All Things Are Lights – Day 35 of 200

“What the devil is it, Perrin?”

“Madame claims,” Perrin said almost inaudibly, “that she has your permission to preach to secret Cathar meetings right here in Paris.”

Fear constricted Roland’s chest. He could still see the flames at Mont Segur.

True, Diane had warned him that if she took refuge with him in Paris she was going to continue her work among the Cathar faithful. And he worried each time she had quietly slipped out after sunset.

Diane’s eyes held his. He stood immobile, feeling as if nails were being driven into his temples.

“Diane, the friars are not going to stop just because Mont Segur is gone. Now they are more active in Paris. Only last week they burned a woman and two men in front of Notre-Dame. Some day you will get a message that someone needs the consolamentum and you will go, and instead of a dying person there will be a Dominican.”

“Yes, I knew the people they burned,” said Diane, bowing her head in sorrow.

Then she looked up, and he saw defiance in her clear green eyes. “But that is exactly why I must redouble my efforts. They are determined to stamp out our religion, but we are not going to let them.”

She turned to Perrin, smiling gently. “Still, Master Perrin is in the right. I have been endangering you two and those innocent servants. I should leave here. I should have left long ago.”

No! Roland’s heart cried out.

Perrin looked as if Diane’s suggestion pained him also. “No, Madame. Please do not talk of going. That is not at all why I waited up to speak to you tonight. It is as the master said — if you keep on going to meet your Cathar people, the Dominicans will catch you. I could not bear to see that happen.”

“Would you not risk everything for your Catholic faith, Perrin?” she asked.

The jongleur cast his eyes down. “I do not have that much faith, Madame.”

She is finer, more spiritual, than anyone else I have known, Roland thought. And with all that, so beautiful.

He felt the pounding in his temples again, the nails being hammered in deeper.

“Diane, walk with me in the garden.”

He saw apprehension in her look. She had still not gotten over her fear of him.

Inclining her head, she preceded him through the door leading to the kitchen.

“It is the middle of the night — you should all be in bed,” Roland growled at the little family in the kitchen. He did not wait for an answer, but followed Diane into the garden. He drew his squirrel-lined cloak tighter around him against the frigid air.

“The only house that has any privacy is one where a man lives alone,” he said. “In spite of Perrin’s caution, I think the servants must know all about you.”

“They seem like good people,” she said. “Not the sort who would inform. But if they do know what I am, it must frighten them terribly that I am here.”

Yes, Roland thought, and if anything happens to them, that, too, will be my fault.

It was too cold to sit on the stone benches. So they stood facing each other beside an old apple tree with gnarled black branches.

“I suppose you think your nightly wanderings are none of my business.”

“No,” she said. “Because if you are caught harboring me, you would probably spend the rest of your life in a dungeon. That is the penalty these days for protecting heretics. Do you not fear that?”

He tried to picture himself in a tiny stone cell, no light, unable to move, no one to talk to, buried there for months, years, till he died. I would go mad, he thought. I would much rather be hanged outright. Or even burned.

But all he said was, “A knight must know how to live with risks.”

“Send me away, Roland. Tell me to go. For the sake of everyone here. Please.”

“Do you want so much to be away from me? Why not just leave? I cannot stop you.”

“I have been ordered to stay here.”

Her answer hurt him. He had not known that.

He turned and studied her face, like marble in the moonlight.

Would she stay if she knew I am paying court to another woman?

“I want you to know where I was tonight, Diane,” he said through clenched teeth. “I met in secret with Nicolette de Gobignon.”

She gave him a quick, frightened stare, like a startled deer. “The Countess de Gobignon? The wife of Count Amalric, who almost killed you at Mont Segur?”

Roland laughed sourly. “Come, Diane. Give me some credit for my accomplishments. I could have killed him if I had chosen to.”

“Roland,” she said softly, “everything you have done is for love of me, I understand that. You risked your life to rescue me. And risking it again with de Gobignon to spare my people some pain, that too was probably partly for my sake. Now you shelter me in your house because you do not want to part from me. But, Roland, you, in chains for life? I do not want to be the cause of that.”

“I did not go to the Countess de Gobignon this night for your sake,” he said angrily.

“Are you so sure of that?”

The question gave Roland pause and somehow drained the anger from him.

“Do you think my evening with Nicolette de Gobignon is a way of wooing you?” he asked her.

“I hope not, Roland.” He could see tears sparkling in her eyes. “You have got to find someone you can fully and honestly love.”

“I see,” he said, an edge in his voice. “I may court Nicolette with your blessing, then?”

“You are a troubadour,” she said. “You must find an approachable lady to give your heart to. I know what l’amour courtois means.” There was a fondness in her voice. “You did your best to teach me. But why Nicolette de Gobignon, Roland? Surely the count already hates you. Pursuing his wife could mean your death.” She drew in a sudden, frightened breath. “That cannot be your reason for choosing her, can it, Roland? Have I disappointed you that much? Are you courting the countess, or death?”

Yes, you have disappointed me that much! he wanted to shout.

“If I were looking for my death, why would that horrify you? How do you think I feel when you go out on one of your missions and I wonder whether you will come back?”

“Ah, dear Roland, can you not see the difference? I believe with all my heart that if I die — if the Inquisition catches me and burns me — I will be happier, go to a better world. I will be united with God. But you do not believe that. For you, death is the worst thing that can happen to you. So, please, you must not go looking for death. You must not, must not, let my vows be the reason for your giving up life. I could not bear that.”

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