All Things Are Lights – Day 68 of 200

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.


The sparkling October day awed Roland, as if he had never before seen sun, blue sky, and trees. Out for the first time since the tournament, he was walking with Perrin in the garden of the royal country estate at Vincennes. His feet felt uncertain on the dirt path. Leaning on Perrin’s arm, he made an effort to walk upright despite the weight of the wooden frame and the bandages Louis’s physicians had wrapped around his right shoulder. After weeks of lying in bed wearing nothing but a nightshirt, he felt his clothing rough against his skin. But the bearskin cloak over his back was a welcome protection from the autumn chill. The light of the morning sun poured strength into his limbs.

“Good day, Sire Orlando.”

Roland recognized the voice and turned. The King had come up behind him.

Roland tried to get down on one knee, but Louis stopped him with a wave of his hand. Roland looked for some token of kingship on Louis’s apparel, but the sovereign wore only a mantle of black silk trimmed with red squirrel fur, such as any country gentleman might possess, and his head was bare.

He knows what he is. He does not have to proclaim it.

Saint Michel, can this really be happening to me? Roland wondered. A moment ago, walking with Perrin, he had felt that this royal garden and this beautiful day were as real as the continuously throbbing pain in his shoulder. But now, staring at the tall, large-eyed man before him, he asked himself if this could be yet another one of the feverish dreams he had been having since the tournament. Louis had appeared often in those dreams, along with Nicolette, Amalric, and a great mace always descending but never striking. Can I actually be a houseguest of the King of France?

“Dear Sire Orlando, I heard you were up and about. Praise God, your health is coming back. Come walk with me, and we shall enjoy the fall colors in the forest together.”

“Sire,” said Perrin nervously, “he tires quickly.”

“Nonsense, Perrin,” said Roland testily.

“I shall prop him up, if I have to, my good fellow,” said Louis. “You have been watching over him day and night for a month. Be off and have a cup of wine with my equerries. Let me care for your master for a while.”

Walking slowly beside Louis, Roland realized with surprise that the King had no attendants. There were just the two of them strolling through the manor garden. Roland looked back and saw Perrin in the doorway of the two-story stone mansion, looking anxiously after them. Lifting his left arm, the one he could move, Roland waved him away irritably.

“I like to walk alone, or with just one companion,” said Louis. “I never get enough solitude. That is why I enjoy Vincennes.”

Roland inhaled deeply. The air felt sweet as water from a spring.

Louis cheerfully pointed out some especially brilliant splashes of gold and red in the foliage around them.

“When did you bring me here, sire?”

“About two weeks after the tournament, when the friars said you were well enough to travel. I thought being away from the dirt and noise of Paris would speed your recovery.” His face fell. “But then it seemed I might have made a terrible mistake. We took you in a litter, and the ride was bumpy. You got much worse for a while. My queen was very angry with me.”

And Nicolette? If only I could ask about Nicolette, Roland thought anxiously. Where is she? And how does she fare? Will Marguerite let her know I am better?

They were following a path to a clearing, where Louis showed him a huge, twisted oak.

“That is my favorite tree in all this forest. I like to sit under it. Sometimes the people who live nearby come to me here with their troubles, and I try to help them. “

Louis took Roland’s left arm and helped him seat himself under the old tree.

Embarrassment made Roland’s face burn. The King helps me to sit down?

Slowly he leaned back until his weight was resting against the tree trunk. The ache in his shoulder subsided a little.

Louis folded his long body down beside Roland. “Now, Sire Orlando,” he said with a wry smile. “If I can urge the matter of your taking a crusader’s cross, without being answered in the language of a Parisian guttersnipe…”

The crusade? Uneasiness made Roland want to draw away.

“I do not understand, sire — about the language, I mean.”

Louis smiled, but his fair cheeks reddened. “While you were very ill, just after we got here, I laid a crucifix on your chest and told you how God had saved my life after I promised to go on crusade. I suggested that He might spare you if you made the same promise. You… you…” Louis hesitated, then looked away. He rattled out the rest of the tale in a voice so low Roland had to strain to hear it. “You threw the crucifix on the floor and told me to stuff my crusade up my arse.”

Roland stifled an impulse to laugh. This was no laughing matter. He went cold with mortification — and with dread. Any suspicion that he was irreligious might provoke an investigation. And that could lead to Diane.

Saint Michel, was I that sick? No wonder Perrin was afraid to let me be alone with the King. Dear God, I hope I did not let anything slip about Nicolette.

“Sire, I do not know how I can apologize enough. I beg your forgiveness.”

Smiling, Louis shook his head. “As my good mother might have said, it was the fever talking. I mentioned it only in jest, but I should not have embarrassed you. It is you who must forgive me.”

What a strange man. Roland felt himself becoming more and more intrigued. He may have been trying to joke, but he actually blushed at repeating my coarse words. Yet he has led knights in battle.

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