All Things Are Lights – Day 65 of 200

But Diane shivered slightly and lowered her eyes. A deep scarlet flush appeared on her cheeks. Quickly she finished tying the bandage.

Roland stood up and moved away from her.

“Have you not had enough, Orlando?” Guido asked. “I admit you are much better at jousting than I expected you to be. But in the lists Amalric is still your master. You did your best to kill him, and it was not enough.”

Roland felt himself growing angry all over again, and his slashed back stung.

“No, I have not done my best. Not yet.”

Guido grunted skeptically. “I have just taken a stroll past the Count’s pavilion. He has a dozen knights gathered around him. They are professional tourneyers, the sort who go from tournament to tournament all over Christendom and live on their winnings. They know a good many more foul tricks than you do, my friend. And Amalric was talking with Enguerrand de Coucy, who bears you a grudge. We Templars hold it honorable to retreat when the odds are more than three to one.”

All true, Roland thought, but there was something Guido had not taken into account. He picked up the blue and gold scarf, where it lay on the dark brown oak lid of the chest, and pressed it against his heart. A man fighting for himself can be beaten. A man fighting for Love is invincible.

“You are a monk,” he said to Guido. “You know very little about Love. You do not know how powerful it makes me feel.”

“It is you who know less than you think,” said Guido. “I will help you all I can, Orlando, but before this day is out you may need my prayers more than my sword.”

Immediately after Guido left, Perrin came in holding a folded paper. “A lady named Agnes gave me this for you, Messire.” It was unsigned, but Roland recognized Nicolette’s cursive script:

As you have called me mi dons, I charge you that you make no further attempt on the life of him who has injured you. If you succeed, my children lose their father, and the vengeance of his family will not let you live long. If you fail, I lose you, the one most precious to me in all the world. Either way, you condemn me to a lifetime of anguish. Therefore, I command you, hold your hand. In the name of Love.

As the meaning of the note sank in, all the strength and confidence Roland had felt only a moment ago drained out of him. Groping for support, he sat down on his arms chest, holding the paper so loosely it slipped from his fingers and fluttered to the carpeted floor of the tent.

He felt as if iron hobble-gyves had fastened themselves to his ankles. A moment ago he was going to win. And now?

I must obey, he thought. I have sworn by Love to serve her in all things, and if I disobey her now my life is a lie.

Still, she did not forbid me to fight in the melee.

Maybe I shall see a way to obey her command and yet take some revenge on Amalric.

But what way?

“What is it, Roland?” Diane asked him anxiously.

“Nothing. Nothing.” He picked up the paper and tore it into tiny fragments.

“Perrin, help me to arm myself. “

Roland felt a chill around his heart. Perhaps he should simply ride away from this field. To risk his life in this melee was foolhardy.

But if he left, he would appear a coward. There would be no vengeance for Perrin. And Amalric still would pursue him.

He held out his right arm so that Perrin could once again tie the scarf around it. When it was in place he lifted his arm and pressed his lips to the smooth silk.

His mind empty of any plan, his hands tied by a torn letter, Roland joined the knights gathering before he gallery in the center of the arena. The marshals had removed the tilting barrier that had divided the field in half.

The chief of heralds announced that the knights must form two companies, those happy in love and those disappointed in love. Roland smiled sourly beneath his helm. The usual tournament conceit, he thought, probably Queen Marguerite’s idea, a shallow borrowing from the traditions of l’amour courtois. The side we pick depends on who is leading it, not on how we stand with the ladies.

“A seigneur of highest rank will command each company,” the herald cried, his powerful, trained voice booming out over the tournament field. “Monseigneur the Count Robert d’Artois will lead the happy in love.”

The King’s nearest brother, thought Roland. The other side is likely to let his side win, out of politeness. I should probably join them.

“The disappointed in love,” the herald went on, “will be led by Monseigneur the Count Amalric de Gobignon.”

How ironic — and how true.

“De Gobignon unhappy in love?” laughed a Gascon knight near Roland. “But his countess is exquisite.”

“It must be some other lady, not the countess, who has disappointed him,” said another. “It is impossible for a man to be in love with his own wife.”

The Gascon answered, “I would never look at another woman if my wife were the fair Nicolette.”

Mindful of Nicolette’s command, Roland spurred Alezan over to a marshal and said, “I wish to fight on the same side as the Count de Gobignon.”

The marshal’s eyebrows flickered in surprise, but without comment he gave Roland a strip of black silk to tie to his tilting helm.

Dust clouds glowed in the bright sun, which had moved around to the west. The field enclosed by the lists was a confusion of chargers and armored men, of waving lances and fluttering black and white silk streamers on tilting helms.

Roland smiled to himself as he guided Alezan into the ranks behind Amalric and saw the blond count, his tilting helm thrown back, turn to glare at him, surprised and angry.

Amalric spoke to Enguerrand de Coucy and the other riders near him, pointing to Roland, and they all looked in his direction. A cold feeling spread through Roland’s chest.

He looked for friends, but he recognized no one among those near him, or in the company gathering at the far side of the field. Over there Robert d’Artois, riding a nervous white charger and holding a blue shield charged with three gold fleurs-de-lis, was marshaling his men.

“Form two ranks!” de Gobignon shouted.

Roland took a place in the center of the second rank. A silence settled over the tournament field.

The trumpets sounded.

Roland felt the ground shuddering under him as the knights in the rank in front of him shot forward. In an instant, all he could see in the center of the field was a whirlwind of dust, flying lance splinters, and the tumbling bodies of mail-clad men. The clash of arms and the roar of the crowd combined in a hellish din.

Now the dust settled enough so that Roland could see the combatants fighting at close quarters. He admired the expert way they guided their mounts. The gigantic chargers seemed to step with the grace and precision of dancers. Knights and destriers were like the centaurs of Greek legend, rider and horse moving as a single creature.

Roland charged with the second rank.

Almost at once four lances from his own side converged on him. The suddenness of it stunned him. He had expected to be attacked, but not so soon and not so openly.

He brought Alezan up short, and with rein and spur made the horse wheel while he swung his lance in an arc that struck aside the weapons of his enemies and knocked two of them from the saddle.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)