Every journey has an end – Seneca
As Gaius strapped on his breastplate and girded his belt, the heavy uniform felt even more so with his loss of weight. This day was the culmination of weeks of questioning and loneliness. Gaius would face his judgment with the same courage and fortitude that kept him through battle, and if he were to die, it would be with honor. He heard the key in the latch, and he lifted himself to his full stature so that when the door opened the guard would see the pride of Rome.
“Gaius it is time.” The guard stepped into his cell and stood aside to allow Gaius through the door. What he saw when he exited was more than he expected. The soldiers in his century had lined the corridors that led through Fort Antonia. They not only respected their Centurion, but they loved him. His just and rigorous discipline created efficient soldiers, and his character, fairness, and compassion had taught them how to live in a foreign land. Every man, if he could, would take his place, and the silent sentinels who guarded his path were lights and testimony of all that was good in Rome. Without a word they spoke encouragement and strength that lifted Gaius’ spirit and strengthened his resolve.
At the northern gate of the fort, Gaius was met by a contingent of four Praetorian Guards. They were the same men who escorted him each time he stood before the Tribunus. He had nothing but respect for these faithful soldiers, and didn’t hold any animosity toward them for doing their duty. They, in return, held him in high regard. Judging was not their responsibility, and it wasn’t the first time that commanders had issued orders they disagreed with. They were soldiers, however, and dispensed their duties with the same discipline no matter the person. Gaius stepped in behind the first two guards, and the other two stepped in behind him. The walk to the palace never seemed so long as it did today.
The road led though the market, past the Temple, and wound its way in the upper city to the palace. A smile formed on Gaius’ lips as he remembered the first time he had entered the Temple area, hearing the fiery temper of a young Rabbi. Never could he have imagined becoming a follower of this man, and his thoughts led him to the lower city and the roaring wind that swept him away to faith. He could almost feel the trickle of water as it dripped from his face, and the astonished look of his soldiers as they stood holding his cape and sword. It was his faith, and the commands to love that had brought an accusation and his eventual downfall. Someone, and he never knew whom, had brought this charge before his commanders. Once it had been made, an inquisition was required.
Yet, even from the beginning, the Tribunus’ questions were more from curiosity than judgment; that was left to the Legate. Legatus Vitellius was known for his harsh discipline and demanding character, yet he was neither disciplined or of good character. He was born to a prestigious family, hoped for a more glamorous post, and resented living in the dust of Palestine. It was said that he took his frustration out on the people of Israel and the soldiers under his authority. Gaius’ living conditions and isolation were at his command. That as it were, Gaius never gave in to the bullying tactics of the Legate. He stood his ground and respectfully answered his questions. When the Tribunus dismissed the Legate, or met with Gaius in his absence, the tenor of the meetings was much different. Gaius, however, would never let the change in tactic deceive him into thinking that the Tribunus could be less ruthless. Roman intrigue was requisite of political life.
As the formation made its way past the amphitheater, crowds began to form, a mixture of gawkers and well wishers. Gaius’ name had become known among the people of the Way, and many had been praying for him. They no longer saw him as an enemy occupier but a brother in Christ. Yet, others jeered at him and mocked him, glad to see one of their enemies suffering the same fate that many of their brothers had endured. He had compassion for them, because they had been mistreated under Roman rule, and though he had labored hard to be just and fair, his actions were often reversed by the cruelty of others. Their glares and mistreatment were toward the symbol of Roman aggression he had sworn to uphold, and not at him specifically; he prayed that God would forgive them.
“Gaius!” A voice in the crowd yelled. “Gaius, be strong!” And the encouraging words melted into the multitude behind him. He knew it was Aalina. God had spared and blessed her, and though his heart had been hardened for so long because of her absence, her words were as sweet as honey. God had blessed him beyond measure as well, and the circumstances of his life were directed to this moment. He had come to believe that his death was not the end, and that his faith gave hope to a better resurrection. In this moment he was no longer a testimony to the strength and glory of Rome, but to the glory and grace of God, through Jesus. He had never professed his faith eloquently before others, but tried to show it through the way in treated his soldiers, and the residents of Jerusalem who were under his watch.
Approaching the steps of the palace he saw a group of men he had come to deeply appreciate, one in particular. John was much younger than he, but God had given him wisdom beyond his years. Standing beside him were other men who had come to faith, and had encouraged Gaius many times, teaching him the words of Jesus. John had friends among the ruling class in Jerusalem, and though he couldn’t help Gaius politically, he was able to gain access to the outer court of the palace. His daring in doing so was a great encouragement, and the prayers John offered on his behalf would be far more useful than words.
When the procession stopped, it was at the bidding of a man that Gaius had not met before, but that the General had sent on his behalf. Sesquiplicarious Publius, attaché to General Sextus. He wasn’t anything like what Gaius had imagined. He was short, bald, and his uniform looked uncomfortable on him. Gaius’ expectations were low; he knew that a military tribunal was not a civilian court, and the outcome was predetermined. This was a formality before judgment. Yet, he was glad to have someone who would stand with him officially.
“Gaius,” he began, “I am General Sextus’ attaché, Publius. I will represent the General’s interest in this matter before the Tribunus.” Handing a sealed letter to the Praetorian he continued, “I have been granted an opportunity to talk to you before we enter the judgment and sentencing stage of your trial. A small room just left of the entrance will afford us some privacy.” Gaius said nothing but followed his counselor into the room. It was small with a little table and two chairs. Guards probably used it when they broke from duty and filled out paper work.
“I am grateful to the General for his generosity in sending you, but I’m not sure your being here will make any difference. I am guilty of the actions they have charged me with, though not the charges themselves.”
“Have a seat, please,” Publius said, dismissing Gaius’ objections. “It is my understanding that you, and you alone have given testimony in this matter. Is that correct?”
“No, sir,” Gaius replied, “Others who testify against me in this matter have been brought before the Tribunus.”
“Has anyone been brought before the Tribunus in your favor?” Publius asked.
“No,” Gaius had not thought of that before. But if the charges were true, what did it matter if someone spoke on his behalf? “As I have said, Publius, the substance of the charges, in regard to my faith, and how it impacted the implementation of my duties is true. The interpretation of those actions as it relates to my loyalty to Rome is what I dispute.”
Publius didn’t immediately respond, he was making notes in a small bound book, and when he finished he went to the door, handed a note to the guard, and returned to Gaius. “I think that is all I need. We have a couple of hours before the Tribunus will see us. I have some errands to run, so until I return you are to remain in this room. I will have some food brought to you. I am sure you will enjoy it more than your prison fare.” As he walked to the door he turned. “Gaius, there is little hope.” The door closed behind him and the latch was locked.
“It’s not as musty and damp,” Gaius said to himself, and once again he was left with only his thoughts. He sat in one of the chairs, leaned his face into his hands, and began to pray. He prayed for leniency, but mostly he prayed that his death would bring honor to his new faith, and the name of his family.
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others – Pericles 495-429 BC
“It isn’t fair,” Zohar was shouting, and nobody but Chaim was listening. Turning to her husband she said, “I know that man, and he would die for the Roman Empire. Why are they treating him this way?”
Chaim tried to console his wife, but her agitation didn’t allow him to hold her in his arms. “Zohar, you need to quiet your voice. Too many soldiers can hear you.”
“I don’t care.” She stepped into the middle of the street. “He’s one of yours,” she yelled at a group of soldiers standing nearby. “Why are you letting them treat him like a criminal? Do something good for a change.” Eitan stepped in front of her and pushed her back into the crowd and into Chaim’s arms.
Turning to the soldiers he apologized, “I am sorry. She didn’t mean anything by it.” He gave Chaim a knowing look and they practically had to drag Zohar back to their home. The soldiers gave it little thought. Another emotionally distraught Jewish woman wasn’t going to hurt their self-esteem. Yet, there was truth to what she was saying, and if anything it stung to know that they were helpless to do anything for their Centurion.
By the time they reached their home, Zohar had calmed somewhat, but her agitation kept her from sitting. She had to do something. For her, that meant cleaning or cooking. She didn’t want Chaim telling her everything would be fine, and his gentle words of encouragement felt patronizing. Chaim tried to be calm; he had to admit that deep down he couldn’t wait for this to be over. Gaius’ presence was a wall between them. She spoke too freely about him, and he felt second in Zohar’s affections. As quickly as he thought it, he knew he was wrong. He loved her and he knew she loved him, but this strain was becoming too much. “Eitan, I need to go for a walk.” Before anyone could say otherwise, he was out the door.
Chaim headed toward the Temple. It was majestic and its presence was felt no matter where you were in Jerusalem. The Temple was both terrifying and comforting, knowing that God’s presence was in their midst. Rome’s presence had made many doubt God’s providence, feeling that he had abandoned them, but others taught that their disobedience had brought on their subjugation. Then there was Jesus … it was all too confusing, and before he knew it, Chaim was standing outside the Temple where a group of men were teaching.
“Jesus said that if you destroy this temple he would rebuild it in three days. He was speaking about himself, and when he was put to death he lay in the grave for three days, but the grave could not hold him. Through the power of God in him, he was raised from the dead to new life. God then sent his Spirit to dwell in us to fulfill the prophet Ezekiel, who said, ‘And I will take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh.’” With many more words the preacher was convincing people to trust in the name of Jesus.
Chaim listened intently, and before he knew it he had moved closer to the preacher asking, “How can I be saved?” Eagerly receiving him into their fold, they took him to a nearby pool to be baptized. When he came out of the water he could feel a relief, a freedom from the burden that weighed heavy on his heart. He understood that his love for Zohar had to be free from the constraints of jealousy and fear. After counsel from his new friends he went home, and immediately Zohar knew he was a different man.
Be a craftsman in speech that thou may be strong, for the strength of one is the tongue, and speech is mightier than all fighting. ~ Maxims of Ptahhotep, 3400 B.C.
When the door opened, Gaius’ guard greeted him. “You are to follow me to the great hall.” Gaius didn’t hesitate and entered the marble hallway as he had done numerous times before. After Publius’ parting words, he wasn’t surprised that his litigator wasn’t there to walk with him. It doesn’t do anyone’s career a favor to be attached to a losing cause. As before, he knew he would face the Tribunus alone, but that did not discourage him. In fact, the Tribunus’ demeanor toward him helped assuage any fear of standing in his presence. Gaius closed his eyes as he walked. He was taken back to the first time he had entered these halls. The slap of leather and the footfalls echoing off the marble walls had become familiar friends. Without looking he could tell when they approached the large doors as the soldiers’ pace slowed and the echo faded away.
The great hall was no longer decorated for entertainment. The Tribunus’ judgment throne had been set in the center, and four chairs sat to its right and to its left. Behind them, Praetorians stood watch over their masters, ready to protect them from any potential danger. In front of the throne, about twenty feet away, a small dock had been constructed for the accused. Gaius stepped in, and a gate closed behind him. There wasn’t a chair for him to sit, but as a soldier standing for long periods was common. He was happy for the meal that Publius had provided him.
Legatus Vitellius stood and faced the accused. “Tribunus Marcellus, Governor of Judea and Samaria, we stand before you today to hear your judgment and sentence against the accused, Centurion Gaius Atilius. The charge against him is as follows:
On the 4th day of Maius, the 21st year of Emperor Tiberius, you, Gaius Augustus Atilius, Princeps Posterior, of the Third Cohort, of the Tenth Legion, were charged with subversion. By undermining known and proven practices of military discipline, you have led the men under your command to doubt the wisdom of Rome and the order that has brought her glory. In addition you have accepted the position of an atheist, rejecting the providence and power of the gods, and embracing solely a single, minor deity of a backward people. Having been adjudicated by your commanders, and being a Roman citizen, you have been brought before your legatus for questioning, judgment, and the proclamation of sentence.
“By your own admission you confess to your atheism and lax discipline among your troops. Before Tribunus Marcellus declares judgment is there anything you would like to say to the tribunal?”
Before Gaius could utter a word Publius slipped out from behind him and began to speak. “Tribunus Marcellus, Legate Vitellius, and esteemed commanders of the Legions of Rome. I am Sesquiplicarious Publius of the First Cohort in Rome under General Marcus Sextus Tribunus Cohortis Ubanae.” The General’s name carried weight among the Tribunes of Rome. By invoking his name, Publius was exercising his right to speak before the tribunal. “It is not the intent of my master to interfere with the working of your legion, but in this instance he has taken a particular interest.”
Legate Vitellius was visibly perturbed with this interruption. “Sesquiplicarious, the investigation into the charges against Centurion Gaius have been extensive over the past few months. I am sure your master’s concern is well intentioned, but a little late. What more can you contribute, in the short time that you have been here, that hasn’t been investigated already?”
“I am sure, Legate, that you are a competent prosecutor, but other than Gaius’ own testimony, no one has stood with him in his defense.” Publius was being polite, but his dismissal of the Legate’s abilities was evident.
“Sesquiplicarious,” the Legate continued, using his lower rank as a tool of humiliation. “As you are aware, the Tribune has thoroughly questioned the accused on numerous occasions. Therefore, not only have I investigated, but the governor as well. Are you saying that between the two of us something more needs to be said?” He said this as he turned and looked at Tribune Marcellus. “Besides, this is not a civilian court, but a military court, and the accused is not inclined to counsel. Only the courteous nature of the governor has allowed the accused to go for so long without final judgment.”
“It is General Sextus’ great appreciation and respect for the governor that has allowed me to be here today.” Turning from the Legate and facing Tribune Marcellus, he continued, “If it is the will of the Tribune I will step back and relinquish any further discussion in regard to Centurion Gaius, and stand on your gracious wisdom and judgment. But, if it so pleases you, I would like an opportunity to balance the testimony that has been brought against the Centurion by Legate Vitellius.” Publius was directly challenging the Legate’s case, and calling into question the testimony that had been presented.
“Sesquiplicarious Publius,” Tribune Marcellus began. “I have found this whole affair both interesting and troubling. Troubling because a decorated Centurion has been brought up on charges of subversion, and interesting because his integrity and character don’t coincide with the charges. However, I doubt that what you have found in your short time of preparation will be sufficient to persuade me from my judgment. But, out of respect for General Sextus, and the honor of our cohort I will allow you to present your case.”
“My lord, and honorable members of the tribunal, thank you for your patient consideration.” Publius turned toward Gaius and gave him a quick smile. “I would like to present to you as a witness for the defense, Munifex Quintus.” He motioned to the Praetorian at the door to let the soldier enter. Quintus stood to the right of the dock at attention, and looked straight ahead. “Quintus,” Publius continued, “how long have you served under Centurion Gaius?”
“Three years,” he replied.
“In that time, have you seen a change in his behavior toward his troops?” Publius asked.
“Centurion has always been a strict and disciplined leader. In the three years that I have been under his command I have seen and experienced the consequences of his discipline.”
“In what way has the Centurion maintained discipline in his century?”
“Tribunus,” the Legate interrupted. “Is it necessary to recount the Centurion’s history of military discipline? It was his job to maintain order, and his responsibility isn’t in question.”
“That is true,” Publius admitted. “His responsibilities aren’t in question. The charge laid against him is that because of his new faith he has become lax in the administration of his responsibilities. It is only just that we hear from those under his command about how that discipline was carried out.” Not giving the Legate time for a rebuttal, Publius turned back to Quintus. “You said you experienced discipline under the command of this Centurion; can you explain its nature?”
Quintus was hesitant to speak, but he had been given assurance that his testimony would not result in any other disciplinary action. “I had been cheated in a game of chance. At the time all I had were suspicions, but when I felt my suspicions were confirmed I went into my comrade’s tent and took my money back. He accused me of stealing before the Centurion.”
“And what did the Centurion do?”
“He called those who were playing the game together and questioned us in regard to the game. None of the others would admit to the cheating.” Quintus was visibly angry at the results.
“Quintus, is that all your centurion did?” he encouraged.
“No. Since we are not supposed to be playing games of chance, the Centurion docked everyone a day’s pay. But because I had ‘stolen’ money he had me flogged in front of the century.” Quintus slightly lifted his shoulder remembering the pain.
“That seems to be a just and right course of action for the infraction you made.” Publius was standing in front looking at Gaius. “Quintus, when did your larceny and punishment take place?
“Five months ago, just before the Centurion was arrested.”
“Was this an unusual occurrence?” Publius asked.
“I am not sure what you mean.”
“I mean, did Centurion Gaius always use such harsh punishment to maintain discipline in the ranks?”
“In the three years that I have served under his command floggings have only been used a handful of times. Most of the time men were docked pay or rations, or given extra duty.”
“This is what I mean,” the Legate interrupted again. He was trying to divert attention from the timing of the punishment to the extent of the punishment. “I have served my whole life in the military and know the workings of a century. There are fights and thefts all the time, and the need for harsh discipline on a consistent basis is what keeps the men in line. Are you saying that your centurion rarely used proper discipline?” The Legate’s question confused Quintus, but he kept his composure.
Publius quickly interceded. “Let me rephrase the question for you Quintus. Was it necessary for your centurion to apply consistently harsh punishment to maintain order and discipline in his century?”
“Centurion Gaius maintains order and discipline through example and respect. Everyone knows if they cross the line the Centurion will administer harsh discipline without hesitation. But he has taught us that as Romans we have an obligation to maintain our honor and duty to the glory of Rome.”
“Is it not true that Centurion Gaius would forgo discipline where you might think he should have been harsher?” the Legate interrupted. He was trying to gain control of the inquiry. He didn’t want this soldier to derail his case.
“That’s all that is necessary. You, as a common soldier, know that harsher discipline is expected, yet your centurion has neglected its administration.” Turning toward the judgment seat he continued, “Tribunus, what more do we need? The Sesquiplicarious’ own witness admits that the Centurion is lax in his discipline.”
Publius walked over to Quintus and told him he could be dismissed. “Tribunus, thank you for your patience. Quintus, by his testimony has demonstrated that even after professing his faith, Centurion Gaius still administered discipline within the strict dictates of military protocol.” Publius motioned again to the guard at the door. “I have one more witness that I would like to present before my lord.”
The doors opened, and to Gaius’ surprise Centurion Cornelius entered the room. Gaius’ gaze followed him as he approached the dock and stood silently beside his friend. “This is Cornelius. He is attached to the regiment in Capernaum. Centurion Cornelius has had a distinguished career in the military in Palestine, in the province of Galilee. His reputation of a fair and just commander is known throughout the cohort. In fact, the Legate has decorated Centurion Cornelius himself.” Legate Vitellius hadn’t expected that Publius would go outside of Jerusalem for a witness. “Centurion Cornelius, tell us how you know Centurion Gaius.”
“We met during one of the Passover Festivals. Centurion Gaius and I worked together in providing order in the city.”
“What is your evaluation of him as a soldier and a leader?” Publius asked.
“Centurion Gaius is an unusual leader. He has a thirst for knowledge, and used his knowledge of the Jewish people to find the best means of keeping order. If that required force, he would administer it. If it called for patience, he would hold his hand. Our task as centurions is as much diplomatic as military. Some centurions would rather start with force, but Centurion Gaius thought force to be the last resort.” Cornelius’ respect was evident in his glowing report of Gaius.
“It is well known, Centurion Cornelius, that you are sympathetic to the beliefs and customs of the Jewish people. How have your position and responsibilities been affected by your sympathies?”
“It is my belief,” Cornelius explained, “that the Jews respond better to understanding than force.”
The Legate had to step in. “Centurion Cornelius, how did you enforce discipline among your troops? Being understanding of a subjected people did not change how you maintained order in your century.”
“When order needed to be maintained I used the necessary force to get my point across.” He saw a slight smirk on the Legate’s lips. “However, good leadership uses harsh discipline as a last resort. The morale of our troops is better maintained through helping them see their part in the Empire’s plans. When that is insufficient to elicit respect, then harsher discipline is required. It is my understanding the Centurion Gaius has used both with great success.”
Before the Legate could say anything, Publius stepped forward and thanked Centurion Cornelius for his testimony and dismissed him. Cornelius glanced knowingly toward Gaius and marched out of the room. The tension in the room between the Legate and Publius was thick. Legate Vitellius felt this young upstart was close to crossing the line of disrespecting a superior officer. Yet, the Tribunus had not interrupted and called him to stand down. He hoped that Publius was finished and they could move to judgment.
“Again I thank the Tribune for your patience in this matter, and I ask you to forbear a little longer.” Looking at the Praetorian Guard the door was opened and the room began to fill with fifteen Centurions. The Legate turned to the Tribune and raised his hands in a questioning motion.
As the Centurions poured in the Tribune stood. “Sesquiplicarious, this is more than we talked about. Explain yourself.”
“Please pardon my presumption on your good grace. Centurion Gaius has been charged with neglecting military discipline as a result of his faith. I sent a non-binding note to centurions in the surrounding area, and asked if they would be willing to stand in support of their fellow Centurion. There was no pressure for them to participate. These men who stand before you do so of their own free will. If I were to question them we would hear similar testimony as we did from Centurion Cornelius. It is not my intent to bore you with endless rhetoric, but to visually represent the respect and honor these men have toward Centurion Gaius.”
Tribune Marcellus sat down and waved him to continue. The Legate was less patient. “This is a charade, Tribune. Certainly these men, however noble their hearts, would stand in solidarity with one another. Not to do so would be to stand alone if ever they were brought before the Tribune. It is a nice gesture, but it has no bearing on the charges against Centurion Gaius.”
“The charges, my lord, suggest that Centurion Gaius’ faith would cause the breakdown of military decorum, and hurt the cause of Rome. I contend that the opposite is the case. It is his change in heart toward his fellow man that instills the loyalty of those under his command. These centurions represent a wide swath of beliefs and military implementation, yet they all stand as testimony to the character and effectiveness of Centurion Gaius’ leadership.” Publius stepped forward into the well of the court, positioning himself between the Tribune and the Legate. “All of the testimony and the silent witness have all been to establish the Centurion’s innocence of the allegations. But it has come to light that something more insidious lies at the bottom of the charges.” Those seated to the right and left of the Tribune began murmuring among themselves, while the Sesquiplicarious walked to a soldier standing behind Gaius.
“This is ridiculous,” the Legate blurted out. Turning to the Tribune he spluttered, “Sir, I move that we stop this circus and make a judgment. We have given more attention to this matter than is prudent. It can only lead to further disruption of governing the Judean province.” The Tribune gave Legate Vitellius a stern look, and the Legate stepped to one side. He didn’t know what was going to happen, and wasn’t sure he wanted to know.
“Tribunus Marcellus, members of the tribunal, I hold in my hand a letter from Duplicarious Vibius Maximus of the Judean Cohort. It was written to the Tribune, but never reached its destination. It has the broken seal of the governor’s office. The soldier who was ordered to intercept the letter has come forward at grave danger to his own life. Let me read to you its contents.
From Duplicarious Vibius Maximus of the cohort in Judea, to the governor and General of the legions in Judea, may grace greet you.
As I had been instructed I began an audit of the Legions’ finance after the deposal of the previous governor, Pontius Pilot. I have found evidence that the former governor had used the finances of his office in ways that were not consistent with or for the glory of Rome, but to enrich his personal fortunes.
However, upon further investigation, I found that someone under his command used the diverted funds for their own profit. Legate Vitellius, aid to my master the Tribune, has been embezzling from the Legions’ coffer for over seven years.
Blood rushed from Legate Vitellius’ face, and looking around he could see there was no escape. “My lord, the Duplicarious was killed and his body disposed of in the Kidron Valley, outside of Fort Antonia. On a routine patrol, Centurion Gaius found the body and reported it to the Legate, awaiting further instruction. He was told that the matter was turned over to the Praetorian Guard. This lie kept Centurion Gaius’ curiosity at bay and allowed the Legate to dispose of the remains once and for all.” Every eye was on the Legate as his once confident exterior melted away to reveal the terror that lay beneath. “The Legate brought these trumped up charges before you hoping to rid himself of the only person who knew of the body. Based on this evidence, I ask that this court dismiss the charges against Centurion Gaius, and deal with the Legate as they see fit.”
With a flick of his hand, the Tribune motioned for a Praetorian to arrest the Legate and take him to the same cell where Gaius had been housed. Standing he declared, “It is with gratitude to Publius that I dismiss all charges against Centurion Gaius. From this moment on he is reinstated to his command, rank, and privileges.” He dismissed the tribunal and all who were in attendance and then retreated to his quarters.
Gaius finally exhaled. “I don’t know what to say. I would have never imagined that the Legate was out to get me. Thank you.”
“Thank General Sextus who sent me. I started the investigation the moment I arrived and worked tirelessly until you were called before the Tribune. I am just glad that in the end you were vindicated.” As they walked out the door and into the marble colonnade it was lined with soldiers who snapped to attention. They understood the intrigue of Roman life, and that at any time they could be at the mercy of someone in authority over them. Their respect for Gaius had brought them out today. He not only stood as an example of Rome, but as a beacon for truth.
At the end of the procession stood Quintus and Centurion Cornelius. Stepping in front of them Gaius snapped to attention and saluted; there was no greater honor. Turning to Publius he said, “I am really hungry, and I need a bath.” With a lighthearted slap on the back, the Sesquiplicarious led him down the hill and back toward the fort. But the soldiers weren’t the only ones waiting to hear the verdict. Zohar, Chaim, and the disciple John stood near the Coliseum hoping to see Gaius walk by. He stopped in front of Chaim, placed a weary hand on his shoulder and said, “Aalina is a fine woman. I know that you will take care of her, and I hope that we can be friends.” He looked at Aalina, smiled, and continued his walk toward the fort.
“I’m sorry he didn’t speak to you, Aalina.” Chaim thought she would be hurt.
“He said more than you can imagine,” she replied, ready to put her past behind.
Gaius was glad to be in his quarters alone, which surprised him after being cooped up in a small cell for so long, but the day had been long and he wanted to reflect on all that had happened. He wondered about his life, where he had come from and how it had brought him so far away from home. All he ever wanted was to serve the empire with honor and integrity. He was willing to take a life and give his for her glory. Now sitting alone after being falsely accused it all seemed empty, and he felt so small.
God, however, hadn’t left him alone. In the strangest ways he had preserved him all these years, and brought him to this point as part of a grand tapestry woven by the Creator’s hand. He had witnessed the life, death and resurrection of his Savior. He had witnessed the outpouring of his spirit. He had come to believe and accept by faith the loving grace of Jesus, the Messiah. And the very people who opposed his new way of life had saved him through many of his trials.
What tugged at his heart lay outside the door of his little room. Changing his clothes, he donned civilian attire, and walked out of his quarters, out of Fort Antonia, and out of the city gates. Gaius wasn’t sure how far he would walk, but he knew he wouldn’t stop until he had left behind the fading glory of Rome.