Joan encouraged her. She always used the name by which Ximene was known in society
“Diana we must find William and ensure he is well. In any case this sounds like fun. I would come with you but I would be too easily recognised.
Now Ximene found herself sitting in front of an anonymous couple in a coaching house in Salisbury. She was far from sure she wanted to be there. A letter had arrived a week previously from the “Master of Merriment” which gave her the venue and the time to attend. She has sat in the lounge of the coaching house for over an hour before she was approached by a man who had been there all the time. He told her the room number where she had found this odd incredibly sober looking couple. Not much of the “Master of Merriment” here decided Ximene.
“By which name would you like to be known in our society”
the woman asked politely.
“Eagle” replied Ximene and immediately regretted it. It was her code name which she used for more serious purposes.
The man then spoke.
“Well Eagle the first thing you ought to know is that the entrance fee is twenty pounds”
Ximene hid her incredulity. It was a fortune, more than many people’s inheritance.
“The fee is to guard against those who wish only to make money out of being members of our organisation. We hold gambling games where men cannot win and women cannot loose”
The woman cut in
“Money that is” she said meaningfully.
Ximene wondered how the expenditure of such a sum could be justified. In her mind reviwed how hard she had worked the previous year.
In the spring of 1357 she had opened a ship building facility in Palermo, Scicily She had spent the summer travelling the Mediterranean coast of France, consolidating her presence in the ports to which she need to have access to fulfil her full range of trading ambitions. On the advice of her security advisor, Don Fernandino Perez, under the name of Rosalie Carpontier she had set up a series of bordello’s along the coast from Marseilles to Narbonne. Don Fernandino had pointed out that a bordello was the ideal cover for whatever they might want to do in the future. The frequent movement of men and women in and out of a bordello would attract no surprise and therefore little attention.
The abilty to move people freely and in secret was essential to her real aim, which was to build communities which could enjoy freedom to follow the religion of their choice without interference from the Church of Rome.
Ximene was initially unhappy with the concept of women selling their bodies but found a formula which satisfied her. The clients had to effectively join a club and mix socially with the women. It was the women who decided who they would choose as a partner and this condition was known and accepted by the men before they were allowed to attend the preliminary social functions. In any case it amused Ximene that nearly all of her hostesses and clients were adherents to the Church of Rome who supposedly frowned on such goings on. Ximene built on this by running sexual behaviour classes for young men to teach them how to approach women considerately and how to give them pleasure
Then it was Don Fernando’s turn to be concerned. He felt that this latter service would identify Cathar influence in the lessons. It obviously worked reasonably well as several of Ximene’s hostesses had left her employ to marry their clients within the first months of operation. Ximene was surprised but pleased that mothers and wives started bringing young men for training!
She looked again at the sober couple in front of her. She decided that they were what was holding her back. She decided to accept. Whilst she had been reviewing her years work she had decided she would go through with this. She was missing a little excitement in her life and it would bring her into contact with the elusive William Montacte!
“It is not so simple” said the lady,
“Firstly you have to pass an aptitude test. We do not want to mislead anyone. You may not like what we ask you to do or we may not think that you enjoy what we do. Either way it would be better to end it now. We have booked a room for you upstairs. I trust you realised that you would be staying the night?
Ximene nodded. The l took her along the corridor to a large cheery room with a very large bed and a roaring fire. In front of the fire was a large table set for an evening meal.
The room was very warm and Ximene quickly removed her outer cloak. She was then left to her own devices for a lengthy period, just long enough for her to feel the first pangs of boredom.
The door opened and a very attractive young serving maid entered the room.
She spoke softly.
“Please sit by the fire madame, I am here to make you stay as pleasant as possible”.
Would you like a drink of wine, beer on perhaps brandy or armagnac?
Ximene asked for a glass of claret. It was served in a very large glass.
After such a long period with no company Ximene was anxious to talk. But at that point the serving maid was joined by two other serving maids. There seemed to be no clear role for the other two serving maids to perform. Other than occasionally asking Ximene did she want another drink the maids chattered amongst themselves. Ximene felt excluded and eventually rose from the chair to join in the conversation. The girls talked about boys they knew, boys they liked , clothes, music and lovemaking. Ximene felt very much at home and soon was talking as animatedly as any of the others but being careful not to be too specific about her own experiences. The girl who had first entered the room suddenly laughed delightedly.
“Madame you have passed our first test with flying colours we find your conversation and wit delightful.”
Kisses were exchanged all round and Ximene found herself delighted to have found such attractive vivacious friends. Their names were Roxanne, Rosemary and Claret. Claret was the name of the first girl Ximene had met. Not their real names Ximene realised but their adopted names to be used inside the society. Ximene wondered who they really were, certainly not serving maids! Not at an entry fee of Twenty Pounds. They all sat round the table and had several more drinks. The conversation was verging on the bawdy. four young men entered the room bringing with them trolleys loaded up with food. They too were dressed as servants.
The animated conversation continue whilst Ximene and the girls ate a magnificent meal. There was no contact with the men whatsoever, they simply waited on table.
More wine was drunk. Eventually they reached the end of the meal and the other girls tackled the armagnac with enthusiasm.
Claret now introduced a new topic
“These young men have all been very naughty. To wait on us this evening is their punishment. However they also know that thier punishment includes that they must do anything this evening which we tell them to do. How do you think we should punish them Eagle? “
Ximene realised that this was all in fun and that the young men must have agreed to take part in the charade but she could not forget the time in the past where she had both proscribed and received corporal punishment.
“Tell me how they transgressed, without that knowledge I cannot make a judgement!
They cheated on a game, where the rules were quite specific. In the game everone in the room had a number. The men chose a women’s number and the women chose a man’s number whoever was selected had to sit on their partners knees and allow them to kiss and caress them. Somehow they knew the numbers , the numbers they called out were not the numbers they had drawn. Ximene nodded and smiled clearly they had been given the numbers by the girls for whom they already had an affection. She had played similar game herself as part of her sexual training with the outcome far more intimate contact than these girls were indicating.