The Imperial Fort
When we arrived at our destination, I was apprehensive yet excited about the prospects ahead. I once had the ambition of joining the legions as a scribe. Though I had wanted to be stationed in Galilee, the prefect had sent me with a band of misfits to Antioch. That is when my journey began. The skirmishes we shared with rogue auxilia and bandits had not prepared me for my ordeal as contraband after my band was attacked in the desert, and yet I survived all of it, even the auction in which I was sold as a slave. Now, after being rescued by a Pharisee and finally reaching my original destination, the same opportunity enticed me as I contemplated a visit to the imperial fort. After the ordeal in the desert, my goal had changed: I wanted to go home....Or did I?
As we rode down a sloping highway through the hills, the first wondrous thing we saw was the sea, glimmering like a jewel in the distance. My heart seemed to catch in my throat. I remembered Jesus letters describing the Great Sea. His ship had almost sunk, and yet he had prayed until the storm ceased. Jesus had traveled with his benefactor Joseph of Arimathea to several distant ports, but all I needed to do would be to take a short voyage to Joppa, and I would almost be home. This thought was intriguing but also farfetched. I had five mules now. Even if they allowed me passage with my beasts, I couldn’t afford the fare. So that left me with only two other choices: attempt to visit with Aurelian, the prefect of the imperial garrison in hopes of becoming a scribe or somehow make my way back to Nazareth. On all accounts, the question was how?
Ahead of me at last, as we entered the port side, was Antioch, the third largest city in the Roman Empire. An endless panorama of white marbled buildings on each side of the cobbled road dazzled my eyes. As the carriage rolled down the main road into the city, the horses and mules slowed down to a trot. With bated breath and pounding heart, as I sat fidgeting in my saddle, Marcellus rode up suddenly, giving me one short command, “Thaddeus, fall out. I must have a word with you.”
Without hesitation, I broke formation and galloped back to the end of the procession. I could imagine how this looked to the Jewish guards. It was a good thing they couldn’t hear what Marcellus had to say.
“Listen to me Thaddeus,” he said sternly, “I heard the Pharisee talking to his friends inside the carriage. He said: ‘Thaddeus has blood on his hands and in his heart. He’s more Gentile than Jew. I would have paid his passage home, but I’ve wasted enough money on that lad. When I reach my estate, I’m retiring. We will all go our own separate ways.’” “That about sums it up,” he added with a sigh. “It appears as if he’s washed his hands of you? What did you do to anger him so?”
“Oh, it’s a Jewish thing,” I replied with a shrug. “Because of the blood I shed and my contamination from Gentiles, he wanted to have me purified in the Temple, but he knows that I’m not repentant. All I want to do is go home. I think he’s disappointed that I didn’t show him the proper enthusiasm. The truth is, I’m not the least bit sorry for my experience. I admit it was a plunge into the dark to attempt to join the legion. This bothered him very much, not me. The truth is, I’m disappointed in him too. When I taught his guards about our holy scriptures, he was jealous. He scarcely believed it when he discovered I had almost perfect recall.”
“What do you mean?” Marcellus cocked an eyebrow. “Are you talking about your memory? You memorized your holy scriptures?”
“Most of them,” I looked over at him hopefully. “In different languages too. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve always had this gift. I thought it might help me get a job as a scribe—”
“Are you serious?” He frowned in disbelief. “If that’s true, I know who would hire you in a flash!”
I was stunned by his statement. Removing his helmet, he ran a hand through his black curls and pointed to a distant point in the city below. “That’s the imperial fort,” he announced with a sigh. “If what you say is true, Thaddeus, our legate—any of Rome’s generals—would need such a gift.”
“Listen, my friend,” I reached out eagerly, “I can prove it to you. Give me any document. I will memorize it then quote it back to you in Greek, Latin, Aramean, and Hebrew. If I were to study the Parthian language awhile, I would learn that too. There are patterns to languages. I once learned from my teacher that if you listen to a group of men for a long enough time you will hear all the important words of his language.”
“All right,” he said, pulling a scroll out of his saddle bag, “this might convince me. Read this and then quote to me its contents in all the languages you claim to know, beginning with Latin.
It was a copy of Virgil’s Aeneid. At the time, however, I had never heard of this great writer. Perhaps it was too profane for my curriculum. I will never forget Marcellus reaction when, after a few moments, I quoted a passage in Latin almost verbatim:
“There will be others to beat the breathing bronze with greater skill and grace. So others too will draw out living faces from the marble, argue legal cases better, better trace the motions of the sky, and so pronounce the cycles of the stars. For you, O Roman, it is due to rule the peoples of your Empire. These are your arts: to impose peace and morality, to spare the subject
and subdue the proud.”
To prove my point, I followed this quotation up with its Greek, Aramean, and Hebrew equivalent. When I was halfway through the Hebrew version, however, he held up his hand, befuddled and agitated.
“Stop!” He sputtered. “That’s impossible. I can see why your benefactor, an educated man, found you insufferable. I’ve never heard of such a thing!”
“No offense Marcellus,” I said accusingly, “but you just did. That’s exactly the attitude I suffered from Elisha.”
We had fallen back from the procession down the highway. Traffic in front of us and coming in the opposite direction was much greater than what we encountered in Tarsus. This gave us time for our discussion. I listened to the legionnaire mutter to himself awhile as he clutched his reins.
“All right,” he grumbled, placing his helmet back on his head, “I’ve heard it with my own hears and seen it with my own eyes, but we deal in maps more than scrolls” “What about map coordinates?” he asked, reaching into his saddlebag, “can you memorize those?”
“Awe, that’s easy,” I pshawed, twirling my fingers. “It’s much simpler to memorize labeled drawings, which is what maps are, rather than abstract symbols.”
“Humph, I scarcely understand you!” he grumbled, rolling his eyes. “My nephew’s almost as old as you. Where did you learn those words—in a collegia, surely not in a rustic school?”
“I learned it from Gamaliel, a great teacher and scribe.”
“Never mind this,” he said, stuffing the map back into his saddlebag. “I don’t know this Gamaliel fellow, but have you even heard of Virgil, Rome’s greatest poet?”
“No, but my mind’s like a sponge,” I answered with a twinge of vanity.
“Well,” he replied with an intake then exhalation of breath, “I don’t think Aurelian, the prefect of the Antioch cohort, will need your services, unless he dismisses the scribes he already has. It would be rare for any garrison not to have more than one scribe in fact. Even so, your gifts would not be needed as much in a garrison. The prefect of the Galilean Cohort should have known that. Trust me, you would be wasted at such a post.”
My expectations sank.
“It’s just as well,” I said with resignation, “I’m going home.”
My ambition still burned. I felt very disappointed that moment as he lapsed into silence. I was both surprised and alarmed with his response, as he returned to his original point.
“Is that what you want to do?” He looked at me slyly. “I’m not sure a prefect will need your services, Thaddeus. For a legion on the march, such as Fabian’s, it’s quite another matter. Fabian is a legate—a full general, much more powerful than a prefect at a garrison. He encounters all sorts of foreign magistrates and leaders. He might even create a special position for someone like you.”
“But you don’t know that as a fact.” I studied his expression. “Cornelius said almost the same thing.”
“Did Cornelius know about your special talents?” Marcellus pursed his lips.
“No, I think he was just humoring me,” I reflected, recalling his words. He said, ‘Aurelian should have need of someone like you,’ but there was nothing in our orders about that.”
“His words don’t sound like mine at all,” Marcellus shook his head. “I’m not humoring you. I believe you. After everything you’ve told me, including your memory, I think you’re an extraordinary lad.”
“I greatly appreciate what you’re saying,” I chose my words carefully, “but I have to go home. I’ve been gone too long. My brother needs me.”
“How do you know that?” Marcellus’ eyebrows knit.
“I’ve had these dreams,” I explained uneasily. “I know what you’re going to say, but in my religion dreams are often warnings, even prophecy.”
“Now Thaddeus,” he laughed amiably, “are you telling me now that you’re a prophet? Dreams aren’t real; they’re fantasy—nothing more. You don’t have to go home. You want to go home. I can’t blame you. I’m telling you what you can do, not what you have to do.”
“Of course, Marcellus,” I replied uncertainly, “...I guess I really haven’t made up my mind.”
He gave me one last bit of advice before motioning for me to return to the march. It threw me so completely off course I was speechless and could only nod my head.
“Take my advice Thaddeus,” He reached over and gripped my shoulder. “Say goodbye to these narrow-minded Jews. Go with us to the fort. We’ll wait for the legion to catch up. It shouldn’t take long. You can make up your mind soon enough.”
As I galloped to catch up with the others, I realized his offer of support, if that’s what it was, tempted me greatly. After all I had gone through and my dream about Jesus in the carpenter shop, I was still lured to the role of soldier scribe. Was I insane...or just plain stupid?
I felt some regret for losing the friendship of the Jewish guards, but, after the nasty way they behaved, I wouldn’t apologize to them for hurting their feelings. As soon as I appeared to be in league with the Gentiles, they turned on me like jackals. Elisha was another matter. In spite of his stubbornness and the way he treated me, he had been my benefactor, who rescued me from slavery. As the coach pulled up to the imperial fortress to drop me off, I realized this action was a clear message from the Pharisee: I had chosen the Gentile world—now get out! The guards remained on their horses as I gathered my mules and climbed back on my mount, holding the attached lines. Marcellus and the other Roman legionnaires waited as I bent over in the saddle to bid goodbye to my onetime patron. Looking out of the carriage window he scowled at me as I gave my speech. While I held onto the makeshift lines attached to the mules, Octavius, Sergio, and Nabalus assisted with three of the lines, and Marcellus took a hold of the fourth.
“I owe you so very much,” I told Elisha. “I’m sorry I disappointed you, but I must live my own life. I had planned on joining the army as a scribe. I know you don’t approve of that. I’m not sure what I shall do now. Whatever it is, I’ll never forget what you did for me. If not for your great charity, I would have suffered a fate worse than death.” “Thank you,” I added with a bow. “Please don’t think so badly of me. Perhaps one day, when we meet again, I’ll be someone you can be proud of. Maybe then I’ll have earned your respect.”
“Thaddeus!” He held up his hand. “I’m an old man, not well. By the time that day comes, I’ll have returned to my fathers,” “but I will do one thing for you,” he said, gripping my sleeve.”
“What is that?” I caught my breath.
“A wise rabbi once said to me, ‘do not curse a youth for foolishness, but hope for the best and give him your blessing. I never had a son, only daughters—all married and living far away in Cyrene and Greece. My wife has been dead many years. If I had a son, who I disapproved of, I would heed the rabbi’s advice. So I give you my blessing with this counsel: ‘It’s not enough to just know who you are; you must also know what you are. You’re a Jew, Thaddeus, a son of Abraham, nothing will ever change that.” “A thought came into my head,” he added, patting my wrist, “perhaps it came from the Lord... I have a strange feeling that, if I live long enough, I might hear your name again. You’re an extraordinary young men, Thaddeus, but you’re still very young. Go home. You’re family needs you more than Rome!” “Shalom!” the Hebrew word for peace was his last word.
Looking beyond me at the Romans waiting in front of the imperial garrison, he nodded politely at them, a frown playing on his face, then called curtly to his coachmen: “Eden, let’s go home!” After the crack of the coachmen’s whip, the carriage lurched forward, continuing down the main road leading to the Pharisee’s estate.
Another one of those many moments of truth in my life confronted me as I road indecisively toward the Antioch Fort. This time it was not caused by confusion or fear; it was caused by temptation. My mind was drawn to the prospect of fulfilling my dream by becoming a soldier scribe, but in my heart I knew I must go home and put this long, eventful odyssey behind me once and for all. As I road toward my Roman friends, I felt it coming—the dreaded falling sickness. The figures of the men on their horses became blurred in my vision, their voices sounded far away, and I grew light-headed in my saddle, until, losing consciousness, I tumbled off my mule. On the way down, I heard Marcellus shout, “Thaddeus, what’s wrong?” Then I blacked out before hitting the ground. The next then I remember is the sound of voices again and faces looming overhead. A board or twig was jammed into my mouth as they discussed my malady. One or more of them must have been tending the horses and mules. I heard them whinnying and snorting in the background as Marcellus wiped my face with a cloth. Strangely enough, my first concern was not for myself but for my mules.
“What’s wrong with him?” Octavius called out.
“It’s the falling sickness,” Marcellus answered with certainty. “One of Fabius tribunes had it. They sent him home. Caesar, himself, would fall down occasionally and foam at the mouth.”
“Just like poor Thaddeus,” Nabalus said with concern. “He’s lucky he didn’t break his neck.”
“Poor Thaddeus,” murmured Sergius, “he can’t be a soldier now.”
Even in my dulled state of mind it was like a thunderclap. I had been reassured by my earlier Gentile friends that this was a sort of blessing. After all, Caesar had led legions and conquered Gaul. For me, however, it wasn’t the same. I wasn’t Caesar; I was a mere youth. As quickly as that, my problem seemed solved. My father had once warned me that it would never work. It would prove dangerous for me. I might fall off my horse during such a bout. Even if I managed to control it somehow as I have done unconsciously so far, I would, as my father also believed, make a fool out of myself in front of important people. Not everyone was awed by the falling sickness. Though it occurred infrequently, it came during times of stress or panic. As I listened to my newfound friends, I heard a straightforward consensus: joining the Antioch Cohort wasn’t a good idea.
Rising shakily onto my legs with Marcellus and Sergius’ assistance, I was helped onto my mule. Octavius, who had held the reins for me, wrapped them around my wrists for support. As Octavius, Sergius, and Nabalus led the other mules after mounting their horses, Marcellus rode along side of me protectively. When we reached the large wooden gate to the fortress, he shouted to the sentry on the wall, “Quintus Marcellus for the Prefect Aurelian on behalf of General Fabius Valerius.”
“Fabius Valerius?” the sentry mumbled incredulously. “Where is your legion soldier?” he barked irritably. “I see five men, four horses, and five mules. Do you have orders from the legate?’
“Yes, I do.” Marcellus answered, pulling a small scroll from his cuirass. “Fabius sent us ahead as an escort for a party of merchants.”
“Lintullus,” the sentry called down from the parapet, “open the spy-hole and check this out.”
When we arrived at the great door, Marcellus dismounted, walked over with his orders, and presented them to the man on the other side. The spy-hole opened and, after the scroll was accepted, hastily inspected, and shoved back out, quickly slammed shut. After a brief moment, as we heard footfall up and down a staircase, the door creaked open. We entered as one company, rows of idle legionnaires on each side of our procession. It gave me some consolation that Marcellus included me in his group. I was also gratified that he didn’t answer the sentry’s challenge with “Fabius sent us ahead as an escort for a party of Jews.” Perhaps he did this for my benefit. Jewish men were not popular now in Syria and Galilee. After my performance in front of the fort, I wondered why I was accompanying the Romans into the compound and, for that matter, how I was going to make my way home. Yet, because I was accepted as one of them, I felt more comfortable now, praying quietly under my breath that the two events—entering the fort and finding my way home—were somehow connected. After another bout of the falling sickness, my prospects of becoming a soldier scribe seemed bleak. I decided, after a little coaxing from my protectors, to keep my mouth shut and wait for Marcellus to report in.
“There are couriers going back and forth between forts all the time,” he explained lightly, as I was helped off my mule. “I’ll discuss your situation with the prefect. It’s important, Thaddeus, that he understand your problem. It’s nothing to be ashamed of. Many great men have had the falling sickness. I just hope I can find you someone to accompany you south. If not, stay with us until the legion arrives in Antioch. Fabius has more than enough men.”
“Thank you, Marcellus,” I said, feeling my throat constrict.
Octavius, Sergius, and Nabalus still didn’t know what to make of me, but they had been patient and treated me decently during our trip. I would miss my new companions, especially Marcellus, who I considered my friend. I had no illusions, however. It had been a great and terrible adventure in which I survived my foolishness. Except for the wisdom I gained, the only thing I had to show for it was five mules. Now, I thought with resignation, it was time to say goodbye and go home. As we stood close to headquarters with the horses and the mules, an optio scolded us for blocking the human traffic in the compound. As they had also done in the Galilean Cohort, hundreds of men stood around idly those moments appraising our small company. Some of them wore full uniforms as if they were ready for the march, while others stood in sweaty tunics or with bare chests after returning from the drill field or laboring in one of the many work gangs that maintained the fort and the Roman roads in and out of town. Most of the men were in the background, loitering in front of their barracks, awaiting assignment for work details, sentry duty, or the afternoon meal. Almost all of the idlers who stood around us were merely curious but a few, with folded arms, glared with suspicion or hostility at the new arrivals. Suddenly, elbowing his way through the press of men, a hulking figure and friendly face appeared. Close behind him, a second man I also recognized darted past him, calling out my name, “Thaddeus, it’s Thaddeus. He’s alive! He’s alive!”
“I can scarcely believe it,” I gasped, “Ibrim and Fronto.” “Good to see you!” I cried, embracing the little Arab then the big Thracian.
“You know these men?” Octavius asked in surprise.
“Yes, indeed.” I gazed in wonder at them both. “They were members of the company from Galilee.”
“I’m Lucius Octavius.” the Roman bowed politely. Turning, he pointed to his associates. “This is Marcus Sergius and Felix Nabalus. We’re members of the First Cohort on special assignment for Fabius Valerius, Legate of the Fifth Legion.”
I realized that Octavius had said this for the benefit of our audience, but Fronto was unimpressed with this decorum and Ibrim gave him a studied smile.
“I don’t have a fancy Roman name,” the Thracian snorted, “it’s just plan Fronto. Right now Ibrim and I are awaiting orders, ourselves. We thought young Thaddeus would wind up dead or a eunuch in a Persian court. Thank you for bringing him back.”
“This is fitting,” Ibrim bobbed his head. “It was during a Roman escort that he was lost!”
“Oh, we aren’t his rescuers,” Octavius explained quickly. “Some rich Jew bought his freedom, a fellow named Elisha. We were assigned the duty by Fabius to escort the Jewish merchant and his friends to Antioch. We’ll rejoin the Fifth when it arrives.” “Right now we’re concerned about Thaddeus getting another escort home.”
Sergius and Nabalus nodded in agreement. I noticed an amused reaction from Ibrim as he looked up at Fronto. The big Thracian grinned and burst into laughter. For a moment, I was worried that this reaction would insult my Roman companions.
“It’s not funny,” Sergius scowled. “The lad can’t make that trip alone.”
“Yes,” piped Nabalus, hands on his hips, “he’s got the falling sickness. He needs proper looking after until he gets home. That old Jew left him high and dry at the gate.”
“Then, praise the gods, his worries are over!” Ibrim clapped his hands.
“How so?” Octavius cocked an eyebrow.
“Because,” Front grew serious, “Thaddeus survived
three battles with cutthroats and bandits and was taken captive by a band of
Bedouin thieves. By the will of
the gods, he escaped bondage and finally arrives at his post none the
worse. The story about him being
set upon by cutthroats while the rest of us escaped and killing all those men
by himself has made him a legend in this fort. I saw him fall down once at an imperial station, shortly
after his miracle. Yet I was with
him when he fought bravely in two more skirmishes in the desert and he never
had an attack. Who cares if he has
the falling sickness? Caesar had
it, and he conquered Gaul. If the
lad wants to go home, I don’t blame him, but he doesn’t have to.”
“What do you mean I don’t have to?” My heart leaped in my chest.
“He means just that,” Ibrim stepped forward boldly, “and that’s not all. Aurelian talked to all of the men who survived that day and we all said the same thing: Thaddeus could have joined us in the cave but he chose to stay and save are animals. It was a fool’s errand to say the least, but this one fact won our hearts more than those nine men he killed—”
“Nine?” Octavius mouth dropped. “Not six but nine men?”
“Yes, we, who lived, saw it with our own eyes—all of it. My friends, you might not believe this, but Thaddeus has a perfect memory. You tell him something, and he doesn’t forget. The gods help him—it must be dreadful to carry all those facts.”
“Aye!” Fronto rubbed his jaw. “Decimus taught him to use the gladius under an hour. He remembered all the moves. He learned to throw a javelin too, almost as well. He’s a natural, he is.”
“Marcellus told me about his memory.” Sergius gave me a look of great respect. “But it was hard to believe the rest...” “So it’s true.” The old soldier gripped my shoulder. “You really did that stuff. By the gods, Thaddeus, Aurelian would be insane to send you away.”
“The question is,” Nabalus said, patting my back, “what do you want, Thaddeus?”
“Tell us.” Octavius’ dark eyes narrowed thoughtfully. “Do you really want to be a soldier scribe?”
“I-I don’t know.” I heaved a sigh. “...I had a dream in which Jesus my brother was working alone in the carpenter’s shop. My father and our brothers were nowhere in sight. He toiled alone. This left me with the feeling that my father was sick and our brothers had gone their own ways. I believe the message in my dream was plain: come home.”
The five men stood silently digesting this information. An idler, among the growing crowd, called out excitedly, “Its him—the miracle boy. He’s alive.”
“Impossible,” a second man scoffed, “he was taken by slavers. No one comes out of that alive.”
“No, it’s true,” a familiar voice shouted. “That’s Thaddeus, the Reaper, in the flesh.”
I recoiled at this title but was overjoyed to see Rufus lurching forward with outstretched arms. By then, many other soldiers in the fort had been alerted to my appearance. I embraced Rufus, one of my favorite companions on first trip to Antioch, happy that he had also survived the desert. I was afraid to ask about the others. Ajax, Abzug, Enrod, Caesarius, Geta, and Langullus were dead, but Decimus and Apollo were merely wounded. Had they survived their injuries?
“Rufus,” I found my voice, “it’s good to see you!”
In his haste, the noble Gaul must have vaulted to the scene. “We didn’t know what to think when they carted you off into the desert,” he said out of breath. “It’s true, Thaddeus, you’re alive. Your god has protected you!”
“God, what god is this?” Roman escorts grumbled amongst themselves, “.... Who is this Thaddeus, the Reaper who killed nine men?”
The truth was, of course, I had killed eight, not nine, men. One of them, whom I pretended to kill, was already dead when I reached him. Fortunately for me, only Decimus, Aulus, and Caesarius knew my secret. As Octavius, Sergius, and Nabalus listened with interest, Front, Ibrim, and Rufus told me how they stood there watching the bandit procession disappear with its human cargo, certain that was the last time they would see me alive. Though they found refuge in the cave, they fell into dire straights themselves as they lived mostly off of locusts, figs, and wild berries, until reaching Raphana, the next major town. Game was almost non-existent in the desert, but the townsmen offered them bread, cheese, and lamb. Fortunately for Apollo, his wound was treated successfully by a crone, whom townsfolk thought was a witch. Decimus’ condition, however, grew worse. I felt my heart drop in my chest, as I watched Rufus pick up the thread of discussion.
“Decimus died there in the village,” he said in a broken voice. “His last words to Aulus, were...find Thaddeus. I let him down. You and the others must find him...bring him back.”
I wept quietly a moment, then, feeling their scrutiny, tried to compose myself. “And where is Aulus?” I looked hopefully into Rufus’ eyes.
Another period of silence followed. I braced myself for more bad news. This time it was a stranger who came forward with the information. A youth, not much older than myself, stepped forth. “Aulus never returned to Galilee. He’s in a work gang. He told me about you, Thaddeus. He loves you like a son.”
Suddenly I heard footfall in the gravel behind me. A strong hand fell on my shoulder. I turned and there he was: the only Roman from Galilee left alive after that terrible day. Though it seemed unmanly, I reached out impulsively for the old soldier, embracing him in my arms.
“Aulus, dear Aulus,” I said in a strangled voice.
“There-there, lad,” he said, patting my back, “let’s not make a scene. I’m glad to see you too, but I’ve much to tell you. I’m not the man I once was. That desert changed me. Changed all of us. Poor Decimus died. Apollo, I think, went mad. We never saw him after we left the desert town. But here you are, Thaddeus, no worse for wear.”
“What were you going to tell me, Aulus?” I asked, as he pulled away, “why didn’t you return to Galilee. What happened to you after that day?”
Gripping my shoulders firmly, he ruffled my hair, and then playfully tweaked my cheek. “You’re a strange one, you are. Scarcely have a beard, yet you’ve been through so much. Well, I’ve had enough of it, Thaddeus. My time in the army’s practically up. I’m taking that farm Rome promises vets. I’m going home.”
“What else, Aulus?” I pressed him, “why’re you quitting the legions? You’re friends are in Galilee. That’s where you have served all those years.”
“It’s like this, lad,” he came straight to the point. “This turned out to be a one way trip for me. I’m being reassigned—something that happens all the time in the army, but I’m not staying in Antioch. I was promised a plot of land by Longinus, the First Centurion of the Galilean Cohort. Cornelius agreed to this if I stuck this last assignment out.”
“So why didn’t you leave immediately?” I looked at him in amazement. “You could’ve been back in Galilee by now.”
“He was waiting for you to return,” explained the young soldier. “Fabius needed a gang boss for the roads and Aulus volunteered.”
“That’s Albus, one of my men,” Aulus said good-naturedly. “I’ve told him a lot about you.” “I didn’t tell him everything,” he added with a wink. “Every man has secrets. I’ve got mine.”
In the Roman manner this time, I gripped Albus’ forearm, and smiled. “Is that true, Albus? Did he tell you about me?”
“He did indeed,” Albus beamed.
“I’m going home,” Aulus murmured, “… you should go home too.”
Once again I was torn between two possibilities. In the near background Octavius was trying to get my attention: “Thaddeus, what’re going to do? You must make up your mind.” Before me a man, whom I respected very much, was telling me to do what the Roman escort expected me to do, and yet I was still tempted. Do I stay or do I go? To make matters worse or better, if I chose the former, Marcellus appeared suddenly in front of the prefect’s headquarters. I wondered what he told Aurelius after reporting in. Had he told him about my exploits? Perhaps, Aurelian had already heard the rumors circulating about my “gifts.” Would it change Marcellus’ mind? He had dismissed the notion of being a soldier scribe outright after my attack.
“I told them what happened in front of the fort,” he began in a somber voice, “but I also explained to him what you had gone through. More importantly, Thaddeus, we talked about you returning to Galilee with an escort. He promised to look into it. Right now, he wants to chat with you.”
“About what?” I blurted. “Is he considering bringing me aboard?”
“I’m not sure.” Marcellus shrugged. “I told him about what you said, but Aurelian’s difficult to read. Fabius says what he means, but I’m not sure about that fellow.”
Octavius walked up to him that moment with a sly grin on his face. “It’s true Marcellus,” he declared clapping my back, “all of it. These men marched with him. They’re eyewitnesses. It seems as if our young Thaddeus is not only brilliant, he’s also fierce. His mind is fathomless, they say. He killed nine men after learning the art of war. I wonder what Aurelian would say if he knew this.”
“So it’s true…” He turned to Octavius.
Octavius nodded, as did Sergius and Nabalus. Fronto, Ibrim, and Rufus beamed, but Aulus shook his head with dismay as I followed Marcellus into Cohort headquarters.