John Stanley-2 June 1355
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 Pipa 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 looked over his shoulder. ‘I havent noticed him in the last few days.’
“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 half 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. It will be Alyse who rides away wearing an identical riding habit to the one Ximene had made such a display of struggling into! And as you know Alyse is, for most people. indistinguishable from Ximene Trencavel. For the next twenty-four hours Ximene will be isolated in my own rooms. Little details help. Ximene had few clothes with her but they were left behind. The Comptess has arrived with a totally new wardrobe which is being finished as we speak by seamstresses who have never met Ximene and think they are working for the Comptress of Landon.’
“ 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 Pipa 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 Juan Perez, Alyse’s brother, who used to work for Lady Eleanor, but who started to work on his own account as soon as he arrived in Bordeaux. Because he is Alyse’s brother he gained instant access to Bordeaux society. 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 because of his… preferences I will get no 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 Juan Perez . However that can be used to advantage by the use of little deceptions such as the one happening right now.
But the servants don’t travel. How will the information get out?”
‘ It will get out and quicker than you think. Juan Perez is here, he came with Alyse. and will be regailed with information about what happened this afternoon. of course he knows about the deception but will ignore that in the story he tells.’
‘He is here? Why?’
‘ Because I invited him.’
‘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, but as i have just told you in any case his personal preferences would get in the way.’’
‘Oh! you mean…’ yes he prefers men.’
Nowlet’s talk about your preferences
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 Lavison. 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, Juan Perez, 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.
Alyse has been asked by the Prince to visit her mother in Burgos. If she is well recieved we may never see her again. The stories told about her flight 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?