Thomas de Vere appeared not to notice. He offered to help Ximene make contact with the Earl.
“He has simply decided to live his life away from the public gaze. We are both members of the same society. The society provides a full programme of social events but guarantees anonymity. Most people use it occasionally to escape from the world or for excitement but it is possible to live your whole life within the society”
He thought for no more than a second
As he spoke he eyed Ximene with open admiration. Ximene had given up the task of trying to cover herself and simply returned his stare. It was difficult to look him in the eye however as his eyes were straying lower down her body. He made a visible effort to concentrate on the matters in hand.
“I can arrange for you to join the society if you wish. You will surely meet William through its social functions.”
Joan was very exited.
“There you are your problem is solved. In any case this sounds like fun. I would come with you but I would be too easily recognised.” She looked over her shoulder.
“The Prince might disapprove”
“Sometimes I think I am expected to give up everything”
Not surprisingly the Thomas de Vere had totally misinterpreted the countess’ intentions. He assumed that she was a single rich woman seeking a romantic adventure. He assured her of intrigue and excitement. His eyes sparkled. There and then he decided to facilitate Diana’s entry to the society and to attend every function thereafter. Perhaps he, Thomas de Vere, not William Montacute, in his eyes, an old man, might provide the romance Diana was seeking.
Don Fernandino Perez, Ximene’s security advisor, was horrified. Ximene promised to let him know the location of every assignation but begged him not to monitor her too closely
“I am intrigued. This society must be very successful in its security arrangements. I have mixed with English society for over two years and never heard even a whisper. We might learn some thing from the way it operates”
Knowing that now her interest was aroused it was pointless to argue Don Fernandino made no further objections. He mentally prepared himself for some sleepless nights.
The initiation process started with a personal letter from Thomas de Vere, who explained that as her sponsor he was the only person within the society who knew who she was. Enclosed was a letter from the “Master of Merriment” which gave her a venue and a time to attend. Joan of Kent had stayed on with Ximene after the Prince left. She was now involved in the whole process and was continually seeking information and offering Ximene advice on how to dress and behave.
The first venue for Ximene’s initiation was a coaching house in Salisbury. She sat in the lounge for over an hour before she was approached by a man who had been there all the time. He told her a room number where she would find more information.
A small serious looking man told her he had no idea who she really was and he did not want to know. He told her she should choose a name by which she would be known. Not wishing to extend the range of names by which she could be addressed, she chose Eagle, and immediately regretted it. She should not have provided a potential link to her other activities in this very different situation. She was told that the entrance fee was twenty pounds; Ximene could hardly believe that such an incredible fee was required but she was told that she must bring it to her next assignment.
She was then given a different room number. She walked along the corridor and entered a large cheery room well lit with candles, fitted with thick curtains and tapestry wall hangings. The room and contained a very large bed and a roaring fire. In front of the fire was a large table set for an evening meal. Three women sat around the table and a man dressed as a servant hovered in the background. The room was very warm and Ximene removed her outer cloak. The other women introduced themselves, Rebecca, Rosamund and Alice. A pleasant light meal was served. Ximene noticed that the waiter wore fine leather gloves. The women chattered incessantly and asked Ximene questions about why she was joining the society. Ximene had begun to wonder. She felt the women might bring out their embroidery! She was unaccustomed to dancing to any other tune but her own
After the meal a substantial quantity of wine was drunk and the conversation turned to clothes. In the wardrobe at the back of the room were a number of dresses which the women walked over to examine. Each woman praised a particular dress. Ximene felt disinterested and had to force herself to join in the conversation and express an opinion about the dresses. Rosamund announced that she wanted to try on a particular dress. Rebecca and Alice retired to the table to make space for her. Ximene felt compelled to do the same.
Rosamund removed all her clothes, under the watchful eye of the waiter. Instead of putting on the new dress immediately she stuck a pose which suggested sudden shyness. The waiter moved forward and carefully and deliberately caressed every part of her body. The waiter was still wearing the leather gloves. No words were spoken, and Rosamund showed no reaction. The caresses lasted over a minute, whereupon the waiter withdrew and Rosamund put on the new dress. The other girls expressed their admiration for the dress but made no comment on the waiters actions
Rebecca then repeated the performance. She stripped n, waited for the waiters caresses and then dressed again in the new dress. Alice watched all this very carefully. Ximene was sat next to her and saw her quiver with excitement. Of course! It was Alice’s turn next! Alice was shaking as she removed her clothes but she played her part to perfection. Ximene could not be absolutely sure but he felt the waiter took slightly longer and was slightly more thorough in his caressing of Alice. Alice closed her eyes as the waiter caressed her but showed no other reaction. It was as if the waiter did not exist!
Alice then dressed and received the admiration of the other girls. There was a moment’s hesitation. Rosamund asked Ximene if she wished to try on one of the dresses. Ximene felt her throat go dry. She decided she was here to join this society and thereby find the Earl of Salisbury. She got to her feet and turned to face the other girls. She started to remove her clothes. She reached the point were she was naked and was aware that all the girls were examining her closely. Ximene felt her body stiffening as she awaited the waiter’s caresses, but nothing happened. She heard the door close. The waiter had left!
She at ease , could she have permitted a man to have touched her with out seeking her approval and her giving her permission she new she could not
Rosamund spoke again asking Ximene what she was waiting for. Once Ximene had put on the new dress, Roxanne crossed the room and turned back the bed. She told Ximene how beautiful she looked but suggested she got into bed as it had been a long night. Ximene then had suspicions the girls had other plans. They gathered round to watch her undress again and climb into bed. Ximene waited to see what they had in mind. All they did was come one at a time to kiss her on the forehead and wish her good night! Ximene lay awake for over an hour She went to sleep almost wishing something more would happen.
When she told Joan about it later, Joan laughed.
“They are setting out to seduce you Ximene and by the sounds of it the programme has been designed by an expert. It all sounds great fun but are you sure you want to do this? Perhaps I should take your place for the next assignment.”
Joan would have been very disappointed. The next assignment was again enclosed in a letter from the Earl of Oxford. The venue was a coaching house in Wimborne Minster. From the coaching house she was taken at great speed in a covered cart down a very smooth road to a large country house by the river.
Once again she was served a light evening meal accompanied by an abundance of wine. The conversation was enjoyable. Everyone at the table came and sat next to her at some time during the meal. Both men and women told her how beautiful she looked and Ximene wondered whether there was an attempt to assess her sexual preferences. Nevertheless when the meal was over everyone left the room apparently destined for various bedrooms. Ximene was escorted to an exceptionally attractive room. She Went and sat by the fire waiting for something to happen, but nothing did! When the door closed that was the end of her evening. She heard sounds of other people moving about and from downstairs the sounds of music and laughter but no one came near her! It was the sound of laughter, obviously genuine, which affected Ximene most. People were enjoying themselves and she wanted to be part of it, whatever it was. She considered going down. She tentatively tried the door but it was locked. Sadly she returned to bed. By now she was desperate to know what these people did which caused so much laughter?
Again Joan was amused by what had happened.
“These people are playing tricks with your mind Diana, but they are obviously well meaning you have not suffered any harm. However at this rate it will take all year to find William. Do you know when you are going again?”
The third assignment was quite different. The letter from the “Master of Merriment” not only told her where to wait for her contact but that attendance would be at her discretion. He informed her that initiation was complete and would be confirmed at a special meeting later in the month. This current invitation was to one of the ongoing programme of social events organised by the society. There would be games played which involved nudity and as much sexual content as the “participants wanted to permit”.
Joan read the message carefully.
“They have reached the point where they believe their seduction is complete. They are telling you that there will be sexual activity. They are indicating it will probably involve you! They have gone to quite a lot of trouble to get you to this point, Diana they obviously believe you will say yes”
She looked closely at Ximene and with a mischievous look on her face made her assessment.
“Seeing the look in your eyes I also believe you will say yes!”
Ximene nodded her assent. She felt she was committed now and rationalised it that it was all part of her grand plan and the search for the Earl of Salisbury. Nevertheless as she left for the assignment she felt the unmistakeable thrill of sexual excitement!