All Things Are Lights – Day 18 of 200

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.”

Amalric felt rage rise in him. As his lips drew back from his teeth, he raised his gauntleted fist and lunged at Orlando.

The troubadour seemed to step into the blow, yet it did little more than graze his cheek as he grabbed Amalric’s wrist and elbow. A twist of his body, and the troubadour held Amalric’s forearm locked tight.

Amalric felt a surge of panic, sensing that the bone was about to give. He was forced to drop to his knees.

Suddenly he felt himself released. The troubadour stepped quickly away from him.

He scrambled to his feet, staring into the astonished faces of a circle of knights. His own face burned with shame.

“Shall we kill him, Monseigneur?” Amalric’s aide, Guy d’Etampes, called out.

“Do you need others to settle your quarrels for you?” the troubadour taunted.

“No one has ever spoken so of me,” said Amalric. “Let it be trial by combat. I am commander of this army, and by the power vested in me I will mete out swift and final justice.” He drew his dagger, a three-edged basilard of Toledo steel, ten inches from its triangular base to its needle point, and began to stalk the troubadour.

Slowly Amalric circled to the troubadour’s left, expecting that the dark man would draw his own dagger with his right hand. Amalric moved on the rock-strewn slope so that he was on higher ground than the troubadour. He felt strength and agility flowing through him.

He saw a spot of sunlight, reflected from his basilard, dance on the troubadour’s black cape. He shifted the dagger slightly so that the beam of light struck Orlando’s eyes. The troubadour winced and sidestepped, but Amalric caught him in the eyes with the light again.

He crouched, shifting the basilard from hand to hand, and gathered himself to rush his enemy.

The troubadour, with the setting sun behind him, was a featureless shadow.

Amalric saw his opponent undo the clasp of his cape and wrap it around his right arm.

“Draw dagger or sword, Messire, I care not which,” Amalric said. “I would not strike down an empty-handed man.”

“I am as well armed with my hands empty as you are with that skewer,” the troubadour mocked.

Amalric felt his face burn with fury.

He sprang at Orlando.

The troubadour raised his cape-wrapped right arm, but Amalric shifted the direction of his thrust and drove the basilard in under the right arm straight toward his enemy’s chest.

The troubadour tried to shield himself with his left arm.

Amalric grunted with satisfaction as he felt the steel sink deep into flesh. Snarling, tugging hard, he yanked the dagger out of the troubadour’s arm.

The troubadour, his face stiff with pain, stumbled over a rock and fell to one knee. As if searching for a friend, he looked up at the ring of crusaders that had gathered to watch the fight. No one spoke to encourage him; no one moved to help him. His sword and dagger were still sheathed.

“Draw your sword, God damn you.”‘ Amalric roared, making sure all onlookers could hear.

Instead of reaching for a weapon, the troubadour unwrapped the cape from his right arm.

Amalric rushed him.

He saw the troubadour’s hand flick and the cape fly out.

He felt something wrap itself around his ankles. Helpless, horrified, he knew that he was falling. He had just time to turn the point of his basilard away from his body before he went down on his face.

By Saint Dominic, the cape was a weapon. It had weights in its corners.

He felt pain stabbing all through him as his enemy landed heavily on his back, the troubadour’s knee grinding between his shoulder blades, the sharp rocks on which he lay pressing into his chest.

Amalric raised his arm to strike with the dagger, and felt the troubadour clutch at his wrist, but the man’s hand was slippery with blood, and Amalric pulled his arm free.

A burst of pain shot through Amalric’s right hand and arm and he bellowed in agony. A big rock, in the troubadour’s other hand, had crashed down on his knuckles.

Amalric’s hand was empty, and he felt the sharp point of his basilard pressing against his throat.

“I can kill you now,” said the voice above him.

“Go ahead.”

“I do not wish to,” the troubadour said. “Your comrades would surely repay me in kind. But if you move I will cut your throat. I shall release you on one condition, that the Cathars are permitted to go to their deaths on their feet like human beings. Give me your word of honor.”

Amalric turned his face to look up at the troubadour. He had no choice unless he wished to die, that steel spike driven into his throat. His hatred burned his enemy’s hawklike face into his memory.

“You have my word, but know that what is between us only begins here.”

“It began long ago,” the troubadour almost whispered.

Amalric felt the man’s weight lifted from his back. Slowly Amalric pushed himself to his feet, favoring his right hand, which hurt abominably.

The troubadour had already turned his back on him and was walking away, blood dripping from his left arm.

Without looking at Amalric he let the basilard fall, clattering on the stony ground. D’Etampes hurried to pick it up and brought it to Amalric.

Weighing the dagger in his hand, Amalric thought, I could have him killed now. No, not in front of all these men. It would not seem knightly.

He watched the troubadour go. One day, he thought, I will have that man flayed alive. Slowly he sheathed the basilard.

But a small, cold question, coiling like a worm at the base of his brain, unsettled him. Why has he done so much to make me hate him? Who is this man to me?

Roland walked away slowly. His left arm felt numb. Blood from his fingertips spattered on the rocks. Men moved grudgingly aside, their hands on their sword hilts. At a word from Amalric, they would cut him down. Roland sensed their hatred for the upstart knight who had defeated Count Amalric with outlandish tactics. He had never in his life felt so alone.

He continued to walk amid the heavy silence, tensely waiting for an attack, watching from the corners of his eyes for sudden movement. But none came. Instead, Roland heard Amalric speaking in a low voice and then heard his aides call orders for the procession again to get under way. He heard no further word about binding the prisoners. The Cathars at least were going to be permitted to walk to their deaths under their own power.

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