‘Well at this point in time if she wants independence, she will have to trust us, she has little choice.’
William Montacute-8th June 1355
The Earl told the Prince about Thierry and his message.
The Prince’s eyes opened wide. ‘Not good. All this was supposed to be secret. It is rapidly becoming an international incident.’
The Earl grinned. ‘Not quite yet.’ He shook his head. ‘Sadly there is absolutely nothing we can do to help.’
‘What it does mean is that there is no longer an organised escape route for Ximene.’ He narrowed his eyes. ‘So, I never got the chance to ask. How did the conversations go over dinner?’
The Prince rubbed his forehead, grimaced, and then ran his hand down his face. He sighed before looking the Earl directly in the eye. ‘She is a remarkable young lady. She knew that my declaration of love was for public consumption. We discussed the future of Occitan in terms of our mutual interests.’
‘I would say that she does not necessarily want to marry me but she does want to use me. She would be more than happy to become Duchess of Occitan as part of my empire. In turn, I am more than happy with that. Of course, we would then have to find a husband for her who owed allegiance to me, but I don’t think that would be too difficult. However, I think she would marry me if it was the only way to meet her objectives. You know, I think she is more concerned with establishing a haven for Cathars than she is in reclaiming her heritage. That might create problems, but at least she has taken the trouble to reveal it to me. I explained the way it works in England. She was interested, but pointed out it only worked because there was no Inquisition and a sympathetic King. She made it clear she doubts I could extend my rule to the whole of Occitan. Despite the difficulties, If she had been able to escape, I think it would have lead to a very satisfactory outcome…one way or another.’
The Earl shook his head. ‘ It cannot happen now, the Comte told us that he will take her back to Foix tomorrow under close escort, and I believe he will.
‘So tell me, William, what do we do now?’
‘You still would prefer to marry Joan?
‘Yes, I would; nothing has changed.’ He hesitated. ‘But I do not want Ximene to be married to Louis of Anjou or anyone else who does not owe allegiance to me.’
‘So, we must continue to court her, in the broadest sense of the word?’ And you are prepared to go to Foix?’
‘Yes, I am.’
The Earl paused and flicked his lower lip with his finger several times. ‘I have reviewed the options. We cannot steal her away tonight, ‘Too many people are awake. Too much attention is focussed on Ximene’s little enclave. I have no doubt that on the journey to Foix, Ximene will be surrounded by the Comte’s guards. There will be no opportunity during the journey. We will have to steal her away from the Château once everyone has settled there. You said this was something you did not want to do, but we have no choice. We will have to ignore your sensibilities about feudal loyalty; we will have to ignore Ximene’s preferences about destinations. If we take her to Bordeaux, she will be safe there whilst we work out how to use your relationship to your mutual vantage.’
The Prince nodded. ‘I am glad you realise it must be to our mutual advantage. Do you really think she will go to Bordeaux? She was adamant she wanted total freedom. She chose Sicily.’
The Earl shrugged his shoulders. ‘Well at this point in time if she wants independence, she will have to trust us, she has little choice.’
The Prince stretched out his arms. ‘I will just have to hope you can find another little miracle, William.’