All Things Are Lights – Day 103 of 200

Looking down, he saw that the crowd was composed largely of families. Many small children rode their fathers’ shoulders, to see better. Most of the people wore brown or gray, the colorless clothes of the poorer folk. Here and there in the crowd blossomed the bright red or blue of men and ladies of means.

His gaze traveled around the edges of the plaza, where all the shops were open and seemed to be doing brisk business. Entertainers performed for coins — jugglers, acrobats, singers, fire-eaters. He saw a man walking high in the air on a rope stretched from one red-tiled rooftop to another across a corner of the plaza. He saw gay green and gold banners fluttering from rooftops and windows. He even saw a dancing bear.

I will give them entertainment they are not expecting, he thought savagely, his fingers tightening around his sword hilt. He had been worried that he might hurt innocent people in the crowd. Now that he saw their glee over the burning, he no longer cared. Let Regibet kick their brains out.

The gleam of steel caught his eye. He studied the double line of men in brightly shined helmets and purple and gold tunics. Armed with long pikes, they surrounded the great pile of wood in the center of the plaza. Those pikes, Roland knew, would rip open his horse’s belly if he got that far.

Now he looked at the Church of the Madeleine directly across the plaza. It was an old, dark stone building with round-arched doorways and a gallery protected by battlements. It was close to the city wall, and two of the pale yellow guard towers overlooked it. Diane might be in one of those towers, Roland thought as he looked up at the slotted windows.

Had she broken under torture, revealed that he had rescued her, protected her? Yes, he wished fervently. He hoped she had told them everything. Because then perhaps they would have stopped hurting her. And it no longer mattered to him what they knew about him. He would not live long enough for them to arrest him.

He saw a row of archers, their crossbows loaded and cocked, standing before the steps of the church. They are there to protect the great ones who come to see the burning, he thought. There is always the chance that some Languedoc patriot might attempt some wild deed of vengeance at a time like this.

He watched the dignitaries gather at the tables and chairs set before the open doors of the church. He saw three bishops in purple and gold robes, dazzling gold crosses on their chests, bejeweled miters on their heads, holding golden croziers, their staffs of office, in hands encrusted with rings. If wealth be the mark of God’s favor, surely theirs is the true faith, thought Roland sourly. Beside the bishops stood Dominican friars, stark in their white robes and black mantles.

Seeing a man with a thin, handsome face and a tonsured fringe of yellow hair, Roland recognized Hugues. Torturer! Rapist! How I wish I could bring my sword down on that shaven skull of his. What pleasure to be the agent of his death!

He was surprised to see a group of white-mantled Knights Templar climb the steps of the church and join the high-ranking onlookers. Two of them had long black beards, like Guido’s. After kneeling to kiss the bishops’ rings, the Templars took places standing on one side of the steps.

Even the Templars, he thought, feeling betrayed. Everyone is tainted.

At least Louis is not here. Thank God for Louis.

The scene in the plaza filled Roland with bitterness. So much care and ceremony going into this mass murder! The spectators were awaiting it with such evident pleasure.

Let me ride through those pigs down there, then let them kill me. To the Devil with this life! There is no hope in it. No hope at all.

“You know,” he said to the three men with him, “maybe the Cathars are right. Maybe the God who created this world is a bad god.”

Young Martin nodded. “They are right,” he said.

Roland turned and looked at Martin. What a strange thing for him to say. Had Diane had so much influence on him?

Now a flash of silver coronets and bright purple cloaks caught Roland’s eye. Amalric de Gobignon and Nicolette were crossing the church steps to seat themselves in chairs of state beside those set up for the bishops. At the sight of Nicolette Roland felt himself melt inwardly. Will she tell the boy about me one day?

But with what pleasure Amalric will look upon my death.

This will not help Diane. It will torture Nicolette. Delight Amalric and Hugues. What am I doing?

For a moment the music stopped. Then the drums, half a dozen of them, began again, solemn, monotonous, funereal. From the balcony Roland could see along the street that led past the church to one of the city towers. He saw a door at the base of that tower swing open. A file of people emerged from it, wearing the tall, cone-shaped paper hats the inquisitors mockingly put on the heads of condemned heretics. He felt hammer blows of pain battering his heart, and he knew worse was to come. He tried to brace himself.

Led by chanting friars holding up a great golden cross, the procession of heretics, walking two by two in a long line, came down the street past the church. The doomed ones were flanked by crossbowmen and pikemen, all wearing the purple and gold livery of Gobignon. Each of the condemned carried a lighted candle. They had nothing on but the paper miters and thin white robes. Their heads had been shaved. Roland could not tell the men from the women. He searched the procession for Diane, desperate to see her and dreading to see her.

The first of the condemned disappeared behind the bulk of the pyre. Then, one by one, prodded by the warders, they climbed up ladders to the top of the heaped wood. A trio of executioners, dressed in red hoods and tunics, began tying them to stakes.

Then Roland saw Diane.

He went cold as if the blood had drained out of his body. Her red hair had been shorn away, but her long figure and fine-boned face were unmistakable. Two guards were lifting her to the pyre. She seemed unable to move under her own power. Her feet dragged over the brush as they pulled her to her stake.

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