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Authors: Kathleen O'Neal Gear

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BOOK: The Betrayal
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He thrusts his scroll out for his clerk to take, then exhales hard. “You asked what evidence I have of ben Pantera's treason. During their floggings, the two Zealots told me that ben Pantera likened conquering Rome to a very valuable ‘Pearl,' and said they should forsake even their families to obtain it. He told them he would welcome their help.” Pilatos makes an airy gesture with his wine. “I call that treason. What do you call it?”
Faint tendrils of understanding are twining around my heart, crushing it. Pilatos is a clever politician. Surely he has been considering for some time the best way to be rid of the Zealots.
“I call it lies.”
Pilatos' smile fades. “You admire him. I know that, but try to see this through my eyes. When a man stands so accused, three courses of action are open to me: I can find him guilty and sentence him, I can find him not guilty and acquit him, or I can decide the case has not been proven and ask that further evidence be produced. Of course, if the accused confesses, that solves the matter. So, let us proceed and see which way these proceedings go. Decurion, bring Yeshua ben Pantera into the Secretarium.”
“Yes, Praefectus.”
Pilatos turns his back to me and strides into the small, curtained room where hearings and trials are conducted. I see him sit upon his
sella,
his seat of judgment. His white toga falls in sculpted folds around his sandaled feet. When Yeshua is brought forward into the Secretarium, the clerks pull the curtain closed for privacy and station themselves outside. The decurion backs away, and to my surprise, Pilatos' hand appears and shoves the curtain open, so that I can see him
—
or perhaps so he can see me.
This mystifies me. I know the rules. Once these proceedings begin, no one outside the Secretarium is allowed to speak. It's called a
Secretarium
because the proceedings are supposed to be secret. Surely he can't be planning on carrying on a conversation with me. Roman law is clear:
vanae voces populi non sunt audiendae,
the vain voices of the people may not be listened to.
96
“Come forward,” he orders Yeshua.
Yeshua kneels at Pilatos' feet.
Pilatos' brows lift, as though he suspects the gesture is an obsequious appeal for leniency. I know it is not, since I've seen Yeshua kneel before his own disciples, as well as the lame, the sick.
“They call you
Rab,
do they not?” Pilatos asks.
97
Yeshua closes his eyes again and his lips move with a silent prayer.
“Shall I call you that?
Rab?
” Pilatos presses. “Are you a teacher? A great chief? A wise man?”
Yeshua whispers, “Everyone that is of the Truth hears my voice.”
Pilatos glances at me, and hisses, “His voice, not the emperor's.” He turns back to Yeshua. “I have heard many of the Ioudaiosoi say that you are the son of David. Are you a king? The king of the Jews?”
Almost forlornly Yeshua exhales the words, “You say so.”
“Is that a yes or a no? And take care in answering me, for pretending to be a king is treasonable under the
Lex Julia,
the Laws of Rome.”
Perhaps suspecting he's walking into a trap, Yeshua wisely says nothing.
Pilatos heaves an annoyed breath. “Let me clarify so that I am sure you understand the charge. It is a capital offense known as
crimen laesae maies-tatis
to claim to be the king of a province under Roman rule, unless the emperor has nominated you as the king of that province, as the emperor did for your King Herod. But I do not believe you have been so nominated. Have you?”
Yeshua replies, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, wouldn't my followers be fighting for my release right now? I came into this world to bear witness to the Truth.”
“I didn't ask about the bravery of your so-called followers, I asked if you were a king. I assume if you have a kingdom
—
wherever it is
—
then you claim to be a king. Is that correct?”
Yeshua stays silent.
Pilatos' dark brows plunge down. “Perhaps I have misunderstood your answer. Are you telling me that you are not a king in a political sense, but rather in a theological, moral sense?”
Yeshua's mouth tightens.
98
Pilatos turns to me. “Ioses, surely you see that pretensions such as this make his offense all the more grave. He claims that his kingdom is not comprised of
this puny little remote province, but is divine and universal. He has set himself and his kingdom up against the divinity of the emperor and Rome. Only the kingdom of the immortal Tiberias Caesar is divine and universal.”
This sends a flood of red, hot blood surging through my veins. Now I understand why he left the curtain open. I am his witness. He wants me to report what I have seen to the Council.
I open my mouth to object, despite the consequences, but Pilatos says, “Ioses, even if I did not have the testimonies of the Zealots regarding his treasonous words, I could not allow such contempt of the emperor to go unpunished. Surely you see that.” He rises to his feet and passes sentence: “Yeshua ben Pantera, in accordance with Roman law, I find you guilty of treason against the holy Roman Empire. I sentence you to be crucified on this day, along with your conspirators Dysmas and Gestas.”
Then he turns to me and smiles as he says, “Decurion, take him to his cell, and as a favor to my good friend Ioses of Arimathaia, I order you to scourge ben Pantera until he's half dead. That should hasten his death on the cross. He won't suffer so long. I'm a generous man, aren't I, Ioses?”
99
The decurion waves his soldiers forward and they surround Yeshua and march him away.
100
A stinging sensation filters through my body. I feel light-headed. Somewhere deep inside me a voice keeps saying,
no,no,no
…
Pilatos glances at me and starts to walk away.
“Praefectus, please give me a few moments to speak with you.”
“You are my friend, Ioses. Of course.”
I can barely stand, and he smiles as though the morning has been a trifling matter.
“By Jewish law and custom, we must bury our dead before nightfall on a feast day. I humbly request the right to take down and bury each man who dies today.”
The God of Yisrael demands that I show the same generosity of spirit for the other two criminals that I do for Yeshua. And Yeshua … Yeshua would expect that what I do for the man whom I love, I also do for the strangers whom I know not.
101
“But Ioses, you know it is Roman law that a crucified man may not be buried. Such bodies are to be left on the cross until beasts and birds of prey devour them. We even post guards to make certain that friends or family members
cannot take down a corpse. In fact, unauthorized burial of a crucified criminal is a crime.”
102
“Yes, I
—
I know that. But we both also know that the emperor or his officers may grant special authorization to bury such a convict. You yourself have given such permission on occasion. I'm asking that you, once again, grant a special dispensation to allow me to bury them.”
An expression of annoyance creases his lean, dark face. “If these Zealots had been convicted by the Council of Seventy-one, what would happen to their corpses?”
I wonder why he's asking. He couldn't care less what happens to Jews. “It is against the law for any person to bury or mourn a criminal executed by a Jewish court. Such convicts are buried by the court in the court's graveyard, outside the city walls.”
103
Pilatos frowns, as though thinking. “Then if I grant you a special burial permit, I will appear particularly generous, won't I?”
“Oh, yes, very generous. And I assure you the Council will be deeply grateful.”
Pilatos signals to his dark-haired clerk and as the young man rushes across the room, he says, “Write out a burial permit for Ioses of Arimathaia.”
104
“For all three convicts?” the clerk asks.
“Yes, all three, providing they die today. But
—,
” Pilatos adds, “bring me the nails.”
“Yes, Praefectus.”
Pilatos gives him a cold smile, says, “
Valete,
Ioses,” then turns and walks away.
The clerk says, “If you will wait a few moments
—”
“I'll wait.”
The clerk leaves.
My thoughts are disjointed, flashing from one image to the next, as though I've been struck in the head and can no longer piece together even the simplest of puzzles.
There is only one thing I know for certain: Pilatos has no idea what he's about to do. A holy man who perishes at the hands of the oppressors of Yisrael will join the ranks of heroes who, throughout history, have sacrificed their lives for the faith and paved the way for the ultimate liberation of Yisrael. He's about to turn Yeshua into a holy martyr, a man whose name other men will
fight and die for. A man who, by the end of the day, every Zealot in the city will be ready to die for.
I suddenly go numb.
A breath of cool wind eddies through the hall, and causes the lamps to waver and spit. Yellow light flutters over the walls.
Dear God.
A riot is just the excuse he needs to attack the Zealot camp and wipe out every last man. With the streets clear because people must remain in their houses, his legions will be able to move unheeded, to slaughter at will.
And, for the first time, I know Gamliel is right.
105
Loukas flattened his body against the shadowed cliff, and watched the horses on the beach. They walked with their heads down, as though too tired to place one hoof in front of the other. He'd watched as Atinius and Kalay had disappeared into the cave, leaving the two inexperienced youths to guard the entrance. He'd been working his way from shadow to shadow since that time, and the young monks had not even glanced his way. Now and then they spoke to each other, but he couldn't understand their words.
He let his gaze wander to the boulders that lined the shore. From this vantage, they resembled a curving mouth filled with broken, rotting teeth.
It had taken meager effort to find this place, ten well-placed questions in the local villages. Everyone knew of Libni the Hermit, or Old Scary, though only a few knew the exact location of his caves.
Loukas motioned to his accomplices. The four men slid forward, and one by one, ghosted past him. Loukas watched with narrowed eyes. Why on earth Pappas Athanasios had chosen these men from all of the defenders of the faith stationed in Alexandria, Loukas did not know. They were too old to be given such responsibilities. Gray shot through their short hair and eyebrows, glinting in the moonlight. And, despite their muscular frames, Loukas doubted they had the agility to respond to a well-timed assault. At least they wore black togas that blended with the darkness. That would give them a small edge.
Not that it mattered. They had one purpose here tonight. To Loukas it seemed ludicrous. All the more so since his second humiliation at the hands of Atinius in Leontopolis. He needed but reach down to remind himself of the wound to his manhood and pride.
I just hope this new plan of yours works, Meridias.
For a long time, Loukas' world consisted of standing with his back pressed against the damp, cold stone, watching the Egyptians' slow advance, and straining to hear.
Despite his desperate need to watch Atinius bleed, and to wring terror from that she-devil of a woman, he would follow orders.
He always had.
BOOK: The Betrayal
8.43Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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