Here's a few rough paragraphs (and lots of pictures) I wrote after visiting the breathtaking PONT DU GARD, one of the most spectacular and complete Roman structures in the world (the coliseum in Rome is only six feet higher) I decided to include an episode when the Huguenots and my protagonist were on the march.
When first the structure of Pont du Gard came into view through the low trees Philippe feared that hunger, thirst, and the deprivation of sleep had finally taken their toll. He must be hallucinating, slipping over the outer rim of the abyss of madness, a cauldron from which no man might return. What slavering, what raving would follow? He worried that his companionswould be forced to chain him to one of the gnarly trunks of one of theancient olive trees growing along the banks of the river. He felt certain that what he was seeing with his eyes—what he felt he was seeing—was a vast pontifex of his imagination. How could any manmade structure beso grand, so imposing?
The band of weary foot soldiers had rounded a bend in the river, wading to the knees in the cool clear water of Le Gard ou Gardon. The heat was oppressive, pressing down upon them like an upper millstone; Philippe watched as trickles of perspiration fell into the river from his chin and nose. Wincing at the leather straps cutting into his shoulders, Philippe tried to adjust the load tied to his back. It was a wonder how weight accumulated and how that weight sapped energy from the body.
Cooling as it was, wading in the river—the shifting gravel under foot, the current tugging at their legs—was far from the most efficient way to carry themselves forward. Burdened like pack animals with military equipment, weapons, a thin blanket for sleeping, a sword or pike, the better supplied among them carried muskets, ball, powder, and shot.
Their ability to move with stealth and precision, their ability to merely stand upright on their feet, was seriously impaired by this means of walking—more than one of their number had slipped on the smooth rocks and plunged into the current, rising only slowly and with reluctance. Which made Philippe wonder if it was intentional; he looked longingly at the water coursing past his knees.
“Built just a decade or so after the ascension,” said Maurice, pausing and gazing upward, the massive arches of the bridge now looming high above them.
“The ascension?” said Philippe.
Maurice looked reprovingly at Philippe. “Of Christ,” he said simply.
Head thrown back, he swayed as he looked upward. The bridge rose to avast height, giant honey-colored stones rising in three tiers of arches to the top of the hillsides high above the valley. Philippe felt his head begin to spin. Water splashing around his legs, he scrambled to regain his balance. “How could anyone build such a bridge?” he said.
“Aqueduct,” said Maurice, bracing himself against the current, his head thrown back. “A wonder of ancient engineering, but not merely a bridge: an aqueduct.”
“What’s that?” asked Philippe. Maurice always liked using big words;Philippe wondered if he knew what this one meant.
“Sort of a bridge designed for water to cross over,” said Maurice.
“A bridge for water to cross over water?” said Philippe doubtfully.
“Roman engineers built it as a means of supplying water to Nîmes, one of the largest Franco-Roman cities, in ancient times, that is.” Mauricepaused, shielding his eyes from the sun with a hand. “Great quantities of water crossed high above the river, and through tunnels, an entire water supply stretching for over thirty miles.”
“Long ago, at many times and in many ways,” said Maurice. Philippe blinked as he listened. Maurice would do things like this, launch into some obscure recitations, a poem or some such thing.
“God spoke to our fathers by the prophets,” continued Maurice,“but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high…”
Philippe frowned at his friend. “What’s that?” he said.
“Hebrews,” said Maurice, “from the Bible.”
“In French,” said Philippe.
“Oui, en Français,” said Maurice, “from the epistle to the Hebrews in the Bible. One of the apostles was writing the book of Hebrews at about the time the Romans were chiseling away on those five-ton stones to make this grand aqueduct. If my memory serves, that is.”
That evening after making camp, catching fish in the river, cleaning and cooking the fish on sticks held over open fires, Philippe and Maurice clambered to the top of the aqueduct.
“I thought you said it carried water over the water,” said Philippe, swaying as he looked at the men the size of ants far below along the banks of the river.
“Used to in ancient times,” said Maurice. “Hasn’t carried water for 900 years, except in a heavy rain.”
“How do you know these things?” asked Philippe.
Maurice seemed not to hear him. The look Philippe had come to know so well was coming over Maurice’s features.
“Ah, oh,” said Philippe. “If Sophie were here, she’d say another frenzy is coming on.”
“Follow me,” said Maurice. “we’re going to cross through the tunnel at the very top of the aqueduct, where the water used torush through on its way to Nîmes. Come on!”