John Stanley-10 June 1355
In the Early evening, having seen their horses comfortably and securely stabled, John and Piers approached the south-west gate of the chateau up the steeply sloping causeway.
At the guardhouse, atop of the ramp, guards stood watch. Above the guardhouse one structure after another clung to the side of the rock, eventually merging with the castle proper one hundred feet above them.
The two Lions introduced themselves to the guards, who eyed them with intense suspicion, clearly not interested to know that the new arrivals were Royal Guards of Aquitaine.
After a short time, a young man appeared to escort them to Lady Eleanor.
Piers and John looked the young man up and down in astonishment. He wore an open-necked shirt and a short leather jerkin which could never have been fastened. He wore hose, which because of the design of the jerkin were exposed to the bottom of the shirt. The shirt itself was something to behold. Either side of the fastenings, it was embroidered in a narrow vertical band and had a large collar, pleated so that it stood up behind his head to the level of the bottom of his ears. The image was completed by lightweight shoes, which John judged could not have survived a single rainstorm. The young man introduced himself as Juan Perez de Pedilla, troubadour to Lady Eleanor.
The entrance to the castle was via a small courtyard, which doubled as a stable but which could have accommodated no more than four or five horses. John saw Selene in one of the stalls and made his way over to her, nuzzling her face and whispering gently to her.
A spiral staircase connected the courtyard to the upper levels, so narrow it only allowed for one person at a time.
After a short climb, they found themselves in a second courtyard and facing a large double door. Alongside the door, the narrow spiral staircase continued up to the chateau proper. When the door opened they were greeted, not by another guard, but a very pretty young woman.
‘My sister Alyse Perez. She is Lady Eleanor’s companion.’
Alyse smiled. ‘From your military dress, I can see that you have come directly from the road. You need to bathe and change your clothes. Please follow me.’
It was already getting dark inside the castle, so she lit a torch before leading them up another staircase. She knocked on a door. When it opened, Lady Eleanor appeared resplendent in evening dress.
‘Ahhh! John and Piers.’ She gave them each a kiss on both cheeks but for John, she included a special third kiss and a strong hug of his shoulders.
‘I am so pleased you could come. I take it you have already been introduced to Alyse Perez and Juan Perez. They are both from the Henestrosa family and are relatives of mine. Alyse will assist you to settle in. You will be here for several days, so I will have some less military clothes made for you.’
Lady Eleanor beamed a quiet satisfaction. She clearly could not resist giving a quick guided tour, indicating that the apartments were spread around a third of the perimeter of the rock, with access to open terraced gardens at various levels. She indicated the tiny room, in the form of a window balcony, where John and Piers would be sleeping.
She then introduced them to a group of tailors who scurried around taking measurements for new outfits to replace their uniforms. She became businesslike as she gave the tailors their instructions.
‘All you will have time to do is alter the outfits you have been preparing for Juan.’ The tailors grumbled and protested that the result would be less than satisfactory, but Lady Eleanor insisted.
As the tailors argued over measurements, Lady Eleanor became apologetic. ‘This evening will not be entirely as planned. Ximene has been invited to dinner with the Comte. The Prince and the Earl of Salisbury are arriving shortly and they will expect Ximene to join them.’
‘After the dinner upstairs is finished, the kitchen staff will put on a meal for us.’ She frowned. ‘Again, I must apologise. I used to have control of the kitchen but Gaston’s wife seems to have taken advantage of my absence to move the kitchen upstairs.’ She then showed that several of the rooms gave access to various caves, which nature had hollowed out of the limestone rock.
As they walked down the corridor and into the cavern containing the spring, Ximene appeared in formal attire. She wore a white mantilla in place of the one she had given to John. She held out her hand and received an adoring kiss from both of the Lions.
John could not help snatching a quick glance at Alyse, hovering in the background…they really were alike! The corridor opened out onto the balcony. The cavern was ablaze with light and yet the furthest extremities were still in shadow. The ever moving columns of steam filled the room and yet the flow of water from the spring was intermittently visible.
John gazed around in wonderment. It was like a dream, a fantasy. In all the dreams he had fostered about Ximene, nothing had prepared him for this.
At this point, Lady Eleanor took her leave. Smiling, she pulled Alyse to the fore. ‘You will enjoy bathing and some fresh clothes. Alyse will look after you, and I believe there is someone else you already know!’