Joan of Kent – 4th July 1355
She hesitated. ‘But now here we are… back in society, subject to public scrutiny.’ She grabbed the Earl’s hand and dragged him through to another far smaller room, empty but unoccupied. She pushed the door shut and leaned against it. ‘We now must learn to deal with that scrutiny.’
The Earl squeezed both Joan’s hands within his own. It was a feeling she rather enjoyed. She really wanted him to take her into his arms, knowing that she would then have readily surrendered, but knew that she must not allow that to happen.
The Earl raised her hands to his lips and kissed them lingeringly; more than once. ‘I promised the Prince I would look after you… Keep you safe. The King made him promise not to see you again.’
Joan grimaced. ‘I know. I know. I know about the promise…’ She forced a smile. ‘And I know that you would keep me safe.’
She gazed up into William’s eyes, still smiling. ‘The King wants the Prince to be totally committed to the marriage to Ximene and until we find a way of telling the King that the Prince is not going to marry Ximene it is an illusion we must preserve.’
The Earl frowned. ‘But our situation is more complicated than that. You told me at the festival of the moon at Clermont that you have promised the Queen I would never see you again.’
Joan allowed the smile to collapse from her face. ‘Yes. On the face of it, that means that I will not be able to see either of you. We cannot allow that to happen.’
It did not take her long to recover. She broke away from the Earl, performed a pirouette and then held her hands above her head. ‘Hence all this, my new home.’
She saw that she had acquired the Earl’s total attention. ‘This was supposed to be new accommodation for the Seneschal of Aquitaine. intended to be his residence and administrative facility.
The Earl narrowed his eyes, then smiled. ‘ What are you up to now Joan, and how? we have only been back in Bordeaux for five minutes.’
‘Since the Prince has now taken control of Aquitaine it will not be needed.’
‘It is just a matter of selling things in the right way. I cannot live in the Palace with the Prince; the King would certainly find out. This building was complete and only required minor finishes.’ She paused so that the hammering could be clearly heard. ‘So I will move in here. It is very conveniently situated only two hundred yards down the Quay from the Palais D’Aquitaine.’ She lowered her eyelashes. ‘ It will be easy for the Prince to visit me here and for you… to provide for my safety.’
The Earls’ eyes twinkled. ‘But everyone will know about these visits.’
‘I am coming to that. This building will become the Occitan Embassy and its occupant will be the Ximene Trencavel, Duchess of Occitan; or in truth by her double, Alyse Perez, who is currently impersonating Ximene. The Duchess will generously offer me accommodation, separated from her own accommodation by a secret corridor hidden at both ends behind a bookcase. As we speak, my apartment is being provided with its own totally separate entrance, through which I will enter and leave. I have borrowed Piers de Windsor to manage the alterations.
Yes, it was Piers who pointed out the opportunity. I had assumed the idea must have come from you… but perhaps not. Anyway whenever you, or the Prince, visit the Duchess, which you will do frequently, you may discreetly visit me without anyone being any the wiser.’
‘Oh! but won’t that put Alyse in possession of sensitive information?
‘It will, so we will have to make sure she feels she is committed to us. Part of a close-knit group.’ Joan’s eyes sparkled. ‘It will be up to you or to me or perhaps both of us to ensure that she feels that way.’
‘And the Prince?’
‘I will make absolutely sure he is never left alone with her.’