All Things Are Lights – Day 58 of 200

Guido was waiting for him by the red coals of the shack. The odor of smoldering wood was heavy in the air.

“May Jesus Christ receive them mercifully,” Guido said. “They were fools who knew no better. We can leave it to their women to bury them, I suppose. You are crueler than I thought you to be, Sire Orlando.”

“No,” said Roland, feeling his stomach turn over as he thought: I have just killed four men. And tortured one of them first. “If I were really cruel, I would have done to them what they did to my Perrin.”

He turned away from Guido, no longer feeling comfortable facing him, and led the way into the woods on the side of the hill that sloped down toward the road.

“Do you really think that to be castrated is worse than death?” Guido asked. “I have vowed myself to celibacy for Jesus’ sake, and my life is a merry one. Most of the time.”

“You chose celibacy,” Roland said angrily. “You still have your manhood. You could break your vow any time you wish. As most of the clergy do. So do not preach at me.”

But he was beginning to loathe himself for what he had just done.

“Do you think Perrin was right to want to die, then?” Guido persisted.

The back of Roland’s neck went cold. Guido was probing again. He remembered what Perrin had said, the words that damned Diane as a heretic. True, Guido had just fought beside him — saved his life — but he was still a Catholic monk, and Roland still could not be sure of him. Would it not be better to settle this now, while they were armed and there were no witnesses?

He stopped suddenly and turned to Guido, hand on his sword hilt. “Look here. Are you trying to find out whether I am a heretic?”

Guido stopped and faced Roland, but his hands stayed motionless at his sides. “I know exactly what you are, Orlando,” he said calmly. “Your true religion is l’amour courtois. You are nominally a Catholic, but you doubt a good deal more than you believe. I do not care about any of that. It matters to me that you are a good man and you are loyal to those you love. I have tried to be your friend tonight. I shall continue to be your friend if you will trust me.”

Roland took his hand from his sword. He could see Guido’s eyes in the moonlight. There were mysterious depths in them, but there was honesty as well. He felt a powerful warmth drawing him to the Templar. What they had been through tonight had made them blood brothers.

Still, there were so many questions. Questions he knew the Templar would not answer.

He shrugged helplessly. “I want to trust you, Guido. But it is hard.”

“I know.” Guido nodded. “We Templars have our secrets, and that makes everyone suspicious of us. All I can ask is judge me by what I do, not by what you suspect. By our fruits ye shall know us. And I swear to you, on my oath as a brother in the Poor Knights of the Temple of Solomon, that I will never betray you and will be loyal to you unto death.”

He held out his right hand, and Roland took it in his own and gripped it strongly. Roland felt so powerful a wave of affection for the man that he turned away, embarrassed.

“Let us speak of your future,” Guido said as they continued down the hill. “Do you realize that these highwaymen were only the first in a series of deathtraps your enemy has set for you? Now he expects you to challenge him.”

“Count Amalric has made a mistake,” Roland said. “I fought him and spared his life once before. This time I will not.”

“He wants you to enter the tournament and try to kill him. He wants to kill you publicly, in front of the Countess. Do you realize that?”

“Yes, I am certain of it.”

“Have you done much jousting?” Guido asked.

“A little.”

“A little,” Guido said ironically.

“I suppose I have done less of it than most knights. To be honest, it seems a foolish sport to me. I have been fighting for my life ever since I was a boy. I see no need to make a game of combat.”

“You do well enough in real combat,” said Guido. “But the tournament requires special skills, and de Gobignon is acknowledged throughout Christendom as one of the great tourneyers of the age. In tournaments all over Europe he has bested hundreds of knights. Many times he has killed men. Of course it is against the rules. But he is a master at making it look like an accident. And you expect to go up against him with your little experience? That is exactly what he wants. He has made you mad with hatred for him.”

“Yes, he has forced me to fight him.” The yearning to strike Amalric down was so painfully strong! “I think I must hate him more than he hates me.”

Guido grunted. “How do you spend your days, Sire Orlando?”

“I compose songs. I sing on invitation at the homes of great barons and men of wealth. I am pursuing studies in natural philosophy with the help of several masters living in Paris. And, of course, I am keeping up my practice in arms.” The account of his days rang hollow in his ears. He did so little that sounded important. He felt sure this formidable man would despise him.

“If you plan to live, Sire Orlando, you had better give up everything else and train day and night. The King’s tournament is on the twenty-ninth of September, little more than a month from now. If you like, I will spend some time with you and give you some pointers from the Templars’ book of experience. I might even be able to arrange for you to use our practice yard.” There was almost a fatherly kindness in Guido’s voice.

Roland stared at his new friend, a man he now felt he could count on in the darkest of hours.

“I would be very grateful,” said Roland.

“Forget about killing him. Consider it a victory if you merely come out of it alive. Indeed, Messire, the best advice I could give you would be not to enter the tournament at all.”

Roland laughed. “Such cautious advice from a Templar? I thought the Templars never retreat.”

“We fight for God, Messire. Have you as great a motive?”

“Yes, I do,” said Roland, seeing Nicolette’s eyes shining in the darkness before him. “I fight for Love.”

Comments

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

    ScottS-M wrote:

    “Have you done much jousting?” Guido asked.

    “A little.”

    “A little,” Guido said ironically.

    So that’s where that teaser on page 1 came from.

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