The Shadow Without a Name
John Stanley, 6th September 1367
Just before midnight, John disentangled himself from Ximene’s embrace and took time to study her.
He had taken her body for granted. After all, it was he who had initiated her training program. However he now could see that her physical development had not ended when they had parted on the dock at Bordeaux.
As he watched, she stirred. He judged that she was awake but her eyes were closed, that she was just just revelling in the semi conscious state.
‘So Ximene what was that about ? Who were you trying to impress and why? The Emir? I don’t think so, I gained the impression he had seen it all before.’
‘What? Oh! the trick with the swords.’
‘Trick? A little more than a trick. I don’t think I could do that. Those weapons you used were of eastern origin, the balance and feel must be totally different than the ones you learned to use with me?’
She rolled on her back and stretched her arms above her head. ‘I just wanted to show off, perhaps surprise you with my skills’
She jerked herself into a sitting position. ‘John, it is a trick but it does need practice. The sword is special, it is curved across the blade to push air in front of it. Even if it passes an inch above the flame it will extinguish it out exactly as it is possible to extinguish a candle by blowing on it.’
She frowned. ‘Trivia… John we must speak of other matters. When I first made plans to meet you here, my intention was to seek re-establish our relationship… on a more permanent basis.
I also hoped you could help me with two specific tasks, to provide an assessment of the effectiveness of the Emirs army which he uses to protect his, my, our trade routes in the east. I thought you could identify weaknesses and provide training. The second task was to evaluate the situation in Aragon, Granada and Castile. perhaps do there, what I have done in the Garonne Valley, form a Federation of Seigneurs, hopefully to obtain the same benefits. The Emir advises me that to enter Granada via one of the southern ports, say, Malaga would be his preffered solution but I am not sure. However… ’
Ximene rose from the bed allowing the sheets to slip away. She lit several candles and pulled a leather pouch from a chest of drawers. She extracted a folded piece of parchment and handed it to John. ‘You had better read it for yourself.’
John glanced down. The Prince’s seal of the three feathers was unmistakeable.
He pulled it open.
John, my very best wishes.
In August King Pedro of Castile joined his daughters here in Bordeaux. He has been driven out by his illigitimate half brother Henry Tramastara, who is apparently claiming the throne. he has asked me to help him reclaim his throne and I am inclined to give him assistance. Just before his daughters were brought here, i entered into what was essentially a non agression pact with him so this is really just an extension of that pact.
However, South of the Pyrenees there is a situation developing which could be either a problem or an opportunity. I have an urgent need for better intelligence.
Aragon has been involved in the challenge to Pedro’s rule and have now entered a treaty with the French, which gives me some concern.
Almost on the same day Pedro arrived. I recieved a request from Diana to let her know where you could be found. I take a continued interest in your career so I knew about the tournament in Venice.
It is at times like this I wish I had kept you on a leash in Bordeaux so that I could have found you more easily.
Therefore I am asking you, as a matter of urgency to visit both Grenada and Castile and discover what their military capabilities and long term intentions might be.
My younger brother, the Duke of Lancaster will leave for Seville in November . He will apparently be seeking an alliance with Trastamara .
You must report to the Earl in Sevilla no later than January.
John frowned as he looked up from the parchment.
‘This changes everything, it is a very specific order. I am a serving member of the Prince’s guard, I have no alternative but to obey.
He started staring intently at Ximene. ‘Ximene you knew what was in this letter didn’t you’
‘I believe so’
‘How did you know’
‘It is about Castille and Grenada?’
‘The Prince told me, he sent me a separate message . Not only that but he has involved me in it. He sent me a separate message asking me to make a report to him on how any disruption the will affect our trading activities. He remembered that Pedro’s mistress, Maria de Pedalla, is Lady Eleanor’s cousin . also… were you ever aware of Alyse’s heritage.
‘She is your cousin.’
‘ Put those two pieces of information together’
‘Is it obvious?’
‘Quite, Alyse is Maria de Pedilla’s daughter born when Maria was very young but her father was…’
‘Oh! King Pedro!’
‘The Prince wants to use Alyse to obtain information. She has contacts in Seville. He knows that shifts in the balance of power in Al Andaluz would also disrupt my trade routes. He has told me that in return for my help in the future he will give trading rights between Seville and Bordeaux, something I would very much like.
Initially Alyse was supposed to travel to Bordeaux and then to travel to Seville with the Duke of Lancasterbut it was decided it might be diificult to explain her presence. She is therefore coming here to travel with us. At least I hope she is… she is due to arrive either today or tomorrow‘
“And you are now giving this priority?’
‘The Prince has convinced me.’
‘And the Emir?’
‘The Emir already knows. John for me this is not only about the Prince’s politics and treaties it is about our trade routes. The Emir gets a share of our overall profit and agrees that the situation in Grenada is important, more important than anything in his own country.’
She paused, pursed her lips and rolled her eyes.
‘Now I must ask you, did I look masculine when I carried out the trick with the swords? ’
‘For a few seconds, yes until I realised it was you’
‘And if you had not known it was me?’
John thought carefully about his reply. He decided the only solution was to be honest. ‘Well, yes, if I had not known it was you I would have thought it was a man, not only that but a man with some military experience.’ He hesitated as his mind rejected that answer. No,no, that is not right, the costume was almost military but at the same time feminine, very feminine.’
‘That’s fine. So, if I dispensed with the feathers and claws, I could get away with it?
‘Yes I think so, but why, why is this so important?’
‘Because Grenada is a Muslim Country and as a woman I could only go out in your company and swathed in those abominable robes. I have worn them on enough occasions to know that it is very difficult to do anything whilst wearing them.
But if I was not a woman but a prince of Islam… perhaps acting as your brother, I could do anything.’
‘Oh! would you do away with the mask altogether?’‘Of course.’
‘Then I think it could be made to work.It is strange. There is something about you hair which is particularly feminine, and your neck and your eyes, but yes I think it could be made to work.’
He pursed his lips and ran his hand across his forehead. ‘So if we are going to Seville and Grenada tell me, why did we meet here in Venice.’
‘It was too late to change arrangements, You had already committed to appear at the tournament, all I had to do was get your contract amended, but in any case I have more anonymity here than anywhere.’
She hesitated ‘I have become over the years something of a romantic. I thought It would be a good backdrop to rekindle our relationship. Then again to get to Al-Andaluz from here will take two weeks or more. I want you to learn as much as possible about sailing.
At some time in the future it might be useful.’
‘Oh!’ John wondered which of the four alternatives was closest to the truth.
He shook his head to remove all such thoughts from his head.
‘How long would you expect us to be in Seville and Grenada?’
‘I do not know. I do not know how much work needs to be done. We will have a better idea when we get there. Some of it will be unravelling the long term objectives but some of it will be an assessment of the armed forces, to decide if any of the parties has the capability to deliver those objectives.
The usurper must be overthrown… at least I think so. You masterminded the training of the Prince’s army before the battle of Poitiers. It is the same job… but in reverse, determine the strategy and tactics being utilised and then the level of expertise of the soldiers. It will all be useful experience for you.’
John eyed Ximene carefully.
‘Experience to fit me for what? his voice echoed with concern.
‘You have made a profession from being a military strategist. I talked to the Earl before I left England. We were really talking about you helping the Emir. He believes that working with the Emir’s Army will teach you about different battle techniques, different ways of using cavalry and in particular, knowledge of the use of Chinese powder.’
John sighed ‘Did you contact the Earl or did the Earl contact you’
Ximene reached out to touch his hand. ‘I contacted him, in February’
John wondered how much he should tell Ximene.
‘I am surprised he was so open with you, over the last two years I have seen him many times and recently, he has expressed concern about your activities. I think it worries him that he cannot get close to what you are doing. He has asked me quite specifically wether if there was conflict between you and the Prince, who would I now support?
‘John, why would there be a conflict? The Prince, Joan and myself are very close. If there were to be a difficulty it would more likely to be with other members of the royal family, who have ambitions for the throne if the Prince should die without having any legitimate children. It is the Earl’s job to “take an interest” in people. I am not surprised that he would be questioning what I am doing. I happen to know that he has the Prince’s two younger brothers, Lionel of Antwerp, and John of Gaunt are also under a surveillance of sorts.’
‘ Pipa, John, Pipa. She still works for the Earl. She was and is his eyes and ears in Paris and now being asked to get close, apparently very close, to both Clarence and Lancaster.’
John smiled ‘Well, Pipa always liked to know exactly what was happening’
Ximene turned away, before turning to face him again.
John was painfully aware of her eyes searching his face, making sure she had strong eye contact. ‘However unlikely it may be that there would be conflict, I need to know, If there were to be a difficulty would you support me, or would you support the Prince?’
John sighed. ‘I would have thought the last few days would have settled that beyond all doubt, but if you wish I will renew my vow of fealty’
‘ Yes I think I would enjoy that’. She reached behind the bed and pulled out the sword she had used the previous evening. She walked to the centre of the room. The fact that she now held a sword simply emphasised her nakedness,’
“Kneel Sir John.” John obeyed.
He gazed up at her. “I, John Stanley, swear fealty to you, Ximene, Princess of Occitan and I swear that I will uphold your word as law.
Ximene addressed him.
‘As Princess of Occitan, I welcome your oath of fealty, John Stanley. It is now my great pleasure, using the powers I have inherited from my ancestors to re-invest you as a Knight of the Realm of Occitan.’
She held the sword above her head and swung it gently down in a simulation of a cutting action and touched his right shoulder gently with the blade. She then repeated the movement to touch his left shoulder. She then held the sword at her side and slapped him across the face.
‘Take this as an example of how you should treat my enemies. Arise Sir John, I know that everything you do from this moment on will bring glory to my name and to the realm of Occitan.’
Ximene hesitated holding both arms to her sides. “You may now kiss me, Sir John”
John complied and then gently removed the sword from her grasp. He could not resist momentarily examining the curvature of the blade which apparently extinguished flame.
There was a candle on a table in the centre of the room. He swung the blade almost carelessly above the candle and to his amazement the flame was extinguished.
He threw the sword into the corner of the room.
‘ I enjoyed that much more than the last time we did it.’
Ximene smiled graciously ‘Yes this time we avoided most of the formality.’ They both laughed out loud.
He lifted Ximene into his arms, placing her on the bed .
He straightened up and made a point of gazing at every part of her body. ‘There, the die is cast, What do you want me to do now’
Ximene pulled him on top of her, still smiling. ‘You mean right now? I would have thought that was supremely obvious.’