Two hours later, Diana, the countess of Shaftesbury, on the left arm of Edward, Prince of Wales and Aquitaine, led the diners into the great hall, the centrepiece of Langon house. She had quickly forgotten about her other life of intrigue and danger, now she just wanted tonight to be a success. Joan of Kent, was on the Prince’s other arm and they both ducked forward to exchange triumphant glances.
Ximene had always felt that she was acting the role of Diana, but now it felt real. It was a moment of personal triumph, now she felt she could relax and enjoy her new found position in English society.
The great hall was formed from the old cloisters and the ornate pillared walkway still ran round the periphery. The central courtyard had been spanned with a structure of massive beams, designed so that there was no need for central supports. On cold nights such as this rush mats were pulled across the beams making a false ceiling to keep in the heat. The heat was provided by twenty braziers against the outer wall of the cloister . Each brazier had a metal chimney with a dual function; to remove the smoke and to radiate heat.
Dinner that evening consisted of ten courses, starting with a variety of game pies, Eels in bruet, cinnamon soup, pork and fennel sausage, climaxing with the suckling pig and finishing with wild berries and crème.
The Prince chuckled “ You do things well Diana, berries in December, where did they come from?
Ximene struggled not to tell the Prince that a corner of every one of her ships coming back from southern Castile was kept for out of season delicacies and it was not difficult to divert some to her own kitchen. She resisted the temptation, it was better the Prince did not know.
‘Alyce’s brother. He trades in city and imports all manner of things through Poole, do you remember Juan Perez. Like his sister he is a good singer, he also dabbles in being a court chronicler and writer.
‘Yes I do remember him. Like all court chroniclers he was a bit of a nuisance in Bordeaux, will he attempt to take over from Monsieur Froissart here?’
“ I think not, I think he is now absorbed in trade.’ He has anglified his name to Janyn Perrers and uses JP as a trademark.’
Ximene stopped dead. She did not want to show how much knowledge of trade she had and certainly did not want to reveal that Juan was the public face of her trading company in London.
Joan rescued Ximene. ‘ Look Edward, look, isn’t it spectacular?’ Drapes which had covered one end of the great hall were now being removed
Workmen had spent two weeks preparing the great hall for the presentation. The great hall had suddenly become a scene outside Troy. The wall was covered with representations of classical buildings. Servants hurriedly filled the other end of the hall with plants and shrubs, some real, some artificial, creating a representation of a forest. Seats had been provided in amongst the forest and on the tops of the buildings. The music of flutes played in the background.
Many of the audience took the opportunity to move to these special seats but Ximene stayed at the head table with the Prince and Joan.
An ethereal voice boomed through the hall.
‘Tonight we will meet the gods
as they tamper in the affairs of men.
The fruit of their loins are demi-gods
And are given the right to rule.’
A pause and then the disembodied voice continued
‘Ah, here is Dionisis, god of wine and lust, and his sister Aphrodyte.’
Ximene knew the fable very well, she had seen it presented many times before. It was a link between the Cathar religion and the myths of antiquity.
This was the first time she had been responsible for the concept and planning of a presentation herself, therefore she watched a little more critically than she had done at other presentations, which she had simply enjoyed.
As the presentation unfolded she found herself following the stage directions in her head. ‘A naked young man emerges from the forest , followed by a girl in a long white dress. They sit on a grassy mound at the edge of the forest. He is holding a cup of wine in one hand, and idly caressing his partner with the other’.
Ximene winced, and muttered to herself ‘That is not how the god of wine and lust would caress anyone. Touch her breasts, touch her inner thigh, ooh! Do it properly.’ To her relief Alyse knew what was required. Without making it seem to obvious she reached out and pulled his hand to her breast. She wriggled with pleasure and whispered in Dionisis ear. Instantly he started to explore her body with more enthusiasm and Aphrodyte threw herself backwards with abandon making it easier for him to explore her body. It had been Alyse herself who had told Ximene that in Egypt this couple had been known as Osiris and Isis. In Egypt they were considered to be not only lovers but brother and sister. Ximene smiled. In the end it was a pleasing opening.
Another young man walked across the centre of the room. Aphrodyte rose to her feet and briefly rose to the tips of her toes raising her hands above her head. The young man stood still, transfixed. Ximene found herself repeating the key aspects of the story. Mere mortals had only to get the briefest glimpse of Aphrodyte to become overcome with love. The young man removed his clothes and as if in a trance moved towards Aphrodyte.
Again Ximene smiled, the naked man, the fully clothed goddess, quite different from other presentations she had seen, but very pleasing to the eye. Alyse would really enjoy this role! Aphrodyte walked round the young man stroking his limbs and admiring his muscles. Suddenly she dismissed him. He would not go! He went down on his knees in front of Aphrodyte. She shook her head and summonsed Dionysus, who offered the young man a glass of wine. He accepted and was led away by Dionysus to the edge of the forest where he was given more and more wine. Eventually, the rejected suitor lost consiousness.
The narrator broke in.
‘Thus we see that the gods have ultimate power over ordinary mortals’
Then there was an audible intake of breath from the whole audience. A huge black man walked to centre stage. Ximene had persuaded Felix, the captain of one of her ships to take part. Felix was a giant nearly twice the bulk of Alyse. Aphrodyte repeated her short dance and Felix also stood transfixed. He made rather more of a performance of removing his clothes and his body justified that. He was simply beautifully built. Once again Aphrodyte walked around him stroking him admiringly. She spent much longer than she did with her first suitor but in the end dismissed him in the same way. He sat alongside the first suitor, and plied with drink by Dionysos also collapsed into unconciousness.
The narrator again.
‘But some men are themselves demi-gods’
Another man carrying a shepherd’s crook emerged from the gates. Again he was very good looking and had an admirable build. For the third time Aphrodyte performed her short dance. The shepherd watched her in admiration but did not react. Clearly he was immune to the goddess’ spell. Aphrodyte appeared to be shocked and ran into the forest. Dionysus approached the shepherd and gave him a very large glass of wine. The shepherd sipped the wine. Aphrodyte reappeared, now wearing a long cloak and also carrying a shepherds staff.
The narrator again.
‘The shepherd is Anchises of Troy, and the goddess is forced to adopt a human form’
Aphodyte put down her staff and commenced to dance around Anchises. Anchises watched her admiringly but still remained immune to her charms. Aphrodyte threw down her cloak, revealing a long diaphanous gown. Her body could clearly be seen beneath the gown as she danced. Anchises took another deep draught from his glass but showed no other reaction.
Aphodyte tugged at the neck of her gown and it fell away. She could now be seen to be wearing golden breast coverings held in place by gold chains around her neck and across her back. She wore a narrow gold silk band wrapped around her waist, and upper thighs. She stopped circling Anchises and stood in front of him dancing slowly on the spot by moving her weight from one foot to the other whilst swaying her hips and raising and lowering her arms. Slowly and deliberately, looking Anchises directly in the eyes she reached behind her neck and undid the chain. She then repeated the process for the chain around her back. She slowly removed her breast plates and threw them at Anchises.
He caught them effortlessly and examined them, biting to see if they were real gold. He glancing back at Aphrodyte indolently as if to check if she was still there. Aphrodyte now grasped the end of the silk scarf and spun around. The scarf dangled from her hand and she stood before Anchises totally naked. He now slowly got to his feet and pulled Aphrodyte roughly to him. He caressed her and lifted her clear of the floor. She lay with the middle of her back over his shoulder, arms stretched out behind her. Anchises kept her balance by holding one of her legs. As he carried her towards Troy, she lifted the other leg into the air in a gesture of ecstasy. They went into the gates.
There was then a long silence. Eventually a wooden horse was pulled into view. A group of men carrying swords rushed into the centre of the area, hesitated and ran into the gates of Troy. Flames and smoke issued from the gate. The spectators on top of Troy were genuinely alarmed and ran for their lives. The effect was most realistic. They streamed across the hall towards the forest before realising there was no danger and turned to watch. A man then appeared carrying Anchises, who was now wearing a long grey wig. Aeneus, son of Anchises and Aphrodyte was rescuing his father from the ruins of Troy.
The narration made sure that everyone understood the plot.
‘Aeneus saves his father from the fall of troy. He is the son of Anchises and Aphrodyte and therefore a demi-god
Anchises was carried by Aeneus to a curtain still drawn across one corner of the hall. They vanished behind the curtain.
Another pause. Trumpets sounded, the curtain was drawn back and there on the wall was the unmistakable image of Rome with its seven hills and Romulus and Remus being suckled by a wolf.
The narrator again ‘Aeneus was the ancestor of Romulus and Remus who founded Rome.’
Aeneus then reappeared but wearing the uniform of a roman soldier. Another roman soldier advanced to meet him.
“Hail Caesar” was his greeting.
Ximene was pleased that a device other than the narrator had been used to identify Caesar. A naked Aphrodyte and an unbearded Anchses reappeared to stand alongside and slightly behind Caesar. They walked to the centre of the hall posed briefly and then walked forward to bow in front of the prince. Ximene was delighted. This final pose was symbolic of the fact that through Anchises, Aeneaus and Romulus. Caesar claimed descent from Aphrodyte. It worked well!
The narrator again ‘ Through his union with Cleopatra, Caesar’s descendants, including our beloved Prince are descended from god’s, because of this descent they have the right to rule the world.’
The whole audience applauded.
Joining in the spirit of the presentation, the Prince moved forward and kissed both Caesar and Anchises on both cheeks as if they were indeed his aged relatives. He then turned and hugged and kissed the naked Alyse, who visibly enjoyed the experience.
Ximene wished it could be done again. There was much she wanted to improve. In a Cathar function the two main characters would have made love on the stage. Ximene felt that even though the audience were in the main adherents to the Church of Rome, more could have been done to simulate the love-making.
No one else seemed to have noticed any deficiencies. They were fulsome in their praise of Ximene’s effort!
It did not affect her own opinion, she wanted to do it again and do it better!
The Prince broke off from his conversation with Alyse and hurried to Ximene’s side.
‘Wonderful, Wonderful, but before I get distracted, is there somewhere private where we might talk? There is something of great importance in which I think you might be able to help me.’