As soon as they were back in John’s room Ximene jumped up and down with excitement.
‘We have a ship waiting now at Marghera. We should go there now and check everything is ready to sail. You must bring Helios to the ship and get him safely loaded.’
John looked at Ximene curiously. “How long will this trip take? Helios has crossed the English Channel many times, but even the worst trip only took just over twenty-four hours. He can sleep standing up but every couple of days he does need to lie down.’
‘Don’t worry. One of the cargoes we carry is high value horses. There are padded stalls but also there is a twelve foot square stable through which the horses can be rotated so that they all get a chance to lie down. Also, when we carry horses, we call in at ports frequently so that the horses can be exercised. I am planning to stop at Brindisi, Palermo, Caligari, La Sevina, Cartagena and Malaga. This will have a second purpose of giving you first hand knowledge of the ports we use.
Having the guards travelling with us should ensure that we will not be overcome by Pirates, Of course our main safeguard will be speed. A new ship awaits us in Palermo. It is larger and faster than any of the others.’
John frowned.‘ Sounds fine but what about horses for the guards?
What about you? Where will we get you a horse.’
Ximene smiled. ‘Some of the best horses in the world can be found in Castile and Grenada. We will hire or buy horses when we get there’
Now we need to talk to Yvette. She will become your wife and will assist in setting up your Harem.’
It was said in a very matter of fact tone. John’s head whipped round.
‘Yes, you heard what the Emir said. In Mulslim countries the lack of a wife is seen to lead to temptation, promiscuity or homsexuality, both forbidden by their religion. However the establishment of a Harem has its own set of protocols, Yvette understands these and will make sure it is done properly.’
‘I thought you were going to play the role of a man?’
‘Yes but that is where the harem is so useful. I can leave the harem any time I want and play my alternative role.
There will at least in theory be two harems
When we enter Granada and I emerge from the Harem, we will both be Princes of of Islam. We must comply with the sensitivities of Islam.
John turned away and groaned.
‘Harem ? Harems? This was all planned in advance, everything which has happened over the last few days was to make this possible.’
‘To a certain extent yes, but in any case for some time I have been planning to see you more often.’
‘More often! And yet at the same time you are planning to give me a harem?
‘Well at least a wife, we will have to see how that develops.’
John’s eyebrows rose on his brow.
There was a knock on the door
Ximene jumped to feet and ran to the door. She swung it open and was immediately enveloped in a fond embrace.
Breaking away she swung around holding the vistors hand. I want you to meet my wife Alyse. Alyse removed her voluminous outer garments. John gave Alyse a warm embrace and then swivelled round to look at Ximenr. ‘Wife?’
He then held both Alyse’s arms and stepped backwards so he was able to see her from head to toe.’
She was wearing the same costume which Ximene had worn at dinner two days earlier. The same translucent veil of finest silk held in position by the same golden cord studded with tiny diamonds .
The same breast covering or lack of it. the same fine gold wire mesh again studded with diamonds outlining and emphasising her breasts.
The same pantaloons and the same heavier gold chain passing beween her legs the same golden sandals.’
In the full light of day the costume concealed nothing.
His eyes opened wide, it was of course twelve years since he had last seen her. ‘ You look magnificent…absolutely magnificent’ he looked over his shoulder. ‘Wife?’
‘All part of the grand plan. Sit down Alyse. I was just in the middle of explaining this to John.’
Ximene poured three generous glasses of wine and seated herself of the edge of the bed.‘
‘When we get to Granada I will be a Prince of Islam so I will need to have my own wife. Alyse has volouteered.’
John took a sip of wine but then changed his mind and took a gulp. ‘Tell me more.’
Alyse roared with laughter. ‘The look on your face, John an absolute picture. Look I would have willingly volouteered to be a part of this adventure but in fact I had no option.’
She rocked her head from one side to the other. ‘You know I am now in the Queen’s service and am getting to know the king… quite well.’
The King and Queen sat me down the day after the got the news of what is happening in Castile and asked me to help… to return to Castile and gather information. When I left, with my sisters, it was getting very nasty. Idid not want to make the journey on my own and yet I did not really want to refuse the King so here I am, ready and willing.’
Ximene put her arm round Alyse’s shoulder.’ I doubted you would make it in time.’
Hmm If i hadn’t made it in time it would have been a lot of travelling for nothing. Venice is not exactly easy to get to. however I travelled as King Edward’s ambassador. Everything was done to make the travel as comfortable as possible. She
Ximene jumped to her feet. ‘Good I will now go and get Yvette to prepare her for her new role. and also in view of what we are planning, perhaps we need her advice.’
It seemed only minutes before Ximene’s returned with Yvette in attendance.
To John it was obvious that much preparatory work had already been done.
Ximene offered Yvette a glass of wine. Yvette took a sip and shuddered. ‘Ughh, i don’t know how you drink that stuff.’
Ximene grinned. ‘Tell us about harems, Yvette.’
Yvette looked from Ximene to John and back again. ‘What can I say? I have lived in harems all my life. I now work as your clerk but until today I have remained as part of the harem.’
John realised that that Yvette was finding it difficult to respond.
‘Just tell me what you think Yvette. Is it true that without a wife I will have no credibility, will be considered to be promiscuous or perhaps homosexual.’
Yvette looked at the floor. She gave no response
‘Must I keep my wife of wives in seclusion?, Must I keep you in seclusion’
Finally she lifted her head. ’If I had not been adopted by Aquila I could not have contemplated this discussion.’
She stood up and opened the outer door to the cloister. She took a large sip from her glass.
Her voice trembled. ‘Until I met Aquila I knew nothing other than the harem.’
She turned back and faced them.‘First of all Sir John, you must understand that what you have experienced here… this is not a harem. What has happened here is a fantasy, pure theatre, intended to test your devotion to Aquila but also to persuade you to help Aquila protect or perhaps even extend her trading empire. It has been different and enjoyable. we are now intending to extend the theatre to provide cover for when you visit Grenada. Aquila has now told me I need never again return to a real Harem.’
She stopped and glanced at Ximene, who instantly nodded her approval.
‘In a real harem, as a stranger you would not have been given access to the women of the Harem. The word harem means sacred place. The concept is that within the harem a man has access to multiple partners who compete for his favours so he his less likely to yield to the temptation of promiscuous behaviour or adultery. It also confines the women within a guarded enclosure from which the women can only move in the company of their husband or a man of their immediate family.
Yvette hesitated. ‘More?’
Ximene reached out and held her hand. ‘Yes please, Evette more.’
‘The women in the harem fall into two categories, wives and concubines. Concubines originally were women captured in war. The intention was I think to provide a home for these women to prevent them falling into prostitution to support themselves and thus be a temptation for the islamic men.’
However a tradition has been established, whereby in raids of coastal villages throughout the Mediterranean and the Black Sea women are seized, specifically to fulfil the demand for concubines. I have no idea where I came from but I have assumed a french sounding name. ’
She stood up and curtseyed. ‘I have called myself Yvette de Sainte Maxime but have no evidence to confirm that is where I was taken from.
There is a second layer of exclusion, the Awrah, which basically controls not only the clothes which can be worn outside the harem but the clothes which can be worn inside the Harem.
Outside the harem it demands the wearing of voluminous shapeless garments covering hair and from shoulders to feet. Again the objective is to avoid giving the men the opportunity or temptation which might lead to promiscuity. In Karaman there is a slit in the clothing which exposes the eyes, but this is not always so. In other countries even the eyes must be covered by a veil’
‘And within the harem?’
‘It depends on who is there and the rules of the harem. In the Emir’s harem, if there are were any men present other than the Emir himself the same garments as outside had to be worn. One departure from this rule might be if there was the intention to give a woman as a wife or a concubine to another man.’
‘Such a gift is allowed?’
‘Yes, In that respect the Emir’s offer to make me available to you, Sir John, was realistic.’
John frowned. ‘And my response that woman have the right to control all sexual activity was also realistic.’
He turned to face Ximene, but stumbled over the name. ‘Aquila, knowing what your beliefs are, how can you involve yourself in all this, it seems to me that it the complete opposite to your beliefs.’
Ximene smiled ‘But John, you forget, when I met you your beliefs’, her voice took on a teasing tone, ‘if you had any at all, were different to mine.’
‘But I showed my willingness to learn.’
Ximene lifted her hand towards Yvette. ‘Yvette, how should you now behave toward Sir John.
Yvette hesitated. ’I have never before been so close to such a famous person. When you arrived, Sir John, I knew, of course, who you were. When Aquila explained to me the role she wanted me to play in her little piece of theatre I was intrigued. When I washed you in the pool I could hardly believe what was happening! Ah! Yes! Sorry! how should I now behave? I have admired you from afar, and you, in turn, have admired me. It is now intended that I will perform the role of your wife during our journey to Grenada. This may lead to intimacy. Indeed I want it to lead to intimacy so that if i have to talk about you I will have something to talk about.
For this to happen at some stage you should praise me in a formal gathering , I should then give you my favour. Even then any intimacy between us will be at a place and time of my choosing not yours.’
She clapped gently, but her voice was strident ‘You see, John, Yvette is also willing to learn.’
She turned to Alyse. We recently, together, attended a court of love. does this comply with the advice I was given.
Alyse shook her head. ‘Yes Aquila I believe it does.’
Ximene’s voice softened
‘The strategy we are adopting makes some form of intimacy between you inevitable. You are both very precious to me. In any case, as you know, in the Cathar faith we believe that physical pleasure is a gift from the Good God not a sin.
And then again a more strident tone. ‘Yvette tell us more about life in the harem’
Yvette frowned “Oh yes clothing. within the walls of the Harem, In front of other women it is only necessary to cover from the navel to the knees.
I have never been called to the Emir’s bedchamber. The rules are far from consistent from one harem to another, but when I was young it was realised that I was good with numbers so I was trained to be a clerk. In the Emir’s harem that meant that the excluded me from any sexual activity. I believe I was considered to be valuable and if I were to give the Emir a son I would have become a free woman and thus my clerical skills would be lost. Well that is my explanation anyway. I do not consider myself unattractive.’
John could not resist an instant response. “You are indeed very attractive’
‘All this sounds very negative, so I feel I should say that for those who have never known any alternative, the Harem can be a place of comfort, everything is provided and the women of the harem have no need to worry about the practicalities of life.’
John smiled and turned back to Yvette ‘And your relationship with… ‘Again he stumbled over the name ‘Aquila?’
‘Aquila was impressed by my talents, and told the Emir of her admiration. He has given me to Aquila, I now belong to her.’
John turned to Ximene. ‘You own Yvette. Once again I have got to ask. How on earth does that fit in with your Cathar faith?’
Ximene smiled apologetically. ‘To be honest not very well, but let Yvette continue’
‘Yes, yes , of course.’
Yvette continued. ‘I have now been given a glimpse of what a woman can achieve in your western world, I want to break away from what to me has become a repressive system. Because the Emir has given me to Aquila it would be disrespectful for her to give me away or make me a free woman if it comes to that. But now there is an opportunity.
The Emir wants you, Sir John, to help in his partnership with Aquila.
He wants you to pretend to be Islamic and as part of that pretence he wants you to have a wife. Aquila has suggested I be that wife. We will sign a marriage contract which will say that if you were to divorce me I would be free to go to live wherever I want to live.
Such a contract would be honoured under Islamic law. It would not give the Emir any offence. I would then be free.
She hesitated and blushed.
‘There is something else, because of these circumstances I have just described to you I have never been with a man. Aquila tells me you were well trained and have been a good pupil in the arts of love.’
She blushed ‘Sir John, I want you to teach me everything you know.’