Once upstairs, Ximene, opened the first door on the upper landing. She did a half bow and swept her hand through the doorway. ‘Welcome to my bedroom,Joan.’ Joan sat on a chaise longue in front of the fire. Ximene joined her and they exchanged quick busts of information about what they had been doing.
Joan looked around her. ‘This is your bedroom Ximene?’
‘Joan, please, even in here! Even in private! I am Diana, Countess of Salisbury. I think of myself as Diana, It was the title given to me by the King or was it the Prince? But anyway the King and he has made me promise not to reveal any other identity whilst I am in England. It is of course useful anyway, just in case Du Guesclin or any other like minded criminal get’s a hint of where I am, but the King prefers it to be thought that our negotiations are about reclaiming property left when my husband died, rather than giving me property. He thinks what is really been happening would be difficult to explain.’
‘Your husband?’ Joan asked hesitantly.
‘Yes the Earl of Shaftsbury, a relatively old man who had died on a crusade against the Germans.’
‘Oh! Your pretend husband. I thought you might have meant John Stanley, who the last time I heard was alive and kicking. Tournament champion of Europe, no less! I thought for a moment you had sneaked away and married him… and you know perhaps you should.’
Joan prowled round the room looking behind curtains and even under the bed.
’You haven’t got him hidden in here somewhere have you?’
‘No I haven’t. I don’t know exactly how it happened but and he does not know my identity, so he will not be able to find me and I have no idea where he is so I cannot send him a message.’
And the message would say?’
‘How much I want him.’
Joan frowned and looked around her once more. ‘More of that later,’ she said ‘ but now I must ask again, Di-ana is this really you bedroom? I have been to country mansions whose great hall is smaller than this. Who fitted it out? Everything about it is magnificent.’
‘The King, or rather the King’s Mason, Richard Jenkins, but the King paid for it all. He was very keen that my major residence was close to King’s Court.’
Joan stopped moving and looked Ximene in the eye. ’I’ll bet he was. You did heed my warning about his believing he has the right to bed every woman in the Kingdom ?’
Yes. I did Joan, but do you know it was never an issue. He has made it quite clear that he admires me, but he has never done so in a public forum and I have never given him my favour. He seemed to respect that; he has been a perfect gentleman. There were special circumstances, It took more than two long years to complete the negotiations whereby I have been given substantial land holdings throughout the Empire in return for my family treasure.’
Joan returned to the chaise longue and smiled. ‘From what I hear you are the richest woman in the land. Money matters so perhaps I should practice bowing to you!
‘Oh Joan.’ Ximene reached out to hold her hand. ‘You thanked me, almost immediately after you arrived, for helping in the arrangement of your marriage to the Prince, that suggests you know something but not everything , would you like to know more?’
Joan lifted her head. “ Yes of course, I have always assumed that you performed some kind of wizardry or perhaps seduced the King.’
‘Neither, during the majority of this period the King thought I would marry the Prince, and thereby give the English crown rights to Occitan. It was in my interest not to tell him the true situation. I was however concerned that your determination to marry Edward had become public knowledge and it would undermine my position.
Only when the negotiations delivered what I thought was a just settlement, did I then with great care reveal the true situation.
The Pope made it easier for me.’
‘The Pope? I told you I should practive bowing to you.’ Joan slid off the couch into a kneeling position took Ximene hand and kissed it ‘excuse me your holiness but you need to buy some bigger rings/ I narly missed this little one you are wearing.’
‘Joan, stop it. The Pope had made it clear that as long as it seemed that I would marry the Prince then his pressure to introduce the inquisition into English territories would be unrelenting. The Pope knew I was a Cathar, he wanted to control my influence. I was able to show that it would be easier to reach agreement on a less pervasive influence if the Prince married you rather than me.’
Joan lowered her head and again kissed Ximene’s hand.
Ximene continued. ‘It became very strange. It is apparently traditional in such circumstances for third parties to represent the interests of those who wish to marry. William de Montacute, as Earl of Salisbury represented the Princes interest’s and I, in my role as Countess of Shartesbury, represented yours.’
‘ But you never talked to me about my interests.’
‘ I did not need to, I knew what they were, it was my interests I was negotiating. The problem was depicted as being that you and the Prince were too closely related for the Roman Church’s taste but in the event the Pope was using the approval of the wedding to negotiate objectives of his own. In the end, to win the Pope’s approval the King promised to eliminate the Cathar faith from all his territories. That was far more acceptable to both the King and to me that the imposition of the Inquisition. In private both the King and the Prince told me that out of sight was out of mind. As long as they did not know of my activities, they would make no attempt to find out.’
Joan shook her head. ‘That was so clever.’
Ximene raised he eyebrows. ‘It is always a measure of successful negotiations that both parties are satisfied with the outcome. I certainly was. And Just so you Know so was the King. He believed, and still does believe that eventually Occitan would fall under my jurisdiction and that I would swear fealty to the Prince, as Duchess not Queen of Occitan.’
‘And would you’
“ Almost certainly, however there were other suggestions. The king mentioned that I might marry one of his younger sons. Both Lionel of Antwerp and John of Gaunt have been mentioned”
‘But they are both married!’
‘ Lionel was. I think that there may have been some worries about his wife Elizabeth’s health. At that time John of Gaunt wasn’t married.
‘ Good God, I had no idea. But you had no experience in negotiation, how did you deal with all this.’
‘ In the same way that I represented you, I was represented by Alyse, who sang so beautifully when you arrived. She is an academic and seriously bright. She has spent her time since we have arrived in England studying English law and the workings of Parliament.’
‘She is seriously bright and she has struck up a relationship with the King.’
‘Oh my God, how serious?’
‘Serious, But she will keep him at arms length. She is good at that kind of thing.Just so you know Queen Phiilipa has also taken a liking to Alyse and has invited her to become one of her ladies. I have warned her about the king. she has no concerns’
‘ I need to think about all this. However time is slipping away. Is there going to be a presentation this evening?’
‘Well… yes there is, we have been working on it for weeks.’
‘ And will it be …stimulating’
‘Of course, however we have not got an exclusively Cathar audience and we have not got a young couple available who are in a formal relationship so there will be no actual lovemaking… Oh! unless you and the Prince would like to join the cast!’
Joan laughed out loud, ‘No! No! He would not approve of me delivering one of my virtuoso performances. In fact that is why I raised the issue. He is only thirty but the Prince is getting old and staid, I would like you to arrange something really exiting to remind him of more interesting things than treasury accounts. Who will play the starring role? You?
‘No, no, same problem, I have no partner.’
‘The Society?’ Just a bit of fun. I still go to the occassional meeting. I have discovered I like to watch men wrestling.
‘No one Else?’
‘Diana, I know that is not exactly the truth, what about Theirry?’
Ximene blushed. ‘Joan, you still talk to him?’
‘No I dont. At least not about you, I just guessed.’
‘It is not important, but you sort of recommended him, it was easily done, he works for me. I thought i should see if a could learn something.’
Joan chuckled. ‘And did you?’
Ximene blushed again. ‘Yes’
And now you want to pass on your new knowledge to John Stanley.’
Joan frowned. ‘I have never understood that separation there must be some way you could see him regularly.
Ximene leaned over and hugged Joan. ‘What a tangled web we have woven.’
‘But we are still the best of friends?’
Joan sat bolt upright. ‘Then lets talk about the presentation.’
Alyse, the singer, the lawyer, soon to be a Lady of the court? Will be the star? Is there anything she cannot do?’
‘I told you she is talented. Can’t promise too exciting, but I will have a word with her, she is not averse to taking her clothes off in a good cause, so I think I can promise… stimulating!
‘Oh! She does sing like an angel doesn’t she?’
‘Yes’, Ximene laughed, ‘Both with and without the benefit of clothing. It will be a big night for her, not just an angel but a goddess, both in the same night’
‘I don’t think I heard her sing before, but I am not sure I like the idea of her performing. She looks just like you, she might remind the Prince of how attractive you are.’
‘Well she won’t look too much like me tonight, she will be wearing a blonde wig and once she takes her clothes of, the difference is obvious. You remember all that training John Stanley put me through? Yes you must do, we trained together in Bordeaux, I still train. I keep myself very fit and my body responds accordingly.’
Ximene pulled up her sleeve, struck a pose and bulked her bicep. She laughed, ‘I still think there might be times when it would be useful for Alyse to impersonate me. I have encouraged her to train with me as it could be useful if she looked the same as I do even when naked, but to be honest she is not very enthusiastic. She still has a much lighter build’
Joan grinned ‘I am not sure, from my point of view wether that is a good or a bad piece of news, depends on the Prince’s preferences, but here we are again…John Stanley’. She looking intently at Ximene, ‘I really think it is time you two got together again.’
It was not something Ximene was ready to discuss.
‘Yes,yes, there is much to talk about, but you are in riding clothes, perhaps you should change, the way it is snowing I think we might all be here for several days so there will be plenty of time to talk. Joan nodded her assent and turned to leave the room but turned back to take both of Ximene’s hands in her own. ‘ We are still the best of friends and always will be.’
Ximene saw Joan out into the corridor and then wandered thoughtfully back to the fire.
She rang a bell and asked for Alyse to be brought to her room. If Princess Joan wanted stimulation then stimulation she must have!