‘Alyse, tell no one of this conversation. If I do go to Bordeaux I will make sure you come with me. In the meantime, I will continue to look for ways to get to Sicily. I don’t want anyone to know that I might agree to go to Bordeaux.’
Alyse Perez-14th June 1355
Alyse had enjoyed playing her part in the ruse they had played on the Earl but now grew increasingly restive. ‘What on earth is going on?’ she asked Ximene. ‘To me, it feels that you’re going to spend the rest of your life planning and replanning with the Earl!’
Ximene put her finger to her lips and dragged Alyse to her own room.
‘I am still trying to convince the Earl on Sicily. I believe that if I was to leave with John Stanley, armed with money, promissory notes and a bank note to be drawn in Sicily, we could vanish into the night and travel by any one of a dozen different routes.’
‘And our Earl doesn’t agree?’
‘He thinks we will attract attention, be attacked and robbed… or worse. The truth is the Earl wants me to go to Bordeaux and won’t consider alternatives. I will just have to keep talking.’
‘Ximene, where does this leave me? I want to get away from here. I no longer want to see Gaston either, and that will be almost impossible if I stay.’
‘Sweet Alyse, I suppose that if I do agree to go to Bordeaux there will be no need for you to impersonate me.’
She brushed her lips against Alyse’s cheek. Alyse grabbed her head in both hands pulled her in and kissed her fiercely.
Ximene smiled. ‘Oh, you think you could teach me to be submissive?’
‘Yes, I think I could.’
‘The way things are going, perhaps it is something I should practice. Alyse, tell no one of this conversation. If I do go to Bordeaux I will make sure you come with me. In the meantime, I will continue to look for ways to get to Sicily. I don’t want anyone to know that I might agree to go to Bordeaux.’
‘Not even John Stanley?’
‘Especially not John Stanley.’
Alyse pulled away and narrowed her eyes. ‘There is something else… Is it possible Lady Eleanor knew of our deception during the transition?’
‘She has never mentioned it.’
‘Certainly, something has changed. We agreed that until we left the Château, we would now dress differently. Additionally, that I should revert to how I used to be; avoid using makeup and wear my hair up, but that I should smother myself in perfume so that definitely do not smell like you.’
‘Yes, and I can see you have done that…so?’
‘Since the Transition, Lady Eleanor has treated me quite differently. She has always been kind but has always expected service. ‘Suddenly she has asked to be called Eleanor, told anecdotes about her past life, made a point of having lunch with me without expecting me to wait at table. It is as if she is now treating me as if I was you as if she is not quite sure which of us is which.’
‘Oh.’ I wonder, did she know all along and though she could not approve, did not object. I wonder.’
Ximene excused herself. Alyse, pondering on her future, looking for something to do, went to the library but found it locked. She remembered that John and Piers were now working on some secret project. She visited Lady Eleanor’s lounge, but it was empty and Alyse did not want to use it without invitation.
She retired to her bedroom, opened the shutters, breathed deeply the fresh warm air and lay on the bed, listening to the relentless twittering of swallows and swifts as she gazed at the clear blue sky. Her mind turned to thoughts of Bordeaux and the life which might await her there.
Her reverie was rudely disturbed by a loud banging on the door. Dominic stood outside, irritable as always. ‘Alyse, Alyse come with me…’
Alyse frowned. She had never liked Dominic. ‘Why, what do you want?’
‘The Comte is not happy with the progress you have made whilst we were away at the hunt.’
Alyse pursed her lips. ‘I will come as soon as I can. There are a few things I must do first.’
Dominic hovered by the door.
‘Dominic, I will come as soon as I can.’
On the terrace outside the great hall were scenes of chaos. In order to make the hall ready for the dinner, all the partitions were being moved to a wooden shed which had been built for this purpose. Alyse’s desk had already been moved and her work had been placed on shelves out in the shed. A quick check showed her that the move had been well executed. She was just sitting down to work when she saw the Comte threading his way towards her.
‘Thank you, Alyse. I am sorry, I don’t even know if you can work amidst all this.’ He waved his hand to indicate the mess behind him. ‘But I would very much like you to complete the centrepiece for the book this week. I intend to have it on display at the end of the hall during the dinner.’ He sighed. ‘We are behind with the text because Dominic was with me for the hunt and while we were away he started working on the marriage contract. The idea is that the first draft will already have the key concepts which will satisfy the Prince, Ximene and me.’
Alyse frowned. He spoke as though the conversation with Ximene about different marriage partners had never happened. Alyse supposed he would never guess she knew every detail of that conversation.
The Comte continued, ‘However, even that contract is falling behind, and I have decided we might need more that one version of it…’
Alyse raised an eyebrow.
‘But Domonic has saved the day. He has managed to pluck from nowhere a clerk experienced in the writing of contracts.
‘I have interviewed this candidate and tested his work and he is good, very good. Dominic will now return to working on the book and the new man, Thomas Bewsley, will work on the marriage contracts. I will get Dominic to bring him to meet you. He is English, by the way.’ The Comte rushed away.
Alyse gave up in disgust. Pushing her way through a queue of people, and the maze of furniture, she crossed the courtyard and poked her head into the doorway of the great hall. All the partitions had now been removed and scaffolding was being erected. Painters were already clambering over sections of completed scaffolding and the sound of cheery whistling echoed through the empty hall.She completed a circuit of the hall, enjoying the warm afternoon sunshine, and sat on a retaining wall to take in the view of the Prince’s camp.
Upon returning to her desk, she found a large man with black curly hair already sat at it. He was thumbing through her drawings. ‘These are very good. Yours?’ He smiled and stood up.
Alyse felt instinctively that his man knew something she didn’t.
‘Thomas Bewsley… here to work on the marriage contract.’
‘Alyse Perez de Padilla.’
‘I shall call you Alyse. Now, about these drawings.’
This man was not a clerk. Too tall, too straight, too muscled, too exposed to the weather. More than that, he had said very little, but he sounded dismissive. He did not care about other people.
He spoke again. ‘You are a good artist. You can help me. The structure of the Château is very unusual, especially in the lower buildings clinging to the side of the rock. Can you draw up some outline plans for me to help me find my way around?’
Alyse pressed her lips together. ‘I am sorry but I have my own tasks, which the Comte wants me to complete before the end of the week. I don’t expect you shall need to venture far from your desk, in any case.’
The stranger’s nostrils flared.
‘Very well. Get on with your own work but soon I will need to speak with the Comte’s niece, the one who is to be married. I need to find her. Your reluctance to help will only slow proceedings down.’
Alyse turned to her work, chastising her heart for beating far faster than the situation warranted.