All Things Are Lights – Day 33 of 200

He groaned softly.

She waited.

After a long silence he said, “I cannot tell you.”

Every muscle in her body went rigid. “You call me your dons, and yet you would keep secrets from me. You are trifling with me, Messire.” She stood up. “Let me out of here at once.”

He held up a placating hand. “Wait, please. You must try to understand.”

Rage boiled up inside her. Understand? He all but spat in her face and then asked her to understand. Did he take her for an idiot?

“I do not care to put my life in jeopardy only to hear your lies — to be told I must trust you even as you refuse to place your trust in me. “

His brows drew together and his eyes flashed blue fire.

“If I wanted to lie to you, do you not think I could invent a tale that would satisfy you better? When I say that I cannot tell you, it is the simple truth. It is not a matter of trust between us — other people’s lives hang on my silence. If you knew the full truth about Mont Segur, you would be in far more danger than now.”

“From whom?” she snapped.

“From the Inquisition,” he said through bared teeth.

The word quenched her anger with fear. All her life she had lived in dread of the white-robed friars with their pale, pinched faces, their eyes ever greedy to feast on the evil they seemed to see all about them. Their anonymous spies, their secret torture chambers, their power to order people burned alive. When she was a little girl the inquisitors had prowled through her nightmares more often than wolves or dragons.

“Now do you understand?” Roland pressed her. “I told you I have vowed to do all I can to put a stop to such horrors as the Mont Segur massacre. Do you think I wore the crusader’s cross to fight against my own people? Me, a faidit and the son of a faidit? Why do you think I go under a false name? You know enough about me now to guess at what I was doing at Mont Segur, and that must suffice. You know enough to send me to the flames. I am in your power.” His grin was humorless; only the left side of his mouth turned up.

What is he trying to tell me? she asked herself. That his crusader’s cross was a disguise, like the name Orlando of Perugia? You know enough about me to guess at what I was doing at Mont Segur. He must mean that he was on the Cathar side. Could he have been carrying a message to those in the stronghold? Or from it, to someone outside? Other lives hanging on his keeping silent — whose lives? Had someone survived the massacre?

Uncertainty — and despair whether she might ever know who Roland was — were two rough hands wringing her heart. Perhaps this, perhaps that! Anything was possible. He could make any claim he liked, and how would she know? Until, perhaps, too late. No, she had best get out of here. Now.

“From the moment I saw you at Chinon I believed in you, and you repaid my trust by vanishing without warning. For almost a year, I had not the slightest sign that you cared for me. Then to hear, not from you but from others, of these mad deeds — joining the invaders of Languedoc, dueling with my husband. And now you expect me to accept you as my lover even though you still offer me no explanation? Do you think I am such a fool as that, Sire Orlando — Roland — whatever your name is?”

His crooked smile again. “I do not think you are a fool, mi dons. I think you know I am telling the truth.” He advanced toward her a step at a time. “You will accept me as your lover because you love me.”

She stood paralyzed. His hungry stare had turned her to stone, like the gaze of that monster of the bestiary books, the basilisk.

“Stay where you are, Messire. No, open the door for me. I will not love you, because I cannot trust you. “

“Mi dons, you cannot help loving me, whatever I am. I see you, and I know you. Love is your master. As she is mine.”

Nicolette felt heat rising in her body. Her breath quickened.

“I will fight you,” she said. “If I cannot be sure of you, I will drive you away.” But she felt about to fall backward. Her calves were pressed against the soft, yielding bed.

Roland took another step toward her, smiling. “Have I asked you to explain why you are married to the enemy?”

His words struck like a blow to the pit of her stomach. She was first shocked, then furious. How cruel! How unfair! I had no choice. She sprang at him and slapped him across the face with all her strength.

She saw with satisfaction that she had staggered him. His face reddened, but his hands remained hanging at his sides.

Instantly, tears filled her eyes.

“Roland, I am sorry. Forgive me. Will you forgive me, please?” She threw herself at him again, this time wrapping her arms around him.

His answering embrace was gentle at first, then tightened about her as she held him more fiercely.

She wept into his chest. “You are right. I betrayed our people when married Amalric. I have no right to question you.”

“I know you had your reasons for marrying him,” he said softly, “and I am sure that they were good ones. Forgive me for mentioning him. As for me, it is true that I am withholding much from you. Believe in me, and some day, when it is safe, I will tell you all you want to know.”

Desire made her legs weak. She pressed her body against him. “It is just as you said,” she whispered. “I love you, whatever you are.”

To her amazement, he held back.

“You know that I want you, mi dons, but you did not mean to lie with me today. When you entered this room” — he smiled — “this Turkish paradise with me, you instructed me in the course our love must take. And I know you were right. It is too soon. I want to earn the right to hold you naked, body and soul, in my arms. When our love ripens, our passion will be all the stronger and our union all the sweeter.”

She stepped away from him, breathing as heavily as if she had climbed the spiral steps of a high castle tower.

“I am yours, now as I will be then,” she breathed.

He dropped to his knees before her and took her hand. “I am yours, mi dons. I am your true troubadour, now and forever. Command me in all things. I will live from this moment as you wish. By Love I swear it.”

Her heart turned to molten gold in her chest. Tears streamed down her cheeks.

He held his hand up to her, and she took it.

“I will always be your lady and live for you and love you through eternity. By Love I also swear it.”

Gently she raised him to his feet and held up her arms to him.

His kiss was like a hot coal on her lips.

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