Historical setting: Pyrenees Mountains, 6th Century C.E.
Nic is arguing with August over August’s commitment to walk this winter journey barefooted.
Nic tries another plea. “Possibly you believe that God will see your suffering as a way in which you are superior to your fellow travelers. But because your own frosting toes are not hidden from us it becomes our suffering too by way of our empathy. So you have no virtue in denying us our kindness born in empathy. You must wear shoes on this journey.”
I try to ease the demand. “You may remove the ermine tails if you wish not to make a display of wealth.” And so he tears the tails from the shoes as he defiantly puts the leathers onto his feet like a two-year-old, disappointed with an authoritative parent overriding his “no”.
I’m sure he sees our demands as patronizing. It’s a sensitive issue.
“At least you look to have a man’s feet now.” Nic adds this last word as August stares down at the furs now separating his human flesh from the beloved cold breast of earth – cold earth that would undoubtedly devour his toes in frostbite.
The winter is hardening as we set our faces again toward the north. The monk and the oxcart with the stone mother of Jesus are in front, and me and my brown horse at the rear. Nic and The Rose stretch to varieties of trots and cantors back and forth often going far ahead of us.
It is early afternoon when Nic brings news of a small cluster of farms ahead. Here we are finding August already knows this path. He tells us just beyond the farms is a small community that holds a town fair in the summertime. They have a church and the priest of that parish is known to keep traveling monks informed of the well-being of Christian ascetics in this region. So we choose to pass by the farms and go on to the small root of a village.
The dark of the winter’s afternoon draws us closer together on the road as we come into the village apparently appearing as something of a parade. Villagers come out of their houses to watch us pass by. August is mostly interested in hearing news of others of the lone ascetic monks and is going straight to the church ignoring the attention of the villagers toward the woman in his cart.