All Things Are Lights – Day 109 of 200

With reluctance he donned his own clothing. The cedar-scented air was so pleasantly warm he felt he could have stayed naked in it all day.

“How did you come here?” he asked Nicolette when they were sitting together. “Did you come alone? Did you fall from the sky?”

“Of course I came alone,” she said with a low laugh. “Would you have wanted an audience for what we just did? I tied my horse out of sight in the forest, and then I went in swimming. I wanted you to think me born of wave and foam.”

“It was perfect,” he said. “How foolish you and I have been not to spend every moment we had enjoying each other.”

“Oh, yes.”

He read in her face a mixture of happiness and regret. “Do you understand about Diane now?” he asked her.

Her arms went around his shoulders. “Yes, truly I do. Do you understand about Simon?”

Anger surged up in him. How he hated that name!

Then, as he looked into her anxious eyes, his anger faded and sympathy filled its place, and sadness.

“I have thought much about you and… the boy. I think I understand now. Where is he?”

“With my sisters at Chateau Lumel, where he will hear nothing but the Langue d’Oc spoken for all the years we are here in Outremer. Amalric wanted him at Gobignon with our girls, but I had my way. So Simon may grow up to be a true son of Languedoc.”

Those words made him shudder. He saw the plaza at Beziers, the white-gowned figures tied to stakes. And then, Friar Hugues menacing Diane with a torch. Hugues’s body jerked suddenly, and the torch fell and flames shot up, sweeping Diane from his sight.

He put his hands over his face and began to sob.

Nicolette held him as his body convulsed, and his cries echoed against the great black rock beside them.

“What is it, Roland?”

“I remembered. Just now, for the first time. I could see it. How Diane died.”

She gasped. “Oh, dear God, yes. It was awful. I had never seen a burning before.”

“Who do you think fired those arrows? Did he mean to kill her?”

“I am sure of it. I was so close. I saw the arrow strike her right in the heart.” She touched the red cross on Roland’s black tunic. “It was well aimed. She must have died instantly. Whoever did it loved her. It is just what I would have wished for myself, were I at the stake.”

“Who could it have been?” he asked again.

“I thought at first it was you. Then I saw you with Perrin, far away on the other side of the plaza. It must have been one of her Cathar brethren. We shall never know.”

“A stronger man than I,” said Roland, still reproaching himself.

“And what Amalric did afterwards, it was horrible — more horrible than anything I imagined he could do.”

Roland felt cold revulsion as he remembered what he had heard. Hangings of hostages, whole villages burned down — the atrocities had gone on and on until the King himself had ordered an end to them.

“He did not see you, as I did, but he knows you were in Beziers when Hugues was killed,” Nicolette said. “Your innkeeper described you to him. Poor fool. He should not have, but he expected to be rewarded. Amalric had him tortured, hoping to get more information, and he died.”

Roland rose and stood with his hands clasped behind his back, staring out at the dark blue sea.

“Does Amalric think I killed Hugues and Diane?”

She stood beside him, resting her hand on his arm, the breeze blowing her pale blue tunic against her legs.

“No, he knows the arrows came from one of the city towers, not from your inn. But he thinks you must have arranged it.”

“All his horrors did nothing to discover the killer?” he asked.

Pain shadowed her face under the strange Eastern turban. “I do not think he really was expecting to find out. He just wanted to hurt people, make them pay for Hugues’s death. I thanked God when King Louis made him stop. But now Amalric has yet another reason for hating Louis. Roland, I am still afraid he may try to kill the King. I told you he lusts for the throne.”

Cold water raced up the beach, engulfing Roland’s bare feet. It swept the sand out from under him, and he staggered before he could steady himself.

“You mean he plans to make himself King? That would be madness.”

She shook her head. “That is what I thought at first. But then I tried to think as he must think. The King and his three brothers will be leading the invasion. Suppose, then, there was a great defeat in Egypt and the royal brothers and most of the nobility were lost. It could happen. Who would rule then? Queen Blanche and the King’s nine-year-old son. Suppose that Amalric, anticipating such a disaster — or helping to make it happen — returns to France. Would it be so difficult for him to take control? Would it be so surprising if the child were set aside, so that a strong man, a Peer of the Realm, well liked by the great barons and backed by the clergy and the Pope, might take over? Does not the royal blood flow in Amalric’s veins, his mother the daughter of Philippe Auguste?”

Roland’s head spun. He felt as if the world were as unstable as the shifting sand beneath him.

Unthinkable. There were four strong brothers — Louis, Robert, Charles, and Alphonse. Queen Blanche ruled securely in Paris. But if indeed all those were swept away? Who would fill the gap?


He felt his face grow hot and his skin crawl.

Standing beside him, Nicolette gripped his arm tighter. “Do you know what the three crowns on the Gobignon coat of arms stand for? The family tradition is that two are for the royal ancestors from whom they are descended — Clovis and Charlemagne. The third is for” — she whispered it with a shudder — “the crown that is yet to come.”

Fury boiled in Roland’s chest.

“It cannot happen,” he said, clenching trembling fists.

“Amalric has written already to the Pope,” Nicolette said. “Innocent is angry with Louis for going to Outremer instead of making war on Frederic. If something happened, Amalric would have the Pope’s backing. Of all the great barons, he is the one who always supports the Pope.”

Roland, filled bone-deep with wrath, clenched his teeth in frustration.

He thought how all Languedoc had been reduced to a wasteland by barons like Amalric and by the Inquisition they had brought with them. What if such men had a free hand throughout France? Only Louis could stave off that devastation. Only because of him was France the strongest, proudest, most prosperous kingdom in Christendom. Should all that be lost?

“Perhaps,” he said fiercely, “it can be arranged for Amalric to meet with calamity in Egypt.”

She looked at him with a cold intensity. “Do to him as you think best. I once commanded you not to kill him. Hundreds of lives would have been saved if he had died that day. I will not make that mistake again.”

He took both of her hands in his.

“I must join the King Nicosia at once,” he said.

“Are you well enough?”

“This illness of mine has been a kind of mourning, I think. It is time for me to put my grief behind me.”

“We will never forget Diane,” Nicolette said.

At her words he felt a warmth inside. His love for Diane no longer divided them.

“What we do will be for her as much as for France,” he said. “I must become the King’s shadow. That means you and I will both be in the royal household.”

“And we will both be near Amalric. Your life will be in constant danger.”

“He, too, will be in danger from me.”

He looked at her sorrowfully as he added, “We can no longer live for our own happiness, mi dons, though God knows we have had little enough of that these past few years. We can no longer risk discovery. We must not give your husband an opportunity to destroy our usefulness to King Louis. Do you understand?”

Her eyes clouded over. “Yes, Roland, I do. And we will give up our joy in each other for the sake of the King and our love.”

He touched a finger to her cheek and wiped away her tears. “We will meet again when the crusade is over, if…”

She seized his hands. “Do not say ‘if.’ However things may fall out, we will meet again.” She threw herself against him.

He drew a long, deep breath. Whenever he smelled cedar, he would remember how they had made love this morning at the place where Venus had been born.

He crushed her in his arms.

Not long ago, all I wanted was a quick and decent death in battle. Now she has given me a reason for living again. Yet I must turn my back on her.

He pulled Nicolette closer and pressed his lips against hers till they hurt, knowing this kiss might be their last.

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