64 The Designated Outlaw

William Montacute 6 June 1355

The Prince winced. ‘William, I agreed to all this far too readily last night. It all sounded so easy when I was in London. The Pope wanted to control Ximene. He decided marriage to me was the best way to exert his control. In return, he would help us expand our empire. That gave him the additional benefit of creating a third force to help him control the Franks and the Holy Roman Empire.’

The Earl blinked. ‘You have never before, put it in those terms. It makes it a strategic initiative. But everyone seems to have accepted that Ximene could veto the arrangement.’

‘My father is committed to the marriage. He asked me to come here not so much to meet Ximene but to remove her to Bordeaux if we had any difficulties in the negotiations. It was expected that the difficulty would be with the Comte, not with Ximene herself. My own instinct is to snatch Ximene away right now, and ride hell for leather for Bordeaux.’

‘That is still a possible solution. In many ways, it is the simplest solution.’

‘But one I have never liked much, as a statesman. The Comte de Foix is also the Comte de Bearn, and is my liegeman for his lands in Bearn. I am, as part of that agreement, supposed to protect his interests.’

The Earl considered the options ‘You have the chateau at Beaufort. The Comte de Comminges might help? The are others I could call on. I could make the arrangements tomorrow. Ximene could be in Bordeaux by the end of the week. It need not involve you.’

The Prince eyed his friend and smiled.‘Semantics, William, semantics. Of course I would be involved.’

The Earl returned the smile. It was not often the Prince delayed long enough to think as a statesman. This was chivalry in action. ‘So.’

‘So now you have worked one of your little miracles. Now she wants to take the initiative and escape from the Comte herself, which compromises nothing. Will she go to Bordeaux?’

‘No. She wishes to escape all political influences whilst she negotiates her position. She intends to go to Sicily, where her family has property.’

‘And you have managed to convince Ximene that John Stanley could travel with her, look after her interests and provide a conduit for further negotiations. Why him?’

‘As you know he is courageous, more than competent as a soldier and has a strong sense of loyalty. Most importantly, he is acceptable both to Ximene and to her grandmother.’

‘And that is because?’ The Prince paused. ‘They hardly know him.’

‘Why do we both love Joan?’

‘She is unique: brave, generous, loving, loyal, inspiring.’

‘Quite.’

‘John Stanley?’

‘The male equivalent, or at least the embryo equivalent. Even I feel it… occasionally.’

‘Could he persuade her to go to Bordeaux instead?’

‘Unlikely, but he might try.’

‘Have another word with him…but how will we explain John Stanley’s role to the outside world?’

‘In the short term, we can’t. He will be implicated in the escape. To preserve the image you want to present we will disown him. Perhaps to preserve the illusion we will declare him to be an outlaw. Eventually because we all know why he did it, he will be reinstated.’

The Prince nodded. ‘Does he know all this?’

‘No, I don’t not think it is something he needs to know.’

‘Thank you, William, I will leave it in your very capable hands.’

The most dangerous woman in the world