All Things Are Lights – Day 55 of 200

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.

He tried to draw Guido out. “Why do you mix yourself in this quarrel? Why does a Templar write troubadour poetry and seek dangerous company in a bookseller’s wineshop?”

“I may say only that my order has wider interests than most people realize, Sire Orlando.”

Roland tried to fathom his meaning. Guido seemed to be saying that the Templars were not in the same camp as Amalric and his inquisitor brother. For all their power, Roland recalled — and their castles stretched from England and Spain all the way to the Orient — the order had never fought in Languedoc or persecuted the Cathars. Great barons like Amalric hated them because they recognized no boundaries and acknowledged no overlord. They claimed to serve the Pope, but in fact they seemed to do pretty much as they pleased. They might indeed have interests in common with Roland’s. Which meant, perhaps, that Roland could count on Guido. Still, he doubted that he would learn much from the fair-spoken but evasive man who rode beside him.

They rode across the Petit-Pont, through the Latin Quarter, and out through the city’s wall. They followed the Rue Saint-Jacques, the old Roman road that led up to Paris from the south.

Now they were coming close. They passed the abbey of Saint-Germain-in-the-Fields, and Roland stared over the moonlit expanse of hay and rye cultivated by the monks, out into the dark forest beyond. Somewhere in there they were waiting. Perhaps even now arrows were aimed at his chest.

Why did I not wear my hauberk? Why did Bruchesi not suggest it? He realized that Guido was not wearing any armor either. For such an experienced warrior, that could hardly be an oversight. He must think they’d be better off without the encumbrance, Roland decided. And, remembering what a burden his hauberk had been when he was trying to rescue Diane, he decided leaving it behind was for the best.

Guido raised his hand where the road entered the forest, and Roland reined up Alezan. They dismounted and tethered their horses. At Guido’s gesture Roland untied the flask of oil and the rags. He put on his helmet and laced it under his chin. It weighed heavily on his head despite its soft leather lining.

“They think because you are a knight you will gallop straight down the road,” Guido said, donning his own battle helm. “It has been my unhappy duty to fight many men like this. I am certain they will be waiting farther along to ambush you. See that hill on the horizon? That is where Didier and his men have their ‘chateau.'”

Roland found himself liking Guido, his humor, his intelligence, his competence. I have let him take command of this little expedition, he thought, without even realizing I was doing it. He carries himself with authority. I only hope my feelings about him are right.

Treading softly, carrying their bows in their hands rather than on their shoulders so they would not get caught on branches, they made their way through underbrush beneath old oaks with broad trunks.

If this is a trap, this would be the place to spring it. The skin crawled on the back of Roland’s neck. The air was still and oppressive, even this late at night, and sweat plastered his tunic to his body.

After what seemed an hour they were climbing the hill Guido had pointed out. Through the trees he could see that the crown of the hill was bare.

Behind him the bells of Saint-Germain chimed a silvery nocturne. Three hours after midnight. Before those monks got out of their beds to sing lauds he might be dead.

But with luck he would have gotten his hands on those dogs. As they climbed higher, still screened by the wood, Roland looked up and saw that the moon was directly overhead. At the top of the hill he could discern a cluster of stone columns, broken but still graceful, pale as the moonlight itself, rising out of a heap of tumbled stones. In ancient times, Roland knew, the Romans had built their villas here. He saw a low wooden shack huddled in the midst of the marble pillars.

“They will have left their women unguarded in that hut, and their horses tied beside it,” Guido said softly. “We will attack in an unknightly fashion.”

Crouching at the edge of the woods, they poured oil on the rags and bound them to the heads of their arrows. Guido struck a spark to tinder and lit a candle, which he pressed into the soft ground.

In the sudden glow, Roland saw a face in the grass. It was a fragment of a statue, the nose and smiling lips of a boy. It gave him an eerie feeling, as if they were being watched by people long dead.

From the candle they each lit an arrow. At any moment Roland expected the highwaymen to leap at them out of the trees. He nocked an arrow and took aim at the cabin, holding his breath until he let go the bowstring. He blinked, and when he looked again the ball of fire was falling upon the roof of the shack. I cannot believe my aim was that good. It has been so long since I have touched a bow. He felt a bright upsurge of glee.

Now Guido’s bowstring twanged beside him, and Roland lit another. One after another the flaming missiles arched to the cabin in the ruins. It had been a dry summer, and the highwaymen’s shack appeared to be built of old wood. Almost at once a flickering glow turned the marble columns orange. Women screamed and terrified horses neighed. Moments later, Roland and Guido heard men shouting and cursing and bodies crashing through the woods on the other side of the hill.

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