Hating his origin, Roland seemed at times to hate himself. Roland eyed her angrily. Sometimes I do not wonder that the Catholics persecute you. When, following him, she stepped out from the shelter of the trees, she stopped, her heart pounding with terror. Before her rose a high wall of sharp-pointed logs.
A forest of banners of silk and rich samite fluttered above and beyond it. Many of them bore blood-red crosses, some thin and long, some stout and square, some tipped with multiple points. Men in steel helmets wearing long coats of mail strode back and forth before the wooden wall or exercised huge war-horses covered in brightly colored silk coats. The palisade seemed to enclose leagues of rolling hills.
On the hills, stretching as far as Diane could see, tents were massed - thousands of them, their pointed roofs clustered together on the hilltops, the biggest tents at the very top of the hills, the smaller ones of the poorer knights lower down. Forbidden by her vows to eat meat, she had come to loathe its smell. The noise was terrifying now, thousands of voices echoing against the walls of the valley in a raucous, deafening clamor. How could she force herself to walk into that camp? Roland led the way to the main gate, and she made herself follow.
A sergeant with a long black mustache came forward to challenge them. She prayed that the guard would not look too closely at her. Every-thing she feared about the crusaders was now embodied in this one mustachioed man. We may be winning, or the Bougres may be counter-attacking. Diane restrained an urge to wince. They are always making up names for us, she thought. Calling us Bougres - what an ugly sound it has!
As if to name us gives them power over us. They do not like what we call ourselves - Cathars - the purified ones.
She lost all her suitors in the war. Now she is past marrying age and hungers for a man. It was my duty to try to make her happy. Report me if you will. I will take my punishment. Honor forbids me to reveal her name. How easily Roland lies, Diane thought. Would the sergeant believe him, or would he suddenly arrest them? But the sergeant only grinned. What is your man carrying in those packs? The sergeant laughed. It is no wonder the women hereabouts need real men. All those damned Bougres giving it to each other up the arse. Roland led her along a winding, muddy path through the tall, four-sided tents, each topped with a pointed pennon bearing the badge of the knight who dwelt in it.
Soon she saw a dozen priests of the Roman Church in red vestments carrying gilded crosses and silken banners. Young boys in black-and-white robes followed them down the path, ringing bells and swinging smoking, incense-filled thuribles. The robes of the priests looked hideously gaudy to Diane. She felt overwhelmed with hatred. Priests such as these had instigated forty years of bloodshed in Languedoc.
They believed they were serving God, but she was convinced they were doing the work of the Adversary. She listened to what they were singing, Salve Regina. They were praying for victory over her people with a hymn to the Virgin Mary.
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How could God have a material mother? She felt a tugging on her arm and saw that Roland had dropped to his knees in the mud. She resisted. She would never bend her knee to such priests. But if she refused she risked being found out. She swallowed hard, knelt, and made the sign of the cross. After the procession passed on, she struggled to her feet, shouldered the two packs, and trudged beside Roland along the twisting path.
But she was overcome with fear, convinced that every one of the thousands of men around her could see right through her disguise. But she kept her eyes on the ground, not daring to look up at the cruel faces of the crusaders, and she stumbled along half a step behind Roland, terrified of being separated from him. Count Amalric de Gobignon is himself one. Try to walk more as if you belonged here.
De Gobignon is the commander of this army. But look - here is where the knights from Italy and Aragon have pitched their tents. There are even some few knights of Languedoc camped hereabouts, who have made the crusader cause their own. The sound of a strong voice singing interrupted Roland.
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The voice was mellow, and there was laughter in it. Even in her terror, it made Diane feel better. She followed Roland through a circle of closely spaced tents and then saw an open area, a low hill covered with men seated on the trampled grass. Small fires burned against the February chill. All the men had their swords buckled on, their helmets by their sides. Only a small part of this army was up on Mount Segur, she suddenly realized. The entire host was huge; this Count de Gobignon had not even begun to throw his men into the fight.
It had always been hopeless. Now she spied the singer, a short, stocky young man with curly blond hair. The golden wood of his lute gleamed in the late afternoon sun. He was standing before a plain black tent. Above its pointed roof a small black pennant flew, bearing a silver griffin pawing the air. He has left no virgins in our land. Why are we staying here? Someone in the crowd handed the jongleur a wineskin, and he squirted a red stream into his throat. Then Diane saw his eyes flicker in their direction, first at Roland, then at her.
Diane hurried after Roland as he stepped forward. The men hastily got out of his way. Something about him frightens them, she thought. Perhaps his height, or the long black cape he wears. The men moved away to fires around the side of the hill as he strode through them.
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The jongleur bowed to Roland. Diane followed Roland into the black tent. It was as stark within as without. Its main furnishing was a chest of reddish-brown wood studded with brass nails. Roland silently stretched out his hand, and the jongleur gave him the lute. Roland smiled at it, strumming it lightly with his long fingers and stroking its polished wood, before he wrapped it in its white silk cloth.
Diane was unable to take her eyes off his hands. They were still as beautiful as she had remembered them. Thank God you made it back safely.
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I could not sleep for worrying about you. That is why I was out there singing for those louts, to take my mind off my fears. But why these fears for my welfare? Have you no faith in me? He really is from Saint-Fleur. He sometimes accompanies me when I sing. Also acts as my equerry, and little help he is.