Don Fernandino – 10th October 1355
Joan greeted the Earl with a kiss. ‘See who I have found on the way here and Christmas is still a long way off’
This last comment was of course meaningless to John but not to the Earl, who burst out laughing.
‘Welcome John’ he summoned a maid
‘Please show The Countess to her room and show her the facilities’
He waited until Joan had ascended the central staircase then addressed John.
‘You will enjoy it here and I want you to enjoy it, but first of all tell me what has happened. In particular tell me why you are here. Where is Ximene?
He led John to the library and selected a bottle of the very best Armagnac
John told him the whole story. He omitted the personal details of his relationship with Ximene. He did not need to mention then. There was in any case such a dramatic story to tell.
When John had finished the Earl took a sip from his glass.
‘So Ximene wants the Prince to transport and guard her treasure, she is prepared to marry the Prince and she wants you to carry out the negotiations on her behalf?
The Earl looked at him carefully.
‘Tell me, are these two issues, the treasure and her marriage linked or can we separate them’
John was totally surprised by the question. He realised that he had been conditioned by Ximene’s thinking.
‘I suppose they are quite separate, but in Ximene’s mind currently they are linked in two different ways. She assumes that the Prince would not help her with the treasure unless she offered herself as his bride. Secondly she wants to use the wealth to win freedom for her people so that they, once again, are able to follow their own religious beliefs. She is convinced that to do this she would need to use the Princes army and in particular have access to senior military strategists such as yourself ‘
The Earl smiled again. He affectionately stretched out his hand and touched John on the shoulder.
‘It was very flattering of you to say that and I know that you really meant it’
He then adopted a much sterner demeanor.
‘Well John, forget everything I have ever said about our relationship. For you to represent Ximene’s interest properly you must now relinquish your allegence to the Prince, to myself and to Lord James. If we are to have any chance of reaching an agreement, which has any validity you must be able to represent Ximene’s best interests without compromise. Have you any formal appointment?’
John suddenly realised how competent Ximene was in these matters.
‘Yes’ he replied ‘I am a Knight of Occitan’
The Earl laughed, put an arm around his shoulder and showed him to the suite of rooms which he had assigned for his use.
As John settled in, the Earl sat in a chair by the window looking out over the vast estates of Termes.
‘Just one thing before we go any further. Have you any proof that the treasure exists?’
John produced the gemstone he had taken from the cave.
‘I picked it because it was so unusual’ he told the Earl.
‘It is crystal clear but with a bluish tinge. The feature which is most amazing is that even in the dark cave where it was found it sparkled in the light of the torches. In sunlight it shines in an incredible way.’
He then produced a small golden knife.
‘This belongs to Ximene. She selected it because of the strange writing which covers the blade. She thinks it might identify the source of the treasure’
The Earl was intensly interested.
‘You did well John. I would not expect anything less. I will bring Joan to look at them after dinner. Joan has made herself an expert on anything valuable. She will probably have information on what these are and what they are worth! Dinner is in half an hour. Attend wearing the completely white tabard which is in your wardrobe.’
John had obviously been assigned a serving maid who helped him bathe, dress and led him down to the dining room. John reflected how much things had changed. He spent a long time naked whilst the serving maid attended to him and yet there were no sexual undertones whatsoever.
At the door to the dining room he was halted by a servant who then made a formal introduction.
‘Sir John Stanley, Lion of Aquitaine , Knight of Occitan and Ambassador of the state of Occitan to Prince Edward, Duke of Aquitaine.’
John’s eyebrows rose on his forehead. He could only assume that the Earl had concocted this description of his status and the next question was why had he done it? He assumed that other than themselves the only person in the room would be Joan.
As he glanced down the room he could see that he was wrong. The Earl was accompanied by another guest. Joan was nowhere to be seen.
The Earl rose to his feet to greet John.
‘I would like you to meet a personal friend, Gaston Compte de Foix’
John struggled to retain his composure. He had previously seen the Compte only briefly and therefore had not recognised him.
A sumptuous meal was then served. The meal started with pheasant and quail followed by a light vegetable broth and then venison served with a rich cherry sauce.
After the third course the Earl commenced the business of the evening.
‘Gaston is here because in order to attack Armagnac we had to approach part of his territory. For his lands in Bearn he has sworn fealty to Prince Edward, so we have spent some time with him explaining the Prince’s intentions. One of the barriers to our conversation has been that we were instrumental in removing Ximene from his care. He has long been concerned that if Ximene assumes her rightful inheritance of Occitan it could seriously undermine his own security. We are now discussing a proposal to make him Duke of Gascony covering all his existing lands plus Armagnac. He would have equal status to the Black Prince as Duke of Aquitaine and Ximene would become Duchess of Occitan. All three dukedoms would be controlled directly by King Edward from London.’
He paused and looked directly at John
‘How would you feel about this?’
John gulped. He was not prepared for this kind of question. However he realised that because he was representing Ximene’s interests he had to make a reply. He felt confident in his understanding of Ximene’s requirements. He replied accordingly.
‘That would be perfectly acceptable to us as long the boundaries between Gascony, Aquitaine and Occitan were to be clearly defined. Our major concern is to right the wrongs resulting from the Albigensian Crusade. The rightful landowners should be reinstated in Occitan and discrimination and persecution on the basis of religious belief should be banned!’
The Compte de Foix was obviously perturbed.
‘Please, please think carefully. We do not want another crusade supported by every other Christian nation to descend on us. My own solution, which is to join in the churches condemnation of any non conformist beliefs but allow other faiths to prosper in secret, is I think preferable. Take that thought back to Ximene. If necessary I am prepared to talk to her myself. What you have just proposed will bring danger to us all.’
John thought quickly.
‘Suppose there were adequate funds to support a mercenary army and the best military experts from England Aquitaine and Foix were assigned to that force. Could a crusade overcome such a force?’
The Compte was dismissive.
‘Go away and carefully study the records of the Albigensian Crusade. The Trencavels, the St Gilles, my own family and the Kings of Aragon lost an incalculable fortune in fighting against the crusaders. No one can overcome a force, which is funded by the Church of Rome. Their wealth is limitless. If you have significant wealth use it to establish a secret infrastructure to permit freedom of religious belief . Do not attempt to fight the Church of Rome in open conflict.’
He turned to the Earl.
‘I am not in principle opposed to your proposal but the kind of idealistic nonsense espoused by the ambassador for Occitan fills me with dismay. I cannot be part of an alliance, which supports such ideas. I will retire now. Try to convince the ambassador of the truth of my statements and perhaps we can talk again .
However do not take too long. In the new year I am travelling north, firstly to meet both the dauphin and my brother-in-law at the dauphin’s stronghold in Rouen. It will be virtually a repeat of the discussion we have just had; but with the concept of dukedoms being extended into the frankish realm. I will then continue to Evreux for a family conference where the topics will again be the same but where I would hope we can obtain a family agreement. Both my wife Agnes and her sister Blanch d’Evereux will be present at the family conference.
He rose, turned on his heel but hestitated. ‘ Agnes is currently in Bordeaux. She went for discussions with the Prince but he had already left on this current adventure. Nevertheless, on the Prince’s return there will be the opportunity to convey the results of your deliberations using her as a messenger.
The Earl nodded. ‘We knew Agnes was in Bordeaux but we did not know exactly why. I think that Joan has the intention of inviting her to come here to the Château de Termes, you have no objections?’
‘None whatsoever, but I may have left before she arrives,’
I am sure that will not be a difficulty, I am sure Joan will find numerous ways of keeping Agnes entertained.
‘I am sure she will.’ He hesitated, ‘But it does raise another issue in my mind. Jant is beginning to at as if she is the Prince’s consort, does this mean the marriage to Ximene will not procede? would ximene be open to other offfers.
John’s eybrows raised. ‘ Can I assure you that the Prince and ximene are both commited to their future marriage.there is no need to consider alternative suitors.’
The Comte nodded, frowned and left the room.