the Prince to delay the marriage negotiations”
“It would suit the Prince very well to separate your wealth from the English crown before he marries you. Then he could fund the expansion of Aquitaine from your income and if everything went wrong still be a wealthy & powerful man”
“Oh!” Ximene had obviously never thought of such a concept.
She tightened her grip on his hand.
“ Well I have decided I do not want to marry him. I will do the best I can without marriage. We must turn our attention to developing a treaty with him”
John now noticed her ‘our”. His heart leaped with joy.
Other that this brief discussion John was given no time with Ximene. He was summonsed to meet the Prince, who was still in his camp outside of Carcassonne.
The Prince greeted John like an old friend, giving him a private audience.
Things move on apace. Other that the deer hunt when I first met him, this is the first time I have spoken to him without either lord John or the Earl hovering in the background.
John learned that the Prince had been busy.
“ You and your colleagues achieved something that I could not, a clear cut victory!’
John was about to object but the Prince cut him off .
‘No just one but two victories! Whilst I have been camped here the good citizens of Carcassonne have come to tell me of their preparedness to swear allegience to me. I have been invited to make a tour of the bastide and have been able to surveyed the damage’
‘You did a good job! But then I have learned that you usually do!
His eyes gleamed with delight.
‘I thought you might like to know that you are absolved from any guilt for the destruction of the Bastide. Current opinion is that I did it. There are two versions. The first version is that I have invented a secret weapon, which is capable of wreaking havoc at a great distance. The second version is that I am known as the Black Prince because I am a master of the occult. According to this second version it was a spell which caused the destruction!”
The Prince’s shoulders shook as he laughed.
“I do not mind which version they believe. If it means that they are prepared a to change their allegence, I don’t care. I hope these legends get spread around, it would make my enemies a little more apprehensive when they go into battle with me, I will not complain. Apprehension is not known to lead to good decision making on the battlefield!”
He adopted a more serious demeanour.
“Now something for Ximene . There were bodies were still lying around the scaffold when I entered the Bastide. The guard you killed with your throwing knife John, was known to me. He was a Stuart a member of the Garde Ecosse the bodyguard of the French king composed entirely of the sons of Scottish nobles.’
‘You knew him well?’
The Prince was obviously considering how much to divulge
“One of the titles the Earl of Salisbury holds, but does not use is King of Mann. He does not use it because in truth he has never managed to take possession of his kingdom, the Isle of Mann which lies in the Irish Sea half way between Ireland and Scotland.’
The Prince hesitated but saw the John was hanging on his every word.
“I know the man you killed because I have been in negotiation with him over the future of the isle. He is the son of the Scottish Pretender. At one point they were prepared to swear allegiance to the English King in exchange for sovereignty over the Island, something they cannot obtain from the Scottish King.’
‘We refused because we believe that the Earl is the rightful inheritor of the kingdom, being a descendant of the original Viking Kings.’
‘And the reason for him being here?’
‘For this man, a member of the an elite French guard to be here may mean Ximenes suffering, was not a despicable accident of fate, but a deliberate plot to kill her in such a way that no blame could be attached to the French King!”
Johns mind raced, as he tried to test out the implications of what he had just been told. He was then introduced to two local dignitaries who had contacted the Prince during one of his visits to the abbey’s and who now had volunteered to travel to England to study the structure of law and order in the English kingdom. John was asked to escort them to Couisa to meet Ximene. On the way he talked about their plans.
They are not dissimilar to Francoise, this trip is an investment in their future but they know that for Occitan to become independent, there must be changes in governance, not just an invasion.
The return trip to Couisa became an event in itself, as each of the lords in anticipation of an extended stay in England was accompanied by his wife and daughters, a total of seven women.
Ximene was delighted to meet the lords, she interpreted their mission as confirmation of English support for the concept of a change of governance, perhaps even a commitment to make it happen.
The women, however, seeing Xime confined to bed and surrounded by men immediately appointed themselves as Ximene’s companions. The result of this was that John’s plans to join Ximene in her bed were further disrupted. Phillipa confided to John that even she felt excluded by their presence!
John did however get the opportunity to brief Ximene on the presence of a Guard Ecosse in Carcassonne.
‘Who could possibly have known that you were at Mazerou?”
“Certainly not Phillipa this time” she said “She never left Mazerou the whole time you were away. Neither did Don Fenandino”
“Oh!” Said John “Then it must be Thierry”
‘ I doubt it, but Estevan also had the opportunity!’
‘ I doubt it too…’ John stopped in mid sentence. .
“They both know where the treasure is!”