All Things Are Lights – Day 22 of 200

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.

Rapt, she kept her eyes fixed on him all through the song. And her heartbeat quickened with delight each time his gaze strayed to meet hers.

She was filled with a longing that was intensely painful, yet somehow she felt happier than she had been in a long time. She wanted to hug the world to her, as if until this moment she had been sleeping, and now for the first time she was awake and fully alive. And as she listened, she found herself imagining him singing to her alone, songs he would create for her. His lyrics would speak to her of a secret kingdom of love. There she would be the ruler and he the adoring subject. She envisioned herself in some secret silken place lying in his arms.

All too soon for her he finished his song. He bowed deeply — and how gracefully, she thought — to King Louis and Queen Marguerite, and accepted their praise and thanks. Then he walked, with the proud carriage of an Arabian stallion, across the open grass, to stand among the courtiers.

It was only then that she realized she had not heard his name. She whispered to her friend Marguerite, “Who is he?”

Marguerite looked over to where the troubadour stood and back at Nicolette and smiled. “He looks as if he could be a countryman of ours, does he not? A man of Languedoc. Very handsome. If I did not love Louis so much, I could almost be attracted to him myself.”

“But who is he?” Nicolette demanded again.

“He is called Orlando of Perugia,” said Marguerite with a sigh. “Where is Perugia? Northern Italy, I think. A pity he is not a genuine Languedoc troubadour.”

From then on, as the feasting continued at trestle tables set in the meadow, Nicolette’s eyes sought him out again and again.

She said “Orlando” silently to herself many times that afternoon, and discovered that in shaping the name slowly, languorously with her lips, they moved as they might if she were kissing him.

But she did not dare try to speak to him. Amalric had his retainers, relations, and favor-seekers scattered all through this festive assemblage, and any interest she showed in another man would surely be reported to him. How fortunate at least that Louis’s mother, Queen Blanche, who watched over the younger women of the court as a falcon watches hares, was not with the royal party that day.

Nicolette had been deeply thankful, too, that Amalric was away at war.

At the end of the festive day, when the King and Queen were ready to retire, the troubadour gave her one last burning look before he left the meadow.

She was ecstatic. After eleven lonely years of a marriage she had entered into only to save her mother and sisters, she might have found her true love.

But when would she receive a message from him?

The very next day her personal maid, Agnes, handed her a roll of vellum tied with a black ribbon, and she cried out with delight. He had worn black.

She tore the ribbon loose and devoured his words:

When I beheld you yesterday
You were all that I could see,
So bright your beauty shone.
It made the castle fade away,
And by some wondrous sorcery
We two seemed quite alone.

Five stanzas. In her eagerness she read the lines over and over again. And what delicious pleasure she felt that they were written in her own native language, the southern Langue d’Oc.

Now, sitting by the dying King’s bedside, she remembered the first time Orlando had sung only for her. It had been a year ago, just at the start of winter, after the King and Queen had returned to Paris. She was in bed in the de Gobignon town house on the Right Bank. She had fallen asleep thinking about her troubadour, and she’d been dreaming of him, as she often did.

She must still be dreaming, she thought when she first heard his voice. But suddenly she was wide awake, realizing that he was singing in the garden outside her window.

He sang an aubade, a dawn song of Languedoc, about the agony of lovers parting while a friend on watch warns of approaching morning. She slowly rose from the bed and tiptoed to the window. Though she was barefoot and wore only her shift, she hardly felt the December cold. She struggled with the fastenings of the shutters, yearning to see him.

Then she heard angry voices below, Amalric’s men-at-arms up and about, and she froze in terror.

“Oh, no, let him be safe!” she prayed.

She heard running feet and the clatter of steel weapons.

In dread she pressed her hands to her breast. But then there was silence.

She went back to her bed and wept, terrified that something awful had befallen her troubadour.

Later that morning Agnes reported with a twinkling eye that the men-at-arms had chased a prowler, but he had gotten away.

Nicolette all but fainted in her relief.

A week later, Agnes handed her a folded parchment, and again she was aglow with excitement. It was, as she had expected, a plea for a tryst:

To the lady who is always in my thoughts:
We are two rays of light shed by a single sun.
The Goddess whom we both serve forbids us to remain apart.
I beg you to join your light with mine that both of us may shine the brighter.
Entrust your reply to him who brings you this.

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