All Things Are Lights – Day 92 of 200

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.

“You all must know,” he said, “that the King has raised the sacred war banner of France, the Oriflamme, and is now marching southward from Paris to the sea. Behind him advances the blessed crusader host. More and more barons and their men will join as they go to the sea.”

Diane wondered whether Roland were traveling with the King. Her heart ached with longing for him.

“I, too, am called to go with the crusaders, as is my good brother, Count Amalric, who has all the people of this region in his care,” Hugues went on. “While so many priests and knights are gone, my children, who will protect you from the plague of heresy? We must cleanse the land thoroughly now, that it may remain safe while the crusaders are gone.”

He repeated the many evils attributed to the heretics: murder of priests and nuns, hastening the deaths of the aged and sick, encouragement of suicide, fomenting rebellion against lawful seigneurs, sodomy, abortion, prevention of conception, contempt for marriage vows. The list went on and on. Diane’s cheeks burned with anger, and she wished she could stand up and expose these lies. She stared at Hugues. What she saw frightened her. If ever a human form was the Adversary’s handiwork, surely this man’s was. He had the face of an angel, thin and beautiful and pure. The crown of his head, shaved in the tonsure, was large and shapely, bespeaking the power of the mind contained within that noble skull. His voice was like a clarion, and it held the people in thrall.

He spoke for a long time, and at last came to the end of his sermon: “If there be any among you who have harbored thoughts of heresy ere now, rise and come forward. Confess yourselves and receive God’s mercy. For those who admit error and recant now, there will be small punishment only. Our Holy Mother, the Church, is all-forgiving.”

He waited. His burning eyes traveled over the crowd, passed Diane’s, moved on, then came back to her again. Her heart hammered in her chest. What a fool I was not to leave this town when I had the chance. His gaze left her. How strangely like Roland’s his eyes are. Dreadful for Roland to know he is half brother to such a fiend.

Hugues resumed. “If any among you know of one who holds to the teachings of the heretics, it is both a mortal sin and a serious crime to fail to tell us. If you do not wish to speak out now, you may come to us at the house of the pastor at any hour, day or night. You will not have to face those you accuse. If you have even the smallest suspicion of anyone, come to us. If you are mistaken and the person you name is innocent, God will give us the grace to find it out. Better that many innocent people should be examined — if they have nothing to hide, they have nothing to fear — than that one guilty heretic escape to go on poisoning souls.”

When Diane left the church she was panting heavily, as if she had been long deprived of breath. She had tried over the years to school herself not to feel fear, but now she was seized by an overwhelming terror. And yet she dared show no sign of unease. People were looking at her. In the plaza in front of the church men and women stared at her, as if aware of her for the first time as a stranger in town. Someone is bound to tell them about me. Perhaps one of the very people I preached to will tell them, to save himself. I knew that all along, did I not?

She hurried off to Aleth’s house, feeling like a hunted animal scurrying to its hiding place. And yet she knew, with icy cold heart, that she was no safer there than out here in plain sight.

The next morning, Monday, Diane heard a heavy knock on Aleth’s door. Whispering a prayer, she got up and opened it to find three of the inquisitors’ men-at-arms standing there. She had spent a sleepless, terrified night on her pallet next to Aleth’s bed, wondering when they would come for her, and it was almost a relief to see them. Uncertainty is more painful than certain doom, she thought. She searched their faces. They seemed neither kindly nor cruel. They asked if she were the woman visiting the widow Aleth and told her she must go with them. They showed no curiosity about who she really was. They were simply men doing their work, to bring certain designated people before the friars.

She agreed to go but protested when they said Aleth must be taken, too.

“She is very sick. “

“She did not come to the sermon yesterday,” said the sergeant in charge. “Everyone was supposed to come. No excuses.”

“But it might kill her to leave her bed,” said Diane, praying that they would leave the poor old woman alone.

“We were ordered to bring both of you, and you will both come,” said the sergeant, turning his back on her.

So they walked slowly back to the center of town, Diane half carrying Aleth. The old woman was stout, and Diane felt sweat dampening the sides of her gray peasant kirtle. The streets were nearly empty. This time of day, Diane thought, most people would be in the fields surrounding the town, tending their animals or their crops. Under the eyes of the inquisitors’ men-at-arms, no doubt. The few people who passed Diane pretended not to see her. Diane looked up at the yellow southern sun in a sky that was, she felt sure, a shade of blue brighter than anywhere else on Earth, and thought, This is the last time I will see the sun as a free woman. A wave of sadness rolled over her. There is a better world beyond this, I know. Still, this world will be hard to leave.

They came to the small but handsome stone building where the pastor lived. Inside, the pastor himself met them, a stout man with the red-veined cheeks of a heavy wine drinker.

“Take this woman upstairs,” he said, staring coldly at Diane. “The friars want to question her at once.

“Aleth, I have not seen you in church in a long time. Years, in fact. We have much to talk about.” He spoke to Aleth as if she were a child, but there was a cruel insinuation in his voice. He took the old lady’s arm and led her through a door to the rear of the house.

Anxiety for Aleth overshadowed Diane’s fear for herself. I should have given her the consolamentum. Will that priest talk her into giving up her faith?

The guards led Diane up the stairs to the main hall on the second floor. It was a long, bare room with whitewashed walls. A black crucifix with an ivory figure of Christ hung behind the two Dominican friars sitting at a table. Five young tonsured assistants flanked the inquisitors. All the men at the table wore white robes. Six crossbowmen in black tunics with red crosses stood along the walls.

Post a Comment

Your email is never published nor shared. (To tell the truth I don't even really care if you give me your email or not.)