Fourth Chapter of Thread A — John’s Recovery
John survives the journey but his long term prospects are far from certain. In the secret cellars under Chateau Mazerou, Ximene meets Estevan, the physician who they hope can save John’s life and Don Fernandino who she hopes will guide her to Sicily. Estevan treats John with a potion which will deaden the pain and promote healing.
Ximene Trencavel-22 June 1355
The belligerent trader backed away instantly, even giving his apologies.
As they moved north Ximene looked over her shoulder and watched as the trader moved slowly back towards the town. She looked admiringly at Guillam. ‘ Well done, but why did he give up so easily?’
Guillum forced a smile. ‘The safe house we were heading to is more of a palace than a castle, which is surprising considering how close to the Aragonese border it lies. Apparently, it was used by the Franks for secret negotiations with the Aragonese. It was riddled with hidden passageways and secret entrances so that meetings could be held without even the servants being aware of them. There is a belief that in earlier times it was owned by the Trencavels, your ancestors.
The Château now belongs to the Bishops of Albi, who use it infrequently as a summer retreat. The bishops have long used a local appointee to manage the estate for them. In exactly the same way that Sabastien gained control of Monsegur, an agent of Don Fernandino has effective control of Mazerou. It is now managed and staffed by people who work for the agent.
The passageways were blocked off long ago but, importantly, large cellars, which cannot now be accessed from the house can still be reached by one remaining secret passageway. That is where we will hide you whilst John is treated.’
‘I still don’t understand. That man? Why did he leave us so quickly?’
‘Because the bishops are known to rule with a rod of iron or rather a rod of grace. They excommunicate anyone who crosses them. The whole town of Quillian has been excommunicated on more than one occasion!’
‘And that really matters?’
‘That really matters the way the Roman Church presents it. Without grace from the sacraments and particularly without burial in holy ground, one is condemned to eternal damnation!’
They left Quillian behind and with great relief, just after midday, arrived within sight of Château Mazerou. Guillam turned to Ximene and frowned. ‘Nearly six hours, longer than I would have hoped for.’
Guillam quickly established his credentials with the manager of the Château.
Maurice, the manager, seem excessively jolly for someone with such a potentially stressful task. ‘Everything is ready but the bishops are due to arrive from Albi anytime now, so you will be unable to use any of the Château facilities, not even the stables.’
He nodded towards a relatively modern structure across the courtyard from which a row of horses were watching with great curiosity.
Maurice guided them down a track to a deserted, dilapidated farm. Behind the farm ran a small stream. They were lead across what had been an enclosed farmyard, A huge barn was built out of the side of the hill. Having threaded their way through piles of decrepit farm equipment, the manager led them into the barn and into a large tackle room where harnesses and saddles could be hung.
One wall was lined with cupboards, but when opened the middle cupboard was empty. Maurice carefully removed the shelving and pushed against the back wall. It disappeared into a dark recess, opening to a long tunnel. The first part of the tunnel was equipped as private stables, which could not be seen from the tackle room once the door was closed.
It was then necessary to make a stretcher. The manager took one end of the stretcher and Guillam took the other. The tunnel ran possibly a tenth of a league before they emerged into a rather elegant arched cellar lit with many torches. There was a bed already made up with mattresses and John was gently lifted on to it.
Ximene sniffed the air. ‘Incense? I know the smell from Foix, but why here?’
Almost immediately, a slim man emerged from a staircase, he limped slightly but looked otherwise well and rested. He wore his hair pulled back and tied at the back of his neck, simulating a ponytail, which accentuated both the height of his forehead and the length of his thin nose.
As he entered the cellar he carried a guitar. Not just any guitar but a guitar inlaid with marquetry outlined in shining silver. Ximene looked at him with a look of incredulity. This was Don Fernandino, the legend? This was the man who had supernatural powers? He was dressed simply as a troubadour with a white ruffled chemise and tight black hose. He sauntered across to the bed and dangled the guitar from one hand as he raised John’s cover with the other. He winced.
Despite the circumstances Ximene was fascinated by Don Fernandino’s hands; his fingers were exceptionally long and slender and his fingernails carefully manicured, not at all like a man’s hands. Close up she now saw that his face was covered with a network of fine lines.
A life of stress, premature ageing? But many of the lines were clustered around the corners of his eyes; She realised there was much laughter in his life!
When Don Fernandino spoke he created a totally different image, his voice was clipped but strong. ‘Don Fernandino at your service… and you, my dear, must be Ximene. You were asking about the incense. It is readily available here. Remember the Château upstairs is owned by the bishops of Albi. I find I quite like the smell but if it disturbs you…’ He bowed slightly.
Ximene shook her head. ‘ No it is fine I am sure I will get used to it. there are higher priorities’ she waved her hand towards where John was lying.
Don Fernandino nodded. ‘This young man is in a bad way, could you boil some water and clean him from head to toe whilst I go to find the physician?’ He obviously expected to be obeyed. He turned away, guitar still dangling from one hand and threw the other arm around Guillam.
‘Good to see you old friend. So you managed to get her out without bothering me.’
Guilliam nodded towards the bed. ‘This young man played no small part’ he lowered his voice, ‘and may pay for it with his life.’
Don Fernandino put down the guitar and lifted a black cloak from the wall. ‘Well then, we must save him’
The transformation was complete. From troubadour to a soldier in a second! He strode quickly across the room to where Ximene was filling a large pan with water. He gently compressed her shoulders between his hands. Ximene glanced over her shoulder, startled by his strength.
‘We will save him, my dear, the physician who will return with me is capable of miracles!’
Don Fernando returned within the hour. His face now looked hard; as if it had been hewn from granite. ‘There is nothing I can do.’ he said in a voice which said there should have been something he could do. ‘The physician, who is otherwise occupied cannot come before evening.’
He looked embarrassed, obviously, he considered that he had failed Ximene, who still busied herself attending to John and for no particular reason washed him for a second time.
She asked Don Fernandino about the Guitar.
‘ I am an entertainer. I sing and play the guitar. It enables me to move from place to place without attracting attention.’ Estevan, the physician, who I hope will arrive soon, is not only a doctor but a scientist and mathematician. He has provided me with an arrangement which makes my act unique.
It is an assembly of candles, mirrors and lenses which can focus the light from the candles into a beam. It all can be manipulated by a system of strings. When an entertainer performs under such a beam of light everyone sees him, everyone uses their imagination to make the entertainer the person they want him to be. Then at the end of the performance, when the beam is extinguished, the person they have created vanishes, he ceases to exist; until the beam focuses on him again, in some other place, at some other time.’
Ximene stared at him, reflecting how close his own explanation was to the legends which were told about him, the ability to simply disappear. ‘And as a singer, how are you known?’
I am known as The Shadow.
‘Just The Shadow, nothing else?’
‘ That is so my dear, I am The Shadow without a name.’