55 In Search of Experience

‘If a girl is attracted to you, any praise will be acceptable; but if she is not, nothing you say will have the desired effect. It is not what you say, a girl’s reaction is what really matters.’

John Stanley-15th May 1355

John did not see Piers again until late afternoon the following day. By then he had pitched Lord James’ tent, packed it away the following morning and now in Marmande, he was pitching it again.

‘You know, I rarely have to do that.’ Piers spoke lazily, almost arrogantly.

‘Do what?’ John said, looking up and wiping sweat from his brow.

‘Pitch a tent. The Earl rarely sleeps in a tent. No matter where we go, there always seems to be somewhere he has to go, someone who will put a roof over his head.’ He glanced off to the side. ‘Excuse me, John. Here comes the Prince. I must deliver my note.’

The Prince left the camp within the hour. John overheard him ask Lord James to accompany him to dinner with a local lord. Lord James indulged in a last-minute panic. John swore under his breath as he searched for appropriate clothes for Lord James to wear.

When Piers returned, he caught John putting Lord James’ tent back into some semblance of order. He leaned against the central pole of the tent, idly watching. John glanced at him pointedly several times, but Piers showed no inclination to help. John grumbled to himself that their relationship had not got off to a good start.

‘It’s all right for you, Piers. Your role has been clearly defined, but mine hasn’t. I don’t know what I am supposed to be doing.’

Piers chuckled. ‘You have my sympathy. Tell the Earl about it. He will sort it out.’ There was a significant pause, ‘One way or another. Oh! By the way, my real name is William.’

‘What?’

‘I simply offer that as an example of the Earl’s way of sorting things out. When we met and he discovered we had the same name, he delivered an ultimatum… If you want to work with me you will have to change your name. He thought that two William’s in close proximity could be confusing.’

John glared at Piers. ‘Is that true?’

‘Absolutely, but I have now been Piers for two years, so I would answer to no other name.’

John returned to his task then stopped and looked up. ‘How did the Earl choose you to become his squire in the first place?’

‘He didn’t, I chose him. My father advised me that it would be a good idea to come to Aquitaine with the Prince. He believed that in the shifting circumstances of an invasion of Armagnac there might be lords anxious to show their allegiance to the Prince. Offering a daughter in marriage to a close associate of the Prince could be one way of showing that allegiance. As a young man, it is not possible to get much closer to the Prince than by being squire to the Earl, so I chose the Earl.’

‘You are here to find a wife!?’

‘Well yes, but not just any wife, one must be selective and there are other tasks to be performed which keep getting in the way.’

John shook his head. ‘Oh… look I am sorry. I am keeping you waiting.’

‘No, no. That’s no problem. I am in no particular rush.’ Piers pulled a small pouch from his pocket. ‘See, I have the first of our expenses. Our job is to go into the town and enjoy ourselves.’


As they walked into the town, John grumbled to himself that Piers had shown no inclination to share the contents of the purse. It looked as though John would have to rely on Piers’s generosity, something he was ill-inclined to do. John’s resentment of Piers pushed him into silence, so when he noticed a dirty unkempt red-haired man sitting on a bench, on a rampart that overlooked their camp, he did not mention it to Piers. The tramp, for that, is what John decided the man must be, lifted his head and watched them pass. John couldn’t imagine tramps had a lot else to entertain them. Piers didn’t notice the tramp, and by the time they entered the town, John had pushed the incident from his mind.

Once they had a couple of drinks, John’s mood improved. He even told Piers about his contact with Estelle and Giselle and the short sharp lesson he had been given. ‘It reminded me of when I was younger, girls and boys meeting behind the barn. The girls teased and provoked the boys into making approaches but then rejected them. Most of those girls took up with older men who had already made their way in the world. I watched it happen and became determined to make my own mark. I still haven’t achieved very much.’

Piers laughed. ‘Oh, I don’t know. The Earl seems quite impressed by you.’ He rested his chin in a cupped hand. ‘We should try out what Estelle told you. There is a pretty girl in that group at the next table. What would you say is her most attractive feature?’

John couldn’t really tell. ‘If she’d only turn around…’

‘Would you like to see her close up?’ Piers raised a single brow at John.

‘What?’ He eyed Piers and then the girl. ‘How?’

Piers rose from his seat and casually wandered over to the other table.

John watched as Piers introduced himself and then spoke to several different people before he bent down and whispered in the girl’s ear.

The girl turned around and smiled at John, before accepting Piers’ hand as she rose to her feet. She walked towards John. A smile lit up her face.

‘Hello, John. I am very pleased to meet you.’ She put her hands on her hips and lifted her head to look at the sky. ‘So, John, what is my most attractive feature?’

John’s mind whirled. He blushed.

‘Oh, I see. What your friend said is true. You are entirely lacking in experience. Well, John. Let me give you some advice. If a girl is attracted to you, any praise will be acceptable; but if she is not, nothing you say will have the desired effect. It is not what you say, a girl’s reaction is what really matters.’

She kicked one foot idly from side to side. ‘It is not all one-sided, you know. It can be frustrating to be a girl waiting for the man of her dreams to make his suit. Come to think of it, just waiting for any man to make his suit. Some girls have been known to bestow their favour on a man they like without the man being aware she has done so. They believe some sort of magic then makes the man give them attention.’ She laughed. ‘It is nonsense of course. When the man finds the favour, he is flattered and if he can identify who bestowed the favour on him, he then pays her reciprocal attention.’

She soothed an imaginary crease from her bodice. ‘Then again, if a man is without any experience and is totally shy, sometimes a girl has to take control and teach the man what he should do.’

She picked up John’s hand with her left hand and clasped it around her right wrist. She then held out her hand and leaning forward pushed John’s head down until his lips touched the back of her hand. ‘You see, like that. Well, at least something like that. Bonne nuit, John; Bonne chance.‘ And she walked back to her table.

John watched her go, astonished by the brief encounter. He turned to Piers. ‘How on earth did you do that?’

‘I think I should keep my secrets.’

‘No, I must know.’

‘I told them all that I had entered into a wager with you that I would not be able to persuade the young lady to come to our table to say hello. They were all amused, and she was only too pleased to be of assistance.’

‘It was that simple?’ John’s face screwed up in disbelief.

‘It was that simple.’

‘Piers, were you at Biscarrosse? I don’t remember seeing you.’

‘Oh, I was there all right.’ Piers nodded.

‘Where were you?’

‘I was with Estelle.’

John groaned.

The most dangerous woman in the world

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. 

He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’