All Things Are Lights – Day 3 of 200

He stood very still, towering over the women, staring down at them. They looked aged, probably far beyond their years. Their eyes glittered with hate.

The crossbow woman spoke. “If you are a friend, why are you not out there fighting beside our men? Why are you wearing the sign of a crusader?” She hissed the last word.

“There is someone here whom I have come to rescue.”

“Rescue? Nonsense,” another said contemptuously. “We are going to die very soon now. Any among us who hoped for escape gave it up months ago. Death is our escape — from the power of the Evil One.”

“Still, I want to try.” Inwardly he reproached himself. He’d imagined they would welcome him like a hero. He should have anticipated how they would feel.

“Liar!” the second woman spat. “Spy!” Her spear point was almost at his right eye. He had to call on all his strength of will to keep from flinching back. Were all his pains to reach Diane going to end, absurdly, here?

“How can we know that you are telling the truth?” said the woman with the crossbow.

“Look within yourself,” Roland said, keeping his voice calm, though inside he was in turmoil. “All things that are, are lights. The light shines in each man and each woman.”

He noticed the spear points wavering a little, and a deep gratitude flowed from him to Diane. She had long ago taught him those sayings.

“Satan himself can quote the inspired word,” the first woman said. “What do you know of the true meaning of what you are saying?”

Roland shrugged. “I know it expresses one of the deepest teachings of your faith.”

“Is it not also your faith, then?” asked the woman. “Are you not one of us??

“If I were a liar and a spy as you think, I would claim to be one of you. But since I am an honest man and a friend, I tell you I was raised as a Catholic. I am Roland de Vency, born here in Languedoc. You may have heard of my father, Arnaut de Vency.”

“De Vency? The Sire Arnaut? I remember him. A Catholic, but as fierce a fighter against the crusaders as any of our own men.” The woman lowered her crossbow.

Roland expelled a long, relieved breath. “My father loved Languedoc,” he said. “So do I. The crusaders are our enemies, too. And I am here because I love a woman here.”

“Let us take him to the perfecti, Corba,” said the second woman. “They shall decide. But, Sire de Vency, if you make a single move that puts us in doubt of you, we will run you through.”

They walked through an alley between darkened wooden buildings. The suffocating odor and an eerie silence told Roland that behind the shut doorways people were listening, waiting.

He saw no guard at the entrance to the stone keep. Doubtless every able man had joined the attack on the crusaders. Roland’s escorts leaned their weapons beside a tall double door and pulled it open. As he stepped within, he blinked. Only a few candles lit the room, but his eyes had gotten used to the night’s darkness.

The keep of Mont Segur, he knew, was a most sacred place of the Cathar church. Yet, as Roland looked around the large room, he could see no adornments anywhere, save for white candles in black wrought-iron candelabra. As a place of religion it seemed strangely bare. He was used to churches resplendent with brightly painted statues. Yet the plainness spoke of humility and peace.

The room was crowded with men and women, intermingled, standing with heads bowed. Some prayed aloud, some silently. All were bareheaded and wore black robes. Roland was awestruck. He had seen Cathar perfecti many times before, but never so many in one place. His parents, though they were Catholics, had taught him to admire the holy ones of the other religion as saints, almost angels, because of their heroic virtue and simplicity of life. The spectacle of so many of these good men and women gathered together was overwhelming.

Even though the room was full of people, the smell of unbathed bodies was fainter here. Roland did not doubt that the perfecti shared the hardships of all within this fortress, but their austerity seemed to have purified their flesh.

Roland saw beyond them, at the far end, an ancient, white-haired man who sat in a plain wooden chair on a stone dais. Roland knew he must be their spiritual leader, Bishop Bertran d’en Marti, sometimes called the Pope of the Cathar church.

Diane would not be here, Roland thought. She probably would be out there in the wooden building with the credentes, those men and women who had not taken holy vows and who were seeing to the defense of the stronghold. The perfecti, Roland knew, never bore arms.

A young man came over, his black robe swirling around a body that seemed no thicker than a lance pole. The woman called Corba told him about Roland’s climbing over the wall. The perfectus stared at the cross on Roland’s chest.

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.)