All Things Are Lights – Day 27 of 200

“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?”

“Mother, the Egyptian general, Baibars the Panther, captured Jerusalem only last June. Do you think God intends him to hold it forever? If we were to give up trying to deliver Jerusalem, that would cause more Christians to doubt their faith than were ever converted by the Cathars.”

Blanche turned and walked away, shaking her head.

The atmosphere in the room had changed, Nicolette saw. It was no longer a death watch. The King was sitting up, talking excitedly. It really did seem as if his decision to crusade had made him better.

Nicolette’s heart felt another cold touch of fear. If the men go to war in the East, what will become of me? Will Amalric go, and will I have to? She remembered hearing that the kings of France and the great barons had usually taken their wives. How could she survive those burning wastes filled with savage Muslims?

But then a deeper pain seemed to blot out this new fear. She had lost Orlando, her one hope of happiness. So what matter if she were to die in the East?

Marguerite broke into the circle around the bed and held Louis’s hand tightly in both of hers.

“Louis, Louis, if you had died it would have killed me, too. I thank God for your life, whatever His reason for giving you back to me. If your promise to take the cross saved you, it saved me as well. But, mark you well, I may still forbid you to go on crusade.” She said this with a smile, and the King smiled fondly back at her. Nicolette saw the love between them and felt envious.

Now she could see the pink coming back into his cheeks. How powerful Love is, Nicolette thought.

“You would forbid the King?” Louis said.

“Yes, sire. Unless you promise to take me to Outremer with you.”

For answer Louis reached out to her and drew her against his chest.

The White Queen turned purple as a turnip. “This is madness,” Blanche fumed. “I would rather see you dead right now, my son, than to destroy yourself and the kingdom in Outremer.”

What really incensed her, Nicolette knew, was the sight of Louis embracing Marguerite.

Blanche marched out of the room, eyes blazing. The lords, ladies, and prelates shrank back from her. Then they all turned to the King to see how he would deal with his mother’s fury. Louis only shook his head ruefully, called for the chest of maps that always traveled with him, and began to make plans with his brothers.

Nicolette, seeing that she was no longer needed, went back to the small room she shared with Agnes on a lower floor of the chateau.

Agnes was waiting for her, a peculiar smile on her face.

“Agnes, the king has declared that he is going on a crusade.”

“I know, Madame. The servants are all abuzz about it. But everyone says it will take years before the King and his army will be ready to leave, and between now and then much could happen to change his mind. Right now I have something to show you.” She held out her hand. Nicolette saw in it a roll of parchment tied with a black ribbon.

Her heart leaped for joy.

He had written. He was well enough to write.

Love was alive.

Feeling almost too weak to hold the scroll, she reached out for it and said in a small voice, “Please…”

Agnes understood and left her alone.

Nicolette sat on the edge of her bed and began to read.

Again the words were in the Langue d’Oc. They began:

Parted from you, I wither in my need;
A flower too long hidden from the light.
On your clear heavenly brightness must I feed.

The King’s recovery — could that be a sign? Nicolette wondered when she finished the last verse. I thought he was going to die, and he did not. I thought Love, too, was dead, but perhaps it is not. His love for me must be alive, or he would not have written so to me.

She checked herself. No, I cannot trust in him. He is a fool who will not live long. I am sure to lose him, and the suffering will be more than I can bear. I am no silly maiden. I have three children. I am a countess. I have paid dearly for the title. My husband is one of the greatest landholders in the kingdom. Am I to risk all that?

Within her a voice whispered, yes.

She looked down at the poem unrolled in her lap, and she hungered to hold in her arms the man who had written it. Without him, nothing is important to me.

If I die — if Amalric kills me because I bind myself to Orlando — will that be worse than having to live without him? What Mother told me long ago is true: life without Love is a living death. I need him as I need air to breathe.

And I have not the power to command Love to go away. It possesses me, and I am far too weak to disobey.

She was breathing hard, her chest rising and falling with excitement. She was suddenly acutely aware of her breasts moving against the silk of her shift.

She stood up, rolled the poem tightly, and slipped it into a secret pocket in the crimson samite belt that hung low about her hips.

I will not make the same mistake twice, she thought. This time I will meet him.

Her heart was fluttering.

With Louis better, the royal party would be returning to Paris. Then she would send him a message.

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