All Things Are Lights – Day 30 of 200

“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.

“I would have wanted to stop you,” he finally said. “I would have wanted to kneel down in the street and beg.”

His response melted the last of her anger, and she realized suddenly that he was speaking in the Langue d’Oc. How could he be from Italy?

“But I would not have done as I wanted,” he went on in a thoughtful tone. “I know what a chance you are taking. I wanted to see whether you would come to meet me all on your own, without any more persuasion, whatever the obstacles.”

She shivered at the reminder of her peril. She had been in danger before, but now that they were together she knew she had crossed the threshold. If ever they were seen together, she was doomed.

Yet she felt delight, not in spite of the danger, but because of it. The hollow sensation in her stomach, her cold palms, were not making her miserable. Quite the contrary. To choose danger, to embrace it and not just suffer it, felt thrilling. Now, she thought, I understand a little why men go to war.

They stopped, and she looked up at a handsome, three-story building, its timber exterior coated with plaster.

“The house of Guillaume the Bookseller,” said Orlando. “In the back there is wine, and good talk for those who love books.”

“I have heard of it,” said Nicolette. Guillaume’s was whispered about among the younger courtiers. A place where the most rebellious students gathered and heresies were openly discussed. Just now it seemed the perfect place for her adventurous mood. She took a deep breath, and when he opened the door for her, she went in.

She was dazzled by the light of many candles. When her eyes became accustomed to the light, she saw hundreds of volumes stacked on tables. Two brawny apprentices, she noticed, were standing guard over the expensive books. Quickly she dropped her eyes and reached up to draw her hood closer about her face.

Orlando led her to another door, and she stepped into a darker room. Here there were no windows and few candles. People sat in the shadows at small tables drinking and talking softly. Nicolette had heard that the people who frequented Guillaume’s actually dared to exchange ideas on sorcery and even to accuse the bishops and the barons of robbing the poor, talk that could land a person in the dungeons of the Inquisition.

A young man strumming an Irish harp leaned against the far wall. He had blond hair in tight curls and an impish grin, and seemed to give Orlando the faintest of nods as she and Orlando moved quickly to a table in a dark corner. Was the young man, she wondered, one of those scurrilous poet-outlaws of the Latin Quarter known as Les Chiens Enrages, the Mad Dogs?

The blond man struck a chord, and the room fell silent.

Nicolette, pleasantly tremulous, listened intently.

“Our Lord had nothing to His name.
He had to beg for shelter and for meals.
Our Pope, he tries to do the same,
And lives exclusively on what he steals.”

Nicolette found herself joining in the almost furtive laughter that rippled softly but pervasively around the room. Surely the singer was one of the Mad Dogs.

But what a joy. I have not heard that kind of song since I married Amalric, she thought. No one would dare make such sport at Chateau Gobignon — or, for that matter, at the royal palace.

This bookseller’s back room reminded her of her childhood home, of the free talk at her father’s table.

She turned and smiled at Orlando. He smiled back at her, and her skin tingled.

I must not let myself be swept away. Not yet.

“What would you say if I told you that man is my jongleur, and that is my song?” Orlando asked her.

Just then a stout, bearded man, perhaps Guillaume the Bookseller himself, brought two big earthenware cups of the local pale-gold wine of Paris. Setting the glasses down, he left without a word. Orlando’s privacy, she saw, was respected here.

Now I must question him, Nicolette thought.

Still, she hesitated. The moments since he appeared out of the shadows on the street had been so deliciously exciting. Now, if his answers proved to be unworthy, all her love and hope would turn to dust.

But she saw a warmth in his eyes that gave her the courage to begin.

“I find it strange that a man who writes songs mocking the Pope also crusades against the Cathars. Just where do you put your loyalty, Sire Orlando?”

His blue eyes burned at her. “Let me tell you at once that my name is not Orlando but Roland, Roland de Vency. Like you, I was born in Languedoc. “

She was amazed. And yet she wasn’t. Nervous laughter bubbled up in her throat. She put her hand to her heart. “Why are you telling me this?”

“To place my life in your hands, mi dons.”

Mi dons! A wave of joy overwhelmed her. By those words in the Langue d’Oc the troubadour was declaring his total submission to her.

Then a ripple of fear erased the joy. “Why do you use a false name?”

His answering smile appeared. “I am a faidit. My father, Arnaut de Vency, was like so many knights of Languedoc. He fought for his homeland against the crusaders and the inquisitors. So did I, when I got old enough. But then they were coming too close to capturing us. And every time we killed one of them, they would hang ten village boys. We could not go on. We could not stay in Languedoc. The name de Vency is on the lists of outlaws. So, were I to use my real name now, I would suffer for it — for my deeds and my father’s.”

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