All Things Are Lights – Day 59 of 200

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.”

X

Lance pointed skyward, Roland approached the arena, riding Alezan through the many-colored pavilions that had sprung up like flowers bordering the broad field northwest of Paris. Perrin walked beside him, leading the war-horse by the reins. Through the two oblong eye slits in his tilting helmet Roland saw the lists, rough-hewn log fencing about chest-high. The lists surrounded a dusty arena two hundred yards long and fifty wide.

The big cylindrical helmet turned awkwardly with his head, and he saw thousands of Parisians gathered on the grassy hills around the lists. Even the trees were festooned with spectators. A wooden gallery painted green and red overlooked the center of the field. He peered through his helmet at the hundreds of nobles and wealthy burghers in the tiers of seats, their brightly colored finery sparkling with gold and gems.

Roland breathed in deeply, smelling the cold, clean fall air mixed with the odors of oiled steel, horseflesh, and trampled grass. Saint Michel, he thought, today is your feast day. Help me to kill Amalric de Gobignon and I shall write a song in your honor.

He felt strength surging through his arms and legs. The cuts and bruises the highwaymen had dealt him over a month ago were now quite healed.

“Strike a blow for me, master,” Perrin called up to him.

He is still in pain, Roland thought, and his wound will never heal, but already he manages to seem more his old cheerful self. God bless him.

Today is your day, my poor Perrin. I will strike de Gobignon dead for you. Even as that promise went through his mind, though, he felt a chill in his spine. He could be sure of nothing. Including that he would come out of this alive.

Equerries pulled back the gate on the west side of the lists for him. Alezan’s hoofs thudded on turf beaten to dust by the dozens of chargers that had galloped over it in the day’s earlier encounters. As custom prescribed, Roland cantered a hundred yards to the middle of the field, faced the nobles’ gallery, and saluted the King.

Louis, seated on a high-backed chair beside Queen Marguerite, smiled and waved. The warmth Roland felt at the sight of Louis’s long, pale face nettled him. A faidit of Languedoc, he thought, should not feel affection for the French King. But he could not forget Louis’s kindness at the song contest.

Nicolette was sitting with a group of court ladies above and behind Marguerite. The sight of her made him feel as unsteady as a boat in a stormy sea. She smiled brightly at him. What courage she shows, he thought. She knows that this day she must lose either him or me, and yet she can smile.

He heard people asking one another about him. Who was this knight in the maroon surcoat, and what family’s device was a silver griffin on a black shield?

Then he caught a new note of surprise in the murmur from the gallery. Ah, now they see the scarf. Doubtless many of them know its story.

Tenderly he touched the blue scarf with gold crescents tied around his right arm, over his sleeve of mail. Strength seemed to flow from the fragile silk through his fingertips, filling his whole body.

It was just a week ago that she had given him back the scarf to wear. He had held her in his arms at dusk in a cemetery north of the city. It had been their first reunion after her summer at Chateau Gobignon. But the joys of their embraces had ended when he told her what had happened to Perrin and of the vengeance he and Sire Guido had taken.

She did not speak. She stood, staring into the distance, her brown eyes burning with anger. Then she reached into the bosom of her gown and drew out the scarf.

“He ordered me to return this to you. Now I want you to wear it — to flaunt it — in the tournament.”

Her words thrilled him. He would be fighting for her, as well as for Perrin. But the risk to her was too great.

“You know better than anyone what sort of man Amalric is. If I wear this, what will he do to you?”

“If he so much as threatens me, I shall tell the world how his jealousy drove him to mutilate an innocent man. Let him see then if the King will have him as Constable of France.”

He forgot his fear for her in surprise at her last words.

“Constable of France? Is that what Amalric wants?”

“He would be King if he could,” she said, shaking her head sadly. “Constable is as close as he can come. He is very close to that. Eudes d’Arcis is too old to continue as Constable. Amalric has told me that his name heads the King’s list.”

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