All Things Are Lights – Day 84 of 200

She saw a shallow cleft in the mountainside ahead. Nestled in it under bare tan cliffs was a small chapel, half fallen to ruin. She had seen dozens of such decaying churches in this country. Amalric, she thought, hadn’t made Catholicism very popular in Languedoc.

As her party approached the church she noticed two men in brown robes sitting in the doorway. As she and her escort came near, they stood up. Franciscan friars. Nicolette remembered the Franciscan habit she had worn only two months ago.

Oh, Roland, now we have lost each other. Forever.

The two friars trotted out to intercept the riders, their robes flapping in their unseemly haste. You would not see perfecti scrambling to beg like that, Nicolette thought.

“Dirty vagabonds,” said Guy d’Etampes. “Want us to whip them out of the way, Madame?”

Nicolette was surprised. D’Etampes, after all, was a Catholic, and these were friars. Ah, she realized, but Franciscans are dedicated to poverty. The respectable abhor poverty.

“These men have taken a vow to humble themselves by living only on charity,” said Nicolette. “Would you be strong enough to live that way, do you think?”

The young knight blushed angrily.

Now the friars were only a few feet away, and Nicolette observed that they were indeed wretched-looking. Their hair was wild and tangled. They had short, greasy beards. Their bare feet and legs were covered with sores and caked with mud. Nicolette squirmed to think of the fleas and lice that must be crawling around in those dirty robes. But it must take character to live like that, she thought, her revulsion mixed with admiration.

The taller of the two said, “The blessing of Monseigneur Jesus on the cheerful giver, Madame.”

The voice stopped her heart.


She had to clutch the pommel of her saddle with both hands to keep from falling. Dizzy, she quickly looked away, out over the hills toward Beziers, where Amalric was.

If Amalric knew he was here…

She looked back again at the friar. In her grief might she not have deluded herself?

No, it was he. Under the dirt, the untrimmed hair and beard, were the same sharp features she knew so well. Three months ago in the forest between Chartres and Paris, she had touched that face with her fingertips.

The deformed right shoulder bulked under the shabby frieze. Out of the dark face burning blue eyes met hers.

He must have chosen the Franciscan robe to remind her of the disguise she had worn to his house. Was he trying to provoke her? Had he come all this distance looking for death?

She opened her mouth. All she had to do was tell d’Etampes that this was Orlando of Perugia. Almost certainly Amalric had warned d’Etampes about the troubadour, possibly ordered him to kill Roland on sight.

No. She hated Roland for his faithlessness, but she could not bear to end his life.

She looked past Roland and saw that the other friar was Perrin, a faint smile playing about his lips and a question in his eyes. What a chance Perrin is taking, she thought. Roland does not deserve such a loyal companion. Shrewd of you, Roland, bringing him along. Even if I wanted to expose you, I could never do anything to hurt Perrin.

Excitement coursed all through her. Her body seemed to her like a limb that had gone numb and was waking up with painful prickings. The ache she had felt these past months was very much present, but there were now other stirring sensations, too. I feel alive again, she told herself with surprise.

She had to talk to Roland. Even if only to tell him how much he had hurt her, how she hated him. And she wanted to hear what he had to say. In the aftermath of her discovery of his perfidy, her broken-hearted flight from Paris to Beziers, the one thing she regretted was that she had not waited to meet him face to face.

And whatever I do, I will not let him talk me into forgiving him.

She realized suddenly that everyone — Roland and Perrin, Guy d’Etampes and the men-at-arms — was looking at her.

D’Etampes, she remembered, was carrying her purse. “Sire Guy,” she said, “a silver denier for each of these good friars.”

“Madame will be blessed a hundredfold for her kindness to Saint Francesco’s little brothers,” said Roland, reaching for the coins Sire Guy held out disdainfully. Roland dropped them into a leather scrip tied to the rope around his waist.

“Off with you now,” d’Etampes said curtly.

“Thank you, Messire,” said Roland with a bow. “But perhaps I can offer some spiritual recompense for your kindness. I will gladly hear the confession of anyone in your party who feels the need to make peace with our heavenly Father.”

So this is the reason he came here, thought Nicolette.

“Your pardon, reverend friar,” said d’Etampes with elaborate sarcasm, “but I doubt that any of us would want to get close enough to you to make our confession. Thanks all the same, and good day to you.” The men laughed.

“These soldiers of the cross may not need your shrift, good friar,” said Nicolette quickly, “but I believe that sometimes God ordains chance meetings for our greater good.”

D’Etampes snapped his helmeted head around to stare at her, astonished.

“And I have a special admiration for the Franciscan order,” she went on. “Would you vouchsafe to hear my confession?” she said to the ragged-looking friar who was Roland.

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