All Things Are Lights – Day 21 of 200

Despite the darkness of this moment, he felt despair give way a little. Yes, there were armies that could put people to death mercilessly, led by barons like Amalric and priests like Hugues. But there were men like this as well, and people such as the burnt ones had been.

Now, Diane, I, too, have a vow to live by.

Feeling stronger, he said, “Yes. I will go with you.”


Countess Nicolette de Gobignon pressed a wet cloth to the King’s brow. Though he lay there helpless, still she found him an awesome figure, like a fallen cathedral tower.

Only two other men are as tall, she thought. Amalric and Orlando.

She felt a pang of guilt. How could she be thinking about the troubadour here where her royal master lay slowly dying?

She fixed her eyes on Louis, and on the ivory and wood crucifix that rose and fell on his chest with his labored breathing.

Nicolette felt as if she, too, could hardly breathe. Across the crowded room a fire roared in a huge stone-lined fireplace. The air was stifling. She resented all that made it so, down to the woolen draperies and wall hangings and the thick carpets that sealed in the heat. But she knew that this northern chateau, Pontoise-les-Noyons, a day’s ride from Paris, had had to be built to withstand cold, its walls thick and its windows tiny — so totally unlike the bright, airy Languedoc manor she had grown up in.

Sweat trickled down her brow and stung her eyes. Her breath was coming in little gasps. She felt as if she would faint if she couldn’t go outside soon.

Dozens of people, the King’s family and courtiers, had packed themselves uselessly into the room, making it even more suffocating. Their whispers, like the buzzing of mosquitoes, irritated Nicolette.

Almost all of them, she was sure, worried more about their own welfare than about the King’s. And even Louis’s wife and mother, though they grieved for him, were too distracted to do much to alleviate his suffering.

She saw the King’s lips quiver, and quickly she bent close to him. Any last words could be terribly important.

“Jerusalem,” he mumbled. “Towers — golden. Gates of pearl. Crystal waters.” Then he panted heavily.

“Hush, sire,” she whispered. “Rest easy.”

Louis’s heavy eyelids lifted slightly, showing only the whites of his eyes, as if he were already dead. He’s delirious, she thought.

“The trees bear fruit all year round.” He said this distinctly. Then he lapsed into wordless muttering, and then silence.

She took a fresh wet linen cloth from the silver basin beside her, squeezed out the lukewarm water, and laid it on Louis’s high forehead.

Why Jerusalem? The Jerusalem he was mumbling about, she knew, existed only in his fevered mind. She had listened to Crusaders who had been there. There were no golden towers or gates of pearl. There were no towers or gates at all now, because the Turks had destroyed them.

She caught her breath. Perhaps it is not an earthly Jerusalem. Could he already be seeing Heaven?

Her body turned cold and her stomach churned as she imagined Louis closing his eyes forever. As a girl, she had seen the village near her father’s chateau burned to the ground by marauding knights. Now she saw those flames again; heard the screams of bleeding men, terrified children, women being raped. What had been happening in Languedoc all these years would happen now all over France. War. War had killed her dear father, trapped her in marriage to an enemy. What horrors would she have to endure this time?

There would be factions, and she would have to decide which to join. What side would Amalric take? She had no idea. And where should she go — stay here in Paris, flee north to Chateau Gobignon, or try to get back home to Languedoc?

She felt the urge to weep for Louis as if he were already dead. She liked him so much. When she had first come to court, a stranger and almost a foreigner, he had gone out of his way to be kind to her. And how gentle he was with his Marguerite.

So good not only to those close to him, she thought, but to everyone — merchants, townsfolk, peasants. How they cheered for him as he passed by! What would become of them all if he died?

Amalric should be here at a time like this.

But he considered it more important to visit the properties the Church had awarded him after his victory over the Cathars, take inventory of each one, put down any local disorder, and appoint men to occupy and govern each chateau and town for him. All the spring, summer, and autumn he had been journeying about Languedoc. It might be dangerous for him to be away from Paris and his own holdings if the King died, but he also stood to lose a great deal if he did not fully secure his new lands. He was always at the edge of a precipice, always juggling one danger against another. And how he enjoyed it all!

But not all men were like Amalric.

A wave of grief washed over her, darker than the sorrow she felt for dying King Louis. She had hoped for so much from Orlando. She had loved him so. And now that love was dead.

It hurt to think about him now. But perhaps it was better to feel pain than to feel nothing. The King was quiet as she sat by his bed. He breathed evenly, seemingly sleeping, and as she sat with her eyes fixed on him, her mind wandered. She let herself dream.

How she had trembled when her eyes first met the troubadour’s. His sky-blue eyes, so strange against his dark complexion, compelled her to look at him, as if he were a magician and had her under a spell. It had been early in September, over a year ago, and the King and Queen were holding court in a field outside the chateau at Chinon. Amalric was far away, having begun his siege of Mont Segur.

The troubadour’s first words were not to her, but to the King.

“If it please you, sire, I will sing a ballad of Peire Cardenal’s.”

Even as he spoke, his eyes flickered to her, and he seemed to be asking for her approval as well as the King’s. She felt herself nodding and smiling before she knew what she was doing.

He sang, and his voice washed over her, a warm, rich baritone. She felt full of a sweet confusion, certain that it was really to her he was singing. She watched his long, slender fingers on the strings of his lute, and it was as if those fingers were holding her hand and stroking her.

Her gaze lingered on his glossy black hair, memorized his high, narrow forehead, his brilliant blue eyes, his large, slightly hooked nose and sharp chin. No, she thought, not the features of a handsome man, as convention would have it; but having seen him, her idea of handsomeness abruptly changed.

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