Two days later John, accompanied by Ximene, and Pipa strolled along the quay towards the Palais d”Aquitaine.
Ximene’s appointment as Comtesse of Langon had brought with it not just the Château at Langon but also a substantial suite of apartments at the southern end of the quay. John had made no secret of the fact that he had spent the last two nights in the apartments. No one actually knew that he had shared Ximene’s bed though thanks to Juan’s publicity, many suspected it.
It obviously did not matter. Everyone they passed made a point of greeting them; the men bowing and the women delivering a curtsey muttering ‘My lady’ as they did so.
John cast his eyes towards the sky. ‘Who are these people. Why do they think they know you?’
Ximene smiled. ‘Well in a way they do. It is another one of Janyn’s initiatives. In connection with the publishing of the court circular, he arranges for new arrivals at court to meet prominent merchants and suppliers of goods. Joan has dragged me along to two of these assemblies. Her objective was to reinforce my change of identity by introducing me as the Comtesse de Lavison to Bordeaux society but in truth, I found them most useful meetings. Anyway, the result is that quite a lot of people do know me.
The only concession Ximene made to changing her identity was to wear her hair pulled back from her forehead and never to appear in public without eye make up and a large hat.
John found that in itself it was an effective disguise. In conversation however she emphasised her new personality. Coached by Joan she changed her accent from heavy Occitan to privileged English almost instantly.
“I am so fond of Lavison, it reminds me of the villages on the Dorset” she said a dozen times to those who wanted to listen. And again… ‘ I try to stay out of the sun as much as I can, it has spoiled the delicate complexion I used to have in England.’
John shook his head. It is a real talent. Just a hint here and comment there, plus a change in her demeanor, and she has become the comtesse! Even to me!
One thing puzzled him. ‘Why from England?’
Ximene fluttered her eyelids. ‘Joan’s idea she feels it adds a touch of mystery and no one will be surprised if I spend time in England… which I will.’
John blinked. ‘Do that again.’
‘Do what again?’
‘Flutter your eyelashes, have you copied that from Joan?’
Ximene shook her head. ‘No, not deliberately.’
‘Well, you must have caught it from her then.’
Joan was waiting for them on the terrace at the head of the stairs, accompanied by Agnes of Navarre. John instantly recognised Agnes he had seen her briefly at Foix and she was the lady who had played Cleopatra on the night he had formally made his suit for Ximene’s…Selene’s hand
Joan wasted no time. ‘For those of you who are hungry there is finger food and drinks on the side table and you are invited to dinner tonight.
‘Today we must get down to business and I do not want to provide any distractions. Oh! but of course. An introduction is required. Agnes Princess of Navarre, Comtesse de Foix…John Stanley, Captain and foundation member of the Royal Guard of Aquitaine. ‘
John winced. Not a role he currently performed; he was not even a member of the guard!
Nevertheless, he rose to his feet and made a very elaborate effort to kiss Agnes’s hand. ‘I am honoured to meet you Comtesse. I have seen you before and regret we have never been introduced.
Agnes chuckled ‘Neither have we, but I think you have seen rather more of me than most people. Was my performance, were my efforts helpful?
John smiled and glanced at Ximene.’ Eminently, I will never forget… your performance.’
Agnes chuckled again. ‘And in turn I am delighted to finally be introduced the redoubtable Monsieur Stanley.’
John bowed again. Another one who liked to flirt!
Joan intervened. ‘Well as I was saying, today we must get down to business. Agnes, even if we were to ignore your outstanding erotic performance , You are important to us.
I think there is an excellent chance that the Prince can enforce his claim to the Frankish throne. He will move north next year and will capture Paris. There is however a substantial problem we must deal with. Not to put too fine a point on it the Frankish realm is a mess. There is an open conflict between King John and his son, Charles, the Dauphin.
My Prince is not the only person who feels that he has a better claim to the Frankish throne than the Valois incumbents. Agnes, you are involved in this. Your brother Charles also believes he has a better claim to the throne than King John and perhaps my Prince.
These issues must be resolved. The last thing I want is for the Prince to take over a Frankish state which is in chaos.
One solution would be to create a series of Dukedoms covering the whole of France, England and hopefully Scotland and Ireland. The prince’s brothers, your brother, your husband and Ximene Trencavel could hold one or more of these positions.
Agnes, I have got to ask, how is your relationship with Gaston?
Not good, but he is keen for us to at least meet each other to discuss our differences. He wants me to join him at the Château Evereux in March. My brother Charles will, of course. be there but it is intended that my sister Blanche will also be there. I think Gaston wants to demonstrate that our marriage is strong, despite our… difficulties.
How very fortunate. Because your sister Blanche is the dowager Queen of the Franks she is in a strong position to mediate negotiations with all the interested parties. Is it possible that your family conference could be extended to include governance of the frankish kingdom.
Agnes laughed mirthlessly. ‘It is probably the main reason for the meeting. Gaston’s concern for our marriage is to cement his relationship with the house of Navarre and secure a place in the future governance of the Frankish nation.’ She screwed up her face .and clicked her tongue. ‘Joan, you are incorrigible! You knew about this meeting and have concealed that knowledge from me whilst you are considering how to use it to your own advantage.’
Joad blinked twice, slowly. ‘Yes it is true. I did know or at least was able to guess’ There was a meeting at Château Thermes during which the creation of dukedoms was discussed. It was not as extensive as I am now suggesting but it represented a substantial change. Gaston approved of it in principle but objected to the idea that the Cathar religion should be openly practised in the dukedom of Occitan. He also suggested that before anything was finalised there should be discussions with his brother in law, your brother. and other members of your family. Both John Stanley,’ she nodded towards John, ‘ and the Earl of Salisbury took part in those discussions. Joan shrugged. ‘I am not trying to mislead you. I am just trying to build on those discussions. It is probable that the negotiations will be difficult. I have my opinions but it would be grossly inappropriate for me to be present at any meeting.’
Agnes, I have asked Blanche to take Pipa as one of her ladies and she has graciously accepted that suggestion. Pipa will become a member of Blanche’s Houshold and a path for communications between Blanche and myself . It could become very useful. Perhaps Pipa could travel with you when you go to Devereux.
Oh ! your spy in my sisters court. If she travels to Evereux with me then she will be effectively sponsored by me. She stopped talking and looked around the room as if looking for hidden observers. Very well Pipa can travel with me and i will make no mention of her role. However i may occassionally take it on myself to communicate with you directly, after all you have invited me here. If I so desire I could become a spy in your court!
John should attend to represent Ximene.
somewhere in march should be ideal.
Now for the other issue. Selene is still committed to the objective of providing a safe haven for those who wish to adhere to the Cathar faith. It is only an embryo idea but if Selene were to establish a string of trading ports down the Atlantic coast and down the Garonne and Aude to the Mediterranean and acquired rights to land in those ports she could provide safe havens without anyone knowing about it. No need for invasions, No need for dispossessions. but she will need help to achieve that. For instance Don Fernandino.
John smiled icily. ‘and perhaps Thierry d’Arques.
Joan smiled. ‘Quite possibly”