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In response to my silence, Raymond says: “It does not sound like any prayer.”
I tell him that, as a Gaul, he wouldn’t understand the tongue. To which he responds that as a Christian, he understands at least, that it is not prayer.
I am ashamed, of course.
What some say—that, in all of Arabia one can scarcely endure the sun—is false. For night here is like our western winter. Neither my feet nor my shoulders have adequate cover.
Days pass like clouds. None of us brothers have our full wits about us. We have heard rumors of earthquakes. We have had visions. Yesterday, many hundreds of us witnessed a prodigy in the sky in the shape of a Gladius sword.
The morning of the battle, when the desert dust is still settled with dew, we take communion and march in procession behind the Bishop forming six lines just inside the city gates.
The sun hovers above the heads of our enemy like the bell of a great horn.
Because I know how to manage animals, I am asked to prepare the cavalry. Many of the horses are unfit for battle having suffered injuries during earlier campaigns, and so I go about preparing oxen for mounting. Raymond finds me in the stable as I am dressing the animals with our standard bearing the Lord’s cross. He asks if I have any work that can busy his hands. “Can you repair a bridle and bit?” I ask him.
No, he cannot.
So I tell him that I have work that can busy his feet, and send him to gather the dogs, which we will use as beasts of burden for lack of camels.
Soon the city gates will be flung open and we will face the thing that waits for us. We have armed even our women with stones and fire should the enemy penetrate the wall. The clerics have prepared our path with holy water. The Bishop tells us that what we bind here will be bound in heaven, that what we loose here will be loosed there.
In the days just before my journey, my son and I went about the house staring at each other as though through cracks in a stonewall. The evening of my farewell dinner I called for him to help me with the fatted calf. When he did not come I searched for him and found him fallen in the cote yard with the sheep grazing around him, his newest tunic torn from his own violence. After he had settled himself and I had retrieved for him some tonic, I asked him: “What is it like?”
I had asked him this before, many years ago, but received only a child’s answer. This time he explained to me that immediately before he is overcome he receives from the elements a warning: the sun becomes unbearably near; the earth wavers beneath his feet and its sounds fill his ears like drowning. When this happens, he knows to find a private place to wait for what is coming. But then, he said, it is like waiting for a whisper until you hear, instead, a scream.