Bordeaux, 1st March , 1356
In December 1355 it was impossible to miss the fact that Bordeaux was the venue for something important. The best hotels and restaurants were fully booked, by bankers, antiquarians and accountants, and treasurers. The chancellor of England made a brief visit and there were soldiers on the streets.
A wine cellar had been emptied of wine to accomodate the contents of the baggage train which had accompanied the Price on his return from the chevauchée.
The rumour spread that it was a vast treasure trove but no one ventured to explain it’s origins. Juan explained in a court circular that the chevauchée had brushed aside all opposition and had reached Beziers on the Mediterranean cost. He gave a number of stories to illustrate what had been achieved. He gave prominence to the feats of John Stanley and in response to popular interest told a number of other John Stanley stories which gave John cult status.
In the depth of the wine cellars a new inventory of the treasure was made, this time by the King’s treasurers who had travelled from England specifically for the purpose. Don Fernando vanished into the bowels of the labrinth of arched wine cellars. Representing Ximene’s intrest was a major commitment, he emerged only occasionally for air and sunlight .
In the meantime the Comptess de Langdon purchased a house at La Reole near to the Prince’s house. This made it easy for John and the Comptess to socialise with Joan. The only concession Ximene made to changing her identity was to wear her hair pulled back from her forehead and never to appear in public without eye make up and a large hat. In conversation however she emphasised her new personality. Coached by Joan she changed her accent from heavy Occitan to privileged English almost instantly.
“I am so fond of Landon, it reminds me of the villages on the Thames” she said a dozen times to those who wanted to listen’ And again… ‘ I try to stay out of the sun as much as I can, it has spoiled the delicate complexion I used to have in England.’
John shook his head. It is a real talent. Just a hint here and comment there, plus a change in her demeanor, and she has become the comptress! Even to me!
It was a memorable Christmas. Joan held a small private party on Christmas eve. The only attendees were John, Selene, Pipa and as a surprise, Juan Perez..
“Just a little reward for everything he has done for us and anyway he sings divinely’ Joan confided to Selene.
Joan is winning him over to her… our?cause.
Early in the new year the Prince returned and the negotiations commenced. Selene and John were able to watch the relationship between between Joan and the Prince at close quarters. They were given the opportunity to see how well matched the Prince and Joan were as a couple. Joan was irrepressible and more often than not outrageous. The Prince was staid and serious. They clearly loved each other’s company. Ximene’s change of personality seemed very real to both to Joan and the Prince. Selene, Comptess de Langdon was a friend. They talked about Ximene, the woman the Prince nearly married, as if she was a totally different person.
Obviously Joan worked quickly, at dinner only a week after his return Prince cleared his throat and tapped the table with his knife. Clearly he had an announcement to make.
‘Selene, I have decided that to make you totally acceptable to the highest levels of English society you need an English title. You also need easy access to both my mother’s favourite Palace at Gillingham and my father’s favourite palace at Clarendon. I own a house at Shaftsbury, which is in close proximity to the abbey there, on top of the hill. The house provides good views over the surrounding countryside. I can assign this house to you without consulting my father. As it is intended that for the foreseeable future I will reside here in Aquitaine I will have little use for it. If you like the house it can become part of the settlement”
John kept a sober face but immediately his heart sank.
First win to Joan, but if she achieves everything she has set out to do then I will soon be separated from Xi…Selene.
The Prince continued. “You can take the title of Countess of Shaftesbury but to sound as English as possible you should choose a name other than Selene, have you any preferences’
‘ Diana’ Selene answered without hesitation.
John smiled and a vision of when Ximene had presented herself as the goddess flashed through his mind.
Selene has not yet worn the chains, I must ask her about that!
‘ Good, Good. Yes Diana, Countess of Shaftesbury, it has a certain ring to it.
The Prince’s smile grew broader.
And now you John. You have never been properly recognised for your conduct in the Chevauchee, and it is in any case it is totally inappropriate for a knight of Occitan to serve as simply a member of my guard. In fact there is a popular campaign prompted by one of the court circulars that you should be given recognition. I find no difficulty in accommodating the people’s wishes, so as of now, I appoint you to be a Captain of my the Lions of Aquitaine.’
‘Thank you Sire’ John face beamed his appreciation, but underneath he was in turmoil.’
Second win to Joan! It begins to look as though my separation from Selene is inevitable.
The next morning John received a visit from the armourer attached to the Prince’s guard. Selene watched with interest as the armourer fitted leather armguards and shinguards to John’s limbs. He also gave John a set of belts, containing a variety of different sized lead weights which he demonstrated were a good fit into pockets provided on the outside of all the guards.
John noticed the questioning look on Selene’s face as she fingered one of the belts.
John answered before she asked the question.
‘ I am taking the scientific side of training, as advocated by Aristotle, seriously. When we were training at Mazerou using pebbles and stones it was difficult to measure improvement. These devices with accurately made weights make it easy. In addition I can carry them wherever I might go’
‘And can I use them? I have not exercised for over a month?’
John nodded, “I don’t see why as long as he has left enough adjustment on the straps. Selene removed her clothes, fitted the guards, fastened one of the belts around her waist and started exercising in front of the fire. John watched with great interest, he had not previously seen the Comptress indulge in any physical activity.
Joan works spells! This is Ximene I am watching, not some mystery woman, not “The Eagle” or Selene, Comptess de Langdon.
However, within minutes, Selene collapsed into a sweating heap.
‘Oh! It is only just over a month since I last exercised and I have completely lost my fitness, John what must I do?’
John was sympathetic.
‘With everything that has happened, you have been so distracted that you have neglected your training. You have lost your edge, it is nothing to worry about’
‘But what must I do?’
‘Work at it, that is all you can do. Take all the weights but the very small ones from the guards and the belt and start again with the exercises you know only too well. Build your fitness by doing lots of repetitions for each exercise. Even if you have to rest, do at least an hour, no matter how much it hurts, as your fitness returns then you can add more weights and gradually recover strength. He pulled out a piece of paper “ I have done a programme for myself. It means that I will not forget where I am up to. I can do one for you, I learned a lot whilst we were at Mazerou’
John stated to fill out a second sheet whilst Selene recommenced her excercise
Phillipa came into the room just before the hour was up. By now Selene’s body was glistening with sweat and she was breathing heavily.
‘Selene, what on Earth’
Selene stood up. The armourer had clearly used some classical source as inspiration whilst manufacturing the guards and the belt.’
Phillipa gazed at her with undisguised admiration. “You look just like an Amazon. So this is how you build you body’
She turned to glance at John.
“ Can I do this ?
“Yes of course you can but if you are serious I had better get two more sets of the guards and belts made”
Selene was literally dripping with sweat. “It’s not as good in here as it was at the training ground; too dark; too hot by the fire, and I miss the ability to run and swim!’
John thought for a moment. ‘You realise it is winter out there not summer but I know just the place to do this, the place where I started my training, Biscarrosse. There is an inn in the village and we could exercise at the edge of the lake and run through the forest.’ He turned to Phillipa. ‘Would you like to learn about weapons Phillipa?’
‘Absolutely! I saw what Ximene did the night du Guesclin attacked us and I would like to be able to defend myself the same way!’
Again the influence of Joan, if it happened before the change of identity it is permissible to call her Ximene but afterwards it is not!
Selene broke in.
“ And the close combat, John, for me that was so important”
There was a gleam in her eye and John knew exactly what she had in mind, female competition!
He shook his head
“ I just hope you know what you are getting yourself into Pipa!’
John asked the Prince for permission to leave. The Prince clearly did not want John to go anywhere.
“ In six weeks time we will be holding the first tournament of the year in Bordeaux. Both the Earl and myself will take part.
He looked at John as if he owned him.
‘Now you are a Captain of the Guard it would be appropriate if you also took part. If you join us in training now then despite your lack of experience you will be able to take part in the opening round. I could lend you a suit of armour and though it might be a shade too big I am sure the armourer could make adjustments.
He suddenly stopped. A new thought had clearly crossed his mind.
‘To where are you intending to go?
‘ Biscarosse. ‘John replied.
‘ Oh! Well that is alright. Excellent in fact, the Captal du Buch has a hunting lodge and a tourney training ground there on the edge of the lake. We can stay with him. We will all go to Biscarrosse!
It’s not an invitation it is command, I cannot refuse! The Prince is as good as anyone in Europe; to get lessons from him would be invaluable. But the problem is that if the Prince comes there will be guards everywhere. Selene and Phillipa would not get the privacy they would prefer. They could hardly exercise fully clothed.
Selene nodded but John hesitated.
Joan saw the hesitation.
“ What exactly are you wanting to do at Biscarrosse.’ she asked mischievously.
John nervously explained about Selene’s need to keep up or even enhance her physical prowess and the fact that Phillipa wanted to train with her. He gave a quick summary of what had happened at Mazerou
Initially Joan chuckled heartily, but then her eyes narrowed.
‘And would such exercise inhibit the affects of aging?’
John replied instantly.
“ I am sure it would’
‘ Then I might myself take part in your programme, at least for a couple of days’
John still hesitated
“And the issue is’
John could not avoid telling the truth.
‘ We want to go to Biscarrosse because the ladies wish to run and swim and because.. it is impossible to excercise when fully clothed. Therefore they want some privacy’
‘But they will not mind you being there?’
‘I am their trainer’
John saw an opportunistic glow cross Joan’s face
Then it is agreed we are all going on holiday. We will set off an area of the forest with access to the lake and the boundary will be guarded, won’t it Edward?
He looked up and nodded.
‘As long as we get time to prepare for the tournament’
The second visit to Biscarrosse was a great success. John constructed exercise charts for Phillipa and Joan, though privately he did not expect Joan to take part. He specified light weights and high repetitions for the women and started each session with a similar regime for himself, but after half an hour moved to much heavier weights for himself.
The exercises were always complete before midday and in the afternoon the practice jousts were held. The ladies sat in a makeshift grandstand. For the first couple of days John was happy just to help and learn about the preparation of horses and armour.
Then without a lance or armour he was encouraged to charge down the list. The Prince offered to lend him an experienced horse but John insisted in riding Helios. It did not surprise John to find that Helios delighted in this work. His charge was exhilarating, but John soon discovered that it was the steady direction and fluid, even ride, which was to make him so effective.
Over dinner on the third day, Joan squeezed close to the Prince. the training is exhilarating. we exercise naked, run and swim. you should join us. Would you object to the Prince’s presence Selene?’
There was really only one possible answer.
‘Absolutely not and I am sure that Phillipa would have no objections, either’
The Prince watched with interest and not just as a voyeur. Pride in his own athleticism meant that on the fifth day he joined in. later that evening the ladies extended their invitation to the Earl. As was almost inevitable the three men were soon in close competition.
The Earl knew where his strengths lay. He had a superb build, broad shoulders, narrow waist, rippling stomach muscles and powerful legs. He continually tried to concentrate on the power aspects of the training, which showed off his body to full advantage. John noticed he also preferred to exercise in the standing position where his magnificent body was in full view of the ladies. Joan was delighted by the improved toning of her skin, which she took great delight in demonstrating to both the Prince and the Earl. It was only a precursor to making sure that both men studied the attractions of Selene and Phillipa, before, during and after exercise.
John was, to put it mildly, surprised.
She is parading them naked before the two men she professes to love, what is she up to?
at the lists John moved on to target practice and by the middle of the second week was hitting the target with monotonous regularity.
At dinner at the end of the second week, The Prince told John that he had progressed sufficiently to take part in the tournament.
‘Now I will start to give you some personal tuition, I would like you as a Captain in my guard to advance beyond the first round’
Joan smiled ‘ You still carry my favor John, from the archery contest at Clermont
“ And my favor’. Selene and Phillipa spoke in unison.’
And then all three together ‘ you must not let us down”
The prince laughed ‘ You know how to put the pressure on don’t you? But tell me, John, I noticed today that you have totally changed your exercise regime, can you explain why?’
‘You are probably not aware of it, sire, having jousted most of your adult life, but the use of the lance requires great strength in both shoulder, back and arm muscles. I have amended my regime to take account of this.’
‘Oh! Where did you learn all this?’
‘Initially from Lord James, he demanded disipline, but its importance was brought home to me during the archery contest at Clermont where I competed carrying Milady Joan’s colours. I won the competition not because of my skill but because of my stamina!’
Joan cut in quickly. ‘ John did so well at Clermont, Edward’
‘Hmm! So the court circular tells me, carry on John.’
‘Then, whilst at Mazerou, Ximene encouraged me to begin to document my thoughts about the things which interested me. The physican there told me that he was surprised that women could develop their bodies in the same way as men.
Ximene obviously could, so I compared effort with improvement in our training program there, and analysed the results. Hence I now have a formula’
The Earl scratched his nose thoughfully.
“ You have obviously got it right, I can already feel the benefit from the sessions we have had, and I thought I was extremely fit.’
The Prince was quiet and thoughtful. “ It is my responsibility, John to raise a new army here in Aquitaine, I have lost some of my best men, who have been called back to England to resist a somewhat unexpected threat from the Scots’
Not a feature on Joan’s face altered to show that she was in anyway involved.
‘But despite that, I have now decided to vigorously pursue my rightful claim to the Frankish throne, in May will march North and on behalf of my father make our claim.
John tried hard not to show anything but enthusiasm on his face.
Yet another win to Joan
He had no time to speculate on what would come next. The Prince leaned forward over the table. ‘John we need to find and train about a thousand archers, more if we can, before May. Will you train them for us’
John took a deep breath. ‘Of couse I will, but Sire, there is skill and technique as well.
He glanced at the Earl for guidance. He got none.
‘Ask the Earl…’ Still no reaction or encouragement.
‘or… Lord James to run this project. I will have no difficulty working with either of them and they will give the project credibility. He glanced at the Prince and then at the Earl for some sign, any sign, of approval.
The Earl stared at John. “ Not for the first time, almost the perfect reply and now I know you well that there is no need to go looking for hidden meanings.’
He turned to the Prince.
‘ Not me, there are many security issues I must pay attention to; Lord James would be ideal.’
They both nodded.
The Prince turned back to John, ‘Done , and the first step is?’
‘Identify the best sharpshooters and ordinancers still available to us.’ He asked the Earl a direct question.
‘I think Morgan is still here?’ The Earl nodded again.
‘Good! If you want a thousand archers quickly then we should use those experts like Morgan to choose those who already have some ability. Put them through a skill program run by the best archers in either category but in parallel put them through a training program to develop their stamina and strength. Tailor that program to concentrate on the muscles they need to fire quickly and accurately”
The Earl was suddenly quite exited. “You have got it exactly right, John.’
Selene listening attentively to these exchanges. She glowed with pride.
He is a good learner. It is not just what he says but the way he says it. The confidence he shows. It is exactly what I hoped for!
It was the Earl who took to an entirely different level “ Edward ! what about doing an analysis of the training needs of the entire army . It could give us the edge we are looking for!’
Joan turned to look at Joan, who was beaming with delight. He remembered her words at Termes
We will find a way for John to play an important part in mobilization of that army. He will keep me informed on progress made. He will tell me the truth. There is no one else, including the Prince I could trust to do that. Another win to Joan! Oh! Oh! The parading of Selene and Phillipa in front of them. She was selling this idea before anyone else had thought of it!
The Prince immediately discontinued his personal training programme. For days they were head to head, hour after hour, discussing the tactics for the forthcoming campaign, the skills need to support the tactics and the mobilisation and training needed to provide those skills.
John checked that Selene, Phillipa and Joan could carry on unsupervised. They agreed that this was possible but at the end of the second day, Joan announced that she had also retired from the training program.
‘They, Selene and Phillipa, have gone completely mad. They are throwing daggers, trying to maim each other with wooden swords and fighting with knuckles, knees and anything else that comes to hand, and I thought they were friends!’
Sure enough when Selene and Phillipa came to dinner they both carried visible bruising to the face and neck. John said nothing but privately he was pleased there was no more serious damage.
The Earl however was visibly impressed, he showed interest and concern for Phillipa’s bruising and was suddenly attentive to her every need.
“ Is the duck to your liking Phillipa; another glass of wine; the sunset is magnificent “
The Prince, satisfied with the progress made announced that they must return to Bordeaux to complete the recruitment project. John spent the first week in Bordeaux in discussions with Lord James explaining the concept and completing the planning process. As he expected Lord James was immediately enthusiastic.
He worked long into the night and was unable to accept Selene’s invitation to attend a Cathar ceremony.
After days of long hours and intensive discussion, he was pleased to be given the chance to break away and visit La Reole.
Phillipa was already in evening dress by the time John arrived. It was as if she expected visitors.
Selene spoke softly and John could see from her eyes that there was something afoot
‘We must get changed John, tonight is very special’.
In the bedroom they shared glasses of Limoux whilst servants prepared a bath.
Selene put her hands round John’s neck and pressed close to him. Johns hands, now practised in the art of caressing a woman, moved naturally to her back.
‘ There is something I must tell you’ She said. John pulled back and looked deep into Selene’s eye’s’
Good it’s not bad news, her eyes are still sparkling.
“ When we attended the ceremony earlier in the week, the Earl was there and, quite unexpectedly he made his suit to Phillipa’
She has given him a favour, a ring in fact, as she felt it was something he could not loose! Apparently someone else did not notice when she gave him a favor.’
John grinned. ‘Will she never forget?
‘No, and make sure she never knows you find it amusing’
John straightened his face. ‘And she has invited The Earl here this evening?’
‘No. But she will travel to Arcachon tomorrow to spend a week with him before she leaves for Paris.
‘She will leave so soon?’
‘She wants to spend it with you John.’
‘But she does every night when we are all together!’
‘Ah! yes but she wants tonight to be different, Other nights she has been the guest in my bed but tonight she wants me to be the guest in her bed!’
‘Oh! And does that make a difference!’
‘You will be surprised how much different. Phillipa’s preferences are a little different to mine and tonight it is all for her!’
It was the next morning after Phillipa had left, before John got round to thinking it through.
Another win for Joan. I had forgotten that she wanted Phillipa to be the love interest for the Earl. It would have been her who invited the Earl to join in the training, so that he was given the opportunity to see Phillipa naked. She will have noticed the increase of attention after the girls had been in combat. She will have organised the Cathar ceremony and made sure there was a quorum and she will have put it in the Earl’s head to propose his suite.
He was now resigned to his fate. The coup de grace was delivered just after a radiant Phillipa had left for Paris.
The Prince again used dinner to make the announcement. It was all de-personalised as if the decisions had been forced on him. He addressed Selene.
‘My father has asked to complete the negotiations over the allocation of estates personally. You must leave for England immediately Selene.’ He hesitated
‘In case you are wondering… I am sorry but I cannot spare John to travel with you. He is now a vital part of our preparations for war and I just cannot release him.”
‘In any case my father knows your true identity and still believes I will marry you. It could be a little difficult to explain the closeness of you relationship to John.
I am loosing count. Everything Joan set out to achieve is now satisfactorally completed.
Selene made a decision that Don Fernandino, Lady Eleanor and Guillam would accompany her to England. She confided in John that she was already considering using the major part of her wealth to set up an alternative to “Les Etiolle”
John resigned his position as her ambassador in view of his commitments to the preparations for war. The key appointment of Ambassador to the Court of Westminster was awarded to Joanne’s father, Payne de Roet. His experience as the Guienne Master of Arms meant that he was well versed in titles and land holdings. The fact that his wife was the sister of the King of England guaranteed a good reception.
At a farewell dinner the prince insisted that the formalities were followed which were appropriate for a departing head of state. This caused great confusion amongst Bordeaux society as the could not understand why a minor countess was honoured in this way. In his circular Alphonso explained it away as just an excessive display of politeness on the part of the Prince.
During the dinner itself, John could see that Joan was bubbling with impatience to say something but she waited until the after party, which was only attended by the four of them.
Then it flowed out in a stream. She was clearly triumphant.
‘Our deception was successful beyond our wildest dreams. Du Guescin has been looking for Ximene in Castile. Apparently he took so many men with him it was virtually an invasion, but he made no secret of whom he was looking for!’
She checked to see that everyone understood the implication.
“It has been so public that no one has any remaining doubts. Ximene is definitely in Castille”
Her eyes widened.
“ But now the best bit. King Pedro has spent much time and money introducing a strong system of law and order. In Castile he is known as El Judicio by the people and “The Cruel’ by the various criminal factions he has eradicated.
Her voice rose to a crescendo of triumph
‘Du Guesclin has been soundly defeated, many of his men have been killed and he was forced to flee. His own whereabouts are currently unknown!’
Only a few days later, John accompanied the Comptess to her ship. at the last minute Joan had decided to travel to England with Ximene, but had hidden herself away organising her cabin.
John and Ximene sat on the private deck as the loading was completed.
Ximene looked at John with love. Tears welled in her eyes.
‘And now we must part. I have long had a vision of how it must unfold. You must change your journey and I must change mine. Beliefs and desires, pleasures and skills must be honed together, and shaped to be shared. This process has begun but it must continue. Our spirits must come out from within us and dance together, until they become indivisibly and invisibly entwined. When the dance is complete, I must be in you and you in me. We will be powerful together, and though we may travel different paths we will never be apart. You will open doors through which I could not pass alone. Then I will open other doors for you to progress. This will only be possible if no-one knows that that we are one. Our progression must itself be unseen. This cycle we will repeat time after time. We will gain in power and influence until we are able to influence Kings. I will bring justice and freedom to all my people but not through war… Oh! Or influence Queens! Yes, I have known for a long time how this would start, with the Prince, but not the way I initially thought. I have given the Prince his freedom, as I have sought mine. I know that his heart lies not with me but with Joan . We have helped them come together. Who knows what benefits will flow from that! Now I must pursue my destiny, as you must yours. When we meet again you will be famous. I know it. The king is granting me land but I do not think he has any idea what I will do with that land or the wealth it will create. As soon as possible I will remove myself from the public stage. Do not try to find me John, what I must do is of its very nature secretive, when I need you I will find you. The biggest risks will occur in the first years as I pursue my plan. If everything goes badly wrong you may be the only person who can help me to escape.’
She pulled off a glove and a ring, which it had concealed from her finger.
‘Remember this! I have given you my favour, which you now wear on your finger. Remove that ring just for a moment.’
‘It is the symbol of my love for you. It means that I have committed myself to you for life! But it is more than that.’ She then held the two rings to together. On each ring a pentacle was engraved inside a pentagon but when held together John could see that the pentacle and pentagon on her ring was slightly differently oriented and offset so that the two rings locked together. ‘Now look inside’
Written across the join between the two pentagons was a single word ‘love’. Once the rings were separated again only half of the letters could be seen and they were meaningless scratches.
‘If ever you get this ring you will know I need you and you must obey the instructions of any note in which it is sealed.’
The ship started to strain as the sails were raised to enable it to leave the quay under control. The sound of straining ropes and the vibration of the sails gained strength.
The mate of the ship circulated the deck.
‘All ashore who are going ashore’
Ximene rose to her feet, today she had abandoned the hat, the eye make up and the severe hair style. Today she was again Ximene.
The wind blew in her hair and her cloak rustled around her.
She kissed John passionately
‘I must go now, and so must you”
As he walked down the gangplank John looked back to see her leaning over the rail. Lady Eleanor, Guillam, Don Fernandino. Payne de Roet, Phillipa, Catherine de Roet and his entire family stood around her waving farewell. John stopped to wave back. At the very last moment he saw Joan of Kent join the group. almost magically the group moved apart, allowing Joan to place her arm around Ximene’s shoulder. John was transfixed. The sailors shouted their impatience and virtually pulled the gangplank from under his feet,
Safely on the quay he turned to watch the ship depart; ropes were cast off, sails raised and the ship moved with the tide towards the mouth of the river. He watched it go until it was only a dot on the horizon.
Joan does not fully understand me. It is Ximene to whom I am committed. In the eyes of most of the Christian world she is a heretic, a sinner, living in depravity, without decency or morals. But for me she can do no wrong, I love her. And yes I think I now know what love is. Joan will continue to help me and I will accept that. But I will keep my eyes wide open. If ever Joan acts against Ximene, for any reason, then I will turn the position of power and influence Joan is creating for me, against Joan herself.
He thrust the thought from his mind. At that time under a clear blue sky in Bordeaux, with the seabirds whirling and calling overhead, there seemed no chance of that ever happening!
Far to the east in the Ariege valley, the Golden Eagle once again rose from her eyre on top of Rocher de Batail in the northern Pyrenees and lifted her wings. She was a year older, wiser and more cunning. She now had more purpose in her flight. As she drifted north with the river she screamed in fury at anything, which dared to get in her way. She spent no time enjoying her freedom to soar amongst the thermals. Instead she concentrated on her deadly business. She had become the supreme huntress!
In the Bay of Biscay, another eagle headed north and she too prepared to spread her wings!