46 The Usual Criteria

Joan of Kent-30 May 1355

When Joan returned to the stand she asked the Earl an entirely unexpected question. ‘I am very impressed with this young man. Will he be going to Muret with the Prince?’

The Earl smiled. ‘What are you up to now, Joan? He has not yet discharged a single arrow, so why are you so impressed?’

Joan turned and smiled at her former husband—commander of the rearguard!—tough soldier!—security expert! So easy to read, so easy to manipulate!

‘Well,’ she said. ‘Surely you can see.’ She fluttered her lashes at the Earl. ‘He is tall, slim and yet extremely well built.’ She gave a cheeky grin. ‘Have you seen him naked? I bet he ripples with muscles.’ Joan held in a chuckle of delight. ‘Look! Now he is stringing his bow.’

The Earl looked fleetingly over John’s body, frowning as he did so.

‘Just look at the size of his biceps! And his thighs! Look how they bulge under his hose. His blonde hair,’ she waved a well groomed hand above her head, ‘wave after wave of it… and the face.’ She closed her eyes for a moment to feign desire. ‘Square jaw, a prominent but even nose and huge brown eyes.’ She opened her eyes again. ‘Look! Now, in the sunlight! He has eyelashes that any girl would be proud of.’

The Earl laughed and nodded. He grasped Joan’s shoulders and spun her round to face him. ‘Oh! I see, the usual criteria! I am sorry, my dear. He is not for sale. I have made him my squire because he is strong, controlled, obedient, good at close combat and can be relied upon to keep a secret.’

Joan jumped up and down and squealed gently. ‘It gets better and better,’ she said. ‘When you meet Ximene will you make sure that she is introduced to this young man?’

The Earl gave a slow, exaggerated nod and laughed aloud.

Joan continued. ‘Last night I told you that I wanted to help Ximene escape from her dreadful confinement and of my intention to introduce her to a string of potential lovers. I want her attention deflected from the Prince, well…’ She flicked an eyebrow.

‘Oh! John Stanley!’ The Earl gave a doubtful humph. ‘Do you think so?’

Joan heard the surprise ringing in his voice. He again grasped her gently by the shoulders. Joan wriggled slightly but not with any intention to break away. A myriad mischievous thoughts flashed through her mind.

‘Yes.’ She nodded. ‘I think so,’ she replied, a grin spreading across her face. ‘You don’t have to do much.’ She wriggled again. ‘Just make sure they meet.’ She cocked her head and eyed the Earl lovingly. He was probably the only man she could treat like this. ‘If it doesn’t work out, then bring him back to me.’ Her eyes twinkled with mischievous delight. ‘He would make a wonderful Christmas present!’

‘Hmmm!’ He shook his head. ‘Don’t count on it. I have a high regard for that young man. He could be very useful in the future.’

Joan produced what she hoped was her most appealing look. ‘That is just what I have been saying.’ She shook with silent laughter. ‘Oh look, he is stepping up to the mark. I wonder if he can shoot an arrow as attractively as he strings a bow!’

The most dangerous woman in the world