Miri was definitely persona non grata in the Court of Antipas. She received no communication from Phasaelis or Antipas after she returned from Caesarea Maritima.
However, the new Roman Procurator’s first official visit to Yerushalayim was a matter of state, and Miri was considered by the elite of the Holy City to be a member in good standing of Yusef’s family. Already her spiced wine was considered the best of Galilee, a recommendation, that in the stalls of Yerushalayim was always followed by the caveat, “It’s the only thing from Galilee that isn’t revolting!” This joke was as old as the Tel of Yericho, as the North had always been a hotbed of rebellion and religious heresy since Yehoshuah’s trumpets brought the walls down, yet it still elicited a laugh whenever it was used. However, to the Roman Governor Galilee was a nest of spiders ready to pounce, and his messenger arrived with a full retinue of Roman infantry.
Demetrius was officious, despite the fact he was a slave, Greek, of the governor. However, because he was the slave of a Roman of high rank, he considered himself a cut above the mold of the locals with whom he had to deal. This resulted in a demeanour that was a ridiculous parody of aristocratic snobbery, that, if it had not been for the fact that he held the ear of the governor, and thus, represented the power of Rome, would have been hysterically comical. His unconscious awareness that others were laughing at him behind his back only served to intensify his priggishness, and barely concealed detestation of those below his station. After first insisting upon speaking with the head of her household, and seemingly unable comprehend that the title could refer to a woman, he finally, resentfully and reluctantly, handed the official invitation to Miri.
“You will complete the reply immediately,” he said, “I have a number of appointments to attend to!”
The reply to the invitation was pre-written and blanks were left for an inventory of gifts she would be bringing to the ceremony. This was a delicate matter, for if her gift was too generous, she would be moved closer to the governor’s inner circle, and a gift too small would indicate an unwillingness to cooperate with Rome, and mark her for a place on a list with others of doubtful loyalties.
“I need some time,” said Miri.
“I would suggest ten percent of your harvest,” sniffed Demetrius.
“That would be ten per cent of nothing! It is a Sabbatical Year and we have no harvest!”
“Whatever are you talking about?” snapped Demetrius.
“Surely, you know of the Sabbatical Year?” asked Miri in amazement. “It is our custom to allow the land to rest every seven years. The Seventh Year is the Sabbatical Year, in the same way that the Seventh Day is the Shabbat, when no work is performed.”
“It seems a poor excuse for laggards to laze about! Idle hands are the playground of the libertine! Have you no slaves? Why for Heaven’s sake would the land require a rest?”
“You cannot take from the Earth indefinitely without the life being drained from the soil,” replied Miri.
“Nonetheless, you are expected to give the governor a fair price for the protection of Rome, Jubilee or no!” sniffed Demetrius, “I am sure, being a Jew, there is provision in your quaint beliefs to stock up for this year of laziness! So I would still expect you to give Rome her tithing!”
“I was thinking a little less,” said Miri with a smile that would have melted any man with even a passing interest in the opposite sex.
However, haggling was not in his nature.
“We reap what we sow,” Demetrius said pointedly.
“Perhaps I could put down ten, give seven, and give you one for your troubles!”
“My income is my master’s, and bribery is not becoming,” said Demetrius.
“Do you have the previous census record?” asked Miri.
“Of course not!” said Demetrius indignantly, “This farm was listed as abandoned!”
“And the crop?”
“And,” said Miri, “A tenth of nothing would be?”
Demetrius frowned. He could not press legally for more than the listed value.
“I will mark ten, you will send six and I shall collect two. I will send someone to collect the cream of your crop within a fortnight! The rest you will present at the governor’s seat in Yerushalayim!”
Miri wrote her donation to the Empire. Amphorae of oil and wine.
Reply in hand, Demetrius left without exchanging pleasantries. The more she saw of the men in Pilatus’s entourage, the more uncomfortable she came. She shivered as she watched Demetrius and his henchmen disappear down the lane. They did not seem to be cut from the same mold as Valerius or Germanicus, and honour was only a façade they used as a weapon against their enemies. She was glad she was just a minor player in her world, and forgetting his excesses, she felt sorry for Antipas who would have to donate heavily to the governor’s purse in a big way to maintain his position as tetrarch. But at the same time, part of her was content in thinking that the worm would squirm. She was down the list on the pecking order and she wanted to stay that way.
Yotapa came out from the house for respite from Hulpa’s clutches in time to see the back of the Romans disappear around the bend to Tiberias.
“Right now, I wish I were a shepherdess!” Miri complained to the servant girl.
“If you were a shepherdess, I’d be a miserable fishwife!” said Yotapa. “It would serve no purpose!”
Echoes of her lost innocence filtered through her surroundings and Miri shook her head sadly. For a brief moment, she was a girl in the hills near Shechem. Before David died, before Egypt, before Setem. Before the world revealed herself to be other than the nurturing Mother she had once seemed. Gaia’s eternal womb had become instead a great maw serving an unending hunger for misery, suffering and death.
“Good Mother!” she said, shaking her head. “Someone save me!”
The crowds were swelled by Jews taking advantage of the Sabbatical Year to travel to Yerushalayim, and roads leading to the Holy City were jammed. Though most agricultural workers were supposedly unemployed during the Sabbatical Year, most found employment elsewhere, whether as cobblers, masons, potters, fishermen or construction workers, many used the time off to find alternative employment. These men, and women, swelled the ranks of pickpockets and peddlers hawking their wares along the pilgrimage routes. Still, the general atmosphere was of great enthusiasm, optimism and gaiety. A holiday, after all, is a holiday.
Miri, Sister Miriam, Yotapa and her brothers, Hulpa and her relatives, all traveled with Shimeon and Adam and their families. Eleazar came out to meet them at Yericho, and, after camping overnight, they traveled along the Wadi Qelt to Bethany where they were welcomed as much family as guests. Martha had been baking and cooking for days in preparation for their visit, and they lacked for nothing. Yohanna had come from her house in Bezetha in the Hellene Quarter, north of the Wood Market.
The day of the blessing of the sacrificial lamb was one that none who lived in Yerushalayim would forget. It started as any other Erev Pesach, as hundreds of Jews converged on the Temple carrying the animals they were about to offer up to Yahweh. The temple priests were at full complement and their ranks were swelled by young acolytes, who, not only assisted in the sacrifice of the lambs, but actually because of the demand, performed sacrifices. The Kidron Valley ran thick with blood pouring from the Temple gutters. Carrion collectors abounded, collecting the blood for sale for those who would paint their lintels to stave off the Angel of Death, as sacred amulets and souvenirs of their hajj to the Temple Mount, and in bulk for farmers who sprinkled the blood on their fields to ensure their fertility.
Sister Miriam and Eleazar had offered to take Yotapa and her brothers to the Temple. Miri was required to register at the herodiam palace to deposit her gift to the governor ahead of the ceremonies, so that the inventory could be made, and the order of the gifts arranged to create a building from the most meager to the most opulent. Significantly a dramaturge was in charge of the presentation. Her duty to Rome paid, Miri, Yohanna and Susanna ventured into Yerushalayim to the markets, and, in the middle of haggling over a bolt of cloth, a disturbance rippled through the agora. There were growing angry shouts and the beginning of wailing and high pitched trilling of women’s tongues, but the source was not immediately clear, but piece by piece, the news spread and reached them.
The Roman Legion that approached Yerushalayim with the new Procurator, Pontius Pilatus, had not furled its standards, and graven images displayed, were now approaching the holy city along the Joppa Road. Previous governors had honoured the priestly injunction against graven images and covered their standards when traveling in Palestine. The city suddenly became an angry anthill of outrage.
“We should go hone,” said Susanna, sensing a gathering storm. Neither Miri nor Yohanna replied, and it took a few moments for the little girl’s advice to sink in. Suddenly motivated to action, they paid for the cloth the price the vendor asked, cutting short the ritual haggling, and bundled themselves together. They quickly passed through the gate through which the Romans must pass to reach the garrison in the Antonia fortress. They squeezed through the angry crowd surging toward the entrance where the Romans would enter the city. They cut towards the Damascus gate and cut through the Wood Market outside the old city wall, and broke free of the flow of the crowd by crossing over a small hill.
From there, they could see the polished silver eagles, one atop each cohort’s standard flashing in the light of the late afternoon sun just as the Romans appeared over the crown of the last hill before Yerushalayim along the Joppa Road.
“How could he not know?” Yohanna asked, “Surely he must have been told!”
“I am sure he will lower the standards!” said Miri hopefully, “Perhaps he wants us to see his deference to the Laws of God!”
“He had better do it soon!” Yohanna said, “Even this will not be taken lightly!”
The Romans approached without slowing. Dust rising from their passage blocked the sun, and the standards, now closer were silhouetted starkly against the reddening sky.
“He’s not lowering the images!” declared Yohanna, “How could he not know?”
“He does not care about the Laws of our God!” said Miri grimly.
“Not care? How could he not care?” exclaimed Yohanna, “It will cause a riot!”
They were drawn, as was everyone else toward the main causeway from the Joppa Gate to the Temple Mount for the Romans would remain at the Antonia citadel. It was the same fascination that drew people to a fire. Or to stand and watch a man torn limb from limb without interfering. Already young men from the seminary and their churlish brothers of the street were chanting against the Kittim as they advanced upon the Temple Mount. A few began to pick up stones along the way and store them inside their sleeves to pelt the Romans when they arrived.
“Oh Good Mother, I hope they cover the standards before they enter the city!” cried Yohanna. “We had better get home!” They turned their faces to Yohanna’s house, and ran into Chuza, who was marching quickly with a full contingent of Antipas’ guard.
Yohanna called out to him.
“I have to head off the Roman infantry!” he shouted back, “Antipas has not arrived yet, and I must convince Pilatus to store his standards!” His reply was almost drowned out by the chants and shouts of the crowds that swarmed around them. Already, the small guard that was posted permanently at the fortress, was pulling the main gates closed. Veterans of Palestine, they recognized a riot in the making, and they sealed themselves into the fortress to arm and array themselves in battledress.
Miri and Yohanna ushered Susanna through the gate in the Second Wall, and using the Sefinus Tower as a signpost, they picked up their robes and hurried home, but before anyone could reach their chosen destinations, the Roman Legion descended the last mile to the Joppa Gate. The legion standards remained high and proud above the military column, and before them, ran Jews to spread the news of the blasphemy of graven images approaching the Holy City to all before them.
In the first ranks, two standards were each topped with a hand. Beneath the hands, plates were attached designating their cohort number. They had been awarded a laurel wreath. The banners proclaimed the approach of the Tenth Fretensis and auxiliaries of the Twelfth Fulminata, and their standards, also bore the letters S.P.Q.R., the initials representing the Latin, “Senatus Populusque Quiritum Romanus”, designating their service to “The Senate and the People of Rome.” Within the column a standard bearing the profile of Tiberias was held aloft. The standards all carried at the base, the horned crescent of the Eastern Legions, and a medallion of the god Mithras, the Persian god adopted by the legion as their protector. Of all the images, this would cause the greatest grief for the religious fanatics in the city, for, a foreign god would provoke the greatest outrage amongst the faithful. To make the situation worse, another of the Fulminata standards was a Bull Rampant, though made of Bronze, echoed the legends of the Golden Calf. Such idolatry was sure provocation of the local populace.
The rhythmic march of the approaching army filled the air and the rumble and screeching of their baggage train caused the ground beneath their feet to tremble. A sudden blare of their trumpets announced their presence at the city gates, which was a rallying sound for the outraged people determined that the graven images not be brought into the Holy City. Men ran towards the approaching column, intent upon shouting their outrage at the invading Kittim.
Fear and anger built as an approaching storm, and the indestructible might of Rome advanced on the furious citizens of the Holy City as a great ship of war would meet an approaching tidal wave.
The women, standing on a rise beside the wall, shielded their eyes, and watched in horror as the Romans closed ranks against the approaching angry mob flanking Chuza and his soldiers, and a volley of arrows from the rear of the Roman column arched through the air and rained down upon the guards and the people around them, as the heavy armoured cohorts moved forward to push their way through the crowd.
Miri grabbed Yohanna as she cried in alarm to prevent her from racing to Chuza’s side.
“He’ll be alright!” she shouted, “We must go back to your house, out of the way and wait for him there!”
“Why are they doing that?” screamed Susanna. Miri scooped her up and pushed Yohanna forward. A trumpet sounded. Another answered from the rooftop of the Antonia fortress, and archers and lancers in the fortress fanned out from the fortress onto the platform that ran about the perimeter wall of the Temple, better to command the crowds that were gathered and ready to confront the approaching Legion.
The Roman column slowed slightly, but never wavered from their path toward the Antonia fortress. They were met with stones and angry shouts, but for the most part, they maintained a tight disciplined order and did not retaliate. As they reached the base of the fortress, the great doors of Antonia swung open, and the entire column disappeared into the darkened interior courtyard, and the great doors swung slowly shut.
The crowd gained some courage as the swords and spears of the Romans were tucked away into the fortress, and sticks and stones rained and rattled against the smooth sides of the Antonia citadel.
With the Romans gone, Miri released Yohanna, who ran to the fallen contingent of Herodian troopers. Miri, not so willing to throw caution to the wind, carefully led Susanna after her sister. The arrows had found their mark. Three of the guard were dead. Also a boy. And a girl and her aunt. Wails of grief already filled the immediate area.
There were several wounded, and Miri tended to their wounds, using whatever linen she could rip up from onlookers to bind their wounds. Susanna, sweet as can be, instantly became her assistant and had an uncanny ability to anticipate her needs, that later caused Miri a great deal of amazement. However, in the moment, she accepted Susanna’s assistance without finding it at all remarkable. In the midst of the chaos, Antipas and his entourage arrived from Galilee. Trumpets sounded as they approached, but stopped as the crowds angrily turned on Antipas, the puppet king of the Roman Imperialists, and his court. He, now, was forced to bring his guard in close and fight his way toward the Temple.
Yohanna found Chuza alive and unblemished, though slightly bruised, and she wrapped herself thankfully about him. To the East, the Temple was jam packed, and Antipas, closing on the Eastern Gate, realized quickly his presence there had the same effect as a stick in a beehive, and he turned tail, retreating back the way he came, finally regrouping on the Mount of Olives and taking a wide detour well out of sight of the city.
Meanwhile, portable stretchers had been made for the injured and their bodies were carried high above the heads of the crowd. Both Chuza and Miri tried to direct their passage but to no avail. The crowd had decided they now had martyrs, albeit live martyrs, and carried then toward the Temple to display the bodies to the masses on the Temple Mount.
“It’s out of our hands!” muttered Chuza, “Let’s go!”
They pushed against the flow of the crowd headed for the Temple mount. Once in Bezetha, they were safe, for it was the domain of the Hellenized Saducees. This suburb was a place of serene mansions, walled and closed, fountains and and palm lined streets. There was still indignant outrage at the Roman sacrilege, but the indignation did not translate into action here. Chuza left the women at the gate of their house as he wanted to return to Herod’s Palace to make sure that the royal Palace was secured against the angry crowds.
Word had spread that the Romans had entered the Holy City with their standards unfurled, and the outrage and fury against the blasphemy was gathering strength. God’s laws had been breached and the people reacted with a passion that impelled them to assault the walls of Antonia.
The Roman garrison was safe within the walls of the castle, for sticks and stones bounced and rattled harmlessly from its smooth stone sides, and the battlements were too high for any hand thrown object to reach. However, Romans were not a race well-known for retiring before a fight, and they answered the sticks and stones with buckets of sharp rocks poured from the battlements. Several rioters were injured by the rain of rocks; the smaller pieces were still large enough to break rip muscle and break bone. The crowd fell back from the walls and out of the range of the defensive rockfalls. Many rounded the Fortress, and passed around the Bethsaida Sheep Pool and the livestock Market, braved the missiles being thrown from the Tower to enter the Temple through the Tadi Gate, but most of the rioters swung south and swarmed up the stairs towards the Western Gates, but the temple guard had already arrayed themselves three deep armed with pikes. They kept the first wave of rioters at bay, but the press of the mob pushed those in the the front against the pikesman, and several were impaled. The Guard was unable to hold the crowd back and they retreated into the Temple itself and managed to close the gates behind them. The angry mob crashed against the walls, and terrified scream filled the city as the men women and children were crushed against the wall, and others were pushed from the bridge and staircase.
Inside the Temple, the court of the Gentiles was swarmed and the crowd chanted their defiance at the Roman garrison inside the Antonia tower. Frustrated by their ineffectualness against the unyielding walls of Antonia, the crowd turned and washed through the streets, searching for an outlet. Those attempting entrance from the eastern bridge finally turned back and the rioters turned southward, and met with the stream of protestors flowing from the stairs of the Hulda Gates. These forces were joined by workers from the lower Tyropoean Valley. Any shop or stall that seemed to be foreign, Greek, Roman or otherwise was sacked and looted. Fires began to break out, and as the black smoke curled into the air, young men scaled the gates at the Hippodrome and dropped inside to open the circus to the crowd. Inside, they were surrounded by a training squad of gladiators, and clubbed unmercifully. The doors to the Gymnasium were already closed and sealed, but the crowd hammered on the doors and struck out at the building. Someone produced enough pitch to smear the walls with “Death to the Idolators!” and “Blasphemers!” on it’s heathen sides.
Like water, the riot ran downhill to the south, below the Ophel, and gathered the Tyropoean Valley, the workman’s district where goods were manufactured and the hovels of those who worked there. Suddenly, the crowd, though incensed by religious fervour, was now intent upon looting. A general resentment of the poor against the rich now took command and the workshops became targets for the destruction. Those shops and factories that did not close their doors against the rising tide were now inundated and washed clean of their contents. The riot washed up against the southern wall, and brought out from their station by curiosity, a small squad of soldiers at the Fountain Gate by the Siloam Pool was surrounded by a crowd, and were pelted unmercifully by stones. Serval of their number fell to the stones, and once fallen, they were beaten by the angry protesters. The soldiers managed to barricade themselves and their wounded into the tower. There, the smaller tower gave the crowd an easier target for their outrage and a garrison that had no ability to retaliate. Immediately, rioters began to dig out the smaller stones at the tower’s base, and tearing apart a nearby work house, they used the roof beams to ram and pry loose the masonry around the barricaded doors.
Suddenly, an alarm signal, a puff of white smoke emerged from the ramparts of the tower, as the desperate garrison called their comrades in the Fortress Antonia for aid. Already, braver young men were attempting to scale the buttressed walls attached to the watch tower.
Yohanna, meanwhile had become hysterical for Chuza had not returned.
“He can’t return until the riot is over,” said Miri by way of comfort that was no comfort. She could say nothing else. She was afraid Yohanna would leave to search for her husband.
“He’s dead!” cried Yohanna, “He must be dead!”
“No he’s not.”
The statement from Susanna quieted the house.
“He is alive,” she said quietly. “He has hurt his foot, but he is alive and is going to a palace!”
Before anyone could react, Melcaart rushed into the room. His head was bloodied, and his turban hung loosely from his head. “They have stormed the tower by the Fountain Gate!” he said breathlessly.
“Where’s Eleazar?” asked Miri nervously, for in that moment, she was afraid he might be involved. “Did you see Sister Miriam?”
Melcaart shook his head. “No, I have seen neither! I think he must be in Bethany!”
“Why on earth did Pilatus enter the city under those images?” Yohanna asked.
“He’s Roman!” said Melcaart bitterly.
The air still carried distant shouts to their ears, though the rioting was taking place only in the southern Tyropean Valley. They stayed at Yohanna’s anxiously awaiting Chuza’s return. They lit a brazier in the courtyard and sat disconsolately around the fire. Darkness fell, but they maintained their vigil. Susanna fell asleep, but Miri kept her by her side, and Chuza’s father Malichi brought out a sheepskin to keep the young child warm. Sometime after sunset, tear-streaked, Yotapa and Sister Miriam arrived, supporting each other.
“Where have you been?” asked Miri angrily.
Yotapa burst into tears and Sister Miriam dropped her head into her hands and took a deep breath.
“We were split up!” she said “Eliazar and Yotapa’s brothers were in the Inner Court, and when the crowds came into the Outer Court, we left the Court of Women to see what was happening! We couldn’t get out! The soldiers in Antonia closed the Tadi Gate, so we couldn’t get through until dark! We finally escaped through the Sushan Gate on the Eastern Wall and ran to Bethany. There was no one there, so we came back, but the city was on fire, so we came here!”
“Have you eaten?” she asked.
“Is Eliazar here?” asked Sister Miriam.
“Where are they?” asked Yotapa helplessly.
“I am sure they are fine!”
Miri ladled out some medicinal tea and poured it into a ceramic bowl for Yotapa. It dulled the anxiety, and brought a strong sense of well-being after a single draft, and the women sat with Chuza’s father to await news of their loved ones. Miri dozed fitfully until a noise at the gate brought them all to attention.
Chuza entered, limping a little, his left foot wrapped in bandages. Yohanna ran to assist him and led him to the fire. He sat down heavily. A pot of stew had been hanging over the brazier, and Chuza’s mother spooned some steaming stew into a wooden bowl and handed to her son. He wolfed it down hungrily, sucking the stew loudly, to cool the food before swallowing it. Yohanna handed him a cup of Miri’s medicinal tea, and he downed it thankfully.
“They have destroyed the tower at Shiloam, by the Essene Gate!” said Chuza, “I managed to retreat to the palace, and from there, there is a tunnel to Antonia. TheRoman guard challenged me at the doorway, but one of the garrison stationed here, vouched for me, and I went in to Pilatus!”
He looked directly at his father and mother. “Pilatus barely listened to my plea to cover the standards. It was obvious he was not impressed. ‘You Jews must learn the rule of Roman Law!’ he told me. I spoke again that we meant no disrespect to Roman Law, but his predecessors had all covered the sacred standards of the Legions. ‘I am not my predecessors,’ he told me, ‘You are under Roman Protection and you must live by Roman Rule!’ I’m afraid he was unyielding!”
“You did what you could, son,” said Malichi.
“I did nothing!” cried Chuza. “He doesn’t listen! I have sent a messenger to bring Antipas to plead the case, but it will take time! I am not sure whether he retreated to Herodium in the south or retired east to Yericho! Before I could say more, news of the storming of the Siloam Tower at the Fountain Gate came in through an undercover agent, and Pilatus vowed to reinforce the garrison inside.
He mustered his troops, and I insisted upon going with them, and offered my services as a translator. Luckily, he assented, and we assembled inside the Antonia court and in testudo marched to relieve the garrison. The rioters had overrun the garrison, and hung or thrown the guard over the parapet. They had unwrapped their turbans and tied them to javelins, and waved them as banners of victory. We grouped and formed a storm wedge through the crowd, and charged the doors. The Galileans inside threw javelins down at us, and soon emptied the armoury. Then they began prying loose the crenellations and pushed them over on us! We retreated, and brought up a battering ram and began worrying the doors again. Stones flew at us from everywhere. Two cohorts took our flanks and forced the crowd back into the side streets and we cleared the plaza by the Pool and before the tower. Legionaries worked the masonry about the doorway to loosen the hinges, while the battering ram crashed against the doors. But before we could break the walls and doors down, we had not noticed, in their own assault before they stormed the tower, the protestors had undermined the tower, and just as we broke in the door and stormed the tower, it collapsed into the street! I fear most of the men inside were killed, there were but a handful, and I think the Galileans were also crushed in the rubble.”
“Galilee?” asked Miri in alarm. “All from Galilee? How can you be so sure they were Galileans?”
“You can’t hide that accent!” said Chuza, “Your countrymen are volatile and quick to anger, Miriam. They are as reckless as Samaritans!” he smiled, but seeing her concern added, “I didn’t see anyone I recognized!”
He wiped his mouth.
“The horror of the collapse was met by cheers from the protesters, but when they realized some of their number were also killed, the mood turned sober and several protestors turned to rescue efforts! Many of the others fled, and spurred by their retreat, Pilatus ordered his soldiers to cut down the civilians that remained to rescue their brethren! I saw some killed outright! I could do nothing to save them!”
He broke down and buried his head in his hands. Yohanna wrapped her arms about him, but he freed himself and faced his friends.
“They mean to avenge the deaths of the garrison tomorrow!” Chuza said, the flames illuminating his smoke streaked face, “He plans to hunt down the perpetrators and crucify them all! There is talk of Armageddon! Men on the streets are speaking of a conflagration that will bring the Coming of the Messiah!”
“The Messiah?” asked Sister Miriam hopefully, “Have they seen him?”
“Some say so,” said Chuza, “But as far as I can tell it always the cousin of a friend of an acquaintance. I would say not, but if enough people believe in him, he will come!” He said this with some sense of bitter irony.
Yotapah and Miri exchanged a glance at the mention of the Messiah, and subconsciously, Miri touched the crescent shaped birthmark on her forehead. It tingled. Yotapa frowned.
“Why must we search for a Saviour?” Yotapa asked, “Nothing will be done while everyone sits around waiting for someone to lead us to Peace. It is up to us to create it!”
“Perhaps those who hope for a Messiah, have no faith in their fellow men,” said Haretas.
“With good reason,” muttered Chuza darkly, “With good reason!”
The next day was worse then the first.
In answer to the protest, Pilatus had shields embossed with the bust of the Emperor Tiberius and the Roman Eagle hung from the ramparts of Antonia Fortress, and along the walls of the Herodian palace where he had taken up residence. As the Fortress was attached to and overlooked the Temple from the North, all who went to the temple that day were outraged by the Imperial images hung at the Temple Mount. Again riots broke out, and in response, the doors to Antonia opened and disgorged a heavily armed , tightly knit column of soldiers. The ranks cut through the protestors quickly and left several dead and wounded in their wake. The riot broke quickly and the legionaries retired once again to Antonia, but the seeds of dissent were not so easily dissuaded. On the third day, the ranks of the protestors had swelled, and the first attempt of the Romans to break up the gathering crowds ended in a disorderly retreat under a hail of stones. Antipas arrived that evening and made a personal plea to Pilatus to remove the offending images, but such was the intransigence of Pilatus, the next day, three statues of Tiberius, Augustus and Livia were displayed along the terrace commanded by the Romans overlooking the Court of the Gentiles, though Antipas did manage to have the shields removed from his palace.
Chuza attended Antipas again, and Philip arrived from the Decapolis to add moral support his brother’s arguments. Pilatus, outraged that Antipas had removed the shields from the palace, returned to Antonia, and barred Antipas and Philip from entrance to the stronghold. They sent an entreaty, warning they would be forced to appeal to the Emperor. Herod Philip, married to Herodias, also a half-sister to the tetrarchs, and whom Miri had met briefly in Caesarea, arrived from Joppa to appeal to Pilatus. The Procurator stubbornly refused to remove the shields and again, the riots continued. Pilatus attempted to quell the riots once more, but again the Romans were repelled and forced to retreat. Pilatus was fuming, but reluctantly, Pilatus was forced to agree to meet with the Elders of Zion, and the Sanhedrin. Such were the number of petitions, he arranged for all the supplicants to assemble in the Hippodrome, for it was the only place, he said, that could hold that many.
Miri and Yohanna went as support for Yusef and Chuza, both of whom had petitioned the governor. Chuza fretted over the wording of his petition and sat most of the day before his presentation with a scribe to ensure that his paper was written in the best possible language. Miri spent the day with Yusef and Melcaart, for Yusef indicated he wished to speak with her.
She arrived in mid morning, accompanied by Sister Miriam and Yotapa. Thankfully Yotapa’s brothers had survived the riots despite the fact that they had actively participated in the demonstrations. To them it was a lark, a game of throwing stones that to them was no different than throwing pebbles at rabbits in the highland meadows. After a light meal of bread and cheese, Miri and Yusef retired to his study, and were joined there by Melcaart.
“We have news for you,” said Yusef, “Melcaart has spoken to the Alabarch in Alexandria.”
Miri’s heart skipped a beat for a moment. Her trepidation caused her to stop breathing.
Yusef shook his head and smiled. “It’s better news than you think!”
“The ambassador to Alexandria of the Kandake of Meroway, a man by the name of…” he looked into his notes.
“Aristophanes-“ prompted Miri.
“Yes,” continued Melcaart. “He has registered in the Forum there as the inheriting agent for your business concerns, to whit- A warehouse and residence in the western sector in the lee of the Sun Gate, a river freighter bequeathed by the will of Theophilos now operated by one Demetrios of Koptos, two sea-going craft-“
“Two?” asked Miri in surprise.
Melcaart traced a finger on the papyrus roll he read from. “Yes,” he said, “The Heart of Isis and The Tanis!”
“You have the only ship in the Erythrian Sea run by a woman-“
“Drusilla!” said Miri happily.
“Yes,” said Melcaart.
“Also an estate in the Fayum, and a warehouse and residence in Koptos,” finished Melcaart. “As he is Greek, no one has questioned his claim to your estates, and the Alabarch has asked me to inquire as to your health, for there is a rumour that you were murdered while fleeing the blood vow by one Anetch of Koptos for the murder of his brother Setem! The Alabarch is very sensitive to the fate of any Jews in his bailiwick, and my inquiries on your behalf piqued his interest!”
Miri reddened. She somehow had thought she had freed herself from her past, but now realized that she would never be free of the blood guilt of Setem.
“Is all this true?” asked Melcaart.
Miri looked from Melcaart to Yusef and then out the window at the sunny atrium beyond Yusef’s pillared portico. The trees danced in a happy midday breeze, and the carefree call of a songbird invited her soul to flutter out into the sky, and never return as a human.
Her throat was dry. She stared down at her hands.
“Yes, it’s true!”
“Are you responsible for the death of Theophilos?”
“I did not kill him, but he died because of my actions. I believe Anetch may have killed him!”
“I see!” said Melcaart. “I shall let the Alabarch know that you are indeed alive and well. You can trust this Aristophanes?” he asked.
“With my life!” said Miri fiercely.
Melaart smiled. “I had hoped you would say that!” he handed a scroll to her. “I have prepared a legal document for you to sign and seal, authorizing Aristophanes to conduct your affairs in Alexandria.”
She skimmed over the document. It was written in Greek. Basically, it stated that she had obtained her holdings by legal means and that Aristophanes was authorized to act as her agent and was to be given complete autonomy over her affairs, until such time as she revoked those rights. She signed and sealed the paper.
She glanced at Yusef.
“You have remained very quiet,” she said to him.
“I have nothing to say,” he replied, “Melcaart has seen to your affairs and I have known about them for some time.”
“You do not approve?”
“I am not pleased to hear about the murder of this Setem in Philae,” he replied, “Though I am sure you have your reasons!”
“Then we shall not speak of it unless you wish to,” he said.
“I do not!”
“Then there is nothing to say!” He stood up and opened his arms. “We have gone over your books at your estate in Galilee, and your wine sales have done quite well. Melcaart has been able to obtain premium prices for your wine, though the olive oil is not up to virgin standards, it still turns a tidy profit. Your barley crop is of a fine quality, but we think you may want to turn your talents to a brewery, and thus produce a product that can be sold alongside the wine. You have enough to build a brewery on your estate!”
“The smell is quite strong from the fermenting of ale,” replied Miri.
“It will chase away the smell of fish!” declared Melcaart.
“I shall consider your advice!” she said, “Perhaps I will become a brewer of beer as well as a maker of wine!”
“I would like to suggest,” continued Melcaart, “You would do well to bring some import spices from the East, and set up a small shop here in Yerushalayim. The Temple has a voracious appetite for incense!”
“It is a franchise of Haritar to supply the temple!” said Miri.
She instantly regretted bringing up the Nabatean king’s name.
Both Melcaart and Yusef stared at her unmoving.
“You have a reason not to cut into the Nabatean trade?”
Miri smiled apologetically.
“I am-“ she searched for the right word, “Indebted. To Haritar and don’t wish to interfere in his affairs. Perhaps we could supply someone else?” she suggested. “I believe most of my incense is destined for Rome. The price there is far higher than the Kohens are willing to pay! I will consider a small trade to Galilee and Samaria for there is some call for the spice there!”
She, of course, was referring to the heretical cults in the North that refused to recognize the authority of the Temple in Judea. There were a number of cult centers scattered through the Decapolis and northern Israel, though the tetrarchy of Phillip was already an open market for Nabateans traveling between Rekkem and Damascus.
“You are not the little girl I used to know!” said Yusef in amazement. “You are as strong and as rational as any man!”
“What woman isn’t?” Miri asked.
The judgment seat of Praefectus Pontius Pilatus set out on the dais of the Hippodrome. Below, in the sand of the circus stood the petitioners against his displaying of the shields that still hung from the walls of Antonia. They were surrounded as well by a number of spectators of which both Yohanna and Miri belonged. They had been forced to wait in the sun for quite a long time, and the Elders of the Temple, and more aged Rabbis were sorely tested of their resolve to protest and speak before the governor. Finally Pilatus and his guards appeared, and a large contingent of legionaries had escorted him from Antonia to the Hippodrome. They now stood in the cooler halls of the Hippodrome, and upon a signal, the soldiers stepped out and three deep, ringed the petitioners. A wave of fear swept through the crowd, and Miri’s hair stood on end. To every side they were faced by an unbroken line of Roman shields.
As if schooled in the art of striking fear, Pilatus appeared at just the right moment to prevent the trapped petitioners from reacting to the trap in which they found themselves. It seemed that Pilatus had convened his reception in the Hippodrome just to rub salt into the Jewish wounds. It was well known the Pharisees denounced the games and races in the circus as pagan abominations, and now, after being forced to await the pleasure of Rome to rid themselves of the desecration of their temple, it appeared they were about to be slaughtered wholesale. For any who harboured the illusion that Pilatus had displayed the standards and graven images through ignorance, the writing was on the wall.
The new governor had no love for Jews. No love for Palestinians. And it was apparent the Emperor, or rather Sejanus, had sent a pit dog to keep his sheep in line. And to dispel any notion Pilatus would show any compassion to their pleas, the Romans led out a line of flayed and tortured Galileans.
Pilatus stood and addressed the crowd.
“People of Jerusalem,” he began, his voice filling the stands, “These men have been tried and found guilty of treason against Rome. These countrymen have seen fit to challenge my authority, the authority of the Emperor Tiberius, and the Authority of the Senate and the People of Rome.”
Every member of the crowd was in shock. At that moment, auxiliaries entered the circus and eighteen tall poles were swiftly set upright into holes cut for stakes in the ground. Slowly it dawned on everyone, Pilatus had brought them there to witness the executions of these men who had been captured after the destruction of the Tower of Siloam. Soldiers immediately nailed the arms of the prisoners to cross beams, and the crowd surged forward to stop the crucifixions. Even Yusef had been pulled forward by the combined will of the crowd, but Miri grasped his arm. The Imperial army, to a man, drew gladii, the Imperial standard short swords, and stepped forward three paces. The crowd was penned in by a fence of Roman metal.
Amidst the cries of horror, the prisoners were lifted aloft and their ankles nailed to the cross uprights.
Pilatus called to the crowd below.
“Which of your number would be the first to protest the display of the Imperial Shields upon the walls of Antonia?”
A Pharisee stepped forward, “I am Malachi, and I respectfully ask the Procurator-”
Pilatus silenced Malachi with a wave of his hand. “I am to be addressed by Praefectus! I shall hear no one unless I am spoken to by my title. Such disrespect will be treated as treason against the Empire. Officer, make an example of this man!”
Several legionaries waded into the crowd, swords drawn, and pulled Malachi from the crowd, and stripped his back bare. He was held in place and struck three times with a cattulus, and the iron spikes on the leather thongs stripped chunks of the Pharisee’s muscle from his shoulders. The crowd cried out and several men rushed forward to rescue the unfortunate Malachi. A squad of soldiers surged forward, seized those who would rescue Malachi, laid their backs bare and whipped them also.
When their cries died down, Pilatus stood up.
“Now, who else has something to say against the People and Senate of Rome?”
The challenge in his voice was enough for the petitioners one by one, to depart the field, heads held low in shame. Scrolls, carefully prepared, littered the sand of the circus, and eventually none remained but Yusef, Miri and the whipped men to face the Romans. Pilatus sneered down at them and Yusef trembled in rage, helpless before his new adversary. Miri remained as she was the anchor that kept Yusef from stepping forward to address Pilatus, and she locked eyes with the Roman governor.
His eyes were cold, and his heart colder. Her own veins turned icy as his Soul touched hers. She dropped a veil over her face to break the spell, and slipped her hand into the crook of Yusef’s arm. She led him from the Hippodrome, and he, though they walked side by side allowed her to lead him from the arena.
The next day, Pilatus had left Yerushalayim. His statues had been stored with the priestly garments in the bowels of Antonia and he carried the ceremonial shields back to Caesarea Maritima. The presents from his subjects that were to be presented in person that evening went with him. The eighteen crucified Galileans were already dead, and the Romans, still insensitive to Jewish custom, burned the bodies on a funeral pyre, then mixed the ashes into the soil outside the city gates.
Miri was devastated. Despite knowing her affairs in Kemet were in order, she was struck by a heavy depression that almost immobilized her. For days she did nothing on her own inititave, and Yohanna worried about her. Sister Miriam took responsibility for Miri and directed her movements.
“It’s time to go home,” she announced and led Miri out to the donkeys awaiting them. Miri had been lying in bed for three days before the announcement, and Yotapa and Yitzak and Avrahim helped Miri mount Arba. Miri remained catatonic for most of the trip, and the first thing she did when she arrived was to roll away the stone and enter the tomb of the five boys and place the offerings of fresh bread and fruit in an appropriate niche. Yotapa brought a charcoal bowl and sprinkled sulphur over the coals and added some frankincense to dispel the foul odour. Miri did not seem to notice either, but together, the smell of death enveloped her and she felt at home. She fell asleep within the tomb almost immediately.
A familiar voice spoke to her from the darkness.
The goddess of the underworld appeared in the same instant that Miri called out her name, and Miri called out her name in the same instant that Erishkigal called “Sister!”
“You seem a little down!” said Erishkigal. “Not put off by a little death and suffering are we?”
Miri sighed but didn’t answer. There was no need. Erishkigal could read her thoughts.
“Cat got your tongue?” taunted Erishkigal. “You know, this is my whole world, seeing dead people. I can’t imagine why you’re so depressed. Dead. Alive! Dead, alive. There’s no difference you know!”
“Shut up!” said Miri dejectedly.
“Still not ready to join me down here?” asked Erishkigal, “I’ll come back when you’re in a better mood!”
Miri blinked. Nergal stood in front of her.
“Mistress,” he said quietly. He slowly walked away, leading the crucified Galileans in chains. All eighteen of them.
“Wait!” cried Miri, “Where are you taking them?”
Nergal smiled. “You thought all martyrs go to heaven?” He laughed. “There is no heaven! Isn’t that a joke?” he began to laugh and Miri awoke with a start.
She was still within the tomb. She shivered from the night cold and rubbed her arms. Her muscles ached and her bones were stiff. She groaned as she stood up, and she was already at the house before the cramps left her body. She was overcome with a sudden nausea, staggered to the entranceway and threw up on the doorstep. She retched until the dry heaves racked her body. She felt suddenly very, very cold and shivered uncomfortably. As she glanced about the olive grove, a dark figure stood beneath the nearest gnarled bole.
“Setem!” whispered Miri, the pores of her skin shriveling and making her hair stand on end. Her hand flew to cover her mouth and the figure silently approached. It was not Setem, she could see now the figure was too small. It was a boy, bedraggled and dressed in rags.
Miri’s brain was still fogged by sleep. She reached out and touched the ghost and felt solid flesh. The boy was real. In an instant she knew who he was.
Benjamin had returned but he was quiet and said nothing, though Susanna ministered to him and chatted happily to him, he never replied, and could not be coaxed to react to anything except the words of Susanna.
She told him when to eat. She told him to sit. To stand. To walk. He answered to no one else. If Hulda baked special little loaves for the children, he would not take the loaf until Susanna said, “Take the loaf!” It was not that he was not aware of the rest of the world, he just seemed to have no will of his own.
He helped Susanna in her household tasks, and swept where he was told to sweep. Shelled peas when told to do so. In the mornings, he stood dutifully holding Susanna’s basket under the tree by the road, but throughout he was silent. He neither enjoyed nor suffered. He stood in silent acceptance without smiling or flinching.
Yotapa was fascinated by him, and spent her idle time, which was not ample, staring at Benjamin.
“He’s so quiet!”
Somehow, her household had lost its energy. Perhaps because of the Sabbatical Year, or the influence of the new governor, but for the rest of the year, everyone performed their day to day routines, it was as they all were acting through rote. Outside the walls, the country buzzed with the news of the uprising in Yerushalayim. Apparently Yhaja, the wild man that had been met by Susanna’s challenge, had encamped near Lake Asphaltis, and called upon Jews to wash away their sins in the flowing waters of the River Jordan, and cleanse themselves to accept the new Covenant of the Lord for the Messiah was coming.
Adam had deserted his nets to join the faithful who followed this new Elijah. Shimeon had pleaded with him to stay, but he remained adamant. Adam had been in Yerushalyim during the riots and was convinced that the end of times had descended upon Israel and that all Followers of the Way needed to cleanse themselves in preparation of the Coming of the Messiah.
After about a month it seemed that the Messiah was not coming right that moment, so he returned to his family, tails between his legs, coincidentally, just in time for the end of the Sabbatical Year. Though his wife, Rachel accepted him back with little comment, his mother berated him unmercifully for his desertion, but, after avoiding her at breakfast for a week, she relented for she was sure he would fade away to nothing without the benefit of her cooking.