All Things Are Lights – Day 31 of 200

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.”

Orlando’s — Roland’s — father was just like mine, she thought, feeling a new warmth of kinship with the troubadour. If I had been a man, my story might be the same.

“But why did you come back to France?”

Roland shrugged and smiled sadly. “I have many ties here.” He looked up at her suddenly, his face shadowed with pain. “But now I know that it is not enough for me to be just a troubadour. After seeing all those good people die at Mont Segur, I have vowed that I will do whatever I can to work against such things.”

Her head began to ache. In answering her questions, he was only adding to them. He was at Mont Segur. And wearing the cross. But how could he, after what he just told her? Was he playing with her, enjoying her confusion?

“Well. Once again then, Messire, what were you doing at Mont Segur in the first place?” she said sharply. “If the crusaders are truly your enemies, how could you have joined them?”

He drained his cup, set it down hard, and stared at her. “Will you trust me?”

His eyes held hers, and she wanted to stroke his cheek with her fingertips.

Could she trust him?

“What do you ask of me?” she said, and was worried by the uncertainty she heard in her own voice.

“Come with me where we can talk in greater safety. I have had a room prepared for us above. Will mi dons go there with me?”

She had been expecting such an invitation. When she heard his voice speak the words, a sudden warmth flooded her loins. She was shocked by the eagerness of her body.

But suspicion darkened her mind. He has told me little, and now when I press him he refuses to allay my confusion. Could he just want to get me alone and take advantage of my weakness?

“I have already granted you more than you deserve under the laws of Love, which you yourself have invoked,” she said, trying to keep her voice steady. “It is time I left now. Will you escort me back to the bridge?”

Now she saw pain in his blue eyes.

He looked at her, speechless.

Say something that will make me stay! her heart begged him.

He bowed his head and spoke in a choked voice. “Certainly, if it is your wish to go.”

Regret washed over her like a sudden incoming tide.

No, no, I have wanted this so much, she thought. I cannot turn my back on him now and return to living the way I have been. I might never see him again.

She made no move to get up from the table.

“How can I know,” she said hesitantly, “whether you will deal honestly with me?”

He leaned toward her, and his eyes were bright and compelling in the candlelight. “Risk it. “

She regarded the grave face before her.

No, his was not the face of a liar. And he felt as she did about Mont Segur. Heretics, yes, but our people, people of Languedoc. Had not Amalric burned them? As he would burn me if he could see into my heart.

She felt strange and tremulous as Roland’s gaze held hers. Am I going to let my fear of Amalric stamp out every bit of life left in me?

His hand slid across the table till it rested on top of her own.

His audacity knew no limit!

But had she not left her hand lying there to be taken? And could he have seen anything but invitation in her eyes?

His palm felt warm and dry. Fire traveled up her arm. She could not move her hand. The thought of intimacy with him thrilled her. She felt as if she were riding a hunting horse at full gallop through an unknown forest.

Suddenly she stood up and said in a low voice, “I will go with you.” Their hands were still joined.

As they went to the flight of stairs near their table, the jongleur struck a brazen chord on his harp and sang.

“Let wine to my lips be nigh
At life’s dissolution.
That will make the angels cry
With glad elocution:
‘Grant this drunkard, God on high,
Grace and absolution.'”

Nicolette glanced back as she left the room, and saw that their departure was unnoticed. Everyone was enjoying the jongleur. Roland gestured to her and she climbed the steps ahead of him.

On the second floor, Roland pushed open a heavy door. She saw the golden glow of a small fire within. He went in ahead of her, lit a taper, and touched it to the candles of a large brass candelabrum on a table.

Her legs trembled as she crossed the threshold. Now, she thought, I will find out what he really is.

Light by light as the candles flared up, the chamber revealed itself to her. It seemed for a moment as if she had walked into a silken pavilion. No window was visible. Walls and ceiling were covered with heavy draperies embroidered in complex Saracen patterns, mazes and whorls, vines of crimson, green and gold twining together invitingly. On one side of the room a huge bed strewn with brightly colored cushions stood raised on a carpeted platform. At the sight of it her heartbeat quickened, whether with fear or desire she was not sure.

Roland went back to the door and slid a thick wooden bar through two iron brackets. “In the great days of Languedoc such meetings as this would take place in the secret chambers of fair chateaux,” he said with his wry smile. “Now we must hide in wine shops.”

He took her hand and started to lead her to the bed.

She felt herself panicking. This was happening too quickly. In Love the lady must be the dons, the master.

She pulled her hand out of his grasp.

“Wine shop or no, Messire, this room has its own considerable beauty. How much do you pay Guillaume to keep it ready for your use?” she asked lightly.

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