Chapter seven of Thread A — John’s rescue and recovery
Ximene Trencavel- 4 July 1355
‘Listless, disinterested, difficult to talk to?’
‘No not always.’
Guillam poured himself a mug of wine from a small barrel and sat down, across a table from Don Fernandino.
‘What do you think, will he totally recover? How long will it take?’
Don Fernandino narrowed his eyes. he nodded towards Ximene. ”Ximene and I spoke to Estevan this morning and he is very optimistic, but the decision on when to take him off the potion is difficult. If he takes him off it too quickly John could suffer significant pain, which could inhibit his physical progress, but what you have just described as listlessness is probably a side effect of the portion. You sound anxious. Have you some information we don’t know about.’
Hmm, his condition is different from what I have seen previously and it is putting questions in my mind. I am wondering how long we will be here. Ximene cannot live in this cellar forever. If you want to leave for Sicily I will stay here and look after John whilst you carry out your original plan.
Ximene put down the jug of water she was carrying, walked determinedly across to the table and sat down next to Don Fernandino facing Guillam. ‘No Guillam, I am not going to leave him. Do you understand? I am not going to leave him.’
Don Fernandino leaned back in his chair, folding his arms behind his head. ‘My original plan was to become gypsies. I intended to hide the gypsy wagon in Toulouse. At that time of the year, there are gypsies on all the roads leading to Rennes les Bains. Both Ximene and myself are dark in complexion so it would have taken little effort to assume a gypsy identity. Whilst everyone scoured the countryside we would have been quite safe in a small house which earlier in the year I had rented in Rennes.
Then, in early September when the gypsies move south into Aragon, we would have travelled with them. We would have then continued to Sicily on a commercial vessel out of Barcelona.’
Guillam stood back and stared at Don Fernandino ‘So even then, you had decided not to use Les Étoiles to take Ximene to Sicily?’
‘Emphatically as I told you there is a problem with Les Étoilles’
‘With Les Étoiles? Not Thierry d’Arques?’
‘Ah! Thierry again. It’s Thierry you’re worried about. Why?’
‘I never satisfied myself that he was not involved when you were kidnapped in Port Vendres.’
‘Yes, I know.’ Don Fernandino pressed his lips together before continuing. ‘You know I have thought about it and I don’t believe he was in any way involved.’
Ximene frowned. ‘ At Muret, Thierry told me that you had sent him to Muret to tell us of your kidnap and to warn us of a potential security breach. Did you send him?’
Yes I did. It was the only way I could warn you. As I have just said I trust him.
Guilliam raised his eyebrows. ‘I only hope you are right. This chateau is very isolated. I believe that anyone who came to believe Ximene was in this locality would be drawn here… or to St. Ferriole. Estevan lives in St.Ferriole and he knows how to get into the cellar. Is there any chance that Thierry d’Arques could know our location?’
‘No. Emphatically not. It is not something I have ever discussed with him.’
Hmm, it would not require you to tell him, couldn’t he find out from some third party?’
Don’t think so. The only people who know that my safe house is under Chateau Mazerou are you, me, Ximene and Maurice.
Guillam stared at Don Fernandino. ‘What about everybody else who has taken advantage of cover here over the last few years?
Don Fernandino frowned. ‘Oh! Yes at least fifty of them, but they would never have been brought here if they were in any way a security risk.
‘ But suppose they then travelled with Thierry D’Arques, who is a captain or manager with “Les Etoiles“. They would have seen him as someone they could trust, they could have talked to him.”
Don Fernandino frowned. ‘ I suppose it is possible. However, I have much greater concerns about “Les Etoiles” and I think you share those concerns.’
Guillam responded quickly. ‘And isn’t Theirry a member of that organisation’
Don Fernandino frowned. ‘ Yes, but don’t forget… so am I, and until recently so were you.’
‘So the problem is ‘Les Etoiles” as an organization?’
‘Precisely. they came into being to transport Catharsaway from the inquisition but their role has changed. I no longer trust them, they have been infiltrated.’
Gilliam eyed Don Fernandino querulously. ‘Tell me again. How safe are we here? The rest of “Les Etoiles” have absolutely no knowledge of this facility?’
Don Fernandino smiled. ‘I understand your caution. However, Maurice, the manager here, is my agent. I recruited him specifically for this purpose. He does not do it for money. He wants to do something to help his fellow Cathars. He has no knowledge of my other contacts and he has no reason and no mechanism to contact “Les Etoiles”’ directly
‘And the Bishops?’ Don Fernandino shook his head.’
Don Fernandino tucked his top lip inside his lower lip, frowned but then continued. ‘In fact, the Bishops help the security here. They have established the whole of this valley as a hunting reserve and have declared that anyone who trespasses on it is automatically excommunicated. It is more effective than any law a king may pass. No one, I repeat, no one enters the valley. But you know that. I discussed it with you just after you rescued me in Perpignan. Those who seek refuge here can move through the valley in perfect confidence. If they stay away from the road which runs up to St Feriole, there is absolutely no risk!
Guillam smiled. ‘I am only doing what my training taught me to do. Question everything!’
Don Fernandino leaned forward and touched his hand.
‘I know, I know’ he said gently. ‘But I assure you; Ximene and John are safe. No one will ever know they are here. As far as anyone else is concerned, they have vanished without a trace. ’
Guillam rose, placing his hands on the table and leaning forward so that his face was close to Don Fernandino’s. ‘So what do you intend now?’
Don Fernandino scratched his cheek ‘Sit down, Guillam, there is no conflict here, we both want to do the best we can for Ximene. In many ways, the gypsy ruse might still be the best option. However, an empty house in Rennes les Bains might just have attracted some attention and all the gypsy artefacts which were an important part of the disguise are still in Perpignan. He turned to face Ximene. ‘I don’t really want to move you at all until I have found out who organized my own kidnap and who was behind the attacks on you. I think that the two events are linked, it may take some time to establish the facts.’
He smiled in Guillam’s direction. ‘So you see there is a little more time for John to fully recover.
He turned again to Ximene. Let’s start right now. ‘Tell me everything you know, from the time you decided to escape from the hunt.’