The man climbed all the way to the top of the mountain and stood before the broad wooden door of the temple. He closed his eyes tight against the sun rise and felt the grit of dried sweat, and fine dirt in the folds of his eyes. He raised his fists into the air, and pounded upon it. He opened his mouth and let out a terrible cry of silence.
The Spanish countryside was not rugged, or particularly treacherous to travel. Shrubbery was scattered about, and the slope upward had been easy and regular. The climb didn’t seem particularly steep or long until he rested and turned around to review the progress he had made. But it was the altitude mostly which seemed to take its toll on his stamina. It had been a long climb, and his water was gone. His only hope of salvation was a safe arrival at the retreat of the MarquÃ©s de Dos AigÃ©es.
He stood there, before the plain wooden door and pounded on nothing, letting out no sound at all. Exhausted, and parched, he flailed himself out in the blazing sun without mercy until he was overcome by his own pantomime and collapsed on the ground in a heap. The sound of his body hitting the ground upset the birds which had been pecking away at some unseen treasure in the pale red earth. With the flutter of wings they were gone, and the temple returned again to silence.
When he awoke he had expected to be either dead, or possibly shaded, carried inside of the temple and washed. But he was still laying in a heap at the foot of the door to the temple. He tried to go back to sleep, but somehow felt that if he stayed there another moment, the deaf monks would begin pelting him with rocks from the lodges above the outer wall. He’d heard terrible stories of there quiet little monks, always smiling, eating only vegetables, who carried fierce slingshots and lead ammunition to fend off attack. He hadn’t come to attack, but try explaining that to a monk who can neither hear you, nor speaks Spanish at all, and will not speak regardless. It didn’t matter really, let them pelt him with their lead. He had not come here to make peace, nor to ask anything at all.
He had made this journey against all advice and council. No one had supported his efforts. No one believed in him. He had been dreaming the same dream, every night for two years. The dream never varied, and would not let him go. The whispering changed, and sometimes the dream was in color, other times it only had one color. The color changed, but his dream was the same. At his wits end, one Wednesday without warning, he closed his shop and set out to climb the mountain and present himself before the temple.
Now that he was here, without water, without dreams, he was no longer the man who had embarked upon this task. He looked like a wild animal now, filthy and tattered, dry and silent. He had barely been gone a week, and yet his hair was gnarled, and his trousers were fouled. His head spinning, he tried to complete the sentences which began in his mind. The words fractured, and flew apart in all directions. He was embarrassed, and had lost all sense of why he felt it was so important to come here.
Perhaps there was no one inside? He considered the possibility for a moment. That was impossible. If there was no one inside the temple, then where did the agua curativa come from? It was brought to Valencia on the back of mules once a month. He had seen the deep burgundy robes of the travelers who exchanged the bottled waters for food and dry goods. He could see them from the window of his office. Of course they were here, this was the temple. It was printed on the bottles of the water which he drank with his meal every night.
The man realized that he had come undone. It was clear that he could not stand out here all night in silence. Resigned to confronting these demons, he wiped his face and made an attempt at adjusting his hair. He had not seen himself in a week, but the shadows which grew long across the ground betrayed his disarray. He bit down on his lips, and inhaled through his nose, raised his hand to the door to knock. But before his knuckles met the texture of the wood, the door was unbolted from the other side, it gave with the sound of a large mechanical bolt being thrown, his eyes took in the vibration of the door, and he gasped as it slowly began to open.