All Things Are Lights – Day 15 of 200

“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.

“I find such wild talk of damning souls troublesome,” she said coolly.

Perrin blushed and turned away.

Roland stared at her angrily. “When a man lays his soul at your feet, do not be so quick to spurn it, Diane. He who would save his soul must lose it. That could be true for you, too.”

Diane’s face grew hot, and tears stung her eyelids. She felt ashamed. How could I speak rudely to these two, who are risking their lives for me? I am guilty of pride. I do not deserve to be called perfecta.

Roland turned away and held out his arms before Perrin, who helped him off with his surcoat and began to unlace the mail hauberk. The equerry hung the heavy coat of mail on a rack beside the chest. Roland gave a deep sigh and flexed his arms appreciatively in his quilted shirt.

She felt sudden panic. Is he going to take his shirt off, too? Then she wondered why that should frighten her. Diane had lived much in close quarters and seen many partly clad men. But she knew the reason for her fear. Somewhere inside her she felt a hunger to see his body. She stood up and turned from Roland in shame.

“I know how filled with sorrow and pain you must be, Diane,” Roland said gently. “Yet you have not uttered a word of complaint. There is true steel in you. Forgive me for speaking harshly to you just now.”

Diane was on the verge of tears. “There is nothing to forgive. I deserved it.”

She started at a sudden commotion outside, men bellowing, cheering. Oh, dear God, it must be the worst.

“Sounds like a crier going through,” Roland said. “Perrin?”

After the young jongleur had left, Roland said, “Diane, you can trust that man as you would your brother. Do not get a wrong notion of him because you heard him singing a coarse song. He has a conscience as strong as a war-horse.”

“If you say I can trust him, Roland, I will trust him.”

“Good. You will have to, because I am sending you with him up to Paris immediately. I have a small house outside the walls of the city, in the faubourgs, where you will be safe. The sooner you leave here, where they thirst for Cathar blood, the better. I must stay or be charged with desertion.”

She saw pain in his eyes and knew that he did not want her to go.

Roland turned away from her, undid the laces of his shirt, and stripped it off. She commanded herself to turn away, but she could not. As he walked over to the rack and hung the shirt over his hauberk, her eyes devoured the wiry muscles that moved smoothly under his olive skin.

He turned to face her. A white scar ran like a streak of lightning from his right shoulder across his chest and belly. She gave a little gasp. He smiled at her, raising only the left corner of his mouth. That crooked smile she knew so well.

And loved.

Yes. Her body went cold and her heart fluttered. She tried to make herself picture the blackness of Hell, the abode of the Adversary. If I break my vow I am lost forever.

“Diane,” he said softly.

“Please, Roland,” she choked, “do not destroy me.” She turned her back to him.

There was a long silence. She trembled, dreading his touch and longing for it.

“I have done nothing to you and I will do nothing,” he said.

“I am weak,” she said. “I did not know how weak I was. I am at your mercy.”

She heard him move behind her, and tensed.

“Look at me, Diane.”

Slowly she turned. He had thrown his cape over his shoulders. She saw suffering in every line of his face.

“I, too, have my code. As long as I love you, your will must be my will. If you believe that yielding to me would be weakness, that accepting my love would destroy you, I will not touch you. You must come to me with the whole of your will, or not at all.”

Relief — and disappointment — swept through her. She sat down again on the chest.

Perrin pushed his way through the tent flap. “The news has just come down from the mountaintop.” His eyes, full of pity, met Diane’s. “The Cathars sent men out to parley this morning. Terms are agreed. Mont Segur has surrendered.”

Diane put her head on her arms and began to whisper the Lord’s Prayer. She had known when she left the mountaintop with Roland that this terrible news would come to her.

She felt Roland’s comforting hand on her shoulder, and she left it there, for in her grief she desperately needed a human touch.

In her prayer she came to the phrase “Lead us not into temptation,” and she whispered it fiercely to herself.

Then she wept, not only for the fall of Mont Segur, but in confusion and despair over her own plight.

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