Tuesday, February 28, 2017

CHAPTER FOUR: THE HAMLET OF TIBERNUM

Arriving in Nazareth on a cloudy morning by way of Caesarea, centurion Decius Publius and his contubernia set about interrogating the few inhabitants left, at the insistence of Thucydides of Delos. After observing the burned and collapsed ruins of Joseph and Mary’s home, they pressed on, one wall of the structure having fallen into the street, scorched and broken stones still lying on the opposite sidewalk. Moving from house to house, the doctor questioned several Nazarenes about plagues and vampires, most looking at him as a deranged physician.
   “I know nothing about any vampire. A lot of people died here recently yes, but I didn’t, and I don’t care,” a very elderly man named Jehoshaphat answered.
   “What about her, did she see anything?” asked Dr. Thucydides, pointing to his wife, propped up on a dilapidated couch.
   “Rachel, she’s not even here,” said the old man, his expressionless, senile wife staring into space.
   “I’m sorry, just one more thing, can you tell me if it was a plague that killed the others?”
   “Probably, all I know is one day they were fine, and the next they were dead and gone.”
   “How did they die?”
   “Who knows, but I certainly didn’t see any vampires lurking around, if that’s what you’re trying to imply,” Jehoshaphat retorted before closing the door.
   “Thank you,” Thucydides said to the closed door.
   They came to another occupied dwelling, a middle-aged man answering the door, rubbing his eyes, the scent of wine heavy on his breath.
   “Have you seen this man?” asked the doctor, holding a parchment sketch drawn with the likenesses of Jesus and Mary Magdalene.
   “Nope, who is he?”
   “Jesus of Nazareth.”
   “Oh yeah, the blasphemer. I haven’t seen him for a good while, didn’t they kill him in Capernaum or something?” the man asked, slurring his words.
   “What about this woman?” asked Thucydides, pointing to a sketch of the Magdalene.
   “Good looking broad, she was a whore named Miriam wasn’t she?” the man asked with another slur, leaning on the jamb.
   “Mary was her name, she was once, but we now believe she and Jesus may be vampires.”
   “Speak for yourself Thucydides,” said Decius as his second in command chuckled.
   “Are you kidding?” asked the man.
   “No I’m not, vampires are real.”
   “Sure they are,” the drunk retorted, slamming the door.
   “I told you,” said Decius, looking to Thucydides.
   Passing a dozen empty houses once owned by Jesus’ vanquished enemies, they finally came to another occupied dwelling. A child answered the door, calling for his mother. She arriving, the doctor began his interrogation, the woman first listening, then looking up to the lintel in contempt of the absurd questions.
   “What of his parents?” asked Thucydides of the matron, named Anna.
   “They died in a fire, it’s obvious. If you don’t believe me, go down the main street and look at the ruins!” Anna exclaimed, slamming the door in the doctor’s face.
   The group moved to another domicile.
   “Are you insane?” asked a resident named Octavius Yeshuas, recalling Jesus while looking to the Greek physician, an amused Decius smiling at the remark
   “No sir, I am not,” said the doctor, “Jesus of Nazareth was crucified last year in Jerusalem.”
   “Who cares, I haven’t seen him for nearly five years. I heard about his execution too, and crucified people usually die don’t they?”
   “Yes, but sometimes they rise as vampires,” said Thucydides while a frowning Yeshuas looked to Decius.
   “I’m a Roman citizen, do I have to keep answering this idiot?” Yeshuas asked, showing the centurion a silver signet ring on his left hand.
   “No you do not citizen,” said Decius, looking to Thucydides and motioning to him with his index finger.
   “What?” asked the doctor, turning with arms out.
   “That’s the ninth family you’ve bothered in Nazareth; no one here knows about this vampire you call Jesus,” said Decius, looking to the physician with disdain.
   “But a woman down the street said that she saw him one night in the rain, just after the town rabbi disappeared.”
   “Yes, and the rest of the people say she’s crazy,” Decius retorted as his fellow soldiers laughed in the background, the centurion knowing the woman was probably telling the truth.
   “You think this is a joke don’t you?”
   “No doctor, we don’t think vampires are real,” said Decius.
   “But they are!” Thucydides exclaimed as a frowning Yeshuas closed his door.
   “So, where are you going to drag us to next?” Decius asked, folding arms across his chest.
   “North to Gennesar, and beyond.”
   “Why?”
   “It’s said by Herodotus that vampires prefer to move in straight lines, and if he came here he would head north.”
   “You have no proof he was even here, are you mad?” asked Decius.
   “I don’t need proof, I simply know that Jesus of Nazareth is a vampire,” said the doctor with firm resolve, looking at the well-drawn depiction of the couple.
   Passing through small towns over the next weeks, Jesus and family finally arrived at their destination, a verdant valley in northeastern Cappadocia, situated on the Upper Euphrates River. On an early evening just after dusk, Joseph drove the travelers into the outskirts of a Roman outpost town named Tibernum, for Jesus to check out the local surroundings and find if real estate was available. Intent on settling in the area, Jesus had donned his appropriated Roman toga, having been cleaned along the way at a watering hole used by generations of caravans, along with his stolen signet ring and leather shoes. His entourage had also acquired clothing, mannerisms and aliases more appropriate for those wishing to pass for Roman citizenry.
   Thinking ahead, Jesus had made a point during this time to teach his parents Classical Latin, so they too could converse in the common language of the Roman Empire. His father was already familiar with spoken aspects of the tongue, having forced himself to learn the reading and writing of Latin during their trek. Intent on fitting in with the populace, it was only a matter of time before Joseph would abandon Aramaic and Hebrew completely. His mother picked up the language quickly, a determined Joseph now speaking to his son only in Latin, asking the fluent Jesus to correct any defects in his pronunciation. After several months of total immersion, his father not only understood Latin well, but was speaking it idiomatically.
   Joseph pulled into town and parked the wagon in front of an inn on the main street. Jesus stepped from the rear and rented suitable lodging for the group, while the Magdalene saw that his parents were settled in for the evening. Later, Jesus headed to the garrison to inquire of the centurion if land was available in the area.
   Easily gaining admittance to the garrison by his plebian appearance, he walked to the centurion’s torch lit quarters, noting the eagle-topped Roman Standard at the entrance, ‘SPQR’ boldly emblazoned on it. Shaking off the chill gripping him at the sight of the standard, Jesus forced himself to continue into an atrium serving as an office for the commanding officer. Firmly shaking the centurion’s hand, Jesus introduced himself to him and his aide-de-camp.
   “Greetings, my name is Julius Chrysippus, a traveler migrating from Etruria. My family and I are looking for land to purchase for use as a farm, could you tell me if any is available locally?”
   “Yes indeed, my name’s Caius Felix, welcome to Tibernum,” the centurion answered, pleased to see more citizenry moving to the remote Cappadocian outpost. “You must have heard of this area while living in Rome, it’s being opened up by the government as a colony for people of the empire.”
   “I heard that land was available on the Upper Euphrates, this area looks good as any to me.”
   “It’s become quite popular among our wealthier citizenry, many people from the Italian and Greek peninsulas are migrating here,” the centurion observed with pride, the formerly lonely garrison of Tibernum having become a sort of boomtown during the past decade.
   “Really,” said Jesus, thinking wherever there were people and money, there were also plenty of criminals – bandits, thieves and their more organized brethren, highwaymen.
   “So, you’re a farmer?” Caius asked.
   “Not presently, my family made our fortune importing wine from Gaul, and my father has decided to try his hand at farming.”
   “The land here is very good, but you’ll need a strong team of slaves to prepare and work it, tall trees are everywhere,” said the centurion.
   “I suppose we’ll need to purchase a few,” Jesus replied, “So sir, whom do I see for such, and with regard to land?”
   “Our prefect Gavinal Septimus is in charge of real estate sales, you can see him this evening if you like. Slaves are not so easy to come by, but a Greek trader named Callicles passes through here with his caravan once every six months or so, usually in spring and fall.”
   “He deals in slaves?”
   “On occasion, Callicles of Athens and his procurators ply much of Cappadocia and surrounding provinces in search of commodities. He’s known to deal in practically everything.”
   “When’s he due in town?”
   “He should arrive within three months, but always stops by Gavinal’s first to get drunk with him.”
   “I’m rather fond of wine too,” said Jesus, Caius nodding in agreement.
   Jesus received directions to the prefect’s home, bid his farewells, and headed to a nearby two story marble mansion. A guard was posted at the entrance, which informed his superior of the presence of ‘Citizen Julius Chrysippus of Etruria’. The guard returned a few minutes later, let Jesus into the compound and led him to the prefect’s office.
   “So Julius, you’re looking for land?” a tired Gavinal remarked at the door, shaking his hand and raising an eyebrow at the smartly attired, toga-clad Jesus. Outside Rome and other major cities of the empire, the Republican toga was quickly becoming anachronistic, excepting for holidays and official functions.
   “Yes sir, the centurion said I could talk to you this evening, am I too late?” asked Jesus.
   “No, it’s just been a long day citizen,” said a yawning Gavinal as he headed to a gigantic oak desk, “Paperwork for the procurator in Antioch, payrolls and the like, please sit down.”
   Jesus sat down, Gavinal remarking as he took a chair at the desk, “So, you’re from Etruria, that’s interesting, you have a Greek cognomen.”
   “My great grandfather Cephalos Chrysippus was a wine merchant from Athens, and married a Roman woman from Etruria. The surname has been passed down from then to my family,” Jesus swiftly lied.
   “Small world isn’t it friend, Etruria’s my homeland too,” said Gavinal with a tired smile.
   “What part?” asked Jesus in a cunning defensive move.
   “Northern, by the lakes,” the fair complected, blue-eyed blond Gavinal answered, “I haven’t seen my home since I was assigned here by Tiberius eight years ago, so, what part of Etruria are you from?”
   “Volsinii,” Jesus lied, “About a day’s journey north of Rome.”
   “In southern Etruria, I could tell by your accent,” said Gavinal, not knowing Volsinii, mistaking it for the more southerly town of Vesuvii, much to Jesus’ relief. “Anyway, what sort of land are you looking for Julius, lots, homesteads, acreage?” he asked, reaching in a desk drawer for a list of available real estate.
   “Acreage, my father and I want to start a farm.”
   “You came to the right place, the centurion’s surveyors have staked off several tracts a few miles south of here, right on the Upper Euphrates, quite suitable for farming. With the way this area’s filling up, you’ll make a lot of money here.”
   “Excellent,” said Jesus, “One should never work without the idea of making a profit.”
    Gavinal acknowledged the statement with a nod while perusing land platte and official price list parchments. Jesus sat quietly, noting the opulence of the prefect’s office, furnished with glass windows, a recent invention of Roman craftsmen, and walls paneled in oiled Lebanese cedar. Fine Asian carpets lay on the polished marble floor, a large oil lamp was suspended from the ceiling, and a darkened winter fireplace was on the north wall, complete with logs sitting in an iron grate.
   “Due to the popularity of this area, prices have risen to high levels, there’s a note on this parchment reflecting that. Do you have a moneylender who will back you on a note?” Gavinal asked, staring at the price list.
   “Money’s no problem for me at all friend, what’s the price?”
   “Well, the largest tract is priced at 2,562,500 sestertii, payable to the procurator in Antioch,” Gavinal answered, reaching for an abacus to calculate the figure to a more manageable amount in silver denarii or gold aurei.
   “That would be uh, 25,625 denarii,” said Jesus, figuring the math mentally, “In gold it’s 1,025 aurei, I think.”
   “It is,” an impressed Gavinal replied, arriving at the same amounts on the abacus moments later, “Don’t worry Julius, with tracts the size of these we’re open to reasonable offers.”
   “The area of the tract?” asked Jesus, not caring about the price in the least.
   “Hold on, the area’s listed here somewhere,” said Gavinal, leafing through the documents. Pausing, the prefect looked over a papyrus document. “The area is one thousand acres, eighty-four of them riverfront,” he finally answered, looking up from the paper, “Enough land for twenty farms. According to the addendum, most is arable, excepting for cliffs on the north end. A quarter is cleared and you can split it up for tenant farmers if you like. Property taxes are low too, roughly one percent of accessed value, in your case, they would amount to a little over 10 aurei a year.”
   “When are taxes due?”
   “In fall, just after harvest on the ides of October, if you buy the tract, you’ll only owe about eight months for this year.”
   “Sounds good to me,” said Jesus, rising from his seat, “More than likely we’ll take it tomorrow evening, first I want to consult with my parents and my uh, wife.”
   “Don’t you want to have a look at it first?” asked Gavinal, covering his ass while pressing gently, so no one could say that he had misled Jesus. After all, caveat emptor might work in most places in the empire, but never when a town prefect was accused of malfeasance or dereliction of duty.
   “Yes I would, come to think of it,” Jesus answered as the prefect’s words dawned on him, he never having bought land before.
   “Good, I’ll draw you a map,” said Gavinal, taking out a fresh sheet of papyrus. Tracing the path for Jesus to follow, he added, “Head down the main street, continue about four miles south, turn left at the pond and look for a sign marked “Tract XXI.”
   “Thank you kind Gavinal,” Jesus replied, taking the rolled up map, “I’ll look at the land tomorrow, you should rest assured I shall buy it.”
   “That’s fine, if you decide to take the property, what form of payment will you be making?” Gavinal asked, placing a neat checkmark on the document next to Jesus’ choice.
   “Cash, in Roman gold and silver.”
   “Okay, Julius,” Gavinal remarked slowly, impressed by the forthright candor of the wealthy Jesus, “I suppose I’ll see you tomorrow?”
   “Correct, in the evening after dusk, would you like a deposit on the land?” Jesus asked, reaching in a tunic pocket for money.
   “That’s not necessary till I draw up the contract,” said Gavinal, holding up hands, “When you return we’ll take care of it then.”
   “Very well,” Jesus replied, “I’ll see you tomorrow evening.” He again shook the prefect’s hand, let himself out and headed to the inn. Knocking on the door to his parent’s room, he was let in by his consort, she enjoying the evening conversing with his folks. “I’ve located a thousand acre farm for only 1,025 aurei!” he exclaimed as he entered.
   His mother looked up, her jaw agape at the amount of money Jesus was so casually referring to.
   “Only 1,025 aurei,” said Joseph, “I don’t think I’ve made 1,025 denarii in my entire life, let alone 1,025 aurei.”
   “I have, though I haven’t counted it recently. I figure we’ve amassed at least two thousand aurei in various valuables, not to mention all the silver we’ve been lugging around.”
   Joseph smiled and replied, “I never thought I’d hit the jackpot, it’s as if this is a dream.”
   “It’s no dream dad, it’s reality; though you may have doubted it in the past, I’ve always wanted to make you and mother proud of me.”
   “It’s a miracle these things have happened,” his mother declared in very passable Latin.
   “I don’t believe in miracles anymore mother, I simply put it in my mind to make them.”
   “I told you he’s a genius,” said Mary, looking to her Jesus.
   Planning his next move, Jesus said, “Tomorrow evening I wish all of you to accompany me to prefect Gavinal’s residence. He’s the real estate manager for the area and will be selling us the property. Incidentally, I told him we’re wealthy wine merchants migrating from Gaul via our homeland of Etruria, hailing from the town of Volsinii.”
   “Telling more lies?” asked Joseph.
   “Why not,” said Jesus, “None of them know we’re lying, and as far as anyone knows, we’re Romans.”
   “Yeah, screw the bastards,” Joseph agreed as Jesus raised an eyebrow, a dark thought crossing his mind regarding Roman citizenship and its attendant responsibilities. I’ll have to take care of that problem when I return to Rome in a few years, entrancement should work, he thought.
   His parents settled in for the evening while Jesus and Mary ‘went out for dinner’ so to speak, assuming chiropteric form in the shadows. Hunting was good that night, Jesus correct in his observation that wherever people and money were, opportunistic thieves followed. Predictably, about ten miles south of town lurked a pair of bandits, dispatched in the usual way by the vampiric couple.
   Looting and dumping the victims in a wooded ravine, Jesus asked, “Would you like to have a look at the property, it’s only a few miles up the road.”
   “Sure,” Mary answered, “I think it’s a great idea to buy a farm for your folks, they’re nice people.”
   “It’s also for us Mary. We could use a base of operation instead of wandering about all the time. Further, with the amount of loot we’re gathering from our victims we’ll need a permanent place to keep it.”
   “I hadn’t thought of that,” the Magdalene replied, “It’s a good idea, we’ll have a place to return should we run into trouble, along with easily available money.”
   It was in fact a very good idea, for the purchase of this property was only the beginning of Jesus’ underground empire, which would last for millennia, he and his relatives controlling this small plot of land in northeastern Turkey even unto the 21st century. They walked along the dark road for a time, coming across a crude sign nailed to a tree, marked with Roman numerals ‘XXI’. A path had been cleared next to the sign, Jesus and consort walking onto the property. Scouting about, they headed to the north end, marked by 100-foot high cliffs, Jesus noting the solid sandstone promontory contained several useful caves, perfect for containing loot.
   “This is the northernmost part of the tract,” said Jesus, folding arms across his chest, “What do you think woman?”
   “It’s huge; I like it, and we may as well buy it.”
   “My thoughts exactly. Let’s head to the inn and I’ll tell my folks we’re going to take it.”
   “Okay,” said Mary, staring at him in awe, Jesus looking to the sky at the North Star.
   They knocked on his parent’s door, his father letting them in.
   “We looked at the parcel father,” said Jesus.
   “And?” asked Joseph, pressing for information.
   “It’s beautiful,” said Mary.
   “I want to buy the land tomorrow evening if you both agree.”
   “That’s fine with me,” Joseph replied, “I’m tired of traveling anyway.”
   His mother raised hands and shrugged, allowing Joseph to speak for her.
   “Well, I guess that’s settled,” said the Magdalene.
   “Have you uh, eaten son?” asked Joseph.
   “Yes father, thank you for asking. We found a pair of bandits lurking outside town.”
   His father nodded. “Would you care to stay over for wine and latrunculi?”
   “Certainly,” said Jesus, his father getting out the board and a bottle.
   Sitting at the table, Jesus beat his father six times in a row, Joseph glowering at the game board. Becoming content with simply getting drunk, a resigned Joseph put away the board and its pieces, the pair conversing about life’s vicissitudes and drinking strong wine all night long, while Mary and his mother talked and watched a replay of the night in Antioch.
   Toward sunup, a drunken Jesus staggered to his room with the Magdalene and collapsed into bed, snoring loudly as he hit the sheets.
   “He’ll never change,” said a smiling Magdalene, joining him in bed.
   “My head,” came the cry as Joseph rose the following evening, holding his head in his hands.
   “You really should stop drinking so much wine dear,” said Mary, handing him another glassful as a hangover panacea. She was not feeling particularly well either, for the past week or so she had been feeling slightly nauseous after waking, but it passed quickly, becoming her usual self after a short time.
   “Thanks woman,” Joseph groaned, sitting on the side of the bed, ignoring her advice and quickly downing the wine. “Give me another.” She came over and refilled the glass. “Aren’t you going to have something to eat?” he asked as she sat down beside him.
   “Not yet, perhaps later,” Mary replied, though feeling better, she was not quite ready to face food.
   Jesus and consort had arisen from slumber at sundown. Refreshed, he pulled his treasure sack from beneath the bed, producing 930 aurei and 2,375 denarii, equivalent to the prefect’s asking price of 1,025 aurei. Placing the money in a leather satchel, he added another hundred denarii to cover any hidden costs.
   A short time later, a seemingly loud knock came on his parent’s door, as Joseph winced and told his wife to let Jesus and Mary in.
   “Hello father,” said Jesus, “Are you hungover again?”
   “What do you think?” Joseph retorted with a weak smile.
   “I suppose you’re in no condition to accompany us to prefect Gavinal’s residence,” answered Jesus, wishing that Joseph could at least witness him buying the property. A humble man, he never, even in life, was one for boasting, but did want his father to see he had finally made something of himself, at least as a vampire.
   “I’m sorry son, I feel like shit, you don’t need me there do you?”
   “Not really,” said Jesus, “You and mother stay here while Mary and I purchase the land. We should be back in a few hours, and we’ll probably fetch someone to eat along the way.”
   “Terrific,” Joseph groaned, falling back into bed.
   Jesus nodded to his mother and left for Gavinal’s, quietly closing the door behind him.
   “Your father really hits the bottle hard at times doesn’t he?” asked the Magdalene.
   “Yeah, so do I, what can you do,” Jesus replied, walking along in the cool evening.
   “But you’re a vampire, heavy drinking doesn’t seem to bother you at all.”
   “I’ve noticed that,” said Jesus, neither realizing that their tolerance of alcoholic beverages was increasing due to vampiric nature.
   “Why do you bother to drink like that anyway?”
   “I don’t know, enjoyment perhaps.”
   “You enjoy that?”
   “Of course, verily I say unto you, vampires do not live by blood alone: for only by the drinking of hot blood, followed by cool wine, along with killing, lying and robbery, do we survive,” Jesus intoned in macabre jest.
   “That’s the truth.”
   Arriving at the prefect’s residence, the guard let them in.
   “Good evening Gavinal,” said Jesus, shaking his hand firmly. “This is my wife, Maria Hittica, a Hittite tribeswoman from Galatia.”
   Mary Magdalene smiled and politely bowed her head to the prefect.
   Gavinal returned the bow, coveting the beautiful Magdalene, and asked, “Did you look at the site?”
   “Yes, we’ll take it,” answered Jesus.
   “Excellent,” Gavinal replied, “Have a seat, the notary’s on the way, he should be here presently.” With those words, the notary arrived in the doorway.
   “Greetings Marcus Pertinax,” said Gavinal, “This is Julius Chrysippus and his wife Maria, they’re buying tract twenty one next to your place.”
   “It’s a pleasure to meet you Julius,” said Marcus, firmly shaking Jesus’ hand and taking a seat.
   “Let’s get down to business,” said Gavinal, pulling a parchment document from a drawer in his desk. “The contract’s filled out, excepting for yours and the notary’s signatures, and I also took the time to draw up the title too; everything’s in order. The price is 1,025 aurei, plus a notary fee of 10 denarii.”
   “Very well,” said Jesus, placing a sack of money on Gavinal’s desk, opening it and dumping a small mountain of gold and silver before them.
   Gavinal and Marcus stared at the hoard of precious metal, not believing their eyes.
   “When you said cash you meant it!” Gavinal exclaimed, the notary continuing to stare at the pile of glittering money. “I’d best call the guard in here with a strongbox to safeguard this money,” he added, walking to the door. Ordering his guard to fetch an iron strongbox and lock from the garrison, he returned to the desk and resumed his seat. “Signature or signet?” he asked, handing Jesus the contract and title parchments.
   “I’ll use my signature,” said Jesus, taking a quill stylus from the prefect. Reading the contract, with his left Jesus dipped the stylus into an inkwell and then signed ‘B. Julius Chrysippus’ on the documents. The notary added his signatures as well, the Magdalene and Gavinal signing afterward as sworn witnesses.
   “So, what’s the ‘B’ for?” asked Gavinal, very interested in the new arrival in his town, a tall man who paid cash, in gold and silver, for land. After all, B. Julius Chrysippus was a wealthy Roman citizen; sooner or later one could get his own to marry into the family, enriching one’s own by proxy.
   “Bacchus, god of wine.”
   “Oh yes,” said Gavinal, looking to Marcus and explaining, “His family made their fortune in Etruria as wine merchants.”
   Marcus smiled and nodded.
   “You’ve just bought a farm, welcome to our town Julius!” exclaimed Gavinal, rising and shaking Jesus’ hand.
   “Let’s toast the sale with wine,” Marcus suggested.
   “Absolutely,” said Gavinal, producing a fresh bottle of Gaul’s finest. Placing four goblets on his desk, he broke the clay seal, pierced the wax stopper and opened the bottle. “This is Gallic wine, Julius probably imported it,” he added while filling the goblets.
   “No I didn’t,” Jesus lied, which was actually the truth, reading the Latin inscription on the bottle, “This wine was imported by Gaius Scipio Magnentius, a competitor of my father and I.”
   “Is it good wine?” asked Gavinal, holding his goblet up to the lamplight, looking to Jesus for his opinion.
   “Of course,” said Jesus, taking a deep gulp, “Scipio Magnentius and sons import only the finest Gallic wines, none ever adulterated or leaded, using only beeswax-lined amphorae.”
   “Leaded wine’s much too sweet for me,” said Marcus, “Some have said it makes people crazy!”
   “Hippocrates of Kos said that too,” Jesus replied, pouring another libation, “I don’t know about you folks, but I like wine to taste like wine, not like sweet lead, honey, or fruit.”
   “That’s the truth,” Gavinal agreed, downing his glass, “The folks in Rome drink leaded and perfumed wine by the cask. I can’t stand the stuff, it tastes like shit!” The group broke into laughter, Gavinal quickly apologizing to Mary for his lapse in taste, embarrassed by his utterance before a Roman matron.
   “What the hell, I’ve heard worse, I don’t give a damn,” said the Magdalene, Marcus choking on his wine as he heard the coarse reply, a perturbed Jesus shaking his head almost imperceptibly to her. She, a very worldly woman, smirked at her consort and fell silent.
   Looking to Jesus with a raised eyebrow, Gavinal poured and drank another glass of the Scipio brand, sitting down with the notary and counting the pile of money, while Jesus and the Magdalene sat quietly, the guard standing at attention near the door.
   Shortly thereafter, the honest Gavinal frowned and remarked, “Julius, there’s 1,029 aurei here, you’ve overpaid us by ninety denarii.”
   “Split the extra with friend Marcus, I have plenty of money.”
   Gavinal looked to Jesus and said, “You are truly an extraordinary man, Bacchus Julius Chrysippus of Etruria.”
   “Thank you kind gentlemen,” an embarrassed Jesus replied. The transaction completed, the guard placed the money in the strongbox. Jesus slipped the Roman title in his tunic, bid farewell to Gavinal and Marcus, and the couple stepped into the night, returning to the inn.
   “Gavinal sure liked me didn’t he?” asked Mary, entering their room.
   “Proving he has good taste in females,” said Jesus, sitting on the bed.
   “Flatter me again.”
   “Honestly Mary, you’re far from an unattractive woman, and I’m quite certain you realize it,” Jesus replied, relaxing on the bed.
   “You think so?” asked the Magdalene, batting her eyes in an exaggerated fashion.
   “You’re a coy little bitch aren’t you?” asked Jesus, hiding a smile.
   Mary frowned at the insult. “Sometimes you can really piss on someone’s parade.”
   “Oh well, what can you do woman?”
   “Jesus!”
   He smiled, rose from the bed, and said, “Let’s find supper shall we?”
   “Why not,” the Magdalene answered, her ego deflated by his remarks.
   Curiously, that evening, they were unable to find suitable human fare, contenting themselves with a pair of wild boars.
   Returning to the inn, Mary observed, “Your mother’s right, those pigs just don’t make it.”
   “Sometimes one has to make do,” said Jesus, opening the door.
   Mary shook her head in disgust and fell into bed. Removing his shoes, Jesus noticed that his toes appeared inflamed, though they didn’t actually hurt, they seemed to be sensitive to pressure from his hands.
   “Look at this Mary, my feet have turned red!”
   “What?” asked the Magdalene, sitting up and looking to his feet.
   “I’m thinking maybe the shoes are too tight, what do you think?”
   “I don’t know but it sure is weird looking, do they hurt?”
   “No.”
   “Maybe they are too tight,” said Mary, falling back in bed while Jesus sat staring at his feet.
   “But they don’t feel tight, I wonder what this is.”
   “Perhaps you have a malaise,” said Mary, leaning up on an elbow, “Wash them in strong wine and vinegar; that should kill it, whores I knew even used it for a douche when they had malaise.”
   “I would think malaise of the crotch is different from malaise of the feet.”
   “You’re probably right about that,” the Magdalene agreed, “Maybe you should bind them in honey for a while, it’s said that works well for skin irritations.”
   “Perhaps, but I don’t think this is a malaise.”
   “You don’t?”
   “Not at all.”
   “Well, don’t worry about it, we’ll figure it out later, let’s go to sleep,” a tired Mary replied, falling to her pillow. Jesus joined her, the pair settling into sleep for the day.
   In the early evening Joseph came knocking, Jesus answering the door.
   “Hello father, how are you feeling?” Jesus asked, letting him in.
   “Fine,” said Joseph, “Unlike you, it takes me a day or so to sleep it off.”
   “I used to be that way.”
   “I remember, and I’ve been meaning to ask, why didn’t you use the money you gave me to purchase the land?”
   “We have so much money now that it’s ridiculous. You didn’t have the full amount in cash, so I figured I’d let you keep that, and used my other funds.”
   “Okay,” said Joseph, raising eyebrows, “You know, I don’t think I’ll ever get used to being rich.”
   “Vampirism does have its rewards,” said Jesus.
   “Obviously,” Joseph replied, looking to his son.
   They left the inn, preparing to take the wagon to their property. Before leaving town, his parents stocked up on needed provisions at a store owned by a merchant named Vitellius, as Jesus had made them aware there were no standing structures on the property. Stopping at a restaurant, his mother purchased several loaves of fresh bread and a large earthenware crock of soup for their late supper.
   “Would you like hardboiled eggs dear?” Mary asked, looking to offerings on a nearby counter.
   “Sure, I like them,” Joseph replied. Realizing money was no object; he and Jesus returned to Vitellius’ store and purchased a wooden case of fine Gallic wine for 36 denarii. Arriving at the wagon, Joseph explained that it was for his and Jesus’ relaxation in the evening.
   “I’m sure it is,” Mary answered, watching her son place the heavy box in the wagon. Each bottle in the oblong case of sixteen almost the size of a modern magnum, it was assured that relaxation would be quickly and abundantly available for father and son in the evenings ahead.
   A full moon was low on the horizon, providing little illumination. As they drove the dark road, guided by the eyes of the vampiric Christ, Joseph said, “I’m damn glad we brought my tools along, I suppose I’ll have to build us a house first.”
   “That’ll be no problem as we’re both carpenters,” Jesus replied, “Further, though many homes in Judea are built mostly of stone, I think a wooden structure with a stone foundation would be appropriate. Many domiciles here are crafted totally from wood, and the area where I would like to build the house is surrounded by trees.”
    “Are you kidding, it’d take months to fell, split and hew that much timber,” said Joseph with concern for his wife, wondering where she would reside in the meantime.
   “Not so father, I’ll help you.”
   “You’ll actually work?”
   “Yes, you will need assistance for such a daunting project.”
   “That’ll be the day,” Joseph retorted.
   “He’s done a lot for us already,” said Mary, defending her son.
   “Yeah, he slaughtered our neighbors, burned our house down and then dragged our asses to a foreign country,” replied Joseph, punctuated by a cynical laugh.
   “He gave us the money you have in your satchel or don’t you remember?”
   “I know that woman, I’m only kidding him,” Joseph answered, Jesus turning away to hide a smile. They passed the pond Gavinal had spoke of, turned left and came to the entrance to their spread. As Jesus pulled the wagon into the dark woods surrounding the path, his father asked, “Can you even see anything?”
   “Of course, so can the horses,” said Jesus, continuing on a bumpy ride toward the north end of the property. Stopping at a clearing about 300 feet from the cliffs, Jesus stepped from the wagon and remarked, “So folks, here it is, what do you think of our land?”
   “A thousand acres huh?” Joseph asked, stepping from the wagon and attempting to look about in the dim light.
   “Yes father,” said Jesus, freeing the horses from their harnesses.
   “It’s huge, you made a good buy,” his father replied, “I suppose we’ll have to purchase oxen and plows to work it.”
   “I’ll have to buy slaves for you too,” said Jesus, tying the horses to a tree on tethers to rest and graze.
   “Slaves?” asked Joseph, bringing the horses’ feed bags from the rear of the wagon.
   “You don’t expect to run the farm by yourself do you?” asked Jesus, grabbing a brush to comb down the horses.
   “This is going to be better than I imagined,” said Joseph, folding arms across his chest.
   Joseph and wife set up a temporary camp as Jesus leaned on the wagon, staring up at the night sky, lost in thought. His mother, thinking ahead, asked her undead daughter-in-law to fetch a few empty water skins from the rear of the wagon, intending to fill them later at the river.
   “Sure,” replied the Magdalene, heading to the wagon and retrieving them, “Would you like me to draw water for you?”
   “Certainly, thank you Mary,” his mother answered, pleased that she was so helpful.
   “Do you want to walk with me to the river Jesus?”
   “Huh?” asked Jesus, looking to his consort and returning to reality.
   “Would you like to accompany me to the river while I fetch water for your folks?”
   “Oh, sure,” said Jesus.
   They strolled to the Euphrates, returning with fresh water for his parents. Jesus lifted his money sack from the wagon and informed his parents that they were going to check out the caves, to be pressed into use as a daytime sleeping quarters and convenient loot stash.
   “Sounds like a good idea,” said Joseph, making a campfire on the chilly evening. Using flint and iron to light kindling, he soon had a warm fire burning about thirty feet from the wagon, fueling the blaze with fallen branches from nearby trees. His wife prepared a meal for them while Jesus and consort walked to the cliffs and into a dark cave. The cave he had chosen was a deep, dry meandering labyrinth, perfect for sleeping and containing valuables.
   Coming to a gallery, Mary observed, “I suppose we’ll have to fix this place up a bit, but otherwise it’s perfect.”
   “It seems fine to me as it is, what do you mean?” asked Jesus, placing the loot in an inconspicuous crevice.
   “I don’t enjoy sleeping on a stone floor, do you?”
   “No I don’t, come to think of it,” said Jesus after a reflective pause, Mary staring at him with a pained look on her face. In many ways, her Jesus was quite adept, but in others, he was still a detached, absent-minded philosopher, his head in the clouds.
   “Sometimes you’re just not all there are you?” Mary retorted, refusing to let him ruin her plans for house decorating.
   “Why do you say that?” asked Jesus, hurt by the remark.
   “Most people, even vampires, prefer to sleep in a nice soft bed and don’t have to take time to think about it.”
   “Oh,” said Jesus, “I’m sorry, I was occupied thinking about other things.”
   “Such as?” she asked as they started back.
   “The usual stuff, you know, the world, life, existence, God, things like that.”
   “My point exactly.”
   Walking from the cave, Jesus saw his father had made a brightly burning campfire, he and his mother enjoying their meals.
   “Heading out for someone to eat?” Joseph asked, as if such was a normal, everyday occurrence.
   “Yes, but I first wanted to make sure you were comfortable and settled in,” said Jesus, concerned for their wellbeing in the unfamiliar country.
   “We’re fine,” his mother replied, “It’s so beautiful here.”
   “Velly, I mean very well,” said Jesus, “We’ll be back in a little while.”
   With those words, Jesus transformed. The Magdalene followed, both flying off into the darkness. Joseph sat calmly, finishing his soup, his wife’s jaw dropping at the sight.
   “If I were you I’d get used to it woman,” Joseph advised, looking to his transfixed wife.
   “It’s so weird, they turned into bats!” she exclaimed, “I keep forgetting they’re not quite human anymore.”
   “It’s weird all right, but he always was a weird one anyway.”
   Alighting on the road south of town, they returned to human form. Mary asked, “Do you think it was a good idea to transform in front of your parents?”
   “Why not, they know we’re vampires, what difference can it make?”
   “It must have been shocking to them.”
   “Maybe, but they’ve grown used to everything else, so how much of a problem can it be?”
   “I suppose you’re right,” said the Magdalene, not comfortable with the idea of transforming in front of his parents, but realizing it would have happened eventually. Finding supper proved easy, yet another pair of troublemakers dispatched by Jesus and consort, their drained and looted bodies bouncing to the bottom of a ravine.
   “We’d best head back to check on my folks,” said Jesus with a belch as the bodies landed in a heap. Assuming chiropteric form, they flew back to Joseph’s soon-to-be farm. Landing on the cliffs, they changed back, looking down to see the brightly burning campfire with his parents relaxing beside it. His mother was mending clothing, his father sitting across from her, drinking from a gigantic bottle of wine.
   “Why’d we stop here?” asked Mary, surprised he did not want to return to his parents immediately.
   “I wanted to take in the view, you can see the entire spread from here.”
   “Yeah,” said Mary, looking to the river, thankful they could have a bit of time to themselves.
   Jesus sat down at the edge of the cliff and leaned back resting his head on his arms, looking to the night sky. The moon had climbed higher; brightening nearby cumulus clouds, and was beginning to illuminate the area. “I wonder what those are up there,” he mused.
   “What?” asked Mary, sitting down, releasing her hair from its bindings and finger combing her black locks.
   “The stars,” replied Jesus, looking at the moon with surprise, noticing for the first time it was studded with mountains. Due to superior eyesight, he was not only able to see in the dark, but also had the visual acuity of an eagle.
   “According to the priests and rabbis they’re lights shining through from heaven, signs set in the sky for the seasons,” said Mary, looking up.
   “Bullshit, they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Jesus replied, sitting up, “Heaven my ass, whatever they are they seem to be very far away indeed, and I suspect there’s much more to them than meets the eye.”
   “You’re really turned off by Hebrew religion aren’t you?”
   “You can say that again,” Jesus answered, rubbing hands on his tunic as if wiping them of something dirty, “Especially the Hebrew faith, along with any other form of religion.”
   “Yeah,” said Mary, not believing her ears.
   “Look at the moon up there, it’s covered with mountains, like it’s another world,” said Jesus, pointing to the sky.
   “I wonder if people live on it,” Mary replied, seeing the mountains as well.
   “Maybe,” said Jesus, looking to the silver moon.
   Both grew silent. Jesus rested his head on his arms, contemplating his undead existence, the stars, and why there seemed to be so many worthless people in the world. He thought further, and suddenly realized if there weren’t, it would be slim pickings indeed for someone like him. He chuckled at the thought.
   “What are you laughing about?” Mary asked, turning on her side and resting her head on an arm.
   “I was thinking if there weren’t so many criminals in this world I probably wouldn’t be able to survive.”
   “I suppose you should be thankful for that, but you could drink the blood of animals if there weren’t suitable people around.”
   “Probably, but like you, I prefer human blood, and don’t think existence would be quite as fun, if you follow my reasoning.”
   “Of course,” said Mary, “I enjoy playing with them like a cat plays with a mouse, and like watching you use knives on them.”
   “I see, do you remember the parable of the wheat and the chaff?”
   “Yes, but what does that have to do with this conversation?” Mary asked, not following his constantly meandering logic.
   “I’ve lately found that most people seem to be chaff.”
   “I get it,” said Mary. She sighed, wishing the conversation would turn to a different topic. Realizing that such hope was futile, she laid her head on his chest, staring up at the night sky and relaxing.
   “It’s funny, I never thought it would be like this woman.”
   “Like what?” asked Mary, annoyed at his ambiguity when he was in a philosophical mood.
   “That I’d become a vampire after all I preached to people.”
   “So?”
   “So I once thought that if one behaved correctly, and showed at least some respect for the idea of God, that God, if he actually exists, would show favor on those who did such, with a reward after death.”
   “All that did was get you crucified.”
   “Precisely, I must have been very na├»ve to have believed it was that simple.”
   “Look at it this way, perhaps being a vampire is your reward.”
   “I don’t think any god would give someone a reward like this,” a chuckling Jesus replied, watching a meteor cross the sky.
   “But Joseph and your disciples said you once thought you were God, proving that, those in Nazareth wanted to stone you as a blasphemer,” said Mary, sitting up and getting into the spirit of the conversation.
   “Yes, I must confess at times I actually thought so, but never explicitly said that. I simply said that I had some idea of what it was to be a Son of God. That is, I preached that one could gain God’s favor by first accepting him as Lord of the universe. Then, one could ask his forgiveness for any transgressions, and afterward retain his grace by treating one’s fellow man as one would wish to be treated.”
   “I know all that Jesus, but people don’t seem to like treating one another well, especially those who point out they are behaving badly. From what I’ve seen they’re only out for themselves.”
   “Yeah, I wish I’d known that before; my father often said the same things.”
   “I did try to tell you more than once.”
   “I know,” said Jesus, again looking to the stars.
   “By the way, I believe your mother’s pregnant.”
   “So do I,” said Jesus, looking to his consort and resting his head on an arm, “That’s strange, we seem to be able to sense hidden things mortals cannot.”
   “It must have something to do with being vampires.”
   “Perhaps,” Jesus replied, thinking of his mother. They transformed and flew down the cliff, assuming human form about a hundred feet from the campsite. Walking through the brush to the campfire, Jesus greeted his parents, he and the Magdalene sitting down beside them.
   “That bat thing you and Mary do is pretty neat son,” said an inebriated Joseph, offering the magnum to Jesus.
   “Yeah,” Jesus replied, taking the bottle and drinking deeply from it, “It saves a lot of time and effort if you need to go somewhere fast.”
   A curious proto-scientist, Joseph asked, “So, what happens to your clothes when you change into bats?”
   “I hadn’t thought about that,” answered Jesus, “I imagine our garments and such become part of us, after all, we were wearing them before we transformed and we’re wearing them now.”
   “True,” Joseph replied.
   “Who knows, I just know it works,” said Mary as Joseph looked to her.
   Joseph sat quietly, ruminating on the paradox regarding mass.
   “You know father, we’re going to need picks and shovels to dig the foundation trench and a well pit,” said Jesus after finishing the bottle.
   “I thought about that, there’s a merchant in town who deals in hardware. I suppose I’ll head there tomorrow morning; I’m also going to need nails, pitch for the roof and other stuff.”
   “Nails are expensive,” said Jesus, nails at the time hand made, one at a time, by blacksmiths.
   “Who cares?” Joseph retorted, breaking into laughter, knowing he had enough money to buy twenty wagonloads of nails if he wanted them.
   “You have a point there dad.”
   “It’s getting a late,” his mother remarked, Joseph opening and starting on another bottle.
   “Yes woman,” said Joseph, corking it, “We should turn in, I want to rise early to start on the house.”
   “Where are your tools father?”
   “In the wagon, why do you ask?” asked Joseph, surprised that Jesus would ask for tools – to do work.
   “I want to fell trees tonight so you can split and hew them in the morning.”
   “Sure,” said Joseph, getting up and walking to the wagon, “For starters we need about twenty, perhaps thirty cubits long and a cubit or so wide.”
   “We’ll also need stone for the foundation, I spotted some fair-sized rocks by the river,” Jesus replied, looking to the Euphrates.
   “I reckon with you working at night and me working by day, this shouldn’t take long at all.” Sliding his leather tool satchel across the floor of the wagon, Joseph dropped the heavy bag to the ground. Reaching in and producing a sharp iron axe, he handed it to Jesus.
   “It may be a bit noisy, I hope you can sleep while we work,” said Jesus, taking the axe and using a thumb to test the sharpness of the edge.
   “I’m glad for once to see that you’re actually working!” Joseph exclaimed, climbing into the wagon.
   “Yes father,” said Jesus, wishing his father’s memories weren’t so accurate.
   “So I’ll tell you what, I and your mother will just have to do our best while you bust your ass,” Joseph added, his wife joining him in the wagon.
   “After we’re finished we’ll be sleeping in the cave,” said Jesus, used to his father’s insults.
   “Good idea son, there isn’t much room in here anyway.”
   “Would you have a few blankets, and also hand me our old clothes?” Jesus asked, thankful the conversation had taken a turn for the better.
   “Sure, hold on.” Joseph fished around in the wagon with a candle, producing a pair of blankets, the Magdalene’s old clothes and Jesus’ robe and sandals. “Here you go,” he said, handing him the articles.
   “Thank you my father, and good night.”
   “Good night to you,” Joseph replied, closing the door.
   Taking the blankets to the cave, he and his consort changed into their former attire so they wouldn’t damage their good clothes while working. Pulling off his leather shoes, Jesus stared at his even redder feet and slipped on his sandals. Wondering why his feet looked so strange, he looked to the shoes, and again at his feet. They’re not too tight and it’s not a malaise; it must have something to do with those shoes, he thought, dropping the offending shoes to the cave floor. It was in fact the shoes, but it would take time for him to figure out why, so he wore his sandals from that night forward, except when he was visiting Gavinal Septimus or Marcus Pertinax.
   “We must have looked like hell parading around in these rags,” Mary observed as they walked from the cave.
   “I agree, it’s strange how one’s tastes change over time,” said Jesus.
   Over the next hours, many earth-shaking vibrations were heard and felt by Joseph and wife as they tried to sleep in the wagon, while Jesus, using superior strength, pushed down over twenty large trees like a vampiric bulldozer. Using the axe to slice off roots and branches, by three-thirty he had prepared twenty arrow-straight logs and stacked them near the area he thought would be the best place to build the house. The Magdalene pitched in while Jesus harvested the timber, bringing suitable foundation stones from the riverbank, larger ones the size of a modern V-8 engine and weighing in excess of five hundred pounds.
   Jesus dropped the last of the logs from his shoulder to the stack as Mary said, “Look at us Jesus, we’re filthy as dogs from this work.”
   “It’s a good thing the river’s close,” Jesus replied, “Let’s take a dip to wash up.”
   Satisfied with their work, they headed to the Euphrates. Though it was only February, the coldness of the flowing water didn’t bother them at all. Leaving their clothes on the sandy riverbank, they jumped in and washed the grime from their bodies.
   “I like being a vampire,” said Mary, relaxing in the cold water.
   “It’s not bad,” Jesus replied, swimming further out, “I guess the legend of vampires fearing running water is bullshit too.”
   “Evidently,” said Mary, swimming out to join her consort. Enjoying each other’s company in the cold water, Mary said while kissing him on the cheek, “Jesus, though it was a problem for me in the beginning, I want to thank you for bringing me to the realm of the undead.”
   “Don’t mention it,” said Jesus, floating toward an eddy near the riverbank, enjoying the feel of the water.
   “I was trying to be romantic you jackass!” Mary exclaimed, swimming after him.
   “I’m sorry,” said Jesus, standing up waist deep in the water, hurt by her remark.
   “You’re so damn unbelievable at times,” she replied, falling into his arms.
   “I’ve never been one for romanticism woman; I love you and all, but I’m not that good at showing it am I?”
   “Not really, when it comes to talking.”
   “I am pretty good at that aren’t I?” Jesus asked with a broad smile, referring to the physical component of romanticism.
   “Yes, and I love you too,” Mary answered, giving him a passionate kiss. Thoroughly cleansed and sated, they stepped from the river near dawn and rinsed out their work rags. Dressing in the wet garb due to Hebrew modesty, they retired to the cave and changed into more comfortable attire.
   “Say, didn’t one of your disciples say you once walked on the Sea of Galilee?” she asked in the privacy of the pitch-black cave, slipping on a silk nightgown acquired during their travels.
   “That was one of John’s hallucinations, I think he was touched in the head,” Jesus answered with a frown.
   “Oh,” said Mary, surprised he would say such a thing about one of his followers.
   “Or maybe it was frozen at the time,” Jesus ventured, looking for a way to defend his friend.
   “In the summer?”
   “You’re right, he was crazy.”
   Spreading blankets over the floor, they retired and settled into well-deserved sleep. His parents woke just after sunup, stepping from the wagon to tend to personal needs and eat breakfast. Walking to the house site after relieving himself, Joseph stared in astonishment at a stack of freshly felled timber and piles of boulders that would become the stone foundation of the house.
   “Good Lord!” he exclaimed, barely believing his eyes, “They did a month’s work in one night!” Thinking of his son slumbering in his dark cave, Joseph felt a twinge of remorse for what he had said the previous evening, vowing to never again insult Jesus – when it came to manual labor.
   Breaking from his reverie, Joseph yelled, “Mary, come here!”
   “What is it?” asked his wife, walking over.
   “Look at this, there’s enough timber here to build a villa. I think our son has finally learned the virtues of work.”
   “I always told you Jesus was never afraid of working, it’s just he was more of a thinker than anything else.”
   “It also helps when you can lift huge boulders as if they were pebbles and rip trees from the ground with your bare hands,” said Joseph, looking to a pile of uprooted trunks sitting a short distance from the timber. Looking closer, he noted that one gnarled root looked suggestively like a duck, resolving to have a try at carving the no longer forbidden images of man and beast. He recalled a set of fine carving knives he had inherited from his father, tucked away safely in the wagon. “What the hell, there isn’t any lousy god anyway,” he added, reflecting on passages from the book of Leviticus.
   While eating breakfast, he observed that at the rate Jesus and the Magdalene were progressing, he would be able to have a house ready within six weeks. “I certainly hope they leave some work for me to do,” he grumbled while eating leftover soup. Later, he rehitched the horses, taking the wagon into town to purchase rope for moving logs, along with other needed hardware for house building – shovels, picks, sickles, pitch, and nails. The distance was only a few miles, and he arrived in Tibernum shortly after eight. Thinking ahead, he also realized he needed a tarp for covering the drying wood, and a large hammer and iron chisels for cutting stones. Though neither he nor Jesus were trained as masons, he felt that between them they could create a strong stone foundation for the dwelling.
   A local hardware merchant named Drusus the Illyrian set about filling the requests, Joseph introducing himself as Julius the elder, father of B. Julius Chrysippus, placing the order for the products from him in Latin.
   “You’re building a house?” Drusus asked, making a list of Joseph’s order, “You came to the right place, we have most of this stuff.”
   “Yes, I purchased tract twenty-one on the south road,” said Joseph, eyeing other items in the shop.
   “Gavinal told me about you folks, you’re the family of Etrurian wine merchants.”
   “Former wine merchants,” Joseph lied, adding truth to his reply, “I figured I’d try my hand as a farmer, but first I have to build a house.”
   “Have you built one before?” asked Drusus, leaning on the counter, he a skilled carpenter.
   “Several, but not one like this,” Joseph answered, “My son wants to craft most of the structure from wood, lucky for us we’re both carpenters.”
   “As am I, many houses in Tibernum are made of wood. Mine is too, trees are everywhere here.”
   “You’re a carpenter?” Joseph asked, noting that he had better make a serious attempt at farming, for apparently there was no real use for another carpenter in the area.
   “I built my place a few miles west of here about fifteen years ago,” said Drusus, finishing with the list and calling, “Slave!”
   “Yes master Drusus?” a slave answered, walking up.
   “Fill this man’s order and bring it to the loading entrance.”
   “Yes master,” the slave replied, taking the list and walking away.
   “You’ll find there’s a lot of oak around here Julius, perfect for setting as floor beams,” said Drusus.
   “I noticed that, but oak’s tough to work with,” Joseph replied, walking to a shelf stocked with coils of rope.
   “Lay them green, that’s what I did,” said Drusus, “They hardly warped, and oak beams are as strong as Hercules.”
   “That’s an idea,” replied Joseph, placing a length of hemp rope on the counter, thinking that setting oak beams and rafters green might actually work.
   “What’ll you be using the rope for?” asked Drusus.
   “Moving logs,” Joseph answered, perusing other items in the shop.
   “We have iron chain for sale,” said Drusus, “Very strong, made in Anatolia, perfect for moving logs.”
   “I’ll take some, can you make it the same length as the rope?”
   “I haven’t a blacksmith, it’s only available in lengths of fifteen paces.”
   “That’ll work, make it two,” said Joseph.
   “Coming up,” Drusus replied, looking to another slave and nodding. His efficient slaves placed the order at the loading dock on a wheeled cart, while another loaded the requested items into the wagon. Joseph paid him mostly with orichalcum sestertii to be inconspicuous in his dealings. Bidding the merchant farewell and returning to his farm at eleven, Joseph unloaded the cargo, sitting it in a neat heap just outside the wagon. He unhitched the horses, tying one to a tree, and led the other to the log pile while Mary was washing clothes by the river.
   Fashioning a padded rope harness for the beast, he tied a length of chain to the rope and secured the chain around a log. Placing the harness on the horse, he used it to pull several logs into position in the shade of an oak for splitting and hewing. Using his expertise as a carpenter, he drove iron wedges into the trunks with the blunt side of an axe, splitting them lengthwise, reducing them to rough beams. As late afternoon approached, a sweating Joseph hewed several beams smooth with an adze and dragged the finished beams aside to dry. Satisfied with their quality, he quit for a well-deserved lunch.
   “I’ve split up five trees, that should be enough for the foundation beams,” he said breathlessly, relaxing in the shade, finishing a rough sketched plan for the dwelling on a piece of parchment.
   “Yes dear,” Mary replied, looking to her exhausted husband, handing him food and a cup of wine. “Are you all right Joseph?”
   “Certainly,” said Joseph, putting down the parchment, “I’m just tired, what do you expect after what I’ve been doing?”
   “You’re not exactly a young man, you shouldn’t work so hard.”
   “I’m not exactly dead either,” Joseph retorted, annoyed that she would think that he could not do the work. She relented; knowing it was impossible to reason with her obstinate husband once he had made up his mind. A stubborn man, Mary realized that Joseph would either build them a house, or die trying in the attempt.
   Looking at the cup of wine, he frowned. “It’s much too early for this woman; do you have water?” Joseph asked, eating dried dates. She handed him a leather water bag, which he quickly drained of liquid. Changing his mind, he gulped down the wine. He wiped his face and said, “I have to set up a tent over the finished beams to keep them from splitting in the sun. We’d best start clearing the home site so Jesus and his girl can place the foundation stones tonight, and I can set the floor beams in place over the next few days.”
   Mary nodded, turning from him and walking to the wagon.
   “Do we have any vinegar?” Joseph called, exhausted from the work.
   “There’s some left over from pickled artichokes, what do you want it for?” asked Mary, turning.
   “I need to drink it, for strength, like soldiers do on their marches.”
   “Oh yes, but if you want more you’ll have to head to town, there are other staples we need as well.”
   “Right,” Joseph replied, opening a woven hemp tarp to protect his fresh hewn lumber. Erecting a makeshift tent over the beams, Joseph drank the vinegar, closing his eyes at the bitter taste. Later, his wife assisted him clearing the house site using a sickle while he cleared larger saplings with an axe. The site Jesus had picked was practically level and would require only a small amount of digging where the foundation footer stones would be placed. They finished as the sun moved to the horizon. Tossing the saplings and brush in a pile, with dusk approaching Joseph stoked up the fire, he and his wife sitting down to relax. 
   A refreshed Jesus and Magdalene appeared from their cave just after sundown carrying their work clothes. Sitting the rags on the wagon’s seat, Jesus greeted his parents while observing the work Joseph had performed during the day. Voicing approval at his father’s accomplishments, they sat down, enjoying cups of wine while his parents had dinner.
   Supper finished, Joseph and Jesus walked to the home site and finalized plans for building the foundation, his father noting the measurements on a piece of parchment nailed to a tree for use as reference. They also worked out fireplace and chimney placement, agreeing that building a large hearth on one side of the future kitchen would be best. Satisfied with their plans, they headed to the campsite and enjoyed another cup of wine together. While the fire burned in the cool evening, his mother related that Joseph had gone into town during the morning and purchased needed tools for the construction project.
   “So, what did you buy father?” Jesus asked.
   “Rope, chain, picks, shovels, nails and the like, we’re short on tools for a project like this.”
   “Good, we need items like that anyway.”
   “I also bought an iron hammer and hardened chisels for the foundation stones.”
   “Excellent, I’m not a mason, but it can’t be that hard.”
   “My thoughts exactly,” said Joseph, finishing a cup of wine.
   “Incidentally, how the hell did you fell and strip twenty trees in one night?” Joseph asked, amazed at the work his son had accomplished.
   “It was easy,” said Jesus, “I pushed them over, cut off the roots and branches and carried them to the pile.”
   “Carried them, that’s incredible,” replied Joseph, wishing Jesus had been as interested in carpentry in the past as he seemed to be now.
   “I carried the stones,” said the Magdalene.
   “Really?” Joseph asked, his jaw dropping.
   “I told you we’re much stronger than mortals are father.”
   “I know, but I didn’t think you were that strong,” said Joseph, staring at the petite Mary Magdalene, trying to envision her lifting such a load, she a vampire who could easily lift half a ton.
   “It still surprises me too,” she confessed with a sheepish smile.
   Walking to the wagon and grabbing another bottle, Joseph sat down and poured fresh cups of wine for he and Jesus. “So, what do you intend to do tonight son, build the house?”
   “No, I figured since you bought picks and shovels I’d work on the foundation. After I’m finished with that I can dig a well and perhaps a latrine.”
   “Both?”
   “Well, maybe not both, since I’ll have to shape stones for the well first,” said Jesus. I can probably start both pits tonight, but before we do, Mary and I have to head out for a bite to eat.”
   “Yes,” replied Joseph, smiling at the euphemism, “By the time you return your mother and I should be asleep. I want to rise early tomorrow to start setting the foundation stones.”
   “I’ll try to keep the noise to a minimum,” said Jesus, he and Mary rising to their feet.
   Walking from the camp, his father called, “Why don’t you fly son, you’ll get there faster.”
   “I figured we’d walk tonight.”
   “Suit yourself,” said Joseph, opening the door to the wagon, his wife having already bedded down for the night. Walking off, the last sounds they heard from the camp was Joseph, snickering about something, as usual.
   Finding suitable sustenance each evening was not as easy as Jesus had first imagined when arriving in Tibernum, as the town was small and very well protected by the garrison. Most robbers and highwaymen avoided the area, thanks to prefect Gavinal and his efficient centurion, who summarily executed any they caught wishing to pursue these methods of employment.
   Reluctantly contenting themselves with the blood of wild boars, Jesus said as they returned to the farm, “I think it’s good that Gavinal and his men keep the area free of criminals, but if this doesn’t change soon we’ll have to move on sooner than I imagined.”
   “We could fly to Mansahir, it’s a large town with plenty of thieves,” said the Magdalene.
   “We may have to, but it’s well over a hundred miles, even as bats it would take hours to get there.”
   “That’s true, but there are other towns between here and Mansahir, and perhaps there are bandits up north.”
   “Doubtful,” said Jesus, “Tibernum’s the northernmost settlement in this area. We’d have to fly over the mountains to see what lies beyond.” Arriving, Jesus noted that his parents were asleep in the wagon with the fire burning low, not banked as it should have been for the night. The ever-thoughtful mother of Jesus had stated they might want warm water to wash up, an exhausted Joseph dismissing the suggestion as unnecessary.
   “Why?” asked his mother.
   “If they want warm water let them fix it for themselves,” Joseph retorted, not wanting to tend the fire.
   “Let’s start building the foundation, that’ll surprise dad,” said Jesus.
   “Why not,” Mary replied. They changed into work garb, placing their good clothes on the wagon seat.
   “I noticed you’re wearing sandals,” said Mary, looking to his still reddish feet.
   “Yes, the ones I took from Peter are still in good shape and will have to do till I find another pair of shoes.”
   “I wonder what’s wrong with them.”
   “I don’t know, but I can’t wear them for more than a few days, otherwise my feet turn red and start to itch like hell.”
   “Perhaps you need socks.”
   “Maybe,” said Jesus, turning to the stack of tools. He took a pick and pair of shovels sitting next to the wagon and handed a shovel to his consort, showing her how to prepare the ground for the masonry. Quickly digging a perimeter trench for the stones with the pick, Jesus perused the parchment for proper figures regarding depth, finishing the excavation in less than two hours. The couple then placed suitable large stones at the corners of the trench and others in areas between.
   “Cutting and shaping the foundation stones will have to wait till tomorrow,” said Jesus at a little past two, “The noise produced would definitely wake my parents.”
   “True,” an exhausted Magdalene replied, wiping sweat from her face.
   Jesus was lost in thought, looking at the foundation.
   “The ground here is firm and dry; I’ll speak to father about building a cellar too.”
   “For storing wine?”
   “Of course, among other things.”
   “Okay, what do we do now?” Mary asked, knowing he was teasing her.
   “Dig a latrine and well,” said Jesus, looking to the nearly finished foundation. Walking ten paces from the front of the foundation, he marked the area for the well, pushing a long stick into the ground to mark the spot. As they were close to the Euphrates, he supposed a depth of 15 cubits would be appropriate, as the elevation was around ten cubits where they stood.
    “We’ll need medium size rocks to line the well, perhaps you should gather those while I dig the latrine,” said Jesus.
   “Okay,” Mary replied, and she headed for the river. Watching her for a moment, Jesus measured off ten paces from the rear of the foundation. Taking the pick, he broke ground for the latrine. Over several trips, the Magdalene created a small mountain of stones, piling them near the area where the well was to be dug, with Jesus finishing the latrine pit within an hour. Almost ten feet deep, he leapt from it easily, noting that he could have jumped fifty feet into the air if he needed to.
   “Dad’s going to have to build an outhouse,” said Jesus, pushing a shovel into a pile of dirt.
   “We’d best cover the hole, someone could fall in.”
   “Yes, verily I say, it is good you are here Mary, you’re a wise and observant woman.”
   “Thank you Jesus,” said an embarrassed Magdalene, not used to honest compliments.
   They headed to a grove and ripped several medium size trees from the ground. Jesus stripped them of their roots and branches with an axe, he and Mary placing the trunks over the hole. Relaxing afterward, Jesus remarked that his father could later split the trees and build an outhouse right where they lay, saving him labor in the process. Walking to the future well, Jesus broke ground with the pick and began to dig a few feet into the earth using a shovel. Stopping as the horizon lightened, he stepped out, leaning the shovel and pick against a tree.
    “Dad’s going to have to pick up mortar for the stones. I wonder if they have any in town,” said Jesus, wiping his sweaty face on a rag.
   “Probably, leave him a note and he can pick it up tomorrow,” Mary replied.
   “That’s a good idea.”
   Scratching a note on the parchment with a piece of charcoal, Jesus requested ten bags of pozzolana concrete, and trowels for applying it. Their chores completed, they washed up by the river, gathered their clothing, walked to the cave and settled into sleep.
   Joseph awoke early; stepping from the wagon to observe the latest miracles his son had accomplished during the night. As usual, it was much more than he expected, the foundation was nearly finished, the latrine pit was dug, and the well was on its way to being excavated, a pile of liner stones stacked nearby. Looking at the parchment, he noticed Jesus’ note scribbled at the bottom of the sheet. “Oh well, I’ll have to head to town again,” he remarked to Mary as she was making breakfast. “Jesus left a note asking for more supplies.”
   “What does he need this time?”
   “Concrete and trowels,” he answered, she handing him food.
   “He’s certainly accomplishing a lot of work during the night.”
   “I’ll say,” said Joseph, “The foundation’s almost done.”

* * *

   Such was the routine over the next weeks, the vampiric couple doing much of the heavy work during the night, Joseph finishing lumber and nailing beams and boards in place during the day. His father approving, Jesus dug a spacious cellar beneath the future kitchen, shoring it up with mortar and stones. On early evenings, Jesus would cut and shape stones with hammer and chisel, split timber and do other things that made a great deal of noise, his parents watching him do the work of ten men. Later in the night, he would work finishing the cellar, lining the well pit, moving dirt, and other chores he could accomplish quietly while his parents slept. One evening, with no heavy work to do, Jesus decided to finish digging the well, having reached cap rock the previous evening at the depth of sixteen cubits, or nearly twenty feet. Joseph was standing above the lined pit, while Jesus split away the soft rock with a pick, placing the fragments in a bucket Joseph lowered into the well.
   “Take it up now,” Jesus called, his father struggling with the heavy load of stone and earth.
   “Allow me,” said the Magdalene, returning from a riverside stroll. Grabbing the rope, she pulled the hundred pound plus bucket of rubble to the surface, dumping the debris on the ground.
   “Thanks,” Joseph replied, Mary lowering the bucket.
   “Don’t mention it,” said Mary, asking Jesus, “Haven’t you hit water yet?”
   “Hell no woman,” Jesus replied, swinging the pick, “This cap rock’s as thick as – ”
   A torrent of water began flooding into the well.
   “Goddamnit!” exclaimed Jesus, frigid water hitting him in the face, the well rapidly filling. Seeing this, the Magdalene moved back, pulling Joseph from the opening. Leaping from the well while still having a foothold, Jesus, pick in hand, landed nearly ten feet from the opening, his father watching in amazement.
   “Jesus Christ!” Joseph exclaimed.
   “Yes?”
   “How the hell did you do that?”
   “I leapt down the well, so I leapt up.”
   “How?” asked Joseph, amazed at his son’s physical feats, staring into the deep well, rubble bucket floating in the water.
   “I guess vampires can do things mortals can’t,” said Jesus.
   “You can say that again,” Joseph replied, staring at his son.
   Soon the house, nearing completion, was livable, Joseph and Jesus spending time making furniture for the dwelling and a much-needed bed for their cave. The home design, as with others in the area, was not dissimilar from a large stick-built farmhouse, a pitch-covered wooden roof extended over the front to create a porch. His mother did her best to keep up, washing their rags on occasion and making meals for her husband. Lately, to the chagrin of Joseph, she was feeling sick almost every morning. “I missed my time last month,” she said as he was eating breakfast, “It’s hard to believe, but I think I’m pregnant.”
   “Perhaps you’ve reached the end woman,” Joseph ventured, looking to his devoted wife.
   “No, I feel different, like the other times, and have never missed even once without being pregnant.”
   “You’re kidding, right?” You can’t have a baby now, you’re forty-nine years old!”
   “The signs don’t lie, I’ve had bad sickness every morning for the past month.”
   “Good Lord, I’m old enough to be someone’s grandfather, not their father,” said a smiling Joseph, hugging his wife. His attitude toward her changed from that day forward, from a sarcastic, boorish man, to a doting, thoughtful husband. That evening, Jesus and consort appeared shortly after sundown and were told of the good news.
   Congratulations mother,” said Jesus, taking a seat in the kitchen after kissing her on the cheek. It was something, as the eldest, he had always done when told he was going to be a big brother again.
   “It’s wonderful,” the Magdalene declared, taking a seat beside her, “We’ll have to take care of chores around the house during your time and help you with the baby afterward.”
   “I can’t believe it,” said his mother, “I’m old enough to be someone’s grandmother, and I’m going to have another baby.”
   “We already knew,” said Jesus, “Mary and I could tell a month ago.”
   “How?” asked Joseph.
   “Who knows,” answered Jesus, “We haven’t figured that out, but Mary and I feel it has something to do with being vampires.”
   “I read of such legends when I was younger,” said Joseph, “The scroll said the undead are endowed with great powers that mortals can never understand.”
   “Really?” Jesus asked, “Who wrote the scroll?”
   “A Greek historian called Herodotus; he lived in Athens several hundred years ago.”
   “Interesting, I’d heard of vampire legends during my travels, that’s what made me aware of our strengths and limitations, but I’ve never read Herodotus.”
   “We should find a copy,” said the Magdalene, “We’re sketchy on the finer points.”
   “Yes, and that brings us to the original question,” Joseph replied, “Without someone to bring him the realm of the undead, how did our Jesus even become a vampire?”
   “I don’t think I’ll ever know that dad,” said Jesus, troubled deep inside about his origins. At times he thought his very love of life had allowed him to triumph over the grave, but couldn’t be sure, since he didn’t have all the facts. Then again, could it have been the deep rage he had experienced while dying on the cross? After all, had he not thought he would kill them all if he could only live through that? Have I unwittingly made a deal with the evil one? Jesus mused, quickly dismissing the thought.
   “When are you due?” the Magdalene asked, changing the subject and snapping Jesus from his reverie.
   “You probably know as well as I,” answered Mary, “I figure a little under eight months.”
   “That’s about right,” said Jesus.
   “I wonder if it’s a boy or girl,” his mother thought aloud.
   “It’s a – ”
   “I’d rather not know right now,” she interrupted, looking sternly at her son.
   “Very well mother,” said Jesus, the others looking to him, noting he had not said ‘velly’ for a change.
   Sensing his parents needed them, Jesus and consort stayed at the house and moved into an adjacent room, retrieving their bed from the cave, to assist in preparation for the baby. A hurried Joseph put the finishing touches on the house and built an outhouse over the latrine pit. Jesus completed the top of the well during the next nights, building a stone structure, roof, and dip bucket. Joseph and wife found a personal well a luxury they truly appreciated, for in Nazareth they always had to take a long walk to use the community well, waiting in line as their hateful neighbors shunned them and derided their eldest son as a blasphemer of the Hebrew god. Jesus’ next project was to finish constructing the fireplace and chimney. Using his acquired talent as a stonemason, it was quickly and professionally finished over several evenings, his father mixing lime mortar, looking on while his son set the stones in place.
   His mother taking care of housekeeping, the dwelling was shaping up fast, thanks to Joseph and his undead assistants, Jesus coming up with new ideas practically every night.
   “You know, we need windows for this place,” Jesus observed, sitting on the porch one early evening after having finished building a cradle for the baby.
   “You mean glass ones?” Joseph asked, pouring cups of wine, looking to oiled parchment covering holes serving as windows.
   “Why not, they have them in Rome, prefect Gavinal has them at his residence too,” said Jesus, taking a cup.
   “They’re expensive aren’t they?”
   “So?”
   “Yeah, I see what you mean,” Joseph replied, looking about the house, and again realizing money was no object. “Terracotta roof tiles and plastered walls would be nice too.”
   “They would indeed father, does Drusus carry such?”
   “He has bundles of tiles and plaster at his store, I suppose I’ll have to pick some up.”
   “We’ll have to build the slave quarters and a stable too,” said Jesus, “The trader’s due in town soon.”
   “Where do you want to put those?” asked Joseph, finishing his cup and pouring another.
   “I figure about a hundred cubits toward the east, near the river,” Jesus answered, “We can even put a grain mill down there; I’ve read of such systems installed on rivers in Greece and Italy.”
   “So have I, it’s said they use the running water to turn a grinding stone,” said Joseph.
   “I wonder if he has windows.”
   “Who?” Joseph asked, not following his son’s meanderings.
   “The trader of course.”
   “It would help at times if you’d speak in complete sentences.”
   “Oh,” said Jesus, shrugging.
   The door opened and the Magdalene stepped out. “Your wife is resting so I made food for you,” she said.
   “Thanks,” Joseph replied, smelling the aroma of the fine meal, “I was getting a bit hungry.”
   “So am I,” she agreed, looking to her consort.
   “Let’s take off,” said Jesus, rising from his seat as Joseph stepped into the house, “We’ll be back in a while father.”
   Walking into the darkness, they strolled the property, heading to the adjacent parcel of notary Marcus Pertinax. Lately they were staying off the local roads, as robbers were rarely available in Tibernum and hunting for them seemed to be a waste of time. Occasionally they would fly south toward Mansahir when they felt the need for a human blood treat, perhaps once a week. Most times they stayed near home, contenting themselves with the blood of wild boars or deer. While not finding it particularly tasty, they had grown used to the odd flavors, and it did fill that certain void. On this night boar blood was the fare, the couple dispatching and draining two of the ferocious creatures easily. Dropping the remains to the ground, Jesus leaned against a pine tree and belched loudly.
   “It’s a terrible waste to leave these animals to rot after we’re done with them,” said Jesus, staring at the emptied carcasses.
   “No it isn’t, jackals will eat them,” Mary replied.
   “True, but why don’t we bring them home for my parents to eat instead?”
   “They could use meat, but do you think they can eat these animals after the way we took them?”
   “Jackals eat them and it hasn’t killed or turned them into vampires,” said Jesus, taking a dagger from his tunic.
   “What are you going to do?” Mary asked, watching him.
   “Gut them.”
   Preparing the carcasses for transport, Jesus lifted them over his shoulder, heading back to the farm.
   “You have pig blood all over your tunic,” said Mary as he dumped the meat at the porch steps.
   “It washes out,” an unconcerned Jesus replied, his father opening the door.
   “Where’d you get the hogs?” Joseph asked, looking to the gutted animals.
   “A few miles from here; I figured you could use meat, especially since mom’s pregnant.”
   “Did you drink their blood?”
   “Of course,” said Jesus, “I figured it was a waste leaving good food to rot in the woods, so I brought them home for you and mother.”
   “Are you sure we can eat it?”
   “Yes,” answered Jesus, “The same jackals, ravens and other scavengers have been eating the remains we leave behind for months and have had no problems, so I figured what was good for them should be good for you.”
   “Thanks,” said Joseph, unconvinced by Jesus’ theory, but willing to take a chance on the fresh meat. “We’ll tell your mother I killed them, okay?”
   “Sure, would you like to help me split and roast them, after they’re finished cooking you can take the choice cuts.”
   “Okay,” said Joseph, stepping to the porch, “It’s a shame we can't preserve more of it.”
   “There’s plenty more where this came from; we won’t be able to save most of the meat from these animals anyway. The woods are full of boars, this is best till we build a salt room and smokehouse.”
   “You’re always finding work for me to do aren’t you?” his father observed with a fond smile as they butchered the hogs. After splitting the carcasses, Jesus dug a pit, his consort bringing rocks from the riverbank to build an oven. Leaving one side open, Jesus laid three courses of stones around the pit, stringing chains over the third course. Setting another layer on top to secure them, he created a grate like structure from the chains to be used for roasting the meat. Joseph built a fire in the pit, using dried tree stumps and roots his son had split, sitting the meat on the chains to cook. Jesus, having nothing better to do at the time, ducked into his bedroom to don a fresh tunic, afterward returning to the makeshift grill.
   His wife strolled to the porch, smelling the roasting pork and asking, “Where did you get the meat Joseph?”
   “Jesus caught them and I killed them.”
   “It’s pork?”
   “There’s not much else to eat around here mother, especially when it comes to larger wild animals,” said Jesus, “There are deer and auroch roaming about, but boars are much more plentiful.”
   “You drank their blood, didn’t you?” his mother asked, as if making certain he had cleaned his plate.
   “Yes mother,” a patient Jesus replied.
   “Good,” said Mary, turning from the doorway, “Please bring some in when it’s done.”
   Stunned, Joseph and Jesus looked at each other, the Magdalene remarking, “Well, that was easy.”
   Soon the meat was well done, Joseph removing the tenderloin cuts from the animals for he and his wife, along with the hams. The other meat was not salvageable, as in a short time it would have spoiled, so it was left to burn up in the fire. His parents feasted on pork tenderloin, Joseph relating he wanted to pick up salt from town for the hams.
   “Tell me the truth, you didn’t kill those pigs, Jesus killed them in his usual way didn’t he?” his wife asked after finishing her meal.
   “Well, yes,” Joseph answered, “I just didn’t want you to – ”
   “Complain?”
   “That’s part of it, but – ”
   “Look Joseph,” his wife continued, “You may not realize it and may still want to shield me from it, but I’ve grown as used to this situation as you have.”
   “You have?”
   “Yes, our son Jesus is a vampire,” she said, rising from the table and collecting the dishes.
   “We know that, but he – ”
   Looking her husband in the eyes, she continued, “He is a vampire, he kills people and animals to survive and he sucks their blood.”
   “Yes woman, but – ”
   “Our son also robs the corpses of the people he kills on occasion, that’s why we have this farm. Jesus purchased it with money he took from his victims. At times he even broke in and looted some of their homes after he killed them. Further, as long as he and his woman don’t bring people here for us to eat, I don’t care what he does.”
   Joseph sat, jaw agape, digesting her words. “Okay,” he replied as his wife cleared the table, afterward retiring to her room. He looked to the door, seeing Jesus and consort heading into the kitchen, joining him at the table.
   “Did you enjoy the food?” Jesus asked, pouring a cup of wine.
   “Yes, your mother did too, she also knows how you killed it,” said Joseph.
   “She does?” asked Mary.
   “Yes indeed,” Joseph replied, “She’s very perceptive nowadays, and she also told me she doesn’t care what you do, as long as you don’t bring people here for us to eat.”
   “We would never do that!” Mary exclaimed, “What kind of people does she think we are?”
   “She thinks you’re vampires,” answered Joseph, looking to the Magdalene.
   “We are vampires,” said Jesus.
   “That’s obvious,” Joseph retorted.
   “You told her we took them?”
   “No son, she figured it out herself, not that it was that hard to.”
   The next day Joseph drove the wagon to town, picking up salt, more tools, roof tiles, lime plaster and other provisions. Inquiring as to the availability of glass windows, Drusus told him Callicles the trader was due in town within weeks and that he would probably have those items aboard his caravan.
   “Prefect Gavinal bought the last load of windows for his home,” said an envious Drusus.
   “My son told me he carries slaves on occasion.”
   “Most times, and off all kinds too, Greeks, Jews, Nubians, Egyptians, and sometimes ones from further east who have strange looking eyes. Along with slaves he carries most everything else too, over eighty wagons usually, some products coming from as far as Hispania and Cathay.”
   “You don’t say,” Joseph replied, paying him, “I’m certain we’ll be doing business with him.”

* * *

   As the weather warmed, Jesus and father used the next weeks to build a salting room, smokehouse, a large slave quarters for up to ten slaves and a stable for horses and oxen. The smokehouse was pressed into use as Jesus brought carcass after carcass of boars, deer and auroch to the farm nearly every night, Joseph remarking they may have to go into the meat business if they kept stockpiling such a hoard. They finished their work on the slave quarters and stable none too soon, for Callicles and his caravan came rolling into town only days after they had completed the structures. Drusus informed Joseph of this when he came to town on a late afternoon, relating that the caravan was a day away, and that Callicles was at the prefect’s mansion, getting drunk.
   “Does he do business in the evening?” asked Joseph, knowing he would need Jesus for some transactions, especially for the purchasing of slaves.
   “Callicles would do business at four in the morning if money was to be had,” Drusus replied with an amused smile.
   “Excellent,” said a relieved Joseph.
   Returning to the farm, Joseph unloaded the wagon and walked into the house. Jesus and the Magdalene had risen at their customary late hour, sitting in their dimly lamp lit room in the back, with the window openings shuttered up tight against the western sun. Knocking on the door, Joseph entered, excited about the news of Callicles being in town.
   “So, his caravan will be here tomorrow,” said Jesus. “Does he do business in the evenings?”
   “Yes, and that’s good for us, considering you can't walk about during daylight hours.”
   “I’ll say,” said the Magdalene, “You certainly have developed a new talent when it comes to understatements Joseph – you sound like Jesus.”
   Joseph smiled and said, “Like father, like son.” Looking to Jesus, he added, “I’ve never bought slaves before.”
   “Neither have I, but buying slaves can't be much different from buying oxen.”
   “True, Drusus says he has those too.”
   “Good, Mary and I will stop by tomorrow evening to buy the slaves. Would you like to head to town earlier to purchase windows and such and we’ll meet you there after sundown?”
   “Sure, I’ll get the horses and wagon ready in the morning and arrive there as soon as I can.”
   At sunset, Jesus and the Magdalene assumed chiropteric form, flying from town in search of human fare, seeing Callicles’ long string of wagons proceeding southeast on a narrow service road about five miles from Tibernum. Noting heavily armed men on each wagon guarding the train, they headed south toward Mansahir, figuring that bandits wouldn’t have the stomach to attempt robbing such a well-defended group. Returning to human form thirty miles south of Tibernum, they strolled the road near a small village, attempting to lure the dregs of society into what they did best, stealing from those who worked for a living.
   “Did you see those men guarding Callicles’ wagons?” the Magdalene asked.
   “They’re mercenaries,” said Jesus, “I’ll bet the man has never been robbed, verily I say, he who guards diligently against his attackers shall never be attacked.”
   Mary smiled, reflecting on the truthfulness of the statement.
   Walking further, they came upon a pair of bandits blocking their path. The swarthy duo appeared as if the pursuit of robbery hadn’t been profitable profession as of late, looking as if they hadn’t bathed in years and acting as if they were moonstruck lunatics instead of thieves.
   “Give us your money you Roman bastard!” one growled, drawing a short sword.
   “Why?” asked Jesus.
   “Because we’re robbers - that’s why!” the thief stammered, his partner moving to Mary, grabbing her arms and holding them behind her back.
   “You are?”
   “What are you, stupid?” asked the other thief, holding a blade to his consort’s throat.
   “No,” said Jesus, “I just don’t feel like giving money to robbers tonight, so why don’t you try to take it from us?”
   “Suit yourself,” the robber retorted, raising his sword.
   Jesus stood unmoving as his assailant drew back to strike. The sword moving toward him, he put out his left and grabbed the thief by his wrist, stopping the weapon cold. Calmly taking the sword, Jesus threw it to his right, where it sunk deep in the trunk of a tree. Mary, overcome by hunger, slipped from the other robber’s grip, took his dagger and drained him on the spot while his horrified partner looked on.
   “Woe unto you simple thief,” Jesus declared in his vampiric accent, “Verily I say, beware of Hebrew vampires dressed as Romans.”
   Jesus plunged fangs into the neck of his tormentor, sucking him dry. Dropping the victim to the pavement, he asked, “Do they have any loot?”
   “Not a shekel,” a disgusted Mary answered, finished checking the other corpse.
   “Let’s dump them in the woods,” said Jesus. He grabbed one by his filthy tunic; the other by his matted hair and dragged the bodies from the road. Disposing of them fifty feet from the roadside, they transformed and flew toward Tibernum.
   Flying over Callicles’ wagons a few hours later, Jesus noted they had reached town, slaves setting up a caravansary by torchlight on the main street in the fashion of an open market or bazaar. Transforming in a secluded area, they walked to the main street and browsed the items for sale. The merchandise offered was incredible, all varieties of household items, furniture, clothing, tools, jewelry, farm animals, beasts of burden and of course slaves, with other extended wagons piled high with casks of wine and preserved exotic foods from all over the empire.
   “Drusus was right, he carries everything,” said Jesus, inspecting the items.
   “We’re not open for business yet sir,” a young Greek of fifteen years announced while they walked among the wagons.
   “I understand,” said Jesus in passable Greek, “I’m only taking a look at what you have. Is the merchant Callicles of Athens available?”
   “No sir, he’s at the prefect’s residence getting drunk,” the teenager replied with a fond smile for his employer.
   “That’s something I enjoy,” said Jesus.
    Nodding, the adolescent continued, “We’ll be opening tomorrow at noon, I’m hoping he’ll be in some sort of condition to conduct business.”
   “Will your bazaar be open tomorrow evening?” Jesus asked, making certain that he would be able to shop for slaves during the night.
   “Of course, uncle Callicles makes most sales in the evening anyway, after everyone else has returned from their work.”
   “Good, my father will arrive here around noon. He’s looking for glass windows and oxen. I’ll stop by in the evening, I’m looking for slaves, and do you carry plows for turning earth?”
   “We have plenty of those items aboard the wagons,” the lad answered, “Tibernum’s one of the first extended stops we make on our trips from the ports of the Bosphorus. From here we head south to Antioch, and from there into northern Judea and back.”
   “How long will you be here?” Mary asked, having picked up Greek during their travels.
   “A week or two, depending on sales.”
   “Excellent, does your uncle speak Latin; my father doesn't understand Greek at all.”
   “Most of us do, even the slaves,” said the lad in Latin, “Why didn’t you ask me earlier sir?”
   “It didn’t occur to me,” Jesus answered, slightly embarrassed, “Please forgive me son, I didn’t realize you could speak Latin.”
   “Latin’s the tongue of all you Roman folk,” the young Greek observed, “You guys run the world, if we couldn’t speak Latin we wouldn’t be able to sell much merchandise to you would we?”
   “I reckon not,” said Jesus, feeling guilty for a moment; masquerading as a Roman citizen. His guilt passing quickly, he took pride in being citizen B. Julius Chrysippus, wealthy wine merchant hailing from Etruria with his wife Maria, they so much better than all lowly barbarians.
   “So, what’s your name son?” asked Jesus.
   “Demosthenes.”
   “After the lawyer?”
   “Yes, I was told my father always admired him.”
   “You’re a young man, where’s your father?”
   “He and my mother died in a plague in Thebes when I was a baby,” said Demosthenes, “My uncle took me in and treats me as if I were his own son.”
   “Thebes, in Greece or Egypt?” asked Jesus.
   “The city of Oedipus,” Demosthenes replied, a slave calling to him.
    “Ah yes,” said Jesus, knowing where he hailed from. “We’ll see you on the morrow,” he added, the couple leaving the caravansary.
   “Who the hell is Oedipus?” asked Mary as they walked from town.
   “Was Oedipus; a legendary guy from Greece who killed his father, was afterward made a king, and then screwed his mother.”
   “Really,” said a chuckling Magdalene, “Kind of kinky wasn’t he?”
   “He didn’t know she was his mother when he was screwing her.”
   “I find that very hard to believe, did he ever find out?”
   “Yes, his mother killed herself upon learning of the news, and he blinded himself for whatever reason.”
   “Why?”
   “Who knows and who cares, legends like that come down from the past and they’re probably a pack of lies anyway.”
   “Like the Hebrew faith is?”
   “Precisely,” said Jesus.
   Returning to the farm near midnight, Jesus found his parents awake, his mother feeling ill. She lay in their bed, an unconcerned Joseph remarking in the kitchen that she had always felt ill when pregnant. “She’s had seven kids and it’s always been the same way,” said Joseph.
   “She gets sick while pregnant?” Mary asked.
   “Only till the sixth or seventh month, after that she’s fine till the baby’s born.”
   “I never had babies when I was alive,” said the Magdalene, thinking of children she would never have.
   “The whole damn thing’s overrated!” Mary yelled from the bedroom, Joseph looking to the doorway.
   “We stopped by Callicles’ market,” said Jesus.
   “What did you find?”
   “He carries everything; beasts, furniture, tools, slaves; you name it, he has it.”
   “Furniture too?” Joseph asked, looking about their sparsely furnished home, he and Jesus only beginning to create chairs, tables and the like.
   “Indeed father, all kinds, that’ll save us work.”
   “What about glass windows?”
   “He has those too,” said Jesus, “They open at noon, I reckon you should head to his market then. Buy the windows and a pair or two of draft oxen, along with anything else you want. I’ll meet you there at dusk and we’ll buy the slaves.”
   “Okay, I’ll bring the wagon and tethers for the oxen.”
   “Do you need money?” Jesus asked.
   “Are you kidding?”
   “Sorry, I forgot,” Jesus replied.
   “Jesus,” Joseph asked, “Once you purchase them, how will we keep the slaves from discovering you and Mary are vampires?”
   “Entrancement,” answered Jesus, “First, I’ll convince them that you and mother are the masters of this farm, then I suppose I’ll figure out some kind of story to explain Mary and I.”
   “You can do that?”
   “Never underestimate a vampire, my father,” said Jesus.

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