All Things Are Lights – Day 38 of 200

That day she had given a note to the believer who carried her secret messages. She had to see her superior, in person, soon. The following day the go-between brought back instructions. He told her to wait just outside Notre-Dame’s south portal. She thought the cathedral the strangest of places for two Cathars to meet, but probably that was why he had chosen it.

She was distracted from her thoughts by the sight of two men wearing heavy fur-lined cloaks of deep blue embroidered with gold fleurs-de-lis marching slowly past the cathedral. A torch-bearer walked before them, and the tall halberds they carried glinted dangerously in the light of the flame. Sergeants-at-arms of the royal watch. Such men might come one day and conduct her to the stake. She drew deeper into the shadows of two tall stones just outside the temporary door of the cathedral. Accidentally, she pressed her bare hand against one of the stones, and the cold of it burned her palm.

“All things that are, are lights,” said a low voice at her side. Her heart stopped beating, he had surprised her so.

“There is one Light, and it shines in each man and each woman,” she responded automatically.

She turned to look at her superior. Even though her eyes were well adjusted to the darkness, all she could see was a shadow darker than the shadows of the rough-cut stones around them. A frosty puff of his breath glowed faintly in the starlight.

“We are relatively safe here, Diane,” he said. As he always did, he spoke to her in a whisper. “The stonemasons’ guild is friendly to us. Still, it is dangerous for us to meet at all. Not just dangerous for you and me, but for our work. Why did you send for me?”

She trembled with the cold, but also with the same fright as when she had first given a sermon to a group of strangers. Could she make him listen? It was so important, and yet how could she convince a man she did not know, could not even see? She marshaled her thoughts as she would to begin a sermon, and took a deep breath.

“You have said that I should stay at the house of Roland de Vency because I am safest there. Now I discover that I am in greater danger there than anywhere else in the world.”

“What do you mean, child?”

She told him about Roland’s turning to Nicolette de Gobignon and about herself.

“Diane, you know you must resist your love for him. What is changed?”

“I did not realize how much it would hurt me when he turned to another woman. I love him so much, I do not think I can hold out. He has renounced me, but I think he would come back to me if I gave him some hope. And now I want him back. You must let me leave, or I will damn myself forever.”

A mad thought took possession of her. If he does not help me, I will drown myself in the Seine. But she looked down the riverbank and saw the moonlight gleaming on thick ice. What foolishness! And it would be as great a sin as throwing myself into Roland’s arms.

“So he is pursuing the Countess de Gobignon!” said the hooded figure beside her. “This Roland de Vency aims high. First he humiliates Amalric, and now he courts Amalric’s wife. Diane, the Gobignons are our worst enemies. If you remain close to de Vency, you may be able to give us valuable information about them.”

Sudden anger at this faceless man surged up in her. She was begging him for help, and he was thinking about how he could use her.

“You would have me damn my soul for some information?”

“Diane, I understand how afraid you are for your soul. You would not have risked meeting me if it were not over something you fear more than death. But think, child. How many perfecti are left in Paris? I will not burden you with the exact number, but it is less than ten. And if told you how few in all of France, you might despair. Our enemies are relentless. They have been hunting us down for forty years, and they mean not to leave one of us alive.”

The great bells of Notre-Dame tolled for the midnight nocturne. She looked up at the great cathedral, already almost a hundred years in the building. She thought of the three who had been tied to stakes here only a week before, dying in flaming agony before a gleeful mob. She remembered Mont Segur. Our last stronghold gone, and everywhere in Europe edifices like this are rising. Before coming to Paris she had never seen a church as immense, with such vast, jewel-like windows. If she were a Catholic, she was sure, she would think it beautiful. But the power that could create such buildings terrified her. How could a handful of people like herself stand against such might?

When the tolling stopped she said, “But why must I stay with Roland?”

“Your identity as the sister of a foreign knight whose family is unknown cannot easily be challenged. There is no other house in Paris where you would be as free from suspicion. Roland de Vency is the best protector you could have. And we want to keep a watch on him. His father has the ear of Emperor Frederic, and now there is the Countess de Gobignon. You may be able to do much for us if you stay.”

“If I fall into sin, will that not hurt the church?”

He moved closer to her, so close that she could see, under his hood, a white cloth drawn up to mask his nose and mouth. He kept his hands at his sides, and she sensed that he was being careful not to touch her, but she also sensed the trembling intensity in him.

“Diane, I believe there is forgiveness.”

Diane shrank back from him. His words shocked her.

“How can you tell me the opposite of what I have been taught ever since I was a child?”

“Diane, you know that people may believe and teach differently and still belong to our church.”

“Our church? But I have never heard any teaching like this.”

“By our church I mean the larger, invisible association of which the Cathars are but part. There are levels of initiation, Diane, with different teachings at different levels. Child, the only sheep left alive, are those who have adopted the clothing of wolves. Those of us who cannot live openly as perfecti must adopt many strange guises. If I told you what my place is in the world, you would not even believe me. To deceive our enemies we must appear quite contrary to what we really are. These pretenses may even require us to sin. The things I do in my public calling are sins.”

“But you have taken the consolamentum,” she protested. “Once you have had the Sacrament, there is no forgiveness for any sin you commit. Thousands of us have died because we believe that.”

“Thousands of us have died,” his voice was earnest, “not for any one belief, but because we would not believe as Rome commanded.”

“But I cannot believe that there would be forgiveness for me if I accept Roland’s love.”

He sighed. “Ah, well, the voice you hear in your heart is the voice of God, even if He speaks differently to you than to me.”

He turned away and stared out at the ice-bound river. “The many worlds of God are stranger than we can possibly think.”

She perceived the weight of the huge stone building behind her as if it were about to fall on her. The thought of the struggle with herself that lay ahead felt even more crushing. I cannot do it! she wanted to scream.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)