All Things Are Lights – Day 75 of 200

We shall light a few fires, he had said.

I must try to stop this man. I must find a way.


Nicolette trembled with impatience. She looked up for the sun, but it was too low to be seen, though a late-afternoon glow suffused the canopy of leaves and branches over her head. If he kept to the promise in his letter, Roland would appear at any moment. Her black mare, tied to a nearby elm sapling, stamped her hoofs restlessly.

Seated between the twisting roots of a huge oak, Nicolette leaned back on her arms and tried to relax. After the August heat and the dust of the road, this glade was as cool as the interior of a cathedral. She stretched out her legs, encased in red hose, and pulled off the page boy’s cap that hid her coiled-up hair. Some page in the Queen’s entourage was in luck. For these clothes Agnes had paid him twice what a new outfit would cost. She unpinned and shook down her hair, enjoying the feeling of freedom.

She could not believe that it was almost a year since she had last seen Roland. And would she see him today, after all this time? The tension inside her was so strong she was ready to burst. She had endured the long months, but now she could not stand another minute.

He had many leagues to travel to make this rendezvous. Would some mischance of the road delay him — a storm, an accident to his horse, an encounter with highwaymen?

What if, absurdly, she were waiting in the wrong clearing, under the wrong oak? She reread Roland’s unsigned letter, which Agnes had put into her hands only yesterday, while they were visiting the cathedral of Our Lady at Chartres. She had followed all his directions exactly.

But when would he come? And when he came, if he came, what would he be like? Weak and sickly, perhaps, after his long convalescence. His clerkish work as an enqueteur could have done little to restore his strength.

No sooner had she arrived at the royal palace, on a sunny day last May, then she sent Agnes to inquire about Roland. As she waited for word she sang. She had not always loved this city, but today all Paris seemed to shine with new life. How wonderful to be far from that gloomy Chateau Gobignon! She was still unpacking her gowns, humming to herself, when her maid came back, looking crestfallen. Nicolette seized her by the shoulders.

“Tell me, tell me! What has happened to him?”

“He is well enough to get about, Madame,” Agnes said with a weak smile. “But the bad side of that is he’s not here. I talked to a clerk in the royal chancery. Your troubadour has joined the King’s service as an enqueteur, and he is touring through Gascony just now. He will be gone most of the summer.”

“Oh, God!” Crushed by disappointment, Nicolette sat down on her bed and started to cry.

“Something else you had better know, Madame,” Agnes went on, sitting beside her and taking her hand. “He is not Orlando of Perugia anymore. He is Roland de Vency.”

He is using his real name, then? She wondered at that, but she was too miserable to think. She threw herself full length on the bed and wept.

Now she asked herself, as she had so many times since that unhappy day, what if he does not love me anymore? What if he has been hurt too badly? We should have possessed each other in body and soul in Guillaume’s room when we had the chance.

What if he has met someone he loves better than me? Her hand went to the dagger she wore to protect herself while traveling. When she realized what she was doing, she let go of the hilt as if it were hot. What is the matter with me? This waiting is driving me mad.

She could no longer rest under the tree. Eagerness to see Roland goaded her. She stood up, the better to peer through the forest to see if he was coming.

She heard the footfalls of a horse picking its way through the trees and held her breath as she glimpsed a man walking his mount.

It was Roland. He was the only man she knew so tall and dark.

He was tying his horse to a tree near hers. He turned and strode toward her.

Dear Goddess, there he is, with that beautiful hawk’s face.

“Oh, my love!” She held out her arms to him.

“Nicolette. “

She hurled herself at him, the whole length of her body pressed hard against his. He was holding her so tightly she could not breathe, but she did not care; she would happily have died in his arms.

When at length he released her, she stepped back to look at him. He was as thin as ever, but he seemed well — except for something about the way he held himself, his right shoulder hunched forward and bulking larger than the left.

Amalric had crippled him. She saw again the tournament field, Amalric’s mace crashing down upon him. Hatred for her husband raged within her.

“Come, let us sit down,” Roland said. He held her arm as she seated herself, then dropped down beside her. There was no awkwardness in his movements. But his poor shoulder still looked huge to her. Timidly she reached out to touch it.

Roland chuckled softly, but there was pain in his eyes. “The King’s physicians had an impossible task, like trying to piece together a smashed pot inside a pillow. I hope the sight of it does not… distress you. “

She sensed the anxiety in him.

“Oh, Roland, I will never forgive myself. I stopped you from fighting Amalric, and so you placed yourself on his side in the melee.”

“He and his men would have attacked me whichever side I was on.”

“Yes, but you would have had the knights on the white side fighting with you.”

He stroked her cheek. Her skin tingled at the touch of his fingertips.

“It all worked out well for me. Amalric lost favor with Louis that day, and I became a friend of the King. True, I cannot play the vielle any longer. You need the full use of your right arm for that. I still do well enough with the Irish harp and the lute, though. But if I am ever going to fight again, I shall have to learn to fight left-handed.”

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