John Stanley-10 June 1355
The town of Foix could only be reached by passing through a narrow gorge. The column of soldiers spread out into a long thin line, forced closer and closer to the Ariège River. John saw the twin towers of the Château slowly emerged above the trees until eventually, he could see the town itself and the pillar of rock supporting the Château.
The Comte’s party crossed a bridge over the river l’Arget, a tributary of the Ariège, in order to enter the Château. John sat and watched the slow progress over the bridge. He felt a great sense of loss. A loss of influence and worse a loss of intimacy He was supposed to be guarding her and now they were separated. He shook his head. It was more than guarding her, far more than that.
‘Come on, you can’t sit there all day.’ John’s head snapped around. It was Piers.
‘Don’t sneak up on me like that.’
Piers smirked ‘I didn’t sneak up. You were away in a world of your own. It is something you need to work on, it is relatively easy to read your feelings.
‘You are right about me being distracted, I feel responsible for her.’
‘Ooh! this is serious. For goodness sake, it will only be a couple of hours. We have been excused duty tonight. The Earl wants us to be presentable when we go to the Château this evening, Someone else will have to erect the tents.’
‘Say thank you.’
‘Thank you. But I didn’t think you knew about the visit to the Château.’
‘The Earl just told me, we are expected to provide additional security for Ximene.’
‘Yes, but it might be a bit more than that. Lady Eleanor has some ideas of her own. I think she wants to give us some sort of introduction to the Cathar faith.’
“Wow! that is what you have wanted all along. But why? I thought she had been doing that anyway?’
‘Obviously, there is more. Because we are close to Ximene, I think she wants us to have a better idea of how she… they all… think.’
‘Oh! So that is why you were so preoccupied.’
‘Well, no, as I said I feel responsible for her.’
He hesitated started to speak and hesitated again. ‘Piers, the Earl has warned us many times about sharing information we do not need to share. However, I do need to talk to someone. Can I trust you?’
‘Difficult situation. I cannot say you can trust me until I know what it is you have to say. I think it would be best if you say nothing but if it does not threaten either the Prince or the Earl, I will not pass it on.’
It was no more than John would have expected.
‘Very well then, I think I am in a bit too deep.’
‘Too deep? In what way?’
‘Two nights ago, before Thierry arrived, I formally, well as nearly formal as possible, made my suit for Ximene’s hand.’
‘Well, that’s alright. Have no concern. From what we have been told it happens all the time. Lady Eleanor has made us practice the art, you are better at it than I am. There aren’t many who get the chance to make a suit to their future Queen but… ‘
‘But she gave me her favour.’
‘She gave me her favour, and she knew what she was doing. I believe her grandmother also knew, possibly encouraged it.’
‘Have you agreed a time when you might… fulfil your relationship?’
‘No, we were interrupted.’
‘And do you want to go through with it?’
‘Wouldn’t you? She is magnificent.’
Piers’ eyes showed that a range of different thoughts was passing through his head. ‘You should not tell me any more, but I think she probably is serious. Do you remember what the girl in Marmande told us… It is not all one-sided, you know. It can be frustrating to be a girl waiting for the man of her dreams to make his suit. Some girls have been known to bestow their favour on a man they like without the man being aware she has done so. They believe some sort of magic then makes the man give them attention.’
He paused. ‘Don’t you see John? The horse, John; Helios. It was her secret favour. I fear you are in over your head.’ However the truth is that she is not yet Queen. You have done nothing wrong. There is no need for me to pass on any of this, you do have my word. Nevertheless, the next few days should be very interesting. Tread very carefully. Do not reject her. If you offended her she could tell this innocent story in a very different way.’
‘I think I know her well enough to know she would not do that.’
‘Hmm, tread very carefully.’