All Things Are Lights – Day 26 of 200

Nicolette wondered, had the fever made him mad?

“Louis, please,” his mother begged.

“Let him speak!” Marguerite cried.

The clash of the two women closest to him seemed to draw the King down from his feverish exaltation, and he spoke more calmly. “I am going to take the crusader’s cross, Mother. As I lay almost dead just now, I promised God that if He would let me live I would lead a crusade to liberate Jerusalem.”

Nicolette heard the whispers start up again throughout the room. He is better, they were saying. He promised God he would go on crusade, and now he is sitting up and talking. She heard the word “miracle” uttered by more than one person.

No, someone else said gloomily, fever victims are often lucid before the end.

But this was not the end.

Sitting by the King, Nicolette could see with amazement and joy that those who spoke of a miracle were closer to the truth. His color was coming back; his eyes were sparkling. He was not on the brink of death but was moving farther away from it with every passing moment. And the change was so sudden! The moment he started speaking of Jerusalem the healing had begun.

Jerusalem. Despite the heat of the room Nicolette felt as if a blast of icy wind had blown through it. She shuddered. When had there last been a crusade, a real crusade, not like this Albigensian Crusade, this war of Christian against Christian in Languedoc? Not in her lifetime, thank God, had men taken the cross and marched off to Outremer — the land beyond the sea. She had heard tales from some of the old veterans — of great armies going out and only a handful of men returning. Of plagues, famines, droughts. Of the fury of the Saracen Turks, slaughtering knights by the thousands. Crusading to Outremer, her father had often said, was one madness, at least, that had gone out of fashion. “And thank God for that!” Guilhem de Lumel had always added.

Yet he had once said about the invaders of Languedoc, “those so-called crusaders” against whom he had fought all his life, “I just hope that before I am through they will wish they had gone to war against the Turks instead of their own countrymen.” A few weeks later he had fallen in battle, against “so-called crusaders”.

Within only a month after they brought back her father’s body, slung over his war-horse, Amalric strode into her life. He was everything she expected a crusader to be — overbearing, bigoted, in love with the spilling of blood. To save her family’s property from being seized by the Church she had married him, but she had felt herself no more than a prisoner of war. Little wonder that the very word crusade filled her with loathing.

And now the King? God forbid!

Blanche shook her head, looking to her other sons for support. “It is the fever that speaks.”

Marguerite, too, looked shocked. “A crusade. Oh, no, Louis. You must not say such a thing.”

The King now spoke with solemnity and without a trace of feverishness. “Look at me, Mother. Can you not see I am better? God has spared me. He wants me to rescue Jerusalem for Him.”

“It is true!” cried the King’s brother Robert, drawing a black look from Blanche. “The fever is broken.”

“Praise be to God!” cried the Archbishop of Sens, raising his beringed hands prayerfully. At this, a murmur of wonder and joy rippled around the room. Some even fell upon their knees.

Despite her sadness and fear, Nicolette, too, felt relief burst forth in her like a mountain spring. It does almost seem like a miracle, she thought. He will not die, and the kingdom will be preserved.

Blanche peered more closely at her son. Her eyes widened, and Nicolette saw joy fleetingly appear in her pale face. She clasped her hands together convulsively.

“Thank God!” she whispered. “Oh Louis…” She reached out toward him, but before she could embrace him, she drew back. She would not, Nicolette realized, show her love for her son in front of all these people.

When she spoke again her voice was firm, decisive. “You are right, Louis. God has spared your life. But you can serve Him best by fighting the heretics here at home.”

Has there not already been enough killing in Languedoc? Nicolette thought angrily.

“Catharism is finished, Mother,” Louis said. “Its last leaders died at Mont Segur. I want to bring peace to Languedoc.”

“Amen to that,” said Marguerite with deep feeling.

Nicolette felt such warmth toward Marguerite that tears rushed to her eyes. We are children of Languedoc, she thought, more like sisters than friends.

“What we need is a purpose that will draw all Frenchmen together, north and south,” Louis said. “Let our young men stop fighting one another and fight to free Jerusalem.”

To die in Outremer instead of in their homeland, Nicolette thought, is that so much better?

Blanche sighed. “If God wanted us to have Jerusalem, He would not have let the Saracens capture it. What has Christendom gained from all the blood and treasure that has already been spent trying to hold Jerusalem?”

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