All Things Are Lights – Day 71 of 200

He is like a wizard, Roland thought wonderingly. I was so sure I knew my mind, and yet he is changing me.

But perhaps if I take his post, I can move him as well.

But then if the war in Languedoc continues? What would Diane say?

I want to be a free man. But no man is free in this world. And at least under Louis I might have the power to do things.

Yes, but to wear the cross?

Rarely had Roland thought about his soul, but that day he began to fear he might be losing it.


Her stomach tight with apprehension, Nicolette stood in the center of the empty great hall of Chateau Gobignon. Rows of old banners hanging from the ceiling rustled faintly as she watched the broad staircase leading to the chateau’s chief tower.

A heavy door closed above. Footsteps approached the stairs.

A white robe appeared at the head of the staircase, ghostly in the light of the torches set around the gray stone walls. The beads wrapped around his waist rattling, Hugues de Gobignon descended.

Nicolette bowed politely. “Good evening, Friar Hugues.”

Hugues gave her a malevolent look, blue eyes glittering.

“Madame,” he said curtly and turned quickly away, walking in the direction of his own chamber.

He hates me because I am a woman of Languedoc, Nicolette thought. He would love to see Amalric put me away in a convent — or a dungeon. The de Gobignons think of me as Amalric’s great mistake. Especially since I have had three daughters and no sons. But Amalric has always refused to listen to them — so far.

She knew Amalric was alone now, up there in his council chamber in the tower. She took a deep breath and started to climb the stairs, fear and nervousness weakening her knees.

She had prepared herself carefully for this interview, spending an hour before her silver mirror braiding her long black hair because Amalric had said he found her lovely in braids. Her face in the mirror looked anxious and pale, though she had pinched her cheeks to give them color. She pinched them again now. She wore a long green velvet gown that clung to her figure, with a belt of gold links that emphasized the slenderness of her waist. She wanted to look her best for Amalric, though she knew it would be useless to try to be seductive with him. Not because he did not desire her, but because he knew she did not desire him.

In the seven months we have been here, she thought, I doubt he has had me seven times. Just as well; I do not have to drink that awful herb concoction so often to be sure I do not get pregnant again. He has had peasant girls and the daughters of villeins in plenty, I am sure.

Strange, I do not care how many women Amalric goes to bed with. But if there were another woman in Roland’s life, I would die.

Sweet Goddess, I must get away from here. I am so unhappy in this place.

She caressed the folded parchment she held in her hand, its heavy red wax seal broken. He must yield to this. He cannot refuse a royal request. But what if he does not let me go? I will run away. I will take the best horse in his stables and just head south and not stop till I see the Mediterranean.

She reached the top of the staircase and the oaken door of Amalric’s council chamber. The knocker was an iron wolf’s head. Repelled by it, Nicolette struck the door with her knuckles. At his answering command she turned the black iron ring that unlatched the door and entered. She had been trembling as she climbed the stairs, but at the sight of him her fear was tempered by amusement. He looked so out of place, seated at a long, heavily carved table covered with piles of paper and parchment, half-opened scrolls, and even a few books. He was reading by the light of fat candles burning in cressets on the walls of the circular room. The windows were shuttered, and the smell of melting wax was heavy in the room.

“Madame,” he said, without getting up, “how may I serve you?” Sarcasm was heavy in his tone.

Her heart quailed. He was still bitter over his disgrace at the King’s tournament, and he blamed her for it. He hates the King and Queen, he hates Paris, he hates Roland, she thought. He’ll never let me go back there.

“I received this today, Monseigneur.” She held out the parchment.

“Read it to me, if it is something I must know about,” he said brusquely. “I am half blind from all the reading I have had to do tonight.”

Yes, she thought, he loathes this sort of work. He does it only because he has to, to administer his domains. For people like me — and Roland — reading is a pleasure. I am lucky that I learned to read. So few of the women here in the north seem to know how to.

The letter was from Queen Marguerite:

The winter here has been twice as long and twice as cold, owing to your absence. There is no one who laughs with me at the same things, no one to share gossip in the tongue of my childhood. The King is my dearest friend, but he speaks only in the accents of the north, and he is preoccupied with matters of state and religion. Dear Nicolette, I need you, who are so like a sister, to make me merry. Do beg your husband to spare you most kindly for his Queen. After all, the six months are up.

She glanced uneasily at Amalric after referring to the term of his banishment.

From the day the King stopped the tournament and saved Roland’s life, she had felt a new reverence, and an even greater love, for Louis. She would never forget what he had done.

Amalric would never forget it either.

He would never forgive Louis for those hours he had had to stand, stony-faced, on the platform of shame, the de Gobignon shield of which he was so proud hanging upside down from the wooden railing. What vengeance had he begun plotting, she wondered, as he stood there?

During their two weeks’ ride after the tournament from Paris to the Gobignon possessions in the northeast corner of France, she had sensed in him a fury more terrible than anything she had known before.

Only when they rode over the crest of a hill and caught a glimpse of Chateau Gobignon — still a whole day’s ride off — did a grim smile cross Amalric’s face. But her own heart sank when she saw the gray drum towers and battlemented walls crowning the distant rocky hillside. In all the years of their marriage she had spent as little time as possible at Chateau Gobignon, staying at court with Marguerite or visiting Amalric’s holdings in the south. The chateau frightened and depressed her, now more than ever. It was an edifice dedicated to the power of the Gobignon family as a cathedral was dedicated to worship. But to Nicolette it had always seemed nothing more than a huge prison.

The next day, much closer, she saw that the chateau was wearing gay finery in honor of its master’s return, dozens of purple and gold Gobignon banners fluttering from the tall round towers. Amalric might have left Paris in disgrace, but his family and vassals, she knew, would treat his return as a triumph.

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