Ximene Trencavel, heiress to the lands of Occitan, has been brought up in Cathar faith and has been educated in every aspect of how to give and recieve pleasure in a sexual relationship. 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.
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 where young people recieve practical experience in sexual matters.
John’s lack of sexual experience is not Ximene’s only problem. Her uncle has offered her hand in marriage to the Black Prince, heir to the English throne. The Prince declares his intention to make Ximene the Duchess of Occitan.
King Jean of the Franks is determined to prevent the marriage taking place and hires the brutal Bertrand du Guesclin to murder Ximene.
Ximene confides in John that she has no confidence in the Black Prince’s plans to make her Queen or Duchess of Occitan. She fears that it will result in a Frankish invasion of Occitan and hundreds, if not thousands of her followers dead in the streets.
She tells John that she would rather be a clerk in the back streets of Palermo rather than be Duchess of Occitan or Queen of anywhere, if it would expose her followers to such a fate.
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. Ximene realises how much John means to her. As she kneels by John Stanley at the edge of a battlefield, she discovers for the first time 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 dermines that she must save his life.