Joan of Kent – 8th July 1355
Beyond the waterfront, the river was another hive of activity. Ships turned into the wind and then dropped their sails to glide effortlessly parallel to the quay, to be met by a barrage of lines thrown and pulled tight to moor each individual vessel tight alongside the quay.
Then again, beyond the river, was the soft green and grey landscape of Entre Deux Mers, the prime wine growing area.
Alyse settled comfortably into the chair, upholstered in white and fitted with silver cushions. She gazed around her. ‘This balcony is much bigger than mine.’ She looked around again. ‘Other than that the room is virtually identical to mine but the use of red and gold walls contrasting with the white and silver on the furniture makes it look bigger, more impressive.’
Joan smiled. ‘I am glad you like it. The colour scheme was inspired by the palace of the Comte de Foix at Pau. Would you like your own rooms redecorated to match?’
‘Thank you, but no. I have already grown to like my rooms and in any case, I think I am already treated very generously.’
Joan frowned. ‘What you have just said causes me some concern. Perhaps we have not paid enough attention to the decorating and furnishing of your rooms.’
‘No honestly I am more than happy…’
Joan reached out and held Alyse’s hand. ‘Hear me out Alyse. Everyone in Bordeaux believes you are Ximene Trencavel, Lady of the Sun, Duchess of Occitan and the future Queen of England and the most beautiful lady alive…’ Joan stopped abruptly, fluttered her eyelashes and continued more slowly ‘With of course one or two outstanding exceptions.’
Joan decided to digress, ‘I must say that although it is over a year since I met Ximene, the likeness is amazing. You could be identical twins.’ Joan shrugged her shoulders. ‘For most people here in Bordeaux the likeness is unimportant. They have never met Ximene. If we tell them you are Ximene Trencavel then you are Ximene Trencavel.’
Alyse gently moved her hand, so that she now held Joan’s hand. ‘And?
As we are publicising Ximene’s presence here as widely as we can, there will inevitably be representatives of the King of the Franks or one of his sons, or indeed other interested parties, who will visit Bordeaux to check whether our publicity is well founded. Just possibly they will have met Ximene previously’
Joan watched Alise for any reaction. There was none she could see but Alyse’s grip on her hand tightened. ‘If they visit you and your rooms are not as…impressive as they expect, they might question your identity and we would not want that to happen.’
So, my Lady of the Sun, You are in a strong position you may ask for anything you want and ways will probably be found to meet your requests. So tell me, other than the decoration of your rooms and we will do something about that, do you like Bordeaux ?’
Alyse’s response was unreserved, enthusiastic and accompanied with a broad warm smile. ‘Of course. I love it, every bit of it. The city, The architecture, the river, the bustle of activity, the society. It is exactly what I had hoped for.’
‘Good and I intend to help you enjoy it, But first, A question. Do you find the Prince attractive?
Alyse raised her eyebrows, raised her hand to smooth her hair, flickered her eyelids, straightened her body in the chair and smiled, but did not answer the question.
Joan raised her own eyebrows. ‘ It was, of course, a question you could not answer.’
Joan allowed her eyes to widen to their fullest extent. ‘If you had said no, I would not have believed you, as the Prince is the most attractive man alive. On the other hand if you had said yes, it would have driven a wedge between us, an open challenge for the affection of the love of my life. However, your silence, plus your use of your undoubted physical attractions when faced with a difficult question, give me if anything even greater concern. You are not only beautiful but smart and probably ambitious.
So… some ground rules. You are believed to be the Prince’s future wife, You will be expected to be continually in his company. There will be, my darling, dinners, fetes and tournaments and the Prince is… only human. You are a very attractive woman and he may prove to be overly attentive. But I would like you to know, he is not available.
Joan saw a look of concern flash across Alyse’s face
‘And if I really was Ximene?’
‘Same statement except perhaps I would have needed to put it in more diplomatic terms.’
‘So you plan to marry the Prince yourself.’
‘I do. I am determined to become the next Queen of England and for our children to form the first generation of a dynasty.
‘Does Ximene know that.’
‘I believe she does and I believe that would not disappoint her too much.
“Then I will do nothing to stand in your way but I too have a concern. What happens to me when I no longer have to perform the role of pretending to be Ximene? Perhaps I enjoy it too much but when the negotiation between the Prince and Ximene are complete? Whatever the outcome I won’t just evaporate!
You are from Castile, aren’t you? would you like to go home?
Perhaps, except I am far from sure where my home is, who my parents are. My mother, I am told, is from the Padilla family, a much younger sister to Lady Eleanor and from my name, one would assume that my father’s name is Pedro.
Lady Eleanor took me to Castile in 1351 just after the death of King Alphonso. There we met the new king, Pedro and his mistress Maria, who is a much younger sister of lady Eleanor. They were very nice to me. In fact, I spent a long time in their company. They treated me as if I was their daughter.’
Joan narrowed her eye’s. ‘Do you think you might be the daughter of King Pedro?’
‘I met no one else who fitted. I have asked Lady Eleanor about it but she has never answered the question.