The thing that surprised John more than anything was how quickly Ximene recovered. She grieved openly and without embarrassment, but by the end of the next day she had reached a number of important conclusions.
“ My grandmother was wrong, marrying the Prince will not make me safe. I was here surrounded by several thousand of the Prince’s troops and was attacked. I survived but Danielle, the daughter of one of my most senior supporters was slain. We think there were a dozen attackers. We killed four of them and of that number, two were killed by me. We do not know how many were injured, but then despite being surrounded the remainder escaped and still managed to kill my beloved Selene. If she had not been tethered she would have killed anyone who tried to approach her. If it had not been for you John I believe they would have killed every one of these ladies.
John protested vigorously.
“ You must know it was the Earl who put me in a position where I could be aware of what was happening and could come to your aid”
“ Yes but look out here now’
She walked to the tent entrance. The whole perimeter was bristling with guards, almost shoulder to shoulder around the tent.
“ It should have been like that last night’
‘The same number of guards were here”
‘Yes but they were one hundred feet or more eating and singing, making enough noise to cover the sound of the attackers approaching. In the meantime thousands of soldiers guarding the baggage train, the treasure, totally ignored us and our attackers’
John watched her carefully. This was a different Ximene, for the first time after a major reverse Ximene did not look defeated. She looked defiant, angry even but she was totally in control, ice cool, almost frightening in her resolve.
“The first thing I have learned is that when I decided to take part in your training programme I was right, I must be responsible for my own safety.’
‘But you will always need assistance.’
Yes indeed, I will, but from now on I will be in control of plans for my own safety. I will decide what assistance I need and how that assistance should be deployed. We will start by the rest of this trip to Bordeaux. Bring the Earl to me, I want to go over the arrangements in detail.
Ximene asked John to leave whilst she held discussions with the Earl. He knew it was because she intended to criticise the arrangements he had made and did not want to do it in front of John.
Later on in the evening the Earl sought out John.
“ What has she said to you?
“ Just that from now on decisions affecting her personal security will be made by her, not by anyone else’
‘It goes much further than that. She has told me point blank that considerations of her marriage to the Prince should be delayed indefinitely, until a time when she is totally satisfied with her own security arrangements. She will no longer rely on the Prince, or me to protect her. Negotiations for the disposal of the treasure should continue, but I get the impression she will now drive a harder bargain.’
John was very surprised that the Prince made no attempt to make personal contact with Ximene but then discovered that he had ridden ahead to the Chateau des Termes before the attack had occurred. Next day, when they reached the Chateau themselves it was no surprise to John to discover that Joan of Kent was still in residence. That explained the Prince’s haste. Or perhaps it did? The Prince asked to see Ximene immediately. She had only a riding dress available to her and looked to Joan for assistance. It was the way that Ximene approached Joan, directly, personally, that gave John the first inkling that they already knew each other. He wondered where their obvious intimacy originated.
It was over two hours before Ximene reappeared resplendent in a very conservative formal dress.
She then spent over an hour with the Prince before returning for discussion with John. Her demeanor was icy and this time John felt it went much deeper than the formal dress.
“ He was very apologetic for the circumstances leading up to the attack. I was able to be very forceful in my requests, but you now need to arrange a contract.
She took a deep breath
I have told him I will not marry him and he replied by saying that he hoped I would not feel rejected but that he was now committed to a marriage with Joan’
“ ‘ So what did you say to that’
‘I said nothing , I gave him a big kiss… he was surprised! Oh! Incidentally no one must know that!
The icy demeanor melted away, and she threw herself into John’s arms pressing her lips against his and thrusting her tongue into his mouth.
She paused for breath and laughed
“ It wasn’t that kind of a kiss’
She spun round several times, her formal skirt doing its best to rise from the floor.
She called Don Fernando in and in discussion briefed them on what she wanted
‘The Prince told me that he had limited time before he leaves for Bordeaux. You must go to him immediately.
It took half an hour’s discussion to establish once again that they were grateful for the Prince’s help in recovering the treasure, and to point out that they wanted to keep the settlement of the treasure separate from the marriage negotiations. The Prince agreed readily.
“ I would be pleased to take the treasure back to England and for it to become a crown possession. In exchange we would give Ximene lands with the potential to generate a satisfactory income. We would also give her an English title appropriate to the management of those lands. All this will of course be subject to negotiation with by my father, his chancellor and his treasurer.”
“ Of course” said John.
“ but that could take a year at least, could anything be done in advance of that, perhaps as soon as a full inventory of the treasure has been carried out?”
It did not take the Prince long to think it through. He knew what the nature of the demands would be.
‘ What I can do, as a gesture of good faith is immediately grant Ximene lands, to which I have personal rights, at Langdon. We rode through those lands after we left Biscarrosse after our training John, and they border the lands of the Captal du Buch“
“ Excellent. And a title?”
“ Comptess Trencavel? Comptess of Langdon?”
Don Ferdinando broke in.
‘Comptess of Langdon would be preferable.’
The Prince raised one eybrow. Don Fernandino knew it questioned his decision and whether his role allowed him to make decisions. He hurriedly explained.
‘After what happened two nights ago it will make Ximene more comfortable if she can make a total change of persona’
“Comptess de Langdon it is then”
“ Who will know about Ximenes change of identity”
“ The three of us, and the Earl, I must tell him
“Good, and the marriage negotiation?”
“ I think it would be best left until after the transfer of the treasure is finalised. We want to make sure that Ximene’s needs are fully considered and yet we want to deal with the treasure quickly. The marriage agreement can be dealt with later.’
The Prince rose and pulled on a cloak.
“I am sorry I must leave now in order to catch the tide at Bordeaux. The Earl will accompany me. We must return to England for discussions with my father. I will return some time in January”
John smiled to himself, the Prince gave no indication that the marriage would never take place!
“We agree, perhaps we can discuss the marriage again when you return to Bordeaux?’
John Chandos was appointed as commander of the baggage train. It was the first time John had met John Chandos, but he knew him by reputation as an outstanding soldier and someone who could be trusted. The baggage train left early the next morning but at a much slower rate than the Prince. Don Fernandino travelled with it to make arrangements for a final inventory to be carried out in a warehouse in Bordeaux. The delegates to England pronounced themselves anxious to get on with their mission so they left with the Prince. They wanted their daughters to travel with them but the girls would have none of it. They had been badly shocked by the death of Gabrielle but taking their lead from Ximene were now putting on a brave face. They declared to their fathers their determination to stay with Ximene in her hour of need.
Later in the day they were all introduced to Joan of Kent. She watched how the ladies formed a shield around Ximene. This was not at all what she wanted. She wanted to throw Ximene and John together.
She called everyone together and made an anouncement “This morning, before he left I persuaded the Prince to allow me to arrange a meal tomorrow evening in honour of my new close friend Selene, Comptess of Langdon who has lands at Sauterne.”
John was startled
‘Comptess of Langdon, But that was… is Ximene how did Joan know?’
“The Comptess is very rich and has disappointed many people of influence by forming a firm attachment to a young soldier of my acquaintance. She is a member of the Cathar religion and at the dinner the young soldier will formally present his suit in a Cathar ceremony. He should have done this months ago but he has been very busy of late.”
Joan took the girls on one side, one at a time. They were soon giggling and snatching shy glances at John. Joan then chatted amiably to Phillipa and finally to Ximene. They embraced warmly as old friends do. Even across the room John could sense that they had a special relationship. Ximene looked surprised and then anxious, before finally she smiled, nodded and gave Joan another hug. She then turned and gave John one of her special incendiary smiles, the first one he had received in a long time. A servant approached Ximene and she left the room hurriedly.
Joan then shooed all of the women out of the room in an atmosphere of great excitement. Joan sauntered back across the room. She fluttered her eye lashes, which John now knew she always did when she was feeling particularly mischievous
“You are still not doing very well John” she said.
John could not help smiling despite the gravity of what he felt he must say.
“Is that the subject of another report from Thierry, your spy? He asked.
“No it is not. The last report he sent me he was on his way to Sicily on some completely different mission”
John told her of the body the Prince had found at Carcassonne and the implications of the discovery.
“Yes, the Prince told me the same story last evening before I made love to him” she said without a trace of embarrassment.
“He did not know your conclusion about Thierry of course. I honestly think you are wrong but I must admit it does look bad. Sooner or later we will have to manufacture a trap for Thierry and I can probably help you set the bait.”
She fluttered her eyelashes yet again. John realised she could not help doing it when certain thoughts crossed her mind.
She stopped and smiled.
‘No I am sorry, I am now going to leave all that behind, I am confident that you will eventually deal with Thierry, if in fact he is guilty of anything’
She adopted the persona of the scandalous aunt, put her arm around John’s shoulder and whispered in his ear.
“ I hope you appreciate everything I do for you, If you express you admiration for the Comptess, in a way which pleases her, the Comptess will almost certainly award you her favour and everything which goes with that.”
“ You obviously know the Comptess is Ximene’s new identity!”
Joan held her finger to his lips.
“The Comptess is the Comptess! In any case I have dealt with the security issue. You men are so unimaginative; it takes a woman to attend to delicate issues. Ximene Trencavel is about to vanish into the countryside of Armagnac.”
Now it was John’s turn to blink. Joan continued.
“A few minutes ago a messenger arrived with an urgent message for Ximene. All our guests saw him arrive and observed Ximene’s consternation when she received the message. As we speak her ladies are helping her change into riding clothes. She will leave with a large party of horsemen in a very short time. ”
John could not believe it. What did this mean for tomorrow evening?
Joan saw his alarm and immediately consoled him.
“ It is alright. Ximene will make a big show of changing into a riding costume but all she will actually do is run down a flight of stairs, along a corridor and up another flight of stairs into a different bedroom. The girls will run to the window and see a most impressive departure. A stand-in will ride away wearing an identical riding habit to the one Ximene had made such a display of struggling into!”
“ Oh!” John wondered had Joan learned all this from the Earl or had the Earl learned it from Joan. “But how will anyone know about that?”
‘ John, John you are entering a different world! My use of Thierry and the Earl’s use of Joanne should tell you that. Just be thankful that Monsieur Froissart had no access to your love nest at Mazerou. If he had, you would now be famous, unable to move without every detail of what you do made public, and we have acquired our own Monsieur Froissart in Bordeaux .’
‘Your own Monsieur Froissart’
Yes, the enterprising Alphonso Henestrosa, who works for Lady Eleanor, started to work on his own account as soon as he arrived in Bordeaux, he is widely admired for his talent as a troubador.” Joan Smiled radiantly. ‘From what I hear he is well blessed with other talents but of course as we have just discussed I will have little opportunity to test that for myself!’
John looked puzzled. Joan continued
‘Based on the access he gained to the Prince, the Earl, the Captal and Lord James whilst they travelled from Foix to Bordeaux and others he can observe during his troubador activities, he has started his own court circular. He has quickly realised that his circulation is totally linked to the amount of scandal he can include and…’
Joan paused trying to gauge John’s reaction.
‘Oh! John! It is impossible to keep the servants quiet. They make good money selling information to the likes of Monsieur Froissart and now Senor Henestrosa . However that can be used to advantage by the use of little deceptions such as the one happening right now. Little details help. Ximene had few clothes with her but they were left behind. The Comptess has arrived with a totally new wardrobe’
‘But the servants don’t travel. How will the information get out?”
‘ It will get out and quicker than you think. Senor Henestrosa is coming here and will be regailed with information about what happened this afternoon’
‘He is coming here? Why?’
“ Because I invited him. I fact I had a very different reason for inviting him but is has all turned out very well’
John was amazed to find himself teasing a granddaughter of a King of England. He raised an eyebrow and a wicked smile spread over his face. He stared deep into Joan’s eyes
‘A very different reason?
‘Well yes,” she fluttered her eyelids yet again.
‘Don’t look at me like that John, it’s not a personal thing. How many times do I have to tell you, I am now purer than the driven snow’
Nevertheless she smiled seductively.
Good God, now she is flirting with me! I am being asked to be part of her court.
She wants me to flirt with her! One of my future roles will be to flirt with Joan letting her know that despite her new vows of monogamy, she is still bewilderingly attractive.
She knows me well enough to know that she can continue to flirt with me and there is no risk in doing so. Oh! She deliberately tested it out when I returned from Mazerou’
“ So you will not honour your promise to take me into your bed and teach me to be a great lover’
Joan suddenly faked shyness.
“ Why John, I am surprised you would remember such a comment. The answer is no, now I have totally reformed that task will fall to someone else.”
She laughed delightedly.
“ Which brings us back to Selene, the Comptress of Langdon. After the Prince left this morning, and before she fled for Castille, Ximene joined me in bed for couple of hours… it gave us the chance to compare… notes’
She laughed again.
‘Oh! Dear, it was quite enjoyable but quite a waste of time. Now I will have to do it all again with the Comptess!
“ Stop it ‘ said John. realising that he would never win in a flirting contest with Joan.
The trouble is that it is probably true!
‘Anyway the Froissart of Aquitaine, Alphonso Henestrosa will be joining us and will carry away with him detail accounts of Ximene’s flight’
‘ Yes! But just to make sure, the girls will be sent on to join their fathers in Bordeaux whilst it is still fresh in their minds. They will be full of tales of Ximene’s sudden dramatic departure and will further reinforce the stories, which I have created. A little bit of drama never does any harm! It is surprising how quickly rumours are spread. By the end of the week credible witnesses will be attesting to the fact that Ximene was last seen with a loyal band of supporters heading south towards Bearn, or Navarre or Castille or somewhere. The stories will be specific but at the same time vague, we will leave it to the recipients to add detail.” She smiled “Of course they will add detail; it will be interesting to see what comes back to us”
John roared with laughter. He stared at Joan. Her eyes glittered. Suddenly it was all clear to John
“You planned all this, it was you who told Ximene to demand the award of a different identity. You probably primed the Prince in advance so that he was receptive to the suggestion’
She joined him in laughter
“Now, let us turn our attention to tomorrow evening. I am surprised at you for keeping this affair from me; however I can do nothing but wish you well. I have arranged for a tailor to visit you, you must make a good impression. I will leave you now there is much else which I must do!”
John’s mind was in a whirl and suddenly he realised that he was experiencing the same feeling that he had had back at Muret. He was about to meet a new and mysterious lady. He felt his blood start to race, would the Comptess like him? Would she accept his suit? What would Joan be telling her overnight?