All Things Are Lights – Day 51 of 200

Amalric seethed. By Saint Dominic! He dashes all my hopes, and not content with that, he wants to drag me off to the East with him.

“Give me time to think, sire,” said Amalric. “My family has been scattered far and wide for years, in your service and the service of the Church. Nicolette and I will go to join our kinfolk at Chateau Gobignon. There I will discuss this with my family. With your permission.”

Nicolette, he noticed, had picked up the wine cup she shared with him and spilled some wine on the tablecloth. She was staring at the pink spot.

“Of course you have my permission,” said Louis. “What of your position as my seneschal for Beziers?”

“I left good men in command there, sire.” I know very well how to run a city or a province. Or a kingdom, for that matter.

“I will miss Nicolette,” said Marguerite. “I cannot be selfish, for you have let her stay with me a long time, Count Amalric. But I charge you to restore her to me at the end of the summer.”

Amalric felt a trickle of acid in his throat. To have Marguerite tell him when he could have his wife’s company and when not infuriated him.

Marguerite, of course, was the one responsible for that accursed song contest. A decent king would be spending his time in more manly pursuits than song contests.

Marguerite and Louis, he couldn’t help but see, were in love with each other. There is a marriage of north and south that is happy. Why not Nicolette and I?

The thought of manly pursuits reminded Amalric that he had another aim for tonight’s dinner with the King — the tournament.

Louis broke in on his thoughts. “When will you return to us and let us know your decision, cousin?”

A good opening, thought Amalric. “Sire, I hear that Madame the Queen entertained your court recently with a song contest. Song contests are all very well, but your vassals should be offered a more, may I say, robust way of earning honor. Perhaps a royal tournament here in Paris in the fall? I, for one, would be happy to ride a passage at arms before you.”

Louis frowned. “I hate to disappoint you again, cousin Amalric, but I have never approved of tournaments.”

Amalric felt his jaw muscles trembling. Never in his life had he felt this much rage and had so little freedom to express it.

He downed the rest of the wine before continuing. A servant hurried to refill the goblet.

“I have heard that said of you, sire, but I have never understood why. Next to a battle, what any knight worthy of his spurs enjoys most is a tournament.”

Louis shook his head. “Too many men are killed in tournaments, and even more are crippled. And the hatred aroused in tournaments, I am sure, deeply offends God.”

Robert d’Artois spoke, thumping his wine cup onto the table. “Brother, I think Amalric’s idea is magnificent. I am pining for excitement, and I know many of your knights who feel the same way. The crusade is still years off. Peace may be good for the kingdom, but it is not good for the kingdom’s fighting men.”

Ah, thought Amalric, feeling new hope.

But Louis shook his head. “To risk life and limb in a just war is a necessary thing, but for mere vanity, is that not a sin?”

“But it is not just vanity, sire,” Amalric cut in. “A knight needs constant practice to stay in fighting trim. When there is no war on, there is no reason to practice. Unless we have tournaments. Yes, some men do get hurt. But think how many more will be injured — and killed — in a real war, if they are out of practice. If you are to take French knights to Outremer and liberate Jerusalem, you will surely want them ready for battle.”

“But one tournament,” Louis said slowly, thoughtfully, “would not make that much of a difference.”

“One royal tournament will inspire dozens of others to spring up all over the kingdom. It will be almost as good as a war for producing the sort of seasoned warriors you need.”

Louis shook his head. “Yes, I would be setting an example. A bad example.”

Amalric’s heart fell once more, and he could hardly breathe.

“Brother,” Robert d’Artois said, “you put too fine a point on things.”

“My son,” Blanche spoke up, “a royal tournament would do far more for the strength of the kingdom than a song contest. I am sure if you asked any reverend father, he would tell you such a trial of arms would be good for your knights.”

Louis was silent.

Amalric held his breath. He glanced at Nicolette and saw that she was studying him, puzzled. She wonders why I want this so. She will soon understand.

If only Louis decides as he should. As he must.

“The best fighting men, knights and barons, from all over the country, all over Christendom perhaps, would come, would they not?” said Louis. “And I could talk to them about the crusade.”

“Yes, brother, yes,” said Robert, half affectionately, half impatiently. “They will be all on fire for battle, and you can preach to them and they will all take the cross on the spot.”

Louis nodded. “It could happen that way.” He smiled happily at Amalric. “Very well, then, let there be a tournament. I am glad I can take your advice in this, cousin. I look forward to seeing you display your skill at arms before us in the fall.”

“No more than I look forward to it, sire,” said Amalric, bowing his head.

A wave of fierce exultation swept through him. He would get his revenge.

Now to make sure this Orlando of Perugia enters and seeks combat with me. I shall have to throw down an unmistakable challenge.

He took a long swallow of wine, this time with satisfaction. He leaned against the high back of his chair and imagined the scene — the great war-horse pounding under him, the troubadour in the flimsy armor of a poor knight, the lance point smashing into the skinny chest, blood gushing.

Ah, I chose a sharp-pointed lance by mistake. How could I have made such a terrible error? May God forgive me!

He almost laughed aloud.

And Nicolette, then she will know how much I feel for her. I cannot give her a song, but I can give her a man’s life.

Many a woman grows hungry for love at the sight of spilled blood.

He imagined Nicolette, eyes heavy-lidded with lust, reaching for him.

God grant it may fall out so, he thought, sighing with pleasure and reaching again for the golden goblet.

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