All Things Are Lights – Day 13 of 200

Diane’s heart pounded against the wall of her chest. She prayed that the guard would not look too closely at her. Every-thing she feared about the crusaders was now embodied in this one mustachioed man.

“Why a general alert.” Roland asked, his voice incredibly calm.

“Something is happening up on the mountain, Messire.” The sergeant gestured to Mont Segur, towering above them. “Nobody knows what. We may be winning, or the Bougres may be counter-attacking.”

Diane restrained an urge to wince. They are always making up names for us, she thought. Calling us Bougres — what an ugly sound it has! — because our faith came to us through Bulgaria; or Albigensians, because our first center in Languedoc was the city of Albi. As if to name us gives them power over us. They do not like what we call ourselves — Cathars — the purified ones.

“The Count himself has gone up there, but we have no news,” the sentry went on. “It takes half a day to get up.”

How well we know! Diane said to herself bitterly, overcome with weariness.

“This is the first I’ve heard of any of this.” Roland smiled. “I was in a place where no heralds could reach me, visiting the daughter of a little local seigneur. She lost all her suitors in the war. Now she is past marrying age and hungers for a man. It was my duty to try to make her happy. Report me if you will. I will take my punishment. Honor forbids me to reveal her name.”

How easily Roland lies, Diane thought. Would the sergeant believe him, or would he suddenly arrest them?

But the sergeant only grinned. “Your knightly pursuits are between you and your confessor, Messire. What is your man carrying in those packs?”

“Trinkets the lady pressed upon me.” Roland again smiled. “One sometimes finds that unmarried ladies of uncertain age are very grateful.”

Dear God, thought Diane, what will I do if he asks me to open the packs?

The sergeant laughed. “Well, it does me good to see our gallant knights prosper. It is no wonder the women hereabouts need real men. All those damned Bougres giving it to each other up the arse.”

Diane felt her face flush hot with anger.

The guard stepped back and bowed Roland into the camp.

“Sorry,” Roland said when they were beyond the man’s hearing. “You are going to hear many a vile remark about your people.”

Roland led her along a winding, muddy path through the tall, four-sided tents, each topped with a pointed pennon bearing the badge of the knight who dwelt in it. The tents were arranged helter-skelter, each knight’s set up wherever it pleased him.

At the sound of chanting, Roland seized her arm and pulled her off the path.

Soon she saw a dozen priests of the Roman Church in red vestments carrying gilded crosses and silken banners. Young boys in black-and-white robes followed them down the path, ringing bells and swinging smoking, incense-filled thuribles. The robes of the priests looked hideously gaudy to Diane.

She felt overwhelmed with hatred. Priests such as these had instigated forty years of bloodshed in Languedoc. They believed they were serving God, but she was convinced they were doing the work of the Adversary. She listened to what they were singing, Salve Regina. They were praying for victory over her people with a hymn to the Virgin Mary. How could God have a material mother? Blasphemous!

She felt a tugging on her arm and saw that Roland had dropped to his knees in the mud. She resisted. She would never bend her knee to such priests. But if she refused she risked being found out. If only she’d been allowed to go openly to death as a Cathar! She swallowed hard, knelt, and made the sign of the cross.

After the procession passed on, she struggled to her feet, shouldered the two packs, and trudged beside Roland along the twisting path. But she was overcome with fear, convinced that every one of the thousands of men around her could see right through her disguise. Roland pointed out the different companies they passed: Normans, Bretons, knights from the Ile de France, England, Flanders, Germany. But she kept her eyes on the ground, not daring to look up at the cruel faces of the crusaders, and she stumbled along half a step behind Roland, terrified of being separated from him.

“Many of these men are second-generation crusaders,” Roland said in a low voice, trying, she sensed, to distract her from her fear. “Their fathers came when the Pope first called for war, and their sons are still at it. Count Amalric de Gobignon is himself one.”

“Who?” she managed to ask in a strangled voice.

“You look frightened to death. Try to walk more as if you belonged here. De Gobignon is the commander of this army. But look — here is where the knights from Italy and Aragon have pitched their tents. There are even some few knights of Languedoc camped hereabouts, who have made the crusader cause their own.”

The sound of a strong voice singing interrupted Roland. The voice was mellow, and there was laughter in it. Even in her terror, it made Diane feel better.

She followed Roland through a circle of closely spaced tents and then saw an open area, a low hill covered with men seated on the trampled grass. Small fires burned against the February chill. All the men had their swords buckled on, their helmets by their sides.

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