All Things Are Lights – Day 76 of 200

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.”

“Oh, Roland!” She sobbed his name and pressed her face against his chest.

“Do not feel sorry for me. As one of the King’s enqueteurs I have no need of a warrior’s skills. I do my fighting with ink and parchment. And I can use my injury as an excuse to stay out of the crusade.”

She heard the undertone of bitterness in his voice, and she felt desolate. She would have traded her life to restore the power to his right arm.

He has suffered this because he loves me.

“I hate Amalric for what he has done to you.”

He shook his head and gently touched her lips with his fingertips.

She took his hand in hers and kissed the hard palm. “And for what he did to Perrin,” she went on. “Is Perrin with you?”

“He is camped near the road. He will stand watch for us. He is far enough away not to be able to hear anything we say — or any sound we make.”

She looked up at him. His gaunt face was in shadow, but his meaning was clear.

The thought aroused an aching yearning in her belly. Yes, I want him. I have wanted him so long — I cannot go on denying him, and myself, any longer.

“Forget Amalric,” Roland said suddenly. “Forget hatred. This moment is for us. Let us shut out the rest of the world.”

She knew he was right. The beauty that was possible here and now must not be spoiled.

She heard a bell tolling in the distance, a country church sounding the Angelus, calling the people to sunset prayer. Bright light no longer fell in their glade, and the sky overhead was a pale violet.

Sitting beside him, she held his strong hand in both of hers. The trunks of the great oaks were growing indistinct, merging with the darkness. A choir of the night’s little creatures, birds and insects, sang vespers. This grove of oaks is our cathedral of Love, she thought.

“When must you go to Paris?” he asked her.

“Tomorrow. I have packed some ladylike finery in my saddle-bags. The Queen’s party will be coming up the road from Chartres, where I left them, and I shall simply rejoin them at Rambouillet. If anyone has been trying to spy on me, they will be quite mystified.”

“We have this whole night?”

“Yes,” she whispered happily, feeling her hunger for him mount.

Roland raised her hand to his lips and kissed it, as she had kissed his. “Will mi dons wait here a moment?”

He stood and went over to his tethered horse, grazing beside hers among the trees.

He returned with a mandolin. He sat beside her and began to pluck the strings.

She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the tree trunk. To hear him sing to her after all this time — it was ecstasy.

After a few measures he began, his voice soft, yet strong as ever:

“I stand in my lady’s sight
In deep devotion;
Approach her with folded hands
In sweet emotion;
Dumbly adoring her,
Humbly imploring her.”

She recognized it as a song of Bernart de Ventadour, a song she had loved even as a little girl. With each chord her joy in him grew more overwhelming. By the time he reached the last verse she was weeping with happiness. She looked up through the black leaves overhead and saw a small, blue-white star twinkling in an opening in the foliage where there had been sunlight not long before.

“That was beautiful,” she said. “But, Roland, why did you not sing a song of your own?”

“I have had no inspiration these many months.”

“You shall have inspiration enough tonight.”

He laid aside the mandolin and turned to her. She pressed her weight against him, bearing him to the ground as her arms twined around his neck.

Her mouth fused with his, warm and liquid, his tongue velvet-soft and hard all at once. His long arms wrapped around her, and even in the heedlessness of desire she noticed that the pressure of the left arm was stronger than the right.

Roland wants me, and I want him even more. With that decision her whole body felt suddenly as hot as if she were standing before a fire.

Savagely she whispered, “I will end my marriage to Amalric this night by loving you.”

She discovered her hands moving as if they had a will of their own to the laces of her page’s tunic. She pulled it over her head. Under it she wore only a linen shirt.

Roland drew away from her and rose to his feet. He threw off his black cloak. He pulled off his tunic and undershirt, baring his chest. In the twilight his skin gleamed like old ivory. His muscles were hard, ridged and braided like the coils of a rope.

She rose and went to him and put her hand on his arm. There was a long scar across his chest and belly, and another, a triangular white scar, on his left forearm. She bent over his arm and kissed the scar.

She sat down again with her back against the huge oak tree. He knelt before her and drew off her boots and her red hose. She quivered as his fingertips grazed the calf of her leg.

Standing again, she turned her back to him and raised her arms over her head. He lifted her shirt so gently she hardly felt it leave her body.

Never had she felt so secure, so free. At night in this huge forest an army could never find them.

He drew back into the deeper shadows and quickly slipped out of his remaining garments. He stepped close to her and stood before her as naked as she was. He was beautiful — dark and powerful. He stood gravely with his hands at his sides, letting her look her fill at him. Then he moved toward her.

She felt a sudden need to pause. It was happening so quickly.

“Roland, I am frightened.”

He stood still. “Whatever happens here, happens as you will it, mi dons. If you want to stop now, we will. You have already given me more joy than a man has a right to expect, this side of Heaven.”

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