Jaques Fournier, now Pope Benedict XI, frowned and walked the full length of his chamber before replying. He had personally supervised the building of his palace at Avignon and was well pleased with the result. He lived in a splendour which exceeded that of any King.
He turned and eyed the Dominican monk to whom he had given an audience, only because the Papal Legate to the Occitan lands had given a strong recommendation that he did so.
‘How did you find this out?’ Is she really the heir to the Trencavel estates?’
‘It is no real secret, it is freely talked about’
‘And her faith?’
‘Well she has been baptised into the Holy Church.’
‘You sound doubtful’
‘Her grandmother is of the de Pedilla family.’
‘And her mother is from the Foix family.’
‘Holiness, with respect, you were born in that area, you know what it means.’
‘I am asking you.’
The monk gazed at the ground. He had hoped he wold be able to avoid saying it.
‘She will probably be educated as a Cathar’
‘And how old is she now?’
‘No more than three years.’
‘So what causes the interest?’
‘There are a number of major landlords talking up her cause. The Frankish rule has never been popular in Occitan.’
‘And from where did you learn that.’
‘We broke a cathar cell. The heresy is mixed up with a desire to establish a new state of Occitan. There are Prefects active again accross the whole of Occitan; the lords do nothing to interfere, there is a secret society called the “Stars of the Sea” which helps them come and go at will.’
‘And you can do nothing, the inquisition can do nothing?’
The monk gulped and stammered uncontrollably.
‘They, the Cathars, have structured themselves differently. They have established small independent cells which have no contact with other cells. The have what they call Messengers who co-ordinate the cells but the Messengers only know one person in each cell. The cell leaders do not know the identity of the Messengers. That secrecy is then repeated for the movements of Perfects controlled by a commander, who we believe is part of the “Stars of the Sea”.
‘The messengers have no knowledge of the commander, they are summoned to meet him but never see his face.’
‘And, once again how do you know all this?’
‘From the cell we broke but were unable to progress despite our best efforts.’
Pope Benedict took a deep breath, he wanted to go no further.
‘Thank you, you my go.’
The monk left, vowing that he would redouble his efforts.
Pope Benedict wasted no time. He summonsed three members of the Curia, the churches administrative apparatus. All three had been brought to Avignon from the diocese of Pamiers. When he had been Bishop of Pamiers, they had led the intelligence activity which he had personally funded. He trusted them but also it meant there were no direct links to his earlier activities.
‘I never expected to be having this conversation, I was elected Pope on the basis that I had eliminated the Cathar faith, but it would seem that my claim was a little optimistic.’
The three listeners look expectant but no one spoke. The Pope continued.
“I want you now to reactivate all the agents we used when we went after Belibaste. We have continued to pay the retainers and by now they may be…should be part of the secret Cathar cells which I believe are being reformed.’
‘But first stop them talking to the inquisition, I have my doubts about the effectiveness or loyalty of the members of the Inquisition in Occitan. I am going to dismiss them all and I want you personally to choose the replacements. Then and only then, do whatever is necessary to get the information you need. In particular I want you to identify and infiltrate an organisation called “The Stars of the Sea”. ’
In unison the trio muttered ‘Yes your Holyness’ They stood to leave but the Pope was not yet finished.
‘Oh! And I want to know everything there is to know about a three year old female child, named Ximene Trencavel, the name should be familiar to you?’
‘Yes but not a baby for long. It appears she will be educated as a Cathar and is probably the rightful heir to the Trencavel lands, a potent mix, a very dangerous baby!
The pope hesitated.
‘It is not an exaggeration to say she is the most dangerous woman in the world!’