Alyse Perez de Padilla – 4th July 1355
Alyse looked around in wonder. She had been allocated one whole quarter of a recently constructed building only two hundred yards down the Quay from the Palais D’Aquitaine.
On the ground floor, there was a private courtyard giving access to stables and accommodation for Henry de Vivar and his men. Her own accommodation was a suite of rooms on the first floor which could normally be accessed by an elegant curved staircase from the quay, but which could be locked off by a double set of stout oaken doors, after which the only access was a narrow spiral staircase; easily defended. Her private rooms were all provided with square glazed windows overlooking the river.
The walls were finished in plaster; intensely white in the sunlight, soft cream in candlelight. The overall effect was impressive in its austere simplicity, softened by elaborately carved tables, chairs and couches of the finest quality. It smelled new, almost like vinegar but overlaid with the smell of beeswax from the clusters of candles and the huge chandeliers. In her lounge, double doors led to a small juliet balcony. Today she had opened the doors and the sounds of a busy port tumbled in. She was pleased to see that it was a beautiful day; clear blue skies and no more than a whisper of wind.
There, tied up to the quay alongside her apartment was the white barge, embellished with gold which would soon carry her to her appointment with the Prince. A cluster of small sailing ships were competing for the optimum position to watch her progress along the river. There was a sudden stronger gust of wind which created lines of tiny white-capped waves on the surface of the river. She shivered. uncontrollably; the dress she was wearing was intended to show her off, not to keep her warm.
Lady Eleanor and Pipa entered from a hallway which led to their own private rooms. They wore almost identical white dresses.
Alyse smiled to herself, reflecting that it must be difficult for Lady Eleanor; after years of treating Alyse as a servant, now she was Alyse’s guest in a suite of apartments much grander than anything at Foix. Nevertheless, from habit, Alyse gave a little curtsey as Lady Eleanor entered.
Lady Eleanor frowned. ‘No, no, Alyse the days when you acted as my companion are over. Indeed even to refer to you as Alyse is wrong. We must all address you as Lady Ximene, as is only fitting for a future Queen of England, Princess of Aquitaine and Duchess of Occitan.
Alyse sighed. ‘Yes of course, when I was asked to take Ximene’s place I was delighted but now I wonder, where will this all end? Will I ever be able to revert to a normal life?
Pipa was exited, her penetrating voice hitting the high octaves, which, for Pipa, were usually very high. ‘ Alyse for goodness sake. don’t worry about it, just enjoy it. Now, are you ready for the visit to the Palais?’
Clad from head to toe in gold cloth, her image completed with gold shoes and a gold mantilla, Alyse spun around. showing every aspect of her dress to its best advantage. ‘I think so.’
She held out her arms revealing the both her wrists were encased in gold armlets. ‘It took the dressmaker over an hour to make final adjustments. What I fail to understand is why we are going by barge when the Palais is only two hundred yards away… and not a small barge. Henri and his men have been issued with new tabards. They are still Trencavel tabards but in glittering gold and black; not yellow and black. They will line both sides of the barge with me on a sort of throne in the middle.’
‘Henry tells me that there will be a changing of the guard on the quay in front of the Palais. Members of the Prince’s bodyguard will then escort me into the Palais. He spent most of yesterday afternoon practising the changeover.’
Pipa chuckled. ‘Will Piers de Windsor be one of the prince’s guard?’
‘I believe so, yes.’
Pipa chuckled again. ‘Nothing like keeping it in the family, both your lovers in the same ceremony. Have you managed to snatch some..’ she cocked her head. ‘private time with either Piers or Henri since you arrived here.
‘No, I have not. I am never left alone.’
Lady Eleanor stepped foreward. ‘Stop it Pipa, you must not mention such things. Alyse is playing the part of Ximene. Everyone believes she will marry the Prince. We must do nothing to destroy that illusion. Ximene’s safety may depend on it. Anyway, technically, Henri and Piers are not Alyse’s lovers.’
‘Oh all right, one who you have made love to and one who is desperate to step into his shoes..’
Lady Eleanor grabbed Pipa by the wrist. “Stop it, Stop teasing, Forget it. It is not important.’
Alyse smiled. ‘Thank you Lady Eleanor.’ She looked at Pipa, faked a frown but winked. ‘Yes, stop teasing Pipa it is not helpful, I could ask you about the Earl of Salisbury.’
Pipa grimaced. ‘Sadly there is nothing to report, but I haven’t given up.’
‘In the whole of the Journey from Foix he was never far from your side.’
‘Hmmm you are right, but something holds him back.’
‘Perhaps the fact that he is very much in love with Joan of Kent.?’
‘I’ll accept that explanation, it will prevent me from sinking into depression.
Lady Eleanor glanced over the Juliet balcony. ‘Stop it, both of you. The Earl has just arrived, he is going to coordinate everything, are we ready?’
Alice stood on tiptoe and raised her hands above her head doing her best to stretch. ‘Yes, but tell me again, why are we going by barge?’
Lady Eleanor raised her eyebrows. ‘Because, my dear, it is not just a visit, it is a theatrical production. The objective is that everyone, even those who would not normally be interested, knows that someone special has arrived. It is billed in Bordeaux as the “Arrival of the Lady of the Sun”, and that is you, Alyse, so you had better get used to it.’
Alice nodded ‘And the real Ximene, my friend Ximene, where do you think she will be by now?’
‘Hopefully in Sicily or at the very least on a ship on the way to Sicily. Ah! here is the Earl, perhaps he has more information.’