All Things Are Lights – Day 23 of 200

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.

And no signature.

“His man wants to know if there will be an answer, Madame,” Agnes said with an amused smile.

Nicolette trusted Agnes, who had been with her since they both were children. The same age as her mistress, Agnes had proved her loyalty by giving up her home and family to accompany Nicolette when she had been compelled to marry Amalric. Both felt out of place in this northern country, and they shared an abiding love for the sweet customs of ladies and troubadours.

“Not now,” said Nicolette. “I shall have to think about it.”

All that day she tried to decide what to write back. She would take a worn piece of scrap parchment, start a letter, rub it out with pumice, and try again. She must have done it a dozen times.

It is too soon for a meeting, she told herself. If he has been properly instructed in courtly love, he must know that as well as I do. No, first he must woo me at a distance with songs and sweet messages. Then, after a year or so, I shall arrange a very brief secret meeting. That will show whether I can trust him to do only what I allow. Then I may let him kiss me. And then we will proceed ever so gradually, over months and years, from kissing to touching, to lying together clothed, and then with no clothing, and at last, when I have tested him fully and totally, the final sacrament of Love.

But at the thought of that union of their bodies, she could all but feel his arms around her, his hard, lean body pressed against hers. Her hands tensed, as if they clutched his shoulders, drawing him closer still.

Why must I wait? Why must I draw it out as they do in the old romances? In a week or a month he could die, and then I would never know the glory of lying in his arms.

How awful!

She took a fresh piece of parchment and began to write, inviting him to set a time and place for a rendezvous.

It was hard for her, though, to hold the quill firmly, because suddenly she was hearing the voice of her mother, dead these three years, exhorting her.

“You will want to yield to him at once, because to sleep with a man you love is the closest thing to Heaven we can know here on Earth.” Her mother had held up a warning finger. “But do not do it. If you give yourself to him right away, the love he feels for you will lose its force sooner than you would think possible. You must use the power of unfulfilled desire — his and yours — to teach him. In the world, man rules woman, but in the kingdom of Love the man must call the lady mi dons, ‘my lord,’ because he is ruled by her. So my mother told me, and so, in our tradition, mother has taught daughter, in secret, since before the time of Christ. And I know it is true, because I have lived it. Remember, when it happens to you, you are not the first woman to feel this way — although it will seem that way to you. This teaching has stood the test of many generations. You will never know the true magic of Love unless you follow its rules.”

Since her marriage at thirteen Nicolette had known what bodily union with a man was like. She even remembered a spring night, two years after her marriage, when, after an evening of merry dancing, she had been able to forget her resentment of Amalric, forget who her husband was, and had enjoyed his body so thoroughly that she had been left trembling from head to foot, exhausted with pleasure.

But she knew deep down that Love could be far more than that. From what her mother had told her, from what friends whispered, from innumerable poems, she knew what glories Love promised. At its best Love could carry lovers to heights of bliss that the priests claimed were reserved for the saints in Heaven.

She clenched her fist so hard she broke the quill and left a big blotch on the parchment.

She might have only this one chance in all her life. Twenty-four was no longer young. Still, the happiness they would know in the end would be worth the delay. She wrote:

Press me not for favors yet. I must know if you are true,
and only time can tell me that.
Desire is overhasty, but Love is patient.

Days followed days, stretching into lonely weeks. But no answer came back to her. She grew sorry, then bitter. Why had she not acted on her first impulse and arranged a secret meeting? At home and at court she went through her routine with a constant, aching hollow in her stomach. The thought that she might have ruined it all filled her with anguish.

She shared her pain with Marguerite, who insisted that Nicolette had done absolutely the right thing in postponing a rendezvous. But what did it matter whether she had done the right thing if she had lost Orlando forever?

She worked hard to convince herself that if he really cared about her, one such note from her should only have spurred him to greater ardor. She repeated to herself again and again what she had said in her reply to him, wondering if he had perhaps misunderstood her chiding tone and taken offense.

One day she saw that the ice in the Seine was melting. Winter was ending. The word from the south was that Mont Segur must soon fall. Then perhaps Amalric would be back, and a meeting might then be impossible. And still there was no word from her troubadour. She stood on the riverbank and prayed to the Goddess of Love that she would hear from him.

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