All Things Are Lights – Day 11 of 200

“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?”

“In Italy, in Sicily mostly.” Roland’s voice sounded as if he were dragging himself up out of a deep well of sadness. “The Inquisition was about to catch up with us at Avignon, so my mother and father and sister and I all journeyed on donkey back along the coast into Lombardy. From there we took ship to Palermo, where my father found work with Emperor Frederic.”

A fond smile warmed Roland’s sharp features. “The Emperor needs men who can read and write well, yet are not members of the clergy, to serve him in his endless quarrel with the Pope. So my father rose quickly in his service. He now holds high rank in the Imperia Chancery. He is very busy, but he finds time to write me many letters.”

“I am glad for him,” Diane said with feeling, though she thought again of her own father’s death in a shepherd’s hut. “What of your sister, dear Fiorela?”

“She married well, after I left them, to one of Frederic’s noblemen, a Lorenzo Celino, knight of the Holy Roman Empire. My mother writes that he is a thoroughly virtuous man, which is rare for one of the Emperor’s courtiers.”

She had heard bad and good of Emperor Frederic — that he was dissolute, but that he allowed people to speak their minds.

“And you?” she asked with a smile. “Were you thoroughly virtuous while you were at the Emperor’s court?”

He smiled back and shrugged. “I did what I like to do best. I had brought that dear old lute with me, the one I played before Peire Cardenal. I set myself to become a master troubadour. The Emperor has surrounded himself with some of the greatest poets and singers of our time, and I offered myself to them as a humble apprentice. They thought they could teach me something, and soon enough they had me performing my work before Frederic himself. I must have been a success, because after that I dined more often with the Emperor than my father did.”

Diane remembered how many times Roland had sung to her alone, how his voice had seemed to draw her soul out of her body. So it was not love alone, she thought. If Emperor Frederic liked him, he really must be very good.

“Was it not hard for you,” she said, “keeping up your skill while traveling from place to place?”

He shrugged. “Traveling is what troubadours do most. And wherever we stopped for any length of time, I made it my business to meet any other troubadour who might be in the district and to try to learn from him.”

“And so at last the Emperor made you part of his court?”

Roland’s face darkened. “He made use of me in other ways as well. Now that he rules southern Italy and Germany, he seeks to control northern Italy as well, and the Pope is determined to prevent him. I fought in the cities of Italy as one of the Emperor’s Ghibellines in their battles against the Papal Guelphs. Frederic even knighted me himself. But even when I was in the thick of battle, lines of poetry were always springing into my mind. I would have been happier if I could have just written my music and sung it. The world would not let me do that. Any more than it will let you practice your faith.”

“But surely you were better off at the Emperor’s court than you are here. Why did you not stay there?”

“I love you,” he said glumly.

Her heart wept for his pain.

“I love my country, too,” he went on. “I dreamed constantly both of you and of Languedoc. I came back, and the first thing I did was look for you. But all my friends were dead or in exile, and people even told me that you were dead.”

“Protecting me,” she said. “The Inquisition is everywhere in the south of France. Picking the perfecti off one by one.”

He nodded. “It was impossible even to find out whether you were alive, and sooner or later the inquisitors would have found out that Arnaut de Vency’s son was back in Languedoc. So I moved up to Paris, where the inquisitors are not plying their trade as yet. And there I am known as Orlando of Perugia, an Italian knight. Trying to make my way as a troubadour. Then a letter came from my father. The Emperor had received an appeal for help from Mont Segur. It gave names of those trapped there. Your name was on the list. My father, who knows this country well, also wrote how I might get into the fortress. I joined the Albigensian Crusade for you. And now I have found you again, and lost you. All I have left are my songs.”

He stood up suddenly. “If we meet any crusaders here in the forest they will question us, and it will be hard to think of good answers. We must get to the camp, and that will take us most of the day.”

His voice was bleak, Diane thought, that of a man trying to hide his feelings, perhaps even from himself.

Diane, terrified of going into the midst of thousands of enemy soldiers, felt an urge to run from Roland and hide herself in the depths of the forest. But she steeled herself to remember: God is within me, and I need fear nothing.

Many hours later, as they walked onward through the valley in the deep shadow of late afternoon, Diane looked up at the peaks to the west of Mont Segur. They were jagged black silhouettes. Turning her eyes to the besieged mountain itself, she saw its top glowing golden in the light of the setting sun. Now Roland was leading the way, and they followed along the banks of a little mountain creek. The last time she had seen it, it had been clear as spring water. Now she was revolted by its brown color and the stench it gave off, like a town gutter.

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