63 — Atonement

John Stanley – September 1355

They rushed down into the stables. There they found a covered cart of the type used for transport within towns. This mode of transport was shunned by all but the elderly for longer distance travel because the continual jarring from rough roads was considered unacceptable. John wondered why Don Fernandino would have resorted to such transport.
The answer was soon apparent. Don Fernandino reached into the cart and then dragged out a heavily cloaked female figure. Her hands were tied together she had a gag over her mouth and a blindfold over her eyes. Don Fernandino guided her to the room in which Ximene had, only minutes before, staged the knighting ceremony. He seated her on one of the benches surrounding the central fenced enclosure, separated her hands but tied each hand firmly to the fencing. He then pulled down the hood of her cloak and removed her blindfold.
Both Ximene and John recoiled in astonishment. It was Phillipa de Roet. Ximene rushed forward to comfort her friend. Don Fernandino pulled Ximene back gently but firmly.
‘Before you jump to any conclusions let me inform you why I have found it necessary to constrain Phillipa in this fashion.’
Phillipa struggled fruitlessly against her bonds. Don Fernandino undid her gag.
She burst into full voice immediately.
‘This is ridiculous’ she said. ‘What I am supposed to have done’
Don Fernandino then patiently explained that during the time he had been away he had explored every possible security leak for his own kidnapping, the attack during the hunt at Muret and the possible assassination. Having talked to many people he had come to the conclusion that there was a very specific informant in the Château de Foix and that the source of the informant’s information was Phillipa. Don Fernandino felt that she had not been misguided or malicious. All she had done was talk far too openly about what she knew.

John could not believe what he was hearing. he moved closer to Ximene.

Phillipa listened carefully but then objected.
‘You have got it wrong. I did know about the plan to kidnap Ximene but not far enough in advance for it to have triggered everything else.’
Don Fernandino thought for a moment. ‘I did not say that there were no others involved, but the initial information came from you.’
Phillipa shook her head and again struggled against her bonds.
Don Fernandino reached forward and grasped her chin, pulling her head into a position where she could not help but look into his eyes.
‘Hmm. It was certainly your loose tongue which led to our other problems but in fact, that is not why I have brought you here in bonds.’
He released her chin. He had achieved what he wanted. Phillipa continued to gaze directly into his eyes. He continued. “Despite what you had done I was happy to leave you in Bordeaux, where you could do no further damage, at least to us, but now? What were you doing following me in disguise. It was quite well done. Like most travellers, I joined a  group travelling in the same direction. It gave me extra security which demanded little organisation. The groups were organised by the hosts at the various inns I stayed at. On the second day, I found myself  riding alongside a very likeable young man who made a point of striking up a conversation. The next day a different young man was in the group. I thought nothing of it however  when we left  Muret.  I knew I was being followed. Four men and a woman. it was quite  I recognised you and decided to allow you to continue doing so until we reached Carcassone. I then snatched you away into the night, using Cathar trails. Before I left for Bordeaux, I had moved the wagon to Couisa and so I was able to hide you in it for the last leg of the journey. but now we have another group dashing around the countryside looking for Ximene
Phillipa turned her head to look at Ximene, her eyes pleading for assistance.
‘I followed him because I heard him talking to the Earl of Salisbury about John’s injury and knew he would lead me to you Ximene. ‘She then lifted her voice speaking to everyone in the room. ‘She is my very best friend.’
It was Don Fernandino’s turn to shake his head.
He turned away from Phillipa and looked directly at Ximene.
‘There is absolutely no guarantee that she will not betray us again. She is a gossip who gathers information of a confidential nature specifically so that she can pass it on to others. She enjoys the feeling of power this gives her. It is a characteristic which is very hard to correct.’
He paused and made sure he had Ximene’s attention before continuing.
‘I very nearly solved the problem before I snatched her away. I knew I was being followed and it would have been much easier to kill her than to capture her. To kill her as painlessly as possible is still an option.’
A look of horror crossed Ximene’s face.
‘A second option would be to consign her as a long term prisoner to one of the galley’s owned by Les Étoiles. She could take a turn on the oars and perhaps cook for the crew. There are not many women prisoners on the galleys and the presence of such a pretty girl would be good for… morale aboard the vessel.’
Ximene’s expression turned from horror to disgust.
‘Then again we could sell her into some eastern Sultan’s harem.’
Don Fernandino was acutely aware of Ximene’s reaction to his suggestions.
“There is a fourth alternative which you may consider, because, My Lady, the decision is yours to take and she is your friend” he paused. “It is your safety which we are trying to protect” he paused again “We must drive into her mind the fact that although it was done in all innocence, her behaviour has put us all at risk and caused the deaths, directly or indirectly, of a large number of people. What I recommend is that she confesses her guilt and then receives a good whipping so that her guilt and the pain of the whipping are indelibly linked in her mind.”
Phillipa’s mouth fell open. Her eyes stared in disbelief.
John moved forward and stood face to face with Don Fernandino.
“I have recently seen a whipping and know just how brutal a punishment it can be”
Don Fernandino looked at John sympathetically. “It depends what kind of a whipping you have witnessed. Objectives vary. If the whipping is intended to impress or frighten a crowd, I agree that the outcome is brutal and bloody. If however the whip is applied simply as a corrective measure it can give just the required amount of pain without actually breaking the skin. It is, when applied in this way, one of the most effective and considerate forms of corporal punishment”
He turned again to Ximene.
“The decision is yours My Lady”
For the second time he placed emphasis on giving Ximene a title. John knew instantly that Don Fernandino was deliberately testing Ximene. If she was indeed to rule her own kingdom then she would have to deal with issues of guilt and punishment virtually every day.
Once again Phillipa looked pleadingly at Ximene
Don Fernandino repeated himself with a tone of urgency creeping into his voice
“The decision is yours My Lady”
Ximene turned away and thought for what seemed to be a very long time. She did not want to appear weak. She wanted Phillipa to suffer the minimum punishment. However she had no idea how much punishment would satisfy Don Fernandino or indeed how much punishment was necessary to achieve the desired effect.
John watched her carefully and for a moment he saw the look of defeat cross her face, which he had last seen in the tent at Muret. Events were not unfolding the way she would have wished. Then as he watched he saw her face suddenly stiffen with resolve. Her solution was totally unexpected.
She turned and faced Don Fernandino.
“I remember from my own childhood that the humiliation associated with the way punishment was administered was as powerful a deterrent as the punishment itself. To satisfy you I can see that any punishment will have to be administered in public. The only people available to us are those present here and the manager and his staff from upstairs. Therefore Thierry, can you go upstairs and invite whoever is on duty to join us here, I see no reason to delay the inevitable.”
Thierry left to do her bidding. Ximene continued to speak.
“You may have gathered from my previous comments that as a child I was occasionally punished. I was often told that I would be whipped but it only happened once and that I think was deliberately quite restrained. Therefore I have no means of deciding what is the appropriate level of punishment. I intend to find out. I feel I must share Phillipa’s guilt as I was the source of all the information you believe she misused. Therefore I must share Phillipa’s punishment”

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