All Things Are Lights – Day 10 of 200

His words made her feel a glow inside. “Among us there are no ladies. Women work the same as men. The holy work, too. Before the siege I was traveling all over Languedoc. I preached, Roland. I brought the Sacrament to people who needed it.”

He stared at her in wonder. “How do your mother and father feel about the work you do now?”

She halted abruptly. Roland, startled, stopped just behind her. She turned to face him.

“I am sure they are very happy about me. They both died, you see, last year. The inquisitors made them wear the yellow cross of heretics and turned them out on the roads to beg. They were too old to survive the winter. But they had a good death. I reached them in time and gave them each the consolamentum.”

“Oh, Diane!” He held his arms out to her.

She managed a backward step and a warning gesture, despite her grief.

He turned his back on her, his hands to his face. “Will you not let me comfort you?” he cried.

“It is all right.” She felt choked all through. “It is all right. Let us walk on. “

She pushed on before him for at least an hour. Boughs slapped her face, and she slipped sometimes on patches of snow that remained in the cold, low places of the forest. Her leather boots were soaked through, and her toes were numb with cold. Just when she thought she could not take another step, she felt a tap on her shoulder. Roland, tired out, too, gestured toward a fallen tree trunk, and she sat down.

She took off her cap, wiped her forehead, and shook out what was left of her chopped-off hair. Her head felt strange and light. She shrugged out of her pack and set it on the ground with gentle reverence. Roland did the same.

She looked at him and saw a yearning in his eyes that frightened her. It reminded her of days when he and she were much younger. She remembered a mountain meadow and white poppies, the taste of his lips. And a poem he wrote for her:

That which delights both woman and man
Is praise to Him who made them.

She was swept by a sudden wave of longing, and with it came the unbidden thought: If only I could be that girl of fifteen again.

The strength of her feelings shocked her. She had always been proud of her maturity, felt blessed that she had been able to grasp the deep truths of her faith and to turn her back on this world. In Roland’s presence, was she succumbing again to illusion?

Surely I would be better off facing death on the mountain, she thought.

She laid her head on her folded arms and wondered what was happening to all those she loved on Mont Segur. Perhaps even now they were being tied to stakes for burning. She wanted to weep, but she reminded herself that those who died were fortunate. The body was like a clay vessel inside which a ray of pure light was trapped. Death was the breaking of the clay and the liberating of the light.

“Are you crying, dear one?” Roland said gently.

“For those who must die up there on the mountain,” she said, with a catch in her voice. “And for myself, because I will not die with them.”

She looked up at Roland as she said this and saw the look of exasperation on his face. It is true, he cannot understand, she thought sadly. Never. I must leave him as soon as I can.

“Why do you want so much to sacrifice yourself?”

It was hopeless. He believed God made his body, that it was precious. He was a troubadour — devoted to love expressed through the body. His years as a faidit seemed to have left him unchanged.

“I am not sacrificing myself at all, Roland. Everything I do is for myself. Death is only going back to the Light we came from. When I see the Light, as I do from time to time, I am as happy as anyone can be. Such happiness… you cannot imagine how great it is. “

“Greater than Love?”

She remembered how he had tried to instruct her in l’amour courtois, the religion of Love, before he and his family fled. If he had stayed, she wondered, what would I be now? How fortunate that I was left free to discover the Holy Light.

“Yes, the happiness I have found through my faith is greater than what you call Love. “

“I do not believe that.” He shook his head angrily. “By calling yourself a perfecta you pretend you are not human.”

“I know how very human I am, and that word is a burden for me — for all of us,” she answered gravely. “We do not claim to be perfect, but we try to live as if we were free of all attachment to the material world. And if we fail to live so, there is no forgiveness for us, no second chance.”

He closed his eyes in pain, then turned them on her again, burning. “I cannot believe that God wants people to live like statues — or bodiless spirits. This life you have chosen, what is it but fear and hiding, knowing one day those pigs will catch you and burn you alive? Diane, I will take you anywhere you want. You will be safe with me. I will take you away from this war, to Italy. It is beautiful in Italy. There are places there where the Inquisition has no power. You can live as you like. Think of the children we could have.”

Despite herself, again she yearned to stretch out her arms to him. More memories came back to her — listening to him sing and play the vielle in her father’s great hall, roaming the pine-scented countryside with him, their kisses by a mountain stream. She fought down the sweet wave of tenderness.

“Roland, no. Never. I have taken a vow never to touch a man except, if need be, to save his life, or his soul. “

His blue eyes stared at her, bright as the heart of a flame. If she kept looking into them, she feared, they would melt her. Her own soul was in peril.

“You made that vow not knowing that we would meet again. Be just to yourself.”

“Even if I could change my mind, I would not want to.” She put into her voice all the finality she could muster.

She saw his lips press together and his eyes grow moist.

She reached out to touch his shoulder, then drew back her hand before it came to rest.

“It is true I never thought I would see you again. Believe me, Roland, when I saw you standing there in the fortress I felt almost as much joy as in moments with the Light. The last I heard, you were in Avignon. Where have you been?”

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