Tuesday, February 28, 2017


   Waking shortly after sunset, Jesus made a point of visiting Cyril, greeting him in the common area of the slave quarters while Penelope was serving a meal for the group.
   “Hello Cyril,” said Jesus as Icarus let him in.
   “Greetings Julius the younger,” Cyril replied, looking up from a scroll of Diogenes, the cynic of Sinope, Penelope handing him a bowl of warm venison stew.
   “Please eat it before it gets cold,” said Penelope, the teacher known to leave a bowl sitting for hours while he continued reading, at times asleep in the wee hours of the morning, food still uneaten, sitting beside him on a low table.
   “Thank you Penelope, I will,” Cyril replied, rolling up the scroll.
   “Would you care for some Julius the younger?” Penelope asked.
   “Thank you just the same, I’ve already eaten,” Jesus lied, hoping his attentive slave would not be offended by the reply.
   “Maybe next time,” Penelope replied, handing a bowl to Brutus.
   “So, I’ve heard you’re preparing lessons for my brother Julian,” said Jesus, taking a seat beside the elderly slave.
   “One can never start the education of a child too early,” Cyril answered, starting on his light dinner, “In these modern times, the young Roman must be quickly taught in the ways of the world.”
   “Of course, and how are you this fine evening?”
   “Quite well thank you. After I finish this meal, would you care to join me in discussing the sciences, philosophy, or whatever comes to mind?”
   “For a while, certainly.”
   “I think we should walk to the river for our discussion,” said Cyril, sopping up the remainder of the stew with bread.
   “There is a matter of importance that I must discuss with you privately,” Cyril replied, rising slowly from his chair and handing the emptied bowl to Penelope.
   “All right,” said Jesus, wondering what was of such importance that it must be discussed in private. They headed to the beach, jutting out to a huge boulder on the swiftly flowing upper Euphrates. Cyril, his back stiff due to advancing arthritis, sat on a fallen log with a wince, looking to the starlit sky.
   “I have been a slave since I was eleven,” Cyril began, recalling not the best of childhoods.
   “And?” asked Jesus, sitting on the beach and looking to the teacher.
   “My first master intended me to be a scribe, but my teacher, the slave Hephaestos, stated I had an aptitude for more cerebral things.”
   “That’s more than obvious,” said Jesus, agreeing with the long dead mentor.
   “So they trained me as a teacher.”
   “No better choice could have been made.”
   “You think so?”
   “Of course, I wish I’d been given a teacher as brilliant as you.”
   “Thank you,” said Cyril, “Julius, I have never enjoyed discussions more with anyone than I have with you. You have incredible insight, like Socrates or Plato had; it has been an honor to have met a man such as you.”
   “Meaning there is much more to you than meets the eye. There are things you must hide from people, but can be detected by those like myself.”
   “I don’t understand,” said Jesus, arching eyebrows in confusion.
   “I think you do,” Cyril replied, turning to Jesus.
   “What are you getting at?”
   “You and your woman Maria are not what you seem to be; appearances can be most deceiving,” said Cyril, looking Jesus in the eyes.
   “Don’t talk to me in riddles, what do you mean?” asked Jesus, wishing his undead heart could beat strongly at least one more time.
   “The historian Herodotus of Halicarnassus wrote of it long ago, at the time of the Athenian statesman Pericles. Thucydides did as well, they helped defend the Athenians during the first Peloponnesian war, and you are one of them.”
   “What is that?” Jesus asked, fearing the worst.
   “You are a vampire,” said Cyril, “So is Maria, your mortal parents know this as well.”
   Jesus Christ was taken back. Vampiric instinct told him he should kill Cyril, for perceiving his undead nature, but he fought off the compulsion, allowing the teacher to continue. “How did you discern that sir?” he asked, looking intently to the slave.
   “I suspected you from the time you brought us to this farm, the pale complexions of you and Maria, your cool hands, moving about only at night, your heightened senses coupled with the precise movements of a predator: all are the qualities of a vampire.”
   “Is it that obvious?”
   “Not to most people.”
   “What’s so different about you?”
   “I am incapable of being entranced,” said Cyril, “I recall you coming to our quarters shortly after you purchased us, telling us you were a late sleeping philosopher and thinker. I feigned entrancement and knew, according to Herodotus, that you were a blood sucking vampire.”
   “So you can’t be hypnotized; why didn’t you confront me about this earlier?”
   “I needed time to think, to size you up, and in time found you are a good man, even as a vampire.”
   “But I was sure all of you – ”
   “I have lived a long time, and with age not only comes wisdom, but cunning, assuring my survival. Do you have any idea how old I am, even though I am mortal, unlike you?”
   “You’re fifty or so; my father’s age.”
   “Wrong, I am nearly seventy.”
   “I’ve seen you work unfettered in the fields, and Electra – a man your age – ”
   “Electra is fifty-four and seems to go for older men,” said Cyril, “Aside from a touch of arthritis, I am more than capable of manual labor sir. Oh yes, she told me of the splinters she pulled from your hand and the swelling that ensued, they were made of oak, were they not?”
   “You know.”
   “Yes, you are a vampire, so is the pretty younger woman calling herself Maria.”
   “Well, though you’re aware of our true natures, I feel you are no threat to us.”
   “Not at all, I actually admire those such as you, especially yourself.”
   “You are a brilliant man,” Cyril replied, looking down and flicking a centipede from the log.
   “Mary – Maria to you, is not like myself,” said Jesus, “Not that she is unintelligent, but she’s very impulsive and does not limit herself to taking only those deserving.”
   “And you do?” Cyril asked, unaware that Jesus had strict specifications when it came to his victims.
   “I believe only those deserving of such a fate should be taken by a vampire; that is, evil people, criminals, thieves and such.”
   “Interesting,” said Cyril, looking to Jesus, impressed by the words he was hearing, uttered by a vampire, a creature he had read of in the past, not usually known for mercy or decency, let alone kindness, virtues of which Jesus had in abundance.
   “Maria does not have the same beliefs, you could almost say she’s amoral when it comes to that.”
   “I understand, and she is obviously more in touch with her nature than you are,” said Cyril with a slight smile.
   “She is?” asked Jesus, digging the heel of a shoe into the sand.
   “Yes, I learned from the writings of Herodotus.”
   “What else do you know about us?” asked Jesus, looking to the slave, sitting on a log by the riverbank, unafraid, not unlike Socrates.
    “I know your woman’s true name is Mary Magdalene, and that your name is Jesus of Nazareth. Further, you are not Roman citizens, nor even Greek Etruscans from Gaul, but are actually Jews from Judea.”
   “From when I entranced the others at the slave quarters; incidentally, Mary is half Jewish and half Benjaminite, and I’m not Jewish at all, I’m a full-blooded Levite,” said Jesus, thinking of the evening when he had entranced them.
   “You and yours hail from Judea, what’s the difference?” asked Cyril, not familiar with the twelve tribes of Israel.
   “Not much, evidently,” said a sighing Jesus, finally realizing why Gentiles referred to his kind as Jews and nothing more, Judea was the key, inhabitants of that land referred to by Romans and others as ‘Jews’.
   “No matter, I like you just the same.”
   “Do the others know?”
   “No, and I have no intention of making them aware.”
   “Why are you telling me this?” asked an incredulous Jesus, staring at the aged slave.
   “Above all Julius, like you I value truth and honesty. Due to your undead nature, you must masquerade as you do to survive in a world that despises you and all your kind. I truly think there is nothing wrong in doing that, and were I in your place I would do the same.”
   “You could have said nothing and avoided this situation; I could have killed you for your revelations, why did you do so, risking death?”
   “After much observation I deduced rightly that you would not kill me, and you are much too good of a man to lie to. Further, deceitful actions such as that are immoral in my opinion,” said Cyril, his personal morality binding on no others than himself.
   “I see, do you want anything for your continued silence?” asked Jesus, knowing he could kill him if he wished, but realizing it would be terribly wrong to kill a man such as Cyril.
   “What do you mean?” asked Cyril, insulted, looking to Jesus with a frown.
   “Do you want freedom, or money, I’m very wealthy and can give you anything you wish,” said Jesus, figuring the slave had an angle.
   “Freedom is a subjective term at best, and I do not need money as I am a slave, dependant on you and yours for my needs.”
    “I can also give – ”
   “You cannot give me immortality because I do not want it,” Cyril retorted, having already deduced what Jesus was going to offer next, “At my advanced age, I am perfectly content with my station in life. Perhaps in the distant past such offers would have made a difference, but not now. Further, if I live long enough, I look forward to teaching another child, your brother Julian. No, there is nothing I want from you, excepting for while you are here, we may enjoy more enlightening conversations together.”
   “You want nothing?”
   “No, excepting for your continued friendship,” said Cyril, looking to Jesus with a resolved expression revealing that he was telling the truth.
   “You know we’ll be moving on?” Jesus asked, picking up on the subtle nuances of his replies.
   “All vampires do, they have to according to Herodotus and Thucydides. It is written that it is your nature to behave in such a fashion.”
   “I must look at this scroll of Herodotus and the one of Thucydides. My father said he read Herodotus’ treatise on legends, but he no longer has the scroll.”
   “I have a copy of Herodotus. You purchased it from that Callicles fellow a while back, a coarse rogue he is, but the world must have rogues for those who are not to recognize them as such. Thucydides’ writings are much harder to obtain, I have not read of him since I was in my thirties.”
   Jesus smiled at the pronouncement and asked, “May I read the scroll?”
   “Why not, you bought it, and may study from the copy if you like, but why, even with the limitations you place on yourself, you are apparently quite a successful vampire as it is.”
   “You may find this odd friend, but I’ve always tried to follow a proper moral outlook regarding the manner in which I conduct myself.”
   “A proper moral outlook? All moralities are subjective determinations, you know that,” said Cyril, staring at the night sky, the elderly teacher more of a cynic than he would ever admit.
   “True, perhaps I should call it self-discipline,” Jesus replied.
   “A much better description.”
   Both sat quietly for a while, listening to the flowing Euphrates, other noises from animals and insects adding their voices to the clear night. “Would you like to peruse the scroll tonight?” the teacher asked, breaking the silence.
   “Not tonight, perhaps we can review it together later. I do need to make myself familiar with the finer points,” said Jesus. “So, you intend to stay on with us?”
   “Of course, I have no other choice available, and truly enjoy the company of you and yours, even if you and Maria are vampires. I am an old man Julius, where would I go if I agreed to your generous offer?” Cyril asked, using the names Jesus and Mary now preferred.
   “I understand. I’ll inform Maria that you are aware of us but are no threat, this will save you from possible harm by her.”
   “What will that accomplish? If she is vicious like you say, as a vampire nothing can stop her, excepting for an oak stake to the heart, and I am too damn old for that.”
   “I can stop her easily, I’m her master.”
   “So you are the one who made her a vampire.”
   “Yes,” said Jesus, placing a hand on the old man’s arm, “Always remember my friend, you have nothing to fear from us.”
   “That is good to know,” Cyril replied, “So, who is the vampire that brought you to the realm of the undead?”
   Jesus paused a moment. “I don’t know, Cyril.”
   “You do not know - how?” asked Cyril, “All vampires have masters!”
   “I was crucified a few years ago in Jerusalem; when I awoke in my grave I had become a vampire.”
   “You were crucified; of what crime were you guilty?”
   “Nothing in my opinion, it’s a long story. In short, the Hebrew Pharisees there convinced the Judean procurator, a man called Pontius Pilate, that I was guilty of the crime of blasphemy against the god Yahweh.”
   “Yahweh, I have never heard of him,” said Cyril, raising an eyebrow at the unusual name.
   “Neither has anyone else outside of Judea.”
   “That is unfortunate, all wise men know the gods are not real, they simply exist to explain the vicissitudes of life to those who are not wise.”
   “Definitely,” Jesus replied, realizing Cyril’s words rang bitterly true.
   “It must bother you greatly that you were not guilty of the crime you were convicted of,” said Cyril, looking to Jesus.
   “You believe me when I say I was not guilty of blasphemy?”
   “Of course, there are no gods, at least none we can perceive as simple men. How can one be guilty of blaspheming that which does not exist?” asked Cyril, arching eyebrows.
   “You’re an atheist.”
   “All wise men are,” replied Cyril plainly, but not arrogantly, the learned teacher not knowing if such a being as God existed.
   “I see,” said Jesus, looking to the Euphrates.
   “And my statement does not mean that there is not the possibility of an entity or deity who may have created our existence. It simply means that God, if such a being exists at all, is unknowable and unreachable for us, something far beyond the realm of this reality.”
   “Very, very true.”
   “I take it from your reply that you did not feel that way in the past.”
   “No, but I do now.”
   “Such admissions are the mark of true wisdom.”
   “Wisdom you say, had I been wise I would have listened to my father and wouldn’t have been murdered in Judea by my fellows for preaching about God,” spat a bitter Jesus.
   “What did he have to say about it?”
   “He said for years that I was wasting my time trying to change people’s attitudes toward each other and toward God, if such a being exists.”
   “I am sorry to say you were wasting your time, and that your father was right regarding that. Attempting to reason with people on such matters is bound to fail, as most individuals are irrational beings, especially when it comes to religion,” said Cyril, leaning back on the log.
   “What do you mean?”
   “Most people are like sheep, nothing more. They have their beliefs, taught to them by their parents, and if someone comes along and tells them differently, they are bound to resent, and perhaps even hate the one who contradicts what they have come to believe.”
   “I understand that now,” Jesus replied, looking to the starlit sky.
   “Proving the gift of wisdom comes only with age and experience Julius.”
   “Very true, especially for me,” said a sighing Jesus, thinking back to his short-lived ministry in Judea.
   “Especially for anyone who is wise,” Cyril replied, stroking his beard.
   Jesus, relaxing, changed the subject. “So Cyril, the others say you do not drink wine.”
   “I never touch it. Wine does not taste good to me, so I will not drink it.”
   “An honest man, many of those who do not like it drink wine to fit in with their peers, Diogenes would have admired you,” said Jesus, he and the teacher rising and heading to the slave house.
   “Diogenes searched for an honest man and never found one in all his travels.”
   “I have found one in you friend.”
   “Evidently, so have I, in you,” Cyril replied while they walked along.
   Arriving at the slave quarters, Jesus offered his hand. “I’ll see you in a few evenings Cyril, and we’ll peruse your scroll of Herodotus.”
   “I shall look forward to it,” said Cyril, shaking hands with the vampiric Christ.
   Later, Jesus met Ganymede for his fencing lesson, on this evening showing him the fundamentals of fancy sword fighting. Icarus and Brutus joined as spectators, drinking strong wine with Joseph, watching from the porch. The slave learning the moves quickly, while relaxing on the porch Jesus told his father he wouldn’t be surprised if Ganymede became as skilled as he was within three months.
   “He’ll never be as good as you are,” said Joseph, having watched him play with the slave like a cat with a mouse.
   Near midnight, Jesus and Mary walked into the cool night and transformed, heading south in search of dinner. Finding their quarry near Daphinos, they sated their hunger with warm human blood, filled their pockets with cold silver denarii and flew back to Tibernum near three, alighting and transforming on the cliffs overlooking the farm. Jesus sat down, dangling legs over the cliff, leaned back, and stared at the clear night sky.
   “Have you enjoyed the evening, my woman?” asked Jesus.
   “Why do you ask?” she inquired with a satisfied yawn, laying her head on his chest.
   “I was just wondering, and have interesting news to tell you,” said Jesus, staring at the belt of Orion.
   “What news?”
   “Well, Cyril knows we’re vampires,” Jesus replied, figuring the direct approach would be the best.
   “The teacher Cyril knows that we are vampires.”
   “How?” asked Mary, sitting up.
   “He can’t be entranced, he’s known about us all along.”
   “We’ll have to kill him then, I’ll do it,” said Mary, rising.
   “There’s no need, why do you think killing will solve problems?” asked Jesus, holding her arm.
   “Because killing does solve problems.”
   “Sometimes yes, but Cyril’s no threat to us – you will not harm him,” Jesus intoned, his accent returning as he finished the sentence.
   The Magdalene sighed and nodded. Looking to him, she smirked in disgust. “So, why can’t I kill Cyril?” she asked, lying down and resting her head on an arm.
   “Because he’s an honest man, he has no intention of betraying us and will be the teacher of my brother.”
   “How do you know?”
   “The same way that I knew Decius would not betray us in Jerusalem.”
   “So, what else does he know?”
   “He knows that we’re not Romans, and that you are a Jew-Benjaminite and I am a Levite.”
   “Terrific,” said Mary, “Why did he tell you all this?”
   “I suppose he wanted to get it out in the open. It must have been bothering him, he also has a scroll of Herodotus, the treatise on legends.”
   “So Herodotus wrote of vampires over four hundred years ago, and what he has to say may be of use to us.”
   “True, do the other slaves know?”
   “No, and I’d like you to join me one evening when I converse with Cyril.”
   “So you can see for yourself that he’s no threat and perhaps learn something from him.”
   “Okay,” said the Magdalene, still not convinced that Cyril was trustworthy, but having to defer to Jesus, her master. Transforming near dawn and flying down the cliff, they alighted and returned to human form on the porch. As it was late, they walked into the darkened house, retiring to their room for the day.
   Joseph woke early; feeling mostly recovered almost a week and a half after their ordeal with the thieves. The wound was still a little tender but had healed over, and soon even the tenderness would disappear, leaving only a scar. Stepping out to greet the new day at a little after seven, he saw Ganymede was tending the animals, with Icarus busy firing up his forge. Centurion Caius Felix had sent a junior officer to the Chrysippus farm the day before, requesting an order of a dozen hardened spearheads and two sets of iron horseshoes for the garrison. Working with wrought iron stock purchased from Callicles, Icarus had begun shaping a pair of spearheads with a hammer. Electra and Penelope were about, tending chores, presently working by the smokehouse.
   Overseer Brutus reported to Joseph a short time later and said, “We have a problem Julius the elder, over by the meat storage shed.”
   “What problem?”
   “Under the eve at the rear of the shed is a hornet’s nest, papyrus wasps,” Brutus answered, “Electra discovered it this morning.”
   “That is a problem,” said Joseph.
   “Yes, smoke doesn’t work on them as with bees and they’ll attack at the slightest disturbance.”
   “What do you recommend we do?”
   “That we wait till sundown, carefully detach and drop the nest into a bucket of olive oil or water.”
   “Which is better?”
   “Olive oil, you submerge the nest in it and it kills the wasps.”
    “Yes, afterward you burn the nest, for it’s said more wasps can come from the papyrus,” Brutus replied, no one at the time truly understanding how insects reproduced.
   “I’ve heard that too.”
   “After the wasps are killed you can use the oil for lamp fuel, or strain it and use it for cooking.”
   “Have Ganymede place a barrel of oil at the rear of the shed, my son’s good at dealing with things like wasps and other vermin. He’ll assist you this evening, if you don’t mind helping him.”
   “Not at all sir, I’ve dealt with bees and wasps many times,” said Brutus, parting from Joseph to check on the crops.
   Five fields were cleared and planted. Thankfully, Joseph had recently signed a contract with Gavinal, stating that the garrison would be supplied exclusively with meat, grain and vegetables from the Chrysippus farm. Trader Callicles had also mentioned interest in grain, assuring that any surplus would find a buyer. Even then, if the farm ever reached full capacity, Joseph realized disposing of any further surplus would become a problem. As it was, the arable land was perhaps 10% planted, and with the small amount of slaves he had, planting more would be impossible. Spending most of the day walking about the farm and talking with the slaves, Joseph decided to discuss the idea of expansion, if any was needed, with Jesus after sundown. At dusk the vampiric Christ opened eyes and rose in their darkened room, walking to the kitchen and pouring a goblet of wine.
   “Good evening son,” said Joseph, walking in from the porch, having heard his stirrings.
   “Good evening father,” Jesus replied with a respectful nod, pouring a goblet for him while he sat down.
   “I need to talk to you a little later about the farm’s production, and Brutus told me this morning that there’s a hornet’s nest on the back eve of the cured meat shed. Can you handle that?” Joseph asked, taking a deep drink from his goblet.
   “Easily,” Jesus answered, rising from the table, “I’ll do it immediately.”
   “No son, Brutus wants to help you, he should be by shortly,” said Joseph, sitting down the goblet and motioning for him to return to his seat.
   “All right, but I have to fence with Ganymede later, and there is a matter of some importance I wish to tell you of.”
   “Anything serious?”
   “Not really, but I believe you’ll find it interesting.”
   “Tell me.”
   “Later,” said Jesus, a knock coming on the door.
   “That’s him.”
   “Greetings Brutus,” said Jesus while opening the door, “My father told me of the wasps, would you care for wine before we deal with them?”
   “Certainly,” Brutus answered, taking a filled goblet and downing it quickly. Later, he and the slave, carrying torches, walked to the shed, Jesus noting the nest and oil barrel beneath.
   “We’re going to drown them in oil?” asked Jesus, carefully standing a ladder next to the nest.
   “It’s the best way.”
   “Right,” said Jesus, ascending the ladder.
   “Be careful Julius.”
   “No problem, just have the barrel ready,” Jesus replied, carefully snapping the nest from the eve, holding it motionless while he descended. He plunged the nest in the oil and held it down with a stick. Both watched angry wasps pour from the nest, only to be engulfed in oil, drowning in the thick liquid.
   “I’ve never seen anyone do that without getting stung at least once!” exclaimed Brutus.
   “It was nothing, I just have steady hands,” Jesus replied, leaving the nest to soak in the oil for a time.
   “I’ve always been stung whenever I did it, thanks for the help.”
   “Let’s burn it,” said Jesus, pulling the nest from the barrel and tossing it to the ground, Brutus lighting it with a torch. Wiping his oily hands on a rag, Jesus ordered, “Please have the women strain the oil tomorrow and have Ganymede return the barrel to the cellar.”
   “Right,” said Brutus as Jesus walked to the house with his torch, placing it in the fixture on the porch post. Ganymede had arrived, sitting in the kitchen drinking wine with his father and the Magdalene.
   “Did you deal with the hornets?” Joseph asked from his repose next to the hearth.
   “Yes, and I was thinking, we should set up an apiary, perhaps at the edge of the south woods.”
   “What’s that?” asked Joseph, unfamiliar with the terminology.
   “The husbandry of bees.”
   “Oh yes, I’ve heard of that, one keeps them in a hive for honey, correct?”
   “Exactly, I’ll ask Brutus if he’s familiar with beekeeping,” said Jesus, rubbing his stubbled chin.
   “He seems familiar with everything else, I’d imagine he knows about that too,” replied Joseph, grabbing a bottle, refilling he and Ganymede’s goblets.
   “Don’t drink too much wine Ganymede, or we won’t be able to fight tonight,” said Jesus.
   “Come on son, he’s only having a glass of wine.”
   Finishing his goblet, Ganymede walked from the house carrying his sword, followed by Jesus carrying his. Heading to the porch, Joseph and the Magdalene were joined by slaves Icarus and Brutus, who had come by to enjoy the mock battle.
   “Defend yourself,” said Jesus, coming for him this time while Ganymede raised his sword. Disarming him in seconds, Ganymede looked to Jesus and frowned.
   “I don’t think I’ll ever get this,” he scoffed, pulling his sword from the earth.
   “Sure you will, raise your sword and come for me.”
   Ganymede did as told, concentrating. He made a very effective attack on Jesus, who easily defended himself, noting that practice was quickly improving the slave’s skills. Showing the slave some of his personal tricks, they practiced for nearly an hour, an exhausted Ganymede finally asking Jesus to relent.
   “Certainly Ganymede, your skills are already improving,” Jesus replied, while Joseph, Mary, Icarus and Brutus applauded both men. Walking to the kitchen, Jesus joined the others in a goblet of wine, the slaves retiring to their quarters near ten o’clock.
   Joseph was growing tired but still wanted to talk regarding the farm, Mary remarking, “It’s time to eat Jesus.”
   “Can I converse with my father first?”
   “Of course,” Mary replied, relaxing in a chair, “It’s not that I’m starving.”
   “That’ll be the day,” said Joseph while Jesus sat down.
   “So father, what do you need to discuss?”
   “It’s not that important, it’s just that we have such a huge piece of land and it’s a shame we can’t plant more of it. I was thinking about expanding the fields earlier today as a passing thought, but we already have so much with the five fields planted it’s ridiculous. We can barely sell what we have now.”
   “Exactly,” said Jesus, “Actually, the farm is producing much more than you may think, even from the fallow fields and woodlands, remember the meat Mary and I take.”
   “I hadn’t thought of that.”
   “Yes, and with the contract you signed with Gavinal we’ll have to employ the slaves to take meat while Mary and I are on vacation.”
   “I’ve already spoke to Brutus about that.”
   “He’s a hunter?”
   “Yes, so is Ganymede.”
   “Then we won’t have to worry about running low,” Jesus observed.
   Gavinal also spoke about hunting on his property.”
   “Yes, he had mentioned that some time before. You know, it’s too bad we don’t live on the Italian peninsula.”
    “Why?” asked Joseph, not following his son’s meanderings.
   “There the government pays farmers for not growing food, kind of funny really.”
   “They do?”
   “Yeah, go figure,” said Jesus, not understanding the concept of economic subsidies.
   “So, what did you want to speak to me about?” asked Joseph.
   “Well father, this may be kind of hard to explain.”
   “Oh brother,” said Mary, knowing exactly what Jesus needed to tell his father about – Cyril the teacher.
   “Just come out with it son, I’m used to all this.”
   “Velly, I mean very well father,” Jesus stammered while Mary giggled, “Cyril knows that Mary and I are vampires.”
   “You’re kidding,” said Joseph, “I thought hypnosis fooled them all.”
   “So did I, but Cyril’s a very rare type of person, he cannot be entranced.”
   “Really,” said Joseph, “That means those like him are immune to the powers of vampires.”
    “Exactly, but don’t worry, he’s no threat to us.”
   “So son, how did you deduce that?”
   “I asked him the same damn thing,” said Mary.
   “Cyril’s a good man and has revealed nothing to anyone save me,” Jesus replied, “He’s known of our natures since we bought him and only told me yesterday.”
   “Why did he do that, he should have kept his mouth shut,” Joseph retorted.
   “He is honest.”
   “Oh well, you seem to know what you’re doing regarding these things, so I’m not going to say anything further,” said Joseph, holding up hands.
   “Thank you, I wish for Cyril to visit us later to discuss it among ourselves, for he will eventually be teaching Julian.”
   “Not a bad idea, if he’s trustworthy,” replied Joseph.
   “He is, and he also has a scroll of Herodotus’ legends.”
   “He does?” asked Joseph, brightening for a moment.
   “It was in the literature that I purchased from Callicles.”
   “That should be interesting reading for you two,” said Joseph, his tiredness returning with a vengeance.
   “What about you?”
   “I’ve read it, it holds no surprises for me.”
   “You would like to read it again wouldn’t you?”
   “Probably, and I was just thinking, how the hell did Cyril fool you and Mary, aren’t you supposed to be able to sense those things?”
   “That’s a good question,” said Jesus, his consort looking to him with a frown.
   His father retiring, they walked into the evening, staying close to home, satisfying their hunger with a pair of deer. A determined Jesus rose the next evening just after sundown, walking to the slave quarters while accompanied by Mary, looking to converse and obtain badly needed answers from Cyril.
   “Greetings Julius,” said Cyril, looking up from another of his ever-present scrolls.
   “Hello Cyril, my wife and I would like to talk with you this evening.”
   “Down by the river I suppose,” Cyril replied with a polite smile, rising from his seat, his back not bothering him on this evening.
   “Yes,” said Jesus.
   Walking from the slave quarters, Cyril observed, “It is going to be a beautiful night, look at the full moon rising.”
   “Indeed it is, perfect for hunting,” spat the Magdalene.
   “Please be civil to the man,” said Jesus as they approached the riverbank.
   “So what are you going to do Mary, suck my blood and throw me in the river?” asked Cyril, stopping and turning to her.
   “Jesus Christ, he even knows our real names!”
   “I told you that, what’s the problem?”
   “He is,” answered Mary, pointing to the Greek teacher with her thumb.
   “I assure you, I am not any kind of problem, madam,” said Cyril.
   “Famous last words,” Mary retorted, staring at him, fangs baring in her mouth.
   “Enough!” exclaimed Jesus, “We’re here to talk with this man, not argue with him.”
   “Why bother?”
   “Because I said so woman,” said Jesus, invoking his power as her master.
   “Shall we sit by the river?” Cyril asked, hoping sounds of moving water would ease the tension.
   “Why not,” replied the Magdalene, relenting as they seated themselves on a fallen log at the sandy riverbank.
   All were silent for a while, Cyril finally remarking, “So Julius, I imagine you told Maria of our conversation.”
   “My father too.”
   “I can imagine what Maria said, what did your father have to say?”
   “That he would defer to me regarding this situation.”
   “Good, what did Mistress Maria say?”
   “You don’t want to know,” said the Magdalene.
   “She said we should kill you,” Jesus replied.
   “I figured that,” said Cyril, looking to the night sky.
   “You think you have all the answers don’t you old man?” Mary asked.
   “No, I believe I can reason with you, to prove I am not a threat to anyone.”
   “He’s telling the truth woman, he’s known about us for over a year and has said nothing.”
   A defeated Magdalene sighed. “So Cyril, you know we are vampires and say that you will not betray us, may I ask you why?”
   “I have no reason to madam, why should I think of throwing away a pleasing existence on this farm that I enjoy?”
   “Because you are a slave.”
   “Some are slaves, others are masters, that is the way of the world.”
   “It doesn’t bother you?”
   “Why should it?”
   “It would bother me.”
   “Perhaps it would, but you are judging me by your own criterion.”
   “I see,” said the Magdalene, floored by his candid responses, “And it doesn’t bother you that we are vampires?
   “Not at all, I honestly do not care what you are, both of you have been truly kind to me and the others, much more than any slave owner I have encountered. I believe that I should return the favor, and genuinely like both of you.”
   “Oh,” said Mary, stopped cold, not expecting such a detailed set of answers.
   “Further, my job is to assist you and your family running this farm, and to educate Julian when he grows older.”
   “I suppose there are a few things you can teach us too,” said Mary.
   “Only that which I have learned from the scrolls of Herodotus and Thucydides.”
   “Yes, Jesus told me about that.”
   “Perhaps you should tell us of the scroll,” said Jesus.
   “It would be better if we had it with us, since we do not, I will give you an oral synopsis of what it contains, later we can peruse it together if you like,” Cyril replied.
   “Lead on old man,” said Mary.
   “Very well, legend has it that your kind are from a very old clan, from thousands upon thousands of years ago, moving about only at night, hailing from northwest of Macedonia.”
   “Where’s that?” the Magdalene asked.
   “North of Greece, a place called Dacia in Europe,” said Jesus.
   Cyril nodded. “Before the first Peloponnesian war began, it is said the Spartans were the first to attempt to destroy the vampires, with oak stakes driven through their hearts while they slept during the day.”
   “Why?” asked Jesus.
   Cyril paused and replied, “Because, unlike you dear Julius, most vampires are not so choosy, and will take almost any victim crossing their path.”
   “I told you,” said the Magdalene, Jesus staring off at the Euphrates.
   “Anyway,” continued Cyril, “The vampires took refuge in Athens under a truce with the ruling council under Pericles the statesman. Finding themselves safe from their enemies, Pericles and the vampires convinced the population to attack the city of Sparta over the protests of Socrates and others. In doing so, the Athenians were nearly destroyed in the Spartan counterattack, until the vampires helped save Athens from total destruction.”
   “They helped save them?” Jesus asked.
   “Yes, under Pericles, who died in a plague that ensued after the beginning of the second war. During the first war he helped the vampires to attack their enemies under cover of night, and they destroyed the Spartan army just south of Athens, leading to the thirty year peace.”
   “What happened afterward?” asked an intrigued Magdalene, despite herself.
   “Before Pericles died he sent the vampires from Athens, where they went marauding across the Aegean peninsula, always on the move, heading north toward their homeland of Dacia.”
   “Is that all?” asked Jesus.
   “No, Athens was ultimately defeated at the end of the second war by the Peloponnesian league about 435 years ago, but the city has survived unto the present.”
   “No Cyril, I mean is that all the scroll says about vampires?”
    “Heavens no Julius, the legend scroll of Herodotus is over nine cubits long, much is in there about vampires that I haven’t told you of.”
   “What happened to Athens after the war?” Mary asked.
   “After the first war, on the Acropolis the Athenians finished erecting the Parthenon, dedicated to goddess Athena Parthenos, or Minerva of the Romans.”
   “I’ve seen it, what does that have to do with the war?” asked Jesus.
   “If you will let me finish, on the north portico of the temple is a detailed frieze on the upper wall depicting Athens being saved, with the vampires attacking the Spartan army.”
   “I’ve never seen that,” said Jesus, wondering what the depiction looked like.
   “Why did they even bother to defend the Athenians?” asked the Magdalene, finding the story difficult to believe.
   “Because, evidently, there were vampires then who behaved like Julius does today,” Cyril observed, “Further, legend has it that any man who lives in Athens shall never be attacked by a vampire, in their remembrance of the Athenians.”
   “Are those vampires still around?” asked Mary.
   “One would think so as they are basically immortal creatures,” replied Cyril, “But vampires, according to Herodotus, are a rare breed, yet very powerful. It is said that only a group of fifty or so defeated the combined armies of the Athenian’s enemies.”
   “That means we may never meet another of our kind,” said Jesus.
   “Given enough time Julius, perhaps a hundred years, you probably will. It is also said you can instinctively recognize each other when you cross paths.”
   “Interesting,” said Jesus.
   “What about oak?” asked Mary.
   “It is said in Herodotus and Thucydides’ scrolls that vampires can be destroyed with an oak stake to the heart,” Cyril replied, “That is all there is in the treatises regarding oak.”
   “Then the scroll is incomplete, we’ve found that even being in close contact with anything made of oak can cause us harm,” said Mary, opening up to the teacher.
   “Indeed, please continue,” Cyril replied, looking to Mary, fascinated by the discussion.
   “Well, for example, Jesus stripped bark from oak logs for the tannery a while back and his hands inched terribly for days.”
   “Did they?” asked Cyril, raising eyebrows.
   “And unlike me, he can’t wear leather shoes tanned with oak bark without them making his feet red and itchy after only a few nights of wear.”
   “Is that so?” asked Cyril, ruminating on the subject.
   “Yes,” Mary answered, “I’m sure you saw his swollen hand after he punched through an oak beam a few weeks ago.”
   ”Yes I did. From what I have seen and heard from you, I believe that something invisible contained within oak can cause vampires harm. I find that very interesting, further, it also appears that there are degrees of sensitivity among your kind.”
   “We deduced that too,” Jesus replied, “Also, proving oak, and evidently only oak is harmful to us, I was stabbed in the heart in Jerusalem with a dagger and it didn’t bother me at all.”
   “Judas Iscariot, at the whorehouse,” said Mary.
   “I imagine that happened after you had become a vampire,” Cyril ventured.
   “Yes, I don’t think I’d be sitting here if it had happened when I was alive.”
   “You have a talent for understatements Julius the younger,” said a chuckling Cyril.
   “I’ve said that many times,” the Magdalene remarked, breaking into a relaxed smile.
   Talking into the moonlit night, they conversed about other legends regarding vampires.
   “It is written that lower animals instinctively fear vampires and can sense their undead presence,” Cyril related near midnight.
   “That’s bullshit,” said Jesus, “Mary and I have rode horses as vampires and have also taken lower animals when there are no suitable people around.”
   “I see, and it was written by Thucydides vampires can take lower animals, which would seem to contradict the text of Herodotus. Further, it also seems that running water does not bother you either, which Thucydides spoke of in his treatise.”
   “What do you mean?” Mary asked, lying on her side, relaxing on the beach.
   “In his scroll it says all vampires fear running water.”
   “Why should we?” asked Jesus.
   “I have no clue friend, it is what Thucydides wrote.”
   “They didn’t seem to know very much about vampires did they?” asked Jesus.
   “Perhaps, but they apparently got the main points right, like avoiding the sun, oak stakes, and fire.”
   “Quite true,” Jesus replied, “Who was it that wrote of garlic?”
   “Thucydides, I take it that garlic does not bother you either.”
   “No,” said Jesus, recalling the centurion and party heading to Nazareth in search of him.
   “How about silver?”
   “What of it?” asked Jesus.
   “Thucydides states in his scroll that silver will burn into the skin of a vampire, and that it is also effective against werewolves.”
   “Doesn’t bother us at all,” said Jesus, thinking of piles of silver denarii stashed in his cave.
   “Do you actually think that there are werewolves Cyril?” Mary asked.
   “Before I met you two, I did not think there were vampires.”
   “We’ve learned a lot from you this evening,” said Jesus, looking to the river.
   “Like what?” You have simply proven that Herodotus and Thucydides were unable to tell their asses from a hole in the ground.”
   “But you’ve helped fill in some of the blanks,” Mary replied.
   “I try, even with inaccurate references.”
   “One other question,” asked Jesus, “I know how you knew we were vampires, as you cannot be entranced by us, but how come Mary and I couldn’t tell that you knew?”
   “I have no answer for that,” Cyril replied, “The scrolls do not even begin to address such a phenomenon, the writings I cite are sketchy regarding that. It would seem by inference that Pericles was also incapable of being entranced, but that is all I know.”
   The moon had risen into the heavens, it long past midnight, a tired Cyril yawning.
   “Shall we turn in?” asked Jesus.
   “I will have to soon,” Cyril answered, “I have work in the fields tomorrow.”
   “You shouldn’t push yourself so hard, you’re an elderly man,” said Mary.
   “I am glad to hear you say that madam; I imagine that you do not wish to kill me anymore.”
   “I’m sorry Cyril,” said the Magdalene, “It’s just with Jesus here blunders can be made. In the past he seemed to trust everyone, and all it did was get him killed. I was simply looking out for us and the family.”
   “Understandable,” Cyril replied, looking to Jesus, “Julius is quite unique when it comes to vampires, especially when contrasted to what is written in the history texts.”
   Jesus looked to his companions and frowned, then to the flowing river.
   “Please don’t sulk on us Jesus,” Mary protested, “You know what I’m saying is true.”
   “Don’t remind me,” said Jesus, staring pensively at the river.
   “He has a bit of a temper, does he not?” Cyril asked.
   “Yes, but I’ve found it passes quickly,” said Mary.
   “Wise men never let anger last or rule their thoughts, as it clouds judgment,” Cyril replied.
   “You’re a wise man,” said Jesus, turning to the teacher.
   “You are too Julius.”
   “It’s a shame we can’t bring a learned man such as you to our realm,” said Jesus.
   “I am sorry sir, I have no desire to be a vampire.”
   “Why? A man like you, a brilliant man, is near the end of his mortal life, all that knowledge wasted in death. I can give you immortality!”
   “There is no need for that,” a yawning Cyril answered, shaking his head.
   “Because I have lived my life, a good life even as a lowly slave, and I as a mortal, I will not encounter the many pitfalls that you, my friend, will encounter in the future.”
   “All you have known, your dear mother, your good father, will pass from you before your eyes, and you, unaging, will be there to witness it. Your baby brother, at this very moment suckling at his mother’s breast will become an old man before you and will die, leaving you and this ageless woman to mourn his passing as well.”
   “That’s cruel to say to him,” said the Magdalene.
   “It is the truth of your existence,” Cyril replied.
   “He’s right Mary, you can’t damn a man for telling you the truth,” said Jesus, thinking of the time his beloved parents would be gone from the earth.
   “Must he be so damn plain about it?” asked Mary, frowning.
   “Verily I say, the only real truth is plain, so all who wish to see the truth will easily understand.”
   “Truer words have not been said,” Cyril agreed.
   “I suppose,” said Mary, not wishing to be lectured by either Jesus or Cyril.
   “I would very much like to continue our conversations, would you like that?” asked Cyril, rising to his feet and stretching on the beach near three.
   “Of course, you would too, right Mary?”
   “Sure, I did find much of our talk fascinating.”
   “Good,” said Jesus, rising to his feet, “We’ll also have to properly introduce you to my parents friend Cyril; you are now more like a part of the family anyway.”
   “Thank you Julius and wife.”
   “Thank you kind sir,” the Magdalene replied.
   Heading to the slave quarters, Cyril remarked, “I was thinking Julius, there will be times that we will need to converse among others, how many languages to you speak?”
   “Perhaps we share a common tongue between us only, and can converse openly among others when we need to share important ideas without fear of others overhearing.”
   “He’s right,” said Mary.
   “I understand,” Jesus replied, revealing most his linguistic repertoire, “Let’s see, I fluently speak Aramaic, Hebrew, Latin, Anatolian, Greek, Cathar, Tibetan, and Kushan. I can also read most of them, excepting for Anatolian and Greek.”
   “You cannot read Greek?”
   “Only a little, I didn’t spend much time in Greece when I was traveling, except in Athens and Sparta for a few weeks when on my way to Rome, and that was over ten years ago.”
   “Then the only languages we share are Greek, Latin, and Anatolian; the others understand both and some Anatolian. Is there any other language we may share; do you speak Macedonian or Egyptian?”
   “I speak Egyptian, but I’ve never been able to master their hieroglyphs.”
   “I can read hieroglyphs and demotic, and will teach you the Greek script if you like,” Cyril replied in the language of the pharaohs.
   “You can?” Jesus asked in kind.
   “Of course, I can teach you to read Greek and the Egyptian hieroglyphs within a month.”
   “Egyptian is a very rich language, and I would appreciate you teaching me the hieroglyphs and the demotic script too.”
   “Then I shall my friend.”
   “What the hell are you two saying?” asked the Magdalene.
   “We were speaking Egyptian,” said Jesus, approaching the slave quarters door, “Cyril and I will use that tongue when we need to talk among ourselves in the presence of others.”
   “I’ll need to learn it too.”
   “If you learn it as quickly as you learned Latin, it’ll be no problem for you,” Jesus replied.
   “It is also written that vampires learn languages easily,” Cyril observed in his usual Latin.
   “Who wrote that?” asked Jesus.
   “Herodotus,” Cyril answered, opening the door.
   “Good night friend Cyril,” said Jesus.
   “Good night to you and yours,” Cyril replied, closing the door.
   During the next weeks, Jesus and Mary sat in the kitchen in the early evenings, learning a little more about their undead natures, gleaning information from the scroll of Herodotus with the help of Cyril. As it was written in Greek, Cyril read it aloud, Jesus occasionally looking at the script and recognizing many of the words.
   “I told you it would be easy,” said Cyril, Jesus looking over his shoulder, goblet of wine in hand, quickly mastering the written aspect of the Greek language. One other item mentioned in the scroll was that vampires could assume the form of a bat, Cyril remarking, “From what you have told me, I suppose that passage is facetious too.”
   “No, that is in fact true,” Jesus replied as Mary smiled.
   “It is?” asked Cyril, taking a sip of tea while Jesus poured wine for he and Mary.
   “We’ve transformed many times,” answered Jesus.
   “Fascinating,” said Cyril, looking to the vampiric Christ, “How do you do it?”
   “I don’t really know,” Jesus replied, “We concentrate on the idea and it happens.”
   “I wonder if you can become anything else?”
   “Don’t know,” said Jesus, staring out a window at the distant smokehouse, a light rain falling that evening.
   Noticing a latrunculi board on a table in the living room, Cyril asked, pointing to it, “Do you play the game Julius?”
   “Yes,” Jesus answered, returning to the conversation, “My father and I play often.”
   “Would you care to play?”
   “Sure, but I’m a formidable opponent for most.”
   “If you are a player I am sure of that, but I warn you, you have not played me,” replied Cyril.
   “Really,” said Jesus, smiling at the challenge.
   Setting up the board, they played latrunculi, Jesus losing three games in a row to the teacher over a period of five hours.
   “Damn, you are a good player,” said Jesus near dawn.
   “So are you, but are too impetuous in your moves.”
   “You only allow yourself so much time to deduce a move, and then, even if you are not sure, you make a calculated move, regardless of the consequences.”
   “I always take my time planning strategy,” Jesus replied, “One can’t take forever you know.”
   “Yes, but it is not long enough, evidently,” said Cyril, “You have a great potential regarding this game and should be able to beat someone like me easily.”
   “How?” asked Jesus, looking about for his consort, she having long since retired to their room.
   “By taking more time in planning your moves. You are too intent on trapping my eagle and that mistake gives me advantage in trapping yours.”
   “I see,” said Jesus, staring at the board.
   “It is high time, I should be getting back to my quarters,” Cyril remarked, noticing the horizon lightening.
   “Please sleep late today friend, if my father asks, tell him I said you should,” Jesus replied, rising from the table.
   “He may think me a vampire,” said Cyril, pushing in his chair.
   “Believe me, dad wouldn’t mind.”

* * *

   Joseph and wife met with the teacher, at first warily in the kitchen, but quickly learning that Cyril was an honest, intelligent, and quite charming man. After a few evenings they accepted the elderly teacher and philosopher, leaving him to converse privately with Jesus and Mary.
   As Jesus studied the writings one stormy summer night with Cyril, one troubling aspect for him was that Herodotus’ scroll explicitly stated that a vampire is always brought to the realm of the undead by another vampire, a ‘master’, offering no explanation for he being a part of the undead. Inexplicably, the vampire Jesus Christ had no master.
   Relating his thoughts on that subject to the teacher while Mary conversed with Joseph and wife in the common area, Cyril replied, “I am truly sorry Julius, there is no explanation I can give you, nor could I even begin to conjecture a theory that would explain your unusual situation. According to the scroll all vampires have masters, the one who brings them to the realm of the undead.”
   “There has to be some other way, I’m here aren’t I? Believe me, I died on a cross and awoke in the tomb three days later, no one made me a vampire!” Jesus exclaimed, the wind growing stronger as it blew through the open kitchen window, parting the curtains. A thunderclap punctuated the conversation after a bolt of lighting striking behind the house momentarily illuminated the slave house, the smokehouse, and the Euphrates in the distance, visible from the kitchen window and front porch.
   “I believe you Julius, but according to the scroll, there is no other method of bringing one to the realm of the undead, nor the slightest mention of an alternative that would make possible the creation of a vampire,” said Cyril, hands in the air, the rain coming down very hard.
   “It doesn’t make sense,” Jesus spat, holding a goblet of wine, “Every action has a cause.”
   “Not to us perhaps, but that does not mean there is no another way, a hidden cause that we are unaware of. There is simply no mention of it in this scroll, nor in the one written by Thucydides.”
   “But how?”
   “I imagine that Herodotus and Thucydides were unaware of this aspect of vampiric existence.”
   “No – how the hell did I become a vampire in the first place?” Jesus asked with a helpless expression, a bolt of lightning striking near the river, brightly illuminating the kitchen and his countenance.
   “Who knows, perhaps you should look at it this way. For example, how did the first man get here, or the first bird?” Cyril asked after another thunderclap pierced the air.
   “I don’t know,” Jesus answered, thinking of the story of Adam and Eve in Genesis.
   “That is correct, no one does,” said Cyril, “So, accept it, and go on.”
   “I do, but I’m not the first vampire,” Jesus replied, resting his chin in the palm of a hand.
   “That is true,” said Cyril, raising eyebrows in confusion while scratching his beard.
   Jesus sat in silent contemplation for the next few minutes, the teacher filling his teacup, the storm continuing violently outside.
   “They hardly ever had storms like this in Judea,” said Joseph, entering the kitchen, walking to a cupboard and grabbing a bottle of wine.
   “Huh?” Jesus asked, broken from his reverie, Cyril occupied sweetening his tea.
   “I said this is a hell of a storm,” Joseph replied, staring at the downpour, “Let me close that window.”
   “Of course father,” said Jesus, ruminating on how he, of all people, a Hebrew preacher from Nazareth, had become a vampire.
   After several evenings of intense discussion, Jesus relented; realizing further conversation on the subject of his origin was pointless. Cyril didn’t know the answer, neither did he, nor did historians Herodotus and Thucydides, so he dropped it, figuring he could ruminate on it later, perhaps finding out one day.
   As the summer wore on toward the fall of 35 CE, they continued their kitchen discussions, moving from vampirism to other legends, along with talking of science and philosophy. The family found that the teacher was not only brilliant, but a genius. It was revealed that he fluently spoke and wrote ten languages, knew a great deal about botany and zoology, was a historian, philosopher and rhetorician, and was well versed in the disciplines of astronomy and mathematics.
   Cyril had also learned another valuable lesson which most of his contemporaries had never been able to master: when and how to speak in order to capture the imagination of his listener, so not to be considered dull or boring. He explained to Jesus and consort one evening that his former master, Marcus Trajanus, after having him educate his children, had kept him around until his death a decade later, mainly as a conversational companion and personal tutor. This arrangement had also allowed him to pursue his quest for further knowledge, adding the Anatolian language, botany and zoology to his vast resume during that time.
   “We shall do that too,” Jesus declared, “Father, I think we should provide Cyril with whatever he needs to pursue his learning, this will also help Julian later on.”
   “Why not?” his father said from the porch through an open window.
   “I would still like to work in the fields to keep fit,” said Cyril.
   “Good idea, I’m going to need him to, especially in the next weeks,” said Joseph before Jesus could make a reply.
   Ruth walking in a short time later to make finely ground porridge for the eight-month old Julian, Cyril remarked quietly in Egyptian, “Watch that girl, she is a pretty one, but also nosy.”
   “My thoughts exactly,” replied Jesus.
   “A cock tease, look how she swings those hips like a common whore,” said Mary in the language of the pharaohs. She had quickly learned Egyptian so that she also could speak plainly to the teacher or Jesus when in company of others.
   “That she does,” Cyril agreed, not particularly caring for Ruth, nor she for him.
   Most times they slipped into Egyptian only in the presence of Ruth when she was tending the child’s needs or preparing dinner for his parents. Other times, in the presence of other slaves, they simply changed the subject matter they were discussing with Cyril until the unwanted listener left the vicinity.
   The fencing lessons continued for Ganymede, the muscular slave learning Jesus’ exotic swordplay within three months. Becoming a formidable opponent even for Jesus, he was now more than a match for any highwayman or cutthroat.
   “Ganymede’s doing well. He’d be incredible in the arena wouldn’t he?” Jesus asked of his father after the slave left.
   “Yes, we’re going to need someone like him after you’re gone,” Joseph replied, facing the inevitable as they entered the kitchen.
   “We won’t be leaving that soon,” said Jesus, sitting down and pouring wine.
   “You’ll be gone by the summer of next year,” Joseph declared, sitting down, “I’ll stake my life on it.”
   “Sooner than that actually, in the fall, but we shall return,” Jesus replied, handing his father a goblet, almost constantly feeling the urge to move on.
   “When, five or ten years?” I’ll probably be dead by the time you come back!”
   “No, we should be gone a year or two at most, out of deference to you and mother.”
   “I’m sorry son, we can’t keep you here forever, it’s just with you around everything seems so much safer.”
   “You’ll have no problems, I’ve instructed Ganymede to teach the other slaves to be proficient with swords and other weapons, like you did with me when I was young.”
   “That makes me rest easier,” said Joseph, emptying his goblet.
   “As for other things, the town accepts us as Romans, income and taxes are no problem thanks to the contracts we signed with Gavinal, and with Callicles buying any surplus, all should run smoothly while we’re gone.”
   “Will you write?”
   “Of course. We’ll be in Greece much of the winter, moving on to Rome toward the spring; my letters from there will have no problem reaching you here; they’re delivered monthly to the garrison.”
   “That’s good to know.”
   “Besides, there is something very important I must do in Rome to ensure our personal safety in the future,” said Jesus.
   “Such as?”
   “The census will be taken within another three years, father,” answered Jesus, taking a drink of wine.
   “Yes, and we have no proof of our – ”
   “Exactly,” said Jesus, shaking his head, signifying the negative, Ruth walking into the kitchen.
   “Good evening Ruth.”
   “Good evening to you Julius the younger,” she replied, fetching dates, cheese, and bottle of wine for Jesus’ mother.
   After she left the room, Jesus remarked, “I wish you could speak Egyptian dad.”
   “Cyril said she’s nosy, that’s why I cut you short,” said Jesus, “If you could speak Egyptian we could talk plainly around her.”
   “I see, perhaps Cyril can teach me,” said Joseph, getting back to the original subject and asking almost in a whisper, “How are you going to fix it for us?”
   “With a scribe, a notary and a censor,” Jesus replied.
   “How’s that?”
   “Entrancement, when I arrive in Rome, I’ll have our assumed names placed on the rolls at the Tabularium, so when the procurator’s censor arrives here our family will be on the list.”
   “Sounds risky,” said a frowning Joseph, shaken by the revelation, pouring another goblet of wine.
   “It’s nothing I can’t handle,” Jesus replied, narrowing eyes, “Even if I have to kill someone to do it.”
   “You’d kill an innocent?”
   “To protect you, mother and Julian of course I would,” Jesus said with firm resolve, his darker side coming to the surface. Joseph nodded in understanding, recalling a time when he had made such a choice, his actions resulting in the unfortunate crucifixion of a publican.
   Fall approaching, Jesus and Cyril continued in their nightly discussions, covering practically all aspects of man’s collective knowledge, Jesus settling one evening on a subject most were loath to think of, let alone speak of – the subject of death. Sitting in the kitchen in the late evening after they had fed, Jesus was nursing a goblet of wine while Cyril snacked on dried dates and a cup of herbal tea. Mary, not wishing to intrude on the intense discussion, had walked out to enjoy the night, his parents and Ruth were asleep.
   Explaining some of the Hebrew religious myths to the Greek teacher, a disgusted Cyril said at a little after one, “That is ridiculous, what kind of god would make people exactly the way they are supposed to be in life, and then damn them forever in death to a place like Sheol or Hell for behaving like they were ordained to be by him?”
   “I don’t know, it doesn’t sound right to me either,” Jesus replied, “But it’s what they believe in Judea, even I had trouble with it.”
   “You did?”
   “Yes, that’s why I traveled the world in my youth, in search of a better explanation regarding God, for by the time I was fifteen, much of the Hebrew religion struck me as fallacious.”
   “Fallacious, they must be crazy, such a belief system is illogical!”
   “Perhaps, but even I bought into it once.”
   “Everyone makes mistakes, that simply proves we are human,” said Cyril, hands out in a deferential shrug, “You, my good friend, have become wise due to learning from your experiences, proving above all you are an intelligent man.”
   “Intelligent, if I’d been truly intelligent I wouldn’t have gotten myself killed,” Jesus retorted, rubbing his hairless chin.
   “That is not necessarily true, but if you had continued in such obtuse beliefs after what happened to you in Judea, I would have to consider you stupid.”
   “Really,” Jesus scoffed with a bitter laugh, looking to the teacher.
   “Yes, really,” said Cyril.
   After a few moments of silence, Jesus asked, “So Cyril, I know you’re an atheist, but what do you think happens when one dies?”
   Taking a sip of tea, Cyril answered, “I do not know, but am certain there is no such place as Sheol, for if there are gods, they certainly do not behave like petty, mortal men, like that Yahweh character of the Hebrews does.”
   “I agree, but what do you think about death?”
   “Death for me is inevitable, especially since I have no desire to continue in this existence as a vampire, and if there is such a thing as an afterlife I shall deal with it as it comes to me.”
   “Do you believe there is one?” asked Jesus, pouring another goblet.
   “No, especially since no one in provable history has ever returned to tell us of such an existence beyond death.”
   “I and Mary are dead.”
   “Are you truly dead?” Cyril asked, pointing a finger at Jesus, “You have no real proof of that.”
   “What do you mean?”
   “Death, by definition, is always accompanied by stillness, decay and disassociation, you and your lovely woman are vital, ambulatory, show no signs of putrefaction, and seem on the surface to be as alive as I.”
   “I hadn’t looked at it in that way.”
   “No matter, self examination is subjective at best, now, finishing the answering of your original question, in my opinion, true death is oblivion.”
   “You think so?”
   “Yes, but since I do not know for certain, akin to Protagoras, I will not venture an absolute negative judgment toward the idea of an afterlife,” Cyril replied, looking Jesus in the eyes.
   “The sophist from Thrace, what if you find there is one?” asked Jesus, finishing his goblet.
   “Like Socrates is alleged to have said, I will ask the first man I come across if he knows anything.”
   “And prove him a fool.”
   “Like we all are,” said a smiling Cyril, “You have read Plato?”
   “Yes,” answered Jesus, having read a Latin translation of Plato’s dialogues in his twenties.
   “A good and wise man, if just a bit queer.”
   “I read about that too.”
   “Everyone has their faults,” Cyril replied, resting his head on an upright arm.
    “Quite true,” said Jesus, “Well then, if Mary and I are not truly dead, what are we?” He sat his empty goblet down, looking for some explanation to define their existence.
   “I do not know, but have formulated a theory. May I be candid?”
   “By all means, please.”
   “The tick and the leech consume blood to survive.”
   “They are considered parasites upon the living, no offense meant, but you and Maria fit that criteria.”
   “None taken, and I understand what you mean, but though they behave in a similar fashion to us, they live and die after a time for whatever reason. Herodotus proved that; we don’t die ever, unless the sun destroys us,” Jesus countered, challenging Cyril’s theory.
   “That, along with oak stakes and fire.”
   “True, but nothing else can destroy us as far as I know.”
   “Then I must concede that your pronouncements disprove my theory,” said Cyril, yawning.
   “So, who was the man who stated the gods were fabricated by greater men to keep lesser men in line?” asked Jesus, recalling a character from Plato’s dialogues.
   “Critias, I think,” Cyril answered with another deep yawn.
   “You need sleep.”
   “Yes; you and your woman need to find blood before sunup,” Cyril replied, rising from his chair.
   “We fed earlier, a pair of thieves on the west highway,” said Jesus, heading to the slave house with the elderly teacher.
   “What did they try to do to you?” Cyril asked as they walked along.
   “They wanted to rob us so we killed them.”
   “So, you are keeping the roads safe for the citizenry,” an Egyptian speaking Cyril observed, chuckling as he opened the door, “Now I know why Pericles liked the vampires of Athens, good night, good Julius.”
   “Good night to you Cyril,” said Jesus as the door closed.
   Jesus stood, staring at the closed door, reflecting on the wisdom of the elderly slave. I wonder if he’s the wise teacher who would be sent to me in my vision of the Leviathan, thought Jesus, glancing to the whitewashed eaves of the slave quarters. All he heard was the silence of the night and the chirping of crickets. Looking about for his consort, Jesus spotted her by the river, relaxing on the beach.
   Heading along the path to the river, he joined her and remarked, “Why didn’t you stay woman, Cyril and I were discussing religion and the subject of death.”
   “That question answers itself, I’m not fascinated by those subjects like you are, and didn’t want to keep you from your conversation.”
   “You don’t mind me talking with him, do you?”
   “Not at all, I just wanted to enjoy the cool evening, would you like to take a dip?”
   “Certainly,” said Jesus as Mary rose to her feet.
   Disrobing, they entered the chilly water, enjoying the refreshing feel.
   Wading in the still pool created by the boulder and sandbank, Jesus floated on his back, staring at the night sky while his consort swam several breaststrokes around him.
   Swimming to him, Mary asked, “Jesus, why are you so preoccupied with religion and death?”
   “I don’t know. It’s been that way since I was a child.”
   “If I were you I’d forget about it, you’re never going to find the answer.”
   “Probably, but that doesn’t mean I won’t stop trying to find the answer.”
   “You’re so obsessed, let’s have fun,” said Mary, splashing him with water.
   “What kind of fun?” asked Jesus, taking her in his arms.
   “I think you know,” Mary replied, giving him a passionate kiss.
   An hour later, they strolled from the riverbank, refreshed physically and spiritually, heading to the darkened house, as the kitchen lamp had run out of fuel. Retiring to their room, Jesus remarked, sitting down on the bed, “I was thinking, what if we take off for Europe this fall before winter sets in?”
   “What of your folks?”
   “They’ll be fine with Ganymede and Brutus here to protect them, and I was also thinking Cyril could use our room during our absence.”
   “When do you want to leave?”
   “After Callicles comes by in a few weeks, I have to show father how to handle grain sales, and told him I also want to offer him some of our oak tanned hides.”
   “You’re saving the urine tanned hides for yourself?”
   “They’re softer and don’t bother my skin the way oak tanned ones do,” said Jesus, lying on the bed in his tunic after having removed his shoes, crafted from the special leather by Electra.
   “What about selling more to the garrison first, that drunk only buys them wholesale,” Mary suggested, attempting to maximize their profits.
    “We already have, the centurion bought all he can take for the time being and we still have nearly a hundred left,” a yawning Jesus answered, rubbing his temples.
   “I guess we’ll have to sell them to him, the women have made shoes and cloaks from the very best leather, enough to last the family for years.”
   “Maybe we should sell those too,” said Jesus.
   “Callicles always has shoes and cloaks for sale, he has to buy them somewhere, so why not buy them from us?”
   Mary smiled at Jesus, the vampiric businessman, and lay down beside him, both falling into slumber.

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