30 Holy Orders

Thomas was very pleased with himself. He had not complied with Du Guesclin’s instructions. He had reasoned that if the fugitives were at Chateau Mazerou and he raided St Feriolle looking for the doctor, the inhabitants of the chateau might learn about it and flee. He had persuaded the members of the Bishop’s force to leave the foot soldiers needed to surround the village in a camp below Rennes le Chateau and in the guise of a hunting party, investigate the Chateau Mazerou first. The bishop himself had lead the force and his credentials had meant that they had no difficulty gaining entry to the Chateau. They had of course found nothing. Thomas was still unsure and although the main party retired to St Feriole, he kept a small number of people with him to secretly watch the chateau for the rest of the day.
He had looked quickly at the stables to north and seen nothing of interest.
However he did see signs of traffic on the river bank. He set up his personal survaillance behind dense shrubs from which the path through the trees could be observed.
He knew he had found his prey when Ximene’s head whipped round at the sound of her name.
‘ Not a good day for you Milady it is now just a question of how much the Compte de Foix or the Black Prince will pay to recover you, and if they are not interested then how you will die. I have no pity for you. Many men have died and many are still dying simple because of you’
Conditioned by his life as a Routier, it seemed totally appropriate that he took advantage of the situation
Ximene was shocked at the way this perfect stranger accosted her. Rape was rare in the world in she lived. This man, did not expect any real resistance. He was holding Ximene at arms length attempting to rip away her clothes. Ximene slipped her wristlet down over her knuckles and hit him hard with a full blooded swing. The blow landed on his temple. He turned in slow motion, surprise showing clearly on face. Ximene landed a second blow, a perfect uppercut which in his stunned state snapped his head back on his shoulders. He collapsed to the ground. Ximene assumed that the security of the Chateau had been breached so she ran towards the only other refuge she could think of was Estevan’s house and clinic in St Feriole. She ran directly towards danger,
Thomas recovered quickly, shaking his head, partly to relieve the pain and partly in amazement. He gathered up the other observers from around the Chateau. He rode up the hill and found the Bishop at the only inn in the village.
‘ We were pretending to hunt, well now we will do it for real and our prey is a young girl.’
They rode to the edge of the village where there were good views across the valley. Estevan’s clinic was at the top of his house. It shared the same views of the surrounding countryside which had been sought by Thomas and the bishop. He happened to glance up and saw Ximene approaching up the hill towards his rear garden.
He then saw the riders. He realised Ximene must have seen them too. She ran away in the direction she had come.
Ximene jumped over the edge of the ridge she had just climbed and slid down the slope. She knew the horses would find it difficult to follow. The hunters let her run, not attempting to follow down the slope or through the densely wooded areas at the bottom. Several of them rode in a vast arc to get ahead of her and despite a number of twists and turns Ximene eventually found herself surrounded. Thomas warned them about what she could do and they therefore treated her with extreme caution.
A tall corpulent man separated himself from the group and moved towards her. He demanded that Ximene explain why she had dealt so severely with their companion. She could hardly believe her ears.
‘He attacked me, what did you expect me to do?’
The tall man sighed.
‘You provoked him. In fact you provoked us all’
Ximene glanced around desperately trying to see a way of escape.
‘I provoked you?’ incredulity echoed in her voice.
‘Why yes, bare shoulders and a short skirt, the lightweight material your dress is made of. You have obviously chosen your clothes to tempt and ensnare men’
Ximene laughed
‘I have chosen my clothes to be suitable for a long country walk on a hot day’
She lost her patience.
‘I had never met that man before. He had never paid court to me. He had never declared his love for me. I had no opportunity to consider whether to accept his suit’
The tall man rose in his stirrups and looked around at his companions.
‘Ah! Now we have it! These words give the girl away. She is a Cathar. Those are Cathar sentiments she utters. Capture her. We must take her back to Limoux, where with God’s help we may save her soul.’
The men dismounted and closed in on Ximene. Responding to some hidden consensus they all dashed at her at the same time. She only managed to land one blow before she was carried to the ground. She thought that they intended to hold her down and rape her but the tall man intervened.
‘No, tie her across a horse; we must take her to be examined by the Inquisition’
There then followed the most agonising journey. Ximene could not believe the pain inflicted by the continuing jolting of a horse walking slowly when tied face down across its back. She continually slipped forward so that she was hanging from her ankles, with her face close to the ground. When in this position, she was totally exposed to the gaze of the whole party. Occasionally they lifted her back so that she was lying across the horse and every time they did this they made sure that their hands explored every part of her body.
The journey seemed to last for ever but eventually, semi conscious; she was pulled down from the horse and dragged into a large house in the centre of a large town. She felt tired, sore and abused. She was left alone in a bare room. Away from the gaze of her abusers she was unable to prevent herself from vomiting.

The most dangerous woman in the world