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Light of Love
by Amanda Berendt
Copyright 2002

“You have always had faith in me. You believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself. You saw the light in my eyes. Now I have that faith. I have that belief. And I can see the light.”

Brabant, Flanders (ca. 1218-1220)

    Nicolas de Brabant rode along the path away from the beach. The ship from Wales had moored at dawn and he had disembarked with a heavy heart. Logically, he knew he should be happy - he was home and today he would be reunited with his mother and younger sister. But this would not be a long reunion. That was why he was unhappy. After his brief visit home, he would be off to join the crusade in Jerusalem.
    According to Lord Carrig, whose attaché Nicolas had been while in Wales, this was a reprieve. He was being sent to Jerusalem instead of being executed for the murder of the local woman, Gwyneth. Even though he was innocent of the crime, he was being sent away on a mission that might quite possibly end with his death. His only indiscretion was caring for a woman whose beliefs were different from his own. Was love really worth all of this pain?
    It was mid-afternoon when he approached his home. As he rode up the long familiar road, the walls of the main building rose up to meet him. He dismounted and settled his horse in the stables before going to the main hall.
    Upon entering the door he called out, his voice echoing in the seemingly empty dwelling. “Fleur?....... Mother?”
    Within moments two women were rushing into the hall, arms open wide to receive him.
    “Oh, Nicolas!” the younger of the two women cried as she wrapped her arms around him.
    “I’ve missed you Fleur!” Nicolas gasped as he returned her embrace with just as much enthusiasm.
    He then turned to the older woman who was gazing at him with misty eyes. Releasing his sister, he reached out to embrace the other woman.
    “Mother.” he uttered quietly.

    Nicolas lay in his bed late that night. The house was silent. His mother and sister had fallen asleep hours ago. The evening had gone by so quickly. At dinner he had told them of his time in Wales and of Gwyneth and her people. He had also told him about Lord Carrig and the council’s decision to send him to Jerusalem. This caused Fleur to excuse herself to tend to something in the kitchen. She returned moments later, her eyes tainted with red but dry.
    They spent the rest of the evening talking of old times. No one broached the subject of the crusade or spoke of any future plans beyond the morning. The evening had been wonderful.
    Now, Nicolas was alone with thoughts. Although he would never admit it to Fleur or his mother, he was deeply afraid. Of course, he was fearful of joining the crusade - of fighting in the name of a god which he wasn’t sure he truly believed in anymore. But he was more afraid of what was not spoken of all evening - the future. Would he even have one? What of all the things he would miss - his home, his family. He may never have the chance to fall in love, marry, or have a family of his own. Would he get the chance to leave a bit of himself behind on this earth? Perhaps Gwyneth was his chance at true love and happiness and now it was gone. Perhaps, also, she had seen the truth when she had told him his future was dark. These dismal thoughts running through his mind, Nicolas fell into a fitful sleep.
    When he awoke, it was morning and the thin gray light of dawn was filtering through the small window, falling across the bed onto the floor. He sat up slowly and rubbed his eyes. The day’s journey would be long. He had been told of a convent where he could stay the night before joining his company in Paris. Then it would be on to Jerusalem.
Nicolas shook his head to rid himself of the thought. Best to focus on the present and not on the inevitable future.
    Getting up and dressing, he took one last, lingering glance around the small room. It had been a number of years since he had spent any length of time here, but it still held a special place in his heart. Would these be the last moments he spent here? The last moments of innocence, before the hell of war? Sighing, he gathered his belongings and left the room.
In the main hall, Fleur had left a basin and a pitcher of water so he could wash. As he was finishing, she came in from outside.
    “Nicolas, you’re awake.” she said with a smile. Her cheerful voice betrayed none of the sadness and worry he saw in her eyes. “You must be hungry.”
    He returned her cheerful smile. “Yes, very.”
    Together they went into the kitchen and Fleur sat watching silently as Nicolas devoured a delicious breakfast of bread and warm milk.
After taking as much time as he dared, Nicolas put the last bite of bread into his mouth and took a final swallow of milk. He stood and moved toward the door as Fleur followed. They stepped out into the bright chill of the morning. His mother was there watching as a young stable boy saddled his horse.
    “I pray there was a way you would not have to go.” she said quietly still watching the boy. “But since I know there is not, I pray now that you will come back to us.” She smiled at him.
    Nicolas nodded, afraid that if he tried to speak he would not be able to. He picked up his things - sword, bed roll, and a small satchel - and took the parcel of food Fleur had brought out from the house.
    Once more he hugged them both, not wanting to let go. Then he stepped to his waiting horse. The two women stood back and watched as Nicolas mounted his horse and turned away from his home.
    He stared straight ahead as the horse galloped down the road. He dared not look back for fear that he may lose what little control he had over himself. All he wanted was to turn his horse around and go once more into the arms of his mother and sister. Why was everything he dared to love being taken away from him? Was love worth all of this pain and suffering? He asked himself many such questions - but gained no answers as his mount took him farther and farther from his home.

    The sun was close to setting when Nicolas arrived at the convent at Paraclette outside Paris. Here he would spend his last night before joining the crusade. He dismounted and led his horse to the stable. A young boy was cleaning the stable and took his horse with a smile. As he turned away from the boy, he saw a young novitiate standing at the path leading to the main building.
    The girl smiled and beckoned to him. “Good evening, monsieur. The evening meal is being prepared.” Then seeing his sword and his tunic her face saddened, “You are going to Paris to join the others.”
    Nicolas nodded and followed her to the main building, his eyes on the ground. He did not want to speak. They entered through an oaken side door and through a short corridor into the dining hall. The girl led him to an empty seat, smiled, then disappeared amongst the other women.
    When all the sisters were seated, the abbess bowed her head and the others followed suit. She spoke with a soft gentle voice, “Bless us, O Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive from thy bounty, through Christ our Lord. Amen.”
    She paused, then continued, looking at Nicolas, “Oh heavenly father, we ask you to watch over the man who now sits among us. We ask that you guide him on his journey and protect him from evil. Amen.”
    After the meal, Nicolas was shown to a small room by the girl who had greeted him earlier. It was an empty cell, sparsely furnished with only a bed, table and a small crucifix hanging on the wall. When the girl had left, he knelt before the cross and prayed for guidance.
    “Dearest God, please help me to find my way. You know in my heart that I do not believe in this crusade. I go because I must. I need to know that this will not be my final journey - that I will find love and happiness once more. Please tell me I am not lost to the light of love. I pray, do not abandon me.”
    When he stood and turned to prepare for bed, he noticed the abbess standing in the doorway watching him.
    “I beg your forgiveness, mother,” he said bowing his head. “I bid you good evening. May I be of any service to you?”
    “You seem to be troubled, my child. You do not desire to fight in the name of our Lord?”
    “This crusade is not a fight for the Lord. It is a fight for politics and land waged by kings and princes.”
    She smiled gently, “So you do not want to fight at all.”
    “No, not when I do not believe in the cause.” he answered more directly than he had intended. She smiled again and motioned him to join her. He gathered his cloak and followed her into the hallway.
    Nicolas walked beside the abbess to the chapel as they talked of the crusade. She did not pass judgment on his condemnation of the crusades. She only listened as he spoke of the many things he had kept to himself for the past several weeks.
    As they entered the chapel, she stopped him. “There is something more that is troubling you, a sadness.”
    Nicolas nodded and sighed. They sat down inside the chapel and he told her the story of Gwyneth and Lord Carrig. He also told her of his fear that the violence and carnage he would most definitely find in the holy land would curse him from finding and holding onto true love.
    “I had a dream, “ he told her as he looked up at the altar surrounded by the tiny flickering lights of devotional candles. “I was surrounded by a deep, cold darkness that was overpowering me. Then far away, I saw a small light. I could feel a warmth coming from the light as it grew brighter. It was fighting the darkness that covered me.”
    She smiled warmly, putting her old hand lightly over his. “The light was love.” He turned his eyes away from the candles and looked at her. “Love is the light that can overcome all darkness and deliver you to God’s glory.”
    She met his gaze and smiled again. “You don’t believe me. You wonder how an old woman who has given herself to God could know about love.     What I say is not purely rhetoric from the Bible. It is truth.”
    “What do you mean ‘truth’?” he asked.
    “I will tell you the story of a man and a woman. This story was told to me by the woman, herself, when I was a young girl. Heloise was the founder of this abbey and the man she loved, Peter Abelard, built this convent for her when the community moved here to Paraclette.”
    Nicolas didn’t answer for a moment. He then whispered disbelieving, “How do you know it was not only a story to amuse a silly child.”
    Again she smiled at his response. “Because it is a story about truth and love no matter the cost. When she passed on, she gave me the letters he wrote to her over the many years they were apart.” She paused. “Their story begins many years before the letters.....”

    When Heloise was a young woman, only about sixteen, she lived with her uncle, Canon Fulbert of Notre Dame in Paris. She had a great hunger for knowledge, so her uncle acquired a tutor for her - Peter Abelard, one of the greatest scholars in France. Although Abelard was near forty, it wasn’t too long before their attentions turned from their books to each other. They were not only physically attracted to each other, but they each craved the other’s knowledge. They were mental equals.
    When Canon Fulbert discovered their relationship, he demanded they marry. Knowing marriage could cost Abelard his reputation as a scholar, Heloise refused despite the fact that she was pregnant. The child, a boy, was born and given to the care of a distant aunt.
    Eventually, to please the Canon, the couple was married in a small ceremony with only Fulbert and a few friends to witness the union. They continued to live apart which angered Fulbert and he accused Abelard of lechery and ordered him castrated as an act of revenge. Following this horrible act, Abelard ordered Heloise to enter the convent of Argenteuil to protect her from her uncle. Soon after, he joined the monastery at St. Denis.
    But this separation and promise to the Lord was not the end of their love. They wrote each other letters and Abelard came to speak to Heloise’s community several times. Not long before he died, Abelard founded this convent for Heloise and her sisters so that they might be closer to one another. When he passed, she had his body buried here so she could watch over him. And when the Lord called her many years later, she was laid to rest next to him so that they may be eternally side by side in the light of God’s love.”

    The old Abbess’ story ended and she turned to Nicolas once more. His gaze was transfixed on her face. “So you see, my child,” she said softly, taking his hand. “Their love for each other endured through all the darkness and despair of this life and into the light of hope and happiness.”
    The first light of morning was glowing on the horizon as they left the chapel. “You must rest before your journey,” she said quietly as they reached the main hall. “I will have some food sent to you later.” Nicolas nodded, then bowed before turning to retire to his room.
    A short time later, he lay on the bed. He had eaten the breakfast a novitiate had brought in. He watched through the window as the dawn broke and the beautiful sun began to ascend into the clear blue sky. Finally he closed his eyes and dreamt of a future where he would find the light of true love.

    Metro police detective Nick Knight stood at the window of his loft. His eyes were closed as if remembering a pleasant long ago dream. Hearing the elevator grind to life, he opened his eyes slowly and gazed upon the still glittering skyline of downtown Toronto in the slowly brightening pre dawn sky.
    Turning from the window, he walked across the room towards the metal door of the elevator. He smiled - only one person other than himself knew the alarm code.
    Natalie Lambert was his light. She was working to cure him - to destroy the darkness that now enveloped him. For all the years he had known her, she never wavered in her drive, her compassion, and...... her love.