'You could do anything you wanted to,' said Brutha.
Om looked up at Brutha.
He really believes, he thought. He doesn’t know how to lie.
The strength of Brutha’s belief burned in him like a flame.
And then the truth hit Om like the ground hits tortoises after an attack of eagles.
…And the thing about Brutha’s flame of belief was this: in all the Citadel, in all the day, it was the only one the God had found. (90)
There must be others, he told himself. Sure. Out in the country. This place is too sophisticated. But… there had been all those pilgrims in front of the Temple. They weren’t just country people, they were the devoutest ones. Whole villages clubbed together to send one person carrying the petitions of many. But there hadn’t been the flame. There had been fear, and dread, and yearning, and hope. All those emotions had their flavour. But there hadn’t been the flame. (94)
People start out believing in the god and end up believing in the structure.
…it can’t be just him who believes in me.
Really in me. Not in a pair of golden horns. Not in a great big building. Not in the dread of hot iron and knives. Not in paying your temple dues because everyone else does. Just in the fact that the Great God Om really exists. (116)
ever opened heart and mind…
Oh, of course there had been the eight compulsory prayers every day, but in the pit of the wretched night he knew them for what they were. A habit. A time for thought, perhaps. And method of measuring time.
He wondered if he’d ever prayed, if he’d ever opened heart and mind to something out there, or up there. He must have done, mustn’t he? Perhaps when he was young.
A desert. After death, a desert. The desert. No hells, yet. Perhaps there was hope.
He remembered a song from his childhood. Unusually, it wasn’t about smiting. No one was trampled underfoot. It wasn’t about Om, dreadful in His rage. It was a simple little home-made song, terrifying in its simple forlorn repetition.
You have to walk a lonesome desert…
'Where is this place?' he said hoarsely.
THIS IS NO PLACE, said Death.
You have to walk it all alone…
'What is at the end of the desert?'
There is no one to walk it for you…
Fri’it stared at the endless, featureless expanse.
'I have to walk it by myself?' he whispered. 'But the song says it's a terrible desert-'
YES? AND NOW, IF YOU WILL EXCUSE ME…
…This is a desert. You crossed a few in your time.
And you survive by learning about them. There’s how tribes that know how to live in the worst kinds of desert. Licking water off the shady side of dunes, that sort of thing… They think it’s home. Put them in a vegetable garden and they’d think you were mad.
The memory stole over him: a desert is what you think it is. And now, you can think clearly…
There were no lies here. All fancies fled away. That’s what happened in all deserts. It was just you, and what you believed.
What have I always believed?
'It's so empty’
Vorbis tried to concentrate. He couldn’t. He could feel certainty draining away. And he’d always been certain.
He hesitated, like a man opening the door to a familiar room and finding nothing there but a bottomless pit. The memories were still there. He could feel them. They had the right shape. It was just that he couldn’t remember what they were. There had been a voice… Surely there had been a voice? But all he could remember was the sound of his own thoughts, bouncing off the inside of his own head.
'And what are you going to do?’ said Simony.
'I've got to copy out the Library,' said Brutha.
'But you can't read and write,' said Didactylos.
'No. But I can see and draw. Two copies. One to keep here.'
'Plenty of room when we burn the Septateuch,' said Simony.
'No burning of anything. You have to take a step at a time,' said Brutha. He looked out at the shimmering line of desert. Funny. He’d been as happy as he’d ever been in the desert.
'And then…' he began.
'Yes?' Brutha lowered his eyes, to the farmlands and villages around the Citadel. He sighed.
'And then we'd better get on with things,' he said. 'Every day.'