John Stanley – 22nd December 1355
John’s eyes opened wide ‘How could that be? The Earl has great influence because he is known to be close to the Prince but also because is recognised as a great strategist; people are nervous of him.’ John hesitated. ‘And of course; he is an Earl, one of the third tier of governance of England. ‘ How could we replace that?’
‘A lot easier than you might think, Selene is already a Comtesse of Aquitaine and can be made a countess of England. She will have a title in that third tier, she is beautiful and unbelievably rich. People will be falling over themselves to please her. They will tell her anything she wants to know.
As for you John. You have many talents. Lady Eleanor once told me that the thing she most admired about you was that you have no idea of the power within you and therefore your potential for good or evil.’ At the same time, the power within you frightened her. I think she told you that you must never forget that even a good person can cause harm through the thoughtless use of power, influence or physical attraction.’
‘Hmm. and I think I replied that I could not believe she was talking about me.’ he shook his head. “Still Can’t.’
Well, she was, and it is still true. From what I have heard and what I have seen I don’t believe that you have ever used any of you undoubted talents purely to gain personal advantage.
I intend to teach you to do that to do that but at the same time to always use your power and infuence for good rather than evil.
I would always do that.
Well, sometimes it is difficult to actually distinguish between good an evil… or not so good. I will do my best to always make the differences obvious to you.
‘But why me.”
Because, my love you can go places no female; princess, countess or otherwise can go can go. I find this difficult to accept but it is true. You can hear conversations none of us can hear. The men already admire you because of your skill and courage And the women will admire you because you have certain talents… which as some of us know can be developed even further.
Ximene feigned shyness.
‘Why you? Because you have shown yourself willing to put yourself outside of the constraints of the feudal system and to have loyalty to a cause and because your ability to apply yourself to learn and grow is outstanding’
‘I have? It is?’ John turned to Joan. ‘But I still don’t understand, you are a person, not a cause.’
Joan glanced down at herself as if to confirm that John’s statement was correct. ‘ Yes, but you are not here only because of me. You are here because of Lady Eleanor , Countess Selene and Lady Pipa, your commitment is not to me, it is to the cause!
Suddenly John understood. Good god, they have trained me for this situation. It is Joan who has influenced the others, It now seems that Joan somehow orchestrated everything. The Earl warned me about Joan, it’s unbelievable, she makes him look like an amateur. Nevertheless, she is right, I am now committed to their cause. John pressed his lips together and nodded thoughtfully several times in succession. ‘ Yes I am committed.’
‘Good, then we can move on.’
I have heard about the training techiques and I have seen for myself the almost unbelievable changes those techniques have made to Ximene’s physique. I visualise you becoming an indispensable part of the Prince’s army. If we achieve that you could by-pass many layers of governance. You could consult with the Earl on anything you have doubts about. The Prince will ensure the Earl understands your role.’
The key factor in all this is that I will never again meet you in private. there will always be an intermediary. This will avoid anyone, including the Queen coming to wrong conclusions.
As we develop your reputation as a ladies man there could be concerns that you had replaced the Earl in more ways than one. There is another reason. I do have my weaknesses. Even now you could take me any time you wanted to. I want you to promise me you would never take advantage of that but a way of ensuring that is to avoid the circumstances which could lead to that happening.
John blinked ‘So I will not see you again?’
‘Didn’t say that. We will meet in public places and from time to time in private but when you do see me it will always be in the company of Selene and you will always be formally dressed… as you are today.’ She fluttered her eyelashes. ‘At least when you enter and leave my rooms. A broad smile illuminated her face. ‘In fact, over the next few weeks, we will have to meet several times to fill out the details’
Ximene frowned ‘But will I have time to perform this role and develop a haven or haven’s for Cathars, as I want to do.?
‘D’ont worry. Your objectives will fit quite nicely with some objectives of my own.’
Joan stood up, smiled and took Ximene’s hand. ‘Before any more discussion we should learn to enjoy each other’s company. What I am proposing will not be without its difficulties and our relationship should have a firm foundation.
A pause. ‘ Now for the implications. As we said Selene, you must go to England to personally represent your interests in negotiations with the King.
Can’t Don Fernandino do that?
‘Absolutely not, King Edward would take advantage of that. He will negotiate far more favourably with someone who is a head of state, which he will accept you are, as he would still like you to marry his son and you are, more importantly, a beautiful woman.’
‘And can I tell him that the marriage is off?’
‘No don’t even think about it. We must let him learn that the marriage will not take place, and that the Prince will marry me. I know him only too well, he must learn, not be told.’ She smiled.
‘Hmm, it will do no harm if he is attracted to you, it will make him less keen on the Prince marrying you’
However a word of warning, don’t allow the King any close contact, until you have a house of your own to which you can retire. Insist on an estate close to the Queen’s favorite residence at Gillingham and the King’s favorite residence at Clarendon. Don’t even start the negotiations until you have achieved that.’
She gave an acid smile.
‘Have your meetings with the King in the morning and never stay the night in the same house as the King, however strongly you may be pursuaded . He almost certainly be attracted to you and will make his suite quite properly but he finds it difficult to accept that any lady may refuse his advances. Cultivate the Queen’s friendship, she will help keep him under control.’’
Joan frowned. ‘I offer you this advice from personal experience.’
Ximene thought for a moment.’Can John come with me?’
Joan wiped her eye with her finger.
Again, emphatically not, it would at the moment be difficult within the English court to explain his position. Aquitane is one place; England is another. He needs a couple of years to rise through the ranks until he will be seen as an appropriate partner for a countess.
She saw the disappointment on Selene’s face. She continued hurredly. ‘However in time, you may assume yet another persona which would permit you to be together. Once the negotiations over the treasure are complete there will be many options open to you.’