Home
  By Author [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Title [ A  B  C  D  E  F  G  H  I  J  K  L  M  N  O  P  Q  R  S  T  U  V  W  X  Y  Z |  Other Symbols ]
  By Language
all Classics books content using ISYS

Download this book: [ ASCII | HTML | PDF ]

Look for this book on Amazon


We have new books nearly every day.
If you would like a news letter once a week or once a month
fill out this form and we will give you a summary of the books for that week or month by email.

Title: Hear Me, Pilate!
Author: Blythe, William LeGette
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hear Me, Pilate!" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.



                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                  HEAR
                                  ME,
                                PILATE!


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]

                             LeGETTE BLYTHE


                 HOLT, RINEHART AND WINSTON · NEW YORK


Copyright © 1961 by LeGette Blythe

All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or
portions thereof in any form.

Published simultaneously in Canada by Holt, Rinehart and Winston of
Canada, Limited.

First Edition


Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 61-11599


Designer: Ernst Reichl

81003-0211

Printed in the United States of America


                           FOR ANNE AND JULIE



                                  Rome


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   1


The capricious flame spattered darts of thin yellow light on walls and
floor as the doors swung gently closed. Claudia turned from her tall,
deeply tanned, uniformed escort to address the servant who had let them
in.

“I won’t be needing you tonight, Tullia. You may go now. But wait ...
before you leave, we shan’t be wanting all these lamps. Put out all but
that one”—she pointed—“and then you may go to bed. Poor thing, I know
you’re tired.” She peered beyond the wide archway opening onto the
peristylium. “I see you left a lamp burning in my bedroom. Good. Well,
then, just put these others out.

“I don’t know what I’d do without her,” Claudia said as the servant
snuffed out the flame and, bowing to them, disappeared into the now
darkened corridor. “She’s a treasure, Longinus, intelligent, faithful,
and, most important, she’s utterly loyal. She would die before betraying
me. She’s Phoebe’s daughter, and Phoebe, you know, hanged herself rather
than be a witness against my mother. Tullia, I’m sure, would do the same
thing for me.” She pointed toward the peristylium. “Let’s sit out there
in the moonlight. It seems a little warm in here, doesn’t it?”

“It does,” he answered. “I was hoping you’d suggest that. It would be a
shame to waste that moon, and the fountain and flowers.” He was glancing
around the luxuriously furnished room. “By the gods, Claudia, you have a
handsome place. It’s been a long time since I was here, but it seems
more lavish. Did Aemilius have it redecorated?”

“Bona Dea, no. That insipid oaf? What has he ever done for me?” She
acted mildly piqued but then smiled. “It has been redecorated, but I had
it done. This apartment’s actually an extension of the Imperial Palace,
you remember. My beloved stepfather, the great Emperor Tiberius,” she
said sarcastically, “had it built for his little girls. When he moved
them out to Capri with him—a new group, of course, for several of us
were too old by then—he allowed me to stay here. But I moved away when I
married Aemilius; we went out to Baiae. After we were divorced, though,
I returned here, and that’s when I had it redecorated. But the place was
built for the Emperor’s little girls.” She paused, leaned against a
high-backed bronze chair. “You understand?”

“I’ve heard stories, yes.”

“Well, when poor Mother sent me to him from Pandateria—you know I was
born on that dreadful island soon after Grandfather Augustus banished
her there, and I really think she sent me to Tiberius to see that I got
away from it. Anyway, he put me in here with the other little girls.
This wing connects with his private quarters, or once did. There’s a
wing very much like this one on the other side; that’s where he kept his
boys.” She shrugged; he sensed that it was more a shudder. “Tiberius,
thank the gods, spent more time over on the boys’ side. There’s a small
passage-way—few persons probably know about it now—that opened from his
quarters into my dressing room. It was all quite convenient. But when
the old monster moved out to Capri, I had the door removed and the
opening bricked up.”

“I’ve heard stories about the Emperor. Was he ... did he really ... I
mean, you know, Claudia, did he actually do ... does he, I mean...?”

She laughed. “Yes, he did. And I presume he still does; they say old men
are worse that way than young men. But he no longer bothers me and
hasn’t for years. I’m much too old for him; he likes them very young, or
did. He’s an old rake, all right, though he can’t be guilty of all the
things they’ve charged him with. Out at Capri now I really think he’s
more interested in his astrologers and philosophers than in his little
girls and his painted pretty boys. But, well”—she shrugged—“there are
things I do know about him, experiences I myself have had with him, and
although I’m not close blood kin to him, my mother, poor thing, was his
wife though she was that only because her father forced her to marry
him.” They had crossed into the peristylium, and she paused to face him,
smiling. “But let’s talk no more of the Emperor and me, Longinus; by the
gods, there are pleasanter subjects.”

“I agree; there are pleasanter subjects than Tiberius.” They walked
around a tall potted plant and sat down. Claudia leaned back against the
plush cushions of the couch; she pushed her jewel-studded golden sandals
out from beneath the folds of her white silk stola. The moonlight danced
in the jeweled clasps that fastened the straps above her shoulders,
while the gold mesh of her girdle glittered brightly. For a moment she
silently studied the fountain. Then suddenly she sat forward.

“Forgive me, Longinus. Would you like some wine and perhaps a wafer? I
have some excellent Campania, both Falernian and Surrentine, in the
other room. Or perhaps you’re hungry....”

“No, no, Claudia, thank you. I made a pig of myself at Herod’s dinner
tonight.”

“But it was a lavish banquet, wasn’t it?” Her smile indicated a sudden
secret amusement. “I wonder what Sejanus will think of it.”

“Sejanus?” Then he smiled with her. “Oh, I see what you mean. He’s going
to wonder where Herod got the money. And why Herod gave the dinner for
Herodias.”

Claudia laughed. “Well, she’s his favorite niece, isn’t she?”

“She surely must be. But she’s also his half brother’s wife.” Longinus
paused thoughtfully. “I hardly think, however, that Sejanus will be
greatly concerned with the domestic affairs of the Herods.”

“As long as they keep the money flowing into his treasury, hmm?”

“Exactly. And you’re right. Tonight’s lavish feast may cause the Prefect
to suspect that the flow is being partially diverted. Our friend Herod
Antipas ought to have given a more modest affair. No doubt he was
trying, though, to impress Herodias.”

“No doubt,” Claudia repeated. “But it was hardly necessary. She wants to
marry him and be Tetrarchess.”

Longinus looked surprised. “Then you think Antipas will take her away
from Philip?”

“I’m sure he will. He already has, in fact.”

“By the gods, that’s odd. That Arabian woman he left in Tiberias is much
more beautiful. And so is that Jewish woman he brought along with him to
Rome. What did you say her name was?”

“I noticed you had eyes for her all evening.” Claudia’s tone, he
thought, was not altogether flippant, and that pleased him. “Her name’s
Mary,” she continued, “and she lives at Magdala on the Sea of Galilee
just above Tiberias. But of course you know where Tiberias is. And I
suspect you might remember Mary.” Her smile was coy and slyly
questioning. “Herodias says that this Mary is being pursued by half the
wealthy men in Galilee for the artistry with which she performs her
bedroom chores.”

“I must confess”—Longinus grinned—“that unfortunately I am numbered
among the other half. But what does Herodias think of her beloved
uncle’s amours? Isn’t she jealous?”

“Oh, I’m sure she is ... what woman wouldn’t be? But she knows that in
such activities she must share him. Antipas, I understand, is a true
Herod.”

“Yes, and I have a strong suspicion that in such activities, as you
express it, Herodias is a Herod, too.” He sat forward, serious again.
“But what puzzles me, Claudia, is how I happened to be one of Antipas’
guests tonight. It must have been entirely through your arranging, but
why on earth are you involved in a social way with any of these Jews?”

Claudia laughed. “Herodias and I have long been friends. You see, after
her grandfather, old Herod the Great they called him, had her father and
her uncle, his own sons, killed”—she involuntarily shuddered—“Herodias
and her brother Agrippa were virtually brought up at the Emperor’s
court. Agrippa’s a spoiled, arrogant, worthless spendthrift. Old Herod
sent his other sons to Rome, too, to be educated—Antipas and Philip,
Herodias’ husband now, and still another Philip....” She broke off and
gestured to indicate futility. “You see, Longinus, old Herod had ten
wives and only the gods know how many children and grandchildren and
great-grandchildren. Do you know much about the Herods? They’re older
than we, of course.”

Longinus shook his head. “No, nor do I care to. I think maybe I have
seen some of them a few times, including this Philip, but I happily
surrender to you any share I may have in any Jew.”

“But, Longinus, the Herods aren’t orthodox Jews. They even say that some
of them, including Herodias and her no-good brother, are more Roman than
we Romans. They’ve all probably spent more time in Rome than in
Palestine. Why, they have about as much regard for the Jewish religion
as you and I have for our Roman gods. Actually, Longinus, the Herods are
Idumaeans, and they’re quite different from the rest of the Jews. The
Jews are strict in their religious observances.” Abruptly she stopped.
“But why, Bona Dea, am I telling you about the Jews? You have lived out
there in Palestine, and I’ve never set foot near it. Your father has
vast properties in that region, while mine....” She lifted a knee to the
couch as she twisted her body to face him, her dark eyes deadly serious
in the silver brightness of the moon. “Longinus, do you know about my
father?”

“No, Claudia, nothing.”

“Of course you don’t.” She smiled bitterly. “That was a silly question.
I don’t even know myself. I’ve often wondered if Mother did. But haven’t
you heard stories, Longinus?”

“I was rather young, remember, when you were born.” But immediately he
was serious. “Gossip, Claudia, yes. I’ve heard people talk. But gossip
has never interested me.” A sly grin lightened his expression. “I’m more
interested in your father’s handiwork than in who he was.”

“Prettily said, Centurion.” She patted the back of his bronzed hand.
“But surely you must have heard that my father was the son of Mark
Antony and Cleopatra?”

“Well, yes, I believe I have. But why...?”

“And that my other grandfather, the Emperor Augustus, had him killed
when he got Mother pregnant with me and then banished her to that
damnably barren Pandateria?”

“I may have heard something about it, Claudia, but what of it? What
difference does it make?”

“Do you mean to tell me that it makes no difference to you that I’m a
bastard, Longinus, and the discarded plaything of a lecherous old man,
even though that lecherous old man happens to be the second Emperor of
Rome? Does it make no difference to a son of the distinguished Tullius
clan...?”

“And isn’t your slave maid, too, a member of this distinguished Tullius
clan?”

His quick parrying of the question amused her. “It’s funny,” she said,
“I hadn’t thought of Tullia that way. Her grandfather belonged to one of
the Tullii, no doubt. But Tullia is actually not Roman; she’s Jewish.
Her grandfather was one of those Jews brought as slaves from Jerusalem
by Pompey. Tullia is even faithful to the Jewish religion. But that’s
her only fault, and it’s one I’m glad to overlook. Sometimes I allow her
to go to one of the synagogues over in the Janiculum Hill section.”

Longinus reached for her hand. “Nevertheless, Claudia, you must know
that many so-called distinguished Romans are legitimate only because
their mothers happened to be married, though not to their fathers, when
they were conceived?”

“Yes, I suppose so. No doubt you’ve heard the story of what Mother said
to a friend who asked her one day how all five of the children she had
during the time she was married to General Agrippa happened to look so
much like him.”

“If I have, I don’t recall it. What was her answer?”

“‘I never take on a passenger unless the vessel is already full.’”

“I can see how that would be effective,” the centurion observed dryly.
“But then how do you explain ... well, yourself?”

“After General Agrippa died, Augustus made Tiberius divorce his wife and
marry Mother. But they were totally incompatible, and I can see how,
under the circumstances, things turned out the way they did. Tiberius
left Rome and went out to Rhodes to live. That pleased Mother; she was
young and beautiful, and she was still the most sought-after of her set
in Rome. So, after Tiberius hadn’t been near her bed for years and a
succession of more interesting men had, it was discovered, to the horror
of my conventional and publicly pious grandfather and the delight of
Rome’s gossips, that I was expected. So the Emperor had the man who was
supposed to be my father”—she smiled—“you know, I’ve always rather hoped
he was—he had him executed, and he sent Mother off to Pandateria.” She
threw out her hands, palms up. “That’s the story of Mother’s misfortune,
me. But you must have heard about all this years ago?”

He ignored her question. “You her misfortune? Don’t be silly. You were
rather, I’d say, her gift to Rome.”

“You do put things prettily, Longinus. Nevertheless, my mother was
banished because of me.”

“But, by the gods, how could you help it, Claudia?” He caught her chin
and turned her face around so that the moon shone full upon it. “Aren’t
you still the granddaughter of the first Emperor of Rome on one side and
a queen and triumvir on the other? Aren’t you still the stepdaughter of
the Emperor Tiberius? Those are distinguished bloodlines, by Jove! What
nobler heritage could anyone have? And aren’t you the most beautiful
woman in Rome? What, by mighty Jupiter, Claudia, do you lack?”

“At the moment,” she answered, her serious air suddenly vanished, “a
husband.”

“A situation you could quickly remedy.”

“A situation that Tiberius or Sejanus could quickly remedy, you mean,
and may attempt to do soon, and not to my liking, I suspect. They may
even pick another Aemilius for me, the gods forbid. Seriously, Longinus,
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn right now that Sejanus has already
arranged it. He and the Emperor are desperately afraid, I suspect, that
I may scandalize Rome, as Mother did, if they don’t get me married
quickly before I have a baby and no husband to blame it on.”

“But, Claudia....”

“By the Bountiful Mother, Longinus,” she laughed, “I’m not expecting, if
that’s what you think. And what’s more, I don’t expect to be expecting
... any time soon. But I know Sejanus, and I know Tiberius. It’s all
politics, Centurion. And politics must be served, just as it was served
in my grandfather’s day and at every other time since man first knew the
taste of power. The same hypocritical public behavior, the same affected
virtues propped right alongside the same winked-at corruption.” She
swung her legs around and stood up. “But enough of this speech-making.
I’m going to bring us some of the Campania.”

She returned with the wine on a silver tray and handed him one of the
two slender goblets. He held the glass up to the light and slowly
revolved its gracefully thin stem between his thumb and forefinger.

“Don’t you like Campania?”

“Very much,” he answered. “But it’s the glass that interests me. This
goblet comes from my father’s plant near Tyre.”

“Oh, really?” She smiled. “I’m glad. I knew they were made in Phoenicia,
but I didn’t know they came from Senator Piso’s glassworks. Herodias
gave me several pieces from a set Antipas brought her. They are lovely.”
She lifted her own goblet and admired it in the moonlight. “Such
beautiful craftsmanship. You know, I’ve never understood how they can be
blown so perfectly. And I love the delicate coloring. Now that I know
they come from your father’s factory, they’re all the more interesting
to me, and valued.” She set the goblet down and sat quietly for a moment
studying the resplendent full moon. “Longinus, I’m so glad you’re back
in Rome,” she said at last. “It seems you’ve been away in Germania, and
before that in Palestine, for such a long time. Did you ever think of me
while you were away?”

“Yes. And did you ... of me?”

“Oh, yes, often, and very much. In spite of Aemilius.” She picked up the
goblet, then set it down again on the tripod and leaned against his
shoulder. “By the Bountiful Mother Ceres”—she bent forward, slipping her
feet out of the sandals—“I can’t get comfortable, Longinus. I’m too
warm. This stola’s heavy, and I’m so ... so laced.” She stood up. “Wait
here; I’ll only be a minute.”

Diagonally across from them a thin sliver of lamplight shone through a
crack in the doorway to Claudia’s bedroom. She stepped into her sandals,
walked around the spraying fountain, and entered the room. “I won’t
close the door entirely,” she called back, as she swung it three-fourths
shut. “That way we can talk while I’m getting into something more
comfortable.”

“I really should be going,” Longinus said. “I have early duty tomorrow.”

“Oh, not yet, please. Do wait. I’ll be out in a moment. Pour yourself
some wine.”

He poured another glass, sipped from it, then set the goblet on the tray
and settled back against the cushions. His gaze returned to the widened
rectangle of light in her doorway. In the center of it there was a
sudden movement. Surely, he thought, she isn’t going to change directly
in front of the open door. Then he realized that he was looking into a
long mirror on the wall at right angles to the doorway; he was seeing
her image in the polished bronze. In stepping back from the door she had
taken a position in the corner of the room just at the spot where the
angle was right for the mirror to reflect her image to anyone seated on
the couch outside.

“By all the gods!” Longinus sat forward.

But now she had disappeared. The mirror showed only a corner of her
dressing table with its profusion of containers—vials of perfumes, oils,
ointments, jars of creams—and scissors, tweezers, strigils, razors, he
presumed them to be, though because of the distance from them and the
table’s disarray he could not see them clearly. Now they were suddenly
hidden behind the brightness of the stola as the young woman again came
into view. She dropped a garment across a chair, then turned to face the
dressing table and the mirror above it. The light shone full upon her
back. Both stola and girdle behind were cut low, and the cold shimmering
whiteness of the gown accentuated the smooth warmth of her flesh tones.
Now her fingers were busy at the jeweled fastenings of the girdle; the
light flashed in the stones of her rings. Quickly the girdle came off,
and her hands went to one shoulder as her bracelets, their stones
glimmering, slipped along her arms. The clasp gave; the strap fell to
reveal warm flesh to her waist. She unfastened the other strap, and the
stola slipped to the floor. Bending quickly, she picked up the
voluminous garment and, turning, laid it with the girdle across the
chair.

“Jove!” he exclaimed. “By all the great gods!” In the strong but
flickering light of the wall lamp, Claudia stood divested now of all her
clothing except for the sheer black silk of her scant undergarments.

“Are you still there, Longinus?” she called out. “And did I hear you say
something?”

“I’m here,” he answered. “But really, Claudia, I should be going.” He
hoped his voice did not betray his suddenly mounting tension.

“No, not yet. Just a minute. I’m coming now.”

She reached for a dressing robe and hurriedly swept it around her.
Fastening the belt loosely about her waist, she turned toward the
doorway and stepped quickly back into the peristylium. He stood up to
meet her. Gently she pushed him to the couch and sat beside him.

“Please don’t go yet, Longinus. You’ve been away in Germania so long,
and I couldn’t have you to myself at the banquet. There’s so much to
talk about, to ask you about.” She leaned back and snuggled against him.
Then she looked down at her knees, round and pink under the sheerness of
the pale rose robe. “Bona Dea!” She clamped her knees together and
doubled the robe over them. “I didn’t realize this robe was so
transparent, Longinus. But it is comfortable, and there is only the
moonlight out here.” She reached out, caught his hand, squeezed it, and
released it. “And you can lean back and look only at the moon.”

“But in Germania we had the moon.”

“Yes, and women. I’ve heard much about the women of Germania, and seen
them, too. Women with yellow hair and complexions like the bloom of the
apricot or the skin of the pomegranate. And women free for the asking,
eh, Centurion?”

“Not often for the asking. Sometimes for the taking.” He pulled her
close and felt through his tunic the quick surge of her warmth against
him. “But tonight is not Germania and women whose hair is the color of
ripening grain, Claudia. Tonight is Rome and a woman with hair as black
as a raven’s wing and skin fair and smooth and warm and greatly
tempting.”

“A woman maybe for the asking, or the taking?” Quickly she twisted out
from the arm about her waist, and her gay, impish laughter broke upon
the fountain’s sleepy murmuring. “I didn’t know you were also a poet,
Longinus.” She reached for the pitcher. “Wine to toast the weaver of
beautiful words,” she said, filling the goblets; she handed him his,
then held hers aloft. “I drink to the new Catullus. ‘Let us live, Lesbia
mine, and love.’

“How did he say it...?

  “And all the mumbling of harsh old men
  “We shall reckon as a pennyworth.

“And then, well....

  “Give me a thousand kisses, then a hundred,
  “Then another thousand, then a second hundred,
  “And still another thousand, then a hundred.

“It goes on,” she added, “but that’s all I can repeat. Now drink with me
to your own pretty words.”

Longinus laughed and sipped the wine. “Were his words quoted by you for
me ... from you? Remember that Catullus later wrote of his Lesbia:

  “A woman’s words to hungry lover said
  “Should be upon the flowing winds inscribed,
  “Upon swift streams engraved.”

She leaned out from the shadow into which the retreating moon had pushed
them. “Maybe they were quoted to spur your asking, Longinus, or”—she
paused and smiled demurely—“your taking.” Then quickly she sank back
against him. “You think I’m a blatantly bold hussy, don’t you?”

“No, Claudia,” he smiled, “just experienced. And beautiful, and ... and
very tempting.”

“Experienced, yes, but believe me, not promiscuous, Longinus. By the
Bountiful Mother, I’m not that way, in spite of my experience.” The
teasing was gone from her eyes. “In spite of everything, not that.”

She snuggled against his arm outstretched along the back of the couch,
and gently he half turned her to let her head down upon his lap. Her
eyes were wide, and in each he saw a luminous and trembling small, round
moon; her mouth was open, and against his thigh he felt the quickened
pounding of her heart. As he bent over her, she reached up and drew him,
her hot palm cupping the back of his cropped head, down hard upon her
lips tasting sweet of the Campania and desperately eager and burning.

He raised his face from hers and lifted her slightly to relieve the
pressure of her body on his arm. She drew up her feet and, with knees
bent, braced them against the end of the short couch. Her robe slipped
open, and she lay still, her eyes closed, her lips apart.

His throat tightened, and he felt a prickling sensation moving up and
down his spine, coursing outward to his arms and past tingling palms to
his fingertips. Deftly he eased his legs from beneath her; lowering her
head to the couch, he stood up.

“Oh, Longinus, please, not now,” she pleaded, her voice tense, her tone
entreating. “Please don’t leave me now.”

For a moment he stood above her, silent, and then, bending down quickly,
he lifted her from the couch and started toward the still open bedroom
door. He was past the fountain when a sudden, loud knocking at the
entrance doors shattered the silence.

“Oh, Longinus, put me down!” She swung her legs to the floor. “Bona Dea,
who could be coming here at this hour! Of all the damnable luck!” She
stared in dismay at her disarrayed and transparent robe. “By all the
gods, I can’t go into the atrium dressed like this! Longinus, will you
go? Tullia’s probably sound asleep.” With that, Claudia darted into the
bedroom, while the pounding grew ever louder and more insistent.

Longinus started toward the door, but before he could reach it, Tullia
had appeared from the corridor. She quickly opened the door, then backed
away as the robust soldier stepped inside.

“I am seeking the Centurion Longinus. I was told ... ah, there you are!”
he cried.

“Cornelius! What are you doing here?”

“Longinus! By Jove! I’ve been searching all Rome for you.”

“But I thought you were still in Palestine.”

“And I thought you were still in Germania!”—Cornelius laughed—“until
today.”

“Come, sit down,” Longinus said. “When did you get back?”

“Only a week ago, and most of that time I’ve been out at Baiae with the
family. I came into Rome today to report to the Prefect.”

“Jove! Is he going to name you Procurator of Judaea, Cornelius? I hear
that Valerius Gratus is being recalled.”

“Me Procurator? Don’t be silly, man. No, but I have an idea it’s
something concerned with Palestine that has him calling for you. I’ve
got orders to find you and bring you to his palace immediately. So we’d
best be going, Longinus.”

“To see Sejanus? At this hour?”

“Yes, he said it was urgent. He’s leaving early tomorrow morning for
Capri, and he says he’s got to see you before he goes.”

“By the gods!” Longinus’ countenance was suddenly solemn. “What have _I_
done?”

“Oh, I’m sure it’s nothing to be alarmed about. Probably some special
assignment or other. I don’t know. But come, man, you know Sejanus
doesn’t like to be kept waiting. Get your toga. I have a sedan chair
outside.”

“In a minute, Cornelius. I must tell Claudia.”

“Couldn’t her maid explain...?”

But Longinus already was striding toward the peristylium. “Claudia,” he
called through the crack in the doorway, “the Prefect has sent for me. I
don’t know what he wants, but I’ve got to be going.”

“Bona Dea!” She was just inside the door. “Sejanus?”

“Yes. Cornelius says he wants to see me tonight, right now. I don’t have
any idea what he could want, but tomorrow night, if I may see you then,
I’ll explain everything.”

“What could that old devil be wanting with you, Longinus?” The question
seemed addressed more to herself than to him. “Yes, of course, you must
come. I’ll be anxious to know.”

The sound of his retreating steps echoed along the peristylium and
across the mosaic floor of the atrium. Claudia listened until she heard
Tullia shut the double doors, and then there was silence. She closed her
own door and crossed to her still undisturbed bed; she flung herself
upon it.

“Sejanus, the devil! The old devil!” With furious fists she pounded on
the bed. “May Pluto’s mallet splatter his evil brains!”



                                   2


“Centurion Longinus, how well do you know Pontius Pilate?”

The Prefect Sejanus sensed that the soldier was hardly prepared for the
blunt question. He had only a moment ago entered the ornate chamber. But
Sejanus added nothing to qualify the question. Instead, he seemed to
enjoy Longinus’ momentary uneasiness. His small eyes reflected the light
from the lamps flanking the heavy oak desk behind which he sat, while he
waited for the centurion to answer.

“Sir,” Longinus at last began, “during our campaign in Germania he
commanded the cohort of which my century was a unit, but I cannot say
that I know him well.”

“Then you and Pontius Pilate”—the Prefect paused and smiled
blandly—“could hardly be described as devoted friends or intimates?”

“That is true, sir, and I am not sure that Pilate....” He hesitated.

“Please speak frankly, Centurion.” The Prefect’s smile was disarmingly
reassuring. “You were about to say, were you not, that you are not sure
that Pilate has many intimate friends?”

“I was going to say, sir, that in my opinion Pilate is not the type of
soldier who has many intimate friends. I may be doing him an injustice,
but I have never considered him a particularly ... ah ... sociable
fellow. I have the feeling that he is a very ambitious man, determined
to advance his career....”

“And his private fortune?”

Longinus thought carefully before answering. “So far as that is
concerned, sir, I really cannot say. I have no information whatever on
which to base an opinion. Nor did I intend to indicate in any way that I
thought Pilate was seeking advancement in the army in an improper
manner.”

Sejanus sat back in his chair. His falcon-like eyes darted back and
forth as they measured and appraised the young man. “Centurion,” he
said, leaning forward and smiling ingratiatingly, “you are cautious, and
you evidence a sense of loyalty to your superiors. Both qualities I
admire, particularly in the soldier. This makes me all the more
confident that you will be able to carry out the assignment I propose to
give you.” He stared unblinkingly into the centurion’s eyes. “Longinus,
no doubt you have been wondering why I sent for you, why I insisted you
come at this late hour, and why we are closeted here alone.”

“Yes, sir, I have been wondering.”

“It is irregular, of course, even though it is with the son of Senator
Marcus Tullius Piso that the Prefect is closeted.” The wry smile was
gone now; the Prefect’s countenance was serious. “Longinus, you must be
aware of the regard your father and I have for each other. You must know
that we also understand each other, that we are colleagues in various
enterprises widely scattered about the Empire.”

“I know, sir, that my father has a high regard for the Prefect, and I
have known in a vague way of your association in certain business
enterprises.”

“Yes, and they have been profitable to both of us, Longinus. Have you
ever wondered, for instance, how it happens that whenever your father’s
plants in Phoenicia begin to run low on slaves, a government ship always
arrives with fresh ones?”

Longinus nodded. “Whenever such a vessel arrived, I always thought I
knew why. But I never asked questions or ventured comments, sir. I just
put the new slaves to work.”

“Excellent. You are discreet, indeed. There is nothing more valuable to
me than an intelligent man who can keep his eyes open and his mouth
closed.” Sejanus arose, came around the desk to sit in a chair at arm’s
length from the centurion. “Longinus, the assignment I propose to give
you is of immense importance. And it is highly confidential in nature.”
His expression and voice were grave. “To accomplish it successfully, the
man I choose will have to be always on the alert; he will have to have
imagination and initiative; he will need to exercise great caution; and
above all, he will have to be someone completely loyal to the Prefect.”
For a long moment his quickly darting eyes appraised the soldier. “I
know that you are intelligent, Longinus, and I am satisfied that you
possess these other qualities.” He leaned forward and tapped the
centurion on the knee. “I had a purpose in asking you if you knew
Pontius Pilate well. Tomorrow Pilate is to see me. If everything goes as
I expect, then we shall start for Capri to see the Emperor, and the
Emperor will approve officially what I shall have done already.” He
paused and smiled cynically. “You understand, of course?”

Longinus smiled. “I believe, sir, that you speak for the Emperor in such
matters, do you not?”

“In all matters, Longinus. The Emperor no longer concerns himself with
the affairs of the Empire.” His piggish eyes brightened. “He’s too busy
with his astrologers and his philosophers and his”—he smiled with
contempt—“his friends.” But suddenly the contemptuous smile was gone,
and Sejanus sat back in his chair. “Longinus, Pontius Pilate is anxious
to succeed Valerius Gratus as Procurator of Judaea.”

The centurion sensed that the Prefect was waiting for his reaction. But
he said nothing. Sejanus leaned forward again. “I am speaking in
complete frankness, Longinus. We must understand each other; you must
likewise speak frankly to me. But what we say must go no further. Is
that clear?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Good. Now to get back to Pilate. He’s a man well suited to my purpose,
I’m confident.” Once more the Prefect hesitated, as if seeking a way to
proceed. “Some years ago, before you went out to Phoenicia, the
Emperor’s nephew, General Germanicus, was fatally poisoned at
Alexandria. It was rumored at the time that the Emperor had ordered it.
Pilate, who served in Gaul under Germanicus, came stoutly to the
Emperor’s defense with the story that the poisoning had been done by
supporters of the Emperor but without his knowledge, because they had
learned that the nephew was plotting the uncle’s downfall. Perhaps you
heard something about this?”

“I believe I did hear something to that effect, sir. But that was about
seven years ago, wasn’t it?”

“Yes, no doubt. Time passes so fast for me, Centurion. But let’s get
back to Pontius Pilate. He’s ambitious, as you suggested, and as I said,
he wants to be appointed Procurator in Judaea. So he should be amenable
to ... ah, suggestions, eh, Centurion? And he should therefore be a
perfect counterpart in Judaea to the Tetrarch Antipas in Galilee.”
Sejanus suddenly was staring intently at the sober-faced young soldier.
“How well, Longinus, do you know Herod Antipas?”

“I hardly know him at all, sir. I’ve seen him a few times; I used to go
into Galilee and other parts of Palestine for our glassware plants; I
tried once, I remember, to sell him glassware for the new palace he was
building on the Sea of Galilee. But those were business trips, you see,
and I rarely saw him even then. I was usually directed to speak with the
Tetrarchess or Herod’s steward.”

“But you were a guest at the banquet he gave this evening, weren’t you?”

“I was, sir.” Longinus wondered, almost admiringly, how the Prefect
managed to keep so well-informed of even the most private goings-on in
Rome.

“It was a sumptuous feast, no doubt?”

“It was quite lavish, sir.”

“Hmmm. I must remember that.” The Prefect puckered his lips, and his
forehead wrinkled into a frown. Leaning across the desk, he drew his
lips tightly against his teeth. “Soon, Longinus, you will be having two
to watch.” His eyes narrowed to a squint. “Three, in fact.”

“To watch, sir?”

“Yes, that is the assignment I have for you, Longinus. I am sending you
out to Palestine, to be my eyes and ears in the land of those
pestiferous Jews. At intervals you will report”—he held up his hand,
palm out—“but only to me, understand. You will travel about the various
areas—Caesarea, Jerusalem, Tiberias, to your father’s plants in
Phoenicia, perhaps other places—ostensibly on routine tasks for the
army. The details will be worked out later.” He leveled a forefinger at
the centurion. “It will be your task, among the various duties you will
have, Centurion, to report to me any suspicions that may be aroused in
your mind concerning the flow of revenues into the Imperial treasury in
accordance with the terms that I shall make with Pontius Pilate, and
likewise with the revised schedules I shall”—he paused an instant, and
his smile was sardonic—“suggest to the Tetrarch Antipas before he
returns to Galilee.” He sat back, and his sharp small eyes studied
Longinus.

“Then, sir, as I understand it, you are suspicious that both Pilate and
Antipas may withhold for themselves money that should be going to Rome?”

“Let’s put it this way, Longinus.” The Prefect leaned toward the
centurion and tapped the desk with the ends of his fingers. “I don’t
trust them. I know the Tetrarch has been dipping his fat hand into the
treasury, though not too heavily thus far, let us say. That white marble
palace at the seaside, for example, and the gorgeous furnishings,
including Phoenician glassware, eh?” He shot a quizzical straight glance
into the centurion’s eyes, but quickly a smile tempered it. “We don’t
object to his buying glass, do we, as long as it comes from your
father’s plants?”

But just as quickly the Prefect was serious again. He sat back against
the leather and put his hands together, fingertips to fingertips. “Herod
Antipas wants to be a Herod the Great,” he declared. “But he hasn’t the
character his father had. By character, Centurion, I mean courage,
stamina, strength, and ability, yes. Old Herod was a villain, mean,
blackhearted, cold-blooded, murderous. But he was an able man, strong, a
great administrator, a brave and brilliant soldier, every inch a ruler.
Beside him, his son is a weakling. Herodias, on the other hand, is more
like her grandfather than Antipas is like his father. She’s ambitious,
vain, demanding. She is continually pushing Antipas. She seeks
advancement, more power, more of the trappings of royalty.” He lifted a
forefinger and shook it before the centurion. “Herodias will likely
bring ruin upon both of them.” Then he paused, thoughtful. “But so much
for Antipas. Watch him, Longinus. If he”—his expression warmed with a
disarming smile—“buys too much of that Phoenician glass, then let me
know.”

“I will, sir.” Longinus was smiling, too. Then he was serious. “But,
sir, you were speaking also of Pontius Pilate....”

“Yes. I think Pilate is the man I want for Judaea. But I don’t trust him
either. I want him watched closely, Longinus. I suspect that his fingers
will be itching, likewise, to dip too deeply into the till.”

“But, sir, if you can’t trust him....”

“Why then am I sending him out there?” The Prefect laughed cynically.
Then he sobered. “It’s a proper question, my boy. We must be frank, as I
said. I’ve told you that I believe Pilate will be amenable to
suggestions. Like Antipas, he, too, is a weakling. He has a good record
as a soldier, but always as a subordinate. I question whether he has the
courage, the stamina, to lead and rule. He will be looking to Rome, I
believe, for direction. And he will always be fearful of displeasing the
Prefect. But at the same time, Longinus, I think he will be looking for
ways of adding to his personal wealth. So he will bleed those Jews to
get all Rome requires and some for his own pocket as well.” He paused,
thoughtful for a moment. “Yes, I believe Pontius Pilate is the man I
want. Certainly I shall give him a chance to prove himself.” Quickly he
raised an emphatic finger. “But I want you to watch him, Longinus. I
want you to ascertain whether any diversions are being made in the flow
of the tax revenues to the Imperial treasury, and if so, to report it to
me. Even if you have no proof, but only strong suspicions to go on, by
all means report them too. I’ll work out a plan whereby you can make the
reports confidentially and quickly.”

The Prefect paused, leaned back in his chair, and calmly studied the
younger man. When Longinus ventured no comment, Sejanus continued with
his instructions. “You will be transferred from your present cohort to
the Second Italian. Your rank will remain the same; as a centurion you
will be more useful to me, since you will be less observed and therefore
less suspected in this lower grade. But you will be properly
compensated, Longinus, with the extent of the compensation being
governed in great part, let us say”—he puckered his lips again—“upon the
degree of functioning of your eyes and ears.”

Sejanus arose, and Longinus stood with him. “You have made no comment,
Centurion Longinus.”

“Sir, I am at the Prefect’s command. But may I ask when I am to be given
further instructions and when I shall be sailing for Palestine?”

“Soon, Centurion, as quickly as I can arrange it. I would like you to go
out ahead of Pilate and be there when he arrives at Caesarea. It will be
important to observe how he takes over the duties of the post from the
outset. I shall summon you when I am ready and give you full
instructions.”

The audience with the Prefect was at an end. At the door, as he was
about to step into the corridor, Longinus paused. “Sir, a moment ago you
said there would be three for me to watch. You spoke of Pilate and Herod
Antipas. Who is the third?”

Sejanus smiled blandly and rubbed his hands together. “The third, ah,
yes.” His black small eyes danced. “And there will be others also. But
you need not concern yourself with any of this detail at the moment.
When I have completed my plans, as I’ve said, I shall summon you here
and instruct you fully.”



                                   3


Longinus sat up in bed, thrust forth an arm to peel back his side of the
covering sheet, pulled up his feet, and twisted around to plant them
evenly on the floor.

“Jove!” He craned his neck, blinked his still heavy eyelids, and
strained to rub the cramped muscles at his shoulder blades. From the
northeast, rolling down through the gentle depression dividing the
mansion-studded slopes of the Viminal and Quirinal Hills, came the
fading plaintively sweet notes of a trumpet. He glanced toward the
window; the light was already beginning to sift through slits in the
drawn draperies.

Claudia opened her eyes. She pushed herself up to a sitting position.
“Are you going, Longinus? Must you be leaving so early?” She rubbed her
eyes and squinted into the slowly brightening window. “Do you have
to...?”

“The morning watch at Castra Praetoria,” he explained, nodding in the
direction of the window. “It awakened me, luckily. I must be out there
before the next call is sounded. Today I’m on early duty.”

“You always have to be going.” Her lips, the rouge smeared but still
red, were pouting. “You hardly get here, and then you say you must be
leaving.”

“But, by the gods, Claudia, I’ve been here all night, remember.” He
pinched her chin. “I had dinner with you, and I haven’t left yet.”

“Oh, all right. But if you must go, you’d best be dressing. Although,
really, Longinus, can’t you stay a few minutes longer, just a few?
Please.” She slid back to lie in a stretched position, her figure
clearly outlined beneath the light covering.

“Temptress! By the gods, I wish I could.” He bent down and kissed her
smeared lips. “Well, at least it won’t be like this when we get to
Palestine. Out there I’ll be able to arrange my own schedule, and
there’ll be no early morning duty then. But by great Jove, I’ve got to
be going now.” He stood up and walked to the chair on which his clothing
lay. “Today I’ll begin getting preparations made so that we can be ready
to sail when Sejanus gives me his final orders. And the preparations
will include arrangements for our wedding,” he concluded, grinning.

Languidly she lay back and watched him as he dressed. “Longinus,” she
said, as he finished latching his boots, “do you really believe that
your father will be willing to let you marry me?” Her expression
indicated concern. “I have no doubt but that my beloved stepfather will
be quite willing, quite happy, in fact, because I’m sure he’s already
anxious to be freed of the responsibility he has, or thinks he has, for
me. But I do wonder about Senator Piso.”

“By the great and little gods, Claudia, it’s not the senator you’re
marrying, remember? _I’m_ the one,” he said, thumping his chest with
stiffened thumb. “Me, understand?”

“Of course, silly man.” She sat up again and fluffed the pillow behind
her. “But the senator might object, Longinus. He’s a proud man, proud of
his name, his lineage. He’s not going to like the idea of his son’s
marrying a bastard and a divorcee, even though she may be the
granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus.”

“He won’t object, Claudia; I’m sure of it. But even if he should, I’d
marry you anyway, despite him, despite Sejanus, despite even old
Tiberius himself.” He adjusted his tunic, then came over to stand by the
bed. “Remember that, Claudia.”

“Even in spite of last night?” She was smiling up at him, and she said
it capriciously, but he thought he detected a note of seriousness in her
voice. “You don’t think I’m terribly wanton, Longinus?”

“Last night makes me all the more determined.” He studied her for a long
moment; her expression was coy, but radiant too, a little wistful and
warmly affectionate, he saw. “Wanton? Of course not, my dear.” A
mischievous grin slowly crossed his face. “Wanting, maybe. And wanted
certainly, wanted by me. The most desirable woman I’ve ever known, the
most wanted.” He bent down to her, his eyes aflame, and gently he pushed
the outthrust chin to separate slightly the rouge-smudged lips raised
hungrily to his. Greedily their lips met and held, and then as the girl
lifted a hand to the back of his head to crush his face against hers, he
grasped the protecting sheet from her fingers and flung it toward the
foot of the bed.

“Oh, you beast!” she shrieked. “By all the silly little gods!”

Roaring, he darted for the peristylium. As he fled past the long mirror
near the doorway, he caught in it a glimpse of the laughing Claudia
struggling wildly to cover herself with the twisted sheet.



                                   4


The magnificent villa of the Prefect Lucius Aelius Sejanus clung
precariously to the precipitous slope high above the blue waters of the
bay. The greater part of the mansion had been built some hundred years
before in the days of Lucius Licinius Lucullus by one of the general’s
fellow patricians. This man’s family had suffered the misfortune of
having had the villa confiscated after the pater familias had been
beheaded for making the wrong choice in a civil war of that era.

Sejanus had acquired the property—many Romans wondered how, but they
were too discreet to inquire—and had added to it extensively, including
a spacious peristylium with a great fountain that spouted water piped
from higher on the slope and palms and flowers and oriental plants. But
most interesting of his improvements was the spreading terrace pushed
outward from the peristylium to the very edge of the precipice, paved in
ornate mosaic with slabs of marble transported in government barges from
quarries far distant—gray and red from Egypt, yellow in various shades
and black from Numidia, green cipolin from Euboea—and bordered by a
protecting balustrade of white Carrara.

This morning the Prefect and his guest, Pontius Pilate, a cohort
commander lately returned from a campaign in Germania, sat on this
terrace before a round bronze table whose legs were molded in the size
and likeness of a lion’s foreleg. On the table were a pitcher and
matching goblets. Pilate, large, broad-framed, with a round head and
hair closely cropped, a heavy man and, in his early forties, perhaps a
score of years younger than the Prefect, was eying the unusual pitcher.
Sejanus motioned to it.

“You may be interested in glassware,” he said, as he reached over and
with a fingernail tapped one of the delicate blue, blown goblets. “These
pieces came from Phoenicia. No doubt you will have the opportunity while
you’re in Judaea to visit the glassworks where they were blown. It’s
situated near Tyre, up the coast from Caesarea and not far from Mount
Carmel. One of Senator Piso’s enterprises.” He fastened his unblinking
small eyes on Pilate’s florid face. “But of course you won’t be
concerned with this operation. It’s not in Judaea anyway, and its
affairs—so far as Rome is concerned—are being supervised from Rome.”

Pilate nodded. “I understand, sir.”

“Good. It’s important that you do understand fully. There should be no
area, for example, in which your duties and responsibilities overlap
those of Tetrarch Herod Antipas. I trust that you’ll always bear that in
mind.”

“You can depend upon my doing so, sir.”

“Then is there anything else not entirely clear to you concerning your
duties, powers, and functions as I’ve outlined them? Do you fully
understand that as Procurator you will be required to keep the Jews in
your province as quiet and contented as possible—and they are a
cantankerous, fanatical, troublesome race, I warn you—even though you
will be draining them of their revenues to the limit of their
capacities?” He held up an admonishing forefinger. “And do you also
understand that it is tremendously important for you, as Procurator of
Judaea, to avoid becoming embroiled in any of the turmoils arising out
of their foolish but zealously defended one-god system of religion?”
Sejanus curled his lower lip to cover the upper and slowly pushed them
both out into a rounded tight pucker; his eyes remained firmly fixed on
the cohort commander’s face. “It is a difficult post, being Procurator
in Judaea, Pilate.”

“It is a difficult assignment, sir, but it’s one that I’ve been hoping
to obtain, and I appreciate the appointment. I understand what is
required, and I shall make every effort to administer Judaea to the best
of my ability and in accordance with your instructions.”

“Then you may consider yourself Procurator, Pilate. When the Emperor
gives you your audience tomorrow, he will approve what I have actually
already done.” A sly smile overspread the Prefect’s weasel face. “But
there is one thing further that you must agree to do, Pilate, if you
wish to become Procurator of Judaea.” He stood, and Pilate arose,
remaining stiffly erect. Sejanus walked to the marble balustrade and
looked down at the blue water far below. “But first, come here. I want
to show you something.”

The cohort commander strode quickly to the Prefect’s side. Sejanus
pointed toward the north. “Look,” he said, “Misenum there, and just
beyond is Baiae. Over there”—he swept his arm in an arc—“is Puteoli. And
in this half-moon of shore line fronting on the bay between here and
Puteoli’s harbor, in those mansions scrambling up the slopes”—he drew a
half circle in the air that ended with his forefinger pointing straight
south—“in this lower district of Campania from here to Puteoli and
Neapolis and around the rugged rim of the gulf, past Vesuvius and
Herculaneum, Pompeii and Surrentum out to the end of Capri is embraced
the very cream of the Empire’s aristocracy and wealth.” He turned to
face north again. “There. That is the villa for which Lucullus paid ten
million sesterces. You can see parts of the roof among the trees and
flowering plants. They say that some of the cherry trees he introduced
from Pontus are still bearing. Yes, they rightly call this the
playground of the Empire. Look down there,” he said, pointing toward the
gaily colored barges idling along the shore between Baiae and Puteoli.
“There you will find beautiful women, Pilate, gorgeous creatures who are
completely uninhibited, delightfully immoral. Beautiful Baiae, where
husbands able to afford it can find happy respite from monogamy. Ah,
Ovid, how you would sing of Baiae today!”

Silently for a moment now the Prefect contemplated the villa-filled
slopes, the pleasure barges, the lazily lifting sulphurous fumes above
Lake Avernus in the crater of an extinct volcano to the north, and the
sleeping cone of Vesuvius looming magnificently in the west. Then he
turned again to face Pilate, and a sly, malevolent smile crossed his
narrow face. “You, too, Commander, some day can live in luxury out there
on the slope above Baiae ... if you manage affairs in Judaea properly,”
he paused, for emphasis, “by following explicitly the instructions you
have received and will continue to receive from me.”

“I am ambitious, sir,” Pilate answered, “and I would take great pleasure
some day in joining the equestrian class here. But whether I am able to
achieve a villa at Baiae or not, I am determined to follow explicitly
the Prefect’s instructions and desires.” His hand on the marble
balustrade, Pilate studied the movement in the bay. Then he faced the
Prefect. “But you said a moment ago, sir, that there was still one more
provision?”

“Yes, Pilate.” Sejanus pointed to the chairs beside the lion-legged
table. “But let’s sit down and have some more of the Falernian.”

As they took their seats, a slave who all the while had been hovering
attentively near-by came forward quickly and filled the goblets. Sejanus
sipped slowly. “Surely you have guessed that the Emperor and I confer at
times on matters of particular intimacy, such as the problems of his
household, even the affairs of members of his own Imperial family?”

“I can see, sir, how the Emperor would wish the Prefect’s counsel in
matters of every kind.”

“That is true.” Sejanus toyed with the wine glass, then abruptly set it
down. “This is the provision, Pilate, and I think it not unreasonable.
In fact, I might explain that it was at my suggestion that Tiberius has
included it. And were I in your position, Pilate”—his eyes brightened,
and he flattened his lips against his teeth—“I would be delighted that
such a provision had been made. She is a beautiful woman, young,
possessed of every feminine appeal, and a woman to be earnestly desired
and sought, at least in the opinion of one old man who”—he smiled—“can
still look, appreciate, and imagine.”

“A woman?”

“Yes, Pilate. The Emperor expects you to marry his stepdaughter.”

“Claudia!” Pilate said in amazement. “The granddaughter of Augustus?”

“Indeed.” Sejanus was eying him intently. “And of Antony, too, and
Cleopatra, I’ve always understood.” A sly smile again crossed his face.
“And, if I’m a capable judge, a woman possessed of everything Cleopatra
had.”

Pilate seemed oblivious to the Prefect’s description. “But why should he
want me, the son of a Spanish...?”

“But you will be Procurator of Judaea,” Sejanus interrupted. “Look,
Pilate,” he went on, his face all seriousness now, “I’m sure you’ve
heard the story of Claudia’s mother, the wife of Tiberius. Augustus was
forced to banish her when her adulteries became notorious. It’s one of
those paradoxes, Pilate, of Imperial life. The Emperor may indulge in
any of the ordinarily forbidden delights, adultery, pederasty”—he smiled
again, but this time his smile was a scarcely concealed sneer—“but his
stepdaughter may not. Or she may not publicly, at any rate. And now that
Claudia is divorced from Aemilius and has no husband to point to in the
event that....” He paused and laid his hand on Pilate’s arm. “I dislike
putting the matter so bluntly, Pilate, but there is no other way to
explain the situation. The Emperor wishes to forestall any scandal. The
best way to do so, he thinks, is to have his stepdaughter married and
sent as far away as possible from Rome.”

“But, sir, doesn’t custom forbid the wives of generals and legates and
procurators from journeying with them to their provincial posts?”

“Custom, yes. But custom is not always followed. Agrippina, for example,
accompanied Germanicus on his campaign in the north. Caligula was born
while she was away with the general.” He was watching Pilate closely.
“But you have not said whether you accept the Emperor’s final
provision.”

“Sir, I would be greatly honored and highly pleased to be the husband of
the granddaughter of the great Augustus.”

Sejanus beamed. “Then, Pilate, you may consider yourself the Procurator
of Judaea.”

“But....”

The Prefect held up his hand to interrupt. “The Emperor will speak to
you about the necessity of your keeping your wife under firm authority.
But I would like to emphasize something more important, Commander, and
that is this: keep her happy, and keep her satisfied, in Judaea. I want
no reports coming to me that the Emperor’s stepdaughter is being kept
virtually a prisoner, that she is suffering banishment from Rome.” His
eyes flamed again, and he licked his sensuous lips. “Do you understand,
Pilate? Claudia is a modern woman. She’s accustomed to the ways of
Rome’s equestrians. Keep her contented, Pilate; do nothing to add to her
burden of living in a land that to her, no doubt, will be dull and even
loathsome. If sometimes she strays into indiscretions, overlook them.
Don’t attempt to make of her a Caesar’s wife.” His stern expression
relaxed into a grin. “Besides, I believe it’s too late for anyone to
accomplish that.” Then as quickly as it had come, the levity was gone.
“But I interrupted you. You were going to ask something?”

“Yes.” Pilate stared thoughtfully at his hands. “I was wondering, sir,
if Claudia has been apprised of the Emperor’s and your wishes. What has
she to say about all this?”

“Say?” Sejanus smiled and rubbed his palms together. “My dear
Procurator, Claudia has nothing to say in matters such as this. Tiberius
speaks for his stepdaughter. And _I_ speak for Tiberius.”



                                   5


The next morning one of the fastest triremes of the Roman navy carried
the Prefect Sejanus and Pontius Pilate from the harbor below the
Prefect’s villa straight southward across the gulf toward the island of
Capri.

When Sejanus finished discussing certain other matters of business with
the Emperor, he had his aide summon Pilate into the Imperial chamber.
The cohort commander was nervous as he entered the great hall. It was
his first sight of Tiberius since the Emperor had allowed his crafty
minister to bring all nine of the Praetorian Guard’s cohorts into the
camp near the Viminal Gate, from which, on a moment’s notice, they could
sally forth to enforce the Prefect’s will, even to giving orders to the
Senate itself. A year ago the Emperor, melancholy, embittered, tired of
rule, had left Rome and journeyed southward to Capri to seek on that
island the privacy he had long craved. Since then, with the exception of
the wily Prefect and a few others—the Emperor’s young girls and,
according to Roman gossip, his powdered, painted, and perfumed young
boys and the growing circle of poets and philosophers—Tiberius Claudius
Nero Caesar had seen few visitors. Gradually he had relinquished affairs
of state to the scheming Prefect Sejanus.

But now Pilate saw confronting him a man vastly changed from the tall,
powerful, and thoroughly able general he had known earlier. The Emperor
was noticeably stooped; his once broad forehead and now almost naked
pate seemed to have shriveled into a narrowing expanse of wrinkled
skull. Acne had inflamed and pocked his face, and the skin lay in folds
around the stem of his neck like that of a vulture’s.

Tiberius greeted Pilate perfunctorily. “The Prefect tells me you’re
petitioning us for appointment to the post of Procurator in Judaea. Is
that true?”

“Sire, if it is the will of the Emperor that I serve in that capacity, I
shall be happy to undertake the assignment and serve the Emperor and the
Empire to the full extent of my ability.”

“That I would expect and demand,” Tiberius harshly replied. “It is a
difficult post. The Jews are a stubborn and intractable people. They are
fanatically religious, and they resent bitterly and will oppose even to
the sacrifice of their lives all actions they consider offensive to
their strange one-god religion. Their priests are diabolically clever,
and they are determined to rule the people in accordance with the
ancient religious laws and traditions of the land.” His cold eyes
fastened upon the cohort commander’s countenance. “Pilate, I shall
expect you to govern in that province. Foremost among your functions of
office, in addition to maintaining at all times Roman law and order,
will be the levying and collecting of ample taxes. That, in itself, will
be a burdensome duty. In addition, I charge you to see to it that Rome
is not embroiled in any great difficulty with these Jews. I warn you, it
will be difficult. Do you think you are equal to such a task?”

“I am bold enough, Sire, to think so. Certainly I shall do everything
within my power to demonstrate to the Emperor and his Prefect that I
am.”

“We shall see.” The Emperor’s cold eyes bored into those of the officer
standing before him. Suddenly his grimness relaxed into a thin smile.
“Sejanus tells me also that you have ambitions to marry my stepdaughter
Claudia.”

“To marry your stepdaughter, Sire, should it be the Emperor’s will,
would bestow on me the highest honor and afford me the greatest
happiness.”

“Evidently he knows little about her,” Tiberius observed wryly to
Sejanus, “else he would not consider himself so fortunate.” But quickly
his eyes were on Pilate again, and the malevolent smile was gone. “I
grant my permission, Pilate. The dowry will be arranged, and I assure
you it will be adequate. Sejanus will settle the details. Unfortunately
I shall not be able to attend the festivities of the wedding.” Now he
twisted his head to face the Prefect. “If there is nothing further,
Sejanus?” He did not wait for an answer but arose. The Prefect and
Pontius Pilate, bowing, were backing toward the doorway when Tiberius
suddenly stopped them. “Wait. I wish to tell Pilate a story.

“Once a traveler stopped to aid a man lying wounded beside the road,” he
began. “He started to brush away the flies clustered about the wound,
when the injured man spoke out. ‘No, don’t drive away the flies,’ he
said. ‘They have fed on me until now they are satisfied and no longer
hurt me. But if you brush these off, then other, more hungry ones will
come and feed on me until I am sucked dry of blood.’” A mirthless smile
crinkled the corners of his mouth. “Pilate, I want no new thirsty fly
settling after Valerius Gratus upon the Jews in Judaea. Nevertheless,
from them I must be sent a sufficiency of blood. Do you understand?”

Pilate swallowed. “Sire, I understand.” He licked his heavy red lips.

As they were at the door, Tiberius raised his hand to stop them again. A
sly grin, leering and sadistic, spread across his face. “Take Claudia
with you to Judaea, Procurator. And rule her, man! Rule her!”



                                   6


Languidly the Princess Herodias of the Maccabean branch of the Herod
dynasty lay back in the warm, scented water so that only her head,
framed in black hair held dry by a finely woven silk net, was exposed.

“More hot water, Neaera,” she commanded. “But be careful. I don’t want
to look cooked for the Tetrarch.”

Quickly the slave maid turned the tap, and steaming water gushed from
the ornate eagle’s-head faucet.

“That’s enough!” shouted Herodias after a minute. “By the gods, shut it
off!” She sat upright in the tiled tub, and the water ran down from her
neck and shoulders, leaving little islands of suds clinging to her
glistening white body. “Now hand me the mirror.”

She extended a dripping arm and accepted the polished bronze. For a long
moment she studied her image. “Neaera, tell me truthfully, am I showing
my age too dreadfully?”

“But, Mistress, you are not old,” the maid protested.

“You’re a flatterer, Neaera. Salome, remember, is fourteen.”

“But you were married very young, Mistress.”

“And I was married a long time ago, too.” She peered again into the
mirror. “Look. Already I can see tiny crow’s-foot lines around my eyes.”

“But unguents and a little eye shadowing....”

“More flattery.” Herodias shook a wet finger at the young woman’s nose.
“But I love it; so don’t ever stop. But now”—she grasped the sides of
the tub—“help me out. I mustn’t lie in this hot water any longer, or
I’ll be as pink as a roast by the time the Tetrarch comes.” She grasped
the maid’s arm to steady herself as she stepped from the tub to the
tufted mat, and Neaera began to rub her down with a heavy towel. When
the slave maid had finished drying her, Herodias turned to face the
full-length minor, her body flushed and glowing from the brisk robbing.
Palms on hips, she studied her own straight, still lithe frame. “Really,
Neaera,” she asked, “how do I look?” With fingers spread she caressed
the gently rounded smooth plane of her stomach and then lifted cupped
palms to her firm, finely shaped breasts. “I haven’t lost my figure too
badly, have I?”

“You haven’t lost it at all, Mistress,” the maid assured her, as she
picked up a filmy undergarment from the bench. “It’s still youthful and
still beautiful.” Herodias braced herself as the girl bent low to assist
her into the black silk garment. Neaera leaned back and studied the
older woman again. “You have the figure of a young woman, indeed,
Mistress,” she said, “though fully matured and....”

“And what, Neaera? What were you going to say?”

“Well, Mistress, a figure to me more beautiful because of maturity, and
more interesting.”

“And more alluring, more seductive, maybe?” Her smile was lightly
wanton. “To the Tetrarch, perhaps? But the Herods, Neaera, and old
Tiberius, too, I hear, like their women very young.” Her expression
sobered. “I’m almost afraid he’ll be having eyes for Salome rather than
for me. The child has matured remarkably, you know, in the last year.”

“I should think, though, Mistress, that the Tetrarch....”

A sharp knocking on the door interrupted her.

“By the gods, Neaera, it must be the Tetrarch, and I’m not ready. Tell
Strabo to seat him in the peristylium and pour him wine and say that I
shall be ready soon.”

But the visitor was not the Tetrarch of Galilee. Strabo announced that
the Emperor’s stepdaughter was in the atrium.

“Claudia! How wonderful! Show her into the solarium, and tell her I’ll
join her in a minute. Neaera, hurry and fetch me my robe. We can sit and
talk while you do my hair.”

“I can’t stay for more than a few minutes,” the Emperor’s stepdaughter
announced when, a moment later, Herodias greeted her in the solarium.
“Longinus is going to take me out to the chariot races, and he may be
waiting for me right now. But I wanted to tell you, Herodias....” She
paused, her expression suddenly questioning. “Bona Dea, I’ll bet that
the Tetrarch is taking you there, too, and I’ve caught you in the middle
of getting dressed.”

“Yes, you’re right, but there’s no hurry, Claudia. I can finish quickly.
And if I’m not ready when he comes, he can wait.”

“So,” Claudia laughed, “you already have the Tetrarch so entranced that
he will wait patiently while you dress.”

“Not patiently, perhaps, but he’ll wait ... without protesting.”

“Then it won’t be long before you’ll be marrying him and leaving for
Palestine.” She said it teasingly, but immediately her expression
changed to reveal concern. “But, Herodias, when you do, what will his
present wife say; how will she take it? And his subjects in Galilee?
Doesn’t the Jewish religion forbid a man’s having more than one living
wife?”

“The daughter of King Aretas will resent his bringing another wife to
Tiberias, no doubt”—Herodias smiled coyly—“if I do marry him. And as for
the religion of the Jews, well, my dear, you must know that neither
Antipas nor I follow its tenets too closely.”

“Of course. But I wasn’t thinking of you or the Tetrarch as much as I
was of how his present wife would react. And the people of Galilee, too,
how will they feel about his having two living wives, one of whom is his
niece. Won’t it offend them?”

“Yes, if we marry, it will offend a great many of them. But my
grandfather, old King Herod, father of Philip and Antipas, had ten
wives, remember, nine of them at the same time. The Jews didn’t like
that, but what could they do? No, we aren’t too concerned about what the
Jews will think. But Aretas’ daughter probably will try to cause
trouble. Not because Antipas will be having a new bedfellow, but because
she won’t any longer be Tetrarchess. Being replaced will make her
furious. She cares not a fig for the Tetrarch’s bedding with other
women; she even gave him a harem of Arabian women, Antipas told me.” She
paused, smiling. “Claudia, you remember that black-haired woman at the
banquet the other night, the one called Mary of Magdala?” Claudia
nodded. “Well, Antipas told me that his wife not only knew that Mary was
coming with him to Rome but actually suggested that he bring her. He
said his wife and Mary were good friends even though the Tetrarchess
knew quite well what the relationship was between him and Mary.”

“Maybe the Tetrarchess sent this Mary with Antipas to keep his eyes from
straying to other women, like you, for example.”

“Keeping his eyes from straying would be an impossible task.”

“Do you think Mary is jealous of you now?”

“That woman!” Herodias tossed her head. “Of course not. Nor am I jealous
of her. I really don’t care if he spends an occasional night in her bed.
All I want is to be Tetrarchess. If he marries me, I shall insist,
though, that he divorce that Arabian woman. No, our concern,
Claudia”—she lowered her voice and glanced cautiously around the room,
but Neaera had left the solarium—“is not what the Jews in Galilee, or
his present wife, or this woman from Magdala will think, but rather what
the Prefect himself will think. Sejanus could cause us much trouble. But
now everything seems to be all right. Antipas assures me that we needn’t
worry about it any longer. He says that he and Sejanus have reached an
understanding.”

“And I have a good idea of what that understanding is based upon,”
Claudia said. “But what about your husband, Herodias? What will Philip
think?”

“Philip! Hah!” She sneered. “What Philip thinks is of no concern. I’ve
never really cared for him anyway. It’s a little hard to feel romantic
toward a man who’s your half uncle, you know.”

“But Antipas, too, is your half uncle, isn’t he? And he’s Philip’s half
brother as well. Hmm.” She smiled mischievously. “That makes him both
Salome’s half uncle and half great-uncle, doesn’t it? That is, if
Philip’s her father.”

“Well, yes,” Herodias admitted. “I suppose he’s her father. Anyway, he
thinks so. But he’s also an old man, a generation older than I.” She
said it with evident sarcasm. “Antipas is old too, of course, but
remember, my dear, he’s the Tetrarch of Galilee, while Philip is only a
tiresome, fast aging, disowned son of a dead king, dependent for his
very existence on the favor of a crotchety Emperor and a conniving
Prefect. Antipas is old and fat, Claudia, but he has power and an
opulence far in excess of Philip’s, and a title, too. And some day,
perhaps not too far away, with my pushing him, who knows, he may be a
king like his father was.” She shrugged. “As for romance, the world’s
filled with younger men.”

Claudia studied the face of her Idumaean friend. “Herodias, you worship
power, don’t you?”

“Why shouldn’t I?” Herodias replied tartly. “Power and wealth, you
forget, are rightfully mine. I am the granddaughter of Mariamne, King
Herod’s royal wife, daughter of the Maccabeans, while Philip’s mother
was only a high priest’s daughter and the mother of Antipas was a
Samaritan woman. I am descended from the true royalty in Israel.” Her
irritation faded as quickly as it had come. “You say I worship power.
What else, pray, is there for one to worship? Your pale, anemic Roman
gods? Bah! You don’t worship them yourself. Why then should I? I’m not
even a Roman. Silly superstition, your Roman gods, and well you know it,
Claudia. And the gods of the Greeks are no better. Nor the Egyptians. If
I had to embrace the superstition of any religion I would be inclined to
worship the Yahweh of the Jews. He’s the only god who makes any sense at
all to me, but even he is too fire-breathing and vindictive for my
liking. But I’m not a Jew, Claudia, even though I am descended on one
side from the royal Maccabeans. I’m a Herod, and the Herods are
Idumaeans. The Jews call them pagans, and by the Jews’ standards, pagans
we are.” For a moment she was thoughtful, and Claudia said nothing to
break the silence. “But I suppose you’re right, Claudia,” she said at
last. “If I have any god at all, he’s the two-headed god of power and
money. And if the Tetrarch were your Longinus, well, my god would have a
third head, pleasure. I envy you, Claudia! By the way,” she added, as
she poured wine for her guest and herself, “may I be so bold, my dear,
as to inquire how things between you and the centurion stand just now?”

“That’s why I came to see you, Herodias. I wanted to thank you for a
most enjoyable evening too, but mainly I wanted to tell you that
Longinus and I have—how did you express it—reached an understanding.”

“Wonderful!” Herodias beamed. “Are you going to marry him, Claudia, or
are you...?” She hesitated, grinning.

“Am I going to marry him, or will we just continue as we are without the
formality of marriage vows?” She laughed. “Yes, I’m planning to marry
him. But this is what I wanted to tell you, Herodias. I’m going out with
him to Palestine. He’s being sent there on some sort of special mission
by the Prefect Sejanus.”

“By all the gods, that is wonderful, Claudia! Then we’ll be able to see
each other out there. Where will you be stationed? At Caesarea?
Jerusalem? Maybe even Tiberias?”

“He hasn’t received his detailed orders yet. But I’ll be able to visit
you at the palace anyway. I hear it’s a magnificent place.”

“It must be. I’m anxious to see it myself; you know, I haven’t been near
the place since it was finished. And it will be wonderful to have you
and Longinus to visit us.” But suddenly her expression sobered.
“Claudia, has the Emperor given his permission for you to marry
Longinus? And does the Prefect approve?”

“Neither of them knows about it yet. But I’m sure they’ll both be glad
to see me married and away from Rome. Longinus is going to speak to
Sejanus about us.”

They heard voices in the atrium. Claudia stood up quickly. “That must be
the Tetrarch. By Bona Dea, I didn’t realize I was staying this long; I
must be going. Longinus will be waiting for me. Herodias, surely we’ll
see one another again before either of us sails for Palestine?”

“Yes, we must. And when we do, we’ll both know more about our plans.”

Neaera entered. “Has the Tetrarch come?” Herodias asked.

“No, Mistress, it’s a soldier sent by the Prefect. He seeks the Lady
Claudia. He awaits her in the atrium.”

The soldier, one of the Praetorian Guardsmen, announced that the Prefect
Sejanus was at that moment waiting for Claudia in her own apartment at
the Imperial Palace. He added that he hoped they might start
immediately; he feared the Prefect might be getting impatient.

But when they reached her house and she entered the atrium to greet the
Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, Sejanus bowed low and smiled
reassuringly. “I come from an audience with your beloved stepfather, the
Emperor, at Capri,” he said. “He commanded me to bear to you his esteem
and fatherly love and to offer his congratulations upon the most
excellent plans he has projected—with my warm approval, let me hasten to
assure you—for your forthcoming marriage.”

“For my marriage? But, Prefect Sejanus....” Claudia paused, striving to
maintain outward composure.

“I know it comes as quite a surprise to you. But the arrangements have
been completed, and I’ve come here to tell you immediately on my return
from Capri. You and your future husband are the only ones who are being
informed now of the Emperor’s plans. But you will be married soon, even
before you and your husband leave for his tour of duty in Palestine.”

“In Palestine!”

How could the Emperor have known about Longinus and me? The Prefect? Of
course, that’s how. Sejanus knew that Longinus was with me at the
banquet Antipas gave for Herodias; he knew that Longinus was at my house
later that evening when he sent Cornelius out to fetch him, or he
learned of it when they came afterward to his palace. Old Sejanus must
not be so bad, after all. Nor is the Emperor, either. Perhaps I have
been too severe in judging them. Perhaps they both have their good
moments, their generous impulses....

“Yes, to Palestine.” The Prefect was speaking. “He has promised your
hand in marriage to a Roman army officer who, if he follows my orders
implicitly and remains completely loyal to me, may shortly be not only a
man of wealth but also a leader of influence in the affairs of the
Empire.”

Claudia was about to express her thanks to the Emperor and his most
excellent Prefect and to ask when the wedding would be held. But some
instinctive vein of caution restrained her from mentioning Longinus’
name. Now the Prefect was speaking again.

“Needless to say, I join the Emperor in praying the gods that you and
the Procurator Pontius Pilate lead long lives and find great happiness
with each other.”

“The Procurator Pontius Pilate! Then....” But again caution stopped her
just in time.

Sejanus smiled. “You are surprised, my dear Claudia? And whom did you
think the Emperor had chosen to be your husband?”

“But I ... I don’t even know this Pontius Pilate.” Claudia ignored the
Prefect’s question. “He is to be Procurator in Palestine, succeeding
Valerius Gratus?”

“Procurator of Judaea, with headquarters at Caesarea, yes.” His grin was
sardonically beguiling. “But what were you about to say?”

“I was going to observe that then I would be spending the rest of my
life away from Rome, living in a distant provincial army post,” she
lied, not too convincingly, she suspected.

But Sejanus did not pursue his questioning. “Not if the Procurator
conducts the affairs of his post in the manner that I have outlined to
him.”

“Has he been informed of the Emperor’s plans for ... for us?”

“Yes. And he is tremendously happy and excited, as what man wouldn’t be,
my dear Claudia?” His lips flattened bloodless across his teeth, and his
little eyes flamed. “Even I, with my youth long fled, envy him!”



                                   7


Claudia, striving to be courteously casual, walked with the Prefect to
the doorway where two Praetorian Guardsmen awaited him. As they went out
she closed the pivoted double doors behind them, but after a moment she
cautiously drew one back and peered through the narrow slit.

The Prefect’s bearers and the guards who had remained outside were
standing stiffly at attention, the bearers at the sedan-chair handles;
one of the guards stepped forward quickly to open the door. Sejanus
paused an instant and spoke to the man; then he stepped into the chair
and, as the guard closed the door, pulled together the shielding
curtains. The guard raised his hand, and the bearers moved off smartly.

Claudia saw, however, that the bodyguard did not march off with the
Prefect’s procession; instead, he peered about furtively, cast a hurried
glance toward her doorway, and then merged into the traffic pushing
along the narrow, cobbled way. Momentarily she lost him but in the next
instant discovered him idling in front of a shop diagonally across from
her entrance. But not for long did he study the wares of the merchant;
she saw that he had faced about and was staring intently at her own
doorway.

“I thought so,” she observed to Tullia, who had retreated into the
shadowed narrow corridor as Sejanus was leaving. “The Prefect left one
of his bodyguards to watch the house. He either wishes to know where
I’ll be going or who will be coming here, perhaps both. I don’t know
what he is scheming, Tullia”—the maid had come forward and secured the
doors—“but whatever it is, I don’t like it. Longinus may endanger
himself by coming. We must warn him. But how, Tullia? He is likely to be
arriving any moment; he must have been delayed at Castra Praetoria, or
he would have been here already.”

Quickly she told the maid the startling news the Prefect had brought.

“Anyone who leaves this house through these doors, Mistress, then is
sure to be followed. But I could go out through the servant’s entrance
on some contrived mission and perhaps be able to warn him.”

“Good, Tullia. You can be taking something to Senator Piso’s house and
carry a message to Longinus. Talk with him if he is there and tell him
what has happened, but say that I’ll arrange to meet him later, perhaps
at the house of Herodias.”

“Or maybe, Mistress, at the shop of Stephanos.”

“Yes. Maybe the goldsmith’s would be better. But if the Prefect’s men
should follow and ask you questions, Tullia, what will you say?”

“I could be bearing a small gift to Philo, Senator Piso’s old Greek
slave who tutored his children. He’s quite ill and....”

“Wonderful! Tullia, you are indeed my treasure. Take the old man a jar
of that honey from Samos; he would like that. And some wheat cakes and a
bottle of the Falernian.” She was silent a moment, thoughtful. “By the
Bountiful Mother! Tullia, I’ll help you get away by leading that soldier
myself on a false chase. Fetch me my cloak and scarf. I’ll pretend to be
disguising myself in order to slip away. Then he’ll follow me. Now find
the things to take to old Philo, and get yourself ready. And do hurry.”

In a few minutes Tullia returned with the cloak and scarf. “The basket
of food is ready,” she said. She helped her mistress put on the cloak
and tie the scarf so that much of her face was concealed. “Leave the
door ajar as I go out,” Claudia instructed her, “and when you see the
soldier following me, close the door and slip away yourself through the
servants’ entrance. And return the same way, as quickly as you can.”

“Yes, Mistress.”

“And, Tullia, say to Longinus that I instructed you to tell him that
what has happened changes nothing, that as far as I am concerned
everything is just as it was with him and me. But say as little as you
can to anyone else, Tullia, and nothing concerning the Prefect’s visit.”

Claudia walked to the entrance doors and turned to face her maid again.
“You go out and look around furtively as though you were seeing that the
way was clear for me. That will likely warn the guardsman that something
is afoot, that we suspect someone may be watching the house. Then I’ll
go out, and because I will not have my bearers summoned, he’ll surmise
that I am trying to leave unnoticed.”

Then she puckered her rouged lips into a thoughtful bud. “But why is old
Sejanus having us watched? Did he think that I would slip out to tell
Longinus? Does he want me to tell the centurion and perhaps deliberately
prejudice him against Pilate?” She shook her head slowly. “But how can
he know about Longinus and me?”

“Perhaps, Mistress, he only suspects,” Tullia answered. “It may be that
he is trying to find out just what your relationship is.”

“Maybe so. But little he’ll discover now, by the gods!” She opened the
door and peered out. “Now.”

Tullia slipped through the doorway, looked up and down the narrow
street, then stepped back into the atrium.

“Now I’ll go,” Claudia said. “Be careful, Tullia. And do guard your
tongue.” Outside she readjusted her scarf and pulled her cloak more
closely about her. Then she stepped into the cobble-stoned way and
walked rapidly along it.

Tullia, peeping through the slit in the doorway, saw the Prefect’s man
emerge from the shadows of a shop entrance and move off quickly to
follow her. When the two had disappeared around the turn, Tullia closed
the doors and hurriedly recrossed the atrium. A moment later she slipped
out through the servants’ entrance. A freshly starched napkin covered
the food in the basket she carried.



                                   8


An unexpected assignment, fortunately, had delayed Longinus’ departure
from Castra Praetoria, and he had just reached home when Tullia arrived
at Senator Piso’s. Quickly she told him of the Prefect’s visit to her
mistress.

He listened attentively, outwardly calm but inwardly with rage mounting
as her story progressed. “Go back to your mistress, Tullia,” he said,
when she finished, “and tell her that with me, too, nothing is changed.
But warn her to make no attempt, until I tell her, to communicate with
me. The Prefect is diabolically clever; he may suspect that we will try
to thwart his plans. I don’t understand just what he’s scheming; we must
be careful. But assure her that I will find some way of getting a
message to her.”

“Centurion Longinus, if I may suggest, sir, should you send the message,
or bear it yourself, to the shop of Stephanos in the Vicus
Margaritarius....”

“I know that shop, Tullia, and the goldsmith, too.”

“Then, sir, from there I could take your message verbally to my
mistress. Stephanos is the son of my father’s brother. He can be
trusted, you may be assured, sir.”

“That’s a good arrangement, Tullia. And should your mistress wish to
send me a message, you can leave it with the goldsmith. But do warn her
to be careful. The Prefect may be setting a trap for us.”

The goldsmith Stephanos was, like his cousin Tullia, a Greek-speaking
Jew who had been reared in the Jewish colony in Rome. Although a young
man, he had already established a profitable business in the capital,
and his customers numbered many of the equestrian class, including
members of Senator Piso’s family. Consequently, Longinus, were he being
watched, could go to the goldsmith’s shop without arousing suspicion.

Longinus discovered how fortunate they had been in taking such
precautions when, a week after Tullia’s visit to him, he was again
summoned to the palace of the Prefect.

Sejanus gave little time to the formalities of greeting the Senator’s
son. “I am now prepared to hand you your orders, Centurion Longinus,” he
said. “But before I do so I must ask you if you have any reservations
whatsoever concerning this mission I propose to send you on.” The
Prefect’s cold little eyes were studying him, Longinus realized, and he
was determined that he would reveal neither fear nor surprise.

“None, sir. I’m a soldier, and I await the Prefect’s orders.”

But Sejanus was not satisfied. “When last I talked with you, you said
that you were hardly acquainted with Pontius Pilate, that you were in no
sense an intimate friend. But I ask you now, do you have any hostility
toward him?” He leaned forward, and his eyes bored into the centurion’s
bland countenance. “Has anything happened since then that would cause
you to change your feeling toward him?”

“I know nothing that he has done, sir, that would cause me to feel
hostility toward him. Has he, sir?”

The question seemed to surprise Sejanus. He leaned back against his
chair. “He has done nothing. But something has been done that may have
caused you to feel bitter toward him.” He was studying the centurion
intently. “Bitterness toward the Procurator would render you unfit for
the assignment I am proposing for you, just as close friendship for him
would do the same.” He smiled, changing his stern tone to one of
fatherly interest. “Frankly, Longinus, I had expected to find you bitter
toward Pilate, the Emperor, and me.”

“But why, sir, should _I_ be bitter?”

“I had thought that perhaps you would be jealous of him, resent his....”

“Jealous of Pilate?” Boldly Longinus ventured to interrupt. “But why,
sir?”

“Pilate is going to marry the Emperor’s stepdaughter and take her out to
Judaea when he goes there to begin his duties as Procurator. I had
thought that you yourself might be planning to marry Claudia.”

“_I_, sir?” Longinus affected sudden surprise. “May I respectfully ask
why you thought that?”

“You have been seeing her since your return from Germania. She
accompanied you to the banquet Antipas gave for his brother’s wife.”
Sejanus shrugged. “That suggested it to me.” His lips thinned into a
feline grin. “Since I made known to her the Emperor’s plans I have had
you both watched; if you have met or communicated with one another, it
has escaped my men’s sharp eyes.” His piggish eyes brightened. “I want
you to understand, Longinus, that I am not the protector of either
Claudia or Pilate. I am not the least concerned with their private lives
so long as what they do doesn’t harm me or the Empire. And let me
add”—his eyes were dancing now—“I’m not concerned with your private life
either. I am determined, however, that nothing be done to interfere with
our plans for Pilate and Claudia. But if after they are married and gone
out to Judaea, some evening in Caesarea or Jerusalem you should find
yourself in Pilate’s bed when Pilate is away, that will be no concern of
mine, nor shall I care one green fig’s worth.” Suddenly the lascivious
gleam was gone from his eyes, and his countenance was grave. He raised a
stern hand and leaned forward again. “But I’ll require of you a true and
unbiased report on Pontius Pilate, Longinus. If you think you may be
prejudiced against the man because he will have taken Claudia away from
you, then I charge you to tell me now and I shall give you some other
assignment.”

“I assure you, sir, that I have no hostility toward him. But I do wonder
why Claudia is being required to marry him and be virtually exiled from
Rome.”

Sejanus studied the senator’s son a long moment. “Longinus, I shall be
entirely frank with you, as I shall require you to be with me,” he
replied, lowering his voice, though there were no other ears to hear.
“The Emperor and I want Claudia exiled, though we would never employ so
harsh a word for her being sent away from Rome. Claudia’s the
granddaughter of Augustus, remember, and also—it’s generally believed,
at any rate—the granddaughter of Mark Antony and the Egyptian Cleopatra.
She’s in direct descent from strong-willed, able—and in their day
tremendously popular—forebears. Tiberius, on the other hand, is not. Nor
does he have any strong following. As you know, Longinus”—he paused, and
his small black eyes for an instant weighed the centurion’s
expression—“in everything but name, I am the Emperor.”

“Indeed, sir, but were Rome to overthrow the Emperor, the gods forbid,
would the people enthrone a woman? Surely, sir, they would never....”

“Of course not. It’s not likely, under any circumstances. But you don’t
understand, Longinus.” The Prefect’s grim countenance relaxed a bit, but
he kept his voice low as he sat back against his chair. “Claudia is no
longer married. While she was married to that fop Aemilius there was no
cause for concern. But now she’s divorced and in a position to marry
again.” He smiled, and the wanton flame lighted once more. “And
beautiful. Gods, what a figure!” He rolled his eyes. “If I were young
again, with her I could be Emperor of Rome!” He was silent a moment.
“But I am Emperor of Rome—in all but title.” Now Sejanus was suddenly
grave, and old, and the flame was only of an innate cunning. He leaned
toward the centurion. “Longinus, any man in Rome, any man, would be
happy to marry Claudia. She’s beautiful, rich, highly intelligent, and
the granddaughter of Rome’s greatest Emperor. Being that, she remains a
threat to us as long as she is in Rome. What if some strong, ambitious
general or senator, for example, should marry her and undertake to
displace Tiberius?” He sat back and gestured with outspread palms.
“Don’t you see, Centurion? And displacement of Tiberius—and me—would be
disastrous for your father, of course, and for you. You and I must work
together just as your father and I have been doing. So I shall look
forward not only to your frequent reports of a military and
administrative nature, particularly with respect to the collection of
revenue, but now that Claudia is going out there, to tidbits of
information concerning her and Pilate.” His sensual lips thinned across
his teeth. “Claudia must be kept away from Rome, Longinus, but she must
be kept happily away, too. So if you can help make her stay in Judaea
pleasant, if you can help Pilate keep her satisfied, or if you can keep
her satisfied,” he added with a leer, “you will be serving the Emperor
and me, your father, and yourself. And I don’t care _how_ you do it. Be
careful to avoid scandal, though, that might reach Rome.” He grinned
again. “I think you need have little fear of Pilate.” His lips were
twisted in an evil smile. “Now have I answered your question, Longinus?
Do I make myself entirely clear?”

“You do, sir.” Longinus’ countenance was impassive, he hoped, but his
palm itched to be doubled into a fist that would smash the leer off the
Prefect’s face.

“Then these are your orders. Three days hence the ‘Palmyra’ sails for
Palestine. Aboard will be a maniple of troops to relieve two centuries
of the Second Italian Cohort. You will command a century that will be
stationed at Caesarea under Sergius Paulus. Centurion Cornelius will
command the other. Also aboard will be Tetrarch Herod Antipas. You and
your century will go ashore at Caesarea, but Cornelius and his will
accompany Herod to Joppa. There they will land, and Cornelius will
escort the Tetrarch to Jerusalem. Ostensibly Herod will be going up to
the Temple to worship, but he will be bearing a message from me to old
Annas, the former high priest.” He paused but did not explain further.
“From Jerusalem,” he went on, “Cornelius will escort Herod to Tiberias,
where the century will be stationed, with a garrison post at Capernaum
supporting it. And now, to get back to you, Longinus, I have dispatched
orders to Sergius Paulus that although you will command a century, you
must be allowed leave any time you request it to undertake special
missions. I indicated to him that these missions would be concerned
primarily with the government’s interest in the operations of your
father’s factories in Phoenicia. This work understandably could take you
to the plants in Phoenicia and also to Tiberias, Jerusalem, and other
regions in Palestine. The cohort commander must never suspect, nor
anyone else, including Claudia, remember, that you are keeping sharp
eyes and ears on Pilate and Herod Antipas. I’m sending you ahead on the
‘Palmyra,’ Longinus, so that you will be in Caesarea when Pilate and
Claudia arrive there.” He studied the centurion. “Is everything
understood, Centurion?”

“Yes, sir, I understand.” His forehead creased into small wrinkles.
“When you talked with me before, sir, you said that I would be expected
to keep watch on the activities of three persons, Pilate, Antipas,
and....”

“Claudia, of course, was the third.” He twisted his vulture-like head to
scan the large chamber, a habit developed during long years of caution.
“Watch her, too. Know what she is doing, what she is thinking even, if
you can.” He lowered his voice. “Be careful, Centurion. She’s a clever
woman, with brains worthy of old Augustus. I am not concerned, as I
said, with her morals, or Pilate’s, or yours. But be careful.” His
little eyes fired again, and a wry grin twisted his face. “Don’t let
Pilate catch you in bed with her. Such carelessness might destroy your
effectiveness.”

Sejanus stood up, a signal that his business with the centurion was
finished. Longinus arose quickly to stand at attention, concerned that
even yet he might reveal in the Prefect’s presence the revulsion
mounting within him.

“Send me reports as often and as regularly as you have valuable
information to give, Longinus. Use great care to see that your messages
are well-sealed and not likely to go astray. Watch those three. Let
nothing of significance escape your notice, and let nothing be omitted
from your reports. Keep Claudia under surveillance, but don’t get so
occupied with her that you aren’t fully alive to everything that is
happening. Watch her, regardless of what else you two may be doing!”



                                   9


Longinus led his century from its quarters at Castra Praetoria westward
through the Viminal Gate along the way that skirted the leveled-out
northern extremity of Esqueline Hill.

At the point where this way joined Via Longa the procession entered the
cobblestoned street and moved westward and then straight southward.
Longinus glanced over his shoulder and had a glimpse, between shops that
crowded the lower level of Quirinal Hill, of his father’s great house
high on that elevation. But quickly he lost sight of it as his century
became virtually submerged in the dense traffic fighting its way slowly
along Via Longa. Fortunately, the legionaries were bearing only their
lightest armor; the heavier gear had been sent ahead and put aboard the
“Palmyra.” But even thus equipped, in the narrow, packed street, though
it was one of Rome’s important thoroughfares, they were finding it
increasingly difficult to maintain a steady march.

As the century began to pass north of the crowded Subura, that motley
district of massed tenements, shops, taverns, and brothels already being
pointed out as the birthplace more than a century ago of the great
Julius Caesar, the press of the throng so increased that the soldiers
were almost forced to fight their way forward. But progress became
easier in the area below the Forum Augustus, and as the troops were
pushing past it toward the Forum Romanum, Longinus glanced toward the
summit of Palatine Hill crowned by the sprawling great Imperial Palace;
his eyes went immediately to the northeast wing and to the window in
Claudia’s bedroom through which he had heard, one recent morning, the
rising trumpet call from the post.

Longinus had not seen the Emperor’s stepdaughter since the day the
Prefect had visited her, though they had exchanged messages left with
Stephanos the goldsmith at his shop in Vicus Margaritarius. Claudia’s
last message had assured him that she would contrive some plan for
seeing him immediately upon her arrival with Pilate at Caesarea; that
shouldn’t be too difficult. Tullia had relayed Claudia’s message to
Stephanos, and Longinus had received it verbally from the goldsmith. “We
will have the Great Sea between the Emperor and Sejanus and us,” she had
sent word to the centurion. “It will be much safer then; as for Pilate,
I am little concerned with what he thinks or does; in fact, he’ll do
nothing.”

Before the Forum Romanum Longinus led his troops straight southward. At
the northwest end of Circus Maximus they veered westward and went along
the way leading across the Tiber on the ancient Pons Sublicius,
fashioned of great stones fitted together to span the swiftly flowing
muddy water. Near the bridge entrance the column turned left and
paralleled the stream to halt at the pier just below the Sublicius.
Quickly the legionaries went aboard the “Palmyra.”

Longinus’ troops were the last to embark, and within an hour the
“Palmyra” began slowly to shove its stern out into the stream. When the
ship was safely away from the pier, the hortator gave a sharp command,
and the long oars, manned by galley slaves chained to their three-tiered
benches, rose and fell in perfect cadence, with the starboard oarsmen
pushing forward and those on the port side pulling hard, so that the
“Palmyra’s” bow came around; soon the vessel was moving steadily
downstream.

Longinus and Cornelius, having stowed their gear, returned to the deck
to stand together on the port side near the stern. By now the vessel was
rounding the slight westward bend in the river and was passing the
Aventine Hill. Cornelius, watching the yellow waters churning in the
wake of the “Palmyra,” raised his eyes and pointed across the stern
toward the Imperial Palace, the western front of which they could see
jutting past the squared end of the Circus Maximus. The upper section of
the great palace was visible above the race course. “Longinus, I’m
surprised you’re leaving her in Rome. I thought that if you ever went
back to Palestine, you’d be taking Claudia with you.”

Longinus wondered if by some chance Cornelius had learned of the
Emperor’s plans for his stepdaughter and was trying now gently to probe
further. “But the night you came to her house for me was the first time
I’d seen her after returning from Germania,” he protested, laughing.
“Wouldn’t that be a little fast? She’s the Emperor’s stepdaughter, you
know.”

“Well, maybe I was imagining things.” Cornelius shrugged. “But she is a
beautiful woman.”

“I agree, Cornelius. The Bountiful Mother was lavish with her gifts to
the Lady Claudia.” He turned to lean against the rail. “What _I’m_
wondering, though, is why Herod didn’t marry Herodias and bring her
along.”

“Maybe he has married her. But I suspect that whether he has or not,
he’ll be returning to Rome for her before many months. That is, after
he’s made peace with the Tetrarchess and old King Aretas, her father.”
He grinned. “I’d wager, too, that you’ll be coming back for Claudia.”

Longinus laughed but made no comment. His friend, he reasoned, did not
know about Claudia and Pontius Pilate. Nor would he tell him yet.

Now the “Palmyra” was moving swiftly, its cadenced oars rising and
falling rhythmically to propel the vessel much faster downstream than
the current unaided would have borne it. They had come opposite the
thousand-foot-long Emporium huddled on the Tiber’s eastern bank, its
wharves crawling with slaves moving great casks and bales of merchandise
into the warehouses or bringing them out to be loaded aboard ships
preparing to slip down the Tiber and into the Great Sea at Ostia. Black
Ethiopians and Nubians, their sweating bodies shining as though they had
been rubbed with olive oil and naked except for brightly colored
loincloths, straggled at their tasks. Blond warriors brought from
Germania as part of some Roman general’s triumph, their skins now burnt
to the color of old leather, and squat, swarthy men from Gaul and
Dalmatia, from Macedonia and the Greek islands, captives of Roman
legionaries ranging far from the Italian mainland, pulled and shoved to
the roared commands of the overseers and the not infrequent angry
uncoiling of long leather whips.

“Did you ever realize, Longinus, what a comprehensive view you get of
Rome and the Empire from a ship going along the Tiber?” Cornelius nodded
toward the stern. “Look at those marble-crowned hills back there,
literally overrun with palaces, billions of sesterces spent in building
them, hundreds, thousands of lives used up, sacrificed, raising them one
above the other. The people in them, too, Longinus, and the
rottenness—smug hypocrisy, adherence to convention, infidelity,
unfairness, utter cruelty, depravity. Rome, great mistress of the world.
Hah!” He half turned and pointed toward the Emporium. “Those sweating
slaves over there would agree.” He gestured with opened hands. “Ride
down the Tiber and see Rome, glorious Mother Rome, from Viminal’s crown
to Emporium’s docks, eh?”

“You’re right,” Longinus smiled. “And it’s only because the gods have
decreed for us a different fate that you and I are not over there
heaving crates, or chained here pulling oars.” He leaned over the rail
and studied the rhythmical rise and fall of the long, slim oars. “No
doubt there are among these slaves several whose intelligence,
education, and culture are considerably greater than the hortator’s, and
I’m sure.... Look!”

Cornelius followed the direction of Longinus’ outstretched arm. One of
the oars had come up beneath a floating object and sent it spinning and
twisting in the churning muddy flood. Now another oar’s sharp blade
struck the object, ripping apart its once carefully folded wrapping; as
the oar cleared the surface, the wrapping unrolled, exposing the body of
a tiny infant, chalk-white in the yellow water. It spun giddily for a
moment, then sank.

“By the gods!” Cornelius shouted. “It’s an exposed baby girl!”

But now the small, lifeless body bobbed to the surface and for one
unruffled moment lay on its back, eyes wide-open and fixed, staring
upward unseeing toward the two centurions leaning over the ship’s rail.
In that same instant the oars descended, and the knife-sharp edge of one
near the stern sliced diagonally across the drowned infant; the oar
shivered with the unexpected added burden, but it bore the mangled small
corpse beneath the thick waters, and up through them rose a trickle of
dark crimson.

“She wasn’t dead when she was thrown in,” Cornelius said, “and that
wasn’t long ago. Perhaps from one of the bridges back there, or maybe a
wharf. Or even a boat ahead.” His shoulders trembled in an involuntary
shudder. “Longinus, I could kill a man in battle without blinking, but I
couldn’t throw an infant into the Tiber. By the gods, how can any man do
it?”

“Nevertheless, hundreds do it every year, Centurion. We were speaking of
those slaves over there on the Emporium’s docks and these galley slaves
rowing us. And this drowned baby, and countless others who simply lost
when the gods rolled the dice. The fickle gods, my friend, the
unfeeling, stonehearted gods.”

“Don’t blame the gods, Longinus. Blame rather Rome’s mounting vanity and
greed, her selfishness, cruelty.”

“You know I’m not blaming the gods, Cornelius; I have no more faith than
you have even in their existence. They are nothing but pale nobodies,
fabrications in which not even intelligent children believe.”

“Fabrications, yes. Our gods are inventions, but they serve a purpose
and are necessary.”

“Necessary?” The centurion’s face had twisted into a heavy scowl. “Why,
Cornelius?”

“Because they fill a place, supply a need, Longinus. It’s the nature of
man to look to some higher power, isn’t it, some greater intelligence?
Else why would one invent these gods; why would primitive peoples carve
them from wood and stone; why would we and the Greeks and the Egyptians
raise great temples to them?”

“Do you contend then that people worship these carved sticks and stones
as symbols of some higher intelligence and power rather than the carved
objects themselves, even primitive peoples? Is that what you’re saying?”

“Yes, that’s exactly what I’m saying. Some—many, in fact—have become
confused, of course, and in seeking to worship this mysterious divinity
they go through a form or ceremony of worshiping the symbol. But what
I’m trying to say, Centurion, is that it is the nature of mankind to
look to something higher, something more intelligent, more powerful,
better, yes, than man himself, better even than such an exemplary man as
our beloved”—now his tone was sarcastic—“Emperor, or his most worthy
Prefect. And if man seeks such a being to worship—and all men, mind you,
even savages, even those wild tree worshipers in Britannia do it—doesn’t
it stand to reason that there should be such a being?”

The “Palmyra” had entered the smooth bending of the Tiber and was moving
rapidly toward the river’s nearest approach to Janiculum Hill, Rome’s
Jewish quarter on the west bank of the stream. Longinus pointed to the
steep rise of the hill and the plane before it cluttered with the
densely massed homes of thousands of Jews, many of them born in the
capital, others newly settled there. “It seems to me, Centurion, that
you’ve become an adherent of the Jewish one-god religion.”

His words amused Cornelius. “Other Romans at our post in Galilee have
charged me with the same thing. It came about, I suppose, from my
helping the Jews at Capernaum build their new synagogue.”

“Then surely you must be a member of their fellowship or synagogue ...
whatever they call it?”

“No, I’m no convert to the Jews’ religion, Centurion. I don’t belong to
the synagogue. I helped them, I told myself, in order to promote good
relations between the Jews in Galilee and the members of our small Roman
post. But maybe I had other reasons, too. There are many things about
their one-god religion that seem sensible and right to me. But there are
also practices among the Jews that I don’t approve of at all, practices
that seem cruel and senseless. Their system of sacrifices, for instance.
I can see no act of proper worship in slitting the throats of
innumerable sheep and cattle to appease an angry god....”

“I agree. But we do the same thing. Doesn’t the Emperor dedicate the
games by slitting the throats of oxen?”

“Exactly. But what is the good of such worship or ceremony or whatever
you may choose to call it? If there is a god to whom the sacrifice is
being made, what good does it do him, what pleasure could he possibly
receive from it?”

“I see nothing to any of it, Cornelius. Roman, Greek, Egyptian, Jewish,
forest worship in Britannia, whatever the system is; it’s all
superstition, delusion....”

“I grant you, maybe it is. But, Longinus, don’t you feel deep down
inside yourself that there must be some intelligence, some power, far
above man’s very limited intelligence and power, that created the earth
and the heavens and controls them? Else how did they get here in the
first place?”

“I don’t know, Cornelius. You’ve gone ahead of me, my friend. I never
gave much thought to matters like this.” The lines of his forehead
wrinkled into a frown. “But even if you _should_ feel that way, how
could you ever _know_? Have you seen a god, Centurion? Have you ever
felt one or heard one speak?”

“I’ve never seen one, Longinus. But I think I have felt and perhaps
heard one. There have been times when I was confident that I was
communicating with one.” Cornelius watched the spume thrown up by the
flashing oars as they cut into the muddy waters. He turned back to face
Longinus. “That’s the difficulty, you know, communication. How can one
get a grip upon a god—the god, if there be but one, and the way I see it
that is the only sensible answer—like those slaves down there grip the
oar handles? How can one hear a god, see him, taste him? Obviously, one
cannot, for this god, whether there be one or many, must be different
from man; he must be a spiritual being rather than a physical one. But
if he is a spirit, how can we of the physical world communicate with him
and he with us? There, my friend, is the problem.”

Longinus shook his head. “You’ve got me, Cornelius. I cannot imagine a
spirit, a being without a body, a something that is nothing.”

“Many persons can’t, Centurion. And that’s the main difficulty in
accepting the Jews’ Yahweh, their one god. He is a spirit, they say,
without physical form or substance. They believe in him, but how do they
know him, how do they learn what he’s like? In a word, if he does exist,
how can he be made comprehensible to man?”

Longinus smiled indulgently. “But you say you think you have felt one
and maybe heard one. Why?”

“I don’t know if I can explain. Maybe it goes back to the fact that my
first lessons were taught me by a Greek slave. He was purchased by my
father from a lot brought to Rome after one of those early rebellions.
This man was one of the wisest I have ever known. I shall never forget
his teaching concerning the gods. When we would speak lightly of our
Roman gods, old Pheidias would scold us. ‘Don’t speak disparagingly of
the gods,’ he would say, even though he himself did not believe in them.
I can still remember his words. ‘The gods,’ he said, ‘are symbols of
man’s efforts to attain a higher life, a more noble plane of living. The
good gods are the symbols of the good attributes in man; evil gods
symbolize the base passions. Therefore, hold communion with the good
gods, and seek to avoid contact with the evil ones.’”

“But how does that teaching explain what you feel?”

“Wait,” Cornelius smiled, then continued. “Sometimes Pheidias would
confide in us and talk in more intimate terms of his own philosophy. At
such times he would tell us that his own gods were merged into one
omnipotent and omniscient good god, a spirit without a body, everywhere
present. This one god was a synthesis of the good, the true, and the
beautiful. And though he could not be felt, as I feel this rail
here”—Cornelius ran his hand along the ship’s rail—“and though he was
not to be seen or heard as one sees or hears another person, he was
nevertheless even more real. ‘For the only things that are real,’ my
tutor would say, ‘are the intangible things, and the only imperishable
things are those that have no physical being. Truth, for example. Truth
has no body. Who can hold truth in his hand? And yet truth is eternal,
unchangeable, indestructible. And love? Who can destroy love; who can
defeat it? Yet can you put love in a basket and carry it from the shop?
And who can measure a modius of love or weigh out twelve unciae?’”
Calmly he regarded Longinus. “And I ask you, my friend, who can? What,
after all, is more indestructible, unchangeable, immortal than the
intangible?”

The “Palmyra” was moving around the river’s bend now and gaining speed
as it came into the straight stretch at a point even with the
right-angled turning of the city’s south wall. “But forgive me,
Longinus,” Cornelius said lightly. “I hadn’t meant to be giving you a
lecture on the nature of the gods or the one god.”

“It has been entertaining and enlightening, my friend. And it has
convinced me that you do hold with this one-god idea. Those Jews at
Capernaum, cultivating the plant that came up from the seeds that old
tutor sowed in your childhood, have brought it along to blooming.” He
laughed and tapped the rail with the palm of his hand. “Well, perhaps
it’s an advance—from the Roman gods to the Jews’ one god—in
superstition.” But then the patronizing smile was gone, and he was
serious. “I don’t know, Cornelius. This one-god scheme does have its
merits, I can see. I would like to believe, and I wish I could, that
such an all-powerful, all-wise, all-good being rules the universe.
But”—he paused, and a heavy frown darkened his countenance—“Cornelius,”
he began again, “I keep thinking of those slaves back there on the
Emporium docks, countless slaves all over Rome and throughout the
Empire, beaten, maimed, killed at the whims of their masters, yes, and
that baby thrown into the Tiber, numberless unwanted babies exposed to
die—drowned, thrown to the beasts, bashed against walls—and yet you say
that one good god rules, one all-powerful and all-knowing god, one
_good_ god.” He thrust forth a quivering, challenging forefinger almost
under his friend’s nose. “Then tell me, Cornelius, why does your good
one god send all this ignorance, this stupidity, this cruelty, this
despicable wickedness on the world? Tell me why; give me one logical,
sensible reason, and I’ll fall down at the invisible and intangible feet
of your great one god and worship him in utter subjection.”

“I can’t tell you, Longinus. That very question has troubled me, too. I
have wondered, and I’ve tried to explain it for myself. I don’t know how
old Pheidias explained it, or even if he did. I don’t recall our ever
challenging him on that point. But it may be that this one god—if there
be one, mind you—does not ordain all the things that happen in the
world. It may be that he is even sorrowful, too, because babies are
thrown into the Tiber, because men are cruel and heartless toward other
men....”

“Then if he is all-powerful, Cornelius, why does he permit it? You say
he doesn’t will it. Then why does he allow it?”

Cornelius looked across the deck to the shore line on the starboard side
and for a long moment silently considered his friend’s question. “I
cannot say, Centurion; it’s a mystery to me. Could it be, though, that
the answer, if there be any answer, lies in this god’s determination to
give man his freedom? Could it be that even though he is hurt when man
abuses the freedom given him, he feels that his children must be free,
nevertheless, to work out their destinies? Maybe some such reasoning
might explain it. I don’t know.” He shook his head sadly. “What do you
think?”

“I disagree, Cornelius. You say that this one god would not order an
infant thrown into the river. I agree, but that is not enough. A good
god would not permit it.” His grim expression relaxed, but he was still
serious. “No, when one sees the condition in which countless men live,
the utter unfairness of things, one cannot logically believe in the
existence of such a god as you have described. Indeed, it is more
logical to believe in our Roman gods than in the god of your old tutor
or the Yahweh of the Jews, in our good ones contending with the evil
ones”—he shrugged—“with the evil ones usually winning. But it is even
more logical, Cornelius, to believe in no gods at all.”

“You have a good argument, Longinus. But it seems to me that we
invariably come back to what I said when we started this gods
discussion. If there is no higher intelligence, no supreme power, then
how did all this”—he swept his arm in a wide arc—“how did we, the world,
the sun and moon and stars, everything, how did it all come into
existence in the first place? By accident? Bah! And if not by accident,
how? Answer me that, Longinus.”

“I can’t answer you. But why should I? What difference does it make? If
this good god does exist but does not rule, if he does not enforce a
good way of living among men, if he does not protect helpless babies or
captured peoples—and obviously he doesn’t—is the world any better off
than if no gods existed in the first place?” He smiled complacently.
“But, Cornelius, I have no quarrel with your attachment to your tutor’s
strangely Yahweh-like god. Some day when I visit you in Capernaum I may
go with you to the synagogue or even the Temple at Jerusalem. I may
even,” he added with a grin, “offer a brace of doves for the sacrifices.
Or would your Yahweh insist on my offering a young lamb?”

“_My_ Yahweh? But I’m no Jew, Longinus. The god of old Pheidias has a
greater appeal to me than Yahweh. Yahweh is too stern, too unbending, as
they interpret him. But maybe they interpret him wrong, the priests who
lead the worship, or maybe I interpret their interpretation wrong. It
may be that the true one god”—he smiled—“if there be one, my friend, has
never been properly interpreted to man. Maybe we just don’t know him,
what he’s like.” He shrugged and stepped away from the rail. “But I
think we’ve had enough of gods for one day, don’t you agree? Let’s go
inside. I’ve got some work to do before we reach Ostia; you probably
have some, too.”

As they started toward the cabin, Longinus turned to look back. Rome was
entirely behind them now, off the port stern, but still clearly in
sight. Above the city wall and the Aventine Hill beyond and now lifted
clear of the Circus Maximus, the sprawling great Imperial Palace atop
Palatine Hill flaunted itself in the sunshine.

_Had Claudia arisen? Was she now in her bath or in the solarium having
her hair dressed or her nails manicured? Was she in the peristylium or
on the couch in the exedra? Was she making preparations, not too
reluctantly perhaps, for her wedding with Pontius Pilate?_

_... Yes, and back there somewhere in that press of humanity were
Pontius Pilate and the Prefect Sejanus, by all the gods. By all the
gods, indeed. Good gods and evil gods, good to Pilate, evil to me...._

Longinus abruptly faced about. Ahead, straight over the bow of the
“Palmyra,” gaining momentum now in a channel clearing of the jam of
traffic within the city’s walls, was Rome’s port of Ostia, where the
great mainsail would be hoisted aloft to catch the winds that would help
speed the vessel eastward. Ahead and many days and long Great Sea miles
distant were the coasts of Palestine ... and Caesarea. Ahead, too,
despite all the gods, real or fancied, and despite Sejanus and Pontius
Pilate, was Claudia.



                               Palestine


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   10


Longinus and Cornelius strolled over to the port bow rail as the
“Palmyra,” its mainsail sliding slowly down the mast behind them, swung
around the end of the north breakwater and skimmed lightly across the
harbor toward the docks at Ptolemaïs.

“I thought Caesarea would be our first stop.”

“We’re putting in here only long enough to drop some passengers and a
quantity of goods Herod’s brought from Rome,” Cornelius revealed.

Longinus looked up in surprise. “Herod’s goods?” he asked.

“Furnishings for the palace at Tiberias—bronze tables, chairs,
decorative pieces, of Herodias’ choosing, I suspect. In fact, some of it
probably came from her house, favorite things to make her feel more at
home in Tiberias. Putting those crates ashore here will save us the
trouble of carrying them on to Joppa and Jerusalem.”

“But when the Tetrarchess discovers that Herodias had a hand in
selecting the things....” Longinus grimaced, laughing. “Say, are you
letting your men go ashore here?”

“Only for a few minutes, just to let them stretch their legs while the
vessel’s unloading. Don’t worry, they’ve been told to stay in the wharf
area. If they were to get near the taverns and brothels, we’d be here
all night!”

Already the soldiers of the two centuries, impatient to get ashore ever
since they had first spotted Mount Carmel towering above the promontory
jutting out from the Phoenician coast, were lining the “Palmyra’s”
rails. Cornelius beckoned to one of his legionaries.

“Decius, call out a detachment—twelve men should be enough—to be ready
as soon as the ‘Palmyra’ docks to take charge of transporting the
shipment of goods the Tetrarch Herod is sending to his palace at
Tiberias. His steward Chuza will put several of the palace servants to
unloading it and will arrange for obtaining carts and beasts to move it.
You will be concerned only with guarding the caravan. But be on the
alert every moment, Decius. See that you aren’t surprised by some
lurking band of thieves lying in wait for you. If anything should happen
to this shipment, by the gods, we’d never hear the end of it; word would
get back to Rome and the Prefect himself would know about it.” Upon
delivering the goods at the Tetrarch’s palace, he added, Decius should
take the detachment to the garrison post and there await his arrival
with the remainder of the century, which would be escorting Herod to
Jerusalem and from there northward to his Galilean capital.

When some two hours later the unloading had been completed and the other
legionaries had returned to the ship, Decius stood with his detachment
beside the piled crates and casks and waved good-by to his comrades as
the “Palmyra” moved slowly away from the wharf and then, gaining speed,
headed on a straight course toward the harbor mouth. The next day the
vessel cleared the long breakwater thrust far out into the Great Sea to
provide a safe harbor at Caesarea, and Longinus and his century went
ashore. While the legionaries were assembling their gear, Cornelius
stood with him on the pier.

“Come visit us at Tiberias, Longinus. You can contrive some mission that
will warrant your being sent, can’t you?” he asked, then added,
“Herodias will probably be coming out from Rome before long. I suspect
Herod will be going back for her as soon as he can arrange with the
present Tetrarchess for her to be supplanted....”

“If he can—which I doubt.”

“Whether he can amicably or not, I’d wager that he’ll be bringing
Herodias to Tiberias as Tetrarchess. Then Claudia can visit her and you
can meet her there. And marry her and keep her out here until you’ve
completed your tour of duty.” Cornelius winked and playfully nudged his
friend with an elbow. “By the gods, maybe that’s what you and Claudia
have planned all along. Is it, Longinus?”

“No, we haven’t planned any such thing.” Longinus stared thoughtfully
out at the shore before them. “But I’ll contrive some reason for getting
up to Tiberias. And we’re bound to meet in Jerusalem during one of the
festivals; they bring in the troops then, you know. Or perhaps some
mission will bring you to Caesarea; at Tiberias, after all, you’ll be
nearer us than we will be to Jerusalem.” He clapped a hand on his
friend’s shoulder. “My love, and the blessings of the gods—including
your Yahweh—to your family.”

Cornelius stood at the “Palmyra’s” rail as the vessel slipped away from
the wharf. When it was nearing the rounding of the breakwater, he heard
Longinus’ sharp command, and the century moved off smartly. The tapping
of the legionaries’ heavy boots in rhythmical, perfect cadence came
clearly to him across the water. Longinus turned and lifted his arm high
in salute; Cornelius returned it, as the century, swinging along the
cobblestoned way, gained a street corner and turned, then began to be
swallowed up into the maze of stone buildings beyond the piers.

The sun was dropping low into the Great Sea when the “Palmyra” sailed
into the port at Joppa. Relieved and happy that the long voyage was
safely ended, the passengers disembarked to seek refreshment and rest
for the night. Early on the morrow Herod Antipas with Mary of Magdala
and the others of his company, escorted by Centurion Cornelius and his
century, would set out on the forty-mile journey southeastward to
Jerusalem.



                                   11


Centurion Cornelius pointed to a horseman hurrying toward them along the
narrow road east of the river. “The advance guard must have run into
trouble, maybe Bar Abbas and his gang or some other waylaying zealots.”

“Then you’d better send out a patrol to overtake and destroy them,”
Herod Antipas scowled. “I have no patience with those rebel cutthroats.”

The caravan trudging up the deep trough of the Jordan had paused for the
midday refreshment. Four days ago it had descended the Jericho road from
Jerusalem to encamp for the night on the plain before the city. Horses
had been provided for the Tetrarch and certain of his household, but the
soldiers of the century, with the exception of the small advance and
rear patrols, were on foot. Heavily loaded carts and donkeys transported
the supplies, gear, and tents. The journey had been made without
incident; another day of uninterrupted progress would bring the caravan
to the Sea of Galilee, or, if they were lucky, perhaps even as far as
Tiberias.

Cornelius stood up and signaled the approaching rider. The horseman rode
straight up to him, reined in his mount, and saluted. “Centurion,” he
reported, “up ahead at the river crossing there’s a motley crowd of
about a hundred persons, most of them men. Judging by their appearance,
they must have traveled a long way. They appear to be peaceful, but
there’s a wild-looking, hairy fellow haranguing them, and they’re
drinking in his every word; they hardly noticed me when I joined them.”

“What was the fellow saying, Lucilius?”

“I couldn’t understand him, Centurion. I’m not familiar with the speech
of this region, which I presume it was. But I thought he might be one of
those Galilean revolutionaries trying to incite the crowd against our
Roman rule.”

“One of those zealots, you mean? No, hardly, Lucilius. Those rebels
don’t stand up delivering speeches; their way is to thrust a knife
between somebody’s ribs and then slink quickly away. More than likely
this fellow’s a religious fanatic, and I would guess his language is
Aramaic. There’s probably no harm in him, but you did well to report. I
understand Aramaic; I’ll return with you and investigate.”

“I believe I know who the man is, Centurion,” the Tetrarch volunteered.
“There was a desert fellow from the Wilderness country beginning to
cause a stir here when I was leaving for Rome. I had reports then that
he was thundering invectives against everything, even the Tetrarch and
his house. He may be inciting the people against Rome. At any rate, I
want to hear him, and perhaps you should, too.”

Mary of Magdala, seated near-by, had overheard. “I, too, would like to
hear the strange prophet.”

“But surely even your irresistible charms would not tempt this mad
Wilderness preacher.” Antipas winked at the centurion.

“I am not interested in charming him. But if this is the man you think
he is I have heard much about him. I would like to observe him for
myself.”

Cornelius turned back to Antipas. “If the Tetrarch wishes, I’ll send up
a patrol to be near-by in case of any trouble. But I think, Sire, you
should disguise yourself. Then you will be able to mingle safely with
the throng, and the preacher, not knowing the Tetrarch is hearing him,
will talk freely.”

Antipas, agreeing, quickly exchanged his purple mantle for the simple
Galilean garment of one of his servants and wrapped about his
Roman-style cropped head a bedraggled scarf to form an effectively
concealing headdress. The servant cut a reed to serve as a walking
staff. Mary, too, changed garments and veiled her face in the manner of
a Galilean peasant woman.

Cornelius sent a patrol ahead. “Stop this side of the ford,” he
instructed Lucilius, “and try to avoid being noticed by the throng down
there. But keep on the alert for any commotion that might develop.” Then
he, Antipas, and Mary all mounted horses and rode toward the place where
the multitude had assembled. At a bend in the road some two hundred
paces from the ford the three riders dismounted behind screening thick
willows that came up from the river bank; from there they quietly made
their way down to the ford and slipped unobtrusively into the crowd.

Every burning dark eye seemed to be focused on the gesticulating,
fiercely intent preacher. He stood in the center of the circled throng
on the river bank, and his words came to them clear and sharply
challenging, angry and pleading, denunciatory and promising.

“You generation of vipers!” he thundered, shaking a gnarled fist in
their teeth, “have I not warned you to escape from the wrath that is
coming? Do you contend that because you are Abraham’s seed you are
secure from the judgment of a righteous God?” He lowered his voice,
strode two steps forward, and dramatically wheeled about. “What are
Abraham’s descendants to God? Could he not raise up from these very
stones”—he pointed toward the smoothly rounded small rocks lining the
water’s edge—“children for Abraham? And is not the ax ready at the foot
of the tree to cut down every one that does not bear fruit?”

Cornelius nudged a bent Jew, his face streaked with perspiration that
ran down in soiled small beads into his grizzled beard, his whole frame
seemingly so absorbed in the speaker’s thundering words that he had not
even noticed the centurion’s arrival beside him. “That man, who is he?”

The old fellow turned incredulously to stare. “Soldier, you have been in
Galilee long enough to speak our tongue, and yet you do not know _him_?”

“But for many weeks I have not set foot in Galilee,” Cornelius replied.
“I am just now returning, by way of Jerusalem, from Rome.”

“He is the Prophet John, soldier, the one sent of God to warn Israel to
repent and be baptized.” The old man turned back to give his attention
for the moment to the preacher. Then, his face earnest, he confronted
Cornelius again. “He is not concerned with Rome, soldier. He preaches
only that men should cleanse their hearts of evil and walk in the way of
our Yahweh.” Once more he turned to stare at the prophet whose eyes were
wildly flaming in his burnt dark face; ignoring Cornelius, the old man
leaned forward and raised a knotted hand to cup his ear.

John was tall, and his leathery leanness accentuated his height. The
prophet, it was immediately evident to the centurion, was not a man of
the cities and the synagogues; he was a son of the desert and the
wastelands of Judaea, and the sun and wind had tanned his skin to the
color and hardness of old harness. Nor did he appear any more afraid of
the proud and opulent Pharisees and Sadducees who confronted him with
their disdainful smiles than he must have been of the wild animals of
his Wilderness haunts.

“Repent! I say unto you. And bring forth fruits worthy of repentance.
Try not further the patience of God. Forswear evil and do good.”

“But what are for us fruits worthy of repentance? What must we do?”

The questioner, his countenance heavy with pain, stood at the river’s
edge facing the prophet. His garb revealed him to be a man of means, but
it was evident also that the thundering words of the baptizer had
stirred him deeply and that he had asked the question in all humility.

John thrust forth a lean forefinger and shook it sternly. “You are of a
calling unloved in Israel, and justly so. You have sold your birthright
as a son of Israel to join your heel to the conqueror’s to grind
Abraham’s seed into the earth. You are a publican; I know you, and I
know the publican’s heart.” His voice was almost a hiss, and around the
clearing beards nodded in agreement with the prophet’s harsh appraisal.
“I call upon you to repent!”

“But what, Rab John, are the fruits of my repentance?” The perspiration
was running freely down the man’s face and dripping into his beard.
“What must I do?”

“Demand only that which is legally due you.”

“I swear that this I shall henceforth do, Yahweh being my helper. By the
beard of the High Priest, I swear it.” The man sighed deeply, and from
the fold of his robe pulled forth a kerchief with which he mopped his
forehead, his whiskered cheeks, and the dampened long beard.

“But we are not great ones,” ventured a gnarled and grizzled fellow who
leaned twisted on his staff, “neither are we publicans. We are the plain
and the simple and the poor of Galilee. What shall we do worthy of
repentance?”

“You have two coats, though they be worn and patched with much wearing?
Then give one to him who has none. And you have food, though it be
coarse and not plentiful? Share what you have with him who is hungry.”

Cornelius had noticed, standing not far from the prophet but somewhat
withdrawn from the throng as if to avoid contamination with these men of
earth such as the one who had just questioned John, a knot of
resplendently robed Israelites, their beards oiled and combed and
carefully braided, their fingers heavily ringed. Now one of these men,
his hands clasped in front of his rounded, sagging paunch, stepped
forward a pace and bowed. “Rabbi, we are priests and Levites sent by the
rulers in Jerusalem to hear and observe your teaching. We perceive that
you speak with great authority. Tell us, Rabbi”—his smile was as
unctuous as his beard was oiled—“are you that great One for whom we are
looking?”

“I am not the Messiah,” John answered evenly.

“Are you then the Prophet Elijah returned to us?”

“I am not he.”

“Then, Rabbi, who are you? We have been instructed to come and see and
carry back our report to the Temple rulers. What then shall we say of
you, who you are?”

“Say that I am:

  “The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness,
  “Prepare ye the way of the Lord,
  “Make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
  “Every valley shall be exalted,
  “And every mountain and hill shall be made low:
  “And the crooked shall be made straight,
  “And the rough places plain:
  “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed,
  “And all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath
              spoken it.”

“You speak the words of the great Isaiah,” the pompous questioner
declared.

“Yes,” John agreed. “And other words he said also.

  “The voice said, ‘Cry,’
  “And he said, ‘What shall I cry?
  “‘All flesh is grass,
  “‘And all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field.
  “‘The grass withereth, the flower fadeth....
  “‘But the word of our God shall stand forever.’”

“Then you, like we, yet look for the coming of the Messiah of God?”

John raised a lean and burnt arm and the haircloth robe slid down along
it to his shoulder. He pointed a darting forefinger toward the Temple’s
emissary, and his countenance was solemn. “I tell you, that One is now
among us, though you have not recognized him as the Messiah of God. And
though he comes after me in time, he ranks before me; indeed, I am not
worthy to stoop down and unloose his sandal straps. I baptize you with
water, but He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire!”

“Then, Rabbi, why do you baptize with water?” The unctuous one smiled
broadly and, pleased with his cleverness, looked from one member of the
delegation to another.

“It is a sign that those who enter upon it have repented and been
cleansed in their hearts.” He looked the man in the eyes. “Have you
repented, my brother? Is your heart changed? Are you ready for the
coming of Him of Whom I have this moment spoken?” John whirled about,
and his lean arm described an arc that embraced the multitude. “Repent,
ye men of Israel! Ye who dwell in great houses, repent! Ye men of earth
who know not where your next mouthful will be found, repent. For the
clean in heart do not all dwell in palaces or attend upon the Temple
worship, nor do they all go about hungry and naked and shelterless.”

As the prophet paused, he looked toward the centurion and the disguised
Tetrarch, who stood beside Mary and within a few paces of the portly
questioner from Jerusalem. Cornelius wondered what Herod was thinking of
this strange Wilderness preacher, this fiery denouncer of evildoers. But
in that same moment John resumed his discourse. “No, sin and wickedness
abide in the high places; evil reigns even in the great marble pile
built above the graves at Tiberias where the Idumaean pawn of the
conqueror despoils and seduces the people of Israel! He, too, my
brothers, even he must repent his wicked ways; he must seek the Lord
while yet He may be found, or he and his evil associates will be cast
into outer darkness!”

The fleeting thought came suddenly to the centurion that the prophet had
recognized the large man in the soiled Galilean robe, and perhaps the
notorious woman of Magdala as well. But then would he have dared utter
such a denunciation? Was the desert preacher really a man of dedication
and courage, as people said? Perhaps. Cornelius scrutinized Herod’s
face. The Tetrarch’s normally pale complexion had turned an ugly shade
of red beneath the twisted turban, while beads of perspiration ran down
his heavy jowls. But Mary, though little of her face showed because of
the veil, appeared more amused than angered.

The prophet’s interrogator from Jerusalem was still unsatisfied. “But,
Rabbi,” he began again, “you say that the Messiah of God is already
among us. Why then has he not declared himself, why has he not consumed
with holy fire the Edomite who possesses us and tramples into the dust
of utter subjection our ancient land?”

John’s eyes flashed angrily, but he controlled his tongue. When he spoke
his voice was calm. “It is not for me to explain or defend the will and
works of the Messiah. I am but His messenger who goes ahead to announce
His coming, to call upon His people Israel to repent that their eyes
might be whole to see Him when He comes, that their hearts might be
clean to know Him!” With bronzed fist he smote the palm of his left
hand, his ardor mounting. “You leaders of the people”—he stabbed a lean
forefinger toward the haughty group from Jerusalem—“cleanse your own
hearts; let fall from your eyes the scabs of greed and hypocrisy so that
when He comes you may recognize Him!”

Cornelius felt a gentle tug on his arm; it was Mary. “The Tetrarch is
going back,” she whispered. “He’s furious at the man’s denunciation of
him. If it hadn’t been for the fact that he would have had to reveal his
identity in doing it, Antipas would have had him arrested. But he didn’t
want those puffed toads”—she inclined her head to indicate the Jewish
delegation—“carrying stories back, and he wished to avoid provoking a
commotion; so he overlooked the....”

“Behold, the Lamb of God!”

Cornelius and the woman, her report to him startlingly interrupted by
the prophet’s ejaculation, faced about quickly to look in the direction
toward which he was pointing. In that instant the others had whirled
about, too. Cornelius and Mary strained forward, trying to see above the
heads of the multitude.

“He is the One of Whom I have been speaking!” shouted John. “Behold, the
Lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world. Yonder is the Messiah
of God!”

They saw coming along the path that led down from the road above the
river, walking with long, easy stride as he descended the grade toward
the clearing at the ford, a tall, sunburned young man, well-muscled but
lithe, broad of shoulders, erect. He wore a plain, brown, homespun robe,
belted at the waist with a length of rope, and coarse, heavy sandals. He
was bareheaded; his reddish brown hair fell away from a part in the
center of his head in locks that curled almost to his shoulders. In his
right hand he gripped a long staff cut from a sapling. As he strode down
the pathway and across the open space toward the prophet, he seemed deep
in thought, almost insensible to the throng about him. He walked
straight up to John. Cornelius and Mary could see the two talking in
subdued tones, but they could understand nothing of what was being said
by either man.

“What are they saying?” It was the bent old Jew; he still stood near-by,
and he had cupped his palm to an ear lost in grizzled earlocks.
“Soldier, can you hear them?”

“No, not a word,” Cornelius answered. “They aren’t talking loudly enough
for us up here.”

At that moment a youth who had been down at the water’s edge standing a
few feet away from the prophet approached them. He heard the old man’s
question. “They are arguing about baptizing the tall one,” he explained.
“He wants the desert preacher to baptize him, but the preacher claims it
should be the other way around; he says he isn’t worthy to baptize the
Messiah.”

“The Messiah!” The old man had been peering intently at the tall young
man standing calmly beside the prophet. “Is that the one the prophet
called the Lamb of God, the one long expected of Israel?”

“Yes, the tall one.”

“Why do you ask?” Cornelius inquired of the bent one. “Do you know the
man?”

“Do I know him?” The old man chuckled. “Soldier, I come from Nazareth.
Many’s the day I have worked with Joseph, that boy’s father, planing one
end of a beam while he was shaping the other end. But Joseph’s dead now,
been dead a long time. That boy there lives with his mother, the widow
Mary.”

“What does he do?”

“He’s a carpenter, too, like his father before him. And he’s a good boy
and a hard-working boy, soldier. But Jesus ben Joseph the Messiah of
Israel....” The old fellow, both hands braced on his gnarled stick,
shook his head incredulously. “Soldier, my faith in that John the
Baptizer is weakening. He must be”—he removed one hand from the stick
and with bent forefinger tapped his forehead—“a little touched.”

Cornelius laughed. “I don’t know much about this Messiah business, but,
I agree, he must be.” Then he turned to Mary. “Are you ready to go? I
mustn’t let Herod get too far ahead. I’m responsible for his arriving in
Tiberias, you know.”

They started retracing their way along the path to the road; where it
joined the broader way, they turned southward. When a moment later they
came out from behind a clump of shrubs grown up in an outcropping of
small boulders, Cornelius glanced over his shoulder toward the ford and
the throng. He caught Mary’s arm and pointed.

The haircloth mantle and the brown homespun robe had been thrown across
small bushes at the river’s edge. In the center of the little stream,
with the water up to their loincloths and their faces lifted heavenward,
stood the gaunt Wilderness prophet and the tall bronzed young man from
Nazareth.



                                   12


The Procurator’s Palace sat high on a promontory overlooking the harbor
at Caesarea. A marble-paved esplanade led from the cobblestoned street
up to the palace, and on its west side facing the Great Sea an immense
terrace of colored, polished stones went out from the peristylium.

In the days when King Herod, father of Antipas, determined to build here
on the Palestinian coast a fabulous port city to honor his patron, the
Emperor Augustus, the place was an insignificant town called by the
unusual name of Strato’s Towers. Then there was virtually no harbor. But
at tremendous cost in the lives of slaves and artisans and money wrung
in taxes from his already poor subjects, Herod built of huge stones sunk
in twenty fathoms of often rough water a tremendous mole that went out
and around like a protecting arm to form a safe shelter for countless
ships of every type.

Quickly old Herod had transformed Strato’s Towers into a beautiful and
busy city more Roman than Jewish. A stranger unfamiliar with the region
and just landed from a trireme in the harbor at Caesarea, in fact, would
hardly realize that he was in a Palestinian city. Not only were its
great public buildings and lavish homes Roman—its Procurator’s Palace,
its immense hippodrome for athletic sports and gladiatorial combats, its
theater, its gleaming marble temples to pagan gods—but Roman, too, were
many of its people. Its population actually was of varied
nationalities—Roman, Greek, Syrian, Idumaean, Ethiopian, and many
others; there were countless slaves from conquered provinces—Germania,
Gaul, Dalmatia, even here and there one from Britannia—a motley
multitude from every region on the rim of the Great Sea and even from
lands farther away. Caesarea was a metropolitan city set down upon the
coast of this ancient homeland of the Samaritans and their more
peculiarly Hebrew cousins the Judaeans.

Today the newly arrived Procurator Pontius Pilate and his wife sat in
the warming sunshine on the terrace and looked down upon the busy harbor
and the Great Sea stretching westward into the blue haze. Obliquely
facing them, so that he could see both the harbor and a portion of the
maze of buildings pushing one upon the other from it, sat their guest,
the Centurion Longinus.

Claudia pointed to a large merchant ship being tied up at one of the
docks below. “This is a tremendous harbor, rivaling Ostia’s, isn’t it?
Look at all those vessels, and that one that has just sailed in. Judging
by its size, I’d say it was an Alexandrian grain ship.”

“It is a great harbor, and wonderfully protected. In fact, I was amazed
to find Caesarea such a modern city.” Pilate smiled broadly. “I had
feared that it would be another typical provincial outpost.”

“On the contrary, Excellency, it’s quite a metropolis,” Longinus
observed. “You’ll discover people here from every part of the world, and
far fewer Jews, I suspect, than you had anticipated finding. Of course,
you’ve hardly had time yet to learn much about the city.”

Pilate laughed, but with little humor. “The fewer Jews the better. I’m
glad the capital of the province is here rather than at Jerusalem; it
would be galling, I suspect, to be forced to spend most of one’s time in
that nest of Jews. Speaking of Jerusalem, Centurion, I plan to visit the
city shortly and have a straight talk with that High Priest. I wish it
known at the very beginning of my Procuratorship that I intend to
demonstrate clearly and forcefully, if that be necessary, that Rome
cannot be trifled with by these obstinate and pestiferous Jews. You, of
course, have been to Jerusalem?”

“Not since I came out this time. But on many occasions previously,
including visits during the festivals. If you go there during Passover
week, you’ll see Jews from every part of the world.”

“I have already seen enough of them for a lifetime,” Pilate said,
scowling. But quickly he smiled again. “Centurion, I am going to the
cohort’s headquarters; I wish to talk with Sergius Paulus.” He clapped
his hands, and a slave came running. “Summon my sedan bearers,” he
commanded. “May I take you to your quarters,” he asked Longinus, “or
will you stay longer and entertain Claudia?” He turned to his wife and
smiled warmly. “A familiar face, and a Roman one, is particularly
welcome in this strange outpost of the Empire, isn’t it, my dear
Claudia?”

“Yes, indeed, Pilate.” She reached over and put her hand lightly on the
centurion’s arm. “Longinus, do stay and talk. You can give me
instructions on how to act out here in this strange region, strange to
Pilate and me, at any rate.”

In a few minutes the servant announced that the sedan bearers were
awaiting him, and Pilate excused himself. When he was gone, Longinus
moved his chair nearer Claudia. “I wonder why he invited me to stay,” he
said. “Does he suspect us, do you suppose? Or,” he added with a wry
smile, “is there no longer any occasion for his doing that?”

“I don’t think he suspects us, although I haven’t yet learned how to
weigh his words or actions. But what if he does?” She shrugged. “With me
everything is just as it was before you left Rome. But maybe”—coyly she
looked up at him from beneath her long lashes—“you have discovered some
woman out here....”

“No. And I haven’t looked. But I wonder how much he knows or suspects.”
He told her of his last conversation with the Prefect, of the
determination of Sejanus to keep her happily away from Rome, of that
wily rascal’s invitation—in fact, almost command—to do whatever might be
necessary, including the invasion of the Procurator’s bed, to detain her
in contented exile. “But I don’t think he suspected then that we were
planning to get married almost immediately. And I’m sure Pilate didn’t.”
His forehead wrinkled in deep study. “By any chance, Claudia, have you
let slip...?”

“About us, to him? Of course not.”

“To anyone... Herodias maybe, the gods forbid. I wouldn’t trust that
woman as far as I could throw that grain ship over there. Could you,
without realizing it, have let slip...?”

“Yes, I did tell Herodias. She does know that you and I were planning to
marry and come out to Palestine. But I’m sure neither she nor Antipas
has said anything to Pilate about it ... if they’ve even seen him since.
And certainly they haven’t talked with Sejanus.”

“Anyway, Claudia, we must be doubly careful. So long as Sejanus thinks
I’m simply keeping you ... satisfied, he called it, it’s all right. But
should he get the notion that I might be planning to take you away from
Pilate and back to Rome ...” he broke off, scowling. “And here there’ll
be other eyes and ears watching and listening, too. But when Pilate goes
to Jerusalem, can’t we arrange...?”

“I’ll be going, too,” she interrupted. “And so must you. We can contrive
some excuse for your accompanying us.” Her eyes were bright with
smoldering fires, he saw, and her lips warm, he knew, and red and eager,
and he remembered the taste of the Falernian upon them. But adamantly he
turned his eyes away to look toward the great harbor. “And in Jerusalem,
Longinus, beloved”—her hand had caught his arm and was squeezing
hard—“we’ll find some way.”



                                   13


Sergius Paulus, who commanded the legionaries escorting Procurator
Pontius Pilate and his party to Jerusalem, halted his column several
hundred paces west of the great market square outside the Joppa Gate.

“Sheathe the cohort’s emblems!” he commanded, and quickly down the line
of march the soldiers began covering the banners of the Second
Italian—the likenesses of the Emperor Tiberius, the screaming eagles,
the fasces with their bundled arrows and axes, everything that flaunted
the proud victories of this cohort of Rome’s conquering armies.

“But Commander Sergius,” Pilate began to protest, “by whose orders must
Rome thus bow to these haughty Jews? Is this, by any chance, _your_
scheme for forestalling possible disorder?”

“No, Excellency, the sheathing of the emblems in Jerusalem is not of my
devising; it follows a long established custom, started, I believe, by
the Emperor Augustus as a result of a pact with the Jewish leaders and
continued by the Emperor Tiberius through orders transmitted to us by
the Prefect Sejanus.” His smile was coldly professional. “I assure you,
sir, covering our emblems before the gates of Jerusalem is as
distasteful to me as it must be to the Procurator, but this is an order
I dare not violate.”

The round face of the helmeted Procurator reddened with fury. He shook
his head angrily and banged his heavy fist against the apron of the
chariot in which he stood beside his wife. “I am not accustomed to
seeing Rome display humility—abject humility—which is what this action
seems to me to be. But I shall not countermand the order you have given,
though to me it is both humiliating and exasperating that our
legionaries are forced thus to yield to these outrageous Jews.” He
raised his hand to signal. “When you are ready, Commander, let us
proceed into the city.” Then he turned to address Longinus, who had
halted near the Procurator. “Centurion, will you exchange places with my
driver? Claudia and I are entering Jerusalem for the first time; would
you be our guide and point out the principal places of interest?”

Quickly the exchange was accomplished, and the detachment, its emblems
shielded now from view, resumed its march. Crossing the market place at
the gate, a suddenly stilled large square that a moment before the
Romans’ arrival had been a hubbub of shouts and shrill cries of
bargaining, the procession moved through the gateway to enter a narrow
cobblestoned street also strangely deserted.

“But where are the people to welcome us?” Pilate inquired, his balding
high forehead creased in anger and consternation. “Why this unnatural
calm?”

“They have retreated inside their shops and houses and closed the
shutters; right now they are peering at us through lattices and from the
roof tops, Excellency. This is the way they show their scorn for their
conquerors. It will be our good fortune if we are not pelted with rotten
vegetables and fruit thrown from the house tops, or even tiles from the
roofs.” He smiled, not too happily. “The Jews, Excellency, don’t have
much affection for us Romans.”

The veins in the Procurator’s neck swelled as though they might burst,
and his countenance was livid. “In every province in which I have
formerly entered with our troops,” he declared, “the populace has
welcomed us thunderously, often with flowers and branches of trees
thrown in our way, and many times they have even prostrated themselves
before us.” He knotted his fist again. “By all the gods, I shall teach
these Jews better manners. Nor shall I delay long in setting them to
their lessons!”

Claudia laid a soothing hand on her husband’s arm; with the other she
pointed to the right. “Those huge buildings! Longinus, they appear to be
towers. And what tremendous stones. I didn’t know these Jews were
capable of raising such structures.”

“Yes, on the contrary, the Jews are good artisans, and old Herod, who
built many great edifices here as well as at Caesarea and other cities,
also employed many foreign workers of great skill. He evidently wished
to emulate Augustus in raising magnificent public buildings.” They were
coming now to a great square tower, one of those to which Claudia had
pointed. “This first one is the Hippicus Tower, named, I have heard, for
a friend of Herod. The next one, in the middle, is Phasael, called that
in honor of Herod’s brother. But that one”—he pointed in the direction
of a third—“is the most famous, perhaps because he built it to the
memory of the only wife he really loved. It’s called the Mariamne Tower,
after the one he had killed. They say that the old reprobate almost went
insane with grief after he’d executed her. Claudia, this Mariamne was
the grandmother of Herodias and her spendthrift brother Agrippa.
Mariamne was a member of the ancient Hasmonean line of Israelite rulers.
Very soon now we’ll be passing the old Hasmonean Palace; it’s over near
the viaduct that connects Zion Hill with the Temple.”

“But, Longinus, where is the Procurator’s Palace?”

“Yes, Centurion, I’d be interested in seeing it.”

“It’s behind that wall joining the three towers, sir. And it’s a
tremendous place, too, with fountains and flowers and grass and
trees—you will love it, Claudia—it serves as headquarters of the
Procurator when he visits Jerusalem, though it’s called Herod’s Palace.
When the Tetrarch is in Jerusalem, especially if the Procurator is here
at the same time—for instance, during Passover feasts—the Tetrarch
usually stays at the Hasmonean Palace. Excellency”—he faced the
Procurator again, for he had been busy with the reins in an attempt to
dodge a heavily loaded cart being pulled by a trudging donkey—“do you
plan to stop here at Herod’s Palace, or will you stay in the
Procurator’s quarters at the Tower of Antonia?”

“What was the custom of Valerius Gratus? Where did he stay?”

“He usually lodged here, I believe. It’s more comfortable, of course,
and perhaps will be quieter than the quarters at Antonia.”

“Perhaps”—Pilate faced Claudia, his expression questioning—“then we
should stay at Herod’s Palace. But, pray the gods, why should it be
called Herod’s Palace now? The Herods no longer have authority in
Judaea.”

“It was built by old Herod, sir, and the name persists. Things change
slowly out here; tradition and custom rule in Judaea. I’m sure you’ll
realize that more the longer you remain in Palestine.” They were nearing
a gate in the high wall that gave admittance to the palace. Several
guards at the gate, seeing the procession of Roman troops, straightened
and raised their arms in salute. Longinus lifted the reins to halt the
chariot.

“No, not yet,” Pilate said. “Claudia wishes to see the Temple and
Antonia Tower before we stop. Don’t you, my dear?”

“I do. Then, after I’ve had a look at them, we can return, can’t we? And
if the Procurator is kept at Antonia Tower longer than he expects to be,
perhaps the centurion would fetch me back here?”

Longinus smiled. “Of course,” he murmured, then turned to Pilate. “But,
sir, you won’t be able to proceed far with the chariots. You’ll have to
change to horseback or be borne in a sedan chair. These Jerusalem
streets are very narrow, and many of them ascend and descend stairs that
a chariot could scarcely manage.”

Pilate nodded. “Thank you, Centurion. In that case we’ll leave the
chariots here, and I’ll ride horseback. Claudia can take a sedan chair.”
He looked toward his wife, and his eyes were questioning. “That is, if
she still wishes to go on to Antonia.”

“Yes, I’d particularly like to see the Temple; I’ve heard stories of
what a marvelous structure it is. I’ll go on, and Longinus can bring me
back.” She smiled. “Would you?”

“As you wish,” he said.

Pilate nodded. “If you will, Centurion. Or I can send someone to bring
you here, Claudia, if the centurion finds that he cannot get away from
his duties. I’ll probably be detained for some time at the Tower. I am
determined to see the High Priest before the sun sets. I had planned to
call on him at his palace, but now, after the reception Jerusalem has
given me, by all the gods”—his face was reddening again—“I shall summon
him to come to me!”

So the column was halted along the narrow way in front of the sprawling
Herod’s Palace. The chariots were driven inside the palace grounds and
left there, and a sedan chair was brought out by bearers quickly
recruited from the palace’s staff of servants.

“Centurion, if you will ride in the sedan chair with Claudia,” the
Procurator said, “you can point out to her the places of importance in
this nest of obstinate Jewry.” He mounted a gaily caparisoned horse and
rode forward to the head of the column.

“Perhaps, Excellency, it would be best for me to go ahead with the
advance guard”—Sergius Paulus smiled grimly as Pilate came abreast of
him—“to absorb the stones that may be hurled at the new Procurator, not
that there is any personal animosity toward you, sir, but because you
are a symbol of Rome’s dominion....”

“No! I’m not afraid of them!” the Procurator angrily interrupted. “And,
by great Jove, I’ll teach them to respect the dominion of Rome!” He
spurred his horse several paces ahead of the cohort commander.

Meanwhile Claudia and Longinus had settled themselves in the sedan
chair. As it moved off, they did not draw the curtains. “It isn’t
because I am afraid to draw them,” Claudia said to him. “I’m not afraid
of Pilate, nor am I afraid of the people out there. It’s because I want
to see Jerusalem.”

“You don’t think Pilate might become suspicious, do you, or even
jealous?”

“Pilate thinks only of Pilate and how he can advance his own fortune.
He’s ambitious and egotistical; he craves authority, and he covets
riches. He’ll do nothing to displease me, not because of affection for
me, but because I’m the stepdaughter of the Emperor and because our
marriage was arranged by the Prefect. If he’s ever jealous of me—and I
think he never will be—I’m quite certain he will make every effort not
to show it.”

“Which means?”

“That it should not be difficult for us to contrive to see each
other....”

“Tonight?”

Claudia laughed. “Are you, I hope, that eager?”

“I’ve been that eager for many weeks, Claudia.” He leaned across to take
her hand. She drew it back.

“Not now, Centurion. The soldiers, you know....”

“Then you are afraid of the Procurator’s knowing....”

“Not afraid, Longinus. Say, rather, discreet.”

Now they were being borne down a flight of stone steps. The hoofs of the
horses in front of and behind them clattered and slipped, and sometimes
an animal would go to its knees, though the heavily burdened donkeys
coming up the stairs and keeping close to the buildings managed to
scramble forward on nimble, sure feet. Sometimes a swaying load piled
high on a donkey’s back would be overbalanced and topple as its
containing straps burst, and in a moment the merchandise would be
trampled to bits by the soldiers’ steeds.

When they reached the bottom of the steps and began to move along a
level portion of the street where there was an open space between the
buildings on the right, Claudia suddenly pointed. “That must be the old
Hasmonean Palace where the ancestors of Herodias’ mother lived.”

“Yes.”

She scowled. “It’s a stern and forbidding pile of stones.”

“You’ll find that most Jewish public buildings are that way, the palaces
especially. But once you get inside them, you’re bound to find them
enchanting. Herod’s Palace has a sumptuous array of grass and flowers
and fountains; you should enjoy your stay there.”

“Perhaps.” She smiled coyly. “It depends.” Then she pointed. “What on
earth is that next building? It, too, looks like a fortress.”

“That place is called the Xystus; it’s a Roman-style gymnasium built by
King Herod, who also constructed down this way”—he pointed off toward
the south—“an open-air theatre and”—he nodded in the opposite
direction—“northeast of the Temple area a large hippodrome where he held
games and gladiatorial sports modeled after ours at home. But the
orthodox Jews will have nothing to do with any of these things; they
won’t even go near the places. To do so would violate some of their
religious laws.”

The sound of the horses’ hoofs pounding ahead suddenly changed.

“Are we on a bridge?” Claudia asked, as she leaned out left. She rode
facing forward, while Longinus sat opposite her, his back to the streets
unwinding ahead of them. “Yes, I see we are,” she answered her own
question. “And it’s a high one. Look, Longinus, by the Bountiful Mother!
That structure across there! It’s ... it’s unbelievable!”

“That’s the Temple,” he announced. “It’s the Jews’ temple to their
Yahweh. And it is one of the most gorgeous—if that’s the proper word,
Claudia—and costliest buildings in the world. It’s made of white marble,
the finest cedarwood, and untold bronze and other materials of the most
extravagant quality, and trimmed with sheet gold and precious gems.
You’ll see when we cross the bridge and enter its walls.” Their sedan
chair was nearing the middle of the viaduct now. “See, it’s a high
bridge. It connects Zion Hill, which we’ve just left, with the Temple
region. Over there”—he twisted about to point to the Temple on his right
and behind him—“is Mount Moriah. Between the two hills is this sharp
drop called the Tyropoeon Valley; some call it the Valley of the
Cheesemongers. In festival times these hillsides swarm with pilgrims
coming from all over the world to worship at the Temple, which they
consider the residing place of their Yahweh.” He laughed, then gestured
with outflung hands. “But we should have Cornelius here to be your
guide. He knows far more about the religious customs and beliefs of the
Jews than I do; in fact, we had quite a talk about it on the boat coming
out, and I charged him with being a worshiper of the Jews’ god himself.”

Near the end of the towering viaduct the procession stopped, and the
soldiers dismounted. Quickly a litter was provided for the Procurator,
and then the marching column, with Pilate’s sedan chair in the vanguard
and Longinus and Claudia some paces behind him, moved off the viaduct
and passed beneath a great arch.

“This is called the Gate Shalleketh,” Longinus told her. “It’s the main
gate into the Temple area from the Zion section of the city.”

“I’m amazed that you know so much about Jerusalem,” Claudia began, then
suddenly stopped as, startled, she caught sight of a veritable forest of
marble columns, gigantic, reaching upward out of her range of vision
from within the constricting sedan chair. “Bona Dea! Longinus, this is
unbelievable! What a majestic structure! And look how far it extends!
It’s mammoth, breath-taking!”

“And that’s only one of the porches, as they call it,” Longinus hastened
to explain. “This one is styled the Royal Portico of Herod. Its marble
columns, as you can see, are more than a hundred feet high. And look,
Claudia”—he pointed behind, over his shoulder—“the colonnade itself runs
almost a thousand feet. Have you ever seen anything so fantastic?”

“No, and I’m sure the High Priest couldn’t be a bit more effective than
you in singing the Temple’s praises,” Claudia declared, laughing. “But
it really is a marvelous structure these Jews have built to their
superstition.”

“Yes, I agree. And that’s exactly what I told Cornelius.”

The procession turned squarely to the left and started to emerge from
beneath the great roofed colonnade into the strong sunlight of an
immense open square.

“This is called the Court of the Gentiles,” Longinus explained. “And
over there is the Temple proper. Inside it is a place they call the Holy
of Holies. Only the High Priest himself, they say, is permitted to enter
it, and then only on a feast day, maybe once a year.”

“I’ve heard that inside that room there’s a golden head of an ass and
that the Jews actually worship this ass’s head.”

Longinus smiled. It was an old story he had heard many times, he
explained, though never from a Jew. Perhaps it started, so far as Rome
was concerned at any rate, with the time that Pompey, searching for
treasure, invaded the holy shrine of the Jews. “But he found no golden
head of an ass. He found only an empty chamber, severe and forbidding,
with nothing in it but a few golden vessels and some furniture that was
probably used as an altar. That’s the story the Jews tell, anyway.”

“But this one god, Longinus, what did you say they call him?”

“Yahweh, or Jehovah.”

“Yes, I remember. But where is he? Don’t they have any statues of him
somewhere in the Temple, Centurion?”

“No, according to what I’ve heard from the Jews themselves and from what
Cornelius has told me—and he knows far more about their religious
customs and beliefs than I do—statues are one thing they definitely do
not have. They declare that their god is a spirit without body and to
them any sort of representation in physical form—whether it be statues,
carvings, or whatnot—would be sacrilege. That’s why they were so
violently opposed to our bringing in unsheathed emblems. They have the
strange belief that our army emblems are what they call ‘graven images,’
and their laws expressly forbid any such thing. They won’t even engrave
the head of a man or an animal on any of their coins.” He shook his
head, as though scarcely able to believe his own words. “Strange, these
Jews. But you will discover that for yourself before you’ve been out
here many weeks.”

They were coming opposite the eastern face of the Temple proper. “Look
at that gate, or door!” Claudia pointed again. “Whatever it is, it’s
tremendous! And it shines as though it were gold!”

“They call it the Beautiful Gate. It’s made of Corinthian brass and
plates of gold, and it’s so heavy it takes a score of strong men to open
and close it. They say it was given by a rich foreign Jew. It must have
cost many a sesterce, don’t you think?”

“I’m sure it did.” Her eyes were wide with disbelief. “The whole place
is magnificent; why I’ve never seen anything like....” Suddenly she
clamped a hand to her nose. “By all the gods, Longinus, what an odor!”
She leaned her head out. “Bona Dea, all that cattle. No wonder that
awful stench. What on earth are cattle and sheep doing in this beautiful
place, Longinus? Can it be for sacrificing, by all the great and little
gods!”

“Yes, it’s for sacrificing.” Longinus grimaced. “The Jews think that
slitting an animal’s throat and throwing the blood on that great altar
somehow cleanses them of their sins. I don’t understand how it
could....”

The young woman’s laugh was derisive. “Bringing all those poor animals
in here to befoul this beautiful place, these gorgeous mosaics, to
pollute the very air, and they call that cleansing themselves. Bona Dea,
their Yahweh, if he demands this sort of worship, must be a bloodthirsty
god. It just goes to prove, Centurion, that this one-god religion has
less sense to it than even our silly superstitions.”

“That’s what I told Cornelius. I see no efficacy in slitting the throats
of poor beasts and slaughtering countless doves and pigeons in order to
serve some god. Of course, so far as the priests are concerned, it’s a
highly profitable business. But, of course, why should we criticize the
Jews when we do it in Rome, too, though not on such a grand scale?”

A few paces farther on, the procession turned squarely to the left again
and proceeded along a third side of the Temple enclosure, past the
stalls of the lowing, frightened cattle and the cages of birds and the
money-changers seated behind their tables. From the long portico the
marchers pivoted to the right, then ascended steps that led to a wide,
paved esplanade.

“This is the platform before the Tower of Antonia. We’re coming to it
now.” He motioned behind him. “It’s the Roman military headquarters in
Jerusalem. But Pilate must have told you all about it.”

She leaned out and looked westward along the platform. “Pilate tells me
very little,” she answered. “By the gods, it’s a tall structure and a
grim-looking one. Doubtless overrun with soldiers, too, even in the
Procurator’s private apartments.” She winked and smiled. “I’m glad
Pilate decided to stop at the Herod Palace during our visit to
Jerusalem. He’ll probably be here at Antonia much of the time. It should
be easier then to arrange things over there.”

“Things?”

“Well”—her tone was playful, her eyelids fluttered teasingly—“yes,
things for people to do ... two people.”



                                   14


It was past midnight when Longinus returned at last to the now quiet
Tower of Antonia. Before leaving Caesarea he had arranged with Sergius
Paulus to have little more than token duty during the stay in Jerusalem.
In the weeks since his arrival in Palestine, he and the cohort commander
had come to an understanding; although Sergius knew little of the
centurion’s reasons for being in this far eastern province, he did know
that Longinus had been sent out by the Prefect Sejanus, and Sergius was
not disposed to challenge, or even question actions of the Prefect.

Pontius Pilate had not returned to the palace; presumably he had eaten
his evening meal at the tower with the officers there. At any rate,
Longinus and Claudia had not been disturbed.

But when Longinus was admitted by the guards at the tower’s outer gate,
he deliberately walked past the stairs leading to the southwest tower,
where the administrative offices, including the Procurator’s quarters,
were situated. Going by the southeast tower would take him a bit out of
his way, Longinus reasoned, but he would be less likely to run into the
Procurator at this late and embarrassing hour.

The centurion had been assigned quarters in the officers’ section on a
floor level with a great gallery along the Temple side of Antonia; a
protective rampart ran the length of this gallery, and a door opened
onto the gallery from each officer’s quarters.

The air in the small chamber was musty and warm, and Longinus, too, was
warm from the exertion of his walk back to the tower. He sat on the side
of his bed for a moment, then stood up and opened the outer door. When
the draft of fresh air swept in, he stepped out onto the gallery to wait
there until his chamber had cooled.

As he stood leaning on the rampart, Longinus heard a door open behind
him. Turning, he saw a soldier coming out. Another man too warm to fall
asleep, he thought, as he turned back to stare at the still and almost
deserted Temple enclosure. Fires smoldered on the great altar, and
flickering lamplight from the region of the cattle and sheep stalls gave
a look of eeriness to a scene that just a few hours before had been a
bedlam of sound and movement.

The other soldier halted near him to look down also on the somnolent
Temple. The man pointed over the parapet. “Still an amazing picture,
even in the nighttime, isn’t it?”

“Cornelius!” Longinus said, recognizing the voice and whirling around to
face the other. “By all the gods, man, I thought you were in Galilee!”
He clapped a heavy hand on his friend’s shoulder. “But I’m glad to see
you, Centurion.”

“And I had no idea you were in Jerusalem, Longinus!” Cornelius responded
with a shoulder-shaking slap. “How long have you been here? Did you come
today with the Procurator?”

“Yes, we arrived here a little past midday; we marched out of Caesarea
at daybreak day before yesterday. But, by Jove”—he pointed to a stone
bench set against the rampart—“let’s sit down, Cornelius. I’ve had a
hard day, and I’m sure you have, too. When did you get into Jerusalem,
and did you bring your century?”

“We came only an hour before sunset. Yes, I had orders from the new
Procurator to meet him here with my century.”

“But why, pray Jove? It’s no festival occasion. Can Pilate be expecting
trouble? He didn’t indicate any such thing to me.”

“There’s no reason why he should be anticipating any trouble, so far as
I can see ... unless he’s planning to provoke it himself.”

“But why would he do that? He must know that Tiberius and Sejanus are
determined to keep our conquered dominions at peace, if for no other
reason than to insure the uninterrupted flow of revenue. But”—Longinus
shrugged—“maybe Pilate wants to make a show of force in the hope of
increasing that very flow—with the increase going into his own pockets,
of course—which might be why he’s been conferring at such length with
Caiaphas and old Annas.” He pointed toward a lighted window high in the
southwestern tower. “Look, they’re still up there. Pilate didn’t even go
to the Herod Palace for the evening meal with his new wife.”

“New wife? I didn’t know Pilate was married.”

“Yes. Since we left Rome. And you’ll be surprised to learn who she is.”

“Who?”

“Claudia.”

“By all the great gods! Longinus, I thought you would be marrying
Claudia.”

“We had planned to be married.” Longinus paused. “But Tiberius and
Sejanus made this other arrangement.”

Cornelius shook his head. “But what does Claudia say about it?”

“What can she say? To them, I mean. But to me she declares that nothing
has changed between us. And judging by this afternoon and tonight—I’ve
been with her ever since we reached Jerusalem until a few minutes
ago—nothing has.”

“But couldn’t that be dangerous for you two?”

Longinus shook his head. “I hardly think so. Their marriage was an
entirely arranged one, and furthermore, I’m convinced Pilate would do
nothing to offend Claudia.”

“Tell me”—Cornelius leaned forward and tapped his friend’s knee—“you
knew before we left Rome that this arrangement had been made?”

“Yes, but I couldn’t say anything about it then, Cornelius.”

“I understand. You were in some kind of cross fire, weren’t you?”

“Yes.”

“And you have an understanding or arrangement with Sejanus, don’t you—I
don’t mean about Claudia? Wait....” He held up his hand. “Don’t answer
that. But I do want you to remember, Longinus, that regardless of what
may happen, I’m on your side ... yours and Claudia’s.”

“I know that, my friend. And I’m on your side ... regardless. And it may
be that sometime we’ll need one another’s support. With old Tiberius and
crafty Sejanus on the one hand and this vain and ambitious Pilate on the
other, and perhaps Herod Antipas....” With mention of the Tetrarch’s
name, he paused. “I assume you got him delivered to Tiberias in safety.
What did his Arabian Tetrarchess say about Herodias?”

“She had heard about it before we reached Tiberias, perhaps from some of
that fellow Chuza’s servants, the ones who fetched the furnishings from
Ptolemaïs, you remember. But that was only the beginning. Now they’re
wondering at the palace what she’ll do when Antipas gets back with his
new wife; he’s already left for Rome, they say, to fetch her, and when
Herodias arrives, she’ll probably be taking over as Tetrarchess.”

They sat for a long time in the coolness of the gallery high above the
sleeping Temple, and Cornelius related his experiences in escorting the
Tetrarch up the narrow defile of the Jordan River and their encounter
that day with the strange Wilderness preacher. He described the man’s
bitter denunciation of Herod and his sudden and dramatic pointing out of
a tall young Galilean carpenter as the Jews’ long looked for Messiah,
the man foretold by the ancient Israelite prophets as he who would
redeem their historic homeland from its bondage.

“As we were leaving the place, I turned and looked back,” Cornelius
added. “The strange prophet and the tall Galilean were standing in the
river with the water up to their loincloths; the tall one had asked to
receive something they call baptism, a symbolic cleansing of one’s sins,
as I understand it.” Cornelius paused and stared thoughtfully at his
hands. “I shall never forget the look on that man’s face, Longinus. Ever
since that day I have been wondering about him. The Jewish Messiah.” He
said it slowly, as though he were talking more to himself than to his
friend. “Do you remember that day on the ‘Palmyra’ when we were talking
about this Yahweh of the Jews, this one-god spirit? You said then that
you would never be able to imagine a being without a body.”

“Yes, I remember it quite clearly. But what are you going to say,”
Longinus demanded, “that this tall fellow might have been a god turned
into a man? By all the gods, Cornelius, you don’t mean to tell me you
think this Galilean could be the Messiah of the Jews? Their Messiah, if
I understand it correctly, will be a great military leader who will
drive us pagan Romans out of Palestine and re-establish the ancient
Israelite kingdom. Even the Jews don’t believe he’ll be a god, do they?”

“I don’t know, Longinus. I think most Jews believe he’ll be a great
earthly king, as you say. But listening to that wild fellow and seeing
the look on that young man’s face”—he paused, then ventured a hesitant
grin—“well, those strange words, the prophet’s evident sincerity, his
intense manner....”

“Jewish gibberish.” Longinus shook his head and scowled. “This
superstition has captured you, my friend. This eastern mysticism that
comes to a head in that cruel and extravagant circus down there.” He
pointed toward the great Temple, whose gold-plated roof shone
brilliantly in the light of the moon now emerging from behind a cloud.
“A carpenter from Galilee to overthrow imperial Rome! What with, pray
great Jove! A hammer and a chisel and a flat-headed adz?”



                                   15


For two days after his long meeting with the High Priest Caiaphas and
the former High Priest Annas, father-in-law of Caiaphas, the Procurator
Pontius Pilate was in a sullen mood. He said little and kept close to
his quarters in the Antonia Tower. Now and then he would walk out onto
the gallery overlooking the Temple enclosure and, leaning upon the
parapet, would stare balefully at the magnificent structure and the stir
of life within and around it.

The orderly movements of the priests, set through the long years into an
inexorable pattern as they followed the prescribed routine of their
duties, seemed almost to infuriate him. “Look at them, Centurion!” he
snapped to Longinus on one of these occasions when the centurion
happened to be sunning himself on the gallery. “See how smugly they go
about their mummery, as if it were the most important thing in the
world. They seem studiously to ignore our all-powerful Rome and lavish
every attention upon their Yahweh.” He doubled his fist and banged it
upon the parapet. “Yet one lone Roman century ordered into that hive of
impudent, arrogant busy bees could send them all flying, one Roman
century, Longinus. And by the great Jove, I’m tempted to dispatch
soldiers down there to clean out that insubordinate, traitorous nest!”

Fortunately, though, the Procurator issued no such order, and the day
passed without the Romans’ becoming involved in the religious ceremonies
of the Jews. The next morning, however, Pilate called together all his
officers on duty in Jerusalem, including Longinus and Cornelius.
Immediately it was evident that the Procurator’s hostility toward the
Temple leadership had not diminished.

“We are in a war of wits with these obstinate, proud Jews,” he declared,
“and I cannot defeat them by remaining on the defensive. It’s been a war
of words and gestures thus far, but I have been forced to the opinion
that we can have no victory over them until we have had some blood.” His
blue eyes swept coldly over the unsmiling faces before him. “So I have
determined upon a bold plan in which we shall take the offensive.”

Pilate revealed that Caiaphas and Annas had rebuffed, though with
unctuous smiles and sugared words, his every effort even to discuss the
possibility of using Temple funds for the improvement of Jerusalem,
particularly the health of its residents, through the construction of
facilities to enlarge and improve the city’s water supply.

“They insist that this money has been dedicated to their god and belongs
to him and that for me to use one denarius of it, even in promoting
their welfare, would be a profanation and a sacrilege. Old Annas, may
Pluto burn him, even suggested that the people—he emphasized the fact
that he was not himself suggesting it—might even believe that _I_ had
seized the money for my own use.” Pilate’s anger had turned his face an
ugly crimson. His voice rose to a shout. “A profanation indeed! To these
insufferable Jews everything they do not wish to do or to have done is a
profanation. Yet their priestly caste is sucking the very lifeblood of
the people in the name of religion.” He paused for a moment, then
continued more calmly. “So I have determined to initiate a bold new
plan. I shall have these Temple leaders crawling to me, and on their
bellies, cringing!”

When it was clear that Pilate had, at least temporarily, finished,
Sergius Paulus ventured to speak. “But, Excellency, do you plan to raid
their Temple’s treasury, to commandeer the gold the Jews have stored
there? Such a course, you must realize, might provoke the wrath of the
Emperor and the Prefect, since they have made a compact with....”

“No, Commander, I am planning no raid on their treasury,” Pilate
interrupted. “On the contrary, they will bring their treasure to me and
urge me to use it in providing a new water supply for Jerusalem. In so
doing they will admit to me and, more importantly, to their fellow
religionists that Rome is master and that their puny Yahweh is a lesser
god than our Emperor.”

Quickly and more calmly the Procurator unfolded his plan. When three
days ago he had come into Jerusalem at the head of the troops, he
reminded them, he had suffered the humiliation, for the first time in
his military career, of marching with the proud ensigns of Rome all
sheathed. This was done, he pointed out, to appease the Jews, to mollify
their Yahweh.

“You recall the stony silence with which we were greeted, even the
hostile looks of the people peering from behind their screens or down
from their housetops; you remember the hatred in their eyes as we
crossed through the Temple court on our way here, the taunting remarks
flung at us. Rome has lost prestige in Palestine. We must recover it,
and this I am determined to do.” The trace of a malevolent smile spread
across his round Roman face. “The Emperor must not be made to yield to
Yahweh; our eagles and our fasces must no longer be hidden from view as
though we were ashamed of them.”

Longinus was watching Sergius Paulus. He saw the commander’s face
blanch, but Sergius said nothing. And Pilate continued outlining his
plan.

“On top of this tower”—Pilate pointed upward—“is a perpetual flame that
burns while the vestments of the High Priest are held safe here in
Antonia. Rome therefore is providing and tending a flame that, to my
mind, is a memorial of Rome’s yielding. No ensign with the Roman eagle
flies above the fortress or hangs from its ramparts. A further testimony
to our surrender to the stubborn Jews and their jealous god.” A
humorless smile wrote thin lines at the corners of his mouth. “Of course
I am telling you what you who are stationed in Jerusalem already know.
Perhaps to me it is more galling because it is new.” He paused, as if to
consider carefully his next words. “Tomorrow, with Centurion Longinus
and his century escorting my party,” he began again, “I shall leave
Jerusalem on my return to Caesarea. Centurion Cornelius with his century
from Galilee will remain here until after my departure; how long he will
stay will be determined by the situation.” His thin smile blossomed into
a baleful grin. “During the night, after I have left, the troops
stationed here at Antonia will extinguish the flame atop the tower and
hang out from the ramparts the ensigns of Rome, including the eagles,
the fasces, and the likenesses of the Emperor.”

“But, Excellency”—Sergius’ face was pale, and his expression mirrored
alarm—“do you realize how this action will provoke the Jews, how it will
inflame them against us, lead perhaps even to bloodshed...?”

“I fully realize that, Commander. That is why I am ordering it. I wish
to provoke them. It is only by provoking them that we can demonstrate
forcefully to them that Rome is master.”

“But, sir, the Emperor and the Prefect....”

“Are you not aware that since my arrival at Caesarea I represent the
Emperor and the Prefect Sejanus in Judaea?” The words were almost a
snarl. “If you wish to dispute my authority or my judgment....”

“But I do not, Excellency. The Procurator’s commands to me naturally
will be carried out fully.”

“I expected as much, Commander. You will have charge of our forces in
Jerusalem in carrying out my orders. If it comes to bloodshed, do not
hesitate to shed Jewish blood if the Jews assail you; your only concern
will be to prevent the shedding by them of Roman blood. I am confident
that they will yield before offering violence to Rome; I think they
haven’t the courage to challenge us. What they will do”—his cold,
calculating smile overspread his florid face—“is send their priests,
including old Annas no doubt, whining to me at Caesarea and imploring me
to rescind my orders. Then I will have a lever with which to move them.
And thereafter, you may be sure, the legionaries and their ensigns will
be respected by the Jews as they are respected by all other conquered
peoples. Our Emperor, as he rightfully should, will then take his place,
even in Jerusalem, above their vengeful and jealous Yahweh.”

He dismissed the group with instructions to begin at once their
preparations for putting his orders into effect.



                                   16


For five days the roads into Caesarea from Jerusalem and central Judaea
were clogged with a motley throng of Jews pushing relentlessly toward
the Procurator’s Palace. Here and there in the multitude rode a man or
woman on a donkey, but countless hundreds trudged on foot, dust-covered
and weary in every bone but more outraged in spirit.

Then the dam that was Caesarea’s gates was inundated, and the flood of
disgruntled Jewry, sweating, travel-soiled, frightened but still
undaunted in its anger despite the long and tiresome journey, poured
through the city to fill its market squares and surge upward toward
Pilate’s house. The angry flood had burst upon the port city hardly two
days behind the messengers sent by Sergius Paulus to warn the Procurator
of the multitude’s approach.

The Jews, the messengers informed Pilate, were swarming toward Caesarea
to protest with all the vigor they could command his profanation, they
called it, of their holy city through the display at the Tower of
Antonia of the Roman army’s ensigns, including even the likenesses of
the Emperor Tiberius. The morning after the Procurator’s departure, they
revealed, the Jews had awakened to behold with horror the flaunted
banners. But their vehement protests to the commander of the fortress
had been unavailing. Sergius Paulus had told them with firmness that
only a command of Pilate could restore the flame above the tower and
once again sheathe the offending ensigns.

So, alternately beating their breasts with loud lamentations and angrily
calling down their Yahweh’s curses upon the invading Edomites, as they
termed the Romans, they had surged into the roads and pushed
northwestward to demand of the Procurator himself an end to the
profanation of their Jerusalem.

Five days ago these Jews had arrived at Caesarea, but five days of
protesting, of threatening, of pleading, and of threatening again had
not moved Pontius Pilate. “Rome is master,” declared the stubborn and
proud Procurator to the Jews’ spokesmen; “the emblems of Rome’s mastery
will not be removed or sheathed. My orders stand.”

But the sons of Israel, too, were unyielding in their demands. “Your
Emperor Augustus, your Emperor Tiberius”—Pilate took notice that they
did not say “our” Emperor—“have respected our laws, which forbid the
display of such emblems, and have been strict in honoring our religion,”
the spokesman insisted. “Your Emperor Tiberius cannot but be angered by
the refusal of the Procurator to respect in the same manner our ancient
traditions.”

“Go home!” Pilate ordered. “Get you back to Jerusalem. I, not you, speak
for Tiberius. I was sent out by him to govern this province, and by the
great Jove, I will govern it!”

But the Jews did not go home. Hungry, discouraged, exhausted, they were
not defeated. They swarmed about Pilate’s palace, they fell in their
tracks on the marble of the esplanades to sleep fitfully when sheer
exhaustion overtook them; they crowded the market places, they slept in
rich men’s doorways. But they would not turn their backs on Caesarea.

On the morning of the sixth day, Pilate called Longinus to the Palace.
“Centurion,” he said, his face livid with anger, “since Sergius Paulus
continues at Jerusalem, I wish you to take command of the troops here
and put into execution the orders I am about to give you. Send out
couriers to summon these Jews to come together in the Hippodrome; say
that I will meet them there. In the meantime, disguise a sufficient
number of your soldiers and place them about the amphitheater in
advantageous positions so that should disorder arise among the Jews, you
will be ready immediately to put it down.”

Claudia had been listening to her husband. “But, Pilate, aren’t you
creating a situation that will produce fighting between our troops and
these Jews?”

“And if there is bloodshed?” Pilate’s eyes flashed sudden anger.
“Haven’t I been patient with these obstinate rebels? If they choose to
get themselves run through with swords, isn’t it their own doing?” Then
quickly he recovered his poise. “Claudia,” he said quietly, “I have
given them every opportunity to return peaceably to Jerusalem. Have I
not?”

“Yes. But you have not agreed to have the ensigns sheathed. And until
you do....”

He turned upon her, his countenance flaming, his mood changed
completely. “Do you stand with these stubborn provincials against Rome?
Are you with them, or are you with me?”

“Before you interrupted me, Procurator,” Claudia’s voice was as cold as
her smile, “I was going to observe that in displaying the army’s
emblems, you are really breaking a tradition, so far as I have been able
to understand it, and this tradition may very well be a long-standing
order of the Emperor and, indeed, of Augustus before him. I care not a
fig about these Jews. Nor do I care about their High Priest or their
Yahweh. I am concerned only with what will be the attitude of the
Emperor and the Prefect Sejanus toward the Procurator as a result of
this unprecedented breach of the established order.” She turned away,
her head high. Pilate seemed taken aback; he looked at her somewhat
sheepishly and licked his lips as though he were about to speak. But he
said nothing. Instead, he turned abruptly to Longinus. “I take
responsibility for the orders I give,” he said tersely. “My orders to
you are unchanged.”

Longinus saluted, then without a word turned on his heel and withdrew.

By early afternoon the great concourse had filled with excited,
chattering Jews. Their determined stand, they felt confident, had
defeated the Procurator; their reminder that the Emperors had honored
the Jews and their Yahweh and that Tiberius might not approve a course
taken in defiance of the long-established tradition had frightened
Pilate. He was calling them together, wasn’t he, to announce that he was
withdrawing the hated emblems and to ask them to return home victors?

But they had judged the Procurator wrongly. And they discovered their
mistake as soon as he began to address the throng from his box high in
the stands of the great oval.

“For five days, and this is now the sixth, you have kept our Caesarea in
turmoil. You have been obstinate and insubordinate and have shown little
respect to the Procurator, who represents the Emperor and in this
province personifies the power and majesty of the Empire. You have
threatened him with reprisal, saying that he has flouted the orders of
our Emperor. You were not only inhospitable in refusing to welcome the
Procurator to Jerusalem, you were actually hostile. In being hostile to
us, you have shown yourselves contemptuous of Rome and enemies of our
Empire; in being stubbornly hateful to me, you have shown yourselves no
friends of the Emperor.”

Pilate paused, his face suffused with color as his anger grew with his
listing of their offenses. Then he stood back on his heels, squared his
shoulders, and held up his tightly clenched fist. “Now hear me, men of
Judaea!” he shouted. “I have asked you to disperse and return to your
homes. Stubbornly you have refused to heed my command. I am asking you
again to abandon this unreasonable, senseless, and ill-advised effort
and get yourselves outside the gates of Caesarea and on the roads that
lead homeward. Hear me, by great Jove! This is my last command to you.”
He leveled a shaking forefinger toward the multitude. “I have stationed
my soldiers in disguise among you, and they are heavily armed. They have
been instructed, upon my next command, to spring upon you and run you
through with their swords.”

But in the vast oval of the colosseum not an Israelite moved to obey
him. Stolidly, calmly, they faced the Procurator; silence was heavy upon
the great throng.

Pilate’s face was twisted with wrath. “Then I must give the order, men
of Judaea?” He shouted the question.

Not a man moved.

Then from the ranks nearest Pilate a man stepped forward a pace and held
up his hand to speak. By his dress it was evident that he was one of the
Temple leaders. “O noble Procurator,” he said in a loud voice, “though
your soldiers run us through with swords until each of us has perished,
we cannot submit to the profanation of God’s holy Temple; we cannot
countenance without protest the treading into the dust of our God’s
commandments. Before we agree to Rome’s profanation of our holy places
and her flouting of our God’s laws, O Procurator, we will bow our necks
to the Procurator’s soldiers. We will die, and gladly, for our God!”

“Profanation! Profanation! All I hear is Rome’s profanation of your
traditions. By all the gods, in every other land our Emperor is honored,
his banners and his emblems, his likenesses paraded on our staffs, all
these are hailed with shouts and acclamations! And yet you Jews....”

Suddenly Pilate paused. The priestly leader who had just addressed him
had fallen on his face in the dust of the great stadium, and beside him
and behind him others now were prostrating themselves. Within moments
every Jew in the place was lying face down upon the ground before the
Procurator of Judaea. Mouth open, eyes darting from one area of the
great concourse to another, aghast, Pilate stood silent. Then quietly he
spoke to Longinus, who was standing near him. “Centurion, I cannot order
men on their faces ran through with swords. It would be massacre.”

“So it would be, Excellency, on their faces or standing, since they are
defenseless.”

Pilate turned back to face the prostrated multitude. “Stand on your
feet!” he commanded. “I shall withhold for the moment at least my
command to the soldiers.”

Without a word being said, without a change of countenance even, the
Jews rose to their feet and faced the Procurator. “Now send me your High
Priest and his father-in-law the former High Priest Annas,” Pilate
commanded. “No harm will be done them; this I swear by the great Jove.”

Hours later Caiaphas and Annas returned from the conference with the
Procurator at the palace. Mounting the rostrum from which Pilate had
previously addressed them, Caiaphas held up his hand for silence. “Men
of Israel, we have just concluded our meeting with the Procurator
Pilate,” he announced. “An agreement has been reached. Now you may
return in peace to your homes. The offensive emblems of Rome, the
Procurator has assured us, will be removed so that they will no longer
profane our holy places. The God of Israel, He is One!”

“The God of Israel, He is One!” The multitude of suddenly exultant Jews
echoed his words in a great chorus, and a hosanna of shouts swept wave
upon wave across the immense arena. Then, laughing and chattering, the
people began pushing toward the Hippodrome’s exits.

And in all the throng not a man ventured to inquire of the High Priest
what the terms of the agreement with Pilate had been.



                                   17


An hour before the “Actium” was to sail out of the harbor at Caesarea on
the return voyage to Rome, Centurion Longinus went aboard and handed the
captain a heavily sealed communication addressed to the Prefect Sejanus.

“This is an army message of great importance,” he announced. “It must be
delivered in person to the Prefect. He is expecting it, and if it is not
delivered immediately after the docking of your ship, he will begin to
inquire why he has not received it.” Actually, the centurion knew that
Sejanus was not expecting a message from him on the returning “Actium,”
but telling the captain so would insure the message’s getting quickly
into the hands of the Prefect. The captain might well think that the
centurion’s letter was in reply to a message brought him from Sejanus by
the Tetrarch Herod Antipas.

The “Actium” two days before had brought the Tetrarch and his new wife
Herodias and her daughter Salome to Caesarea, and from the wharf they
had been escorted by Longinus and a detachment of his century to the
Procurator’s Palace to be guests of Pilate and Claudia while resting a
few days after the long voyage out from Rome. From Caesarea they planned
a short visit to Jerusalem, and then they would travel northward through
the Jordan Valley to the Tetrarch’s gleaming white marble palace at
Tiberias.

It was when Longinus learned that the “Actium” would be returning
directly to Rome that he decided to dispatch a report to the Prefect.
The report related in considerable detail the events of the Procurator’s
recent visit to Jerusalem, his flaunting, in disregard of Sergius
Paulus’ warning, of the cohort’s banners from the Antonia ramparts, the
subsequent storming of Caesarea by the irate Jews, and Pilate’s yielding
to them, after a conference with Caiaphas and Annas. Longinus advanced
no suggestion concerning the probable terms of the agreement between the
Procurator and the Temple leaders. The centurion was confident, however,
that the astute and suspicious Sejanus would infer from what he had left
unwritten that Pilate had profited handsomely. Longinus concluded the
message with an avowal that the report was factual and uncolored.

From the “Actium” Longinus returned to the headquarters of the cohort
and that evening was a guest, along with Sergius Paulus, of the
Procurator and his wife at a small, informal dinner honoring the
Tetrarch, his wife, and her daughter. When they had finished the meal,
Herodias and her hostess retired to Claudia’s apartment, and Salome went
to her chamber. The four men remained reclining at the table, where
after a while, as they drank wine and nibbled grapes and figs, the
inhibitions of Pilate and Antipas, each vain and domineering and jealous
of the other’s authority, began slowly to disappear. Gently at first
Antipas chided the Procurator for his profanation of Jerusalem by
flaunting the ensigns of Imperial Rome from the Tower of Antonia.

“Profanation! Profanation! All I hear in this contentious province is
profanation. I am sick of the word.” Pilate wiggled a forefinger at the
Tetrarch. “Do you consider Rome’s display of her honored emblems
profanation of Jerusalem and this province, I ask you, Tetrarch?”

Antipas studied the fig he held between finger and thumb. “I don’t
consider it profanation, nor do the Emperor and the Prefect, but I do
agree with the Emperor and the Prefect that it is a wise course not to
offend unnecessarily the people of Israel who do so hold.” It was a
clever answer, and Antipas, knowing it, pressed the point. “It would be
politic if the new Procurator learned to uphold the traditions of this
land,” he continued, “so long, of course, as they do not seriously
conflict with the interests of the Empire and certainly”—he smiled—“so
long as the Emperor and the Prefect uphold them.”

Pilate was quick to strike back. “I was sent out to this province to
rule it,” he declared, his eyes flashing indignation. “I was not sent
here to cower and truckle, to lower Rome’s ensigns at the demands of
your obstinate, cantankerous Jews,” he hissed. “I came to rule....”

“But you did lower Rome’s ensigns when those obstinate—Jews bared their
necks to your swordsmen and refused to obey your command to return
home,” Antipas interrupted. Then suddenly, as though seeking a truce, he
changed his tone. “But I don’t blame you, Procurator. In fact, I admire
you; you’re a very intelligent man. Living in this province must be
trying to one who has never lived here before, and of course it’s
unrewarding unless there are ... ah ... extra benefits, shall we say ...
not provided by Rome. And there is much gold in the Temple’s coffers, I
am told. It seems that no matter how much is withdrawn, a great deal
still remains for the use of the Temple leaders, hmm?” He smiled
appreciatively. “And no doubt the Prefect will approve, too,
provided....” Grinning, he left the observation unfinished. “And with no
Jewish blood shed by your soldiers, there will be nothing to explain to
Tiberius, Excellency.”

Pilate glared, mouth open. But he did not deny the Tetrarch’s thinly
veiled charge. “Profanations! Violated traditions!” He hurled across the
room the grape he had selected from the silver dish of piled fruit and
pointed a quaking finger at the Tetrarch. “And how dare you, Antipas,
speak of my violating the traditions and offending the religion of the
Jews, when you have just taken to bed your brother’s wife! Is that not a
heinous offense for a Jew himself...?”

“Excellency!” Sergius Paulus, palpably fearful of what the exchange
might quickly be leading to, jumped to his feet. “The hour is growing
late, and the Centurion Longinus and I must be getting back to
headquarters. Please excuse us, sir. We’ve enjoyed your hospitality, and
we beg you to express our thanks to your wife.” He glanced toward
Longinus, who nodded agreement. “And I thought, Excellency, that the
Tetrarch perhaps might honor us by going with us—we have a sedan chair
at the door—to inspect our cohort headquarters, should you, sir, be
willing to excuse him.” He looked questioningly toward the Procurator
and then the Tetrarch.

“Should the Tetrarch wish....”

“I shall be happy to accompany you,” Antipas interrupted. Carefully he
pulled the stem from the fig. “It will be a change of air.” But he was
smiling, and his manner was jovial; the tension of the moment had been
dispelled.

“When you have finished with him, Sergius”—Pilate had calmed, too, and
no rancor was revealed in his tone—“have him brought back, properly
attended. He and the Tetrarchess are always welcome at the Procurator’s
Palace.”

But Longinus knew, as the three prepared to leave the great dining hall,
that relations between the Tetrarch and the Procurator were still
strained; he suspected that they would remain so. The temperaments of
the two men, coupled with the situations in which they had been placed,
would demand it. In his own dealings with them, in his observation and
appraisal of them and their activities, he told himself, he must bear
this always in mind.

Meanwhile, lounging comfortably on Claudia’s large couch, pillows at
their backs, the two women had been exchanging news of their own
activities since they had last seen one another in Rome, and, more
interesting to Claudia, Herodias had been revealing tidbits of gossip
involving the more lively set in the Empire’s capital city. But soon the
discussion narrowed to their own changed circumstances. Claudia was
frank. “Yes, it’s just as I told you it would be that day you came to
return my call. I said marrying Pilate would make no difference.
Remember? Well, it hasn’t.” A cloud passed across her countenance. “Of
course, we will have to be patient, though, and wait for things to work
out.”

“But until they do, must you never...?” Herodias paused.

“No, it isn’t that bad,” Claudia hastened to reply, smiling. “We can see
each other and we can be together ... more and more hereafter, I hope.
We have been together already, for hours, in fact, both here at Caesarea
and in Jerusalem at the Herod’s Palace, while Pilate conveniently, I do
believe, busied himself at the Antonia Tower.” She shook her head.
“Really, Herodias, I don’t know whether the man is stupid, quite wise,
or just indifferent. But whatever he is, his being the way he is will
help Longinus and me to arrange things.”

Herodias’ large dark eyes were bright now with scheming. “My dear, you
have never been in Galilee, have you? It’s a beautiful land, especially
now that spring is beginning to break, so much more interesting than
this barren Judaea. We have so many flowers, and willows and oleanders
and bright-blooming shrubs along the watercourses. I remember Galilee in
the spring from my childhood days and on occasional visits since.
So”—her eyes were dancing now—“you must go with us to Tiberias. We can
contrive to have Longinus escort us. And in the Palace there”—her voice
dropped to an intimate whisper—“you will have no one to disturb you.”

“But Antipas’ other wife? What would she say if I should go with you?”

“_I_ am the Tetrarchess of Galilee and Peraea,” she said evenly. “As
soon as we get there, Antipas is going to divorce her and send her back
to old Aretas.”



                                   18


Before they reached the bend in the road roughly paralleling the Jordan,
whose banks were beginning to color now with the awakening of willows
and oleanders to advancing spring, the Tetrarch recognized the voice.

“By the beard of the venerable High Priest!” Antipas exclaimed. “This
isn’t the place where he was making his stand when I came this way
before, but it’s the same fellow, that mad prophet of the Wilderness.
I’d know his haranguing anywhere.”

Longinus was riding beside the Tetrarch. Herodias and Claudia, with
lively Salome a few paces back, were following in the narrow column, and
just behind them rode Neaera, Tullia, and several other servants of the
two households. Soldiers were in the vanguard and at the rear.

Antipas turned to Longinus. “Centurion, I wonder if we shouldn’t go
another way and avoid encountering this fellow. I’d rather not see him
or hear more of his ranting.”

“But _I_ want to see him.” Herodias had ridden abreast of the Tetrarch.
“He must be the one I’ve just been hearing so much about in Jerusalem.
Everybody was talking of his ability to sway the multitudes and his
fearlessness in denouncing the Temple priests.”

“Yes, he’s the one. But, my dear Herodias,” the Tetrarch began to
protest, “he’s likely to say something that will offend you, too. The
fellow has no respect for the Tetrarch’s office or authority and no
bridle on his loose tongue.”

“By the gods, then, that’s all the more reason I want to hear him.” She
laughed gaily, then quickly grew sober. “And certainly the Tetrarch
should be concerned,” she added, “if the man flouts the Tetrarch’s
authority.” She signaled to Longinus to resume the march. “Let’s ride
down and join his audience. After the boredom of our journey, this
should at least provide a diversion.”

Antipas shook his head grudgingly but offered no further protest.
“She’ll regret it as soon as she hears him, by the gods,” he muttered to
the centurion as they started. “But I warned her.”

At the bottom of the slope the group dismounted, and on Longinus’
summons, soldiers came up to hold the horses. The servants remained
behind with them except for Neaera and Tullia who followed their
mistresses as the Tetrarch’s party quietly slipped around a screening
clump of willows to join the throng about the gaunt and weathered
speaker. To Antipas, John seemed little changed since that day when they
had come upon him at the ford farther up the Jordan. His clothes looked
the same; fleetingly the Tetrarch wondered if the haircloth mantle had
ever been cleaned since he had last seen it.

Although the Tetrarch’s group had slipped unobtrusively into the rim of
the crowd, Antipas was quickly recognized, and soon a murmur moved
through the multitude and heads began to nod as intent black eyes
shifted from the fiery prophet to study the newly arrived ruler of
Galilee and Peraea.

“It’s old Herod,” Longinus heard a beak-nosed, thin Jew whisper to the
man beside him. “And that woman, she must be the new wife he’s fetched
from Rome, the one he took away from his brother, and that must be the
brother’s daughter beside her.” Both men turned to stare, then smile. “I
wonder what John will say to that!” one said to the other as they turned
back to peer again at the thundering prophet.

John, too, had recognized the Tetrarch, Longinus was sure; yet the
prophet made no immediate reference to his presence. Instead, he
continued preaching on the necessity of repentance and on the use of
baptism as a sign of Yahweh’s forgiveness. The man was a powerful
speaker; he had native ability, Longinus immediately perceived, to
command attention and sway his hearers. The crowd listened, entranced,
to his every word; now and then one would step forward and, crying
loudly in repentance, ask for baptism.

Sometimes a man would interrupt the prophet to seek an answer to some
deeply perplexing problem. But no one yet had spoken openly of the
Tetrarch’s presence among them.

Then a tall, narrow-faced Jew, unkempt, ill-clothed, evidently a man of
the earth, stepped forward and held up his hand. “This repentance of
which you speak,” he questioned, “is it necessary for the rich man in
the same manner as it is for the poor and dispossessed, for the man of
authority as well as for the servant? I ask you, does the measuring rod
measure the same for all men, or is there one rule for one man and
another rule for another?”

“Repentance is necessary for all men, my brother,” John replied calmly.
“The same measuring rod measures for both the man of authority and the
servant who serves him, for both the rich man and the man of earth.”

John paused. Then slowly his dark eyes moved from the face of his
questioner to that of the Tetrarch. “The same measuring rod measures for
the Tetrarch of Galilee, my brother, that measures for you, and it is
the same for even the lowliest servant in that iniquitous marble pile
above the graveyard in Tiberias!” The prophet’s eyes were blazing now,
and he raised his gaunt, sun-bronzed arm to point a lean forefinger
directly at Herod Antipas. “Repent, O Tetrarch, repent!” His voice was
thunderous now, and the finger darted forward like the tongue of a
serpent. “Repent while yet there is time! Repent of the evil you have
done, and seek in true penitence the forgiveness of our God Whom you
have scorned and despised!”

Antipas stood silent and stared straight ahead, looking as though
suddenly he had been turned to stone. But Herodias, though amazed, had
not been rendered speechless by the torrent of the prophet’s
denunciation. Calmly she turned to her husband. “Do you intend to stand
here and allow this madman to vilify you? Are you going to stand
patiently while...?”

“And you! You evil woman!” John’s shout interrupted her. Now the angry
hand was pointed directly at her. “You call me a madman,” he said. “Yes,
I am a madman. I am a madman for our God. And I call upon you, too, to
repent. Repent before our God turns His face from you forever. I call
upon both you sinners to fall on your faces and cry out to the God of
Israel, imploring Him for forgiveness.” Then the prophet’s stern eyes
turned again toward the Tetrarch. “Herod, cast this foul woman from you!
Have you not stolen her away from the bed of your brother? You cannot
have her, O Tetrarch! Does not God’s holy law forbid a man from taking
to bed the wife of his living brother in the flesh? Adulterer! Repent!
And you, evil woman, you adulteress”—John’s eyes were fiery now with a
wild zeal as he faced Herodias, whose flushed cheeks and lips drawn into
thin lines revealed her fury—“neither shall you have him! Get you back
to the bed you have deserted, if the husband you have abandoned has the
grace to forgive and receive you! O Tetrarch”—John lifted his gaunt arms
toward the heavens—“cast her from you before your grievous sinning
brings ruin down upon the land. Send her back to your brother, and
humbly beseech the forgiveness of our God! Repent, O Tetrarch, repent!
Repent!”

Still Herod Antipas stood staring, unmoving, rooted.

“By all the great and little gods, Antipas”—Herodias, infuriated,
whirled upon the Tetrarch, grabbed his arm and shook him—“will you stand
there like a statue and permit that fanatic to insult and intimidate you
and your wife before this crowd?” Scornfully she measured him, and her
lips curled with disgust. “Are you indeed the Tetrarch of Galilee, or
are you a frightened mouse?” She stood back, taunting him with her
shrill laugh.

Her challenging words and her mirthless laughter broke the spell the
prophet had cast. “No, I am not afraid of him,” Antipas replied slowly,
as though he were arguing with himself. “Nor can I any longer permit
this abuse to go unpunished. He has not only vilified your Tetrarch and
his wife”—Antipas was now addressing the crowd rather than Herodias—“but
he has challenged my honor and authority. His words are a call to
insurrection. I can no longer permit the preaching of rebellion.” He
turned to confront Longinus. “Centurion, arrest this man. Have him taken
at once to the Fortress Machaerus and there placed in its dungeon. Order
him held until I pronounce judgment.”

Without even a glance toward the now silent but calm and seemingly
untroubled prophet of the Wilderness, Herod turned and started along the
gentle rise toward the horses.



                                   19


As they approached the southern shore line of the Sea of Galilee,
Longinus sent riders ahead to notify Chuza of the impending arrival of
the Tetrarch and his party at Tiberias. So the steward, with household
servants to handle the baggage, was waiting at the palace gate when the
caravan entered the grounds.

But Chuza, though he greeted them warmly and with profuse smiles, was
obviously troubled, and Antipas quickly drew the man aside to question
him. “Sire, you will not find the Tetrarchess here to welcome you,” the
steward explained, his tone apologetic and his expression patently
pained. “She has departed from Tiberias. I suggested that she might wish
to delay her leaving, Sire, until your return, but she insisted on going
at once.”

She had received a message, she told Chuza, that her father, King Aretas
of Arabia Petraea, was desperately ill and that he had summoned her to
his bedside. Although the steward had seen no messengers, he had not
been disposed to question the Tetrarchess. She had prepared for the
journey very quickly. The Centurion Cornelius had provided her with a
detachment of soldiers to escort her to her father’s capital in the
country southeast of the Dead Sea, beyond the Fortress Machaerus; she
had taken with her, in addition, her best raiment and many of her
choicest personal possessions.

“Then you think that she is not planning to come back to me? Is that
what you’re suggesting, Chuza?”

“Sire, I am suggesting nothing. I am relating only what I saw and heard.
I have no opinion as to what plans the Tetrarchess....”

“The Princess Herodias is Tetrarchess now, Chuza,” Antipas interrupted.

“Indeed, Sire”—Chuza bowed to the Tetrarch and then to Herodias—“the
former Tetrarchess....”

“But when did she depart, Chuza?” Antipas interrupted again.

“A week ago, Sire. The escorting soldiers have not yet returned.”

“Had she heard that I was returning from Rome with a new Tetrarchess?”

“She said nothing to me about it, Sire, but I am confident that she knew
of the Tetrarch’s marriage. Passengers coming ashore at Ptolemaïs from
the vessel on which you and the Tetrarchess sailed out from Rome brought
to Tiberias word of the new Tetrarchess. I myself heard it, and surely
the report must have come also to her ears here at the palace.”

“Very well, Chuza; think no more of it.” By now they had entered the
lofty, marble-columned great atrium. A faint smile crossed his heavy
face. “Do you know, I believe she must have suspected all along?” He
turned to Herodias. “By all the gods, my dear, she has made our course
all the easier.”

Longinus declined the invitation of the Tetrarch and Herodias to take a
chamber in the palace during his stay at Tiberias. He had promised
Cornelius that he would be his guest when next he came to Galilee.
Tempting though the Tetrarch’s invitation had been, Longinus reasoned
that it might be wise to assume that the watched might also be the
watching.

Besides, Claudia had been assigned an apartment which, the centurion had
observed, looked out upon a broad terrace facing the Sea of Galilee. A
door from Claudia’s bedroom conveniently opened onto the terrace.
Longinus smiled as he reviewed the details of the arrangement.

The sentry at the palace gate, he also knew, would be a Roman soldier.



                                   20


Cornelius shook his head solemnly. “Herod will regret it. Arresting the
prophet was unwise, Longinus.”

“But the fellow is an insurrectionist, Cornelius; certainly it can’t be
denied that he’s been inciting rebellion against the Tetrarch’s rule.
You should have heard what he called Antipas and Herodias.” A wry smile
twisted the corners of his mouth. “Of course, just between you and me, I
think he was right. But that doesn’t absolve him from agitating against
the Tetrarch, and in this province, of course, the Tetrarch represents
Rome.”

“But I don’t think that the prophet’s a revolutionary,” Cornelius
insisted. “He lambasted the Tetrarch that day we came on him at
Bethabara, too, but he wasn’t challenging Herod’s authority as Tetrarch;
he was denouncing his wickedness as a man and calling upon him as a man
to repent just as others were repenting. There’s a difference, Longinus,
even though it’s hard for us Romans to understand that. We bundle our
religion—if we have any, which few of us do, I suspect—and our imperial
government into one packet. But the Jews keep their religion and their
government, or rather our enforced government over them, separate. And
their religion is predominant. In ordering John imprisoned, therefore,
Herod is allowing the government to invade the Jews’ religious
precincts, just as Pilate did when he had the army’s ensigns flown from
the ramparts of Antonia. He’s likely to find himself in the same sort of
situation that Pilate faced. It will do him no good; John at Machaerus
will likely have more power over the people than he would have had if
Herod had left him unmolested.” He glanced quizzically toward his
friend. “Don’t you think so?”

“I’ve never thought of it. Nor do I care, by the gods, what becomes of
that Wilderness fellow, or....” He paused and glanced about.

“There’s no one to hear us.”

Nor was there. From the early evening meal, eaten in the stuffiness of
the garrison’s mess hall at a table with the other officers, Cornelius
had brought his guest to the flat roof. Up here they would escape the
heat and the heavy odors of food and wine and sweating soldiers and at
the same time catch any vagrant breeze that might be stirring from the
sea. Nor would there be any ears to overhear.

“I was going to say that I cared little what happened to him or Antipas
... or, by great Jove, even Pontius Pilate.”

“Both Herod and Pilate have blundered. And I’m sure Sejanus will be
hearing about it; that is, if he hasn’t heard of it already.”

Longinus nodded, then casually changed the subject. “By the way,” he
commented, “that reminds me; what ever became of that carpenter you said
the desert preacher hailed as the Jews’ Messiah? Has he begun yet the
task of wrecking the Roman Empire with his hammer and chisels?”

“It’s just possible that he has, though not with any hammer and chisel.”
His smile was enigmatic. “Certainly the Empire, if I understand him,
isn’t built on any plan that he approves.”

“By all the gods, Cornelius!” Longinus, who had been sprawled in his
chair with his feet propped on the low rampart, sat up with a start.
“What do you mean?”

Cornelius held up his hand. “Now wait,” he said calmly. “There’s nothing
to be alarmed about. You won’t need to report to Sejanus about the
carpenter. But since I saw you last he has gained a great following,
even among some of the more influential people. You remember that
beautiful woman Herod took with him to Jerusalem, the one called Mary of
Magdala?”

“Who could forget her?”

“I agree. Well, she’s a disciple of the carpenter now, and a different
woman, they say; she’s forsworn the Tetrarch’s bedchamber.”

“Maybe”—Longinus grinned—“that’s because Herodias has moved in.”

“Could be; I don’t know. But the report is that she’s given up all her
amatory pursuits in order to follow him. All up and down the seaside, in
fact, the people are swarming to hear him and beseech his help.”

“But insurrection, Cornelius....”

“Oh, it isn’t that, Longinus. The Galilean isn’t concerned with the
government, as I understand his teachings, though I’ve seen little of
him myself; I get my information from some of the Jews in the synagogue
at Capernaum”—he smiled—“who secretly, I suspect, are followers of the
man, though many others among the Jews are hostile. I think he wants to
change people as individuals, not their governments; he wants to help
them. I’m sure he’s never given any thought to fomenting rebellion
against Rome.”

Longinus relaxed and sat back. “Then he’s just another of these
religious fanatics, isn’t he? Well, I’m relieved to hear that, though
Palestine seems to have more than its share of these charlatans.”

“Charlatan? I wouldn’t say that. Let me tell you a story, and then you
can deduce what you wish. It happened only a few weeks ago. When you see
Chuza, Herod’s steward....”

“I saw him today.”

“When you see him again, ask him to tell you what happened to his son.
Everybody in this part of the country has heard about it; the news swept
through Galilee like flames across a parched grassland.”

“Well, by the gods, Cornelius, what did happen?”

“Chuza’s young son had come down with a fever. In this low country along
the lakeside, you know, fevers are pretty common, but they’re not often
dangerous. So Chuza and Joanna—she’s his wife—weren’t alarmed at first.
But when days passed and the boy didn’t improve—in fact, his condition
grew worse—they became concerned. One physician after another was called
in, and they exhausted all the treatments they knew how to give. But the
child was failing fast, and Chuza and Joanna were frantic; it looked as
though their son wouldn’t live much longer. The fever was consuming him.
What could they do? Where could they get help?

“It happened that on the last day, when it appeared that the boy was
about to die, a Jewish fisherman who had occasionally been supplying the
palace came to Chuza. He and his brother and two other brothers with
whom he frequently fished had made a heavy catch, and this Simon had
come to inquire if Chuza would buy a mess for the Tetrarch’s household.

“But a servant came to the door and told him his master could not
discuss business; the steward’s son, he explained, was dying.

“‘In that case, I must see him,’ the fisherman said to the servant. ‘I
can tell him how his son’s life may be saved.’

“But the servant told him that the physicians had despaired of saving
the child and that the parents were momentarily awaiting his death. He
ordered Simon to leave.

“The fisherman, a headstrong fellow, insisted, however, on being shown
into the chamberlain’s presence, and the argument grew so loud that
Chuza heard and came out to discover what was taking place. The
fisherman Simon then told the Tetrarch’s steward of the Galilean
carpenter’s amazing ability to effect miraculous cures, and he suggested
that a servant be sent on horseback to find this young man, whom Simon
referred to as ‘the Master.’ ‘And when the servant finds him,’ he said
‘have him bring the Master here, and he will heal your son.’

“Of course Chuza protested,” Cornelius continued, “that skilled
physicians had been unable to cure the child. ‘Only try the Master,’
Simon then implored him. ‘Only have faith in him and ask him to heal
your son, and he will heal him.’

“And suddenly the thought came to Chuza that surely he had nothing to
lose by seeking out the Galilean mystic. The child was already on the
verge of death; certainly this Jesus ben Joseph, whatever he might do,
wouldn’t further endanger the boy’s life. So he asked Simon where his
master might be found and whether he would come at once to his son’s
bedside.

“The Galilean was visiting friends at Cana, a village a few miles west
of the little sea. And Simon assured Chuza that he would come.

“So Chuza decided to seek the carpenter’s aid. But he sent no servant
for him. Instead, he had three horses saddled, one for Simon, one for
himself, and one for this Jesus ben Joseph.

“‘As we rode westward toward Cana,’ Chuza told me, ‘I felt a growing
hope that the strange Galilean might really be able to restore my son to
health, and I was possessed by an overpowering urge to find the man.
Soon Simon and I were racing along the dusty road. When we reached Cana
and found the house, we discovered this Jesus seated with his friends at
the noonday meal.’”

Cornelius got up from his chair, sat down again on the rampart, and
looked out toward a small fleet of fishing boats coming in to shore with
the day’s catch.

“By the gods,” Longinus asked, “what happened then? Go on; it’s a good
story.”

“When he looked into the understanding eyes of the young man from
Nazareth, Chuza told me, a strange warmth, not physical warmth from the
hard riding but a sense of eased tension, of peace, perhaps, something
he said he couldn’t describe to me and didn’t entirely understand
himself, took possession of him. He knew then, he was utterly certain,
he said, that the young man smiling at him had the power to heal his
son, if he could but get him to Tiberias in time!”

Once more Cornelius paused in his recital to study a fishing boat
unloading a heavy catch. Then he resumed the narrative.

“Chuza said he didn’t remember what he said to the man, except that he
blurted out his plea for help and begged the stranger to return with him
to the boy’s bedside. He and his wife loved their son so much, he
pleaded, and the little fellow was dying. If only the carpenter would
intervene to save him, he knew the child’s life would be spared.

“Then,” Cornelius went on, “the Nazareth carpenter said a strange thing.
He turned his intent, kindly gaze from Chuza to glance at those at the
table with him. ‘Always you must have signs and wonders,’ he said.
‘Can’t you believe without actually seeing these things done before your
eyes?’

“Chuza didn’t understand the man’s words, but he didn’t try to find out
what they meant. His son was dying, his need was desperate. Once more he
begged the carpenter for his help. ‘O, sir, my boy is dying,’ he
pleaded; ‘he won’t last out the day unless you go to him. Won’t you
leave with us now, sir, and restore him?’”

Cornelius paused again. Longinus, his forehead creased in heavy
concentration, seemed absorbed in the doings of several fishermen down
at the water’s edge as they struggled with a heavy net. But he turned
quickly to confront his friend. “Pluto blast you, Cornelius! Why do you
keep stopping? Did the carpenter return with him or didn’t he?”

“No, he didn’t. He laid his hand on Chuza’s shoulder. ‘Return to your
son,’ he said. ‘The fever has left him. He has been restored.’”

“And I suppose when Chuza and the fisherman got back, they found that
the boy’s fever had actually broken?”

“Yes, he was fully recovered. And when Chuza asked Joanna what time it
was when the fever broke, she said it was the seventh hour, which was
exactly when the carpenter had told Chuza that the boy had been
restored.” Cornelius smiled and stood up. “That’s the story, Centurion
... Chuza’s story, not mine. What do you make of it?”

“A good story, and ably told by you. I’d call it an entertaining account
of a remarkable coincidence.”

“Only a coincidence?”

“What else could it be? Surely you don’t believe that this carpenter
fellow, without even going to the sick boy, drove out the fever? You
know that fever victims either get well or die and that once the fever
reaches a certain point, it goes one way or the other; it’s either death
or a very rapid recovery, and the odds are about the same.” He shrugged
his shoulders. “After hearing Chuza’s story the carpenter probably
calculated it was time for the fever to break, and he simply gambled on
the outcome.” Then he was suddenly serious, his eyes questioning.
“Cornelius, don’t tell me you believe the carpenter actually cured the
boy?”

“I don’t know, Longinus. But I’ll say this: I don’t disbelieve it. And I
do know that the boy is alive and well today.” Cornelius stood up and
stretched. “After all, to Chuza and Joanna that’s the important thing.
When you see Chuza, you might ask him what he thinks of the Galilean.”

“If that carpenter did cure the boy in the manner you described,
Cornelius, then he’s bound to be a god. And would a carpenter be a god,
and a Galilean carpenter, at that? To me the whole idea is preposterous.
But I’m just a Roman soldier; I haven’t been exposed, like you, to these
eastern workers of magic.”

“This Jesus is no magician. In fact, he seems reluctant to perform
these—what did he call them—‘signs and wonders.’ But the sick and the
crippled continually besiege him to heal them, and his sympathies for
the unfortunate appear to be boundless.” Cornelius sat down again on the
parapet. “Tell me, do you remember that day we were sailing down the
Tiber, standing at the ‘Palmyra’s’ rail talking about the various gods,
and you said that you could never comprehend a spirit god, something
that was nothing, you said, a being without a body?”

“Yes, and I still feel that way.”

“But what about a god that does have a body, a god-man? If a god should
have a physical body and be in every physical respect like a man, would
that make sense to you? Could you comprehend such a god?”

“By Jove, Cornelius, you’ve been out here with these Jews for much too
long. You’ve been listening to too much prattle about their Yahweh. A
god without a body, a body that houses a god. Bah! I put no credence in
any of these notions. As for that carpenter, I’d say he’s another
Wilderness preacher, not as fanatical perhaps, not as desert-parched and
smelling of dried sweat as John, but certainly no god—whatever a god is,
if there is such a thing, which I most seriously doubt. A carpenter from
Nazareth, that hillside cluster of huts! Cornelius, I’ve been to
Nazareth, as I’m sure you have. I ask you, would a god choose Nazareth
to come from?” He stood up. “Nevertheless, the story you told was
entertaining. Maybe to some it would be convincing. To me, though....”
He shook his head slowly. Then suddenly a wide grin lighted his grim
countenance. “How is it that you and I inevitably get around sooner or
later to a discussion of the gods? And where do we invariably end?
Nowhere. Talk, that’s all. And talk is all it can ever be, isn’t it?
It’s all too nebulous, intangible....”

“But, Longinus, if this all-powerful, all-wise, all-good god that old
Pheidias envisioned, this supreme one god, in order to communicate with
his earthly creatures”—Cornelius held up his hand to stop Longinus, who
had been about to interrupt—“should decide to take the form of a man, an
ordinary man....”

“By all the small and great gods,” Longinus did interrupt, “do you think
then that he would choose to be a carpenter from Nazareth?”

Cornelius stared at the fishing boats, now pulled up on the beach; the
lengthening shadows had already begun to obscure them. “I wonder,” he
said.



                                   21


Herod Antipas was in a bad mood; he said little and appeared preoccupied
during the meal. When they had finished he announced that he planned to
spend the remainder of the evening conferring with his ministers. “I’ve
been out of the country for a long time,” he explained casually. “I
suspect there will be many trying problems awaiting consideration.”

When the Tetrarch withdrew from the lofty dining chamber, Herodias had
servants place couches at the eastern edge of the terrace beside the
bordering balustrade of faintly rose-hued marble, and with Neaera and
Tullia hovering discreetly near them, the new Tetrarchess and her guest
lay back comfortably to relax after the heavy meal. Out here it was
cooler than it had been in the great chamber, for the white marble
palace of Herod Antipas had been built on an upflung spit of land that
pushed out like a flattened giant thumb into the Sea of Galilee, and
whenever there was a breeze from off the water it swept unobstructed
across the spacious terrace.

This terrace had been built seaward from an immense glass-covered
peristylium, paved with tiny marble blocks in colors that had been laid
to form an intricate but pleasing mosaic pattern and alive with
fountains, flowers, and luxuriant tropical plants. Predominantly Roman
in architecture, decoration, and furnishings, the palace reminded
Claudia of the Procurator’s Palace at Caesarea. “Except that it’s more
pretentious,” she told Herodias.

“Yes, it is,” Herodias agreed. “Antipas was determined for once to outdo
his father. He had always lived in the shadow of old Herod, and I think
he resented it. But even so, he has never had the ambition or the
courage that his father had.”

“But surely, Herodias, you don’t see any virtue in your grandfather.
Didn’t he have your grandmother and your father killed?”

“Yes, and my father’s brother Alexander. No, he was a monster,
particularly in his last years when I think he must have been demented.
But he was an able man, and he had courage. He never would have
permitted that desert fellow to stand there and insult him and his wife,
for example, even if the man had had all the Jews in Galilee at his
side. Nor would he have yielded, as your Pilate did, to those Jews at
Caesarea. He would have had them run through with swords and would have
roared with laughter at their agonized dying. But perhaps I offend you.”

“No, you don’t offend me, my dear. Nor do I defend Pilate. But you must
remember, he has Sejanus to deal with and also my beloved stepfather.
Neither of those pillars of the Empire would have sanctioned the
massacre of thousands of Jews. Pilate does have a difficult role to
play.”

Herodias smiled and pointed a ringed forefinger. “And are you going to
help him play it, my dear Claudia, or will you...?” She paused and
allowed her question to hang in mid-air.

“Or will I conspire with Longinus to lead Pilate into making further
wrong moves, thereby getting him recalled and perhaps banished and
permitting me to divorce him and marry Longinus?” Laughing, Claudia sat
up and swung her feet to the floor. “You are so subtle, my dear, so very
subtle.” Now she shook an accusing finger at her hostess. “But tell me,
what will you do when Aretas’ daughter returns to Tiberias and demands
her place as Tetrarchess?”

“She won’t return; Antipas is sending her a bill of divorcement. Surely
you must know that I would see to that. In fact, I think she left with
her mind made up that she was finished as Tetrarchess. My only
thought—and that isn’t concern—is what old Aretas will do about it.”

Behind them now the lamps had been lighted in the palace. A brilliant
full moon slowly climbed the sky above the little sea; both women lay
back luxuriously to watch the moon mount higher, and before long their
talk had slowed into silence. Suddenly Herodias realized that she had
become almost senseless. She sat up with a start.

“By the gods, Claudia, we’re almost asleep!”

“We’re tired from the journey,” Claudia said, rubbing her eyes.

“Yes. Maybe we should go to bed. Can I have Neaera bring you something?
Some wine and wafers, fruit, or a glass of hot milk?”

“No, not a thing. I’m still stuffed from the wonderful dinner. I only
want to get to bed and to sleep. I am really quite tired.”

“You must be indeed.” Her smile, Claudia saw plainly in the brightness
of the full moon, was positively devilish. It was impossible to mistake
its meaning.

“Oh, that,” she laughed, then added, “but surely you heard him tell the
Tetrarch he would spend the night with Cornelius?”

“Yes, I heard him tell the Tetrarch.” She stood up. “Let’s go to bed.”
They crossed the terrace and entered the palace. “I’ll see you to your
chamber,” she said.

An inner room that opened into Claudia’s had been prepared for Tullia.
Herodias glanced quickly around the apartment, then turned to go. At the
door opening onto the corridor she paused. “I hope you will be
comfortable and sleep well.” Her eyes brightened. “You won’t be
disturbed. And you’ll discover”—she swept her hand in an arc to embrace
Claudia’s chamber—“that all your doors have bolts opening from the
inside, including,” she added with a knowing smile, “the one to the
terrace. Good night, Claudia. And, by all the gods”—her dark, wanton
eyes had burst into dancing flames—“I envy you!”



                                   22


Claudia sat up in bed, instantly and fully awake. She knew that she had
been dreaming, a confused, wandering, disconnected, senseless sort of
dream, though now with her awakening it had vanished completely,
dissolved into nothing. But the gentle tapping that had been mixed with
the dreaming, had not been a part of it; the tapping at the door to the
terrace was real and repeated and insistent.

She kicked her feet free of the sheet and swung them to the floor. From
the waist down, as she arose, she stood in the narrow band of
silver-cold moonlight spearing through the tall window behind her to cut
diagonally across the foot of the bed; quickly she stepped into the less
revealing shadows at the doorway.

“Longinus?” she whispered, her face close to the panel.

“Yes.”

“One minute until I can draw the bolt.”

When he was inside and she was closing and bolting the door, he slipped
his toga off and, stepping past the shaft of moonlight, dropped it on a
chair against the wall near the head of the bed. As he turned around,
she came toward him, her arms outstretched; crossing the bright beam,
her white body stood plainly revealed through the sheerness of the black
gown.

“Oh, Longinus”—she flung herself into his arms—“I thought you really had
decided to stay with Cornelius.”

He lifted her to her toes and held her, almost crushingly, against him,
and then he caught her chin and raising her face so that he could look
into her eyes, bent down and kissed her red and warmly eager lips.

“Didn’t you know,” he asked when he released her after a long while,
“that those words were for Antipas and not you? Didn’t you know that
nothing could possibly keep me from you tonight?”

Gently, almost carrying her, he led her the two or three steps to the
bed. They sat down beside each other, and he bent forward to unbuckle
his sandals. When he sat up again, she twisted her feet around and
lifted them to the bed, doubled up her knees, and lay with her head and
right shoulder pressed hard against his side. “Are you tired from the
journey and anxious to get to sleep?” she asked, turning her head to
look into his face.

“Tired maybe, and warm from walking from the Antonia”—he pulled his
tunic open at the throat and to his waist—“but sleepy, no.” He laughed,
but not loudly, for the palace was as quiet as a sepulcher. “Do you
think any man in my present situation could be sleepy?”

“Yes, by all the gods, I know one.” She sat up and swung her feet to the
floor. “Pontius Pilate.”

“No, Claudia, he couldn’t be that cold-blooded.” He pulled her to him,
and drew her warm body into the closing circle of his arms. She lifted
her feet again to the bed and slid down into the brightness of the
moonlight.

“But, I tell you he is, Longinus. All the man ever thinks of is guarding
and extending the powers and authority of the Procuratorship and piling
up Jewish shekels. To him my only attraction is being the Emperor’s
stepdaughter.”

“Then he’s an even bigger fool than I thought.” Gently he pushed her
chin down to pull her lips slightly apart and, bending over her, crushed
his mouth upon them.

“Oh, Longinus,” she cried out, when finally, breathing heavily, he
raised his head, “do take me away from him! Do, Longinus, oh, do, do! I
cannot endure him! By all the gods, I simply cannot!”

“But where would we go?” He looked deeply into her troubled eyes,
luminous even in the shadows. “How could we escape the Emperor and the
Prefect, my dear girl? How could we?”

“We couldn’t, of course. If we attempted it, they would soon find us,
and Tiberius would do to you what my grandfather did to my poor father.
I know that, Longinus. But it’s so long from one time with you to
another, from one night so quickly passed to the gods only know when
again.” She slipped her hand beneath his tunic and caressingly ran her
fingers across the damp, warm expanse of his chest. “It’s so hard
waiting for these few stolen hours,” she murmured. “Must we be forever
waiting, Longinus?”

“No, Claudia, no. Pluto burn him! One of these days he’ll go too far
with the Emperor and Sejanus. But we’ve got to give him time to be
caught in his own trap. Then when he’s ruined himself, the Emperor will
permit you to divorce him. But in the meantime, we must steal all the
hours we can”—his words were blurred as he buried his face in her
lustrous, fragrant hair—“and not be too concerned with Pilate or our
future.” They remained silent side by side for a while, then Longinus
raised his head. Claudia lay stretched out full length upon the bed, and
from the waist down now her scarcely concealed body came within the
rapidly widening band of moonlight. “We mustn’t try to anticipate
things,” he said quietly. “We must seize the opportunities as they come.
Carpe diem, that’s all.” He bent lower to look into her eyes. “More to
the point, let’s enjoy the night while we have it.”

He stood up quickly and in the shadows hastily stripped off his clothes.



                                   23


As he drifted up slowly out of the depths of slumber he fancied he was
hearing the early cockcrow from Castra Praetoria; surely he was sharing
Claudia’s bed in her apartment in the Imperial Palace, for he could
smell her perfume, he could feel the satiny texture of her hair spread
fan-like across his chest.

The trumpet was insistent. He would have to open his eyes. He twisted up
on his elbow and squinted toward the window; light sifting into the
chamber revealed the crumpled sheer nightgown dropped across his clothes
on the chair near the bed. Looking down, he studied Claudia’s sleeping
face—rouge-smeared, half-open mouth, cheeks, forehead, and even her neck
splotched with the smudged prints of his lips from her own lipstick.

He glanced around the room again; no, this time he was not in Rome, and
the trumpet call came only from the post headquarters in Tiberias. This
time there was no threat of immediate separation. Immensely relieved, he
pulled up the sheet that had fallen away and snuggled back down beside
her.

“Must you be going so soon?” she asked sleepily, for his movement had
aroused her. “Must you always be leaving me?”

“That’s the cockcrow at Castra Praetoria, and I have early duty,” he
said. “Maybe this morning I’ll be summoned before the Prefect.”

“You aren’t deceiving me. The Prefect is in Rome, and we are in
Tiberias,” she replied. “And you have no morning duty at the post’s
quarters.” Smiling, she added, “I’m not that sleepy, Centurion.” She
slid forward and sat up, then just as quickly slipped back beneath the
protecting sheet. “I forgot,” she said, grinning. “But I’m so glad that
you don’t have to leave now.”

“But I’ll have to be going soon,” he declared. “I’d like to get away
before the palace is too much astir.”

“But why, Longinus? Must you sneak away as though you were a thieving
intruder? Don’t you know that Herodias was expecting you? She even
admitted that she was envious of me; I’m sure she was anticipating a far
less interesting evening with Antipas.” She paused, and her eyes
widened. “Surely you aren’t afraid of his knowing ... about us?”

“You know I’m not afraid of the Tetrarch’s knowing”—his tone was gently
scolding—“or, by the gods, of Pontius Pilate’s.”

“Then could it be Cornelius?” Now she was teasing. “But doesn’t he know?
Surely....”

“Of course,” he interrupted. “He knew last night I was coming here. He
gave me the password for the sentry at the palace gate.”

“But did he know you were going to be spending the night ... with me?”

“I didn’t tell him that. But I’m sure that anybody with the intelligence
of a centurion would arrive at such a conclusion.” He was grinning.
“Wouldn’t you think so?”

“Yes. But maybe he doesn’t approve, now that he’s become so interested
in the Jews’ religion. And judging by that desert fanatic’s tirade
against Herodias and Antipas, even the most innocent adultery is frowned
upon by these Jewish religionists.”

“Whatever he may think about it, Cornelius knows very well that what you
and I do is none of his business, and I’m sure he won’t try to make it
his affair.”

“Then I’m the one.” Her smeared lips were pushed out in a feigned pout.
“You’re bored with me. I know, you’re just trying to get rid....”

“Silly girl.” He pulled her close, for she had coquettishly twisted
away. “Did I say I was leaving right now?”



                                   24


Two soldiers from his own century at Caesarea who had ridden into
Tiberias during the night were awaiting Longinus when he returned to the
garrison headquarters. They had been sent by Sergius Paulus with a
message from the Prefect Sejanus. A note from the Prefect had been
attached to the carefully sealed message, emphasizing the importance of
the communication and ordering Sergius Paulus, should Longinus not be in
Caesarea on its arrival, to have it dispatched to him wherever he might
be and as speedily as possible.

The message from Sejanus had arrived on an Alexandrian grain ship that
had sailed into the harbor at Caesarea several days after Herod Antipas
and his new wife, with their party and their guest, the Procurator’s
wife, had departed for Jerusalem on their way to Tiberias. The cohort
commander had dispatched the two horsemen at once in the hope that they
might overtake the centurion before Herod’s party had started on the
journey up the Jordan Valley toward the Galilean capital. But the
caravan had been two days on the way before the horseman rode into
Jerusalem; from there they had started almost immediately for Tiberias.

Quickly and with considerable apprehension Longinus broke the seals. Why
was the message so urgent? What could have happened? He knew that
Sejanus was not replying to the report he himself had dispatched to the
Prefect by the hand of the “Actium’s” captain; that vessel had probably
not even reached Rome yet.

Longinus hurriedly scanned the message; then, relieved, he read it again
more slowly. The Prefect was summoning him to return to Rome to report
in detail on the situation in Judaea and Galilee. But first he was to go
immediately to Senator Piso’s glassworks in Phoenicia. There he would
receive a package which he would then convey to Rome.

The package would be highly valuable, the Prefect warned; it would
contain a large sum of money, revenue from sales of glassware, and he
was to exercise every precaution in seeing to it that he got it to Rome
intact. Impress as many soldiers as he thought necessary to serve as
guards while the package was being transported from the glass plant to
the ship that would bring it to Rome, the Prefect ordered; take no risk
of being waylaid by robbers or some band of zealots. He suggested that
to minimize this danger, the centurion should go aboard ship at Tyre,
the seaport nearest the plant.

Longinus explained to the two soldiers who had brought him the message
that he was being ordered to Rome by the Prefect Sejanus and instructed
them to bear to Sergius Paulus a message he would write. In this note he
informed the cohort commander of the assignment Sejanus had given him to
come to Rome, although he made no mention of the money he would be
delivering. He added that the Prefect had given him no details of the
new assignment; he would write later from Rome. When he finished writing
the communication, Longinus dismissed the two to return with it to
Caesarea.

Cornelius had been aware of the arrival of the two men sent by Sergius
Paulus; Longinus told him what the Prefect’s instructions had been.

“Cornelius, I want you to pick a small detachment from your century to
go with me to Phoenicia for the package and then on over to Tyre,” he
said. “If by any chance I should let that money be stolen....” He
shrugged and drew his fingers across his throat. “I suspect a large
portion of it, if not all, is destined to find its way into the
Prefect’s private coffers.”

Cornelius agreed to accompany him. His men would leave early on the
morrow and meet the two centurions at the home of Cornelius at Capernaum
where they would spend the evening. From there the party would start
northwestward for the senator’s glassworks in Phoenicia.

“And now,” said Cornelius when they had made the arrangements, “you’ll
be wanting to return to the palace; after today it may be a long time
before you see Claudia again.”

Only last night he and Claudia had talked of how they might remain in
Tiberias for perhaps two weeks; he had even considered taking her with
him on a hurried visit to the glassworks, which he had not inspected for
the last several months. And they would manage to spend every evening
together, to be with each other every night through.

“Oh, Longinus, let me go with you to Rome! Take me, please,” she pleaded
an hour later as they sat on the terrace outside her bedchamber. “Do you
dare, Longinus? Or, should I say, do we dare?”

“No,” he said, “though by all the gods, I wish we did.” He shook his
head slowly. “No, Claudia, we mustn’t attempt it. You might be able to
hide from the Prefect and the Emperor. But not for long. Pilate would
report your disappearance—he would have to for his own protection—and
immediately Sejanus would suspect me. He might even think you and I were
plotting to upset the rule of Tiberius, which would mean, of course, the
overthrow of the Prefect. You would be discovered within a matter of
days. And then in all probability it would be the imperial headsman for
me, and for you ... well, for you it would probably be a fate much like
your mother’s, Pandateria or some other far-off place. And for the
friends who tried to hide you, death, too. You see, Sejanus and the
Emperor married you off to Pilate to get you far away from Rome. They
intend for you to remain away. Until”—he shrugged—“there’s a violent
change in Rome, you must not return.”

They sat quietly and looked out at the fishing boats plying the sea.

“I won’t remain long in Rome, I think,” he said after a while. “If the
gods are good, Claudia, it will be only a few months until....”

“If the gods are good!” she interrupted, harshly. “There are no good
gods, Longinus. There are no gods!” She scowled and looked away. “If
there are, how can they be so perverse?”

“I don’t dispute it. Call it what you like, gods, fate, chance,
luck....”

“Ill luck, perversity of fate. Bona Dea, Longinus, if there are gods,
they are evil, and the most evil of all is old Sejanus, may Pluto
transfix him with his white-hot fork! Why must he forever be doing us
ill?”

“Perhaps, who knows, he may be serving us well in calling me to Rome. It
may lead to the Emperor’s banishing Pilate or, if not that, his removal
from the Procuratorship.”

“May the gods grant it!” she said fervently.

“But now, my dear”—he smiled—“there are no gods.”

They sat for a long time on the sunlit terrace and talked, though they
knew their future was a difficult one to predict. They walked down to
the beach and strolled along the sands; once they paused to sit for a
while on the rotting hull of a half-buried fishing boat. Before the sun
dropped westward behind the palace they climbed the steps and crossed
the esplanade; in the peristylium he said good-by to the Tetrarch and
Herodias. Claudia walked with him back to the terrace, where he quickly
bade her farewell.

“I’ll see you before many months in Caesarea,” he said and gently
pinched her cheek. He bent down for a last kiss. “Pray the gods for the
winds to bring me quickly ... and with good news. Pray the silly little
no-gods.”

“I would, if I thought it would bring you back any sooner,” she said.
“I’d even say a prayer—and offer a lamb—to the Jew’s grim Yahweh. But I
have more faith in the charity of the winds themselves.”

An hour later he and Cornelius set out for Capernaum. The squad from the
Tiberias century that would escort them to the glassworks and then to
the harbor at Tyre had been selected and equipped for the journey; the
soldiers would join the centurions the next morning at the home of
Cornelius.

As they were nearing the house, Cornelius turned to question his friend.
“Longinus, do you remember Lucian?”

“Lucian? Your son?”

“Well, you could probably call him our son, although he’s actually my
slave. He was given me by his father, just before he died, when Lucian
was only three or four years old. He’s the grandson of old Pheidias, the
tutor I was telling you about some time ago.”

“Yes, I do remember the boy. But he is more like a son than a slave,
isn’t he?”

“He is. We’re devoted to the boy. We couldn’t love him more, I’m sure,
nor could he love us more, if he were really our own flesh and blood.”

“But why are you asking me about him?”

“Well, some time ago I promised Lucian that the next time I went on a
journey I’d take him along. I wonder if you would object to his going
with us up into Phoenicia?”

“Of course not. Why don’t you take him?”

“Then I shall. We’ll get an early start in the morning. We ought to be
ready to begin the journey when the detachment arrives from Tiberias.”

But the next morning Lucian was ill. Perhaps, Cornelius thought, it came
from the great excitement of the anticipated journey. With his palm the
centurion felt the boy’s forehead, cheeks, under his chin. They were
feverish.



                               Phoenicia


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   25


The old man, smoke-blackened and naked except for a frayed and soiled
loincloth, tottered forward and collapsed at their feet.

“He almost fell into the fire chamber,” explained one of the two young
slaves who had dragged him from the furnace shed.

A beetle-browed, scowling overseer with a long leather whip came running
from an adjacent section of the sheds. “Get back to your work!” he
shouted, as he slashed viciously at the slaves. The two fled inside; the
burly fellow strode across to the old man on the ground.

“Water! O Zeus, mercy. Water! Water!” the old slave gasped.

The overseer raised his whip. “Stand up, you, or by the gods, I’ll cut
you in strips!” he hissed. “Get back to the furnace!” He stood poised to
strike the inert man.

“Hold!” Cornelius commanded. “Strike him once, and by the great Jove,
you’ll have me to deal with!” Suddenly furious, his eyes blazing, the
centurion stepped forward to confront the overseer.

“Who, by the gods, are you?” the fellow demanded insolently. “By whose
authority do you interfere with the operation of this plant?”

“By the great gods, my own, if the centurion”—he glanced coldly toward
Longinus—“is little enough interested to stop you.”

“Don’t touch him!” Longinus pointed. “And get back to your duties.”

“And who”—the fellow was glowering, his heavy jaw thrust out—“are you,
by the gods, to be giving me orders?”

Aroused by the angry words outside the fire chamber, a man rushed from
the near-by furnace-shed office. “Porcius, you insolent, blundering
fool, put down that whip!” he bellowed. “Don’t you know the
centurion”—he gestured toward Longinus—“is the son of Senator Piso, who
owns this plant? And the other one is his friend. Now you get back to
your work!”

“But first let him get this poor old slave some water.”

“Yes, Centurion.” He turned fiercely to the overseer. “You heard the
centurion. Go! And bring a cloth, too, to bathe his face.”

“O Zeus, mercy. Water.” The old man’s plea was hardly a whisper. “Mercy,
O....”

Longinus pointed. “Water will do him no good now, Cornelius.”

The wizened, gaunt slave’s eyes, wide-open, were setting in an agonized,
frightened stare; his head was stretched back, and Cornelius, looking
into his blackened and bony face, saw that it was pitted and scarred
from innumerable small burns; the eyebrows and eyelashes were completely
gone, singed away in the intolerable heat of the glass furnaces.

The overseer returned with the water and a smudged cloth.

“No need now,” the plant superintendent said. “He’s dead.”

The overseer nodded. “Shall we....?” He paused. “The usual way?”

“Not for the moment. Put him over there under the shed. Later, when....”

“When we have left, eh?” Cornelius was pointedly sarcastic. “What is the
usual way?”

The superintendent hesitated.

“I’ll tell him, Lucius,” Longinus spoke out unconcernedly. “Usually,
Cornelius, they are thrown into the furnaces they have been tending,
provided, of course, that the heat is so intense that such disposition
of the cadaver will not endanger the mixture in the glassmaking.
Oftentimes they end up over there, in the deserted area behind that sand
dune, with the vultures picking their ill-padded bones. But every now
and then, when they do drag one over there, particularly if the breeze
is from the land, they shovel a bit of sand over him.” He shrugged and
thrust out his hands solemnly. “Of course, doing it that way provides a
more pleasant atmosphere for working.”

Cornelius appeared not to have heard his friend’s poor attempt at humor.
He stared at the dead slave on the ground and slowly shook his head. “He
was calling upon Zeus, a Greek. He might have been another Pheidias.” He
shook his head ruefully. “Slaves both, but what a difference in their
lots.”

“And what is the difference?” Longinus demanded. “They’re both dead.
Your old tutor was put away honorably in a tomb, no doubt. But when this
fellow’s carcass has become a handful of ashes or is completely
dissolved into the sand and water and sea winds, won’t they both be gone
to nothingness, ended without a trace?”

“They’re both dead, yes. But gone to nothingness, I can’t say. It might
be that their spirits, their souls....”

“Oh, come now, Cornelius.” Longinus turned to the plant superintendent,
“My friend has been too long in Palestine,” he commented wryly. “He has
come to believe what those Jews believe, that the death of a man is not
his end. In other words”—he pointed to the stiffened slave now being
borne to the shed—“that that fellow’s soul, whatever a soul is—if there
is such a thing, which I find it impossible to believe—is floating
around somewhere in a world filled with other disembodied beings.”

“If you will excuse me, sir,” the manager said, evading comment, “I have
some work....”

“Go ahead, Lucius. We will be leaving early tomorrow for Tyre.
Everything, you say, is ready?”

“Everything, the reports, the revenue, everything, sir.”

Earlier Longinus had shown Cornelius through the various departments of
the glassmaking plant, and Cornelius had marveled at the skill of the
glassblowers, slaves whose lot was incomparably more fortunate, he saw,
than that of those who fired the roaring furnaces. When he had remarked
about this to Longinus, his host had observed casually that the blowers
were valuable property, while the laborers in the furnace chambers were
easily replaced when after a few weeks or months they literally burned
themselves out. The two had just completed their tour when the old Greek
was dragged out to die before them.

From the plant they strolled toward the beach some two hundred paces
below it. “I can’t get that slave out of my mind,” Cornelius said, as
they sat in the bow of a small boat that had been pulled up on the
sands. “By all the gods, I thought those on the docks of the Emporium
were having a hard time, but these slaves that fire your glass
furnaces”—he grimaced—“Jupiter pity them. Certainly nobody else does.”

“But if we are to have beautiful glass in the mansions of Rome, or at
the Tetrarch’s Palace, or the Procurator’s at Caesarea, or in countless
other great places of the wealthy and the privileged, if revenue from
the glass factories is to continue flowing into the coffers of the
Empire and the Prefect, then, Cornelius, the furnaces must be stoked and
the molten glass must be blown. So”—he shrugged—“slaves will die and be
replaced. But remember, Cornelius, they are slaves, and slaves are easy
to come by; fresh ones are always being sent out here by Sejanus. And we
only put those of least value into the furnace chambers.”

“So, Longinus, the value of a slave is to be measured in direct
proportion to the value of the merchandise—in your case, glassware—he is
able to produce? And when tomorrow you leave for Rome with the profits
made from your glassware, you will be carrying the lives of many slaves
in your package, won’t you? And when at the markets of Rome and Antioch
and Alexandria you sell those beautiful goblets with their slender,
rose-tinted stems, you will know that you are selling glass colored with
the lifeblood of men such as that old Greek, that slave who perhaps by
now has been consumed in the very furnace that exacted his life? Isn’t
that true?”

“Cornelius, you’re a good soldier, but you’re in the wrong profession.”
Longinus leaned forward and cracked his bronzed knuckles. “You should be
writing poetry or lecturing classes in philosophy, or even”—he paused,
and a grin spread across his face—“be acting as a priest in the Temple
at Jerusalem.” Suddenly the smile was gone. “Of course a slave is
valuable in proportion to what he can produce or the service he can
provide. Aren’t we all valuable in that same proportion? We live awhile,
work, love, hate, die. What do we leave? Only what we have produced.
Everything else is gone, including us. So, in the end, we and the dead
slave are the same ... nothing. But you don’t agree, do you?”

“I don’t want to agree, Longinus. What you say makes sense. But
something within me says just as emphatically that you are wrong. Yet I
can’t prove it.” Cornelius dug his sandaled heels into the sand at the
bottom of the long abandoned boat. “I keep thinking of the old Greek up
there. I don’t know what life gave him, of course, before some invading
Roman soldiers destroyed his home—if he had a home—certainly his way of
life, and dragged him to Rome, where he simply had the bad luck to fall
into the hands of the Prefect. But there’s no mystery about what life
has offered him since his enslavement. And this man may have been
another Pheidias, Centurion, a man more intelligent, more cultured, a
better man, my friend, than nine out of ten of the equestrians in Rome.
Obviously, then, life has been unfair to him. And you say he is
finished, done for, nothing. You say there will never be any chance of
his getting a better throw of the dice.”

“Exactly. And throw of the dice is right, too. He shook them in the cup
and rolled them, and they rolled wrong; we rolled ours, and they stopped
with the right numbers up. That’s all there is to it. Fate, chance,
luck, call it what you will. It’s a few years or many, a good life or
one of pain ... and then nothing. Isn’t it just that simple, Cornelius?
How else could it possibly be? Isn’t any other idea simply
superstition?” Longinus leaned over and picked up a small shell. “Look
at this,” he said. “What happened to the mollusk who lived here? Did he
live out his span of life happily, or was he eaten in his prime? And is
his unshelled spirit now swimming about in some sea heaven?” He tossed
the shell into the surf. “That old slave up there, I maintain, is just
as dead and gone—or will be when his corpse is disposed of—as the
mollusk who once inhabited that shell. And both of them are gone for
good.”

“Then you put men and mollusks in the same category?”

“Yes, as far as having immortal spirits is concerned. But you don’t,
Centurion; you hold with your Pharisee friends—it’s the Pharisees who
believe in immortality, isn’t it—that man is a different sort of animal
in that he survives in a spirit world....”

“I’d like to; I want to. It’s a damnably unfair world if he doesn’t.”

“And it’s just as unfair if he does. Look.” Longinus leaned forward
again. “You say that this all-powerful, all-wise, all-good god, this
Yahweh, will see to it that in the next world, the spirit world, that
old slave up there will get justice. But I insist that such a god does
not exist; if he did, as I argued that day we were sailing down the
Tiber, you remember, he wouldn’t permit such unfairness and injustice in
this present life. Isn’t that a logical contention, Cornelius? How can a
good god, I ask you again, decree, or permit, so much evil?”

“I don’t know,” Cornelius replied. “I’m no nearer an answer to your
question now than I was that other day. But I am confident that if this
god exists—and I believe he does, Longinus; in fact I’m even stronger
now in that belief than I was then—he does not decree evil, he simply
permits evil men sometimes to rule in the affairs of this earthly,
physical life. It may be that he doesn’t want to restrict man’s freedom.
Do you see? That wouldn’t mean he approves of the evil acts of men.”

Longinus slowly shook his head. “No, Cornelius, I don’t see. Your
argument seems completely fatuous to me. I cannot comprehend an
all-powerful, good god who would permit men to do one another evil. I am
convinced that the fact that the world is filled with men who are unjust
and cruel and evil indisputably proves that no such god exists.”

“And I would answer that it is strong evidence but not indisputable
proof.” For a long moment Cornelius stared out in the direction of a
merchant ship sailing southward toward towering Mount Carmel. “You see,
Longinus,” he said, turning to face his companion, “we have so little
information on which to base an opinion. If there is such a god—if there
is, remember—how can we even comprehend his nature, what he is like,
unless?...” He paused and looked back to the sea.

“Unless?”

“Unless someone reveals him to us, interprets him to men, shows his
works and thoughts....”

“The Jewish Messiah, eh? The carpenter who is about to overthrow Rome?”

“I don’t think he’s ever indicated that he was seeking to overthrow
Rome. I think that idea has come down from the old Jewish prophets, who
foresaw a great political and military savior of their land. Several
times I’ve been in the crowds listening to him talking, and so far as I
could tell, he was only trying to explain to the people the nature of
this god whom he refers to as his father. He was attempting to interpret
this Yahweh to them sometimes even to the extent of utilizing some of
this father god’s power. That’s apparently what he did when he restored
Chuza’s son.”

“You mean he was clever enough to figure out when nature would do the
restoring. But we won’t go into that again.” Longinus twisted around in
the boat and stood up. “No, my friend, I insist that your reasoning is
not sound, that you have been overcome by this eastern mysticism which
seems to fill the very air out here.” He clapped his hand on Cornelius’
shoulder; his friend had risen with him. “Centurion, come with me to
Rome; I suspect that you need to be indoctrinated again in the ways of
modern thought.”

“I wish I could go with you.” Cornelius stepped from the boat and kicked
the sand from his sandals. “But sometimes I wonder just what sort of
thinking could properly be termed modern.”

They walked back to the inn to await the loading of the ship on which
Longinus would sail for the capital. No further mention was made of the
Roman gods, the Greek gods, Yahweh, or the Galilean carpenter. And early
in the forenoon the next day the vessel spread its sails for Rome. Two
hours later Cornelius and his men started on their return to Tiberias.



                                   26


One of the household servants was waiting for Cornelius when he returned
to the garrison’s quarters at Tiberias.

“Centurion, Lucian is desperately ill,” he reported. “In the last few
days he has developed a palsy. Your wife bade me tell you that she fears
him near death. You must come back with me, sir; she’s greatly
frightened and in much distress about the boy.”

“But the physicians? Haven’t they been able to help him?”

The man shook his head. “She has had them all with him, sir, all she
could find in this region, and they have done what they could; but the
paralysis has spread, and his fever does not abate. All their efforts
have been useless. She prays that you hurry, sir.”

As fast as their horses could take them the two raced toward Capernaum.
When Cornelius entered the house, his wife rushed to him and fell into
his arms. “Oh, I thought you would never get here,” she cried. “Lucian
is near death, I know; I don’t see how he can live much longer. And the
physicians have despaired of saving him.”

“But there must be something we can do,” he said, as he turned toward
the sick boy’s chamber. “Are there no other physicians we could call?”

“None,” she said. “And the paralysis seems to be growing worse. He is
deathly ill, Cornelius. Oh, by all the gods, if there were
something....”

“‘By all the gods.’ The carpenter! Didn’t he restore Chuza’s son? And
though Lucian is a slave, isn’t he just as much a son to us? Wouldn’t
the carpenter just as willingly restore a slave boy, even of a Roman
soldier?” He had said the words aloud, but they had been addressed more
to himself than to his wife.

He turned smiling, to face her. “Do you remember how that young
carpenter of Nazareth healed the son of Herod’s chamberlain? Don’t you
think...?”

“But he’s a Jew, Cornelius, and we are Romans.”

“No matter.” He turned to the servant who had gone to Tiberias in search
of him. “Get me a fresh horse, and quickly!” he ordered. “I’m going out
to find that carpenter!”

A few minutes later he stopped to inquire of a shopkeeper if the man had
seen the young Nazarene rabbi. “Has he been around today?” Cornelius
asked. “Can you tell me how to find him?”

“He passed here this morning,” the shopkeeper answered, “with Simon and
the Zebedees and some of those others who are usually with him. They
went out the gate in the western wall, and judging by the poor trade
I’ve had all day, the whole city’s gone out after them. I hear the
carpenter’s been speaking to them from the side of that little mountain
over there.” With his head he motioned toward the west. “In all
likelihood you’ll find him there, soldier.” Suddenly his face fell; his
hands shook as he grasped his scraggly beard. “Now wait a minute,” he
sputtered, “this fellow, this Nazarene, he hasn’t run afoul of you
Romans, has he?”

“No. No, indeed. It’s on a personal mission that I seek him.” Cornelius
smiled reassuringly. “I’m his friend.”

The shopkeeper looked relieved. “Then if you station yourself at the
western gate, you’ll surely see him as he returns to the city. Or you
might ride out toward the mountain, soldier.”

Cornelius rode on through the gate. He was halfway to the little
eminence in the plain west of the city when he began to meet the throng
returning. Soon he spotted the rabbi walking in the company of the
Capernaum fishermen. Boldly he rode up to them and dismounted.

The men with Jesus formed a circle about him.

“I am unarmed, and I intend no one harm,” Cornelius said, holding out
his hands. “I am seeking the rabbi of Nazareth.”

Jesus stepped forward and held up his staff in salute. His brown eyes
were warmly bright. Cornelius, closer to him than he had ever been
before, saw sparkling in the beads of perspiration rolling down his
bronzed smooth forehead the long rays of the setting sun. He saw them,
too, in the beads clinging to the thick mat of reddish-brown hair on the
carpenter’s chest, for in the sultry stillness of the dying day, Jesus
had thrown open his robe half way to his rope-belted waist.

“What would you have of me, my brother?” he asked the centurion.

“Sir, I pray you to restore my little servant boy whom I greatly love; I
fear he is near death of a palsy. If, sir, you would but say the
word....” He paused, suddenly hesitant.

The rabbi reached out and with strong brown fingers grasped the
centurion’s arm. “I will go with you and restore the boy,” he said
gently. “Show me to your house.”

“But, sir, I am a Roman soldier”—a feeling of embarrassment, deep
humility, strange to the centurion, possessed him as he looked into the
face of the young rabbi—“and unworthy that you should enter my house.
But if you would only command that my little servant boy be healed,
while we stand here, sir, then I know that he would be restored to
health.” He smiled, weakly, he thought. “You see, sir, I understand
authority, for I am a centurion and when I give a command, it is
obeyed.”

For an instant the rabbi said nothing, but his warm eyes lighted with a
rapture plain to see. He turned to his friends. “Nowhere in Israel have
I seen such faith. I tell you that many will come from the east and the
west and with our fathers Abraham and Isaac and Jacob sit down in the
Kingdom of Heaven. But many of the chosen likewise will be cast out, and
there will be great wailing and mourning, for their faith shall not be
as the faith of this Roman.”

Then he turned again to confront the centurion, and Cornelius saw that
his face was radiant. “You may go on your way, my brother,” he said. “As
you have believed that it might be done, so has it been accomplished.
Return in peace to the little boy.”

“Oh, sir....” But the centurion’s eyes were blinded with tears, and he
bowed his head, and no words would come. Then he felt a warm hand on his
shoulder and strong fingers once more gently squeezing his arm, then the
fingers released it. When after a moment he looked up, Cornelius saw
that the Nazarene and his friends had resumed walking toward the city
gate. In that same instant Jesus turned and looked over his shoulder,
his face still alight with a glowing happiness, and raised his hand high
in a parting salute. Then he quickly turned eastward again, and the
little group disappeared around the bend.

Cornelius stood unmoving, his left hand still clutching the bridle rein,
and then he mounted and rode toward the western gate. A few paces ahead
he went around the bend and shortly passed the rabbi and his friends,
who had overtaken several men who evidently had been out with them at
the mountainside; Jesus smiled and once more lifted his hand in friendly
greeting.

The centurion, reaching the gate, rode through it and toward the center
of the city, where he turned left and followed a cavernous road to the
gate in the southern wall. He was in no hurry as his horse picked its
way along the cobblestones and out upon the coast road southward. His
fright, his sudden hysteria had gone; it had vanished completely as he
had looked into the eyes of the young rabbi. Cornelius knew that Lucian
would be well; not the shadow of a doubt darkened his thoughts.

When he reached home and turned into his courtyard, a servant came
running to take his horse. “Lucian, sir, is well again!” the man
declared, almost breathless with the excitement of being the first to
give his master the thrilling news.

“Yes, I know it.” Cornelius smiled.

“But, sir, it was only an hour ago that....”

“A man over at Capernaum told me then,” he said and strode toward the
house as the servant, mouth open, stared after him.

As he stepped inside from the courtyard, his wife, who had heard him
ride in from the roadway, rushed to him and flung her aims about his
waist. “Oh, Cornelius, Lucian has been restored! Not only has his fever
gone, but so has the paralysis. He can use his arms and hands, and he
can walk as though nothing had ever been wrong with his legs!”

She stood back from him, her eyes wet with the sudden surging of her
emotion. “Isn’t it wonderful, Cornelius! And it happened so quickly,
too; he was low, Cornelius, desperately sick, much sicker than when you
left, I’m sure, and the fever was consuming him. I had turned aside from
his bed a moment to wet a cloth to spread on his forehead; then, as I
wrung it out and turned back to him, suddenly he sat up. I caught him
under his arms and discovered that he was no longer feverish; in a
moment he was talking and using his hands, and then quickly he stood up
and walked toward the table where I had set the pitcher of cool water.
‘I’m so thirsty,’ he said, grinning at me, ‘and hungry, too.’”

“Yes, I knew about it. It happened about an hour ago. Where is Lucian
now?”

“He went out to the stables. He wanted to see his horse; he hadn’t....”
Abruptly she broke off and stared at her husband, incredulous.
“Cornelius, how did you know when it happened? Did one of the servants
tell...?”

“Yes, when I rode in a moment ago. But I knew when it happened.”

“But how, Cornelius?” Her amazement was evident.

“Have you forgotten that I went in search of the carpenter of Nazareth?
Well, an hour ago I came upon him beyond the western gate of Capernaum.
I implored him to heal Lucian, and he did. He told me so. And I knew he
had; I had not the slightest doubt. Nor am I in the least surprised to
find him well.” His serious expression relaxed into a warm smile. “Did
you feed the young imp?”

“Yes. And he was famished. Literally, Cornelius, the boy ate like a
horse.”

“Well, he hadn’t had anything in days; he was bound to be empty.”

“But, Cornelius, this carpenter from Nazareth....” She paused, her
forehead furrowed in perplexity.

“Yes,” he said, not waiting for her to finish her question, “and, by all
the gods, I’d like to see Longinus try to explain this one away!”



                                  Rome


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   27


When the vessel eased in to dock just below the Sublicious Bridge,
almost at the spot from which the “Palmyra” had started its voyage,
Longinus went ashore. Quickly he engaged a loitering freed slave to help
with his luggage. He had brought little from Phoenicia, only his
clothing and a few small presents for his mother, principally some
choice pieces of glass, and the package he was delivering to Sejanus.

“I’ll carry this,” he said to the fellow; “it’s glass and fragile.” He
picked up the bundle, heavily wrapped. “And I’ll take this spare toga,
too. You can carry the remainder. I don’t want any sedan chair; I’d
rather walk. I want to get my land legs back.”

The toga had been wrapped about the money packet, which Longinus had
kept securely under his arm as he descended from the ship. But it was an
innocent looking bundle and only its weight would have excited a
bearer’s suspicion. Longinus had determined not to let it get out of his
possession until he had locked it in his father’s safe to await its
delivery to the Prefect.

They walked from the pier along the way that went eastward from the
bridge into the dense, traffic-jammed heart of the city. At the foot of
Palatine Hill they turned left and walked northward past the western
front of the Imperial Palace. Glancing over his shoulder as they reached
the northwest corner of the sprawling great structure, Longinus had a
glimpse of the wing that had been Claudia’s apartment; once again he
picked out the bedroom window through which that morning he had heard
the rising bugle at Castra Praetoria.

“I wonder....”

“Sir, did you say something?” His helper, trudging behind, paused.

“No.” Longinus turned to face him. “I was just thinking, talking to
myself.”

All the way from the dock area Longinus had been retracing the route he
had come with his century from Castra Praetoria the day they sailed for
Palestine. But a hundred paces farther on, instead of continuing past
the Forum of Augustus on their left, he turned abruptly westward. “I
want to walk through the Forum Romanum,” he explained. “It’s been a long
time since I’ve been there. I’ve lost touch with Rome. What’s been
happening lately?”

“Very little, sir, as far as I’ve seen.” The fellow shook his head
resignedly. “No triumphs, as I recall, no big ones anyway, and precious
few games.”

“Why haven’t there been more?”

“Oh, I don’t know, sir. They say the Emperor gets no enjoyment out of
such things, and he’s not here in Rome most of the time anyway, and I
hear it told that the Prefect doesn’t want to spend the money....”

“They do say that?”

“Now, sir, I have heard such talk. Understand, I don’t know anything
about it; I don’t know anything about them, the Emperor and the Prefect.
Not a thing. I don’t even know whether I’d recognize either one of them
if he came right up to us now.” The fellow’s fear that he had spoken too
boldly was obvious. “All I ever get done, sir, is work; I have to
struggle hard to make a living. Seems that it’s just like it’s always
been in Rome, the way I see it, which is that the rich get richer and
the poor get poorer.” He grinned good-naturedly. “I’m meaning no offense
to you, Centurion; likely you’re one of the rich ones.”

“I understand, and I suspect it’s a sound observation, that the rich do
get richer and the poor get poorer, I mean. But it’s not true of Rome
alone; it’s that way everywhere, isn’t it, throughout the world?”

“I couldn’t say as to that, sir. Rome’s pretty much my world.”

Rome was his world, too, Longinus told himself a moment later as the two
were propelled suddenly from the shaded cavern of the cobblestoned
narrow street into the widened stir and commotion of a veritable forest
of marbled columns and statuary.

The centurion’s heart lifted as he strode once more into the Forum
Romanum, that busy, marble-crowded flat between the Tiber’s westward
bend and the mansion-crowned hills. He took a deep breath, and his chest
swelled.

_... This is the veritable beating, pulsing heart of Rome, and Rome is
the world. Here is reality. Here are solidity, strength, planning made
real, dreams hewn in enduring stone. Here are wealth, accomplishment,
power, might. Not twenty paces across there is the Millenarium Aureum,
the resplendent bronze column set up to mark the center of the Roman
world, the point from which miles are counted along the highways and
their joining sea lanes stretching to the ends of the known earth to
bind Rome into one colossal, unconquerable, enduring Empire!..._

They paused to catch their breath. Longinus set down the glass, but he
continued to clutch the toga-wrapped packet under his arm. In another
moment they would push once more into the jostling, shoving multitude
milling through the Forum’s crossways. Suddenly the centurion remembered
Cornelius and their discussion that afternoon as the two men had sat in
the wrecked rowboat near the glassworks. He smiled grimly.

_... But this is Rome. This is reality. This is accomplishment,
creation. I can reach out and run my hand over the stone and feel these
marbled creations of men; a thousand years from now, were I to live so
long, I could rub my hands across their imperishable cold faces. These
are tangible things, and Rome is tangible, her power, her strength, her
wealth, her dominance over the world. Cornelius may prate of his old
tutor’s preachments about the imperishability of the intangibles and the
reality of things unseen. But these statues, these temples, this
Millenarium Aureum, are tangible. Rome is carved statuary and fluted
marble magnificence; Rome is spacious mansions and marching great armies
flaunting their ensigns. Rome is poverty, too, and injustice and
ugliness at times and in places, but Rome is no pale intangibles, no
vaporous conjurations of an eastern philosopher. Rome is not even her
gods. This is Rome, this marbled splendor of the Forum; Rome is here and
now and touchable and real, and Rome, by all the gods or no gods, will
endure._

_... Rome is something else. Rome is strength and power and substance,
but Rome is also grace and beauty. Examine these graceful columns, these
elegant pediments. Rome is feminine, a beautiful woman. Rome, by the
great Jove, is Claudia. Indeed! What is more Rome than Claudia; what is
more Claudia than Rome? Rome is beauty and pleasure, tangible, real, to
be experienced, enjoyed._

_... And Rome will endure. That carpenter of Galilee, wandering up and
down the seacoast with his little band of poor working people, talking
of intangibles to illiterate fisherfolk and the dwellers in Jerusalem’s
festering Ophel, that fellow to overcome Rome! Even under the silvery
softness of a full moon beside the sea in Galilee, it was a preposterous
notion. But here in the middle of the Forum, with confirmation of Rome’s
might everywhere around...._

“By all the gods, Cornelius. Can’t you see?”

The man carrying Longinus’ belongings whirled suddenly around. “I beg
your pardon, sir,” he asked, “did you command anything of me?”

Longinus laughed. “No,” he answered. “I was just thinking aloud again. I
must be growing old.” He reached down and picked up the glassware
package. “But let’s be moving on. I’m anxious to get to my father’s
house.” He pointed the directions. “Out that way and on through the
Forum of Augustus to Via Longa. The house is on Quirinal Hill.”



                                   28


Longinus placed the package on the desk in front of the Prefect. “Sir,
I’m delivering this to you just as I received it at the glassworks,” he
said. “I have not seen the contents; I don’t know what’s inside. The
package when it was handed to me was sealed as you see it now; the seals
have not been broken.”

“Thank you, Centurion, for bringing it; it has been quite a
responsibility, I know.” The Prefect’s darting eyes, Longinus saw, had
examined the package already. The centurion, appraising Sejanus in the
short moment he had been in the ornate chamber, had observed no change
in the Prefect’s appearance. Judging by the man’s looks and demeanor, it
might well have been only yesterday that they had last met. The small,
cold eyes were just as carefully calculating as they had been the day
the Prefect had given Longinus his orders and sent him and Cornelius
eastward aboard the “Palmyra.” Now the eyes were disarmingly friendly.
“My purpose in having it so well sealed was not because I didn’t trust
you, Longinus, but because I wished the manager at the glassworks to
know that no one but himself could be blamed in the event that the
contents were subsequently found short. I knew that he would therefore
make sure that the packet left Phoenicia intact.” The blinking, small
eyes narrowed. “So actually, you see, it was a protection for you.” With
a flourish of the hand he motioned to the chair in front of the massive
desk. “Sit down, Centurion.”

“Thank you, sir.” Longinus took the seat and faced the Prefect.

Sejanus leaned forward and crossed his hands on the desk. “In all
likelihood, Centurion, you’ve been wondering why I summoned you to
Rome.”

“I have wondered, sir.”

“Yes, I’m sure you have. And I’m sure you’ve also guessed that I
dispatched my message to you before receiving your report.”

“I had presumed so, sir.”

“And right you were. Had I received the report but a few days earlier I
would not have summoned you here. But once I’d received your
communication, I had no way of countermanding my order to you so that
you would get it before sailing for Rome.” He sat back in his chair and
folded his arms across his chest; his entire attitude radiated good
humor. “But I’m glad it happened as it did, Longinus. I’d rather like to
hear in person from you concerning the situation in Palestine. It was a
good report, Centurion, and comprehensive, so far as such written
reports go. But I had the feeling in reading it that you might have had
further information to give had you been able to talk with me directly.
Perhaps discretion had cramped your writing hand.” Now his smile was
disarming. “But here, with no ears to hear us but our own, we can talk
with complete freedom. I, too, can say things that I would not dare
write.”

The Prefect unfolded his arms and, leaning forward, drummed his fingers
on the desk. He studied the centurion briefly through narrowed eyes,
then sat back again.

“How did you leave the Procurator, Longinus?”

“He was quite well, sir, when I left him at Caesarea. But your message
overtook me at Tiberias, and I had then been away from Caesarea for some
time. I went on to the glassworks and sailed from Tyre, as you
suggested.”

“Then you have seen Herod Antipas quite recently?”

“Yes, sir. I saw the Tetrarch and Herodias and told them good-by just
before leaving Tiberias. I had escorted them to Galilee from their
landing at Caesarea.”

“And how did the daughter of King Aretas accept Herod’s new wife?”

“She didn’t, sir. She has left him and returned to her father. She....”

“By winged Mercury!” Sejanus lunged forward and slammed his fist against
the desk. “Gone, you say? Fled to Aretas? By great Jupiter! But this you
did not report, Longinus!”

“Sir, Herod didn’t know she was gone until we arrived at his capital. I
was preparing to dispatch a report to you when I received your summons,
and then I decided I would bring the report in person, instead.” He
ventured a wan smile, and the Prefect himself relaxed.

“I understand; you did right, Centurion.” Then his countenance darkened,
and his narrow forehead wrinkled. “This is a matter of considerable
moment; I shall come back to it presently.” He shook his head. “Yes, it
could have dire repercussions. But for the moment, let us speak of more
pleasant things.” His small weasel-like face lighted with a thin but
suggestive smile. “Longinus, when did you last see Claudia? How is the
Procurator’s wife?”

“I saw her in Tiberias the day before I left there for Phoenicia, sir.
Herodias and Herod Antipas had invited her to accompany them to Tiberias
for a visit.”

“And Pilate didn’t object to her going up into Galilee with them ... and
you?” He licked his lips and drew them in thin lines across his teeth.

“If he did, sir, he did not indicate anything of the sort to me.”

“I’m sure the Procurator would do nothing that he thought might
displease the Emperor’s stepdaughter. But what he thinks, however, is a
different matter, isn’t it?”

“I’m sure it is, sir.” Longinus expected momentarily that the Prefect
would begin plying him with intimately personal questions concerning his
relations with the Procurator’s wife, and he wondered desperately how he
should answer. But, happily, Sejanus turned away from the Procurator’s
affairs to return to a discussion of the Tetrarch’s.

“You were saying a moment ago, Longinus”—the familiar scowl had returned
to the Prefect’s face—“that Herod’s wife has gone back to old Aretas.
Have you had any reports concerning his feelings toward Herod for the
way his daughter has been treated?”

“He was greatly angered, according to reports coming back to Galilee,
sir.”

Sejanus shook his head slowly. “No doubt.” He reflected a moment. “Has
there been any talk of possible reprisal?”

“There has been some talk that Aretas might attempt to punish Herod. But
that would mean war, sir, and war with us Romans. So I feel that Aretas
would hardly be so foolhardy as to attempt to send an army against
Herod.”

“I hardly think so, either, Centurion. But a father will sometimes do
foolish things when his daughter’s honor is at stake. If Aretas should
challenge Herod, that will mean war, and war is expensive, Longinus. The
cost in terms of both men and money is exorbitant ... and useless. War
would also mean loss of work and production and loss of revenue in
addition to the expenditure of revenue already collected.” His frown
deepened. “By the great gods, I should never have permitted Herod to
have Herodias. He has not only offended his own people; he has now set
King Aretas against him ... and us!”

Angrily the Prefect drummed his fingers on the desk again. Then quickly
his anger seemed to disappear. He arose, and the centurion stood with
him. “But we need not anticipate events,” Sejanus said. “When you go
back to Palestine, however, I want you to make a careful investigation
of the situation. It might be well for you to contrive some reason for
visiting our fortress at Machaerus; it’s over beyond the Dead Sea on the
borders of Arabia; perhaps by going there you may learn whether Aretas
is actually planning to attack Herod.”

“I’m familiar with the place, sir. I was there several years ago.”

“Yes. By the way, in your report of Herod’s arrest of that desert
preacher, you indicated that he may have displeased a large number of
the Jews.”

“I’m confident he did, sir. Many of them hold that John in the highest
regard. I think Herod made a mistake, sir, and I felt it my duty to
inform you so.”

“But wasn’t Herod justified in believing him to be an insurrectionist?”

“At first, sir, I confess I thought so. But Cornelius, who understands
the Jews, insisted that he was just a harmless religious fanatic, and
nothing more. Frankly I soon came to the same conclusion. The fellow is
deluded, of course, but so are most of the Jews in respect to their
foolish one-god religion; other than that, I’m convinced that he’s
entirely harmless. And he has many followers who were deeply offended
when Herod, at the insistence of Herodias, had him arrested.”

“By the gods, that headstrong woman! She will be Herod’s ruination!” He
was thoughtfully silent. “Perhaps, Centurion, Rome might profit if I had
the man liberated. At any rate, look into the matter, and let me hear as
quickly as you can”—his scowl deepened—“if it will wait that long ...
and if Aretas isn’t precipitate in sending an army against Herod.”

“But, sir....”

“I haven’t told you, Longinus,” the Prefect interrupted. “You aren’t
returning at once to Palestine. Now that you’re here, I have another
mission, quite urgent, that I’m sending you on into Gaul. When you have
accomplished this—and it should require only a few months—you will go
out to the east again.”

Sejanus pushed out his lips into a round pucker, and once more his eyes
began to catch fire and his narrow face lighted sensually. Then he
twisted his lips again into the thin semblance of a smile. “I hope,
Centurion, that you can wait that long ... before getting back to
Claudia!” Then quickly the smile was gone. “Remember, Longinus, she must
be kept away from Rome, and it will continue to be your task to keep her
happily occupied.” The lips twisted again. “That task, I should think,
will not be an unpleasant one.”



                               Machaerus


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   29


Someone knocked on the door to Claudia’s apartment, and Tullia was sent
to answer it. She ran quickly back into the tepidarium.

“Tertius says there’s a soldier to see you, Mistress, a centurion. He’s
waiting in the atrium.”

“Longinus! Oh, by the Bountiful Mother!” But quickly Claudia’s elation
subsided. “He must still be in Gaul, though, according to the
information Sergius Paulus had from Rome. Still”—her face lighted—“he
might have returned early, perhaps, and caught a fast vessel to
Caesarea. Bona Dea, Tullia, help me finish dressing! The perfume, that
vial”—she pointed—“the Tyrian. And do hurry, Tullia!”

A few minutes later she scurried breathlessly into the atrium. But the
soldier was not Longinus. The Centurion Cornelius arose and advanced to
meet her. He saw her disappointment and smiled understanding. “I’m
sorry, Claudia, but Longinus hasn’t returned to Palestine, nor have we
heard at Tiberias when he expects to arrive. I’ve come to bring you a
message from the Tetrarch Herod Antipas and the Tetrarchess.”

“I’ll confess I was hoping Longinus had surprised me, Cornelius,” she
said, “although I’d heard that he was still in Gaul. Did you know about
his assignment out there?”

Cornelius nodded. “Yes. But we understood it was not to be a lengthy
mission.”

Claudia motioned to a seat; she sat down and Cornelius sat facing her.
She summoned Tertius to bring wine and wafers. “And now, Centurion,” she
said, “what is the message you fetch me from Tiberias?”

“They are inviting you and the Procurator to go with them down to
Machaerus to spend a holiday season there. And if the Procurator’s
duties will not permit his leaving his post, the Tetrarchess hopes that
you will join them anyway, together with your servants and any guests
you may wish to bring.”

“To Machaerus? That’s the fortress castle on the other side of the Dead
Sea, isn’t it, on the southern border of Peraea?”

“Yes, it’s on a high plateau overlooking the Dead Sea, some way south of
Mount Nebo.”

“A wild and desolate country, isn’t it? I’ve never been there.”

“I understand so; I’ve never been there myself. A good place, they say
in Tiberias, for the sort of holiday the Tetrarch particularly enjoys
... wild, uninhibited, like himself.”

Claudia laughed appreciatively. “It promises to be interesting at any
rate. But”—her face clouded perceptibly—“I know that Pilate won’t go. In
the first place, he loathes Antipas—and I do, too, as a matter of
fact—and in the second place, he wouldn’t venture that far from
provincial headquarters. But he might let me go. And it would be a
change from this dreary existence.” She brightened. “When are they
planning to make this holiday excursion?”

“As a matter of fact, they’ve probably already started. They sent me on
ahead in the hope that you might agree to join them; if you should, I’m
to escort you and your party to the Jordan, where they plan to meet us.
They were to start this morning from Tiberias. If we could leave by
tomorrow morning, we would be able to reach the Jordan at about the same
time they do. From there we would continue down the Jordan Valley to the
Dead Sea and around its eastern shore at the foot of Mount Nebo to
Machaerus.”

“How long do they plan to be there?”

“A week or longer, probably longer”—Cornelius smiled glumly—“if the
Tetrarch has to recover from one of his usual drunken orgies. But if you
should wish to leave earlier, I’d be glad to escort you back to
Caesarea. And we’ll see that you don’t ran afoul of Bar Abbas or any of
those other zealot cutthroats.”

“I really would like to go, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t, even if
Pilate won’t. If I only knew that Longinus would be there.” ... She
broke off, laughing. “Cornelius, why do you suppose old Sejanus recalled
him to Rome? Do you think it was because of”—she shrugged—“well, us? And
do you suppose he’ll continue to provide assignments that will keep him
away from Palestine?”

Cornelius shook his head. “I hardly think so, Claudia. The Prefect, in
my opinion, summoned him to Rome to inquire about the situation out
here. I think he wanted to learn about the temper of the people, how the
Jews were taking to Antipas and his new wife, and to the new Procurator;
that was one reason, I’m sure. But he was mainly interested in learning
whether the revenue was flowing into his treasury without being diverted
in part into the coffers of....” He paused.

“Pilate and Antipas?”

“That’s my opinion, Claudia. I don’t believe the Prefect is really
concerned with anything beyond keeping the province peacefully paying
its taxes. So I’m confident Longinus will be sent back to Palestine,
he’s the man Sejanus needs for the job he gave him ... and still needs;
he’ll be back, though I’d hesitate to predict when.” He shrugged his
shoulders. “For a soldier, I’ve been speaking very freely, and to the
wife of the Procurator, at that.”

“And for the wife of the Procurator, so have I. But I’m not naïve enough
to think, Cornelius, that you don’t know just how little I am Pilate’s
wife. You must feel free to talk with me in complete frankness, just as
I feel free to talk that way with you. And tomorrow, by the gods, Pilate
willing or Pilate grumbling—and he won’t grumble at me, by the Great
Mother—I’ll start with you for Machaerus.”



                                   30


The two sat in a protected spot of warming sunshine on the terrace at
Machaerus. A week ago as the caravan bringing the Tetrarch’s party had
moved down the low trough of the Jordan, the faintly greening willows
and oleanders bordering the twisting stream had hinted of spring. But
here on this desolate, upflung headland, barren and granite-capped, the
March winds were crisply chill.

“Are you cold?” Herodias asked. “Would you like to go inside?”

“No, it’s wonderful out here, as long as we’re sheltered from the wind.
It’s so bracing, so invigorating after all our dissipating....”

“But, my dear, I haven’t been aware of your dissipating at Machaerus.
With Longinus not here....”

“Pluto roast old Sejanus! But too much wine, nevertheless, and entirely
too much rich food.” Claudia looked out from beneath long eyelashes.
“After all, isn’t more indulging done in banquet halls than in
bedrooms?”

“As far as I’m concerned, yes, certainly.”

“But the Tetrarch is here with you, Herodias, and he appears to be in a
gay holiday mood.”

“Here with me? Hah!” She tossed her head disdainfully. “With his women,
you mean, those dark, fat, greasy, perfume-reeking Arabian women old
Aretas gave him. And his little girls.”

“Little girls?”

“Yes. Hadn’t you noticed? They seem at the moment to be an important
part of the Machaerus staff. As Antipas gets more senile—and I’m sure
he’s getting that way—he tries more and more to ape the Emperor. At
least, that’s what I believe he thinks he’s doing. It’s disgusting, of
course, but I welcome being relieved of his crude attentions.”

“But in Rome, Herodias, weren’t you eager to marry Antipas?”

“Yes, but you know why. I wanted to marry the Tetrarch of Galilee and
Peraea so that I could make him a king and myself a queen. I sought the
office, my dear, not the man.” She pulled her lips into a determined
grim line. “And I still expect to see him on a king’s throne, with me
seated beside him. But as a man Antipas has as much attraction for me as
... as I suppose Pilate has for you.”

Claudia laughed understanding, but made no observation. Instead, she
pointed westward. “Look how high we are here. The Dead Sea seems almost
below us, and it must be several miles away.”

“The surface of the Dead Sea is a quarter of a mile below the surface of
the Great Sea. And we’re a half mile above the Great Sea; that would
make us, where we sit now, about four thousand feet above the Dead Sea,
wouldn’t it? Jerusalem, of course, is almost this high.” Herodias
twisted around slightly to point northwestward. “See, across there,
almost straight west of the top of the Dead Sea, that’s Jerusalem. It’s
too far away, of course, for us to distinguish any of the buildings, but
the city’s on that rise, just there. Sometimes of a late afternoon, when
the angle is just right, they say, one can see the sunlight flashing
from the golden roof of the Temple.”

Claudia looked off to her left and settled back in her chair. “Herodias,
why did they ever build this palace in such a desolate, rockbound region
so far from everything?”

“I asked Antipas the same question. He said it was built more as a fort
than a palace. This is near the southern boundary of the tetrarchy. Down
there”—she pointed southward above a narrow valley fast greening with
luxuriant vegetation—“beyond that stream with its banks lined with
willows is the kingdom of Aretas. The Herods originally came from that
region at the southern end of the Dead Sea, which was called Idumaea. So
this fortress up here was built as a defense post.”

“Then Aretas isn’t far away, is he? By the way, what became of his
daughter, the woman you displaced?”

“I don’t know, and what’s more, I don’t care!” She realized that she had
spoken petulantly. “I didn’t mean to be short, Claudia. I have no reason
to hate her, after all. And I have no idea that she or her father will
attempt reprisal against Antipas. Any attack upon him would be an attack
upon Rome, and surely they wouldn’t risk that.”

“I think you need have no apprehensions. But, of course, I know
absolutely nothing about this King Aretas or his daughter. Generally,
though, I understand, these eastern peoples are impulsive and
vindictive.”

“But they’re also known to be very shrewd. Surely he would know he
couldn’t defeat Rome.”

“If he calmly considered the situation, yes.” She shrugged. “I hope so.
If Rome should be involved in war with the Arabian king, Sejanus and the
Emperor would both be infuriated, and Sejanus, I’m sure, would place the
blame for it upon Antipas ... and you.” She had been looking downward
beyond the descending outcroppings of granite and limestone and sand to
the great sluggish salt sea far below them. But now she confronted
Herodias, her countenance plainly concerned. “Herodias, if Aretas should
seek vengeance against the Tetrarch and you, what would the Israelites
do? Would they fight him? Have they become reconciled to your being
Tetrarchess? Do many of them still hold with that wild fellow we
encountered that day on the river bank?” She paused, and suddenly her
eyes were roundly questioning. “Wasn’t it to Machaerus that Antipas sent
him? By the gods, is he here now?”

“Yes, and still a troublemaker. They say his followers have been coming
here all the time since he’s been imprisoned. Haven’t you noticed all
the Jews coming and going while we’ve been here? Look.” She indicated a
point far down the slope where the trail to Machaerus led from the road
paralleling the lakeside. “That group down there, I’d wager they’re
coming here to listen to the fellow’s haranguing. And they’ll try to see
Antipas and petition him to free the madman.” For a moment she watched
the men coming slowly up the slope. “If Antipas had done as I said and
had the man beheaded, he could have prevented all this; while that
fellow’s alive there’ll be more and more agitation against us.” She
hunched up a shoulder. “But what can one do with a person,” she said
indifferently, “who is not only fearful and woefully superstitious but
is horribly obstinate as well?” She stood up. “Excuse me, Claudia; you
stay out here and sun yourself as long as you like. But I have some
things to do before we sit down to Antipas’ birthday banquet, one of
which, no doubt”—her brittle laugh echoed across the terrace—“will be to
get him sobered sufficiently to attend it himself.”



                                   31


The Tetrarch, mouth open, his thick lips grease-smeared and
wine-purpled, snored sonorously; his round, closely cropped head,
cradled in his hand, swayed in precarious balance on the column of his
forearm which was pressed into the heavy cushion.

Herodias, reclining at his left, had changed position to rest her head
on her right arm and thereby avoid somewhat breathing the heavily
alcoholic exhalations of her spouse; she lay facing her daughter.

Claudia, Herod’s guest of honor, was at his right, and next to her, as
the ranking Roman soldier at Machaerus, Herod had placed the Centurion
Cornelius. Other guests, in various stages of intoxication, sat or
reclined on their elbows or had fallen inert on their couches to the
right and left of the Tetrarch.

The banquet had begun in the daylight of late afternoon, and by the time
the sun had dropped behind the western headlands the Tetrarch and his
guests had begun to be surfeited with the richly tempting food, the
wine, and the wildly sensual dancing of Herod’s darkly handsome Arabian
women, who, nude but for gossamer thin, gaily colored loincloths,
writhed and twisted in the open square before the tables to the
oriental, whining insistence of the strings and the maddeningly
rhythmical beat of the drums.

But now the dancers, their copper-hued perspiring bodies shining as
though they had been rubbed with olive oil, had retired to a chamber
adjoining the banquet room. From there they could come prancing out
barefoot, with lewd twistings and contortings, at the first summons of
the musicians. Until Antipas should arouse from his stupor, though, and
call for them, they would be free to relax.

Cornelius, who had been eying the Tetrarch, nodded in his direction. “If
we could get his head down flat,” he said to Claudia, “he’d be asleep
until morning, and we could leave. Wouldn’t you like to get away?”

“Yes. I’m gorged. And I’d like to have a breath of fresh air on the
terrace. Perhaps Herodias would excuse us. I had no idea that
Antipas....”

But at that instant the Tetrarch’s head slipped from its cradling hand,
and he fell face downward upon the cushion. The sudden drop awakened
him, and he twisted his legs around heavily and sat up. The leader of
the musicians, seeing him, signaled his men to begin playing and
motioned to the dancers to return.

“No! No!” shouted the Tetrarch. “We have had enough of their dancing!
But now, my friends”—Antipas faced right and left to look along the
couches, as his guests began to sit up—“I shall provide you with more
novel entertainment.” He paused and reached for his wine goblet. “I ask
your pardon for having gone to sleep, although I’m sure a number of you
did likewise. During our stay at Machaerus I have been overindulging in
food and wine and, for a man of my age, certainly, other more strenuous
pleasures.” He ran his thick tongue over his greasy lips and smiled
lewdly. “But now”—he signaled two of the guards standing at the doorway
opening upon the terrace—“go into the dungeon and fetch to our birthday
feast the Wilderness prophet.”

Herodias whirled about to confront him, her countenance betraying both
anger and amazement. “Why should the Tetrarch bring that depraved madman
here to insult his guests, his wife, and himself? Has the Tetrarch
permitted too much wine and too many women...?”

“Patience, my dear! And be calm. I am not having him brought before us
to insult us. On the contrary, he will ask our pardon for his
intemperate words, and we shall release him.”

“Release him! By all the gods, can the Tetrarch be speaking seriously?
Does he for one moment contemplate giving this notorious insurrectionist
his freedom to resume his agitating against us, against Rome...?”

“But, my dear Tetrarchess, Rome, as represented by the Centurion
Cornelius,” he interrupted, as he glanced toward the centurion and then
turned his head the other way to address his wife, “thinks that
releasing this man will be not only an evidence of the Tetrarch’s
magnanimity but also a politic act greatly pleasing to a countless
number of our Jewish brothers. It was he who suggested....”

“But are not you Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea? Was it not your wife
and you, not the centurion, whom this revolutionary castigated so
bitterly? And has he not sought to inflame the people even against
Rome?”

Claudia had turned to confront Cornelius; she said nothing, but her eyes
were sharply questioning. He bent forward and spoke quietly, so that
none of the others would hear.

“I did suggest that it would be a good idea—especially in so far as
Sejanus is concerned—for him to free the man, since it would please the
Jews and the man is plainly no insurrectionist against Rome. But I
didn’t know he meant to have the fellow brought before us. The man
should have been freed quietly, with no fanfare.”

“Frankly, I think he would have done better,” Claudia whispered to
Cornelius, “to have had the fellow beheaded, but quietly.” She leaned
nearer the centurion. “Antipas craves attention; he tries to be
dramatic. He’s always....”

But suddenly she stopped, for the guards, flanking the manacled
prisoner, were entering the great hall. They escorted John into the open
square before the Tetrarch’s table.

“Unbind him,” the Tetrarch commanded, “and step back from him.”

In an instant the guards had removed the shackles about the prophet’s
wrists and retreated to their former places at the doorway.

Though not all the Tetrarch’s guests had completely sobered, every eye
was on the Wilderness preacher. In the months he had been imprisoned in
the Machaerus dungeon, John had lost the leathery deep burn of the
desert, but otherwise he was little changed. He was tall and erect and
perhaps even more gaunt than he had appeared to be the day Antipas had
ordered his arrest; his coarse brown robe, belted with a woven rope at
the waist, hung loosely about him. But his eyes still blazed with the
zealot’s fire as, relaxed and silent, he stood calmly facing the
Tetrarch.

“You are the Prophet John of the Wilderness and the Jordan Valley?”
Antipas asked, his tone and manner almost friendly.

“Have I been so long in your dungeon, O Tetrarch, that you can’t be sure
you know me?”

The question and the tone in which it was framed were sarcastic, even
patronizing, but the Tetrarch appeared to take no offense.

“It was an idle query, and you have been a long time in prison. Perhaps
your intemperate words to the Tetrarch and the Tetrarchess have been
sufficiently punished.” Antipas smiled blandly and rubbed his fat hands
together. “Our banqueting this day is an occasion of joy and merriment;
it is our birthday and to mark it further the Tetrarch is happy to
demonstrate before these our honored guests, including even the wife of
the great Procurator Pontius Pilate”—he bowed toward Claudia, who had
been listening avidly—“and our honored Centurion Cornelius, his softness
of heart toward his subjects. Today a group of the prophet’s
followers”—now he bowed toward John—“has petitioned the Tetrarch to
liberate him. These men assured us that you”—he spoke directly to the
gaunt preacher—“have never had any thought of insurrection against the
government of Rome or the Tetrarch but that you were concerned only with
the promulgation of our true religion. I agreed I would grant their
petition. Now as soon as you satisfy me that you will cause us no
further trouble and express your regret for the intemperate and
malicious words with which you castigated the Tetrarch and his beloved
Tetrarchess, as soon as you assure us that you have repented of your
evil words....”

“Repented!” John’s eyes blazed. “I have nothing for which to repent to
you, O Tetrarch! My repentance is to the God of Israel against whom I
have sinned and continue to sin. But I have done you no evil. I call
upon you to repent, O you of evil and lustful heart, you robber of your
brother’s bed!” The prophet lifted himself upon his sandaled toes and
pointed with lean forearm straight upward toward the ceiling dome.
“Repent! Repent! Repent, for your days are numbered! The Messiah of God,
Him of Whom I spoke in the Wilderness and along the Jordan lowlands, had
come! Even now He walks up and down Galilee preaching of the coming of
the Kingdom and bringing blessed salvation to those whose ears are bent
to hear Him. The time of repentance, O Tetrarch, is now!” He lowered his
gaunt arm, and the robe fell about it, and he swept it in an arc in the
faces of the diners on the square of couches. “Repent! Repent! Cast away
your sins and be cleansed, and be baptized!”

Suddenly the preacher paused, and his blazing eyes settled upon the
Tetrarchess. He thrust out his arm and held it before the startled
woman’s face. “And you, repent, you evil woman, you deserter of your
lawful bed, return to your husband, forswear your adulterous
cohabiting....”

“Hold your tongue!” Herodias, eyes flashing her uncontrollable rage, her
cheeks flaming, had sprung to her feet. She leaned across the
food-covered, disordered table. “By all the gods, O Tetrarch”—she turned
to grasp her husband’s shoulder as he sat upright on the couch—“I will
hear no more of this evil madman’s prattle. Send him away—have him shot
with arrows, or order him beheaded, or throw him again into the
dungeon—by the great Jove, I don’t care what you do with him, but I will
not remain here with him and be further insulted!” She shook his
shoulder furiously. “Do you understand, Antipas? Do you understand, by
the Great Mother Ceres?”

The Tetrarch stumbled to his feet, swayed, but clutched the table edge
to steady himself. “Take your seat, my dear,” he said evenly. “I
understand very well what you say. And you speak the truth.” He turned
from her to face the desert preacher. “I had meant to hand you your
freedom, Wilderness prophet; I had meant to give you into the care of
your friends who remained here tonight to take you back into Judaea. But
your vicious tirade against us forces me to change my plans for you.” He
beckoned to the two guards. “Manacle him, and return him to the
dungeon,” he commanded.

Quickly they fettered his wrists and, grasping him by the arms, led him
toward the door through which moments ago they had brought him into the
chamber. John walked silently, head erect and unafraid. But as they were
about to go out through the doorway, he jerked his arms free, and
whirled about to face the Tetrarch and his guests. Raising the manacled
hands, he pointed toward the Tetrarch. “Repent, adulterer!” His blazing
eyes sought the still incensed Herodias. “And you, whore of Rome, get
you back to your Babylon!”

The guards jerked their prisoner through the doorway, and the door
closed heavily behind them. The banqueters, silenced by the bitter
exchange between Herodias and the prophet, listened to the retreating
footsteps of the three along the corridor.

“The fellow’s a fool,” Claudia observed in a low aside to Cornelius,
“but he does have courage.”

“Yes, he must believe that he’s serving his Yahweh and Yahweh’s
Messiah,” the centurion agreed; “that faith must be the source of his
courage.”

“Amazing. I cannot understand how these Jews can be so swayed by such
silly superstition. I do wonder what Antipas will do with him; Herodias,
if she could, would have his head off in a minute. And so would I, if he
had talked to me as he did to her.” She tossed her head and smiled
indifferently. “But why should I be concerned about this Jewish fanatic?
I don’t care one green Campanian fig what happens to him.”

As she reached for her wine goblet, which a servant had refilled,
Antipas set his down and stood up. The servant hastened to fill the
Tetrarch’s. Antipas licked his thick lips. “By the beard of the High
Priest,” he said, “I really intended to liberate the prophet. His
imprisonment is on his own head.” He clutched the table’s edge to steady
himself again. Then he grasped his wine goblet and drained it in one
gulp. The servant raced around the table to refill the empty glass.
Antipas picked it up and twirled it slowly on its slender stem, “Drink,
my friends! Let us dispel this sudden gloom. Isn’t this the Tetrarch’s
birthday? Drink! Drink!” He downed the wine as his guests, lifting their
goblets, drank to their host. Antipas clapped his hands. “And now, music
and the dancing women!”

The leader signaled to his men, and the musicians began their lively
playing, as the Arabian dancers came scampering again into the hollow
square before the tables. Antipas sat down, rested his head on the palm
of his left hand, and with his right reached for the glass.

“Soon now he’ll be very drunk, and we can escape,” Cornelius whispered
to Claudia. “He’s still afraid of the Wilderness preacher, and he will
try to drown his fears in wine.”

“But he just ordered the fellow back to the dungeon.”

“He also fears Herodias. He’ll free John, though, as soon as he can do
so without his wife’s knowing about it.”

The tempo of the music was increasing, and the women, refreshed by the
long intermission they had been having and the food and wine they had
been served, were fast approaching a frenzy of abandon in their wild
convolutions and sensual writhings. For a few moments the jaded
Tetrarch, watching the brazenly lewd gyrations of the dancing women,
appeared to be gaining renewed stimulation. But quickly his interest
faded; he sat up on his couch and straightened himself. “Hold!” he
commanded, waving his hand aloft. “Enough of this. We are surfeited on
dark women.”

The music stopped. “Let them go,” said Antipas, nodding toward the
leader of the musicians. The man bowed to the Tetrarch and, turning,
waved his dismissal to the dancers, who went tripping out. Once again
the great triclinium was as still and the guests as suddenly silent as
they had been at the dramatic entrance of the gaunt prophet.

Now the Tetrarch, beaming, looked to his left beyond his Tetrarchess.
“It is our wish that our beloved daughter Salome honor our birthday by
dancing for the Tetrarch and his guests,” he declared in honeyed tones.
“Will you not dance for us, my dear child?”

Cornelius leaned forward to watch Herodias’ daughter. Salome seemed
amazed at her stepfather’s request. “But, Sire,” she ventured to
protest, as she turned on her couch to face the unctuously smiling
Tetrarch, “doesn’t my dear father know that I am not a dancer? Surely he
prefers the dancing of women trained in the art.” She shook her head
firmly. “Sire, I would not wish to display before this company just how
poorly....”

“Oh come now, my child, your dancing will delight the Tetrarch and his
guests. Do not let maidenly modesty deny us the pleasure of seeing you
perform.” The Tetrarch’s eyes were beginning to flame. “We would delight
in your dancing, my dear. After all that dark flesh, a flashing before
us of firm, white, youthful....”

“But Salome, the Tetrarch well knows, is not accustomed to dancing
before companies such as this.” Herodias, her eyes challenging, caught
her husband’s arm in protest. “And has not the Tetrarch seen enough
already of both white and dark female flesh? Is he not surfeited with
women? Why should he wish to see a child...?”

“I wish to see her dance, my dear Tetrarchess. I have never seen her
dance. And is this not my birthday? Shouldn’t one be indulged on his
birthday?” He leaned past his wife to plead again with Salome. “Won’t
you, my dear Salome, dance just this once, to please and flatter your
doting father?”

Claudia leaned close to Cornelius. “I don’t believe ‘doting’ is the
word,” she whispered; “I’d say ‘drooling’ is more like it.”

Antipas was still pleading with the girl. “If you will but dance this
once for us, Salome, my child,” he said, his voice soft and sugared, his
round face disarmingly friendly, “I will grant any request you make of
me.”

“If I could dance well, Sire, I would be happy to dance for the
Tetrarch, but I am not skilled in that art, nor do I have the mature
charms of the Arabian women nor the....”

“But you have the tender charms, my dear Salome, the virginal charms of
the bud about to open to full flowering. And I am satiated with these
wide-open flowers ready to shatter.” He stood up and braced himself
against the table, then turned toward her with renewed pleading. “Dance
for us, my dear. Dance for us, and I will reward you what you will, I
swear by the High Priest’s beard, even to the half of our tetrarchy!”

“But, Sire, even were I able to please the Tetrarch with my poor
efforts, I am not suitably dressed....” The girl paused, for her mother
had leaned over to whisper in her ear. She listened, solemn-faced, and
then, suddenly smiling, she turned back to address the Tetrarch. “Sire,
if the Tetrarch would not unmercifully censure my stumbling attempts,
and”—she hesitated, and her smile was demure—“does the Tetrarch really
intend seriously to grant any request I might make of him?”

“I’ve never been more serious in my life, my dear child. I fully intend
to keep my promise. Anything you want, a marble palace, a pleasure barge
to rival Cleopatra’s, gold, precious gems, silks from the Orient,
anything; it is yours but for you to name it ... after you have danced
for the Tetrarch and his guests.”

“Very well, Sire.” The girl stood up. “I shall do my best to please the
Tetrarch and his guests on his birthday. But, first, I must change my
costume.” Herodias arose unsteadily to stand beside her. “Mother will
help me dress.”

Claudia leaned to her right to whisper to Cornelius. The Tetrarch,
absorbed in watching his wife and stepdaughter, would hardly have heard
her had she spoken aloud. “It’s Herodias who’s told her to dance for
him. She’s got some sort of scheme in mind, and I’m sure it hinges on
that request. I wonder what it will be....”

Cornelius nodded. “Something, I would say, that bodes the Tetrarch no
good. I’ll be interested myself to see what Salome will ask.”

A few minutes later Herodias reappeared in the doorway. She signaled to
the leader of the musicians, and he went over to her; she talked with
him a moment, and then, as he rejoined his group, she made her way
around the couches to resume her place beside the Tetrarch. Immediately
the leader raised his hand, and the musicians began to play.

“By the great Jove!” Cornelius, who had turned momentarily to reply to
something Claudia had said, glanced back toward the doorway through
which the Tetrarchess had returned. At his murmured exclamation Claudia
looked in the same direction.

“By Bona Dea! what a transformation!” she exclaimed.

Salome was standing just inside the doorway. When she had left the
chamber a few minutes ago she had been wearing a shimmering white silken
stola, held at the waist by a wide girdle of interlaced narrow strips of
green and gold, and golden sandals. Her raven-black hair had been combed
back from a part in the center and bound in a loose knot at the back of
her neck where it was held neatly in place by a net. Her hair, like her
mother’s and Claudia’s, had been arranged in the style currently popular
among Roman women of the equestrian class.

But now the girl, immobile and statuesque, stood stripped of every
garment she had worn in leaving the chamber. At first glance the
centurion thought Salome had returned completely in the nude, save for
the few thin veils she had draped about her shoulders. But looking more
closely, he saw that her loins were bound, though scantily, with a
carefully folded flesh-colored veil. To the casual observer and
certainly to the aging Tetrarch, the girl appeared to be standing before
them divested of all her clothing. The brightly colored veils even
heightened the illusion. She was barefoot, and her hair, freed from the
restricting net and unbound, fell past firm, outthrust breasts almost to
her slim waist in a tumbling dark cascade of curls. Salome looked as
though, finding herself unclad, she had pushed her black tresses
suddenly through a small wispish rainbow that had settled about her
white shoulders and slipped downward to her dimpled knees.

“Her charms seem quite mature,” Cornelius whispered to Claudia,
grinning.

“And I suspect they’re no longer virginal,” she replied. “But, by the
gods, she must be sixteen, and”—she leaned nearer and spoke into his
ear—“whoever could imagine a Herodian virgin any older!”

Claudia’s caution had not been necessary, for the Tetrarch’s dark eyes,
smoldering as though at any moment they might burst into flame, were
measuring and exploring and savoring the girl. Claudia, following
Cornelius’ eyes, glanced toward the entranced ruler and then, turning
back to the centurion, whispered again, “Soon he’ll be drooling. He’s
mad, stark, raving mad.”

The music had been soft and slow, but now Salome, with a quick upward
flexing of her fingers and a nod to signal the musicians, stepped
forward a pace and with shoulders twisting and hips undulating came
slithering into the opening between the tables.

From high on a pilaster a shaded lamp cast a circle of bright light in
the center of the hollow square. As she tripped on the balls of her bare
feet, Salome held the sheer veils lightly to her white body, arms
crossed over her breasts, taking care to avoid the full brightness of
the illuminated circle. Once she ventured, whirling and twisting, to
come as close to the Tetrarch as the position directly in front of
Cornelius, but then teasingly she doubled back the other way. When a
moment later she reversed her direction and came prancing between the
bright circle and the Tetrarch’s couch, Antipas lunged forward to grasp
her, but laughingly she slipped from his reach and sped away.

“Magnificent! Wonderful!” he shouted, unabashed, as he sank again to his
couch and reached for his goblet. “My child, you restore the sap of
youth to my aging limbs!”

At the edge of the circle and straight across it from the Tetrarch,
Salome stopped, and as the drums ceased their throbbing and the strings
subsided to a whisper, she turned deliberately to face the Tetrarch and
his guests.

“Bountiful Ceres!” Claudia kept her voice low. “Is she going to discard
those veils?”

But Salome, with her arms still pressed across her chest, continued to
clutch the colored gauze protectively before her. The music began to
increase in volume, and hardly discernible at first above the harmony of
the strings and the flutes, the drums added their insistent throbbing.
Now the girl in the square before the diners slowly withdrew her right
arm, which had been crossed underneath the left one, and lifted it high;
at the same time she pushed forward her left leg, so that the gossamer
veils fell to either side to expose it from toes to hip, and leaned
back; the leg, torso, and lifted arm to ringed forefinger made one
continuous straight line of vibrant, glowing, suddenly stilled flesh,
veiled but scantily by the diaphanous colored silks.

Cornelius ventured a glance toward the Tetrarch. Antipas, upright on his
couch, was leaning forward, mouth half open, dark eyes staring
unblinking at his stepdaughter and grandniece. The centurion gently
nudged Claudia. “Any moment now,” he whispered, “he’ll be lunging over
the table again.” But his eyes darted quickly to the girl.

Her head was back, in line with the rest of her body, and her sultry
eyes looked upward to her extended forefinger. Now it began to move,
almost imperceptibly, so that few of the Tetrarch’s guests were aware of
the beginning of its motion. But Cornelius, intrigued, saw the finger’s
movement widening and speeding; like a serpent it was coiling and
uncoiling, twisting sideways, darting, writhing, all in perfect rhythm
with the music. As he watched, the motion of the finger appeared to flow
like liquid downward to involve the hand and then the forearm. Now along
the graceful length of her slender bare arm the smooth, unknotting
muscles, rippling and twisting, seemed to have transformed it into an
oriental adder swaying and bobbing to the compelling strains of the
charmer’s flute.

“The child’s amazing, I must agree with the Tetrarch,” Cornelius said.
“Do you suppose Herodias trained her?” He leaned forward to glance past
Antipas to the intent Tetrarchess who seemed absorbed completely in her
daughter’s performance. “What a symphony of motion and movement!”

“And when that movement begins to gyrate in the region of the hips,
Centurion, you’ll realize Salome’s no longer a child!”

Nor was the flowing, rhythmical motion long in attaining that region. In
synchronized rolling and lifting and falling, the right shoulder joined
the twisting, gently writhing arm, and then the rounded stomach
undulated, freed now of the teasing veils. As the tempo of the music
speeded and the volume swelled and the throb of the drums grew deeper,
the hips began their undulating motion. Grinding, thrusting,
withdrawing, thrusting, they moved faster and faster in an abandon of
voluptuous movement. Then the music slowed again and the frenzied
gyrations with it, and quickly the movement ran downward from the
stilled hips and disappeared in a restrained tapping of bare toes on the
mosaic of the triclinium’s marble floor.

The Tetrarch’s guests, inspired by his shouted acclamations, applauded
wildly. And before they had settled to silence again, Salome dextrously
transferred to her right hand the thin veils that throughout her
dancing, even in the abandon of its most voluptuous last moments, she
had held clutched snugly against her breasts, and lifted high her left
arm as she extended her right foot. Then she began anew the routine she
had just finished; she followed it, motion for motion, until in the
midst of the most lascivious portion of the dance she suddenly turned
her back to the Tetrarch and his company, and lowering her arm, without
missing one wanton movement of her writhing, weaving hips, she thrust
her arms, shoulder high, straight out to the sides. In each hand,
completely away from her perspiration-dampened, shimmering white body,
she clutched several of the bright-hued wisps of silk.

From where the diners sat across the bright circle from her, the girl
appeared to be entirely nude, despite the thin bit of flesh-toned silk
that bound her loins. Her curling long black hair hanging unrestrained
down her back and across her shoulders added to the illusion.

“But, my dear daughter, don’t you know that one never turns his back
upon the Tetrarch?” Antipas shouted, as he leaned out across the table,
his black eyes bulging as though they might leap from the sockets.

The girl’s only response was to draw in her hands slightly and then
thrust them outward again in the pantomime of unveiling herself anew as,
in an ecstasy of voluptuous simulations, she rotated her slim hips to
the mounting frenzy of the music.

“Wonderful! Wonderful!” Antipas clapped his fat hands together.
“Marvelous, my dear child! But must you continue to give your back to
the Tetrarch? Will you continue thus to tease us?”

Still Salome made no reply to her stepfather. But slowly, as Antipas
clutched the table edge to pull to his feet, the girl, without breaking
the rhythm of her seductive undulations, began slowly to turn herself
about, her arms still outthrust from her sides. The Tetrarch, seeing it,
let go his prop and sank heavily to the couch; once more his screamed
approval signaled the guests to new applause, as every eye in eager
anticipation followed the gracefully suggestive motions of their royal
host’s stepdaughter.

But hardly had the girl done a quarter turn toward the diners when
suddenly she drew the gossamer scarves protectively to herself, and,
whirling the remainder of the turn to face them, paused in her dancing.
Then with head tossed back and laughing, she scampered across the
spotlighted circle almost to the Tetrarch’s table. A pace from it she
stopped, turned her head, and with a nod signaled the musicians. As they
resumed the dancing rhythm, she began again her voluptuous gyrations.

Claudia was close enough now to Salome to see that the girl’s
half-closed eyes, peering through slits beneath the darkly shadowed
lids, were glancing from the Tetrarch to her mother beside him. Salome,
she was suddenly convinced, was performing for Antipas not out of her
own volition but through Herodias’ devising. And what, Claudia wondered
again, could the crafty Tetrarchess be planning to accomplish through
this brazen flaunting of her daughter’s physical charms.

But the Procurator’s wife had only a moment for conjecture; Salome
suddenly ceased her rhythmical writhings and stepped forward to lean
above the Tetrarch’s still burdened table. Teasingly, and before the
musicians were aware of her changed routine, she fumbled with the veils
still held pressed against her, and as Antipas, in a new frenzy of
excitement, sought to rise from his couch, she thrust her hands apart
and then, with a high squeal of laughter, crossed them again in front of
her. In the brief moment that her youthful but fully matured bosom had
been completely exposed to them, the Tetrarch had lunged out to clutch
her, but he had shattered his wine goblet instead and the girl,
screaming with laughter, had darted backward into the illuminated circle
to evade him.

As a servant came running up to mop the spilled wine and remove the
broken glass, Antipas settled back on his couch. “Aha! The clever little
vixen was too quick for me,” he said, turning to face his wife. “But
I’ll....” He said no more. Herodias, Claudia saw, was unsmiling, grim.
But evidently she hadn’t meant for Antipas to see her in such a mood,
for quickly she affected a cloaking smile. “By the gods,” she said to
her husband, “the child is clever, isn’t she?”

Salome was now in the center of the bright light. The music had died
away as the leader awaited his new instructions. The girl stood quietly
facing the Tetrarch and his guests, the colored veils clutched in her
crossed hands as though she were trying to cover herself in a chilling
breeze. Then she turned her head and lifted one veil-holding hand to
signal resumption of the dance music; the musicians swung quickly into a
fast rhythm that sent Salome dipping and prancing around the lighted
circle. As she came within inches of the Tetrarch’s table, Antipas once
more lunged toward her, but she had anticipated his attempt to catch her
and had darted out of reach. Laughing, she danced to the center of the
lighted spot; soon she was whirling around on the balls of her bare
feet, and as the tempo of the drums and the strings and the brasses
increased and the volume swelled, she circled as she pirouetted.
Opposite the Centurion Cornelius she released one of the veils and it
sailed across the table to be caught by the diner at his right.

“Another!” shouted Antipas as she whirled past his couch but safely
beyond his reach. “Another! Let another one fly!”

She was wheeling before the diners at her mother’s left when she loosed
a second veil; a man grabbed for it and thrust it beneath his pillow.
When she had spun around to the other side of the circle she held out
her arm and a yellow one sailed above the table. A man and a woman
grabbed for the floating gossamer; he caught it but laughingly
surrendered it to her.

“More! More!” screamed the Tetrarch, and around the square of the tables
others joined in chorus. And when the girl let two of the shimmering
scarves sail away together, they screamed again. “More! More! Let them
fly!”

Salome, her head back, laughing, began now to tease the Tetrarch and his
guests. Whirling around the rim of the patch of light, she would sweep
one hand with its veils outward with a flourish and then, without
releasing them, fold the arm back across the other one, which all the
while she had kept pressed close to her pirouetting white body.

“She’s an actress, the little coquette!” Cornelius observed. “She knows
how to build up suspense. She understands how to please Antipas, too;
she’s got a good sense of the dramatic.”

“Yes, and in another moment or so, unless I’m entirely wrong about her,
her dramatics will have Antipas—and maybe you, too—groveling.” But
quickly her expression changed to one of perplexity. “Still I wonder,
Cornelius, what Herodias is scheming. Surely she’s getting no pleasure
out of seeing her daughter make a spectacle of herself in public. There
must be something behind it; yet I can’t imagine what. What on earth
could she want so badly that she would go to such great...?”

But her question remained unfinished, for the girl had pranced, still
pirouetting, into the center of the bright spot. She paused in her
turning and with both hands clutching the remaining veils modestly
across her chest, signaled with a motion of her head to the leader of
the musicians. Immediately the volume of the music began to increase and
the tempo to speed, and Salome whirled faster and faster in time with
the music’s crescendo. As she spun on the balls of her bare feet, the
veils that had been hanging to her knees streamed out in a kaleidoscope
of whirling color. The flutes more insistently joined their whining
pleas to the deeper invitations of the harps and the dulcimers and the
rhythmical throaty demands of the drums; the girl’s black hair, standing
out from her head as she whirled, made a dark spinning disk above the
circular rainbow of the scarves.

Now Salome lifted one arm above her head, while she held the other
protectively before her, so that the dark whirling of her hair had above
it as well as beneath it a spinning rainbow of color.

“I think I know what she’ll do next,” Claudia said, leaning to her right
to speak to Cornelius above the steadily mounting volume and frenzy of
the music.

Antipas, too, must have anticipated it. “The other arm!” he shouted, as
he leaned forward, his eyes blazing with lechery. “Raise the other arm,
my dear child!”

But Salome did not obey the Tetrarch. Instead, as she came pirouetting
nearer him, she lowered the arm she had just raised, and the two
whirling circles of color merged into one fast, revolving gossamer
flame. Faster the girl spun, and faster, faster the musicians played,
and higher swelled their instruments’ invitation to abandoned revelry.

Antipas, who had sat back when the girl failed to heed his demand,
reached for his goblet, gulped his wine, and was replacing the
slender-stemmed glass when suddenly Salome, whirling hardly two paces
from his table, lifted both arms high into the air. The transparent
veils twisted upward with them to form above the girl’s swirling black
hair a spinning canopy of weaving and shifting bright colors.

Once more the Tetrarch overturned his goblet, and the wine spilled
across the table. But when a servant came racing to his aid, Antipas
waved him away. The Tetrarch’s amazed eyes had focused upon the dancing
girl; he would permit nothing to obstruct, even for an instant, his view
of her.

The spinning Salome in the circle of light from the wall lamp was nude
from the small gossamer triangle of her loins’ covering to the crown of
her head, and in the rapidity of her turning she appeared to be entirely
divested of clothing.

Antipas caught at the edge of the table and pushed himself, swaying, to
his feet. “Nearer, child, nearer!” he shrieked. “Come closer! Come
closer to us! Come....” But his frenzied words were choked in a swirling
cloud of silken transparencies, for his stepdaughter had let go all her
veils and one had dipped full into the flushed, round face of the
Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea.

As Antipas struggled to free himself of the clinging, vision-obscuring
fluff of silk, the guests around the tables grabbed merrily for the
descending veils. But by the time the Tetrarch had jerked the scarf away
from his face, Salome had already disappeared; she had darted across the
spotlighted mosaic floor into the enfolding privacy of the triclinium’s
antechamber. Behind her, her audience thundered its applause.

Moments later, before the birthday celebrants had settled completely
from the excitement of her dramatic exit, Salome, dressed as she had
been when she left to prepare for her dance, returned to the great
chamber and took her place beside her mother. Claudia, watching
discreetly, saw the Tetrarchess lightly squeeze the girl’s hand and bend
over to whisper into her ear.

Antipas sat up and beaming turned to face his stepdaughter. “My child,
you have pleased the Tetrarch immensely,” he said, as he rubbed his
plump hands together. “I had no idea that you could dance with such
grace and charm. Your dancing has far excelled the finest efforts of the
women of Arabia; it has added immeasurably to the pleasure of the
Tetrarch and his guests.” He reached for his goblet, swallowed the wine,
then wiped his mouth with the back of his hand. “And now, my dear
daughter, you have but to name your reward for thus having entertained
so pleasantly the Tetrarch and our friends. Speak out, Salome. What
shall it be? A palace of your own beside the sea? A great pleasure yacht
with servants in shining livery and galley slaves to row it? Perchance a
long visit to Rome to renew your friendships in the capital, with a
handsome allowance to cover every gift your fancy may envision? Speak
up, now. Let your wish be known, and it shall be granted.”

“Even, Sire, to the half of your tetrarchy?”

Antipas blinked, hesitated a moment, and then his round face brightened.
“Yes, if you ask it, even to the half of the tetrarchy, though I should
think a marble palace or a yacht....”

“Have no fear, Sire,” Salome interrupted. “I wish not the half of your
tetrarchy or any part of it. Nor do I need or desire a marble palace or
a pleasure boat, or a trip at this time to Rome.”

“Ah, but I know what will please you,” Antipas spoke up. “A new
wardrobe, full of beautiful garments fashioned of the finest silks
brought from the Orient or woven on the looms in Phoenicia....”

“No, not gowns or shoes or houses or yachts or journeys to Rome or gold
and silver....”

“But come, my dear child, you must be repaid for the pleasure you have
given us. I beg of you, name your any desire....”

“And the Tetrarch will grant it?” Salome stood up, facing the ruler of
Galilee and Peraea, just beyond her mother. “You swear it, Sire?”

“By the beard of the High Priest, I swear it, Salome. I shall grant
whatever you ask of me, even to the half of the tetrarchy.”

“Then, Sire,” she said, smiling demurely, “my request is simple and will
rob the Tetrarch’s treasury of not one denarius. It is my wish”—she
paused and looked the happily smiling Antipas full in his round
face—“that the Tetrarch present to me on a silver platter the head of
the Wilderness preacher called John the Baptizer.”

Claudia and Cornelius had been leaning out over their plates, avidly
following the conversation of the girl and her stepfather.

“By all the gods!” Claudia whispered, without taking her eyes from the
still calmly smiling Salome. “Now I understand. Herodias, by the
Bountiful Mother....”

But she said no more, for Antipas was pulling to his feet. “Surely,
child, I have not heard you correctly. Surely you would not wish to have
the head of a man....”

“But you did hear correctly, Sire. And you have sworn to grant me my
wish. I ask only for the head of the Prophet John.”

The Tetrarch, braced against the table’s edge, looked to his right and
then left along the tables. The eyes of his guests were fastened on
their plates; not one face was raised to help him. Antipas stood,
drained of all levity; the impact of the girl’s inhuman request, so
simply and heartlessly presented, had sobered him. He turned again to
Salome and tried to affect a smile.

“Were you a man, a soldier, perhaps, seeking revenge upon an enemy ...
but for a beautiful young woman of such charm and culture, who has
danced for us so delightfully”—he shook his head sadly—“such an utterly
strange request for a beautiful woman.” He seemed to be thinking aloud,
talking more to himself than to the girl. “To want the head of a prophet
of Israel, a man held in such esteem by so many of our Jewish subjects,
a prophet who may indeed have been sent of Israel’s God....” He broke
off, shaking his head as if in deep perplexity.

Claudia, watching Salome now, saw Herodias reach out and gently grasp
her daughter’s arm. The girl, still standing, smiled cynically and
tossed her head. “Nevertheless, Sire, that is my request. If, however,
the Tetrarch wishes to dishonor his oath before this company and refuse
me....”

The Tetrarch banged his fist on the table top. “The Tetrarch never
dishonors an oath!” he shouted. “He withdraws no promises he makes.” He
turned to face the two guardsmen at the door, the soldiers who had
brought the Wilderness prophet into the banquet room and had escorted
him back to the dungeon. “Guardsmen, you have heard the request of the
Princess Salome. Go you now into the dungeon and carry out her request.”
He paused. They stood stiffly at attention, awaiting his final command.
“Do you understand?”

The men glanced at one another, then faced the Tetrarch. “We understand,
Sire,” one said.

“Then go.”

Quickly the two strode out of the chamber; their footsteps echoed as
they marched down the hall. Antipas slumped on his couch, then lowered
his head between his hands. Salome took her seat. She smiled as she and
her mother whispered. The guests kept their places and were silent; the
servants, moving about to replenish the wine goblets, walked
noiselessly.

“The Tetrarch is making a monstrous mistake,” Cornelius said.

“Because he’s giving in to Herodias?” Claudia inquired.

“Because he’s ordering the prophet’s death.”

“Then you”—a faint smile crossed her face—“are afraid of the Jews’ one
god?”

“I could be,” he answered unhesitatingly. “But that’s not my reason. I’m
sure it’s....” He stopped. A servant had approached the Tetrarch’s
couch.

“The Centurion Longinus?” The Tetrarch raised his bulky frame to a
sitting position. “Indeed, bring him to us.”

At the sound of the Tetrarch’s words, Claudia looked up; her eyes
followed the retreating servant. Antipas turned to her. “The Centurion
Longinus has just arrived at Machaerus,” he said; “I’ve sent for him.
Shall we make a place for him between you and Centurion Cornelius
perhaps, my dear?” He grinned. “He must be famished from the long
journey to this forsaken outpost.”

A moment later the servant escorted the centurion to the Tetrarch’s
couch. Antipas greeted him cordially, presented him to the diners, and
ordered the servants to set him a place at the table. When after a
minute he was settled beside her, Claudia found his hand on the couch
and squeezed it hard. “It’s so wonderful to have you here,” she said. “I
can hardly wait to hear the news from Rome.”

“I can hardly wait to be with you ... alone,” he said. “It’s been so
long, and I had no idea I’d find you here.” He turned to Cornelius at
his right. “I’ve got much to tell you, Centurion,” he announced, “and,
no doubt, much to hear from you too.”

“But what on earth are you doing at Machaerus, Longinus? Where have you
been before this?”

“Tiberias,” he answered, “I came there after landing at Caesarea. I had
orders from Sejanus to convey to the Tetrarch. When I reached Tiberias
and found that he and his guests had departed for Machaerus, I set out
to follow. It was urgent that I see the Tetrarch as quickly as possible;
I didn’t dare await his return to his palace.”

Antipas had overheard. “We are happy that you came, Centurion, but what
mission could you have that would be so urgent?” He smiled, and his
manner was most agreeable. “A new style of glassware, perhaps, that you
wish to sell to the Tetrarch?”

“No, Sire, nothing to sell you ... now, at any rate. It’s a more
important mission. I’m coming to you from the Prefect Sejanus who is
sending you instructions in the name of the Emperor, for whom he is
acting in this case and after conferring with Tiberius at Capri. I
assure you it is important and urgent, and I desire an audience with you
at the first moment you may be available, Sire, in order to transmit to
you the instructions from Rome.”

“Indeed, Centurion”—the Tetrarch’s flippant manner had disappeared; his
countenance, at the centurion’s mention of Sejanus and the Emperor, was
suddenly grave—“if it is that urgent, we can leave the dining chamber at
once. But that would cause a lot of talk, I suppose. Must you confer
with me in secret, Centurion? These are all dear friends, my wife, the
Procurator’s wife, Centurion Cornelius. Is it necessary that the
information you bring me from Rome be kept from them?”

“Indeed, no, Sire. In fact, they would know soon anyway, as quickly as
you acted. And the Prefect desires that you act immediately.” He paused.
Antipas nodded. “In fact, Sire, it is fortunate that you are here at
Machaerus; your orders can be put into effect within minutes after they
have been issued. The Prefect’s instructions to you have to do with that
strange fellow we encountered along the Jordan as we were going to
Tiberias, the one you had arrested and brought here to be imprisoned,
you remember, the Wilderness prophet called John the Baptizer.”

“John the Baptizer!” The Tetrarch’s face had paled. Herodias, who had
been listening, leaned forward; her countenance was a mask. “But what of
John,” the Tetrarch began, “what...?” He paused, licked his dry lips,
and swallowed.

“Sire, it’s nothing to be unduly concerned about,” Longinus replied.
“It’s only a policy matter. You know that Sejanus and Tiberius are
always stressing the importance of keeping the Jews happy, at least to
the extent that they won’t attempt to revolt. And since John is so
popular among them, the Prefect believes that your release of the
prophet will be pleasing to the Jews and will, to that extent,
strengthen Rome’s rule ... and the Tetrarch’s. There’s no point in
needlessly offending them, you see. That’s why he sent me to you with
the suggestion, Sire, that you release John at once. He has prepared
notices, to be signed by you, for posting in Tiberias, Jerusalem,
Caesarea....”

The Tetrarch said nothing but buried his face in his hands. Herodias,
erect and unmoving, stared straight ahead.

“But, Sire....”

Longinus said no more, for Claudia had suddenly grasped his arm. He
turned and stared toward the doorway through which, a moment before the
centurion’s arrival, the two palace guardsmen had disappeared. Now the
two were returning. They advanced straight toward the Tetrarch. One man
was carrying, chest high and at arms’ length, a large silver tray of the
type used by servants at Machaerus for serving food. On the tray was a
rounded, gory mass.

“But that can’t be for me, surely,” Longinus whispered to her. “It looks
like raw meat, bloody.... Great Jove!” The man bearing the tray had come
close enough for them to see his ghastly offering. “By all the great and
little gods!” He twisted to face the girl, his expression suddenly
aghast. His voice, when at last he spoke, was hoarse and unbelieving.
“The Wilderness prophet?”

She nodded. “Yes, the Tetrarch had him beheaded ... just a moment ago,
perhaps even after you arrived here.” She turned her head to look away
from the guardsman’s horrifying burden.

But Longinus saw. The prophet’s head, with blood dripping from the stump
of the severed neck, lay on one ear in the tangled, gore-smeared mat of
his long, black hair. His beard, too, was blood-streaked, and his face
and forehead were smeared; blood had run down into the corners of his
eyes. Wide-open and set in staring rigidity, the eyes seemed to be
trying to communicate with him.

“Sire,” the guardsmen said, as he reached the table and held out the
profaned tray, “the Tetrarch’s orders have been carried out. The head of
the desert preacher....”

“No! No!” screamed Antipas, as he held up his right hand before his eyes
and pointed with the other toward his wife and her daughter. “Not here!
It’s ... it’s theirs! Put it there!”

The guardsman set the tray down in front of Salome, who glanced at it
idly and then lowered her head. Herodias stared unabashed at the pitiful
profanation before them, and then after a moment she, too, looked away.

Now the Tetrarch lowered his shielding hand and calmly turned to his
left to face Herodias and his stepdaughter. His demeanor, Longinus saw,
was suddenly changed. When he spoke his voice was calm, modulated. “The
Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea does not dishonor a promise made,” he
said. “My daughter, you have the reward you sought. Now what will you do
with it?”

The girl turned to stare an instant at her questioner. Then she glanced
again toward the head on the tray. Shock, nausea, sudden fear, horror
curdled her countenance, and she threw up a protecting hand to shut out
the fearful sight. “Give it to Mother!” she cried out, her voice shrill,
and tense. Jumping to her feet, she fled from the great chamber.

“Take it away!” Herodias screamed to a servant at her elbow. “Dispose of
it ... quickly!” Without a word to her husband, she reached for her wine
goblet and drank; then she drew up her feet, smoothed the skirt of her
glistening stola, and settled herself comfortably on her elbow.

Equally calm, Antipas leaned over to speak to Longinus. “I regret,
Centurion, that you didn’t reach Machaerus a few minutes earlier.
But....” He gestured with resignation, then sat back on his couch. He
was reaching for his wine glass when a palace servant approached,
bowing. The Tetrarch nodded to him. “Yes?”

“Sire, a delegation has just arrived; the men declare they were sent by
King Aretas. They maintain their mission is most urgent and they
petition—indeed, Sire, they demand—that the Tetrarch give them audience
this evening.”

“From King Aretas?” A heavy scowl darkened the Tetrarch’s full, round
face. “Most urgent, they say?” He was thoughtfully silent a moment. Then
he turned, glaring, to the obeisant servant. “Then bring them to us.”

“But, Sire”—the bowing man was rubbing his hands together nervously,
palpably fearful—“they suggested that perhaps the Tetrarch would wish to
receive them privately in his council chamber....”

“No! Who are they to tell the Tetrarch where he must receive them! Bring
them to us, at once!”

“Yes, Sire. Yes, immediately.” The timorous fellow was backing away,
bowing, as he rubbed his knuckles in his palm.

“Did you hear what the servant said?” Claudia whispered to Longinus, as
the Tetrarch twisted his heavy hulk the other way to watch the
retreating fellow. “I wonder....”

“Yes, so do I. And I’m sure Herodias does, too.” He turned to speak to
Cornelius on his right. “You heard the servant?” Cornelius nodded.
“Sounds like more trouble for the Tetrarch, doesn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t be surprised,” Cornelius agreed. “This seems to be a bad
night for the old fellow, a tough night, indeed.”

The representatives of the Arabian king were formally polite, rigidly
reserved.

“It is no pleasant mission on which we have been sent here, O Tetrarch
Herod,” the spokesman of the visiting Arabians announced, once they had
been presented to Antipas, “and we regret that we must speak as we have
been ordered to speak, Sire, and particularly that ears other than the
Tetrarch’s will hear the message we have been commanded to bring you
from His Majesty, King Aretas. But the Tetrarch has so ordered it, and
we must obey.” He paused, and from the fold of his robe pulled forth a
rolled document.

“Go on, speak,” Antipas told him. “The Tetrarch wishes on his
birthday”—he affected a grim smile—“that nothing be withheld from his
beloved wife and his guests. The Tetrarch is prepared to hear the King’s
message.”

The man nodded, and unrolled the document. “Sire, I have here the King’s
message to the Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. But would not the
Tetrarch prefer to have it read to him privately and then later, if the
Tetrarch might still wish it, have it read to this assembled group?”

“Read it, now. Go on with it. Let us all hear the King’s message.”

“Very well, Sire.” He bowed and then, shifting his position so that the
light from the wall lamps fell more directly on the parchment, held it
out from him and began to read. But when the stiffly formal greeting was
concluded, he raised his eyes questioningly.

“Continue,” said the Tetrarch.

The man nodded, and once more his eyes returned to the out-held
document. “‘King Aretas declares that the Tetrarch Herod Antipas in
sending his faithful wife, the King’s beloved daughter, a bill of
divorcement, after having deprived her of the honors and privileges of
the Tetrarchess of Galilee and Peraea, which honors and privileges
without right he conferred upon her successor, has grievously injured
and insulted the King’s daughter, his royal house, and the person of the
King himself.’”

Claudia gently squeezed Longinus’ hand beside hers on the couch, but she
dared venture no whisper. Slyly, though, they both glanced toward
Herodias who sat eying the Arabian, a malevolent, frozen smile on her
plainly flushed face.

The reader looked up again, but only for an instant, and then resumed
his reading of the Arabian ruler’s grievances. “‘Now, therefore’”—he
cleared his throat—“‘King Aretas demands that the Tetrarch Herod Antipas
seek to make what amends he can by providing certain reparations to King
Aretas, the terms of which shall be agreed upon in conference of the
Tetrarch and his ministers with the King’s ministers who bear this
message. But King Aretas further demands that before such negotiations
are entered into, the Tetrarch Herod Antipas must put away or reduce to
second wife the woman he now calls Tetrarchess and restore to her
rightful place as Tetrarchess and first wife the King’s beloved
daughter. He further demands....’”

“‘_He_ demands!’ Everything is ‘_He_ demands’!” Herodias had sprung to
her feet, her eyes blazing, her shaking finger extended across the table
toward the suddenly interrupted Arabian. Now she turned fiercely upon
the Tetrarch. “Didn’t you hear him, O Tetrarch? ‘_He_ demands!’ That old
goat of Arabia demands of you, Herod, Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. He
writes you an evil, insulting message abusing you and your wife, and you
sit here calmly listening while that man reads it before these your
guests and me your Tetrarchess....”

“But, my beloved Herodias”—Antipas clutched the table’s edge as he
straggled to get to his feet—“these men are only the messengers of King
Aretas. What you hear are not this man’s words, they are the King’s.”

“Of course I know that, Antipas; I am not entirely a fool. I know they
are the King’s words, but don’t they say that Aretas has empowered these
men to represent him in your negotiations over me? Over me, do you hear?
Negotiations designed to force me from the palace in Tiberias, to return
_her_....”

Gently Antipas caught his wife’s arm and tried to calm her, to get her
to take her seat. “Of course not, my dear, of course you’ll not be sent
away, you’ll never be supplanted....”

She jerked her arm free, turned upon him, eyes blazing now in utter
fury. “Then send them back to her doting old father! Send them packing,
Antipas!” She shook her finger under his nose. “Or else, by all the
great and little gods, I myself will go away!”

Antipas faced the still shocked Arabian. “Perhaps you had best excuse
yourself,” he said evenly. “Tomorrow, in the calm of our council
chamber, we shall be able....”

“No!” shouted Herodias. “Let them leave tonight, immediately. I can
abide their insulting presence here no longer!”

The Tetrarch, ignoring his wife’s outburst, beckoned to a servant
hovering nearby. “Escort these men into a suitable chamber, and see that
they are adequately provided for with our best food and wine,” he
commanded, “and after they have dined, show them to their bedchambers.
They must be in need of replenishment and rest after their arduous
journey to Machaerus.” He bowed to the delegation’s leader. “We shall
defer further consideration of the matter until the morning. We are all
greatly fatigued and agitated.”

The servant stepped forward and bowed to the visitors. They in turn,
without any further word from their spokesman, bowed to the Tetrarch and
turned with the escorting servant to withdraw from the triclinium.

Herodias, seated now and apparently calm, twisted around to watch them
depart. But when at the doorway Aretas’ spokesman glanced over his
shoulder toward the Tetrarch, she suddenly grabbed the goblet beside her
plate. “Go!” she screamed. “Go! Go!” With all her strength she hurled
the goblet toward the man; it shattered on the wall near the door. As a
servant came running to pick up the broken bits of glass, she sank to
the couch, pulled up her sandaled feet, and, sobbing wildly, buried her
face in the pillow.



                                 Judaea


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   32


The Tetrarch’s caravan had reached the flatland where the narrow Plain
of Esdraelon pushing eastward between Mount Gilboa and Little Hermon
touched the Jordan valley. There Longinus and Claudia had taken leave of
the returning group.

Cornelius had wanted to send a detail of guardsmen to escort them the
remainder of the way to Caesarea. “You never know when one of these
zealot gangs may come swooping down on you,” he had protested to
Longinus. “And if the Emperor’s stepdaughter should be captured, with
Senator Piso’s son, and held for ransom ... well, by Jove, Longinus, you
can imagine the uproar there’d be in Rome.”

But Longinus had refused the offer. He had assured Cornelius that their
little party, he, Claudia, and the two servants she had brought with
her, would join the first caravan headed toward Caesarea; until one came
along they would remain at the nearby inn.

Though the Tetrarch’s parting words had been polite, he had seemed
deeply meditative, still mired in the haze of introspection into which
the startling twist of his birthday celebration had plunged him. Nor had
the results of his meeting the next day with the representatives of King
Aretas enlivened him, for though he had yielded nothing to his former
father-in-law’s demands, he knew that the Arabians had departed in a
bitter mood that for him boded no good. That this unfortunate series of
events was known to two Roman centurions and the Procurator’s wife, and
particularly to Longinus, who had come to Machaerus on a mission from
the Prefect Sejanus whose accomplishment had been so disastrously
thwarted by the Tetrarch himself, made the situation all the more
distressing.

Herodias, on the other hand, apparently had recovered completely from
the loss of presence suffered at the Tetrarch’s banquet. She spoke with
her usual polished ease. “Soon you must visit us again at Tiberias, my
dear,” she said to Claudia, as the Tetrarch’s caravan prepared to resume
its journey, “and bring Longinus to protect you from our plundering
zealots.” She smiled pertly. “Longinus, help her arrange it. Let’s try
to get together in Jerusalem, perhaps during the Feast of Tabernacles.”

They had ridden at once to the inn, which sat at the edge of the road
that led from the Jordan ford straight westward past Mount Gilboa to the
Samaria highroad from Galilee.

“We will require two rooms,” Longinus told the proprietor, a beak-nosed
Jew with an unkempt, wine-stained beard. “The manservant will wish to
sleep near the horses; if there is a place in the stables....”

“Yes, soldier”—the innkeeper had observed immediately that his guest was
wearing a Roman military uniform—“he can bed down comfortably there. And
for you and your wife”—he paused, questioning, and Longinus nodded—“one
of the larger chambers, yes, and for the maid a smaller one, adjoining
yours, perhaps?”

“It will not be necessary that it adjoin ours; wherever you can
conveniently place her will be satisfactory.”

So a small room down the narrow hallway from theirs had been assigned to
Tullia, and now the maid had retired to it, and the manservant to a mat
at the stable. Claudia and Longinus had supper and, fatigued from the
journey down from Machaerus to the Jericho plain, they retired to their
chamber.

Longinus, seated on a low stool, was unbuckling his sandals. “I do hope
a caravan for Caesarea comes along soon,” he said. “I’m anxious to get
there; I’m almost tempted to venture the journey on our own. But with so
many of those zealots in the hills....”

“Then you have tired of me this quickly, you can’t wait to return me to
the Procurator?” she asked innocently.

“I’m getting tired of returning you _to_ the Procurator,” he said.

“And after every time with you I’m more loath to go back to him myself.”
The mask of innocence was gone; she was entirely serious now. “Longinus,
isn’t there something we can do, some solution? We simply can’t go on
like this indefinitely.” She had finished undressing; walking over to
the bed, she pulled down the cover, slid beneath it, and pulled it up to
her chin. “By all the gods, Longinus, there must be a better fate for
us. Surely the granddaughter of an Emperor, the stepdaughter of another
Emperor....”

“But that’s exactly why there is a problem,” he interrupted. “If you
were just a Roman equestrian, you wouldn’t have been forced to marry
Pilate in the first place.” He kicked off one of his sandals and twisted
about to face her. “Claudia, you could slip away from him and we could
go away somewhere, but that would hardly be a solution, though for me
certainly it would be a permanent one.” He smiled vapidly. “Also you
could ask Tiberius—and that means, of course, Sejanus, too—to permit you
to divorce him; I hardly think, however, that they would allow you to do
it, and then the situation would be worse than it is now; they would
watch us all the more and doubtless send us to separate far distance
provinces, the gods only know where.” He considered a moment. “There’s
the possibility, though—probability, I hope—that Pilate will soon do
something that will so infuriate Sejanus that he will depose him as
Procurator and perhaps banish him to another remote province. Then they
might allow you to divorce him and marry me, provided we went off to
Gaul or”—he shrugged—“Britannia or Hispania or some other faraway place.
But I’m not sure of that.” He removed the other sandal and placed it
beside the first one. “That is probably our best chance, Claudia, maybe
our only one as long as Tiberius and Sejanus stay in power. But even
then I can’t proceed too fast against Pilate, because then Sejanus would
surely suspect that you and I....”

“But doesn’t he think already that you want to marry me?”

“At first he did, I suspect. But now I think he’s convinced that our
interest in each other is ... well, a purely physical one. And Antipas,
I’m sure, has the same notion.”

“Certainly Antipas isn’t likely to cause us trouble. He’s in enough
trouble himself to keep occupied with his own affairs.”

“Yes. Between Sejanus and Aretas he’s likely to be very busy for the
next few months. And that gets me back—after you started me on another
tack—to why I’m so eager to be in Caesarea. I’ve got to get off a report
to Sejanus. I want him to hear from me what happened at Machaerus before
someone else gets the chance to tell him. He may think my dallying
allowed Antipas to behead the Wilderness fellow, and also he may wonder
why I didn’t prevent the trouble between Antipas and Aretas from coming
to such an acute crisis. So I want to get my report off as quickly as
possible, do you understand?”

“Yes, I do understand. You’re quite right, it’s very important. I
wouldn’t be surprised if Antipas got into a war with Aretas because of
Herodias. And that would bring the Roman legionaries into the fighting,
of course, and surely Pilate would be drawn in, and you.”

“Very probably, yes. Certainly it would involve Pilate sooner or later.
And, of course, the Legate Vitellius would be implicated. Sejanus will
certainly call on him to defend Galilee should Aretas attack Antipas.”

“Then the Tetrarch’s marrying Herodias may ruin him ... and Pilate,
too,” Claudia said thoughtfully. She lay, head back, watching him finish
his preparations for bed.

“You sound as though you hope it will.”

She stretched herself seductively under the light covering. “Well?” Her
quick smile revealed a suddenly changed mood. “But for tonight at least
let’s think no more of Antipas or Pilate. Tomorrow perhaps there’ll be a
caravan along, and we’ll be starting for Caesarea.” Gingerly she turned
down the covering beside her and held out white, bare arms to him.
“Hurry, Longinus,” she said softly. “The night is wasting.”



                                   33


Well ahead of his caravan returning to the palace at Tiberias raced the
startling and, to many, the highly provocative report of the Tetrarch’s
beheading of John the Baptist in fulfillment of a rash promise made to
his wife’s dancing daughter.

The delegation that had gone down to Machaerus to intercede for the
prophet’s release had brought back the tragic news; quickly the story
had spread to Jerusalem and to Ophel, the teeming Lower City into which
countless poor were squalidly compressed, and beyond there on past the
villages of Judaea and Samaria, all the way down into Galilee. Along the
shores of the little sea and in many a huddle of modest homes, and here
and there in the pretentious houses of the rich, Israelites were shaking
their heads sadly and muttering imprecations upon the Idumaean ruler of
Galilee and Peraea.

With the account of the Wilderness prophet’s execution went the story,
too, of how King Aretas of Arabia had sent his couriers to Machaerus to
threaten Herod Antipas with war because of the Tetrarch’s having
divorced the King’s daughter and made her supplanter Herodias his
Tetrarchess. Soon rumors began to spread that war with Aretas was
imminent and that the Arabian ruler was likely any day to bring his army
surging across the borders of Israel to punish his former son-in-law.

Even before the arrival at Caesarea of Claudia and Longinus, the stories
from Machaerus had reached the Procurator Pontius Pilate. Their
lateness, she explained to Pilate, had been unavoidable; they had waited
to join a caravan journeying westward rather than risk the hazards of
traveling with only two servants through a region frequented by robbers
and zealot revolutionaries.

Pilate appeared to accept without reservation her explanation; he
indicated in no way that he might be jealous of the centurion. His
attitude exasperated Claudia all the more.

“He can’t be that stupid,” she fumed one day to Tullia, with whom she
had long come to talk frankly and in utter confidence. “He surely knows
about Longinus and me. Yet if he’s in the least bit jealous of the
centurion, he’s careful not to let me know. It’s insulting, Tullia, his
indifference to me. It’s humiliating. Why do you suppose he acts that
way?”

“But you are the stepdaughter of the Emperor, Mistress. What could he
do, even though he is the Procurator?”

“He could be a man!” Claudia snapped. “He could kill Longinus, or try
to, and give me a lashing!”

The maid shook her head. “No, Mistress, not even a Procurator would dare
lay a hand on you, or anyone for whom you held high regard.”

“But I’m his wife, Tullia.”

“Yes, but you are also the Emperor’s stepdaughter, Mistress.”

Immediately upon their return to Caesarea from Machaerus, Longinus had
prepared a comprehensive report to Sejanus in which he related the
unfortunate events that had come to such a dramatic climax at the
Tetrarch’s birthday banquet. The message was dispatched to Rome on an
Alexandrian grain ship that had paused for a day in the harbor at
Caesarea.

In the several weeks that followed he saw little of Claudia. During that
period he went on a mission for Sergius Paulus to Jerusalem and upon his
return took command while Sergius was away at Antioch in response to a
summons from the Legate Vitellius, who commanded the Roman forces in
that entire eastern region. Sergius, Longinus was sure, had been ordered
to Antioch because of the Arabian king’s threat to attack Herod Antipas.
The Legate, he reasoned, was planning to have his forces ready for
action in the event that Aretas should challenge Rome by sending his
army against the Tetrarch. The centurion presumed that Vitellius had
summoned all military leaders stationed in Galilee—and possibly even the
Tetrarch himself—to meet him at Antioch. Longinus learned that his
guesswork had been correct; the meeting had been held, and the Legate,
Sergius said, had been blunt in his conversations with the Tetrarch.

Shortly after the Caesarea garrison commander resumed his post, a
message from Senator Piso for his son arrived. It instructed Longinus to
set out as quickly as he could for the glassworks. Production had
decreased, and the quality of the ware being manufactured was
deteriorating. Morale among the slaves, his father reported, seemed at
its lowest point. Longinus was to do whatever might be necessary to
speed up the plant’s production and improve the quality of the
glassware. The Prefect, his father added, was in complete concurrence
with these instructions. A fresh supply of slaves, said the senator, was
being sent out to Phoenicia by the Prefect; the slaves were being
shipped aboard a government trireme that was leaving Rome within a week
after the vessel bearing this letter would sail for Joppa. Longinus, the
letter suggested, might even go aboard this letter-bearing vessel when
it put in at Caesarea.

Little had happened in Rome since his departure for Palestine, his
father reported. The Emperor was still at Capri, and Sejanus was
directing the government of the Empire. His mother sent her love; she
was quite well, though of late she had been disturbed at the
indisposition of her little Maltese dog. But the animal, thanks be to
Jove and the patient ministrations of Longinus’ mother, was now
recovered.

“Try to achieve as quickly as possible a new production record at the
glassworks,” his father concluded. The Prefect was keeping an eye on the
figures, and it would be good business to earn the Prefect’s early
approval. “Don’t spare the slaves; they are the cheapest item in the
operational cost; replacements can be made quickly available.”

His eyes scanned the letter, hardly seeing the words. Ever the patrician
Romans, his parents ... his mother concerned with the indisposition of
that pampered, silken-haired pet, his father thinking only of pleasing
Sejanus and building up for the Prefect and himself more millions of
sesterces. Don’t spare the slaves; the life of a slave is the cheapest
item in the production of beautiful glassware for the tables of
patrician Rome and Alexandria and Antioch and Athens. Work them until
they fall dead, and heave them into the flaming furnaces.

Longinus thought of the old slave. What would Cornelius think of his
father’s letter, his father’s philosophy? But Cornelius’ father, too, is
of the equestrian class; perhaps he shares the views of Senator Piso.
Cornelius, of course, would disapprove. He would say that men are not
the cheapest items in the making of glassware or anything else. He would
hold with the Galilean carpenter that every man, Roman senator or Gallic
slave or black savage from Ethiopia, is a son of that jealous Yahweh of
the Jews and possessor of an immortal spirit.

And I, suddenly thought Longinus, do I hold with my father or with
Cornelius and the Galilean?

The day after Herod’s birthday banquet Cornelius had related to him in
dramatic detail what he contended was the Galilean’s miraculous healing
of Lucian, but Longinus had shrugged off his friend’s fervor with the
observation that once more, as in the case of Chuza’s son, the clever
carpenter from Nazareth had successfully judged the hour at which the
fever would break.

Of course his urbane, affluent father, rather than his Jewish-influenced
friend the centurion and the Galilean mystic, was right. Even without
using a stylus and tablet one can prove that a slave is the cheapest of
the several things involved in the making of fine glassware; his
father’s statement to that effect was quickly demonstrable. And yet....

Longinus shrugged and put away the letter. The ship, he discovered some
moments later, would be at the Caesarea port only long enough to load
supplies and freight; it would sail for Tyre within four or five hours.

He packed quickly and sent his bags to the dock to be put aboard. Then
he rushed to the Procurator’s Palace to tell Pilate and his wife
good-by. Happily, the Procurator had gone out. But Longinus could have
only a few minutes with Claudia.

“I won’t be up in Phoenicia long,” he reassured her. “It shouldn’t take
many days before I get the operation of the plant reorganized. And even
before I finish the task, if I find it takes longer than I now think it
will, I may be able to board a vessel and come down here for a visit.
Claudia, why couldn’t you arrange a journey”—his tone was eager—“over to
Tiberias for another stay in the Tetrarch’s Palace? That is, if in the
meantime”—his grin lightened the tenseness of the moment—“Aretas hasn’t
driven him and Herodias away? But if they’re still around, well, then I
could just by chance select that same time to visit Cornelius.”

When he could stay with her no longer she summoned the palace
sedan-chair bearers and rode with him down to the dock. After he had
embarked and the ship was moving across the harbor to gain the open sea
beyond the long breakwater, she stepped again into the sedan chair and
was borne to the palace.



                                   34


But the biting, sharp winds of spring, sweeping down from the mountains
of Judah across the lower Shefelah and the region of the coast, had
subsided into the still and enervating heat of summer, and the Centurion
Longinus had not yet returned to his post.

Nor had Claudia received any message from him. Sergius Paulus, too, had
heard nothing, as she found when on several occasions she had discreetly
inquired about the centurion. The Procurator’s wife began to wonder if
Longinus had been recalled to Rome and sent away by Sejanus on a mission
to some remote province of the Empire, perhaps even as far, the gods
forbid, as Brittania.

Then one day in late summer Cornelius appeared at the Procurator’s
Palace. Pilate, it happened, had ridden down the coast to Joppa; Claudia
and the centurion could talk freely. Hardly were they seated on the
terrace overlooking the Great Sea when she confronted him, eyes solemnly
inquiring, her forehead wrinkled.

“Cornelius, what can have happened to Longinus? I haven’t had a word
from him or concerning him since he left here for the glassworks so many
weeks ago. I can’t understand....”

“You’ve no cause to be worried,” he interrupted, laughing. “He is still
at the glassworks, or at any rate he was when I was there recently. He’s
been working hard. The plant had deteriorated considerably; he said it
required more work than he had anticipated to restore its operation to
normal. He’s been hoping all along to get back to Caesarea to see you,
but he just hasn’t had the opportunity. And he thought it best not to
send any written messages; unfortunately, there’s been no one coming
this way with whom he dared entrust a spoken one ... except for me, of
course. He gave me a message for you, but I’ve been delayed getting
here. He thinks you heard from him weeks ago.”

“And what was the message he sent?”

“Just what I’ve told you.” He grinned. “That he was well, working hard,
and hoped he would soon be in position to return to Caesarea.”

“That was all?”

“Should there have been more?” His eyes were teasing. “Yes, he said to
tell you that as far as he was concerned, nothing has changed. He’s
still looking to the future. Is that the message you sought?”

“Yes, and expected. And should you see him before I do, you may tell him
that my message to him is the same. But, Cornelius”—her expression
suddenly was earnest, almost pained—“things move so slowly; the future
seems so far ahead, and the waiting is so long.”

“Maybe not, Claudia. Maybe just around the turn of the road you’ll....”

“But I can see no turn.”

“The situation out here just now is so explosive that any moment could
bring great changes,” he insisted, “and overnight the problem you and
Longinus have could be solved. Pilate and Herod both could lose their
favored positions and, conceivably, their heads. And speaking of Herod
reminds me that I was to give you another message, too.”

“From whom, Herodias?”

“Yes.”

“She wants me to return with you to Tiberias?”

“No, not that. But she does want you to meet her in Jerusalem in October
at the Feast of Tabernacles. Pilate undoubtedly will go again this year,
and Herod too; after beheading the Wilderness prophet and possibly
involving Galilee in a war with Aretas, Antipas will surely want to go
up to the Temple to worship the Jewish Yahweh; it’s the only way
left—aside from dropping Herodias—for him to strengthen himself with his
subjects.” He paused and leaned forward, smiling. “I’ll have to take my
century up to Jerusalem, Claudia, as I do on all such occasions when
multitudes of Jews assemble there, and I’ll try to bring Longinus over
to Tiberias to make the journey to Jerusalem with me. If you’ll promise
to join us there, I’m sure I can promise you I’ll have the centurion
with me when I come.”



                                   35


Almost overnight Jerusalem had been transformed.

Through the long drought of the summer months the ancient city had grown
more drab with the deepening of fine dust upon its houses, its public
buildings, and even upon the resplendent Temple itself.

But now, with the coming of autumn and the annual great Feast of
Tabernacles, Jerusalem had bloomed into a veritable forest of greenery.
As far as Claudia could see from her perch high on a balcony of the
Tower of Antonia—down into the adjoining Temple area, along the terraced
rise of Mount Zion, southward to sweltering Ophel and beyond the always
smoking gehenna of Hinnom’s vale to the bluffs above it on the Bethlehem
road, and eastward past the Brook Kidron and the Garden of Gethsemane up
the slope of the Mount of Olives—stretched an almost unbroken canopy of
green boughs now beginning to wilt. Balconies, roof tops, the grounds
about the Temple walls, every unfilled small plot of the cluttered soil
of Jewry’s holy city, were covered with these improvised, temporary
dwellings.

The Feast of Tabernacles, Tullia had explained to her mistress, was the
Hebrew festival marking the end of the harvesting season and the early
beginning of the rains. It was an occasion of national thanksgiving to
Yahweh, one that commemorated the Israelites’ years of wandering in the
desert wilderness where, after their escape from Egyptian bondage, under
the leadership of their great law-giver Moses, they had dwelt in
booths—they called them tabernacles—made of branches hastily woven
together.

“And to this day,” Tullia had concluded, “in accordance with the
instructions in our sacred writings, every Jew during the Feast of
Tabernacles must leave his house and for eight days live in a hut made
of the branches of pine or myrtle or olive or palm.” The festival
occasion, she further pointed out, was one of rejoicing for Yahweh’s
deliverance of His children from slavery and His establishment of them
in their promised land. To honor Yahweh, the celebrants would offer
sacrifices each day and follow a prescribed order of worship and praise
and thanksgiving. These ceremonies, Tullia declared, were carried out in
great dignity and with reverence. Nothing she had ever seen in Rome, the
maid was certain, would excel them in pageantry.

“Mistress,” she pleaded, “why don’t you move from the Palace of the
Herods for a day or two to the Procurator’s apartment in the Tower of
Antonia? From there you could look down on the ceremonial rites being
performed at the Temple, and no one would need know that you were
watching. And though it would have no interest to you as a service of
worship, it should prove entertaining in the same way that the theater
in Rome is diverting.”

“It might be amusing at that,” Claudia had agreed. “And there’s nothing
else to do in Jerusalem anyway. But how is it, Tullia,” she asked, and
her expression clearly revealed her puzzlement, “that you know so much
about these festival customs? Even if your forebears were Jewish, you
were brought up in Rome, and surely you couldn’t have learned all this
at the synagogue on Janiculum Hill.”

“But, Mistress, through the years I have read our sacred scriptures, and
I have heard much talk of our laws and customs. And you must know that
an Israelite, though he may never set foot in Israel, if he is a true
child of the faith, is loyal to our one God.”

“I know little about Israelites or their Yahweh, and I care less about
either”—she smiled—“except for you, and I have never considered you a
Jew except perhaps by blood. But as for loyalty, by all the gods, little
one, I know you are loyal to me, just as your mother was to mine. All
this Yahweh and Temple business, though, confuses rather than interests
me. To me it seems the sheerest nonsense. How could any being worthy of
being called a god appreciate the sight of poor cattles’ throats being
slit; how could he enjoy the smell of warm blood and broiling fat?
Certainly it nauseates me.”

“I have wondered that myself, Mistress,” Tullia answered. “But I believe
He is pleased because we are seeking to please Him, even though our form
of worship may not be too pleasing. Do you understand me, Mistress?”

“Yes, but I believe still that your worship is nothing more than
superstition, just as our worship of the innumerable Roman and Greek
gods is superstition. But”—she reached over and gently pinched the slave
girl’s cheek—“I’ll do as you suggest; I’ll venture to watch the
ceremonial at the Temple, and you can tell me what they are doing.”

So they had gone up to Antonia and from the balcony had watched the busy
movement of the priests and the assembled throngs, many of them pilgrims
returned from every province in the Empire, as these earnest Israelites
performed the traditional rites of the ancient festival of worship. On
her first morning, Claudia had arisen early and had stepped out onto the
balcony. The sun was just lifting above the Mount of Olives, but already
the Temple was astir, and pilgrims in their many colored robes were
swarming into the Court of the Gentiles, the nearer Court of the Women,
and the other more sacred precincts permitted to them. In their hands
they carried leafed branches.

Claudia stared in rapt fascination at the spectacle below. As she leaned
out over the balcony, she scarcely heard Tullia’s footsteps approaching
behind her.

“Good morning, Mistress.”

“Good morning,” Claudia replied, turning to greet the girl. She pointed
downward. “You were right about this offering much in the way of
entertainment. It’s nearly as good as our Roman games.”

Tullia laughed. “Who knows, perhaps you, too, Mistress, may become a
convert to our ways.”

“Hardly.” Claudia shook her head with a wry smile. Then she turned and
looked thoughtfully down again at the bustling crowds in the Temple
courts. “There’s one thing in particular, you know, that I can’t
understand about the Jewish religion, little one.” The half-smile had
been replaced by a perplexed frown. “Unless I’m mistaken, the Jews
contend that their Yahweh is all-powerful, that he’s the only god there
is, and that he rules over all peoples; yet they call him the God of
Israel and seem to believe that he has no interest in anyone else. Down
there, for example”—she pointed toward the Temple—“there are signs
warning foreigners not to enter, under pain of death, certain of the
sacred places. How do the Jews explain that? It seems to me that they
make their Yahweh a sort of tribal god, one having less authority even
than our Jupiter. If Yahweh is the god of all the world, how can the
Jews claim him as exclusively theirs? And on the other hand, if he is
the god and father of all peoples, doesn’t that make all peoples
brothers?” She shrugged. “I see little sense to ... all this.” She broke
off with a quick sweep of her hand toward the procession of priests and
pilgrims moving down the slope toward the waters of Siloam.

“They do say that such is the teaching of Jesus, that our Yahweh is the
father of all peoples, even the pagans who have never heard of Him,
that....”

“Jesus?”

“The Galilean. The carpenter, Mistress, of whom the Prophet John
declared himself to be the forerunner, you know. He’s been teaching down
there at the Temple; he came up from Galilee, though he wasn’t here at
the beginning of the feast, it was said. The priests are bitter toward
him, especially Annas and Caiaphas and the Temple leaders; they say he
is corrupting our religion.”

“Hah! Annas and Caiaphas talk of corruption! I should think they
wouldn’t have the nerve. But have you seen this Galilean, little one?”

“No, Mistress, but I should like to. They say he speaks with great charm
and clarity.”

“By the gods, I would like to hear him myself. He’s the one, isn’t he,
who Cornelius contends healed his little servant boy? Maybe we could
prevail on him to do some other feats of magic.”

“But his followers, so I hear, deny that he works magic. They say he
does such things of his own power and authority, as the Messiah of God.”

“So Cornelius believes, according to Longinus; he thinks the Galilean is
a man-god and that he really healed the little boy, but Longinus wasn’t
that naïve. I wish Longinus were here to see the carpenter and hear his
discoursing; I’d like to know _his_ opinion of the man.”

But Longinus was not in Jerusalem. Cornelius had failed in his promise
to bring the centurion to the Feast of Tabernacles. Hardly a week before
they were to leave Tiberias, Cornelius had received a message from
Longinus saying that the Prefect Sejanus had sent him instructions to
board ship at Tyre for Antioch, where he would have business with the
Legate Vitellius. What the nature of the business was, Cornelius told
Claudia, had not been revealed. Nor had Longinus indicated how long he
would be away. Had she known he would not be in the Judaean capital,
Claudia told her maid, she herself would have remained in the provincial
capital on the coast. That would have given her two weeks of freedom
from Pontius Pilate, at any rate, for Pilate, with a maniple of soldiers
and a retinue of servants, had come up with her to the festival and
would probably remain in Jerusalem until the final ceremonies were
completed and all the withered booths had been removed.

In late afternoon the Procurator’s wife ate an early dinner, and as the
sun dropped behind the western walls, she stood again with Tullia at the
balcony’s parapet and looked down upon the animated movement within the
Temple’s courts.

“See, Mistress!” Tullia pointed. “They all carry unlighted torches. It
will be beautiful, the illumination of the Temple. This is the great
event of the festival; it is called the ‘Joy of the Feast.’ When the sun
goes down, a watchman on the western wall of the Temple will give the
signal and the candelabra will be lighted. See how high they are,
perhaps thirty cubits. The light from them will illuminate the whole
Temple area. It will be like nothing you have seen, Mistress!”

“Yes, Bona Dea, I agree it will be different. And in Jerusalem, Tullia,
you’re different. I do believe I’ve never before seen you so excited.”

The service began with a great company of priests and Levites
alternating in the antiphonal chant of the Psalms and other sacred
Hebrew scriptures. Then, as the shadows lengthened and the quick murk of
descending night began to envelop the vast edifice and the thousands
massed within it, one of the priests, bearing a long lighted taper,
moved through the Court of the Priests and down the steps to the Court
of the Women.

“Look, Mistress! See the priest carrying the lighted taper,” Tullia
said, her enthusiasm mounting. “With it he will light the great
candelabra.”

The advancing priest paused. “Arise, shine!” his voice suddenly rang
out, “for thy Light is come! And the glory of the Lord is risen upon
thee!” Deliberately, with all eyes upon him, he lighted first the
central candle in the great stand, and then as quickly as he could with
the uplifted long taper he touched the flickering flame to each of the
three on either side of the central one; when he had finished his task
before the first great candelabrum, he crossed with measured tread to
the other and lighted it. As he touched the last candle and the flame
caught, a great welling up of excited, triumphant song was lifted to the
two on the balcony above, one the pagan daughter of Roman emperors and
the other, her slave maid, daughter of ancient and buffeted Israel.

“What does the song mean, Tullia?” Claudia asked. “It seems to have a
tone of triumph, of victory. Yet how can the people of Israel boast of
their victories, if that is what they are doing?”

“It _is_ a song of triumph, Mistress,” she replied. “It speaks, like the
Feast of Tabernacles itself does, of the days when our fathers were led
by the God of Israel out of bondage in Egypt. The song recalls, like the
flaming candelabra, the long and wearisome journey upward into the
promised land when the pillar of cloud led by day and the pillar of fire
by night. It is more of the lore of our people. But look! The procession
of light is beginning! See the torches!”

First came the Levites. In procession they passed the flaming
candelabra, and as each man came opposite the blazing, darting fire, he
mounted the steps, lifted high his torch, and touched it to the flame.
Soon the torches of the Levites, followed by those of the pilgrims, had
transformed the entire mountain of the Temple into a blaze of fire.

For a long moment, silent, Claudia stood at the balcony’s parapet and
studied the procession of torchbearers; their voices, raised in song,
filled the night. “It’s amazing,” she said finally. “I’ve always thought
that the Jewish religion had no joy in it; I thought it was the worship
of a stern, vengeful, morose god who was quick to punish any violator of
his strict and senseless laws, who demanded bloody sacrifices and
fasting and permitted no indulgence in pleasures. But these Jews seem to
be having a grand time, almost as though they were devotees of Isis or
Moloch.”

“Yes, but without the orgies of Isis and Moloch,” Tullia explained.
“Many persons who are not of our faith do have that opinion of the God
of Israel. But we believe that although He is stern and demands that we
uphold His laws, He is also a loving God who wants His people to be
happy. Some will be dancing here as long as their torches burn,
Mistress.”

“Well, you may stay out and watch them as long as you like, Tullia, but
I’m going to bed.”

“One more thing, Mistress,” the slave girl asked. “If I may, I should
like at sunrise tomorrow to slip down into the Temple courts for the
early service.”

“Of course, little one,” Claudia smiled. “But be careful. And perhaps it
would be best if you made no mention of being in the Procurator’s
household.”



                                   36


Faintly at first and from afar off the silvery notes of a trumpet
floated into her bedchamber. As she seemed to rise slowly upward out of
a deep cavern of slumber, she sensed a stirring beside her.

“The morning watch at Castra Praetoria,” he said, as in the dim light of
breaking day he raised himself on an elbow to look into her face, “and I
have early duty.”

“But, Longinus,” she began a murmured protest, “must you forever be
leaving...?”

“Today is very important,” he went on, unheeding. “I must meet the
Prefect there to begin our journey down to Capri for an audience with
the Emperor. Sejanus is going to recommend that Tiberius recall Pontius
Pilate and banish him to Gaul and then name me as Procurator. But you
are not to go with him into banishment. Instead, you will marry me
and....”

“By all the gods! Longinus! Oh, by the Bountiful Mother! So long have we
waited....”

She sat up from her pillow. The light was seeping through the narrow
window beyond the foot of the bed; the chamber was bursting now with the
sound of trumpets. Sleepily, though she was fast coming awake, she felt
for the centurion and sought to hold on to the dream, but she knew he
was not there. And in a moment’s hush between the trumpetings she heard
from the room adjoining hers, through the doorway connecting the
chambers, the sonorous, heavy snoring of Pontius Pilate.

“Tullia!” she called, keeping her voice down. But the door to the maid’s
smaller chamber on the side opposite the Procurator’s was open; she had
hardly expected Tullia to be there. The trumpets below were calling
Israel to the sunrise worship, and somewhere in the milling throng of
Jerusalem dwellers and pilgrims was her devoted maid.

She pushed down the covering, swung her feet around to the floor, and
stood up. Drawing her robe about her, she stepped into her sandals and
tiptoed out onto the balcony. Down below in the Temple courts a few
torches sputtered sporadically in the strengthening light, and several
still burning in the two giant candelabra offered more twisting
blue-black smoke than illumination.

But there was a glory in the east; behind the rounded crest of the Mount
of Olives a giant hand spread fingers of orange and gold and salmon and
pink, and as the aureole fanned out higher and wider and its vivid
colors swam together in one blazing brightness, the sun ventured to peek
above the hilltop. In that instant the golden dome of the Temple flamed,
and the topmost stones around the city’s western wall caught fire.

A blast of trumpets, silvery, melodious, triumphant, saluted the sun’s
rising. And then another, and another. Looking down into the Court of
the Priests, from which the sound had come, Claudia saw two lavishly
caparisoned priests, carrying trumpets and walking abreast, marching
toward the lower Court of the Women. They were going down the steps
between the two courts when suddenly they paused and, lifting their
instruments to their lips, once again blew three blasts. Then they moved
austerely down the remaining steps and into the court, where they paused
and blew three blasts again.

“Can they be sun worshipers, by all the gods?” Claudia murmured as she
watched the priests offering what appeared to be homage to the newly
risen monarch of the heavens.

The two priests, pacing steadily eastward through the great Court of the
Women, stopped near its center and once more blew sharp blasts and then,
lowering their trumpets, marched straight toward the Beautiful Gate, the
eastern entrance to the court. But before the huge portal they stopped
and faced about, so that now their backs were toward the sun.

“Our fathers, who worshiped likewise in this place, turned their backs
upon the sanctuary of the Lord and their faces to the sun,” they said in
chorus, and the words came up distinctly to Claudia, who was able to
understand their meaning though she could not comprehend their
significance. “But our eyes are turned toward the Lord!”

“Then at least they do not worship the sun,” she said to herself,
“although I look upon the sun as being more godlike than their puny
spirit one god.”

She stood another moment watching the pageantry below; then her eyes
swept beyond the Temple walls to survey the tabernacled city and the
area outside its protective walls. Today, she remembered, would see the
ending of the Jewish autumn festival, the Israelites’ traditional Feast
of Tabernacles. And it was well that it should. Already the little green
bough shelters were beginning to wilt in the October sun. The pageantry,
too, must be losing its luster, even to the people of Israel.

_... And Longinus could not come to Jerusalem...._

Turning from the parapet, she crossed the balcony and entered her
chamber. Taking off her robe, she slipped back into the inviting warmth
of the bed.



                                   37


The opening of the bedchamber door awakened Claudia; she sat up in bed.

“I’m sorry, Mistress,” Tullia said apologetically as she closed the door
behind her. “I thought perhaps you had gone out.”

“It’s all right. I’ve slept enough. Those early trumpets awoke me, and I
went out on the balcony and watched the services beginning. That was
probably just a short while after you left. Then I came back to bed. But
why have you returned so soon? Surely that water-pouring ceremony isn’t
finished yet.” She paused and studied the slave maid. “By the gods,
Tullia, something’s happened. I can see stars in your eyes. And you’re
all out of breath; you’ve been running. Quickly, tell me, what is it?”

“Oh, Mistress,” Tullia burst out happily, “he’s down there! He’s down
there right now, in the Court of the Gentiles. I ran back to tell you.”

“Longinus!” Claudia scrambled to her feet.

The stars dimmed. “I’m sorry, Mistress, I hadn’t meant to disappoint
you. But yesterday you said you’d like to see him....”

“The Galilean?”

“Yes, Mistress, and he’s down there right now. Do you remember that
woman who came with the Tetrarch Herod to Rome, the beautiful one called
Mary of Magdala?”

“Yes, of course. Why do you ask?”

“I was in the Court of the Women, Mistress, during the early service,
when I came upon her. I recognized her, and I knew she was a follower of
the Galilean. So I asked her to tell me if he had come to the Feast. She
said he had and that even then he was in the Court of the Gentiles over
near the Shushan Gate; today, she said, he would be teaching there, no
doubt as soon as the service of the water pouring is finished. Soon the
procession will return from the Pool of Siloam; it may be that it’s
already back. If you’d like to eat, Mistress, and then go down to the
Court of the Gentiles....”

“But I need not eat just this minute, Tullia. We’ll go now. Here,” she
said, holding out her robe, “help me get dressed. I really would like to
see that man and hear him speak”—she smiled—“and witness any feats of
magic he might be prevailed upon to perform.” But quickly her expression
sobered. “Tullia, you’ll have to fix me so that no one would even dream
he was looking at the Procurator’s wife.”

“Yes, Mistress, but a veil and simple stola will serve that purpose.”

Claudia peeked into the adjoining bedchamber. It was empty. “Pilate no
doubt has gone to the Praetorium,” she said. “He needn’t know I’m going
down into the Temple precincts.”

With Tullia’s aid, she dressed, and they descended to the ground level
and went out through the great vaulted doorway on the south side of the
Tower. A moment later the two women, heavily veiled, entered the Temple
enclosure through the North Gate of Asuppim and headed toward the Soreg,
a lacy latticework of carefully carved and interwoven stones four and a
half feet high surrounding the Temple itself. From there they turned
left and strode eastward through the vast Court of the Gentiles with its
jam of worshipers and the idly curious.

“Mary said that he usually sits over there”—Tullia pointed toward the
cloisters along the eastern wall of the Temple—“near the Shushan Gate.”
The Shushan Gate was at the northern end of the wall, directly east of
the Beautiful Gate. Steps led up from the Court of the Gentiles to the
Chel, a corridor running between the Soreg and the walls of the Temple
proper, in which sat the resplendent, great Shushan Gate. The Court of
the Women, in turn, was several feet higher than the Chel. At the
western end of the Court of the Women, centering the wall, was another
large opening, the Gate of Nicanor, and directly west of this gate and
on a still more uplifted platform, stood the Great Altar. A person at
the Gate of Shushan could look above marble steps ascending from one
court level to another to the priests performing their orders before
this tremendous and imposing pyramidal altar of burnt offerings.

As Claudia and Tullia neared the eastern end of the Soreg they could see
the Shushan Gate, but no group was knotted about it. They could look
across the cloister and out through the gate to the rise of the Mount of
Olives beyond the Brook Kidron far below. “He’s not there,” Tullia said,
her tone revealing disappointment. “Perhaps he went with the procession
to the Pool of Siloam and has not yet returned. Surely he will be here
soon.”

But as they turned the corner to their left, the two women saw a motley
throng pushed together in a half circle about the steps that led up to
the Chel. “Maybe Jesus is there,” Tullia exclaimed, keeping her voice
low, for now they were nearing the outer edge of this crowd. She turned
to confront a lean and bearded tall Israelite. “We have just come here,”
she said. “We wonder why all these people are gathered about. Is some
rabbi expounding the law?”

“Yes, the Galilean whom some hold to be the Messiah of God. The priests
and the scholars have been trying to confuse him, but he has thrown
their words back into their teeth.”

They moved forward into the outer fringe of the group and eased their
steps toward the man sitting before the Beautiful Gate until soon they
had an unobstructed view of him. From where they stood they could also
see through the wide portals of the Beautiful Gate across the Court of
the Women and the Gate of Nicanor to the Great Altar, upon which the
High Priest Caiaphas, with two other Temple dignitaries assisting him,
had tipped the golden ewer of water from the Pool of Siloam as a
libation to Yahweh. Many of those now listening to the discourse of the
Galilean had been present for the ceremonies of the water pouring,
including a small knot of lavishly robed Israelites whom Tullia
immediately recognized as the men who had been attempting to confound
Jesus with their hate-inspired but politely phrased questions.

Evidently one of these men, a stout Pharisee from the looks of his garb,
had just so challenged the Galilean. But if Jesus was perturbed, he did
not indicate it. He was speaking calmly, and his resonant but gentle
Galilean Aramaic came clearly to them above the din of the cattle in the
stalls along the northern cloisters. “He doesn’t speak with the fire and
thunder of that Wilderness prophet,” Claudia observed in whispered
comment. “He seems not to be the fanatical type, and I’m surprised. He’s
handsome, too, and I’m even more surprised at that. I thought he would
be another lean and burnt, arm-waving, shouting fanatic, one with a long
messy beard, flaming eyes, and soiled clothing—a generally anemic look.
But this one’s a strong fellow, though his manner’s gentle enough. Even
so, there’s something odd about this. I wonder....”

But suddenly she stopped speaking, for the rabbi had raised his bronzed
hand, long forefinger extended, to point to one of the Pharisees who had
been questioning him. “You say that I am but testifying to myself and
that therefore my testimony is invalid. But I say unto you, my brother,
that my testimony is valid. Is it not written in the law that the
testimony of two witnesses establishes the fact? Then my testimony is
true, for I bear witness and likewise my Father that sent me bears
witness. That makes two witnesses; that establishes the truthfulness of
the testimony I have borne.”

“Who is this father of whom he speaks?” asked a man standing near the
two women. “Is he not the son of a carpenter of Nazareth long dead? How
then does he say that his father’s testimony corroborates his own?”

“He’s not speaking of his natural father,” another man standing near-by
replied. “He means the God of Israel as his father.”

“But isn’t that blasphemy? How can a man call himself the son of
Israel’s God?”

“But if indeed he is the Messiah....” The second man paused, his hand on
the questioner’s arm, for Jesus had arisen and, turning, was pointing
toward the high altar before the Holy of Holies. “Behold, I am the water
of life! If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” The
Galilean spoke in calm tones but with warmth of feeling, and in the
pause that followed none of his hearers spoke. Again he pointed, this
time toward the giant candelabra below the Gate of Nicanor in the Court
of the Women; last night the great court and all the environs of the
Temple had been ablaze with light from the candelabra and the hundreds
of flaming torches. “I am the light of the world!” he declared. “He that
follows me shall not walk in darkness but shall have the light of life!”

Claudia nudged her maid. “What does he mean, Tullia?” she whispered.

“I’m not sure I know, Mistress,” the girl answered. “But I take it he’s
using a kind of symbolism that the Jews can understand. He must be
referring to the ceremony of water pouring and to last night’s
illumination of the Temple.”

But the carping Pharisees and the other Temple leaders pretended
likewise not to understand.

“The water of life, the light of the world. And your father being a
witness to the truthfulness of the testimony you present. These things
are incomprehensible to us,” one of them declared. “Rabbi, wasn’t your
father a carpenter in Galilee? And where is he to support your witness?
Isn’t he dead? How then can you say that you and your father make two
witnesses? We have not seen your father, nor have we heard him speak.”

“You speak the truth when you say that you have not seen my Father.” His
voice was calm, even gentle, but his eyes were filled with fire.
“Neither have you seen me. For if you had seen me, you would likewise
have seen my Father, for the Father is in me and I am in the Father. My
Father and I are one.”

“Is he speaking of the God of Israel as his father?” A portly Pharisee
near the two women had turned to speak with one of his colleagues. “Is
that the meaning of his strange utterance?”

“I think so.”

“Blasphemy!” declared the questioner. “He makes himself one with God!”

But Jesus had heard.

“No,” he declared, looking the fat one full in the face. “Only truth.
And if you knew me and were willing to live by my teaching, you would
know the truth, and the truth would make you free. You would not walk in
darkness, but in the light of the world, in the fullness of life.”

“But, Rabbi, we are free. We are children of Abraham. We are not slaves.
How can you say that we would be made free? We have never been slaves to
any man.”

“Any man who sins is a slave, and no slave is a son of the house; yet if
the son of the house sets him free, he is no longer a slave.”

“But we _are_ sons of Abraham. We are no bastards. We are the children
of the God of Israel.”

Jesus leveled his forefinger at the protesting Pharisee. “No, you are
not the sons of the Father; you are rather sons of the Evil One, for he
is the enemy of truth and you likewise are its enemies.” His words were
uttered in calmness, but they were emphatic, and his eyes flashed. “You
will neither hear the truth nor comprehend it.”

“But, Rabbi, you must be mad.”

Jesus smiled, and Claudia, who had been watching him in complete
fascination since her first sight of him, thought she detected a hint of
restrained amusement in his dark eyes. “No,” he said, “I am not mad; I
speak the truth, and whoever lives by the truth, my brother, will not
even see death.”

“But haven’t all the fathers in ages before—Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Isaiah, all the righteous ones of old—haven’t they all met death? Then
how can you say that others will not die?”

“I dare say, he is not speaking of physical death,” Tullia whispered.
“It’s obvious he’s referring to the afterlife of the spirit. But these
sniveling Pharisees don’t even want to understand him.”

Yet Jesus did not answer the Temple leader, for in the rear of the press
about him a commotion had arisen and the Galilean had turned from the
questioning Pharisee to look out over the heads of the people now
craning their necks to see the cause of the tumult. The questioner and
his little knot had turned, too; the Galilean’s inquisitor, Tullia
surmised, was quite willing for the exchange to be ended, for he had not
been faring well in matching wits and words with the tall one from
Nazareth.

Tullia and Claudia, too, had twisted about to look eastward toward the
sounds that so precipitately had disturbed the strangely inspiriting
discourse and the carping questions of the Nazarene’s challengers. In
that same instant they saw, out in front of the gate of Shushan, several
coarse men half-dragging, half-carrying a bedraggled Jewish woman toward
the throng ringed about Jesus. As the crowd opened a lane inward to the
Galilean, the men rushed the poor creature toward him and savagely
thrust her to the ground at his feet. A man who had been walking in the
rear of the pitiful procession, whom Tullia took to be a minor Temple
priest, stepped in front of Jesus.

“Rabbi, this woman has been taken in the act of adultery, in the very
act, Rabbi, as the witnesses will testify. Now the law of Moses says
that such a woman must be stoned.” He paused, and his eyes surveyed the
half circle of intent, set faces. Along the rim heads nodded in
agreement.

“Is that really the law of the Israelites?” Claudia whispered. “Stone to
death a woman for such offense, by all the gods!”

“Yes, it’s the old Mosaic law, Mistress.”

“That is barbarous, Tullia. By all the gods, if I were a Jew, then
they....” But she paused, for the man had turned back to question the
Galilean. “You, however, Rabbi, have been teaching a new law. What would
you say to her punishment? Must she be stoned in accordance with our
ancient laws or not?”

Jesus was eying the poor woman, who had scrambled to her feet and was
trying to smooth out her disordered robe. Frightened and humiliated, she
kept her eyes on the ground; then, as the man finished his question and
the suddenly quiet throng listened for the reply, she raised them and
looked, with a mixture of defiance, contempt, and fright, at the tall
bronzed man before her.

“But what can he say?” Claudia whispered. “Aren’t they trying to trap
him into advocating violation of their laws?”

“Yes, Mistress. And they know, too, that they have no authority to stone
anyone to death unless the person is first condemned by the Procurator.
Either way, it’s a trap they’re trying to set.”

“Then I shall speak to Pilate....” She stopped; Tullia had laid a gently
restraining hand on her arm, for Jesus had bent down suddenly and
without offering to answer the Jew who had questioned him had begun to
trace with extended forefinger certain markings in the dust of the
marble pavement.

About him stood the silent crowd. Some seemed fearful of the horror they
might soon be witnessing; others, their cold smiles attesting to their
sadistic natures, were waiting expectantly to witness the woman’s death
agonies; only a few solemn faces revealed concern and deep pity. But the
little knot of Pharisees stood with arms folded across their rounded
paunches; their smug smiles betrayed their confidence that at last, on
the final day of the great festival, they had run to earth this annoying
and dangerous young Galilean who had been so cleverly eluding them.

Then, raising his head, Jesus faced the man who had questioned him. “You
have testified aright as to the law of our father Moses,” he said, his
voice calm, deliberate. “The law of Moses commands that the woman ...
and the man ... taken in adultery be stoned. But you ask me my
interpretation of this law?”

“We do, Rabbi. What will you do with this woman?” The man looked about
the semicircle of cold, hard faces, and one by one the Pharisees nodded
approval of his questioning. “Rabbi, what is your law in this case?”

“I answer you, my brother, in this wise, and this is my interpretation
of the law. Let him that is without sin among you cast the first stone.”
His quiet, dark eyes rested a moment on the startled countenance of the
man who had just propounded the question, and then quickly they moved
along the line of the challenging Temple leaders.

Now once more he bent forward and with stiffened forefinger traced
symbols in the dust.

For a long moment his eyes remained fixed upon the pavement. When he
looked up, the little group of sneering Pharisees had departed. The
others in the ring about him had fallen back from the steps on which he
sat and stood regarding him with frank amazement; some of them revealed
their delight at his having confounded his enemies, and on the faces of
others could be seen a heightened responsiveness to the young man’s
teachings and for the Galilean himself a strengthened affection.

“Woman, where are your accusers?” he asked the amazed poor creature,
from whom in the swift moment of his answer had fled all trace of
defiant insolence. “Does no man remain to condemn you?”

She lifted her tear-streaked face to him. “No man, Lord.”

“Neither do I condemn you. Go now, and sin no more.”

Claudia could not understand the woman’s murmured reply, but on her face
clearly discernible was a look of radiance as she bowed to the Galilean
and, turning, slipped away out of the crowd. At the same time the
Procurator’s wife noticed a large, bushy-bearded fellow, wide of
shoulders and heavily muscled, pushing through the throng from the
direction of the Gate Shalleketh. He walked up to Jesus, who had stood
up as the woman was leaving. “Master, you have been here a long while;
you must be weary. Let us go over to Bethany to rest a spell.”

“That’s the fisherman I saw one day at Tiberias,” whispered Tullia. “He
is of the Galilean’s company; his name, I think, is Simon.”

The crowd now began to disperse, for Jesus and the big fisherman were
moving off toward the Gate Shushan. They came past the two women, so
close to them that Claudia could have reached out and touched the tall
Galilean. Their eyes met; he smiled and passed on. She stood rooted,
watching the two until they had passed out of sight down the slope
toward the Brook Kidron. “He seemed to recognize me,” she said to
herself, as suddenly a fanciful thought crossed her mind. “But of course
he didn’t; he’s never in all his life seen me before.”

With the two men’s disappearance, however, the spell was broken. Claudia
caught her maid’s arm. “We’d better be going now,” she said. But she was
still lost in her own thoughts; they had rounded the corner of the Soreg
and were nearing the North Gate of Asuppim before she spoke again. “By
the gods, what a man! What a marvelous, strange Jew. And he didn’t do
any feats of magic either. Little one, I’m so glad you brought me down
here.”

“Mistress, now that you’ve seen him and heard his discourse, even though
for but a few minutes, what is your opinion of him? Do you think that
perhaps he really is the Messiah of Israel?”

“I know nothing of the Messiah of Israel ... and care nothing. And this
idea of a man’s being a god, even though we Romans are supposed to
believe that the gods come to earth in the form of men, is just as
incomprehensible to me as it is to Longinus. Maybe that’s because I
don’t believe in the gods in the first place.” They were going through
the great North Gate of Asuppim when Claudia stopped and caught Tullia’s
arm. “Nevertheless, little one—and you asked me my opinion of him—there
is something tremendously different about that man. I’m sure I have
never encountered another like him. He’s a quick thinker and able to
out-wit his enemies, and he’s evidently a good and just man. But there’s
something else”—she paused, her forehead creased in a frown—“something
to me, at any rate, mystifying. The way he looked at me, Tullia....” Her
solemn expression relaxed into a quick, warming smile. “Perhaps he _is_
your Messiah of the Jews, little one, whatever that means!”



                                   38


On her return to Caesarea from the Feast of Tabernacles, Claudia learned
from Sergius Paulus that Longinus had sailed for Rome. The message from
the centurion to the commander of the Roman constabulary had been
brought by a ship’s master who had sailed southward from the Antioch
port of Seleucia shortly after Longinus had gone aboard a ship there for
his voyage to the capital.

The message had been brief, the commander said; its purpose was to let
him know that Longinus had been sent to Rome by the Legate Vitellius on
what the legate must have considered an urgent mission, probably to the
Prefect Sejanus.

“Longinus must have sailed from Seleucia on one of the last boats out,”
Sergius observed. “From now until spring there’ll be few crossings; any
ship attempting to make it will be braving the heavy winds.” He smiled
wryly. “It must have been important business the legate was sending him
on.”

Claudia suspected that Longinus was going to the capital to relay the
legate’s report on the situation in Palestine. Particularly important,
she knew, would be the question of whether or not King Aretas was
planning to attack Herod and thereby involve the whole Palestinian
region in war. But she had no direct message from the centurion.

Longinus was acting wisely, she realized, in sending her no written
communication. He could hardly evolve any innocent appearing reason for
writing her, and it would be impossible to send her such a message
without Pilate’s learning about it, and possibly even the Prefect. And
any message sent would of necessity be innocuous. But as the weeks
pushed deeper and deeper into winter and no word of him came to her at
all, she began to wonder if he would return to Palestine or if, the gods
forbid, Sejanus might have sent him once more to Germania or Gaul or to
some other post far remote from the now increasingly dreary Palestine.

Despite the fact that it was Herodias who had urged her to go up to
Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, the two women had hardly seen
one another during those days in Israel’s capital. Claudia recalled that
even then the Tetrarchess had seemed somewhat reserved. And once when
mention was made of the journey of Longinus to Antioch in response to
the summons of the Legate Vitellius, Herodias had appeared to grow even
more coldly formal. Perhaps the Tetrarchess suspected, Claudia thought
at the time, that Longinus was reporting on Herod’s visit to Machaerus
and the appearance there of the ambassadors from King Aretas, and even
of her own bizarre conduct at the Tetrarch’s birthday banquet. Nor had
Herodias, as they were preparing to leave Jerusalem, invited her to come
to Tiberias.

And at the Feast neither she nor Pilate had seen Antipas. She wondered
if perhaps he, too, might have suspected that Longinus was even then in
Antioch reporting what he had seen and heard at Machaerus. But her
failure to be honored by the Tetrarch in Jerusalem troubled her not at
all. She had less respect for him, she confessed to herself, than she
had for the Procurator. And she hoped that Longinus was finding
opportunity for dropping some poisoned, if discreet, words into the ears
of Sejanus concerning Pontius Pilate and his continuing difficulties
with the Jews.

Nor was the Procurator’s administration of affairs in Judaea, as the
winter advanced, serving to establish him in better favor with the
people he was governing. Stubborn and unimaginative, he steadfastly
refused either to learn anything or forget anything. Scorning his
subordinate officials and refusing to give consideration to their
counseling, fearful of his superiors, including the Legate Vitellius and
particularly the Prefect Sejanus, Pilate provided no stable rule of
Judaea; his administration vacillated from fierce oppression and
arbitrary action to cowardly yielding to priestly demands. His tax
gatherers, working through the despised publicans, those native
hirelings of Rome whom the Israelites looked upon with loathing as
traitors to Israel and Israel’s Yahweh, demanded and received exorbitant
tribute in money and produce of the land; this did not add to the
Procurator’s popularity among the Jews. Both the people and the Temple
leaders were growing increasingly enraged.

The natural breach between the Procurator and the Tetrarch, too, was
widening as the weeks went by; an incident at the Temple during one of
the great festival occasions in which Pilate’s soldiers had slain a
group of roistering Galileans had infuriated Herod Antipas. And Pilate’s
effort to use Temple funds in the building of an aqueduct to bring water
into Jerusalem had evoked the bitter animosity of the Temple leadership.
On all sides, then, the Procurator, beginning with his flaunting of the
Roman ensigns in Jerusalem shortly after his arrival in Judaea, had been
strengthening rather than weakening the natural hostility the Israelites
had for the representatives of conquering Rome.

All this Claudia had observed; she wondered how long this mounting
burden of tension and hate could continue to build upon the broad
shoulders of Pontius Pilate before inevitably it should topple him from
the Procuratorship. The answer, she was confident, lay not in Judaea,
but in Rome. Pilate would last only so long as he did not too greatly
displease Sejanus. And from the moment the tribute from Judaea to Rome
... and Sejanus ... began to shrink, she reasoned, her spouse’s days as
Procurator would be numbered.

_ ... Perhaps Sejanus may have begun to suspect already that Pilate’s
fingers have become sticky, that too large a proportion of the revenues
are failing to reach Rome; perhaps he has revealed, or hinted, his
suspicions to Longinus, and Longinus will tell me everything when he
returns._

_... If he does return. But surely he will be back in Caesarea when
winter relents and calming weather permits the ships to resume their
sailing. Surely he will arrive in time to go with us to Jerusalem for
the Feast of the Passover...._

Thinking one day of the coming Feast, she recalled her earlier visit
with Tullia to the Temple. “Do you remember that last day of the Feast
of Tabernacles?” she asked, turning to her slave maid. The girl nodded
and smiled. “That Galilean,” Claudia continued, “your Messiah of the
Jews, I wonder what has become of him. Do you suppose he’ll return to
the Jewish capital for the Passover festival?”

“I would say so, Mistress,” Tullia answered. “Every devout Jew tries to
go up for the Passover Feast. And certainly the Galilean is a devout
Jew. Even though the Temple priests are bent on destroying him, I’m sure
he will wish to go there to worship.”

“If he does, maybe we’ll have an opportunity to hear him again ... and
perhaps this time he will perform some feat of magic.”

“But, Mistress, those who hold him to be the Messiah insist that he does
not work magic; they declare he does his miracles of healing by the will
of God.”

She smiled. “Well, however he does them—and even from you, little one,
I’ve heard reports that he does—is no concern of mine. But should he
come up to the Temple and perform some such feat, either by his own
cleverness or with the aid of your Yahweh, I would like to be there when
he did it.”

“But, Mistress, you saw him that day they dragged the woman before
him....”

“Yes, but his saving her from that mob was not magic, little one. That
was only the working of a quick intelligence and a good heart. But they
say he can make lame persons walk again and blind persons see. And
Cornelius, you remember, declared he healed his little servant boy,
though Longinus thinks it was only a coincidence that the boy’s fever
broke just at the same time the Galilean supposedly was curing him.
Cornelius even believes that the carpenter once actually restored to
life the son of a widow; he told me they were bearing the young man to
the tomb when the Galilean happened along and brought him back to life.
Of course, the boy may have been in a trance; certainly no sensible
person can believe that he was really dead and then came back to life
when the Galilean said some mysterious words and made some queer motions
over him.” She paused and looked Tullia in the eyes. “Or do you, little
one?”

“But if he is actually the son of our God....”

“Oh, you gullible Jews, even you, Tullia.” Her countenance revealed an
amused tolerance. “And Cornelius. A soldier of Rome. But how, by all the
gods, Tullia, can any present-day person of education and culture
embrace such blatant superstition to believe that a man could come to
earth as a god, even if he could believe that there are gods in the
first place?”

But Tullia skillfully evaded answering the question. “If you saw him
restore to life a man who you knew was dead, what would you say about
him then, Mistress?”

“When I see him do that, little one, I’ll tell you then.”

Nevertheless, Claudia had not dismissed the Galilean from her thoughts,
for that night she dreamed about him. It was a confused and illogical
arrangement of stories she had heard about Jesus, interwoven with the
experience she and Tullia had had that day at the Temple during the
final exercises of the Feast of Tabernacles. In the dream she and
Longinus had strolled with Cornelius down from the Tower of Antonia into
the Court of the Gentiles. Rounding a corner of the Soreg, the three had
come upon a throng ringed about the Galilean. They had pushed forward to
the inner circle, and there, they had discovered on the stones of the
court at the carpenter’s feet a crushed and bloody woman.

“Rabbi,” a burly fellow beside the woman was saying, “this woman is
dead. We caught her in the act of adultery, and in accordance with the
law of our father Moses we stoned her to death. I ask you, Rabbi, did
not we do well in thus upholding the ancient law of Israel?”

“It is the law that the woman and the man taken in adultery be stoned to
death,” the Galilean replied, and then his eyes flamed and his voice
took on a new intensity, “but you who stoned her, were you without
sins?” Then he lowered his eyes to the stones beside the dead woman and
began with his forefinger to trace symbols in the dust. After a moment
he stood up and, bending down, caught the stiffened body underneath his
arms and raised it, unbending, until it stood upright.

“Remember,” said Cornelius, “she is dead, completely dead; see her
mangled face, her crushed skull. Watch the Galilean.”

Jesus was steadying the rigid corpse with one hand. Now he raised his
other hand to a position above her head and began to intone words that
to Claudia were strange and utterly incomprehensible.

“Watch now,” said Cornelius. “Keep your eyes on him. And, remember, the
woman is dead; there is no life in her, none.”

Incredulous, their eyes straining, they saw the stiffened limbs
beginning to relax and the head bend forward slightly; the crushed bones
of the shattered face rounded outward, the torn and bruised flesh
smoothed, the clotted blood melted away, and the desecrated ghastly
countenance was restored to a calm beauty; the woman, looking now into
the serene face of the Galilean, smiled.

“By all the great gods ...” But Longinus hushed precipitately, for Jesus
was speaking to the woman, now fully alert. “No man condemns you, my
sister, and neither do I,” Jesus said, as he pointed toward her
executioners, now slinking away toward the Gate of Shushan. “Go, and sin
no more.”

Longinus turned now to the Procurator’s wife, and on his face she saw an
expression of utter amazement. “But, Claudia, the woman was dead! Her
head was crushed; her face was a bloody pulp. And now, look! She is
walking away, around the corner of the Soreg! The Galilean, Claudia, he
must be a god! By all the gods, Claudia, this man must be a god! He must
be....”

But Longinus’ voice was fading, and he was receding, slipping away, and
so were Cornelius and the Galilean and the woman....

Claudia opened her eyes; her chamber was flooded with light. She closed
them again, trying to recapture the scene in the great court of the
Temple. But the dream had fled. “Bona Dea,” she said aloud. “It was so
real. That woman. And the Galilean. And Cornelius and Longinus. So
vivid. Maybe”—the notion suddenly occurred to her—“I’m dreaming now,
maybe I’m dreaming that I was dreaming.”

She sat up, swung her feet around to the floor, stretched and yawned.
Then quickly she arose and crossing to the window, looked down at the
ships in the harbor. Bright sunlight flashed from the hulls and the
billowing sails. On the docks slaves struggled with casks and crates as
they loaded and unloaded vessels. The world she was seeing was real; she
stood looking through her window upon things tangible and
comprehensible. The dream, with all its implications of the inscrutable,
was gone, vanished.

But she was not to forget it entirely. One day Tullia revealed that
while at the market place she had encountered some travelers from
Galilee who had gone up to Jerusalem and were returning by way of
Caesarea. On their journey, they told her, they had come upon the
Galilean and several of his band in a hamlet in the mountains of
Ephraim. Jesus had returned to Galilee from the Feast of Tabernacles,
but after several weeks he had gone back for the Feast of Dedication.
From Jerusalem he had retired into Peraea.

As Tullia related the story she had been told, her eyes began to shine.
“While he was on the other side of the Jordan,” she went on, “he
received a message from Bethany....”

“Bethany?”

“It’s a small village a few miles—a mile or so—just west of Jerusalem,
Mistress.”

“What was the message?”

“Jesus had three friends who lived there, a man and his two sisters.
While he was over beyond the Jordan he had word that the man was near
death. So he and his band returned to Bethany. When they got there, they
found that his friend had been dead four days.”

“And the Galilean brought him back to life?”

“Yes, Mistress! That’s what the travelers said.”

Claudia laughed. “Cornelius should have been there. No doubt, though,
he’s already heard about it. And, of course, he believes the story.”

“But you don’t, Mistress?”

Claudia wasn’t sure that the servant woman was teasing. “No, Tullia, I
don’t,” she replied. “Very probably this story has been repeated many
times and has been added to by each teller. No doubt it was like the one
Cornelius was telling about the widow’s son, or even the incident in
which his own little slave boy was supposed to have been cured by the
Galilean. Obviously, the man at Bethany was not dead; no doubt they
thought he was....”

“But, Mistress, they said he had been in the tomb four days.”

“They said it, yes. Perhaps he hadn’t been entombed that long; but if he
had, what of it? He wouldn’t have suffocated; tombs aren’t sealed that
securely. In all probability the man was in a trance when they put him
away; no doubt the carpenter roused him from the trance into which he
had fallen.”

“Mistress, you have little faith in the Galilean.” Tullia’s dark eyes
were serious now. “You cannot see how he could be the Messiah of the
Jews and armed with unearthly power, can you?”

“I don’t believe that any man can restore life to another man, if that’s
what you mean, little one. I cannot believe that any human possesses
supernatural power; in fact, as I have told you many times, I doubt the
existence of supernatural beings, including your Yahweh.” She laughed
again. “But you and Cornelius outnumber me. I should have Longinus here
to support me.”

But when a few weeks later the Centurion Longinus did sail into the
harbor at Caesarea, Claudia had no longer a thought for the Galilean
mystic and his reported wonder-working.

The centurion journeyed on a coastal vessel bound from Seleucia to
Alexandria. He had sailed from Rome as soon as weather conditions
permitted; from Seleucia he had moved on to Antioch to report to the
Legate Vitellius. Returning a few days later, he had boarded another
vessel destined for the Palestinian ports and Alexandria.

On coming ashore at Caesarea the centurion went first to the garrison
headquarters and reported to Sergius Paulus. That duty completed, he
visited the Procurator’s Palace, ostensibly to pay his respects to
Pontius Pilate. The Procurator, polite but coldly formal, talked with
him for only a moment before excusing himself and leaving the palace.
Longinus, remarking about it to Claudia, wondered if the Procurator was
finally becoming jealous.

“No, he isn’t jealous, by all the gods, and that makes me furious with
him!” Claudia had answered. “But he may suspect that you’ve been spying
on him and that Vitellius called you to Antioch to report on his
administration of affairs in Judaea and then sent you to Rome to relay
information and suggestions to Sejanus.”

“He would be entirely right, too, in thinking so. And you can add old
Herod Antipas to my watched list.” He thought, with sudden amusement, of
the third name on the list given him by Sejanus when first the Prefect
sent him out to Palestine, but he did not comment. “And what I told the
Prefect about both of them, for the Legate Vitellius and from my own
observations, didn’t make them any more secure in their positions, by
the gods!”

Quickly he related his experiences in Rome; he had met several times
with Sejanus, once to discuss ways of increasing the output of the
glassworks in Phoenicia. On another occasion the two had gone out to
Capri for an audience with Tiberius. “The Emperor asked about his
beloved stepdaughter,” he said, “but I professed to have little
information about you. Sejanus also quizzed me—I’m sure he still
suspects us—but he, too, learned nothing.”

“But what is going to happen, Longinus—about us, I mean—and when? Is
there any likelihood still of Pilate’s being recalled ... soon?”

“Yes, I’d say there was. I know Sejanus is losing patience with Pilate;
he seems to hear everything that happens out here, and Pilate’s
inability to rule Judaea without continually provoking turmoil and
protesting by the Jews angers the Prefect. The only thing that’s kept
Pilate as Procurator this long, I suspect, is the fact that Sejanus
apparently doesn’t suspect that Pilate is dipping too heavily into the
taxes, if he is ... and I can’t say yet that he is. That was one
question he kept coming back to in talking with me, if there was any
evidence that the Procurator was not sending to Rome all the revenues he
was supposed to.”

“Did the Prefect indicate that he might call Pilate to Rome for
questioning?”

“I couldn’t say that he did. But if the Procurator should be ordered to
the capital to justify his administration of Judaea, he won’t be
returned, you can be sure. The same thing is true of Herod Antipas. I
believe the Procurator and the Tetrarch stand in precarious positions;
the next few months could determine the fate of both.”

Longinus left the palace soon after Pilate had departed; he and Claudia,
they agreed, would meet again when the opportunity was afforded. But
that opportunity did not come quickly; he did not return to the palace
until the Procurator summoned him there to discuss plans for the
forthcoming journey to Jerusalem.

A week later the Procurator and his party, with Longinus commanding one
of the escorting centuries, set out for Israel’s capital and the great
Feast of the Passover.



                               Jerusalem


                    [Illustration: decorative glyph]



                                   39


The caravan from Galilee had halted on the plain before Jericho for rest
and the midday meal, and now the Tetrarch’s party and the escorting
soldiers of Cornelius’ century were preparing to resume their journey.
Two days and a half of steady traveling southward had brought them from
Tiberias through the rapidly greening gorge of the Jordan, and soon they
would face the most grueling and dangerous part of the journey, the
steep and boulder-locked climb to Jerusalem.

Centurion Cornelius, who had been making a quick inspection of the
assembled legionaries, approached Herod Antipas and saluted. “Sire, I
need now to determine your wishes”—he bowed to Herodias—“and the wishes
of the Tetrarchess, for the remainder of our journey up to Jerusalem. If
you wish to rest awhile, we could make camp here and leave early in the
morning for Jerusalem. Or we could move on now and camp for the night
where the Jericho road begins its ascent to Jerusalem. But if you
prefer, we can set out now and not stop until we reach the capital,
though it will probably be well past nightfall before we enter the
city.”

“Are you fearful of traveling the Jericho road after the sun has set,
Centurion?” Antipas inquired. “Do you think that perhaps robbers or
zealot bands might sweep down on us from the rocks?”

“I have no fear, Sire; certainly none, if they knew our strength, would
attempt it. And before we enter that region, I’ll rearrange our order of
march to strengthen our guard against a surprise attack.”

“Then I suggest that we continue on to Jerusalem today,” Herodias spoke
up. “We can rest better tomorrow in the palace than we can here in camp,
even though”—she turned malevolent eyes on the Tetrarch, and her tone
was bitterly sarcastic—“we shall be lodging in the old Hasmonean Palace
in order that our Palace of the Herods may be occupied by the Procurator
and his wife.”

“Yes, the Tetrarchess is right, Centurion,” Antipas agreed
complaisantly. “Let’s push on to Jerusalem today.” He ignored his wife’s
caustic remark. “We’ll have tonight and all tomorrow to rest before the
start of the Passover celebration.”

Beyond Jericho, where the Peraean road joined the road up from Galilee
and one that came down along the western side of the Jordan from the
region of Ephraim, the way began to fill with pilgrims going up to
Israel’s capital for the annual great spring festival of the Passover.
As the caravan neared the point where the road began its steep climb,
Cornelius called a halt. While the Tetrarch and Herodias were having a
brief respite from their saddles, he called in his legionaries and
changed the pattern of their advance. Down through the Jordan valley
they had been moving in column along the roadway with guards ahead of
and behind the Tetrarch’s party and only now and then a few soldiers on
the flanks.

But now Cornelius gave orders to Decius to divide the century into three
groups, the largest of which would continue along the Jericho road,
while the other two would move forward with the Tetrarch’s group, one on
its right flank, the other on the left, and each several hundred yards
from the road.

“I’m not expecting any trouble,” he explained, “but if there are any
Zealots lying in wait for us, in all probability they’ll be up there in
that defile where the road cuts through the rocks. You men out on the
flanks will be able to beat them off; if they’re crouched beside the
road, we’ll trap them between your columns and us.”

When the division of the century had been completed, the centurion had a
final warning. “Stay abreast of us, and keep in contact. And now, let’s
get moving. Men, keep your eyes open. These Zealots are bent on killing
every Roman in Palestine. They’re clever, and they know every foot of
ground in this region.”

The steep rise of the narrow Jericho road and the push of pilgrims
trudging ahead slowed the progress of the caravan, and it was nearing
sunset when once more Cornelius halted the column. “It’s been a hard
climb, and the animals are laboring,” he explained to the Tetrarch. “A
short rest will refresh us for the last few miles into Jerusalem. Soon
we’ll be past the boulders and can move faster. And with danger of
assault by robbers ended, we can pull in our flanking files. So we
should be approaching Jerusalem by nightfall.”

But the centurion had spoken too quickly. They went hardly a mile
farther and were moving slowly through the last narrow defile in the
ascending road before it veered sharply around screening boulders to
come on a level plateau extending to the vicinity of Bethany; the
caravan was strung out in a long column and the advance guard had
disappeared around the turn in the gorge-like roadway. In the instant
that Herod and the Tetrarchess, with Cornelius and several of the
escorting legionaries just ahead of or behind them, had advanced into
the narrowest portion of the rock-walled canyon, they heard a sudden
commotion above them. Looking up, they saw on each side of the pass,
glaring down upon them and with spears poised, a group of grizzled,
fierce-eyed insurgents.

“Halt, Roman dogs!” shouted a hulking, reddish-bearded fellow, as he
drew back his spear menacingly. “Get down from your beast before I nail
you to his belly like a thief to his cross! And you”—with his free hand
he gestured toward the Tetrarch—“you traitor to Israel, you fawning
puppet of evil Rome, stay where you are! You, too”—his angry black eyes
were studying Herodias—“you adulterous sharer of your uncle’s bed, don’t
you move!”

“Who are you? What do you want?” Cornelius demanded loudly, in the hope
that his soldiers in the flanking columns would hear.

“You needn’t be screaming, soldier,” the burly fellow said calmly.
“There’s nobody to help you. We have you surrounded. See?” He pointed to
his men in the rocks on the other side of the road. “One wrong move and
we’ll stick your carcasses full of spears. And you needn’t be hoping for
help from those up ahead”—he motioned—“or down there.” He threw back his
bearish great head and roared his laughter. “We have them cornered,
too.” Then suddenly he was scowling again. “You dogs of Rome! Throw down
your weapons! Quickly, before we forget ourselves and let our spears
fly!”

“Do as he says, men,” Cornelius commanded, dropping his sword. “But what
do you want?” he asked the highwaymen’s leader again. He had decided
that the safest course would be to pretend that he knew nothing of the
rebel group, that ruthless party of guerrilla-fighting revolutionaries
known as Zealots who had sworn not to rest until every imperialist Roman
had been vanquished from their nation’s soil. “We have brought little
money,” he said casually. “We aren’t Jews, you know; we aren’t going up
to Jerusalem to purchase animals for the Passover sacrifices.”

The centurion’s thrust at the Israelites seemed to incense the fellow.
“No, you mongrel of a Roman,” he roared, “nor would your sacrifice be
acceptable to Israel’s God were you of a mind to offer it! Now get down,
all you Romans! We’re taking your horses. But you and your woman, Herod,
stay where you are. We’re taking you with us for ransom, and if the
money isn’t quickly forthcoming to redeem you”—he tugged at his flaring
dirt-caked beard and once again laughed uproariously—“we’ll skin you and
one dark night pin your worthless hides to the door of old Herod’s
Palace.” But quickly his demeanor changed again. He turned to glare at
his comrades. “Get down there and pick up their weapons,” he commanded,
“and mount the horses. We’ve got to be getting back into the hills. And
you, Bildad and Achbor, I’ll hold you accountable for the Tetrarch.
Dysmas and Cush, you take charge of the woman.” His sneering countenance
softened into an evil grinning. “And see that no harm comes to her. I
may wish myself to examine her seductive charms.”

Antipas sat staring stonily ahead, his countenance a frozen mask of
fear. But anger added a flush to the cheeks of the frightened
Tetrarchess. She did not venture, however, to challenge the man’s
insulting remark.

The revolutionaries scampered like sure-footed mountain goats down from
the rocks and quickly assembled the swords that Cornelius’ soldiers had
thrown to the ground. The leader, who had stayed in his position atop an
overjutting boulder, watched eagle-eyed along with several of his band
who had continued to stand guard. “Issachar, you and Nadab see to the
weapons those frightened dogs have thrown down,” he called. “See that
not one remains to them when we’re gone. Now, Achbor and you, Bildad,
get started with the Tetrarch, and let the woman follow. Men, mount the
horses”—he paused an instant to watch one of his men who was having
trouble getting into the saddle—“all you who know how to ride a horse
... and Coz, you don’t, I see.”

“But you can’t get away into the rocks with these horses. You have our
swords; why don’t you leave us the horses...?”

“And let you fly into Jerusalem and have old Pilate’s soldiers combing
through the hills for us? Oh, no, Roman dog, we aren’t fools. You’ll
stand in your tracks until we’re gone, or we’ll come charging back and
slit your throats and leave you here for the vultures to clean your
bones.” He suddenly whirled about, for from behind him came the sound of
men running through the rocks back from the road.

“Romans! Romans!” Cornelius heard someone shouting in Aramaic. “Fly!
Roman soldiers!” In the next instant a bearded, coarse fellow burst into
view above the deep-cut trail. “We can’t stand against them, Bar Abbas;
there are too many of them!” he shouted. “We’d better get across the
road and into those rocks!” He looked down and spied his companions and
their captured party. “The Romans!” he yelled. “Fly men! There are too
many for us to fight them!”

“Fly!” yelled the gang’s leader. “Go out through that ravine!” He
pointed. “Get yourselves lost in the rocks, and hurry!” He turned to the
man who had just rushed up to him. “How many did there appear to be,
Hamor?”

“Many. I could not count them. We speared several before they discovered
us....”

“Fools! If you’d held your peace and stayed under cover, they wouldn’t
have known you were there. Now you’ve caused us to be flushed out. By
the beard of the High Priest, Hamor, haven’t I warned you...?”

“But we thought there were only a handful....”

“Through that way!” Bar Abbas turned his back toward the road and was
signaling the revolutionaries racing toward him. Cornelius, who since
his first sight of the burly fellow had suspected he was the notorious
Zealot marauder, couldn’t see the fleeing Israelites, but he could hear
their sandals slapping against the loose stones. And close behind
them—he was able distinctly to distinguish the sound of their heavy
boots crunching the gravel and scattering the pebbles—came the pursuing
legionaries of his flanking file on the west.

Already the assailants in the defile of the road were fleeing. Some
clambered up the steep sides of the little ravine that opened into the
gulch of the roadway and disappeared into the sheltering boulders above;
others ran down the road to the end of the canyon and turned eastward;
several went the other way along the narrow trail and then turned off in
the same direction the others had taken. But before they had all cleared
the road, Bar Abbas and his companions on the boulders above, still
clutching their spears, had dropped into the defile and without a glance
toward their now liberated prisoners had scampered into the converging
ravine.

Hardly had the burly Bar Abbas disappeared before the pursuing Romans
were plunging into the boulders beside the road. In another moment
several of them were peering down into the narrow roadway. In that same
instant Cornelius, looking up, spied Decius. “Here!” the centurion
called out. “Down that way!” He pointed. “Hurry!”

“Cornelius, by all the gods, you aren’t going to let them get away, are
you!” screamed Herodias, having suddenly found her voice.

“But, my dear Herodias”—Antipas turned ponderously in his saddle to face
his spouse—“certainly the centurion knows what....”

“Hah! The Tetrarch has come to life! He speaks, now that Bar Abbas and
his revolutionaries have fled,” she observed sneeringly.

“Bar Abbas,” Cornelius said, ignoring the Tetrarchess and Herod, as
Decius and several of his detachment clambered down into the road. “They
pounced on us from the rocks there”—he pointed—“and had us disarmed. I
was hoping you would hear the commotion.”

“They jumped us the same way, Centurion,” Decius said. “I think they
killed two of our men. I left some men with them. We got several of the
revolutionaries, though.”

“It’s a poor exchange. But get after him, Decius. Here, Galba, Licinius,
Mallius”—Cornelius called out a half dozen of the men who had been in
his detachment—“go with them; you saw Bar Abbas; you’ll know him.”
Already the men were grabbing up their swords from the pile Bar Abbas’
men had left in their rush to get away. “They were headed east, toward
the Wilderness. In a moment they’ll be running into Lucius on the flank
over there. If he can turn them back, we’ll have them in a bag. But they
may break through him. Stay after them, Decius; get that Bar Abbas, and
try to take him alive.” He turned to another of his men. “Livius, take a
detachment and go down the road; you saw where the revolutionaries
turned off left. Marius, take your squad and go that way”—he pointed up
the Jericho road toward Jerusalem—“and run down those that fled in that
direction; you saw where they turned off. Follow them. And all of you be
careful; we want no more ambushes.” He called out several more names.
“You men stay here with me,” he said. “We’ll see that no harm comes to
the Tetrarch and his lady.” He smiled wryly as he looked toward
Herodias. “We almost didn’t do that awhile ago.” Then he turned again to
Decius. “We’re moving out of this trap in here, though,” he said. “We’ll
be up there a thousand paces. And hurry, men; it will soon be dark in
those rocks.” He signaled for them to be off. “I want that Bar Abbas.”

Less than half an hour later Marius and his men returned. They were
leading a manacled Israelite. “We saw only five men,” Marius reported.
“Two of them we killed, and this one we cornered between two big rocks.
The other two slipped away; we searched, but we’re sure they’re gone
now. This fellow is a Galilean, named Gesmas, he says.”

“And you had nobody hurt?” Marius nodded. “Good. Keep a sharp eye on
this fellow.” Cornelius pointed. “Livius is coming in. No prisoners, I
believe.”

Livius reported that his men had killed or wounded several of the
fleeing revolutionaries. He had had only one man cut slightly by an
Israelite’s desperately wielded spear; the weapon had grazed the
soldier’s shoulder. “We saw no signs of Lucius’ flanking file,” Livius
revealed. “They must have been up ahead, and the revolutionaries we were
pursuing must have slipped around their rear. They know this country;
they simply disappeared like conies into those big rocks. But maybe
Lucius intercepted some of those that Decius went after.”

“Look!” One of the Romans pointed. “There’s Decius.” Having moved up
from the narrow defile through the boulders, they could see out on both
sides of the road. “And he has two prisoners.”

“Yes. And one of them, by all the gods”—Cornelius was straining to see
more clearly in the gathering dusk—“is Bar Abbas! Great Jove, he caught
the big prize!”

The other Israelite, too, they discovered in a moment, was a much wanted
revolutionary, one of Bar Abbas’ principal lieutenants, a Galilean named
Dysmas.

Lucius had stayed out on the flank, Decius explained, to prevent any
sudden desperate attempt of the Zealots to rescue their leader. They
were still no doubt in the rocks back from the road, perhaps regrouping
their scattered forces.

“From here into Jerusalem the road is clear, and they won’t be able to
prepare any ambush.” The centurion called out four soldiers standing
near him. “Go tell Lucius to come in nearer. We can move faster that
way, and in the deepening darkness it will be safer for everybody. Tell
him we’re starting at once for Jerusalem.” As they were leaving, he
turned again to Decius. “See that the prisoners are bound securely, and
manacle each one between two of our men. And box them in with guards.
Give them no chance of getting away from us or being rescued.”

Herodias had been watching silently but with evident interest. “It seems
to me, Centurion,” she observed petulantly, “that you could prevent
either eventuality by executing these rebel scum right now.”

“I am a Roman soldier, Tetrarchess. These men have had no trial.”

She pointed to her silent spouse, glumly sitting his horse. “He is the
Tetrarch of Galilee and Peraea. These revolutionaries are Galileans. He
is the proper one to try them.”

“No, my dear Herodias,” Antipas spoke out. “This is neither the time nor
the place to conduct any trial. Centurion, let us proceed with your
plans to go on into Jerusalem.”

Herodias lifted her head haughtily, but she made no reply. As soon as
the caravan re-formed and was ready for the march, Cornelius gave the
command to move forward. Less than two hours later he led the Tetrarch
and Tetrarchess through the gate and let them and their servants into
the gloomy pile of the old Hasmonean Palace. From there he marched his
century to the Fortress of Antonia, where he surrendered his three
prisoners to the dungeon jailer, who locked them, still bound securely,
in the darkness and squalor of one of the lowest-level cells.

When he had seen to the quartering of his men in their Antonia barracks,
he climbed the stone stairway in the southwestern tower and walked along
the corridor to the room he had been assigned in the officers’ quarters.
He had decided he would have a steaming bath and put on fresh clothing
before going down to the mess for a late evening meal.

The chamber, the centurion found, was close and warm. He pushed open the
window; then he unbolted the door and walked out onto the balcony. Down
below lights blazed in the Temple courts, and men scurried to and fro,
already in a frenzy of Passover preparations.



                                   40


Once again the household of Procurator Pontius Pilate was settled in the
magnificent great Palace of the Herods; once again the ancient capital
of Israel was teeming with countless Jews come up for the Feast of the
Passover.

From every region and hamlet, almost from every home, in Judaea,
Samaria, Peraea, and Galilee, from Antioch, Damascus, Tarsus,
Alexandria, Memphis, and Cyrene, from Ephesus, Athens, and Corinth, from
all provinces rimming the Great Sea, even to Rome and beyond, from the
islands of Cyprus and Sardinia and Sicily and Crete and those numerous
smaller ones dotting the Aegean, devout Israelites had swarmed into
Jerusalem’s crowded narrow ways and squares before the gates.

Every Jewish home, whether pretentious stone residence crowning Mount
Zion or squalid malodorous hovel burrowed beneath the city’s walls in
noisome Ophel, was overflowing with pilgrim kinsmen returned for this
greatest annual feast of Israel. For every person living in Jerusalem,
Centurion Longinus casually estimated as he stood on Fortress Antonia’s
balcony outside his chamber, perhaps ten pilgrims had squirmed
themselves inside the walls of the old city. And countless other
thousands had been unable to find living quarters within the walls.
Throngs of Passover celebrants overflowed the slope downward to the
Brook Kidron and up the eastern rise past Gethsemane to the summit of
the Mount of Olives and as far as Bethany. To the south, beyond the ever
smoldering fires of the refuse dumps in the Hinnom valley, and to the
west, tents and brush arbors of Passover pilgrims dotted the untilled
areas through which ran the Bethlehem road. Northward, too, though
Longinus could not survey that section of Jerusalem and its environs
because of the great tower at his back, and to his right over beyond the
massive pile of the Palace of the Herods, for many furlongs past the
Ephraim and Joppa Gates, thin curlings of grayish-white smoke spiraled
upward from small fires over which Passover pilgrims were bending now in
preparation of the evening meal.

Longinus had been quartered near the Centurion Cornelius, but he had
hardly seen his friend. The night of Cornelius’ arrival from Galilee
with the Tetrarch’s party and his three Zealot prisoners, they had
talked briefly in the mess hall, but they were both weary from the
traveling and soon retired to their beds. The next day Pontius Pilate,
greatly pleased at the capture of the wily zealot chieftain, had ordered
Cornelius to take his century and scour the rocks above the Jericho road
into which the evening before the marauders had disappeared. He had
commanded the centurion to ferret out every member of Bar Abbas’ band
and either capture or kill him. “And follow them as far as Galilee if
need be, Centurion,” the Procurator had instructed him. “Capture any you
can, and bring them back here; we will crucify them during the Passover
festival, and for the thousands of rebellious, stubborn Jews who will
see them dying on the crosses it will be a salutary lesson. It may help
them realize what fate awaits those who thus oppose Rome’s authority and
power.”

Longinus wondered what success Cornelius was having. Evidently he had
been forced to pursue the fleeing revolutionaries a long way, perhaps
even as far as Galilee, where they might expect to find haven among
kinsmen and friends. No doubt the attackers of the Tetrarch’s party had
separated in their flight from the soldiers of Cornelius. It would be
particularly difficult, virtually impossible, in fact, to round up all
the revolutionaries Bar Abbas had been leading, Longinus felt. In all
probability, he reasoned, a number of them had slipped into Jerusalem a
few minutes after Cornelius had entered the city, perhaps even ahead of
his caravan, and were now safely lost among the tens of thousands
deluging the ancient capital.

Nor had Longinus had an opportunity thus far to spend any considerable
time alone with Claudia. Though Pilate had been keeping close to his
headquarters in the fortress during the day-time, he had been returning
to the palace at night, and his bedchamber was beside Claudia’s and
connected with it by a doorway. The Procurator, too, had issued orders
for all officers not on active duty to be quickly available; Pilate
seemed unusually restive. Longinus felt that Pilate was determined to
prevent any small turmoil among the Jews from developing into a crisis
whose handling by him might further jeopardize his standing with the
Prefect Sejanus and the Emperor. With so many Jews congregated in
Israel’s holy city on a festival occasion so characteristically Jewish
and one that so emphasized the peculiarly nationalistic spirit of the
Jews, the situation was always highly inflammable. A small spark, if not
snuffed quickly, could blaze into a holocaust.

One such minor incident that had taken place on the first day of the
Jewish week might have provided such a spark, had the principal actor in
it been of a mind to cause trouble. And, strangely, without having known
what he was seeing, Longinus had witnessed this small happening.

He had breakfasted early with several fellow officers and had come up to
his chamber this particular morning, when, to enjoy a stirring of the
already warming April air, he had stepped out onto the balcony. Down
below him the Court of the Gentiles was a hive of bustling activity. Out
beyond the eastern wall in the direction he happened to be looking the
slopes were alive with pilgrims preparing for the great festival. But up
on the balcony he was safe from the stir and seething and the
interminable chattering of excited Jewry, and a gentle breeze fanned
him. He sat on the wide stone railing of the rampart, and idly his gaze
went down the nearer slope to the Brook Kidron and along the meandering
road on the other side as it climbed past Gethsemane’s olive grove
toward the hill’s summit.

It was then that he noticed a procession moving slowly but with evident
enthusiasm downward over this road toward the city from the direction of
Bethany. Immediately his interest was attracted to the motley parade.
Above the harsh cries of the hawkers in the Temple courts, the
quarrelsome tones of bargaining, and the dull lowing of the cattle in
the stalls awaiting sacrificing on the Great Altar, Longinus could
distinguish the screamed hosannas of this unrestrained movement of
dancing, singing, joyous people. Many of them were waving green branches
they must have torn from trees and shrubs along the roadside.
Occasionally the centurion would catch sight of an erect, tall man
astride a white donkey. He adjudged the man to be tall, because his feet
were not far from the gravel of the road as he sat astride the beast.
And then he would lose sight of the rider as the shouting celebrants
swirled about him.

Some popular rabbi with his people coming up to Jerusalem for the
Passover, Longinus surmised, as he watched the writhing column approach
the Brook Kidron crossing. Soon it disappeared under the walls down near
Dung Gate, but presently it emerged again into his sight; he followed
its progress through the cavernous alleys of Ophel, sometimes seeing it
crossing a narrow opening between huddled buildings but hearing without
interruption its lively shouts and chantings, until it came into clearer
view at a stairway in the street pushing upward along Mount Moriah
toward the Temple now resplendent in the morning sunshine.

Inside the Court of the Gentiles, which the strange little caravan of
one rider and his evidently unorganized but plainly joyous adherents had
reached by coming in through the Gate Shalleketh, the tall man
dismounted, and someone quickly led the little animal away. In another
moment the shouting and hosannas had ceased, and soon the centurion lost
the rider in the press of the Temple throng.

Later that day in crossing the Court of the Gentiles to go out through
the Gate Shalleketh and onto the bridge over the Tyropoeon, which was
the easiest way to Mount Zion from the fortress, Longinus learned that
the man on the donkey was the rabbi from Galilee. Many of his followers
had expected the rabbi, whose fame by now had spread throughout Judaea,
to come into the precincts of the Temple, proclaim himself Yahweh’s
Messiah and the ruler of the world, and call down legions of heavenly
angels utterly to destroy every vestige of Rome’s dominion. Now these
followers were deeply disappointed and utterly chagrined. The tall one
from Galilee in whom they had put their trust, the one who would be
Israel’s new David to deliver it from its mighty enemy, had failed them.

But what if this Jesus had really fancied himself a man ordained to lead
his little nation in throwing off the yoke of Rome? What, reasoned the
centurion, if he had been as visionary, as passionately though unwisely
patriotic as countless other Jews assembled here in Rome for Israel’s
great celebration? In this tense, highly inflammable atmosphere of
Passover week in Jerusalem, with great numbers of his followers
believing that he possessed supernatural authority and powers, the
rabbi’s willingness to allow himself to be proclaimed Israel’s king
would have resulted in fearful bloodshed. But this Jesus at the last
moment had either lost his courage, or else he had never contemplated
leadership of Israel except in some vague, religious sense that
Cornelius perhaps would term spiritual. At any rate, Longinus concluded,
the Galilean was no threat to Rome and of no concern to the Empire. In
his report to Sejanus, he would make no mention of the rabbi, unless in
some manner Pontius Pilate might become involved with the man from
Galilee. He wondered if Pilate had even been informed of the little
procession that had come to such an inglorious ending within the Temple
court. He wondered if Pilate, in fact, in his harried administration of
the affairs of Judaea had ever heard of this Jesus.



                                   41


Claudia sat on a small stone bench facing one of the fountains in the
garden of the Palace of the Herods. All about her the grass was a
luxuriant green and the flower beds, fed, she had been told, with blood
drained through subterranean pipes from the overflow of the Great Altar,
were already ablaze with color. Birds skipped and twittered in the rich
foliage, and now and then some venturing small animal would skitter
across an open patch of bright sunshine to disappear beneath the
branches of a flowering shrub. The bench, shaded by a gnarled great
olive, was invitingly cool despite the day’s warmth and heaviness, and
the gentle babble of the spraying water ordinarily would have lulled one
sitting there into a mood of peaceful contemplation, if not pleasant
slumber.

But this afternoon the wife of the Procurator felt neither peaceful nor
pleasant. She watched the fountain’s waters lifting and arching and
falling and draining away in an undeviating pattern of movement and
allowed her own thoughts to wander with it.

_... There is the picture of my living. Like the water that is the
thrust-along prisoner of the pump, or the ram which again and again
lifts it and sends it spurting upward only to fall back and sink down
and be forced up again, I am the prisoner of some malign power that
pushes me along through a dull monotony of_ _days that I am powerless
even to protest against; I am swirled about but held fast like that
water in a routine of existence I dare not even challenge...._

She leaned forward with her head upon her hands and glared, hardly
seeing it, at the captive, dancing water. How, by Bona Dea and all the
good and gentle gods, the kind and happily ministering gods, how, by
Pluto and all his evil soot-begrimed and blackened imps, could she
escape the treadmill of this deadening monotony, this unending,
bedeviling frustration? Granddaughter of the great god Augustus,
stepdaughter of the great god Tiberius, granddaughter of the
almost-great god Mark Antony and the great great goddess Cleopatra, wife
of the mighty Procurator of Judaea, daughter through Augustus of Jove
himself, princess of the blood....

“Bah!” She said it aloud. But there was nobody near-by in the garden.
She sat back against the coolness of the stone. “By all the gods, why
couldn’t I have been a wench serving tables in a tavern, a strumpet down
in the Subura, and had my freedom!”

_... Why, by all the gods, can’t old Tiberius die? He’s past seventy
now, and of what service is he to the Empire? And Sejanus, the old rake,
must be past sixty. If someone would give the Prefect a neat sword
thrust...._

She stood up and walked over to the fountain, held out her hands to the
spraying water and lifted wet palms to her flushed cheeks. The afternoon
was still and depressing. She raised her eyes and saw above the trees
and the turreted nearest corner of the great palace rounded soft white
puffs of clouds, like newly lifted fresh curds in a deeply blue
overturned bowl. “A storm,” she said to herself, “one of those swiftly
arrived, quickly gone, fierce Judaean storms. But it will clear the air
of this blanket of heat, and it will serve to break for a while the
monotony of another fruitless day.”

But she did not go inside. She sat down again and watched the gathering
puffs of clouds. Never had she been afraid of storms, even ominous
thunder and the swift, sharp streaks of lightning. She remembered that
once in her early childhood when a governess had warned her against
staying outdoors and running the risk of being struck by one of Jove’s
hurled mighty bolts, she had remarked, “If old Jove is clever enough to
strike me with a bolt outdoors, why can’t he throw one right through the
roof and hit me while I’m inside? I don’t believe he can hit me whether
I’m outside or inside.”

Her blasphemous words had woefully shocked the governess, but Claudia
had never seen cause to retract them. One thing had led to another; from
denying Jove’s power she had soon come to deny his very existence, and
with his, the existence likewise of the entire pantheon of lesser gods
and goddesses.

She was still seated on the bench when a palace servant came out to
announce that a soldier had arrived from Fortress Antonia with a message
for her.

“Then bring him here,” she instructed the servant. Could it be, she
wondered, that the man is bringing a message from Longinus?

But the legionary had been sent to her by the Procurator. Pilate, he
reported, would not be returning to the palace either for the evening
meal or to spend the night. He begged to explain to his wife that he had
had a very trying day and that he would be engaged until late in the
evening. He had agreed to give an audience to the High Priest Caiaphas,
and their meeting might well be extended into the night. He had decided,
therefore, to forego the privilege and pleasure of dining with the
Procuratoress; he would have supper in his quarters and after he had
ended his long day’s duties would spend the remainder of the night
there.

Her first thought was of getting a message to Longinus. She would write
it, seal it fast, and send it by the legionary.

“Thank you,” she said to the soldier. “I shall want you to carry a
message to the Fortress.” She stood up. “I’ll go inside and prepare it.”
But would it be a discreet thing to do, sending a message to Longinus by
this legionary? What if by chance it should fall into other hands, even
Pilate’s? “No, there’s no need of my writing it,” she said. “Just tell
the Procurator that I thank him for informing me and that I shall see
him at his pleasure tomorrow.”

But she would find a way of notifying Longinus. Tullia. Of course.
Tullia was one person upon whose loyalty and good judgment she could
always depend. When Tullia returned, she would send her to Longinus.

A soft breeze had sprung up and was pushing the storm clouds gently
away; the air had cooled; the storm seemed to have been averted for the
day. Claudia rose from the bench and returned to her apartment in the
palace.

When a few minutes later her maid returned, she was carrying a small
wicker basket. “Mistress, I found these in one of the markets near the
Temple,” she said, beaming as she held out the basket to Claudia. “I
thought you might enjoy them.”

“Fresh figs? And so early?” She picked one up. “It really is a fresh
one, isn’t it?”

“Yes, and I’ve washed them. You can eat it right now. I was surprised to
find any this early, but the man explained that in some of the warm
coves on the protected side of Olivet they often have figs ripening in
early April.”

Claudia pulled the fig open and nibbled at the firm reddish flesh
inside. “It’s delicious,” she said, “and such a surprise.” She saw that
Tullia’s eyes were ablaze with an excitement, however, that no discovery
of fresh figs could have provoked. “What is it, little one? What
happened? Whom did you see?”

“Mistress, I was looking at the figs when I heard a familiar voice
speaking to the merchant. I looked around; it was Mary of Magdala.”

Jesus and his little group, she had told Tullia, had come down from the
Ephraim hills for the Passover. Her master was spending his nights with
Martha and Mary and Lazarus out at near-by Bethany; during the day he
came into the Temple courts to teach.

“Perhaps, then, he will proclaim himself the Messiah of Israel and
establish a new government,” Tullia said she had said to Mary. But the
Magdalene had answered that Jesus seemed to be insisting instead that he
would not become Israel’s temporal ruler, that he would even die as a
sort of Passover sacrifice, an offering for the salvation of his people.

“But surely,” Claudia commented, “you Jews would never so debase
yourselves as to offer a human sacrifice, as do those who worship
Moloch.”

“It wouldn’t be that way, Mistress. But ... I don’t believe it will ever
happen anyway.”

Mary had asked Tullia to spend the night with her in a cottage out at
Bethany near the modest home of Lazarus and his sisters. She might be
able to see Jesus and even talk with him. They would meet, if Claudia
should be agreeable, at Shushan Gate before sunset and go out to
Bethany.

“Then you’d best be going soon,” Claudia observed. “But before you meet
Mary, I want you to go by Fortress Antonia and tell Longinus that the
Procurator will be spending the night there.” She told the maid of the
message Pilate had sent her. “And tell Longinus I’ll accept no excuse
for his failing to come.”



                                   42


The lean, blue-jowled ascetic face of Joseph Caiaphas, High Priest of
Israel, warmed into a disarming smile, and the flames from the chamber’s
wall lamps danced in his sharp, dark eyes.

“Excellency,” he said, “you must be exasperated at my coming to you at
this late hour.” He faced the Procurator across the ornate, heavy desk.
“I know you are tired, and I appreciate the fact that the strain you’ve
been undergoing ever since your arrival in Judaea has been intensified
during these recent inflammable days of the Passover season.” He leaned
nearer Pilate. “I realize, too, Excellency, that you must be determined
to prevent the repetition of events in Palestine that might result in
the dispatching to Rome of further damaging reports”—the Procurator’s
florid round face darkened, but Caiaphas pretended not to
notice—“challenging the excellence of the Procurator’s administration of
the affairs of this province.”

“I am tired; I’ve had a long day.” Pilate’s tone revealed irritation.
“Perhaps if the High Priest would proceed at once to the business he had
in coming....”

“Indeed, Excellency,” the High Priest interrupted, “and I shall require
little of your time, so that shortly you may go to your well-earned
couch. A fortunate event of the day has facilitated the early
satisfactory disposition of the business; if the Procurator will
co-operate in disposing of it we shall quickly rid ourselves of a
grievous threat both to Israel’s peace and to the Procurator’s rule. I
have just come from a lengthy session of the elders of Israel,
Excellency—that explains my late arrival here—at which we have
agreed....”

“But what is the business you would lay before me? And how would it
affect the Procurator’s administration of the government in Judaea?”
Pilate’s impatience had put a sharp edge on his voice. “If it is a
question of the alleged violation of certain religious laws of the
Jews....”

“It is that, Excellency, but it is more.” Caiaphas leaned forward, and
the light of the lamps flashed in the gems of his rings. “Not only would
this man destroy our religion, but likewise would he destroy the rule of
Rome in Palestine.”

“This man? Are you speaking of one Bar Abbas? He has been seized, with
two of his fellow revolutionaries. They go to the cross tomorrow.”

The High Priest shook his head. “It is not that one, Excellency. The man
is a Galilean, one Jesus bar Joseph, not a robber like Bar Abbas, but a
far more dangerous revolutionary, whom his misguided followers—and their
number is growing, Excellency—are proclaiming not only the Messiah of
God but also the next King of Israel. Were noise to get back to the
Prefect Sejanus or the Emperor that such a person was being permitted to
advocate and plan Rome’s overthrow and your Excellency’s
supplanting....”

“But does the High Priest know where this man is? Does the Sanhedrin
have him in its custody?”

Calmly Joseph Caiaphas stroked his oiled and braided long beard. “He is
in Jerusalem at this moment, Excellency, or within the close environs of
the city. It is possible that already he has been seized by the Temple
guard. He has been at the Feast since the first day of the week when he
entered Jerusalem riding on a white donkey, which among the Jews is a
symbol of royalty, Excellency. It was then that he had planned to enlist
the Passover pilgrims, led by his fellow Galileans, in proclaiming him
the new David, the King of Israel suddenly freed of Rome’s domination.
He lost his courage, though, or in some manner his plans failed of
materialization. But”—his hand stabbed out again at the Procurator—“the
fellow is still intent on seizing power, and his countless misguided
followers are determined to see him established on the throne as King of
Israel. They will plunge our ancient land into revolution, Excellency.
Blood will flow freely throughout Judaea and Galilee. Many Roman
soldiers will die before the rebellion is crushed, unless”—his forehead
wrinkled in heavy concern—“this fellow is quietly slain, Excellency,
before his followers can rally.”

“You say that perhaps he has been arrested already. How could he be
taken without alarming these supporters of whom you speak?”

The High Priest leaned back in his chair and folded his long arms across
his chest. “The God of Israel has favored us, Excellency. He has
delivered this blasphemer into our hands through his betrayal by one of
his own band. This man came to us and after seeking pay told us he would
point out where the man might be found and taken with little commotion.
We gave the fellow thirty pieces of silver. By now no doubt he has
delivered his leader into the hands of the guardsmen....”

“You say this man’s a blasphemer. Don’t you know that the Procurator is
not concerned with violations of your religious code? What is it to Rome
if your Yahweh is blasphemed? We will not enter into the religious
quarrels of the Jews. I presume you have come here to ask me to try the
man and find him guilty. I say, O High Priest, try the man yourself.”

Caiaphas smiled indulgently, but then his brow furrowed again and he
scowled darkly. “That is true, Excellency. Rome has no concern with
Israel’s worship of our God. But is not Rome concerned when a man, under
the guise of teaching a new religion, declares openly that he will
establish a new government in Israel? Would not Sejanus and the Emperor
consider then that Rome was concerned ... and deeply concerned?”

The High Priest’s clever thrust had made its mark; Pilate’s face
flushed; his tone, when he replied, was petulant. “Of course, the
Prefect and the Emperor would be concerned; so would the Legate
Vitellius, and so would the Procurator; so, in fact, would any loyal
Roman.” Now the Procurator extended his own finger to point. “But how do
you know that this Galilean advocates the overthrow of Rome? Has he come
to trial? Has he faced witnesses against him? What would the High Priest
have me to do, send a man to his death without trial? Certainly the High
Priest must know that Rome is ruled by law, that no man under the rule
of Rome may suffer death until he has been adjudged guilty, and that any
such judgment can come only after a fair trial in which the man has been
confronted by witnesses against him.”

“Indeed, O Procurator”—Joseph Caiaphas held up a soothing palm—“we well
know that and approve. We, too, would never consent to sending this
revolutionary to his death without trial, even though his crimes against
Israel and against Rome have already been conclusively established. But
he is being brought to fair trial, Excellency, before the great
Sanhedrin of Israel. Perhaps he has already been apprehended in the
Garden of Gethsemane, where he had planned to conceal himself with
certain of his followers, as we learned from the traitor who came to us.
He will be examined, no doubt before my beloved father-in-law Annas,
known for his piety and his wisdom, learned in the laws of Israel”—he
smiled warmly—“and strong in his devotion to the Prefect and the
Emperor. And then, Excellency, as soon as the dawn of the new day makes
it legal under our laws to conduct such a trial, the Galilean will be
brought before the Sanhedrin, confronted by witnesses against him, and
given proper trial.”

“Then why has the High Priest,” Pilate asked in exasperation, “come to
me?”

“O Excellency, the Procurator must know that the ancient laws of Israel,
now that Rome has become master, no longer apply in every detail. Should
our Sanhedrin find this revolutionary Galilean guilty of base crimes and
sentence him to death, it would still be powerless to carry out its
sentence without the approval of Rome. I am here, O Excellency, to
petition the Procurator to approve our verdict and sentence. And I urge
you to do this quickly, in order that the man may be executed while it
is yet early and before all Jerusalem, and the Galileans in particular,
are astir. Then much commotion and bloodshed would be prevented and,” he
added with a suggestive smile, “there would be no necessity of any
report’s going to Rome.”

“But you wish me to condemn a man to death _before_ he has been tried?”
Pilate’s anger showed plainly in his frown.

“Indeed, no, Excellency,” the High Priest replied calmly. “We only wish
you to approve and order into execution the sentence of the Sanhedrin in
the event that _after_ he has been tried, he is judged guilty.”

Pilate shook his head. “No, I shall send no man to the cross or to death
by stoning until _I_ have tried him. To do so would be an unspeakable
breach of Rome’s system of justice.”

“But, Excellency, would you show your scorn of Israel’s highest court?”

“I would show only my determination to uphold Rome’s laws and
procedures. If you wish this man tried, then bring him before me at the
Procuratorium.” He bowed coldly. “And now, if the High Priest will
excuse me....”

The High Priest stood up as though to leave. “Indeed, Excellency, I too
am greatly fatigued,” he said, “but one more point detains me. A moment
ago, Procurator Pilate, did I not hear you say that on the morrow you
were sending Bar Abbas to the cross? If so, Excellency, have you not
already convicted him?”

Pilate’s smile was contemptuous as he, too, rose to his feet. “I did say
that, and I have no doubt that he will go to the cross. But not, O High
Priest, until he has been given trial, before he has been confronted by
witnesses who will testify to what they saw and heard as concerns those
charges that will be placed against him. I presume that many will appear
against this Bar Abbas and that he will be convicted. But I do not say
now that he will. I say only that he will be given a fair trial.” He
lifted a heavy fist and brought it forcefully down upon the surface of
his desk. “And so, by all the gods, will your Galilean!”



                                   43


_... The knocking is insistent. Can it be that the Praetorian Guardsman
has been there a long time pounding on the door between the atrium and
the peristylium while I slowly awakened? Bona Dea, what can old Sejanus
want this time? Will he never cease hounding Longinus and me?_

_... Longinus. By the Bountiful Mother, maybe it’s Longinus returned
from Germania. Maybe he’s at the bedroom door opening on the
peristylium...._

“Just a moment, Centurion, until I get my robe!” Claudia sat up in bed,
rubbed her eyes, and shook her head to clear it. A narrow slash of
natural light showed through the not completely drawn draperies. It was
dawn. And burrowed in the pillow beside her was the close-cropped head
of the Centurion Longinus.

Now the knocking had begun again. But it came, Claudia realized, from
the other side of the door between her bedroom and Tullia’s. And though
insistent, the knocking was not loud. “Mistress! Mistress! Oh,
Mistress!”

She recognized her maid’s voice; Tullia was trying to awaken her without
making too much noise in the early morning stillness of the Palace of
the Herods. “Just a moment, little one,” she called out softly. At the
door she slid back the bolt. “But, Tullia,” she demanded, keeping her
voice low so that she would not awaken Longinus, “what are you doing
back so early? It must be hardly daylight. Why, little one....” she
paused, seeing the maid on the verge of tears.

“Oh, Mistress, he’s in grave danger!” Tullia burst out. “They’ve seized
him. We fear great harm may befall him. That’s why I have come back to
seek your help for him.” She was making an obvious effort to gain
control of herself; somewhat calmed, she continued. “I started from
Bethany at the first glimmering of light, almost as soon as we heard
that he had been taken. We’re so afraid, Mistress, that great harm will
come to him unless....”

“Let’s sit down”—Claudia’s tone was soothing—“and then quietly you can
tell me why you’re so afraid he’s going to suffer great injury. And who,
Tullia? You haven’t even told me his name.”

“The Galilean, Mistress; I thought you knew. Sometime during the night
some Temple guardsmen came and seized him in the Garden of Gethsemane;
he’d gone there with his little band to rest after eating the Passover
meal at the home of Mary of Cypress. They say it was one of his own band
who betrayed him, who told the Temple priests where he could be found
and arrested without there being a big stir. Of course there would have
been a great commotion if they had tried to take him anywhere near the
Temple; they wouldn’t have dared to do such a thing if....”

“But how do you know all this?” Claudia interrupted. “Maybe you’re
getting yourself upset without good reason.”

“No, it’s true, Mistress. Jesus and those of his immediate company,
along with his mother and certain other relatives, have been staying in
the Bethany neighborhood during the festival period,” Tullia revealed.
“Jesus himself lodged at the home of Lazarus and his sisters. But
yesterday afternoon the Master and the twelve men of his band went into
Jerusalem. That’s the last time Mary of Magdala saw him.” Her face was a
mask of pain and apprehension. “Then, early this morning, we were
awakened by several of his band who had come running back to Bethany in
great panic to report what had befallen him. All of them forsook him in
the garden when the soldiers appeared; even Simon, after he had slashed
out with his sword at one of the guardsmen, turned on his heel and ran,
too, they said.”

“But where did the soldiers take him?” Claudia asked. “And why have you
come to me?”

“They said there was talk that he was being taken before the High Priest
or else old Annas, Mistress. And we’re afraid that he may suffer a
terrible fate if he falls into the hands of the Temple priests. They’re
determined to kill him, Mistress.” She paused, eyes tearful. “I knew no
one else to whom I could turn for help, no one but you. I thought that
you might speak to the Procurator and he might rescue the Galilean
before they have him killed.”

“But don’t you know that they have no authority to execute the death
sentence until the Procurator has given approval?”

“Yes, but they’re so inflamed against him, Mistress, that they might
risk it. But if you could send a message to the Procurator....”

“He was probably up late into the night. To awaken him now with a
message might offend him, and that would be doing the Galilean more harm
than good. But Pilate usually returns to the palace before beginning his
morning duties; as soon as he does, I’ll lay before him this matter of
the Galilean’s arrest. Certainly no harm can come to him before Pilate
has had an opportunity to sit in judgment on him.”



                                   44


This Passover season there would be only three burdened crosses on top
of the desolate Hill of the Skull, but they would be enough. The ugly
spectacle would provide a frightful ending to the Jews’ annual great
festival.

In other times in Palestine, Centurion Cornelius had been told, Rome had
moved swiftly—and with far more terrifying effectiveness—to dramatize
the utter futility of any province’s attempt to contend against the
mighty conqueror. In Galilee they still talked, though even now in
carefully guarded conversations, of that dreadful day at Sepphoris
hardly more than twenty years ago when the Roman general Varus had
crushed a rebellion and crucified two thousand Jewish insurrectionists.

Perhaps Pontius Pilate, who a week ago had sent him chasing the rebels
of the now leaderless Bar Abbas band, had tired of awaiting the
centurion’s return with more captives for the crosses; perhaps he had
already ordered to slow and agonizing deaths the revolutionaries’ leader
and the two followers captured with him. It might be that even now
countless pilgrims up for the Passover, drawn by a morbid fascination,
were gawking at the scourged, torn, and broken, unimaginably desecrated
bodies of the captured robber-Zealots. But Cornelius would provide no
additional victims for those crosses on the Hill of the Skull.

“And I’m glad,” he said aloud.

“What, Centurion? Glad?” Decius, riding beside him, had heard.

“I was just thinking aloud about this business of crucifying slaves and
depraved criminals. I was glad those four revolutionaries we cornered in
the Ephraim hills chose to fight to their deaths rather than surrender.
It’s better not having to take anybody back to Jerusalem to be nailed up
on a cross.”

“It’s not one of the most pleasant assignments a soldier gets, being on
a crucifixion detail,” Decius agreed. “I’ve been on three, and I’ll
never forget those poor devils, the first one especially, maybe just
because he was my first. He was a boy in Germania, hardly sixteen, but a
sturdy, strong fellow. I can still see him, Centurion. He was fair and
his hair was the color of ripened grain, and his eyes were as blue as
the sky. He had killed one of our soldiers, they said.”

“Probably after our soldier had killed the boy’s parents and raped his
sister.”

“I can’t say as to that; you could be right, Centurion. But our
commander ordered him to the cross, and I was put on the detail. We took
that boy and tied him to the low stake and scourged him until he was a
bloody pulp, Centurion. I can still see those bone-tipped whips slashing
that white skin and flicking off bits of flesh, and one of them got him
in the eye and knocked the ball out of the socket; it was hanging down
when we nailed him up.” Decius shook his head ruefully. “By the gods,
Centurion, do you know that boy even then fought us and cursed us as
long as he had a hand or foot loose, and when we got all four spiked
down he tried to butt us with his head. He was a strong one, that
fellow; I remember he didn’t die until well along in the second day, and
then he was spitting at us and cursing us almost to his last breath.”
Decius stared thoughtfully for a moment at the road unwinding ahead.
“Many times I’ve dreamed about that boy, Centurion, and I can still see
him plainly and hear his screaming and cursing. It’s not a pleasant
dream. I’d rather dream about those yellow-haired women in Germania.”

Cornelius nodded his head solemnly. “Yet we Romans call ourselves modern
and civilized people.” They rode on in silence for a few moments. “Maybe
we did well in being away from Jerusalem most of the week of the feast,”
Cornelius finally commented. “Maybe we escaped being assigned by the
Procurator to a crucifixion detail.”

“I hope so; I’ve no stomach for serving on one again,” Decius agreed.
“You know, Centurion, I’ve just been thinking that very likely many of
Bar Abbas’ cutthroats are right up there in Jerusalem in that Passover
crowd. It wouldn’t surprise me if some of them should try to rescue
those three Zealots.”

Cornelius nodded. “It wouldn’t surprise me either. I suspect that most
of them, in fact, doubled back that night and beat us into Jerusalem and
got themselves quickly lost in the surge of Passover pilgrims. And only
the gods know how many other Zealots are swarming all over the city with
their daggers sharpened for our throats.”

It was almost midday when they moved through the defile between the
boulders where a week before they had been waylaid by the Zealot
chieftain. This time Cornelius sent a scouting party ahead to
reconnoiter. But no marauder was encountered.

In the level beyond the rocks the century paused to eat and rest. But
not for long. Soon Cornelius gave the order to reassemble in marching
formation. The sun was straight overhead, and the air was warm and
heavy; a stifling stillness presaged a violent storm. “I’d like to get
into Antonia before it breaks,” the centurion observed to Decius, as
they mounted their horses. “Look.” He pointed off toward the southwest
where an immense angry black cloud hovered low. “By mighty Jove, it must
be already dark in Jerusalem.”



                                   45


The tall Galilean arose from the steps before the Beautiful Gate and
bending over, caught the hand of the prostrate, frightened woman.
“Neither do I condemn you, my sister,” he said gently, as he helped her
to her feet and she lifted tearful, penitent eyes to him. “Go, and sin
no more.”

“He is truly a good man, Tullia, a noble man of warm heart, a generous,
forgiving, good man. But a god? No, little one.” They were watching the
woman as she neared the corner of the Chel toward the Fortress of
Antonia. “There are no gods.”

The woman went out of their sight around the Soreg. They turned to look
again toward the Galilean at the marble steps.

But the steps had disappeared, and the Beautiful Gate, and beyond it the
Great Altar. Only the man stood there, and his arms were bound behind
him now, and where the Chel had been was the Procurator’s tribunal.
Solemn but unafraid, he faced the judge. At his back the Temple leaders
who a moment ago had dragged the poor woman before him were shouting
execrations upon him and demanding of the Procurator his crucifixion.
“Crucify him!” they were screaming. “Crucify him!”

And in the magistrate’s chair ... by the Great Mother, there was Pontius
Pilate!

Pilate, his round face livid with anger, was remonstrating with the
priests. “But shall I crucify your King? Shall I crucify the King of the
Jews?”

Crucify Jesus of Galilee?

“No, Pilate! No! No!” She was running toward the Procurator to stand
beside the Galilean. “No, my husband, have nothing to do with this good
man!”

_... But Pilate does not see me or hear me. Nor does the Galilean. Am I
a disembodied spirit? But there are no spirits. Oh, Tullia. But Tullia
neither hears nor sees me...._

“Then take him yourselves and crucify him. His death be your
responsibility.” Pilate was speaking again. “I am free of his blood.”

“No! No! No, Pilate! You are sending an innocent man to his death! You
can never disavow responsibility! Oh, hear me, my husband! Hear me!”

But the Praetorium and its tribunal, the tall, bound Galilean, the
railing priests and their blood-hungry supporters were suddenly
vanished.

The great throne room of the Imperial Palace in Rome was strangely
darkened. She could hear the voice of the Emperor, but she could hardly
distinguish his features. Was he her stepfather Tiberius, incredibly old
now, or a younger Emperor? The voice was somewhat strange, too. “You
have failed miserably,” the voice was saying. “You have been rash and
stubbornly determined to govern in accordance with your own whims, you
have not only permitted, but you have, through your intemperate
governing, created much turmoil and insurrection within your province;
in short, your rule has been a travesty of Roman administration.” The
voice paused. “But I shall not order you executed, as you deserve.
Instead, I decree that you be banished, forthwith and forever....”

The voice had faded out as the light came up, and she saw standing with
bowed head, old and bent and his once round face thinned and haggard and
hopeless, Pontius Pilate.

“No! No! If you had only listened....”

But no one heard her, and the great chamber was dark, and not a sound
came to her out of the stillness.

“Oh, by the Great Mother! By all the gods, great and small. Oh,
Galilean!”

Now as she stood immobile and weightless in the blackness and silence,
she began to sense a luminosity thinning the darkness below, and looking
down she saw a great way off a point of light that spread and lifted and
came up in ever widening circles to illuminate the heights about her.
For she was standing on the summit of a great mountain, higher even than
the sun-baked granite bluffs on which Machaerus sat above the Dead Sea,
and far below she could discern the imprisoned, restless waters of a
mountain-rimmed small lake.

Then, as she raised her eyes from the waters and looked across toward an
opposite peak, she saw him. He stood, bent and shrunken and old with the
weight of centuries, on a jagged thrust of rock that came out from the
mountain to overhang the agitated surface of the lake. He was looking
down at the waters; the light was reflected from a head completely bald,
and it played on cheek bones guarding cheeks long sunken, so that his
head even in life appeared to have dried away to a skull, and only long
dewlaps hanging down showed signs of animation.

“No! No! It cannot be!”

But she knew it was, though Pontius Pilate had shriveled into a pitiful
husk of the vain and pompous Procurator he had been.

In the same moment she heard voices, and looking around, she saw people
on the slopes of the mountain, coming up, pushing outward, swelling, and
growing until all the mountain was filled with people, and they were of
all races and times and colors and tongues. But strangely enough, she
could understand their words, Roman and Greek and Egyptian and the
tongues of the yellow-haired sons of Germania and the dark-haired women
of Gaul, and even the babblings of the barbarians in faraway Britannia,
and the curious utterances of the many unborn strange peoples of places
beyond the as yet uncharted seas. And each in his own way was saying
what all the others were saying.

The man on the precipice appeared not to see or hear the people; he
seemed preoccupied, fearful, oblivious of everything about him, and
struggling with the burden of some monstrous inner distress. He raised
his hands and held them before his face, and then it was that she saw
they were red to the wrists with the color of blood freshly spilled; he
rubbed them together, as though struggling fiercely to scrub the blood
away; he lowered them as if to dip them in a basin, then lifted them
again to study them, his bloodless face, in contrast to the hands, a
shade of ashen horror.

But the frenzied washing had done no good; the hands shone fiery red.
Despairing, Pilate dropped them to his sides and stepped to the very
edge of the yawning gulf. “I didn’t know!” he cried. “By all the gods, I
didn’t know.” He raised his cavernous face and with eyes wide looked
into the void. “O God of the Jews”—his shrunken head swayed on the
wrinkled neck—“had I but known. Had I but known....” His words whispered
into silence, and he closed his eyes.

“Don’t! No! No!” she screamed. “No, don’t!”

She forced herself to look down.

Pilate’s lean frame was dropping, slowly turning and twisting, toward
the angry waters; his bony arms and legs were thrust out stiffly from
the shroud of his too large toga, which streamed above the plummeting
body, flapping furiously in the wind. Rigid with horror, staring into
the abyss, she saw the body strike, heard the sickening blob, and
watched it gradually disappear.

But the waters would not grant oblivion. Angrily they flung the broken,
thin body back to the surface, and to Claudia, watching in frozen
fascination, it seemed to be twisting and eddying in continuous
agitation above the seething waters. Looking more closely, her eyes
rooted to the scene in morbid horror, she saw white arms thrust upward
and hands still reddened, cleansed not one tint by their plunge into the
watery depths. Now suddenly the hands seemed detached from the
stiffening arms, and alive; like wounded rodents seeking haven in a dark
fissure among the rocks, they were feeling their way along the ascending
stony slope toward her, and in that dreadful instant there lifted to her
also the babble of countless voices in many tongues blending once again
into a swelling chorus. The light breaking slowly above the mountain
showed the plain below and the steep rises teeming with a multitude
drawn from all races and nations.

On the faces of some she read swift anger and deep hate, and their fists
were lifted skyward and their voices raised in execrations; others
revealed only indifference, and their words were but the prattled
monotony of chanted creed; but here and there on the level and along the
slopes she saw those whose words fitted without disharmony into the
growing chorus but whose faces as they uttered them revealed sorrow,
deep pity, and a forgiving spirit.

She closed her eyes against the vision of the myriad chanting faces, but
she heard their voices and she understood their many tongues ...
“Crucified by Pontius Pilate ... Crucified ... suffered under Pontius
Pilate ... suffered ... suffered ... Pontius Pilate....”

“No! No!” She opened her eyes to see the mountain cleared of the people,
the vision gone, the voices silenced. But there on the ledge at her
feet, rubbing one against the other, endlessly, eternally, fruitlessly
seeking to be cleansed, were the two gory, dismembered hands.

“No! Back! Back! Go back!” She whirled about to rid herself of the
frightening apparition, and burying her face, eyes shut, against her
crossed arms, she leaned down upon the cool hardness of the boulder
beside her. “No! No!” she sobbed. “Get back! Go! Please go!” Would those
hands, the horrible thought came suddenly to her, come closer? Would
they attempt to exact vengeance upon her? Might they even now be
creeping upon her to fasten cold, bloody fingers about her neck, to
choke the life...?

“Get back! No! No!” she screamed, as she freed an arm to beat frantic
fist against the stone. “Don’t touch me! Tullia! Longinus! Oh,
Longinus....”

“Claudia! By great Jove!” The centurion, sitting up fully awake, shook
her hard. “Claudia! Wake up, woman! Wake up! Come out of it! What on
earth....”

She opened her eyes. “Longinus! Oh, by all the gods, it was terrible,
terrible!” Nor was the terror completely dispelled; in her eyes, wide,
staring, her fear still spoke. Her shoulders shook in an involuntary
shudder.

He pulled her up into a sitting position and grasped her hand. “But it
was only a nightmare, Claudia. You’re all right. You were just
dreaming.” She blinked and ventured a thin smile. “You were screaming
like a wild woman and beating the bed with your fist.” His excited
concern gave way to a grin. “It must have been a bloodcurdling dream.”

“Oh, Longinus”—she clenched her eyelids tightly against the light
streaming in through the window—“it was the most horrible dream I ever
had, the most frightful thing anyone could imagine. I dreamed ... oh,
it’s too horribly near; I can’t tell you now.” Still shaking, she turned
to snuggle within the haven of his arms. “Bona Dea....”

A sudden light knocking on the door interrupted her. Tullia entered to
ask softly if anything was wrong.

“It was only a nightmare, little one,” Claudia answered, leaning back on
her pillow. “It was so vivid, so frightening. But I’m all right now.
I’ll call you when I need you.”

“Was it about what I told you, Mistress, the Galilean?” Her question and
tone of voice betrayed Tullia’s deep concern.

“Yes ... about him and Pilate; horrible, horrible. I....”

“Oh, Mistress, could it have been a message to you, a vision sent...?”

“From your Jewish Yahweh, perhaps?” Claudia affected an uneasy laugh.
“No, it was a dream, little one, that’s all. Get back to your bed; you
must still be weary.”

Claudia saw Longinus’ look of puzzlement. “Tullia returned late in the
night from Bethany and reported that the High Priest had schemed the
arrest of the rabbi of Galilee. She was afraid he might prevail on
Pilate this morning to agree to the crucifixion of the Galilean.”

“Crucifixion? By all the gods, on what charge?”

“That he seeks to overthrow Rome.”

“The Galilean? But he’s no revolutionary. Surely Pilate knows that.”

“Yes, surely he must.” She frowned. “But you know how Pilate fears the
High Priest and his Temple crowd, how he’s always afraid they’ll send
reports to Sejanus.”

“And you dreamed that he had sent the Galilean to the cross?”

“Yes. It was all confused, all horrible.” She sat up precipitately and
looked toward the window. “Bona Dea, it must be late. And Pilate begins
his trials soon after daybreak. Mother Ceres, I do wonder....” She
sprang from the bed and drew on her robe. “Tullia!” she called. “Fetch
me a wax tablet and stylus! Hurry, little one! I must send Pilate a
message.”



                                   46


The sun was lifting above the Mount of Olives when Pilate’s orderly
awakened him from heavy sleep. “Sir, the High Priest Caiaphas and others
of the Temple leadership,” he said apologetically, “insisted that I
inform you that they have arrived with the prisoner about whom he spoke
with you last night. They said that they were most anxious for you to
proceed at once to dispose of the case.”

The Procurator sat up in bed and blinked his heavy-lidded eyes.
“Insolent Jew!” he muttered. “He would not only tell the Procurator what
to do, but when to do it! By the great Jove, I may surprise him!” He
threw back the covering and rose ponderously to his feet. “Go tell the
High Priest to have his witnesses ready. I shall be there shortly.”

The great Fortress of Antonia, Rome’s bastion in the Jerusalem region,
consisted actually of four straight-walled, high buildings joined
together by corner towers to compose an impregnable stone structure some
fifty by one hundred paces on the outside walls. The space within the
inside four walls had been paved with great stone slabs to form a
tremendous courtyard reached by huge gateways, one on each of the
edifice’s four sides. Massive gates guarded the fortress against sudden
attack; when opened, they admitted a flow of nondescript traffic into
the courtyard.

Along the southern side of the fortress there was another paved court
from which a wide flight of stone steps led up to a terrace; the
terrace, in turn, led into the interior courtyard. In a high-ceilinged
chamber on the ground floor of this structure, Pontius Pilate had set up
his Praetorium. A Roman praetorium, or trial place of a praetor,
consisted of a semicircular dais on which the curule, or magistrate’s
chair, had been placed.

In the rear of this chamber was a small doorway, and it was through this
doorway that Pilate, shortly after the orderly had reported to High
Priest Caiaphas, came into the Praetorium.

The Procurator strode straight to the dais, mounted its several steps,
and sat down on the curule. Frowning, he glanced toward the tall,
manacled prisoner. Flanking the man on both sides were several guards,
all Roman soldiers, who had been assigned to the Temple detail. Though a
throng had already assembled in the court beyond the gateway, the
Procurator could see from where he sat on the tribunal that not a Jew
had followed the prisoner inside the vaulted chamber. “What charge is
brought against this man?” Pilate snapped. “And where are his accusers?”

The captain of the guard saluted. “High Priest Caiaphas commanded me,
Excellency, to bring the prisoner before you with instructions that he
has been tried before the Jewish Sanhedrin and found guilty of crimes
punishable by death. He said you, O Excellency, were to confirm the
verdict of the Jewish court and order its sentence put into execution.”

Anger suffused the Procurator’s round, usually bland face. “And why
hasn’t the High Priest come himself to bear witness to the Sanhedrin’s
action? Why has this man no accusers confronting him?”

The captain was plainly ill at ease. He shifted his weight from one foot
to the other, started to speak, then swallowed. “The Jews, O Excellency,
will not enter the Praetorium for fear that to do so will be a
profanation, that it will render them unfit to eat of their Passover
evening meal,” he finally revealed. “They will come no nearer than the
steps”—he pointed—“out there.”

Pilate, as the captain had expected, was furious. “Profanation!
Profanation! All I hear in this rebellious, proud province is
profanation! Hah! They would profane themselves by entering a Roman hall
of justice!” His already flushed cheeks were purpling. He stood up
quickly, strode down the steps of the tribunal, and stalked forward to
the stairway; from there he could survey the mass of excited, chattering
Jews, who quieted perceptibly on seeing him emerge from the Praetorium.

“The prisoner,” he said, motioning with his head toward the chamber from
which he had just come, “what charge do you bring against him? And where
are his accusers?”

The multitude was silent. Eyes turned toward a group near the foot of
the steps; in the center of the knot stood the High Priest. He advanced
a pace and bowed to the Procurator. “O Excellency, this man has been
tried by our Sanhedrin and found guilty of grievous crimes. If he had
not been found to be a criminal of desperate wickedness, then we would
not have brought him before the Procurator to be sentenced.”

The bold insolence of the High Priest’s reply did not escape Pilate. “If
you have tried him then and found him guilty, why don’t you also take
him and execute upon him your sentence?”

Caiaphas stood silent for a moment. “But the Procurator must know, O
Excellency,” he replied at length, a humorless smile lifting the corners
of his mouth, “that under the dominion of Rome the Sanhedrin has not the
authority, however heinous the criminal’s deeds may have been, to
execute upon him the sentence of death. Therefore, O sir, we petition
the Procurator to order executed upon this vicious criminal the sentence
of death which the Sanhedrin has found him so fully to deserve.”

But Pilate was obdurate. “You would ask a Roman magistrate to find a man
guilty and send him to the cross, even though no accusation had been
made against him and no witnesses had confronted him,” he declared.
“Don’t you know that were I to do so I would violate every principle of
Roman justice?” He jabbed a pudgy forefinger toward Caiaphas. “Would
you, O High Priest, ask the Procurator thus to violate his oath as
Rome’s regent in Judaea?”

The Procurator, however, had failed to gauge the High Priest’s cunning.
“Indeed, O Excellency, of course I would not seek to lead the Procurator
into violating his oath to uphold Roman justice.” He smiled and bowed,
mockingly. “Nor would I stand silent and unprotesting while the
Procurator released a clever though iniquitous criminal who seeks not
only the demoralization of Israel’s religion and the perversion of her
people but also the overthrow of Rome in this province and the
establishment of himself as King of Israel.”

The High Priest’s answer was not only a skilful parry of the
Procurator’s question but it was, moreover, a well-aimed thrust of his
own most effective weapon. Caiaphas knew that Pilate lived always in
mortal fear of being reported to Rome; he knew that the Procurator would
not dare to ignore any situation in Judaea, or even the hint of it, that
might be fostering incipient revolt against Roman rule.

But Pilate maintained his composure; he would not yield obsequiously to
this hateful symbol of Jewry’s stubborn pride of race and nationality
and her cold scorn of everything Roman. He studied the group for whom
the High Priest professed to be speaking; it was a nondescript
assemblage, Temple hirelings, a knot of Pharisees, and surrounding the
High Priest himself, his own Sadducean coterie; the others were, for the
most part, sunburnt fellows who might well be, the thought came to him
suddenly, Galilean and Judaean revolutionaries come in for the Passover
feast from their mountain and Wilderness strongholds. Scowling, Pilate
confronted the cynically smiling Caiaphas. “You say this man is guilty
of heinous crimes, you declare he would set himself up as King of
Judaea, but, O High Priest, you have made before me no accusation, you
have brought no witnesses to testify against him.” He turned to point
with a sweep of his arm toward the Galilean, standing calmly beside his
guards. “There stands the prisoner before the tribunal. I ask you again,
O High Priest, what charges do you bring against him? Where are his
accusers?”

Caiaphas realized that the Procurator was refusing to admit what he had
assumed, at last night’s meeting, had been a tacit agreement, that a
retrial of the prisoner would be unnecessary; perhaps he was fearful
that Rome would disapprove such a disposition of the case. At any rate,
reasoned the High Priest, further verbal sparring would mean delay in
sending the upstart Galilean to the cross, and he wished this Jesus dead
and taken down before the beginning at sunset of the sacred Sabbath.
Too, the longer they delayed, the more likely it was that other
hot-blooded Galileans would get noise of the trial and come storming to
their leader’s support; they might even succeed in effecting the
fellow’s release. He would not, therefore, challenge Pilate further.

“O Excellency”—Caiaphas raised his hand and the rays of the morning sun
flashed in the gems of his rings—“we charge that this fellow not only
sought to lead astray the people from the true worship of our God of
Israel, but that he did also forbid them to pay tribute to Caesar, and
that he did declare that he himself was rightful King of Israel and
would so establish himself!”

Pilate would give no consideration to the first charge, the High Priest
was sure, but, he reasoned, the Procurator could not ignore the other
two. And the soundness of his reasoning was immediately demonstrated.
Pilate turned his back upon Caiaphas and the crowd and returned to the
Praetorium, where he mounted the tribunal and sat down. “Are you”—he
pointed toward the prisoner, who still, though weary, stood erect and
calm—“the King of the Jews?”

“Do you ask this of your own desire to know”—the trace of a smile
lightened the solemn countenance—“or has someone else said it of me?”

The Procurator shrugged his heavy shoulders. “Am I a Jew?” he asked
sarcastically. “Your own nation, your High Priest, and the others of the
Temple leadership have delivered you unto me. What have you done?”

“I am a King,” Jesus replied calmly. “But my Kingdom is not a worldly
kingdom; if it were, then my servants would fight against my being
delivered to these leaders of the Jews. The Kingdom I rule is not of
this world.”

Pilate’s round face betrayed bafflement. “Then you profess to be a king,
but in another realm, the world of magic, spirits...?”

“I was born into this world to bear testimony to the truth,” Jesus
answered. “Everyone who is of the truth will understand and acknowledge
my Kingship.”

Then this man was, as Pilate had suspected all along, in no sense a
revolutionary planning Rome’s overthrow; he was but another of these
eastern mystics, dreaming of the imponderable and intangible. Hadn’t
Herod Antipas beheaded another such fellow because of his slurs against
Herodias, slurs undoubtedly deserved at that? The man before him, Pilate
realized, was simply a religious leader, someone whom, perhaps, Caiaphas
feared as a possible rival, who Caiaphas felt might even supplant him in
the office of High Priest. Of course, reasoned the Procurator, the
fellow might well be a little addled through too long immersion in this
utterly foolish and depraved one-god religion of Israel. “Those who know
the truth,” the fellow had just proclaimed, “will recognize me,
acknowledge me as their king.” Hah!

“Truth”—Pilate shot forth his finger toward the prisoner—“what is
truth?” He hunched his shoulders and waved his hands, palms up, in a
gesture he had borrowed from the Jews. And without looking toward the
man of whom he had asked the question, he stepped down from the tribunal
and strode out to the High Priest and his restive throng.

“I have examined the prisoner as to the charges you have brought against
him,” he announced to Caiaphas. “I find nothing criminal in him. He’s a
religious man, a dreamer, but he is no revolutionary.” He was glad to be
rid of the man, though, he confessed to himself; he was happy to wash
his hands of this Jesus, Caiaphas, and the rest of them; if he could
only be freed of all Palestine, if he could never lay eyes again upon
another Jew. “I find no fault in the man; I shall release him.”

“No! No! O Excellency, no!” Hands were waving wildly in the air. “No! O
Pilate!” The Procurator, scanning the throng, saw the priests fomenting
the agitation into a swell of shouted disapproval of his verdict. Once
more the High Priest stepped forward a pace or two from the front ranks.
“The man is amazingly clever, O Excellency,” he declared, smiling
agreeably, “as he has just demonstrated in thus deceiving the
Procurator. But he is a criminal, and one of the most vicious and
depraved order, O sir. And he is a revolutionary. Beginning in his
native Galilee, he has deceived and perverted the people, and by his
dangerous and evil perverting, his criminal teachings in opposition to
our religion and Rome’s government, he has brought into Peraea and
Judaea....”

“Beginning, you say, in Galilee? Then this man is a Galilean?”

“Indeed, O Excellency, and one of the worst of the Galilean
revolutionaries, one of the most dastardly clever,” He smiled
sardonically. “He smites with words rather than a dagger.”

_... A Galilean, by great Jove! Then send him to Herod Antipas. Let the
Tetrarch dispose of this case. He assumed jurisdiction over that
fanatical Wilderness prophet and ordered him beheaded. Well, this man,
too, is a Galilean. Let Herod stand between this persistent, obstinate
High Priest and old Sejanus. Let the Tetrarch, for once, bear the brunt
of any reports sent back to Rome; this time Sejanus may not overlook
what he considers a mistake of administration in this gods-abandoned
province. If there’s to be a mistake, let the Tetrarch make it...._

“Then this man,” he said to the High Priest, “is a subject of the
Tetrarch Herod Antipas. He should be remanded to the Tetrarch for
trial.”

Pilate returned quickly to the Praetorium. “Captain of the Guards,” he
commanded, “conduct this prisoner to the Tetrarch Herod Antipas. Bear to
the Tetrarch the Procurator’s compliments and say to him that the
Procurator is sending him the King of the Jews”—a sneering smile for an
instant pushed away the scowl on his round face—“a Galilean. It may be
that the Tetrarch will wish to examine the prisoner concerning the
charges that have been brought against him by the High Priest Caiaphas.
At any rate, the prisoner, being from Galilee, is a subject of the
Tetrarch and under his jurisdiction.” He nodded curtly. “Go.”

Quickly the guards formed about the tall prisoner and led him from the
Praetorium, down the steps into the Court of the Gentiles. Leaving the
Temple area through the Gate Shalleketh, they crossed the bridge above
the Valley of the Tyropoeon and arrived shortly in front of the
sprawling Xystus. A few moments later they paused before the gate giving
admittance to the gloomy and forbidding ancient stone residence of the
Hasmonean kings.



                                   47


Perhaps it was the thin slash of early sunlight venturing across her bed
that had aroused her; perhaps she had awakened early because she had
retired early. Pleading weariness and an aching head, Joanna had stayed
away from the Tetrarch’s lavish dinner, the preparation of which she had
directed. She had felt certain that the banquet, safely hidden within
the old palace’s thick walls from the prying, sanctimonious eyes of the
priests, would turn into a drunken debauch, and the Feast of the
Passover, she held strongly, was no occasion for such frivolity.

The drafty old palace and the grounds about it were quiet. With the
exception of the servants, she surmised, there was likely to be no one
astir in the Tetrarch’s household, particularly Herod Antipas himself.
No doubt he would arise late, in time to bathe and dress for his
ceremonious partaking of the Passover meal.

Joanna, who had come up from Tiberias with her husband Chuza and others
of the Tetrarch’s staff, lay still and listened to the small sounds of
early morning in old Jerusalem: birds twittering on the sill of her open
window, cattle lowing in the stalls at the Temple, the rising hum of the
densely packed city’s coming alive.

So, lying quiet and keenly awake now, she heard in the court below her
window a babble of men’s voices and the uncadenced slap and shuffle of
sandaled feet on paving stones. Quickly she slipped from the bed and
crossed her chamber. Peering out from behind the draperies, she saw,
hardly twenty paces from the palace wall, a motley throng that numbered
several Temple priests resplendently robed, with their luxuriant beards
fastidiously plaited and oiled. One of the elegant ones, she was
surprised to discover, was the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas himself. But
why, she wondered, would the High Priest and his Temple aristocracy be
coming with such a nondescript mob as this into the palace courtyard?

She ventured to open wider the slit between the draperies and the window
frame and lean further forward. Ahead, leading the strangely discordant
procession, was a detachment of Roman soldiers, currently assigned, no
doubt, as guardsmen in the Temple service, since they were in the
vanguard of the High Priest and others of the Temple leadership.

Then, in the center of the marching soldiers, she saw the manacled
prisoner. Bareheaded, he was half a head taller than his guards; his
reddish-brown hair fell straight to curl at his shoulders. He held his
head erect, but he seemed to be walking with labored stride to keep in
step with his captors; his wide shoulders sloped as though pulled down
by the weight of his long arms and the pinioned hands; his brown
homespun robe, already sweat-stained, hung awry and loosely open at the
neck.

Though his back was toward her, there was something vaguely familiar
about the tall one, his carriage, manner of walking, the way he arched
his back, weary though he must have been for a long while. Then he
turned his head to look over his shoulder, and she saw the twin-spiked
short beard and the curling earlocks.

“By the beard of the High Priest!” She had almost screamed it aloud, but
she restrained herself. “The rabbi of Nazareth!” The man who had healed
her son of the deadly fever, who had also cured the Centurion Cornelius’
Lucian, the good teacher whom many believed—and she, too!—to have in
those fettered hands the veritable healing power of God Himself.

The procession stopped. A soldier stepped to the entrance way and spoke
to the sentry on duty there. Now the sentry was talking with a
manservant who had appeared at the portal. In another instant the
servant disappeared inside.

“It’s the High Priest’s doing!” she said aloud. “He’s bringing the
Nazarene here for the Tetrarch to condemn; he’s determined to destroy
Jesus.”

She stepped back from the window and began quickly to dress. As she
pulled on her clothes she tried desperately to evolve some plan that
might thwart the High Priest’s evil scheme. Certainly Antipas,
incredibly fearful of displeasing Caiaphas and his fellows in the Temple
leadership, would be disposed to yield to the High Priest’s demands,
even to beheading the Galilean. Had he not beheaded the Wilderness
prophet? Had he not yielded then, against his better judgment, to
Herodias? Herod would be more inclined to give way to Caiaphas than
would the Procurator Pontius Pilate. But if Herodias would intervene....

The Tetrarchess indeed! Hurriedly Joanna finished dressing and rushed
downstairs as quickly as she could without exciting undue attention, to
find the palace servant with whom the sentry a moment ago had spoken.

“They have brought the Galilean wonder worker to the Tetrarch for
trial,” the servant revealed. “The High Priest is charging him with many
crimes, the soldier said. They took him first before the Procurator, but
when Pilate discovered he was a Galilean, he ordered him delivered here
for trial before Tetrarch Herod. Now they are in the judgment hall
awaiting the Tetrarch’s arrival.” He smiled glumly. “Herod, I suppose,
was fit to burst at being awakened so early.”

Next, Joanna went in search of Herodias. She found her in her apartment;
the Tetrarchess had finished her bath and now Neaera was doing her hair.
In a few words Joanna revealed that Pilate had just sent the Galilean
teacher and miracle worker to the Tetrarch for trial and that the High
Priest Caiaphas and other Sadducean leaders were awaiting Herod’s
arrival in the judgment hall; they planned to present charges that Jesus
was guilty of crimes deserving of death.

Herodias listened patiently. When Joanna finished her recital, the
Tetrarchess shrugged. “But what do you wish me to do? How does this
Galilean’s fate concern me? Just because he beguiled you and Chuza into
believing that he drove out the fever and healed your son....” She broke
off with a patronizing smile.

“He concerns you, Tetrarchess, in that the Tetrarch is greatly
concerned, though he may not suspect it. The High Priest schemed this
man’s arrest and carried him before the Procurator, who rules in Judaea.
But Pilate, realizing that whatever judgment he might render, whether to
release the prisoner or execute him, would cause a great outcry in the
province and be reported to the rulers in Rome, has cleverly sought to
evade his responsibility and put it upon the Tetrarch. Thus, the
Tetrarch in trying the Galilean, will be the one to be judged both in
Israel and in Rome.”

The smile on the face of the crafty Herodias had vanished, and her
forehead wrinkled in sudden concern. “But the man is a Galilean, and
Pilate in sending him before Antipas recognizes the Tetrarch’s authority
and compliments him....”

“He professes to do that, but what he’s really doing is shifting the
burden onto the Tetrarch. And when this commotion develops into a great
storm in Rome, then the Tetrarch, too late, I’m afraid, will know he’s
been tricked. Let him free this prisoner, and the High Priest will
inform the Emperor that the Tetrarch has released someone who was
plotting to overthrow Rome. On the other hand, let him execute the
Galilean and the report will go by fastest ship to Rome that another
prophet in the Wilderness....”

“No! No! Joanna, never mention that man!” Herodias cried out. But
quickly she recovered her poise and smiled weakly. “You see, mere
mention of that Wilderness fellow still frightens Antipas. When he began
to get reports of this Nazarene’s appearance before throngs in Galilee
and other places, Antipas was obsessed with the idea that this one was
the Wilderness preacher returned to life. Lately he seems to have
returned to his senses, but, as you know, he’s a very superstitious
person. And frankly, Joanna, I myself don’t like to be reminded of the
Wilderness prophet.” She relaxed somewhat. “You’re right about Pilate, I
daresay. He probably does wish to evade trying the Galilean. Claudia,
though, would want him to get himself involved in further difficulty;
that would make it easier for her and Longinus.” She turned to speak to
her maid. “Hurry, Neaera,” she ordered, “I’ve got to get out of here
quickly. We can finish all this later. I must see the Tetrarch before he
goes.” Then she spoke again to the wife of Herod’s steward. “Thank you,
Joanna; you have done Antipas and me a great service.”



                                   48


As the Temple guardsmen withdrew with their prisoner from the
Praetorium, Pilate beckoned to one of the Antonia soldiers.

“I wish to proceed with the trials of the revolutionaries captured last
week by Centurion Cornelius,” he announced. “If the centurion has
returned with any other captives, have them brought in too.”

“He has not returned, sir,” the soldier said.

“Then we shall try the three we have.”

Bar Abbas and his two henchmen had already been brought up from their
cells deep under Antonia; the witnesses who would testify against them,
including several soldiers from Cornelius’ century, were waiting in an
anteroom. In the group of witnesses were several Temple priests,
elegantly robed, their beards elaborately braided and oiled, their plump
fingers weighted with rings.

The prisoners, shackled at wrists and ankles, were led shuffling into
the chamber to stand before the tribunal. After a week in the blackness
of the dungeon, their eyes were unaccustomed to light; they stood
blinking in the growing brightness of the chamber. Then from an anteroom
on the other side of the courtroom another soldier escorted the
witnesses to a position facing Pilate’s curule several paces across from
the three bound men.

Quickly the prisoners were identified: one Bar Abbas, long sought
chieftain of a Zealot band preying upon travelers in various sections of
the province, particularly the boulder-bordered steep ascent of the
Jericho road, and two others of his fellow revolutionaries, one Dysmas
and one Gesmas, all three of Galilee.

“With what crimes are these men charged?” the Procurator asked. He made
no reference to their being Galileans, nor did he question his
jurisdiction over them, though he had just sent another Galilean to the
Tetrarch.

The accusations were made. As members of a notoriously desperate Zealot
gang of revolutionaries, they had pillaged caravans, waylaid tax
collectors and robbed them of their revenues, descended from the hills
upon merchants’ pack trains and looted them, even assailed detachments
of Roman soldiers and slain some. Then the witnesses confronted them.
One of the priests, accompanied by fellow priests of the Temple, was
returning from Caesarea when the party was set upon and robbed. He
identified the three as among his assailants; he declared he was
positive the shackled men standing there were the culprits. Then another
lavishly robed priest was called upon to give testimony.

“O Excellency,” he began, “it was on the Jericho road that these men,
this Bar Abbas and these other two”—he pointed to each in turn—“came
down from the rocks and seized me. I was bearing a large pouch of gold
and silver, funds of the Temple I was taking to be put in its coffers,
when this big fellow here....”

“He was coming _from_ the Temple!” screamed Bar Abbas, interrupting the
testimony, as he lifted his pinioned hands and shook them so that the
chains rattled loudly. “He had stolen the money from its coffers! But we
took it from him and gave it to feed the poor and those dispossessed by
the traitorous publicans!”

“Silence!” commanded Pilate. “You will have your turn to speak.”

Next, two soldiers, one after the other, who had been coming to
Jerusalem the past week as members of the century commanded by Centurion
Cornelius, testified that the three were among the marauders who had
swept down from the rocks beside the Jericho road to capture for a few
minutes the detachment that was escorting Tetrarch Herod Antipas and his
wife and to assail the near-by flanking columns put out by the
centurion. In this assault, the witnesses testified, several of the
Roman soldiers had been killed.

The three offered no evidence in rebuttal. The one called Dysmas, who
looked both grave and resigned, seemed to be studying the pattern of the
mosaic at his feet; Gesmas glared sullenly at the smirking priests who
had witnessed against him; and Bar Abbas stood, as wide-legged as his
chains would permit, with his sharp black eyes fixed in defiance on the
round face of his judge and his lips above the tangle of his beard
twisted in a sneer.

“I adjudge you guilty,” Pilate said, looking in turn toward each of the
prisoners. He called to one of the soldiers on courtroom duty. “Go tell
the commander to send me three centurions.”

When after a short wait the soldier returned with the three officers and
they had reported to the Procurator, Pilate faced the convicted
revolutionaries. “I sentence each of you to the lash and the cross. And
may all such dastardly wicked enemies of Rome so perish!” He turned
again to the tribunal attendant. “Prepare a titulus for each,” he
commanded, “and write thus: robber-assassin-revolutionary.” He leaned
forward. “Take them now into the courtyard and scourge them, and then
conduct them outside the walls to the Hill of the Skull, and crucify
them. Each of you centurions will choose a quaternion to assist, and
each will have charge of the scourging and execution of one of the
prisoners. And do not dally. I wish them on the crosses quickly, so that
the Passover crowds may see what becomes of those who plot revolution
against Rome. It should have a salutary effect.” He waved his arm
imperiously. “Take them away!”



                                   49


Hardly had the Procurator climbed the stairs to his apartment and
ordered his long delayed breakfast to be brought in, when a soldier
assigned to the Praetorium reported to him.

“Sir, the Galilean whom you sent to the Tetrarch Herod has been returned
to you,” he announced. “The High Priest and his Temple associates,
together with a throng of excited Jews, are down there awaiting your
return to the Praetorium to resume trial of the prisoner.”

“By great Jove!” The Procurator’s scowl was heavy. Why had Herod sent
him back? Surely the bumbling Tetrarch hadn’t been clever enough to
comprehend Pilate’s scheme to evade responsibility.

He did not question the soldier, however, and a few moments later he
mounted the tribunal again and sat down upon the curule. From the
pavement before the Praetorium the captain of the Temple guards and his
detachment, forming a square about the Galilean, advanced to the
tribunal. Jesus, Pilate saw, was wearing a bedraggled, purple-bordered
robe. One of the soldiers was carrying the folded brown homespun robe
which the prisoner had been wearing before.

Pilate, color mounting, pointed to Jesus and glared at the officer.
“What is the meaning of this?” he demanded. “Why is he wearing this
emblem of authority? Speak up! Who is responsible for this mockery?”

“Not I, sir,” the captain hastened to declare. “The Tetrarch ordered one
of his old robes to be placed upon the prisoner; he said he appreciated
the Procurator’s raillery in calling the man the King of the Jews, and
he ordered him arrayed in the purple in order to further your joking,
sir.”

“Didn’t he examine the prisoner?”

“He questioned him, sir, and sought to have him work some tricks of
magic, but the prisoner made no reply.”

Once again Pilate descended from the tribunal and went out upon the
pavement before the Praetorium. At first sight of him the mob began to
raise a clamor. “Bar Abbas!” a man toward the rear of the multitude
screamed. “Bar Abbas! Give us Bar Abbas!” Others joined in the uproar.
Pilate seemed not to understand them. “They want to see the
revolutionaries’ leader,” he said to the soldier who had accompanied
him. “They will see him as the condemned men start for the Hill of the
Skull. But not until I have disposed of this Galilean. There is already
too much commotion. Go into the courtyard, and tell the centurions not
to start to the execution ground until I give the order.” He turned back
to face Caiaphas and the priests and behind them the motley crowd. “You
brought me this man and charged that he was a revolutionary, that he
sought to overthrow the rule of Rome in this province, but I found no
guilt in him, and when I sent him to the Tetrarch Herod, ruler of
Galilee, he, too, found nothing worthy of death. So I shall discharge
him. And now, disperse and let us have no more of this tumult.”

“No! No! O Procurator, crucify him! Bar Abbas! Bar Abbas!”

“Crucify the King of the Jews!” Pilate looked toward the High Priest as
he said it, as though he were jesting, but he could not effectively
conceal the scorn in his voice and on his face. “I must let him go
free!”

His words provoked another storm of shouted entreaties and demands. “Bar
Abbas! Bar Abbas! Give us Bar Abbas!”

“When I have disposed of this Jesus of Galilee, you shall get to see
that revolutionary”—he smiled glumly—“as Bar Abbas goes to the cross.”

“The Passover release! It’s the long-established custom, O Procurator.
Give us the Passover release!”

Pilate stared in surprise at the crowd shouting below him. Could it be,
then, as he had first suspected, that this throng hated the Temple
priests and especially Caiaphas and wanted the release of the Galilean?
But he had found Jesus not guilty and technically had already released
him. If, however, he should find him guilty of some minor crime, such as
causing a great disturbance and commotion among the people, for example,
and punish him for that, then he might logically release him as the
Passover recipient of the Procurator’s pardon. At the same time he would
dull considerably any report concerning this case that might find its
way to Rome.

“I find no serious fault in this Galilean,” he declared, as he held up
his hand to signal for silence, “but because of his indiscretions and
his provocation of tumults and unrest and much bickering among the
people, I shall have him scourged before I release him.”

He returned to the tribunal and gave the formal order for the scourging
of Jesus. Then once again he climbed the stone stairway to his apartment
and called for his breakfast. His food was placed on a small table by
the window, for already the morning sun was warm and out beyond the
smoldering Vale of Hinnom dark, thickening clouds had begun to form. But
the Procurator was not permitted to relax calmly over his morning meal.
The din below not only continued, but the shoutings grew increasingly
loud. After awhile, Pilate pushed back his plate and stood up.

“I’ll abide this no longer!” he shouted to his orderly standing near the
doorway. “The obstinate, cantankerous provincials! They’ll end this
disgraceful tumult, or I’ll have the Antonia garrison on them with their
swords!” He caught up his toga and started once more for the Praetorium.

“Bring out to the pavement the robber Bar Abbas and the Galilean miracle
worker,” he commanded, when he arrived in his tribunal chamber.

“Bar Abbas! Bar Abbas! Bring forth Bar Abbas, O Procurator!” the
multitude began to shout, as Pilate appeared on the mosaic in front of
the Praetorium. “The Passover release! Give us Bar Abbas!” The
Procurator, studying the vociferous throng, saw that the cries for the
release of the robber chieftain seemed to be coming from a group of
wild-eyed, fanatical-looking rough fellows bunched behind the High
Priest and his clique. The thought came to him that they might be
Zealots, even some of the escaped members of the Bar Abbas band broken
up a week before by the Centurion Cornelius. But the supporters of the
Galilean mystic, he reasoned, would outnumber these men screaming for
the release of Bar Abbas.

The multitude calmed perceptibly as the scourged revolutionary appeared
on the pavement before them and then, recovered somewhat from the shock
the man’s sad state had caused, burst into a new clamoring for his
release. Bar Abbas stared stonily ahead, as if indifferent to the
screams and yelling of the people, no doubt still half dazed from the
ordeal from which he had that moment been delivered. Although his coarse
robe had been returned to him after the scourging and was thrown loosely
about his shoulders, the milling crowd saw at once that the
leather-thonged whip had stripped and torn the flesh of his shoulders
and back; already the robe was reddening into a gory, clinging covering
like that which a butcher might have worn to carry on his shoulder a
freshly slaughtered lamb.

But Jesus, when he was led forth from the courtyard to the pavement
before the Praetorium to stand near the robber chieftain, made an even
more pitiable figure. The purple robe he had been wearing when he was
brought back from Herod’s judgment hall was once again about his sagging
shoulders, and it was soaked with blood. His long hair was matted with
drying blood where it curled above his flayed and bruised shoulders, and
his naked upper arms were crisscrossed with bleeding cuts and great
reddened welts. But more shocking than the lacerations and the bleeding
flesh, the blood-soaked purple robe, the mercilessly flayed, drooping
shoulders burdened beyond human strength to endure, was the evidence he
wore upon his head of a sadism past comprehending. Pressed down hard
against his skull, so that the sharp points in some places actually had
pierced the skin of his forehead and temples, was a circlet hastily
fashioned from a long thin branch torn from a rhamnus thorn.

Pilate noticed it immediately. “Why the victor’s wreath?” he asked the
soldier guarding the Galilean.

“It’s not a victor’s wreath,” he answered. “Sir, it’s the royal crown of
the King of the Jews.” He ventured a smile. “The soldiers made it from a
shrub growing near the scourging post and crowned him with it.”

“Indeed, the crown goes well with the Tetrarch’s purple.” Pilate smiled
humorlessly. Then he held up his hand to command silence. “It must be
well known to you that each year at the Feast of the Passover it is the
custom of the Procurator to release a prisoner. Here before you are the
revolutionary and murderer and robber, one Bar Abbas, who has been
sentenced to the cross, and the prisoner brought by the High Priest, one
Jesus of Galilee”—he paused and looking directly at the group of Temple
priests, smiled appreciatively—“the King of the Jews....”

“We have no king!” shouted Joseph Caiaphas, and a chorus of angry voices
supported him, “no king except Tiberius. This man is not our king; he is
a blasphemer, an enemy of Israel’s God; he stirs up the people; he
declares himself to be king in Israel; he calls himself the Son of God!”
He paused, as if fearful at having uttered the ineffable name.

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” The mob renewed its angry demanding. “He
claims to be the Son of God, the blasphemer! Crucify him!”

But Pilate paid them little heed. Turning his back upon the High Priest
and the clamoring throng on the esplanade below, he withdrew into the
Praetorium. “Bring him inside,” he said, motioning with his head as he
looked back. And then he spoke to the soldier guarding Bar Abbas. “And
remove that one from the sight of the multitude. But presently I shall
call for him again.”

The Procurator had hardly mounted the tribunal when a soldier entered
the chamber from the courtyard and handed a tablet to one of the
attendants. The two whispered, heads together, for a moment. Then the
attendant strode quickly to the tribunal, saluted, and presented Pilate
the wax tablet. “A message, sir, from the Procurator’s wife,” he
explained. “The messenger reported it was urgent.”

Hastily Pilate scanned the tablet. He scowled, then beckoned to the man.
“Fetch me the soldier who brought this tablet.”

In another moment the soldier was standing stiffly before the tribunal.
“Soldier,” Pilate inquired, “did you bring this message from the hand of
the Lady Claudia?”

“No, sir,” he answered. “It was handed to me in the courtyard over
there.”

“By whom?”

“The Centurion Longinus, sir; he had just come, I understood, from the
Palace of the Herods.”

A quick frown darkened the Procurator’s countenance. “And where is the
Centurion Longinus now?”

“Sir, I think he went up to his apartment in the fortress.”

Pilate nodded and waved the man aside; his face was heavy as once again
he read his wife’s message:

  _Hear me, Pilate_:

_Take no responsibility for that righteous man’s blood, for in the night
I had a frightful dream concerning him._

What on earth, he wondered, could Claudia have dreamed about this
Galilean fanatic? And how did she know that the man had been brought
before the Procurator’s tribunal? Yes, and by all the gods, why had the
message come from Longinus, and why, moreover, had Longinus not
delivered it himself?

Still frowning, Pilate turned once again to question the prisoner
standing calmly before the tribunal, his face streaked with drying sweat
and blood, his robe turned deep crimson from the whip’s fearful wounds,
his matted hair still crowned with the circlet of thorns. “They say you
claim to be the son of their god,” he said. “What do they mean? Tell me,
where _do_ you come from?”

Jesus appeared lost in introspection. If he heard the Procurator’s
question, he ignored it. An infinite sadness seemed to possess him.

But Pilate, still scowling, perhaps upset further because of his wife’s
message and the manner in which it had been brought to him, revealed his
impatience. “Will you answer me?” he asked testily. “Don’t you know that
I have the power either to release you or to condemn you?”

Calmly, looking the Procurator in the eyes and with no tone of rancor,
Jesus replied. “You would have no power over me were it not granted you
from above. Therefore, he who delivered me to you”—he pointed toward the
esplanade where the High Priest and his cohorts awaited—“has a greater
guilt than you.”

Once again the Procurator stepped down from the tribunal and strode out
to the pavement in front of the Praetorium. “Bring forth the prisoner,”
he commanded. “And have Bar Abbas brought to me, too.”

“I shall release to you a Passover prisoner,” he announced to the
multitude when the two scourged prisoners stood before him. “Here stand
a robber and assassin”—he pointed toward Bar Abbas—“and”—he smiled
grimly as he waved his hand toward the Galilean—“your King of the Jews.
Which shall I release?”

“Bar Abbas! Bar Abbas!” the people howled, and Pilate could see the
priests exhorting them to shout their demands. “Release Bar Abbas! Bar
Abbas!”

“But what shall I do with the King of the Jews?”

“Crucify him! Crucify him!” they stormed. “Release unto us Bar Abbas!”

“He is not our king!” shouted Caiaphas. “We have no king but Caesar!”

Grudgingly, Pilate nodded to the robber chief’s guards. “Release him.”
The Procurator had lost. He had been sure the Galilean’s followers would
outnumber the vociferous Zealots. But Caiaphas had been the better
schemer.

Quickly the soldiers freed the hulking Bar Abbas, and in another moment
he disappeared with a tumultuously happy group of his supporters,
probably members of his own band, in the mass of people thronging the
Court of the Gentiles. But the High Priest and his hirelings kept their
places on the pavement before the Praetorium. Now the Procurator,
pointing toward the Galilean, spoke to them.

“What then shall I do with the King of the Jews?” His tone was
sarcastic. “_I_ find no fault in him. I shall release him, just as I
have already released your robber.”

“No! No! Crucify him! He is not our king! He is a blasphemer who would
destroy us!”

“Crucify your king?” A cold smile lifted the corners of the Procurator’s
heavy lips. “Crucify the King of the Jews?”

“We have no king, O Procurator,” Caiaphas declared evenly, when he had
lifted his hands to still the clamor, “no king but Caesar. And if you
are a friend of Caesar, O Excellency, you will rid us of this one who
not only seeks to destroy our religion but also to set himself upon the
restored throne of King David. Should word get to Tiberius or Sejanus in
Rome....” The High Priest shrugged and smiled suggestively.

Word would certainly reach the capital. And the story would be of the
High Priest’s coloring. The Procurator Pontius Pilate, despite repeated
warning and ample testimony establishing the guilt of the accused, it
would be told, had released a dangerously clever revolutionary intent
upon restoring the ancient kingdom of the Jews in Palestine with himself
as king.

“But he declares that his kingdom is not of this world,” Pilate tried to
protest. “He’s nothing but a harmless babbler, a religious fanatic whom
too much reasoning has driven mad....”

“So he would have you think, O Procurator. The man is cunning, amazingly
clever, captivating.” Caiaphas smiled indulgently. “Has he not already
deceived even the wise and discerning Procurator?”

The High Priest Joseph Caiaphas had won. Already too many reports of the
conduct of the Procurator’s office had gone to Rome; one more might be
sufficient to arouse the wrath of the Prefect Sejanus. Nevertheless,
since the High Priest had forced the verdict, the responsibility would
rest on him. He clapped his hands and when a servant came running,
called for a basin of water. A moment later, as the servant held the
basin before him, the Procurator plunged his hands into the water and
rubbed them together vigorously. “Let the people heed,” he said loudly
and with ostentation, “that I wash my hands of the blood of this man. I
am guiltless. His blood is not upon me.”

“Indeed, O Procurator”—the High Priest’s smile was scornful, his tone
sneeringly derisive—“let his blood be upon us, yea, and our children!”

“Then take him, and crucify him.” Pilate glanced toward the prisoner,
standing tall and calm and regal in the blood-drenched discarded purple.
But when their eyes met, Pilate’s shifted in that same instant to the
mosaic at the Galilean’s feet, so that momentarily the judge’s head was
bowed to the prisoner. Then, in a voice that was scarcely more than a
whisper, Pilate spoke to the guard who held the fetter binding Jesus’
wrists. “Lead him into the courtyard.”

As they were going out he summoned an attendant. “Fetch a tablet that I
may prepare the titulus.” His eyes fell upon the wax tablet that his
wife had sent him. “Wait,” he said. “This one will suffice. There’s
space enough on it for what I have in mind.” The soldier picked up the
tablet with the attached stylus. “Write this,” Pilate commanded, “and
when you have written it, take the tablet into the courtyard and have
the words inscribed on the headboard in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew.” He
paused, reflecting. “Write what I say: _This is Jesus of Nazareth, the
King of the Jews_.”

Joseph Caiaphas had heard. “No, O Procurator! Write that he says he is
King of the Jews!”

Pontius Pilate stared in stony silence at the furious High Priest. “What
I have written,” he said after a moment, “I have written.” He turned to
the soldier. “Go prepare the titulus board.” Then, without a glance
toward the High Priest and his group, he returned to the Praetorium and
mounted the tribunal. Only the few soldiers in attendance remained in
the vaulted great chamber. Pilate sat down upon the curule; his eyes,
unseeing, were fixed on the pattern of the mosaic at the foot of the
tribunal steps.

_... Great Rome’s vaunted justice. But must not justice yield sometimes
to expediency, the expediency of the greater good for the greater
number? Will not his death end a developing tumult in Palestine that
might have brought even bloodshed and death for many Jews and perhaps
even Roman soldiers? And now no report will go to Sejanus from Joseph
Caiaphas._

_... The Galilean. A dreamer, a devotee of the Jewish religion, a
visionary ... a righteous man, Claudia said. “Take no responsibility for
that righteous man’s blood.” Claudia’s dream, bah. Superstition,
astrology maybe, foolishness. Calpurnia had a dream, and Caesar laughed
at her warning. Caesar laughed, and Caesar died._

_... But no report will go to Rome of the Procurator’s releasing a
dangerous revolutionary who was planning to establish himself on the
restored throne of ancient Israel. Joseph Caiaphas has been
silenced...._

Suddenly a cold, numbing fear clutched Pontius Pilate. “By great Jove!”
But he had not exclaimed aloud. No report would go to Rome from the High
Priest, no fawning spies would tell how the Procurator had freed a
cunning revolutionary, but Claudia had warned him not to judge the
Galilean. Could his wife, by all the gods, be a secret follower of this
mystic? Didn’t many high-placed women of Rome become devotees of this
strange Jewish one-god religion? Could the Emperor’s stepdaughter, by
great Jove, have become, of all persons, interested in religion, in any
religion? Could Claudia really feel strongly about this Nazarene fellow?

_... And Longinus had fetched her message. Longinus, yes, by all the
gods...._

The soldier who had led Jesus forth from the pavement into the courtyard
had returned to the Praetorium. “Sir, the titulus board is complete.
They are ready to proceed with the crucifixions, except....”

“Then start at once with the three prisoners to the Hill of the Skull.”
He paused. “Except? What were you going to say?”

“You have assigned no centurion, sir, to have charge of the crucifixion
of this fellow whom you have just condemned. Do you wish Porcius, who
was to have crucified Bar Abbas....”

“No.” Then, in a flash came an idea. Pilate maintained a sternly
impassive countenance, but inwardly he exulted in the suddenly revealed
manner of solving his dilemma. Now _no one_ would be sending stories to
Rome, for certainly nobody would be foolish enough to reveal to Sejanus
the execution of an innocent Jew if _he himself_ had participated with
the Procurator in that Jew’s crucifixion. “I wish Porcius for another
duty today.” He pointed upward. “Go at once to the apartment of the
Centurion Longinus and inform him that the Procurator assigns him to
take charge of the quaternion and orders him to proceed immediately with
the crucifixion of the Galilean.”



                                   50


Beside a cluster of gnarled olive trees along the Bethany road Centurion
Cornelius halted his weary cavalcade. They had attained the summit of
the Mount of Olives. Steady climbing from the Jericho plain had lathered
the laboring horses, and the dust-grimed faces of the men were streaked
with perspiration. Since the passing of midday the heat had grown
increasingly oppressive; now, as they approached Jerusalem in the eerie
half-darkness, it weighed upon them like a heavy blanket.

The dark cloud over the city that hardly two hours ago they had seen
from the narrow defile between the boulders had grown to envelop them,
and as they came over the rise and looked across toward the walled
density of flat-roofed stone structures, they could scarcely make out
the usually dominating mass of the Temple. Ordinarily on an early
afternoon in April the sun would have been reflected brilliantly in the
gold plates of the Temple’s roof, but today it was barely able to
penetrate the overcast. In the strangely thickening gloom the
resplendent plates had taken on a dull coating of bilious green. Faintly
discernible to the right were the darker masses of the Fortress Antonia
towers upthrust in the cloaking shadows; but westward, beyond Antonia,
the great Palace of the Herods and the other splendid abodes of the
privileged were completely shrouded; Mount Zion and the Ophel shared
equally in oblivion.

“What is it, Centurion?” Decius shook his head perplexedly. “I’ve been
out here a long time, but I’ve never seen anything like it. This strange
darkness, this stillness, and the peculiar blue-green cast. Centurion,
this isn’t just another storm coming up, another thunderstorm following
excessive heat. It’s got a queer, ghastly look, as if the gods might be
angry ...”

“The gods, Decius?”

The soldier laughed uneasily. “I use the term broadly, for want of one
more accurate.” He waved an arm in the direction of the darkened city.
“But it does have a sort of supernatural look, doesn’t it,
Centurion?”—he smiled—“though of course I have little belief in the
supernatural.” He shrugged. “How do you explain it?”

“It does have a strange, unearthly look,” Cornelius agreed. “But I don’t
believe it’s a manifestation of the gods’ anger, though I’ve never seen
one before like this. Could it be a heavy mass of sand borne in from the
desert? If that’s it, then maybe the sun shining through the
concentration of sand accounts for this strange greenish color.”

“That’s probably it,” Decius agreed. “But then, where is the wind?”

“It may be the lull before the wind. This unseasonable heat is bound to
bring on a storm. Look!” He pointed. “The sun.”

High above the city, beyond its southern wall and past the ever
smoldering refuse heaps in the Vale of Hinnom, the sun rode like a pale
copper disk behind a thinning portion of the veiling cloud. In the same
instant its rays found a rift in the mantle covering the city and shot a
pinpoint of light to bathe in sudden brilliance a small eminence just
beyond and slightly to the right of the Fortress Antonia.

“By all the gods! Bar Abbas and the two henchmen we captured last week!”

On the summit of the little hill stood three crosses, and stretched upon
each cross was the body of a man. A staring throng of spectators stood
scattered about below.

Then suddenly the rift in the covering cloud was healed; darkness
swallowed the burdened crosses.

“Poor devils,” Cornelius said. “That’s an assignment I’m glad I didn’t
get. Being late returning may have saved me.” He looked up again toward
the lowering sky. “But we’d better be getting on to Antonia. This storm
may break at any moment, and when it does, I don’t want to be in it.”

Quickly the cavalcade moved down the slope toward the Garden of
Gethsemane and the Brook Kidron beyond. Entering the walled city by Dung
Gate, it went through Ophel and ascended the slope westward to move
along the lower level of Mount Zion and cross the bridge spanning the
Tyropoeon Valley. At the eastern end of the bridge the procession turned
northward and marched along the way paralleling the Temple’s wall to the
entrance gate of the Antonia.

When Cornelius had dismissed his men, he went up at once to his
apartment in the officers’ quarters on the south side of the fortress.
He had been looking forward eagerly to a refreshing bath and a short nap
before dressing in fresh clothing for the evening meal. But as he was
about to enter his quarters he encountered a centurion coming into the
corridor from the apartment next to his.

“By Hercules, Cornelius!”

“Porcius!” He clapped a hand on the other’s shoulder. “I didn’t know you
were quartered here.”

“I’ve come since you left, Cornelius. I heard you were out pursuing a
gang of those Zealots. Did you overtake any of them?”

“Yes, and killed several. But we didn’t capture any.”

“This morning they crucified two of the ones you captured last week.”

“Three, you mean, don’t you? Bar Abbas and two of his company.”

“But Pilate released Bar Abbas.”

“Released him? Bar Abbas?”

“Yes, released him. It’s amazing, isn’t it? But the mob demanded his
release as the Passover prisoner—you know, don’t you, that the
Procurator each year, in accordance with tradition, releases one
prisoner at Passover time?”

Cornelius nodded. “But weren’t there three men crucified?”

“Yes. I was supposed to have had charge of the crucifixion of Bar Abbas.
Pilate had already condemned him to the cross when the demand for his
release was made. So he released him, and I was relieved of a most
unpleasant task.”

“You were fortunate, Porcius. But if three men were crucified, who was
the third? I didn’t know another revolutionary had been captured.”

“He was no revolutionary, Cornelius. Pilate knew he wasn’t and wanted to
free him. But the High Priest insisted that the fellow was a
troublemaker who planned to attempt to set himself up as King of Israel.
So, rather than run the risk of having the Temple leaders report him to
Rome as protector of the Emperor’s enemies, Pilate yielded and sent the
fellow to the cross. And luckily for me, he assigned Centurion Longinus
the task of conducting the man’s execution.”

“Longinus! By all the gods, Porcius, who was the fellow?”

“A Galilean. A religious fanatic, I judged him to be, but entirely
harmless. His name, if I recall it correctly, was Jesus, I think, one
Jesus from a place in Galilee called Nazareth, they said.”

“Jesus! Oh, by all the gods, when....”

“But do you know the man, Centurion?”

“When did they lead him to the Hill of the Skull?” Cornelius ignored the
centurion’s question. “How long...?”

“It was in mid-morning. He’s been on the cross for several hours now.
And he was unmercifully scourged before they started with him to the
crucifixion ground.” He stared at his companion’s suddenly ashen face.
“But, Cornelius, why...?”

“Jesus! Oh, great Jove!” Anger, utter amazement and pain were written in
swift succession on his still sweating, dust-covered face. “O God of
Israel! O his God! O _my_ God, Jesus!”

Turning, he raced along the corridor toward the steps that a moment ago
he had ascended, stone stairs that went down to the ground-floor open
area just inside the great western entrance to the fortress.



                                   51


Cornelius had reached the gate in the north wall when the storm broke
with sudden fury. He darted beneath the flimsy awning of a fish stall to
wait out the blast.

“Here, let me help,” he said to the frantic shopkeeper as he caught a
side of the filthy cloth with which the squat Jew was trying desperately
to cover his malodorous fish to protect them from the dust and powdered
dung swirling along the cobblestones. “You’re lucky your market has the
protection of the wall, or everything would be blown away. This is one
of the worst storms I’ve ever.... By all the gods!” The ground had begun
to tremble.

“An earthquake!” the shopkeeper shouted. “Wind and torrents of rain, and
now the earth shakes!” His eyes were round and frightened. But in
another moment the tremors subsided, and the man regained his calm. “I’m
not surprised, soldier,” he observed, lifting his hands, palms up, and
shaking his head solemnly. “And it makes no difference, I’m thinking,
that my stall sits in the lee of the great wall. By the beard of the
High Priest, it, too, will be leveled to the ground!”

“What do you mean? Hasn’t this wall survived many an earthquake before
this one?”

“Indeed, soldier. But we’ve never had anything like that before.” He
indicated with a quick nod of his head the hill beyond the gate’s
square. “Never _him_ on a cross.” He looked the centurion in the eyes,
and Cornelius fancied he saw a sudden hostility. “Soldier, have you been
up there?”

“No, I’ve just come from the Fortress Antonia, and only an hour ago I
arrived in Jerusalem. What do you mean?”

“I mean that one up there, soldier, on the middle cross.” He pointed.
“It’s that rabbi from Galilee. Your Pilate tried him this morning and
sent him to the cross, and unjustly, too, it’s my opinion. And I heard
it said that the Galilean told how he would cause the Temple to be
destroyed and in three days raise it up again.” He dabbed a greasy
forefinger against the centurion’s soiled toga. “And I’m of the opinion,
soldier, he’s got the power to do it. Didn’t he raise that fellow over
at Bethany from the dead? This storm and this earthquake”—he paused and
on his countenance was an expression of understanding suddenly
gained—“soldier, maybe he’s doing it now! Nor could I blame him.” He
shook his head slowly. “I’d hate to be in Pilate’s sandals, or those
soldiers’ up there!”

Almost as quickly as it had burst upon them, the storm was ended. The
rain ceased with the blowing away of the clouds, the winds quieted, and
the great blazing disk of the sun, still high in the sky toward the
Great Sea, shone down bright and searing. The shopkeeper rolled back the
grimy cloth, crumpled it into a heap, and with it dabbed lightly at
several fish it had failed to protect; then he hurled it into a corner
and turned to wait upon pilgrims in the vanguard of a procession
Cornelius saw coming down the slope of the Hill of the Skull.

“The Galilean, is he...?”

“He’s dead,” the man answered before the fish merchant could complete
his question. “He died just as the storm broke. This fish”—he
pointed—“where was it caught?”

“No earlier than the day before yesterday, and fetched by fast cart from
the Sea of Galilee. Good, fresh carp, perches, bream.” With grimy
fingers he poked at now one and now another of his offerings. “The
finest fish in Jerusalem, and the most weight for your money!”

Cornelius stepped away from the stall into the warmth of the freshly
cleansed air. As he walked quickly along the road he could now see
plainly revealed the three crosses and their inert, mutilated burdens.
The pause in the fish market during the raging of the storm had given
him time to catch his breath after racing over the cobblestones from the
square in front of Antonia.

But why had he come on the run to the Hill of the Skull? Why had he come
at all? Porcius had said that Jesus had already been nailed to the cross
for several hours. Had the centurion hoped in some mysterious manner to
save the Galilean, to get him down from the cross and revive him? Had he
thought he might countermand Pilate’s judgment and sentence?

He hadn’t thought. He had acted on his emotions. He had wanted to see
Jesus, to protest to Longinus, to scream out his denunciation of
everyone who’d had a hand in this abominable act. He hadn’t reasoned any
course of action. He had only come as fast as he could to the place of
horrors, his whole being seething with resentment and anger and a
terrible bitterness.

And now Jesus was dead. The good man who had done no man ill, who had
done countless men good, who had restored Lucian, and Chuza’s son. Or
had he really?

Would he be up there now, perhaps already dead on a Roman cross, if he
had had the power to heal Chuza’s little boy, if he had been able by his
own mighty will to rid Lucian of the fever that was consuming him? Would
he?

Longinus had been right. Those “miracles” had been only remarkable
coincidences. The Galilean wonder worker, the good man, the son of the
Jews’ one god—Cornelius ventured to raise his head from the ascending
path and look upward toward the central cross—was hanging spiked to a
crossbeam, crumpled and lifeless, as dead, or soon to be, as those two
revolutionaries who hung there with him. And Longinus, though unhappy
that Pilate had required him to crucify an innocent man, would remind
him that all along he had been right in denying that Jesus of Galilee
had been anything more than a good man.

He found Longinus seated not far from the crosses on a low stone
outcropping. His head was bent forward, cradled in his hands, and his
eyes were fastened to the ground.

“I’ve been expecting you, Cornelius,” he said, looking up as his friend
spoke. “I knew you would be coming.”

“We didn’t get into Jerusalem until a short time before the storm. As
soon as I heard at Antonia, I came running; I was at the gate down there
when the storm struck.”

“I knew you would come.” He shook his head slowly; his eyes were fixed,
unseeing. “And I deserve everything you’re going to say.” He lifted his
face, and Cornelius saw on it fear and sorrow and a great revulsion.
“I’m undone, my friend.” He arose slowly to his feet, and his eyes, for
an instant before he looked away, encompassed the crosses behind
Cornelius.

“But, Longinus, you didn’t ... it was Pilate....” He reached out to put
his hand on his comrade’s arm, but Longinus drew back, hand raised.

“No, Cornelius, Pilate condemned him, but I _killed_ him! I, this hand.
Look!” He held it before him and turned it slowly. “His blood! His
innocent blood! I tortured to his slow death an innocent man, a good
man, Cornelius, a perfect man, yes, and by all the gods, even more than
a perfect man!”

“I’d thought that he was more, that perhaps he possessed powers no man
could have, I’d hoped so; I’d hoped that he had called upon a
supernatural power to heal Lucian. But would a god, would the son of
_the God_, if there is one, my friend”—Cornelius’ countenance was darkly
pained—“allow himself to be put to death, to accept the tortured death
of the cross?”

“I know that my saying it sounds strange, Cornelius, but ever since this
morning I’ve had the feeling that he was _allowing_ himself to be
crucified and that at any moment, if he had wished, he could have
destroyed us all. Yet in the midst of his agonies, while we were spiking
him to the crossbeam, he prayed to his god to forgive us. To forgive us,
Centurion!” He shook his head sadly. “To forgive _me_. But I killed him.
By all the gods, let me show you.”

They walked over to the foot of the center cross. The body of Jesus,
naked except for a bloody loincloth, hung out from the upright at a
grotesque angle, held by heavy spikes through the palms of the hands and
supported by a narrow wedge between the legs. The head had slumped
forward so that the twin points of his short beard splayed out across
his chest. Other large spikes through his purpling feet held them to the
upright.

“See?” Longinus pointed to a gaping wound from which blood and body
fluid still dripped slowly. Blood had gushed forth when the wound was
made, for below it the tortured flesh was wide streaked and the
loincloth was gore-soaked; his blood had run down the length of one leg,
and even as Cornelius stared, a crimson bead swelled at the end of the
great toe and dropped to the bloodstained ground.

“But why this wound?” Cornelius asked. “Did you...?”

“Yes, it was my lance that did it. He must have been already dead, but I
didn’t know. And I couldn’t bear for him to have to endure any more
agony.”

“You did it in mercy, Longinus.”

“Yes, but I killed him, Cornelius. He’s dead, and I can never have his
forgiveness. And I’m soiled, ruined, undone. I can never cleanse
myself”—he studied his hands—“of this man’s death.” He lifted his eyes
to stare at his friend. “Strange, Cornelius, but ... well you know what
I’ve always thought of the gods, Roman, Greek, Jewish, any of them, and
of the survival of the spirit or whatever you want to call it. And you
know what I thought of”—he gazed a moment at the dead man stiffening
above them—“him.... Well today I’ve been with him for several hours,
_long_, terrible hours of torture for him, and for me, too.” He paused,
trying painfully to choose his words. “Now I don’t know, Cornelius; I’m
confused, my smug assurance is gone. I’m not sure any more. But he”—he
looked up again—“by all the gods, Cornelius, he was!”

“Then you think now he may have been...?”

“If there are any gods, Cornelius”—he stared into the blood-drained face
of the Galilean, and his voice was infinitely sad—“if there exists any
being like the one your old Greek tutor spoke of, a good, all-wise,
all-powerful one god, then this man must have been the son of that god.”



                                   52


As soon as Longinus left the palace with her message, Claudia went back
to bed in the hope of finding relaxing sleep after the terrifying dream.
But sleep would not come; she was almost afraid to close her eyes for
fear the nightmare would return. And even as she lay sleepless, staring
wide-eyed at the high ceiling of her bed-chamber, she began to envision
a pair of disembodied blood-red hands feeling their way stealthily
around and across the intricate plastered figures and medallions of its
surface.

“Tullia, it’s no use trying any longer,” she called to her maid, as she
swung her feet around to stand up. “I just can’t seem to shake off the
dream. Maybe if I dress and busy myself at something, I’ll think no more
of it. Thank the gods, though, I sent the Procurator that warning.”

But as the morning hours went by the dream did not go away; it persisted
in all its horrible detail in the forefront of her consciousness, and
the harder she tried to dispel it, the more determinedly it stayed with
her. “Why, by the Great Mother, little one, am I so disturbed by a
dream?” she at length demanded of her maid. “I put no faith in dreams. I
must have had thousands, and not one has ever before bothered me. I know
they’re nothing but rearrangements, often fanciful and sometimes, like
this one, frightening, of things that have happened to us, people we’ve
seen, places we’ve visited. You can always explain them. Even this one I
understand. You came in late from Bethany with the fearful news of the
Galilean’s arrest and the High Priest’s plotting to have Pilate condemn
him. Then soon afterward I went to sleep and dreamed about it. It’s
simple enough to understand....” She paused, silent in thought. “Or is
it?” she asked softly. “Are people ever warned in dreams? Is there
really some power...?” The question was unfinished.

“I don’t doubt it, Mistress. Our ancient scriptures tell of many
instances in which God spoke to His prophets in visions, which must have
been dreams or the like.” She paused. “And there’s the story of Julius
Caesar’s wife, you know.”

“Yes,” Claudia’s eyes narrowed. “But if your god wished to save the
Galilean’s life, why didn’t he let Pilate have the dream?”

Tullia shook her head thoughtfully. “I can’t say. I can’t fathom the
mind of God, Mistress.” A suggestion of a smile crossed her face. “Maybe
He thought you might have more influence on the Procurator than He
Himself could.”

Claudia smiled. “Certainly I’m more real to Pilate—and threatening, no
doubt—than your Yahweh.” With a quick lifting of her shoulder, she
changed her tone. “But why talk of it further? I’m sure my message
warned him sufficiently. And I want to forget the dream and the
Galilean. This terrific heat is exhausting enough. Still, I do
wonder....” She scowled and said no more.

The heat grew more intolerable. Longinus did not return, nor did any
news come from Antonia. Midday passed, and as she had done the day
before, Claudia retreated into the garden and sat on the stone bench
before the spouting fountain. But today, unlike yesterday, there were no
white puffs of clouds. Instead, from noon on, a thick overcast began to
settle upon Jerusalem, so that inside the palace servants lighted lamps,
which added, it seemed to Claudia, to the oppressiveness. As she sat
staring introspectively at the spray of water, the heat, despite the
covering of clouds screening off the sun’s rays, seemed to be mounting
as the skies darkened; in the thickening gloom the air grew still;
yesterday’s singing, twittering birds had taken cover under the heavy,
drooping foliage, and all nature seemed silently expectant of a coming
upheaval. But maybe, thought Claudia, the impending storm will not
descend; maybe the winds, like yesterday, will spring up and blow the
clouds away and bring welcome relief from this oppressive heat.

It was during this foreboding lull, some two hours past midday, that a
sedan chair entered the palace grounds, and when the bearers set it down
at the doorway, the Tetrarchess of Galilee and Peraea emerged and was
admitted to the sumptuous edifice. A moment later, with much bowing and
murmured directing, servants conducted her to the wife of the
Procurator. But the two had done little more than exchange greetings and
sit down together when the winds did come, and with a suddenness and
severity that sent them scurrying for the protection of the palace. This
time the clouds were not immediately blown away; crash after crash of
lightning sundered them, and for a few wild moments they poured a deluge
upon the steaming, crowded capital of ancient Israel.

“Claudia, I know you wonder why I have come,” Herodias said, when they
were settled in one of the inner chambers into which little of the noise
of the storm penetrated. “But soon the Feast of the Passover will be
ended, and we will be going back to our posts; I’m sure you, at any
rate, are unwilling to consider Caesarea home. So we may have little
further opportunity to talk together alone, Herod’s engaged at the
palace, and Pilate, I presume, will be busy at Antonia.” Claudia nodded.
“Yes. Well, you remember once in Rome when you came over to see me and
we were talking about Antipas and Longinus, and you wondered why I was
interested in the Tetrarch....” Herodias paused, and Claudia, smiling,
nodded again. “You may recall, too, I told you that I was interested in
what the Tetrarch could become, in the position he might attain, rather
than in Antipas as a man....”

“Yes, I recall. You said he might become a king like his father.”

“I did. Some day he might, I believe I said, with my conniving.” She
leaned forward and looked Claudia directly in the eyes. “The time has
come,” she said quietly, “for us to begin our determined conniving.”

“_Our?_” Claudia queried, her tone intent.

“Yes. What I’m scheming will concern you, and Longinus, as much as it
will Antipas and me.” Her brow suddenly furrowed. “You still feel the
same way about the centurion, don’t you, as you did when you left Rome
to come out here?”

“Well, yes, but....”

“Oh, I know, Claudia, you must be careful, must guard your tongue. But
you needn’t worry about my making indiscreet remarks, you know.” She
shrugged. “I haven’t thus far, have I? And I’ve known all along. And
now”—she did not wait for Claudia to answer her question—“the time has
come for us to strike out for what both of us want. Soon Longinus will
be going back to Rome, and more than likely this time he’ll have much to
tell the Prefect.”

“But, Herodias....”

The Tetrarchess laughed and shrugged. “Oh, nobody has told me anything,”
she said, “but I do have eyes and ears and an ability to put things
together. I know that Senator Piso and Sejanus are more than friends;
they’re bound to be business partners, for Sejanus, you may be sure, has
his fingers in any enterprise that has been operating with considerable
success. I know that Longinus has had unusual freedom for a centurion
presumably on active duty and that he has made trips back to Rome, to
Antioch, and to many another place that no centurion ordinarily would be
called on to visit in the course of duty. And you told me, remember,
that he was being sent out to Palestine on a special mission.” She
paused, and when Claudia made no comment, she smiled and gestured with
outflung hands. “Well, it makes little difference whether he was sent
out to watch Pilate or not, and maybe Antipas and me ...” she paused,
grinning, “and possibly even you, Claudia. He’ll probably be called back
to Rome soon to make some sort of report, even about the operation of
the Senator’s glassworks....”

“But how would that affect you and Antipas, and Pilate ... and maybe
me?”

“Longinus might be called back to Rome to report on Pilate’s ... well,
shortcomings.”

“Even then I fail to understand how....”

“This is the way I envision what might easily happen should he be
ordered to Rome,” Herodias interrupted. “Longinus certainly must have
strong influence with Sejanus, because he’s Senator Piso’s son, for one
thing. Should he point out, and with emphasis, Pilate’s failures as an
administrator—and certainly he’d have little trouble supporting his
charge—he might very likely cause the Prefect to dismiss Pilate as
Procurator or move him to another province. And with Pilate disgraced,
surely you would be permitted to divorce him.” She smiled and airily
lifted her hands. “Then, my dear, you could marry Longinus and return to
Rome to live.”

“Maybe so. But even then how would that affect you and Antipas?”

Herodias leaned toward her hostess, her expression intent. “Suppose
Pilate is dismissed, transferred, even, by the gods, beheaded....” Her
eyes narrowed. “That would cause you no grief, would it?” But she did
not pause for Claudia’s comment. “Then Sejanus, regardless of Pilate’s
fate, might extend Antipas’ realm to include Judaea, don’t you see, and
elevate him to kingship. And I”—she sat back and smiled felinely—“would
be queen.” Quickly the smile vanished. “And I shall never be content,
Claudia, until I’m a queen. Why, soon as Tetrarchess I’ll have no higher
station than little Salome.” She paused, her expression suddenly
questioning. “Did you know that she is marrying Herod Philip?”

“_Her father?_” Claudia exclaimed, aghast. “By all the gods, surely....”

“Of course not, my dear.” Herodias laughed. “The other Herod Philip, her
father’s half brother and”—she grinned—“my half uncle. He rules the puny
tetrarchy over east of us, Batanea and Trachonitis. He’s considerably
older than Salome, naturally, but....”

“Then he’s Salome’s half great-uncle and half uncle as well as half
stepuncle, and ... well....” Claudia broke off with a shrug. “You Herods
really never let anything get out of the family, do you?” Then she was
serious. “But what about old King Aretas? If he should attack
Antipas....”

“Certainly he hasn’t attacked yet,” Herodias hastened to reply. “And he
probably never will. But even if he does, that might just strengthen
Antipas with Rome. At any rate,” she added, “the Arabian isn’t making
trouble at the moment.”

“But, Herodias, what if Sejanus, instead of putting Judaea under Antipas
and making him king, should send out a new Procurator to succeed
Pilate?”

The Tetrarchess of Galilee and Peraea was not abashed. “In that case,”
she replied without hesitation, “he might even make Longinus Procurator,
although I’m sure he—and surely you too, wouldn’t you—would prefer to be
assigned a post in some province other than Judaea. But in any event,
Claudia, if Longinus should very strongly recommend and urge the
transfer of Pilate and the extension of Antipas’ realm to embrace
Judaea, then I’m confident it would have great weight with Sejanus.
That’s why I came to see you, Claudia, the principal reason, I mean. I
hope you’ll suggest such a course to Longinus. It’s a way by which you
and Longinus and I—I’m not considering Pilate and indolent old
Antipas—can attain what all three of us want most.” She leaned forward
again, and her expression betrayed a malevolent cunning. “Claudia,
Longinus would have good reason to advise Sejanus to withdraw Pilate
from Judaea. Pilate from his first days out here has failed to get along
with the Jews, from the High Priest on down. And now, today, the
suddenly bitter hostility of the followers of this Galilean fellow whom
he tried this morning....”

“Galilean fellow?” Claudia’s expression was suddenly grave. “Who...?”

“Maybe you haven’t heard of him. He has a large following devotedly
attached to him, so large that the Temple leaders are both jealous and
fearful of him. They brought him before Pilate this morning, and the
Procurator, wishing to evade responsibility”—her tone was
sarcastic—“sent him to Antipas for trial, since the fellow was a
Galilean, from the village of Nazareth, I believe. But I learned about
it in time to warn Antipas to have nothing to do with the fellow....”
She paused, and the bitter lines around her mouth deepened in a scowl.
“He’s never forgotten that Wilderness fanatic at Machaerus. So he sent
the Galilean back to Pilate.” She smiled. “Whatever the Procurator does
with him, or has done, will add to his troubles with the Jews ...” she
paused—“or at any rate, we hope so, don’t we?”

“Then you don’t know whether Pilate has tried the man?” Claudia tried to
conceal her anxiety.

“No. I only know that Antipas didn’t fall into Pilate’s trap.”

_... Thank the Bountiful Mother I sent Pilate the message...._

“You were always a clever one, Herodias. Antipas is fortunate.” But she
did not elaborate and quickly changed the subject.

With the same suddenness that it had begun, like the opening and closing
of a great door, the storm ended, and the sun shone down through skies
sparkling and refreshed. “I must be going,” said Herodias. “I’ve much to
do before we start back to Tiberias. My dear”—she laid her hand
affectionately on Claudia’s arm and stood up—“do come to visit us again.
And won’t you talk with Longinus about this? You’ll be seeing him, of
course, perhaps tonight?”

“Perhaps.” But Claudia’s smile was thin.

Herodias’ visit and the dissipation of the storm clouds had done nothing
to dispel Claudia’s misgivings; the news brought by the Tetrarchess had,
in fact, served to deepen her foreboding. Why hadn’t Pilate acknowledged
receiving her message, if indeed he had received it? Suddenly the
desperate notion possessed her that the Procurator had failed to get her
hurriedly scribbled warning. And why, if he had seen it, had he failed
to reassure her that Jesus would not be condemned? What, by the gods,
had Pilate done with him?

She summoned her maid. “You must go up to Antonia and discover what’s
happened to the Galilean, Tullia,” she said. “Until I hear, I shall have
no peace.” She hesitated, brow furrowed. “No, wait. I’ll go myself. Call
the sedan-chair bearers.”



                                   53


When Herodias returned to the Hasmonean Palace she learned from Neaera
that the Tetrarch had shut himself away from all company in the
seclusion of one of the inner chambers. He seemed to be entering a
period of depression, the maid reported, like the one into which he had
plunged after the beheading of the Wilderness prophet.

The Tetrarchess found him sprawled in his chair, staring at the wall,
his heavy jowls sagging. For a moment he appeared unmindful of her
entrance. Then he turned ponderously to face her. “The Galilean,” he
said slowly, as though in pain, “is dead. Crucified.”

“Dead already? How did you learn it?”

“Joanna. She was at the Hill of the Skull with some of his friends,
including Mary of Magdala. They saw him die. But she declared she knew
that the Galilean”—suddenly his dull eyes brightened with the pain of
sharpened fear—“would rise from the dead and avenge himself upon his
enemies. Herodias”—he got heavily to his feet and flung out his hands in
desperation—“why did you make me do it? By the beard of the High Priest,
Tetrarchess, why, why?”

“Are you mad, Antipas?” Her dark eyes snapped. “You didn’t kill him! By
the gods, Pilate did. The Procurator tried him. You sent him back to
Pilate, don’t you remember?”

“Of course I sent him back to Pilate. But I had it in my power to free
him; instead, I sent him to his death. When he rises, he will wreak upon
me a double vengeance.”

“Double vengeance?”

“Yes, the vengeance of both the prophet of the Wilderness and of the
Nazarene.” His eyes glittered with incipient madness. “The Nazarene was
the prophet returned to life. When he arises, he will be the two
returned.”

“Nonsense!” Herodias advanced, her eyes flaming, and grasped her
husband’s arm. “If the Galilean is dead, he’s dead, and you know it.
Must you give heed to Joanna’s superstitious drivel?” Her scowl
lightened into a crafty smile. “Pilate has served you well in crucifying
this fellow. Can’t you see that the Galilean’s followers will be all the
more determined to do the Procurator ill?”

“But how will his misfortune help me?” the Tetrarch asked.

“Your father ruled this whole province. Should Pilate’s mishandling of
his duties drive him from the Procuratorship, the Emperor might elevate
you to king of all the region. It’s not for nothing that your father is
called ‘Herod the Great.’” She shook a ringed forefinger under his nose.
“If you had one-fourth the ambition and energy that he had, you’d
already be wearing the crown!”

“But I don’t want to wear a crown,” Antipas protested. “Crowns often
become greater burdens than they’re worth. We can live out our lives at
Tiberias, happy and unchallenged, and enjoy the benefits of the royal
prerogative without risking its dangers and burdens, my dear, and with
considerably less chance of drawing the ire of old Sejanus.”

Herodias stamped her foot angrily. “Don’t you have any aspirations,
Antipas? Are you willing to continue being a mouse instead of a man?”
Her tone was coldly sarcastic, and she knotted her hand into a fist to
emphasize her stern words. “Well, by the beard of the High Priest,
Antipas, I’m going to see to it that you sit on the throne of Judaea as
your father did. I’ve just returned from talking with Claudia about my
plan ... and my determination ... to get you elevated to kingship. She
will help; she wants to see Pilate disgraced so that she can divorce him
and marry Longinus.”

“I don’t know about that, my dear Tetrarchess. What would be the
difference anyway, except in titles? Wouldn’t it be best to let well
enough...?”

“And spend the rest of our lives in an out-of-the-way poor district of
illiterate fishermen and grape growers! Never!” she stormed. “Would you
be willing for me never to occupy a station higher than Salome, by all
the gods?” She studied him, her contempt plainly revealed. “I do believe
you _would_. Well, I’m not willing. I’ll leave you first ... and go back
to Rome!” She was silent for a moment and when he made no retort,
continued. “This is what we’ll do,” she said, her tone even now. “We’ll
return to Tiberias and begin to assemble choice presents for the
Emperor, and most important, for Sejanus. And you will increase the
revenue going to the Prefect. The gifts will please and flatter him, and
the increased revenues from Galilee and Peraea may suggest to him that
if you were governing the whole province the increase in taxes would be
substantial. And we won’t send them to Rome, the gifts, I mean, but
we’ll take them ourselves, and then we can personally petition Sejanus
to make you king over the entire province.”

Herod Antipas shook his grizzled head slowly, and his countenance was
troubled. “But I foresee only disaster if....”

“I don’t care what you foresee or how agitated you may become,” she
said, with a defiant toss of her head, “we are going to Rome to ask the
Prefect to make you king, and I’m either coming back to Palestine as
queen or I’m not coming back at all!”



                                   54


As Claudia and her maid entered the anteroom adjacent to the
Procurator’s great chamber in the southwestern tower of Antonia, two men
of serious mien, well-dressed and with beards oiled and carefully
braided, emerged from Pilate’s room and walked quickly into the
corridor.

Claudia motioned Tullia to a seat and without pausing strode past the
attendant through the still unclosed doorway.

Pilate stood before one of the windows facing westward. His long shadow
reached out to her feet across the high-domed room; soon now the sun
would be dropping beneath the wall of the ancient city, and the
solemnity of the Jewish Sabbath would still the Passover festivities. He
turned to face his wife, and she saw that his expression was deadly
serious. She questioned him with a lift of her head. “Those men who just
went out?”

“Wealthy Jews,” he replied. “One of them anyway, a merchant from
Arimathea. Both of them members of the Sanhedrin. They came to petition
me.” He saw that she was still not satisfied. “A small matter; they
asked for the body of one of the men crucified today. They want to bury
him.” He advanced toward her and managed a thin smile. “Here, my dear
Claudia,” he pointed, “have this chair.” His smile warmed. “To what am I
indebted for the honor of your visit?”

“This man whose body they wished,” she asked, ignoring his question,
“could it be that he was the Galilean mystic?”

“Yes, they said he was from Galilee.” His eyes avoided her probing
stare.

“He was called Jesus?”

“I believe they called him that.”

“Then you did not receive my message ... about the dream I had?”

She saw in his eyes a mounting panic. “Yes, Claudia, but it was only a
dream, and the High Priest demanded....”

“You condemned to the cross an innocent man”—she stood up and pointed a
trembling finger at the Procurator, and her eyes blazed
furiously—“because the High Priest demanded it! The great Procurator,
representative of imperial Rome, _crucified_ an innocent man because a
jealous and mean little Temple strut-cock _ordered_ you to send him to
the cross! By all the gods, Pilate, _and_ you condemned him after _I_
sent you that warning!”

“But, Claudia, I was being pulled at from both sides. I didn’t want to
condemn him. I told them I found no fault in the man. I had a basin of
water fetched and before the multitude I washed my hands of his blood,
and....”

“You washed your hands of his blood! Never! Oh, by all the gods, those
hands! Those blood-red, crawling, slinking hands!” She held her palms
before her face. “In the dream I saw them. Now you’ll never be able to
cleanse those foul, polluted hands.”

“But if I had released him, Claudia, and news had got back to the
Prefect that I had allowed a dangerous revolutionary to go free....”

“You knew he was no revolutionary.” Her voice was almost a hiss. “You
knew he was an innocent man, and you sent him to the cross.” She crossed
the room quickly and looked out toward the Hill of the Skull. The
shadows were heavy in the square before Antonia, but the sinking sun
shone levelly upon the three burdened crosses on the hill. “Which cross
is his?” she asked, without taking her eyes from the macabre scene.

“The one at the center,” he replied, his eyes fixed unseeing on the
polished surface of his desk.

“And he is dead, you’re sure of that?”

“I don’t know. I’ve sent for the centurion in charge of the execution,
and now I’m waiting for his report. I told the two Jews I would not
release the body until I was certain the Galilean was dead. Should the
body be taken down and the man revived, and should word, as it would,
get to Rome....”

“Are you concerned only with what sort of reports go to Rome?” she
demanded, her voice heavy with sarcasm. “Have you no interest in seeing
justice prevail even in Judaea?”

“I am interested, my dear Claudia”—he appeared somewhat to have regained
his composure—“in maintaining myself in the office of Procurator.
Perhaps I erred in the case of this Galilean. Perhaps I should have
given greater heed to the message you sent me. But I’ve spent many hard
years in the army, and I have long dreamed of being the Procurator of a
province of imperial Rome. Now that I have attained it, I must not gain
the further enmity of the Temple leadership, or I might lose the post,
you know.”

“Then your only concern is in remaining Procurator of Judaea?” Her tone
was coldly scornful. “And you might have the post taken from you, at
that. Much depends, you know, on the attitude of the Prefect toward
you.”

Pilate blanched. “But, my dear, surely you wouldn’t suggest to him that
he carry to Sejanus an evil report about my conduct of affairs....”

“To _him_? To whom, Excellency”—she paused, and her tone was
taunting—“do you refer?”

But once more he was evasive. “Perhaps you are tired, my dear,” he said
with a short, humorless laugh. “Perhaps you should return to the palace.
I can order the sedan-chair bearers....”

“Mine are outside,” she replied evenly. “But why are you trying to get
rid of me, Pilate? Does the Galilean haunt you already?”

“Indeed, no.” Again he attempted a laugh, but it lacked conviction. “Any
minute now the centurion will be reporting to me, and I thought perhaps
you would not wish to be reminded again of the Galilean’s death or your
strange dream....”

“No, I will stay. Perhaps it is you who do not wish to be reminded that
you condemned to a terrible death a man innocent of the crime charged
against him, innocent of any crime, and known by you to be innocent!”

“But, my dear Claudia, had I freed....”

The Procurator’s protest was interrupted by a knock on the door, and a
moment later at Pilate’s bidding the attendant entered. “The Centurion
Longinus, Excellency,” he said, bowing, “has arrived to make his
report.”

“Longinus! By great Jupiter, did you send Longinus to crucify the
Galilean?” She whirled to face the centurion, who had entered the
chamber. “Surely, Longinus, you didn’t...” Abruptly she stopped; her
face, suddenly drained of fury, betrayed apprehension and pain.

“Yes,” he said, “I killed him. I was ordered by the Procurator to do so,
but that doesn’t absolve me from guilt. I crucified an innocent man”—his
eyes shifted to level on Pilate—“as the Procurator well knew when he
condemned him to the cross.” He paused, but Pilate did not challenge the
statement. “Excellency, you sent for me to report. The Galilean is dead.
Your order has been carried out.”

“Thank you, Centurion. Then I shall grant those Jews’ request for the
body for burial.” He spoke calmly, but his flustered manner betrayed an
inner stress. “You may return to your duty and notify the men, who will
be at the execution ground, that I grant their petition. You may have
your quaternion help them remove the body from the cross and ...”

He broke off suddenly. Through the slit in the doorway, which Longinus
had failed to close completely behind him, came the insistent voice of a
man talking with Pilate’s aide in the anteroom. “By the gods, I’m glad
to catch him. I’ve come from Caesarea with a message for him from the
Commander Sergius Paulus. And I was given emphatic instructions to
deliver it myself into his hands with the seals unbroken,” they heard
the man say. “I’ve been searching all over Jerusalem for him; I even
went out to the crucifixion hill.” He lowered his voice. “It’s bound to
be an important message. It came from Rome, probably, by the gods, from
the Prefect or even the Emperor.”

“Centurion, perhaps you’d prefer to go out there”—Pilate’s face had
paled perceptibly—“to accept the message.”

Longinus nodded and left the room. As the door closed behind him,
Claudia turned with renewed fury upon her husband. “Why did you assign
Longinus to crucify the Galilean?” she cried. “Was it because I sent my
message by him and you suspected he had spent the night with me and you
finally did me the small honor of being jealous? Well, by the gods”—her
voice was tremulous as her anger rose—“_that’s exactly what he did_!”
With hatred in her eyes she approached him, coming so close that their
faces nearly touched. “And, you fool, that wasn’t the first time,” she
added with a low, harsh laugh, “nor even, by Jupiter, the last!”

The Procurator stepped back and sank heavily into his chair. For a long
moment he sat silent, staring at the floor. Then he raised his eyes to
his wife’s bitter, scornful face. “Surely you cannot believe me that
stupid, Claudia my dear,” he said quietly, “to think that I haven’t
known. Surely you must know that I am not entirely deaf and blind, that
I have even contrived to spend many an evening away so that you....” He
paused, pensively contemplating the woman before him. “But perhaps you
don’t know....”

“Oh, how I despise you!” she screamed. “I knew you were a weakling, a
coward, a ... yes, today, even a murderer. But I didn’t know you were a
crawling worm who would willingly lend his wife to another man! By all
Pluto’s fire-blackened imps, I....”

“But perhaps you don’t know,” the Procurator went on, “that I was
commanded by the Prefect and the Emperor, at the time our marriage was
arranged, to do everything possible to keep you content in this dismal
province ... even to overlooking any indiscretions....”

“Then you’ve been willing to do anything, by the Great Mother, in order
to stay in the good graces of old Sejanus,” Claudia hissed. “You’re
willing to send a good and innocent man, maybe a god-man, to the cross
rather than displease a contemptible High Priest who might complain
against you to the Prefect!” She clenched her fists and brought them
down, hard, across the desk. “You’re even willing to surrender your wife
to another man’s enjoyment in order—you said it—to keep her ‘content’
but _really_ to keep that man from reporting to Sejanus your bumbling
incompetence, your foolish provocations, your utter imbecility!” Her
voice had risen to a shout. Slowly she moved toward the window, and then
she whirled about to face him again. “Well, I’m not ‘content,’ and I
never will be ... with you! And by all the gods, I hope Longinus will go
to Rome and reveal to Sejanus how miserably you have administered the
affairs of the Empire in this province!” She pointed at him from across
the room. “And how you have dragged in the dust Rome’s vaunted justice,
how in all probability”—her voice dropped to a menacing tone—“you have
withheld funds from the Empire’s treasury....”

“No! Oh, no, Claudia! I have kept back nothing due the Empire or the
Prefect! Nothing! Not one shekel, not a denarius! Longinus knows it’s
true.” He lowered his voice. “Hasn’t he been watching; hasn’t he been
reporting? Surely you don’t think I haven’t suspected....” But suddenly
he broke off his protests. Quickly crossing the chamber, he opened the
door and summoned the centurion. “You have heard my wife’s words?” he
asked, as he closed the door behind them.

“I’ve heard excited words,” Longinus replied cautiously. “I didn’t get
the full import of them, though.”

“Claudia has been hurling accusations at me. She said she hoped you
would report me to the Prefect when you go to....” He paused, and both
his face and voice revealed his fear. “The message was from Rome, wasn’t
it? From Sejanus? He asked you to report to him on the situation out
here, how I’m administering...?”

“He asked me to come at once to Rome, but he said only that it was to
meet with him on a matter of utmost concern, the nature of which he did
not indicate. Here, Excellency”—he handed the letter to the
Procurator—“you may read it yourself.”

Eagerly the Procurator accepted the message. His forehead creased as he
studied it. “True,” he said, handing it back to Longinus, “there’s no
mention in it of the Procurator. But surely the Prefect will ask you how
I’m administering affairs. I beg of you, Centurion, don’t give him an
unfavorable report; don’t make any charges against....”

“What of the Galilean you’ve just crucified?” Claudia interrupted. “Can
you contend that you even thought you were acting justly? Didn’t you
just tell me you found no fault in the man? What else could Longinus
tell the Prefect concerning your trial...?”

“But the centurion will say nothing of this Galilean, surely.” The trace
of a sickly smile flickered across his round face. “The centurion will
remember that it was _he_ who crucified the man.”

“Yes, I shall never forget that I killed him,” Longinus said. “And I
suspect that to the end of his days the Procurator, too, will remember
the part he played in this horrible thing. But if this Galilean’s case
comes to the Prefect’s attention and he inquires of me about it, I shall
reveal fully what happened, and why I was involved.”

“But surely, Centurion, unless you report it, Sejanus will never know
about it. Caiaphas is pleased. The illiterate, poor followers of the
Galilean didn’t even attempt to aid him at the trial; their protests, if
they offer any, can never reach as far as Rome. I beg of you, Longinus,
make no mention of it to the Prefect. The Galilean is dead; soon he’ll
be forgotten.”

“No!” Claudia protested. “I’ll never forget him! Longinus will never
forget him! Nor will _you_! Look at your hands, Pilate. Soon you will be
seeing them as I saw them, cold, clammy, scurrying to hide themselves
under the rocks, foul and evil and reeking with _his_ blood! By all the
gods, Pilate”—her voice was shrill in newly mounting anger—“if Longinus
doesn’t tell the Prefect of your cowardly flouting of Roman justice, _I_
will!”

The Procurator’s face blanched. He started to speak, then swallowed.
“Claudia, my dear, you wouldn’t. Surely you wouldn’t be so....”

“Indeed, I would! I have lost all patience with you, Pilate. Today I’ve
seen you as I’ve never seen you before. You’re a small man, Procurator,
vain, self-seeking, pompous, and yet a sniveling coward too fearful for
his own skin to rule justly. And at the first opportunity I shall so
describe you to the Prefect ... and perhaps to the Emperor.”

“No, my dear! No! Please....” His panic changed quickly into abject
pleading. “Please don’t, my dear. Why should you wish to ruin me? What
would it gain you ... and Longinus?” He sat down wearily behind his
desk. “Why can’t we continue as we have been ...” he paused, “enduring
this trying land and these troublesome people? Centurion”—he faced
Longinus—“for a long time I have suspected, and known, the ...
situation. But haven’t I been understanding, even co-operative?” The
suggestion of a smile lifted the corners of his mouth. “Why, then,
cannot the three of us, understanding this and appreciating it, just
continue to play the roles as we have been? Why can’t we...?”

“Oh, by great Ceres!” Claudia shouted angrily, “you are indeed a
crawling worm! You _invite_ another man to your wife’s bed! You pander!
You’re nothing but a procurer, a Spanish pimp! Gods, but I detest you!”
Turning, she strode to the door and opened it. “Summon my sedan-chair
bearers,” she ordered the attendant, “and quickly!” Then she wheeled
about to face the Procurator again. “I’m going back to the palace. I
cannot summon the patience to remain longer in your presence. It would
please me greatly if I should never lay eyes on you again!” She stormed
through the doorway; the door slammed behind her.

Pilate sat unmoving and stared stonily into space.

“A moment ago, Excellency,” Longinus ventured, “you directed me to
return to the Hill of the Skull. The Jewish Sabbath is fast nearing.
Perhaps I should go now.”

Without raising his eyes, Pontius Pilate nodded. Longinus crossed the
darkening chamber and went out. After a while the Procurator stood up
and walked to the window. Out beyond Antonia’s front square and the
squat stone structures flanking it, on a wretched knoll beyond the
city’s wall, the three crosses still lifted their quiet burdens into the
waning light. But already the shadow of the wall was groping for the
pinioned feet of the man on the middle cross. For a long moment Pilate
stood rooted before the window; when the shadow had climbed to engulf
the man’s sagging knees, he turned slowly away and sat again in his big
chair. As the gloom thickened in the great chamber, the staring
Procurator leaned slowly forward to cross his arms on the desk and,
bending over, cradled his round head on their crossing.



                                   55


Late in the afternoon of the Jews’ Sabbath the Procurator Pontius Pilate
stood face to face once again with the High Priest Joseph Caiaphas.

“My visit to you, Excellency, and the petition I bring,” he began,
“concern that impostor and revolutionary you crucified yesterday, the
one who was seeking to establish himself upon the restored throne of
Israel.”

“But the man is dead and buried,” Pilate spoke up irritably. “Can’t you
let him lie quietly in his tomb? Can’t you understand that I wish to
have no further mention made to me of that Galilean?”

“Indeed I do understand, Excellency. That’s exactly what we also wish,
to allow him to lie quietly and undisturbed until his body rots and his
name is forgotten.” He leaned forward, and his black eyes lighted with
new fires. “But, Excellency, as you may have been told, that blasphemer
was heard to declare that he would destroy our Temple and in three days
with his own hands rebuild it. Now some of his deluded followers are
saying that he wasn’t speaking of the Temple yonder”—he nodded in the
direction of the great structure—“but rather of his own physical body.
They interpret his words as meaning that he would of his own accord give
his life and then on the third day claim it again and walk forth from
his tomb. Of course, Excellency, we know that the fellow is dead and
will never rise again”—with the tip of his tongue he licked his thin red
lips—“but many naïve ones may be deluded into believing that he really
did possess power to call back his life. Even today a report has reached
us that certain of his followers are planning in the nighttime to visit
the tomb and steal away the body. Then with the tomb empty on the
morrow, which will be the third day since he died, they can publish
abroad the tidings that the blasphemer really did arise as he had
declared he would do.”

“But how am I concerned in this nonsense?” Pilate was plainly annoyed.
“What do you want me to do?”

“We would have you set a guard over the fellow’s tomb, Excellency, to
see that no one steals away the body.”

“What’s this but children’s prattle? Surely no one would seriously
expect a dead man to walk from his tomb.” Slowly Pilate’s scowl gave way
to a mocking half-smile. “What would the High Priest do if the Galilean
_did_ rise? _You_ contrived his crucifixion.”

“But what, Excellency, would the Procurator do? _You crucified_ him.”

Pilate was not amused by the High Priest’s retort. “Maybe it’s as well,”
he observed, “that neither of us will be so tested.” For a moment he was
silent, looking away. Then he turned back to face Caiaphas. “You have
your Temple guards. Can’t you use some of them to guard that tomb?”

“But, Excellency, with the great surge of Passover pilgrims still in the
Temple courts and about the cattle stalls and the money changers’
tables, our guards are all greatly needed. And, more important, your
placing a guard would lend greater prestige....”

“The Antonia garrison is just as busy,” Pilate interrupted, “and many of
our soldiers are leaving Jerusalem. Maybe, though, I can arrange yet
again to humor the High Priest.” He beckoned to an aide. “Summon the
fortress commander.”

“Are there any centurions available for a special assignment beginning
at once and continuing into tomorrow?” he asked, when a few moments
later the officer appeared.

“Centurion Longinus, sir, is....”

“No, by all the gods!”

“The only other one not assigned at the present is Centurion Cornelius.
He’s preparing to return his....”

“Then call Cornelius in and instruct him to select from his century a
sufficient detail and mount a guard at the tomb of the Galilean”—he
paused and looked unsmiling toward the High Priest—“rather, the ‘King of
the Jews,’ to see that it is not disturbed.”

Caiaphas smiled grimly but made no comment.

“Now, O High Priest, you will have your guard, though I consider a guard
unnecessary. Once again your will has prevailed.” He bowed, and his
smile was cold. “I trust your sleep tonight will be peaceful.”



                                   56


It was within two hours of midnight after the Jewish Sabbath, which by
Hebrew reckoning ended at sundown, when Longinus came to the Palace of
the Herods. Claudia was already in her nightdress and prepared for bed.
“Aren’t you going to spend the night?” she asked eagerly, after he
loosened her from their warm embrace.

“With your permission,” he said, grinning wryly. “I have your husband’s,
remember.”

“Please, let’s not talk of him.” Her expression sobered. “Did I speak
too frankly yesterday, Longinus? Did I reveal too much to him ... about
us, I mean? Is that why you didn’t come last night? You were annoyed
with me?”

“You really spoke your feelings, didn’t you? But I wasn’t annoyed with
you,” he said. “In fact, I’m glad you spoke up. And I suspect he was not
surprised at what you told him, only that you would say it, and with
such fury.” She had sat down on the side of her bed. He seated himself
beside her and bent over to unfasten his sandals. Then he straightened
and faced her. “Claudia, I was too depressed last night to be good
company.” He shook his head slowly. “I’ve never been in lower spirits.”

“Because of the Galilean?”

“Yes. Because of what I had done. It felt like a crushing load on my
back. I couldn’t get out from under it.” He stood up, and laid his tunic
across a chair. “After I left you and Pilate, I went back out to the
crosses and helped get him down, taking care to see that in pulling the
nails out we didn’t tear or further bruise the flesh”—he paused in his
narration, and his low laugh was hollow, mirthless—“after I had seen the
nails driven through the living flesh and had plunged my lance into his
side. Then we put him in the rich Jew’s tomb; they had bound the body
the way the Jews prepare their dead for burial, although they didn’t
have time to anoint it with aromatic spices as they customarily do....”

“They are going to do that tomorrow,” Claudia interrupted him. “Tullia
has gone out to Bethany to go with Mary of Magdala and Chuza’s wife
Joanna and some other followers of the Galilean early in the morning to
the tomb to finish the burial rites.” She paused. “But I interrupted
your story. What did you do when you had finished out there?”

“I came back to Antonia and sat for a long time on the balcony looking
out over the Temple courts. Then I went to bed and tried to get some
sleep, but I couldn’t, no matter how I tried. Every time I closed my
eyes I saw that man ... the death march out to the hill, nailing him
down, lifting him to the upright....” He cupped his palm across his
eyes. “By the gods, Claudia, it was terrible, frightening. And his
crying out to his god to forgive us.” His hand dropped listlessly to his
side. “Well, I finally gave up and walked out along the balcony again,
and then I went to see Cornelius. He was troubled, too. He hadn’t gone
to bed. We sat and talked, mostly about that man, until daylight.”

“Did you come to any conclusion ... about him, I mean?”

“Well, no, I suppose not, except that it was a monstrous crime to
crucify such a man, though Cornelius still held to the idea that the
Galilean probably was a god of some sort, that he had supernatural
powers, even the ability to heal people—he insisted that he had healed
his little Lucian—maybe to raise dead people to life. Cornelius even
said he thought it was possible that the Galilean might come to life
himself, as some of his followers say he will, and walk out of that
tomb.” He was silent for a moment. “If he does,” he added after awhile,
“he’ll have to move a tremendous stone from the mouth of the tomb ...
and _from the inside_.” He sat down again beside her. “And under the
noses of the guards, too.”

“The guards?”

“Yes. At the insistence of the High Priest, Pilate has set a guard at
the tomb to prevent the Galilean’s followers from stealing the body and
claiming that he actually did come to life. The Procurator put Cornelius
in charge, and I went out there with him; in fact, I’ve just come from
there. Cornelius is going to stay until daylight.”

“Then Pilate is still trying to appease the High Priest, even after all
I said to him yesterday?”

“Evidently. The Procurator isn’t likely to change his ways.”

“Maybe I was rash yesterday in losing my temper and speaking with such
boldness, but I’ve come to have such contempt for him, to loathe him so.
Oh, Longinus”—she clutched his arm in both hands and clung to him—“how
can I stay with him longer in this dreary land? Please take me with you
to Rome. Hasn’t the time come...?”

“That’s why I’m here, Claudia.” Then his serious expression softened,
and his eyes teased. “And because it’s my last night.”

“Must you be leaving tomorrow?”

“Yes. I’m going with Cornelius as far as Tiberias. From there I’ll go
across to Ptolemaïs and get a ship for Rome. Cornelius is providing me
an escort to the coast. I’ll have to get the first ship leaving that
port for the capital. But I had to see you before I left. Claudia”—in
the subdued light of the bedchamber the gentle flame of the wall lamp
was mirrored in his eyes as he looked deeply into hers—“it may be that a
way of escape is about to open for us. By all the gods, it’s strange,
and distressing, too, but the death of the Galilean may actually save
us.”

“You mean that Pilate in condemning the Galilean may have condemned
himself?”

“I believe he has ... in one way or another. And I think he has given
you a means of freeing yourself.” He paused. “You’re sure no one can
hear us?”

She nodded. But he went to the door anyway, listened with his ear to the
panel, and tried the bolt.

“This is dangerous, Claudia,” he said, as he sat down again. “You
mustn’t breathe a word of it to anybody, not even Tullia. It could get
us both killed.” He lowered his voice. “That message I had yesterday. It
brought startling news. I purposely showed it to Pilate, but of course
he had no idea what it was saying. But I did. That ‘matter of utmost
concern’ was the Prefect’s way of notifying me that now he’s finally
ready to proceed with his scheme and wants me in Rome when he makes his
move.”

“But this new scheme? What...?”

“It’s not a new one, Claudia. He gave me a broad hint concerning his
plans the last time I was home; he said that when I got a message so
worded it would mean he was ready to proceed with the final step.” He
leaned close to her. “Claudia, Sejanus is plotting _to have the Emperor
assassinated_; he is bidding for the throne.”

“But surely”—her face had paled—“he doesn’t mean for you to ...”

“Oh, no, not that. Some palace servant out at Capri will probably attend
to that. But he wants me in Rome when it’s done so that I can help rally
his supporters at the crucial moment and make him Emperor.”

“But even if Sejanus should become Emperor, how would that help us?”

“I would be much closer to him than I am now, one of his advisors,” the
centurion replied. “I’m sure I could poison him against Pilate, and
justly. This case of the Galilean will be just one more example of his
unfitness to administer Roman government. His failure to conciliate, his
forever keeping Judaea in a stir....”

“But, Longinus”—her face revealed sudden apprehension, fear—“what if the
Emperor’s supporters should discover the Prefect’s plotting and kill
_him_ before he could have the Emperor killed?”

“Then I would have been on the Emperor’s side.” Longinus smiled
reassuringly and patted the back of her hand on his arm. “Don’t worry
about me; I’ll not let myself get trapped. And soon now, either way the
dice fall, we’ll be the winners.” He stood up and quickly lifted her to
her feet. Leaning over, he pulled down the light coverlet. “But for now,
my dearest,” he said, as he gently pushed her down and lifted her legs
to the bed, “let’s forget them all; let’s make what’s left of it _our_
night.”



                                   57


Once more she felt herself floating upward in a dark morass of confused
and tangled dreaming. Then as she seemed to burst through the heavy
waters to the surface and a sudden effulgent light, she sat up, eyes
blinking and sleep drained from her.

The knocking and calling were restrained but insistent from Tullia’s
side of the door. “Mistress! Oh, Mistress! Mistress!”

She sprang from the bed. “Just a moment, little one, until I can draw
back the bolt.” The movement and her exclamation awakened Longinus;
precipitately he sat up in bed. “Tullia’s returned,” she explained to
him, as he blinked sleepily. She opened the door. “Bona Dea, you’re
breathless,” she said to the girl. “What’s happened, by great Ceres?”

“I’ve run all the way from the Hasmonean Palace where I left Joanna....”
She paused, breathing hard. “Mistress”—her face flamed with new
excitement—“Jesus is _alive_! He’s come from the tomb alive! He did it,
Mistress! He really did it!”

“Sit down, Tullia,” she said calmly. “You’re excited, little one. Calm
yourself. Longinus told me that the Galilean was not in a trance; he
said he knew he was dead; he said....”

“He was dead, Mistress, I know. But _now_ he’s alive again! He’s
_alive_, Mistress, _alive_!”

Claudia shook her head dubiously. “I don’t doubt that you think so, but
when a man’s dead....” She paused. “And you’ve been under such tension,
so troubled....”

“But I’m no longer troubled, Mistress,” Tullia said calmly. “Nor have I
lost my reason. He _is_ alive. Mary of Magdala talked with him at the
tomb. We’ve just come from there, Mistress.”

“But where were Cornelius and his soldiers? Surely they didn’t all go to
sleep and let the Galilean’s friends....”

“They had gone,” the maid answered. “But nobody stole the body,
Mistress. Jesus walked away. He told Mary to tell those of his company
that he would meet them down in Galilee.”

“Then Cornelius and his guards weren’t at the tomb when the Galilean
walked from it, Tullia?” Longinus, adjusting his tunic, came through the
doorway.

“Oh, no, Centurion, I meant they were gone when we got there. But they
had left only a few minutes before. In fact, we met them coming in
through the city gate as we were going out. I recognized Centurion
Cornelius, although I don’t think he noticed me. He seemed greatly
disturbed.”

“Then, by the gods, Claudia, I must go find him. This is amazing.
Tullia, by great Jupiter, do you know what you’re saying? Do you realize
that you are saying a dead man....?”

His question was interrupted by a knocking on the corridor door. Quickly
Tullia opened it. A palace servant announced that Centurion Cornelius
was trying to find Centurion Longinus.

“Tell him to come in,” Claudia had overheard. “The Centurion Longinus is
here.”

“I’ve been trying since daylight to locate you, Longinus,” he reported.
“I went to your quarters, but I should have known....” He didn’t finish
the observation. “Something very strange has happened. The Galilean
disappeared from his tomb.”

“So Tullia has just told us,” Longinus said. “She contends that he came
to life and simply walked out.” His eyes narrowed. “By the gods,
Cornelius, did your guards go to sleep and allow his friends to slip in
and...?”

“No, Longinus, we weren’t asleep.” He shook his head slowly. “Nobody was
asleep. I can’t understand it. I had stationed my men so that no one
could slip past us to get to the tomb. And that heavy stone ...
Longinus, it had to be rolled uphill on its track, and that requires the
hard work of at least two or three strong men.” His forehead wrinkled in
a puzzled frown.

“Well, then,” Longinus pursued, “what _did_ happen?”

“That’s what I don’t know. Nothing happened. At least, I saw and heard
nothing. I asked the men later if any of them had, and they all
insisted, to a man, that they hadn’t heard a sound or seen anything the
least bit unusual. Only a moment before I had checked the tomb’s mouth.
The seal hadn’t been disturbed. And there was a dim light from a little
fire we had kindled earlier to keep off the night chill; it had burned
down, but there was still a light on the stone at the mouth. In fact,
that’s how we noticed....”

“The Galilean?”

“Oh, no, we didn’t see him. But one moment the stone was in place, and
the next ... well, I looked over there, and it had been rolled up the
track and the mouth was wide-open.”

“What did you do then?”

“I lighted a torch from the smoldering fire and investigated. The
Galilean was gone, disappeared. The linen strips with which the body had
been wrapped were lying there, still in folds but collapsed, just as
though the body they had been enfolding had melted away.” He shook his
head, gestured with palms up. “Longinus, I can’t figure it any other
way.”

“You mean you actually believe he returned to life?”

“What else can I believe?”

“But what about the stone? How could he have rolled it back?”

“If he had the power to call back his life,” Cornelius said, “rolling
away the stone would surely have been no problem.”

“But, Cornelius,” Claudia interposed, “Tullia, too, has just come from
the tomb. She was there with Mary of Magdala and Joanna and some other
followers of the Galilean.”

“I didn’t see them....”

“They got there just after you left. They saw you at the city gate as
you were coming away, she said. But Mary of Magdala saw the Galilean and
talked with him.” She shrugged. “Or at any rate that’s what she told
Tullia.”

The centurion’s amazement was not feigned. “Then where did he go? Where
is he now?”

“According to Tullia, he told Mary that he was going down to Galilee. He
said he would meet his band there.”

“Then we may come upon him somewhere, beside the sea with the fishermen
or maybe in Capernaum.”

“But, Cornelius”—Claudia’s expression betrayed a sudden
apprehension—“how would he receive Longinus?”

“In a spirit of forgiveness, I hope ... and believe. It was really not
Longinus who did it. The guilt was Herod’s and Pilate’s ... and, of
course, even more, the High Priest’s.”

“Cornelius, does Pilate know ... about the empty tomb, I mean?”

“Yes, Claudia. I reported to him first, before I started to look for
Longinus. He was still in his bedchamber.”

“What did he say? How did he act?”

“At first he was angry; he charged that the guards had gone to sleep,
said the High Priest would be greatly agitated, and threatened to punish
us severely. But when I stood my ground and insisted that no one had
stolen the body, he began to show concern, and when I left him he was
thoroughly frightened.” He turned to Longinus. “That’s why I want to get
started as quickly as possible for Tiberias, before Pilate orders my
century to remain in Jerusalem to help protect him from the Galilean.
Can you be ready to start by midday?”

Longinus nodded. “Yes. I’m already packed. All I have to do is pick up
my bags at Antonia.”



                                   58


When Cornelius left the Palace of the Herods, Claudia and Longinus
walked out into the garden and sat on the stone bench before the
fountain. Already the sun was high in the cloudless heavens and the air
was growing warm. Birds chattered in the trees and shrubs, and as they
watched the spurting water, two small conies skittered across a circle
of sunlight to dark safety beneath a heavily leaved fig bush.

“A glorious day.”

“Yes.” He tossed a twig toward the fountain. “You know, Claudia”—he was
looking, she saw, at some invisible point beyond the trembling column of
water—“a hundred years from now the world may still remember this day,
if....”

“If the Galilean really has come to life?” she finished softly. “What do
you think about it, Longinus? Cornelius and Tullia seemed so certain he
has.”

The centurion shook his head slowly, his eyes still on the lifting and
falling water. “I don’t know what to think. But”—he turned to face her,
and his forehead was furrowed in concentration—“how else can you explain
it? The guards awake, the heavy stone sealing the tomb. By all the
gods....”

“Are you afraid then?”

For a long moment he was silent. “No,” he answered finally, “I’m not
afraid. But I’m ... I’m ashamed, Claudia; I’m ashamed for myself,
Pilate, Herod, the contemptible High Priest, my quaternion, everybody
who had anything at all to do with this terrible thing. If indeed he did
come back to life, I hope I may see him in Galilee and beg his
forgiveness.”

“But what about Pilate? Do you think the Galilean will seek vengeance on
him? And on the High Priest, and even Antipas?”

“Up there on the hill as we were nailing him to the crossbeam, that man
prayed to his god to forgive us ... to forgive us, Claudia. Didn’t he
mean _all_ his enemies?” Longinus stood up and walked to the fountain;
he held his palm against the upshooting column. “A few days ago I was
scoffing at him and even at the very idea of gods, any god, or spirit
being, or whatever you may call it”—he smiled glumly—“and so were you,
my dear. But since day before yesterday”—he shrugged—“and this morning,
well, I’m ... I’m changed. You know, I’ve been thinking about what
Cornelius’ old Greek tutor taught and how it might fit in with the Jews’
notion of their Yahweh. And now, if the Galilean really has taken on
life again—and I _know_ he was _dead_ when we took him down—it may be
that he really was ... is ... a physical, tangible manifestation of this
all-wise and all-powerful spirit....” Abruptly he broke off. “Oh, I
don’t know, Claudia, it’s too deep for me. But I do know”—his smile was
warm—“if there’s ever another testing, I’ll be on _his_ side then.”

He strode over to the bench and helped her to her feet, and they
returned to her apartment where no other eyes could invade the privacy
of their last moments together.

“Has this morning changed things for us, beloved?” she asked, as they
sat on her couch. “Your plans, in Rome, I mean, do you still intend to
do what you were telling me last night?”

“Of course, my dearest. And it won’t be long before we’ll have a new
Emperor _or_ a new Prefect. And in either case there’ll be a new
Procurator in Judaea and”—he smiled playfully—“a new husband for the
present Procurator’s wife. It’s even possible,” he added with a studied
air, “that the present Procurator’s wife will be the wife of the new
Procurator.”

“But, Longinus, you wouldn’t want to be Procurator in this dreary
province....”

“No,” he broke in, “but if the present Procurator’s wife went with the
assignment”—he shrugged—“I believe I could endure it.” Then he was
serious. “Before the summer is ended, Claudia, I firmly believe that
Tiberius or Sejanus will be dead—and little I care which—or both of them
even, and there’ll be a new regime at Rome. By then, and maybe earlier,
Pilate will have been banished to Gaul or Britannia or some other remote
province, and you and I will be together ... maybe living out at Baiae.”

“Oh, Longinus, I hope so, I do hope so.” She clung to him tightly, for
in a few minutes, she knew, he would be leaving her to join Cornelius
for the journey down into Galilee. “Already it has been so long, and I
am utterly weary of waiting. May the beneficent gods grant you swift
sailing and an early safe return.”

With an arm about her waist he lifted her to her toes. “But there are no
gods, remember?” Teasingly, he pushed her chin until her eager lips
parted, and then hungrily he bent once again to savor them.



                                   59


Longinus and the orderly carrying his luggage had almost reached the
foot of the Antonia stairway when a soldier came hurrying down the steps
behind them. The Procurator Pontius Pilate, the soldier announced,
wished to speak immediately with the centurion.

“Take the bags to the pack train,” Longinus instructed his man, “and
tell Centurion Cornelius I’ll be there as quickly as the Procurator
dismisses me.” Then he went at once to the Procurator’s chamber.

Pontius Pilate was standing before the window, staring in the direction
of the forlorn and frightful Hill of the Skull. When he heard the
centurion, he turned quickly and advanced toward the center of the
chamber. “Have a seat, Centurion,” he said, as he pointed to a chair
across the desk from his own. “I’ll detain you only a moment.” His round
face lighted with an unctuous smile as he sat down heavily. “You’ll soon
be leaving Jerusalem, no doubt?”

“Yes, Excellency. I was on my way, in fact, when your aide overtook me.”

“It occurred to me, though I haven’t seen her since we three were here
two days ago, that Lady Claudia might like to ride with you as far as
Caesarea. She is weary of Jerusalem, I know, but I’ll not be able to
leave here for several days. And at Caesarea you two could enjoy one
another’s company until your ship sails for Rome.”

“But I’m not going to Caesarea, Excellency. I’m going to accompany
Centurion Cornelius down into Galilee, and from there I’ll cross to
Ptolemaïs and get a vessel for Rome.”

“Oh. Well, then, yes.” Pilate’s honeyed smile vanished, and he licked
his lips. “I thought you two would welcome an opportunity....” But he
did not pursue the thought further. He leaned forward, elbows on desk.
“Centurion, this ‘matter of utmost concern’ that takes you to Rome, I
wonder if....”

“You read the Prefect’s message,” Longinus said, when the Procurator
paused. “And of course, Excellency, I’ve had no further communication
from him.”

“The Prefect must be calling you to Rome to discuss the situation out
here, Longinus. It would hardly be anything in Rome that he’s concerned
about, because you wouldn’t be familiar with affairs there. I’ve been
trying to think what it could be that commands his attention here.”
Pilate’s expression was grim now, his shallow suavity gone. “It must be
that he’s dissatisfied with my governing, or even”—he swallowed, and his
face was somber—“that he’s planning to remove me as Procurator and
extend Herod’s domain to include Judaea, with that incompetent weasel as
king over the entire realm his father ruled.” He paused, his expression
questioning. “Herodias’ scheming, I’ll wager.”

“I can’t say, Excellency”—Longinus shook his head—“what the Prefect may
be planning for any of us.”

“Us? By all the gods, Longinus, I hadn’t thought that his plans might
concern you, too!” His expression suddenly brightened. “Why, that’s it,
great Jupiter, that would solve the dilemma!”

“But, Excellency, I don’t....”

“I beg you then, Centurion, in your report to the Prefect to deal
charitably....”

“But, what....?”

“Petition him to transfer me, with comparable position and emoluments,
to some other post, Gaul, Spain, Alexandria maybe, even Rome, and name
you Procurator of Judaea, Longinus.” The unctuous smile, patently
contrived, momentarily relieved his grimness. “And then, though the
Prefect and the Emperor might not permit Lady Claudia to go with me to a
new post, particularly if it should be at Rome or near the capital, I’m
sure they would permit her to divorce me and marry you.”

“But the day the Galilean died”—the discipline of long training kept
Longinus’ tone level, even though his fist ached to be smashed against
the stupidly grinning round face—“you appeared to be most anxious to
retain your post here.”

The mere mention of the Galilean made violence unnecessary; the
Procurator’s mask of laughter was instantly ripped away, and the terror
beneath it now lay exposed. “Yes, Centurion,” he began, “but since then
I ... I....” He threw out both hands as if in desperation. “I’ve had no
peace! It’s these insufferable Jews, Centurion. And the arrogant,
demanding, conniving High Priest, may the great Pluto grill him to
cinders! I must get away from these Jews before they drive me mad,
Longinus.” He stood up and glanced toward the window, then shuddered and
quickly turned away. “That Galilean, the one you crucified....”

“The one you condemned to the cross, Excellency.”

“Yes, the one _I_ condemned.” Pilate seemed suddenly very weary. “I
thought I’d purchase immunity by involving you. But I was thinking of
the High Priest on the one hand and the Prefect on the other. I never
thought of _him_. And now, now I can’t get away from him. I can’t sleep,
Centurion. He’s always there between me and sleep, his calm face
confronting me, his dark eyes studying me. It’s as though _he_ were
trying _me_! I ... I can’t get away from him, Longinus. He’ll haunt me
as long as I remain in this abominable province.” He leaned on the desk
with fists clenched. “Nor will they let him lie in his tomb and be
forgotten. Have you heard the foolish rumor”—his eyes narrowed as he
hesitated, and then he leaned nearer the centurion—“that the Galilean
has walked from his tomb and is on his way to Galilee?”

“Yes, Excellency, Cornelius told me the man had disappeared under the
noses of his guardsmen.”

“So he told me. But of course the guards were asleep. And since
Cornelius reported the man’s disappearance, I’ve been told some of the
guards were bribed by Caiaphas—Pluto take him—to say that they permitted
certain of his followers to steal the body to make it appear that he had
come to life, as they claimed he would.” He shook his forefinger to
emphasize his venom. “That arrogant Jew never relents in his efforts to
embarrass me and undermine my administration of Judaea’s government.”

“But, Excellency, the body _wasn’t stolen_. Cornelius assured me they
were all wide-awake. And there was that heavy stone sealing the
mouth....”

“By great Jupiter, Longinus”—Pilate sank to his chair, and his eyes were
incredulous—“surely you don’t believe he had supernatural power to
restore himself to life and roll back the stone?” He sat back; his eyes
were fixed unseeing, it seemed, on the wall beyond and above the
centurion’s head. “He said that his kingdom was not of this world. He
said that were he to command it, a host of his followers”—he paused, and
his eyes, intent and fearful, sought the centurion’s—“unearthly
followers, Longinus, spirits, demons....” Quickly he leaned forward.
“Could he have been in a trance after all? Could you have failed to take
his life?”

“He was dead, Procurator; I assure you he was dead when we put him in
the tomb.” Longinus leaned nearer his questioner. “But we didn’t _take_
his life. When he was ready to die, he _surrendered_ it.”

“Centurion, do you realize what you’re saying?” A sickly smile played at
the corners of his mouth, and his usually florid face was the shade of
ashes. He braced his hands, palms down, on the desk’s gleaming surface.
“By great Jupiter, Longinus, do you believe the Galilean really did
return to life, that he’s _alive now_?”

“Excellency”—Longinus looked the Procurator straight in the eyes—“what
other explanation could I offer?”

Pilate opened his mouth, but no answer came. Instead, with the tip of
his thick tongue he circled his dry lips, and a heavy sigh stirred his
ponderous frame. “I should have had the courage to resist the High
Priest and release the man,” he observed, more to himself than to the
centurion across the desk from him. “But I condemned him. Then I tried
to cleanse these hands”—he turned them over and, palms up, studied
them—“of his guiltless blood. I _could_ have freed him.” He glanced
toward the window but quickly turned back to face Longinus. “Centurion,
do you suppose”—perspiration was beading on the Procurator’s plainly
frightened face—“he will be coming back soon from Galilee ... to
Jerusalem, the Temple, to _Antonia_? By great Jupiter, Longinus”—he did
not pause for the centurion’s reply—“help me escape him! Urge the
Prefect to transfer me, send me to some post across the world from this
frightful Judaea, to Gaul, Germania, even, by the gods, to Britannia!”
His eyes were wild, his hands on the desk were shaking, and he clenched
them into white-knuckled fists. “Tell him to give you Claudia; she’s
been yours anyway all along.” He attempted a feeble smile. “But I ... I
mustn’t keep you. Centurion Cornelius will be awaiting you, Longinus.
Go, and the gods give you good winds.” His voice had calmed. “And I beg
you, Centurion, say a good word to the Prefect.”

Longinus nodded and quietly left the chamber. As the door closed gently
behind him, Pilate sat motionless, frozen in his chair. But some moments
later, hearing the commotion in the courtyard below, he went to the
window and watched the century, with Cornelius and Longinus leading the
column and the pack animals at the rear, until it disappeared around the
bend of the narrow street. Then as he raised his eyes from the
cobblestones to the huddled houses beyond the Damascus Gate, a sudden
sharp glint of sunshine was reflected to them from a white-painted
titulus board nailed to a heavy timber thrusting upward from a forlorn
scarred mound on the other side of the city wall.

“No! No!” Pilate whirled about hands before his eyes as though the flash
of sunlight had blinded him. “Flavius! Flavius!”

The startled attendant rushed in. “Yes, Excellency?” he asked.

“Go find the commander of Antonia and tell him I want every cross
upright out there on the Hill of the Skull pulled down, and by great
Jupiter, I want it done now!” Breathing heavily, Pilate sat again at his
desk. “Wait. Before you go, draw those draperies. I’m sick of the
sight.” Flavius went to the window and busied himself with the curtains,
but when he had pulled one, he discovered that he could not draw the
other all the way until the bronze stand and wine-colored vase on it had
been moved. Quickly he shifted them to the western window a few paces
away and almost directly behind the Procurator.

As he did so he saw that the sun shining through the vase shot straight
outward from the delicate glass a band of red light that crossed the
floor, climbed the back of Pilate’s chair, and went obliquely over his
shoulder to split evenly the polished surface of the desk. Flavius
turned back to the first window and pulled the curtains together, so
that not even a sliver of sunshine came through. Then he came around in
front of the Procurator. But Pilate said nothing, and Flavius withdrew
quietly, closing the door behind him.

The Procurator leaned back in his chair; his arms were folded across his
middle, and his eyes appeared fixed upon a spot above the door. But
Pilate was not seeing the ornate panels; his eyes were being held
instead in the calm and untroubled gaze of another pair of eyes....

Suddenly he shook his head, vigorously, as though to rid himself of this
haunting vision. “What’s this?” he said aloud. “The man’s dead. Of
course the guards dozed. Gods-come-to-earth, spirits, demons. Woman
dreaming. Jewish fanaticism. Bah! Cornelius and Longinus wished to
confuse and frighten me.”

_... Even if he did walk from the tomb, he can cross no seas to haunt me
with pitying sad eyes. In Gaul or Germania, anywhere but in this
despicable land, I’ll be free of him. I’ll have escaped him. By great
Jupiter, I, afraid of a Galilean carpenter. Imagine, I, a Roman soldier,
I, by the gods, Procurator of Judaea...._

“I’ll have an end to this foolishness, this child’s business,” he said
loudly. He sat up straight. “The other day I washed my hands of that
man’s death. Today, this moment, I wash them of _him_, his circlet of
thorns, his slashed back, his searching eyes, his blood, by the gods of
Rome. I’m free of him, do you hear?”

_... And I’m not afraid to look through that window at his hill of
death...._

“Flavius!” he shouted. “Come draw aside the draperies. I want to see
outside.”

He lifted his hands to the desk and, leaning forward, began to rise.

_... By great Jupiter, I’ll go look out the window now. I’ve purged
myself of the Galilean; I’ve washed my hands of that man...._

He glanced downward.

Flavius, entering the chamber in response to Pilate’s summons, halted
abruptly. Procurator Pontius Pilate, ruler of Judaea, his eyes wide with
terror, stood rigid in his tracks, staring at his hands.

From wrists to fingertips, in the fiery beam from the window, they
flamed a gory crimson.

[Illustration: Ever since the publication of his best-selling novels,
_Bold Galilean_ and _The Tree of Judas_, the name of LeGette Blythe has
been synonymous with the finest in historical fiction. Hear Me, Pilate!
demonstrates once again his amazing ability to recreate scenes from the
past with drama and authenticity. Mr. Blythe is a graduate of the
University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, is married, and has three
children.]



                          Transcriber’s Notes


--Copyright notice provided as in the original—this e-text is public
  domain in the country of publication.

--Silently corrected palpable typos; left non-standard spellings and
  dialect unchanged.

--In the text versions, delimited italicized text by _underscores_.





*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hear Me, Pilate!" ***

Doctrine Publishing Corporation provides digitized public domain materials.
Public domain books belong to the public and we are merely their custodians.
This effort is time consuming and expensive, so in order to keep providing
this resource, we have taken steps to prevent abuse by commercial parties,
including placing technical restrictions on automated querying.

We also ask that you:

+ Make non-commercial use of the files We designed Doctrine Publishing
Corporation's ISYS search for use by individuals, and we request that you
use these files for personal, non-commercial purposes.

+ Refrain from automated querying Do not send automated queries of any sort
to Doctrine Publishing's system: If you are conducting research on machine
translation, optical character recognition or other areas where access to a
large amount of text is helpful, please contact us. We encourage the use of
public domain materials for these purposes and may be able to help.

+ Keep it legal -  Whatever your use, remember that you are responsible for
ensuring that what you are doing is legal. Do not assume that just because
we believe a book is in the public domain for users in the United States,
that the work is also in the public domain for users in other countries.
Whether a book is still in copyright varies from country to country, and we
can't offer guidance on whether any specific use of any specific book is
allowed. Please do not assume that a book's appearance in Doctrine Publishing
ISYS search  means it can be used in any manner anywhere in the world.
Copyright infringement liability can be quite severe.

About ISYS® Search Software
Established in 1988, ISYS Search Software is a global supplier of enterprise
search solutions for business and government.  The company's award-winning
software suite offers a broad range of search, navigation and discovery
solutions for desktop search, intranet search, SharePoint search and embedded
search applications.  ISYS has been deployed by thousands of organizations
operating in a variety of industries, including government, legal, law
enforcement, financial services, healthcare and recruitment.



Home