All Things Are Lights – Day 45 of 200

Nicolette gave him a look that had just the right degree of disdain in it. “Have you not heard both the King and Queen approve the giving of the scarf, Messire Troubadour? Do not be tedious.”

Delighted with her performance, Roland bowed his head. She has enough presence for an empress and enough courage for an army, he thought. What a splendid woman this is!

VIII

Amalric caught his breath as he saw a woman hurry in through the open doorway. She was hooded and cloaked in dark green, but he knew her at once.

He stepped out of the shadows at the palace entry hall and faced her, fixing his eyes on hers as she gasped and turned pale.

“Monseigneur! I thought you were in Languedoc. How is it you are here?”

Her maid, Agnes, appeared then, following her, and behind the frightened-looking Agnes he saw a page carrying a small book.

It was a year since he had seen Nicolette, and he felt himself stunned by her dark, flashing eyes, her teeth so white against her olive skin when she smiled, as she did now in hesitant greeting. She was still the best-looking woman in the kingdom. He wanted to take her in his arms, but, remembering why he had come, he checked himself.

He found it hard to speak. His longing for her love fought against the suspicion that had driven him from Beziers to Paris in five days, a journey that had worn out three horses — and himself.

“Your duties here at the palace must be none too burdensome,” he said, “if they give you time to wander about in the streets.”

Accusations already, he reproached himself despite his righteous anger.

He had known when she married him that she cared nothing for him, perhaps even hated him. But how he had hoped that would change! His love for her, meeting with her coldness, made him feel as if he were bleeding slowly, steadily, somewhere inside his chest.


… A wound he had sustained on a June afternoon thirteen years ago in a miserable Languedoc village. He had been standing at the top of the church steps when a young woman in somber garb had ridden up to him on a tall bay horse.

She had looked him full in the face, and he had drawn in a sharp breath. By God, she was beautiful! An oval face framed by a white wimple, a short nose, a generous mouth. And an olive complexion with its promise of Mediterranean passion. He saw now that she was young, too, perhaps thirteen. Young enough to be still virginal.

“Your name, Messire?” The authority in her voice bespoke gentle birth. But what was a girl of good family doing out riding at dusk?

He hurried down the steps and bowed. “Count Amalric de Gobignon, at your service, Madame.” He held out his hand to help her down from her horse. He addressed her in her own tongue, the Langue d’Oc, which he’d learned to speak passably in five years of occupying this heresy-plagued country.

She ignored his proffered hand and swung down with the agility of a boy. Amalric noticed her legs, slender but well-curved, in hose and boots under her black velvet skirt. Why is she wearing black? he wondered. For whom does she mourn? He also saw a small dagger in a jeweled scabbard, gold flashing in its hilt and guard, swinging at her slender waist.

She faced Amalric, her dark brown eyes bright with anger. “You are holding one of my servants captive,” she said. “I have come for him.”

He was taken aback, almost amused by the peremptory tone of this child-woman.

“One of your servants? But, Madame, you have not vouch-safed to tell me your name.” He spoke with an elaborate courtesy.

“I am Nicolette de Lumel,” she said. “Daughter of Guilhem de Lumel, seigneur and protector of this village.”

“I see,” said Amalric. This could, he thought, be serious, depending on who this Guilhem de Lumel was, and what his connections were. The name sounded familiar to him. He tried to remember where he had heard it before.

Some of the knights and men who rode with him were gathering around them. He wanted this girl to himself.

“Will Madame walk with me?” He held out his arm, but she made no move to take it.

“Are you holding a young man named Daude Perella? If you are, you must release him at once.”

“I must?” said Amalric, controlling his amusement. “Will you not walk with me, so that we can discuss this as one high-ranking personage to another?” The listening men laughed.

Her eyes blazed. “Do not mock me, damn you.”‘

Amalric stared into that small, angry face and knew he should be offended at being spoken to so, especially in front of his men. A man who said “Damn you!” to him would already be dead. Instead he found himself thinking, By Saint Dominic, how brave this little creature is! Barely out of childhood, and she rides alone into a village occupied by knights and men-at-arms to rescue some servant. And swears at me when I will not do her bidding. I must talk alone with her.

“Forgive me, Madame,” he said easily, and heard one of his men give a little grunt of surprise. “Just come with me, tell me in private why this man of yours deserves to be released, and I will listen with all respect.”

The dark, burning eyes searched his face for a moment. He tried his best to look courteous and well-disposed.

She nodded.

He led her away from the houses of the village, clustered like gray heaps of stone on either side of the winding road. There was a vineyard near at hand, and they walked side by side along a path through the low shrubs with their new green leaves. Purposely he kept their backs turned to the stone communal barn where he and his troop were holding twenty local young men to be hanged at sunset.

He did not want to talk to her about the condemned ones. He wanted to ask her where she lived and whether she was married and if he might call upon her.

What is happening to me? he asked himself. I should not involve myself with Languedoc women. Especially ones who say “Damn you!” to me.

“Tell me, Madame de Lumel, who is this Perella, and what is he to you? May I call you Nicolette.”

“Perhaps, Count, we should begin by your telling me what harm he has done that you should hold him prisoner.”

He hesitated. She was a Languedoc girl. She would never understand. How to explain?

“Look here, Nicolette.” I am the Count de Gobignon, he thought, and I will call her by her first name whether she permits me or not.

“Look here,” he went on. “A week ago three important men were killed less than a league beyond this village. One of them was a priest, a Dominican friar.”

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