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My son is twelve now and has already surpassed me in height. He outgrows his tunics with such pace that my wife can sell them back at market for full value. In her latest letter she informs me that together they have already harvested the summer’s barley, oats, and peas. From a young age, he assisted me with the sheep, driving them from cote to field and back. My wife likes to observe that my son and I share a long forehead crossed with rivers that expand and contract with concern. I have raised him as a full inheritor, though he’ll never marry unless it is to someone much below him. What woman would volunteer for such a burden?
The physician instructed an herbal mixture of valerian, mugwort, mistletoe, belladonna, foxglove, bitter orange, and Peruvian bark. We cannot afford bloodletting. Unbeknownst to me, my wife took him to the gypsy oracle who claimed the fits were related to the position of the moon. Now, at night, when the moon appears I think of my son and worry and try to subdue my worry by committing prayers to St. Valentine, the patron saint of those with falling sickness, of whom a crude marble statue stands in the corner of our home.
We share a refrain in our house wherein my wife wonders aloud, songlike: “Who can know the ways of the Most High?”
To which I respond, also songlike: “What he wills, he wills, he wills…”
During the night our enemy awakens us with an astonishing noise made, I know not how, with much chattering, whistling, and shouting at the top of their voices. Then they shower our night sentries with arrows and rocks. In response, the Bishop assembles us and leads us in a Maccabean war psalm, which many of the brothers sing with such a low spirit that it discourages the rest of us.
Raymond and I return to our tent beneath a pearled moon. Neither of us expects to sleep. The hunger of the fast is forgotten in sleep, but one’s first thoughts each morning are of nourishment. Even before our fast, there was great hunger. A horse’s head without its tongue sold for thirty denarius, the intestines of a goat for twenty. At least now our hunger has God’s favor.
As we’re preparing our tent door to keep away the things that crawl along the earth, Raymond complains, again, that I call out loudly in my sleep.
I tell him I am praying.
“Ah, for your son,” he says. I do not need to search the darkness for his face to know that his words lack sincerity. Often, in the mornings after mass, Raymond will yawn loudly and boast to the others that he is now fasting of both food and sleep, thanks to me. They have come to regard me with suspicion. What they know of my son’s affliction, which is very little, does not help. Among them, I am known as the man whose thoughts are like anchors. It’s true that my mind is not always with my hands.