Sunday, March 12, 2017

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

CHAPTER NINE: PARTING FOR ROME

   Callicles arrived in early September, nearly two weeks before Jesus expected him.
   Spotting the caravan heading east one evening while flying overhead, Jesus and Mary returned from their depredations on local criminals. Assuming human form, they strolled to the porch from the shadows, where his father was drinking wine with Ganymede and Icarus.
   “Good evening father,” said Jesus, walking up the stairs, the Magdalene nodding to Joseph and continuing into the house to visit Mary and Ruth.
   “Good evening son, care for wine?”
   “Certainly, and I have news, Callicles will be in town tomorrow.”
   “Isn’t he a bit early?” asked Joseph, handing him a bottle.
   “My thoughts exactly, but no matter, the granary’s half full, and since the fall harvest is coming in we should get rid of last year’s excess. Further, we have meat and hides to sell too,” said Jesus, taking a deep drink of wine.
   “He comes to town to make money from us and we end up making money from him,” a smiling Joseph observed, handing his bottle to Icarus.
   “Don’t worry,” said Jesus, raising his bottle, “He buys from many along the way, and the way we’re consuming his wine, I’m sure he’ll make at a thousand denarii from us on that alone.”
   Joseph laughed and replied, “That’s the truth!”
   Sitting down next to his father, Jesus said, “Perhaps Callicles would be interested in our other wares, for instance, the extra shoes and cloaks the women made during the summer.”
   “They’re still making them,” said Ganymede.
   “Really?”
   “Electra surmised that you may wish to sell them and figured with nothing else to do at times, she and Penelope would put the extra leather to good use.”
   “I want to reward them for that,” Jesus replied.
   “Just being here seems to be reward enough for us,” declared a smiling Icarus, “Aside from planting and harvest time our duties are light, our quarters are spacious, warm and dry, we eat like kings, and you generally let us do whatever we want.”
   “And all of you serve us well, thank you,” said Jesus.
   “Our pleasure sir,” Icarus replied.
   “How long do you think he’ll be in town son?” asked Joseph.
   “A week or so, only in spring does he stay longer,” Jesus answered, looking to the rising moon.
   “It’s getting late,” said a drunk Ganymede, leaning heavily on the porch rail, “I’ll have to be getting back.”
   “So do I,” Icarus added, rising from his seat, “I have to run the forge all day tomorrow.”
   “What are you making?” asked Jesus.
   “A plow adapter for the horses you acquired a while back,” Icarus replied, heading down the stairs, “They’re so tall that the oxen adapter won’t work properly, it raises the blades too high.”
   “That’s a good idea, thanks.”
   “Don’t thank me, Brutus suggested I do it.”
   “Thank him for me,” Jesus called, the slaves heading unsteadily to the slave quarters. “So, how do you like this life dad?”
   “It’s not bad,” said Joseph with a satisfied sigh.
   “Not bad, you’re starting to sound like me.”
   “No, you sound like me, after all, I’m your father.”
   “I guess,” said Jesus, opening another bottle.
   The caravan pulled into town in the late afternoon, Callicles strolling to Gavinal’s to get drunk while his slaves set up the caravansary. Not that he needed much help that day, he was already drunk when he arrived, and needed just that extra splash of fine Gallic wine to make him feel more like himself. Unsteadily heading to Gavinal’s compound, Callicles greeted the guard as he let him in, and proceeded to the prefect’s office.
   “Friend Callicles!” Gavinal exclaimed, rising from his desk littered with paperwork and putting out his hand, the trader walking in through the open door.
   “Greetings Gavinal,” replied Callicles, giving him a firm Roman handshake.
   “You’re here early,” said Gavinal, reaching for wine.
   “Stock was easy to obtain as the weather has been fine this summer. Would you believe the docks at Chrysopolis and Nicomedia are filled to overflowing?”
   “Really,” replied Gavinal, pouring goblets, “I suppose prices on your items have fallen.”
   “My yes, even finished goods are cheap this year, a bundle of terracotta roof tiles are only 15 denarii, a bag of lime whitewash is three, lime plaster is five, and glass windows of two types are 28 denarii a piece.”
   “I’ll take six windows for my slave quarters, what do you have that’s new?”
   “Lots of things, Gallic beer, tools made in Illyria, and little brown seeds for a type of root plant that taste hot on the tongue; I think they’re called radishes.”
   “Gallic beer?” Gavinal asked, having forgotten the remainder of Callicles’ peroration.
   “You’ll have to try some friend, it’s delicious and nearly as strong as Gallic wine,” Callicles said with a wide grin.
   “Excellent,” replied Gavinal, putting away his loathsome paperwork for another day. Both enjoyed libations, the trader downing two bottles in a little over an hour and a half. At dusk, Jesus walked through the door with his father.
   “If it isn’t Julius Chrysippus and son,” said a slurring Callicles.
   “Greetings Julius the younger, how’s your family?” asked Gavinal.
   “They’re quite well, thank you,” said Jesus.
   “How’s the baby?” asked Callicles, turning to them.
   “Julian’s fine,” Joseph replied, “Almost nine months old, and already trying to walk and speak.”
   “He’s a precocious tyke,” said Gavinal, reaching for another bottle, “So, what brings you two here this fine evening, and would you like wine?”
   “We certainly would, thank you kind Gavinal. We heard Callicles had arrived, and came from the caravansary when his nephew told us he was here,” Jesus answered.
   “I’m letting Demo run more of the show lately, it gives him experience in the craft of trading, and gives me more time to relax and get drunk with folks like you,” Callicles slurred, Gavinal handing Jesus and Joseph goblets.
   “Indeed,” said Jesus, looking to the red-faced trader, “We came by to see if you were interested in more grain, along with meat and hides.”
   “Sure,” Callicles replied, “Good meat’s always hard to come by. As for grain, I’ll take some but prices are much lower this year due to bumper crops coming in all over this part of the empire.”
   “I know,” Joseph observed, “There’s so much coming in we don’t know what to do with it.”
   “I bought as much as I could for the garrison,” said Gavinal, looking to Joseph.
   “So that’s why you don’t buy my grain anymore,” Callicles retorted with a sly grin, belching after he finished the sentence. He shook his head in an attempt to sober up a bit.
   “Not that yours is of any less quality, they’re much closer,” said Gavinal.
   “Of course, I don’t care,” replied Callicles, pouring another goblet and downing it quickly. “You have hides?” he added, looking to Jesus.
   “Many, the slaves have been preparing them after our hunts,” said Jesus.
   “Tanned?”
   “Yes, nearly a hundred are ready.”
   “I’m definitely interested in those, I’ll come by in a few days to have a look at them. Incidentally, do you folks need anything?”
   “Several things, items for the house, tools, wine, you know, the usual,” Joseph replied.
   “Good, we’ll fix you up tomorrow, I’d best return to my market. Demo’s bright, but he needs me to show him the finer points,” said Callicles, rising unsteadily from his chair. “I’ll see you later.” He headed through the open door, weaving as he went.
   “Callicles drinks too damn much even by my standards,” said Joseph.
   “And I’ll bet it’ll kill him one day,” Gavinal replied.
   “His nephew’s headed in the same direction,” Jesus observed.
   “It’s said his father Callicles the elder was the same way,” said Gavinal, “He died around twenty years ago, about ten years after Tibernum was founded. At the time it was only a garrison and was a long time before I arrived here.”
   “His father was a drunk?” asked Joseph.
   “Yes, heavy drinking seems to run in their family.”
   “Does he have children?” asked Jesus.
   “Not that I know of, but he has a wife somewhere in Greece, I guess he’ll leave the business to his nephew when he dies.”
   “At least she’s a wealthy woman,” said Joseph.
   “I reckon,” replied Gavinal, leaning back in his chair and looking to the open door. Jesus and his father spent several hours drinking wine and conversing with the prefect, over such subjects as meat and grain production, property taxes, women, wine and the emperor’s health.
   “It’s amazing he’s still alive, the courier said he had another stroke a month ago,” Gavinal remarked, quite drunk.
   “What have his physicians said?” asked Jesus.
   “That it’s due to his age.”
   “Young Caligula’s first in line for the throne?”
   “It’s said so, rumor has it that he’s a very bright young man, and a good and fair administrator.”
   “What the empire needs,” said Joseph, “A capable man who can fill Tiberius’ shoes.”
   “Let’s hope so,” Gavinal answered, lifting his glass, “To Rome!”
   “To Rome,” said Jesus, raising his glass and toasting the Eternal City with Gavinal and his father.
   Leaving Gavinal’s near midnight, they headed to the farm, arriving an hour later. Explaining along the way that he and Mary were thinking about leaving before winter set in, Joseph replied, “I’d leave in the spring, you of all people know how cold it gets in Rome during the winter.”
   “Yes, but cold weather doesn’t seem to bother Mary or I now.”
   “Suit yourself,” said Joseph, stepping to the porch, the Magdalene relaxing in a chair.
   “You don’t mind father?” 
   Joseph turned and answered, “Look son, I can’t stop you from leaving, I never could when you were alive. It’s your nature to be a wanderer, vampire or not, and you evidently need this – to tour the world in search of truth, adventure, and now blood. Don’t worry, we’ll be fine with Ganymede and Brutus. I know how to handle the farm, so you may leave whenever you wish.”
   “Thank you father.”
   “For what?”
   “For understanding.”
   “Yeah, and don’t forget to take care of the problem in Rome,” Joseph retorted, slamming the door to the house and heading for bed.
   “Yes father,” Jesus answered to the closed door.
   “Hello Jesus,” said the Magdalene from her repose in the chair.
   “Good evening Mary.”
   “You took off before I woke up, where did you go?”
   “To Gavinal’s, Callicles was there.”
   “Does he want to buy the stuff?”
   “Yes, but the price of grain is low, so we’ll have to make it up on the meat and hides.”
   “Did you offer him the shoes and cloaks?”
   “I forgot, Callicles was pretty drunk anyway,” said Jesus, taking a seat beside her.
   “I suppose you got drunk too,” Mary replied.
   “Not really, dad did, it takes a lot of wine to get me going nowadays.”
   “True, have you eaten my love?”
   “You’ve a lot of questions tonight don’t you?” asked a smiling Jesus, looking to Mary and breaking into a laugh.
   “I was just wondering,” Mary replied, feeling a little hurt by the remark.
   “No I haven’t eaten, let’s enjoy the night together,” said Jesus, rising from his seat and taking her hand in his.
   “I imagine we’ll be staying close to home tonight,” Mary observed, walking from the farm.
   “Not necessarily woman, let’s head to the west road.”
   They transformed and flew in the direction of the highway to Nicomedia. Finding suitable fare proved easy that evening, the garbage of humanity appearing only a short time later in the center of the highway, only to be mercilessly slaughtered for their efforts by predators Jesus Christ and his beautiful consort Mary the Magdalene.
   “These bastards barely had an aureus between them,” Jesus spat, finished looting the corpses lying on the stone paved highway.
   “They had plenty of blood,” said Mary, making certain her lips were wiped clean with a cloth.
   “They did at that,” Jesus replied, heaving the remains into a stand of cedar trees. One bounced off a tree trunk, tearing a leg off, hungry jackals almost immediately devouring the bodies. Dropping coins in a tunic pocket, they transformed and flew back, making their way to their room and falling into slumber.
   Joseph awoke a little past seven, his wife occupied nursing Julian. Clearly having another hangover, he called for the slave girl Ruth, making his head pound even more.
   “Yes Julius?” asked Ruth, coming from the kitchen.
   “Bring a bottle of wine,” Joseph ordered, sitting on the edge of the bed rubbing his eyes.
   “Would you like breakfast?” Ruth asked in a soft voice, realizing he had another hangover.
   “Just the bottle,” Joseph replied, nauseated at the thought of food. Focusing on his wife, he smiled weakly and said, “Good morning woman, how’s the baby?
   “He’s fine, how are you?”
   “I’ve been better, but it’s nothing a good belt of wine won’t cure.”
   “Here you are,” said Ruth, returning with an open bottle.
   “Thanks,” a yawning Joseph answered as she returned to the kitchen. Looking to his wife, he added, “I have to head to Callicles’ at around noon.” He sighed and took a long drink from the bottle.
   “To get drunk?”
   “Hell no, it’s much too early for that, he has items at the caravansary I want to buy.”
   “Oh yes, he’s the trader,” Mary replied, remembering who Callicles was.
   “That’s right, I have to get rid of this hangover before I head there,” said Joseph, rising from the bed and putting the bottle down on a chest of drawers. Pulling out a drawer and retrieving a fresh tunic, he asked her while putting it on, “I want to buy spare windows and tools, is there anything you want?”
   Mary smiled and answered, “I can’t think of a thing, we have everything thanks to you and Jesus.”
   “Of course, if I see anything you might like I’ll pick it up,” said Joseph, slipping on shoes and heading for the door with the bottle. “I should be back near dark; I’m heading out to check on the farm.”
   “Yes dear,” Mary replied as he shut the door.
   Walking to the sunlit porch, Joseph finished the bottle and headed for the forge. Icarus was busy hammer welding a sickle, Ganymede running the Vulcan bellows. “Hi guys, where’s Brutus?” he asked, walking up.
   “Probably at the stable,” Icarus replied, “Getting the wagon ready for you.”
   “Thanks,” said Joseph, continuing to the stable.
   Icarus was right, Brutus was in the stable, horses hitched to the wagon, he mounting the wagon when Joseph entered.
   “Good morning Brutus,” said Joseph.
   “Good morning to you Julius the elder, I didn’t expect you until eleven.”
   “Why, I usually rise early,” replied Joseph, his headache lessening a bit.
   “The trader’s in town, I assumed you got drunk with him last night,” said Brutus, sitting behind the reins.
   “Yes, but we got drunk at Gavinal’s,” Joseph replied, climbing up beside him, “We were there till after midnight.”
   “That’s why I didn’t expect you until eleven,” said a smiling Brutus. Pulling in front of the house, they stepped from the wagon. “I’m taking a horse from the stable to inspect the fields,” the slave remarked, tethering the horses near a water trough, “Do you want me to come with you to the trader?”
   “Yes, we’ll head there about noon.”
   “I have ideas about things we could purchase,” said Brutus.
   “Such as?”
   “We should buy another plow, a few more goats for cheese making, and perhaps some ducks.”
   “I thought about extra goats, but ducks too?” Joseph asked, not questioning the need for more tools.
   “Yes, for their eggs,” Brutus answered, “They have very good eggs.”
   “I love eggs.”
   “So do I, but remember Julius, most ducks are bred from wild stock, so you may have to break or cut their wings, I’d suggest cutting them as it does less damage.”
   “You have to cut their wings?”
   “Yes.”
   “I’ll leave you do that if you don’t mind,” said Joseph, not at all familiar with duck husbandry.
   “Sure, it’s actually trimming their feathers, but is called wing cutting.”
   “I see, we’ll look into some when we get there,” said Joseph, turning to the porch as Brutus walked to the stable. Finally in the mood for breakfast, he headed to the kitchen. “Is there anything to eat around here?” he asked, taking a seat at the table.
   “I see you’re hungry now,” Ruth answered, placing a bowl of porridge in front of him, sweetened with dates and honey. “I figured you’d get hungry after you were up for a while so I took the liberty of making extra, your wife and child have already eaten.”
   Joseph lifted a silver spoon beside the bowl. “Damn, this is good,” he said, wolfing down the porridge.
   “Thank you master Julius,” Ruth replied, walking to his bedroom, still unable to refer to her master as Julius.
   Joseph watched the girl enter the bedroom and close the door. Finishing his porridge, he remarked, “That old bastard Callicles was right about her, she’d make a fine piece of ass.” Rising from the table, he grabbed another bottle of wine and headed for the porch. It was still early, around nine-thirty, and with time to kill he sat down in a chair and opened it, enjoying the beautiful late summer morning. Sitting for about an hour, he had drained half when Brutus walked up, finished inspecting the fields.
   “Are you ready to go Julius?”
   “As ready as I’ll ever be,” Joseph answered, holding out the bottle, “Want a belt before we leave?”
   “Sure,” Brutus replied, taking the bottle and drinking deeply from it, passing it back to Joseph.
   “Finish it, if I have any more I’ll end up drunk and it’s too early for that.”
   Nodding, the slave emptied the bottle, walking over and untying the horses. Both climbed aboard the wagon and headed to the caravansary. Arriving at half past eleven, they walked up to Demosthenes, now sixteen years old and every inch a man, sporting a short beard.
   “Greetings Demosthenes, where’s Callicles?” asked Joseph.
   “Sleeping in his wagon, he got really loaded last night,” a smiling Demosthenes answered, looking to his uncle’s wagon.
   “He left Gavinal’s early.”
   “Yeah, but when he got here he drank Gallic beer till sunup with Kago and Aeschesles.”
   “Oh,” said Joseph, again thinking Callicles drank too much, he being one to talk, considering the way he consumed wine.
   “He’ll be along soon, he always rises before noon,” Demosthenes added, “So friend Julius, what can we do for you and yours today?”
   “Tools and windows, goats and ducks,” Brutus replied for his master.
   “We have all those things,” said Demosthenes, “With lower prices too, as suppliers in Nicomedia and Chrysopolis were all overstocked this year.”
   “Let’s have a look at the tools,” Joseph replied, the trio heading to the tool wagons.
   Passing Callicles’ wagon, they stopped as the door opened wide, a refreshed Callicles stepping from his ostentatious abode. “Friend Julius!” he exclaimed, walking to Joseph and grasping his hand firmly with both of his, while a subdued Demosthenes looked to his seemingly indestructible uncle.
   “Good morning Callicles,” said Joseph, his hand hurting from the crushing grip, “How are you today?”
   “Never been better,” Callicles answered, happily realizing the wonderful Gallic beer he had drunk all night long hadn’t given him a hangover and had every bit the kick of Gallic wine for less than half the price.
   “They’re looking for tools, windows, goats and ducks,” said Demosthenes.
   “Let’s get them taken care of Demo,” Callicles replied, motioning the group toward the tool wagons. “What sort of tools are you looking for this time?”
   “Brutus is overseer, ask him.”
   “Let’s see, we need another plow, Icarus needs a small square anvil for bending metal, and the women need awls and small hammers for leatherwork,” said Brutus.
   “Anything else?” asked Callicles, taking out keys as they arrived.
   “I could use some planes and perhaps a saw or two,” Joseph replied.
   “We have plenty a few wagons down, first have a look at this,” said the trader, opening the door of a wagon, several examples of triple-bladed plows coming into view.
   “How much?” asked Joseph, looking at the quality implements, complete with harnesses.
   “Thirty denarii, made in Etruria province of the finest wrought iron,” said Callicles.
   “Is that a good price?” Joseph asked of his slave.
   “Very good,” Brutus answered.
   “Sold,” said Joseph.
   Buying other tools for farming and carpentry work during the next hour while Demosthenes tended to another customer, Joseph also bought a small anvil and another set of tongs for the forge. Coming to the fine tool wagon, Callicles opened it, showing Joseph and Brutus a set of awls, leather punches and a pair of small hammers, made in Illyria, complete with an oiled wooden case.
   “Price?”
   “Steep, seventy denarii, they’re imported from Illyria,” said Callicles.
   “What do you think Brutus?”
   “They’re made in Illyria, known across the empire for top quality tools,” Brutus answered, “The price is reasonable.”
   “We’ll take them.”
   “Excellent,” said Callicles, his mind again reminding him of alcohol, “I’ll have my slaves haul the items to your wagon. Would you like lunch and a drink?”
   “Certainly, would you have some for Brutus?”
   “Of course, we’ll all enjoy good food and drink.”
   Heading to his personal wagon, Callicles ordered a slave to fetch food from a nearby grill mounted on a wagon. The aroma of cooking food issuing from the grill indeed smelled good, Joseph finding himself very hungry. Bringing a loaf of fresh bread from a small oven adjacent to the grill, the slave also brought a large polished copper platter filled with roasted vegetables, lean pork, a side of kid, and Callicles’ personal favorite, horsemeat tenderloin, sitting the food on a low table with dishes and cups.
   “I’m starved,” said the trader, sitting on a stool and pulling off a chunk of well-done horsemeat, Joseph tearing loose a piece of pork and putting it on a plate, together with helpings of bread, carrots and onions.
   “What are you going to have Brutus?” Joseph asked, seating himself on a stool.
   “Horsemeat, and roast kid.”
   “Help yourself slave,” Callicles mumbled, his mouth full, “The horsemeat’s from an old nag of mine that died yesterday.”
   Joseph almost choked at the remark, one, finding horsemeat revolting, and two, the thought of an animal having died and scavenged for food was not appealing to his appetite. Not bothering Brutus in the least, the slave grabbed a chunk of horseflesh and another of kid, along with vegetables, sitting down on the ground.
   Seeing the look on Joseph’s face, Callicles remarked, “I forgot, you Roman folks aren’t too keen on horsemeat, or any kind of meat for that matter, are you?”
   “We’re Etrurians,” Joseph lied, “We eat meat, but not that of horses.”
   “So that’s why you don’t have any in your smokehouse.”
   “Not really, my son hasn’t come across horses during his hunts.”
   Callicles nodded, his mouth full, asking in a mumble, “Would you like beer?”
   “You have beer?”
   “Gallic beer,” said Callicles, motioning to a slave.
   “Yes master?” the slave asked, walking over.
   “Bring the amphora of beer we were drinking last night if there’s any left in it, otherwise bring a fresh one.” The slave quickly returned with a large earthenware container filled one-quarter with beer.
   “I haven’t drunk beer in years,” remarked a wistful Joseph, recalling a time many decades earlier when he had visited Egypt with his father Jacob and eldest brother Simon.
   “You’ve never drunk beer like this,” said Callicles. He smiled and continued, “It’s not Egyptian, it’s a fine Gallic beer imported in wax-lined amphorae or barrels from the far north, near an island called Britannia; it tastes sort of like grog but isn’t as heavy. It doesn’t give you a hangover either, and at twelve denarii an amphora is definitely worth the price.”
   “What the hell, I’ll try some,” Joseph replied while the slave opened the amphora.
   “You should try some horsemeat too,” Brutus spoke up, like Callicles, his Thracian forebears having eaten horsemeat by the wagonload.
   “Dip it in the amphora,” said Callicles, handing Joseph a wooden cup and tossing another to Brutus.
   “Do you want me to have beer master?” Brutus asked, knowing it was against Roman law for slaves to consume alcoholic beverages, even though he and his fellow slaves often got drunk at the farm.
   “Why shouldn’t you?” the trader asked, “I let my slaves drink, even wine when we run out of Egyptian beer.”
   “But in Rome – ”
   “Rome’s a thousand miles from here, enjoy yourself slave,” said Callicles, pulling a cup of beer from the amphora.
   Dipping cups in the amphora, Joseph and Brutus drank deeply of the brew, enjoying the pleasant taste. “Truly the nectar of the gods,” Callicles declared, downing the beer in an instant.
   “What gods are they?” asked Joseph.
   “Any gods who drink beer I guess,” Callicles mumbled, his mouth again full of tasty horsemeat.
   “That’s the truth,” said a chuckling Joseph, taking another gulp. Their lunch lasting into late afternoon, the climax came with an inebriated Joseph trying a bite of horsemeat tenderloin near two and finding it delicious.
   “Shall we return to our shopping?” a drunk but responsible Brutus asked, Demosthenes walking by with other patrons, smiling to the group.
   “Why bother, I’ll be here for a week,” said a slurring Callicles, staggering over and dipping his cup into a new amphora of beer.
   “Well – ”
   “Well what?” Callicles asked, “Isn’t getting drunk more fun than being a slave?”
   “I’d think so,” said Joseph, breaking into laughter. Brutus looked to them, not knowing what to say.
   “That’s the trouble with slaves, they’ve no sense of humor,” Callicles scoffed, leaning to one side of his stool and farting loudly.
   “I’ll say,” Joseph replied, looking to Brutus, “Look here man, loosen up and enjoy yourself, why should we do today what we can put off till tomorrow?”
   “If you say so master,” Brutus answered, taking another drink of beer.
   “I insist,” said Joseph.
   At dusk, while they continued in their unbridled drinking, Jesus walked up to the torch lit caravansary with Mary Magdalene. Callicles collapsed to the ground unconscious, attempting to remark to Joseph with a severe slur, “You know, Julius my friend, I think we should – ” Slaves quickly arrived to tend to the trader, carrying him to a cot near his personal wagon.
   “Hello son,” Joseph slurred, looking to Jesus. Brutus smiled and nodded, unable to say anything from drinking too much beer.
   “Hello dad,” said Jesus, hiding his dismay.
   “Would you care for beer?”
   “Perhaps later, first we have to make our purchases.”
   “Callicles has passed out.”
   “No matter, Demosthenes is available, what have you bought so far?”
   “Tools, we still need to buy goats and ducks,” Joseph answered.
   “Okay,” said Jesus, turning from his father.
   “What’s the hurry, Callicles will be here for another week, sit down and have beer with me.”
   “We must first – ”
   “Bullshit, try some of this beer, it’s really good.”
   “Shall we?” asked Jesus, looking to Mary in deference to his father.
   “What the hell, you’ve never been one to pass up a drink anyway,” said Mary.
   Sitting down with his father, Joseph took a wooden cup and drew a libation from the amphora. Handing it to Jesus, he said, “This is Gallic beer son, delicious indeed, a man could grow fond of this stuff very quickly.”
   Taking a sip, Jesus tasted the fermented nectar, raising an eyebrow at the pleasant flavor. He smiled and downed the brew, handing the cup back. “More,” he said, looking to his father with expectation.
   “It’s good isn’t it?” asked a smiling Joseph.
   “Incredible, we’ll have to buy some if we can.”
   “We should buy it all if there’s any left when we’re done,” Joseph replied, filling Jesus’ cup and another for himself.
   “Would you like to try some woman?” Jesus asked.
   “Sure,” the Magdalene replied, sitting down while Joseph grabbed a cup for his undead daughter-in-law, filled it and handed it to her.
   “It is good,” she said after taking a sip.
   “Smooth as silk with a kick like a mule,” Joseph replied as Brutus fell over in a heap, passed out. Mary looked to the unconscious figure and frowned. “So much for him, he’s not a seasoned drinker anyway,” he added, ignoring Brutus and taking another gulp of beer.
   The Magdalene walked over and rolled Brutus on his back, as he had lain snoring in the dust.
   “Why’d you do that?” Joseph asked.
   “I don’t like breathing dust, do you?”
   Jesus smiled, noting that some of his admonitions regarding humanity had been taken to heart by his consort.
   “Come to think of it no,” said Joseph, looking to the unconscious Brutus as Demosthenes walked up.
   “I suppose none of you are in any condition to conduct business,” the lad ventured.
   “On the contrary, I’d like to buy goats and ducks from you,” said Jesus.
   “I’m sorry sir, my uncle and your – ”
   “Yes, it’s a habit both acquired some time ago,” Jesus replied, rising from his seat.
   “You’re looking for animals?” asked Demosthenes, looking up to Jesus.
   “Yes, goats and ducks.”
   “We have eleven goats for sale and practically an entire flock of ducks.”
   “Good, two goats should suffice, and perhaps six ducks,” said Jesus as they headed to the animal cages.
   “You should buy at least a dozen if you don’t have ducks presently.”
   “Why?” asked Jesus.
   “Because a lot of them die for whatever reason, with a dozen it’s assured that you’ll be able to create a breeding stock for eggs. They're cheap too; ten sestertii per bird.”
   “At that price I’ll take a dozen.”
   Arriving at the animal cages, near other cages stocked with slaves, Jesus observed the little torch lit zoo, containing horses, ducks, mules, goats, and pigs.
   “Quite a selection you have,” said Jesus.
   “We purchase them from vendors along the way; do we have other animals that may interest you?”
   “No, we only need goats and ducks for now.”
   “How about slaves?” Demosthenes suggested, pointing to a wagon filled with Negroes from Nubia, other wagons containing chained Greeks, Germans, Jews, and one loaded with exotic Chinamen, imported from Cathay via the Silk Road.
   “No thanks. We’re fine on slaves presently, just two goats, one male, one female, and a dozen ducks, six of each sex. How much do you want for your goats anyway?”
   “12 denarii each,” Demosthenes answered, turning from the slave wagons, “Let’s see, two goats will be 24 denarii, and twelve ducks at ten sestertii each would be uh – “
   “120 sestertii, for a total of 28 denarii, five sestertii.”
   “You’re good with math sir, shall I have a slave bring the animals to your wagon?”
   “Yes, I’ll pay you when they deliver them,” Jesus replied.
   “It’s a deal,” said a smiling Demosthenes, putting out his hand in imitation of his uncle. Firmly shaking the lad’s hand, they headed to Callicles’ wagon, where Joseph was still getting drunk drinking beer. He had already arrived at drunkenness, but was determined to proceed further down the road of pleasant inebriation. Brutus was lying on the ground passed out, with Callicles blissfully snoring away on a cot.
   “I purchased more animals father,” said Jesus as he walked up.
   “What kind?”
   “Two goats and a dozen ducks for 28 denarii.”
   “Good price, did you ask about the beer?” Joseph asked, handing Jesus another cup.
   “No,” said Jesus, taking the cup and turning to the lad, “Say son, how much beer do you have available?”
   “Perhaps fifty amphorae, how much do you want to buy?”
   “All of it,” said Joseph.
   “What’s the price?” asked Jesus.
   “Eighteen denarii per amphora,” Demosthenes answered, figuring the price would be declined.
   “Your uncle said twelve earlier,” said Joseph, trying to focus on the lad.
   “Twelve’s what it cost him, we have to make a profit,” Demosthenes replied, looking to his unconscious uncle, wishing that he would rise up and explain that if they sold items for the same price that they bought them for, they wouldn’t be in business very long.
   “I see,” said Jesus, finishing his cup, “Make it fourteen denarii per amphora and we’ll buy it all.”
   “Seventeen and a half.”
   “No, fourteen and a half.”
   “Sixteen.”
   “Fifteen, no higher, take or leave it,” Jesus replied, while his father looked to him with trepidation, thinking they may lose the wonderful Gallic beer.
   Demosthenes sighed, looking to his unconscious uncle.
   “He’s out cold,” said Jesus, “Really son, you’d better learn to vend like a professional, you’re going to own all this one day.”
   “But my uncle – ”
   “I think it’s best if you learn how to handle such things on your own.”
   The teenager pursed his lips tightly, looked again to his unconscious uncle, and replied, “Okay, it’s a deal.” He put out a hand to Jesus.
   “Good,” said Jesus, shaking his hand, “Have your slaves tally the amount available, my father and I will be here tomorrow evening to pick it up.”
   “Are you kidding, we’ll have to use our wagons. Fifty amphorae of beer takes up a lot of space.”
   “True, we also have meat and skins for your uncle, perhaps you can purchase them tomorrow after you drop off the beer.”
   “I just hope uncle Callicles doesn’t kill me first,” said Demosthenes, looking to the trader snoring away on the cot.
   “Why would he do that?” asked Joseph, putting down his cup, fearful that his wife would react with displeasure if he came home drunk for a second night in a row.
   “For selling you the beer too damn cheap,” Demosthenes replied, getting a cup for himself.
   “So, why do we need all that beer?” asked the Magdalene, interrupting the conversation.
   “For enjoyment?” asked Jesus.
   “Don’t we have plenty of wine in the cellar?”
   “Yes we do, but we don’t have plenty of beer.”
   “Really,” said Mary.
   A slave arrived, informing Demosthenes that the goods were delivered to Joseph’s wagon, twelve caged ducks and a pair of goats. Jesus handed the lad 29 denarii, five sestertii, with one denarius as a tip, he and Mary enjoying a few more brews with him during the next hour. Later, they bid farewell, gathered up his father and Brutus and headed home in the wagon.
   Approaching the entrance to the farm, a loud snapping sound came from the rear of the overloaded wagon, the right rear wheel jamming against the side of the wagon, dragging and cutting a rut in the dirt road as the horses attempted to pull it along.
   “Whoa animals,” Jesus shouted, pulling on the horse’s reins.
   “What the hell was that?” Joseph asked while Brutus leaned against him, snoring away.
   “Let me check,” said Jesus, handing Mary the reins. Stepping from the wagon and walking to the rear, he shooed a goat aside following on a tether. “We broke a suspension shackle father,” he observed, looking under the wagon.
   “Will you please hold this drunken slave?” an exasperated Joseph asked the Magdalene.
   “Sure,” she answered, Joseph moving Brutus next to her, stepping down to join his son.
   “What can we do?” asked Joseph, looking at the wheel jammed against the side of the wagon.
   “Put something between the axle and the floorboards, in place of the leather strap,” said Jesus, “That’ll get us home, you’ll have to tell Icarus to make another shackle for it tomorrow.”
   “What should we use?”
   “A log, let me look in the woods,” Jesus answered, heading into a stand of trees. Returning minutes later, he dropped a small log beside the wagon and looked underneath to check if the clearance was right.
   “How the hell are we going to get the log in place son?”
   “I’ll lift the wagon, you place it between the axle and floor,” said Jesus, moving to the rear.
   “You can lift this?” Joseph asked, looking to the heavily laden wagon.
   “Easily, any time you're ready dad.”
   Joseph nodded and picked up the log as Jesus raised half a ton of dead weight with one arm. He moved the log between the axle and floor, remarking, “Okay son, let her down easy.” Jesus relaxed his grip, setting the wagon down gently, the wheel free.
   “Let’s get this rig to the house,” said Jesus, the pair climbing into the seat and resuming the journey home. Pulling up to the house, they disembarked, Jesus helping a conscious but very drunk Brutus to the slave quarters while Joseph headed inside to greet his wife, accompanied by the Magdalene.
   “Good evening Julius,” said a yawning Ganymede, opening the door to the lamp lit room. Cyril looked up from a scroll and nodded as he noticed Jesus.
   “Good evening to all of you,” Jesus replied, sitting Brutus in a chair, “Where’s Icarus?”
   “He turned in early,” said Cyril, “He worked the forge almost all day.”
   “Will you please tell him when he wakes that we broke a shackle on the wagon and need it repaired as soon as possible?”
   “Shall do,” replied Cyril, “Will you and Maria be dropping by for conversation?”
   “Certainly, perhaps tomorrow evening,” Jesus answered, starting for the door, then correcting himself, “I’m sorry, Callicles is coming by tomorrow evening, so it’ll have to be the next evening.”
   “Very well, have a good night,” said Cyril, looking back to his scroll. Jesus, politely nodding, left the slaves, closing the door behind him.

* * *

   Demosthenes of Thebes woke early, fearing bitter retribution from his uncle for selling Gallic beer much too cheap. For a change, Callicles had risen with the sun, walking over on the bright morning to converse with his nephew.
   “My slave woman told me you sold all the Gallic beer to Julius Chrysippus last night,” said a frowning Callicles.
   “Yes uncle,” Demosthenes replied, looking to the ground, “He would only give me fifteen denarii per amphora.”
   “That’s all you could get?”
   “Yes uncle, I’m sorry.”
   “What are you sorry for?” Callicles asked, arms folded across his chest.
   “That I couldn’t get eighteen denarii, as his father said you paid twelve denarii for it.”
   With that remark, the trader could hold in his pleasure no longer and broke out laughing.
   “I’m sorry uncle.”
   “For what, you got fifteen denarii for the beer, that’s great!” Callicles exclaimed, slapping him hard on the back.
   “Why?” asked Demosthenes, wincing from the slap.
   “Because I actually paid only eight denarii for each amphora, I would’ve settled for thirteen.”
   “You didn’t tell them the truth?”
   “Why should I?”
   “It’s said one should always tell the truth.”
   “Perhaps in most cases, but the truth my dear nephew has nothing to do with the profession of vending. Don’t you remember what caveat emptor means?” asked a chuckling Callicles, walking off to find breakfast and more beer. The lad watched him call for a slave, smiled, and found he completely agreed with his uncle’s statement.
   Joseph’s wagon was parked next to the forge during the morning. Ganymede and Brutus carried the blacksmith tools to the forge, while Icarus inspected the broken shackle. “This is a problem, perhaps I can repair it,” he remarked.
   “Repair it?” asked Ganymede.
   “I’ll have to, shackles are made of Damascus steel and I don’t have suitable stock available to make another one.”
   “How will you do it?” asked Ganymede.
   “I’ll try to repair it by hammer welding the break, if that doesn’t work, we’ll have to replace the leather strap with a shorter one; then I’ll reshape the broken end of the shackle.”
   “Oh,” said Ganymede, not really understanding what Icarus was talking about.
   “Can you pull the shackle for me later?” asked Icarus, Ganymede unloading a box of plow fittings.
   “Sure, but we have to finish unloading the wagon first.”
   “No problem, I have to finish a set of horseshoes before I can do anything else,” Icarus replied, turning to his forge.
   In the evening, after Icarus skillfully repaired the wagon by hammer welding the broken shackle, Jesus, Joseph and Brutus pulled up at the caravansary to complete the purchase of the beer, Callicles walking up to greet them as they arrived.
   “My friends! How are you this fine evening?” Callicles asked, holding a cup of Gallic beer.
   “Never been better,” said a smiling Joseph, “You were right about the beer – I didn’t have a hint of a hangover.”
   “How about Brutus here, how does he feel?” asked the trader, looking to the slave.
   “He was up with the sun, no worse for wear,” Joseph replied, walking into the bazaar.
   “I told you it was good,” said Callicles.
   “Indeed it was,” replied Jesus.
   “And the younger Julius?” Thanks to my beer, were you up with the sun?”
   “Never,” said Jesus.
   “Good beer or not, he likes to sleep late,” said Joseph.
   “What the hell, so do I,” Callicles replied.
   “Not as late as he does,” retorted Joseph, Jesus looking to his father with a frown.
   “Demo said you bought our Gallic beer,” said Callicles, looking to Jesus.
   “Yes, my father suggested that I purchase it.”
   “I know that he sold you the entire stock, but would you mind if I kept back ten or so amphorae for myself?”
   “Of course not.”
   “Good,” Callicles replied with a relieved sigh, “That means we have 44 available for sale, at fifteen denarii a piece, so that comes to, uh, let’s see, that would be – ”
   “660 denarii.”
   “He’s faster than an abacus,” said Callicles, nudging Joseph in the side with an elbow.
   “He was good at his studies,” Joseph replied, looking to his son while they walked along.
   “I thought your nephew said fifty were available,” said Jesus.
   “We started with 72, Kago, Aeschesles and I have been drinking it on and off since leaving Chrysopolis last month,” Callicles answered, arriving at the beer wagons. “We won’t need your wagon for hauling, we’ll just take these and hitch them to a team of oxen.”
   “It is a lot of beer isn’t it,” said Joseph, looking to the loaded wagons, nearly stacked to the ceilings with brew.
   “You wanted to buy it father.”
   “Yes, but it’ll fill the cellar.”
   “And then some,” said Brutus.
   “You don’t have to buy any if you don’t want to,” said Callicles.
   “I want it,” Joseph replied.
   “Then it’s done,” said Jesus, “Say Callicles, would you go an even six hundred for the beer?”
   “Yeah, just cut me slack on your meat and skins.”
   “Sure,” Jesus replied.
   Calling over a trusted slave and Kago, the head mercenary, Callicles said, “I need you to watch the bazaar this evening, close up early if business drops off.”
   “Shall do boss,” Kago answered, a muscular native Anatolian of six feet in height, wearing bronze and leather body armor, together with a long Scythian broadsword in a sheath.
   An hour later, two gigantic wagons pulled by eight oxen pulled up in front of the Chrysippus farmhouse behind Joseph’s wagon. The Magdalene and Cyril were sitting on the porch engaged in conversation, while Mary and Ruth were in the kitchen preparing to feed Julian his evening porridge. Six slaves were sitting on top of the wagons, a bemused Magdalene looking up and asking, “What did you do Julius, buy more slaves?”
   “No Maria, they’re my slaves for unloading these wagons,” answered Callicles, Jesus and the trader walking to the porch.
   “So what’s in the wagons?” asked Mary, having been present when Jesus purchased the beer, but not realizing the immense quantity acquired in the deal.
   “The beer I bought last night,” said Jesus.
   “What else?”
   “Nothing, just the beer.”
   “There’s beer in both wagons?”
   “Nothing but,” Jesus replied while his father smiled.
   “It figures,” said Mary, Cyril smiling.
   Callicles’ slaves unloaded 44 amphorae from the wagons. Most went to the cellar, an additional twelve stacked in the common area of the house while Joseph’s wife forlornly observed their living room turned into a beer warehouse. “Don’t worry woman, we’ll find another place for it,” said Joseph.
   “Did you have to buy so much?” Mary asked, heading to the bedroom with the baby and Ruth.
   “It’s really good beer,” Joseph replied.
   “It must be if you bought that much,” said Mary, closing the door.
   “She’s pissed at you isn’t she?” Callicles asked, standing in the kitchen.
   “It passes quickly,” said Joseph while Jesus took out a moneybag.
   “Wives, you can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em,” Callicles observed, “My woman Helena in Thrace, it’s a good thing I only see her maybe twice a year, that way our love for each other takes precedent above all else.”
   “I know what you mean there,” Joseph answered, leaning against the doorjamb.
   “Here’s 24 aurei, covering the beer,” said Jesus, sitting coins on the table.
   “That’s what I like about you Julius, you always pay in gold,” replied Callicles, sliding the coins across the table and pocketing them.
   “You pay me in gold, why shouldn’t I return the favor?”
   “Would you care for a drink?” asked Joseph.
   “Wine or beer?” asked Callicles.
   “Either.”
   “Well then, let’s start cleaning out your living room, it’ll keep the wife off your ass,” said a chuckling Callicles, sitting down heavily in a chair. During the next hours, the trader got drunk, afterward purchasing heavy sacks of wheat and barley, fine sides of cured meat, stacks of oak tanned skins, and a large quantity of finished leather goods made by slave women Electra and Penelope. Spending 106 aurei, while his slaves loaded the merchandise in the wagons, he exclaimed, “Hell Julius, I come to this town to make money from you, and you end up making money from me!”
   “I sold it to you for a very good price,” said Jesus, feigning indignance.
   “Of course friend, I’ll easily double my money on this top quality stock,” Callicles replied, offering his hand.
   “Excellent,” said Jesus, firmly shaking his hand.
   Near two, Callicles and nephew, with their six slaves, made their way from the Chrysippus farm to the caravansary. As they drove off, a smiling Jesus remarked, “Here’s the money,” dropping a pouch of gold coins in his father’s hand.
   “A hundred and six huh?” asked Joseph, staring at the coins within.
   “That’s right.”
   “Damn, that’s nearly three times more than he made from us.”
   “We haven’t bought the extra windows from him yet my father.”
   “Yeah,” Joseph replied, still looking at the pouch of coins.
   The Magdalene strolled into the kitchen, looked to Jesus and asked, “Well?”
   “We made 106 aurei from Callicles tonight,” said Jesus.
   “Who cares, we make that much looting corpses every few months, let’s find someone to eat.”
   “It’s about time son, it must be near three.”
   “Thanks Joseph,” said Mary, looking to Jesus, “He was so busy making money off that drunk he forgot he’s a vampire.”
   “We have time, I was simply enjoying the evening,” Jesus replied, rising from his chair.
   “There’s not much of an evening left, so let’s go,” Mary retorted, walking to the door.
   “Please remember to pick up the windows tomorrow father, I’ll see you in the evening,” said Jesus, walking through the threshold.
   “Right,” Joseph replied as Jesus closed the door.
   “All the thieves must be asleep, I imagine we’ll have to take boars or something tonight,” said Mary, heading down the road leading from the farm.
   “We do need more meat for the smokehouse,” Jesus observed, she frowning at the statement. Finding porcine fare within fifteen minutes, Jesus gutted the leftover carcasses, carrying and dropping them at the door of the smokehouse shortly after four. A sated Mary following, they made their way to their dark room and settled into slumber.
   Joseph, controlling his urge to get completely plastered the previous evening, rose early to head to the caravansary for the windows. Brutus was at his side in the wagon, pulling up to the bazaar shortly after ten, Demosthenes greeting them.
   “What brings you here today sir?” he asked.
   “Windows, we forgot them yesterday,” said Joseph.
   “We have two types available, sliding and hinged ones, which do you prefer?”
   “The hinged ones.”
   “Perfect Gavinal bought most of the sliding ones anyway,” said Demosthenes while the group headed to the wagons.
   “Where’s Callicles?” asked Joseph.
   “Still sleeping, he got loaded with Kago and Aeschesles last night.”
   “Imagine that,” Joseph replied.
   Arriving at the wagons, Joseph purchased eight windows for 28 denarii a piece.
   “I wonder how they make these things?” Joseph mused as Brutus and two other slaves moved a laden cart to his wagon.
   “Windows?” asked Demosthenes, looking to him.
   “Yes.”
   “It’s said that master glassblowers take a lump of red hot glass on the end of an iron rod, and rotate it fast in some sort of fixture so it flattens out into thin sheets,” said Demosthenes, having learned of the method from his uncle.
   “Really?”
   “Then they cut the finished sheets using an emery stone and artisans set the panes into sashes.”
   “They use emery to cut it?”
   “It’s said that emery cuts glass as easily as one cuts cloth with shears.”
   “Incredible,” said Joseph, arriving at the wagon.
    “The procedure’s been in general use for the past forty years or so according to Lucien the trader at the Chrysopolis warehouse, probably invented about 100 years ago. Before that, artisans would pour molten glass into a mold, but the panes were much smaller and thicker in those days.”
   “You know a lot about glass,” Joseph replied, handing him 224 denarii from a leather pouch while the slaves stacked the windows into the wagon between mats of woven straw.
   “We have to know about all items we stock Julius the elder, after all, people ask questions, and it isn’t proper for a vendor not to know the answers,” said Demosthenes, pocketing the coins and holding out his hand.
   Shaking his hand, Joseph nodded to the lad, he and Brutus climbing aboard the wagon.
   “Is my uncle coming over to visit again before we leave?” asked Demosthenes.
   “I hope so, we have to get rid of some that beer don’t we?” a smiling Joseph asked, taking to the reins and pulling out. Heading to the farm at a leisurely pace, he remarked, “It’s a good thing Callicles wasn’t up this morning.”
   “Why’s that?”
   “Because we’d probably sit around all day and get drunk with him, and we have more harvesting to do,” said Joseph while they rode along, Brutus smiling at the remark.
   Pulling into the farm, Brutus asked, “Why did you buy so many windows Julius the elder?”
   “I want to put an addition on the house to be used as a sleeping quarters for Ruth, and I also think windows in the slave quarters would be a nice idea, don’t you?” Joseph answered, coming to a stop in front of the house.
   “Yes, thank you Julius the elder.”
   “Don’t mention it,” said Joseph with a wave of a hand, stepping from the wagon, the slave taking the reins. “Find a safe place for the windows and run the rig to the stable,” he added, walking to the house.
   “Right,” Brutus replied, motioning the horses forward.
   Stepping into the kitchen, Joseph was greeted by Ruth, asking, “Have you eaten master Julius?”
   “No, and please call me Julius!” Joseph exclaimed, sitting down at the table.
   “I’m sorry, what would you like to have from me today, Julius the elder?”
   You don’t want to know, thought Joseph, ogling the attractive, petite teenaged Jewess, for a moment imagining her standing nude in his kitchen. “Anything will do, you’re an excellent cook,” Joseph answered, dismissing the lascivious thoughts.
   “We have boiled eggs, fresh bread I made this morning, honey porridge and cheese,” Ruth answered, Joseph still coveting her shapely body and pretty face, much to his chagrin.
   “I’m starved, give me some of each,” said Joseph, leaning back on a chair and closing his eyes, thinking of his beloved wife. The meal was served quickly, the slave placing his late breakfast on the table.
   “Would you like water too?” asked Ruth, Joseph wolfing down the food.
   “Hell no, bring me beer, this is delicious,” Joseph answered, his mouth full, starting on peeled, salted hard-boiled eggs after virtually inhaling the porridge.
   Ruth returned with a cup of Gallic beer for the patriarch of the Chrysippus clan.
   “Thanks kid,” Joseph replied.
   “Is there anything else you may require of me Julius the elder?” asked Ruth, she having perceived his ogling of her while moving about the kitchen.
   “Tend to my wife’s needs,” Joseph ordered, noting his teenage slave was being a tease to a much older man, who wasn’t interested and knew that she was only playing a game.
   “Yes master Julius,” said Ruth, leaving the kitchen and walking to the bedroom, seductively shaking her hips as she went.
   I’ll have to have to put her in her place if this keeps up, thought Joseph, finishing his eggs and grabbing a slice of cheese. For all of his bitter cynicism and atheism, Joseph was a one-woman man who dearly loved his Mary of Bethlehem, a love for his mate that had lasted and still burned brightly for 35 long years. Callicles was right about that little tease, with her moves she’d make the perfect whore, he thought, finishing his cheese and beer.
   Walking from the house, he mounted a horse, heading out to find his trusted overseer, Brutus of Rome. Finding him and the other slaves working in the north field, harvesting the last of the wheat with sickles, a surprised Joseph remarked, “So Brutus, I see you and the others have almost finished the fields.”
   “Yes, there’s only one left, we must get the grain harvested before the freeze sets in.”
   “It’s early, the freeze is weeks away, what’s the rush?”
   “We’ve several days of threshing to do, besides, Icarus and Ganymede have to work the forge all next week filling the centurion’s latest order, and the women have to deal with the hides Julius the younger has taken.”
   “You’re right, thank you my slaves,” said Joseph as Cyril looked to him. “What are you doing out here Cyril?”
   “Getting exercise,” a sweating Cyril replied.
   “Shouldn’t you be studying scrolls?”
   “I do in the evening, ofttimes with your son and Maria.”
   “Of course,” Joseph replied, recalling that Cyril liked the concept of physical labor for health reasons, afterward spending many of his evenings talking with friends Jesus and Mary, discussing philosophy, the arts and science.
   “Very well, carry on,” said Joseph, mounting his horse and riding to the house.
   Jesus and consort rose at dusk, the Magdalene making her way to his mother’s bedroom to check on her and the baby, Jesus moving to the kitchen for a tasty glass of beer.
   “Good evening son,” said Joseph, stepping in from the porch.
   “Good evening father, how’s the farm doing?”
   “Very well, would you believe Brutus and crew have almost finished the harvest?”
   “Then it’s good that Callicles and his people came by early, otherwise we’d have no room for it in the granary,” Jesus observed.
   “They still have to thresh it,” said Joseph, dipping a pitcher in an amphora of beer sitting next to the kitchen table.
   “That should take about a week.”
   “Yes, just after Callicles takes off, along with you I imagine,” Joseph replied, pouring beer from the pitcher.
   “Exactly,” said Jesus, finishing his glass.
   “He’s coming by the night before he leaves.”
   “As usual, it should be fun.”
   “So, what route are you taking to Europe?” Joseph asked, taking a deep drink.
   “I figure we’ll head to Chrysopolis and fly over the Hellespont into Thrace.”
   “Oh, I forgot, that bat thing of yours,” said Joseph, stretching and letting out a yawn.
   “It comes in handy when one has to cross rivers,” Jesus replied, filling his glass.
   “I imagine so,” his father agreed, taking the pitcher and refilling his glass. Taking another sip, he remarked, “I’m glad you're here, I need to talk to you about Ruth.”
   “And?”
   “Would you believe she’s trying to seduce me?”
   “She is?”
   “Only after a fashion,” said Joseph, “She’s a silly kid, it’s probably a game to her, seeing if a foolish old man with a hard on will take the bait. Sure, she’s good-looking all right, but even if I were so inclined, I wouldn’t bother – you know what I mean.”
   “Very typical for a girl her age,” Jesus replied, “I recall when I was young a girl named Hanna stripped nude in an olive grove, trying to get me to indulge in her comely favors. I wouldn’t worry about it dad, she’s just teasing you, ignore it and she’ll stop after a time.”
   “I know that, so, what did you do regarding Hannah?” Joseph asked, not knowing the particular story, but recalling the young girl from long ago, a hazel-eyed beauty named Hanna of Nazareth.
   “Nothing, I wasn’t interested in women at the time, I was only fourteen.”
   “That’s no excuse, my brother Simon had sex when he was twelve and I knew my first woman at fifteen, she was an older broad too,” said Joseph, downing his beer.
   “You don’t say?” Jesus answered, raising an eyebrow.
   “I do say,” Joseph replied, “She wanted it, she was cute, so I gave it to her in the woods; she liked it too.”
   “How old was she?”
   “Who knows, maybe nineteen or twenty.”
   “Was she a virgin?”
   “Nope, just a slut, if you ask me that gorgeous bitch probably screwed half of Bethlehem before I got hold of her; she really liked sex as I recall.”
   “What was her name?”
   “I don’t remember, Esther, or Ester, or maybe Abigail, hell, that was forty years ago.”
   Jesus sat thunderstruck at his father’s blunt admissions of what was regarded in Judea as wanton sinfulness, not knowing what to say.
   “Got you with that one didn’t I?” asked Joseph.
   “According to Roman law you could take Ruth’s virtue with no legal reprisals, due to her being your slave,” said Jesus, plainly ignoring his father’s question, sounding like a Roman lawyer while refilling his glass.
   “What do you think I am, I’d never do such a thing, raping a woman, even if I do own her ass, it’s disgusting,” Joseph retorted, vestiges of his Hebrew morality coming to the surface, reaching for the pitcher and topping off his glass.
   “Yes father, I was only pointing out the law of the land.”
   “Law or not, any man who’d take a woman without her consent is nothing but a goddamn animal,” said Joseph, taking another long drink from his glass.
   “You know, Pontius Pilate was having sex with a pair of young slave girls on the night that I killed him,” said Jesus, downing his glass, reliving the bitter memory of the enslaved twins, keeping the fact he slaughtered them to himself.
   “So that’s why you killed him isn’t it?” asked Joseph, knowing the story and his son’s strict moral standards, even as a vampire.
   “That’s right, he pleaded with me that he tried to save me from death, but I saw him with the girls before confronting him and figured he deserved such a fate.”
   “He did, never fault yourself there.”
   “I don’t, but Mary has pointed it out, especially regarding Pilate.”
   “I wouldn’t be concerned, I think she’s simply trying to show you that you’re still human,” said Joseph, reaching for the pitcher.
   “Probably.”
   “So, when did you lose it?” asked Joseph.
   “Lose what?”
   “Your virginity for God’s sake,” said Joseph, resting his head on an arm.
   “I lost it when I was eighteen, in Rome,” Jesus replied, admitting his carnal sin.
   “See, you are human after all,” Joseph observed, smiling.
   “I never said I wasn’t.”
   “Who was she?”
   “A Gallic girl I liked, the daughter of a fabric merchant, if you really need to know the lurid details,” answered Jesus, looking to his father.
   “Oh,” said Joseph, realizing he should press no further.
   “Well, regarding Ruth, would you like me to hypnotize her so she won’t bother you, or would you rather deal with it yourself?”
   “I can handle her, I just needed your opinion,” Joseph replied, shaking his head at the suggestion.
   “Incidentally, does mother know about what you told me?”
   “No, and if I were you I wouldn’t tell her,” Joseph retorted, knowing he would never do such a thing.
   “I have no intention father, it’s just you’re so much different than I believed you were,” said Jesus, looking out a window.
   “Perhaps you were gullible in the past,” Joseph replied, holding up hands.
   “Perhaps, but not that gullible I think,” said Jesus, refilling his glass and taking another drink of beer.
   “What do you mean?” asked Joseph, rising from the table to refill the pitcher.
   “The fact that you robbed a publican who was later crucified for your thievery, and that you knew a fallen woman before marriage, along with claiming to be an atheist after all those years of practicing the Hebrew faith, theoretically makes you a hypocrite,” Jesus answered as diplomatically as possible.
   “So what, we’re all hypocrites or haven’t you noticed, after all, your woman was once a whore,” said Joseph, filling the pitcher, not caring or offended by Jesus’ blunt answer.
   “Yes she was, but is no longer, and that doesn’t mean I’m a – ”
   “That’s bullshit and you know it,” Joseph retorted, pointing a finger at Jesus. “You screwed some broad in Rome when you were in your teens, and now you slaughter people by the wagonload for the blood in their veins, deserving or not, and remember in Exodus the fifth commandment says that thou shalt not – ”
   “I get your point, you think so?” a frowning Jesus asked, holding up hands in protest to his adversarial father.
    “Yeah, and between you and me I don’t care. Further, after what you’ve been through, neither should you, so don’t worry about it,” Joseph answered, sitting down and refilling his glass.
   “I don’t really worry about it, but what do you mean?” asked Jesus, not following his father’s reasoning.
   “What do I mean? It’s obvious that all the crap the priests said in Judea, along with what’s written down in the Torah is nothing but a crock. Hell, to me you’re proof of that,” said a bitter Joseph, taking a deep drink.
   “What do you mean?”
   “What do I mean – are you crazy?” Joseph asked, staring him in the face.
   “I’m sorry father, I don’t follow, please explain.”
   “Explain? You can’t be that stupid, verily I say unto you, tell me wise one, what kind of god would let my wife almost die while giving birth to my eighth child?”
   “Mother and Julian survived their ordeal.”
   “Only because of Electra’s skill and nothing more.”
   “True.”
   Further, what kind of vicious, monstrous god would condemn my firstborn, my own flesh and blood, to be slaughtered in agony on a cross, and then out of sheer spitefulness force him to resurrect from the grave to walk the earth as a vampire?” asked Joseph, growing angry.
   “I don’t know,” Jesus replied, filling his glass from the pitcher.
   “At least you admit that,” Joseph answered in disgust, in no mood for discussing theology.
   The Magdalene walked into the kitchen, having played with Julian while conversing with Mary in the bedroom. “Hi Joseph,” she said, sitting down at the table beside Jesus.
   “Good evening, care for beer?” asked Joseph, thankful she had intruded on a conversation that had filled him with bitterness.
   “Why not, it’s early yet,” the Magdalene replied, Joseph moving to retrieve a cup. “Your wife told me Julian said his first real word today.”
   “He did?” asked Joseph, turning from a cupboard.
   “Yes, it was ‘me’, spoken in perfect Latin.”
   “Excellent,” said Jesus as Joseph smiled.
   The conversation continued for several hours, Cyril dropping by, informed that Jesus and consort were preparing to travel to Europe within the week. “You will stop by to bid us farewell before you leave?” he asked, nursing a cup of herbal tea.
   “Of course, have no concern, we will return,” said Jesus.
   “When, in a hundred years?” asked Cyril, his father breaking into laughter.
   “No, in only a few years, I simply want to show Mary the sights of Athens and Rome,” Jesus answered, not realizing the humor of the situation.
   “You will be gone a good while,” Cyril observed, “There is a lot to see in Athens and Rome.”
   “I’ll write, not only to my parents but to you.”
   “I shall look forward to it.”
   “It’s good you came by Cyril, I need to discuss contingency plans with you and my father.”
   “Contingency plans?”
   “Yes, as you are aware, Mary and I have to head to Rome to establish citizenship for the family, and should we run into an unfortunate happenstance, we’ll need another plan.”
   “In the event that you are destroyed before returning,” said Cyril, Joseph frowning at the remark.
   “Yes,” Jesus replied, looking to the Magdalene.
   “It does have to be addressed,” Mary agreed as Joseph looked to her.
   “So, what are your suggestions son?” asked Joseph.
   “Should we fail to return by the time of the census, you, mother, Julian and Cyril will have to head to Rome to establish citizenship for the family.”
   “How?”
   “People are easily bought everywhere,” answered a cynical Jesus. “With the money we have and Cyril’s knowledge of Roman law and procedures, it should be easy to bribe an official at the tabularium and have the necessary documents forged.”
   “It should be possible, but I feel that you give me more credit than I am due,” said Cyril.
   “I have faith in you,” Jesus replied, an unsure Cyril frowning.
   “How much money would it take?” asked Joseph.
   “For citizenship I’d be prepared to spend a thousand aurei.”
   “That’s a bit steep,” said Joseph.
   “If it saves your life it’s cheap. Aside from that, there’s at least 5,000 aurei sitting in the cave; I’ll show you and Cyril where it is before we leave.”
   “Okay,” said Joseph, resting his head on an arm.
   “I should make a note of the location once you show us,” said Cyril.
   “No need, I’ll draw you a map after I move the loot further back in the cave for better security.”
   “You – can’t die son,” said Joseph.
   “No, as the Magdalene and I are already dead, but we can be destroyed father.”

* * *

   Callicles came by a few evenings later to get drunk, thoroughly enjoying himself with Jesus and family. He brought along Demosthenes, mercenary friends Kago and Aeschesles, Gavinal Septimus and Marcus Pertinax, all riding to the Chrysippus farm in his touring wagon. Pulling up at a little past eight, the men observed Jesus and Ganymede having a sparring match by torchlight, the muscular slave now expert with the gladius. Quitting for the evening, Jesus and Ganymede walked to the wagon, the vampiric Christ greeting their guests.
   “Good evening friends, welcome to our farm,” said Jesus, his father waving from the porch.
   “What were you trying to do Julius, kill each other?” Callicles asked, stepping down and tying the horses to a hitching post, looking to Jesus and the slave.
   “Heavens no, we were sparring, Ganymede wanted to learn the finer points of sword fighting. I’ve been teaching him for the past few months.”
   “You fight well,” an impressed Kago observed, he considered an expert swordsman.
   “Thanks,” said Ganymede, wiping sweat from his brow while the others stepped from the wagon and headed for the porch.
   “May I spar with your slave?” Kago asked, feeling he could use practice while Callicles inquired if beer or wine was available, Joseph answering in the affirmative, calling for Ruth.
   “Ask him, or you can spar with me if you like,” Jesus replied, standing on the steps, sword in hand.
   “I’d like to try you both,” said Kago, looking to his sheathed gladius.
   “What do you think?” asked Jesus, turning to Ganymede, standing a few feet from the porch, sword in hand.
   “I’m game,” said Ganymede.
   “Okay, who’s first?” asked Kago, walking down the steps and unsheathing his gladius.
   “Don’t get rough with them Kago, they’re friends of ours,” said Callicles.
   “No problem boss,” Kago acknowledged with a wave of his sword.
   A confidant Ganymede stepped forward and said, “Defend yourself friend.”
   Jesus moved to the porch. The slave went for the mercenary in a determined attack, swords colliding for the next fifteen minutes, the pair in a mock dance of death before the others.
   “Your slave would do very well in the arena,” an impressed Gavinal remarked to Joseph while Ruth passed cups of beer to the spectators, slaves Icarus and Brutus also there, drinking beer and delighting in the revelry.
   “That’s what my son says,” Joseph answered, intently watching the match.
   “You’re pretty good,” said Kago, making a gallant attempt to fend off Ganymede.
   “Not half as good as Julius is,” Ganymede replied, pressing the attack and disarming the mercenary seconds later.
   “Shit!” Kago exclaimed, staring at his gladius sticking in the earth.
   “Looks to me like you’ve met your match Kago,” said Aeschesles.
   “I need a drink,” a sweating Kago replied, pulling his gladius from the earth and returning it to its scabbard.
   “Want to try me again?” asked Ganymede, holding his sword in an attack position.
   “I’m too tired, you beat me fair and square, that’s enough for today,” said Kago, both men heading for the porch.
   “What about me?” Jesus asked as the mercenary walked past, grabbing a cup of beer from a table.
   “Forget it, if you taught him to fight that well I’m no match for you either,” a frowning Kago observed, taking a deep drink of beer. Later, the party headed to the kitchen where a buffet table prepared by Ruth was stocked with various fare. Each man helping himself to a plate, they moved out to the torch lit porch in the warm fall evening, Jesus leaning against a porch rail drinking beer from a pitcher. Drinking and talking over the next hours, a curious Kago was engaged in conversation with Ganymede, asking him how he learned to fight with a sword so well.
   “I’ve fought with them for years, my former master Marcus Trajanus was a professional gladiator in his youth,” said Ganymede, refilling his cup from a pitcher.
   “So was I, but they never taught us to fight that well in Capua.”
   “Julius the younger taught me the finer points only this year; he learned from warriors in a country called Kush.”
   “It’s too bad you or he couldn’t teach me your moves,” a drunk Kago replied, Jesus and consort having excused themselves near midnight so they could head out and sate their need for blood. Not that they put it that way, they were gone less than an hour, finding, slaughtering and robbing thieves on the west road.
   “Perhaps we can if the master doesn’t mind,” said Ganymede, rather drunk.
   “I’d appreciate it, you fight well with the gladius, how are you with a long sword?”
   “I, Julius the younger and his father can use either weapon, but they and I prefer the gladius for close fighting.”
   “A long sword has more power, I took a thief’s head off with one last month,” said Kago, slurring his words.
   “True, but the gladius is much easier to handle,” Ganymede replied, their conversation continuing for the next half hour, the drunken slave attempting to show him attack moves from his repose in the chair, fortunately without a sword. Their hunger sated, Jesus and Mary flew to the farm, transforming in the shadows, returning as Brutus fell to the porch floor unconscious.
   “That Brutus of yours drinks entirely too much,” said Callicles, looking to the still form on the floor.
   “That’s the pot calling the kettle black is it not?” Gavinal asked, looking to the trader as Marcus Pertinax smiled, he leaning heavily against the porch rail.
   “Come to think of it Gavinal, yeah – get me another beer will you girl?” asked Callicles, looking to Ruth while the rest of the group laughed. Ruth returned with beer as Callicles asked Jesus, “You and the wife are heading back to Europe?”
   “Yes,” said Jesus, “I miss Rome and Etruria.”
   “I’d never miss Rome, much of the place is a pigsty, excepting for the Emperor’s palace on the Palatine, along with the temples and the forum,” said Gavinal, having been in Rome many times on government business.
   “That’s only in the slums Gavinal, further, we still own land in Gaul, I want to see how our vineyards are doing,” Jesus lied.
   “I see, a business trip,” Gavinal replied, trying to focus on Jesus.
   “That and a vacation,” said Jesus.
   The unbridled drinking continued through most of the night, the slaves falling to the floor one by one, Jesus looking to the east for the rising sun near five. Callicles finally collapsed to the floor unconscious while notary Marcus snored away in a chair. The Magdalene had retired near three, with Jesus, feigning drunkenness as the sky was lightening near six, remarking, “I don’t know about you folks, but I’ve had it.”
   Joseph nodded, looked to his son and replied, “I’ll bid them farewell and see you later today after you sleep it off.”
   “Right dad,” said Jesus, rising unsteadily for better effect.
   “May you and your wife have a safe trip to Europe Julius the younger,” Gavinal called as Jesus started for the door.
   “Thank you friend Gavinal,” Jesus replied, shutting the door to protect him from the rising sun.
   “I love that guy, but your son’s so pale, he needs some sun,” said Gavinal.
   “He and his wife Maria are thinkers, spending their evenings in introspection and studying scrolls,” Joseph replied, “Most times he rarely goes to bed before sunrise.”
   “Like my uncle Sextus in Rome does,” said Gavinal, dropping the subject and pouring a glass of beer as the sun broke the horizon.
   Joseph and Gavinal sat on the porch for another hour, sleepy slaves helping him, Demosthenes and a plastered Marcus Pertinax to the touring wagon at seven, a brilliant fall sun rising over Tibernum. The unconscious Callicles, with a pickled Kago and Aeschesles, were loaded aboard as human cargo and spirited away from the farm while Joseph waved from the porch.
   “Life is good,” said a smiling Joseph as he shut the door, his slaves snoring away on the porch. Heading for his bedroom, he fell into bed, the rest of his household in blissful slumber.

* * *

   Over the next nights Jesus prepared for their journey to Europe, making sure the farm was in order, his parents safe, and the slaves happy and content in their surroundings. In addition, he made certain their hoard of loot was safely hidden from possible explorers, deep in their cave. Moving their treasure five hundred feet further back in the cavern, almost 6,000 aurei was stashed in neat piles down a shaft twenty feet deep, along with smaller piles of gems and jewelry.
   “How much do you want to take with us?” Mary asked, standing in pitch darkness, Jesus dropping a handful of aurei into a leather pouch.
   “I figure we’ll carry a couple hundred aurei, just in case.”
   “In case of what?”
   “In case we don’t find anyone to rob along the way.”
   “That’ll be the day, I’ll bet by the time we reach Rome we’ll have another thousand thanks to the jackasses lurking the roads,” Mary declared as Jesus leapt up the shaft, she following.
   “Probably,” said Jesus after landing.
   “So, what will we do with the money we steal along the way?”
   “Maybe we’ll buy a vineyard in Etruria or Gaul, just for the hell of it,” Jesus replied as they headed to the mouth of the cave.
   “I suppose,” said Mary, not realizing it was a game to Jesus, an immortal man who didn’t care about money at all and never did even when alive, his only real use for money being to help those in need.
   Electra, hearing the news of their trip, dropped by with an amulet acquired in her travels, presenting it to Jesus and Mary. “I want you to have this Master Julius,” she said, looking to him. Bearing an image of two-faced Janus, god of beginnings and endings, Electra added, “This god is said to protect one during journeys and will assure your safe return.”
   “Thank you Electra,” Jesus replied, taking the charm by its chain.
   “To assure protection for both, please weave yours and your wife’s hair into the chain, then place it around your neck and never remove it,” Electra advised as a careless Jesus put it in a tunic pocket.
   “I shall do so before we leave,” said Jesus.
   Each slave made a point to drop by, all relating they would miss their friend and son of the master of the farm, Julius Chrysippus the younger. 
   “Why do you have to leave now Julius?” asked Brutus over a beer, “It’s getting near winter.”
   “We’ll spend time in southern Greece till spring and head to our holdings in Gaul then,” lied Jesus.
   “Delos, probably,” said Brutus.
   “There and Lesbos.”
   “The isle of Sappho.”
   “Exactly,” Jesus answered, having perused the lyricism of Sappho during his travels, albeit in Latin. Spending their last evening in the kitchen talking with his parents and Cyril, Jesus handed his father a detailed parchment map revealing where their loot was stashed in the cave. Pitcher of beer on the table, Jesus and Mary conversed with them into the wee hours of the morning. Pouring a beer, he remarked near midnight, “I was thinking dad, during our absence perhaps Cyril should move into our bedroom.”
   “I remember you saying that,” replied Joseph.
   “Since he knows of our true natures I feel he’s more like family than anything else.”
   “I agree,” said Joseph, looking to his wife, “What do you think?”
   “It’s fine with me.”
   “Good,” said Joseph, looking to the slave, “You’re welcome to their room Cyril, if you like, until they return.”
   “What of the other slaves?” Cyril asked, sitting down his cup of herbal tea.
   “What about them?” asked Jesus.
   “They may feel slighted at my moving in with you,” the teacher answered, looking to Joseph.
   “Nonsense,” said Joseph, “We’ll tell them you’re teaching me history, science and philosophy, and that I wish for you to reside here while you do.”
   “My former master said the same thing,” Cyril replied.
   “Then it’s settled,” said Jesus.
   “Say, would you care to play a game of latrunculi with me to pass the time Julius?” Cyril asked, Joseph laughing out loud.
   “No thanks,” Jesus replied, “I’ve only beaten you twice in fifteen games and will have to work on my strategy during our absence.”
   “You and a friend of his named John are the only people who were ever able to beat him,” said Joseph with a touch of pride.
   “He told me that the night we first played the game.”
   “Then you beat him,” said Joseph, yawning.
   “After three hours, and only by two or so moves. Julius is a very formidable player, once he learns to take more time planning crucial moves, I doubt I will be able to take him again.”
   Jesus smiled at the declaration. “Have no fear good Cyril, while I’m traveling I shall further hone my skills at latrunculi and play you again when I return.”
   “If I am still alive,” Cyril replied.
   “Why shouldn’t you be?” asked Jesus.
   “I am nearly seventy-one years old, and for a mortal of any age just a few years can be a very long time, but for a vampire, a year or even a dozen is but a moment.”
   “You’re right,” said Jesus, looking to the elderly teacher, thinking what a waste it would be for him to die and reflecting how wise Cyril was, his knowing that the past few years had indeed passed very quickly for them, it seemingly only months to he and Mary.
   His parents retiring near two, Cyril and the couple were left in the kitchen, passing the hours discussing politics, philosophy and finally, vampirism.
   “It would be interesting if you could find a copy of Thucydides’ legend scroll in your travels, to compare it with the writings of Herodotus,” said Cyril, straining tealeaves from his cup and adding a spoonful of honey.
   “I’ll look for it,” Jesus replied, pouring another beer, “Along with anything I may think of interest to you.”
   “Thank you, when you return may we both know more about vampirism,” said a yawning Cyril, noticing from a far window that the sky was beginning to lighten.
   “Indeed,” Jesus answered.
   “Dawn is approaching,” Cyril observed, “I must head back once I finish this tea.”
   “We have to turn in too, we need rest for the journey tomorrow night.”
   “At what time are you leaving?”
   “Just after sunset, I figure it would be best that way, no long good-byes and such.”
   “True,” said Cyril, regret in his voice, taking a deep drink of tea.
   “Is something wrong?” asked Mary, looking to him and placing her hand on his.
   “Nothing really Maria, I have grown rather fond of you both,” Cyril answered, lips pressing tightly while looking at her hand.
   “Parting is as bitter as gall, may our next meeting be as sweet as honey,” said Jesus, rising from the table as Cyril finished his tea and rose.
   “If we should meet again.”
   “We shall, I assure you,” Jesus replied. Walking to the door, the vampiric couple stopped at the threshold, noting from the lightening sky that dawn was arriving.
   “Take care Cyril,” said a tearful Mary, giving the old man an embrace.
   “And you take care dear Mary,” Cyril replied, returning the embrace, calling the Magdalene by her true name. Looking to Jesus, the teacher put out his hand, giving Jesus a firm Roman handshake. “I shall miss you friend Jesus of Nazareth.”
   “And I you, friend Cyril of Athens,” said Jesus. The door closed, Cyril walking to the slave quarters, Jesus and consort moving to their darkened room and falling into slumber.
   Awakening shortly before sunset, Jesus roused Mary, dressed, headed to the kitchen and poured a glass of fine Gallic wine.
   Joseph walked to the kitchen and asked, “You’re taking off tonight?”
   “Yes, I figured we’d say goodbye to you and mother, leaving via the west road,” Jesus replied, downing the wine.
   “We’re going to miss you son.”
   “I shall miss you and mother, but we must be moving on.”
   “Of course,” said Joseph, “Be sure to say goodbye to your mother and Julian; I have to see Brutus about the hunting schedule.”
   “Yes father,” replied Jesus, leaning back in his chair. Joseph headed through the doorway, closing the door, just as the Magdalene appeared from their room. “Hello woman, father said that we should say goodbye to mother and my brother before we leave.”
   “Didn’t he want to say goodbye to me?” Mary asked, feeling hurt by Joseph’s absence.
   “He doesn’t want us to leave, this is his way of dealing with the situation,” said Jesus, looking to the door, dropping his chair to the floor and rising.
   “I see,” Mary replied, walking to Joseph and Mary’s bedroom with her consort. Julian, a very precocious child, blue-gray eyed like his father and Jesus, looked to his brother and said, ‘me’, in Latin, his mother smiling at her firstborn.
   “I love you my little brother,” said Jesus, holding the baby and hugging him, handing him to his mother.
   “Ma-ra,” said Julian, looking to his undead aunt, pointing a stubby finger at her, clumsily attempting to stand up on the bed for a hug from her. The Magdalene hugged the child and returned him to his mother, placing him at her breast. She smiled tearfully, thankful to whatever gods who were that she had her beloved Jesus, a good and wonderful man she had loved for so many years, also thankful that she, so denied of love in the past, had the love of his family and baby brother.
   Bidding farewell to his mother and brother, they set out on their journey to Europe. The vampiric Christ was carrying a light leather satchel of appropriate clothing and money for the trip, both looking back in the direction of the farm occasionally while leaving Tibernum. For the traveler Jesus, it was just a brief parting from his latest residence, but for Mary Magdalene, Tibernum and the Chrysippus farm was the only true home she had ever known.
   Near eight, Cyril knocked on the door.
   “Come in,” Joseph called, sitting alone at the kitchen table drinking beer.
   “Greetings Julius the Elder,” said Cyril, taking a seat.
   “Good evening to you,” Joseph replied, “Are you moving in tonight?”
   “No, not yet, there are items I must collect from the slave quarters; I just dropped by to visit.”
   “My son and his wife have already left.”
   “I surmised that, and figured since they were gone you could use the company.”
   Joseph smiled and said, “Yes, I probably could, the place already seems empty without him.”
   “He is a remarkable man.”
   “That he is; I wonder if he’ll ever return,” said Joseph, looking to the door as if expecting Jesus to walk through any moment.
   “He will,” Cyril answered, also looking to the door.
  
 


THE END