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Authors: Kathleen O'Neal Gear

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BOOK: The Betrayal
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Kepha says, “Well, that's better than being charged as a magician by the Romans, where the sentence is death by crucifixion.”
Yeshua's dark brows lower. In a very soft voice, he says, “I pray God does not require that.”
His words bring tears to Maryam's eyes, but whether they are tears of anger or mourning, I cannot tell.
“Yeshu,” she says, “Only Praefectus Pontios Pilatos can condemn a man to be crucified. Surely the Council would not refer such a case to the praefectus.”
48
All eyes turn to me.
“Truly, I do not know. I think it doubtful that the Council would bother the praefectus over such a matter, but I can't be certain. Kaiaphas is genuinely terrified about the possibility of a revolt.”
Kepha says, “Then we should enter Yerushalaim as planned and take our chances. Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death, if necessary.”
A small, sad smile touches Yeshua's face, as though he knows something Kepha does not, and it's breaking his heart.
Yeshua draws his himation up over his shoulders and through a long exhalation says, “We will enter Yerushalaim as planned. The End is coming. The Kingdom must be revealed.”
He rises and his followers rise with him. One by one they file out of my house into the lavender hues of dawn.
When there are only three of us left, Yeshua looks at Maryam. “You were too quiet. I had hoped you would say more.”
“Kepha makes me hesitate. I'm afraid of him, because he hates all women.”
49
“Kepha does not determine who has the right to speak and who hasn't, Maryam. Whoever the Spirit inspires is divinely ordained to speak, it doesn't matter whether he is male or female. You must not let him silence your words. I need to hear them.”
Maryam glances at me, then whispers, “Yeshu, I know you have confidence in Kepha, but I tell you he is not trustworthy. He is faithless and fickle. I fear you will find out his true nature
—

“Enough,” he gently chastises her, and kisses her lips again. They stare into each other's eyes. It is a quiet, beautiful moment. Rumor has it that she is his
consort, his lover,
50
though neither of them has ever said this aloud. Still, I have only heard Yeshua mention loving two women: Maryam and her sister, Marta.
She looks up at him. “Master, promise me you will not risk yourself this week. I couldn't bear it if … .” She can't finish the sentence.
“If I were to die?” He smiles tenderly when tears fill her eyes. “Have I not told you that a man or woman becomes what he sees, Maryam? If you see death, you become death. If you see light, you become light. If you
—”
She continues the teaching for him. “If you see the
mashiah,
you become the
mashiah.
If you see the Father, you become the Father. See yourself, and what you see, you shall become.”
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“Yes,” Yeshua praises. He strokes her hair. “Our time here is over. Let's go before we further endanger Yosef.”
“Yes, Master.”
Maryam ducks through the doorway.
Yeshua remains a time longer, looking at me. A man could get lost in those eyes. I cannot tear my gaze away. “Yosef, if the worst happens, will you ask the Council not to refer my case to the praefectus? I would rather have my own people judge me.”
The words are like daggers in my heart. “If it comes to that, I will. But let us work very hard to make sure that neither the Council nor the praefectus charge you with a crime.”
Yeshua places a hand on my shoulder, and closes his eyes, as though savoring these last moments with me. He smiles, but it is a frail, frightened gesture.
“I came to crucify the world, Yosef. I'm not sure it can be stopped now.”
52
He walks by me, through the door, into the day.
It is the morning of Nisan the 10th. I will never forget …
 
Yosef woke with a start, his heart pounding, and tore open his shoulder wound. He bit back the cry that climbed his throat as warm blood drenched his clothing. The first glimmers of dawn had touched the sky, and begun to chase away the stars.
He reached out to shake his companion. “Mattias, wake up. It's almost dawn.”
The young man rolled to his back and rubbed his eyes.
They'd spent most of the night running across the muddy mountain,
evading soldiers. He'd lost count of how many times they'd stumbled and fallen. Mattias' white robe was a good reminder of how difficult their escape had been. It was filthy and torn to shreds. Bloody scratches and bruises shone in the gaps.
Yosef looked down at his own robe. It bore many of the same signs of their flight, rips and caked mud. Clotted blood glued his robe to his shoulder. Mattias had, as well, cut off the hem of the linen garment and used it to bandage Yosef's shoulder. But his fine indigo-colored cloak looked worse. Golden threads frizzed the edges of every tear like a perverse fringe. Impossible to mend, he would have to discard it.
Yosef made a vain attempt to comb his filthy black hair away from his round face.
Mattias sat up. “Do you think they're still looking for us?”
“Of course they are. And if we do not reach the house of your friends before full light, we are certainly dead men.”
Morning arrived cool and bright, without a cloud in the sky, though streamers of smoke continued to stretch over the desert and fill the air with an acrid scent.
Pappas Lucius Meridias pinned his black cloak over his left shoulder and continued toward the charred husk that had been the monastery. The sound of weeping floated on the wind, and he could see dozens of people moving through the ruins like smoke-blackened scavengers. Had they been here all night? It was a wonder they hadn't been killed by collapsing walls or roofs.
The dome of the basilica remained, as did several of the great arching hallways, but the monks' cells were little more than smoldering debris.
Three men stood in the oratory doorway, waiting for him.
Meridias strode forward. When he reached the door, the men in black bowed. He stepped inside. The shrine to the Magdalen still stood on its pedestal. The white marble was coated with soot, but otherwise it looked untouched. Surely it was a miracle. Everywhere collapsed roof beams lay jumbled, many still burning. Red flickering embers glittered across the floor.
He said to the leader, “Loukas, did you find the body of Brother Barnabas?”
Loukas wet his lips nervously. At the age of twenty-nine, he was an accomplished killer. He had the face of a big cat, with a broad nose, slanted
green eyes, and short red-gold hair. A failure would damage his reputation—as it had on one very notable occasion in the past. Not only that, the emperor might have him executed for it.
“No, Pappas, we didn't.”
“You searched his cell and the library?”
“We searched every room and every body. He is not among the dead.”
Meridias' gaze drifted over the other killers. “The emperor will not be pleased.”
A charred dead body lay to his right, just inside the door. “One of yours, Loukas?”
“Yes. Mattithiah. He was—”
“Don't tell me his name. Don't tell me anything about him. He failed his emperor and his God. His name will be forgotten in heaven.”
Loukas stiffened, but wisely kept silent. His accomplices, however, whispered among themselves. The Militia Templi fervently believed that their reward for doing the work of God was eternal life and happiness.
Meridias saw the open trapdoor in the floor of the oratory, frowned, and said, “What is that?”
“It's a crypt. We found it when we were searching the ruins. There are several coffins inside, plus many books and scrolls.”
Meridias picked his way through the burning embers, and looked down into the crypt. Large stone steps had been hewn into the wall. Coffins were stacked four and five high on one side. The other side was filled with shelves of books, scrolls, and loose leaves of papyri.
“Abba Pachomius said there were one hundred monks here. Were any others missing?”
Loukas' cold green eyes glittered. “We counted ninety-seven bodies, therefore three men are missing.”
“And Jairus Claudius Atinius?”
Loukas shook his head. “He was not among the dead.”
“You're sure? His name now is Cyrus. Brother Cyrus.”
“I served with him at the battle of Milvian Bridge on the Tiber. He was a large, impressive-looking man with fierce eyes. It's been thirteen years, but I would know him in an instant—no matter what name he has taken.” He squared his shoulders. “As would any soldier who served with him.”
Meridias noted the hatred in Loukas' voice, and said, “We hired you to give you a chance to redeem your previous failures. Though none of us could have imagined it would take you years to search monasteries across Asia Minor, Palestine, and Africa to find him.”
Loukas looked very much as though he'd enjoy getting his hands around Meridias' throat. He said, “He did not wish to be found, Pappas. He made it particularly difficult. His appearance is much changed—though his eyes are the same. That's how I recognized him.”
Meridias peered down into the crypt again. The scent of ancient parchment and lamp oil rose.
Barnabas, widely known as “the Heretic,” had once studied in Caesarea—the administrative capital of Roman Palestine—with the famed scholar, Pappas Eusebios. The library at Caesarea, consisting of more than thirty thousand volumes, had been a breeding ground of heresy.
53
Meridias assumed that there were simply so many books they confused the mind.
Through a series of recent interrogations, Meridias had learned that, while serving as research assistant to Pappas Eusebios, Barnabas had made a discovery that threatened the very foundation of the True Church. He could still hear the grave voice of Pappas Silvester:
A monstrous thing. No one must be left alive who can spread the lie.
Or worse, Meridias thought, prove it.
A breeze whimpered through the oratory and black veils of ash whirled across the floor. As Meridias covered his nose with his sleeve and waited for them to pass, he wondered why his superiors had not ordered him to eliminate Pappas Eusebios, as well.
Eusebios was definitely a heretic. At the recent ecumenical council in Nicea, Eusebios' doctrinal arguments with Eustathios, the pappas of Antioch, and Athanasios, the pappas of Alexandria, had been heated, and though the old man had finally agreed with the conciliar decisions regarding the fleshly resurrection of Iesous Christos, the virgin birth, and the list of approved books, he had complained mightily that such decisions would fragment the Church rather than unify it.
54
These were desperate times for Christians. The Great Persecution had ended only fourteen years ago. Anyone with a shred of wisdom knew they had to do whatever was necessary to assure their own safety, which meant they had to codify the tradition, hone the teachings, no
matter the cost. Establishing the Truth and eliminating heretics was a necessary beginning.
His gaze moved over the hundreds of books in the crypt. He did not know exactly what books the emperor's religious advisers feared most, so it was better to be thorough.
He turned to Loukas. “Burn this crypt. Make certain none of the books survive. Then find Barnabas and the others and carry out your orders. If they have any documents with them, any at all, you are
not
to read them, but destroy them immediately.”
“Of course, your excellence. I will, however, be required to call in more resources to pursue them.”
“Why?” Meridias snapped. The need for secrecy was paramount. More men on the trail meant more loose ends.
Loukas said, “I suspect Atinius fled down the river. It is the fastest escape, and he may even make it to the sea before we can stop him. But he has fooled many men before. He may be leading them overland. Three people cannot possibly cover all the possibilities. Therefore I request permission to hire two
sicarii
.”
55
“I presume you know these ‘dagger men' well?”
“Yes, Pappas.”
Meridias hesitated. “Do it, but do not tell me who they are. I don't want their souls on my conscience.”
“I understand.”
The young man standing beside Loukas cleared his throat. He was perhaps twenty, a student killer at best, of medium height, with brown hair, and a totally forgettable face that vaguely resembled a fox's. “Pappas, there is one other thing you should know.”
“And that is?”
“The washerwoman who lived in the hut beside the river is also gone. We did not find her body. She may be with the monks.”
Meridias waved a hand. “She is a woman. Probably illiterate. She is of no consequence.”
BOOK: The Betrayal
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