All Things Are Lights – Day 24 of 200

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.

When the trees in Paris were budding, she overheard gossip at court. The troubadour had ridden off to Languedoc. She felt as wretched as if the inquisitors had pronounced her death sentence.

Why? Had he fled Paris to forget her? Was he, as she suspected, a man of Languedoc only pretending to be Italian, and had he gone to fight against the crusaders?

She felt his loss constantly, but oddly this pain made her happier than she had ever been since she married.

For she continued to hope. One day he would come back from his mysterious journey. One day she would see him again. Whatever she had done wrong, whatever had cut him off from her, she would not make the same mistake twice.

During the summer that had followed, as a lady-in-waiting to Queen Marguerite, she had again accompanied the royal couple and their court on a tour of the kingdom.

Because Louis was unwilling to burden his subjects with a huge expense, his retinue was a small one, as such parties went — the King and Queen and a dozen noble companions, two dozen equerries and pages, twenty or so clergymen (so that Louis should not lack for the theological conversation he loved), and fifty servants headed up by Isambert, the palace cook. The King felt such trust in his subjects that only a hundred knights escorted him. At each chateau and abbey where the royal party stopped they were lavishly feasted and entertained, and their mounts stabled and fed. Every man and many of the women of the entourage took three horses. There were mule-carried litters for the ladies, but Nicolette and Marguerite both preferred horseback.

They journeyed through the northeastern lands — Champagne, Picardy, Artois, and Flanders — and, along with other castles, they visited Chateau Gobignon.

Amalric, flushed with pride in his conquest of Mont Segur, made a special trip north to play host to the royal party. Nicolette’s private reunion with him was bleak and empty of feeling. When the King and Queen moved on, and she with them, she was relieved. So, she suspected, was Amalric, who hurried back to oversee his new holdings in Languedoc.

Summer in the north of France was usually the happiest season for Nicolette, because then it was most like home. But that summer, almost a year after she first saw the troubadour, there was a veil of sorrow between her and the warmth of the sun and the green of field and forest.

“There is news from Paris, Nicolette,” Marguerite said gravely one morning at Troyes when Nicolette had come into the Queen’s bedchamber to help her dress for the day. “A certain troubadour has returned.”

Nicolette’s body went hot, then cold. Why was Marguerite reporting this good news so solemnly?

“Tell me everything you know!” she cried.

“There are ill tidings, and much that only a friend who shares your secrets would dare to tell you.”

“Why?” The dark look on Marguerite’s oval face frightened Nicolette. Something terrible had happened.

“It involves your husband.”

In her surprise Nicolette dropped the necklace she was trying to clasp around Marguerite’s neck. “Amalric! Does he know?”

“It is possible,” said Marguerite, catching the necklace as it slid over her bosom and fastening it on herself. “Here, sit down.”

Nicolette stared into Marguerite’s large brown eyes, trying to guess what she was going to tell her.

“An equerry who was carrying letters to Louis from Paris says that Orlando returned to his house in the faubourgs badly wounded, deathly ill. Hurt as he was, the equerry said, he had ridden all alone the whole way from the Pyrenees to Paris.”

Nicolette felt dizzy.

The man she loved — yes, loved — deathly ill. Would he die? Would she never see him again? It was unbearable.

“What happened to him? How was he wounded? Tell me quickly.”

“He had been with the army besieging Mont Segur under your husband’s command.” Marguerite put her hand over Nicolette’s.

Her troubadour, ravaging Languedoc? Nicolette felt as if she had been stabbed.

“I do not know what he was doing there, but it was Amalric who wounded him, Nicolette. They fought with daggers, in front of the whole army.”

The room seemed to spin around.

Amalric and Orlando fighting? Was Orlando fighting against the crusaders? Or was it because of me? Is this why I have heard nothing from him? She pressed a hand to her throbbing forehead.

And Amalric. He had said nothing at Chateau Gobignon about this, nothing at all.

“But why were they fighting?” she asked in a trembling voice.

“It was over an order the troubadour did not wish to obey, something of that sort. Perhaps that was only an excuse. Perhaps they really fought because your husband knows of the troubadour’s attentions to you.”

An order? Of Amalric’s? Then Orlando had joined the crusader army. Oh, how could he!

“How badly” Nicolette whispered, “did Amalric hurt him?”

“He stabbed him in the arm, I am told. But your troubadour gave a good account of himself. He had Amalric down and had a knife to his throat. He could have killed him, but he had the sense to hold his hand.”

Nicolette shut her eyes, as blackness seemed to fall around her like a curtain. She felt as if she were an earthenware figure someone had smashed to bits with a hammer. Surely Orlando was now lost to her. Amalric, until he was avenged, would never rest. And how could she and Orlando ever meet, now that Amalric would be watching him, hating him? If the troubadour had escaped death at Mont Segur, it was only death briefly deferred.

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