All Things Are Lights – Day 87 of 200

“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.”

Frantic in his suffering, he struck back at her.

“It is you who betray Love, not me. You are giving yourself and the child our love has created to the enemy of our love.”

“Dear God, what would you have me do?” she said. “Run away with you? Two paupers — and later three — wandering the roads of Christendom, waiting for Amalric’s men to hunt us down? A child needs protection, a home, family.”

In his mind he saw Amalric and Hugues de Gobignon, and his heart filled with loathing.

“Family? The Gobignons? I would rather see a child of mine dead than raised as a Gobignon. You would sell your baby’s soul, and your own, for the gold of the Gobignons? Does Love not mean anything to you at all?”

“How dare you lecture me about Love?” she snapped. “The word is sullied on your lips.”

He felt the anger growing in him.

“You blame me for driving you back to Amalric. You say it is my fault that you have decided to let our child be raised as Amalric’s. All this, you say, is because I hid Diane from you. Tell me, Madame, suppose Diane did not exist. You would still be pregnant, would you not? And would you not still have run back to Amalric?”

Her face whitened, and the anger drained out of it. Still kneeling, she cast her eyes down at the space of floor between them.

After a while she said, “I do not know. Maybe I would have run away with you. But what difference does it make now? All I know is I am lucky to have found out about that woman when I did. How much more awful if I had learned only when my child and I were helpless and dependent on you?”

“But you and your child will be dependent upon Amalric. Do you truly believe that will be better?” Roland broke off.

“I cannot bear the thought of you in his embrace,” he said at last.

He watched the struggle in her face. Her love for him and her hatred for what she thought was his faithlessness. Her fear for her baby. Her fear of the love that had hurt her so badly.

Her face hardened. She is protecting herself, he realized. Herself and the child.

“It does not matter to me,” she said. “One Gobignon brother is much like another. “

Though he had braced himself for the blow she would strike, he felt as if she had plunged a knife into him.

“You are reckless, Nicolette. There is a way to ensure that neither you nor my child will ever be possessed by Amalric. I told you, your guards were not very careful when they searched me.”

“I am not afraid of you, Roland.”

Her eyes widened fiercely and her kneeling body tensed. She was ready to fight him, he realized, for her own life and the baby’s.

“And I hope you need never fear me. But I am on the brink of madness now. Do not push me over. Do not say more.”

All was lost, he thought. He was helpless. There was nothing left for him but to go back to Paris. Their love was dead. The child would be Amalric’s.

He made the sign of the cross over her with his right hand, slowly and almost reverently. “I bless you with the sign of suffering. Bless yourself like a good penitent. And go from me in peace.” His voice cracked on those last words, and tears blinded his eyes.

Still she knelt there. “What will you do, Roland?”

He tried to take a last look at her through the tears. He wanted to reach out and stroke that smooth olive cheek. What will I do? he thought. God knows. Try to find some honorable way to die.

“Forget me,” he said. “If you can.”

She blessed herself with a shaking hand, keeping up the appearance of confession for the watching guards, and stood up. Roland turned his head away, gazing fixedly into the shadows of the chapel.

As she stumbled down the nave under the open sky, the rain on her face mingled with her tears.

She was still crying uncontrollably much later, as the horses picked their way back down the mountain path toward Beziers. Sire Guy kept casting sidelong glances at her but said nothing. He wonders what I confessed, she thought in her pain, to make me cry so much.

When they were halfway to the city he said, “Madame, I do know something of the world. If you were truly a great sinner, you would not weep so after confessing.”

Her tears stopped abruptly. This is a decent man, she thought, but people are absolutely opaque to him. He can’t see into hearts. Otherwise he would not serve Amalric. Leaden despair cloaked her. She had no courtesy left for Sire Guy.

“Be silent, Messire. You understand nothing.”

They rode the rest of the way back to her castle — her prison — in silence.

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