The Night of no Moons
The Night of No Moons came during the fifth year of the plague. I remember it well, since I was one of those who left a loved one buried in the mass grave at Adan Rema. It was my wife. I had already lost my older son two years earlier, but then the deaths were not coming so fast, and so the monks managed to keep up with the burials. But how many of the monks were lost those next two years? And how horribly did the deaths increase! So on the Night of No Moons the decision was made to spread the corpses across the floor of the quarry at Rema. We covered them with soil and began a second layer. I was not the only man who felt the keen sting of irony that night. Some were too young to remember, but I could recall how, even as a child, I myself had worked in that quarry. Of course I was young, and I could only gather rubble with the older women, but we all worked, all of us. And I remember how the strong men cut the great stone blocks that were pushed and pulled by oxen across the long road of rolling logs to the temple site. And with the last of the great blocks, there came the thousands of smaller blocks, as each row of the great Tower of God went higher and each row grew narrower. The Great Tower was declared completed when I was 19. I remember the celebration even better than I remember the quarry. Of course I remember best of all how we began to fill that quarry again, this time with the bodies of our dead. We stood in long, long rows, edging forward with the corpses of wives, husbands, parents, children. Some wore cloths over their mouths to escape the stench. I merely marched the slow pace, slower, it seemed, even than the rolling of the great stones, until I lay my wife’s dead body alongside that of a teenage boy. The boy’s weeping mother had been pulled away by the officials; like her, I was given no time to stand over the body and say the Final Prayer my wife had written for herself. But I had already spoken it dozens of times during the long march. Many of us wondered about God on that night, wondered if he had taken the stones to his temple only so that we have a place to throw our dead. Many wondered, many doubted, many cursed. We knew, of course, that the Prophets still walked, and we called out to God at the Great Tower to send us healing. The tower stood still and silent, and for another two years we died of plague. But the Prophet did come. The news of his approach came with wild excitement, with wonderful expectation; indeed the runners came with the news a full day before the Prophet himself arrived. And thus many of us praised at the tower, thanking God for his provision. Others of us were busy nursing our sick, especially hopeful that if they could cling to life but another day, the Prophet would heal them. I was one of those at home. I was nursing my other son through the horror of the last fever. My young son died two hours before the Prophet arrived. Still, I knew the miracles that could be done, and as I heard the Healer was coming, I gathered my son’s body in my arms and carried him to the road. There was enough compassion in the crowd that those without the sick in their arms let me through to stand right at the roadside as the parade approached. Beside me were others with their own sick, children and spouses, some unconscious, some able to stand, many moaning in their weakness. I noticed only a short distance from me the tanner, Umar, his young still-healthy son beside him, the body of his daughter in his arms. I had heard that she had died the day before, but that he refused to bury her until after the Prophet’s visit. And so the Prophet approached slowly. Side to side of the narrow road he walked, pausing, touching, healing, and all along the path people cheered and cried for joy where he stopped the plague and gave life. Behind him the crowd pressed at his heels, hungry for the visions and the miracles, hungry to see life instead of death. Another and another he paused to touch, and cries of praise and thanks and glory were screamed to heaven. Not ten feet away from me, the Prophet paused before Umar and looked intently at the body of the tanner’s daughter. I think I saw him smile and nod, and with a movement more like floating than reaching, he placed his hand gently on the girl’s eyes. His own eyes close; he whispered something. And then, as if struck by a blow, or as if coming up finally from a deep dive, the girl gasped aloud, almost screaming with the suck of air as her eyes shot wide. And so, thus suddenly awakened, she panted her first breaths of new life and stared around her, shocked by the presence of many people, until she found her father’s face. At that, she buried her face in his strong chest and sobbed. The crowd cheered again. Umar, speechless, cried. A few more paces, another touch, another miracle. Then another. And at last he came to me. I remember his eyes, dark, dark eyes… I remember his eyes, dark, dark eyes that seemed deeper than night… I remember his eyes, dark, dark eyes, deeper than night, eyes that looked into mine and made me look back… I remember his dark, dark eyes, how they bore into me, and how I stared back into his eyes as he softly, sadly shook his head. The Prophet passed on. I’m sure some stared at me as the crowd went past. I saw no faces, but I heard more cheering as the crushing parade pressed down the narrow road. I remember only falling to my knees, still holding the body of my last child. I do not remember going home. I barely remember the burial. My son had been too young to write his Final Prayer, so I wrote one for him. I don’t recall how it goes. The Plague ended after the Prophet arrived. There were celebrations. It took a great long time to clean up the town, to replant fields left untended during the dark times. But the community reawakened, and many praised God again. In fact, it was finally decided that the Great Tower would be covered with alabaster, so it would gleam white in the sunshine. I did not join in that work. I said I was old and tired. None believed me, but some understood. It has been seventeen years since the Night of No Moons; Umar has 4 grandchildren. For me, it has become true that I am indeed old and tired, and so I have decided I must die soon. I believe I have a nephew in the New Quarter, and perhaps he will read my Final Prayer. Or someone will. Let it be sung to the old tune, not the new one: Greatest wonder, highest glory, Bitter story. Praise forever Beauty above I do not love.