18 The Savoy 1st May 1356

Savoy Palace 1st May 1356.

Ximene eyes widened as she gazed up ay the palace. ‘But it is huge’

Joan grinned. ‘Yes it is, if one ignores Westminster hall it is bigger than the Royal Palace itself.’

‘It is not owned by the King?’

‘I specifically made arrangements for you to stay here because it is not owned by the King, Remember I told you never to stay under the same roof as the King, he is not to be trusted.’

‘Then who does own it.’

Its owner is Henry Grosmont, Duke of Lancaster. Some say he is the richest person in the kingdom, but of course you may soon challenge that. Henry is currently away in France. Hopefully, in the near future the army he is leading  south  from Normandy towards the Loir will be meeting up with the one led by the Prince marching north from Aquitaine.

‘In the meantime your host will be Henrys wife Isabella, lovely lady. her younger daughter Blanche lives with her, come on we will go in and meet them.’

Ximene trailed behind Joan as they were lead through a maze of corridors. Some windows looked out over immaculately manicured courtyards. but others were flanked by door after door, presumably leading to private appartments.

Ximene reached out and grabbed Joan’s sleeve. ‘ It is total unlike anything I have seen before. the structure is delicate, ornate on a more human scale than any of the castles or palaces I have seen before.’

Joan nodded  ‘And unlike anything found elsewhere in England. It is unique.’

‘And how did you manage to arrange for me to stay here?

Joan grinned. ‘Easily. Your reputation goes before you. Diana, Countess of Shaftesbury, fabulously rich young widow. That is enough really, it is how things are done. But your husband  died during the German crusade.’  Henry of Grosmont also fought in the German crusades, you are welcome here.’

Ximene frowned. ‘But won’t he know it is all fiction.’

‘No. There was an Early of Shaftsbury who was killed. Henry is just faintly surprised how rich he was, and what a young wife he had. Your biggest concern will be that they will look for a husband for you, probably already started’

Eventually they emerged into a long gallery with views over lawns and gardens down to the river.  Sun streamed through the windows, a small string orchestra played gently in the background and the smells of cinnamon, citrus and rose petals hung in the air.

Isabelle rose from her chair half way along the gallery. ‘Good to see you Joan.’

She held out her hands to Ximene. ‘I am delighted to meet you Diana. I am sorry about the loss of your husband, It must be difficult for you, so young… ‘ She shook her head. ‘You are welcome to stay here as long as you wish. We have clerical staff,  builders and legal experts here who help us run our estates, they may be useful to help you sort out your affairs.’

Oh! I have two assistants who are currently in accomodation alongside Poole harbour, can they stay here if they need to visit London? Clerical assistance would be good.’

‘Yes, of course, that would present no difficulty.’  She stopped suddenly and bit her lip. ‘Sorry Diana  that will be at some time in the future. I must first concentrate on making you feel at home.’

She rose and lifted a note from desk behind her.

‘We have a message from the King saying that he would like me to host a banquet for you go here next Tuesday.  which he will attend Is that too soon, for what I think is intended to be a state occasion? Would you like more time to prepare?’

Ximene smiled. ‘I have already received the invitation, and the version I received looked more like a summons that an invitation. I will be there.’

Joan cut in. ‘She will be ready, I will help her prepare.’

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

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Pseudo History