All Things Are Lights – Day 94 of 200

“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.”

Paris! This man might have been on her track even there. Perhaps it was lucky for Roland and the others who knew her that she had fled when she did.

I must be very careful.

She glanced at the clerks, the tops of their shaven heads gleaming at her as they bent over their parchment, writing, writing. Every word she said was being taken down and would be studied and studied again for whatever clues it might yield.

I should turn his thoughts away from Paris.

“You do not care to know what we teach, do you?” she said. “You are only concerned that we may influence people, as you put it, and diminish the Church of Rome’s wealth and power.”

“We know what you teach is false,” said Hugues with a shrug. “That is enough. Once we burn the last of your books and the last of your preachers, no one will know what you believed. Your religion will disappear.”

His words terrified her. What if he were right? When the last few like myself have gone to the stake, what will be left of us?

Her feet, shod in rough leather sandals, were beginning to hurt. She had not sat down since leaving Aleth’s house. She wanted to ask them for a chair, but she knew they would refuse and would get satisfaction from that sign of weakness in her.

I must stay strong, she told herself. And bear witness.

“You are very wrong, Friar Hugues,” she said huskily. “Our faith does not come from books and preachers. The One Light is present in every human heart. Even yours, though you refuse to see it. People will always be able to look within and rediscover the truths we have taught.

“Kill all of us, but among your own people there will be those who will come to doubt what you tell them and will leave your Church. What you call heresy will arise again and again, until finally it wins free of you. You can never stop men and women from finding the knowledge of God within.”

Diane realized she was trembling. The Spirit spoke through me, she thought, and was awed by this sign of divine favor. I have done part of what I wanted to do. I have borne witness. But I never really will understand these men.

The two friars looked at her, seeming momentarily at a loss. Hugues finally said, “You are gifted. You are no ordinary Cathar, are you? Tell me your name.”

She felt an instant of pleasure, glee even. Her name, perhaps her last little coin to bargain with. So many things now are the last for me, she thought.

“You have not yet released the widow, as you promised.”

“Of course.” Hugues pointed to a guard. “Send the old woman home.”

I never did get to lay hands on her, Diane thought. She will probably die and be reborn again into this suffering world. Perhaps she will fare better in her next life.

“And now — your name?” said Hugues, stretching his pale hand toward her invitingly.

“My name is Diane de Combret, if it matters to you.”

“Diane de Combret!” Hugues’s eyes widened, and he smiled, baring perfect white teeth. “I thought it might be you.” His index finger stabbed at a place on the scroll before him.

“Oh, your name matters much to me, Madame,” he went on, eyes bright. “I had hoped to find you in Paris a year ago. I am delighted to meet you at last.”

Hugues stood up suddenly. “Our inquiries here at Azille are closed for now. We will take this woman back to Beziers with us at once. If we press hard we should be there in two days.”

Friar Gerard and the clerks stared at him, astonished. He ignored them and merely continued to grin triumphantly at Diane.

Does capturing me mean so much to him, Diane wondered, that he no longer wants to continue his work here?

As if he knew her question, Hugues said, “I want you safely within the walls of Beziers, guarded by my brother’s army. Should your misguided brethren attempt to rescue you there, they will surely fail.”

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