The wind pushed clouds quickly overhead as passengers waited
to board one of the merchant ships docked in the harbor. High tide quickened
the pace of the crew to the hoarse cry of the captain. “Hurry it now, and load
the cargo below. We can’t board our passengers until it is done. I want to set
sail mid morning,” he continued, looking up at the sky, “and the wind is
Eitan purchased passage on a Corbita class ship, 130 feet in length with three decks. The first deck stored the cargo, and measured the bulk of the ship. The second level was cramped, used only for crewmen. Topside was the third deck. It consisted of a host of rigging, masts, and sails. There were two compartments, one for passengers and the other for the captain. The passenger quarters could house twenty people, of which Eitan and his family took up six.
“Brother Eitan!” Eitan turned to see the face of his Rabbi. “Brother Eitan, may I have a word with you?”
Motioning to the family to stay with the baggage, he stepped aside with his friend. “Yes, Rabbi, what can I do for you? As you can see we are about to board.” Eitan didn’t want to be disrespectful, but he was ready to leave Brindisi and its bad memories behind.
“You mustn’t leave, you are well respected and a leader in the community. The Senate has convened to discuss Tiberius’ harsh edict. Those who are citizens have a right to remain. You are a citizen, Eitan. You could stay.”
Eitan didn’t like disappointing his Rabbi, but what else could he do? Everything was sold, the tickets were bought, and the family’s grief mourned. “My dear friend and Rabbi, they have taken Tuvia, and we will never see him again. There is nothing left here for me or my family.” He looked across the sea and said, “I have always wanted to see Jerusalem and the Temple. God has made a way, and we will make a new life for ourselves there.”
The first mate was calling. “If you’re coming aboard, do it now, and have your papers ready.” If they didn’t leave immediately they wouldn’t be able to get passage again until after the winter months.
“I am sorry, Rabbi. It is time for us to depart. We must leave.”
“Let me say a blessing over you and your family before you go. I will say it quickly.” Eitan smiled and led the Rabbi to where his family waited. The Rabbi stood with his hands held outstretched and palms down. Lifting his voice toward heaven he said, “Lead them toward peace, emplace their footsteps toward peace, guide them toward peace, and make them reach their desired destination for life, gladness, and peace.”
Eitan hugged the Rabbi, and gathering his family, boarded the ship. Chaim and Yochanan took the baggage and stowed it in the passengers quarters, and when they were finished joined the rest of the family on the roof where their quarters were. Little was there but some seats and a railing. Looking over the city of Brindisi, Ariella’s heart was heavy. “Eitan, I miss him.”
He reached his arm around her and pulled her close. “I do too. God is leading us to a new home, but we will never forget him. He will always be with us.” Eitan looked to his side, and seeing his children, believed that all would be well.
Arminius was defeated, but not without a cost. Of the thousands who died at the Battle of Wesser, it was Aulus’ death that caused Gaius the greatest pain. Roman soldiers expected to die. They were trained to ignore death’s consequence, and with discipline march headlong into battle. But they were men, and though hidden beneath the rigors of military discipline, their feelings for comrades ran deep. Tears, however, were for weak men; they would mourn in the tradition of soldiers. In this matter the war was odd: it began and ended with a burial. The dead from the battle of Teutoberg, when Arminius decimated Germanicus’ troops, remained un-commemorated. When the legions of Germanicus located the battlefield, funeral mounds were prepared and the bodies of the fallen were honored. And so it was now: the bodies of soldiers were lined up side-by-side, and the process began, preparing them for their journey to the afterlife. General Germanicus ordered the bodies to be cremated and small amounts of ash were collected. They would be returned to their families in Rome, who would give them proper burial rites.
Gaius, Manius, and Appius stood at a distance as the flames and stench of burning flesh rose and licked the gates of heaven. The whole of the Roman army stood in silence, honoring the fallen. When the fire died down and the ashes cooled, Gaius scooped a small amount of ash and placed it in an urn. Holding it out in front of him Gaius performed the laudation funebris.
“To our fallen comrade, Aulus. He was a committed soldier, strong in battle, faithful in service. He was a loyal friend, both eager and ready to stand in battle and brawl. He was the first son of Decimus and Tiberia, who loved him with all their hearts. He has fallen in battle as a true son of Rome. May his journey be quickened and full of peace.”
Manius placed his hand on his friend’s shoulder, and the three men stood in silence one last time.
A trumpet sounded in the distance, and the stillness quickly erupted into activity as the legions prepared to break camp. This in itself was a great undertaking. The command had come down that General Sextus’ legion would move out first and make its way to Rome. Following behind them were prisoners and slaves. They would display their great victory with a triumphal march through the city, having the great honor of returning the Eagle Standards to the Emperor. But the glory of battle and the glory of Rome weighed heavily on Gaius’ conscience.
“Do you think it is worth our lives?” Gaius was speaking quietly to Manius as they sat around the evening fire.
“What are you talking about?” Manius didn’t like the tone of this conversation. It sounded too treasonous.
“War over other people’s land. Think about it Manius; we have traveled hundreds of miles to fight people who are merely protecting their own land.”
“You think too much, Gaius. These are barbarians. The glory of Roman civilization, order, and justice is offered to them. In return we ask for tribute. It seems fair enough to me.” He was no orator or senator; Manius was a soldier and discussing such matters was uncomfortable.
“Offering. You make it sound as if they have a choice. What happens when they decline our generous offer? What happens when they would rather live under their own rule? Do we just turn around and go home, or do we impose our generosity on them?” The stick Gaius was bending in his hand snapped. “We have lost thousands of brothers, and for what? Gold Eagles on a stick, honor and glory of victory…the life of Aulus.” His voiced trailed into silence. Manius knew that Gaius’ heart ached for his friend, but if he continued to allow such thinking to permeate his thoughts, the outcome would be ruinous. Yet, what could he do but sit quietly with his friend?
Two Praetorian guards entered the General’s tent and stood silently, awaiting instructions.
“Call all the legates together.”
They left quickly and delivered his orders. His Duplicarious was standing at his side as the General wrote letters of commendation and promotion. Battlefield promotions were not unusual. War always brought with it casualties, and if certain positions were left unattended, discipline would begin to break down. Several centurions had fallen during this campaign, and Sextus didn’t want to wait before promoting his soldiers. As the last legate entered the tent the General said, “Your casualty reports have been noted, and your recommendations for promotion have been considered. There is only one exception that I will make to your list. Legate Gallius, I want you to promote Optio Gaius Atilius to the rank of centurion under you.”
“I beg your pardon, General, but Gaius’ centurion is alive. It is unusual to promote outside of the century when a capable soldier is next in line. It could have adverse effects on the century’s morale if another soldier is promoted ahead of the rest.”
“You are very wise, my friend. Yet Gaius Atilius is not ordinary. He has distinguished himself above any other soldier under your command. He has personally proven his worth to me, and I chose to honor him in this way.” General Sextus didn’t like explaining himself, but he understood chain of command. Gallius was only concerned for the well being of his men, and the smooth running of his cohort.
“Those who have been designated for promotion have already been assembled outside, in the Principia. Shall we join them?” General Sextus walked through his legates, and they followed him into the courtyard. Twenty men stood lined up to receive either a promotion or a commendation medal. Few times are soldiers of lower rank allowed into the Principia courtyard. The honor of being singled out by the General himself was a lifetime achievement.
Each legate was handed medals corresponding to the soldiers’ accomplishments. When Legate Gallius stood before Gaius he said, “In accordance with military custom and the will of General Sextus I commend you with the medal of meritorious conduct in the face of battle.” He hung the medal around Gaius’ neck. “And, in keeping with military practice, you are promoted to the rank of centurion under my command.” Gaius’ expression prompted the Legate to continue. “Although your centurion lives, it is the will of General Sextus to promote you to the position of centurion in another century. We will discuss the details when the ceremony is dismissed.” Gallius moved on to the next soldier.
Gaius wasn’t sure how he felt. This was a great honor, but it meant leaving his friends and comrades. It dawned on him also that he was being placed over soldiers who might resent this action. When the short speeches were finished and the soldiers dismissed, Legate Gallius approached Gaius, who promptly spoke. “My lord, I am not sure that I deserve this honor.”
“Deserving isn’t the issue.” Gallius’ tone evidenced his dissatisfaction with the promotion. “Your actions and character are deserving, but your promotion to another century is the will of General Sextus. Your new century is down to sixty men. I trust that you will be able to maintain discipline. It may be difficult at first, and if you have any problems and don’t feel you can address them yourself, make sure you bring it to the attention of your superiors.” The offer of help wasn’t a kind gesture. It cast doubt on Gaius’ abilities to command. If he were to bring to his superiors a discipline problem it would show he was not ready for this promotion. He would lose respect in front of his men and the officers.
“I appreciate this opportunity. Any difficulties with the men will be dealt with swiftly. I will not disappoint you in this honor, Legate.” Gaius was dismissed, and he returned to his century to gather his belongings and make his way to his new command.
Gaius found that people responded to his promotion in two ways. His Centurion was genuinely glad for him. “Gaius,” he said, “you will do well. If I can advise you on anything it is this: don’t let your men get the upper hand. Any discontent, deal with it swiftly. In the end they will respect you for it. You have served me well, and I pray the gods will be with you.” The sentiment was the same with the rest of the men. They were brothers in arms, and brothers in spirit. They would never be forgotten.
The other response was from his new century. The glaring stares, the grumbles, and the torn century emblem on the staff in front of his tent spoke volumes. It was an unspoken challenge to his authority. So, it begins, Gaius thought. Looking over the men, his eyes landed on the century’s optio, and Gaius motioned for him to approach. Slowly he got up and made his way over to his new centurion; he didn’t come to attention. “Who desecrated the century emblem and placed it on this pole?”
“I don’t know, sir.” There was a certain mix of disdain in his voice. That was to be expected since he should have been promoted to this position.
Gaius looked him up and down. He was fit, but he didn’t look disciplined, which might have been the reason for the centurion’s death. He probably had to make up for his century’s deficiencies, and it cost him his life. “As the century’s optio, you are responsible for the actions of your men. If you don’t know the soldier who has shown disrespect, or can’t find him, then you will bear the punishment of his actions.”
Surprise crossed the Optio’s face, and any sense of defiance disappeared. He stood a little straighter and said, “That is not fair, sir.”
“It may not seem fair, but it is right. I will give you thirty minutes to find the individual and deal with the discipline yourself, or I will mete out punishment as I see fit. Do you understand?” The Optio nodded ascent and left when dismissed. It didn’t take him long to find the culprit; he had known who it was all along.
“This is Marcus Lucius, beneficiarius. He thought it would be a funny way to introduce you to our century. As punishment I have fined him three denarii, and a reduction of rations for three days.” The Optio was sure this would appease their new centurion. Surely Gaius wanted to ingratiate himself with his new men.
“Optio, call the century to circle.” In obedience he gave the order for the men to form a circle around their new centurion. Turning as he talked he began, “We have an uncomfortable situation at hand. You don’t want me as your centurion, and I didn’t ask to be here. But here we are, and on my first day I am met with a symbol of disrespect and rebellion.” At the word rebellion, the whole century broke discipline and talked to one another in astonishment. Rebellion was punishable by death!
“Optio!” Gaius commanded. The Optio called their attention back to Gaius.
“It seems that we have before us the century’s jester, and practical joker. Your optio suggests that his action was merely a prank deserving nothing more than a slap on the wrist. But we are not on a stage. We are soldiers, and discipline saves our lives. When an order is given, it is to be obeyed. When a command is delivered there is to be no question. To do less is rebellion, and rebellion is bred from disrespect. They are the same, and the punishment should be the same.” Turning to his second in command he asked, “Do you agree, Optio?”
“Yes, sir!” This was the first time that the Optio snapped to attention.
“And what is the punishment for rebellion?” Gaius could see the sweat beading on the Optio’s forehead.
“Death, my Centurion.” The words came out hesitantly.
“Death by stoning, or being beaten by his comrades.”
Marcus heard these words and wished he could take back his actions. Gaius was silent as he turned and looked into the eyes of each man. They were good soldiers, somewhat undisciplined, but not truly rebellious to Legate Gallius, General Sextus, or Rome. Yet, here he was, having to establish his credibility before ungrateful men.
“Today I have been promoted, and this should be a happy occasion, a time of rejoicing. In the spirit of my good mood I will withhold the penalty of death, and the guilt of his blood on your hands.” Turning to his Optio he continued, “In addition to your suggested punishment, you will flog him with fifteen lashings.” Gaius handed him a whip and motioned for two soldiers to hold Marcus still. The Optio flung the whip across his back with enough force to cause severe pain. Gaius could tell, however, that he held back the full force of his strength. He allowed it this time. When the fifteenth blow was administered, the Optio stood back and allowed Gaius room to approach Marcus.
“This has caused me no joy, Marcus. Your wounds will be attended by one of the camp women, and you will ride in a wagon for today.” Gaius motioned to the two soldiers to take him away.
When Marcus was escorted out, the rest of the century began to walk away. “Optio, have I dismissed the century?”
“Where are you men going? Back to attention and wait for your instructions.” The Optio said it with enough force that the soldiers fell in line quickly.
“Lax discipline is the fault of inadequate leadership. Your behavior is the result of your former centurion’s inability to maintain military regulation. In the absence of a centurion, that responsibility falls on the shoulders of your optio.” The Optio’s eyes widened. He wasn’t expecting this turn of events. “Because he has allowed the actions of his men to this unfortunate conclusion, he bears the responsibility as much as Marcus.”
Gaius looked his optio square in the eyes. "Yet again, in the spirit of my great fortune today, I am going to give you a choice. You can take the same lashing as Marcus and remain my optio, or be demoted to muifex with no hopes of promotion.” This created a dilemma for the Optio. Only a coward would choose demotion. Bearing the punishment would prove his loyalty and maintain his stature before the men and the Centurion.
“I choose the whip, Centurion.” There was finally strength and resolve in his voice.
Gaius motioned for two more soldiers to hold their optio and he took the whip in his hand. He was not as sparing as his second in command; his strokes fell full-force on the Optio’s back. To everyone’s surprise, after the fifth stroke Gaius stood back and said, “Today’s lesson is sufficient. Optio Servius has proven his worth and loyalty to you and to me. It is my hope that this will never happen again, but let it be known today, I will not tolerate disrespect. We will be the most disciplined and effective century in the legion. You are dismissed.” To a man, the whole century snapped to attention and saluted. Gaius was left alone with Servius. Grabbing his arm he helped him back to his tent. “You are a good soldier Servius. You would have made a good Centurion. Maybe one day this position will be yours. Rest for a while, but we will be leaving in three hours.”
Ephesus, a Roman port on the western coast of the Asia province, lay 500 yards off their port bow. The merchant vessel had hugged the shores of Greece, and after porting a day in Athens, sailed across the open water. The waves splashed against the hull of the ship, tossing it back and forth nauseating all of them. Shlomit was the worst. The smell of vomit began to permeate their accommodations, which didn’t help settle people’s stomachs. After three days of sailing, Zohar was glad to see land, and she hoped that while the crew replenished their supplies she would be able to get off and stretch her legs, maybe do a little shopping. Their fare for the trip didn’t include food, so the family had to secure their own provisions, and they were beginning to run low.
Ariella approached Zahor. “The ship is docking. The captain said we would be here for a day, and set sail with the morning tide. It would be good for us to get our supplies before nightfall and remain on the ship.” Eitan was already making ready for their departure. Everyone wanted to disembark, but someone had to stay with the luggage. They had no guarantee that the crew would not rob them. Yochanan said he and Shlomit would stay, and if there was time they would go to shore when the rest returned.
“Don’t take too long,” Yochanan smiled. “It wouldn’t be good for us to walk the docks at night.”
The smell of the salt sea was strong, but it soon dissipated among the smells of the city’s open market. Walking through it reminded them of home, and the familiar barking of the vendors was invigorating. “Chaim, do we have to get back on the ship? Can’t we just stay here?” Zohar was half-teasing.
“If you can convince Papa, then we can stay, as long as I am with you.” He returned the smile and took the basket from her hands to lighten her load. Chaim stopped in front of a fruit stand and inquired about the price of the produce.
“It is the freshest fruit in the market. Feel it, go ahead, and squeeze it just a little to see how ripe it is.” The vendor held out an orange.
“I think this is a little too ripe. If I cut it open now it would be full of worms. Do you have anything a little less fresh? We are on our way to Palestine and we need to the fruit to last a few days.” It might not have been a good idea for Chaim to reveal himself as a traveler, though in this small town new faces weren’t difficult to spot. Even so, prices tended to go up for those who “needed” their wares.
“You judge my fruit harshly.” The merchant feigned hurt. “I am not sure that I have anything that you are looking for, but I can give you a good buy on this fruit.” The price was more than double what the city’s residents would have paid.
Zohar was familiar with haggling. As a slave to General Sextus she often went to the markets. The key to haggling was knowing when to walk away. “Chaim, I am sure there are other fruit stands.” She took the fruit from his hand and handed back to the vendor. “Thank you for your help, but we will have to look somewhere else.”
They hadn’t taken more than six steps when the merchant called after them. “Ok, ok, I think I might have something in the back. I was waiting for it to ripen before I sold it, but seeing that you can wait for it to ripen on its own, I can make you a deal.” Pulling a small basket of apples and oranges from the back he said, “I can give you the whole bushel for two denarii.”
The fruit was still overpriced. “This is very generous of you, but we can’t afford your kindness. We will give you half that, and since the fruit isn’t ripe we ask that you throw in some dates.”
“My lady, you are killing me. If I were to sell at that price I would go broke and my family would starve to death. Is that what you want?”
“At your prices I can’t buy your produce and my family will starve. Is that what you want?” Zohar kept her gaze firm.
A large smile broke out on the vendor’s face. “Shall we meet in the middle?”
Pleased with the price, Zohar gave him the money, and they walked away satisfied. The rest of their day was the same, haggling with vendors until they had all they could carry. When they met up with Eitan and Ariella, all four were exhausted, and to Zohar’s surprise, she was glad to be on the ship again. Yochanan and Shlomit, on the other hand were eager to set foot on solid ground. They didn’t have to stay in their quarters, but standing at the railing and seeing the shore was a temptation almost impossible to bear. They helped the family stow their provisions, but were out the door and off the ship before a conversation could be struck.
The sun was setting when Yochanan and Shlomit began their walk along the pier, and they were right; it wasn’t a safe place. The shadows cast by the ships’ masts and streets leading down darkened alleys quickened their pace. Instead of vendors, beggars accosted them.
“A drachma for the poor?”
“Spare some change for my hungry children?”
“The gods will bless your generosity.”
It was unsettling and a bit frightening. “Yochanan, maybe we should go back to the ship?” Shlomit was looking around to get her bearings. “I’m not sure where we are.”
Taking her hands he said, “We will be fine. I’m sure the docks are just down this street.” He wasn’t sure, but he didn’t want his wife to know they were lost, and though she knew, she didn’t let on. As they rounded the next corner two men, large and commanding, met them.
“Hold on.” The larger one put his hand on Yochanan’s chest. “What have we here? A couple of visitors to our small community? Tell me sir, what brings you to our fair city?”
“Please,” Yochanan said, “we are traveling by ship and are out for a walk. Let us by so we can return to our family.”
“Oh my,” said the other, “they have family waiting for them. You don’t want to be late, so hand over your money and we will be glad to let you go.”
Shlomit slid behind her husband finding as safe a place as possible. “I have a couple of denarii. Please take it and let us alone.”
“Such a polite man we have here, but two denarii aren’t enough to buy a day’s meal.” Tilting his head to get a better view of Shlomit he continued, “Maybe there is something better than money you have to trade? A few moments with the young lady perhaps, and we can let you go. Minus the two denarii, of course.” He laughed as he reached toward Shlomit.
Yochanan eased himself between his wife and the man. “Leave her alone.” He threw the two coins at their feet and pushed passed them, trying to get further down the dock toward other people.
“Now that wasn’t so polite.” The larger man struck Yochanan on the back of the head, sending him to his knees, and he fell forward as if dead. The other man grabbed Shlomit, who tried to scream. He quickly wrapped her in his arms and placed his hand over her mouth. She kicked and hit as he dragged her into a back alley. For what seemed like hours the two men had their way with Shlomit, and when they were finished, they left them both in the middle of the street.
Shlomit lay crying. She didn’t lift her head to look up for fear they would return. As time passed she heard Yochanan groaning. Rising to his knees he felt the back of his head, where an intense pain was making it difficult to see. Through his haze he saw his wife lying in the road. Struggling to get up, he went over to her. “Shlomit are you all right?”
She just cried.
“Are you in pain? Did they injure you in some way?”
Again her tears were all that spoke. Fearing that they might return, he helped her to her feet and they quickly made their way back to the ship.
Eitan was standing at the boardwalk, waiting for his daughter and son’s return. He was beginning to worry. He was down the gangplank before they had time to look up. He startled them. “Yochanan, where have you been?” A mixture of anger and concern permeated his voice. “What has happened?” Yochanan pushed by him and led his wife into the passengers’ quarters. Everyone looked up when they entered, and the quizzical eyes felt judgmental. He was embarrassed because he couldn’t protect his wife, and fearful that those men did the unthinkable to her.
When Shlomit saw her mother she began to cry again, this time louder than before. Ariella covered her with a blanket and, holding her tight, waved off the advances of Eitan and Yochanan. The men quickly stepped aside, knowing that her mother’s love was more powerful than their own. Though he wanted to comfort her in her distress, he didn’t know what to say.
Chaim came up behind his brother-in-law and placed a hand on his shoulder. Yochanan jerked around in a defensive posture. “What happened, my brother? What has spooked you and my sister so?”
Hanging his head in shame, he said, “The sun set and we were lost. Out of the shadows two men approached us. At first they just asked for money, but when they weren’t satisfied with my two denarii they knocked me out. When I woke, Shlomit was crying.” Tears began to fill his eyes. “I am afraid they have raped her, but she hasn’t said anything. She just cries. Chaim, what am I going to do?”
Chaim put his arms around him. “Pray, trust in God, and love your wife. That is all we can do.” They sat together and Chaim prayed for God’s favor and the safety of Shlomit, mind and spirit.
Ariella and Shlomit sat off to one side of their quarters for as much privacy as they could find. Speaking quietly to her mother, Shlomit tried to explain. “Mama, I have been defiled.” She gulped and cried some more. “If it weren’t for me, those men would have passed by and left Yochanan alone. It is my fault.”
Stroking her head, Ariella said softly, “Evil is not your fault. You both are victims, but your wound is much deeper. You will heal in time, but you must trust God.”
“I know, Mama, but what will my husband think? He will not want to touch me again. Am I to remain childless for the rest of my life?
“Yochanan is a good man. He will not let this stand in the way of your love. Your papa will help him through this. Let me pray for you.” The soothing sound of her mother’s prayers allowed Shlomit to drift away in sleep. Ariella hoped in God, but evil men could do great damage to the heart of a woman. She only hoped, in time, that God’s grace would heal her heart.
Zohar could only look on from a distance. She didn’t know what to do, but she did know how her sister-in-law felt. Zohar’s past was littered with abuse from men. She wanted so desperately to wrap her arms around her sister and tell her it would be all right, but she knew that her path to wholeness would take time. Zohar would have an opportunity to share her own journey later. For now, it was time to pray. Being a novice she wasn’t sure what to say, but she closed her eyes and lifted her heart toward heaven and said, “Gracious God of all that is good, have mercy on your daughter tonight. From your hands come both good and evil, and out of this evil I ask for good. Keep her mind and spirit safe. Grant her peace. Grant them peace. Amen.” As the evening wore on, they all fell asleep.
By late the next morning, the ship was moving out to sea. The tide was right, and the time even more so, to leave this evil port. There were no goodbye waves from well wishers, no joyous songs of a bright and happy journey, only the pain so quickly wrought in dark alleys by malicious men. The next week would see the merchant ship docking at Tarsus, Salamis, and then finally Caesarea. By the time they disembarked for good, Shlomit’s mood had improved. Yochanan reassured her of his love, that he would not look at her any differently. Yet, even his touch seemed foreign to her now, and unknowingly she recoiled from his embrace. They were all glad to be on shore, and more importantly, in Israel. They were home, but it wasn’t what they expected.
The triumphal entry into the city of Rome was glorious. They were heroes of Rome, and were rewarded richly. The one thing that dampened the festivities was the escape of Arminius, but his generals and soldiers had been captured, killed, or dispersed. Caesar Tiberius would revel in the glory of the moment. He could once again claim the power of Rome and the stability of the world. But glory quickly fades, and that is why kings continually go to war.
Three years passed from the time of Arminius’ defeat. The fading memories of heroic deeds and the monotony of a soldier’s life was settling in, and Gaius hoped for something more. Many of the soldiers went back to their homes, farmed their land, and hoped war was far away. But Gaius had become a wandering soul with the loss of his love and friend. His command was a career, and though he excelled in all he did, what he did was not satisfying. This became most evident one day as he was training some new recruits.
“Put your back into it man, or you will find yourself at the door of the next life, only hoping to get in.” Gaius was pushing with his sword, making the man stand and fight, but with each thrust, with each swing of the blade, his opponent fell backward until he stumbled to the ground. Gaius was standing over him breathing hard, adrenaline coursing through his veins. Only at the last second he heard, “Centurion, stand down!” Gaius’ military discipline kicked in, and as an automaton he stepped back and stood at attention.
“What is the meaning of this? You are to train these men, not kill them.” Legate Gallius was visiting the training school, and it good that he had arrived when he did. “What do you have to say for yourself?”
“Permission to speak freely?” The Legate granted permission. “These new recruits are as worthless as a Jew.” Since the order of Tiberius to rid Italia of all Jews this had become a saying. “I might as well kill them now before going into battle and risking my life and the lives of real soldiers.”
“I can see your frustration, but if you kill all of them there will be no one to fight with.” The Legate softened his tone. “You need to take some time to reflect on your behavior. As of right now, I am relieving you of your duties. You still hold your rank and commission, but for now find another diversion.” The Legate gave some orders to the trainees and instructed his Duplicarious to write out the official order. When he left, Gaius was still in the training yard.
For two days he sat in his quarters, coming out only to eat and relieve himself. He wasn’t made to do nothing, and no other “diversion” would satisfy him. His heart had become hard, isolating him from his old friends Manius and Appius and the rest of the centurions. It wasn’t that the others had forsaken him, but every effort to reach out to Gaius was met with excuses and insult. This was his legacy: a twelve by twelve room, a trunk full of armor, and scars of long past victories. He sat staring at the dagger in his hands, twirling and flipping the blade, contemplating a quick and painless death. A knock on the door pulled him back from the precipice. “Come in,” he called.
It was one of General Sextus’ Praetorian guards. “The General commands your presence immediately.” As Gaius knew, commands required immediate obedience, so, he put on his dress armor and made his way to the General’s villa. He liked the power of a horse between his legs, the speed of their gait, and the pride with which they carried their heads. The ride gave him time to think and clear his head from the musty air in his room. He also wondered what this unexpected honor concerned. He hadn’t been to the General’s home for months. Gaius had thought he had fallen out of favor with his master. As he approached the villa he noticed extra guards, and knew intrigue was in the air. His presence was expected, and at each door a guard was gracious enough to open it for him. When he entered the main hall, the General was standing by the south portico looking out over the hills. “Gaius Augustus Atilius, Centurion reporting as ordered sir.” He stood at attention.
“Ah, my old friend Gaius.” The familial tone of the General softened the mood. “I have missed our games of Latrunculi. It seems so long ago that you were here.” Motioning to a chair he said, “Here, have a seat.” The General breathed deeply, and looked through Gaius and then back again. “I am sure you are wondering why I have called for you. To be honest, I need someone I can trust, and in these days there seems to be fewer of those people around. Can I trust you Gaius?”
“With my life, General.” Gaius was concerned, but didn’t talk beyond the questions.
“Good, I knew I could. In the past year there has been some turmoil between the Emperor and the senate. Some men have been threatened and others have had their threats confirmed. It is a dangerous time to be in Rome, and allegiances are being formed between the legions. We are hoping in this way to bring stability to the army and thus stability in Rome. The latest act of the Emperor has been the expulsion of the Jews, and no matter what you might think of them personally, they number in the thousands and their influence has been felt in the empire. The senate has impressed upon the Emperor the danger in expelling those with citizenship, and he has recanted on that point. Anyway, I digress.”
Picking up a cup, he took a drink of wine. It had become a staple of his diet. “Pontius Pilot is the procurator of Judea. I need you to take a message to him, but it has to be done in secret. The Tenth Legion is stationed in that god forsaken land, and the only reason for you to go is if you are transferred.” Gaius’ ears perked up at this point. “I am promoting you to Princeps Posterior of the Third Cohort to be assigned to the Tenth Legion. When you arrive in Jerusalem you will go about your daily duties, and on the fifteenth day of March you will be summoned to the governor’s palace.” Reaching over to the table, the General grabbed a pouch and handed it to Gaius. “You will give him the contents of this pouch. You are not to look at it, and you are to guard it with your life. Are you clear on this?”
“Yes, my lord. When do I leave?” Gaius was always ready, at the disposal of the General.
“Your eagerness is admirable. A ship leaves in a week. Get acquainted with your new command, those under you and those above you. If all goes well there will be stability in Rome.”
The next day Gaius introduced himself to his new commander, who in turn presented him to his century. It was a much different welcome then his first command as Centurion. This cohort was disciplined and eager to display their abilities on the field. The week went by quickly, and at its end Gaius found himself at the naval port in Brindisi, surrounded by a flurry of activity. Ships from all over the empire loaded and unloaded supplies transporting them all over the world. His ship was a large military transport, and though he wasn’t fond of sailing for days on the open sea, he looked forward to this new adventure. Many people had purchased passage on the merchant ships since Tiberius’ deportation of the Jews. He wondered how many of these men and women were heading home to the land of Israel, the city of Jerusalem. It didn’t really make any difference; he didn’t know any of them.