This would not be the place to die. Not here, where his beaten and brutalized body would draw attention--where his anxious followers might even come upon it and guess the foulness into which he had fallen. Let him crawl away somewhere; let him disappear into the waste and die where he would not be found, and let his death become a mystery to be wondered at.
Then he would be a martyr, if the Revolt could have such a thing. It might even be thought that he vanished, like one of the old prophets, into the desert, to return at some vague future date. His death would become a clean and shining thing. They would remember him as the confident leader, not the battered, bloody rag of humanity he was now.
He lay in a sick stupor, his head and body aching and growing slowly numb with cold. Finally a raging thirst brought him to life--and spurred him to rise.
He struggled to his feet, and rocked in place, moaning, his shaking hands gathering his torn clothing about him. He might have thought that this was a nightmare, save for the newly-wakened pain. Somewhere he heard someone laughing, and the sound shocked him like cold water. Deraa felt inhuman with vice and cruelty; he could not die here.
The desert. The desert was clean. The desert would purge him, as it had so many times before.
He stopped at a trough by the wells; scooped a little water into his hands and rubbed it over his face, then drank. He looked up at the stars, which would not notice if there was one half-Arab Englishman less on the earth, and set off, one stumbling step at a time, for the clean waste beyond this vile pit of humanity. He walked for a long time, he thought. The sounds of humanity faded, replaced by the howling of dogs or jackals, off in the middle distance. Tears of pain blurred his sight; he hoped he could find some hole to hide himself away before dawn, a grave that he might fall into, and falling, fall out of life.
He stumbled, jarring every injury into renewed agony, and a white light of pain blinded him. He thought he would die then, dropping in his tracks; then he thought that the blackness of unconsciousness would claim him.
But the light did not fade; it grew brighter. It burned away the pain, burned away thought, burned away everything but a vague sense of self. It engulfed him, conquered him, enveloped him. He floated in a sea of light, dazzled, sure that he had dropped dead on the road. But if that were true, where was he? And what was this?
Even as he wondered that, he became aware of a Presence within the light. Even as he recognized it, it spoke.
I AM I.