66 The Designated Outlaw

William Montacute 7 June 1355

‘It all sounded so easy when I was in London. The Pope wanted to control Ximene. He decided marriage to me was the best way to exert his control. In return, he would help us expand our empire. That gave him the additional benefit of creating a third force to help him control the Franks and the Holy Roman Empire.’

William blinked. ‘You have never before, put it in those terms. It makes it a strategic initiative. But everyone seems to have accepted that Ximene could veto the arrangement. Now there is no doubt, she wants to escape, certainly from the count and possibly from you.’

The Prince winced. ‘William, I agreed to all this far too readily last night. You and I know Ximene wants to leave of her own accord, but how will it look to everyone else and to my father in particular.

William was sympathetic but got no opportunity to respond.

‘My father is committed to the marriage. He asked me to come here not so much to meet Ximene but to remove her to Bordeaux if we had any difficulties in the negotiations. It was expected that the difficulty would be with the Comte, not with Ximene herself. He would expect me to snatch Ximene away right now, and ride hell for leather for Bordeaux.’

‘That is still a possible solution. In many ways, it is the simplest solution’ The Earl considered the options ‘You have the chateau at Beaufort. The Comte de Comminges might help? There are others I could call on. I could make the arrangements tomorrow. Ximene could be in Bordeaux by the end of the week.’ He paused, deciding to test the Prince’s resolve ‘But it would not, I think, support our objective of allowing you to marry Joan.’

‘No and in any case, as a statesman, I have never liked the idea of snatching Ximene away. The Comte de Foix is also the Comte de Bearn and is my liegeman for his lands in Bearn. I am, as part of that agreement, supposed to protect his interests.’

‘It need not involve you.’

The Prince eyed his friend and smiled.‘ Semantics, William, semantics. Of course, I would be involved.’

The Earl returned the smile. It was not often the Prince delayed long enough to think as a statesman. This was chivalry in action. ‘So…’

‘So now you have worked one of your little miracles. Now she wants to take the initiative and escape, which compromises nothing. Will she go to Bordeaux?’

‘No. She wishes to escape all political influences whilst she negotiates her position. She intends to go to Sicily, where her family has property. Her action will make it easier to explain it to your father. It will make it possible for you to marry Joan. However, I do think we have a duty of care towards Ximene.’

‘And you have managed to convince Ximene that John Stanley could travel with her, look after her interests and provide a potential conduit for further negotiations. Why him?’

‘As you know he is courageous, more than competent as a soldier and has a strong sense of loyalty. Most importantly, he is acceptable both to Ximene and to her grandmother.’

‘And that is because?’ The Prince paused. ‘They hardly know him.’

‘Why do we both love Joan?’

‘She is unique: brave, generous, loving, loyal, inspiring.’

‘Quite.’

‘John Stanley?’

‘The male equivalent, or at least the embryo equivalent. Even I feel it… occasionally.’

‘But how will we explain John Stanley’s role to the outside world?’

‘In the short term, we can’t. He will be implicated in the escape. It will seem to be his initiative. To preserve the image you want to present we will disown him. Perhaps to preserve the illusion we will declare him to be an outlaw. Ximene herself may find her relationship tarnished by her association with John. That will help in convincing your father that you should not marry her. Eventually, because we all know what actually happened, he can be reinstated and your relationship with Ximene re-established as a political, not a marriage partner.’

The Prince nodded. ‘Does John or indeed Ximene know all this?’

‘No, I don’t think it is something they need to know.’

‘Thank you, William, I will leave it in your very capable hands.’

The most dangerous woman in the world