All Things Are Lights – Day 93 of 200

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.

These priests know how the people of Languedoc hate them, and they are frightened men, Diane thought.

Hugues stared at her without speaking. She looked back into the sharp blue eyes, trying to guess what he was going to say. At last he smiled cordially, pushed back the sleeves of his spotless robe, and picked up a parchment scroll.

“I hold in my hand a list of the remaining heretic preachers known to be at large in the County of Toulouse,” he said in a brisk, warm tone. “Let us not waste time while you tell me lies and I try to penetrate them. I will let the old lady go home now if you will say at once who you are.”

“You will trouble her no more?”

Hugues grinned at her. “We are not after her sort. We are looking for special people, those whose names are on this list. I noticed you in church yesterday, Madame. You had a certain look about you. You could be one of those special people, the ones who preach and give the sacraments, the ones who dare to call themselves ‘perfect.’ Pray, Madame, are you one of those?”

“I am such a one as you are looking for,” said Diane calmly. She heard the pens of the clerks scratching furiously. She felt a lightness as soon as she spoke. The feeling amazed her. Knowing she was delivering herself into their hands, was probably pronouncing her own death sentence, she should be terrified. Instead she was relieved, buoyant. It was as if, instead of becoming a prisoner, she had been in chains and was only now set free.

After a moment, she understood. The struggle, the running and hiding, the endless alertness and care, the constant, nagging fear, were over and done with. Bishop Bertran and the others must have felt this way after Mont Segur had surrendered. Now she need only compose herself for death.

“Why did you remain here?” asked Friar Gerard. “You must have realized suspicion would fall on you, as an unknown person in town.”

“I was staying to give what aid I could to that sick woman. Will you let her go now?”

“Why did you not just give her the Sacrament, smother her with a pillow, and get on out of town?” said Hugues. His tone was lighthearted, as if he found it amusing to contemplate such a murder.

She felt the same indignation as she had at his calumnies in the church.

“Despite what you claim, we do not practice mercy killing. You are killing us quickly enough.”

“Not half quickly enough,” said Friar Gerard.

The venom in his remark sickened her. She could not understand such hatred.

How long, she wondered, would they keep her standing here? What did they want from her now? Perhaps to get her to admit to the abominations of which the Cathars were supposedly guilty. Or they might hope she would tell them something that would lead to other Cathars, especially to other preachers. Each time a Cathar was captured, she knew, the friars did their utmost to trace the prisoner’s connections to others.

I know little, Diane tried to reassure herself, and will say nothing.

But I can bear witness to the truth, she decided. Give the lie to their false ideas about my church. Who knows, there might be one among the men in this room who has a mind open enough to listen.

The hatred her religion aroused was a mystery that had shaped the course of Diane’s life. She had always wanted to ask why these men inflicted so much suffering on her and her people. Now at last she might solve the riddle of her persecutors.

“Why do you hate us so?” she asked. “We have never done anything to you. Surely you know we harm no one.”

The two friars laughed as if this were a good joke.

“Oh, yes,” said Hugues. “We all know what good men and good women you are. Honest, hardworking, austere, a reproach to your Catholic neighbors, are you not? Your master, the Devil, makes you so.”

Diane was bewildered. Surely he does not believe that.

“You harm no one?” said Friar Gerard. “Why, before the Albigensian Crusade you people had almost taken the entire south of France out of the Church. Countless souls burn in Hell because of you.”

Hugues said, “Do you think it no harm to teach people that they do not need bishops and priests? That they may make up their religious teachings to suit themselves?”

Their implacable hostility was like the heat from a great fire. They mean to burn me alive, she thought with mounting horror, and they will feel that they are doing right.

“So, we have encouraged the flocks you were shearing to run away, is that your grievance?” she said bitingly.

“Runaway sheep end up being eaten by wolves,” said Hugues instantly.

He is quick-witted, she thought grudgingly. I must try to understand him. Or I will die never knowing why I had to die.

“People are not sheep,” she said. “They can think for themselves. Why are you so afraid of that?”

Hugues narrowed his eyes. “Runaway souls end up being stolen by the Devil. When people imagine they are thinking for themselves, Satan is putting ideas into their minds. And those whom you lead astray listen to him, instead of to their proper shepherds. You set children against parents, wives against husbands, peasants against landlords, townsfolk against seigneurs. For a hundred years your influence has been spreading throughout the kingdom, even among those who remain Catholics. Questioning authority. Delving into pagan philosophy. Speculating about nature. The troubadours with their seditious songs. Even royalty is corrupted. You are the ones behind it all.”

“Surely you do not think we are all that influential.”

“Do not try to play the innocent with me, Madame. I know how your web spreads throughout the country. In the last few years I have spent much of my time in Paris tracing a conspiracy that may touch the royal palace itself. Little by little I have been weaving my net of informers. We know about students, booksellers, vagabonds, troubadours, and little secret groups of Cathars all working together in the very heart of the kingdom.”

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