‘Oh! the boys are so shy. We must give them encouragement. ‘So Pipa, give an example. Strip.’
Ximene Trencavel-10th June 1355
Alyse then hurriedly removed her own dress and donned the formal dress. Ximene helped her lace up the dress and then dashed down the stairs to take Alyse’s place.
Later, when Alyse entered the cavern, for Ximene, it became an out of body experience. Alyse walked and held her head exactly as Ximene believed she did herself. The time they had spent learning how to be indistinguishable from each other had obviously paid off. More than that; Alyse obviously had talent as an actress. Alyse positively glided into the cavern, stopped and lifted her hand.
Ximene watched carefully for any sign that John or Piers knew that she had swapped places with Alyse. She saw none. What she did see was bewilderment as they struggled to cope with the environment they found themselves in. Piers responded first, shuffling forward to kiss Alyse’s hand. Alyse responded by leaning forward to kiss his cheek. She then moved over to face John She took his hand in hers and smiled sweetly as John raised her hand to his mouth and gave a perfect rendition of the chivalrous kiss. In return, she kissed his stubbly cheek. ‘I bathed earlier and I have to leave almost immediately for the upper Château, but I wanted to see you again before I left.’
She glanced from John to Piers and back again. ‘Tonight you will be given a very quick version of the training every Cathar receives during the Transition. I am sure you will enjoy it. The first stage will be…’ she chuckled, ‘…communal bathing. However, I must leave now.I have an appointment upstairs.
At this point, Lady Eleanor also took her leave. Smiling, she pulled Ximene to the fore. ‘You will enjoy bathing and some fresh clothes. Alyse will look after you. She turned to Alyse ‘Don’t forget you are due upstairs any time now.’
Ximene led the way from the balcony to the floor of the chamber to where a table and two benches stood against the wall. As they did so, another girl emerged though swirling steam. ‘Oh!’ she said. ‘The soldiers. You are dusty.’ She pretended to sniff the air. ‘You are hot and sweaty. I suppose that is what one can expect in soldiers?’
John glanced at Piers, eyes open wide. Piers shook his head.
John eventually found his voice. ‘Pipa where did you come from?’
Pipa grinned. ‘Oh yes, I deceived you at Clermont, at least a little bit. Surely you must have realised that all was not what it seemed when I obtained the services of both a bowyer and a fletcher so easily? I will explain all a little later, but for now, we will bathe.’ She crinkled up her nose. ‘You need to bathe.’
John stared at Pipa. ‘Communal bathing?’
Pipa spoke again, addressing the boys, ‘Yes.’
There was no response from either John or Piers except bemusement spreading over both their faces
After a short pause, Pipa continued, quite abruptly now. ‘Put your clothes over there on the bench. You will not need chainmail for the next couple of days and we will have the rest of your clothes washed.’
John looked quizzically at Piers, who shrugged. John protested to no-one in particular. ‘You want us to take our clothes off? All of them?’
Ximene answered the question. ‘John it will be very difficult to bathe if you don’t remove your clothes.’ She turned to Pipa ‘Oh! the boys are so shy. We must give them encouragement. ‘So Pipa, give an example. Strip.’
Pipa shot sideways glance at Ximene but nodded. ‘I need little help. untie my bodice.’
Pipa stood directly in front of John and looked into his eyes. Her bodice was laced up the back. Ximene loosened the ties. Once the ties were undone, Pipa then pulled the bodice forward, allowed it to drop to the floor, kicking it to one side. She then pirouetted on the spot.
Ximene grinned. She knew what was coming next. Pipa was going to turn a simple request to remove her clothes into an opportunity to unashamedly display her charms.
Pipa then untied her belt and dropped her overskirt, again kicking it away. Her underskirt was a light material which in the light of the flares behind her was virtually transparent.
Her blouse was laced up the front. She pulled the knot undone and still gazing into John’s eyes, slowly unlaced the blouse.
She moved her body ever so slightly, swaying one way and then the other. Her breasts, now released from any constraint, moved in rhythm with her movements. She slipped the blouse from one shoulder, then from the other. Very slowly, she allowed the blouse to fall. She continued to sway for at least a minute.
Finally, Pipa undid the tie of her underskirt and let the garment fall, leaving her naked.
Thrusting her right leg forward. She placed her left hand on her hip, then raised her other hand into the air. She took her weight on the ball of right foot and lifted her heel clear of the ground. She then lifted her left leg clear of the floor behind her. Surrounded by swirling steam she became she took on the appearance of a classical statue. Pipa gazed into John’s eyes. ‘Do you find my body beautiful, John?’ she asked mischievously.
John gulped for breath. ‘What can I say? of course I do. But I have seen that pose before… at Clermont. Do you get trained in how to do that?’
Pipa grinned and pirouetted once more. ‘Now you Alyse.’
Ximene was tempted to create a performance of her own but decided against it. She tried hard to convert her smile of amusement into a smile of seduction but did not quite succeed. She slowly but deliberately removed her clothes. She glanced at her audience at several stages of the disrobing process and was pleased to see that both of the boys were paying close attention.
Pipa took the opportunity to scoop a bucket of water from the nearest bath and threw it over Ximene, laughing as she did so.
Ximene wagged her finger at Pipa, and laughing herself, she returned to the boys.
‘Now it is your turn.’
John cautiously removed his clothes.
Ximene advanced towards him and held him at arm’s length, then pulled him in and kissed him firmly on the lips. She then stepped back, emphasising that she was taking the opportunity to admire his physique.
John seemed stunned by the experience. He made no attempt to reciprocate,
Ximene reflected that the action she was taking was not a moment too soon. ‘Relax, John, relax, I am not going to eat you.’
John shook his head. ‘Alyse, where is this going? I only met you two hours ago.’
After Piers had removed his own clothes they settled into the four baths cut into the floor of the cavern
Ximene saw that John was unsure of himself, gazing around as if in search of inspiration.
Before she could offer any assistance, John asked a question. ‘Why is the water brown?’ he asked, to nobody in particular, as steam rose around him.
Ximene breathed a sigh of relief and took the opportunity to break the silence. ‘I believe it is from the dissolved minerals. Bathing in this water is supposed to be very good for you. It does not taste very good, so drinking water is normally collected from the roof or brought in barrels. However, when this castle is under siege this spring water can be stored and after a couple of days it is drinkable. That is the real reason this castle is impregnable. It has its own water supply with which an enemy cannot tamper.’
The tension was broken, and Ximene rose from her bath and walked over to a box on the wall under the terrace and returned to the foot of John’s bath. Her wet body gleamed in the light of the torches. ‘Stand up, John. I will soap you down.’
‘It’s soap. It is perfumed and it makes you feel good. Don’t you have this in England?’
John shook his head.
‘It was invented in Egypt nearly two thousand years ago.’
Ximene chuckled. ‘This came from Marseilles.’ Ximene applied the soap to John’s body, rubbing his shoulders and neck. Foam flowed down his body and Ximene’s hands followed it. Out of the corner of her eye, Ximene could see Pipa soaping Piers down in the same way.
Ximene, with diligent attention to detail, soaped down the rest of his body and then poured bucket after bucket of water over his head.
‘Now it is my turn,’ she said.
John cautiously applied the soap to her shoulders.
She waited patiently, gently stroking the sides of his wet body. Eventually, she told him she expected to be soaped all over, and to her delight, he continued, with enthusiasm.
Ximene sank into the bath and pulled John down after her.
‘Occasions like this make nudity feel normal,’ John observed.
‘And isn’t it?’
‘Not to me.
‘But you are now comfortable?
‘Good, there is more still to come.’