The Lion’s Kiss

From The Lion’s Kiss 2013 to buy the book click here 

Prologue

 

The Château  glows gold in the light of the August full moon and from within the deep hidden shadows come the sounds of laughing voices in the old language, the Langue D’Oc.  Running footsteps ring loud along the stone corridors, while the flicker of hundreds of lit candles in the great hall cast long leaping shadows out into the dark silence of the forest. The Château, which is really a castle, stands proud and indomitable on its hilltop glaring out over the forest to the winding ribbon of the river beyond. This is an old and dark forest that was once brim-full of running herds of the Kings royal red deer. It surrounds the walled gardens of twelve acres of verdant orchards and vineyards of the, Château like a dark cloak thrown across the land for miles in all directions, keeping things safe, keeping things secret. Behind the sweeping arc of the river lie the mysteries of the Les Eyzie valley leading on to Montignac and the mystical shamanic caves of Lascaux hidden deep beneath the growling landscape.

If you stop to listen there is no telling what you can hear but to be sure the night is full of the movements of animals deep within the marrow of the place. You might hear the thunder of the charging herds of the great Aurochs that used to sweep over the landscape along with herds of wild horses almost seventeen thousand years ago. You might glimpse the baleful yellow tinged eyes of a pair of giant cave lions stealthily stalking the herds, or the light drumming feet of the deer escaping the hunter’s swift arrow. You might even hear the pulsing rhythm of the drum of the shaman: its trance like beat reverberating through the earth beneath your feet, or witness the silent shuffling line of the initiates as they make their way into the ceremonial chambers deep under the earth’s thin crust. You may indeed hear the keening of the wind and the chanting of mourners as a funeral troupe winds its slow march through the secret pathways to the doorway of the underworld.

For this is a land where the boundaries between the living and the dead are not fixed, where the seven sisters of the Pleiades constellation are said to descend to earth to claim the souls of the faithful.  Where a legend speaks of a ‘’Star Gate’’, through which in the beginning of known time the descendants of the old ones came from somewhere behind the Milky Way.  Some will swear that they have come across mythical beasts in the forest at night near the magical caves of Lascaux.  There is talk in the bars and cafes of the region of a creature that has the head and upper body of a lion with the legs and feet of a man. This region is a place of shape shifting and magic and if you know the ways of the ancients then you might very well be able to cheat the jaws of death. At least that is how the old myths and legends tell it, and just behind the next shut door is an unknown world where entry becomes a secret code of endeavour that only a few can remember the key to.

You can listen to the drummers that are drumming the rhythm of the storm and who disappear into the obscurity of the night as soon as you come near to them, leaving only the scent of their pungent sweat and the ashes of their fires. The scent of crushed pine needles and the eerie echo of a lost language hover around you for a moment in the night. For the four things that the Shaman is known to be able to do are to intercede with the spirits of the ancestors and the supernatural, to heal sickness, and to control the movement of the great herds of animals and lastly of course they have the ability to regulate the weather.

You may hear the sound of the horses iron clad feet hammering down the forest paths, and maybe if you are lucky catch a glimpse of the medieval court ladies in their richly embroidered dresses, their hair falling long and loose on their shoulders and the chatter of their whispers. Their laughter and their secrets of courtly love spill out under the great August moon that hangs orange and omnipotent above the shrouded mists of the valley, as it always has, as it always will holding firm the gap between here and heaven It is in this gap that all things gather and are available to you, if you know where to look and how to go about travelling the overgrown pathways of the old Gods, some say it is the old religion, but no one seems to know quite what that is.  The whispered secrets are louder hereabouts than the cicadas whose song deafens the night air. In the distance a low rumble of thunder threatens to break through the humidity of the August night at any moment.

For the Château is full of intrigue and some say even murder. It is said that    Château de Cerf was the favourite hunting lodge of Henry ii, that fiery Plantagenet King of England and Normandy who had married their Lady Eleanor of Aquitaine.  His insubordinate son Richard who was later to be called Cœur de Lion won the castle back from an unruly feudal lord by climbing the steep outer walls and murdering all the inmates in their beds. It is also said that when Henri locked his Queen Eleanor up for sixteen long years in an English Castle, he fell in love with Alysse the betrothed of his son Richard Coeur de Lion and brought her here to this place where the lovers would be far from prying eyes. Far from the eyes of others and it was sure that Alysse would never be able to escape the high outer walls of the stronghold, not without help from more than human sources.

Beautiful willowy Alysse, the daughter of Louis vii King of France, became an unwilling pawn in the power game of Kings and kingdoms. She had been made the ward of Henry at the tender age of nine years old and then rumour has it became his mistress at fifteen. The scandal was rife, a man of forty three ravaging a young girl, and the betrothed of his son at that. Henry never cared too much for scandal, he was a King after all, one of the most powerful Kings in his world and he took what he wanted without a care. It was true that he tried to divorce Eleanor and make Alysse his wife but the legend goes that Alysse loved someone else although she plotted to be his wife, plotted to put their children on the thrones of England and France and disinherit the Queen.

So this then was the love nest of the King, and it was the lovely Alysse Countess of Vexin that he took to his bed and his heart. Yet when he had had his fill of her, he left her there above the cold forest to bear his child, with only her ladies and the troubadours for company.  Locals talk of the infamous Chretien de Troyes and his band of musicians visiting the Châteauto sing her the ballads of the Chevalier de la Charette, the story of Lancelot and the adulterous Queen Guinevere. He was  expressly sent by her half-sister Marie, Countess de Champagne to make a point so they say, that adultery has its consequences even in the bowers and orchards of courtly love way down south in Southern Aquitaine, for everyone loved the Queen Eleanor here about.

Poor Alysse, loved and abandoned, set to be Queen of France and England but locked away from her dues in the back hills of Aquitaine.  Her betrothed, Richard Duke of Aquitaine was too busy ravaging the land of his mother, laying an iron fist on the unruly local Dukes who dared to challenge him to care a jot for her.  He and his knights harboured no mercy; raping and pillaging as they went, lying waste the fields with fire to bring his subjects to their knees in front of him. The people who had loved his mother Eleanor now hated the son who ruled in her place. He made sure that he treated Alysse with the utmost disdain whenever they were forced into each other’s company; all because the King wanted her and Henry always got what he wanted, never mind the cost.

This much is still grumbled and talked about in the small village of St Léon clinging to the cliff face beneath the Château. Itis always like this on the August full moon night if you dare to go near to the a Château and watch from the shadows of the forest. Talk is that every thousand years a certain alignment of the planets with this fierce August moon wakes the Châteauand the surrounding countryside from its fitful slumber. The edges of reality become blurred and indistinct and ‘’things’’ brake through the gap between past and future, the possible and mythical

Often you may hear a woman’s voice crying inconsolably from high up in the topmost rooms of the white tower Somehow for a few hours between the rise of the moon and the coming of dawn, time is peeled away and seventeen hundred years of history is as nothing. Anything could happen, and the Château becomes once more the Châteaude Rêves, the Castle of Dreams, as it lives again for a brief interlude.

At least it is perceived as such in the minds of those that have had a few in the local bar, and are on their way home through the short cuts of the woods. It is a magic spot for lovers who believe that the w Château will bring them luck in love, and they walk through the grounds to be near what once was a great love story. They peer into the gloom, arms entwined and lips sealed in each other’s embrace, imagining Henry pushing Alysse out into the darkness of the formal gardens away from the revellers to kiss her in the old apple orchard. They listen for the lute of the troubadour singing of the downfall of Camelot and bemoaning the way that love and courtly love are two totally different things. Then just before dawn, Alysse can often be glimpsed in the Queens apartments, miserably staring out into the coming coral red of sunrise and then turning back inside to write in her leather journal which she then locks with a small gold key that she keeps in a chain around her neck.

The rest of the time the Château is just a pile of yellow and grey stone, turrets and windows facing out over a verdant landscape to the wide river beneath. Commanding and yet inconsequential, Owners have come and gone over the years but no one has stayed long enough to care for it, and none have tried to discover its secrets, until perhaps now.

*

 

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