All Things Are Lights – Day 29 of 200

How she hated this cold, muddy city!

Resolutely, she turned back the way she had just come.

She would look for the Rue Saint-Jacques. She thought she would recognize it, because it was broader than the other streets and was paved here and there with old stones. The Rue Saint-Jacques, she knew, led right to the bridge.

Her feet began to hurt now as she hurried, uncertain as she turned corners. Then she looked down and saw a great worn slab. Never had a simple piece of stone given her such relief.

Now, which way is the bridge?

She stepped out into the middle of the street and looked both ways. Above a rooftop, she caught a glimpse, thank God, of the gold-painted spire of Notre-Dame, glittering faintly in the last rays of sunset. Oh, thank you, holy Mary. She headed toward the Petit-Pont.

Then she heard something. A fine tenor, it cut through the babble in the street and held her motionless.

“God save Lady Eleanor
Queen who art the arbiter
Of honor, wit, and beauty,
Of largesse and loyalty.
Born wert thou in happy hour
And wed to Henry King.”

A tingling sensation ran from her scalp down her spine, and she felt herself reaching deep for breath. The voice was not one she recognized, but its sweetness and the beauty of the melody, so well wedded with the words, touched her deep inside. It was a song about Eleanor of Aquitaine, her ideal ever since she first heard tales of the great queen at her mother’s knee. It was Eleanor, a woman of Languedoc, who had brought l’amour courtois, the cult of Love, into the palaces of kings and inspired generations of troubadours.

She stood enchanted, oblivious now of menacing passersby. The verses following one after another transported her to another world, a world in which beauty ruled and terror was banished. In this world men loved women and served them loyally. If they did bloody deeds, it was only out of devotion to their ladies.

When the song came to an end, Nicolette felt stronger, and more at peace. Her fears still lurked in the back of her mind, but they no longer possessed her.

She saw that she was standing before a tavern whose sign bore the device of two crossed gold swords on a red background. The Two Swords, Nicolette remembered, was a sign Orlando had mentioned.

Still under the spell, hearing the song again in her mind, Nicolette asked herself, Would Eleanor have run away from such a rendezvous like a frightened milkmaid? Would she, who had been married first to the King of France, then to the King of England — and had dared to stand up to both of them — let a husband’s anger stop her from meeting her lover?

Nicolette felt new strength surging through her.

Orlando’s directions now came back to her. From the Two Swords, left at the first corner. After a doorway decorated with a figure of Saint Julian the Hospitaler in his boat, left again and you will be on the Street of Straw. Intently, shutting out all her fears, she set herself in motion. In minutes she spied Saint Julian.

A hooded figure blocked her path.

She cried out.

A powerful hand seized her arm.

Her fingers darted to the little knife at her belt.

“Hush, Madame. You are safe. It is only me.”

The voice! It was his! At the sound of it, her heart leaped up for joy.

A sudden blaze of torchlight threw their shadows against the white wall beside them, and a wealthy student strutted past, with a linkboy to light his way and another servant to carry his huge, leather-bound books.

The reddish glow enabled Nicolette to see the face deep in the shadow of the hood. Piercing eyes, an arching nose that gave him the look of a bird of prey.

“Sire Orlando.”

“I have been following you ever since you crossed the bridge. Now we are this close to our destination, I thought it time to make myself known.” He spoke low, in a voice like velvet. It recalled his songs to her.

She shivered, and realized that he was still holding her arm, that this was the first time he had ever touched her.

“You were about to turn back, were you not?”

“Yes.” She answered automatically, and then thought, All that time I was stumbling around lost, he was watching me. Why did he not help me? Again she felt anger well up within her.

“And if I had elected to leave this charming quarter?” she challenged him. “Would you have tried to stop me?”

He did not answer, but looked deep into her eyes as he held out his arm.

She took it and they started walking together down the Street of Straw. Suddenly dizzy with excitement at being with him at last, she leaned heavily on his arm. The strength she felt in him enthralled her.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)