All Things Are Lights – Day 164 of 200

“The fever has him,” said Louis as Roland ceased his song. But the hand holding the crumpled blue silk tirelessly stroked Perrin’s face. “There is nothing we can do now but wait.”

“Sire, no one could ask you to stay any longer,” said Roland. “What you have done for him and for me has already gone far beyond kindness.”

“I will watch with you. I am not needed anywhere else. No one awaits audience with a defeated king,” Louis said sadly.

Some of the other knights stepped closer now. They formed a ring around Perrin, Roland, and the King. It is as if Perrin were dying for all of us, Roland thought.

“Perhaps, sire, you would lead us in a prayer for him,” one said.

“Our Father, Who art in Heaven…” Louis began in a strong voice.

Moments later, as the criers in the minarets of Mansura’s mosques were calling Muslims to prayer, Perrin ceased to breathe.

The throbbing ache in Roland’s breast begged for the relief of tears, but he had no tears left. He could only sit, staring at his friend’s body.

Ah, my poor, poor Perrin. You chose the wrong master. I brought you suffering only. You should have followed a wealthy troubadour, or become a troubadour in your own right. You could have had rich patrons, worn silk and satin, slept on fine linen with your pick of handsome women. You had the wit and skill for it. Why did you waste your life with me? I did not merit such faith, such love.

Oh, Perrin, Perrin, how could God be so cruel?

Louis stood up, pushing himself slowly and painfully to his full height.

He must be terribly cramped from having sat so long with Perrin’s head on his lap. And he is still a sick man, too.

“Come, I will help you bury him,” said Louis.

“You cannot, sire,” Roland started to protest.

“I can and I must,” said Louis, and he bent his long frame to reach down and take Perrin under the shoulders.

The knights from the hut followed Louis and Roland as they carried Perrin’s body to the burial pit. As they walked through the prison village more knights joined.

See, Perrin, you have a king to carry you to your grave, and hundreds walk in your funeral train. That much being my man has gotten for you.

Under the eyes of Egyptian archers standing on the wall, a party of knights with wooden spades was filling in part of a long, deep trench. On the first day of their imprisonment here Louis had asked permission for the crusaders to bury their dead — instead of having the bodies of those who died of starvation, disease, or untreated wounds thrown into the Nile. From then on, each day’s dead were brought to this trench, tenderly laid in it by comrades, and covered up with the rich earth of the delta before the African heat could start them rotting. Knights chosen from a roster kept by the King himself used the shovels granted them by the Saracens to lengthen the mass grave.

After Louis and Roland had set Perrin’s body down beside those the burial detail had just started to cover, Roland stepped back to take a last look at his friend.

He stared at the still, pale face until his eyes blurred.

He turned away from the motionless form and followed the King climbing out of the pit. Louis took a shovel from one of the grave diggers and handed it to Roland.

“Do you want to cover him?”

“Thank you, sire.” Roland took the shovel. But he could not bear to throw dirt down on Perrin from above. He went back down into the trench and dug with his fingers in the soft earth and let the dirt trickle from his hands over Perrin’s face.

The knights who had followed them to the graveside had dispersed. The sun was a huge red ball resting on the smoldering horizon.

“Sire, how can I thank you?”

Louis stopped walking, turned, and put his hand on Roland’s shoulder. They stood on the winding, dusty path leading through the dun-colored, flat-roofed huts. All about them, ragged, gaunt men, faces burnt to dark brown leather, walked aimlessly about.

“Your Perrin was a comrade in arms,” said Louis. “Never will I turn my back on any man who fought beside me in this crusade.”

“Few Catholics would show such kindness to a heretic, sire.”

A look of pain shadowed the large blue eyes. “I may be violating the law of the Church. I can only hope I am being true to the spirit of my faith.”

A perverse urge to test Louis seized Roland. “He did lie to you about one thing. I knew he had converted to Catharism. He told me long before we left on this crusade.”

The suffering in Louis’s eyes grew deeper. “Why do you press me so?”

“You know I am a son of Languedoc. Your people destroyed my people.”

“Yet you follow me.”

Roland nodded. “Yet I follow you, and have led others, like Perrin, to follow you also, to their deaths. Every man I brought with me is dead now. And that is why I try you.”

They stood looking at each other in the heart of the prison village as the sunset reddened the dust around their feet and the specters that had once been crusaders shuffled past them.

Full of mingled grief and dread, Roland waited for Louis to speak. How he answers me will tell me if I threw away Perrin’s life, and Martin’s and the others, and mine, or spent them well.

“Walk with me,” Louis said. “I do not want to speak of these things here in the open.”

As they trudged along the path that led to Louis’s cottage, a group of men stopped the King.

“Is it true we are to be ransomed, sire?”

Louis held up a warning hand. “Pray that it be God’s will, my men. Much could yet go awry. But I have talked to the Sultan, and we have come to terms.”

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