but to avoid raising any doubts about my newly found chastity, communications to me will be via Selene, Pipa or Alyse Perez who will be appointed ladies of the bedchamber. Johns reputation will be developed so that he has a romantic involvement with whichever one of my ladies a with me at the time of his visits one of whom will always be in my company. ‘
Lady Eleanor smiled. ‘Interesting concept but why three of them and in any case Alyse is currently in Seville. I will need all three to make it work and plans are already afoot to bring Alyse back from Castile. They will all have other tasks .
We need to know about both events in France and events in England.
John gazed on in amazement.
All those lords, knights, councillors, bishops and arch-bishops; all thinking they are in charge, but it is here in this bedroom, that the real strategic decisions are being taken by a group of women. Ximene and Phillipa are younger than me!
Joan continued. ‘Ximene…Hmmm Selene, two nights ago, we discussed the plans the Prince has for building the wealth of the realm by encouraging trade and building sea power.To my surprise i discovered that you already knew of these plans and are willing to play your part in bringing them to fruition. That will be something to keep you busy and it is just as well. because…’
‘We must train a new army in Aquitaine and we have less than six months to do it. ‘ Selene you explained how John helped you build your new body. I am impressed. We will find a way for John to play an important part in the 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. When the Prince returns one of the first things he will do is welcome John back into the Royal Guard of Aquitaine. He will do more than that he will make John a captain in the royal guard. The position of captain is supposed to be limited to those with a knighthood but the Prince will rationalise this by pointing out that he is a Knight of Occitan.
She bowed towards John, whose eyebrows shot upwards.
There will be no opposition to John’s progression because Juan Perez is using the court circular to publicise the details of John’s heroic adventures in rescuing Ximene from danger and defeating Du Guesclin. He is adding a scurrulous footnote that the comptess of Langon has succumed to his advances and is now his mistress… The readers will love it. It is what they would expect of a great soldier.
John was amazed.
‘ And Juan got this information from… you’
‘Yes but also from Phillipa, which made it all the more credible. You see John, your rapid advancement is important to all of us.’
‘But why me.”
Because, my love you can go places non of us can go. Hear conversations none of us can hear. The men already admire you because of your Skill an courage And the women will admire you because you have certain talents… which as some of us know can be developed even further.
Ximene feigned shyness.
‘Why you? Because you have shown yourself willing to put yourself outside of the constraints of the feudal system and have loyalty to a cause and because your ability to apply yourself to learn and grow is outstanding’
‘I have? It is?’
Lady Eleanor walked across the room and held John’s hand.
‘Don’t you remember our dicussion at Monsegur when you told me that you understood that Ximene has a determination to allow our faith to survive and to prevent the persecution of those who follow it’s teachings. That whatever danger that route might present then if that is what Ximene wanted to do you would help her achieve that end.’
Their eyes met and once again John experienced a flow of love welling up within him.
‘ How could I forget” He turned to Joan. ‘But I still don’t understand, you are a person, not a cause.’
Joan glanced down at herself as if to confirm that John’s statement was correct. ‘ Yes, but you are not here only because of me. You are here because of Lady Eleanor , Selene and Pipa, your commitment is not to me, it is to the cause!
Good god they have trained me to this situation. It is Joan who has influenced the others, It now seems that Joan somehow orchestrated everything. The Earl warned me about Joan, it’s unbelievable, she makes him look like an amateur. Nevertheless, I am now committed to their cause. hopefully I will soon discover what the cause is. John pressed his lips together and nodded thoughtfully several times in succession. ‘ Yes I am committed.
‘Good, then we can move on.’
A pause. ‘ Now for the implications. As we said Selene, you must go to England to personally represent your interests in negotiations with the King.
Can’t Don Fernandino do that?
‘Absolutely not, King Edward would take advantage of that. He will negotiate far more favourably with someone who is a head of state, which he will accept you are, as he would still like you to marry his son and you are, more importantly, a beautiful woman.’
‘And can I tell him that the marriage is off?’
‘No don’t even think about it. We must let him learn that the marriage will not take place, and that the Prince will marry me. I know him only too well, he must learn, not be told.’ She smiled.
‘Hmm, it will do no harm if he is attracted to you, it will make him less keen on the Prince marrying you’
However a word of warning, don’t allow the King any close contact, until you have a house of your own to which you can retire. Insist on an estate close to the Queen’s favorite residence at Gillingham and the King’s favorite residence at Clarendon. Don’t even start the negotiations until you have achieved that.’
She gave an acid smile.
‘Have your meetings with the King in the morning and never stay the night in the same house as the King, however strongly you may be pursuaded . He almost certainly be attracted to you and will make his suite quite properly but he finds it difficult to accept that any lady may refuse his advances. Cultivate the Queen’s friendship, she will help keep him under control.’’
Joan frowned. ‘I offer you this advice from personal experience.’
Ximene thought for a moment.’Can John come with me?’
Joan wiped her eye with her finger.
Again, emphatically not, it would at the moment be difficult within the English court to explain his position. Aquitane is one place; England is another. He needs a couple of years to rise through the ranks until he will be seen as an appropriate partner for a countess.
She saw the disappointment on Selene’s face. She continued hurredly. ‘However in time, you may assume yet another persona which would permit you to be together. Once the negotiations over the treasure are complete there will be many options open to you.’
She turned to John who was also showing his dissapointment. “For the short term. However, John must remain here . He will be my eyes and ears during the northern campaign next summer. He is the only one I will trust,’
She then addressed Phillipa. “ You, Phillipa are good at gathering information. Agnes will make arrangements with the dowger Queen of France. The Queen is of course Queen Blanche’s sister. Agnes will use her influence to get you an appointment as a personal companion to Queen Blanche. Don’t take any risks just keep your ears open. Enjoy yourself! Your messages back to me will be disguised as letters home, which you will write diligently.Always assume the letters will be read. I will teach you a code you can use to hide the real messages.
I must strees that What you are being asked to do can be incredibly lonely. There will be few people you can trust Tou will alleviate this by using your feminine wiles to attract the attention of a prominent english soldier who will risk life and limb to visit you in Paris.
‘Yes his name is John Stanley, make sure the relationship is realistic It would be good to be caught in flagrante delicto with him. He will then, after a suitable delay carry the most important messages back to me.’
Juan will slowly but surely establish John’s reputation as a virile ladies man, a process which has already started. It will seem perfectly normal for him to be seen in the company of Selene, or me or any other lady of taste and refinement, including you.
John’s eyes widened. both Ximene and Pipa both had a fit of the giggles had a fit of the giggles.
Joan glanced around the room. “So! we all understand what must be done.’
She insisted that everyone actually said yes.
‘Good! Well now I must dash away to make arrangements for the Christmas festivities. John you joined us just in time, you are the Christmas present I have wanted all year” As she left the room she laughed uncontrollably. The other women clustered around John, demanding to know what Joan’s parting comment meant, but he had no idea.
John shook his head, It really was a different world.