All Things Are Lights – Day 14 of 200

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.

Only a small part of this army was up on Mount Segur, she suddenly realized. The entire host was huge; this Count de Gobignon had not even begun to throw his men into the fight. It had always been hopeless.

Now she spied the singer, a short, stocky young man with curly blond hair. The golden wood of his lute gleamed in the late afternoon sun. He was standing before a plain black tent. Above its pointed roof a small black pennant flew, bearing a silver griffin pawing the air.

The song he sang was a rollicking one:

“The King of Cats cried, ‘Where is that mouse?
He has left no virgins in our land.’
‘In the palace,’ the Pussycat Princess cried,
‘Sinning, like Onan, with his hand.'”

The crowd howled with glee, but their shouts renewed Diane’s terror, and the heavy smell of wine sickened her.

Roland had stopped and stood at the edge of the crowd, watching the grinning jongleur.

Why are we staying here? she thought. Why don’t we go on to some place where it is safe? Someone in the crowd handed the jongleur a wineskin, and he squirted a red stream into his throat. Then Diane saw his eyes flicker in their direction, first at Roland, then at her. The jongleur’s face lost its gaiety and became apprehensive.

Diane hurried after Roland as he stepped forward. The men hastily got out of his way. Something about him frightens them, she thought. Perhaps his height, or the long black cape he wears. The men moved away to fires around the side of the hill as he strode through them.

The jongleur bowed to Roland. “I thought it would be a kindness to entertain these fellows, master, while we wait for news.” He looked curiously at Diane.

“Did I ask for an explanation?” Roland snapped. “Come inside, quickly.”

Diane followed Roland into the black tent. It was as stark within as without. Its main furnishing was a chest of reddish-brown wood studded with brass nails.

No Cathar, but Roland keeps himself as simply as we do, she thought.

Roland silently stretched out his hand, and the jongleur gave him the lute. Roland smiled at it, strumming it lightly with his long fingers and stroking its polished wood, before he wrapped it in its white silk cloth. Diane was unable to take her eyes off his hands. They were still as beautiful as she had remembered them.

The jongleur threw himself on his knees.

“Master! Thank God you made it back safely. I could not sleep for worrying about you. That is why I was out there singing for those louts, to take my mind off my fears.” He glanced again at Diane.

Does he know who I am? Diane wondered. Should I fear him, or is he a friend?

Roland seized the young man’s arms affectionately, drew him to his feet, and hugged him. “I am glad to see you again, Perrin. But why these fears for my welfare? Have you no faith in me?” Before the youth could answer, Roland turned to Diane.

“This is Perrin. He really is from Saint-Fleur. He sometimes accompanies me when I sing. Also acts as my equerry, and little help he is. Just now, for example, he should realize that we have been climbing down the mountain all night and walking all day, and that he should immediately spread out a blanket for you.”

Perrin smiled tentatively at her. “Is this —“

“Yes, Perrin, this is the lady we were expecting, Madame Diane de Combret.”

“Excellent disguise, Madame.” Perrin smiled, quickly unfolding a blanket and patting it smooth for her. “Pray sit here. Also, please forgive me if my song offended you.”

Roland laughed. “It is loyal of you to take the blame. I wrote the song, Diane.”

She saw no shame in Roland’s eyes. Bawdry amuses him, she thought. He is at home in this world and in his body.

“But how marvelous, master.” Perrin was shaking his head. “You actually crossed the battle line, got into the Cathar stronghold, and whisked out your beloved. What a song this deed will make!”

Diane felt her cheeks burn at being called Roland’s beloved, and immediately felt further shame in remembering how she had tried to belittle the same deed Perrin praised.

“If need be, you will lay down your life for hers, Perrin,” said Roland. He was a head taller than Perrin, Diane noticed, and he stared gravely down into the jongleur’s eyes. Roland is taller than everybody else in this world, she thought.

“Madame.” Perrin bowed. “Let me tell you in all honesty that I do not hold with heresy. But I would die for this man, and he has risked death to bring you here. I shall not only die, I shall let my immortal soul be damned to help you, if I must.”

Now she felt her body grow rigid with anger. Damnation in helping her? How dare he? Heresy, indeed! It is Rome that is rotten with error.

Without answering she took off her cap and laid it beside her on the chest. She combed her fingers through what was left of her hair. They had cut it so it fell just short of her shoulders, like a man’s. She heard Perrin sigh and looked up to see him staring. She knew many men found her hair beautiful, but that no longer pleased her.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)