All Things Are Lights – Day 78 of 200

“For this time, but not for all time,” she said. The sadness weighed on her as she thought how she must leave Roland and go back to her everyday life, perhaps not to see him for months.

“If only I had killed him at the tournament last year. Your bondage would have been ended forever.” The pain in his voice made her reach out and touch his cheek.

“What is it, Roland?”

“He forces you to couple with him, does he not?”

“I have not lived with him since last spring. I have been with the royal household since then. And he has gone back to Beziers, to inflict more misery on our unhappy people of Languedoc. Even when I was with him, the mood was rarely on him. He has other women. Let us not speak of it. I have no choice.”

She felt his anger like a wave of heat.

“He desecrates you. Just as his father desecrated my mother.”

She strained to see his face in the moonless dark.

“Your mother?” He had never spoken of his mother before. “Who is your mother, Roland?”

“My mother is Adalys de Vency — now. Once, years ago, she was a frightened, helpless girl in the power of…”

He stopped. She could hear his heavy breathing, almost as loud and as fast as after love. She felt the hammering of his heart.

“Of whom, Roland?”

“My father!” He spat the words. “Who died the death he deserved at the hands of Arnaut de Vency.”

“But is Arnaut de Vency not your father?”

He did not reply, and she sensed him struggling for words. Bursting with impatience, her mind swirling with half-formed questions, vague efforts to make sense out of what he was saying, she waited.

“Amalric’s father, Count Stephen de Gobignon, was a leader of the first crusaders to invade Languedoc at the Pope’s call. After a few years of warfare, he captured a certain castle and seized for his bed the young girl, orphaned by the war, whose home it was. One night a band of Languedoc patriots led by Arnaut de Vency, to whom she was betrothed, broke into the castle and killed him. But Dame Adalys, my mother, was already with child, you see.”

A sudden light broke in her mind. But it was a harsh and terrifying light.

“You said Arnaut de Vency killed your father. That means —“

“Amalric’s father was also my father.”

“My God!” She felt as if the turf beneath her had opened up suddenly.

His fingers clamped, hard as chains, on the flesh of her upper arms. “I am the bastard son of Count Stephen de Gobignon, begotten of rape. What does that mean to you? Tell me. I have to know. Do you hate me for not telling you before this?”

She recalled how Amalric had spoken of heretics having killed his father. He has no idea, she thought, who really killed his father or who Roland is.

Dear God, she thought, I have been making love to Amalric’s half brother. The shock was making her heart beat furiously. She was almost too frightened to speak.

“Roland, I love you,” she said.

She felt his grip on her arms ease a little.

He, too, must be terrified of what this truth could do to us.

But can it be true — the same father? Yes, the blue eyes, the tall frame.

“Yes,” she said, trying to sound as if it did not matter. “One can see the Gobignon blood in you, if one knows enough to look for it.”

“If you were to go to Naples and see my sister Fiorela, you would know we could not have had the same father. She is your height and has dark brown eyes. People in Naples sometimes looked askance at me, but one does not ask embarrassing questions of Arnaut de Vency.”

Ah, thought Nicolette, that was what she must make him understand — it did not matter to her.

“Arnaut de Vency,” she said, “must be a very good man. For you have been reared with a father’s true love. A man’s father is the one who shapes and educates him — who forms his soul — not he who sires his body.”

“Even so, I must know.” There was pain still in Roland’s voice. “Does it not repel you, disgust you, to learn that I am Amalric’s half brother?”

She searched herself, knowing she must speak quickly to save their love.

She pressed herself against him.

“Father, half brother — those are only words. They do not change the man I have known, and held in my arms this whole night long. What do begetters mean in the face of Love? What power on Earth can command Love? If I learned you were my brother now, it could not stop me from loving you. Love has spoken.”

It was growing lighter. She could see his face now as he smiled crookedly at her. Daybreak must be near. She looked up. The sky was a deep purple. She felt all the pain of all the parting lovers in all the aubades she had ever heard.

“You sound like the King when he talks of God,” Roland said. “You are both so certain.”

The King. She hated to tell him, but she must.

She tightened her arms around him. “Roland, my darling, we shall have to say adieu soon. Before we part, I have to tell you — the time is coming when we shall suffer a far, far longer parting.”

His pained, questioning look wrung her heart. She went on quickly. “Amalric has decided to go on crusade. He is taking me with him.”

“No!” Roland struck his fist into his palm. “Why? I cannot believe he is mad enough to risk his life in Outremer. And even if he is, why must he drag you with him to share that risk? Damn him!”

“The King and all the great barons are taking their wives.”

“The fools. What do they think it will be, another sort of tournament? Every Christian army that has gone up against the Saracens in the last hundred years has been slaughtered.” He seized her by the shoulders. “Nicolette, I will not let you go.”

Forlorn as she felt, his rage pleased her. She put her hand on his to soothe him.

“The King aims to depart in the spring of twelve hundred and forty-eight. That gives us nearly two years. Until then Amalric will be in Beziers and you and I will be in Paris. We shall have all that time together.”

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