+JMJ+ Welcome to part 33 of A Journey, the rough draft for a work-in-progress set in New Testament times. (Mostly. I still have some research to do.) In tonight’s post all roads lead to Capernaum.
And now the journey continues. (Still featuring plot holes large enough to drive a bunch of camels through, some of whom I have already found. The plot holes, not the camels. Those guys are on their own.)
A Journey – Part 33
Fourth Day for the Fourth Time, Wednesday
We walked as quietly as we could that night, covering as much ground as we could with the two older men who insisted on coming with us instead of staying behind or going in a different direction. That idea was the brainchild of Gaius. He thought that by splitting up we could increase our chances of at least some of us getting away.
Yaakov disagreed and said so. “And who will watch over these two old men if they go wandering off on their own?” Nico and Joseph took offense at once.
“Maybe you just want us to stay with you to keep you safe, young man.”
The reproach in Joseph’s voice was unmistakeable. Nico said nothing. I have respect for him, and for Joseph, too, especially after seeing the way they handled themselves back in Capernaum, but I, too, am concerned for their safety. They did well in the fight but more time has passed now and none of us have had much rest since then.
“We should stay together, traveling off the road and as quickly as we can, avoiding others whenever possible.” I thought my idea a good one but Raphael disagreed.
“We should stay on the road and avoid looking suspicious. We will hide from our pursuers in the open, right under their noses.” Raphael waited for us to approve this idea. Gaius nodded his approval, as did Yaakov, and Rachel, who was being unusually quiet. I gave my approval, expecting to hear two more affirming voices when I realized that the men to whom those voices belonged were no longer with us.
“Come along, children, keep up, or did you want these two ancient relics to slow down for you,” Joseph called over his shoulder and seemed pleased with himself. Nico still said nothing but I think I heard him mutter something under his breath. I did not have time to ask him what he said because at that moment we heard hoofbeats on the road before us.
Nico and Joseph wisely stepped off the road, Yaakov shoved Rachel toward them, and Joseph caught her and pulled her into the brush with them. There was not much cover but perhaps it would do in the dark of the night. That left Gaius, Yaakov, Raphael and–where was Raphael? I did not have time to wonder. The riders were upon us. Lord, may they not be–
Roman soldiers. Correction. One Roman soldier.
“You!” The speaker remained on horseback and approached Gaius, using his foot to poke his shoulder. “Jew! Identify yourself!” I held my breath and waited to see how Gaius would respond. I am sure he is not used to such treatment. Yaakov and I watched. I prayed that Gaius was not a short-tempered man.
To his credit Gaius controlled himself for a full three seconds before reaching up and hauling the rider out of his saddle and onto the ground below. It seems we have elected not to hide in plain sight anymore.
The two scuffled for a few minutes before the erstwhile equestrian gave in. “Alright, alright. You do not really believe that ridiculous costume would fool anybody, do you?”
“Do not pretend you did not recognize me. I spotted you the moment I saw you.”
Gaius laughed. “I doubt that but I am sure you recognized me when I threw you on the ground.”
Titus laughed as Gaius helped him to his feet. “Yes, you have beaten me many times in many games, I admit it.” Here all humor left his voice. “Gaius, I came here searching for you. Your enemies have reported you as a deserter and troops have been sent to find you and bring you to Jerusalem.”
Gaius was serious now, too. “Jerusalem? Not Capernaum or Tiberias?”
“No, they want you where you have few friends. What is this I have been hearing about you, that you have become mixed up with some Jew, some rebel faction? Tell me that is not true.”
I could hear the sadness in Gaius’s voice even though I could not see his eyes. “Titus, I have many things to tell you but first I must get these people to safety.”
To his credit, Titus agreed to trust his friend for now and wait for answers to come later. “I have some men with me, trustworthy friends. And you have many friends throughout Galilee.”
“More than you know, Titus, more than you know.”
Titus turned and signaled back the way he had ridden and several more riders joined us on the road. Gaius was satisfied that they could be trusted if Titus vouched for them. “A few others are with us.” Out stepped Nico, Joseph and Rachel.
Titus took stock of our situation, then made a decision. We will move much faster if we all move on horseback. Do any of you ride? Yes, Gaius, we know you do, thank you. Do any of the rest of you ride?”
“Raphael and I have ridden donkeys but I do not know where he is–“
“Right here.” I do not know where he was a moment before but suddenly he was standing next to me. I nearly jumped when he spoke. “A horse is no problem for me.” Of course. I am not surprised. Well, maybe a little.
“What about you, grandfathers? Have either of you ever been on horseback before?”
Nico and Joseph had the presence of mind to not let anyone see that they were members of the Sanhedrin. Their clothing hid this much, and now the way they carried themselves and the way they spoke did the same. “No, young man, I have not had the privilege. How I envy you,” said Joseph. “Me, too,” said Nicodemus. The shakiness in their voices was a good touch, I would have to congratulate them later.
“Right. Then some of my men, dismount and give Gaius and these two here [indicating Raphael and me] your horses. The rest of you double-up and let us make haste. We have some rebellious troops to discipline before this poison spreads and causes Gaius and I to lose our heads.”
“You could have been a poet, Titus.”
“Could have been?” With that we set off at a much higher pace than I had ever managed before. I almost felt sorry for the men who had to make the journey on foot, but with each bounce on horseback I wanted nothing more than to trade places with them. Walking all the way on my hands and knees would have been preferable to enduring that awful ride.
I was glad that my horse knew the way or that he followed his companions. In any case I allowed my mind to wander as the beast carried me. I thought of all I had been through and all I had done. And for what? I began this journey to rescue my sister. Then someone rescued me. Now someone else has had to rescue both of us. In the beginning I journeyed with the tentmaker to search for the body of the rabbi, the body of the one my sister and her friends call the messiah. The rabbi who asked me to give away all my possessions and to follow him. I wonder what would have happened if I had.
I realize that as I think these thoughts a longing has arisen in my heart of hearts. I want to believe that the Messiah has arrived. I want to believe that the Lord has heard our prayers and that the Messiah will make all of this go away, the Romans, the spies, the power-hungry, the ambitious.
And I wonder. Not long ago I employed my own spies. I envied power. I had my own ambitions. Now here I am being jostled to and fro, sweaty, dirty, wearing the garments of a common laborer. My friends would not recognize me, except the only people I can call friends are here with me, as sweaty, dirty and as out of place as I am. Only they have more friends waiting for them. I will be as alone when we arrive as I am here on the back of this creature, on this lonely danger-filled road, in this countryside that is not my home.
I could stop here and let the others go on without me but for my sister. I still owe it to her, and to our parents who wanted only the best for us, to see her safely settled and married as soon as we can arrange it. No, Lord, I have not forgotten. If Yaakov has left the community, then I would welcome him into my family as a brother.
My reverie was cut short as more of Titus’s men met us on the road to warn us away from Capernaum. The tentmaker was there and he was not alone. “He has guards from the Sanhedrin and others are Herod’s, and some of our own were with them. Seems a woman in a drinking house in Magdala was detained and questioned. They were convinced she knew of the fugitives’ whereabouts, Centurion.”
“Her name was Adira, I think.”
I could not see Rachel’s eyes in the darkness but I could hear her sharp intake of breath.
“She was seen recently in the company of one of that rebel’s disciples. The men who tortured her found her at the disciple’s house.”
“Tortured?” Titus’s voice tightened.
“Yes, sir, I am afraid so, sir.” At least the man had the decency to lower his voice. He seemed almost ashamed.
“We will tend to her as soon as we can. And to the men who harmed her.”
“There is nothing we can do for her now, sir.”
I thought Rachel was going to be ill but she managed to control it.
“I am sorry we were not there to stop it from happening, sir. You know we would not allow such a thing. What are your orders, sir?”
“We are going to Capernaum. We have a score to settle.”
Titus dismissed him and rode ahead, and in a few moments had left the rest of us behind. He was angry at the way one of us, a Jew, and a woman at that, had been treated by men in his command. I marveled at him. First Gaius, then Titus, Centurions who care what happens to us, to Jews, the conquered, strange ones who will not worship their gods.
Then I remembered. There once was a Centurion who built a synagogue for the conquered people in his charge, and asked an itinerant rabbi to heal his servant. Gaius of the Roman Empire was this God-fearer who had become a messiah-follower.
And I never have gotten around to seeing about my own servant who was treated so badly. If I hang my head in shame any lower, this horse whereon I so uncomfortably sit will strike my head with his hooves. And I will deserve it.
Though Titus’s men thought to warn us away, we were headed now to Capernaum to discover whatever the Lord had in store for us. We rode the rest of the way without talking, each wrestling with his own thoughts, the only sound the thundering of our horses’ hooves as we sped down the road to meet our doom.
End of Part 33
Other parts of the story are linked on the Fiction page.
Thank you for visiting and reading. Until next time, whoever and wherever you are, please stay safe and well, virtuous and holy, and remember, we are all on the journey to the heavenly city. So pick up your cross daily and follow Him, so you can become who you were meant to be: a SAINT! May the Lord bless and keep you and yours, and may His peace be always with you. +JMJ+
Image in the cover: From the east, Nazareth, Holy Land, from Wikimedia Commons, public domain.