‘ You told me you weren’t a soldier and yet here you are being introduced to a person as famous as Joan of Kent as one of the best soldiers in the Prince’s army. He might have also mentioned that you are one of the best liars.’
John Stanley-20th May 1355
Next morning, when John awoke, he descended from his room intending to start his day, as he always did, by tending to the horses. When he reached the stables he found that someone else had already fed, watered and groomed them. He then collided with a waiter, who had been following him.
‘What would you like for breakfast, sir?’ asked the waiter.
‘What have you got?’
‘We can accommodate most tastes; a common choice is ham and cheese, red wine and water.’
John had become used to camp fare. ‘Sausage, beans and bread? Beer?’
‘Certainly, please take a seat in the dining room.’
John ran back upstairs to give Piers the good news.
‘I’ve not been an actual guest at an inn before, Piers, only as a squire with Lord James.’
‘Me neither,’ Piers laughed. ‘Let’s make the most of it. Over breakfast, I can tell you more about the gods and their legends, if you like.’
‘I certainly would like. What do you want for breakfast? I’ll order for you.’
‘So you see, John, we talk about Egyptian, Greek and Roman gods, but they are really all the same and as I told you last night, in Egypt they believed that all the gods originated in Amunet. She was both wife and mother to Amun.’
‘But how could that be?’
‘It’s a paradox, but also just a way of saying that all gods are simply different facets of one god.’
‘Oh! But for the events of last night I might never have been interested in all this and yet now I feel it could be a starting point for something very important.’
John could not avoid the conspiratorial tone which crept into his voice. ‘So, Joan played a role last night which made her mother of all the gods?’
Piers shrugged and took a large gulp of beer. ‘We don’t know how she interpreted it, but on the face of it, yes.’
‘Piers, last night you said this business must be about trust.’
‘I think we must tell the Earl what we saw. After all, it was hardly our fault. We should stress that we do not expect him to give us any additional information, but I feel he should know.’
Piers coughed and shook his head. ‘Left to my own devices I probably would not tell him, but if you want to… I will not disagree.’
They both turned at the sound of Pipa’s voice and watched her descend the stairs and head towards them. John and Piers jumped to their feet. Pipa held out her hand first to one and then to the other, inviting a kiss. Piers performed the gesture with great elegance and John, copying his style, did much better than on the previous night. She positioned herself between them and rose to the tip of her toes to plant a kiss on both their cheeks, after which she threw back her head and laughed delightedly. She then reached up pulled both their heads towards her in turn, tousling each man’s hair as she did so. John felt a gentle tug before she released her hold.
John was reminded of the way Amun had pulled Amunet’s hair the previous evening. Warm pleasure surged through his body. He glanced nervously around the room. The way she was behaving it was as if they were both her lovers. Perhaps that was the impression she wanted to give.
Pipa glanced at John from under lowered lids.
‘Later I will permit you to spend a little longer telling me how beautiful I am, but…’ she stopped, with both eyes and mouth wide open, ‘…first some amazing news. Joan of Kent is to visit the village this afternoon; she is to be guest of honour at an archery competition.’
As she gazed at him, John realised she expected them both to be overcome at the prospect. But there was no opportunity to reply as words poured from her mouth in a torrent.
‘I will be able to see her close up. She is quite notorious, you know. Wears the most daring dresses. Everybody always wants to know about her latest exploits and now I will actually see her myself.’
She hesitated and gazed at each of them in turn. ‘Are you coming to the archery contest? Will you come with me?’
It was Piers who replied.
‘I doubt it, Pipa. Our master will probably want to leave about noon, anytime now, so we will be gone by the time of the competition.’
Pipa’s face dropped.
‘Oh, that is a shame. By the way, you have never told me. Who is your master?’
John did not hesitate. ‘The Earl of Salisbury,’ he said. Ten seconds later he regretted it.
‘The Earl of Salisbury!’ Pipa almost screamed her response. ‘He used to be married to Joan and now you are telling me he was here with her on the night of the moon festival? What can that possibly mean? Are they going to remarry?’
John’s mind whirled. How could such a brief conversation end up as a breach of security? He was sure the Earl would not want it to be known that he was here at the same time as Joan. He shook his head. Joan did not seem to be making any secret of it.
‘Pipa… ‘ He stopped, realising that Pipa, from what she had just said, knew about the moon festival. He nudged Piers, who gave him a curious frown. ‘Pipa, you are beautiful and I would love to spend more time telling you so, but we must go, the Earl is waiting for us. If fate is kind… ‘ he took her hand and kissed it, ‘I may meet you again. I would certainly like to do so.’
Pipa danced in close attendance as the squires led their horses up to the gatehouse and waited for the Earl to emerge. They did not have to wait long.
The Earl was smiling and looking very pleased with himself. He was resplendent in a short cloak of deepest purple with black hose and a white tunic over a white ruffled shirt. On his arm, openly accepting the admiration of the crowd, Joan of Kent looked radiant. Her hair had been remade into flowing locks and she wore a skirt, bodice and chemise of purest white.
John was quite taken aback. The man he knew as a soldier now faced him as an elegant courtier, with his beautiful lady on his arm. At least this open display meant John’s concerns about his revelation to Pipa were groundless.
The Earl waved an arm vaguely in the squires’ direction. ‘Joan, I want you to meet two of the best young soldiers in the Prince’s army, John Stanley and Piers de Windsor.’
John felt a not so gentle thump in the middle of his back. ‘You are a soldier,’ hissed Pipa.
John and Piers took several steps forward and bowed to Joan.
The Earl continued his introduction, directing Joan’s eyes to John by holding out his hand, palm upwards. ‘John is from the north of England.’ He then redirected her eyes to Piers. ‘And this is Piers de Windsor, but you may have known Piers’ father who was at one time a captain in the garrison at Windsor Castle.’
Joan nodded graciously.
The Earl turned his head and lowered his voice. ‘Excuse me for a moment, I need to brief them on a couple of matters.’
Joan stood smiling at the assembled crowd whilst the Earl talked urgently to his charges.
‘Return to the inn and secure your accommodation for another night. I am attending the archery competition this afternoon with Lady Joan.’ He had the demeanour of a man who was faintly surprised at what was happening to him.
‘I need an archery champion. Lady Joan wishes to bestow her favour on someone other than one of the local favourites. If she chose one of them it could not fail to be controversial. John, I seem to remember you did rather well in training.’
‘Milord, I did well as a squire but quite badly as an archer. The best I can say is that by the end of training I got to the stage where I never missed the target. On the other hand, over several hundred arrows, I scored only two bulls-eyes.’
The Earl grimaced. He turned to Piers. Piers did not even let him ask the question.
‘My Lord, I am rarely able to hit the target. I am working on it, but I have a long way to go.’
The Earl scowled and glanced at Joan.
‘Well, John, it must be you. All I really expect is that you get past the first round but please make sure you do that; I do not want to disappoint the Lady Joan.’
John had two hours to find a suitable bow and carry out some practice.
Pipa appeared at his side.
John looked at her curiously. ‘You aren’t a witch yourself, by any chance? It appears I am not only staying for the competition, but I am also taking part in it! Yet I have no bow, no arrows.’
Pipa prodded him in the chest. ‘You told me you weren’t a soldier and yet here you are being introduced to a person as famous as Joan of Kent as one of the best soldiers in the Prince’s army. He might have also mentioned that you are one of the best liars.’
John held his hand above his head in a gesture of surrender. They reached the door of the inn.
Pipa grabbed John’s arm, now bubbling with enthusiasm. ‘Wait here, wait here. I know exactly where to go.’
To John’s amazement, it took less than five minutes for Pipa to return with a local bow-maker who offered John a choice of several high-quality bows and more importantly a supply of high-quality arrows. The bow-maker even took John to a practice range in a nearby field.
John found his performance improved remarkably with these excellent tools.
Thus John found himself in his first martial arts competition. He entered the arena and bowed low in front of Lady Joan. She stepped forward from the rustic stand and offered him her favour, a long silver-blue filmy scarf. Was that one of the scarves she’d used in last night’s ceremony? He hesitated before taking it. How many other people would recognise Amunet’s scarf?