‘I have no long-term objections to you being Ximene’s occasional lover, my darling, but in the short term we must give the opportunity for other, more important, things to happen.’
Phillipa de Roet – 21st May 1355
She realised that she had interrupted a conversation and looked from Guillam to Eleanor and back again. ‘Well?’
‘We were just talking about Joan of Kent and the Earl of Salisbury. Did you learn anything from your experiences as serving wench?’
Pipa took a large drink from her glass and rolled it around her tongue. ‘I learned that beer does not compare with wine!’ She laughed. ‘No, I think my idea of my pretending to be your maid and mixing with the servants was a good one. I enjoyed myself, mixing with people of my own age. However, though I learned a lot about people’s beliefs and prejudices, none of it was really useful.’ She pursed her lips. ‘In the event, I was able to find the Earl of Salisbury’s squires; nice boys and adventurous.’ She smirked. ‘They sneaked up the hill and watched the beginning of the festival of Selene but my judgement is that they know absolutely nothing, or if they do they conceal it well. There was no mention of Ximene. Until the competition, I don’t believe they knew Joan of Kent was there, despite the fact that they serve the Earl.’
She pulled a face in disapproval. ‘Which is in itself surprising…If you want my opinion, they are a bit slow. I made it clear that I liked the one who won the archery championship, John Stanley, but he did not show any sustained interest. Not even after I got Guillam’s fletcher to provide the arrows which won him the championship!’ She paused. ‘I still haven’t forgiven him for making no attempt to thank me.’
‘Those arrows cost a fortune,’ Guillam grumbled gently.
Lady Eleanor smiled. ‘Don’t despair, Pipa. Your charms are not diminished. You must remember that John was brought up in the Roman Church. He will probably have been taught that even to admire a woman is deeply sinful. To harbour thoughts of gaining sexual pleasure is even worse.’
‘Hmm, I saw no sign of that. Initially, he was interested. Anyway You suggested that he might be one of Joan’s conquests.’
Lady Eleanor said teasingly, ‘Of course, it is possible you were not his type, my dear.’
Pipa went quiet as she considered this possibility. ‘Oh, really,’ she said. ‘Then perhaps I should arrange for him to see me in a more interesting situation. He is going to Muret with the Prince, perhaps that would be possible?’ She placed her glass on a nearby table, very slowly removed her gown and pirouetted on the spot, joining her hands together above her head. She was careful to make sure that she was still silhouetted against the sunset.
Guillam applauded slowly and gently but finished with a louder double clap. The music changed instantly to a softer languorous melody. Guillam sang in a clear but deep voice.
Pipa, you are,
Perfection in all you do.
None can compare with you
I have to thank dear Eleanor,
For allowing your entry through the golden door,
For letting me watch as you undress,
And twist and turn to me impress.
Your long, long legs and silken thighs,
Bring great joy to this old man’s eyes.
Pipa, you are,
Perfection in all you do.
None can compare with you.
I admire your face, I admire your hair;
At your neck and breasts, I love to stare.
But yet! I now must tell no lies,
I have a love which never dies.
Though the sight of your beauty may make me sigh,
It is in Eleanor’s arms I wish to lie.
Guillam ended with a burst of applause.
Pipa and Eleanor laughed delightedly and returned the applause.
Pipa threw her head back, making sure she showed off her breasts to advantage before she slid into the bath. ‘Only you Guillam could manage to complement two naked women in the same ballad and please both of them!’
After a moment, the musicians recommenced their own programme of music.
Pipa became aware that Eleanor had put on her serious face.
‘Pipa, we need to tell you something. Since the death of Ximene’s mother and father, I have been totally responsible for her welfare. She is very unhappy with a situation in which her future is being traded as if she was a commodity in the marketplace. She recognises that because of her inheritance she will probably have to make a dynastic marriage, but she wants to have control of the process. Therefore, in the near future, Ximene will be removed from Gaston’s care. A relative of mine, Don Fernandino Perez, has arrived from Sicily. He will organise Ximene’s kidnap during Gaston’s summer hunt. His task will be to kidnap Ximene in such a way that it appears that none of us has any involvement. She will be taken to Sicily and from there can consider her options without undue pressure.’
Pipa thought for a moment. She knew all this, but something told her it was best not to reveal her knowledge. She thought for a moment. ‘All I have got to say is that wherever Ximene goes, I want to go with her.’
Lady Eleanor smiled. ‘I have no long-term objections to you being Ximene’s occasional lover, my darling, but in the short term we must give the opportunity for other, more important, things to happen.’ Her smile broadened. ‘But it is good to know we are agreed. Ximene is going to Sicily.’
‘And I am going with her.’ Pipa thought. She could not prevent her eyes from sparkling. A second not entirely compatible thought crossed her mind. ‘ What is more, I haven’t completely given up on John Stanley.’