All Things Are Lights – Day 16 of 200

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.


Roland held his body stiff as he faced the Cathar fortress and watched the tall wooden doors swing open. He saw now that the fire of that final night’s battle, now fifteen days past, had left no structure standing but the stone keep. Inside the limestone walls stood forlorn, crude shelters made of tent cloths spread over blackened beams.

Cries of farewell and loud wailing came from the battlements above and from the open gateway, as the condemned emerged from the fortress, a long line of men and women in black. Roland’s heartbeat broke its rhythm.

During the fifteen days of grace granted under the terms of surrender, he had waited in camp with the other crusaders. Now that Diane and Perrin were safely off on the road to Paris, he felt impelled to be with the Cathars in their final moments, to bear witness. He had volunteered, despite his dread, to help escort the prisoners to their execution. Those Cathars who joined the Catholic religion would now be allowed to leave in peace, though they would be forced to give everything they owned to the Church and wear the yellow crosses for the rest of their lives. But those who clung to their faith would die.

As the Cathars emerged, a man-at-arms directed each to stop at a table beside the doorway, where two Dominican friars sat with parchment scrolls. The friars recorded the name of each person about to die. This meticulous record-keeping, Roland thought, was one source of the Inquisition’s power.

At the head of the procession was the Cathar bishop. Bertran d’en Marti’s head glowed with the red-gold rays of the low afternoon sun striking his white hair, as if it were already enveloped in flames.

“Form around them,” called the leader of Roland’s party.

Roland reluctantly stepped forward with the other crusaders. His longsword and dagger swung heavy at his waist. He wore them only because, as a knight, he was expected to. He had left his helmet and mail shirt back in his tent. To escort these perfecti, he knew, he would need no weapons or armor. And they were all perfecti now, the believers who chose to stay and die having received the consolamentum.

Roland and the crusaders fell in beside the doomed people as they began to climb down the western face. At first Roland kept his eyes on the ground. He could not look at the Cathars. Walking with them, hurting for them, he felt ashamed that he was to live while his own countrymen died.

He heard little but the shuffling of hundreds of pairs of feet over rocks and gravel. He listened intently as now and then a voice was raised in prayer or a hymn.

When finally he did raise his eyes to look at the procession, he found himself staring with shock into eyes he recognized. They belonged to the woman called Corba, who had greeted him with a crossbow when he had scaled the wall. She was walking hand in hand with an elderly lady and a severely limping young girl whose long hair veiled her face. Images of Roland’s own mother and sister rose before him, and tears burned his eyes.

Is this, he asked silently, the terrible enemy against whom Pope after Pope has called out all the knights of Christendom? Roland looked at the perfecti, fragile, black-robed, many of them women, many old men. Catharism, he thought, is really too gentle for this world.

As Roland watched the prisoners pick their way down the steep, rock-studded path descending from ledge to ledge, he admired the way they helped each other. A strong young man swept the lame girl up in his arms and carried her. That young man and that girl could have long lives ahead of them, Roland thought. Lord, why must they give their young bodies to be burned?

Roland looked downward toward the meadow that would soon hold all the perfecti. In the final days of the grace period, he had watched, sickened, as crusaders built a fence of logs about six feet high around the edge of the meadow. Within it they had heaped bundles of wood cut from the forest. Though the wood was still damp from winter, the bales of straw the soldiers had mixed with it and the pitch they had poured over it would, he thought bitterly, ensure a fine bonfire.

Roland stared down at the fighting men and clergy who had gathered around the fence and who thronged over the mountainside below it. They are happy, he told himself. Here is the fulfillment of their outpouring of toil, treasure, and blood, of nearly a year of siege.

A small group, arrayed in tunics and caps of blue, purple, and red, detached itself from the crowd and began to climb to meet the descending procession. The great seigneurs, thought Roland, the masters of these revels. For what they do this day may they all burn in Hell.

One of those approaching was taller than all who accompanied him. Though powerfully built, almost burly, he moved with ease up the precarious path. As Roland recognized the man, the hairs prickled on the back of his neck. His fingers twitched and his muscles contracted. Amalric, Count de Gobignon, head of this army, destroyer of Languedoc.

The knight in command of Roland’s party hurried down the mountainside to meet the Count and bend the knee before him. Amalric stood with his thumbs hooked in his jeweled belt, and they exchanged a few words. The ash-blond hair that fell in waves to Amalric’s shoulders was as beautiful as a woman’s, but his long, straight nose and square jaw gave him a strong, manly look.

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