All Things Are Lights – Day 79 of 200

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.”

He looked into the distance, still trembling with anger. “I will take you away with me.”

For a moment she saw a glimmer of hope, but then the reasons why she could not run away with him came crowding to over-shadow it. “He might hurt my sisters. My children. I cannot abandon them. Besides, he would track us down. He has a whole army. And how would we live? What would we do?”

And, she thought, there was Amalric’s plotting against Louis, which only she knew about. She had to stay near Louis and Marguerite, to try to protect them.

He turned to her again, his face hard. “Do you really want to die in the desert? A good many women have gone out there with their crusader husbands and perished with them. And more ended up in Turkish slave markets.”

“I will not be anywhere near the fighting.”

“How are you so sure of that? Perhaps the fighting will come to you, eh?”

That angered her. “Stop trying to frighten me. I do not want to talk about the crusade anymore. I want to hold you and kiss you. To talk about Love.”

The distant church bell tolled for matins.

“Amalric must know how dangerous it is,” Roland said. “Whatever else he may be, he is no fool. Why is he going?”

There was nothing Roland could do about Amalric, but at least she could share the burden with him.

“Roland, I think Amalric means to harm the King.”

Roland frowned and shook his head. “No one can hate Amalric more than I, but I doubt that he would commit treason. Besides, Louis’s mother and brothers would tear Amalric to pieces if he harmed the King.”

She drew away from him a little. “That may be exactly why Amalric is going. Hoping that far away in the East, in the midst of war, whatever evil he does will go undetected. And he does not see it as treason. He believes somehow that he has the right to become King.”

Roland sighed and said nothing. He let go of her and bowed his head. A shadow of pain crossed his face. She knew he was struggling inside himself, but she could not guess what was in his mind.

Suddenly she felt ill at ease with her nudity. She stood up and began to gather her clothes.

Roland seemed unconscious of his lack of clothing, and of her. He sat between the ridges of two of the great oak tree’s roots, staring into the misty forest.

When she was finished dressing he turned to her suddenly, his face full of resolve.

“I will go. I shall take the cross.”

His words were like a blow to her heart. “You cannot.”

“But I can. I will go along with all the rest of the fools. I will sew the cross on my tunic, even though it will burn my flesh beneath it.”

“Not you, Roland! You hate the crusader’s cross as much as I do. You have said all along this crusade is a foolish dream. How can you talk of going?”

His smile was taut, bitter. “Amalric changed his mind. So can I.”

“But why?”

The anger faded from his face, and a tender light came into it. “If you will not flee with me, I have to go where you are going. Do you think I could let him take you to the other side of the world while I stay behind?”

“Oh, Roland!” She felt a surge of love for him so powerful she felt almost dizzy. She knelt beside him and pressed her head against his bare chest.

“I tried to kill Amalric once and failed,” he went on grimly. “Instead he crippled me. I still owe him a death. If he has joined the crusade in the hope that he can kill the King in Outremer, I will join the crusade in the hope that I can kill him.” He clenched his right fist so hard it trembled. “To take the cross will betray what I am, but I will do it. I will do it for vengeance.”

She raised her head and looked up at him. “Roland, you have been badly hurt. If you think the King and his army are doomed to defeat, what chance have you if you go along with them?”

He sighed. “You mean I am too crippled to defend myself, much less protect you, is that it?”

His words cut deep, but she had to be honest with him.

“You cannot wield a sword.”

His mouth tightened. “I do not know that for certain. As you said, it will be nearly two years before the crusade departs. I seem to be getting more use of my arm as time passes. Guido, the Templar whom I met at the song contest, helped me avenge Perrin and train for the tournament.” He smiled wryly. “He might be able to show me how to fight as a left-handed crusader.”

She shook her head sadly. “A dream, like the King’s dream of recapturing Jerusalem.”

He shrugged. “Each man needs his dream. No matter how well or poorly I can fight, I would rather die than see you go off to Outremer without me.”

He must not drag his broken body to a war he despises, wearing a symbol he hates, all for my sake.

She echoed his earlier words. “I cannot let you do it.”

He glowered at her. “Do you command me, mi dons?”

“Command you?” she said, remembering her ill-fated order that he not fight Amalric at the tournament. “No, I shall never do that to you again.”

“Then it is settled.”

“Oh, Roland!” She was terrified for him. She was angry at him. And she loved him.

“Let us say no more for now,” he said. “Whatever happens in Outremer, we shall meet many times before the crusade departs. And we shall take joy in each other as we have this night.”

He rose and began to dress while she sat under the tree and watched him.

Now, though still fearful for him, she admitted to herself that all along she had desperately wanted him to go on the crusade. She could not bear to be so long parted from him again. Then a frightful doubt crept into her mind.

He had said he was going because he wanted to avenge himself on Amalric.

Why, out of all the women in the world, had Roland chosen her to love? He must have learned hatred of the Gobignon family at his mother’s knee. What a perfect revenge — his mother is raped by Amalric’s father, so he debauches Amalric’s wife.

No! she shouted in her mind. I will not believe that. I must not even think it. Else my whole life is lost. We entered the light together last night. In that ecstasy he must have experienced what I experienced.

I must trust him.

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