All Things Are Lights – Day 100 of 200

She said, “They would have caught her even if she had stayed in Paris. Hugues said the Inquisition knew of her there. And if they had caught her in Paris it could have been at your house.”

He clenched his fists. “I wish they had. Then I could have suffered with her. Then she and I would both be happily dead by now.

“I came here to help save you, Roland. Not to hear you talk about dying.”

He looked into her dark eyes, and they were fierce. How full of fire she is.

“Nicolette, for all the hurt I have done you, forgive me. Please. I know you condemn me for… for Diane, but I cannot help it.”

“I do not condemn you,” Nicolette said sadly. “How could I after what I have done? To you, to our son, even to Amalric. You did what you had to do. I did what I had to do. Would I have ridden here from Beziers if my heart was still turned against you? Love is our sovereign. We cannot alter Love’s commands.”

He felt greatly moved, and grateful to her in the midst of his agony. That they could still love each other seemed a small but precious gift in the face of the horror of what was happening to Diane.

But the thought of brutal hands on Diane, of flames destroying her…

“They shall not burn her!” he said, clenching his fist.

Nicolette put her hand to her mouth, staring at him. “Roland, you are not thinking of trying to rescue her. It is impossible. Amalric has a whole army at Beziers.”

“He had a whole army at Mont Segur.”

“I did not seek you out to summon you to your death, Roland. Leave here now. Go to Outremer ahead of the King. The Inquisition cannot reach you there.”

“Nicolette, they are torturing Diane. The viper Hugues even tried to rape her.” Speaking it aloud sent a shock of horror through him. For a moment he was unable to go on. A sob bubbled up in his chest, convulsing him. He choked it down.

“Think you,” he said then, “I can just turn my back and sail away?”

“But what else can you do? You cannot help her. No one can.”

He struggled to envision some plan, but his mind remained empty, maddening him. “I saved her once. I can do it again. There must be a way.”

“Amalric and Hugues may be hoping you will try, so they can capture you, too.”

He pressed both hands against the tree, his head hanging down.

“Do you not understand?” He wrenched the words out one by one. “I would rather die than feel this pain.”

“Do you love her so much?” Her voice seemed to him to come from a great distance.

He whirled and seized her shoulders.

“I love you, Nicolette. To have you come to me like this — to touch you again — is part of the pain. Knowing that love is still alive between us. Knowing that if I were to live I could sail with you to Outremer.”

“If you live!” Her eyes blazed at him. “You have got to live.”

Her hands gripped his arms so hard she was hurting him.

“I cannot abandon her, Nicolette.” He sighed deeply. “I could not go on living if I did.”

“You might as well kill yourself now,” she said, throwing herself against him.

He groaned. The thrill of holding Nicolette in his arms again made the hurt in his heart worse.

He pushed back her hood and pressed his lips into her hair.

“I must try to help her. There is nothing else I can do.”

Her shoulders slumped as she gave up trying to persuade him. “Roland, when they take Diane into the plaza to burn her, I will be there. I will be there to mourn you both, if that is how it falls out.”

She pushed herself away from him and stood staring at him, her face pale with grief.

“Have you talked to Queen Marguerite?” he asked her. “Will the King go to Beziers to attend the burning?”

“He does not wish to,” said Nicolette. “Marguerite says he has no desire to see eighty helpless people burned to death. He will use the excuse that he does not have the time.”

“No one will believe that,” said Roland, his affection for Louis making him smile in spite of his suffering. “He has found time to make dozens of stops on our march down here from Paris. Why, he has just spent the last three days here trying to persuade the Bishop of Viviers to stop coining his own money.”

“At least he will not be there to see you die,” she said, her eyes full of reproach.

He wanted to hold her again, but he fought down the longing.

“Promise me one thing, Nicolette,” he said grimly.

“Anything.”

“Do not take the boy to see the burning.” He could not bring himself to pronounce the name Simon.

Roland walked with Guido Bruchesi in the kitchen garden of the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon outside Viviers. Around them rose a wall of square-cut gray granite, twice the height of a man. Before them was the Templars’ command post, a stone house with a peaked roof and massive round towers, one at each corner.

Guido looked more monk than warrior this evening, in his white linen robe with the splayed red cross on the shoulder. He held Roland’s arm as they circled the fish pond that provided the Templars, who rarely ate meat, with most of their suppers.

“Your sister is to be burned as a heretic?” Guido’s bearded face was full of distress and compassion.

“You know she is not my sister.” In his desperation, knowing how hopeless any attempt to rescue Diane must be, Roland had decided he had nothing to lose by confiding in Bruchesi.

Guido said, “And you know, Roland, that we Templars serve the Pope. The same Pope who has sole authority over the courts that send people to the stake. So why do you come to me?”

“Because you are my friend. A man loyal only to the Pope would not have done the many things you have for me. And, for what reason I know not, you Templars have never persecuted the Cathars.”

Guido gripped his arm tighter and turned him around. They stood facing the commandery with its four towers. One of the mysterious Templar symbols, a single eye within an equilateral triangle, was carved over the doorway.

“What would you have me do, Roland?”

Roland felt like a trapped animal, throwing himself uselessly against the sides of a pit.

“I am not sure,” he said, shaking his head. “I thought perhaps you would be able to tell me what I should do. I want to try to save Diane. I am not asking you to help me. I would not expect that. It is just that… I must try.” He searched Guido’s warm brown eyes for help as he talked.

Ever since the night when they had wiped out the highwaymen, Roland had loved and trusted this man. Guido, saying little, seemed to understand much. Even though, like all Templars, he was a monk bound by vows, he seemed to Roland to possess a unique grandeur of spirit. Next to Perrin, Guido was Roland’s closest friend in all of France, the only one he could turn to now.

Guido put his hand on Roland’s shoulder and smiled sadly. “I am grateful to you for not asking me to go with you. It would hurt very much to have to refuse you. My heart is with you, though. Please know that.”

Roland sighed. He had, in fact, harbored a faint hope that Guido would offer to come. He had even imagined that somehow with the Templar’s help he might actually rescue Diane.

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