John Stanley-1st September 1365
Sir John Stanley, captain in the royal guard of Aquitaine and tournament champion of Europe, entered the lists immediately after noon. He calmed his horse, Helios, with a single gentle stroke, before grasping the reins and urging him forward with a click of his heels.
As usual the lists were a cauldron of colour and noise. The noise intensified as he raised his lance in salute. Trumpets sounded and flags waved. Helios, shied momentarily and for a few seconds John struggled to assert his control. Helios continued to be unusually restive.
John’s immediate task was to seek out the principle wife of the guest of honour at the tournament, the Emir Damir Alâeddin Ali Bey of Caraman. The fee he was being paid for his attendance was, to say the least, generous. The only unusual condition was that he should fight wearing the favour of the Emirs wife.
He found the Emir and his wife with ease. They were sitting in the main stand, both instantly recognisable from their flowing eastern robes. John had trained Helios to simulate a bow, but today he declined to so, on the contrary he snorted, whinnied and reared.
Clearly Helios was exited.
There were in fact women, one sat either side of the Emir. Which of the two women, John wondered was the Principle wife? He was annoyed with himself he should have checked. Would the principle wife be the one sat on the Emir’s right? Although both the wives were in black voluminous eastern robes, the one on the right had a number of brightly coloured scarves woven loosely around her shoulders.
John calmed Helios down and carefully stretched out his lance towards the lady who carefully removed one of the scarves and placed it on the point of the lance. Just at that instant their eyes met. John jolted upright in his saddle. This unknown woman, senior wife of a rich eastern potentate, was in fact Ximene Trencavel, the love of his life! He could only see her eyes but he had no doubt who she really was. There was the scar running through her right eyebrow and John knew that if she lowered the veil across her face her nose would be slightly out of line, a souvenir of when they had trained together and fought each other to a standstill.
For John the day then passed in a jumble of emotion, Ximene, here and part of the Emir’s harem! He pushed her favour under his breastplate as tradition demanded and prepared to meet his first opponent.. As the day unfolded he fought each opponent without thinking, relying on instincts developed and honed during four years of fighting at the elite level. Charge after charge, the thunder of hooves, the frightening sound of lances splintering against shields, the bone jarring shock of impact after impact all merged into his peripheral consciousness. His central thoughts were totally concerned with Ximene and how he could get closer to her.
To his delight late in the afternoon, the Emir sent a messenger inviting John to be the guest of honour for dinner. John accepted immediately, without having any clear idea of how he could best make use of the invitation.
Later that evening, John hired a gondola to take him to the Palazzo Dandolo, which he discovered was located on the Grand Canal not far from his own his own lodgings.
The building was by the standards of Venice, relatively unattractive, at least from the landing stage. Once inside the building, however he was impressed. He was welcomed into the cool interior of the building by heavily muscled guards,
To John, the guards symbolised the fact that even here, in the middle of Venice, he was about to enter a different world. Their mode of dress proclaimed just how different that world might be; pantaloons, the tight fitting metal belts, and the elaborate head-dresses. They all carried throwing spears of a syle and manufacture John had never seen before; steel certainly but carved with inticate patterns and inlaid with gold.
As John was ushered up two flights of stairs, the feeling of being in a different world was reinforced by the introduction of screens, furniture and carpets, all featuring Eastern rather than Euopean designs and textures . Eventually he was guided through another security screen manned by more guards. He emerged into a rooftop garden and was greeted by a young woman in eastern dress. All he could see was her eyes but it was enough to be certain she was not Ximene. At one side of the garden there was a reception room in the centre of which a large square table had been set for dinner.
The eastern influence continued with the choice of plates and cutlery and the fact that the table was covered by a cloth of gold.
At the far end of the garden was a tiled pool surrounded by luxurious vegetation. John was guided to a room behind the pool. He was told to relax. He was given the option of changing into eastern dress, which had been laid out for him.
Always keen for new experiences, John accepted, slipping on the long flowing shirt which reached to the ground but which was split from shoulder to waist, leaving most of the front his upper body exposed. Over the top of this he put on a most elaborate red and gold jacket which hung from his shoulders. There were no fastenings on the jacket, which was clearly meant only for decoration. He then pushed his feet into slippers made from the same material as the jacket.
In one of the slippers he found a gold chain. There was a note saying that the chain should be worn round John’s neck at dinner but that it was a personal gift, which John was free to keep. Hung from the chain was a gold pentacle.
Suddenly he was back at Château Mazerou in Occitan with Ximene as they struggled to understand what was the meaning of the pentacle. Nothing could have been more symbolic of their past relationship . They had, together, solved the puzzle of the pentacle. The task had culminated in the discovery of Ximene’s family treasure.
John frowned. The gift of the pentacle must mean that Ximene had been involved in the planning of his visit. He had not made a mistake. He felt a buzz of excitement and could hardly wait to be summoned to dinner.
He filled in the time by exploring his room and testing the huge bed for comfort. This in itself was a new experience, it was not stuffed with straw it was a totally different construction. It was like floating on a cloud.
He relaxed, but almost immediately became aware that gift of the pentacle had many implications. Until that point he had assumed that he must rescue Ximene from what at best could be a state of semi captivity. The gift of the pentacle however suggested that Ximene was exerting some influence over events. It was even possible she did not want to be rescued. What on earth was she doing here?