Saturday, March 28, 2015

Marcus of Rome: Saturday

Read part one of Marcus's story here.

Ancient Jerusalem-
Passover Saturday

Marcus rolled over onto his stomach, but the shaking persisted.
“Marcus, wake up!”
Why couldn’t he be left alone?
“Marcus!” The voice grew louder.
“Leave me be!”
“Pilate has ordered the squad to report. Now!”
He groaned as he tried to push up onto his elbows. His head throbbed. He’d drunk far too much, far too late last night. But nothing chased the images from his mind.
“Why? Why can't he use one of the other squads?” He managed to push to a sitting position on the side of his bunk.
“It’s about yesterday.”
A weight settled on his shoulders as he looked into Aulus’s eyes. Why wasn’t this over?
He stood and pulled on his tunic, then his sandals. He grabbed the rest of his armor and gear and dressed as he exited the barrack of the Antonia Fortress. The late afternoon sun bore down on his back as they followed Gaius and Lucius toward the Praetorium.
“Where’s Decimus?”
Gaius scoffed. “No one’s seen him since we left yesterday. You’re senior officer. Guess that leaves you in charge.”
Perfect. He resisted asking why they’d been summoned. He’d rather not know until he had to.
They reached the portico, and one of the imperial guards asked for the commander. “He’s…occupied. He left me in charge.”
The guard glared at him momentarily, then escorted him inside.
Pilate dismissed a pair of servants then approached, along with several members of the Jewish ruling council. “The Jewish leaders have informed me that this Jesus’s followers heard Him say He would rise again on the third day.”
Marcus raised a brow. “He is most assuredly dead. I speared Him myself.”
 “They believe He may rise from the dead.” Pilate beckoned an attendant, who handed him a seal with Pilate’s insignia along with a flaxen bag. “You know His body. Make sure it’s there, then seal the tomb and have it guarded until tomorrow.”
Marcus trudged out to the rest of the squad, waiting on the portico. “We have to guard the tomb of the Man Jesus tonight. The Jewish leaders are afraid His followers will steal His body.”
Groans from the others.
Once again, they headed out of town, trailing the religious leaders. Once they reached the tomb, the four rolled the out of the groove in front of the opening, no small feat. Marcus and Aulus checked the Man’s body.
He stood before the waiting robed men. “I can attest to you that this is in fact, Jesus of Nazareth who was crucified yesterday.”
The men scowled. “Seal it up.”
The soldiers took a rope and stretched it across the stone. Gaius melted some wax and dripped it onto one end of the rope, then Marcus stamped the seal into it. They did the same on the other side. He looked to the leaders for approval.
With an almost negligible nod, they turned and left. Another squad arrived within moments. Marcus turned the tomb over to their commanded. “We’ll take the last watch.”
Maybe Flavia would be around, and maybe she would forgive him for not showing up yesterday. He wandered down the main road through the center of town looking for the perfumery she tended.
Ah, there. He slipped into the alley. Best to check that her brother wasn’t there first. He crept around the corner, along the wall to the doorway. Poked just the top of his head into the shop. No Flavius. He took a tentative step inside. The sound of her sweet voice reached him. She must be in the back.
He tiptoed into the workroom and found her with her back to him, mixing a batch of scent. He crept behind her and slipped his arms around her waist and muzzled her neck.
She jumped, squealing. “Marcus! What are you doing here?”
“I came to see you.”
She smacked his arm. “I'm angry with you. Where were you last night?”
The gloom from yesterday crashed down on him so hard he nearly stumbled.
“Marcus, are you all right?” She placed her hands on his chest.
He drew her to him. The warmth of her almost erased his gloom.
“What happened? Can you tell me about it?”
“When are you done here?”
“Octavia will arrive any moment, but don’t let her see you. My brother will hear about us. Wait at the oak tree outside the gate.”
He kissed her and ducked out of the shop.
Under the tree, he leaned back, reviewed the events of yesterday yet again.
As a member of a specialized team of five, he’d been part of many crucifixions. The Romans handed out executions as easily as the rich handed out alms. But almost always, slaves and pirates were the ones nailed on a cross. Those guilty of high treason. Roman citizens were usually exempt from this death considered so repugnant, so humiliating, so “atrociously cruel,” that Cicero said no Roman should even think about it.
Marcus himself had crucified—how many? Too many. He was part of the quaternio—the team of four that actually carried out the crucifixions. They were fast and efficient. He planned to be the next exactor mortis, as soon as Decimus retired. His grandfather was an exactor mortis. His was one of the squads that executed 6,000 of Spartacus’s rebellious slaves nearly 100 years ago. His grandfather said crosses lined the Appian Way for 130 miles.
It was in Marcus’s blood.
So why, then, did this one bother him so much?
Less than half an hour later, Flavia joined him. She brought a blanket and food. After spreading the fabric over the grass and setting out the food, she asked again about the events of yesterday.
He crossed his feet at the ankles and told her about the trial and the march to the execution site. “The others kept gambling and drinking. I’m usually right there with them. Watching men slowly suffocate, even slaves, is not something to do sober. But the wine just…soured in my stomach. So I sat and watched the Man. One time our eyes met, and I actually felt a chill crawl through my body. But I couldn’t look away. It was as if He could look right into my soul.”
She placed her hand on his cheek. “Are you sure you want to tell me this?”
He nodded. “At midday the sky darkened, as black as ink on parchment.” He shivered at the memory. “I moved closer to Him so I could see clearly. An hour later He cried out, but His words were hard to understand. I’ve picked up a good amount of Aramaic in my time here, but His chest was so compressed and contorted…. Clearly he was troubled, calling for someone.
“Decimus came over. He said, ‘The gods are not happy. He does not appear to be like the men we usually see, does He?’”
Popping a few grapes in his mouth as the memories rolled over him, he tried to allow his mind to sort them out before he continued.
“By this time the crowds had disappeared. The mockers had gone. A few women and one man were left. Then He cried out again. ‘It is finished! Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.’ I wasn’t really sure what He meant by that. Or who He meant by Father. But before I could think about it, the ground beneath us rumbled. I was about to lose my balance, and I grabbed Decimus’s arm. The earth shook so violently I thought it would open up beneath me. Decimus fell to his knees and shouted, ‘This must be the Son of God!’”
Flavia laughed.
Marcus nodded. “He’d had a lot of wine by then.” He wouldn’t admit it to her, but though he wouldn’t say the Man was a god, He did seem to be more than just a man.
“Then a messenger came from Pilate. Since Decimus was in no condition to receive him, I talked to him. The Jewish leaders didn’t want the bodies remaining there for their holiest days, so Pilate ordered us to hasten their deaths. Which was not a problem. I was more than glad to get this one over and done with.”
She ran her hands through his hair and along his cheeks. “It’s over now, and you can relax.” She placed a chunk of cheese on a plate, along with another cluster of green grapes and an apple, then snuggled against his chest. “Will you finally get a few days off? It’s been so long since we’ve had some time together.”
He winced. “I have to stand watch tonight at the tomb.”
She bolted upright. “What? Whatever for?”
“Pilate’s afraid someone will steal the body.”
She sighed. “When do you have to go?”
He pulled her closer, grinning. “Not till early morning.”
At any rate, by the end of watch tomorrow morning, this should be over. Then he would never have to hear the name of Jesus of Nazareth again.

Join Marcus for the last portion of his story tomorrow.

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