Name: Brian C Lilley
Title: The Prisoner of Foix
Genre: Historical Romantic fiction
Ximene ( Sheamaine) Trencavel is trapped; incarcerated in a Château whose defences have never been breached, surrounded by deep valleys that are manned as intensively as conventional fortifications. Her uncle and guardian, Gaston, Compte de Foix expects to become rich and powerful by controlling negotiations for her marriage. There is a lot of interest in what is essentially an auction as Gaston declares Ximene to be the rightful heir to the lands of Occitan.
Ximene’s personal objective is to create re-establish the state of Occitan and forbid religious discrimination within it’s boundaries. She comes to believe that she must escape from Gaston’s control to make this possible. She wants freedom to make her own decisions, freedom to negotiate her own marriage contract, above all she wants freedom!
One of the bidders for Ximene’s hand is the Black Prince, son of King Edward III of England.Arrangements are made to meet the Prince during Gaston’s summer hunt at Muret, on neutral ground outside of the tightly guarded valleys surrounding Foix. Ximene identifies the hunt as an opportunity to escape from Gaston’s control.
The Prince is due to make a full-scale attack on the rebellious Comte d’Armagnac later in the year but opts to make an earlier, secret, journey to meet Ximene.
John Stanley, a forester’s son, helps the Prince make a spectacular and unusual kill during a deer hunt in the forests managed by his father. The Prince is impressed and invites John to join a small expeditionary force being formed to protect the Prince during the journey to Muret.
John II, king of the Franks, learns that the Prince is the favored suitor for Ximene’s hand and because such a union could result in the loss of one third of his realm he assigns Bertrand du Guesclin, to hunt down and murder Ximene before she can marry the Prince. Du Guesclin is an evil man who uses terror as his secret weapon. As Du Guesclin trails the Prince, knowing that the Prince will lead him to Ximene, he commits atrocity after atrocity.
In contrast Pope Innocent supports the union between Ximene and the Prince as he believes the Prince will control her and prevent her from re-kindling the Cathar faith. However he instructs the inquisition to arrest, torture and burn Ximene at the stake if for any reason, she does not marry the Prince.
Thus Ximene’s life is at risk whether she decides to marry the Prince or conversly if she decides against marrying the Prince.
In the service of the Prince, John learns about the purpose of the journey and discovers that the Pope has labeled Ximene “the most dangerous woman in the world”. He fantasizes about Ximene and dreams about meeting Ximene.
As a result of his loyalty, bravery and skill in defeating a bully; surviving a shipwreck and winning an archery competition John grows in stature and status.
In Foix, Ximene finalizes the plans for her escape during the hunt. She recruits the services of Don Fernandino, who has a reputation for successfully rescuing Cathars from the inquisition and transporting them to a safe haven.
Because of a close likeness to her cousin Alyse, Ximene leans about deviousness deception and perfidy. Her guardian comes up with a scheme to substitute Alyse for Ximene and therefore keep Ximene herself under his control. Ximene is tempted to go along with the scheme but carry out a double bluff in which Alyse stays in Foix. In the midst of these machinations Ximene uncovers the truth, which she has long suspected, that her uncle and guardian has an ambition to sexually assault her.
Critically, as his profile grows, John attracts the attention of Joan of Kent who is not only the Prince’s mistress but a member of a most noble ménage a trois, the third member of which is William Montacute, Earl of Salisbury who is the Prince’s best friend. As the expeditionary force travels towards the meeting place, Salisbury becomes John’s mentor.
Joan decides she is no longer content with a role of the Prince’s mistress and becomes determined to marry the Prince herself. Her objective is to become matriarch of the future English royal family. She plots to ensure that John meets Ximene, hoping this will distract Ximene from any intention she may have for marrying the Prince.
John saves a serving maid from an attack by a drunken soldier, thereby preventing a serious diplomatic incident and as a result is appointed to the Prince’s personal bodyguard. This appointment makes it virtually certain he will meet Ximene, which he does, at the beginning of the hunt.
There is instant chemistry between Ximene and John.
Ximene explains to the Prince her determination to escape her guardian’s control and convinces him that this would remove a barrier from the process of negotiating a marriage contract. She also convinces the Prince that John should accompany her on her flight, both to offer additional protection and to become a conduit for future negotiations.
During the hunt, Ximene’s escape plans go badly wrong and Du Guesclin takes the opportunity to strike. John intervenes and rescues Ximene, but to little avail as Gaston immediately removes Ximene to protective custody in Foix.
Ximene sets out to seduce John and totally win him over to her cause but quickly decides that he is totally lacking in any sexual knowledge or technique. She arranges for John to gain access to the Château de Foix to participate in a Cathar Transition, the process by which all young Cathars are given practical experience of sexual activity.
Ximene becomes further convinced that Gaston’s real plan is to keep her a prisoner at Foix and gradually force himself on her. With the Prince’s help a successful escape plan is formulated and executed.
Influenced by Joan’s continuing manipulation of events the Prince confirms that John should travel with Ximene and offers to provide an escort for the first part of her journey as far as the Château Monsegur. He cannot escort her any further as his presence is needed back in Bordeaux to lead the full scale attack on the Comte d’Armagnac.
Inspired by a visit to Monsegur, a Cathar Holy Place, Ximene decides she must consummate her relationship with John without delay. They are however interrupted when the expeditionary force comes under attack from a small army, led by Du Guesclin. In a pitched battle, the Prince’s superior tactics win the day. The expedition force looses not a single man and the field of battle is littered with the opposition’s dead and dying.
However at the completion of hostilities, having escorted Ximene’s grandmother to join the Prince, John fails to return to where Ximene is waiting.
Rejecting advice to the contrary, Ximene insists that she must find John. She decides that if her duty to Occitan and the Cathar religion mean that she must abandon a man who has already risked his life three times on her behalf, then they are worth nothing. She loads her crossbow and slowly rides back towards the battlefield. She feels no fear, only the exhilaration of freedom; freedom to live her life as she wants to live it, freedom, if necessary, to risk her life for a just cause, freedom to give her love without consideration of cause and effect.