All Things Are Lights – Day 91 of 200

Maybe the Inquisition will find me quickly. Life, she thought, is too much pain. Let me die, and let my soul fly up, like a spark, to God.

XVII

Standing in the midst of the crowd of villagers listening to the proclamation, Diane felt a sudden chill. The bright sun of Languedoc shining down on the marketplace lost all its warmth for her.

“Friar Hugues of the Order of Preachers, grand inquisitor for the County of Toulouse, will preach at mass this Sunday,” the crier, a man in a black tunic with a red cross on his chest, declared. “Everyone living in Azille is required to attend.”

The crowd broke up quietly, people neither speaking nor looking at each other. They all feared, Diane knew, that any comment might be reported to the Inquisition.

As she walked slowly down the street, her market bag laden with eggs, a bunch of scallions, and three small loaves of fresh-baked bread, Diane saw a group of men on the edge of town. They carried crossbows and wore polished steel helmets, and they were setting up a tent. Northern French soldiers, the inquisitors’ men-at-arms. There must be guards on all the roads out of town, Diane thought with a sinking feeling. It was too late to escape.

She should not have stayed this long in Azille, but old Aleth needed her. Aleth, the weaver’s widow, had wracking pains in her chest, which might kill her at any time. If Diane went away without giving her the consolamentum, Aleth might die and be reborn to another lifetime of suffering. But if Diane gave her the consolamentum, Aleth would be required to lead a perfect life from then on, or be doomed to Hell. And Aleth was a worldly woman, likely to stray from the rules if she got back on her feet for even a short time. Elderly though she was, she had admitted to having had four lovers since her husband died.

In a quandary, Diane had stayed on at Aleth’s house these past few weeks, nursing the old lady. She liked Aleth and wanted to see her make a good end. But it had been a mistake, she realized now, to have remained with Aleth when she knew the inquisitors would be stopping here on their regular rounds of the villages. Her superior back in Paris had warned her against courting death.

But I have been in Languedoc for a year now, and I have had three narrow escapes. If I were trying to die, I would not have lasted this long.

It had been a good year, and she had accomplished much since her sudden flight from Paris and Roland’s house. She had slipped unobtrusively from town to town in Aquitaine and Toulouse, and she had won converts to the truth, strengthened believers in their faith, and given the dying the Sacrament that sent them straight to God. Her reward was the love and gratitude she saw in the faces that greeted her in secret gatherings. Sometimes, alone at night, she wept, remembering Roland. But often, exhausted, she sank into a mercifully dreamless sleep. Time had passed unnoticed.

So that when May of twelve hundred and forty-eight arrived, the anniversary of her leaving Roland, the realization took her by surprise. She was surprised, not least, to find herself so long in Languedoc and still alive.

Diane had never seen Hugues de Gobignon, but she had heard how he had preached to the martyrs of Mont Segur, and a dark impulse she could not name made her look forward to seeing and hearing him.

Back at Aleth’s small cottage, Diane told the widow about the inquisitors. Aleth begged Diane to go away.

“What if someone stands up in church and points a finger at you, Madame? What you should do is leave town.”

“Too late for that,” said Diane. “The friars’ men would see me, and they would guess that I could only be trying to escape because I am a Cathar.”

On Sunday Diane watched people hurrying to find places in the church. They were talking in low, excited whispers. Though they were afraid of the Inquisition, most of them, she realized, would have come even if they were not compelled to. To hear a famous preacher is a great event in their lives, she thought. Whether he were Catholic or Cathar, it would make little difference to them, whatever their religious sympathies.

She suppressed a shudder as she let the crowd carry her through the doorway of the little village church. She had been in many Catholic churches, but they still repelled her with their gaudy decorations, their atmosphere of strange rites and idol-worship. This church was filled beyond capacity, so that there was not even room to kneel. The air was stifling; the smell of sweat, overpowering. The Frankish crossbowmen in helmets and mailed shirts who had been watching the roads now stood against the walls, their weapons in their hands.

A friar who called himself Gerard gave a brief introductory talk, reminding the people that all were required to come to confession during the following week.

Then Friar Hugues ascended the small pulpit.

The people had been quiet, but now the stillness was like death.

Hugues began softly, in a friendly tone. He had been to this town many times before, he said. He paid his respects to the pastor of the church, to the local seigneur, a mustachioed northern knight who sat in a chair of state to the right of the altar, and then to some of the people in the congregation, whom he greeted as old friends.

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