John Stanley – 5th September 1362
Ximene’s voice rang out.’Enough! Enough! Release me!’
To his amazement the guard withdrew his whip and walked across to Ximene. There was submission in his every step. Slowly, carefully he undid Ximene’s bonds. She ran across to where John was still chained to the wall. She kissed him full on the lips. She put her hands behind his head and pulled her naked body against his. John could do nothing but hang in his chains and wonder what miracle this was.
One of the guards ran forward and started releasing him.
John realised that what he had just been through was theatre, pure theatre. He struggled to keep a balance between relief and fury that he should have been subjected to such deception.
Ximene came and stood beside him.
‘John, I have mislead you, this was game. You are not at any risk. I am not the Emir’s wife, he is my trading partner and allows me to pretend to be his wife. He has palaces made available to him in Genoa, Grenada, London and Alexandria and Tarsus as well as this one in Venice .
‘I had to be sure, it has been so long’ she said. ‘I had to be sure you still loved me.’
‘And this was the only way?’
‘The only way in the time available. I think now you deserve a better understanding of who I now am! But first tonight I want to start again. Pretend you have just met me. Tell me how beautiful I am’
She led him back to the pool.
Under the water John stroked her skin. She shuddered with enjoyment, rose to her feet , water cascading from he body and pulled him towards the bedroom.
She dived onto the bed and turning on her back stretched out her hands inviting him to join her
An hour later she slowly unravelled her arms from around John’s body.
‘That was wonderful … and it tells me something I needed to know, that you would risk your life to be with me.’
John’s only reaction was to force another kiss.
John was jerked into consciousness by the light streaming through the window.
He rose from the bed and opened the door to the balcony, then turned back to watch as Ximene reached out to hold him. Failing to find him she struggled into consciousness.
John shook his head, looked briefly across the rose coloured dawn over the city, sighed and went to sit beside her.
She turned and stared at John and then lowered her eyes.
‘Can you forgive me’
‘Perhaps’ He laughed and ruffled her hair. “Of course I can. but some explanations. You told me the Emire is your trading partner?’
‘Yes. for me it is very useful. Grenada, Alexandria and Karaman itself are Islamic States and there I can only travel freely in the company of the Emir. It means I can see for myself the quality of the merchandise in the trade markets. My trading company provides the Emir with his travel so in fact I am always travelling on one of my own ships.’
Your own ships! You have extended your fleet to the Mediterranean?
‘With the help of many people, people you know, and people you don’t know, yes I have made much progress. It has not all been successful. You know that my objective was to set up a cathar homeland where they would be free from persecution and my trading company was intended as a cover for transporting Cathars who were at risk to this new haven.’
‘Well I have done none of that. I have had negotiations with both King John and with King Edward. The answers are virtually the same, as long as Catharism is kept secret they will take no action against us.’
‘Isn’t that what you wanted?’
‘Absolutely not, if it means living a life full of fear. with the spectre of the inquisition lurking in the background. However it has been suggested to me by King Edward that I could organise opposition to the Pope within the existing church. By subversion of his own priests and bishops his power base could be destroyed and Catharism could again flourish. Not something which would happen quickly.’
John bowed his head. ’You obviously feel last night proved something to you, but tell me how might I have behaved differently?’
He lifted his head to gaze into Ximene’s eyes.
She smiled and grasped his hand .’You might have pleaded for your own life and abandoned me to my fate. In fact even in those circumstances which I invented, your only concerns were for me. It means a lot to me.’
She kissed him. ‘It was necessary because I am about to ask you to do something inherently dangerous. We have been appart for a lengthy perion, we have both beem busy. It would have been unfair to expect you to do it if you were not still committed to me. Forgive me John.’
She kissed him again.‘Yes extremely dangerous’
She kissed him a third time. The third kiss won him over. He looked at her with a wary look in his eye. ‘I suppose it proved to me how much I love you! Perhaps now you can tell me exactly what you want me to do.’
She gave him one of her incendiary smiles. ‘Not now’ she said ‘As I promised you last night I think first of all you should get a better understanding of who I now am.’ She glanced through the door at the sunrise. ‘Now however we both have an appointment at the tournament.’
It was not the ideal preparation for a tournament. As he arrived at the lists, he was still preoccupied with thoughts of Ximene. As the day unfolded he counted himself extremely lucky to have defeated his opponents. He did not perform well, made many mistakes and yet by the end of the day he had reached the final round.
Ximene stayed until his final bout was complete.
John then lingered to congratulate the winners and commiserate with the loosers. He drank a couple of mugs of ale but his heart was not in it. As soon as he thought it was reasonable to leave he hurried to the quay and hired a gondola to take him back to the pallazzo. He rested, changed into his eastern clothes but saw no one. He wondered where Ximene was, or more specifically what was she planning?