All Things Are Lights – Day 17 of 200

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.

After de Gobignon had spoken, the knight he had addressed scrambled back up the slope. Amalric and his party followed at a leisurely pace.

Upon rejoining Roland’s group, the officer raised a hand to halt the Cathar procession and its knightly escort. “Monseigneur the Count requires that the prisoners be roped together and their hands and feet bound.”

Roland felt a surge of anger.

“Many of these people,” he spoke out, “are old and ill. All are weak from lack of food. This is a steep path. How can they manage it if we bind them?”

He sensed the others of the escort party staring at him.

The officer did not look Roland in the eye. “Monseigneur requires that the prisoners be roped together and dragged the rest of the way.”

Roland was stunned. He looked at the long line of Cathars patiently standing on the mountainside. His gaze met Bishop Bertran’s. Was there a warning look in the old man’s eye? No matter. He could not draw back now.

“What contemptible cruelty.'” he said loudly.

Amalric heard the protest and a hot wave of anger swept through him. How dare a lowly knight question an order of his! But he knew that a good leader does not act on impulse. Begin easily, he told himself. Find out what is happening here before you make a move in front of the whole army.

Continuing his climb up the slope, he inquired almost pleasantly, “Who is it who calls my command contemptible?”

Though he had reined in his anger, he felt the pleasant stirring in the blood he always enjoyed before combat, great or small.

Now he saw a knight step boldly out from among his fellows in the escort. Amalric sized him up. Tall. Might even be as tall as I. But stringy. I’ve got the weight on him. The face looked swarthy, and so thin that the large, curved beak of a nose seemed huge. Probably Spanish or Italian, perhaps even from around here.

Amalric prided himself on knowing as many of the men under his command as possible. This man, he was sure, he had never seen before. Whoever he was, he was no one of importance. That was obvious from the thinness of his black cape, his torn, dusty black tunic, and his unadorned belt and sword hilt. A thin, dark, purseless fellow, thought Amalric. A shadow of a knight. Amalric studied the knight’s bearing. He held his head and shoulders proudly, daring to regard Amalric as if they were equals. And those eyes — they were surprising. Bright blue. As blue as my own, Amalric thought. They do not seem to belong in that brown face. It was as if another man looked out at Amalric through a mask. And the look in those blue eyes was more than defiance. Was there hatred in it?

“Who are you, Messire?” he said, keeping his voice low.

“I am Orlando of Perugia,” answered the knight, firmly and calmly. He made no obeisance, addressing Amalric as an equal. Amalric felt his body turn hot. He had heard of the knight-troubadour Orlando. He cursed himself for having neglected to go over the rolls of his army of late. If he had known, he would have dealt with the man before today.

So this is the man who had the audacity to address a song to my wife.

Amalric smarted, recalling the letter he had received months ago in his tent at the base of Mont Segur, from the steward of his town house in Paris. At the beginning of winter, Amalric learned, a man had appeared outside the garden wall just before dawn, singing. When the guards went out to drive him off, he was gone. Later an equerry came to the house bearing a copy of the song for Countess Nicolette. But it fell into the hands of a steward loyal to Amalric, and the man quickly dispatched agents to follow the equerry. They tracked him to Orlando of Perugia, a troubadour newly arrived in Paris. The steward sent the song on to Amalric. It was titled “In Praise of Fair Nicolette,” and Amalric had torn it to bits without reading it.

He had resolved to punish the man when the campaign was over. And now here was the same Orlando standing before him, ridiculing his orders.

“I do not give orders lightly, Orlando of Perugia. What is your objection to my command?”

“These people are going to their deaths peaceably. Why add needless suffering to their final moments?”

Amalric glanced at the long line of heretics extending from this spot on the slope almost to the gate of the fortress that had sheltered them. By Saint Dominic, how he loathed those Albigensians! They were like a flock of vultures, with their sharp faces and black robes. He could bear to look at them only because he knew he would shortly destroy them. He wished he could go among them swinging his sword like a harvester in a field of wheat, cutting down each and every man and woman himself. They could never be made to suffer enough to pay for the harm they had done to Christendom.

And to me. For it was creatures like these who killed my father.

“Mercy becomes a chivalrous knight, Sire Orlando. But these heretics deserve not your pity. Most of them are the so-called perfecti, the preachers and leaders who seduced countless others from the true faith. They are worse than murderers. They are killers of souls. To let them keep their dignity in death would give them a last opportunity to mislead their foolish followers. Do we want people from all over Languedoc to hear that these Bougres strolled down the mountain, laid themselves on the pyre, and serenely gave up their lives, just as if they were honest Christian martyrs? No, let it be said that they had to be dragged to their deaths and thrown upon the faggots.”

“Men are often cruel in the heat of anger,” said Orlando, his voice trembling as if he himself were possessed by fury. “But the foulest cruelty of all is deliberate, calculated cruelty.”

“You have had your explanation, Messire Troubadour, which is more than you deserve. Why such tender concern for these imps of Satan?” Amalric grinned contemptuously. “What sort of man is it who prefers simpering with a lute to wielding a sword? I have heard somewhat of your sweet songs, but naught of your brave deeds. Perhaps you feel a kinship with that old Bougre sodomite there?” Amalric pointed to the black-robed ancient at the head of the line of Cathars, their so-called bishop.

As he intended, his words brought guffaws from the listening knights.

“What sort of man is it,” Orlando said slowly and clearly, “who takes delight in tormenting helpless, unresisting old men, women, sick people, starving people? Perhaps I will write a song about the brave deed you do this day.”

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