Tuesday, February 28, 2017


Fall passed quickly, becoming a colder than usual winter for eastern Cappadocia, snow falling in early December for the first time in many years.
   Electra now visited Mary every day. She put an ear to her belly, listening for sounds of the child moving and then put a hand to her forehead, checking for signs of fever. Frowning, she sat on the bed, figuring the gestation time on a piece of papyrus.
   “Is something wrong?” asked Mary.
   “Not exactly mistress, you say you missed starting in February?”
   “Late February, I figure I’m a week or two overdue.”
   “Sometimes children are late, but if the child doesn’t come soon I may have to induce labor.”
   “Have no fear, there are herbs one can use, causing no harm to the mother or child,” Electra replied, placing a hand on her arm.
   Jesus and consort had taken to staying close to home, as his mother’s time would come very soon. Another two weeks passing, it was now the third week of December. The baby nearly a month overdue, it was only a matter of days before the mother of Jesus would bring a new healthy life into the world, after some difficulty.
   The male child, born on the eve of the winter solstice, would one day run the farm with his Roman wife Marcia Divia. She, yet to be conceived, would be born three years later as the lovely daughter of their neighbor Marcus Pertinax. He, the future patriarch of the clan, would be charged with carrying on the legacy of Joseph and Mary, his Hebrew parents, and would also come to know and safeguard the incredible truth about his eldest brother – the ageless man called Jesus Christ, the vampire.
   “Her time has come!” a hysterical Ruth cried just after dusk on the twentieth, “Her water has broken on the sheets, please fetch Maria, Electra and Penelope, I know not what to do!”
   A startled Joseph, getting drunk in the kitchen with Jesus, quickly sobered up and answered, “Right away, Maria’s in the slave quarters, I’ll bring them!”
   “Shall I follow?” asked Jesus. 
   “You’d better, I’m pretty drunk, there’s snow and ice out there and you can catch me if I fall on my ass,” Joseph answered, turning for the door.
   “Right,” said a sober Jesus, having much greater tolerance for wine.
   Walking to the slave quarters with his father, Jesus knocked on the door. The Magdalene was conversing with Icarus, Electra and Penelope. Cyril was asleep from a long day of reading scrolls Jesus had brought from Gavinal, Brutus was snoring away in his room, and muscular Ganymede was sleeping in his room, exhausted from chopping wood for their hearths and for the smokehouse.
   “Yes Julius?” the Magdalene asked, opening the door.
   “Mother’s having her baby, we need you women to assist her,” answered a stoic Jesus.
   “My God, she is?”
   “Don’t worry, I’ve delivered many babies,” said Electra, placing a hand on the Magdalene’s arm, grabbing a satchel from a table containing a first-aid kit.
   “I’ve never done it in my uh, life,” Mary replied as the women scrambled for the house, leaving Jesus and Joseph in their wake.
   “What should I do, I’m just a blacksmith,” said Icarus.
   “Would you like to come to the house for fine wine?” asked Jesus.
   “Sure, I’ve delivered calves and shoats before, but I don’t know anything about foaling human critters.”
   “Neither do we, that’s why we’re leaving it to the women,” said Joseph with a nervous laugh, the trio making their way to the house. During the next hours, cries of the labors of childbirth came from the bedroom as Joseph, Jesus and Icarus sat in the kitchen drinking strong wine.
   The labor growing difficult at ten-thirty, Electra remarked to Ruth, “Please bring me tar of opium to ease her suffering.”
   “Where is it?” asked Ruth.
   Electra looked to her and retorted, “Ask the master, if he doesn’t know go to my quarters and open my apothecary box, I have resin there wrapped in cotton cloth.”
   Joseph was drunk and Jesus didn’t know where any opium was, so Ruth headed to the slave quarters, retrieving the painkiller. Mixing the strong drug with wine, Electra handed the concoction to Mary.
   “Drink this mistress, it will ease your pain.”
   “Thank you,” said a tired Mary, downing the pain relieving opium.
   “It’s a breach birth!” the Magdalene exclaimed near midnight, beholding one of the infant’s feet protruding from a screaming Mary, other still in the womb, trapping the helpless child within her.
   “It’s been much too long, the child could die, bring a sharp knife from the kitchen,” Electra ordered.
   “Why?” asked Penelope, not very intelligent when it came to such things.
   “Get it stupid, you’ve seen me do it before!” Electra exclaimed, using her authority as a midwife to order family and slaves alike.
   Penelope did as told, the Magdalene asking, “I’ve heard of this, they call it caesarian, right?”
   “Yes,” answered Electra, “Done properly both will live, done wrong, one or both will die, should I proceed mistress?”
   “Do what you have to do!” a tearful Magdalene exclaimed.
   Penelope returned with a sharp steel knife, followed by Joseph, Jesus and Icarus.
   “Hold her down, I’ll do it fast,” Electra ordered Ruth, Penelope and the Magdalene.
   “What’s wrong woman?” Joseph cried to his delirious wife.
   “Don’t worry father, I’ve seen this done in Rome,” said Jesus.
   “What’s she going to do to her?” asked a terrified Joseph, ready to go to his wife’s rescue.
   “Save the baby and mother.”
   “With a knife?”
   “It’s called caesarian, it’s said Julius Caesar was – ”
   “You men get the hell out of here!” Electra barked.
   “We should do as Electra says,” said Jesus.
   “She’s my wife, she needs me!”
   “No she doesn’t, Electra knows what she’s doing more than we, verily I say, if there is a God my father, all is in his hands now,” declared Jesus, he and Icarus helping Joseph from the bedroom.
   The Magdalene holding Mary down, Electra cut into her belly, a shriek of pain coming from the mother of Jesus. “I’ve got him, he’s okay,” she said seconds later, cutting and knotting the umbilical, afterward freeing his right leg from the birth canal. Lifting the boy from his mother’s womb and slapping him hard on his bottom, the newborn Levite cried loudly. “Quickly Ruth, fetch my apothecary box, I’ll need gut for the internal stitches,” she ordered, wrapping the babe in swaddling clothes and handing the child to Penelope.
   “I wish you’d told me that earlier,” said Ruth, reaching for her cloak.
   “Do it, I haven’t time for your backtalk!”
   A subdued but dutiful Ruth made her way to the slave quarters, returning with the heavy box, placing it at the side of the bed. “Open it and fetch fine silk thread and a sharp needle of bronze,” Electra ordered her reluctant assistant in the manner of a doctor ordering a nurse, the midwife reaching into her box for animal gut preserved in strong vinegar. Producing the other items from a bedroom drawer, Ruth handed needle and thread to her. “This shouldn’t take long,” the midwife added, removing a threadlike piece of gut from the vinegar.
   The Magdalene, fascinated at witnessing her first caesarian section, had relaxed her hold on the mother of Jesus. Electra threaded the needle with gut, removed the placenta from the womb and proceeded to sew her up, starting with the uterine incision. Mary cried out in agony, writhing at the stabs of the needle, threaded with silk, piercing her nerve-laden outer flesh.
   “Hold her down, are you stupid?” Electra yelled, looking the Magdalene in the eyes.
   “I’m sorry,” said the Magdalene, tightening her grip while Electra continued stitching Mary up, punctuated by cries of pain. She finally slipped into unconsciousness, exhausted from the ordeal.
   “That’s the last baby she’ll ever have,” said Electra after closing the wound, wiping her brow on a cloth.
   “It is?” asked Ruth.
   “Hopefully,” said Electra, looking to her fellow slave, “Another child would probably kill her, if she survives this. Should she still be able to conceive there are herbs I can prescribe which will keep this from happening again.”
   “Why would you do that?” a curious Ruth asked.
   “For one thing, caesarian birth is extremely dangerous and is damaging to the womb, for another, this woman’s too damn old to have another child,” said Electra with a loud exhale.
   “Will she be all right?” asked the Magdalene.
   “Only the gods know,” answered Electra, taking the newborn from Penelope and putting him to his mother’s breast only five minutes after delivery, the little one latching on and suckling well.
   “You saved the baby!” Ruth exclaimed.
   “Perhaps,” said a tired Electra, ‘”You’ve seen this before child?”
   “No, it’s said I was born that way but my mother died,” Ruth replied, for a moment wondering what her unknown mother had been like.
   “Forgive me, I must pray to Athena Parthenos and Demeter for help in saving them,” said Electra, nodding to the group. Walking from the house to her private altar in her room, the devoted slave prayed for three long days to her powerful goddesses, neither eating nor drinking during this time. Only leaving to clean and care for the newborn and his mother, she carefully inspected and changed the dressing on Mary’s belly at each visitation, her bedside manner comparable with any physician of the time. Applying a fresh poultice of antibiotic herbs to the wound every eight hours for a week, she noted with calm satisfaction there were no signs of infection in her patient. Her skillful nursing and humble supplications to the Greek goddesses of wisdom and fertility were successful, for Mary and her son, named Julian Marius Chrysippus, survived their ordeal and thrived.
   The year 35 arrived on a cold morning. After the new mother had recovered enough to walk about, Jesus and his parents, with the Magdalene, discussed on a January evening how the child should be raised, either secretly as a Hebrew or openly as a Roman.
   Dismissing the slaves from the house, including Ruth, the four gathered by lamplight at the kitchen table and debated the fate and education of the male child.
   “I’d raise him Roman,” said Joseph, opening a wine bottle, “We had enough trouble with the Hebrew religion in Galilee, practicing such a faith here would be a disaster.”
   “But Joseph, it was the religion of our parents,” Mary replied.
   “And a lot of good it did them,” Joseph spat, filling goblets for he, Jesus and the Magdalene.
   “My father was a priest in Bethlehem!”
   “And he died a pauper, accused of heresy by those goddamn Pharisees, who also gleefully murdered your firstborn son!”
   Mary looked to him, not knowing what to say.
   “Tell me I’m wrong woman, only a fool would practice the Hebrew religion here!” Joseph thundered, downing his goblet.
   “What do you think Jesus?” asked his mother, folding hands on the table and looking to him with an imploring expression.
   “I’m sorry, but I agree with father, to even mention something like Hebrew beliefs to the child would be inviting trouble for the family,” said Jesus, taking a deep drink from his goblet.
   “I admit you have a point, but it was our religion,” Mary replied, thinking of their experiences in Nazareth.
   “Forget it, it was bullshit,” Joseph retorted, “We don’t need our new kid growing up like Jesus did do we?”
   “I’m sorry son, but you did go overboard with religion in the past.”
   “Yeah,” said Jesus, growing silent, reflecting on his admission, realizing his father, as usual regarding such things, was right.
   “What do you think?” asked Mary, looking to the Magdalene.
   “It’s none of my business,” said the Magdalene, staring into her goblet, swirling the wine within.
   “Yes it is, you’re my son’s wife and a member of this family, so it is your business.”
   “Jesus and I are vampires; you and Joseph are his parents, not us. The decision is yours, the child must be raised as you see fit.”
   “I don’t care what you are – I’d like your opinion please.”
   The Magdalene paused, carefully sitting her glass on the table. Frowning, she replied, “Very well, if you must know I agree with Jesus and Joseph. The Hebrew religion is obviously a fraud, and to mention such beliefs here would do nothing but court disaster.”
   Mary sighed, looking to the ceiling for a moment.
   “It’s the only way, we have to live in this town and think of the child’s future,” said Joseph.
   “It bothers me but I think you are correct,” Mary agreed, “Since we’re living in Cappadocia, we probably should raise Julian in the ways of the Romans.”
   “Then it’s settled,” said Joseph, “Julian will be raised Roman.”
   Over the following years, the young Levite male would be raised Roman, never circumcised nor hearing of the Torah and other Hebrew superstitions. When the time came, Cyril taught him of the gods. He told the lad of the myths of Jupiter and Saturn, along with the rest of the great pantheon of gods passed down from the Greeks and Romans, the child raised pagan.
   An early March spring arriving, the slaves prepared the farm, while Jesus and consort continued to rid the land surrounding Tibernum of thieves, cutthroats and highwaymen, along with the occasional boar, auroch, or deer. His mother and Julian were tended to by the female slaves, even the male slaves stopping in to check on the little one, vigorous and perfect he was, looking with bright eyes at his fellows one late afternoon.
   The baby dropped a rattle made by Jesus to the floor for the third time, sending Joseph scrambling from a chair to pick it up. Seeing this, Brutus remarked, “We know who the master of this farm is, it’s little Julian!”
   “It seems so,” said a proud Joseph.
   Even the town prefect, Gavinal Septimus, dropped by the farm one evening in late March to greet the latest citizen of Tibernum, on his way to Marcus Pertinax’s home to notarize land titles. Trader Callicles was also in town, the prefect relating this news as well.
   “By the gods, he’s three months old and has no bulla,” a superstitious Gavinal observed, looking upon the child and turning to Jesus.
   “Don’t worry, Maria and I are heading to Antioch to have a goldsmith create one for him so the gods will protect him from harm,” said Jesus, feigning just the right amount of concern.
   “He needs a bulla now to protect him from evil demons and malevolent vapors, you know that Julius.”
   “Our slave Electra has invoked Athena Parthenos to intercede until we get him one,” said Joseph, completely familiar with the Greek pantheon.
   “You mean Minerva,” Gavinal corrected, using the goddess’ Roman name.
   “Of course,” Jesus answered for his father.
   “I’ll take care of this,” said Gavinal, “My brother in Etruria is a goldsmith and can create a powerful bulla blessed by the Oracle at Delphi. Thanks to the Oracle my children are protected by the great and powerful Jupiter.”
   “They are?” asked Joseph.
   “Great Jupiter is King of all the gods and can do wonders far above other gods,” replied Gavinal with a nod.
   “How soon can you do this?” asked Jesus.
   “Within a month,” said Gavinal, “No Roman child should ever be without the blessing of Jupiter.”
   “Will you need money?” asked Jesus, reaching in a tunic pocket.
   “No, it will be my family’s gift to you and your family,” a solemn Gavinal answered.
   “We thank you kind Gavinal,” said Joseph.
   “Don’t mention it friend Julius, neighbors always help one another,” replied the prefect with a smile, beholding the Roman boy in his mother’s arms.
   Callicles and Demosthenes dropped by a few evenings later as his caravan was preparing to leave for Daphinos. Both enjoying getting drunk with Joseph and Jesus, the trader and nephew admired the child held at his mother’s breast – a still embarrassed Mary having been informed by her eldest that Roman women were not ashamed of their bodies when among friends like Hebrews were. “I must say, it’s a miracle,” said Callicles, walking from the bedroom, envious of the domestic bliss of the Chrysippus family.
   “Would you believe he was born caesarian?” asked Jesus.
   “It takes a highly skilled physician or midwife to perform such a feat,” said Callicles.
   “Don’t you remember, our slave Electra is a midwife,” Joseph replied.
   “I figured I sold her and the others to you too damn cheap!” Callicles said with a chuckle, sitting down in the kitchen, leaning to one side and farting loudly. “Sorry friends, I forgot we were inside,” he added, fanning his crotch, embarrassed at the foul odor filling the kitchen.
   “Shit happens,” replied Joseph, moving from the table and opening the front door, hoping the burning hearth would take up the noxious fumes.
   “I hope not,” Callicles retorted, looking to his crotch as Jesus laughed heartily. Later, he purchased excess meat in the smokehouse, paying the vampiric Christ in Roman gold. His slaves loading the wagon on the moonlit night, the trader produced a tightly wrapped package, handing it to Joseph. “A present for the baby.”
   “Thank you, what is it?” asked Joseph, taking the package.
   “Open it.”
   Joseph unwrapped the package, revealing a bolt of fine Egyptian cotton cloth, and another bolt of exquisite woven white Roman wool, threaded with gold.
   “For your son’s first tunics,” said Callicles. Nodding, Joseph handed them to his son for inspection.
   “This is beautiful cloth,” said Jesus, looking at the fine fabrics, “Thank you very much friend Callicles.”
   “I got it cheap in Chrysopolis,” replied a winking Callicles, climbing in his wagon.
   “Take care Callicles, till next time,” said Jesus, heading to the house with the gift.
   “Right Julius,” Callicles answered, taking the reins.
   Bidding farewell to Joseph, Callicles and nephew left for their caravansary.
   Three weeks later, a blessed bulla from the Delphic Oracle arrived for Julian, delivered by a Roman Army courier riding an Arabian horse at breakneck speed for over fifty miles along the Via Tiberius Romanus highway. Arriving in the late afternoon, the exhausted horse collapsed and died on the spot when it reached the residence of Gavinal Septimus.
   “Thank you centurion Pontius Illius,” said Gavinal while the officer handed him the parcel and gave him a Roman salute.
   “We’ll have to find you another horse won’t we centurion?” asked Gavinal, looking to the carcass.
   “I suppose so sir,” said the centurion.
   “Guard!” Gavinal barked to his assigned enlistee.
   “Yes sir,” the guard answered, walking up.
   “Tell the immunes at the livery stable we need a horse for the centurion.”
   “Right away,” said the guard, saluting before leaving.
   As summer approached, the Levite infant was presented with great fanfare at the town pantheon, wearing his protecting bulla, proving to all he was a Roman child, blessed by the king of all gods, Jupiter. Jesus and his good mother Mary had finally taken the road Joseph had long ago, one that simply accepted local traditions without giving credence to them. It made for a much simpler, less stressful life, and helped in being accepted by the local citizenry.
   His mother and little brother healthy and the farm running smoothly, Jesus, as of late, had taken to the idea of moving on, or at the least taking an extended vacation into Europe.
   “I’ve never been to Europe,” said Mary one evening just after dusk while they sat conversing on the porch.
   “You’ll love it woman,” Jesus replied, “Especially Athens and Rome, they’re the greatest cities in the Empire, Rome has a population of nearly a million people.”
   “A million, I imagine plenty of food with numbers like that.”
   “Truly an endless supply, we can prowl the slums at night looking for thieves like we did in Antioch,” a smiling Jesus answered, recalling the seedier sections of the Eternal City.
   “When do you want to leave?”
   “Not for a while yet, perhaps toward the end of this year or early next year. Once we reach Rome I’ll have to head to the Tabularium – ” said Jesus, noticing his father walking up.
   “To do what?”
   “I’ll tell you later,” said Jesus, not wanting his father to hear the conversation.
   “What are you two talking about?” asked a tired Joseph, stepping to the porch, coming from his fields.
   “Vacation plans,” replied Jesus, “I was telling Mary of interesting places in Europe.”
   “You’re going to take off again?” he asked, facing the inevitable.
   “Not for a while yet, and we will return quickly, perhaps in a year or two.”
   “You call that quickly?” asked Joseph with a stifled yawn, leaning against the porch rail.
   “I was gone for over seven years once.”
   “You were at that,” his father replied, heading into the house.
   “Your parents have come to depend on you,” said the Magdalene.
   “It seems so doesn’t it?” asked a frowning Jesus, looking to the fields.
   “This is a strange land, you are much worldlier than they, perhaps they still need you to adjust.”
   “But for how long?” a sighing Jesus asked, rising from his seat, “Let’s find someone to eat.”
   “It’s rather early isn’t it?”
   “We have time to fly to Daphinos or Heraclea, wouldn’t you like a change of pace?”
   “Why not?” she replied as they walked into the darkness and transformed.
   Flying to Daphinos took only a few hours, Jesus and consort alighting north of town and walking into a tavern. A town originally founded by Greeks, it was quite Romanized now, most inhabitants being Roman tenant farmers or craftsmen. The bar they entered was quiet, Jesus sitting down and ordering a cup of strong grog to pass the time, looking about for suitable victims while conversing with Mary.
   “Do you want anything?” asked Jesus.
   “Maybe Gallic wine or beer, I can’t stand grog.”
   “Bartender,” called Jesus.
   “Yes?” came the reply as a man walked over.
   “I need a beer for my lady.”
   “I’m sorry, your wife seemed preoccupied talking with you, I didn’t think she wanted anything.”
   “No problem,” Jesus answered, tossing a denarius to the counter.
   You only owe me five dupondii for both drinks,” said the bartender, delivering the beer, staring at the denarius coin.
   “Keep the change, bring a few more drinks if we need them.”
   “Yes sir,” the smiling bartender replied.
   “There’s hardly anyone here, I don’t think it’s going to work tonight,” Mary whispered.
   “No matter, I was just looking for grog.”
   “Oh,” said the Magdalene, nursing her beer.
   Later, a group of boisterous revelers entered the bar, laughing and talking, one ordering three large pitchers of grog. As they appeared harmless, Jesus finished his drink and stepped from the bar, nodding to the bartender. “Hey Roman fellow, why don’t you join us?” one of the group called while Jesus was heading for the door.
   “No thanks, we have to find supper friend,” Jesus replied.
   “Come on, have a drink with us,” said another.
   Jesus looked to Mary, who shrugged, the couple heading to their table.
   “Have grog,” said the man who had called him Roman, passing a filled cup to Jesus. “My wife had twin boys tonight, just like Romulus and Remus. We’re celebrating.”
   “Congratulations,” said Jesus, downing the grog and placing the cup on the table.
   “Would your wife like some?” asked the new father.
   “I never touch it,” the Magdalene said with a smile, if only to lessen the sting of refusal on such a happy occasion.
   “Suit yourself madam, have another friend,” he said to Jesus, filling his cup from the pitcher.
   “One more and that’s enough for me,” replied Jesus.
   “What’s your name citizen?” asked the new father, handing Jesus grog, noting the golden signet ring on the right hand of the left-handed Jesus.
   “Julius Chrysippus, from Etruria,” Jesus answered, “Yours?”
   “Adrian of Daphinos,” the man replied, offering his hand, a silver signet on the third finger of his left.
   Shaking his hand firmly, Jesus said after downing the grog, “I’m sorry, but we must be going, thanks for the grog, and may you all enjoy yourselves this evening.”
   “We will, thanks for having a drink with us,” answered a smiling Adrian as they turned and left the tavern.
   “That was pleasant, they were nice people,” said Jesus, strolling down the main street.
   “I suppose,” Mary replied, more interested in finding dinner.
   “Nice people are a rare commodity, woman.”
   “They are at that,” said Mary, not commenting further on the statement. “So, what were you talking about regarding Rome?” she asked while they headed from town, reminding him of the earlier conversation he had stopped in mid sentence.
   “Oh that, there will be a census taken a few years from now.”
   “I’ll have to head to Rome to establish citizenship for my parents before then.”
   “Dire circumstances await those who do not respond to the census truthfully.”
   “No shit, how are you going to do that?”
   “Once we reach Rome, I imagine I’ll hypnotize a scribe at the Tabularium and have him forge the necessary records.”
   “I guess that’ll work, is it that important?” asked Mary, thinking they could move if necessary. After all, one could hide in a city if one wanted to, becoming lost in the population.
   “Very important indeed, not for us, but for mom, dad and Julian,” said Jesus, informing her of the precarious position his family was in.
   “What could happen to them?” she asked while they continued along the dark road.
    The penalties very severe for those masquerading as Roman citizens, Jesus calmly told her that for such a crime, his parents and little brother could be sold into slavery or even killed by the authorities, using crucifixion. “Don’t worry woman, we’ll take care of it.”
   “We’ll have to,” said Mary, very fond of Jesus’ parents and his little brother, knowing that Joseph and family were quite content where they were settled.
   Walking south of town, they found sustenance in the form of thieves, dispatching and robbing them, disposing of the remains in a cave. A delicately crafted gold and silver necklace was among the loot taken on this hunt, Jesus handing it to his consort. “Thank you,” she replied, looking at the necklace and putting it around her pale neck.
   “You’re quite welcome, it’s beautiful and much better in your hands than in the hands of thieves.” The Magdalene smiled and embraced Jesus.
   “That takes care of that,” remarked Jesus, holding her in his arms, “Shall we head home?”
   “Sure, I’d like to show this to your mother,” said a sighing Mary, knowing that Jesus, unfortunately, was not the romantic type. They transformed and flew north, arriving at the farm a few hours later.
   Walking to the house via the access road, Jesus said, “Something’s wrong, I feel it.” Looking to the slave house, Jesus noted the door was blocked with logs and a huge boulder.
   “It doesn’t smell right either,” Mary replied, looking about for anything out of place.
The whinny of an unfamiliar horse broke the silence, they noticing it and three others by body heat. “Visitors?” she asked.
   “At this time of night I think not,” said a frowning Jesus, looking to the house.
   “Hold it,” came a voice speaking Anatolian accented Latin from behind the smokehouse.
   “Who are you?” Jesus asked.
   “Shut up!” the voice ordered, a man stepping from behind the smokehouse, gladius in hand.
   “Robbers!” exclaimed Mary, moving for the thief.
   “Let’s see what this idiot wants first,” said Jesus, blocking her with an arm and freezing him to his spot. Walking to the statuesque thief, he intoned, taking his sword, “You didn’t expect this did you? No matter, tell me what I want to know and I may let you live.” He released him from entrancement and asked, “What are you doing here?”
   “Looking for loot to steal,” came the frightened voice.
   “How many others are with you?”
   “In the house.”
   “How long have you been here?”
   “Only a few minutes.”
   “We don’t have time for this,” said the Magdalene, “The family could be in danger.”
   “Yes we do, my father’s very good with blades, don’t you remember?” Turning to his assailant, Jesus continued his questioning.
   “What did you do at the slave house?”
   “We locked them in by blocking the door.”
   “Did you harm them?”
   “No, they were asleep.”
   “Very well, he’s yours Mary.”
   “I thought you were going to let me live!” the robber cried.
   “I am going to let you live, but she isn’t,” said Jesus, walking from the thief as Mary Magdalene lunged for his throat, sucking him dry and dropping the body to the ground.
   Walking to the house, Jesus could hear his father’s voice in the brightly lit common area. Mary walked to the bedroom window to check for his mother and little brother. Seeing no one in the darkened room, she headed to the porch, joining her consort at the door. Looking to Mary, Jesus motioned for her to follow him. Walking to the window of the common area, they observed a stalemate, a thief holding a knife to Ruth’s throat and another with a sword, towering over his mother as she held his baby brother. His wounded father was armed, holding a sword across the throat of another man. Heading to the door, Jesus turned to his consort. “It’s now or never,” he whispered, “You go for my mother and the baby; I’ll take care of the rest.”
   “Right,” Mary answered.
   Jesus kicked the door down, appearing in the doorway. The Magdalene transformed, flew to his mother, returned to human form and grabbed the baby from her arms within a second, an astonished robber dropping his knife from Ruth’s throat. Diving through a closed window, she leapt to the roof, holding the child in her arms. Joseph continued holding a sword to the throat of his assailant while a livid Jesus, not uttering a word, determinedly walked toward the other thieves. Moving an arm across his chest and releasing, he punched one in the face with a backhand hard enough to break his neck, the body sailing through another window.
   “You dared to attack my family on our own property!” yelled Jesus in his Dracula voice, moving to the other thief, grabbing his sword and sinking fangs in the neck. Sucking his blood in front of his mother, father and Ruth, he threw the corpse to the floor in disgust.
   Joseph stood, sword in hand, never having seen his son so angry.
   “Try me!” Jesus spat through gritted teeth, turning to the man his father was holding.
   “I can take you vampire!” the thief exclaimed, slipping from Joseph’s grip, his father falling to the floor.
   “Go ahead, try,” Jesus retorted, human blood dripping from his bare chin.
   A muscular man, brave beyond belief, the thief attacked Jesus with all his might, giving him pummeling blows with his fists, the rapid flurry knocking him hard against a far wall and to the floor.
   Rising from the floor unfazed, Jesus said, “Verily I say unto you, I have ten times your strength, you’re no match for me.” He dove for the thief, missing and punching a fist through a plastered oak beam as his quarry ducked for cover behind a couch. Pulling his tattered fist from the broken wall, he grabbed the criminal while crawling along the floor toward the kitchen, lifting him bodily. Holding the helpless man two feet from the floor, Jesus slammed him against a wall. He strangled him with one hand, yelling, “Die you bastard, die!” crushing his throat in his grip. He threw the body to the floor and exhaled loudly, looking about the room for other assailants. Seeing none, he turned to his father and asked, “You all right dad?”
   “I got nicked but I took his sword,” said Joseph.
   “Good,” Jesus replied, turning to his mother. Ruth stood motionless, eyes wide, staring at him. “Are you all right mother?” he asked, his left hand starting to give him discomfort.
   “Mary has the baby, I think she’s on the roof,” his mother answered, looking to the ceiling.
   Ruth continued to stare at the vampiric Christ, her jaw agape.
   “What’s with her?” asked Joseph, wincing in pain from his wounded arm.
   “She’s seen a little too much tonight, but it’s nothing I can’t cure later,” said Jesus.
   “You’re a vampire,” Ruth stammered, unable to be afraid, shock dampening her fear.
   “That’s right, stay here and shut up while I fetch my woman.”
   Ganymede appeared in the broken doorway, asking, “Is everything all right, someone locked us in our quarters. I broke out when I heard glass breaking.”
   “Everything’s fine Ganymede, go back to your quarters, I’ll talk to you in the morning,” Joseph ordered.
   “Are you sure Master Julius, your arm is bleeding,” said Ganymede, looking at Joseph’s blood dripping to the floor.
   “Never mind that, tell you what, I’ll come over to see Electra in a while, please rouse her, I’m going to need stitches for this,” Joseph replied, glancing at the gaping wound.
   “Very well,” said Ganymede, noticing a pair of bodies on the floor before he left.
   “It was a good evening,” Jesus spat, walking past the broken doorframe to the porch. “You can come down Mary, it’s all clear.”
   “Are you sure?”
   “Yes, I killed them all.”
   Leaping from the roof with the child in her arms, Mary replied, “I’m sorry, I figured I’d save the baby.”
   “That’s nothing to be sorry about, thank you my woman,” Jesus answered, fingers caressing her face as they headed into the house.
   The Magdalene handing the baby to Jesus’ mother, Joseph said, “I don’t know about you son, but I need a belt of wine, care to join me?”
   “I want to get rid of these bodies first, please give me a hand Mary.”
   “Right,” the Magdalene replied, effortlessly lifting a pair of corpses from the floor as a shocked Ruth stared at her. “What are you looking at you stupid bitch?” she asked, dragging the bodies from the house.
   Jesus followed her to the side of the house, unconsciously grabbing a body with his left and quickly dropping it. Wincing in pain, he switched to his right, heaving the corpse over a shoulder, following his consort to the smokehouse to retrieve the other cadaver.
   “Would you stack the other one on my shoulder, I seem to have hurt my hand,” said Jesus.
   “Maybe we should have a look at you,” Mary replied.
   “Not now, let’s get rid of these bodies, the sun will be up in less then four hours,” said Jesus, looking to low hanging constellations that set near dawn during the summer.
   “Okay,” answered Mary, lifting the body to his shoulder, the couple heading to the river. Dumping corpses on the riverbank, she observed, “Two still have blood in them, shall we?”
   “Of course,” said Jesus, sinking fangs in the neck of one as Mary sucked the other dry. “You’re right about them going stale,” he added, emitting a loud belch after he spoke.
   “Yeah, it’s not the same,” she replied.
   Looting the corpses of nearly 400 denarii, they hurled the remains into the Euphrates where they floated away in the swift current. “Rotten bastards, they ruined my evening,” said Jesus as the bobbing cadavers disappeared in the distance.
   “And we ruined theirs,” Mary replied, Jesus looking to her and smiling at the remark.
   Returning to the house, he walked to the kitchen, stepping over the broken door and placing a sack of coins on the table, nodding to his father.
   “Got rid of them?” asked Joseph.
   “We dumped them in the river father, no need to worry about them.”
   Sitting down with his son, Joseph poured libations.
   “Let’s have a look at your hand,” said the Magdalene, his mother appearing in the kitchen.
   “What are we going to do about Ruth?” she asked, Ruth standing in the background, unmoving, apparently in shock.
   “Let me tend to that; take Ruth to your room mother,” said a tired Jesus, rising from the table.
   “Please come with me Ruth,” ordered Mary.
   The slave girl followed, still staring at Jesus while she entered the bedroom.
   “Sit down,” he ordered after following them, placing a lamp on a bedside table, dimly illuminating the room. Ruth did as told, Jesus waving a hand and entrancing her. “Sleep child, a long restful sleep. When you awaken, you will remember nothing of what has transpired on this evening,” he intoned in his vampiric monotone. Her eyes closed, and Jesus lifted her slumbering body, moving her to the cot.
   “That was easy,” his mother observed.
   “Yes, rest mother, and take care of the baby,” said Jesus, closing the door. Walking to the kitchen, he noted that Ganymede had returned with Electra, carrying her apothecary box.
   “When you didn’t come by I feared something may have happened to you,” Ganymede explained while Electra was tending Joseph’s wound.
   “Thank you Ganymede,” said Joseph.
   “You definitely need stitches, at least twenty,” Electra remarked, inspecting his gashed arm, “It’s a wonder you haven’t bled to death from this.”
   “It is?” asked Joseph, drunk from consuming two bottles of wine in less than an hour.
   “Stop drinking that wine, it makes you bleed even more!” ordered Electra, pulling a bottle from Joseph’s hand. “Please hold his arm Mistress Maria,” she added while threading a needle.
   “Sure, I won’t mess up like last time,” Mary replied.
   Luckily, the wound was not particularly deep, and the alcohol had at least served to numb Joseph’s arm. Electra closed the wound relatively painlessly, her drunken patient watching her stitch him up like a garment. Jesus was next, he showing her his left hand. Feeling the swollen hand, she said, “By the gods your flesh is cold Julius the younger, nothing seems broken but these splinters will have to go.”
   “Indeed,” a frowning Jesus replied.
   Pulling splinters up to an inch long from his hand with tweezers, a shocked Electra remarked as Jesus looked on impassively, “Your threshold for pain is the highest I’ve ever seen in my life.”
   His hand hurt, yes, not from splinters being pulled from his flesh, but because of what they had been made of. After she removed the last of them, Jesus said, “Thank you Electra, my hand feels much better now.”
   “Then you must be dead – if I did what you did my hand would still hurt like hell,” she retorted.
   His hand did hurt like hell, but there was nothing Electra could do about it, so Jesus simply told her it felt better.
   “Is there anything else you need?” Electra asked, moving graying hair from her face.
   “No, thank you Electra, get some sleep,” said Joseph, reaching for the bottle.
   “Stay off the wine till the skin knits!” Electra barked, grabbing the bottle.
   “You should listen to her, she knows what she’s doing,” said Jesus, Electra handing the bottle to him.
   “Yeah,” replied Joseph, looking to the wound on his arm. Her work finished, Electra headed to her quarters, leaving Jesus, his consort, Joseph and Ganymede in the kitchen.
   “What happened?” asked Ganymede as the Magdalene sat quietly, nursing a glass of wine.
   “Robbers came by so we killed them,” said Jesus.
   “By yourselves?”
   “It wasn’t easy, but yes, and never say anything about it to anyone outside of this farm.”
   “Of course, how did you do it?”
   “My father’s good with blades, and I know how to use a sword as well,” said Jesus, hoping Ganymede wouldn’t notice the lack of bloodstains in the house.
   “I can use the gladius, my former master taught me,” said Ganymede.
   “You can?”
   “Yes, and I’m very sorry I wasn’t here to assist in defending our home,” Ganymede replied, forgetting for a moment that he was only a slave.
   “No matter, you were trapped in your quarters,” said Jesus, pleased at his loyalty.
   “They blocked the door with logs and a boulder. I had to break through a wall to get out.”
   “Oh,” said Jesus, pouring wine.
   “I guess we have repair work to do over the next few days,” Joseph observed, rising from the table, wincing from his wound as the wine wore off.
   “You all right dad?” asked Jesus.
   “Yeah, I’ll see you tomorrow, I’m going to bed,” his exhausted father answered, heading for the hall.
   “Good night father.”
   “Yeah,” said Joseph, closing the bedroom door.
   About an hour left before dawn, the Magdalene retired to her room, leaving Jesus and Ganymede in the kitchen.
   “Well, that takes care of that,” said a sighing Jesus, looking to his swelling hand.
   “Takes care of what?” asked Ganymede.
   “The robbers and such.”
   “Incidentally, what do you want me to do with their horses?”
   “Take them to the stable before you retire.”
   “Shall I stable them with our horses?”
   “No, put them in the corral, we’ll figure out what to do with them tomorrow.”
   “Very well,” said Ganymede, rising from the table.
   “Would you care for wine before you go?” asked Jesus, pouring a goblet for him, looking to finish the open bottle.
   “Sure,” Ganymede replied, returning to his seat.
   “You said you can use a sword?” asked Jesus, looking to the slave.
   “Yes, but obviously not as good as you,” said an envious Ganymede.
   “I learned from Kushan warriors, would you like to learn their ways from me?” asked Jesus, thinking it would be good to have someone else around who could guard the family in his absence.
   “Very much so,” said Ganymede, downing his goblet, realizing there was far more to the placid philosopher than met the eye.
   “Once my hand recovers, we’ll arrange for you to come by in the evenings and I’ll show you the finer points.”
   “I’d like that very much master Julius,” said Ganymede, jumping at the chance to learn more of the sword.
   “Julius will do.”
   “Well, I must deal with the horses, and have a lot of work to do tomorrow,” Ganymede observed, rising from his seat, looking to the broken door and frame.
   “I have to get sleep too,” said Jesus as Ganymede left.
   Retiring to his room, a wounded Jesus settled into well-deserved slumber. He awoke the next evening in agony, his left hand and lower arm was hurting and had swollen so badly that he could barely move his fingers.
   “Are you all right?” asked Mary, rising from her slumber.
   “No,” said Jesus, sitting on the side of the bed, “My hand looks as if it’s grown to twice its size and it’s torture for me to move it.”
   “What do you think it is?” the Magdalene asked, looking to his swollen hand.
   “It took a while to figure it out, but I believe I know what it is,” Jesus replied, flexing his hand with difficulty.
   “The beam I punched through last night was made of oak.”
   “Legend has it vampires can be destroyed with an oak stake through the heart. There seems to be something in the wood of oaks that affects us; I recall some months ago when I stripped bark from oak logs for the tannery, my hands itched for days.”
   “I remember,” said Mary, “What you’re saying is oak must be poison to us.”
   “It seems so,” Jesus replied, adding as it dawned on him, “The shoes in the cave, I know why they made my feet red, they were tanned with oak bark, not urine.”
   “But I wear leather shoes too.”
   “Perhaps some of us are more sensitive to oak, or the shoes you have were tanned with urine.”
   “I have eight pair, I doubt all were tanned the same way.”
   “Then, evidently, some of us are more sensitive to oak than others,” said Jesus, looking at his swollen left hand.
   “Do you think you’ll die?”
   “I’m already dead,” answered a weakly smiling Jesus, “If you mean do I think this will destroy me no, but I don’t think I’ll be feeling very well for a while.”
   “Oh,” said the Magdalene, worried, wondering if only wearing oak tanned shoes should make his feet red, what would happen with oak splinters having pierced his hand? Rising from the bed, a pain-wracked Jesus walked to the kitchen, greeted by Ruth as he sat at the table, forcing a smile to her while clumsily opening a bottle of wine with his right.
   “What happened to your hand master Julius?” asked Ruth, preparing a meal for his mother, remembering nothing from the previous evening.
   “You don’t recall the cutthroats?” Jesus asked, knowing what the answer would be.
   “Mistress Maria mentioned thieves happened by last night, when I saw master Julius the elder and Ganymede replacing the windows and fixing the door.”
   “Yes, I struck one hard on the face, hurting my hand in doing so.”
   “Have you seen Electra about it?”
   “She said I bruised it, you don’t remember anything about last night?” asked Jesus, making certain his hypnotic powers had done their job.
   “Your father said one of them hit me and knocked me out.”
   “That explains it,” said Jesus while the Magdalene entered the kitchen. “Ruth was knocked unconscious by a bandit last night.”
   “Indeed,” Mary replied, looking to her convalescing consort, seating herself beside him. Ruth left the kitchen for his mother’s bedroom. Joseph headed in from the porch, his left arm in a sling. He greeted the couple, joining them at the table.
   “The door and windows are fixed, Ganymede did most of the work,” said a tired Joseph.
   “If this shit keeps up we’re going to have to stock at least a dozen extra windows to replace the ones we break,” Jesus retorted, looking at his swollen hand in disgust.
   His father looked to Mary, tightening his lips. Mary shrugged, raising hands in a manner signifying she didn’t know what to say. Changing the subject, Joseph said after a long exhale, “You should see their horses son. Huge, strong, muscular animals and swift for their size. Ganymede said he’s never seen such beasts, and believes they may be related to cavalry horses, but are much bigger, they strike me more as draft animals.”
   “They’re Scythian war horses,” Jesus replied, “I’ve seen them before, they have twice the strength of an Arabian.”
   “Can they be used to plow fields?” Joseph asked, now much more comfortable as a farmer.
   “Years ago I saw Scythian farmers of the steppes using them in that fashion.”
   “Then they’ll come in handy for working the farm,” said Joseph.
   “Once I feel better, I’ll see Gavinal and Marcus about getting proper titles for them,” Jesus replied, determined to keep up legal appearances.
   “How will you do that?”
   “It’s easy, I’ll apply for a claim to title as abandoned property, stating they appeared on our farm one evening. That’ll work, considering their owners are no longer with us,” Jesus answered with a weak smile.
   “That’s true.”
   Jesus nodded and asked, “How’s your arm?”
   “It hurts, but not as much as before. How’s your hand?”
   “Fair, I imagine it will take a few days for me to recover.”
   “He punched through an oak beam last night and figured out that oak is poisonous to us,” Mary explained.
   “Really?” asked Joseph, “I remember reading that a wooden stake through the heart was deadly to those like you, but I never knew why.”
   “It’s not so much a wooden stake through the heart is deadly, it seems only an oak stake through the heart is,” said Jesus, “Two years ago Judas Iscariot plunged a dagger into my heart and it didn’t bother me at all.”
   “He did?” asked Joseph.
   “That’s why you killed him?”
   “No, I killed him because he betrayed me.”
   “I don’t blame you, I would have killed him for that.”
   “Spoken like a true Roman,” a smiling Jesus replied, pouring glasses of wine with his right.
   After a few days of painful convalescing Jesus recovered, his hand returning to its usual appearance. His father’s arm was healing, thankfully with no trace of infection due to the skillful care of Electra, who applied a poultice of mosses and herbs to the wound, changing the dressing every day. Not needing his sling after the fifth day, Joseph resumed light duties around the farm, accompanied by Brutus the overseer. Having plenty of swords to practice with thanks to the thieves, a recovered Jesus walked out one early evening with a pair of oil soaked torches, hanging them from support fixtures on the porch pillars. Attired in a light Roman tunic, he headed to the slave quarters and asked Ganymede if he still wanted to engage in innocent swordplay.
   “Definitely,” said Ganymede, “Has your hand recovered sufficiently?”
   “Yes, thank you for asking, if you like we can start this evening.”
   “By all means, let’s do,” Ganymede replied, stepping out into the warm evening. They arrived in front of the house, where Joseph and the Magdalene were relaxing on the porch.
   “Please fetch a pair of swords for me father,” said Jesus.
   “Why?” asked Joseph.
   “I’m going to teach Ganymede some of the finer points of sword fighting tonight.”
   “Mind if we watch?”
   “Not at all,” replied Jesus.
   “Its getting rather dark isn’t it Julius, how will we see each other?” asked Ganymede.
   “Please hand me the lantern Maria,” said Jesus, pointing to a lit lamp on a table. Using it to light the torches, the area in front of the porch was illuminated brilliantly within seconds.
   “How’s that?” asked Jesus.
   “It’ll do,” said Ganymede.
   Returning with the swords, Joseph handed them to Jesus. Taking a fine gilded sword, he tossed a lesser weapon to Ganymede, who deftly caught it with his right.
   “What do we do now?” asked Ganymede.
   “Attack me,” Jesus replied, raising his sword in the torchlight.
   “You’re a lefty,” said Ganymede, noting that Jesus was holding the sword in his left hand.
   “Yes, attack me.”
   “Are you sure?” asked Ganymede, wondering if his master’s skill would be enough to protect him.
   “I’m certain that you present no problem for me, and I will be more than careful when it comes to defending myself.”
   “You will be careful with me,” said Ganymede, holding his sword by his side.
   “Exactly,” replied Jesus.
   Raising the sword above his head, Ganymede came for Jesus, who easily deflected the expected attack, both men responding fiercely, the mock battle lasting more than twenty minutes.
   “You’re pretty good,” a smiling Jesus declared, easily fending off a sweating Ganymede’s hacking attack.
   “He certainly is,” said Joseph, the Magdalene cheering them on.
   Sidestepping the slave, Jesus disarmed him with one stroke, Ganymede’s sword falling from his hand and sticking in the earth. Looking to the slave, he said, “Your approach is fine, but your style is all wrong.”
   “What do you mean?” asked Ganymede, out of breath.
   “You fight like a marauding gladiator, lots of force and power, but no real direction in your attack.”
   “My former master fought as a professional gladiator when he was young,” replied a panting, thirty-five year old Ganymede.
   “That explains it,” said Jesus, “To be an efficient swordsman you need not only power and strength, but also grace, along with the ability to foresee what your opponent intends to do.”
   “That’s for tomorrow evening’s lesson, if you wish to continue fencing with me.”
   “I intend to,” Ganymede answered, picking up his sword, with Jesus, not having broken a sweat, walking to the porch. He took a seat, joining his father and the Magdalene. “Here’s your sword,” the slave added, offering the weapon by the handle.
   “It’s your sword now,” said Jesus, “Would you care for wine before you go?”
   “Please,” Ganymede replied, stepping to the porch and leaning his sword against the rail.
   “Have a seat Ganymede,” said Joseph, pointing a chair next to he and the Magdalene.
   The slave took a seat, Jesus pouring and handing him a crystal goblet of wine.
   “Thank you,” said Ganymede, taking the goblet and drinking deeply from it.
   “This man has great potential as a swordsman, what do you think?” asked Jesus, looking to his father.
   “I’ll say, it’s too damn bad we didn’t have him here a week ago.”
   “We did father, we just didn’t know Ganymede was good with a sword.”
   “That’s what I meant,” retorted Joseph, annoyed at his know-it-all son.
   “You learned how to fight with swords in uh – ” said Ganymede, not recalling the name of the country.
   “Kush,” said Jesus, “I learned only the finer points there, my father uses the gladius and taught me the fundamentals as a child.”
   “When you lived in Gaul.”
   “Yes,” Jesus lied, recalling blissful summer days in Nazareth, his father showing him and younger brother James how to throw knives and fight with swords.
   Ganymede sat silent, drinking another goblet of undiluted wine on the moonlit evening. The Magdalene walked into the house, joining Mary and Ruth in the bedroom with Julian, knowing Jesus would soon grow hungry for blood and call her to his side.
   Later, Ganymede asked, “I was wondering sirs, why do you treat us as if we are equals?”
   “What do you mean?” asked Jesus, looking to the slave.
   “I and my fellows have talked of this, and agree that you and your father are the kindest, wisest and most decent Roman gentlemen we have ever met.”
   “Thank you kind Ganymede,” an embarrassed Jesus replied, answering for he and his father. “Verily I say, as I told you and Icarus: you may be slaves but are people also; kindness to one’s slaves brings the reward of good service and fine companionship on a beautiful night like this.”
   Ganymede smiled. “You’re a remarkable man Julius the younger, Cyril has said you and your family are very special people.”
   “How is Cyril, I haven’t seen him for a week or so.”
   “Quite well, he’s making preparations for teaching Julian, for when he grows older.”
   “Excuse me, I’m heading in to check on your mother and brother,” said Joseph, rising from a chair after finishing his wine.
   “Yes father,” Jesus replied, turning to Ganymede, “Cyril will be a fine teacher for my brother, please send him my thanks for his concern for Julian’s future.”
   “Why not tell him yourself?” asked Ganymede, “He’s been wondering how you were since your injury and would very much like to see you.”
   “Tell him I’ll drop by early tomorrow evening,” said Jesus, pouring wine.
   Languishing on the porch for another hour, a drunken Ganymede clumsily made his way to the slave quarters, collapsing hard on his cot, Cyril looking up from a scroll and smiling.

   Later, Jesus and consort strolled out for their evening meal, finding sustenance on the Via Tiberius Romanus highway, some miles west of Tibernum. Three aurei were in the take, along with a cache of denarii and lesser coins, adding more loot to their kitty. Dropping the pouch of money on a nightstand, they retired to slumber shortly before dawn.

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