102 Into the Château

‘From your military dress, I can see that you have come directly from the road. You need to bathe and change your clothes. Please follow me.’

John Stanley – 10th June 1355

In the early evening, having seen their horses comfortably and securely stabled, John and Piers approached the south-west gate of the Château up the steeply sloping causeway. At the guardhouse, at the top of the ramp, guards stood watch. Above the guardhouse one structure after another clung to the side of the rock, eventually merging with the main Château one hundred feet above them.

Piers introduced himself to the guards, who eyed them with intense suspicion. They were clearly not impressed or even interested to know that the new arrivals were Royal Guards of Aquitaine. They were kept waiting whilst one of the guards ran across the courtyard and entered a spiral staircase at the far side.

After a short time, a young man appeared who, after a renewal of introductions, offered to escort them to Lady Eleanor. Piers and John looked the young man up and down in astonishment. He wore an open-necked shirt and a short leather jerkin which could never have been fastened. He wore hose, which because of the design of the jerkin were exposed to the bottom of the shirt. The shirt itself was something to behold. Either side of the fastenings, it was embroidered in several narrow vertical bands It had a large collar, pleated so that it stood up behind his head to the level of the bottom of his ears. The image was completed by lightweight shoes, which John judged could not have survived a single rainstorm. The young man introduced himself as Juan Perez de Padilla, troubadour to Lady Eleanor.

Juan led them across the small courtyard, which doubled as a stable but which could have accommodated no more than four or five horses. John saw Selene in one of the stalls and made his way over to her, nuzzling her face and whispering gently to her.

Juan then led them up the spiral staircase which they discovered connected the courtyard to the upper levels, so narrow it allowed for only one person at a time. After a short climb, they found themselves in a second courtyard and facing a large double door. Alongside the door, the narrow spiral staircase continued up to the chateau above.


When the door opened they were greeted, not by another guard, but a very pretty young woman. Juan made the introductions. ‘My sister Alyse Perez. She is Lady Eleanor’s companion. These gentlemen, Alyse, are the Prince’s guards we have been expecting, John Stanley and Piers de Windsor.’

John was bewildered. Alyse could have been Ximene. Was this in fact just Ximene presenting another persona? And yet… there were differences. The severe, almost drab, dress which was more of a uniform; the hair pulled back tightly over her head covered by a tiny linen cap, the demure avoidance of any lengthy eye contact.

He glanced sideways at Piers but if he was also surprised he did a good job of concealing it.

Alyse smiled. ‘From your military dress, I can see that you have come directly from the road. You need to bathe and change your clothes. Please follow me.’

It was already getting dark inside the Château, so she lit a torch before leading them up another staircase. She knocked on a door. When it opened, Lady Eleanor appeared resplendent in evening dress.

‘Ahhh! John and Piers.’ She gave them each a kiss on both cheeks but for John, she included a special third kiss and a strong hug of his shoulders.

‘I am so pleased you could come. I take it you have already been introduced to Alyse Perez and Juan Perez. They are both from the Henestrosa family and are relatives of mine. Alyse will assist you to settle in. You will be here for several days, so I will have some less military clothes made for you.’

John listened politely as Lady Eleanor chattered about what she had planned for the next few days but his mind was totally preoccupied with continued evaluation of Alyse’s identity. If this all was an elaborate hoax, then Lady Eleanor was a party to it! It seemed unlikely. There was no sign of any deception. In fact, Lady Eleanor beamed quiet satisfaction. ‘Summon the tailors, please Alyse.’

The tailors scurried around taking measurements for new outfits. Lady Eleanor became businesslike as she gave the tailors their instructions. ‘All you will have time to do is alter the outfits you have started for Juan.’ The tailors grumbled and protested that the result would be less than satisfactory, but Lady Eleanor insisted.

As the tailors argued over measurements, Lady Eleanor became apologetic. ‘This evening will not be entirely as planned. Ximene has been invited to dinner with the Comte. The Prince and the Earl of Salisbury are arriving shortly and they will expect Ximene to join them. After the dinner upstairs is finished, the kitchen staff will put on a meal for us.’ She frowned. ‘Again, I must apologise. I used to have control of the kitchen but Gaston’s wife seems to have taken advantage of my absence to move the kitchen upstairs.’

She clearly could not resist giving a quick guided tour, indicating that the apartments were spread around a third of the perimeter of the rock, with access to open terraced gardens at various levels. She indicated the tiny room, in the form of a window balcony, where John and Piers would be sleeping. She then showed that several of the rooms gave access to various caves, which nature had hollowed out of the limestone rock.


Alyse rejoined them as they walked down a corridor and into the cavern. The corridor opened out onto the balcony. The cavern was ablaze with light and yet the furthest extremities were still in shadow. The ever-moving columns of steam filled the room and yet the flow of water from the spring was intermittently visible.

John gazed around in wonderment. It was like a dream, a fantasy. In all the dreams he had fostered about Ximene, nothing had prepared him for this. In his peripheral vision, he saw a young woman whom he assumed was Ximene, formally dressed, framed by the corridor, walking towards them. She was in her court persona, haughty, regal, wearing a white mantilla in place of the one she had given to him. He snatched a quick glance at the young woman he had been introduced to as Alyse. In comparison,​ she appeared dowdy, unassuming, perhaps even shy.

He had no idea, not the faintest suspicion, that they had switched places.

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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.