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Authors: Frederick Ramsay

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The Eighth Veil (10 page)

BOOK: The Eighth Veil
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“Rabban, you do not have leave to speak to your king in such a manner.”

“Yet I must. We suffer from the oppression of our overlords from Rome. Is that not enough? Must we also invite the Lord’s wrath as well?”

The king began to sputter a reply but Gamaliel held up his hand. “You are to plaster over those pagan images, you are to convert that space into a proper
mikvah,
and you will tell your people they must use it ritually every day.”

“You cannot…you do not have the authority to say these things. You do not give orders to the king.”

“Yet I have done so, and will again. My duty, Highness, is to keep the nation obedient to the Law—king or servant, slave or free, man or woman. The Lord will not suffer disobedience forever. We will mend our ways or we will be punished, make no mistake about that. And the suffering brought at the hand of the Lord will make the rule of Rome seem like a mother’s slap.”

“Rabban, this interview is at an end. There will be no more questions of me, the queen, or the princess.”

Gamaliel bowed and signaled his compliance. The king left the room red-faced and fuming. Gamaliel twisted the Prefect’s ring on his finger and for the first time appreciated the fact that Pilate had saddled him with this task. Whether he solved the murder now or not was of little or no consequence to him anymore. He had a higher calling here—to bring the palace to repentance and into line. The Baptizer had tried and lost his life in the attempt. But the Baptizer was not the Rabban of the Sanhedrin. The palace would bend the knee. Oh, yes, finally he, the Rabban of the Sanhedrin, knew why he’d been called to this place.

Chapter XII

The sun hovered over the roof tops in the Upper City to the west and Gamaliel turned his thoughts toward home and supper. He still had one or two tasks to attend to before he could leave for the day, and then he hoped to find some level of tranquility in familiar surroundings and put the whole gritty business away until the following day. He gestured to Chuzas to follow him outside.

“Steward, have you any news of this Graecus? I will want to speak with him as soon as I possibly can.”

Chuzas avoided making full eye contact with him. He fidgeted and plucked at his sleeve. “The king said you were to cease the interviews.”

“Is that how you heard it? Let us be clear, Chuzas, the Prefect has authorized me to do what I must to bring this matter to a close. What the king does or does not want may or may not be relevant, but is of no interest to me one way or the other. Do you understand? Recall please, I asked you a question and your reply did not answer the question I posed. Now, I will repeat it and this time you will please respond. Have you any news of Graecus? I wish to know if you have had any luck in unearthing him.”

“No, Rabban, there is nothing to report. I feel certain he has gone to ground.”

“We shall see about that. Secondly, you misunderstood the kings directive. He said the royal family is no longer to be harassed. Unless you are suggesting this Graecus is also a member of the family, I will speak with him. Are you suggesting that?”

“Am I what?”

“Are you suggesting that Graecus is part of the royal family in some way?”

“No, certainly not.” Chuzas eyes darted over Gamaliel’s shoulder, a sign he took to indicate the steward had something besides telling the truth in mind.

“No? Very well. Further, as the king only specified himself, the queen, and Princess Salome, to be left at peace, I insist you schedule a session with the man, Menahem, for tomorrow morning as well.”

Chuzas stood mouth agape, then collected himself and nodded his assent. Gamaliel did not believe he would get much more from him anytime soon and turned to dismiss him.

“Oh, and one last thing, please send the captain of the guard to me on your way back to the palace.”

Chuzas left, shaking his head and muttering. Gamaliel found Barak and motioned for him to sit with him.

“Barak, I need to have a word. You know of the sinful behaviors practiced in the palace?” Barak looked uneasy, glanced over his shoulder at the departing Chuzas, and nodded in agreement. “Good, then you and I must do something about it before the Lord rains down his wrath on all of us.”

“Sir, do you truly think that could happen?”

“As we know, the Lord moves in mysterious ways old man, and he has put up with much of late, so I cannot promise you that. Who knows? But you remember the stories you learned as a child, surely, of the exile, of the Judges and the Amorites and the Amelakites sent into the land to punish us for our disobedience?”

“Oh yes!”

“And you remember he sent one judge to redeem us from the oppressors?”

“Gideon?”

“Yes, and today, you will become our Gideon.”

“I, Rabban?”

“Yes, well in a way. I will not ask you to raise an army, of course, not in the usual sense. But we must do what is needed to stay the Lord’s hand. I wish you to organize the servants, those in close contact with the royal family in particular, but only those you can trust. They will be your army, a silent army doing the Lord’s work. I need to know everything your masters do, what they say, with whom they correspond. Do you understand?”

“But dare I do such a thing? What will happen to them if the king finds out?”

“What will he find you doing? Surely in your years of experience serving this king and the one before him, you have noticed that the rich and powerful treat servants as though they were invisible, deaf, or if not deaf, certainly stupid. They speak of any and all things without a thought in the world as to whether their servants can hear and understand.”

Barak’s worried expression eased and he nodded and grinned.

“You have noticed. Good, then you will know what to do. I will not be asking you or your comrades to do anything out of the ordinary, Barak. I do not want them to change what they do, when they do it, or make any alterations in their routine. Just listen and tell me what you and your fellow servants, slaves, whoever, hear during the course of their duties, understand?”

“Yes.” The old man hesitated, then nodded.

“Your wife, her name is…”

“Minna, sir.”

“Minna, yes. She will be a great help I am sure. Yes, good. I will see you tomorrow, Barak, and you can give me your first report.”

He dismissed Barak and pivoted toward the gate as if to leave.

“Ah, it is the captain of the guard.”

That man had entered the courtyard earlier and had stood a respectful eight paces away until Gamaliel finished with Barak. When the old man left, the captain stepped forward and saluted Gamaliel.

“The king’s steward says you requested me to attend to you.”

“I asked to see you, yes. Do you know the man named Graecus?”

“Yes, sir, he is a guest of the king.”

“What else can you tell me about him?”

“Very little. We are not taken into the king’s confidence as a rule.”

“But what have you heard?”

“He is said to be an envoy sent from up north somewhere to negotiate a trade agreement. I cannot confirm it. I was told by the guards assigned to him that he has lately dropped from sight—probably left the city.”

“When did you or one of your men last see him?”

“That would be yesterday. We had guards posted at the entrances to the baths with orders to keep everyone out until you were finished with your inspection.”

“When was the watch set?”

“Immediately after the alarm was raised.”

“And did you keep everyone out?”

“We did…well, that is not exactly true. The king and queen made a visit to the site of the murder.”

“Anyone else?”

“No, sir. Wait, yes, as a matter of fact there was someone else. The king’s steward came through once.”

“And when was that?”

“The morning before the attendants drained the bath. And the man you seek attempted to enter on two occasions but was turned back.”

“Thank you, Captain. That is excellent. I congratulate you on your efficiency. As soon as possible I want you to form a search party and comb the palace and, if necessary, the city for Graecus.”

“You do not believe he has fled the city?”

“That, of course, is a possibility, but my instinct tells me that he is still somewhere about. He will not leave—not just yet. I could be mistaken but I do not think so. To flee would constitute a near admission of complicity in the girl’s murder, don’t you think?”

“Yes…well possibly. There could be other reasons for leaving just now.”

“His disappearance immediately after a brutal murder might be nothing more than coincidental, yes, but, as I said, I do not think so. I grant it might be. In any case, seek him out and bring him to me, if and as soon as you can.”

“Where shall we begin?”

“Captain, I have no doubts about you or your men. You know more of how one goes about searching a palace than I do or ever shall. I leave that to you. Proceed as you think best. If and when you do find him, bring him to me, in chains if necessary. I would have words with this Greek.”

The guard saluted again and left to assemble a party to search for Graecus. Gamaliel, satisfied and very tired, made his way home just as the sun, now large and golden, finished its descent and quite suddenly winked out.

Yom Revi’i

Chapter XIII

The next morning, while still at table finishing his morning meal, Gamaliel received a messenger sent by Chuzas. Menahem, it read, had been called away temporarily. He would, however, make himself available to The Rabban of the Sanhedrin at the eighth hour. Gamaliel told the messenger to wait while he prepared a message of his own. He thought a moment and then dictated a brief report for Pilate. He listed the steps he had taken thus far and the thoughts he had. He did not include his ideas about the pendant. He did request the Prefect’s help in locating Graecus. He sent the young man off to the Antonia Fortress and returned to finish his breakfast.

What he must do next occupied his thoughts as he chewed absently on a crust of bread and a slice of hard cheese. There was the business of the pendant, of course. He should visit Agon and mark the jewelry fabricator’s progress. He should also confer with Loukas. He had had the corpse for several days now and the girl needed to be interred. She should have been in the ground well before now, but given the exigencies of the situation, he thought he could bend the law a bit. But not for much longer. There were but two days left before Shabbat. Time was running out. But one question still needed an answer before he buried the child. Who was she?

He left his house and headed for the Sheep Gate. He would call on the physician first.

***

Loukas occupied a solid stone house outside the city walls beyond the Sheep Gate. It had the high walled court at the back typical of the area except the rear wall had been fashioned by removing a portion of the hillside. The builder had cut into the limestone and dressed it so that it formed a perfectly perpendicular façade that joined the side walls to form a rough square. Gamaliel scratched at the physician’s door. A servant of indeterminate sex and uncommon ugliness answered. The aroma of garlic, olives, and herbs enveloped him with the door’s opening. Gamaliel asked if the physician were in. The servant nodded and beckoned him to enter. Gamaliel declined.

“Tell him I will join him in his rear court.”

He walked along the narrow pathway beside the house and stood by the heavy cedar gate. It had no latch on its outer side. If it were closed, it could only be opened from within. In a moment, it swung open and he stepped into the court. The servant closed, relatched the gate, and disappeared. Loukas stepped into the open and greeted his friend and frequent opponent in debates about the world, the gods, the future, people in general, and the Roman Empire in particular. Loukas had a table and benches set up in the shade of a olive tree of indeterminate age. Loukas gestured for his guest to sit and poured a cup of wine as he did so.

“Greeting, Gamaliel. I have asked Dracos to bring us other refreshment. Do not say no. You cannot refuse me. I have saved this small skin of new wine just for this occasion. It is not of pagan origin, I promise you.”

Gamaliel waved off the speech and took a seat on a stone bench carved from the same buff limestone as the house, the walls, the hillsides, and indeed the entire Holy City. There were times when he wished his people would emulate the daring of the Greeks, and color the stones in bright reds and blues. Anything to break the monotony of an endless sea of beige.

“What can you tell me of my murder, Loukas? Have you anything new for me? Time is short. I must see to her burial. I have stretched the Law enough already. But before Shabbat, surely and I should have arranged for a
Shomer
. It is preferable that
shomrim
be members of her family or friends, but that was not possible.”

“It is a law that applies to the Jews. Does it also apply to pagans like this girl?”

“That is the problem. I do not think she is pagan. I am certain she is one of ours. In any case, I cannot take chances. She must be in the ground soon.”

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