All Things Are Lights – Day 6 of 200

“Will you sing for Peire Cardenal?” she asked him.

He felt as though a rock from a stone gun had gone right through him.

“Why would the greatest troubadour in the land want to hear me?” Roland shrank his skinny frame down behind the trestle table, as if someone had already called on him to play. “I am lucky just to be hearing him.” The Combret jongleur, Guacelm, who had taught him the lute and promised to start him on the vielle had said Roland’s was a gift from God. But how much could Guacelm know? He was only a jongleur, not a troubadour.

Roland worked as hard as he could under Guacelm, but he never admitted, even to his teacher, that sometimes, alone in the hills, singing to rocks and trees, he dreamed of being a troubadour. He saw himself commanding words and verses as kings commanded their barons, holding seigneurs and their ladies fascinated by the power of his voice, drawing intricate music from lute and lyre and gittern by the skill in his fingers. Sometimes he forgot he was the son of a hunted outlaw and imagined himself welcomed and honored everywhere.

“I think your music is lovely.” Diane’s green eyes held his. He loved Diane as much as he loved Fiorela. She was another sister to him, a sister whose fragile beauty inspired protectiveness. But more: when he looked at Diane he understood why men wanted to be knights.

His sister would grow up and marry and part from him. Diane need never part from him.

The servants had cleared away the bread and meats and were bringing around silver basins so that all could wash their hands after dinner.

The Sire Etienne de Combret asked Peire Cardenal, seated at his right at the high table, if he would favor them with a song. Cardenal took his place in the center of the hall. He was a stocky man with iron-gray hair and a battered nose that spread over his seamed face. He beckoned, and Guacelm came out and sat with a vielle between his knees. The hall fell silent, and Cardenal sang a lament for a lady who had died young. The sweet notes of his voice soared above Guacelm’s bowed accompaniment, and when the song died away at last, Roland glanced at Diane and saw there were tears in her eyes.

The applause was vigorous, but Cardenal smiled and cleared his throat. “I get merrier as we go along,” he said, and everyone laughed.

And he did. He sang songs of heroic deeds in battle, and comic songs. A servant placed a silver goblet set with jewels on the table within his reach and kept it refilled, Cardenal drinking deeply after each song. He began to sing sirventes about happenings of the day, about the rumor that the widowed Queen Mother of the present King of France had taken the Count of Champagne as a lover, about the Pope threatening to excommunicate Frederic, the Holy Roman Emperor, for failing to lead a crusade to the Holy Land. He sang a tenson with Guacelm, a debate on whether a man could truly love two women at once. Cardenal took the affirmative, and the applause of the de Combrets’ guests declared him the winner. Much as he admired Cardenal, Roland, who shyly abstained from applauding either side, was sure that a man could love — truly love — only one woman. Roland’s own father, he knew, had never loved anyone but his mother.

The wine affected Cardenal’s singing not at all. If anything, it sweetened his baritone voice. He sang a duet with Diane’s mother, Madame Maretta, who wrote poems of her own and had taught the forms of rhyme and meter to Roland.

Then Cardenal sang of love, songs which, Roland knew, were of his own making. He sang of love that lasted forever, love that defied human laws and even the commands of God, love that consumed men and women like a fire, love that blinded with its light.

Roland found his hand tightly gripping Diane’s delicate fingers.

When Cardenal had sung his last song, the applause was muted, but only because all were so moved. Roland felt limp, drained. His hand, still holding Diane’s, trembled. Reluctantly he released her, afraid someone might see, and tease him.

After a silence Sire Etienne pushed the jeweled goblet across the table toward Cardenal.

“Drink from this tonight and keep it with you always, Master Peire. A poor thing, compared to your music. But a remembrance of one of the most beautiful evenings of my life.”

Cardenal bowed. “A handsome present, monseigneur.”

What a power he has, Roland thought. He must have sung for hours, and everybody wishes he would go on for the rest of the night. I could never hold people spellbound like that. It is foolish of me to dabble in music.

The diners stirred. Sire Etienne, Sire Arnaut, and Cardenal stood talking at the table. Guacelm, the jongleur, joined them. And then Roland saw that Guacelm was pointing down the table at him. The terror came back, and he wanted to run out of the room.

Arnaut de Vency, his dark face creased in a smile, beckoned. Roland sat paralyzed.

“Go, Roland,” Diane whispered. “You must go.”

Dragging his feet, he went to where the men stood. Peire Cardenal fixed him with fierce eyes.

“I am told you are learning to sing and play, my lad. Are you any good at it?”

“Indifferent, Monseigneur,” said Roland in a small voice.

“Do not ‘Monseigneur’ me, boy,” Cardenal growled. “I am a baker’s son, nothing more. What claim to respect I have is here and here.” He touched his hand to his forehead and his throat.

“To me, that means a good deal more than gentle birth,” said Arnaut de Vency. Embarrassed, Roland could not look at his father.

“Too many of our good troubadours spend their lives — and lose their lives — fighting the so-called crusaders who have invaded Languedoc,” said Cardenal. “There are but two or three practicing the art now. We need new blood. Let us hear what you can do, boy.”

Roland’s mother, Dame Adalys, joined the group. “Roland, sing a song of your own — the one about the pines.”

Roland thought he would rather face a host of Frankish crusaders with drawn swords.

Sire Etienne called for silence, and everyone sat down to listen. Guacelm thrust the lute and a plectrum into Roland’s hands, and his father gave him a gentle tug, starting him toward the center of the floor. He had to walk around the table. He passed Diane.

She squeezed his arm and whispered, “You will be wonderful!”

In a semi-trance he walked out into the center of the room, the lute big and heavy in his hands. With his head lifted as Cardenal had held himself moments ago, he stood briefly silent as he strove to collect his wits. He prayed he would remember all the words to his own song. He had sung it, mostly without audience, many times, but still he felt unsure. He let the melody begin rippling through his mind. Then, holding the plectrum tight between thumb and forefinger, he picked out the introductory notes.

He looked at Diane, her green eyes shining in the candlelight. He took a deep breath and began to sing. His fingers moved on the lute of their own accord. His soprano voice vibrated in his throat. He let his gaze sweep the room, but he sang for Diane alone.

“The trees on the mountains in summer are green
But are stripped of their robes in the fall.
When the snow shrouds the hills,
Then the whole world seems dead,
But the pines remain green through it all.”

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