All Things Are Lights – Day 88 of 200

“Be silent, Messire. You understand nothing.”

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

XVI

Diane stiffened with fear as she heard Roland’s footsteps on the stairs. All winter long, since he came back from Beziers and his encounter with Nicolette, he had not been himself. His speech was unrelievedly bitter. He drank. He brooded. Sometimes he would stare at Diane for long moments without saying anything.

I am the cause of his suffering, she accused herself. In spite of my superior, I should not have stayed here. I was weak, because I wanted to be safe and I wanted to be near Roland. And now I have ruined his life.

The signs of his ruin lay on the table in the front hall — a stout walking stick as tall as a man, a simple leather bag, and a cross of red silk. That Roland should possess these things meant he was turning his back on everything he had lived for. And this time that cross was no disguise, as at Mont Segur. Feeling sick, as if the things on the table had somehow fouled the air in the room, she opened the front door and let in the pleasant spring breeze.

And yet what could be more harmless than the pilgrim’s staff and the leather scrip in which he carries a few coins and a bit of food? Who is more peaceable than a pilgrim? And what could be more a symbol of love than the cross, made sacred by Jesus Christ? How do such innocent articles allow knights to bring looting and murder to faraway peoples?

Roland, she knew, had taken the crusader’s oath yesterday in a great May Day ceremony at Notre-Dame cathedral. But he had not brought the crusader’s paraphernalia home. She had heard him stagger into the house in the blackest part of the night. This morning a royal messenger had brought the objects, saying that Roland had left them at the palace.

Now she watched Roland’s scuffed black boots come slowly down the steep stairs. At the bottom he stopped and blinked at the sunlight streaming in through the open front door. His wine- stained maroon tunic and black hose were so wrinkled he must have slept in them.

“The sun already on this side of the house?” he said. “Can it be afternoon?”

“It is a beautiful day,” said Diane.

He grinned at her sourly, drawing his mouth up on the left side. “Beautiful days are the handiwork of the evil god, is not that what you Cathars say? For my part, blue skies and sunshine only make me want to go back to bed.”

His face was waxen and furrowed after a night of heavy drinking. His bitterness seemed deeper than ever today. She could have wept for him.

“The King gave a great banquet for all us new crusaders last night,” he said with a smile that was more a sneer. “Twelve courses. Quarter of bear and boar’s head. And the Queen gave me some happy news.”

Whatever the news, it was probably the reason for his drinking last night. She waited for him to tell her.

“Nicolette is delivered of a son,” he said abruptly. “My son. My son will be the Count de Gobignon one day. Think of that.”

Sorrow for him engulfed her. Tears burned her eyelids. The poor man. To have the only child he has ever sired in the hands of his worst enemy. She wanted to stroke his head to comfort him.

“Oh, no,” was all she could say aloud.

I wish it had been me. I wish he had given me that baby. What am I saying? God forgive me!

“I am horribly thirsty,” said Roland. “And after all I drank last night even a glimpse of wine would make me vomit. You perfecti are wise never to drink wine.” He sighed. “But then, how do you wash away your sorrows?”

We do not, thought Diane. We live with them always.

“May I have some of that well water you drink?”

Diane went to the kitchen and got her earthenware water pitcher. Through the open kitchen door she spied Perrin in the field beyond the garden, swinging a great two-handed sword around his head. The sun glinted on the knee-length hauberk he wore as part of his practicing. So, he is going, too. He will wear the cross and kill people, because his loyalty to Roland comes before everything else. Even though he is one of us now.

She went back and poured water into Roland’s tin cup. He swallowed it all and held out the vessel for more.

“Where are the others?” He was staring at her oddly, and she nervously smoothed the skirt of her blue gown.

“Perrin is in the meadow, exercising with his sword. Adrienne and Lucien are marketing. The boy is grooming your horses.” She gestured at the symbols of pilgrimage and crusade. “The palace sent those.”

“Oh, yes. Those.

“Perrin is in marvelous condition, you know. He made the journey to Beziers and back on foot with me with never a complaint. You would never know he had been… wounded.”

She looked at Roland’s own hunched shoulder and her heart melted. This man has been wounded inside and out. He could never wield a two-handed sword the way she had just seen Perrin doing.

“Roland, are you actually thinking of fighting in this crusade?”

He gave a short, harsh laugh. “Why does one go on crusade, if not to fight? What a strange question!”

“But you cannot raise your right arm above shoulder level. How can you fight?”

“I have another good arm, and there are many weapons besides the two-handed sword.”

“Oh, Roland. You will throw your life away if you go into battle.”

He laughed again. “I can do other things. The King found out that I learned Arabic in Sicily, and he thinks that could be useful. He has already got me teaching the Arab numbering system to the palace clerks. I doubt we shall do much talking with the Saracens, but if we do, I can help there.”

“But if you have to fight, any Saracen you meet will have the advantage.”

“I will be better prepared than you might think. Do you remember Sire Guido, the Templar who brought Perrin here that night? He has invited me to train at their headquarters over in the Marais. And the King’s army leaves for Outremer not this summer, but the next, in twelve hundred and forty-eight. I can acquire great skill in that time. The Templars know more about the art of war than anyone else. Many have lost a limb to the Turks and can still give a good account of themselves in battle.”

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