All Things Are Lights – Day 5 of 200

Diane wore no ornament, but her long red-gold hair, hanging in ringlets to her shoulders, adorned her more gloriously than any jewelry might have. Her eyes, neither blue nor brown, were a mixture, a catlike green. Her face had always been fine-boned; now months of fasting had put shadows in her cheeks that made her look like an angel on a cathedral pillar.

“I must bow to what you have done, Diane,” he said. “But if you will not come with me as my beloved, come as a perfecta. I can smuggle you through the crusader lines. Let me save your life.”

Before Diane could answer, the door crashed open. The shrieks and wails of women assailed his ears. From a distance came the shouts of men in combat. The stone floor under Roland’s feet vibrated, and he heard the crashing of rock on wood.

A group of women staggered in bearing a wounded man wrapped in a blue cloak. Roland stepped aside as the women laid their burden gently before the bishop. The cloak fell away, and Roland saw that a sword had cleft the man’s shoulder. His arm hung by a thread. The women tried to staunch the flow of blood by pressing cloths against the wound.

“Your Holiness,” the dying man gasped. “I beg the consolamentum.”

“You shall be saved, Arnald my son, and return to the One Light.” The bishop got up from his chair with surprising agility, then knelt. He pressed his hand to the dying man’s forehead and whispered words over him.

Roland felt himself moved by the simplicity of the ritual. Yet this was the very sacrament, he thought with bitterness, that had taken Diane from him.

“Arnald de Lantar,” Diane whispered to Roland. “One of our best.”

Roland felt pity for the dying man. That could be me. I could take this man’s place. I could join these people in their good fight. I could kill many a crusader, and joyfully.

But more good would I do if I saved this one lady.

When the bishop’s soft words ceased, Arnald de Lantar spoke again through his pain. “I am sorry, Your Holiness. We have failed you. Bernart Roainh and Peire Ferrier… killed. Our men… many fell. Fell from the mountain as we retreated. Too many crusaders … too strong.” His eyes closed.

One of the women put her hand on his heart. Then, weeping, the women who had brought him in rose up and carried the body away.

Bishop Bertran turned to Diane with a sigh. “My child, do you wish to go with Sire Roland? I fear these are our final free moments.”

“No, Your Holiness,” Diane said firmly.

Roland felt himself slump in despair.

“Please, dear Bishop Bertran,” she went on. “To leave here, to be safe, while my brethren are dying? It would destroy me. It would hurt me as much as if I were to commit the gravest of sins.”

“How can it be a sin to want to live?” Roland pleaded.

“For us death is victory,” said Diane, her green eyes shining.

“But if the life of anyone should be saved, there are many of more value than mine. Your talk of spiriting me through the crusader lines is only a frivolous troubadour fancy.” She turned away as again the doors to the keep opened.

Roland stood alone, burning with shame and anger. More wounded were carried in and laid in rows on the floor. Calmly, lovingly, the black-robed perfecti, Diane among them, moved along the lines of fallen men. Bishop Bertran walked slowly past them, giving instructions. “Treat this wound at once,” he said. “That man will be all right for a time.” To those who appeared near death he gave the consolamentum and walked on. Any of the perfecti could have administered the Sacrament, but Roland sensed that it was a special joy for these dying men to receive it from the bishop’s hands.

Watching Diane attend the wounded, Roland brooded. He had come all the way from Paris, risking his life over and over again for her, giving up all other women for her — including the beautiful Countess Nicolette. How could she scorn his effort? How could she dismiss his plan because a troubadour thought of it? Yes, he was a troubadour, a maker of songs, and proud of his art. She had loved his songs once.

How old had he been when Peire Cardenal came to Chateau Combret?

It had been August of the year after the eighth King Louis died and the ninth was crowned. That would make it one thousand two hundred twenty-seven. Seventeen years ago, so Roland was ten — two years younger than the new boy-king. Roland’s family, in flight from the crusaders who had invaded Languedoc, had been guests of the de Combrets, a prosperous Cathar family, for many months. Their chateau was in Provence, east of Languedoc, where the crusade and the persecutions had not yet penetrated. A score or more people, the de Combrets and the de Vencys and their retainers and gentlefolk from the countryside around, sat at tables in the great hall. Dozens of candles lighted the hall for the occasion.

Diane usually sat beside Roland’s sister, Fiorela, but tonight, for some reason, she had placed her chair next to Roland’s. He was aware of a tingling excitement in his limbs.

It was partly anticipation of the songs of the great troubadour, Cardenal. But Roland knew these strange feelings had also to do with the slender girl, only nine years old, who sat beside him, her hair so red that it seemed afire.

“Will you sing for Peire Cardenal?” she asked him.

He felt as though a rock from a stone gun had gone right through him.

“Why would the greatest troubadour in the land want to hear me?” Roland shrank his skinny frame down behind the trestle table, as if someone had already called on him to play. “I am lucky just to be hearing him.” The Combret jongleur, Guacelm, who had taught him the lute and promised to start him on the vielle had said Roland’s was a gift from God. But how much could Guacelm know? He was only a jongleur, not a troubadour.


  1. ann patton Identiconcomment_author_IP, $comment->comment_author); }else{echo $gravatar_link;}}*/ ?>

    ann patton wrote:

    I love this.

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