John Stanley – 22 July 1355
The next morning John and Ximene both rose early. As he pulled on his clothes, John was unsure how to treat Ximene. He thought through the events of the night.
He was regretful that he had been hardly able to move but consoled himself that there had been no need. Ximene had done everything…so much for treating her as if she was his sister. Images drifted in and out of his head just as they would have done if it had been merely a delightful dream. But it had been real! It had been wonderful. So wonderful that he was tempted… just tempted, to allow it to continue. He rejected the temptation and made a commitment to push himself to full recovery. That must take priority.
He was pleased when Ximene distracted him. She pointed to the wall behind the bed. ‘What do you make of that. John?’
Outlined on the wall was a pennant, the triangular shape of which was drawn in black. The pennant seemed to be mounted on a flagpole, or possibly lance, also drawn in black. On the pennant, close to the widest part of the pennant, there was a gold five-pointed star. On the area of the wall where pennant was drawn there were a series of cracks radiating out from and through the pennant.
John scratched the stone with his fingernails. ‘‘Despite all these cracks, the stone isn’t soft. Strange! it is almost like the cracks have been deliberately engraved. The colours? Black and gold, the same colours as your tabard. Is that a Trencavel pennant?’
‘Hmm, I think not… you are correct about the colours…I just don’t recognize it… thought I suppose it could be; given the history of this place. It is a bit military for a bedroom don’t you think?
Ximene knelt on the bed to get a closer look and shook her head. ‘it’s hardly a work of art, but I can live with it.
Later in the morning, John announced he wanted to explore the surrounding countryside. ‘We should study the model on the landing and use that to decide where to go.’ They spent several minutes studying the model. John traced with his finger a valley running to the east from Mazerou. ‘This is where we should go.’
‘How accurate do you think this model is?’ asked Ximeme.
John grimaced. ‘No idea, but we will soon find out.’
An hour later, having checked there was no flag on the tower, he walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.
Eventually, they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop.
John turned to Ximene. ‘ Hmm, the model was remarkably accurate. I feel that we have been almost guided to this place. It bears an uncanny resemblance to the Elysian Fields I dreamed of when I was close to death.’
He told Ximene of the dream and how she had come to him in the dream. “ If it had not been for you I might well have died. However, I have survived and now we are living in what feels like Paradise. I can’t remember, is Paradise beyond the Elysian Fields?’
He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’
Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.
She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’
John took a deep breath.
‘You are a Goddess.’ He paused, making sure that Ximene knew he was gazing at her. ‘I have no real idea what a Greek Goddess should look like! Did they really wear so little clothing! Anyway, they could not have been more beautiful than you are today!
John flung his arms around Ximene and kissed her full on the lips but then instantly broke away.
‘I have work to do’