All Things Are Lights – Day 176 of 200

She went on to tell him the whole tale just as Roland had told it to her, under the ancient oak north of Chartres. As she talked, she watched Amalric, eager to see him crumble. She watched his face change expression, at first angry, then red with shame. She saw his eyes wander as he began to think about what she was saying, comparing it with what he had heard. She saw him grow pale with shock.

“So you see,” she said, “all these years you have been deluded. You thought heretics killed your father, and your hatred of heretics has poisoned your whole life. When it was really a band of young men of your own faith, fighting for their homeland.”

She watched his face twist with nausea.

He stepped backward, putting a hand out to steady himself against a bookshelf. His chest rose and fell spasmodically.

Trembling, she waited, hoping to see him collapse.

Instead he straightened his back. His face became a passionless mask. “You weave a tale skillfully, Madame,” he said lightly. “A good story to amaze children.”

He would not be so easy to overthrow. What other means did she have to wound him?

After a moment, she felt a fierce exultation. She smiled at him. “You do not believe me?”

He eyed her almost with fear.

“What proof is there.” She could hear the strain in his voice, the effort to sound casual.

“None,” she agreed. “You think it is a tale for children, do you? Well, let me tell you about another child.”

Her voice no longer sounded like her own. It had become the screech of a demon.

“Simon is not your son. He is Roland’s.”

Terror seized her as soon as she said the words. She had let out the secret of her life, and in doing so, risked Simon’s. With dread, she watched Amalric.

His eyes seemed to roll up into his head. He put his hand on the table and held himself upright.

Then his eyes opened, and a fire blazed in them. His face reddened, swelled, and twisted until he looked like a creature from Hell.

“You just killed your son, Nicolette,” he snarled. “Your bastard child. The moment I get back to France, that child will be dead.”

“No, no ” she screamed.

“Whore! Filthy, rotten whore! Do not say no to me!”

He stopped, choking. He stood there with clenched fists.

Simon! she screamed inside. What have I done to you? She felt the blood still trickling from her mouth, but she did not bother to wipe it away.

“In spite of everything you did, the King and all with him are lost,” he said in a lower voice. “Dead men.”

A certainty in his tone told her he was not feigning this to torment her.

“No,” she whispered, terrified. “They are to be ransomed.”

“They are to be killed,” he said. “I have promised the Sultan everything he wants — the ransom money, the city, and all the Christians in it — if he kills the King and his men. He spoke quietly, reasonably, compelling her to understand that he was telling the simple truth. “I have arranged it all.”

She saw a huge black ocean wave racing toward her. She stood paralyzed before it. The wave rolled over her, covering her with darkness. She was drowning. She put her hand to her bleeding mouth and swayed back and forth.

“Oh my God! Oh my God!”

“It is too late for you to call upon God, whore.”

“And you? Who do you call upon? You are worshiping the Devil, Amalric. Only he could drive a man to the things you are doing.”

God, why did I never kill him? I could have stabbed him while he slept, poisoned him.

“You call my faith Devil worship? That is what the heretics say.”

In the grip of horror as she stared at him she whispered, “Yes, call me a heretic. That is what your rapist brother Hugues would say, is it not? The world is well rid of him.” She bared her teeth in a grin, knowing she had hurt him again.

He moved toward her, hand lifted to strike.

She remained motionless, defiant.

And then she sprang at him. She went for the hilt of the basilard, the three-sided spike that hung at his right side.

She had to reach across him, and she was not quick enough. His hand seized hers in an iron grasp, but rage gave her strength.

She had the dagger halfway out. His powerful fingers were crushing the bones of her wrist, grinding them together.

She brought her head down and sank her teeth into his hand, biting in frenzy.

He roared his pain.

For an instant his grip loosened and she jerked at the dagger.

She almost had it free.

Then his other fist smashed like a hammer against the side of her head.

Again he pounded her skull.

She hardly felt the third blow as she slid to the floor.

He laughed and picked her up as if she were a heap of bedclothes. He pushed her back against the reading table, pressing his body against her, bending her backward.

She felt a hard pressure against her legs. Then he reached down and drew up her skirt.

“This is the beginning of a humiliation that will last the rest of your life, Nicolette,” he said through gritted teeth.

She fought him with all her strength, arching her back, throwing her hips from side to side, kicking. She managed to hold him off for a moment.

“Go on, fight me,” he laughed. “Better than having you lie there like a dead woman, as you usually do.”

“No,” she gasped, writhing in his grasp. “My God, you are not going to do this. I would rather you killed me.”

He pushed her back and forced her legs apart. “I know that, Nicolette.”

She screamed helplessly. She tried to rake his face with her nails, but he pinned her arms to the table.

It was over in an instant, like the rutting of a stallion. He leaned against her, panting, and she drew her head back.

“Pig!” She spat in his face.

He hit her again with his hand, open hand, cutting her lip in another place. He drew back from her and threw her to the floor.

In spasms that shot stabbing pains through her, she vomited on the beautiful Arabian carpet. It felt almost as if she were expelling her defiled insides.

Eventually the clenching of her stomach subsided, and she lay on the floor and wept.

Amalric went to the wrought-iron grille that locked the harem rooms off from the rest of the house. He had the key in a pouch at his belt. Avoiding looking back at her, he locked her in and strode off.

“Maurice! Maurice!” he bellowed through the corridors of the mansion.

He felt as if he were writhing on an iron spike thrust through his bowels. A voice within him bewailed his loss — a wife and a son. Now he would have to kill Simon. But it was she who had decreed his death.

At that instant he saw the face of de Vency in the child.

But — Oh God! — de Vency’s face is my face. His head swam with the shock. My father, murdered by de Vency’s stepfather. And my father his father. Impossible! Lies! I am ill. I would not give these lies a thought if I had not lost so much sleep. I should kill her now.

If only I could find de Vency’s body, cut out his heart, and force her to eat it.

A woman in a dark blue gown appeared below him on the stairs.

“Monseigneur.” She bowed. “I heard you call.”

He focused his eyes on her. A thin, ravaged face that had once been pretty. Brown eyes, full of fear as she looked up at him. Agnes, Nicolette’s maid.

Damn! he thought. She must not talk to Nicolette. Nicolette will tell her everything.

His rage turned against Agnes. Another damned Languedoc woman, like Nicolette and Marguerite. She must know all about Nicolette’s infidelity. She probably carried messages between her and the troubadour. She might even know about Simon.

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