All Things Are Lights – Day 36 of 200

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.”

“Diane, I believe that I love Nicolette de Gobignon. And I believe that Love is the only thing worth living for. To love her might mean my death. But if I die for Love, it will be a sweeter death than most men meet.”

A cold wind rattled the black, leafless branches, and she huddled in her cloak.

When she spoke again there was a quiver in her voice. “How can you say you love Nicolette de Gobignon? You have told me that you love me. Have you turned to her because I will not — cannot — have you?”

Roland turned away and began slowly pacing the garden as he thought back to that day at Chinon when he had first seen Nicolette.

Even as he bent the knee to the royal couple he had felt his eyes drawn to the dark young woman beside the Queen, the woman wearing the silver coronet of a countess. She seemed to glow with a radiance that cast everyone else into shadow.

He sang his song for the King and Queen, but in his heart he sang it to the dark lady whose name he did not know. And his heart swelled when he saw that her gaze returned to him as often as his did to her.

Diane, as far as he knew that day, was dead. He had sought her everywhere in Languedoc and had failed to find her. Her entire family had vanished. Many of the people he questioned declared that she had died. He had seen no proof, but thousands of deaths had gone unrecorded in that war-ravaged land. Grief-stricken, he had rested for a time at Avignon. Then he had made his way back to Paris, where he plunged into study, writing music, singing and seeking a patron. The sharp edge of mourning gradually was worn down, and his heart began to be free again — although there was an empty space in it where Diane belonged.

Now, for the first time since he had accepted that loss, he felt himself drawn to a woman. Powerfully drawn.

Later that day at Chinon, when he returned to the crowd of courtiers, he pointed out the dark young woman with the coronet to a pleasant-spoken young knight named Jean de Joinville, a member of the King’s entourage.

“Ah, that one. She is very pretty, but you had better forget her, my friend.”

“I shall listen more patiently to your advice when I have heard her name, Sire de Joinville.”

“You are an Italian knight, Sire Orlando? Tell me, then, is the name de Gobignon much mentioned in Italy?”

De Gobignon. The name he had learned to hate above all others. Stunned, Roland had turned to stare at the woman who so fascinated him. She was strolling arm in arm not far away with the Queen. There was a vigor in her stride that delighted him. Even as he looked at her their eyes met, and there was a bold twinkle in hers. He looked away.

She could not be a daughter. As far as he knew the Gobignons were all tall, blond, and blue-eyed. Perhaps she was only distantly related. He prayed it might be so.

“Then is the lady a Gobignon?” he asked de Joinville.

“By marriage. Perhaps you know that Count Amalric owns more land, fields a larger army, and has killed more men than any other baron of France. You would be wise to pay no attention at all to Countess Nicolette, Messire.”

Defiance surged up in Roland. But no fear.

Nicolette. Nicolette de Gobignon. All day she had fascinated him. As Amalric’s wife, her fascination became irresistible. He felt challenged, as if a gauntlet had been thrown down before him.

He stared across the grassy field crowded with gaily dressed courtiers. The setting sun threw the long shadows of the chateau’s towers across the meadow, and the Countess de Gobignon and the Queen walked from light into darkness.

Now, over a year later, standing in his garden, he said to Diane, “I was drawn to Nicolette de Gobignon at a time when I thought I would never see you again. I left her to go to your rescue. But when you rejected my love, I found myself thinking of her again.”

Since then I have talked to her, seen her courage and her wit, held her in my arms, kissed her, he thought. My love for her could never have taken root if you had occupied the central place in my heart, Diane. But now my love for her has grown strong, and even you cannot drive it out.

“What about her husband?” Diane asked. “Are you attracted to her because you want to injure the count.”

What is between de Gobignon and me is complicated, Roland thought. The thought of her in his arms is unbearable, makes me want to kill him. But I do love her for her sake.

“I felt love stirring in me before I even knew her name. She is all life and high spirit, Diane. When I was with her tonight the whole world seemed brighter and happier. No, I would not make love to her to spite her husband. But I will make love to her in spite of him.”

“Then your love for me — you have renounced it? I know you have too much honor to pursue two women at once.”

Roland stared at her, and his temples were pounding again. He still — even now — yearned to take Diane in his arms.

He held his body rigid as he forced himself to speak. “Yes, Diane. From now on Nicolette de Gobignon is the lady who rules all my thoughts. What I feel for you now is what I feel for my sister.”

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