All Things Are Lights – Day 89 of 200

“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.”

She remembered Guido Bruchesi. He had frightened her by seeming to see right through her pretense of being Roland’s sister.

“I will never forget the night Guido brought poor Perrin here,” he said. “You were splendid, Diane.” Suddenly he looked intently into her eyes. “How can you be such a fine physician when you believe that the body is evil?”

“We do not think the body is evil, just that it is, in a way, an illusion. Pain itself is real. We think we have a duty to ease the sufferings of our brothers and sisters, whatever its source.”

But she was not convincing herself. I am tempted, too, to believe in the beauty of the body. And I feel it in me, the power of that Love he worships.

Roland was smiling that twisted smile of his again, with as much anger in it as pleasure.

“If you do not hate the flesh, if you feel obliged to ease suffering” — he moved closer to her, and suddenly she was frightened — “why will you not be mine?”

Terror shot through her like an arrow. “Roland, you promised you would never speak of such things to me.” She moved so that the table was between them. “You are disturbed now because of Nicolette and your son. I cannot take her place.”

“No, and she could not take your place. Well, she seemed to for a while. But she was the first to see the truth — that I never really stopped loving you. I hid it from myself. It is you whom Love has chosen for me. It is you I have loved — first, last, and always. Long ago I wrote, ‘That which delights both woman and man is praise to Him Who made them.’ I wrote those words for you. And what I feel for you is not evil. It is good.”

All the longing for him that had ever tormented her now rose up within her; like a thirst, but one that she felt not merely in her throat but in her arms and legs, chest and belly, in her fingertips. It clamored to be quenched, and it would be only if she pressed her mouth against him. It was not Roland who terrified her as she backed away, but her own body.

“Diane, your faith asks too much of human beings. I saw young men and women give themselves to the flames at Mont Segur. You, too, are immolating yourself day after day by denying Love.”

My body is burning right now, she thought.

She tried to think of her faith, what Bishop Bertran would say if he could advise her.

“Roland, the love you are speaking of is only a momentary fleshly pleasure. Would you have me destroy myself for that?”

But how hollow those words sounded, against her need of him.

He was circling the table. She moved in the opposite direction.

“What you are doing is destroying yourself, Diane. You are destroying both of us.”

“There is an afterlife, Roland. I know it.”

“There can be another life for us right here on Earth.” He gestured angrily at the staff, scrip, and cross. “Is this my future? The stake and the flames, is that your future? There are places you and I could be safe together. The Alpine communes. England. Come away with me now.”

In her mind Diane saw two paths. On one lay a long life together for him and her — talking, laughing, singing, making love, having children. All simple, human pleasures. And if she took that path?

Beautiful as it seemed, she would chain herself to evil. And when she died her soul would be imprisoned for all eternity with the evil power, the Adversary. She would be tortured with blackness and fire and cruel winds and the mockery of demons and other damned souls. Damnation would never end. No hope. No hope at all.

And she would never know God.

Down the other path, if she denied Roland, lay a life of constant fear and, surely not far off, the death that awaited the Inquisition’s victims.

Once, just to see if she could bear a little of the fire she knew she must face one day, she had put the tip of one finger in a candle flame. Her flesh had hissed, the pain had shot up her arm, and she had screamed, even though she had steeled herself, and jerked her arm back. The burn blistered and hurt for days afterward. She tried to imagine feeling that pain all over her body, but it was beyond her comprehension.

At the stake, would I beg them to let me renounce my faith? She had seen a few men and women with hideously scarred faces and crippled limbs, people who had screamed their recantation when they felt the flames and had been freed at the last possible moment. Once she had pitied their weakness, but after her trial with the candle flame she had a new understanding of them.

Beyond the Inquisition’s fire, though, she would know eternal bliss in union with the true God. If she were good when she died, she would know goodness and happiness forever. Happiness that would make Roland’s embrace seem as a mere drop of water compared to the sea. She would walk and talk with the good God in His paradise beyond the stars.

“Roland,” she pleaded, “you know this is wrong. Search your heart.”

“Search my heart?” he said fiercely, moving catlike toward her around the table. “My heart tells me that I have loved you since I was a boy. I loved you these last three years while I tried to renounce my love because you demanded it. Yes, you commanded me not to speak of Love, and I obeyed you. But I love you still. I cannot help myself. I do not mean a spiritual love for all men and women. I mean a passion of body and soul. Yes, I long to hold you naked in my arms. Yes, I long to pierce your body with mine, to be one with you. With every fiber of my being I believe my desire for you is good. It is what human beings were made for. I search my heart and it tells me that you must love me, too. I know it.”

As he spoke he moved inexorably toward her.

Backing away, she pressed against a wall. I could have run out the door. Why did I let myself be trapped? I wanted to be trapped.

His arms reached out to her.

“No!” she screamed. She put her own arms up stiffly to fend him off. “I do love you, Roland,” she said, gasping as if she were out of breath. “Yes, I do.”

His face seemed to glow. She was overwhelmed by the sudden beauty of his expression.

His eyes bright, he stepped closer, so that she had to press her hands against his chest to hold him back. Feeling him, a trembling ran through her fingers into her arms.

“But you must not do this to me, Roland,” she hurried on. “You will destroy my soul forever and ever. Even while I live, even living with you, I will be nothing. A ruined thing. Vows broken can never be renewed. For me there can be no forgiveness.”

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