105 Sweet and Spicy

‘Milady Ximene, I had no idea. ‘Please forgive me.
Forgive me, Milady, I know it is you, you smell differently.
Alyse smells sweet and you… smell…spicy.’

Ximene Trencavel – 10th June 1355

Lady Eleanor smiled as she served drinks.

As she sipped her wine, Ximene glowed with pleasure. The experience had amply justified her deception in swapping places with Alyse and the risks involved in making that deception. Now, as a result, she had gained much knowledge about John. He had been more relaxed when he had thought he was with Alyse, and she liked him that way. But what did it all mean? Perhaps he had been tense when he was with her because he really did care for her and was always trying to do the right thing. Perhaps he really had no idea what was expected of him. On the other hand, it might be that he was in awe of her social status. Another possibility was that he was most comfortable in a situation where there were rules. One thing she did know — he was a fast learner. She looked forward to comparing notes with Pipa.


She hadn’t only learned about John however, she had learned about herself. She had been surprised to have gained pleasure from the touch of Piers, a stranger to who she had previously given little consideration. Even more surprising was that when she had left logic behind and slipped into the pleasure phase it was her ability to watch Pipa and John which had pushed her over the brink. She had fantasized that both John and Pipa were involved in her experience. Was she a voyeur? Or did she have a previously hidden preference for multiple partners? She chuckled, remembering some of the more titillating snippets Alyse had read to her about the Greeks. Perhaps she was in the best tradition of that libertine civilisation. Was this a blessing or a curse? Not perhaps the easiest way to live a life!


She had no time to think it through as she was aware that the time was approaching when she had to make the final swap with Alyse. It was equally important for her to be there at the end of the dinner so that she was a party to any final negotiations and agreements. Because of the sequencing of events, it was necessary for Alyse to trigger the final exchange of roles. It had been agreed that Alyse would leave immediately after the final course, but when would that be? They would both be betrayed if the changeover took too long.

Lady Eleanor was playing mother hen. ‘We will go back to my apartments for dinner. Dry yourselves off and wear the gowns. Though I’ve lit a fire, it can be draughty, even at this time of year.’


In her dining room, Lady Eleanor directed John and Piers to a seat and offered more wine.

Ximene and Pipa pulled on dresses which had been warming in front of the fire. The tailors arrived with the new outfits for John and Piers.

Lady Eleanor beckoned Ximene away from the others. At first, Ximene did not recognise the gesture, but then, with a jerk of surprise, reacted just in time. She ran across the room. Lady Eleanor smiled. ‘Alyse, can you run up to the kitchen? Get some fresh bread. I always like to break fresh bread with a glass of wine.’ Ximene did her best to make a little curtsy, as she had seen Alyse do a thousand times.


As she ran up the stairs, she realised that even small details could give a deception away. She had never before had to make a servant’s curtsy, and she had failed to practice it.

When she entered the kitchen, Henri was sat at the large table eating his dinner. This was no surprise. Even in the old kitchen, it was one of the perks the senior guards enjoyed. She expected him to jump to his feet, but he didn’t. Instead, he waved a goblet in the air and shouted, ‘Hello, darling, are you finished downstairs?’

‘No, unfortunately, Milady still has to have dinner. I have come to check on progress and take her some bread.’

‘Come over here and give me a kiss.’

Ximene’s head whirled. Suddenly she had entered a world she knew nothing about.

‘I would love to, but Milady is waiting.’

‘Just a quick peck.’

Ximene cautiously approached Henri, glancing towards the staff at the business end of the kitchen. He reached out a hand and pulled her inwards and downwards, planting a passionate kiss on her lips. She struggled to free herself but he caressed her and kissed her again. She had no idea what to do.

Suddenly Henri stiffened, released her, gazed into her face and jumped to his feet. ‘Milady Ximene, I had no idea.’ He blushed. ‘Please forgive me.’

Ximene retreated five or six steps.

‘Forgive me, Milady, I know it is you, you smell differently.’

‘Smell differently?’ Ximene cocked her head.

‘Alyse smells sweet and you … smell… spicy.’

‘Really?’

‘Really… please, Milady, do not get me into trouble. I did it properly. I made my suit. Alyse gave me her favour and came to my house in the town. It was all very correct. Now that we have a relationship, it is difficult to ignore it in a different situation.’

‘I have no doubt you did it properly, Henri, and I have no intention of getting you into trouble, but it is so important that you do not reveal that I have changed places with Alyse tonight.’

‘Milady I would never betray your trust. I adore you. I will always be available to your command.’

‘Thank you, Henri. I must leave, Lady Eleanor is waiting and I have yet to arrange the bread and meal.’

Henri bowed. ‘Of course.’

She hurriedly grabbed the bread, once again noticing that the staff in the kitchen made no deference to her presence. She breathed a sigh of relief. They had not overheard her conversation with Henri. They thought she was Alyse. As she passed on the request to serve dinner, she remembered to say ‘please’ and ‘thank you.’ They gave her a basket containing warm bread, a cutting board, a knife and a slab of butter pressed into a pottery mould.

The chef smiled. ‘Tell Lady Eleanor that the Comte’s meal is finished. We served the last course a quarter of an hour ago. Lady Eleanor’ meal will be ready soon.’

Ximene pricked up her ears. What a fortunate coincidence.


She lingered by the stairwell and, sure enough, Alyse emerged from the hall almost immediately.

Together they ran down the stairs and then separated, each running to their own bedroom.

On the bed waiting for Ximene was the exact copy of the dress Alyse had been wearing. She pulled off Alyse’s own clothes.

‘First things first,’ she muttered to herself. ‘Makeup, then hair then the dress.’ She performed each task quickly yet methodically, then stood looking at her bedroom door.

Alyse burst into the room. She had already changed. Dressing down was far easier than dressing up. She helped Ximene lace up the dress and checked her hair before arranging the mantilla.

‘I am glad we had a copy of your dress, from the portrait sittings,’ said Alyse. ‘It would have taken ages otherwise.’ She surveyed her handiwork and nodded. ‘Good. I just asked to be excused. The time is about right. They will suspect nothing. Off you go.’

Ximene pointed at the bread and butter. ‘Don’t forget that. Lady Eleanor is waiting for it. Anything I need to know?’

‘I don’t think so. They spent their time being nice to me. There was nothing which surprised or even interested me.’

Despite the dress almost filling the available space, Ximene ran up the circular staircase. At the top, she took a deep breath and entered the hall.


The Prince, the Comte, and the Earl seemed at first glance to be very relaxed. They sipped deeply from their glasses. A distinctive bottle of Armagnac stood in the prime position on the table. Ximene knew the Comte reserved this particular Armagnac for very special occasions.

They all rose from their seats at Ximene’s entry. Ximene panicked. She had no idea where Alyse had been sitting. She realised the answer must lie in the place settings. Of course! At the right hand of the Comte and across the table from the Prince and the Earl. This was not just a dinner, it was a conference. More panic. Where were they up to?

She sat down and they all resumed their own seats.

‘So, Ximene, what do you think of that suggestion?’

‘It sounded good but perhaps we could go over it again, point by point. I would like to be confident that it is acceptable both to you, Gaston and to the Prince.’

It was the Comte who answered. ‘I thought that was clear, but perhaps you’re correct. Let us go over it again … point by point.’

Ximene breathed a sigh of relief.

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Extract from The Prisoner of Foix--Chapter 43 -The EntranceNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley-26th April 1355

 

'Looks like we are going to see a bit of excitement, John. The Captain tried to get an agreement from the Prince that if there is surf running across the channel to Arcachon we will turn back to Bordeaux, but the Prince would hear none of it. Instead, he has offered to provide insurance for all three ships. If they are damaged or sunk, the owners will be compensated and every sailor who makes the passage will be given a bounty payment. What none of this seems to take into account is that if we sink in rough, fast-flowing waters we might all drown.'

John raised his eyebrows. 'But that is what we are going to do?'

'Yes, despite the fact that surf running accross the entrance is not uncommon and the deep water channel moves continually. In the end, the Prince attacked their captains on their weakest point, their professional pride! He threw down the gauntlet. He offered to take the Sally first through the channel, and to take control during the passage.' He raised his brow. 'We are going into the Bay of Arcachon, come what may! '

Extract from The Eagle of Carcassone -- Chapter 24-- A Real GoddessNo need to buy a Kindle. Read it on your computer or tablet

John Stanley - 22 July 1355

An hour later John walked with Ximene close to the river along the valley below St Feriole. It was the very essence of a summer’s day. The sun was fierce but in the shadow of the trees, it was cool and fragrant. The trees and shrubs along the riverbank hid their progress, from the Château, from St Feriole.

Eventually they reached a point where John thought it was safe to emerge from cover. To his satisfaction the stream extended into a pool with a sandy beach, shaded by trees. Where the stream entered the pool there was a flat grassy area, almost circular. Behind this, the bulk of two mountain ridges provided a splendid backdrop. He looked around once more ‘Not just a good training ground but a great training ground. If the Greek heroes knew about this they might be tempted to join me, to train with me’

Ximene laughed out loud. He turned to look at her. She had removed her outer clothes and was wearing a white chemise, cut short so that it barely reached her knees. Around her waist, she wore a plaited leather belt, obviously fashioned from the multitude of leather straps to be found in the tackle room.

She ran her hands down over her breasts. ‘When you were unconscious I heard you muttering about gods and goddesses, so  I have decided that from now on, for you, I will be the goddess.’

The Prisoner of FoixVol 1 of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

Aquitaine, an English possession, is in crisis. It is under threat from neighbouring nations and internal dissension.

The Black Prince, King Edward III’s eldest son has been given the task of taking command in Aquitaine.

Suddenly there is an opportunity. Ximene Trencavel is the heiress to the lands of Occitan, to the east of Aquitaine: lands controlled by the Franks. Ximene wants independence, both for herself and for Occitan.

A union between Aquitaine and Occitan would be mutually beneficial. The Black Prince undertakes a secret journey to meet Ximene to negotiate a marriage contract. It is, however, a marriage neither of them really wants.

Meanwhile, the  Franks plot to murder Ximene to prevent ,not just the marriage, but any kind of union between England and Occitan.

The Eagle Of CarcassonneVol II of the series—The Treasure of Trencavel

The loose alliance between Ximene Trencavel and the Black Prince is under threat.

The Prince invades Occitan, to show his support for Ximene but it becomes an invasion which creates more problems than it solves.

The Prince has fallen hopelessly in love with Joan of Kent and Joan is now determined to marry him and become the next Queen of England.

Joan is therefore  determined to convince Ximene that she should not marry the Prince.

Part of her strategy is to encourage Ximene’s relationship with John Stanley—one of the Princes bodyguards—not an easy task as both John and Ximene have doubts about their compatibility.

However, John is grievously injured in a battle and Ximene commits herself to nurse him back to health.