John Stanley-6 June 1355
Piers sat on the bough of a gnarled tree, overhanging the river, watching John unsaddle and groom Helios.
‘Helios and Selene?’
‘The horses are twins?’
‘So I believe.’
‘She gave you one of them?’
‘She wants me to be able to run with her during the hunt.’
‘It is a very symbolic gift.’
‘Helios and Selene were Egyptian gods. The names were given to two of Mark Anthony’s children by Cleopatra. They were also twins.’
‘So that probably explains the names of the horses.’
‘Quite. But Romans and Greeks both thought the horse symbolised power. To name twin horses Helios and Selene means that there is also a reference to Castor and Pollux, the Dioscuri or as they were known in Rome, Gemini. The Dioscuri were gods of horsemanship but remarkably they were originally mortals who gained immortality by becoming gods.’
‘Quite, and Ximene has therefore shared with you, at least symbolically, her power and a chance of immortality.’
John frowned and then his eyes widened. ‘You have just made that up.’
‘I haven’t. I swear I haven’t. The important point is whether Ximene knows the significance.’
Piers stood up carefully to avoid losing his balance and jumped onto the riverbank. ‘Come on, time to think about food.’
It was nearly dark when the hunters returned.
The Earl paid a courtesy call to the ladies’ tent. He shook his head. ‘Not even a squirrel. Gaston is furious. Beaters have been sent out to lay a new trail of bait and Gaston intends to try again tomorrow.
There will, however, be a deer hunt tomorrow for the ladies and whoever else might prefer it. However, the Prince has decided not to hunt at all for the next two days. He wants to spend time preparing for the feast.’
After he had left, John happily spent the evening helping Piers serve food and drink to the ladies, though inevitably gods and horses dominated his thoughts.
After dinner, Lady Eleanor announced that she had another entertainment. That she intended to set up a theatrical interpretation of a Court of Love.
John eyed her warily.
‘Ximene, you will play a young woman of good birth who is now penniless.’ Lady Eleanor beamed at John. ‘John, you will be a young suitor to whom Ximene is favourably inclined.’
She smiled in encouragement at Piers. ‘Piers, you will be an older man, a little overweight but fabulously rich. You have both made your suit but Ximene cannot make up her mind. You must now both make your case to the Court of Love, and the court will offer Ximene advice. John, this time you should go first.’
John took a deep breath. ‘You can see that I am young. I am also extremely fit, and I am desperately in love with Ximene.’
He decided to use some of his recent experience to dramatise his case. ‘I recently won an archery competition and Ximene made me her champion and gave me her favour. I am now patiently awaiting her summons to an assignment, and I take every opportunity to express my admiration for her.
Now this other man …’ he gestured to Piers, ‘… invited Ximene to an elaborate dinner, where he hired singers, dancers and a troubadour to praise her. How can admiration that has to be paid for be genuine? Obviously, it cannot come from the heart.’
Piers frowned. ‘That was almost too good, John. You have made me feel like an interloper.’
Lady Eleanor clapped her hands. ‘No, no, Piers. Try to stay in character.’
Piers started again. ‘There was nothing wrong in hiring assistance. I do not sing and I am easily tongue-tied, but I personally approved every line of the songs and the verse. My feelings do come from my heart. I may not have won a martial arts contest but I would be devoted to Ximene and could offer her far more than this upstart soldier could.’
Lady Eleanor asked John questions about his past experience with women.
‘Madame Judge, I have to admit that I have never so much as touched a woman. Rest assured, I continue to try my best.’
Both Ximene and her grandmother laughed out loud.
Piers struggled to keep a straight face.
Lady Eleanor gestured, indicating that he should answer the same question.
Piers pursed his lips. ‘I have little experience but have received no complaints,’ he said.
Laughter is contagious and it became impossible to speak.
Eventually, Lady Eleanor straightened her face. ‘And now, Ximene, how do you feel about these two gentlemen?’
‘I really cannot choose between them. I gave my favour to Piers formally after he had gone to so much effort to make his suit. I gave my favour to John informally, on the spur of the moment. He did not, at that time, make his suit; nevertheless, I still feel some tie. I believe that John should be allowed to put his suit formally. Could the court please arrange for that to happen and then offer me advice on what to do?’
Lady Eleanor looked very serious. ‘First of all, I think you are in error, Ximene. I believe John made his suit very successfully last night.’ She hesitated. ‘So I will proceed to my judgement.’
John stared. Now it seemed it was Lady Eleanor who was stepping outside of her character.
Lady Eleanor drew a deep breath. ‘Ximene, you should marry Piers because of the opportunities his wealth presents, but you should take John as a lover, as he is clearly virile and athletic. The fact that he has little experience is of no concern. After all, he can be trained to be whatever you want him to be.’
Ximene clapped her hands and laughed out loud. Lady Eleanor joined her.
John was silent. He felt as though someone had thrown a bucket of cold water over him.
‘Excuse me, milady, is that judgement based on a past outcome of a real case?’
Lady Eleanor stopped laughing. ‘There are no precedents in Courts of Love because records are rarely documented … but … yes, there has been a similar finding. Eleanor of Aquitaine, the ancestor of the Prince, was one of the judges at the court. In real courts, there are never less than three judges and the plaintiffs would not be present at the judgement, only the subject or subjects of their affection. And don’t forget that Ximene would not necessarily follow the advice of the court. The court’s advice is advice and nothing more.’
Afterwards, it was John’s turn to stand guard, but for once he didn’t enjoy it.