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Authors: Mary Hoffman


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For Rebecca Lisle and Linda Strachan,

the other two sides of the Trieste Triangle



Quand les hommes vivront d’amour

Ce sera la paix sur la terre,

Les soldats seront troubadours

Mais nous nous serons morts, mon frère.


(When men live in brotherly love

There will be peace on earth

Soldiers will be troubadours

But as for us, we shall be long gone, my brother.)


Raymond Lévesque

(Author’s translation)



A Fatal Blow

15 January 1208


A small group of monks was making its way down to the river crossing. They wore the distinctive white robes of the Cistercians, although the colour was actually more of a dirty grey. Their leader, Pierre of Castelnau, rode a mule but he was not a humble man.

When the monks reached the shore of the Rhône, they could see that the ferry-boat was on its way back to their side of the river. The group settled down to wait. The leader dismounted from the mule and rubbed his hands over his face. He was as angry as he was tired. It was still early in the morning and he had celebrated Mass fasting, but with little charity and compassion in his heart.

Pierre and his companions had come from Saint-Gilles. He had been sent by the Pope as his Legate to reason with its mighty ruler, the Count of Toulouse, but the Count had proved unreasonable. He would not agree to the Pope’s order to rout out the heretics from his lands, even though he had already been excommunicated for failing to obey his Pope. Pierre’s mission had failed.

What can you do with a man who does not fear separation from the Head of the Church? thought Pierre. Such a man is practically a heretic himself. The Count’s last words to him yesterday, shouted as the Papal Legate left the court at Saint-Gilles, had been ‘Wherever you go and whatever you do, Pierre of Castelnau, take care! I shall be watching you.’

Empty threats, thought Pierre, who had spent the night at an inn with his companions before heading down to the river. From the other side, at Arles, he would make the long journey to Rome and tell the Pope that the Count would not obey his master on earth or his Master in Heaven. The Count himself was a stubborn bully but Pierre was not afraid of him.

The ferry-boat drew nearer to the shore. It had only one passenger, a handsome man a little over thirty, with aristocratic features but clothes no longer in the best condition. Bertran de Miramont looked at the group on the bank with little interest. Monks were everywhere these days, as involved in politics as in religion. Bertran tried not to concern himself in their affairs. But, along with many in the region, he had his reasons for not wanting to associate with these monks.

So he turned his head to one side to avoid making eye contact with the group. He would give a formal bow as he led his horse from the boat and quickly take his leave but he did not want any conversation with the Cistercians, particularly their ascetic-looking leader.

And so it was Bertran who first saw the man riding out of the woods full pelt towards the monks. He thought it must be a courier with an urgent message until he saw the lance. The rider didn’t hesitate but spurred straight towards the man standing by the mule.

Bertran cried out a warning and the Cistercian looked up towards him, fixing him with his gaze, as the horseman’s lance ran through his back, throwing him to his knees.

‘Faster, faster!’ Bertran shouted at the shocked ferryman and leapt from the boat as soon as it reached the shallows. He ran splashing through the water and reached the bank in time to see the murderer wrench his lance out of the body and turn his horse’s head back to the woods.

The dying monk, his robe startlingly colourful now, twisted his body to see where his attacker had gone. Supported by his companions, he called out after the retreating horseman with the last breath left in his lungs, ‘May God forgive you, as I forgive you!’

Bertran, whose very business was words, had time for the fleeting thought that the monk’s language was cleverly ambiguous, before the stricken man’s eyes filmed over and his spirit left his body.

All was chaos in the little scene: monks not knowing whether to pray, howl or pursue the attacker; Bertran, dripping wet, offered his services and the ferryman disembarked his horse for him.

‘Please, sire,’ said one of the older men; Bertran saw he wore a bishop’s ring. ‘Follow the villain. For he has killed the Pope’s representative. Lying here on the ground is Pierre of Castelnau, sent by His Holiness Pope Innocent to the Count of Toulouse.’

‘And it was the Count’s hand behind that lance, even if another wielded it,’ said a younger monk bitterly. Another was vomiting discreetly into the river.

Bertran was stunned. He was a troubadour, a master of words and music, not a politician or a knight. He had offered to help bring a murderer to justice and he would do his best to track the man down. But the victim was his bitter enemy, the enemy of all who, like Bertran, shared a dangerous secret, a secret that was getting more dangerous by the day.

And, even as he heaved himself all sodden into the saddle and spurred his horse towards the woods, Bertran knew that whether he succeeded or failed, what he had just witnessed was only the beginning.

For he was a heretic and Pope Innocent was pledged to eliminate all heretics. Pierre’s murder was just the first blood in a war to the death.



Part One


The Troubadours liked best to lead the wandering life of the Pure, who set off along the road in pairs.


Passion and Society
by Denis de Rougemont,

tr. Montgomery Belgion (1956)



Love Song

The hill town of Sévignan was not at the heart of a great estate. Lanval de Sévignan was only a minor landowner but within the walls of his town, he was the absolute lord. And within his castle, his word was law.

Except, he sometimes felt, when it came to his older daughter. His lady, Clara, was an exemplary wife; she had borne him first a son, Aimeric, and then two daughters, Elinor and Alys. And though Lord Lanval might have preferred one more son, to be certain that his name would be carried on, no further pregnancies had been successful and he was content with his lot. Aimeric was a healthy, strong sixteen-year-old, skilled at arms and ready to defend his home or that of any local noble who called on him.

Alys at eleven was really the only one still a child. But even Elinor at thirteen was far from grown up or ready to be married, either in temperament or suitability. She was headstrong, opinionated and always at war with her mother. There were times when both her parents felt that she should have been a boy. And she was passionate. Lanval was sure that she had cast immodest looks at several of his knights, including three youngsters he was fostering for another local landowner, who was richer in sons than the Lord of Sévignan.

Perhaps Elinor
be married, thought her father, but at present he had more serious matters to worry about. He already had a troupe of
s and their troubadour wintering with him, but a few days ago Bertran de Miramont had arrived unexpectedly. It was unusual for him to change courts in January. As soon as Bertran rode into the bailey, Lanval had known it meant bad news.

But it was worse than he had feared: the Papal Legate murdered and the Count of Toulouse suspected! Bertran had ridden hard on the heels of the attacker but lost him in Beaucaire.

‘You didn’t tell the monks your name, did you?’ had been Lanval’s first question.

‘They didn’t ask, sire.’

‘What about the ferryman?’

‘He knows me well enough. I travel often to Saint-Gilles when I am based at Count Alfonso’s court in Arles.’

‘And how long before news of the murder reaches Rome?’ asked Lanval.

‘Not long,’ said Bertran. ‘And then we must all be on our guard.’

Elinor was trying to learn to dance the
but her feet kept getting tangled up in the hem of her dress. What was even more galling was that Alys was doing it perfectly. Today was a saint’s day – the Feast of Saint Bertran of Saint-Quentin – and there would be dancing and music and a fine dinner in their father’s great hall. Elinor would make her first appearance there as a young woman. Alys was too young to attend and join in the dancing but, since she was not only neater-footed but also taller than her older sister, Elinor wished with all her heart she could absent herself and send Alys in her place.

Not that Elinor would – or could – really stay away. She would have just preferred to watch from the dark alcove where she had always been a keen observer of the court’s entertainments, where she and her sister had eavesdropped on music and poetry from an early age: the hiding-place from which she had first seen Bertran de Miramont.

Elinor still could not believe that Bertran was here, in the castle, on his own name day. She had been expecting a wait of months, till he returned in the spring. But a day or two earlier, some heightened instinct had taken her up on to the walls that enclosed the castle keep.

She was often restless these days, feeling that her childhood was disappearing fast and fearful for the future she must face as a woman, and a noblewoman at that. The evening was cold and she clutched her long fur-lined cloak close around her. She must expect to be married by fourteen at the latest, even though her parents had said nothing to her about it yet. The presentation of her in the great hall as
of the castle was just the beginning.

Elinor spent no time, like Alys, wondering who her husband might be. She knew that once her father made up his mind, she would have no choice. Or, more likely once her mother’s mind settled on a suitable man. He would be older, much older, that was certain. Men of the Languedoc did not marry till they were in their thirties and their brides were commonly half their age. And it was usually only the oldest sons who married. Her brother, Aimeric, might have all his years so far over again before he stood in the great cathedral at Béziers with a young woman at his side.

Elinor sighed. Not for the first time, she wished she had been born a boy. Then she could have been a knight and as second son wouldn’t have had to marry. She could have joined another lord’s household and lounged about flirting with the prettiest serving-maids and eating copious amounts of mutton.

But it was no good repining over what couldn’t be changed. She had more or less two choices: marry or go into a convent. She had to smile at the thought of being a nun. Her mother would scorn the very idea. But not as much as she would mock at the name of Bertran of Miramont. Troubadours were all very well in their way and were often noblemen, even if only younger sons. Bertran was a great favourite with Lady Clara and the other women of Lanval’s household but also had the knack of making himself pleasing to the house knights and lordlings. Lady Clara enjoyed his compositions more than those of any other poet. As the Lord’s wife, she was his
, his inspiration for love poems and the mistress of his heart – at least on paper. And he was her indulged favourite.

But marry her daughter to him? Out of the question. That was one of Lady Clara’s favourite phrases where her older daughter was concerned and Elinor could hear her mother’s voice in her head as she paced the battlements. ‘Marry a troubadour? Out of the question!’

And that was when she had seen him, riding full pelt towards the castle. She would have known Bertran’s horse and colours anywhere. Elinor had hurried down from the walls but there was no further sight of him that night. She had caught glimpses of his familiar moss green velvet jerkin once or twice since but it was tonight at the feast that she was bound to see him.

And perhaps dance opposite him. The very thought tripped her disobedient feet again and it was the dancing master’s turn to sigh.

Perrin was a
, one of the troupe of minstrels wintering at Sévignan. He was used to singing Bertran’s new compositions but like everyone else was surprised to see him turning up so early in the year. It was only a short time before the poet sought him out and took him into the stables where they could talk without being overheard.

‘Murdered?’ said Perrin, horrified at the news. He was a young man, little more than a boy, but quick to realise what this meant for heretics like themselves. ‘Vengeance will be swift!’

‘And bloody,’ agreed Bertran. ‘I must not stay but will leave as soon as the saint’s day is over. Someone must take the news to more of our brothers and sisters.’

‘But what can they do?’ asked Perrin.

‘They can warn the Believers,’ said Bertran, lowering his voice even further. He looked watchfully round the stable, unsure whether the slight clink of harness he heard had been caused by the January wind. ‘And all sympathisers,’ he added. ‘We must learn to dissemble.’

‘What reason are you giving for coming back to court now?’ asked the
. ‘I mean the official reason.’

‘Why,’ said Bertran, smiling and talking in a normal voice. ‘I have written a song for my
that could not wait. And you must learn it by tonight.’ Then he added in a whisper. ‘I shall take the same song to courts all over the south and many a
will have to learn it just as quickly.’

As soon as the dancing lesson was over, Elinor sneaked down to the kitchens to find out what was to be served at the great saint’s day feast. Hugo the cook was sweating over the pans, roaring orders to the kitchen boys to fetch more firewood, stir the frumenty and turn the spits. Elinor turned her eyes away from the rotating corpses of sheep and deer; she hated to look at them but the savoury smell coming from the roasting flesh made her mouth fill with water and her stomach grumble.

Above the shouting and the clanging and the general kitchen chaos, she could hear the sad notes of the rebec. In a dark corner was the familiar figure of Huguet the
. ‘Little Hugo’ his name meant, to distinguish him from the cook. The
spent so much of his time in the kitchen, especially in the winter, because he felt the cold badly, that Hugo and all the other servants took him for granted. He was as much a fixture as the powderer, who spent his days pounding lumps of salt into fine crystals.

And he and Elinor had been friends for years; the
was only a few months older than her.

Elinor picked her way across to Huguet, automatically lifting her skirts out of the grease and blood on the floor. As soon as he caught her eye he stood and made a formal bow.

‘Oh, don’t stop playing, Huguet,’ she said. ‘Pretend I’m not here.’

That was impossible for servants, Elinor knew well. Her very presence in the kitchen made them tense, carrying out their duties more meticulously. Hugo wiped the sweat from his brow before rolling out the pastry for his capon pies. The spit boys stood up straight and turned more regularly, as if afraid she would inspect their work.

Huguet began to play again, softly.

‘What is that tune?’ asked Elinor, wondering how to broach the subject of Bertran.

‘It is to accompany the new
,’ said Huguet. ‘An old tune tricked out new, as a maid might put a fresh ribbon on an old dress. There is no time for Perrin or me to write a new one. De Miramont wants it for his new song tonight.’

‘Oh,’ said Elinor casually. ‘Is he here then? It’s early in the year for him to change court.’

Huguet grinned. He and every other musician, singer, dancer and acrobat in the castle knew perfectly well that the Lady Elinor had eyes for no one but the handsome troubadour. But she was young and de Miramont was an appealing prospect. Few people knew that his secret meant he was unlikely ever to marry, even though his songs were all of undying love. It was a secret that Huguet and Perrin shared, being Believers themselves.

‘Indeed, my lady, Bertran is here. He told Perrin he could not wait to sing your mother, the Lady Clara, his latest song.’

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