I lay for some small while, praying to the God who had so far been deaf. My entire life had been one long misery of dull grey emptiness punctuated by moments of sheer terror. To die alone and unshriven at the very edge of the lands where He had walked as a man, what a tragic comedy.
At length I thought I must have grown mad and begun to hallucinate, for out of the strange shimmering air materialized the most remarkable figure I had yet seen. A lone man riding the biggest horse I’d ever seen across the desert, pulling up barely in time to keep from trampling me. He seemed a giant himself, powerfully muscled and exuding strength. I remember the harsh sun glinting off his robes. I thought the angels had come for me at long last.
Mustering one last bit of strength, I reached out to this apparition. “Lord Gabriel,” I croaked – for who would come for me but the Angel of Judgment? “I beg your mercy!” And then the darkness came, and I knew no more.
When next I was aware, my first thought was: I am underwater. It felt like cool water bathing my skin. The water was murky, but slowly clearing as I rose toward the surface. I grew more aware of my surroundings, then, and realized I was not underwater at all; merely lying on a pallet, completely naked and covered in some sort of cooling salve. I stirred slightly, then caught my breath as pain sheared through me. The beating… the sun… the angel? I was afraid to open my eyes. Heaven would not be painful; I must then be in hell. I did not want to look.
I heard a childish giggle, followed by a cooing and the babyish sound of a tongue-splatter. Our Lord said suffer the children unto Him. Could there even be children in Hell? I ventured to open my eyes.
Sitting on the rug not far from my pallet, a chubby, handsome boy-child perhaps two seasons of age regarded me with merry blue eyes. Next to him stood a girl-child a handful of years older with solemn grey eyes and a sweet face. Both of them had oddly pale hair and skin bronzed by the sun.
“Hello,” I whispered, my throat still ravaged by my recent ordeal. The boy chortled and clapped his hands; the girl’s eyes widened and she fled the room, calling out in some unknown language.
A woman came into the room, followed by the girl. She knelt down by my pallet and touched my forehead lightly. Peering at me intently, she asked me some question. I shook my head at her helplessly, unable to understand her words.
She sighed. She spoke a few words to the girl, who nodded once and skipped back out of the room. A few moments later she returned with a man: The angel! I shrank back a bit on the pallet, wincing as the movement sent ribbons of pain through me.
The man sat down cross-legged on the floor and looked at me curiously. After a moment, I ventured to speak. “Are you … an angel?” I asked him timidly.
He chuckled, a warm sound. “I am not,” he said in heavily accented, but understandable Common. His voice was rich and deep. “I found you in the desert, nearly dead. How come you to be there, at such an hour? Nobody goes out in the desert sun if they can help it. I only traverse the desert when my duties in Ydessa make day travel unavoidable. You are fortunate, friend; I was hastening home to rest.”
His words registered on me with impact both grave and joyous. Joyous because they would suggest I was not dead after all. Grave, because I had clearly been abandoned for dead by my caravan. I tried to ignore the tiny whisper in my head that told me I was free now. Until I knew if I was in the hands of friend or foe I couldn’t be certain.
“Aaapttthhthththt!” said the boy child emphatically. He had gotten to his feet and tottered over to the man.
The man chortled, reaching an arm around the boy’s waist and tugging him into his lap. “Eh, Semja?” he said, tickling the toddler who promptly began squealing with glee. “Do you see who comes to visit us? He is a Western barbarian who speaks as might a civilized man.”
He winked at me conspiratorially, taking any sting out of his words. “My son, Semjaza,” he said affectionately. “The girl child is my daughter, Araquiel. My mate Nazharr tended your wounds as you slept. Me, I am Ezhaki. We are of the clan Sahenda.” He looked at me expectantly.
“I’m Eoghain,” I said. “Eoghain O Turlough.” I studied Ezhaki – indeed, he was clearly the boy’s father, sharing the same coloring. His hair was long, and tied back by a leather thong to keep it out of his face.
“Ee-gan oh-turlow” he said, imitating me carefully. I nodded.
He laughed softly as the woman bustled back into the room and began scolding him. “Nazharr says I must let you rest,” he told me. “You are among friends, Eoghain. No harm will come to you in the house of Yarrave the Merciful.”
I sighed then, realizing in that moment how tense I had been. Back home we heard horror stories of the infidel desert tribes, and how they tortured Crusaders for sport. I had no idea if these people were infidels or not, but it seemed I would live to see at least one more morning. I mustered a weak smile for Ezhaki and thanked him. He was barely out the door, and I was asleep.