‘I noticed that when you smile everyone you are talking to also smiles. And when you smiled at me it was if I was warmed by the rays of the sun.’
John Stanley-19th May 1355.
The two squires climbed to the peak of the hill behind the Château and stood spellbound by the views along the Garonne to the west. The village and the Château dominated the foreground. On the north-eastern bank, where Clermont itself was situated, a series of ridges of high ground stretched out towards the river. On the other side of the river, the floodplain of the Garonne, flat and green, provided an almost endless vista.
‘I could stay here all night,’ said John.
Piers nodded. ‘I agree, but the evening meal will be ready shortly. We should head back.’
‘Yes, I’m starving,’ John admitted. ‘But I’m going to come up here after dinner to see the sunset.’
In the event, they spent rather more time over dinner than they had intended, as the inn put on good entertainment included singers, jugglers and acrobats.
John noticed a girl. He guessed by her clothing that she was probably the serving girl of a lord inside the Château. He kept his eye on her during his meal, and even after, as they continued to drink and watch the entertainment.
‘Go on,’ Piers said, nudging John with his elbow.
‘Shut up,’ John said, getting up even as he spoke. The girl was now at the centre of a group which hung on her every word. One of the female listeners shrieked. ‘Pipa, how do you find out such things?’
Pipa continued her discourse. ‘My mistress says there will be many important people attending the festival, some of them English. That as well as enjoying the festival there will be discussions about extending the English territory as far as Toulouse, perhaps further.’
‘Nooo,’ a young male said in disbelief.
‘It’s true! And there will be English soldiers and knights coming to live here, too,’ she said in wide-eyed glee.
The other ladies gave little screams and tittered into their handkerchiefs.
John noted the scowls on the young men’s faces. He needed to watch himself; these men wouldn’t appreciate his intrusion. It interested him that this young lady knew these details, and he thought about what the Earl had asked of him and Piers. He searched for the things about her which attracted him. Her blonde curly hair contrasted with her tanned skin. Her nose seemed a little small, but he liked her slim face.
Suddenly she left the group who continued to discuss the merits and demerits of the English living among them. John followed her as she started another conversation with a different group of young women.
‘Nearly all the ladies in the Château will be wearing black. It is the new fashion. I am so lucky; I expect my mistress will give her dress to me after she has worn it only a few times. I will have to get it altered but it will be worth it. It will look so good on me.’
As the group took up the conversation about black dresses, she departed, heading back to the first group, who by now had split into factions, pro and anti-English. She stopped mid-stride, sensing John watching her, and turned to observe him. She gave him a beautiful smile and in doing so revealed her most attractive features — perfectly formed dazzling white teeth and beautiful almond-shaped, ice-blue eyes. John instinctively moved towards her. She stood her ground.
‘You have been following me, but I really don’t mind.’ She held out her hand.
John knew what was expected but his attempted kiss landed halfway up her arm. She appeared not to notice. She introduced herself. ‘Philippa de Roet, most people call me Pipa, and you are?’
John had no difficulty in smiling.’ John Stanley and most people call me John. I am English, though I am neither a knight nor a soldier. I have been watching you from across the room.’
She did not blush as he had expected. She gave him another dazzling smile. ‘I know, I have been watching you… watching me.’
John decided she was interested and he certainly knew her most attractive feature. ‘Your smile is most infectious.’
‘Infectious? You mean like a disease?’
John felt his face fall. ‘No, No, I really like you. I noticed that when you smile everyone you are talking to also smiles. And when you smiled at me it was if I was warmed by the rays of the sun.’
Her eyes flickered slightly.
John thought he might be doing better. He decided to test his attraction.
‘My friend and I are about to climb the hill behind the Château, to watch the sunset. Would you like to come with us?’
Pipa rewarded John with a coy look out of the corner of her eyes. ‘Are you sure you are not soldiers? In any case, it would not be good for my reputation to vanish into the dusk with two such virile young men.’
There was the implication that perhaps one virile young man would be perfectly acceptable. But John missed the opportunity and in any case, the look in Pipa’s eyes suddenly changed from seduction to caution.
‘I do not think it would be wise to climb the hill at this time of night. It will be a new moon tonight and the locals say that witches gather on the hill at a new moon.’ She glanced over her shoulder as another group pushed their way into the already overcrowded room.
‘Ooh! Excuse me. There is someone over there I must talk to.’
John was nonplussed. It was almost as if he had been dismissed. ‘Thank you for your advice…’ His voice trailed away. Pipa was already immersed in another conversation. John returned to Piers. From across the room, he could see Pipa chatting with the newcomers with great enthusiasm.
‘She is very pleasant but a bit of a social butterfly. I will perhaps try again later, but for now, let’s go and watch the sunset.’
John led Piers out of the inn. ‘By the way, she told me that on a new moon, witches gather on the hill!’
Piers gave him a stern look, and John shrugged his shoulders. ‘Just thought you should know.’