Our hero, Ximene Tencavel leads a double life.
She is Diana, Countess of Shaftesbury, a respected, perhaps feared, member of the English court. As Diana. Ximene attends the English court, a world full of rich formal costumes for men and women, ornate furniture, polished woodwork, small orchestras, a profusion of freshly cut flowers and servants running around seeking to attend to the whims of every individual guest.
She is also l’Aigle d’Or, the Golden Eagle, the leader of an extensive trading empire called the Shadow without a Name. As the Eagle, in dingy warehouses in London, Bordeaux and Palermo she welcomes new recruits to The Shadow. On these occasions she wears an eagle mask, black military uniform, a black cape lined with golden feathers and gloves with a golden talon on every finger. She retains an allure of mystery by only appearing on a balcony, isolated from the recruits.
The separate aliases and the concealing of her own identity is necessary because of evil du Gueslin; a man tormented by his distorted body and mis-shapen features; undeniably evil, capable of gross brutality and committed to killing her.
Those who know her as Diana at the English court would have all blinked in disbelief if they could have seen the Eagle, silhouetted at the bow of a trading vessel ploughing through turbulent seas in the Eastern Mediterranean; or riding one of her two magnificent horses at breakneck speed with the army of the Emir of Karaman, in a desperate defence against Turkic invaders who threaten her trading routes. They would have found it even more improbable to see her comfortably settled in a harem, surrounded by oriental architecture in the company of giggling groups of scantily dressed concubines.
The English court knows nothing of her origins in the Blue Pyrenees, which, once you entered the mountains through one of the innumerable passes, were not blue at all, but every shade of green and grey, dotted with patches of white from limestone abutments and snow-covered peaks. They know nothing about the Château de Foix perched on its rocky outcrop, or about the ornate fittings and improbable architecture of her grandmother’s palatial but private accomodation scattered around the lower rock. Or of the cavern, a natural miracle, below the Château, where there was an inexhaustible supply of warm spring water, supplied by a natural waterfall, where Ximene and her friends bathed and played naked.
Our other hero, Sir John Stanley also fulfils multiple roles. He is a captain in the Black Prince‘s personal bodyguard and therefore plays a part in state receptions and dinners at the Prince’s court, on the waterfront in Bordeaux.
John Stanley is also tournament champion of Europe. At tournaments he is part of the promotional spectacle of heralds, trumpets, drums and parading knights.
He is proud to be part of the society of knights of the tournament circuit. During the day they fight hard but in the evenings they socialise equally hard. One tournament stands out in his memory. As he entered the enclosed arena the sight took his breath away. At the far end was a sea of red and white. Flags and pennants of Aquitaine! Both sides of the arena were solid red with a large number of flags carrying the unusual twelve-pointed cross of Occitan. He whirled Ximene’s horse Helios around so that he could see the crowd behind him. There was another blaze of colour. This time it was yellow and white stripes with each of the yellow stripes carrying the small five-pointed stars. The colours of the Trencavels! John’s eyes had blazed with excitement. Ximene had gone to a lot of trouble to let him know that he was fighting for his Prince, his adopted nation and Ximene herself!
Occasionaly he thinks about his own home on the Wirral Peninsula. He remembers the night he had been attacked by wolves and more lovingly, the walks to Hilbre island at low tide, surrounded by every sea bird imaginable. At night, just before sleep, he often sees the turquoise waves thundering onto the beach at Arcachon and how, when his ship foundered, the waves nearly ended his life.
Equally frequently he is assailed by memories of the Cathar ritual at Clermont, on the hill above the Château, with the silvery snake of the Garrone river in the background. There he had witnessed the ultimate erotic performance performed by Joan of Kent and the Earl of Salisbury. Who would have ever thought he would have come so close to Joan herself. She was the granddaughter of a king of England and yet she subjects him to her endless provocative teasing, usually clothed in dresses which conceal absolutely nothing.
But his thoughts usually return to Ximene and the time they had spent together at Château Mazerou. He clearly sees the arched cellers, the tower room and the surrounding magnificent countryside. It was here that Ximene trained him to be her lover. It was here that Ximene started the training regime which would turn her into a formidable female warrior. They trained together and as Ximene’s skills developed they fought against each other. It was the vast plains of the countryside in which they trained, which in itself gave the clues as to the location of Ximene’s family treasure. Ah! the treasure and its location in an underground cavern. The crossing of the lake during which the flares on the boat seemed to be reflected from every ripple, causing the illusion that the lake was on fire.
John had became a renowned military strategist and had taken part in more military campaigns than he cared to remenber. The invasion of Armagnac, the battles of Poitiers, Auray, and Najera. John’s strategies developed the massed use of the longbow by English and Welsh archers, backed up by disciplined troops of armed knights and the use of fiery projectiles from the dreaded Trebuchets.
He had defeated du Guesclin on three separate occasions. But du Guesclin had no compunction in breaking his own weapons and surrendering. There were always those who would pay his ransom because they wanted someone to perform a task which they were not prepared to carry out themselves. Du Gueslin’s evil nature was at it’s worst when he killed hundreds, perhaps thousands of people, by attacking the regatta in Venice with Greek fire. His objective was to kill Ximene and he did not care how many others died as a result of his actions. Whenever John thinks of, it he can still see people falling from the bridges of the Grand Canal into the inferno below, screaming as they fell.
n Venice, Ximene asked John to repeat his vow of allegiance to her. It its perhaps the only occasion that the award of the accolade is performed by a head of state who is totally naked. John’s greatest unfulfilled ambition is to kill Du Guesclin, He has joined with Ximene in making a vow that if either of them ever confront Du Guesclin again they will kill him, leaving no chance of a ransom.