Ximene Trencavel is heiress to Occitan, a land immediately to the north of the Pyrenees. She has been brought up in Cathar faith, a religion which sees nothing sinful in the giving or receiving of sexual pleasure. In the Cathar culture, sexual pleasure is simply God’s way of giving a sample of what union with him, or her, might be.
Ximene’s Cathar education has given her practical instruction in every aspect of the art of making love.
Ximene’s uncle has offered her hand in marriage to the Black Prince, the heir to the English throne. King Jean of the Franks is determined to prevent this marriage and hires the brutal Bertrand du Guesclin to murder Ximene.
John Stanley has been brought up in a fundamentalist Christian family and at the age of seventeen has never so much as laid a hand on a woman. He has however been recruited into the army of the Black Prince, and is promoted to become one of the Prince’s personal bodyguards. Because of this appointment John meets Ximene.
Ximene decides she needs John’s help in her bid to escape from her dominating and manipulative uncle. She sets out to seduce him to win his support, but runs into a problem. John has no idea how to respond to her advances. Ximene arranges for John to partake in a Cathar Transition by which young people receive practical experience in sexual matters.
Together, Ximene and John survive a series of attacks by du Guesclin each one more threatening than the last, until finally, John suffers a life threatening injury. As she kneels by his side at the edge of a battlefield, Ximene realises how much John means to her. She discovers for the first time in her life, a love totally separated from passion, desire or the potential for political advantage.
It is this discovery which makes her proud, intensely proud, to be Ximene Trencavel. She determines that she must save John’s life.