Rene Bonfils – 21 June 1355
John was awakened in the late morning by the door to his chamber being opened. He jerked upright reaching for his sword which he had left propped at the side of the bed.
‘Easy, John, Easy’ said a delightful female voice, which he did not instantly recognise.
‘Who?’ he asked.
The question was soon answered as his visitor pulled back the heavy velvet curtains. The light streamed in through the shutters. His visitor was not the serving maid, it was none other than Joan of Kent. In his attempt to grab his sword he had disturbed his sheets which had fallen to the floor. He lay naked on the bed as Joan approach him. He hurriedly grasped for his sheets but Joan prevented him from doing so. She pushed him back against the pillows.
‘What makes you think I do not wish to see your body’ she purred.
She stroked the scar which ran from his knee to his inner thigh.
‘In future years a thousand women will stroke that scar and wonder what caused it. I consider myself fortunate to know you well enough to know at least a summary of what happened. You are exactly as I thought you would be lithe, yet well muscled, totally a soldier and a man.’
She stood back and admired him, hands on hips. John had experience of the way Ximene had watched him. He relaxed, enjoying the admiration. He knew that was what Joan wanted. Nevertheless as he lay there thoughts of Ximene came flooding back.
Joan was very modestly dressed in a black gown which fastened up to a tight collar which rose closely around her neck.
‘Enough’ she said.
‘Cover yourself, I am too easily distracted’
She pulled the sheets over his body and sat demurely at the foot of his bed. It was as if he had a long term relationship with this woman, and yet this was the first time they had been alone. What a strange relationship, she was half way between a mother and a lover!
‘Now John I want to talk to you about really important things. Has Ximene fallen in love with you?’
John stared at her and instinctively pulled his sheets up so that he was completely covered.
‘I hear that you have spent a lot of time together in all sorts of compromising circumstances’
She fluttered her eyelids, which John quite correctly interpreted as meaning she was imagining what had occurred. He was aware that the Earl had warned him not to tell Joan anything but he found it hard to see Joan, sitting at the foot of his bed, as any kind of a threat.
He started to tell her over again the story of his meeting with Ximene, of the escape from Foix, of his injury and of his slow recovery. Joan’s face showed impatience. She rose to her feet and moved to stand alongside him. She held his hand.
‘Yes, yes but has she fallen in love with you?’
John then chose to tell the truth, but a truth, which would tell Joan nothing she did not already know.
‘I do not think she has fallen in love with me as she is still intent on marrying the Prince’
Joan’s reaction surprised him.
‘Oh John, you have failed me. She was supposed to fall in love with you and forget about the Prince.’
John suddenly was all attention.
‘Supposed? Who supposed?
Joan looked sympathetic.
‘I supposed John. I saw you at Clermont. I could not imagine any woman resisting you! I believed that you could be the person who would divert Ximene from any interest in the Prince. Young girls of sixteen are often short-term thinkers. I convinced the Earl that it would do no harm for you to meet her! In the end of course I believed she would have had to have made a dynastic marriage somewhere but not before I had married the Prince.’
She took a deep breath.
‘It was not only me who made sure that you met Ximene. Lady Eleanor also decided that it was better if Ximene married someone other than the Prince and that a romantic involvement would not do any harm. I believe she played a much bigger role than I did in making sure you met her’
‘Oh!’ said John, remembering the journey from Beaufort to Muret and the subsequent promises he had made to Lady Eleanor.
I am disappointed because I have received reports that you are almost inseparable and that Ximene saved your life by sleeping with you when you were unlikely to recover’
John was aghast. It seemed his personal and private life was public knowledge.
‘Well tell your spies, whoever they are, that they are wrong. Ximene is still determined to marry the Prince and has pushed me to one side’
He stopped speaking, realising that Joan now had confirmation of reports she had received from other sources. To be pushed aside implied that before the pushing occurred there was a relationship.
Joan leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek
‘What went wrong John?’ she asked sympathetically. ‘I now feel guilt for having put you in a situation which has had such an unsuccessful outcome. I had a report only a week ago which said your relationship with Ximene was strong’.
Reports again! John felt anger welling up inside him. He forgot the Earl’s instructions
‘I will say again your reports are wrong. I discovered that Ximene has had a long term sexual relationship with another woman! Not only that, Ximene has now transferred her affections to an older handsome more experienced man. He is a ships captain and a member of the same organisation to which Don Fernandino belongs…
Joan finished the sentence for him.
‘Whose name is Thierry d’Arques’
John could only stare blankly
Joan smiled, she was clearly very sympathetic.
She took is head in her arms and again kissed him
‘Let me tell you something John. For a long time I have travelled between Plymouth and Bordeaux on ships belonging to ‘Les Etolille’. They are very discrete about the passengers they carry and so details of my travels are not made available to every court gossip. I have known Thierry d Arques… intimately. I agree he is very handsome. He told me that he was being given an administrative job in the Mediterranean and I asked him…’
She pushed her hair back from her face feigning shyness.
‘…in circumstances which demanded he was sympathetic to my cause…’
She closed and opened her eyes again very slowly showing off her eyelashes to full advantage
‘…to keep me informed of anything to do with Ximene. It was an arrow shot in the dark, but it worked. I know now that Thierry became involved in the rescue of Don Fernandino..,’
John shook himself loose from Joan’s embrace. He wanted to see her eyes clearly. She continued speaking
‘Thierry is the main source of my information about your relationship with Ximene. I got some of this information through Lady Eleanor who in turn had been talking to Don Fernandino but mainly from Theirry. He told me only a week ago that you and Ximene were inseparable. He described you as blood brothers and lovers. He said your commitment to each other was beautiful to see.’
She stopped obviously wondering whether she should continue.
‘Initially Thierry was supposed to be the alternative distraction if your relationship with Ximene did not work out. I can guarantee that Ximene did not transfer her affections to him. That is something you have imagined.’
Joan waited for all that to sink in
She again took his head in her arms
‘Now tell me about this long term sexual relationship with another woman.’
John described the circumstances of the punishment and the way he had found Phillipa and Ximene together afterwards. He told Joan about Ximene’s comment that no pleasure was wrong and the way he had interpreted it. He also told her that he had been invited to join them in bed and had refused.
Joan shook her head sadly
‘I am embracing you head, because I feel sympathy for you. Hopefully you can feel my concern but I ask you, is there any sexual content in that embrace?’
John shook his head but could not help protesting.
‘Ximene told me that that she had been taught that no pleasure was wrong. Why else would she have said that, if she did not find the contact with Phillipa pleasurable?’
Joan‘s tone changed, she became quite short with John.
‘She probably saw disapproval on your face and felt a need to defend herself from that. But let’s assume she was enjoying the touch of another woman, is that so desperately wrong?’
She remembered her own contact with Ximene and blushed slightly.
‘It has happened to me at least once.’
She rapidly recovered her composure.
‘Ximene and Joanne showed that they did not want to exclude you.’
Joan stopped short
‘Why do you think I am doing all this John’
‘I don’t know where I got the idea from but I believe that you are determined to marry the Prince yourself. It is interesting that all you have done to pursue that aim is to make sure that I met Ximene. I cannot imagine what you saw in me that made you place such reliance on that meeting’
‘ In my life John I have known many men. I have met only two others who exude honour and vitality as you do; The Prince and William. Perhaps it is something only experienced women can feel. Perhaps other women admire a different kind of man.
Joan looked at John tenderly.
‘ When I was giving you my favour at Clermont, I wanted you so much. Bear in mind that I had just decided to terminate all other relationships with men, even my beloved William, so that there would be no barrier to my marriage to the Prince, but I still wanted you! From what I knew of Ximene I felt that she also could succumb to those qualities, that she also would feel whatever it is which makes you special.’
‘Incidentally you have another admirer, Phillipa! But I am dealing with that’
‘I can only marry the Prince if I can ensure William’s future happiness. He will give me that permission but I could not bear the thought of him without a partner. I was delighted therefore, to find that when he arrived back from Muret, during the trip to Bordeaux, he had become quite enchanted with Phillipa. I threw them together, invited them to every possible social function. The Prince made a trip to England so that he could return with the rest of his army and therefore totally conceal the fact that he had made the journey to meet Ximene. William was busy organising for the arrival of the army but I managed to get them to the house at Reole for several weekends. They are very close, if I marry the Prince I believe they could be lovers!’
John’s mind whirled. Lady Eleanor had suggested that if Ximene married the Prince he might marry Phillipa, for ‘cover’. Now Joan was telling him that if she married the Prince , Phillipa might be the Earl’s wife or at least his lover. How much control did Phillipa have over all of this? Did she know that her future life might totally dependant on who married the Prince?
He decided now was not the time to share these thoughts with Joan
Joan continued in a conspiratorial tone ‘More than that, when Phillipa was whipped by you…’
Once her eyes fluttered at the thought.
‘… did she explain why she had trailed Don Fernandino?
‘Just so she could be with Ximene, I think.’
‘I believe differently. In Bordeaux, William overheard us talking about the festival of the moon at Moncler. He was at first amused and then intrigued to discover that she had acted as Lady Eleanor’s spy to see if she could find out more about his and possibly my true intentions.’
She paused .
‘Then Don Fernandino arrived bringing us news of John’s injury and Ximene’s devotion to you. Phillipa expressed her determination to join you. William heard her say this. It was William who asked Phillipa to follow Don Fernandino and he helped her in the first part of the task. William desperately wanted to know Ximene’s true location.’
Another pause for emphasis
‘Phillipa is one of William’s agents!’
John found it difficult to absorb this information.
‘She said nothing about this, but if she is now working for the Earl I don’t suppose she would! How could she have sent a report back to the Earl?‘
The theory was that Don Fernandino would not allow Phillipa to stay with you and therefore could return with the information. But events took a different turn.
‘Don Fernandino discussed killing her! And she was whipped’
‘William certainly did not envisage that. But he will be interested to know that even when in pain she said nothing. Can we return to the important point John? The woman you have been so jealous of is in fact now involved with another man’
‘Oh!’John sighed.’What you are suggesting is that it was me who drove a wedge between us. I blamed the finding of the treasure, another man, another woman, when all the time it was me. I did not recognise the difficulties she was facing. I did not offer her adequate support. I must return and reassure her of my continuing love.’
Joan returned to the end of the bed.
’Good’ she said ‘That is what I want you to do but now something else. As her ambassador you are responsible for giving her some guidance. Ask her whether her desire to reinstate all those who were dispossessed by the Albigensian Crusade is because of a concern for them or for personal gratification. With the wealth you have discovered she could establish a secure base anywhere within the Plantagenet lands and share it with whoever she wishes. In anonymity whole communities could follow whatever religion they wished. I think it is worth asking the question.’
She went to leave the room but halted by the door.
‘One more thing John, really spectacular love does not occur often in a lifetime. When you find it hold on to it, never let it go.’
Again there was a change of mood. She became playful and coquettish again.
‘Tell me I am beautiful, John’
‘You are probably the most beautiful woman I have ever seen or could ever hope to see’ John replied.
Joan gave a tiny curtsey’ Thank you John, sooner or later we are going to have to spend a night in the same bed. I have acquired an ambition to make you the best lover in the world and I can only achieve that by giving you personal tuition.’
Joan slowly undid the fastenings of the gown and let it slide to the floor. Beneath the gown she was wearing a totally transparent nightdress tied beneath her breasts but leaving them exposed. She pretended to smooth her nightdress over her hips moving her weight from one foot to the other as she did so. There was a tiny gold belt around her waist which pulled the nightdress in at that point. Suspended from the belt was a scabbard containing the Hebrew knife. Hanging beneath her breasts and suspended by silken threads around her neck was John’s diamond.
She glanced at John from under lowered lids.
‘Please ignore what I have just said, sometimes I cannot help myself. You already have my favour but I do not want you to take advantage of it. I just want to remind you of the attractions of a woman. I want you to know that almost any woman in the world is available to you. Now go and reclaim Ximene, the love of your life’
She slipped out of the door and closed it behind her, leaving her gown on the floor.