All Things Are Lights – Day 69 of 200

“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.

“Sire, for me to forgive you would be an impertinence. I owe you my life.”

“I saw what was happening in the melee, and I did the only thing I could, Sire Orlando,” said Louis. “Besides, I could not let such a man as you be lost. I saw you knock down one knight after another. I saw you hold off a dozen or more professional tourneyers. Jerusalem needs men like you to fight for her.”

Roland felt cold despite the high sun. His heart was being pulled in two directions. He wanted to give this man, to whom he owed his life, anything he asked. Yet this was the same king whose armies had pillaged Languedoc.

Roland had worn the crusaders’ cross as a disguise to rescue Diane. But to wear it in earnest?

He looked off into the forest and saw a figure prowling through the trees. Sunlight glinted on a steel helmet. Off in another direction, he glimpsed the blue tunic of a royal sergeant behind some scarlet-tinted shrubbery. The forest was full of the King’s guards, he realized, keeping far enough away to give Louis some privacy. The sight of the guards sent a little tingle of fear down Roland’s spine, reminding him that this man sitting companionably beside him wielded enormous power.

This is the king who unleashed the inquisitors on my poor people. In his name Amalric burned hundreds at Mont Segur.

If only I could tell him flatly, no, I will never go on crusade with him. But I dare not.

“Sire, with this arm of mine, I probably will never be able to fight again.” He raised his right hand from his lap, and a lightning bolt of pain shot from neck to fingertips. He winced and let the hand drop again.

Louis’s face shadowed. “Your suffering is my fault. I let Amalric persuade me to allow maces in the melee. I know as a Christian I should forgive Amalric. But he does not feel any remorse. Those few hours of public shame only hardened his heart. And to think I was considering him for one of the highest offices in the realm!”

Was! Roland’s heart leaped. That at least I accomplished. Amalric will not be Constable of France. That much I have done for the martyrs of Mont Segur.

But what of Nicolette? Amalric must be furious. What if he took it out on her? If only I could ask about her. But that would compromise her even more.

“Well, sire,” he said, “if the tournament changed your mind about the Count de Gobignon, it may have been a good thing, saving you from placing such great trust in the man.”

“A shrewd point,” Louis said with a small smile. “Yet I cannot afford to lose Amalric. He is strong, a good general in the field. You should have seen him riding down the English at Taillebourg. And I need his army, the vassals of the house of Gobignon. And his treasure.”

It dazzled Roland to realize the position he was in. Discussing Amalric with the King of France.

He looked up at the sky through the brown leaves of the great oak. God, it is good to be alive.

“Sire, it is no help,” he said carefully, “to have a man on your side whom you cannot fully trust.”

“Oh, he will be all right,” said Louis confidently. “I told him to stay away from Paris for six months, till my anger cools. By then his feelings toward me will have improved, too. His family has served mine for hundreds of years.”

Perhaps they’ve resented it for hundreds of years, too, Roland thought.

Did Amalric take Nicolette with him when he left Paris? I must get a message to her.

“I need you as well, Orlando,” said the King. “Let us suppose you are lucky and God gives you back the use of your arm. Will you come on the crusade then?”

How can I escape this king? Beneath his gentle manner, what an iron stubbornness!

Roland tried to imagine himself using his right arm again. It hurt even to think of moving that crushed shoulder. I will never be well enough to go on crusade. But I will not make him any promises, not even empty ones.

“Sire, a crusading knight needs a string of horses, arms and armor for war, a following of men-at-arms. I have none of that. I am so light of purse, I could not even pay my own passage to Outremer, much less for a whole retinue.”

“A crusading knight need only be a great fighter,” said Louis quietly. “Without that, all the rest is worthless. You can fight. I saw that. And do not forget, you won arms and horses in the tournament. Also, as your jongleur tells me, you have a little house outside Paris. You must have a bit of income.”

“My father sends me a little money. I have nothing of my own.

A hollow feeling in Roland’s stomach warned him that he was stepping close to the edge of a cliff. If the King asked who his father was, he would either have to lie — or reveal that his family were enemies of the French.

But then, the truth might be the very thing. If Louis knew I was a faidit and the son of one, surely he would not want me with him.

The hollow of dread grew till it became piercing physical pain. He wondered if he could trust himself to take such a risk with the King.

If I tell him, he might have me beaten, turn me over to the inquisition.

No, he is not that sort of person.

“Sire, I must confess all and throw myself on your mercy.” He felt like a rider who had come to a dangerous jump and made up his mind to try it.

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