ONE MAN AND HIS DOGMA
By Andi James Chamberlain
A Sample of the final novel. An entire chapter from the book
- A self-contained short story – containing no spoilers -
- Chapter Six -
“Being his real brother I could feel I live in his shadows,
but I never have and I do not now.
I live in his glow.”
- Michael Morpurgo – “Private Peaceful”
* * *
- 1 -
A dust of sand and blood and pity was being kicked up in the courtyard, as soldiers stomped and marched hither and thither. Each spear-carrier was on some important or unintelligible mission from someone who believed they were higher-up the food-chain barking orders whilst pretending to have importance above and beyond the common soldier.
The sand in the court was a clod hewn mess of dried and congealed blood and footprints, seen from the battlements and the tower where the guard was met and changed every 6 hours, the courtyard was a strange canvas of ever changing vistas, had there been ways to document on papyrus or cloth it would have made a dazzling design, so many spirals and lines and scored marks from feet and the spray of arterial blood had made the small, horrific yard into a brutal and beautiful painting of life and torture.
Regulus marched into the yard, his short-sword by his hip tap-tap-tapping at his armour and providing him with the warmth of comfort for it simply being on his side, his helmet was tight and heavy, and the sweat trickled n floods into his eyes. He removed the helmet and went to the small trough of drinking water, took a ladle of the stuff and poured it over his head, then another he gulped down hungrily.
From the other side of the courtyard, by the giant wooden and iron gates, came Helio. The Greek soldier who had donned the roman red and gold and had always been seen as a philosopher to the garrison, especially looked up to by Regulus, he was a older, wiser and more gentle soldier than Jerusalem had seen in centuries.
“How goes it, Regulus?” He called out, also removing his gold centurion helmet, the bristles of the ed plume atop the gold cast of the helmet rested under his arm, he wiped a gold bangled wrist, wrapped in red cloth across his forehead and smiled at the younger soldier.
“Helio. All is well. Some disturbances in the villages bordering the city, word that the Messiah has been caught and dragged to the capital to face the Emperor himself are rife… Something is happening, you can tell that there is something afoot.”
Helio took the ladle, swallowed down a gulp of the water, and turning to Regulus he took his compatriots wrist and shook Regulus’ arm strongly, the two men nodded approval at each other.
“The rumours are wrong, my friend, to an extent… anyway.”
“Meaning?” The young soldier rubbed his neck with more water, and sat down to adjust his boots.
“In as much as the Messiah is not in Rome. That is not correct.” Helio took a ladle of water down in one, and then poured one over his helmet, the gold and red feathers’ bristles fizzed as the water cooled the surface, how these things had not cooked the soldiers’ heads alive Helio had often wondered.
“He is here, in Jerusalem. Pilate has him.”
Regulus looked at the man hard and sharply. “Here?” he asked, his hands absently rubbing the dust from his plume.
“Here.” Helio smiled back. “So look sharp, I have a feeling we are to see history made this day. And history is seldom quiet, it roars like Daniel’s lion, it growls and groans and it very rarely goes without scorching the Earth and its inhabitants lightly.”
Helio replaced his headwear, and with his right hand on his heart, he saluted Regulus.
“Soldier. May the gods of old and new smile on you.”
He returned the gesture, and the two men embraced with a strong hug.
“And on you too, my friend.”
And he watched as Helio marched out the way he himself had entered.
The activity beyond the gates into the market was clear and obvious, something was happening out there, something big.
He put on his helmet and picked up his spear and exited the same way, back into the throng, hearing the whispers and the talk of this Messiah from the plebs and the downtrodden, the commoners and the paupers… Each one excitedly chattering about the King who had been caught.
The King of the Jews.
* * *
- 2 -
Barabbas had been staring out of the hole that allowed him the rationed air to breath, it also provided his only source of light. For an hour or two now, his eye and his mouth intermittently switched and swapped around to take advantage of the breeze or the light, never allowed both at the same time.
His hands were rough and broken, cracked from his futile pounding of the hard, heavy oak door. The wood imported by ships as big as buildings, brought here from Europe.
Heavy Germanic wood, shaped and forged by slab-like Roman hands.
The blood had caked and dried in clusters and scabs on his ravaged knuckles; before today the knuckles had seen to the death of three Roman guardsmen and a whore who had not pleased him as he had paid and demanded.
He could close his eyes to remember the sound of flesh and bone popping under his effortless strength.
He could smell the bitter iron tang of blood as it splashed on his tunic and skin, the warmth in the cell he found himself in easily brought these memories burst to fervent life. Alas, they were only memories. As strong as he was, as powerful as his merciless will may have been, locked inside this box, stone and wood and heat – clammy, searing and claustrophobic his knuckles were as pitiful as the man himself.
One eye and a parched mouth moving back and forth from the hole, a heavy breathing cyclops, sharing the air and the light.
Never both at the same time.
He saw the activity of the guards and soldiers and watched the crowd cowing and hiding at their approach. He saw the children being gathered by their mothers, herded into huts and houses, the sense of something building on the streets of Jerusalem, way beyond the control of any one people or person.
The panic was like a wine for him, and he drank it in.
Its deep, intoxicating allure was all he craved.
Barabbas waited. He knew there was something happening and that he would soon see the light again with both eyes, and drink in the air like it was honey mead and he would be in the wine-house once more.
He closed his eyes again, and fantasized about the feel of his rough, angry hands grasping at the buttocks of the cheapest whore, one that bordered on the verge of ugliness, just as Barabbas had liked them.
His memory raging at the idea of the woman’s leathery skin under his calloused fingers.
Meanwhile, the panic on the streets was palpable.
The chapped lips, cracked and dry and angry, they smiled lightly. Broken teeth jagged and ugly were prominent in the dark.
Soon. Everything screamed that his time was coming.
* * *
- 3 -
Herod had not seen fit to do anything with the Nazarene. His questions unanswered and his soldiers ignored. All of his kingly power was not enough to dent the silence or the stoic calm around the man.
Herod had heard so much rumour, had expected a king. He had expected someone resplendent and draped in the colours of position, power and authority. Instead he had been faced with a man of simple cloth, his hair a sun-cooked, blonde hazel colour, his skin a rich and spotless caramel, eyes of pure brown, the corona of fire circled the iris, a beautiful and magnificent beauty hidden behind such humble attire.
Herod had no idea that this man was the child who had escaped his father’s grip, his mad father, whose power had weakened and waned and then finally sputtered to nothing in illness and corruption.
Augustus, the emperor, had seen fit to tear the empire of Judea apart and deal it out amongst the brothers Herod. Antipas had maintained his grip on Judea – the Bethlehem and Galilean alike had fallen under his jurisdiction, hence why Pilate had seen fit to send the Nazarene to him for judgment.
Not that judgment was able to be passed, no crime committed under the King Herod’s belief, and so, back to Jerusalem and the Romans he had sent the man.
Those eyes, the man’s silent acceptance, the way he gently shook his head and smiled even in the face of possible death, Herod had watched the man and had been moved to a feeling of uncertain and ominous hopelessness.
He knew his domain as King was given by birth-rite and the good grace of Roman patronage, he knew all-to-well from watching his father’s decline that he was not divine amongst the gods. Unlike his father he was well aware the delicate balance of power and ego. The man who had stood in his presence had shaken him deeply with a feeling of utter emptiness for the first time in his life.
Looking upon the face of this other man, he had felt humble and worn to nothing, like a statue left in the desert, blasted by sand and wind and element, contours chipped and shredded away, his essence was peeled layer by layer by each ambivalent and silent nod or shake the Nazarene had made with his beautiful head.
His altercation with Jesus was less a footnote in the story unfolding, than a humorous and beguiling aside, he had sent the man away for no other reason than to be free of those eyes, the burning circle that lit fire around the iris, the feint look of abandoned fear in his mouth, as if the man knew exactly what was to come and had been stripped of any worry for its execution or coming to pass.
The Nazarene had shaken him with how calm he was taking the events that was surrounding him, the accusations, the whispers on the peoples lips, the evidence that supported the claim and followed him.
Herod had watched him keenly and with a growing unease had made his decision to get him out of his palace, and return him whence he came.
Herod had hated himself every second the man had stood in his sanctum, and now he was gone, sent back to Pilate to be dealt with elsewhere, and forgotten.
Herod found that he could not forget.
Could not let go of the lingering feeling he was destiny’s fool.
The overbearing feeling of his father looking down in anger and the terrible feeling that something had been left begging and history, the daunting weight of his families history, had been unfulfilled in its scream for closure…
As he sat alone in his throne-room, the sun burning a line like a dial on the floor, slowly ticking down the minutes and hours, counting down to something he could never comprehend, King Herod Antipas wept.
And the throne-room shook with his tears.
* * *
- 4 -
Pontius Pilate was getting tired of washing his hands.
The day was hot and humid, the city was buzzing with expectant rumour. Angry mobs stalked from street to street and house to house, the feeling of the mob was being filtered down through the ranks as one of hungry, desperate need – the Messiah born and walking amongst them, now a man, and spreading his gospel – names and deeds whispered and shared. Talk of the man reaching feverous levels and his name a virus spreading amongst the people.
A word that held power like a sickness; a name that infected and spread fast and deadly amongst such rampant, needful ears.
Pilate had been up since before dawn, as usual, he had taken his robe and his finery and hung it upon the hook on his mantle, and dressed in the rags and clothing of one of the cities miners, dusty and worn, torn and common, he threw the brown burlap cape over his shoulder and fixed the hood to it, pinned down with a simple wooden pendant. His leather sandals cracked and weathered.
The two Praetorian Guard dressed in similar fashion, and waited by the fountain for the Prefect to make the short walk down to the garden. From there, they were tasked with walking sandwiched between the Roman councilman as he made his morning circuit through the markets and trade stalls, up through to the temple, where he listened, observed and gained a perspective of the city for which he was tasked with supervising, as only the poor and common man could.
From the ground up, he gained the insight and understanding of the mood of his people.
The morning sun was starting to get hotter and hotter, dust and scent and humidity rose in the atmosphere and the sun became a mottled dot in a thick smog filled sky. The scent of the spices and meats began to become increasingly prominent as the stalls took shape in the bazaar around the marketplace. Swelling numbers of people poured out of houses and huts, flooding the street with curious faces and wandering need.
Pilate walked amongst them all everyday - these were his wards and charges, and he needed to feel the pulse of the city to keep his position tenable.
A fact of life that his predecessor Gratus failed abjectly to understand.
He would return home to the counsel palace and he would wash his hands scrubbing hard and deep with the oils and the sponge, scouring the dirt of the common man from his hands. As much as he wanted to understand and gain a feel of the people his hands were the one-thing Pilate would obsess over. He would wash and clean a dozen or so times a day, specks of imaginary dirt ingrained and infected in his pores, he would scrub and cleanse and repeat whenever he could.
The street under his feet never bothered him, but the idea of life upon his hands terrified and upset him in equal measure and so… to the basin and the water and sponge he would go.
As he did this morning, washing before he left and knowing full well how futile it would be and how he would repeat the process again on his return, and not once or twice either, maybe a half dozen times before the end of his day and his bed and his stirring and restless wife.
Pontius kissed the forehead of his wife, Procula, as she lay sleeping in their bed. Cotton sheets and silks draped about the chamber, her left arm resting against her side, the hand on her other arm cupped tight against her cheek. She was warm, a fine film of sweat glistened on her skin and salted his lips upon the kiss.
Recently she had been feverish in dream, sleep disrupted and frantic, as her mind had come aflame with vision and image which she recalled in detail glorious and morbid over breakfast, Pilate drinking in her words greedily, seeing the patterns in her dreams and the whispers on the street that were undeniable and inextricable.
Links and patterns emerging that he could not ignore.
So, to his streets, every morning he had gone. Guard in front and Guard behind, to listen and to absorb and to soak in the street, the murmurs and to shape the tapestry of all of these individual stories and dreams and rumours into fact and negotiate its meaning and import.
With the taste of his wife’s sweat upon his lips, and the call of the morning bird and crow of the rooster in his ears, he left.
The smell and sound of the city was already building, to a deafening and ripe fever pitch.
* * *
- 5 -
Lucifer sat upon the open portal of the arch by Pilate’s window, watching as Procula slept, dividing his time between the sleeping woman and the husband who now exited the giant yawning arch that led to the garden and the fountain where two men waited, giant and huge, hands like shovels and faces that looked like they were barely carved from granite. Roughly dragged out as unfinished sketches in the rock, the edges of their jaws jagged and misshapen, the brows too big and ugly to exist in normal society with any job other than soldiering or hired killers.
He watched as the elegant Pilate strode across the yard to the fountain, and flipping the hood he crafted from the rough material of his burlap and sack cape, he attempted to wander amongst the commoners like a chameleon changing colour in a forest, hiding his true nature from the masses.
Failing abjectly. His stride too sure footed, his manner in the crowd too much like a man who has a mission rather than one of the droning, lost populace.
His skin too golden, his eyes too keen and awake, his soldiers too clear in the mass of bodies as dangerous individuals who should be avoided, and the people on the street did just that, waking around, giving wide berth to the giant cloaked men like they would to a hornet’s nest or a raging river.
Pilate’s intentions may have been good and pure, but his ego shielded him from how obvious he was amongst these common men.
It made Lucifer chuckle gently to himself.
If there was one thing that Lucifer loved more than anything, with no cruel intention or reason – just, because – it was the folly of man’s ego.
It reminded him so very much of himself. A sad and lingering sting of truth mixed with a heady pride that man, like himself, was naught but a fool for destiny and fate and circumstance, guided by ego and driven by intentions almost never in their full control.
Procula, however. She was a quandary he could not account for. The dreams were not of this Earth, the visions not of her own creation, the fears she exuded in sticky sweat-laced nightmares and restless sleep that tormented the poor woman’s mind and body, they were not hers to have and Lucifer was unhappy that this innocent was burdened with them, he was angered that they were so important and so ignored by all around her.
Procula was his prime curiousity right now.
And what she had seen was more important than anything else on this green and adolescent Earth.
Jesus had not spoken to him since the debacle in the desert. Where Lucifer had gone to him as a brother, older, wiser, more aware of the game and the rules and Jesus’ place as prime King on the chess board, his every move being manipulated by a lazy, angry, bitter father. The link between the two men that bound and conjoined them. Lucifer being Jesus’ half-brother.
Same father, different mother.
May the gods old and new have bitter mercy on Mary’s soul.
Jesus had sat in the desert, barefoot and dressed in nothing but a thick white tunic, he had wandered into the plains alone, without telling anyone. One morning he had woken up, his heart heavy and his mind full of noise and confusion, his gut screaming signals at him. So he ate well and hearty, drank down a jug of water and had left the warmth of the house and had started walking straight, without stopping, into the desert and then further, into the heart of the wilderness plains beyond the farm land, the sand banks and the free lands and into the arid, dry, dead landscape that had no man. No life and no shelter. Where he found his perch atop the cliff face, and sat cross-legged, barefoot and naked but for a tunic to watch the plain turn over minutes, hours and days.
For a month and ten days.
Lucifer had walked in his footsteps and had followed him, and had sat down beside him and had lent him company, silently, stoically for the first ten days.
Jesus was emaciated, his lips were broken and shredded from the heat and the wind that blew out here warm and blustery. Sand picked up and cried along with the whisper of the air, battering the flesh like a weapon - scratching, scorching and scarring the soft skin.
Lucifer had attempted to shield his brother, but, the wind kept changing direction, and he could not be in every place at once – he was not their father after all – so his efforts were mostly futile. When this had failed he had tried to dissuade Jesus from this ridiculous mission and to talk to him of the folly of his actions, the futility of what he was doing. Advising him that as much as it would be remembered it would change little and be a footnote in the story.
Jesus had ignored him.
After twenty days Lucifer had tried to give him food he had folded time and space and dimensions to get. A trick he had learned from his father, a weak replacement for omniscience or omnipotence. He thought about the market, the bazaar and the succulent apricots and dates, the apples and the grapes. The juicy halves of chickens hanging dry in the sun from hooks fashioned from bronze and iron.
Then he reached out and the space between the bazaar and the clifftop touched and he passed through and back, in the blink of an eye, existing in both spaces of time and both dimensional plains at one and the same time.
He sat beside him, eating piggishly – despite his shame, busily drinking from a camel hide full of water stitched and waxed tight into a fine flask. Every now and then handing out toward Jesus, who would ignore or raise a single hand with palm out, and wave away twice, three times and then return to his sentinel watch over the valley of the plain.
Lucifer had never forced the issue, but had offered, this he was happy to admit.
A man who knew a thing or two about temptation, he had never gone to these lengths – he gained nothing from turning Jesus’ head, instead, it was purely concern that made him want to stay here by his side.
Concern for his younger brother.
Same father, different mothers.
He watched the man shed weight, essence and life in front of him, constantly talking, constantly reassuring that he was there, and constantly reinforcing the issue he had tried to tell the man since he was a child in Galilee.
“There is no divine plan. Your life is your own. You can still be as good a man as you are now and NOT have to follow the footsteps in the sand left my our father. Why do you need to follow them so blindly walking toward the darkness?
I am simply telling you, there are alternative paths, full of light and clarity, which lead to the same result you are trying to achieve. Your blind loyalty to a man who you have never met, who has never bothered to even show himself to you, who is manipulating your every waking breath... It is irrational, it is ridiculous.
Why do you so unquestionably do this?”
Jesus had never answered, he simply turned his head, so briefly it was less a gesture than a twitch, and flashed that ambivalent, calm smile at his brother.
Lucifer received it, and returned it with a shake of his head, and a frustrated but gentle laugh. He never attempted temptation, because…
Why exude such effort on a wall that will not crumble.
Jesus was a wall.
A solid, unshakeable, unmovable, unbreachable wall.
His smile was serene, gentle and welcoming, but never faltering.
His was the way and the path and he would not be swayed.
So Lucifer had left him to see out the mission, forty days and forty nights, no food or water. He watched as Jesus staggered half-dead out of the desert plain, from the intoxicating, withering heat of the lifeless lands into civilisation and let life once again fill him.
He sipped the water courteously, he broke a fragment of bread and chewed delicately and he smiled at Lucifer and left him on the edge of the desert as he walked back to his disciples to share the visions he had seen.
Lucifer watched him leave and his head rested on his chest in sorrow, love and despair.
How he had loved his brother.
Procula groaned and stirred, a jolt of life, and a sigh of uncomfortable restlessness. Lucifer walked soft footed to her side and lay on the bed beside her, with one elegant, long fingered hand he drew circles on the warm, damp skin of her back and shoulders and with the other hand he ever-so-calmly, with love and with attention, pushed the hair from her brow and cupped her face in his hand, the pinky gently stroking her cheek. And, he sang, songs of Enochian calm, patience and beauty.
As he listened to her dreams, his eyes closed and his heart deciphered the images within her mind.
As he had every morning for a month.
Her head so full of images of his brother.
A man she had never seen nor met.
* * *
- 6 -
The hill of Golgotha was a barren, dustbowl of grey and musky, muddy brown. The ground was littered with blood and fibres from rope and wood, dried and shredded, strewn around with wanton abandon.
Men ran around rampantly trying to clean up the space for the oncoming crucifixions. The hill was closed off to everyone else but them. Soldiers took the bodies of the dead from crosses and carried them down toward the waiting wagon, heaped high on top of each other, the murderers and thieves, adulterers and wilful, open apostates.
Unclaimed upon death and left to rot and bake in the sun, skin as thin as gauze, hair as lank as river weed, and blood dried hard on wounds that were brutal reminders of successful judgment carried out and now complete..
Lord Death stood, silent and still, elegant and unseen amongst the throng of busy movement from the soldiers and slaves. His cloak billowing in the warm breeze that caught on the hill’s top, ambivalent and oblivious of the men and the stench of the dead. Bowels emptied on arid, parched and untellable ground, human remains, shit and blood. None of this bothered him or made him turn up his nose, he stood, errant and majestic amongst all this, pondering the final cross that remained, soon to be returned to the bottom of the hill, given a wash of fresh varnish, and bestowed upon the shoulder as burden for the next prisoner.
Death would have smiled, had he known how, knowing full well whose cross this would be.
His dark blue cloak - almost black but for the inexplicable sheen and shimmer it contained, like moonbeams caught on the tide, was at terrific odds with his location. So beautiful and noble, so rich and fine, upon this hill that housed so much malice and anger, yet bore no life or plant or grass.
Sat atop of a horse, thin and grey skinned, pallid and waxen, ill-looking, shallow eyes set deep in ugly skull, was Famine. She wore a white gown, with bronze stitched woven within the fabric, it caught sunlight and refracted it in bursts of secret messages, unreadable and unknown, but deadly and ill all the same.
She held in her hand two lead weights, which she expertly flipped and trickled from one knuckle to the other, as she watched over the blue-robed, white-skinned brother.
War was circling the cross, his stride around the mighty structure wide and booming, heavy footed and menacing.
His leather boots an oxblood colour, that was at the same time dull and rich and deep with life; his tunic was just above knee height, and gold fringed; his ankle boots resembled those worn by Roman nobility; his red tunic swept aside to show two giant swords, the smaller of the two still larger than a Roman broadsword by 6 inches or so. His wrists were adorned with thick, gold and ruby cuffs, that cupped over his knuckles like a duster or a half glove, and that would have inflicted horrendous damage on anything on Earth should it be used to make a blow against someone or thing.
He let out a belly-laugh that was magnificently opulent and hungry, and turned to Lord Death.
“This is the final weapon then?”
Death nodded, once, a curt and final gesture that did not need repeating.
“Aye. This is the very same. He has an endgame unlike any I have seen him use before. This is the method with which he will release it upon.”
Famine yawned one solitary, unhappy time, and then patted the mount she was on absently, the horse looked tired, malnourished and on the verge of death, yet, fire was behind those eyes, and a steelish silver spark existed behind them.
“Steady now, steady.” She rubbed the weak flesh of the horse below her.
The horse’s name was Blight, and with her touch quietened down and steadied itself, she dismounted uneasily, her thin legs wrapped in the swabs of cotton, and laced with bronze ribbons around her bare ankles.
“It seems to be somewhat an inauspicious end.”
Death did not waver nor move, his eyes fixed heavy on the cross and the sky behind, as the clouds broke and parted and sunshine began to seep through to fill the quickening blue canvas of the air.
“It is an end at least. And, a beginning. As we have come to expect.”
War laughed again, and slapped the cross, the wood gave a hearty shudder, it creaked and gave a groan and then it, too, was quiet.
“The chess pieces move even now, hey, brother? The rules are evolving daily… soon, we will not be playing the same game as the coward Yahweh.”
Death was inclined to agree, but kept his tongue, and he turned slowly to return to his mount tied safely against a pillar post.
The pale, beautiful beast took a knee at his approach, and Death easily took his saddle, gripping the reins tight and firm. His horse was a cream colour, mottled with pale grey patches, its skin’s hue was a glorious contract to his rider’s robes, and the fine black leather straps and fittings were connected via perfectly crafted silver buckles.
The horse was named Khlōros, and its eyes were dark and full of slithery movement, like quicksilver in water, a deep glint that seemed as though galaxies were being formed in clusters and bursts inside the orbs.
Death looked down at the bottom of the hill and saw Pestilence knelt at the side of a beggar, whose body was ravaged with sores and deep welt-like bruises.
He had a hand against the beggar’s face, and his pale yellow robe was mottled and stained deep with blood, sputum and bile. His other hand held a corner of his hood to his mouth, hiding the bronchial cough he seemed unable to shake, his eyes were raw and pink, one a creamy white colour full of cataract and blindness.
Despite all this he was a beautiful man, or at least the shadow of a beautiful man, an echo of a man once dazzling and blessed with beauty, now pockmarked and scorched with illness and infirmity.
Pestilence looked up the hill, and caught Death’s eye, hegave a gestured nod to his brother – the beggars hand came up slow and arthritic, it cupped and patted Pestilence’s neck in thanks for his attention and time. He noticed the mans gaze had been stolen by figures upon the hill. The beggar looked around at where the half-blind man in front of him was looking, caught sight of Death staring back at him and let go a stream of bloody vomit all over the ground and himself, shook in a rictus of pain and immeasurable agony,and then still holding onto Pestilence’s arm, tight and heavy, his limbs gave up and snapped loose; he fell to the ground still and hot. Pestilence ran two pustule stained fingers over the man’s eyes to close them. The sick man lay a final kiss upon the feverish forehead of the dead beggar.
“How I love to be here when they burn.”
He walked toward a Roman soldier’s horse, buckled against a post by a garrison hut, and kicked high upon the mount, as he did the flesh became cauterized in pox, sores and welts, the eyes faded into blindness, and the gait became unsteady and fragile.
It climbed the hill, slowly and with agonized steps, to where the other three were.
The horse’s name was Nosus, and it was as sickly and diseased as the rider was. Lank and wet with decay. It brayed and whinnied as foam gathered at its mouth. Grey and red and wretched.
War came around the cross and gave one last belly laugh, his red hair bushy and thick and wiry. His beard flecked with blonde that streamed down from the corner of his mouth was in a permanent sense of joyful happiness as he laughed loud and harsh and cruelly. His hands rested on his waist as he turned and looked at the riders and gestured back toward the cross, shrugged his hand and shoulders toward it in a “Look at it!” gesture. His belly shook again with an uproarious and angry laugh.
He turned on his heel shaking his head in absent mood of humour and mounted his giant shire horse – scarred and regaled in the fruits of battle, its leathery skin was muscular and thick set, its legs had curtains of auburn hair around the hooves, which looked caked in blood and guts and human flesh.
The beast’s eyes were bloodshot orbs of anger, it looked like it could kick a wall to dust, stomp a human skull to nothing but a memory. Its mane was a deep rich auburn that looked like embers ready to burst into fire.
He mounted it with a single kick, and when he gripped the reins the horses mouth neighed and blood flecked spittle spat from his mouth.
The riders united on their steeds, War’s horse named Conquest, bowed discreetly to his equestrian brothers and the four of them rode down the hill of Golgotha, toward the town, where they would wait and watch and let the day unfold.
War gave a half salute to the guard at the bottom of the hill, solitary away from the garrison huts or the dead beggar, facing the city.
The soldier returned the salute with a strong steady arm, the spear in his hand unfaltering and strong.
War laughed heavily.
Booming and massive.
The riders departed the hill toward the town.
All except Death, who bore out toward the palace leaving his brethren to find their own way. Death needed to be somewhere else. On a day like this, it was not enough to let the universe maintain its usual status quo, there were people he needed to speak to and a man he needed to speak long and hard with.
So far the only man who had escaped his domain, and, who Death now wanted to finally sit down and break bread with. The endgame of this particular set was coming.
Death wanted to see what the universe wanted, wanted to let the chips fall and bare witness to the coming change.
Khlōros marched to the city palace, and the crowds parted as he approached like a tide splitting open for Moses and his exodus.
His path clear and his mission begun.
Death carried on to his destination.
His robe, like a shard of the night sky. Its layers wafting effortlessly through the parched desert, sparkling with life and history.
* * *
- 7 -
The spear was heavy and it hurt his hand. The sun was hot and it burned his neck. His robe was brittle and dry from the heat, it rubbed and left a rash on his intimate areas that he was unable to itch for the sake of decorum and his standing in the guard. Such insolent acts would be punished with severity if he were seen as to be disrespecting the Roman red.
Despite this all he carried on his guard at the bottom of the Golgothan hill.
He watched as the workers came, the cadets and the slaves, moving the clods of kicked-up earth and stomping it back down into the ground, dusting the sand over the blood spatters and splashes as the crosses were removed and carried back down the hill, with the bodies of the last lot of prisoners.
Crucifixion was both a booming and messy business, the army of men and eunuchs who came and cleared up the space and ground only for it to be returned to a soiled and spoilt state again mere hours later did not think twice about the futile nature of their actions or work, the transience of the result of their labour.
Truth be told, they did not care.
He stood stoical and straight, despite the growing pain in his neck from the blistering heat, despite the itch and the pain in his crotch from the robe riding up and the friction burn he got every time he moved.
So, he tried to not move, and thought instead of other things – like his family’s villa in Lanciano, his late wife’s beautiful lips licking closed with the taste of olives, flicking her tongue out to steal the final remnant of juice from her cheek. His beautiful wife who died on her bed giving birth to their son. Of his late child Emilianus, who survived for a mere 20 minutes before dying in his arms.
He tried to concentrate on the good he remembered of his wife: her beautiful bosom, the laugh that made him blush with happiness, the way she kissed him and left his lips tingling for minutes after, the bright twinkle in her eye. But somehow these good memories always faded to tragedy, the strongest memories of them all. Of his wife crying with happiness as she looked upon the child they had so dearly wanted, before she just stopped, no breath, no life, her eyes fixed and a weak smile on her gorgeous lips. Dead as if with no effort or force, just as if the life was drained from her and she was cut off from this world. His gasping child whose heart stopped as he gave his first smile, looking up through almost closed eyes and the flicker of happiness on his mouth before the life was stolen from him with no effort at all.
Tears ran down his face and he turned his head, despite the discomfort from his neck. He coughed loudly and spat, and with a rough wrapped wrist – a red ragged fabric bandage acting as guard from the sweat that poured in this climate - he cleaned his eyes and coughed loudly again before turning back to the statue that he once was.
One hand gripping the spear tighter and more fiercely than before.
His eyes red, but focused, staring at the workers and slaves as they ran around preparing the slaughter ground.
He stood silent and severe, a picture of Roman force and nobility, a soldier hewn from clay and cooked in power fire, strong, forceful and elegant despite the climate and the uniform’s myriad discomforts and flaws.
Longinus, Spear of the Garrison of Jerusalem, Soldier of Rome, son of Lanciano stood and watched as the killing grounds he was tasked with guarding came to be, shaping in front of his eyes, transforming from death drenched carrion ground – with bodies dragged and carried from the mount down toward the millers cart, in preparation for the horror that would unfold again that evening, ad infinitum, blood begetting blood, the soil at the top of Golgotha a soup of a thousand men’s sacrifice.
Amongst the throng a man dressed in darkest blue walked unchallenged, noble lineage clearly, his skin an almost paper white, his hair as fine a blonde as Longinus had ever seen. By his side a lady of feeble age, her skin sallow and grey, thin and translucent, the veins prominent and the eyes deep set and empty. Her gown a pure white of beauty, with bronze trim and decal.
Behind, a giant of a man with hair as red and curly as a bramble bush dipped in bronze, his beard a thick and flowing red with two streaks of white down the mouth, his garb a form of Roman soldier he had never witnessed before, but so rich and fine, it meant he was clearly a commander, a prefect or a noble-soldier who had bought his commission… though it looked like this man could crush a head with his bare hand… Maybe he had seen action and earned the right to bare the gold and crimson.
Finally, a creature of some ugly beauty walked, his staggering gait was hypnotizing, his face obscured by a fine gauze, but clearly the man had some illness or disease.
Longinus did not want to know.
The red headed monster came to him, born on the back of a horse as big as Longinus had ever seen, he bellowed a booming voiced “HOI!” at the guard, who with hand beating chest, returned with a gesture any roman soldier would know.
The man in red bellowed again, but this time it was a spittle filled laugh.
“Inspection. We have come to see your killing grounds… we understand a crucifixion is happening today, we are here to inspect the grounds and the set up. Stay here, guard the hill, let no one come up and tell the slaves and workers to stay down here whilst we are up there.
Do you understand me, boy?”
Longinus yelped to the affirmative, and the red headed man flipped him a gold coin that bore the head of some emperor even he did not recognize.
He turned his head to the coin and back to the red headed man, who had already lead procession up toward the hill.
His laughter ringing out in giant echoes and swells all the way to the mount.
The sickly man turned to regard the spear on the way to the top.
Longinus gripped it tighter and nodded as the man walked past, his face still obscured and a tang of sweetness and decay wafted from his being as he passed.
Longinus breathed in hard, and almost gagged, but his fear of the red man, in garb clearly roman but of some untold expense and value, whose laugh sounded like a drawbridge slamming down - rattling and heavy and full of dreadful anger - stopped the gag in his throat, and there it rested like a ball of regret comfy in its discomfort, somewhere between a scream and a fit.
This was a long, strange and inexplicable day – and, Longinus thought,
“It feels very much like the very start of something more.”
He sighed wearily, and then clipped his heels together to show his rigidity and unwavering loyalty to the role. Inside, his every cell screamed with pain as the blister on his neck grew, his crotch tickled and became sorer and sorer and his knuckles became white in response to the hold on his weapon.
But, he stood strong.
He was Roman, this was his guard, and he was Longinus of Lanciano.
Honour was as important as air to him and soon, soon, the guilty would come and his guard would really begin in earnest.
He had a job to do, and he would do it.
Heavy spear or no...
* * *
- 8 -
The day was drawing on, later and later, the sun higher and brighter and hotter
than it had yet been. Baring down on the backs and necks of the people, no moisture in the air, humidity all but disappeared, the day was a dry and uncomfortable heat, people waved fans made of palm leaves in their faces and sipped from full cantinas formed from animal hides.
Pilate had seen and heard much on his hike around the city. The voices of his wards and people were loud and heavy with rumour of the Jew who had been dragged to Herod. There had been laughter from some that the prophesized Messiah was returned to the son of his mortal enemy, and returned free of sin to the city and to the Romans. There was rage at the incessant prosecution of his name from the Pharisees and elders of the Jewish council, The Sanhedrin, the voices joked of revolution and rising up – some did not laugh and spoke of this as being a genuine concern, others actively supported the idea of striking out against the Pharisees and their corrupt stance on every aspect of the day to day lives of the cities population of Jews. Talk of the Nazarene overturning tables in the temple and throwing money-lenders out on their ear, his rampage through the house of worship screaming of the impurity of these actions.
The general consensus was that Jesus was at the very least a change that the city needed, whether it was good or bad was yet to be decided, but the status quo was due a change and a shake up and Jesus had gained enough of a momentum and a reputation to have been able to maybe make moves to begin discourse and discussion to start making changes that were for the best for everyone rather than the privileged few.
His arrest had caused genuine upset and a mixed storm of emotions. Pilate heard this clear and true as he wandered, listening to the public debate and argue amongst themselves.
He watched as temple guards broke up some such meetings and dispersed the people from such talk and public opinion, warning them against ramble rousing.
He had returned to the palace, shed himself of the rags and sack clothing and gone to bathe the day off himself, before dressing in fresh cotton robes. Now he paced back and forth in his quarters, behind the desk which he sat and filled in numerous reports to return to Rome and his superiors, listening to the chatter of his day’s meetings – half a world away and errant from the boredom of the scheduling and general chatter his men made amongst themselves and with the public who demanded his time and attention.
His second in command did most of the talking, Pilate occasionally dipped in with an affirmation or negation of others comments, but his mind was on the Jews and the Pharisees and the Nazarene now sat in his dungeon, a prisoner and a possible martyr.
The day grew longer, and when the sun was at its highest point he took the last of his meetings with the chief amongst the Sanhedrin – Joseph Caiaphas – who had brought the case of Jesus of Nazareth to him. Outspoken, bull-headed and moderately repulsive, he was disliked by his own people for being a zealot of his own faith, his face was severe and his forehead creased as though burdened by a thousand worries. When he spoke it was louder than necessary and his passion aroused spittle to fly from him in frenzied showers with every spat word.
The Sanhedrin was a necessary evil Pilate had to work with, keeping the Jews in line with their own laws and instructions and institutions, the council held the peace and general self-governed, but in this instance, The Nazarene had shaken something that was clearly already broken and from Pilate’s own witness on the street amongst the throng – he had heard and seen the disillusionment rife and abundant amongst the people. Pilate collapsed into his chair. Four fingers - the index and middle finger of each hand - routinely worked in circles against his temples as he fought the growing migraine that had continued to build during the course of the day.
It was Passover festival, and the streets were bursting with life; loud with shouting and laughter, angry voices screaming at each other, people bustling and hustling to and from places, markets and homes and temples.
The money lenders and the fruit sellers. The tax men and the soldiers. They all stomped and started, ran and marched and busily kicked sandy dust into the air so the hot, dry day was an arid and barren orange. A speck of yellow in the sky penetrating with a dull and insistent drill, skin crisping in its presence, eyes screwed and scrunched up and lungs heaving with the particles of the ground inside.
It was a busy, unbearable day, and Pilate was in no mood for the priests’ usual brand of self-gratiating grandeur.
“Caiaphas. Good day.” He said, half standing when the priest stormed into the office.
“Good day? Good day is it, Pilate? I dare say I do not understand how this can be the case when the firebrand is still in your cells and not in Judea rotting in a pit.”
Pilate gave him a look of bored resignation, and collapsed back into his chair.
He flung a signed document across the desk at the priest.
“Herod found no guilt. Neither did I. Far from him being outspoken and good around people – something you could well learn to emulate – he has committed no crime, he has broken no law and I cannot punish the man for doing nothing but speaking his mind, especially when the people – be it Roman, Jew, Samaritan, Greek or apostate wanderer alike – are listening. What would you have me do?”
Caiaphas stared at the Prefect with an intensity and a hatred that had always remained a barely contained entity. Pilate did not care what Caiaphas had or had not thought about him, he was concerned more with being a fair guardian of this city that was crammed with faiths so varied and myriad that he was almost always having to sidestep certain traditions or beliefs or rituals – trying so unenviably to be a man of all people and a representative for his own nation of people – which already was hated the world over, whilst maintaining his own strict beliefs and ideals. Pilate was a good man, struggling, drowning in a world of ingratitude and growing unhappiness.
“I would have you order that the blasphemer be stoned. His claim to be the Son of God, his claim of being the Messiah born, his staked claim for the throne of heaven, that he is a ‘King of the Jews’ – these statements and false claims will not be tolerated, he is nothing but a man, of flesh and blood and human limit and his life should be forfeit to show this to the masses of idiots who follow and bare witness giddily and blank-eyed at his words… He is a blasphemous monster, no more the Son of God than any one of those other deluded street preachers and my church will not tolerate his constant claim to the contrary.
So, Prefect Pilate, I expect you to drag him to a circle and rain justice down on him and do your job.”
Pilate slammed his hands on the desk and grasping the sheet of paper with which the charges were drawn, he crumbled it in his fist as he stamped angrily around the desk to where the priest, startled and shocked his face drawn into a surprised look of outrage, stood prostrate.
“I find no guilt, Herod finds no guilt – the people are listening to his words, I cannot see a single piece of evidence he has made these claims you say he has made, not a single shred of it. His actions in the temple were – if anything – a minor act of sedition, the riot that was spurned by its happening was quickly quelled and there is no lasting damage – and his words were not against the Roman people but against your own churches failings and methods… Yet, he still believes, he still follows the scripture and he still preaches your own church’s teachings, whether you like these or not is your own problem, Joseph, but I cannot find a single thing which will allow me to stone this man to death.”
“Then crucify him.” Caiaphas said, calmly, taking the document from Pilate’s hand.
“What?” Pilate took a confused half step back.
“I said, if you cannot stone him for his blasphemy, I want him crucified for sedition. Against the law of Rome and the Law of Jerusalem, the fact people died in the riot after his action in the temple, the simple fact he called out a catalogue of charges against the church and the state – you said yourself, this was seditious. So crucify him, and make an example to other revolutionaries that uprisings will not be tolerated.
After all, isn’t that what you Romans do? Kill revolutionaries on the cross?
Or do you so quickly forget Spartacus and his ilk and how quickly one man can turn the many?”
Pilate looked at the priest, his anger dissipating, and realization falling over him like a shroud, the priest saw the look in his eyes as the Prefect of Rome understand his own lazy mistake borne of exhaustion and the unstoppable heat.
Caiaphas smiled and dropped the document on the desk, turning heel he made to the exit as Pilate rested down on the desk, leant against it with resignation, a reserved sense of failure, his hands by his side and his head downcast toward the ground.
Caiaphas looked at him one last time before taking his leave.
“Do what you know needs to be done, Pontius. Before the capital hears of this and you are dragged down in this mire with that man… he has damaged enough, and you need not be another victim to his actions.
Nail him to the cross and let us and history forget his name.”
The priest left in a brisk trot toward his temple.
Pilate sat with his eyes fixed on the back of the man, his hand had found the charges, his fist gripped tight around them as he looked at the account laid out on the paper.
He took to his chair behind the rosewood desk, wrote one word:
Pilate signed his name, slowly, deliberately and with a heavy sense of self hate, he burned his seal onto the paper.
Pilate then fell back with his hand over his eyes and his heart heavy with this simple action’s importance and weight.
He was suddenly so very alone, solitary in the office, the weak wind that occasionally stirred outside crept in pushing his net drapes and allowed a blade of sunshine to cut across the desk into his eyes. As it did the Prefect of Jerusalem cried.
Saltwater tears falling from his puffy, tired eyes like rain down from heaven.
* * *
Procula watched as the priest Caiaphas went out – he had half bowed to her in passing her in the corridor of the palace, and he stopped and smiled before carrying his hurried exit from the building.
Procula waited for him to be out of sight when she made the move toward Pilate’s office. The two guards at the door uncrossed their spears and then one opened the door for her to make her entrance in, un-announced, as usual, the guards well aware of her importance to the Prefect.
Inside, Pilate was sat with his hand still on his face. Procula floated as if on air, fast and effortlessly to his side, Pilate startled at her touch on his arm.
“Procula, my wife, what are you doing here?”
She had tears in her eyes, and was oblivious to his question, as if caught in some strange and hypnotic trance she dug around on the desk and found the charge sheet, and the warrant he had signed and sealed, and passed them to her husband.
“Do not kill this man.”
Pilate sat up, his gaze flitting between the papers and his wife, unsure why she was so perturbed and moved so by his case.
“What do you know of this man? Why do you tell me such a thing?”
Her eyes were red and tired, the purple and grey sagging under them gave away all he needed to know about her state of mind. Her sleep disrupted for weeks now, the last few nights so full of fits and starts that Pilate himself had had to get out of bed to sleep sat in his study.
She quivered, her lips were thick set and looked bitten and sore, her fingers shook as she held out the papers. He took them and placed them down and held her hands in his own, the shaking abated a little, but was still alarmingly apparent.
“Do not kill this man.” Was all she could say, the tears in her eyes fell in thick streaks down her cheek, dragging the kohl and make up she had applied some days previously and never washed off.
Pilate lead her to the couch that lay by the window and sat her down on a long comfortable chair, often used by the Prefect when he needed rest, his substitute bed for the last few nights. She sat hurriedly and she looked at him, and half smiled, he returned the look with a charming and loving grace, and knelt by her side, kissing her hand.
He asked again.
“What do you know of this Jesus?”
“”I know all.” Procula exclaimed, “I dreamt of a lamb being dragged through the streets, leaving a trail of blood and of tears, people were crying as it passed. There was a procession of men, six either side of a small pathway with stone steps that lead to an alter. The final man on the left side of the procession took the lamb the final few steps and then picking it up, bloody and scared, he gave the lamb to a Roman.
This man was flanked either side by two priests, the first priest – it was Joseph Caiaphas, he gave the man a bag and inside it was thirty pieces of silver, and the man left, leaving the procession and out of the arena where the alter lay. He made his way away from his brothers on either side of the procession, to go and hang himself and with his tears he scorched his own land. The Roman – it was you, and you held the lamb aloft, and the other priest held onto a leash that held a lion, salivating and blood flecked around his mouth, his claws long and deadly, it screamed terror at the crowd, and mauled the priest alive. This is when you said that we could choose the lamb or the lion – and you would free only one amongst the people. And the people – like people do – they brayed, and screamed and hollered and they demanded the lion – and you released it – claws and teeth and foamy, bloody mouth and all back into the crowd, where it caused horror, mutilation and devastation unknown – before you gave the lamb to the priest Caiaphas, who slaughtered it in one brutal swing of an axe, killing it as soon as he had touched it.”
Pilate had disappeared into some vacant place that he had never been to before, the imagery so vivid, so stark, the idea he was handing lambs to slaughter, releasing lions into crowds to kill and maim at will, the implication that he was in collusion with the Sanhedrin in any way left a bad taste in his mouth, but, regardless, this – it was still nothing more than a dream.
“What does this have to do with the Nazarene?” he asked calmly, his hands now on his lap, as he looked at his wife, her face awakening to the idea her husband did not understand or… no, worse… did not believe.
She clutched at his arm.
Hard, sharp fingernails dug into his soft skin.
His face cut into a grimace of pure pain… but inside, with her touch, he saw it all, the lamb, the lion, the alter, the blood flowing through the streets, the axe falling and the lamb’s head rolling across the alter into the gutter. Blood flowed thickly from the wound, dripping wastefully off the alter.
And the crowd smiled spastically, laughing and crowing as the lion sank its teeth into them and tore them apart.
As horrific as this was, in the midst of it all, was two men: Caiaphas smiling and stood in good humour drinking in the scene in bemused ambivalence, and Lucifer, sat atop the archway that led into the arena, hugging one leg, the other dangling loosely below, crying as the lamb is taken and butchered before the crowd.
Pilate’s eyes were wide open and alive with the vision, his wife let go, and it was like someone pulling a blindfold off and he was back in his own reality, his hand raising slowly toward his mouth as he realized the visions meaning.
“You see?” Procula asked, her voice low and gentle, like a child whispering toward God.
“Y.. Y.. Yes…” Pilate stuttered, his voice broken with a growing well of tears.
“What do I do?”
Procula sat up, and held her husband’s head, pulling him close, his breath and tears absorbs in her breasts, she lovingly caressed his head, one errant hand running through his hair.
“The Nazarene will die. This much is certain. But it does not need to be by your hand or your choice…”
She took his head in her hands, and pulled him back, soft palms on stumbled cheeks, her eyes an unfathomable green, staring at him deeply, he swam in her gaze like a salmon in a stream.
“This man is innocent. But, all the same he will die.”
Pilate knew this to be true, his own stupid slip in conversation with Caiaphas had all but consigned the man to a death – regardless how it was carried out – yet, he knew he was innocent.
“We need something. Pontius, we need something you and I.”
Pilate pulled himself from the watery depth of her stare and put his hands to his wife’s, which still held his face.
“What, my darling?”
Procula smiled weakly, but with a defiance that often burns through history and leaves legacies scorched into books and legend.
“Simple, my husband, my love.” She said, tilting her head to kiss her beloved, a deep rich kiss, full of passion and emotion, full of love and desire.
She pulled away, her lip and his connected by a single strand of saliva that formed a rope of lust between the two.
With no more than a whisper she gave answer to the riddle.
It was obvious really.
“We need a lion.” She said.
And Pilate closed his eyes and nodded.
A lion he had.
* * *
- 9 -
The Iscariot had made it to the edges of the fields that he had been coveting for the last two or three years. The talk with the landowner who wanted to be rid of the wasted, unused land had revealed that it was prime soil for the growth of a vineyard, where Judas had wanted to grow grape and fruit to allow him to make the wine that would give him the reputation he so dearly sought.
His love of Jesus had grown as the vines would have had he been able to take the land and run with his plans. His ambition had been put on hold just as suddenly as his obsession with the prophet Jesus had bloomed. Every word clung to, gripped tight, shared and spread, his love had known no bounds for this man, his teacher, his master…
Then came the temple.
And… The garden.
Judas sat on the edge of the fields, parched and dry, nothing much to look at, a wasteland really – bordered on all edges with dry, raspy patches of weed and boulders, sharp stones dug out of the soil, rivets of lime and granite, jagged shards of dead trees, withered and burnt by sunshine and the arid temperature.
He stared out at his beloved ambition he had held so dear and wanton in his own mind, and he cried thick, choked-back tears of disgrace and realization that the prize he had finally gathered up and held aloft as his and his alone was naught more than a barren wreck of the Earth, that would require ten lifetimes of work to fix or make useable.
The temple had made Judas realize that maybe this mountain of piousness and purity, this reader of parables and psalms, who cured the sick and infirm, who rose Lazarus from the dead, who fed the multitude with nothing but crumbs and scraps – maybe – he was a rebel, maybe he was a broken promise, doubt had set in his mind, and the actions of the man who he had blindly followed and who he had supported, stood for and fought for – was beginning to show the terrible signs of a man who was fading, losing his way and his mind and who was raging against the ideals that set him apart. Judas had seen the smears on the mirror, that so recently reflected his beliefs and needs – and these stains on the man were not to his liking.
And the wine kept creeping back into his heart, mind and soul.
The field was always there on the horizon, home now, in Jerusalem. Back to where his ambition had been borne and to the field where he had hoped to make his name.
A name now being dragged bitter to new lows by his supposed master’s antics…
And the Pharisees, the priests,the lawmen, had noticed, and suddenly, Judas was not where he wanted to be and he doubted and he hated his place amongst the twelve.
And so, he replaced his master for his mistress and returned again, silver in pocket, to the fields.
Lucifer stood, leant against the tree. He plucked the dead fruit from the branch, shrunken and dehydrated and it fell apart, like dust in his hands, throwing the fragments of the seed to the ground, his anger apparent to the whole of creation. His fury a smouldering inferno, barely contained under his fine, sun coloured skin, his perfect brown eyes which were circled with a line of fire, now incandescent and burning freely, his hands were strong and tense, veins on the back of the hand prominent and thick, his arms bare, golden-skinned and alive with untold muscular strength, deep strength, pure and righteous strength. Like what is unto Heaven.
He watched Judas, the Iscariot, the Betrayer, the Traitor. His teeth grit tight together, his mouth a thin line of disdain, and his eyes fixed pinpoint on the man sat by the edge of the rocks, crying into his own hands.
He watched the man silently, in fearless, hellish damnation and judgment – wishing the worst atrocities in creation upon him.
And then, allowed the ether of the other side to part, and manifested his life into prominent and lurid life, imposing his will on that of the fallen disciple.
“Judas, son of Simon. I judge thee Traitor. Liar. Usurper of your master’s trust.”
Judas spun around, losing his footing, he tumbled off his perch, twisting his ankle harshly. The pain was instant and unrelenting in its insistence.
He shrieked, and tried to stand to escape the man who stood, dressed in fine green robes, and golden finery. Whose face was so at odds with his elegant and rich attire, whose eyes were burning him with the merest of gazes.
“Who are you?” he gasped in a bitten back, agonal bark. His ankle was at least twisted to the point just before breaking, if it was not already in fact broken. He winced in pain as he tried again to move away from the stare.
Lucifer moved forward, his hands open and palms turned outwards, in the gesture of a man about to embrace someone. From his hand, dust from the pulverized fruit, fell like snow and ash to the ground.
“I am like you, a follower of Jesus. So recently you called him your brother – and he called you this back – well, this makes us brothers too. My claim to this title, of course, is bound in contract of blood and kin – but this matters not, for he said those who follow him will be brothers to him all. So call me brother, and let us embrace as such.”
In a fluid, astonishing movement, Lucifer was upon him, one hand on Judas’s throat raising him high and supernaturally from the prone position he had fallen to a foot or so above the ground, pinned against the side of the natural stone shelf that primed itself at the top of the field, forming a natural proscenium arch with the bowed branches of the fruit tree to form a gateway into the wasteland.
Judas grasped at his throat, the man’s arm, cold wet slaps against the incommunicable power in the muscle of the golden-skinned Lucifer.
Judas had no defense, no counter, he prized at the hand that squeezed his throat, and pounded meaninglessly on the flesh of the arm, that did not move or show the slightest bit of retreat absorbed the heavy thumps with effortless and magnificent terror. His eyes a furious, orange hue now, fire licking from the iris, held captive by the pupils that now resembled a snake’s eyes.
Judas knew then that this was the Devil. His hell had arrived and judgment as it had been told to them by John the Revelator was upon him.
“My name is Morningstar. First born Son of God. Brother to the host and to the spirit of heaven – who you have sold into oblivion for the sum of thirty pieces of silver.”
He squeezed harder at the words, spitting each word, punctuated with a definitive pause.
Judas slumped throttled and nearly blue in the face, his lips a deep violet colour, his eyes red from broken capillaries, the neck red and sore, mottled with bruised finger tip marks, coughing and hacking and spitting froth and foam and blood.
Lucifer adjusted his robe, ran two fine, perfectly manicured hands through his thick, sand coloured hair, the shimmer of galaxies and supernova shone in the strands.
He knelt gently, to meet Judas eye to eye, and clicked his fingers, as if he had remembered something.
From inside his robes, Judas watched in silent, gagging terror as the man pulled out two things – a leather purse, which he jangled and smiled at.
And a slither of perfect silver, with a jagged broken edge, dripping blue fire.
“I want to kill you Iscariot. I want to kill you like I have never killed anything before.
And believe me, I have experimented and attempted every horror you can begin to imagine in that feeble mind you have. Any horror you can assume, invent or develop – I have done and a thousand, thousand times worse. Anything you have invented is already a page in my growing and glowing book, Judas. My brother.” He spits.
The bilious wad smacked Judas square in the face, his startled expression breeding the action of one hand to wipe his face, the other rubbing his throat still to regain life.
Lucifer had already made his move, and had grabbed the man’s hair, raising up and throwing him toward the tree, which he hit hard and flopped motionless to the ground. The air left him with the sound of a sack of flour hitting the floor with height and weight, a dry and ultimate sigh, loud and broken.
Lucifer threw the purse at him, and the wallet hit the slumped, lifeless Judas hard in the head, waking him, and making him shoot back to the tree.
He sat ragged and upright, the silver coins inside the pouch spilled and lay shining in the late afternoon sun.
Judas stared at the coins in panic stricken fit. His legs kicking out to rise himself up, the hands scrambling to gain leverage to the trunk of the tree to push himself up and run from this maniac.
But it was all for nothing.
Lucifer was upon him again, and a wet, horrendous sense of release suddenly washed over him.
There was no pain.
It was more a sense of relief.
A gesture of tightness suddenly allowed a moment of calm, relaxed peace.
The sound – however – was another thing entirely.
The sound one of meat smashed hard onto a wet surface.
The sound of a damp rag, being beaten with a heavy paddle.
The noise of a fish; being slapped hard and stunned against a fishmongers slab.
Judas’s bowels fell from him like rain falls from clouds on stormy mid-summer afternoons. The insides of the man left his belly like the coins had left the purse, suddenly and with nearly no effort, the slice across his stomach inches deep and half a foot wide, the sudden gash enough to allow the tightly packed human offal to slip and flow from him in a wet, starkly beautiful, utterly horrifying gesture.
Judas looked at Lucifer, whose arm was still extended wide, the pose of a ballerina proud of some pirouette and spin that had been perfectly executed.
In his hand held between pinched finger and thumb the silver blade spotless but for the tiniest drop of blood – deep crimson, and putrescent, dangling from the blade’s fine sharp tip, fizzing and cooking on the white-hot, deadly edge.
Lucifer closed his eyes and said a silent internal prayer for the blade’s action, and the sacrifice he had just made. Before folding the blade into his robe, and turning to the coins, and gathering them one at a time, slow and deliberate, the blood and intestines of Judas slowly flowing like lava toward the coins as if they were some doomed village in the flow of a volcano.
He clutched the final coin just moments before the blood touched its edge.
“Jesus of Nazareth is my brother. His father is my father. His kingdom is my kingdom. And you have taken him from me and you have doomed him to the hands of man who does not care for you, nor him, nor anyone on this sodden ball of sorrow.”
Judas was a pale white now, his lips turning a dark purple, his eyes shallow, bags under them now clear and heavy.
He looked down at his feet to the obscene sight of his own insides now all over the floor, red and black and sinewy, his stomach a gutted hole of devastation and death.
Lucifer took his head gently in his hand, and raised it to face him.
“You mean Joseph Caiaphas?” Judas said quietly, calmly, and with conviction.
Lucifer shook his head slowly, his head bowed and his mouth a cruel line of a smile.
“No.” Lucifer said, and raised a single finger heavenward.
“I do not.”
Judas looked up from the finger and gave a weak, revelatory smile.
Lucifer nodded, and kissed Judas’s forehead.
“I deserve this and more.” He whispered pathetic and absently.
“And a lot, lot more.” Lucifer agreed.
Like he had done with the fruit and the water and the apples from the market on his forty days in the desert with his brother, Lucifer folded in and out of space between spaces and pulled forth a rope, clean and white and taut.
He threw it to the lap of the Iscariot. Who looked up at the Angel, and gripped it, fingering the material, toying the texture in his fingertips.
“I will leave you now. My brother loved you, he really did. I saw his love for you growing more and more each day, had you allowed it would have exceeded even that of Simon who he called Peter, more so than the Baptist. But… you could not be patient and allow passage to the light and instead the sins that stain and soak your soul mean that you will be my guest for the duration.”
Judas knew what he had to do, it was his own thought, not spurred or compelled on him by any other influence or person, the thought was his and his alone.
Yes he was a dead man, but, he would rather it be by his own hand than the blade of a creature who should not be.
“I understand, your Majesty.” He said toward Lucifer. Who nodded quiet and with grace to the man.
Judas had already fashioned the noose and was already putting it round his neck.
“Would you help me to my feet?”
Lucifer leant him a solitary arm effortlessly hoisting him up and embracing the man, ignorant of the gore on his robe, indifferent to the horror that they stood amongst, he pulled Judas close and whispered into his ear.
“I will fashion hooks from these coins, coins I gathered from the priests and the Pharisees – men who will see their own reward soon enough for their part in this affair. I will fashion hooks and with each hook I will stretch and suspend you, on rope made of your own belly and insides, and you will stand sentinel over the gateway to my kingdom, so each guest who walks past that threshold will see what Hell awaits the traitors and the betrayers of love in this world. And you will apologise to each and every man and woman and child who steps foot in my land for the sin you have created. And this will be their hell as well; this will be your punishment and your reward.
I have decided and will not be swayed from this accord. Do you understand me Iscariot, Son Of Simon?”
Judas pulled his arm around Lucifer, and pulled him in tighter, and embraced the Morningstar as he would of Jesus.
“For what I have done, I take this gift and thank you from the bottom of my heart and soul. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”
Lucifer held his face and they shared a glance of honesty and poignancy, and Lucifer nodded, Judas returned it, and the rope pulled tight and Judas flung backward through the air, suspended by his neck, from a length of rope that now wound itself around the branches and trunk like a snake constricting an antelope. The rope alive with some magic not of this Earth.
Suspended from high, and his guts connecting him low to the turf, Judas resembled some twisted marionette, he spun and turned slowly in the weak and meaningless breeze, and from his hand fell the leather purse.
It was now quite empty.
The wages of sin awaiting him in Hell.
* * *
“I killed four of your boys. I ripped their filthy Roman throats out and fed them to street dogs. I gutted one with his own spear and smeared his innards over a half mile of the city, carried his tongue in my purse for a week. He cried like a child, wept like a whore. Do you hear me, you Roman bastard? Do you hear me?”
Four guards dragged Barabbas to the courtyard, chains around his ankles tied tight in robe a half inch thick were his giant hands, fingers thick and strong, the palm calloused and torn and marked with scar and gristle.
The guards dragged him, resistance from the prisoner the whole way.
Kicking and stopping suddenly, half falling, dropping his shoulder, the guards nearly went over with him two or three times, the guard’s leader only stopped the show when one guard was slammed hard against a wall as Barabbas shouldered hard into his chest, the soldier not expecting the blow crunched against the plaster, and sandstone, he let out a huffed breath, as the air left him entirely.
Winded and broadsided, he fell hard to his knees and Barabbas followed the shoulder with a knee, which connected just below the soldiers chin.
The solder recoiled and a teasing line of red arched up and splattered the perfect white
of the wall, and he feel down hard and unconscious.
The soldier in charge came forward and drew his sword hard and hilt first into Barabbas’ stomach, the prisoner buckled to one knee, the guard leader then unleashed a harsh, brutal backhanded slap across the man’s face that was accompanied by an absolute silence. Barabbas was stunned and winded, he had found that the guards were not joking around, they were not toying, they meant business and he had better started adjusting his mood and attitude around them in accordance.
He gasped for a breath, and was met eye to eye by the troop leader.
“I frankly don’t care what the Prefect says, if you lay another hand on my men again, I will gut you here with a piece of slate. Dull and covered in dogshit. Do you understand me, Jew?”
Barabbas smiled weakly, but defiantly, nodded.
“Good. Now get to your feet because the Prefect has need of you.”
The guard dragged him high to his feet and pulled him forward. Another guard came from behind and threw the gag around his mouth, and tied it tight, Barabbas laughed at being taken off guard and unawares. Choking back a cackle of surprise.
The guard leader caught the eye of a junior soldier, pointed at the slumped guardsman, and barked two simple words.
And they carried on to the palace. The guards and Pilate’s lion.
* * *
Jesus stood in front of the Seat of Pilate. Beside him, shackled, bound and gagged was thrown Barabbas, who sneered heavily at the Jew next to him, and snidely laughed behind the gag at Pilate, who sat, head resting on arm, resting on the high wooden arm of the chair – as he soaked in the two men in front of him.
“Jesus, Son of Joseph, Of Nazareth and Galilee; Barabbas, of Jerusalem. This is the day your judgment is signed, sealed and delivered. One of you will walk away from here today a freeman and the other will carry the cross to the Hill at Golgotha and you will rest there till your dying hour. So it has been written, so shall it be done.
The Pharisees and the court has so willed it.”
Pilate looked drawn and tired, his eyes were deeply bagged, his skin had gone pale and wane, the day had effected him, his wife’s word, the vision, the walk and rumours – the voices of the populace so stirred and so angry, Caiaphas’ chilling threat of allowing Sedition and telling the capital.
Pilate had washed himself and his hands a dozen times since his wife infected him with her vision, as if he could wash the images away.
As if they were a stain upon his skin.
Nothing came of it, his skin only became red and sore.
He knew before the day was out he would wash his hands once more at least.
Barabbas choked back hard on a laugh, phlegmy and rawkus, Jesus stood silently and serenely, his face passive and emotionless. The words had flowed by him, like a river parting for a feather, floating with no danger of damage or remorse.
“Do either of you have anything to say?”
The two men looked at Pilate, silent and still, even Barabbas, his breathing heavy and his laugh suddenly muted, his face just looked on in patient impatience.
“Nor you, Jesus?” Pilate forced the question once more.
“I cannot say anything that would change this day even should I want. It has long been written and long been decided. Let the day unfold then as it may, we all have our part to play.”
“… Meaning what exactly?” Pilate asked, standing from his chair, and taking a step toward the Jew dressed in a simple white robe, his hands bound in front of him, his golden skin stained by the dungeon. The eyes of the man were as impassive and calm as they had ever been.
“Meaning, that the decision has been made, neither you nor I could change it if we wanted… Our roles will become clearer soon. Worry not, Pontius Pilate; history will remember you for your good. They will remember the lambs from the lions.”
Pilate looked at the man, At first a feeling of panic set in and – then - a sudden urge to slap Jesus washed over him, his hand and arm tensed and the anger rose to astonishing proportions – he hated the piousness of his words, how calmly he had taken this decision, how quietly he faced almost certain death with no argument or fear. His words lacking any sense of judgment or mockery, but said with utter conviction and calm.
He wanted to slap some sense into the man – but – resisted, and swallowed the bile down, his eyes axing downward toward the floor as he stood on to the balcony and the courtyard below.
The faces of five hundred people or more met him, crammed into the courtyard, people were reaching out way beyond the far gate and the numbers were clearly into the thousands.
Guards were posted at every entrance and vantage point. Roman legionnaire’s armour sparkled gold and red in every direction – two hundred at least – either on the wall, the balcony or amongst the crowd and beyond the yard into the land beyond the palaces gate – where the throng poured further.
The rasping and caterwauling that greeted him onto the balcony was untrue, shocking, his ears rang and he took a half step back before moving forward.
As he did he raised a single arm, with one finger heavenward.
“Today is the day before Passover. And, as is customary on this day we release one prisoner from our cells to face the world, his crime expunged and his sin committed to dust, to live his days as a free man from our punishment and judgment.
As is customary, we have two men, who you will choose to free – one will walk out amongst you all and the other will away to the hill.
You are his jury, you are his executioner… So you will choose.”
The crow let out a massive cheer, and much chatter amongst themselves ignited, pockets of supporters for one or the other man, voices deep and angry screaming to release them both a solitary voice screaming for death to the empire – quickly silenced with a spear handle to the back of the head before being dragged out by guards. Acts of neither rebellion nor rebel being tolerated nor their errant tongues.
“The choice is between Barabbas – arrested for his role in Stasis, and the intervening riot of the temple, for assault on women, children and roman alike. Or Jesus of Nazareth. Accused of sedition against the state. Of blasphemy and of causing the stasis of the temple with his actions against the moneylenders. Two men with similar crimes. Both facing the same punishment. One can leave today expunged of crime with your say so, and the other will bare full punishment for himself and the other.
You can choose. As is your custom as is your right.”
The crowd immediately set ablaze with voice and activity, dotted amongst them were the disciples James, Simon Peter, Andrew and John.
Thomas had abandoned the city to find refuge after the altercation on the garden, his faith shaken and dented and his bravery evaporated amongst the unease and rising tension, he ran north – to find a place of solitude and try and find his courage and belief again. Bartholomew had been taken in by family in Jerusalem, and had feared so much for his life he did not take another step in daylight until long after the events of this day. James and Simon Peter and Andrew spread out amongst the crowd, and all screamed for Jesus to be released, baying and goading the crowd to take up the call, and they did.
John watched from afar, by the entrance to the gate, as a gang of workers and tradesmen booed and cried out obscenities to the call for the Nazarene. Amongst their number a Pharisee of the Sanhedrin, who was handing out wine and bread, and coin.
The men taking what they were handed with greedy eyes and broken toothed grins, calloused hands cupping mouths and booing harder, fingers slipping coin into the folds of wallets and purses tied to belts and robes, the chief amongst them screaming–
“GIVE US BARABBAS!”
So loud and angry, so clear and demanding, the voices of the crowd calling for Jesus outnumbered and out-paid, greed infected and pockets warm with new coin, the Barabbas crowd began shouting a rhythmic and solid catcall for the beast Barabbas.
“GIVE US BARABBAS! GIVE US BARABBAS!”
The crowd began to bloat as the push from the space beyond the gate pushed and surged, voices drowned out who called for the Nazarene to be freed.
Pilate stared at the scene in bemused, confused agony.
Barabbas – who he knew to be guilty, who he knew to be guilty of more – but could not prove, smiled at him, his eyes belying the giddy pleasure he had from a crowd calling his name.
Jesus stood ambivalent and silent, his arms in front of him, his hands clasped as if in prayer, the look of serene comfort still on his face, no smile, but his eyes calm and certain, his mouth a line of stoic indifference.
Pilate shook his head, and raised a hand to the crowd.
“Do you want The Nazarene?”
A yell of approval, hearty and pure, not angry, not forceful, but of joyful affirmation.
“Do you want Barabbas?”
The crowd pushed again, more violently, the surge from the back being translated amongst those at the front as a push of confirmation, and therefore, some who had just shouted for Jesus turned tail and called for the beast instead.
A scream of several hundred men and women calling “GIVE US BARABBAS!”
Pilate held aloft two hands. The swell softened, the voices began to quiet down.
“Then I must free the man Barabbas. Whose guilt I am assured of, whose innocence was proven untrue – who committed crimes hitherto unpunished and who will commit more I am sure. You want me to free this man, who I know and you know to be a prisoner of some reputation, and you want to commit the Nazarene – Jesus, whose innocence was proven and who has been cleared twice by court and council – brought to us by the Sanhedrin, with charges of sedition against the state that is tenuous at best, regardless the evidence I have seen…
You would have me commit this man to the cross to satisfy your bloodlust, and free the guilty party?”
The Sanhedrin Pharisees looked at Pilate with perplexed rage, Caiaphas stared hardest, and with his staff he aimed a curse at the figure of Jesus.
“He is a blasphemer, a seditionist, he caused the riot at the temple and he claims to be the Son of God… There is no innocence here!”
The crowd pushed harder forward, the courtyard was fit to bursting now, the words of Caiaphas had influenced a new chant, and the guards took two steps forward ready for crowd control measures – spears raised.
On the balcony, either side of Pilate stood Regulus and Helio. They exchanged a glance at each other and the guards on the wall, the guards on the gate and they too stood forward flanking Pilate, hands on sword, ready to draw.
Jesus looked at the anxious face of Regulus and gave a weary, relaxed smile, and lowed his hands in a patting motion – Regulus released his swords hilt, stood up straight and looked at Jesus, as he said six calm words.
“Do not worry. It will be fine.”
Regulus lay a single hand on Pilate’s shoulder – a move sure to come back to haunt him with a punishment he dare not imagine, laying a naked hand on a prefect of Rome – but Pilate did not look angry, instead, he snapped back to full alertness and turned to look at the soldier.
“Sir, this is seconds from becoming uncontrollable, one of our boys will make the first move and we are looking at a wholesale slaughter of innocent civilians – the swelling is becoming a danger to us and the Jews and the rest of the crowd – Roman, curious bystander and all… If you are to release a man, do it now, before this situation worsens and we are carrying out bodies to bury.”
Pilate stared hard into the eyes of the young soldier, he looked at the rough skinned hand on his clean white robe, and he looked at the fierce eyes, tempered with calm control. At the Grecian in Roman armour who stood to his left, and then at the two men who had been displayed to be bartered for freedom or committed to the cross.
And he nodded.
Regulus released his hand, and returned to the side of the prisoner Jesus.
Pilate stood forward again.
Called for his aide, and demanded a bowl of water and a sponge.
“Fine. The decision is made. The prisoner Barabbas will be freed. He is yours now, I release him back unto you.”
Pilate gestured to the Grecian, who drew his sword and swiped once cleanly through the ropes on Barabbas hands, then unpicked the knot in the gag, and released this too.
Barabbas spat heavy on the balcony floor and gave a laugh of pure darkness, tar dripping from his lungs, phlegm from his throat cracked the laugh in unnatural ways.
The noise was like a knife down a barrel’s side.
He laughed at the guard, the Nazarene and at the Prefect and made his way down the steps, as the crowd silently let him pass, parting as he did, the realization on faces of what they had called out for too late and dawning with no hope of change.
The swell had stopped, and a hardcore part of the crowd started calling out for Barabbas and joined him, arms around his waist and shoulders, he was picked up and carried on hands above heads toward the gateway, he span on his perch of hands and saw the balcony one last time, at the innocent man Jesus who would take his place and then his smile momentarily left him as the man smiled at him and said quietly, so he could see his mouth make the words.
“Make your life mean something, Barabbas. Make this chance mean something”
Barabbas lost his smile entirely, his eyes cracked at the awakening of his counterparts innocence and the weight of his own sin he must now try and replace with life, and he collapsed onto his back and allowed the crowd to carry on lifting him as he lay toward the gate.
Above him, on the wall, as he went under the gateway and made his appearance to the other side and freedom, he saw the figure of a man – golden skin, glowing, green robes flecked with silver, hair as blonde and as golden as the morning sunrise, his eyes a bright orange and brown that shone like a reflection of sunshine on water.
The man looked sad and angry all at once, and passed a little salute to Barabbas, and said “I’ll see you soon.” And Barabbas demanded to be put down. As soon as his feet touched Earth he ran as far from the man and the courtyard as he could, his heart racing and his mind afire with the words and the gesture of strength and purpose the man had given not blinking, not breathing, passing the comment in a way clearly threat and clearly warning.
His skin felt prickly with anticipation and his strength and chutzpah left him, he was empty and dry and very, very scared of the largeness of the world, the size of freedom and so he ran, until he was just another face in amongst the multitude of the crowd.
Blood on his hands the rest of his days.
Pontius Pilate watched as he disappeared beyond the gate and the crowd cheered and regaled his escape and run to his new life. The aide returned with warm water and a sponge, oil in a small urn, scented and fragrant and also warm. Pilate removed his bracelets and bangles, his wrist guards and finery, and rolled his sleeve up, and showed the audience present. He poured the water into a basin, and poured the oil onto his skin, and then dipped his hands in the bowl and sponged them clean, showed the hands to the crowd.
“I do this everyday, after I leave those gates and walk amongst you and listen to your voices, your chatter and your talk… I buy from your marketplaces and I eat of your fruit and I listen as you all talk amongst yourselves as though you are all scholars – talking of the coming Messiah, of the man they call Jesus, of the return of the King of the Jews, the man who will lead you to Heaven… Your happiness, your gratitude that he is walking amongst you and spreading a word you have long since been spoon-fed in ways that suit only the minority and never the majority – I listen to it all.
And I give you the chance to free this man, and then you turn tail and you betray him to the hill for the sake of a man that you all screamed and demanded and petitioned that I arrest – whose guilt is clear and sinister, whose terrorism of your own ways and freedoms you ordered me to stop.
Given the choice between the man Jesus, who I hear you talk of daily – who has done so much for your meager lives – compared to the Barabbas who caused nought but pain – you chose the latter, and gladly commit this man Jesus to the cross?”
The audience stood, the crowd silent, in guilty open-mouthed stupor as Pilate repeated the routine again. Oil, water, sponge, hands aloft and turning his palms back and forth to show the cleanliness of them, he ordered the aide to take the water and oil away.
“I have washed my hands clean of the guilt of this man’s blood – I gave you the choice and chance to do what I could not do myself, and you threw him to the dogs.
I have no guilt for what will happen now, my hands are clean – I look amongst your number and ask you, are yours?”
The crowd murmured and started to rustle and move heavy again, the surge was not so bad, but the bodies turned and started moving out of the gates and exits, James and Andrew, John and Simon Peter stared at the figure of Jesus on the balcony, his head slightly stooped, his face turned toward the crowd in a way that was part curious observer and part silent witness – his eyes gently wet with tears.
He looked amongst the crowd and saw each of his disciples, and smiled briefly – before Pilate ordered the man away.
Regulus and Helio took an arm each and lead him out of the balcony toward the back courtyard where the trough was, underneath the barracks, toward the guard tower and the cells.
Pilate stood, and then slumped into his chair, defeated.
The lion free to run amongst the men, the lamb dragged to the alter for slaughter.
The faces of the Pharisees, of Joseph Caiaphas and the Sanhedrin in the bull pit below smiling up at him, Caiaphas touching his head and bowing in mock graciousness to Pilate, and they left too, the courtyard soon empty but for one or two souls crying at what had occurred. Amongst them all, Simon Peter, who had denied his master three times before the crow of the cockerel, who had done what he promised he would not.
Jesus was gone, and the courtyard was empty, and so was Pilate.
Scorched of all his strength and purpose.
The vision burnt into his bones was all that remained.
* * *
Regulus and Helio lead Jesus calmly and judiciously into the soldier’s court-yard, flanked by the cells either side, a small barracks hut under the guard tower where soldiers readied themselves before their guard and in the centre of the yard itself was the ravaged, well worn flogging post.
Two soldiers were stripped of helmet and armguards, wrists wrapped in red cloth and blood flecked and dried on dirty skin, their faces were ugly, brutish, and they carried with them cat’o’nine tails. One in each hand, one soldier’s whip slightly longer, flecked with knots along the leather strands, the knots each held a fleck of wire.
“We are to relieve you of this man. His punishment is to start immediately, it has been ordered.” The first and biggest of the two soldiers said to Helio.
“Ordered by who?” He responded, holding Jesus’ arm, and guarding him behind him and Regulus – out of reach of the two cruel looking soldiers.
“Under the order of the Pharisee and Chief of the temple Joseph Caiaphas. Under decree of the Prefect Pilate.”
Regulus stood forward – his hand resting on the hilt of his short sword, he removed his helmet with the other hand and measured the man in front of himself.
“We just left Prefect Pilate, and he gave us no such order. This man is to be prepared for the hill, and to carry his burden like the rest of them. What punishment are you set to distribute, may I enquire?”
“This seditionist is to be scourged. His skin is to be whipped and flayed and he is to take the lash for his crimes in the temple and the act of rebellion against the standard of Rome. No filthy commoner can claim to be royalty and overturn tables of money lenders in the city and not expect to be punished… Especially when he is peddling anti-Roman sentiment.”
“This is not standard punishment.” Helio interjected.
“This is not a standard prisoner… is it? We have the King of the Jews himself here today – don’t we boys?”
A cheer of blood lust and cruelty bubbled from around the courtyard – Regulus gripped his hilt to draw and Helio held a hand to his compatriot’s own – as three other centurions stood and drew their own swords.
The smaller of the thuggish guards stood forward an inch away from Regulus’s own face and cocked his head left and right, a smile wide and vicious broke open on his stubbled, scarred jaw.
“Your Greek friend just did you a favour, we will let it go and forget what you just gestured to do. Just release the prisoner to me, walk out that door” - a finger pointed to the far exit, under the portcullis – “… And let’s forget this ugly encounter ever happened, we all have jobs to do at the end of the day don’t we?”
Regulus held the man’s stare, Helios’ hand came from Regulus sword to his shoulder, and Regulus looked left at his ally.
“Helio?” Was all he could say.
“Regulus, there is nothing we can do. Not for this man… Not now.”
Jesus looked at the two soldiers, Roman and Greek, and he smiled and held his hands out to them both, open palm and welcoming.
“This is how it is intended to be, you two are free of guilt, walk out of the gate and know you are clean of sin. This is my path and my burden, please… No one else need suffer for my sins.”
Regulus looked as though he were to say something, Helio stood forward and Jesus held his hands out once more and patted to stop, he raised his hand to his mouth and a single index finger tapped gently on his lips as he smiled and looked at Regulus.
The two guards stood forward as well – and Helio gestured for Regulus to replace his helmet, meeting Jesus’ gaze he saw the pleading look in his eye and nodded.
“Regulus. No. Our parts are done. Leave now.”
Regulus looked at Jesus too, his gaze said “Are you sure?”
Jesus nodded and closed his eyes gently and smiled weakly, Regulus touched his hands and held the grip for a few seconds. Jesus held his fingers and squeezed a thank you. Regulus broke the grip and left with Helio – through the gateway, neither one looking back.
“Welcome to the pit, Messiah, my name is Terio and this is Istamil. We will be your chaperones.” The larger of the two guards barked out a vicious laugh, and Jesus dropped his head. Terio caught it and raised it again.
“We have gifts for our esteemed royal guest.”
Two more guards came over and grabbed Jesus on his shoulders and dragged him backward, Istamil grabbed the fabric of Jesus’ tunic robe and ripped hard, pulling the clothing from him and leaving him naked for all to see.
The other two guards slammed him down into a wooden chair, hard, lay on the chair a red scrap of fabric, fat hands grabbed the side of Jesus’ head and Terio came over with a circle of bramble branches, thorns thick and evil jutting from every angle and direction.
“What is a King without his crown?” Terio’s massive fingers, his monstrous hands forced the ring of thorns hard onto Jesus’ head, he screamed and cried in pain.
Blood flowed immediately from his scalp and temples, dripping into his eyes, his mouth. Blinding him, filling his palette with the tang of iron.
“And your robe, your majesty!” Istamil tied the rag of red fabric hard around his neck, choking Jesus, two more hands came and hammered staples into the shoulders, fixing the red rag in place more securely, again, Jesus lashed out in ferocious agony as the rough hands held him down.
When the rag was secure the hands lifted him from the chair, and a circle of Roman soldiers pushed and slapped and punched Jesus between one another, before a final meaty fist laid him down battered and exhausted from Terio’s gargantuan fist.
Blood spattered on the dry sand, combed to hide the previous victim, so the new canvas of pain could be started for all to watch from on high on the guard tower.
Istamil dragged Jesus to the centre post by hand and hair, the crown fixed in place leaving a trail of blood lining the sand. A leather tether was lopped around one hand, twin barbs in the inside of the tether caught Jesus’ skin and grappled the leather tight in to his wrist. The tether was fed through a loop on the flogging post and round to his other hand, the barbs on this gripped and pinched and bit. He lay on one bended knee, the red rag laying loosely by his side, stuck to his chest, as the lash thunderous cracked the sky and the first gash appeared on his back.
Jesus screamed in anguish and furious pain and the lashes rained down harder and faster and more terrifyingly than before, every crack ripping another line into his back.
On the other side of the city, sat in tears on the Hill of Golgotha sat Lucifer, each whip of the Nine tails caused his whole body to jolt like lightning was scourging through him, his eyes were rolled tight into his skull, his mouth dry and full of the taste of blood. His hands balled tight into fists that pounded the rocky floor of the desert with each new lash across the skin of his brother – filtered through Lucifer, who shared each and every ounce of pain.
Tears pouring from his eyes even as he convulsed in muted agony, an avatar of his brother’s punishment sharing the burden and the burn.
With each drop of blood from his Jesus’s veins, a single tear of blood dripped from Lucifer’s eye.
Jesus lay slumped on the floor, his arms stretched in ugly contortions, his fists balled tight, blood congealing round his wrists from the barbed leather tether.
His eyes rolled deep in his skull and his mouth dry and parched and full of the taste of blood.
His skin a terrible canvas of punishment and bloody violence.
From the far gateway, Pilate came in just as the lash from Terio’s unholy ninetails scourged across Jesus back, now a torn fabric of ripped gashed skin and blood, his whole body, back, neck, legs and arms were ripped to ribbons.
The soldiers and guards were spattered in blood and flesh, their faces red with exertion.
“What the Devil do you think you are doing?” Screamed Pilate from the gateway, his White Robes were at odds with the red scene in front of him, the white bleached sand now a gory pattern of red lines and splashes.
“Who ordered you to flog this man?”
Terio stood forward, clicking his fingers a guard who had been watching and laughing came running over with a shred of paper.
“You did Sir.” And handed over the sheet.
Pilate read the form, saw Joseph Caiaphas name – and the order, and screwed the paper into a ball and threw it at the soldiers face.
“I gave no such order. This man was to be taken to the hill of Golgotha and his punishment was to be put to the cross, look what you have done to him, look at the horror you have unleashed. There is no man in creation who could carry a cross now in this mans state.”
Istamil stood forward, his idiot features burst into a wide smile and he laughed.
“You’d be surprised your honour.”
Pilate’s hand connected hard with the soldiers face, a backhand slap that span the man around and down, laying him to his knees in one movement.
Istamil reached to his clearly broken jaw spat out three teeth onto the red sand and his eyes welling in tears, Pilate reached down and grabbed a handful of hair and pulled hard toward him.
“Then maybe I will see you flogged and carry it for him, and we can see how surprised I will be then?” and he threw the man to the floor with a violent thud.
“I want him cleaned and dressed and out of that bloody rag. I want you to get someone from the outer courtyard and have him carry the man’s cross and I want him on his way to the hill NOW! Am I clear?”
Terio nodded quickly, snapped at two more soldiers to come, Istamil lay down on the ground with his jaw in his hand, a pool of blood dripping into them from his cracked bone.
“And put this one in the cells, he will take the punishment for all of you and I will see it will leave him sure that cruelty is no mistress worth keeping.”
Pilate gave Jesus one last sorrowful gaze, Jesus returned it and reached out two fingers to him and then an open palm – Pilate hesitated, his hand twitched and moved as if to take the Nazarenes hand, he swallowed down the urge and turned on his heal – his eyes welling with pained shame. Jesus held his hand out in hope, his eyes a red mass of tears, watching Pilate leave hastily from the courtyard and then, as he realized he was alone and this was going to be seen through to the conclusion, Jesus passed out.
Pilate, in the gateway, was breathing heavy and shallow breaths, his chest felt crushed by the weight of complete uselessness - his eyes and heart full of sorrow, his mind ablaze with guilt.
* * *
Simon of Cyrene was sat on the bank of the courtyard steps. Flipping a coin between his fingers he watched the traders and market men go about their busy business. Listened to the city scatter and move in hectic patterns all around him and smiled as the sun bore down warm and bright lighting the sand and rocks up in glittering patterns.
He smiled absently to himself. Free and easy and full of gentle humour.
From the gate came Terio and two other Guardsmen, Terio pointed at Simon, and the guardsman shouted at him.
Simon turned round nonchalantly, his life had always been a simple one and his needs and way through life was one that had little impact on his environment or his fellow man, so he had no fear.
“Are you calling for me sirs?” He asked with a simple smile.
“Yes. Come with us.” And four rough, leather wrapped hands grabbed him and dragged him into the courtyard through the gate at the far side of the guard square.
Through two corridors and a portcullis fifteen or so feet high – Simon was half carried half dragged by the Guards before he was taken into a side room and Terio begrudgingly offered him a chair.
“What’s your name boy?” He spat impatiently.
Simon was scared now.
It took a lot to scare him, having been brought up as an honest man, a man who asked for nothing and demanded even less. Simon was never caught in even the smallest storms – he kept himself to himself and seldom involved himself in anything that could drag him under in the riptide.
The sight of this blood stained Roman, whose hands were like two shovels, whose head was like a boulder with ears and eyes and a mouth carved into it, he sat nervous and scared.
“I am Simon, I am from Cyrene. May I ask what I have done sir?”
Terio spat out a barked, anguished laugh, dipped in cruelty and mockery.
“You have done nothing… we have need of a man and you are all we have… I have no time to quibble or scramble around for a better to you I just need a pair of a hands and a shoulder. You are it.”
“For what do you need such things sir?” Simon asked, his voice weak and cracking with unsure nerves.
“I need you to bare the cross for one of my prisoners… I will pay you three coins for it and then you are free to go. But it is needed to be carried from here to Golgotha on the hill. It’s not a question, I am not asking, I am telling you. You are carrying it, so go with these men and they will give you your cross.”
Simon stood, as two hands from two guards slapped hard on his shoulders, dragging him up from the chair and out into the courtyard itself.
In the centre of the yard, still slumped on the ground where he was now being cleaned down with damp sponges and washed clean of the whip’s punishment, was Jesus. Simon saw the man and the blood and horror scattered across the yard, he spied the two cat’o’nines hanging bloody and horrific from the far wall, he saw the guards around still smirking at the recent horror that was unleashed here and he immediately went to the man, shaking off the grasp of the two guards who had held his shoulders.
He shook them off him and staggered over and fell to bended knee as he took the man Jesus’ hand and held it tight as he grimaced and groaned upon the water touching the wounds on his back.
“Sir, what have they done to you?” Simon asked, holding Jesus lovingly in his hands.
“I am here to be punished, worry not about me or my flesh… it was made for this day.”
Simon looked at him, and felt the man squeeze his hand tightly and with grace, Simon gently smiled, and looked at the guards.
“This is the man whose cross I must bare?” The guards nodded. He looked up and saw the face of Terio staring out at him from the window of his office.
Simon pointed at the man of the floor being tended to roughly and carelessly by two young guards.
“I carry his burden gladly… and may God above carry it with me as penance for allowing such brutality and terror upon this Earth”
Terio smiled. His lash had drunk thirstily today, no doubt it would again soon.
He imagined it licking at the skin of this whelp of a man in front of him…
Maybe one day, he thought, maybe one day.
And he waved Simon of Cyrene out of the yard toward the cross maker, and onwards toward the Hill.
Jesus was raised to his feet and Simon helped him toward the Hill as well, carrying the man on his hip step by step as well as the Burden of the wood on his shoulder.
Terio watched them go.
He disliked the hill, he disliked the stench of the dead and the filth of the flies and decay of the bodies old and new.
His love was the scars he scorched and scourged into the flesh of the alive and living.
A signature he signed into each back before sending his masterpieces off to the plebs and soldiers who walked the hills and its encampment below.
His was the city, and as far as he was concerned it was just another satisfied customer leaving his workshop to the cashier at Golgotha to pay their dues.
He could not help but be happy this one was finally out of his hands.
Crown upon his head.
Signature prominent and raw upon every inch of his spine.
* * *
Lucifer fell back into reality and to life from his trance upon the final whiplash snapping down on his brother’s back. As he did his eyes rolled back into focus, and the whites became spherical globes pierced with thick brown and fiery orange iris, a trickle of blood ran from his nose, he raised his hand and caught the first few drops – looked down and examined the fluid.
It had been some time since he had seen his own blood.
It was a fascinating pearlescent red, oily and full of shimmery life.
He smiled a false smile, his eyes not convincing, his mouth betraying the anger it stored behind itself.
As he looked up, knelt facing him was Death. From a distance the two men could have been mistaken for siblings, both had long blonde hair, Deaths was a bleached, aged white, his skin was a finer, smoother and paler hue to Lucifer’s golden radiance, his limbs were a little lankier, longer, weaker looking. Lucifer’s were taut with strength silently rippling throughout, the definition clear and concise.
Deaths eyes were a pale azure blue, with a green halo, Lucifer’s fiery brown with an orange corona. But… they held so much similarity you could have sworn they were of one blood.
And no one was to say they were not.
Lucifer smiled, Death gently let his head loll to one side and he simply stared back, his eyes twinkling with curiosity and envy.
“I have never learned to smile. It bothers me even now to this day. Humour and mirth seem to escape me eternally… maybe they will be the only thing that ever escapes my grasp.”
“Maybe Lord Mort. Maybe. Though… knowing you like I do… I doubt truly anything will ever get away from your gaze or grasp. If you were not named Death I imagine you would be named Determination, for never before has anyone had as much of it as your good self.”
Death brought his head back up and lolled to the other side a slightest fraction.
“You are too kind Master Morningstar. I thank you.” And he stood and bowed curtly, touching his forelock and temple and crossing a leg behind himself.
It was a genuine balletic gesture that was received with gratitude by the firstborn.
“My pleasure Lord Mort. You know how you have ever been in my favour.”
Lucifer stood, and offered a hand to the elder paler man, who looked at it absently, a pause that lasted eons, before taking it and they embraced in a tight hug.
Lucifer grabbed Deaths back – who copied and followed the gesture, and then they parted still holding each other arms.
“It is truly good to see you.” Lucifer said to his compatriot, the ferryman of gods and men to the world beyond this world.
“Aye. It is. Come, Morningstar, we have much to discuss.”
“That we do cousin. That we do.”
And the two men walked toward the mount.
* * *
The Cross had been taken from the cells through the streets toward the hill where over a dozen men had died upon its bough now. The rough splintered timber had been treated with wax and liniments and oils. It had been chiseled and carved and carried and borne on shoulders and backs, carried by cart and by soldier, slave and slaver too. Back and forth from the courtyard and the palace through the Jerusalem streets to the top of the Golgothan hill, where, on the mount – Fourteen men had died upon its wooden spine.
The busy activity today had seen the previous tenant taken down, dead and rotten, scorched and dried by the sun, to allow new occupants to take residency. The cruelest and most violent of Roman evictions; The most barbaric and brutal of all rentals in the city.
The cross had been unearthed and carried on cart dragged by two donkeys back to the palace to be treated and cleaned once more, and then to be designated to its occupant. This particular cross had, in its time, been home – albeit temporarily – to a murderer, a rapist, three adulterers and a plethora of innocent men who deserved much more than to die upon its wood, legs broken and sides pierced by Roman lance.
Still, its wood carried on and bore more bodies and blood and returned back and forth from palace to hill palace to hill and palace to hill again.
Pilate had made sure that this cross was marked clearly for the man Jesus and had given to the cross makers a placard that stated the four characters INRI.
JESUS OF NAZARETH - KING OF THE JEWS.
Whether as a comment on the crime he was not committed for, or as a comment on his Jewish underlings – or, as a concession to the Sanhedrin’s power and influence, it was not clear nor did it matter, it rested in the sun, waiting for its owner to come and carry it, crown and sign and robe and all, to the hill once again.
When there the man would be nailed and bound to the skeleton of the cross, erected with their backs to the setting sun, so that they would catch it rising again the next morning and there to hang and to bake, cook and die in its radiant and heavy light.
Like Jesus brother had been born, so would Jesus die in the light of the Morningstar.
Lucifer could not stop the actions about to happen anymore than he could stop the will of gods and men. His power was in influencing and enticement through negotiation and discourse. His greatest asset was an unwavering honesty, a break-neck ability to tell you the exact thing he was thinking with no fear of remorse or consequence. The men broke their own wills, Lucifer merely provided the hint of truth about how things could be better if only they were brave enough to take the step into mystery, the men were never pushed, they fell.
The wills here in play though were more powerful than any he had previously attempted to bend and influence with his unwavering confidence.
Most potent and inaccessible of them all; Jesus, himself.
There had been a time that Jesus had spoken to Lucifer and had listened to the words and musings he had to say – then, as if over night – he stopped entirely. Lucifer never once tempted him beyond what would be reasonable by the situations standards, nor had he haunted or hurt, lay finger upon or betrayed anything Jesus had confided in him. Not once did the Morningstar speak or influence a Disciple or an Apostle.
Even as he sat in the garden of Gethsemane and watched as the lawmen came in and broke up the supper, Lucifer allowed it all to take place and happen. Tears welling in his eyes as he watched his stupid half brother doom and damn himself to these cowards and liars.
Death, it had to be said, watched the happenings occur paying more attention to Lucifer than he did anyone else. In Lucifer he had met someone of the Pantheon of gods and deities who was completely ambivalent to his fate. He knew exactly where he came from, he embraced his spirit and acted like one of the men he often walked amongst.
Death had long admired his brazen wit and passion. The way he had fallen with grace and landed with his feet very much on the ground like a cat. His doom at the hands of his estranged brothers – especially Michael, who had been such a cowardly, prideful boy – had long struck a chord with him.
Having walked countless gods into the ether between our world and the shadows – each begging and crying to be spared, he already knew that if his day came Lucifer would skip merrily into oblivion and make a joke as he fell in the spaces between spaces.
Such was his power.
Such was his way.
Death watched Lucifer crying in the garden for the man who he loved above all his other siblings, who was so clearly on a path of self destruction no voice on Earth could talk him away from – and he had felt a cold pang of sadness in his chest – a feeling Death had never experienced before, for a man he had never believed could inspire any feeling or emotion from anyone – let alone a celestial being of such infinite power as Death.
Yet… he did.
Death had a plan then and had intended to share it with the Morningstar at the first opportunity. Even as pieces of the chessboard was being set and lain out for the next game, even as this one was winding down.
Death had decided that this cycle of lies and liars was no longer worth his time and it was time to start a different game.
Throwing the cosmic chessboard across the ethereal plains and smirking down the infinite vortex of destiny.
Lucifer and Death had walked the short distance to the top of the Hill, and watched as the cross was carried on the shoulder of the Cyrenian. Watched as he held the burden on his back with gravity and silent effort, whilst still holding an arm around the waist of Jesus himself, staggering and tripping, bleeding and dying even as he walked toward the mount.
Lucifer and Death watched silently stood sentinel and the procession of prisoners and soldiers paced and stomped the dusty trail toward the killing grounds.
Lucifer had a tear in his eye, the residual connection between he and his brother was still alive, and each step coursed through him, Lucifer acting as a filter to draw some of the pain away and give his brother the help toward death he could not give him toward life. Jesus, for his part seemed unaware of this gesture – or – welcomed it with his usual silence when Lucifer was involved.
Without the help, without the support – Jesus would have been dead already.
“I want to change the terms of the game. For too long I have watched as your father makes mockery of the souls of this globe, the siblings who laugh and goad you from their pedestal in the heavens, the scriptures that belittle and spread untruths about you and your nature. I propose a new game – one with new rules, I would like to see you on the throne, the more I see you amongst these people the more I believe that this is no kind of life or world for them… with you on the throne I can imagine a better place, a better life… I can imagine, for once, freedom.”
Lucifer turned and looked at Death, his face blank and emotionless, not shocked not surprised, ambivalent to the core. The Morningstar way.
“I appreciate that you have such faith in me and my nature, Lord Mort, but I could imagine nothing more terrifying and terrible than that throne and its corrupting power.
If I had my way I would see the whole damn seat on fire in the garden for the entire world to see burn.”
Death stood quiet and still, his arms behind his back, no motion or life in his skin or limbs.
“If I had my way, Lord Death – shepherd of life. I would see you upon the throne if I had to see anyone on the thing at all.
I can see no one better.
You have never harbored any desire for it, you have walked and wandered and experienced every facet of the human condition, from opening breath to final sigh, and you have never once wavered in your duty.
There is no one more deserving of the throne and the crown and the seat on high watching over this mistreated flock than the man who is there at their start, their middle and end… someone who has power incalculable and yet never uses it for good nor bad. You are more a god amongst gods than I have ever seen, my lord.”
Lucifer turned and pointed at the procession and at the cross now rising high as Simon of Cyrene took it to his shoulder once more and shimmied closer and closer with Jesus at his side, staggering, bleeding, dying on his road to ruin.
“You are the true King of this universe, Lord Mort. And I can think of no one better to take the seat and rule this world and the countless others as it was intended, not like some ant farm which is boring you already.”
Lord Death – Chief amongst the riders looked at the man stood next to him.
Lucifer smiled his wide, welcoming smile.
“I am not a King, sir. I am and always will be a servant fumbling my lines and stumbling through this life with good intentions I later use to pave my way back to hell. But you… You are a king.”
Death looked at the man.
At this Demi-God.
This Golden skinned, golden haired Archangel – firstborn son to a hapless, errant father, elder brother to seven worthless and spoilt brothers and guardian to a half brother who even now threw himself upon a sword of his Fathers creation.
He looked at Lucifer, then at the Nazarene bleeding and suffering, blistered and beaten, scourged and lashed, a crown of thorns stuck sharp into temple and bleeding into his eyes.
He felt the pain filter and flow from the first born son at his side, and swelled with pride and genuine love for the man and then… he held out a hand toward Lucifer, who took it without thinking.
And he smiled wide and openly.
White pearly teeth inside a mouth of Rose Red. His eyes twinkling in Azure Blue.
He smiled for the first time in his entire existence, and it froze the clouds in the sky and the winds in the treetops, and it dazzled Lucifer as though it were the morning sun rising out of the ocean.
“I will be your King.”
And at this, Lucifer Morningstar, Firstborn amongst the host – disenfranchised, cast out and exiled rightful Heir to the Throne, smiled as well.
His plan was coming together as he had hoped and expected it too.
Each piece falling into place one after the other, after the other.
His influence and his pride panged as hard as the filtered pain from his half brothers flesh.
His end game was almost here.
The Morningstar’s day was dawning…
To be continued in the full novel
"ONE MAN AND HIS DOGMA"
Coming in September 2015
Visit: www.andijameschamberlain.com for more short stories and information
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