71 — Revelations

John Stanley – 15 October 1355

Joan waited for all that to sink in
She again took his head in her arms
‘Now tell me about this long term sexual relationship with another woman.’
John described the circumstances of the punishment and the way he had found Phillipa and Ximene together afterwards. He told Joan about Ximene’s comment that no pleasure was wrong and the way he had interpreted it. He also told her that he had been invited to join them in bed and had refused.
Joan shook her head sadly
‘I am embracing you head, because I feel sympathy for you. Hopefully you can feel my concern but I ask you, is there any sexual content in that embrace?’
John shook his head but could not help protesting.
‘Ximene told me that that she had been taught that no pleasure was wrong. Why else would she have said that, if she did not find the contact with Phillipa pleasurable?’
Joan‘s tone changed, she became quite short with John.
‘She probably saw disapproval on your face and felt a need to defend herself from that. But let’s assume she was enjoying the touch of another woman, is that so desperately wrong?’
She remembered her own contact with Ximene and blushed slightly.
‘It has happened to me at least once.’
She rapidly recovered her composure.
‘Ximene and Joanne showed that they did not want to exclude you.’
Joan stopped short
‘Why do you think I am doing all this John’
‘I don’t know where I got the idea from but I believe that you are determined to marry the Prince yourself. It is interesting that all you have done to pursue that aim is to make sure that I met Ximene. I cannot imagine what you saw in me that made you place such reliance on that meeting’
‘ In my life John I have known many men. I have met only two others who exude honour and vitality as you do; The Prince and William. Perhaps it is something only experienced women can feel. Perhaps other women admire a different kind of man.
Joan looked at John tenderly.
‘ When I was giving you my favour at Clermont, I wanted you so much. Bear in mind that I had just decided to terminate all other relationships with men, even my beloved William, so that there would be no barrier to my marriage to the Prince, but I still wanted you! From what I knew of Ximene I felt that she also could succumb to those qualities, that she also would feel whatever it is which makes you special.’
‘Incidentally you have another admirer, Phillipa! But I am dealing with that’
‘I can only marry the Prince if I can ensure William’s future happiness. He will give me that permission but I could not bear the thought of him without a partner. I was delighted therefore, to find that when he arrived back from Muret, during the trip to Bordeaux, he had become quite enchanted with Phillipa. I threw them together, invited them to every possible social function. The Prince made a trip to England so that he could return with the rest of his army and therefore totally conceal the fact that he had made the journey to meet Ximene. William was busy organising for the arrival of the army but I managed to get them to the house at Reole for several weekends. They are very close, if I marry the Prince I believe they could be lovers!’
John’s mind whirled. Lady Eleanor had suggested that if Ximene married the Prince he might marry Phillipa, for ‘cover’. Now Joan was telling him that if she married the Prince , Phillipa might be the Earl’s wife or at least his lover. How much control did Phillipa have over all of this? Did she know that her future life might totally dependant on who married the Prince?
He decided now was not the time to share these thoughts with Joan
Joan continued in a conspiratorial tone ‘More than that, when Phillipa was whipped by you…’
Once her eyes fluttered at the thought.
‘… did she explain why she had trailed Don Fernandino?
‘Just so she could be with Ximene, I think.’
‘I believe differently. In Bordeaux, William overheard us talking about the festival of the moon at Moncler. He was at first amused and then intrigued to discover that she had acted as Lady Eleanor’s spy to see if she could find out more about his and possibly my true intentions.’
She paused .
‘Then Don Fernandino arrived bringing us news of John’s injury and Ximene’s devotion to you. Phillipa expressed her determination to join you. William heard her say this. It was William who asked Phillipa to follow Don Fernandino and he helped her in the first part of the task. William desperately wanted to know Ximene’s true location.’
Another pause for emphasis
‘Phillipa is one of William’s agents!’
John found it difficult to absorb this information.
‘She said nothing about this, but if she is now working for the Earl I don’t suppose she would! How could she have sent a report back to the Earl?‘
The theory was that Don Fernandino would not allow Phillipa to stay with you and therefore could return with the information. But events took a different turn.
‘Don Fernandino discussed killing her! And she was whipped’
‘William certainly did not envisage that. But he will be interested to know that even when in pain she said nothing. Can we return to the important point John? The woman you have been so jealous of is in fact now involved with another man’
‘Oh!’John sighed.’What you are suggesting is that it was me who drove a wedge between us. I blamed the finding of the treasure, another man, another woman, when all the time it was me. I did not recognise the difficulties she was facing. I did not offer her adequate support. I must return and reassure her of my continuing love.’
Joan returned to the end of the bed.
’Good’ she said ‘That is what I want you to do but now something else. As her ambassador you are responsible for giving her some guidance. Ask her whether her desire to reinstate all those who were dispossessed by the Albigensian Crusade is because of a concern for them or for personal gratification. With the wealth you have discovered she could establish a secure base anywhere within the Plantagenet lands and share it with whoever she wishes. In anonymity whole communities could follow whatever religion they wished. I think it is worth asking the question.’
She went to leave the room but halted by the door.
‘One more thing John, really spectacular love does not occur often in a lifetime. When you find it hold on to it, never let it go.’
Again there was a change of mood. She became playful and coquettish again.
‘Tell me I am beautiful, John’
‘You are probably the most beautiful woman I have ever seen or could ever hope to see’ John replied.
Joan gave a tiny curtsey’ Thank you John, sooner or later we are going to have to spend a night in the same bed. I have acquired an ambition to make you the best lover in the world and I can only achieve that by giving you personal tuition.’
Joan slowly undid the fastenings of the gown and let it slide to the floor. Beneath the gown she was wearing a totally transparent nightdress tied beneath her breasts but leaving them exposed. She pretended to smooth her nightdress over her hips moving her weight from one foot to the other as she did so. There was a tiny gold belt around her waist which pulled the nightdress in at that point. Suspended from the belt was a scabbard containing the Hebrew knife. Hanging beneath her breasts and suspended by silken threads around her neck was John’s diamond.
She glanced at John from under lowered lids.
‘Please ignore what I have just said, sometimes I cannot help myself. You already have my favour but I do not want you to take advantage of it. I just want to remind you of the attractions of a woman. I want you to know that almost any woman in the world is available to you. Now go and reclaim Ximene, the love of your life’
She slipped out of the door and closed it behind her, leaving her gown on the floor.

The most dangerous woman in the world

The Treasure of Trencavel

List of Characters

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