The Shadow Without a Name
8th September 1362
John awoke to the sound of movement on the deck. He seemed to have been in the dark confinement of the stable for a very long time. Aware that horses can not lie flat for much more than two hours, he had put Helios back in the stall as soon as the horse had tried to rise.
Continual vertical movement meant that as soon as Helios moved, John himself had to move rapidly to avoid being crushed.
In the dark, merely finding the padded rails to make Helios safe in the stall was a major challenge. Fortunately Helios trusted him and showed remarkable patience as the task was carried out.
Now the movement of the ship was minimal. A thoughtful sailor removed the hatch cover as streams of crystal light illuminated the whole of the centre of the stable. John carefully examined Helios alternating between stroking and whispering as he searched for any potential injuries,
The activity on deck continued for nearly half an hour. Eventually the door to the forecastle was un-boarded and the door thrown open. John turned and stuck his head out of the door inhaling a breath of invigorating fresh air . The wind had dropped, the sea sparkled in the afternoon sunshine, the sails had been reset and the drone pulled in.
Taviano waved from the quarter deck pointing at the sky.‘The Bora has gone to lunch.’ John climbed from the weather deck to join him. Taviano continued. ‘It dropped away yesterday afternoon as well but strengthened again before we could raise the sails.
‘John screwed up his eyes against the light. ‘How long were you below?’
‘Nearly Twenty-four hours. It is difficult to know when to raise the sails again. The use of the drouge really does stabilise the ship, to the point where it is possible to think the weather is better than it really is and to raise the sails too quickly.’
‘After such a long period below decks, how do you know were we are.’
‘I knew our heading and I knew that with the drogue out we would move very slowly. Now for you… I will perform a little miracle, just keep your eyes to tribord.’
Minutes went by during which John continued to scan the horizon.
‘Nothing’ he said.
‘Keep looking, there now’
‘Still can’t see anything. Oh! Maybe I can a thin dark line.’
‘Yes, that will be somewhere between Barletta and Monopoli. We will edge closer to the coast and arrive in Brindisi before dark.’
The Emir and his entourage, the guards, Ximene, and Yvette emerged from below decks. They all looked grey.
The Emir ushered his wives back into the main cabin and Yvette ran to the Stern rail where she was violently sick . Ximene ran towardsYvette,who turned and smiled. ‘ I am much better now, that bout of sickness resulted from just just thinking about what happened below decks. Aquila I have got to say, after this, I do not think sailing is much fun.’
Ximene nodded ‘Yes it was grim and I have learned a lesson from it. The reason it was so horrible was that this ship is overcrowded. I will never make that mistake again.
It just shows the threat to us posed by Du Guesclin. We had to leave Venice in a hurry. He drove us to make mistakes. When we disembark at Brindisi we must reorganise ourselves. This ship must be cleaned from to to bottom so that it can take us to Palermo. The Emir and his party will board our other ship which will take them back to Caraman. We will hire a ship in Brindisi to take the guards to Palermo and rendezvous with them there. I promise you, sailing can be and will be enjoyable. Now where is Brindisi?’
It proved to sail directly into the inner harbour. The main city of Brindisi was a rounded peninsula with arms of the harbour on either side of it. It was connected to the Adriatic by a narrow fortified channel. Only the last twenty metres had required the use of oars.
Once they were tied up it, the Emir and his entourage transferred immediately to the ship which had been reserved for him, even though it would not sail until the following morning. His last words were to John.’Train my guards well and when your task in Al Andalus is complete I hope you will accompany them when they return to Karaman.’
John nodded and bowed. He watched the Emirs party walk down the dock. once they had sadly boarded the other ship. Taviano gathered the guards together and ushered them down a side street leading off the harbour. He turned round to discover Ximene doing some ushering of her own. She stood in the door of the main cabin gestured John to joint her. She had opened her sea chest which had been stored there. She rummaged in the chest and handed Yvette undergarments, a dress and a cloak. ‘ We will spent the rest of the trip until we reach Cartagena in western dress,Yvette…you are close to my own size, would you like to wear red or cream?… John your clothes are also here do you want to change?’
‘Yes, I think it is essential, it will attract less attention and break the trail. We left Venice as part of the Emir’s household be here we will be a group of travellers, merchants perhaps.’
‘ Good, that will suit me well. I do want to visit the trading houses just to see what is available, and perhaps, just perhaps we will buy new clothes.’
She threw her arms in the air. ‘I feel quite exited, freedom! it is a little stultifying pretending to be the Emir’s wife.’
At this stage John was naked, arranging his clothes on the bed. Ximene hurriedly pulled off her Burqua and pantaloons and grabbed him by the arm, pulling him into an embrace and then kissing him full on the lips. John was taken by surprise and had not responded when Ximene stood back, eying him carefully. ‘Hmm, still not good with your hands, still much more practice necessary.’
She chortled, turned away and started to dress. John shook his head and picked up this shirt. They all changed chattering expectantly at the prospect of having several days freedom in a port as busy as Brindisi.
Yvette looked around her wide eyed. ‘We are leaving the ship dressed in only these? She ran her hands over her naked shoulders. This dress conceals nothing. Won’t I be attacked by the first man I meet.’
Yvette smoothed her hands over her breasts to her waist. The way the dress is pulled in at the waist, it emphasises my shape.’ She blushed ‘It is as though I am advertising myself, making myself available.’
John walked over and taking both her hands looked deep into her eyes. ‘Don’t worry, it is different. Women are given much more freedom. Here both men and women do dress to impress the opposite sex.’ He put his arm round her waist. When we go outside think of me as you big brother. I will not allow you to come to any harm’.
They all emerged onto the weather deck, where they exchanged glances with the crowds walking in both directions along the dock. Yvette tried her best to hide behind John.
‘The guards are safely lodged in suitable accommodation which in the past I have used myself. As you plan to stay here for two or three days in Brindisi, I have made arrangements for some rather special accommodation, as you requested, Aquila.’
Thus less than four hours after the end of the storm Ximene, John and Yvette, guided by Taviano climbed the steps from the inner harbour towards the twin columns which marked the end of the Appian Way. The steps were marble, worn smooth by the millions of people who had descended and climbed the stairs on their journeys between Rome and the East. Helios walked behind them, held by John on a long lead.
The numerous bars and restaurants which lined the steps were preparin for the serving of evening meals. the interiors were already lit by the amber glow of torches glowed in the light of torches. Not by accident some cooking was being carried out on the pavement. The aroma of cooking filled the street. A church clock somewhere in the vicinity chimed the quarter hour.
Ximene stopped, turned and looked back down the steps towards the harbour.
‘Wonderful, one of the best views in the world.’
Taviano broke in. ‘And tonight you will stay in another wonderful place. you are going to stay in the villa specifically built as accommodation for the Roman Emperors when they undertook the journey to or from the East. It was damaged and neglected during various invasions but then painstakingly restored by Frederich II’
John chuckled ‘Who was?’
Before Taviano could reply, Ximene bowed her head in feigned modesty, but then raised it again, eyes sparkling. She curtseyed. “Stupor Mundi, wonder of the world, king of Sicily, Holy Roman Emperor, excomunicated four times by the pope and… my great great grandfather’
John recited the end of Ximene’s statement in unison with her and they both laughed.
Yvette’s eyes widened ‘You are both descended from this Frederich II?’
John was still chuckling as he replied ‘ No, no only Ximene, it is just that I have heard it several times before.’
Ximene stopped laughing and straightened her face ‘Well you did ask me who he was. She turned and skipped up several steps. ‘Come on, lets get to the Villa.’
The Villa was not far beyond the pillars. A narrow street also clad in well worn marble led to a set of steps flanked with ornate balustrades, all gleaming white marble.
At Ximene’s invitation John used the heavy iron ring to knock on the door which squealed as it was opened. A tall man, slim but well muscled stood in the doorway. His face was adorned with a carefully shaped beard and he was dressed in a short roman chilton made of the finest linen.
A second much shorter man scurried out and took Helios’ reigns.
The tall man nodded. “Your magnificent horse will be safe in our stables”
He bowed and holding the door open indicated that they should enter. Behind the door the hallway took the form of an extended arch faced with travertine, illuminated by torches. The archway led to a large courtyard with a pool in the centre. Steam rose from the pool into the night air.
The attendant nodded towards the pool. ‘It is heated using passageways underneath which act as flues for a large furnace at the rear of the building. The baths are much hotter than the pool.
The four visitors looked around in awe. The courtyard was open to the sky. Around the pool was a paved area ten feet wide. This paved area was covered in turquoise and silver mosaic. An arched cloister ran around the periphery of the paved area and twelve equally spaced travertine columns supported the inner edge of the building which lay behind the cloister. An elaborate purple tapestry emblazoned with the roman symbol “SPQR” hung in front of every column.
The attendant pointed east where there was a terrace, also built of trevatine and behind the terrace a huge oblong window directly aligned with the inner harbour and beyond that the open Adriatic. However John discovered it was necessary to bend down to see the view. He turned to the attendant with a puzzled look on his face. The attendant answered the unspoken question. ’Ah yes the window has been positioned so that you can enjoy the view when lying on the couches. It is also positioned to make it easy to lower the shutter should the wind be too strong.’
There were indeed many couches on the terrace. Each couch was arranged alongside a column supporting the roof. Each column was founded on a large square plinth which doubled as a table for the adjacent couch .
The walls of the terrace were indented and each indent contained another smaller column surmounted by a bust. Most of the lighting was from oil lamps hung from brackets on the wall but on the terrace candles provided a gentler warmer illumination.
The attendant continued waving his arm to indicate the other side of the pool. “Over there is a lounge almost exactly the same as the terrace in size and configuration but totally enclosed. The flue’s pass under its floor and up the far wall.
He waved his arm back towards the entrance arch. ‘There are six bedrooms, three either side of the entrance. He turned through one hundred and eighty degrees. “On the far side there is an excellent thermae, with warm hot and cold rooms, massage slabs, and a dry lounge for recovery. We have not got separate facilities for men and women but you could be segregated by booking specific times.
Ximene smiled. ‘Thank you, but we know each other well no separate booking will be necessary. A bath is exactly what we want. We are travel stained and and do need to bathe.’ She looked up at the sky; it was now dark and there was the first glimmering of stars. ‘Can we use the thermae tonight?
There are certain arrangements I must make… would you like your masseuse to be male or female? Would you like the massage to be confined to your head neck and back or full body’ he glanced from one to another. ‘You do have a choice.’
Ximene spoke first ‘Female, fully body’. ‘Female full body’ said John. There was a long delay. They all looked at Yvette. She screwed up her face and wriggled her shoulders before visibly relaxing ‘male, full body.’ Ximene blinked and eyed Yvette carefully but then turned to the attendant.
Is there any difference between the bedrooms?’“Yes there is. The two bedrooms closest to the terrace are larger, considerably larger than the others”
‘We will take those then’
‘Excellent I will arrange for towels, robes and roman clothes to be brought to you.
Ximene poked her head into the bedroom nearest the terrace and drew a sharp breath. “Oh! it is wonderful’
The bed room was set out like a small ampitheatre. The lower level was the arena tiled with marble.
At either side of the arena were two huge baths. There were doors in the side walls, between the baths and the front wall. On the second level there was a second, but somewhat smaller amphitheatre, reaching out to the rear of the room. This second amphitheater was luxuriously carpeted in in pride of position was a large bed. A third level stretched across the rear of the room on which there were two couches similar to those on the terrace outside. above this third level there was a wall to wall window. Finally there was a fourth level split into two segments against each side wall. there was a couch on each of the two segments.
The walls, where visible, were travantine. The roof was draped with what looked like purple silk.
They all entered the room and gazed around. Yvette broke into a few steps of a dance.
Ximene laughed. “You are right Yvette, this is not so much a bedroom as a theatre.’
A female attendant arrived with towels, robes and roman clothes. She demonstrated the way that water flowed into the bath when a tap was opened. She nodded towards the roof there is a tank of water in the roof. When you have finished just pull the plug and the water will drain away. Do you need assistance with the bathing?
Ximene replied ‘No thank you, we will help each other’
John held up a tunic, and in the other hand a toga. ‘I really want to wear the toga but I haven’t a clue how to wear it.’
‘Don’t look at me, I have no idea’ said Ximene
She lifted up a bright red dress. There are only two of us but there must be ten different dresses here here. They are in different lengths. Some of them are very small, others are just like a tunic, voluminous and shapeless. Does one go over the other? I think we need help.’
She turned to seek agreement from Yvette, but found she was otherwise occupied.
She had found sandals with cork soles shaped to raise the wearer’s heels nearly two inches from the floor.
’I really like these shoes, look how they help define the muscles on the backs of my legs.Yvette lifted one leg from the floor, bent over backwards and gazed down at the other leg still planted firmly on the floor. She then shifted feet as if to check that the effect was the same for the other leg.
Ximene bent down and thrust her own feet into the unusual shoes. She looked down at her own feet, looked at the poses being struck by Yvette and smiled. ‘I think I agree with you but you ought to know that we are being given a roman experience and in ancient rome the use of high heels was reserved for prostitutes.’
‘ Really?’ Yvette looked totally unconcerned. ‘Well I still like them’
Ximene,still smiling, turned to the maid ‘ Can you give us some help in the wearing of Roman clothes?’
‘Of course I will help. for instance the red dress you are holding is actually only half a dress.’ She rummaged in the pile of clothes, ‘see here is the other half ‘ she climbed to the first level and placed the two halves the bed. There were two silken ties on one of the short ends of each garment which she tied together. These ties are adjustable but will hold the dress in place whilst the sides are laced and tightened. Now perhaps you will remove your clothes and we will fit the dress.’
Ximene removed her clothes and suddenly stopped. ‘Look I really do want to bathe first, can you come back in half an hour?’
‘No, I will stay Madame, whilst you bathe I will lay out all the clothes on the bed so that you can examine them and make a better choice.’
Ximene shrugged her shoulders. ‘John, it might be be quicker if you go next door to bathe. John looked surprised but gathered up towels, a gown and the toga and made for the door. He stopped and addressed the maid. Will you come and help me with the toga a little later?’The maid smiled warmly.’Of course’
Ximene and Yvette climbed into one of the big baths. Yvette sat between Ximene’s legs and Ximene started to soap her back. A rich floral aroma instantly filled the room.The maid busied herself laying out clothes until the bed was covered. She then announced she was going to help John.
Ximene leaned forward so that her mouth was close to Yvette’s ear. ‘You chose a male masseur. I was surprised. Why did you do that?’
Yvette stared at the ceiling for what seemed a very long time before she replied.’ It is all part of the fact that I feel exposed walking through the streets, under the gaze of so many men, with my hair, face and upper part of my body on view. You are all telling me that it nothing to worry about but if I am to be comfortable in your society I must get used to it. It seems to me that to be massaged by a man in a controlled situation could break down many of my perceptions. She half turned her head. ‘I could ask you the same question… why did you choose a female masseuse?’
Ximene pursed her lips. ‘It is a good question. One which I had never considered. In fact although we were taught massage as part of our transition it was sexual not therapeutic massage. This will be the first time I have received professional massage. Quite possibly if it had not been dressed up as a “roman” experience I would not have agreed to take part. Now, I am looking forward to it. A new experience which has me quite exited. How I wonder does a therapeutic massage differ from a sexual massage? Normally the only way I would ever consent to a man laying his hands on me is if I had known him for a lengthy period and been able to access him as a human being, not just as a lover.
Yvette pulled a doubtful face. ‘How can you access that in advance?’
‘Experience I suppose. For me it is also important that the man have gone through a Cathar transition and therefore has been trained in how to give and receive pleasure. It saves me having to do it.
However when I first met John Stanley, it was different. I was convinced by my grandmother that he was the man I needed. I was young and impressionable. My grandmother encouraged me. To ensure I got his attention I deliberately seduced him.’
‘And you grandmother knew about this?’
‘Possibly not, I was surprised by my own actions, it is not the Cathar way. As it turned out it was not an easy road to take. John had no sexual experience at all. He was clumsy beyond belief. My grandmother knew that I was struggling and intervened. She arranged for him to experience a brief version of a cathar transition. It saved our relationship.
However all that was an exception I would prefer any man I have contact with is a cathar and has experienced cathar training in sexual issues. As a first experience of public massage I would feel more relaxed with a female.’
They tried to switch positions but in a now slippery bath they failed completely, they both stood up and soaped each other down.They then sank down in the bath facing each other and commenced the process of washing away the creamy layer of soap.
Yvette took a deep breath ‘I am getting a little confused. you are saying men who have not received Cathar training are not to be trusted?
Just then John re-enterd the room , wearing the toga.
He paused and raised his free arm. ‘Ridiculously easy, wearing a toga , once you know how’
Yvette gazed at John her eyes sparking. ‘The toga suits you’
Yvette then cast her eyes downwards before slowly raising her head to look John in the eye. “Sir John I have a question to ask. Aquila thinks highly of you both as a man and as a lover, I now know you did receive Cathar training, that you did go through the transition. I think I have learned that you were not brought up as a Cathar? What did you feel about being asked to undergo that training?’
John pursed his lips. ‘Aquila, found me and rescued me… yes I think that is the right word, rescued me. I was then groomed not just and Aquila, but also by her grandmother, when they were satisfied that I was a good man, and I believe I am a good man, they then set about making me a good, well… competent lover. ‘
‘What do you mean rescued?’
‘Until I met these two, I had no idea about women. The Church of Rome teaches that sex, all sex is sinful. It should be solely reserved for the procreation of children and even then attempts to prolong the pleasure are a sin. This teaching, I have come to believe, is discriminatory in itself. Men can obtain pleasure from sex relatively easily but for women it is often more difficult . At school we were threatened with hellfire and damnation if we indulged “impure” thoughts and that might simply admiring a member of the female sex. Within half an hour, in the castle Which was Aquila’s family home, all that was changed.’
‘Within half an hour?’
‘Two of Aquila’s Friends offered themselves as my partners and under the expert guidance of Lady Eleanor, Aquila’s grandmother, I learned that sexual pleasure is wonderful, that women can share in that experience and that women are not the devil’s agents.’
‘The Church of Rome teaches that men are encouraged to stray from the path of righteousness by women who use their charms, physical beauty, their bodies to seduce them into sin.’
Yvette’s eyes narrowed. ‘Men are weak and will fall into sin unless protected! You know that is not much different to Islam. Make the women cover themselves in voluminous clothes so that there is no hint of what lies beneath.
Islam goes further however. Give men enough wives that they are fully occupied in serving their wives needs and even then provide them with concubines so that all their pleasures are concentrated inside their own households.
I have been educated that in Islam, multiple wives and concubines is the natural order. Only now, living with you, am I beginning to realise that it deprives women of freedom; it reduces them all, wives as well as concubines to the status of slaves. Suddenly I understand the very nature of the Islamic religion is to create in women an acceptance of that slavery. However what I am still searching for is a viable alternative.’