All Things Are Lights – Day 86 of 200

He looked away. Confessors do not stare at their penitents.

She asked, “What is to become of Guillaume?”

He was surprised at her change of subject.

“He has been lucky. They have not been able to prove heresy against him. Of course, inquisitors can find evidence to prove anything they want to, but the King himself asked them to be fair with Guillaume. I managed to put in a word. So the Inquisition only confiscated his house and his books — burned quite a few — and ordered him out of Paris. He will move to England. No Inquisition there.”

“What about… our room?” He heard mourning in her voice.

He laughed bitterly. “I imagine it looks quite different now. The Dominicans are using the house to quarter their novices.”

“So the place where we first pledged our love no longer exists.” She was struggling, he sensed, to hold back tears. “Just as well. I came to believe your Diane when she said you and she had never made love, and I believe you now. But if you had been true to the laws of Love, you would have remained faithful to her, even if you could never have her. You did not have the strength for that, so you made do with me. Made do! You pretended to me that I was first in your heart.”

Roland stretched out a hand to her, then drew it back. He heard a clatter of metal and turned to the doorway of the chapel. The leader of her escort had taken a step forward, hand on sword hilt. She waved him back.

Let him come, Roland thought. I would gladly die fighting.

But his battle now was for Nicolette’s love.

“If I came all this way,” he said, “to tell you anything, it is this: yes, Diane was in my heart before you. I knew and loved her from the time I was a boy. But you alone are in my heart now. Believe me!”

He stared unblinking at her till his eyes hurt. Would she believe him?

She looked back at him, and he saw love burning in her eyes. But then her eyes wavered, and he saw the doubt. His heart turned to stone.

“Even if what you say were altogether true,” she said slowly, “what was between us must now be over forever.”

There was something else, he realized, something she had not told him. What else could come between them?

“What do you mean? Why?”

“Because I am with child.”

It was as if she had spoken in a language he did not understand. Then he reeled, almost falling from the stone he was seated on. Everything went dark before his eyes.

Amalric? Rage poured through his body.

No. That night in the forest last August.

His chest filled up with fear for her. What if Amalric found out? Then there was a little flicker of joy. I have fathered a child. Nicolette is going to have my baby.

He realized he had been silent for a long time.

“It is mine, of course,” he said.

Her eyes narrowed and her face flushed. He realized with dismay that he had made her angry. Her low, bitter laugh made him wince inwardly.

“The baby is mine, of course. I am the one who is carrying it.”

“Does your husband know?”

She chuckled mirthlessly.

“My husband is pleased and has no reason to doubt that he is the child’s father. In my grief after the visit to your house, I begged the Queen to let me come here, and left almost at once. Where else could I go? After all, this is my country, and he is my husband.”

Her voice broke, and his heart with it.

Carrying my child and thinking I betrayed her. My God, how she has suffered! If only I could take her in my arms.

“Amalric,” she went on, “had already exercised his marital rights with me before I even realized I was with child. And I have tried to restore good will with him. It is not difficult. He does love me, you know, in his crude way. I will go to my sisters at Chateau Lumel when the time approaches for the lying in. If need be, my sisters can delay the announcement of the birth a week or two.” She paused, choking back a sob. “Have I not shown foresight on my child’s behalf?” she added bitterly.

She cannot do this.

It is mine, he thought. Not Amalric’s. It has my blood. And my mother’s.

And my father’s. But he put that unbearable thought out of his mind.

The child of Roland de Vency in the house of Amalric de Gobignon? He felt himself growing angry. Not my child! Never!

“Then what?” said Roland in a strangled tone. “After the child is born?”

“Why, then, it will be reared as the fourth child of the Count and Countess de Gobignon. In the summer after next the crusade will embark, and I shall accompany Monseigneur. The baby will be old enough to stay behind, with my family or with Amalric’s.”

The very foundations of the Earth seemed to rock under him. “You cannot let Amalric have our child,” he whispered. “My God, do you not see what you would be doing? If I am the father, as I must be, then this infant is my mother’s grandchild. The very blood in this infant’s veins betrayed into the hands of our worst enemy?”

“What you are saying makes no sense,” she said. “People’s fates are not decided by their blood. Do you belong to the Gobignon family because you have Gobignon blood?”

No! he thought. But I was rescued from the Gobignon family.

He squeezed his eyes shut. He had lost not only Nicolette, but the child they had given life to on that beautiful summer night.

Now I know what Hell is.

“I know I drove you to this,” he said. “That is why I have abandoned my duties, traveled from Paris on foot, risked my life to talk to you in front of your husband’s guards.”

“You admit that you wronged me?”

He spread his hands. “I admit I should have told you the truth from the beginning. But I thought I was protecting you. You would have been an accomplice to the hiding of a heretic.”

But it sounded weak even to him. Even if there had been no danger, he could not have told her about Diane. Yet if there had been no danger, Diane would not have been hiding with him. Fear, fear of the Inquisition, had caused it all.

Fear — or love?

“No,” she said. “You were afraid I would refuse your love if I knew about Diane.”

He had now felt the pain for so long that his chest was numb.

“Perhaps you are right,” he said, bowing his head in submission. “I have wronged you, and I accept the pain of losing you as my just desert. But what about justice for my… for the child? The child has no voice here. You are deciding its fate. “

“There are many ways to look at it,” she said pitilessly. “Amalric’s father got a bastard on your mother. Now that bastard has gotten another bastard on Amalric’s wife. The Vencys have been avenged on the Gobignons. If not on the field of battle, at least in the bedchamber.”

He shut his eyes, the pain overwhelming him. He was breathing heavily, as if he were crushed under an enormous weight.

“That is the cruelest thing anybody has ever said to me.”

“It is easy to be cruel, Roland, when you have been hurt as I have. When the door to your house opened and I saw that woman and knew in an instant that all I cared about in this world and the next had been betrayed, that, too, was cruelty.”

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