Escape from Montségur

Extract from the fictional Journal of Phillipe de Saint-Claire – translated from the ancient Occitan language into modern English

In the very early hours of the day and long before dawn we escaped from the castle on ropes of woven fabric. It was a fearsome experience. The ropes were not long enough or strong enough to let us down the whole height of the rock-face and a fifth perfectus had to come with us to hold the ropes. He had to climb down the whole way with his hands. He would be captured, tried and put to death by burning but as he knew nothing of our orders so he would not be able to give us away even if he were to weaken under torture, which he had sworn he would not do.

The treasure of the Cathars was concealed in wax-sealed tubes of bamboo which were tied to our backs. They were not heavy but they were long and made our movements difficult, especially when we were climbing down the cliffs. We did not know what was in the tubes. However we knew it could not be anything big or heavy. It certainly could not have been treasure or gold.

I was the second perfectus to reach the valley. The first of my colleagues had already disappeared and, in any case, I did not wish to make contact with any one of the others. My orders were to go south for the first part of my journey, so I immediately set off in a loop round the east side of the mountain, keeping well away from the positions where I had been advised there were guards who were supposed to be securing the castle against the escape of the Cathars. I saw no-one, nor did I expect to since we had also been promised that the guards had been well paid to keep clear of our path.

The night was very dark with clouds obscuring any moonlight and it was necessary to proceed slowly. However it was important that I should be well clear of the besiegers before daylight exposed my progress.

I followed up the course of the small river known locally as the Lassate which led in the direction of the Peak of Saint Barthélemy. Sometimes I was able to walk along the banks of the river, but much of the time I had to follow the bed of the stream itself, stumbling over rocks and into deep pools. I often fell and I was fearful that the precious tubes on my back might be damaged even though I had been assured they were well sealed in waxed linen with the joints double-waxed. So, when I was confident that I was more than a league from the castle and knew I was well clear of the besiegers on the south side, I decided to rest up until day-break in a small cave near a water-fall.

When the dawn came I was feeling very cold and stiff and immediately decided to proceed upon my way before my body might become disabled by aches and shivers. It now being light, I could move apace and made better progress, gradually climbing out of the forest and on to the mountainside.

I directed my steps towards a col in the ridge ahead which was to the east of the twin peaks which form St Barthélemy and I achieved the summit just as the sun arose, lighting up the morning clouds. I was greatly warmed and heartened by the sight. In my innocence I felt as though the good God in heaven had blessed me and was with me in my endeavours.


I will give another extract next week.

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