All Things Are Lights – Day 54 of 200

Diane threw her arms around him and held him against her breast. Her calm broken at last, she joined her weeping to his screams.

Lucien, standing beside Diane, shut his eyes and put his hands over his ears. He, too, was crying.

Each of Perrin’s screams struck Roland like the blow of a scourge. He suffers this for my sake, the troubadour told himself.

Perrin’s screams gradually subsided to a broken whimper.

Diane after much coaxing got him to drink more wine.

“There is nothing to be done?” he groaned. “I am… no longer a man?”

“You are still a man, Perrin,” she whispered. “You will always be a man. But your body cannot be made whole.”

“You people know how to put a stop to a man’s misery,” Perrin said fiercely. “You end the lives of those who cannot be cured. Well, do it for me. I cannot be healed either.”

Saint Michel! Roland thought, his heart a lump of ice. In front of the Templar! Perrin might as well have called Diane a Cathar outright.

“The wine has gotten to him,” Diane said. “He does not even know who I am.” Would the Templar, Roland wondered, accept her explanation?

Guido stepped forward, and Roland’s heart froze.

“I am a monk, my son. “

Roland tensed himself for action. If Guido learned the truth about Diane, Roland would have to kill him. And the Templar looked as if he would be a very hard man to kill.

How can I get to my sword?

“You are hurt most cruelly,” Guido went on. “But you must try not to wish for death. Despair is a great sin. God is testing you. He must love you very much to test you so harshly.”

Roland caught the scornful look Diane turned upon Guido. In his mind he pleaded, Please, please, do not argue with him.

Perrin stared at Guido in horror. Now he realizes he has said too much, Roland thought.

Overcome with pain and fear, the young man shut his eyes and, in Diane’s arms, fainted again.

“Lucien,” Diane said, “the knife.”

Diane seemed serene again. Roland could not tell whether he admired her for it or thought her inhuman.

Frantically, he tried to think what to do. Kill the Templar, bind up Perrin as best he could, and flee Paris tonight? Lucien and Adrienne will not betray us, I know.

No, a murder would weigh too heavily on their consciences. They could never keep silent.

Lucien gingerly drew out of the brazier a long, broad-bladed knife, its edges glowing red, and handed it to Diane. Without hesitation she pressed it between Perrin’s legs.

The hissing sound made Roland’s stomach heave.

The unconscious jongleur let out a long, eerie moan.

Roland’s hand ached to hold his sword. Find those men. Before all else, that one thing he must do.

“Go out and get Alezan ready for me to ride,” Roland said to the boy, who was being sick again. Martin ran to the door, choking, his hand over his mouth.

“The wound is sealed,” said Diane as she began to anoint and bandage the burned flesh. Without looking up she said, “The men who did this will be waiting for you.”

“Quite right, Madame,” said Guido. “Everyone knows that this unfortunate jongleur is Sire Orlando’s man. And the highwaymen can be sure they were recognized. Will you permit me to go with you, Messire? The rule of my order requires us to accept battle whenever the odds are three to one or better. There are, I believe, six of them, so two of us would not be one too many.”

“I want no help,” Roland said. “This is not your quarrel.” But even as he spoke he felt a frustrated fury. He was in chains, fettered by his own ignorance. He had heard of this Didier Longarm, but he did not know where to find him. Though a moment ago he had wanted to kill the Templar, he had to have help.

“Since we met at the Queen’s song contest I have come to like and admire you, Sire Orlando, and we are, after all, fellow countrymen.” There was both warmth and irony in Guido’s brown eyes. He seemed to be hinting the opposite of what he said, that he knew Roland was not Italian, and that he did not care. “Had I thought and acted more quickly, I might have saved this young man. Let me make amends for my lapse by helping you punish the swine who castrated him.”

Roland wanted, needed, the help. But Guido Bruchesi was a member of the fighting arm of the Church. How could Roland possibly trust him?

“How do you know about these highwaymen?” he asked, still paralyzed with indecision and suspicion.

“As you may know, our first mission is to keep the roads open,” said Guido. “We have been intending to clean out this lot for some time. Another month and we would have gotten to them.”

How can I find and kill a band of highwaymen hiding in country I do not even know? Roland asked himself. Expecting me to come after them. I have no chance at all.

“Come with me then, if you want to,” he said, speaking the words with reluctance as he searched Guido’s eyes. “But you take a risk, going into combat with a man whom you do not really know.”

“Can you bring a longbow, or better still, two, Sire Orlando?” Guido said as if he had not heard the warning. “The bow is not considered a fit weapon for a knight, but I have learned from the Turks to respect it.”

“I scorn no weapon,” said Roland. He sent Lucien for the bows, as well as for his belt, longsword, and dagger.

“A leather pot of oil and some rags, as well,” Guido called after the cook.

Ready to leave, Roland looked into Diane’s large green eyes, now openly grief-stricken and frightened. They spoke no farewells, but a new anguish pierced his breast as he wondered what would become of Diane if he were killed tonight. Would she survive without him to protect her?

And what of Nicolette, cut off from him since the beginning of the summer, far away to the east at Chateau Gobignon? She might never know what happened to him, should he fall to the brigands, or to a treacherous sword in Guido’s hands.

Except that Amalric will see to it that she finds out, if I die. To punish her.

Roland had plenty of time, too much time, to let his fears eat at him as he rode across Paris with Guido. He had taken his best war-horse, the chestnut Alezan, who covered the miles at an easy amble. His helmet and the leather flask of oil Lucien had tied to the saddle thumped monotonously as they rode along. Guido’s dark brown mare was not as big or strong-looking as Alezan but kept up easily with him.

They passed through the city wall at the Louvre tower and rode along the Right Bank. In the winding streets of the city they met only an occasional patrol of sergeants of the watch, armed with halberds, who let them pass when they identified themselves as knights. Roland, full of foreboding for himself, for Perrin, for Diane, and for Nicolette, paid little attention to the landmarks of Paris as he crossed the Grand-Pont and the Ile de la Cite.

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