All Things Are Lights – Day 97 of 200

“You disgust me,” she spat at him. “Filthy! Dirty!” All her rage and pain knotted her stomach, and she began to retch. There was nothing in her stomach but its own juices, and she vomited the burning liquid into the straw beside her head. The stench of her vomit mingled with the smell of Hugues made her sicker still. He was clawing at her skirt, dragging it up, pushing his knees between her legs. Coughing, choking, she began to pray, to give her strength as she fought him.

“Our Father, Who art in Heaven —“

“Be still, blasphemer.” His fingers were prying between her thighs.

“Hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven —“

He tried to put his hand over her mouth. She twisted her head free.

“Give us this day our consubstantial bread —“

“Shut your damned Bougre mouth!”

“And forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. Lead us not into temptation but —“

His hands left her legs. They were at her throat now. He was strangling her to make her stop praying.

She seized his wrists and with the last of her strength she broke his hold on her throat.

She screamed it: “Deliver us from evil!”

Almost as if her prayer were answered, he fell away from her.

Suddenly, gasping, she was released. Relief, and gratitude to God, flooded through her.

“What have you done to me?” There was anger and panic in his voice.

“What have I done to you?” She echoed his question, bewildered, her voice quavering. Her arms and legs were trembling violently. Her stomach was still heaving. She expected him to attack her again at any moment.

“I have done nothing to you,” she said after a moment.

“You took away my manhood,” he said fearfully. “You shriveled me. You cast a spell on me. You are worse than a damned heretic preacher. You are a witch!”

“Perhaps,” she said, sobbing, “you were more ashamed of yourself than you knew.”

“Monster! Witch! You will wish you let me have my way with you. You are going to suffer much, much more than you would have from taking a man between your legs.”

She heard him scramble up from the straw and fumble his way to the door. The heavy wooden door opened and slammed shut again. Then his fine preacher’s voice was raised in a shout for the torturers.

She shook violently with terror and curled herself into a ball to try to still her trembling.

They are going to hurt me and hurt me. Oh, God, please let me die before I tell him what he wants to know. Do not, oh, do not let me betray my friends. Do not let me betray Roland. Let me die first. Please?

Little Simon held his mother’s hand with a strong grip. Nicolette felt proud that he could toddle now, on his stout bare legs, down the halls of the citadel at Beziers. He was handsome, with a cap of hair black as a raven’s wing and bright blue eyes. Looking down at him, Nicolette thought, he has Gobignon eyes.

He had made Amalric enormously happy, this child he had named Simon, after Simon de Montfort, the first leader of the Albigensian Crusade.

It was Simon’s bedtime, and, as was now family custom, she was taking him to Amalric’s council chamber to say good night. As she approached the oak door she heard voices, Amalric and Hugues. They would not want to be disturbed. She turned to go back upstairs.

Then she heard Hugues say, “As soon as she admitted she was Diane de Combret, I brought her back here to Beziers, where we can better guard against any rescue attempt. She is perhaps the only Cathar perfecta to have escaped from Mont Segur. I have been looking for her ever since then.”

Nicolette stiffened with shock. The woman at Roland’s house. Hugues had captured her, then? Was Roland, too, in danger?

“We heard rumors that Diane de Combret was among the Cathars in Paris after Mont Segur,” Hugues went on. “Indeed, we had set a trap for her in Paris, when for some reason she left there suddenly. We lost track of her for a time, until we learned that a woman preacher answering her description was active this past year in the county of Toulouse. What is most interesting is the possibility that she is connected with your mortal enemy, Roland de Vency, he who called himself Orlando of Perugia. When I spoke his name to her, she started like a frightened deer.”

Nicolette’s heart beat furiously. She gripped Simon’s hand tightly and crept closer.

“That man!” Amalric’s voice rumbled through the door. “He could have been at Mont Segur helping her to escape. Evil — he has the look of evil all about him.”

“The woman de Combret is a witch,” Hugues said in a voice so low Nicolette had to strain to hear him. “That I know for certain. “

“A witch?” said Amalric. “What do you mean?”

Simon started to giggle. It was funny to hear Papa’s voice coming through a door.

Nicolette pulled him away and hurried upstairs to the seigneur’s bedroom, where she and Amalric and their four children slept. She left Simon with his sisters and went back.

Even from a distance she could hear angry shouts.

“Do you not realize she could accuse you publicly?” Amalric cried.

“Who would believe her?” Hugues answered. “A condemned heretic.”

What are they arguing about? Nicolette wondered. And Roland, I wonder if he knows.

“Everyone would believe her!” Amalric bellowed.

The thunder in his voice made her nervous. Servants might be drawn by the shouting and find her eavesdropping.

Amalric went on, “Everyone knows priests are forever hoisting their skirts. That is why these damned heretics have made so many converts. I expected you to be above that. How can you risk your future by violating your vow?”

“What difference does that make to my future?” said Hugues. “Bishops, cardinals, even some popes take their pleasure with women. I have had dozens since I became a priest, and still I am grand inquisitor for Toulouse.”

Hugues could not have lain with Diane de Combret. If she would not lie with Roland, she certainly would never let Hugues touch her.

Roland. I do still love him, Nicolette thought. How can I not, when I see his face every time I look at Simon? How can I judge him after what I have done — taking his son from him and presenting the child to Amalric as his?

And now, what if Hugues finds out that Roland rescued Diane from Mont Segur and sheltered her in Paris?

“You will not be grand inquisitor for Toulouse much longer if your Dominican superiors find out you tried to rape a woman prisoner,” said Amalric.

Nicolette felt her body grow hot with rage. She could not help making a little sound of disgust in her throat.

But Amalric had said “tried to.” Then Hugues had not succeeded.

“I will not have you lecturing me on morals,” said Hugues sullenly.

“You will accept correction from me, Messire. I am head of this family, do not forget.”

“Oh, I can never forget that, Monseigneur,” Hugues said sarcastically. “By the luck of birth you get the title and all the land, and I must make my way as a priest. I am expected to deny my body’s needs, while you have a beautiful wife to go to bed with whenever you want.”

Nicolette’s skin crawled, hearing Hugues speak of her so.

She jumped back as she heard a sudden, sharp crack from within the room.

“How dare you strike a priest?” Hugues shrieked.

“I dare because I have more respect for the priesthood than you do,” said Amalric. “Never join my wife and your lust in your thoughts again.”

“I am no threat to your marriage,” said Hugues. “And I may even have found a way to destroy the man who is. Then you may regret the way you treated me.”

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.)