All Things Are Lights – Day 99 of 200

What is the matter with me? How can I think of myself now, while that poor woman is…

The horror that she imagined made her want to scream.

Only one thing I can do. Warn Roland. I must warn him.

XVIII

“Knights, you will surely be saved
If you take the side of God
Against the Arabs and the Turks
Who have so dishonored Him.”

Singing, the long black cloak he had worn nearly three years ago at Queen Marguerite’s song contest thrown back over his shoulders, Roland stood before his black and white tent. Perrin and the nine men he had enlisted for the crusade had formed a circle around him.

At the sound of the music, men stood up and began to drift toward them from all directions, swords and spurs clinking faintly. The bright reds and blues of their tunics were dusty from weeks of slow travel.

As Perrin blew into the shawm, his cheeks puffed and reddened till they seemed about to burst. Martin, the son of Lucien and Adrienne, beat the drum fiercely in time to the rousing martial song. The listening men clapped their hands in time.

Roland surveyed the tents out beyond his audience. They covered the hills so thickly that grass and shrubbery were hidden: nothing was visible but miles of peaked tent tops — white, red, purple, orange — glowing in the late-afternoon sun. Hundreds of white banners with red crosses fluttered against the intensely blue sky. Six thousand knights and ten thousand men-at-arms were camped out there, the huge army Louis had brought together for the deliverance of Jerusalem.

The army had been camped outside the city of Viviers on the Rhone for three days. It had taken them a month to get this far from Paris. The dry summer of the south had set in, and Roland watched dust motes drift through the air, flecks of gold in the sunset.

What a hypocrite I am, he thought, singing crusading songs to amuse the men, when I still believe this is all madness.

With Nicolette and Diane both lost to me, I have nothing to live for. Except the promise I gave Louis that I would go crusading with him. One does not break a promise made to that man.

“He who goes with King Louis
Will never have to fear Hell.
His soul will go to Paradise
With Christ and His angels.”

He came to the end of the song and bowed his head to the applause. Several called to him to sing more, but he shook his head.

“I am tired tonight.”

I am not tired, I am sad, he thought.

The men drifted away. A figure in black mantle and hood stepped out of the shadows nearby.

“Roland.”

He could not believe he was hearing her voice. He stared under the hood at the beautiful oval face he had loved so much.

Nearby, he heard Perrin whisper, “God’s bones!”

He looked around. The other men had gone back to their own tents. No one else saw Nicolette.

He had told himself many times how much he hated her because of the boy. But he felt no hatred now.

“Why are you here, Nicolette?”

“I have terrible news. It means your life. Will you talk with me?”

He realized that she must have feared he would refuse to listen to her, send her away.

“Good God, yes, I will talk with you.”

How far had she come to see him?

He led her away from the city of tents to a huge, twisted olive tree at the edge of an orchard. He saw no one nearby.

Beneath the tree he turned and faced her, feeling a wariness. Had she come to deliver some new wound?

“Are you all right?” he asked.

She nodded quickly. “It is not me. Roland, it is Diane de Combret. They have captured her.”

He staggered back a step as if struck by a stone. “Oh, dear God, no.”

But he had been expecting this.

When I saved her at Mont Segur, it was only a reprieve. I have known that for a long time.

“Is she… to die?” he asked. It hurt terribly even to ask it.

“It is worse than that, Roland. They are torturing her. They have been torturing her for weeks, and they will torture her right up to the day they burn her.”

A black vertigo engulfed him. He reached out to the trunk of the olive tree for support.

“Why?”

Nicolette shook her head. “I know what you must be going through, Roland. I would give anything not to be the one to bring you this news. Hugues and Amalric want to force her to tell them who has helped her, whom she worked with. And they are after you especially. They suspect you are linked with her. Amalric still wants to destroy you. They will torture her until she names you.”

The pain in his heart was unbearable. He struck his chest with his fists. She suffers because of me. I saved her from death only to bring her to a worse death.

“Hugues even tried to rape her,” Nicolette said.

He groaned, unable to find words.

“Roland, you know what they must be doing to her. She will end by accusing you. You must flee now. Beziers is not even a week’s ride from here.”

Roland stood like an animal that had been speared but had not yet fallen.

He had to force his voice through his tightened throat. “Why do you come to tell me this?”

Nicolette started, as if surprised by the question. “Strange, I never thought about why I was doing it. It seemed I must find you and tell you. I know that you love her. I wanted to help both of you.”

The pain weighed him down so, he did not know how he could stay on his feet. His mind kept edging close to images of what was happening to Diane, then veering away desperately.

He stared at the clusters of crusader tents spread out through the nearby fields and orchards. He thought, Help us? There is nothing you can do, Nicolette, nothing either of us can do.

He looked at Nicolette and thought how he had hurt her by concealing Diane from her. How he had parted from her at Beziers, hating her. Even in the midst of this crushing grief, he felt a small spark of joy at seeing her. I still love her, he thought. And she deserves a far better man than me.

“You are very good to come all this way to tell me, Nicolette.” He groaned. “This is all my doing. After we parted at Beziers and I thought Love was dead, I tried to win Diane’s love, and I drove her away. She left me, to go back to Languedoc and be tortured and die.”

“Do not blame yourself,” said Nicolette. She reached out, and he felt her touch on his hand, light as a butterfly’s wing. Quickly she drew her hand back.

She said, “They would have caught her even if she had stayed in Paris. Hugues said the Inquisition knew of her there. And if they had caught her in Paris it could have been at your house.”

He clenched his fists. “I wish they had. Then I could have suffered with her. Then she and I would both be happily dead by now.

“I came here to help save you, Roland. Not to hear you talk about dying.”

He looked into her dark eyes, and they were fierce. How full of fire she is.

“Nicolette, for all the hurt I have done you, forgive me. Please. I know you condemn me for… for Diane, but I cannot help it.”

“I do not condemn you,” Nicolette said sadly. “How could I after what I have done? To you, to our son, even to Amalric. You did what you had to do. I did what I had to do. Would I have ridden here from Beziers if my heart was still turned against you? Love is our sovereign. We cannot alter Love’s commands.”

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