All Things Are Lights – Day 82 of 200

Despite her anxiety, Diane smiled at the trivial question. “Oh, no, Madame. To protect our lives we are recently dispensed from that rule. “

“I see,” said Nicolette coldly. “How fortunate for you, since blue looks so well on you. And what other rules can you dispense with to protect your life, Demoiselle Perfecta? Is it possible that you can make love to a man if he shelters you from the Inquisition?”

Diane opened her mouth to protest, just as Nicolette snapped, “How long have you been living with him?”

Feeling sick with fear, less for herself than for Roland and his household, Diane nonetheless knew she had to plunge on. Nothing she said now could make things worse.

“I came to this house in April of twelve hundred and forty-four, more than two years ago, Madame,” she began.

Nicolette stood and listened, fists clenched at her sides, as Diane quietly told her how Roland had slipped into the Cathar stronghold and brought her out safely. As Diane talked, tears ran freely down Nicolette’s face.

Diane felt more and more unsure of herself. This was not the reaction she had hoped for.

“At last I understand. I always wanted to know, and he would not tell me.” Nicolette’s words were interrupted by convulsive sobs. “Why he went to Languedoc. Why he suddenly joined the crusading army. Led by my husband.” She looked meaningfully at Diane as she said this last, but Diane did not understand why.

Nicolette went on, still weeping, “He had already pledged his love for me then, you see. I was awaiting the right moment for our first secret meeting. Then he disappeared.”

Groaning, Nicolette put her hands over her face and bent almost double. Then she straightened up abruptly. “He loves you, does he not?”

A wave of dismay washed over Diane’s heart.

“As I told you, a perfecta may have nothing to do with men. I swear to you, Madame, I have been faithful to my sacrament. I have forbidden him to speak of love to me.”

I am evading her question, she told herself, and that is as bad as lying.

“If you had to forbid him to speak of love, then he does love you.”

From under her tunic Nicolette drew a dagger. With a trembling hand she held the point to her breast.

Diane screamed and reached out to her.

“Come any closer, and I will stab myself,” Nicolette whispered, both hands now firmly wrapped around the handle. “Perhaps you would like to see me kill myself. You have already done so much to kill me.”

Diane twitched her hands helplessly. “He loves you, Madame, I know he does.”

“Do you expect me to believe he truly loves me,” Nicolette said, “when you have lived with him for two years?”

Nicolette threw the dagger to the floor. It landed point first and stood quivering upright in the oaken boards.

“Listen to me,” Diane pleaded. “He did love me once, long ago, when we were little more than children. He came to Mont Segur for the sake of that love. I told him then that there could never be anything between us. I did not even want to be rescued, Madame. Can you understand that? I wanted to die there on the mountain with brothers and sisters of my faith. There can be nothing between Roland and me now, nothing.”

And how many nights have I suffered the torments of the damned because there can be nothing?

“Then why,” Nicolette demanded, “have you stayed for two years in the house of this troubadour, this writer of scurrilous songs, this adulterer? You, who are so pure, so perfect!”

“His home is only a refuge for me, Madame. Only that.”

She had never in her life needed so much to be believed, and never had her words sounded more hollow.

Nicolette peered at her. “You really expect me to take your word,” she said wonderingly, “that you have lived under the roof of such a man as Roland for two years, and you have never touched each other. “

Putting those two anguished years into her voice, Diane said, “It is the truth, Madame.”

Nicolette stared deep into her eyes without speaking.

Then she said, “All the Cathars I have ever known have been scrupulously honest. And you would not have admitted that you are a Cathar if you were going to lie to me about you and Roland.”

Her shoulders slumped, and some of the life went out of her voice.

“If what you say is true, that only makes it worse, you see. Because it shows how deeply he feels about you.” She raised her head, and her dark eyes, full of suffering, held Diane’s. “He left Paris without a word to me and rushed to Mont Segur to rescue you. He found that you were a perfecta and he could not have you. But still he brought you back here and kept you in his house, at great peril, and for the sake of your vow he has never touched you. So he started courting me again, as second best. Only because he could not have you. That is how it must have happened. I am not first in his heart, you are. You are the one he really loves. “

Diane felt a terrible helplessness. Disaster was falling upon all of them, and she could not stop it.

“As a sister, Nicolette. He loves me only as a sister.”

“You have no right to address me by my first name.” Nicolette’s tone was angry, but Diane heard the despair beneath.

“Madame, the love that matters is not our love for each other as woman and man, but our love for God and for one another as spirits. That is what we are — spirits. These male and female bodies are only prisons. To love someone’s body is like loving a dungeon.”

“Stop preaching at me,” Nicolette snapped.

“But it is the truth,” Diane cried. “I have to say it.”

“It is a dreadful lie!” There was hatred in Nicolette’s eyes. “You deserve to be burned for saying such things.”

Nicolette drew herself up stiffly. “Tell Roland that if he comes near me again, I will deliver him to my husband and his knights. I will confess to adultery and let my husband do whatever he wishes with Roland and me. Now I know that is what it was.” She started to sob again. “Common, low adultery. Not Love. Not Love at all.”

Nicolette reeled toward the still-open door. Again Diane put out a hand to help her, but Nicolette struck it away. She all but fell through the door into the darkened front yard.

Diane stood frozen as she heard Nicolette being sick outside the door.

After a while there were footsteps stumbling away, then the slow clip-clop of a donkey’s hooves. Diane went to the door and gently closed it. She turned and stared at the dagger still upright in the floor.

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