All Things Are Lights – Day 67 of 200

From somewhere a figure struck Amalric’s legs. Roland heard the shout, “Stop! He is fallen!” and glimpsed Perrin, unarmed and unarmored, at Amalric’s feet.

Then the mace smashed down on his shoulder. Agony shot through him. He felt bones shattering.

His shoulder was crushed. He collapsed. The pain, sweet Jesus! The pain in his shoulder filled his whole body. He could barely cling to consciousness.

Lying on his back in the dirt, he saw Enguerrand de Coucy send Perrin flying with a blow of his red-striped shield.

Amalric raised his mace again, gripping it with both mailed hands.

For the third time the trumpets shrieked for a halt.

A man was standing protectively over Roland. Amalric shifted the mace to bring it down on the bare, blond head of this newcomer. Roland heard cries of horror from the spectators. Amazingly, Enguerrand de Coucy threw himself between the two men, his arms up to deflect the mace.

Roland turned his head. Through a haze that drained all color from his vision, he recognized the King.

Louis drew his longsword and put the point of it against Amalric’s chest. He thrust with it, pushing Amalric back from Roland.

Roland propped himself up with his left arm. The right one was useless. All feeling was gone, from shoulder to fingertips. He was able to see over the top of the lists. On the other side a line of royal sergeants stood with crossbows loaded and drawn, aimed at Amalric.

“You have used me, Count, used me ill,” said Louis in a low voice that carried in the sudden silence that had fallen in the arena.

Amalric lifted off his tilting helm. He was standing beyond Roland’s feet, and Roland got a good look at his face. It was flushed and full of hate as he stared at Louis.

“Forgive me for menacing you, sire,” he ground out. “I was possessed by my angry mood and did not see that it was you who barred me from my enemy.”

“Possessed indeed,” Louis replied. “If you had struck me it would have been an accident. But what you were doing to this man was no accident.”

“It is my right to defend my honor as I see fit, sire.”

“How dare you speak of honor, you who persuaded me to hold this tournament so that you could use it to cloak murder? You have made a fool of the King and a mockery of chivalry. You will be stripped of your armor and will stand until vespers on yonder platform, like any other recreant knight.”

“I am the Count de Gobignon. I am a Peer of the Realm. You cannot treat me like some ordinary knight.”

Another figure moved into Roland’s line of sight. Roland saw through the wavering film over his eyes that it was Enguerrand de Coucy.

“Sire, if you do this to de Gobignon, you insult all of us of noble birth.” His face was as red as the stripes on his shield.

“God’s justice is the same for everybody, highborn or lowborn,” said Louis. “For the crime of attempted murder I could punish the Count much more severely if I chose.”

“I should have let him brain you,” Enguerrand de Coucy muttered.

Roland heard Robert d’Artois’s voice cut in suddenly. “Silence, de Coucy!” he snapped. “How dare you speak so to the King?”

Waves of pain rippled out through Roland’s body from his shoulder, cresting and ebbing in time to the rhythm of his heart. With each beat, it seemed sight and hearing faded momentarily and then came back. This felt worse than any other wound he had ever suffered. In a lucid moment he thought, I may never use this arm again.

He heard the King say, “Amalric, will you take your punishment like an obedient knight, or must I have you bound?”

I must try to witness this, Roland thought. With a supreme effort he fought the pain and raised his head a little higher. He managed to see Louis and Amalric staring at each other. Both men were golden blond, the King’s hair falling fine and straight from his receding hairline, Amalric’s thick like a lion’s mane. The King was slender, Amalric broad and powerful. Trembling with anger, the King seemed ready to seize Amalric himself, while Amalric’s chest heaved with suppressed fury.

At last, in a cold, controlled voice, Amalric said, “I will submit, perforce. You do me a great wrong, sire, and not me alone. You undermine the very foundations of this realm. In exposing me to public scorn, you tell the men of rank that they cannot rely on you. In the end, it will not be I who am shamed by this day.” Amalric turned and strode out of Roland’s sight.

Perrin’s dirt-streaked face, a rivulet of blood running from nose to lip, appeared before him. Gently lifting Roland’s head, he unlaced the tilting helm and pulled it off. Roland gasped as a new wave of agony shot through him. Anxiously Perrin peered at him.

“Do I still have the scarf?” Roland whispered.

“Yes, master.”

Louis dropped to one knee beside Roland. “How fare you, Sire Orlando?”

Through clenched teeth Roland gasped, “I live. Thanks to you, sire.”

Louis smiled and laid his hand on Roland’s forehead. “Be it God’s will that you be healed, to fight again as magnificently as you fought today.”

At Louis’s touch the terrible pain that throbbed through Roland’s body seemed to diminish. It is said anointed kings have power to heal, Roland thought with awe.

“M-may I have help to get him to his tent, sire?” Perrin choked out, his voice tremulous.

It is not every day, Roland thought, that a jongleur speaks to a king.

“He shall be in my care,” said Louis. “My own physicians shall tend him. Orlando of Perugia, I must have a man like you as my companion in arms.” He stood up and beckoned to the royal equerries. “Take him to the palace.” He turned to the heralds, standing in a small group nearby. “This tournament is now at an end. Let it be proclaimed.” Then he passed from Roland’s sight. He heard a cheer for the King go up from the spectators. They do not yet know he has cut short the fighting, Roland thought.

God, what has happened to my shoulder? How can I still be awake? I would rather be dead than feel so much pain.

Then in the midst of his suffering his heart lurched with dread. The King’s companion. What on Earth?… My life is my own, not his.

Yet, were it not for him I would be dead now.

Saint Michel, what if he wants to take me crusading?

Ah, well, if I live I won’t be able to do any fighting anyway. If I live. In his pain Roland hardly felt the hands that lifted him, as his consciousness slipped away.

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