John Stanley-5 June 1355
Could this possibly be the most dangerous woman in the world? John judged her to be possibly sixteen years old, certainly no older, but perfectly proportioned.
She was relatively tall, maybe exactly the same height as himself. Her broad shoulders made her slim waist appear even smaller. She wore no veil or head-covering of any sort and her unusually dark complexion was complemented by her long black hair which hung in extended curls. It was the perfect symmetry of her face made her outstandingly beautiful. John’s eyes were drawn to hers and they shared a lingering gaze.
John was entranced by her eyes; they were dark green-blue orbs embedded in the most brilliant white. They seemed to burn into his very soul. A vibration ran through his body and he trembled. To his astonishment, at the same instant Ximene shivered. It was as though she had felt it too.
The moment was past all too soon. She strode past him into the tent. John was left standing outside, struggling to keep his composure. As she passed, she removed her cloak, confirming what John had observed moments earlier. She was dressed as a man. Above the boots and hose, she wore a sleeveless tabard, striped horizontally gold and white. On the white bars were rows of what looked like tiny stars.
The only concession she had made to feminine style was that the tabard was relatively tight fitting. There was no doubt that she was a woman.
To John’s surprise, Lady Eleanor immediately called both Piers and himself, by name, into the tent. Ximene’s magnetic eyes flicked from John to Piers and back again as Lady Eleanor introduced them.
‘These soldiers, dear, are part of Prince Edward’s personal bodyguard. They have been assigned to look after us for the next few days. This is John Stanley.’ She raised a hand in his direction then moved it towards Piers, ‘and this Piers de Windsor.’
John and Piers bowed. Ximene’s eyes took them both in, sparkling but giving nothing away. There followed a lengthy silence.
‘And how shall I address you Milady?’ Piers asked.
Ximene’s mouth broke into the most welcoming smile. ‘Oh! Ximene will do fine,’ she said, tossing her head back.
John was surprised. No one had got the pronunciation absolutely correct, but now he knew. Sheamaine. That was how it was pronounced.
Piers broke in with the next obvious question. ‘Can we get you ladies something to eat?’
Lady Eleanor answered for both of them. ‘Thank you, Piers. Bring us at least two goblets of claret, which I am sure like all good citizens of Aquitaine you are carrying with you. Then some pate de foie gras and fresh bread, followed by a ham knuckle with carrots or cabbage and finally some creme cheese.’ She thought for several seconds. ‘Oh! Yes and then perhaps another two mugs of your best claret.’
The two ladies looked at each other and laughed. Despite their difference in ages they obviously enjoyed a good relationship. Piers glanced briefly at Ximene, which she interpreted as a question as to whether this would indeed meet her requirements.
She stifled her outrageous grin.
‘Yes, my lady is right, that would be good. But I know what campsites can be like. Whatever you can obtain will be fine. I would rather eat within the next hour than after midnight.’ Eyes still sparkling. ‘Oh, by the way, bring back a couple of mugs of claret for yourselves; I don’t like drinking alone!’
When John and Piers arrived at the kitchen it was still open, specifically awaiting the ladies requirements. Pate de foie gras and fresh bread turned out to be easy, but the night’s cooking had been based around what the Prince had ordered for his dinner with the Comte de Foix; duck in cherry sauce, roast quail and venison pie. There was no shortage of fruit, creme cheese or claret. The cook frowned, volunteering the information that anything was possible but that if the ladies must have a ham knuckle, it could be an hour or more and it would come from the town and it would be cold. Whilst the food was prepared John again mused on the fact that the Earl had some hidden agenda.
‘He must have stayed no longer than ten minutes at Beaufort! I ask again what is going on?’
‘And I can do nothing else but repeat, he obviously thinks we don’t need to know, just forget about it.’