All Things Are Lights – Day 39 of 200

“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.

But is it possible that I want to leave Roland, not because I fear for my soul, but because the struggle to keep from sinning is so hard? If I cannot bear pain, what right have I to call myself perfecta?

Her sigh was longer than his. “I will remain,” she said. Weariness engulfed her, so overpowering that she felt an urge to sink down to the cold stones and never move again.

“Good,” her superior said softly. “And please consider, should you fall, what I have said about forgiveness.”

“It would be there for you, perhaps, because you believe so. But not for me.”

“God may surprise you.”

She turned to go. She could barely put one foot in front of the other. She faced either Hell in the next world or Hell in this.

“I will be following you at a distance as far as the wall at least,” he said. “The worst scum of Paris haunt the streets around here.”

She walked quickly with head lowered through the district of brothels that nestled hard by the cathedral. Fear of the streets gave her the strength to hurry toward the Grand-Pont, connecting the Ile de la Cite with the Right Bank. She sensed the figure of her superior moving through the shadows somewhere behind her.

She had started across the bridge, walking down its center to avoid the dark places under the houses built along its length, when she heard a sudden exchange of angry voices. Fear clutched at her, and she started to run. But the voices sounded familiar. One was her superior, and she thought she recognized the other as well. She hesitated, then turned back.

At the end of the bridge, the two men were standing. Perrin’s blond hair glowed in the moonlight. Her heart thudded in terror. He had his dagger out.

“Perrin, in God’s name, what are you doing?”

“This man was following you, Madame.”

“I know,” she said.

Her superior cut in. “You know this man, Diane?”

She turned to the hooded man and froze. She could not believe her eyes. His hand was on the hilt of a sword protruding through a slit in his robe. The sight made her heart turn over.

“He is Roland de Vency’s jongleur, Perrin,” she said. “How do you come to be here, Perrin?”

“I have been following you, Madame, for your safety. I saw this man trailing you and stopped him.”

“And at the same moment I accosted him,” said the hooded man, a chuckle in his voice. “I had better be going, Diane. You appear to be in safe hands. Two hands too many, perhaps.”

“Just a moment, Messire,” said Perrin angrily.

“I assure you, you do not want to know any more about me, my friend,” the hooded man said.

Diane heard kindness, but just the hint of a threat, in his tone. “Say nothing more, Perrin,” she asked him. “Please.”

Like a magician, her superior vanished.

Who and what is he really? she wondered. I am so alone. The only one who knows all about me is a man about whom I know nothing.

God knows me, she reminded herself. And I know God.

As long as I can keep myself from sin.

“Perrin, you know this is dangerous for Sire Roland and for you,” she said, angry at him in spite of the length he had gone to protect her. “If the friars’ men-at-arms were to arrest me on the street, would you threaten them with your dagger as you threatened that man?”

“I would have to,” he said. “I could never face my master if I let them take you.”

Dear God, this is a good soul, she thought.

“If they overcame you, Perrin, and found out you were Roland de Vency’s man, then you and Roland would both have to face the Inquisition.” Her vexation, though, was in her voice and not in her heart. She liked this young man, so honest and forthright. And enough courage for a dozen men.

“You are not afraid of the Inquisition,” he said. The tone was almost accusing.

“Yes, I am terribly afraid of it,” she said. “But I believe that I have to do what I am doing.”

“Your beliefs have made my master a very unhappy man, Madame.”

Her heart felt heavy as a stone. “Not meaning to, he has made me a very unhappy woman.”

They walked along in silence for a time. Suddenly he said, “Not just my master. All of Languedoc laid waste. Thousands of people dead. Is it really worth so much agony?”

“Surely,” she said without hesitation.

“How can you be so certain of your beliefs that you will let yourselves be slaughtered by the hundreds and thousands?”

She thought of what her superior had said about dying rather than believe what Rome commanded.

“We are not always so sure of what we believe,” she said. “But we know there are certain things we cannot believe.”

“Such as what, Madame?”

Diane sensed that he was truly inquiring. She thought, this is how it must have begun for each person who was once Catholic and became Cathar. With questions. If the questions were answered well enough, the questioners became believers.

“We have a long walk ahead of us, Master Perrin. If you are really interested, I can try to tell you where we differ with the Catholics.”

“I am not interested in heretical preaching, but I would like to understand you better, Madame,” he said.

The eagerness to win a soul for God grew in her. If this man’s curiosity becomes something deeper, I will have to be an example for him and never give in to my feelings for Roland. Perhaps he has been sent to help me.

“The first thing you should understand,” she said, “is that we do not consider ourselves heretics. We are the true Christians.”

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