Don Fernandino- 14th August 1355
‘So Guillam. I spent some time in Pamiers, Auch and Termes.
I can say quite categorically that the Compte d’Amagnac was not involved in the threat to Ximene.’ Don Fernandino shrugged and smiled. ‘It is probable that he had other things on his mind.’
He hesitated. ‘However, there is no doubt in my mind that there was communication between the Inquisition in Pamiers and Les Étoiles in Majorca. What I still don’t know is what was the source of the information which triggered that communication. Now I am here in Bordeaux. I want to meet Alyse Perez and Phillipa de Roet, they are both still her I take it.’
‘They are, and as far as I can gather they are really enjoying it.’
‘By talking to them directly I may discover how the Inquisition got to know of Ximene’s plans. ‘Don Fernandino hesitated again.’Once I have completed those investigations I would like to speak to the Prince. Ximene would like to start the negotiations on a marriage contract and perhaps…I could carry back, in writing… what he is prepared to offer. I believe she has made no secret of her expectations.’
Guillam chuckled. ‘No secret. However, what the Prince has made of that I have no idea.
Lady Eleanor entered the room. Don Fernandino gave her a warm embrace. ‘Cousin, I am delighted to see you again.’
Guillam smiled ‘Well, events mean that Eleanor will act as your host. The Prince has asked me to return to Clermont and make sure that the whole area between Augillon and Agen is on a state of alert. He believes that whilst he is occupied in Armagnac, the Franks might be tempted to try to occupy the north bank of the Garonne. To do that I will have to leave as soon as possible… possibly tomorrow.’
‘Thank you.’ Don Fernando gazed around the room. ‘So this is the Occitan embassy. It is quite grand, may I ask who is paying for all this.
Guillam smiled. ‘The government of Aquitaine, which means the Black Prince. He collects taxes so, in the end, it is the people of Aquitaine.’
‘And they are happy to fund an embassy for a non-existent state? Not just an embassy but a most elegant embassy.?
Lady Eleanor answered the question. ‘Yes, they seem to be. There is a steady stream of local dignitaries who make appointments for an audience with Alyse, who of course they think is Ximene, and who they assume will marry the Prince. I have been invited to sit in on several of those meetings in my role as a dowager Trencavel. They seem genuinely pleased at the prospect of the Prince extending his realm to include Occitan and indeed at the prospect of a Duchess of Occitan becoming Princess of Aquitaine. They seem to believe it will lead to them having a bigger say in government.
Alyse handles these meetings very well. It is as if she was born to it.’ Lady Eleanor lowered her eyes. ‘Which indeed perhaps she was.’
‘Well, can you make room in her diary for me? She is one of the first people I want to talk to.
‘I can do rather better than that. The Prince is not visiting us this evening so you can have dinner with us. The Earl of Salisbury knows you are here and wants to meet you but it is perhaps better that you carry out your preliminary investigations first. I will arrange for you to meet both of them later in the week.
Don Fernandino was impressed. The dining room was different to Alyse’s private rooms. It was totally lined with a latticework of oak inset with walnut panels. There were three chandeliers hanging low above the table; at the same time dazzling but saturating the room with honeyed light. The woodwork shimmered with reflected light.
The table was covered with the whitest of white cloths which also reflected light to highlight an exclusively silver servery.
The food served was essential simple. Oysters, masses of them.
Alyse invited Don Ferninando to indulge. ‘They are courtesy of my brother Juan who returned from Arcachon this morning.’ The oysters were followed by pheasant, simply roasted, without any accompanying sauce. The final course was a bowl of strawberries drizzled with cream.
After exchanging pleasantries, Don Fernandino looked Alyse in the eye.
‘So Alyse I cannot help envying your new lifestyle.’
Alyse nodded. ‘I feel very lucky. I am treated well by both the Prince and Joan of Kent. They seem to believe that there will be a place for me either here in Bordeaux or in England, even after my period as Ximene’s impersonator comes to an end.’
‘And that is what you want?’
‘I suppose it depends on what I am offered…or what I can carve out for myself. But what can I do for you Don Fernandino?’
‘Well I am trying to investigate the attacks on Ximene. I believe that you met the assassin at Foix before he attempted to kill Ximene’
‘Yes I did, and I remember thinking he did not look like a clerk.’
‘So that was how he entered the chateau , as a clerk?’
‘Yes, he was working on Ximene’s marriage contract, on a desk alongside me.’
‘Do you happen to know how the Compte selected him? Was he recommended by someone.’
‘Yes. by another of the Compte’s clerks. Dominic Leclerc’ Alyse chuckled. ‘Good name for a clerk.’
Don Fernandino chuckled. ‘Quite. Is there anything else you can tell me about Dominic Leclerc?’
‘You want to know what I really think?’
‘I thought he was horrible. I have no idea how he found his way into our group, but he was not the kind of person I would ever want to associate with. Arrogant, ill-informed, irritable, self-centred.’
‘Oh! Well, I did ask what you really thought .’
‘It was even worse for Ximene, she ended up with Dominic for her partner in the transition. At the end of transition she could not wait to separate from him. As far as possible.’
‘She rejected him.’
‘She did indeed, as I understand it, in no uncertain terms.’
‘And how did he take that.’
‘Very badly. he spent weeks doing nothing but telling everyone he could talk to, how badly Ximene had treated him.’
‘ Hmm. He was badly hurt by the rejection.’
‘That is all I need to know.’
Don Fernandino held up his hands, palms up. Lady Eleanor I now need to talk to Phillipa de Roet’
‘I will make arrangements. She divides her time between here and her parents accommodation at the other side of the city centre, I will make arrangements for you to meet her, tomorrow. or the day after.’
Same dining room. Different menu, Different young lady facing Don Fernandino.
‘So Pipa, tell me about Dominic Leclerc.’
‘ Not a lot to tell. A miserable non-entity.’
‘Quite, I think I have already gained that impression. It is good to have it confirmed.’
Don Fernandino gently ran his finger across his eye. ‘I believe you knew in advance that Ximene intended to escape during the hunt at Muret?’
‘ And did you pass on that information to anyone else?’
‘From the first question you asked, I think you already know. Yes, I told Dominic. He was pestering me, asking how he could get back with Ximene. It was just my way of telling him he stood no chance.’ Pipa frowned. I told him that she would escape during the hunt. that she was going to Sicily’ She paused.’ I believe I told him that you, Don Fernandino, would help her escape. I really did not think it mattered. He was a nobody isolated at the top of a tower in the Chateau de Foix.’
Don Fernandino nodded. ‘I understand how you might have done this. But I now believe that the person you believed to be a nobody, caused all the threats Ximene faced. The information you leaked to Dominic Leclerc reached the Inquisition in Pamiers and from there was passed on to Les Étoiles. He paused. ‘And that led to an attack on me. Everything else flowed from your indiscretion.’
Pipa bowed her head. ‘ If that is true, I am sorry but I must ask, where is Ximene? Can I go to join her?
Don Fernandino leaned back in his chair streaching his arms behind him.
He was angry, very angry, but he did not want that anger to show. He now had to decide his future actions. He was now certain that there had been a link between the Inquisition, Du Guesclin and Les Etoiles. What he did not know was whether that link still existed. He shook his head. He could not take the risk of assuming that the link was broken. He would have to change his plans.
Don Fernandino pushed his lips tight together, and glared at Pipa. ‘My instinct is to say no, Ximene is still at risk. Because of your past indiscretions, there is no way I would tell you where she is… However, if you were to accompany me and agree to accept any punishment Ximene might decide to impose…’
Pipa did not hesitate. ‘ I agree, I just want to be with her.
‘So now, Lady Eleanor, can you make arrangements for me to talk to the Prince?’
‘Sorry, I had assumed that would be possible but unknown to me or Alyse he had other commitments. He has left for England. Apparently, he wants to talk to his father. He wants to take charge of the transport of his army for the fight against the Comte d’Armagnac. He left without giving any notice. That’s all I know. He left two nights ago.
‘Disappointing, but before he left, did you get the opportunity to let him know that Ximene is safe and well?
‘Yes,I did, or rather Alyse did.’
‘So then, can I talk to the Earl.’
‘Yes, I believe I can arrange that.’