di Mattia De Franceschi
Twice now I’ve set my foot on this corner of the land of God. The first time years ago, more than I care to remember, I came down that mountain that now I see again standing before me as a silent herald for the night.
My horse, now long buried in the sands of Jerusalem, had his hoofs felled by the tribulous rocks of those heavenward paths and we both were beset by thirst and hunger, for I scarcely made provisions at the time, confident that, as just children of our Lord, we would be cared for by His Will. Youthful pride!
After uncounted years, as I find this soil again under my feet so what I once wrote about my first passage finds its way into my hands, and I’m compelled to copy it anew in this journal.
“I came to rest tonight at the house of a farmer before that mountain I already spoke of; its cliffs were jagged & blue-black against the sky. The stars blurred faintly through the sunset and in them I felt God.
Horse taken to a river, its reins knotted firmly against dark bark, I presented myself to the door of him whom I hoped to be a man of Faith and whose Piety would give refuge to a wayward child of our common Father.
The door was opened and from within came a man of that Earthly breed that seems not born but hewed and etched from wood and stone. I recited a psalm, spoke my name and purpose & asked for food and shelter.
Precious few words spoke he, from which I knew him not to be a man of true Faith, inviting me inside if I were to rest my sword and shield beside his Earthly tools for, he said, the instruments of one’s work shan’t lie in one’s house as he dines and rest.
Finding this belief a plant whose roots were in heathen soil, I justly refused and made to return to my companion when the farmer, undoubtedly moved by an Unearthly & Divine hand, offered me shelter and sustenance in his granary if I wanted not to partake in his meal, and I accepted.
Later while I prayed alone, immersed in bucolic silence, I reflected upon our Lives & Time & Will in the gaze of our Lord, and on how and why a man, so plainly lacking in Faith, was put on my path for me to see.
Indeed the ways of our Lord are mysterious and infinite, and the finiteness of our minds does not become them; I resolved, as taught by my mentor, not to question them but to see this day’s event as a memento to be faithful and not to fall to temptation and tired sin; then I laid to watch the stars & sleep.”
How the fool and the young can be mistaken, if one was to look for arrogance and presumption! A few hours later, I remember, riding out at daybreak I’d marvel at the farmer and his family already toiling in the fields and praise the pious work of a man I but called an image of sin. I remember I selfishly thanked God for allowing my eyes to see the Holy in the mundane, and wordlessly rode away.
Walking now in that same, nigredous shadow again, I resolved to visit that house of sowers and amend to my arrogance, a sin whose sinner’s face had probably melted away from its victim’s memory that very fateful night.
I resolved to humbly knock at that weather-stained door, state my name & station once more, now in plain speech and, when asked, lay the oft-used tools of my trade to rest beside shovel & rake, and this well-worn armor too.
I’d sit at their familiar table and refuse to recount my deeds of war, without pride or boast, for they were scant more than butcher’s work even in the din of an Hallowed, Chanted Name. And instead, I’d regale them with poems & songs too long borne unsung within my throat since I left that Holy, faraway Land, where amidst heathens and berserkers I learned that in truth I too was a heathen and that our Father speaks more often in joyous songs that warlike growls.
That and much more, that shall remain untold, I resolved to do and say, equally led by desperation and long buried hope. Was my younger, foolish self in front of me to be as a judge, I’d have been taken for a coward and a heretic and thusly put to death, I thought with no small guilt & pride.
Lost in alike thoughts, I finally found myself where I remembered the farmstead to be and there I was met by an empty, ashen square that scarred the earth grey, soil barely punctured by struggling weeds. No human hand had touched that land in years.
I’d have sat and cried, tears equally shed for hope and death, but for the futility of the act. So I did as I’ve done uncounted times on barren fields not unlike the one I beheld now, if for the absence of the sickly redness of blood; splintered two branches from a tree, I fashioned a hasty cross and struck the earth with it.
I prayed there, close-eyed, as I remembered the pauper monks did when they mourned unnamed corpses, even though I never understood why, for I knew not whose death I was lamenting.
As the shadow of the mountain reached hungrily to the grey & the cross, ever longer with the dying sun, I again thought of life, time and Fate, as I did years ago in a place I thought near, and subtly now of an unchosen path I might’ve walked, if I’d once laid my sword, that burdens my thigh so, to rest.