Ximene Trencavel-11 June 1355
Ximene had noticed the bow. The Earl always bowed to ladies but this was different. It was a bow of deference.
She had, however, also noticed his discomfort at the situation he found himself in and she determined to make it a little easier for him. She rushed from room to room until she found Alyse.
‘Our little ruse worked a treat, none of them knew we had changed places. Not John, not Piers, not the Prince, not Gaston, and even more impressively, not my grandmother.’ She frowned. ‘At least, I think not. The only one who knew the difference was Henri; Alyse, you really should have told me about that.’
‘There did not seem to be any point at the time. He is a lovely man and he seemed lonely. I couldn’t resist.’
‘I did not tell you about the temple or my intention to escape; you did not tell me about Henri… are we even, can we learn to trust each other again?’
‘Actually, I would have thought last night proved the fact.’
‘Yes, you are right.’ Ximene frowned. ‘Hmm, it just shows how the little things could give us away. We now know we smell different from each other.’
Alyse laughed. ‘What still astonishes me is that before we made up this little game we must have been alike and no one really noticed it. It must have meant that when we dressed totally differently it obscured the likeness. We must still use that when we want to be seen as different people.’
Ximene also chuckled. ‘It has taught me that switching in the middle of the evening was not a good idea. I was trapped with Lady Eleanor and with the change of clothes and a need to redo my hair. If she had not requested the bread I would not have made it in time for the switch.’
Alyse nodded. ‘We were lucky. It was the hairstyle that nearly caught me out. When I returned to Lady Eleanor I forgot about it! Piers commented on how quickly my hair had dried. Never mind! We got away with it.’
They hugged each other and laughed.
Ximene eventually pulled away. ‘We now know it works, so I must put another proposal to you. It is only a slight modification on what we planned originally, but if I escape to Sicily will you pretend to be me in Bordeaux to throw any potential enemies off the scent?’
She laughed out loud. ‘Hmm, in view of the fact that we smell different to each other, that is not a perfect choice of words. We must start to wear the same perfume.’
It took Alice only a moment’s thought. ‘Yes, I will do it. If nothing else it would be fun.’
‘I thought you would. You will meet some powerful men.’
‘And Piers will be going back to Bordeaux…’
‘Oh! You are taken with him?’ Ximene couldn’t hide her surprise.
‘Well, yes, I am. I did not spend much time with him, but I suppose I am flattered that he seemed so attracted to me. ’I do like him.
Ximene could see another thought cross her mind.
Alyse’s voice trembled as she declared to the thought. ‘Oh, of course, how stupid of me. He did not know it was you in the chamber; he thought it was me. Once again, another man, but it is you to whom he is attracted. What on earth did you do to him?’
‘Nothing very spectacular, I can assure you. Don’t be silly, Alyse. There is still a lot of work to do on both of John and Piers.’
‘You must have done something. I think he is very keen.’
‘Oh! If you insist, in the spirit of our agreement, I will recount every detail, but I repeat it was nothing very spectacular.’
‘Just tell me what he liked.’
‘Has he indicated that he is prepared to make his suit? Does he understand that the relationship will be on your terms?’
‘No, no, it is far too early. I think he would, but he probably doesn’t know how to go about it.’
‘I will get John to talk to him. John does at least seem to understand the principles. Anyway, that will sort itself out one way or another …’
‘Ximene, you are so unfeeling. It really matters to me.’ Alyse shook her head.
An edge entered Ximene’s voice. ‘I will make sure it is sorted out, but the important thing is that you will do it. You will pretend to be me in Bordeaux.’
‘Yes, I will, but what about the Prince. Will he know?
‘Yes, of course, he will know. He does not know yet, but he will know. It is the Prince who is arranging my escape to Sicily. In Bordeaux, he will keep up the pretence at least until his negotiations with me have come to a conclusion. In the meantime, you will be living a life as the future Queen of England. Who knows? You might meet King Edward.’
Alyse’s eyes shone with delight.
Ximene then sought out Pipa.
‘There is still a chance I will marry the Prince.’
Pipa’s eyes sparkled. ‘ I didn’t know there was a chance you wouldn’t.’
‘Yes, you did. I told you about my plan to escape to Sicily so that I would have my independence.’
‘You did, but I always thought that was only to improve your negotiating position.’ Pipa ran her fingers through her hair.’ And more recently I assumed it was to find time to be with John Stanley.’
‘Well, it is interesting you have raised John Stanley. From what I saw you enjoyed your time with him last evening?’
‘I did and you know, all the more so because I knew you were watching us. Does that surprise you?
After last night I don’t think there will be many more surprises. I had a similar experience. So tell me, if I did marry the Prince, would you be prepared to marry John Stanley?’
‘Marry? marry? Why?
‘This is all extremely hypothetical, but suppose John was given a senior position, say, Seneschal of Occitan, with the money and status to accompany that role, then if you were married to him I could visit you without any suspicion of my intent and who knows what interesting events might occur.’
‘Whooo! are you suggesting what I think you are suggesting?’
‘Absolutely. Our relationship is wonderful and I believe John could be brought into this .’
Pipa threw her arms into the air. ‘Yes! Yes! But can we have a rehearsal before I decide? Like tonight?’
Ximene laughed. ‘No Pipa not tonight. He is not ready yet, but I will work on him. When the time comes he will be ready.’