Tuesday, February 28, 2017


   Joseph arrived at the marketplace shortly after one, marveling at items trader Callicles had for sale.
   First on his list were windows, of which he purchased ten, six for the house and four to be used as replacements. Borrowing a slave, he carefully loaded them in the wagon, placing woven straw padding between. A pair of iron plows was bought, along with stylish bronze oil lamps, glass tableware, crystal wine goblets, silver dining utensils, articles of clothing, and an exquisitely crafted leather covered down stuffed couch with two matching chairs and table. Sturdy shoes were another item purchased for he, his wife, Jesus, and the Magdalene. Expensive tools were bought for carpentry work and farming. Joseph was spending money like a drunken sailor, buying items he had always wanted but could never have afforded in the past. Having spent 950 denarii by five, next on his list were draft oxen. Several pair were available, offered at the incredibly low price of 50 denarii. Two pair, a set of males and a set of females for breeding fit the bill, Joseph paying Callicles Roman silver for the animals.
   Shortly after dusk, Jesus and consort strolled up while his father sat in the wagon eating spiced barbecued pork, washing it down with a bottle of Gaul’s finest. The oxen were tethered to the wagon, feeding on hay.
   “Hello son,” said Joseph while Jesus inspected the oxen.
   “These are fine animals,” Jesus replied, “How much did you pay for them?”
   “50 denarii for each pair, practically a steal!”
   “I’ll say, I figured they’d be at least 100 a pair.”
   Prefect Gavinal and merchant Callicles walked up while Jesus was inspecting the windows. “Julius!” Gavinal exclaimed, taking Jesus’ hand and shaking it firmly, “Have you met friend Callicles?” The prefect smelled like a brewery, wine heavy on his breath, he and Callicles having continued their drinking during the afternoon.
   “Not yet,” answered Jesus, “Maria and I have just arrived kind Gavinal; this is my father, Julius Chrysippus the elder.”
   “Greetings Julius the elder,” said Gavinal while they shook hands.
   “I’m Callicles,” the merchant announced, he and Jesus shaking hands firmly. For having been drinking all day, the man was surprisingly sober, his reddish complexion, especially on his balding head, revealing that he was a very heavy drinker.
   “You carry fine merchandise,” said Jesus as the others conversed in the background.
   “We try,” Callicles replied, “So Julius, my nephew told me you’re interested in slaves,” slapping his hands together, ready to do business.
   “Yes,” said Jesus, “Four would be nice, six would be ideal.”
   “I have thirty-six available, mostly Nubians, Egyptians and Greeks, but prices are steep,” Callicles replied, waving a hand toward the slave wagons.
   “Name your price sir.”
   “They start at 600 denarii, complete with chain, lock and shackle. My highest priced slaves are 800 each.”
   “Six hundred, let’s see, that times six makes thirty six hundred,” said Jesus.
   “Tell you what, I’ll go five hundred each for six in total, that’s three thousand denarii.”
   “Cash is all Bacchus Julius Chrysippus ever deals with,” Gavinal interjected.
   “Bacchus, the god of wine,” said Callicles.
   “Epicurus’ favorite god,” Jesus replied, Callicles smiling broadly.
   “Julius was a wine merchant in Etruria, from Vesuvii,” said Gavinal.
   “Volsinii,” Jesus corrected.
   “Whatever Julius, I’m drunk.”
   “That explains the name, do you imbibe Julius? Callicles asked, “I have fine wine from northern Gaul.”
   “Of course, my father and I are very fond of wine.”
   “Excellent, we’ll have some together; you said three thousand cash for six slaves?”
   “You have a deal,” Callicles declared, motioning toward the slave wagons, “Shall we pick them out?”
   “Why not,” said Jesus, looking to his father and winking.
   Returning the wink, Joseph and Mary continued to converse with Gavinal while Jesus headed to the slave wagons with the trader. The slaves were contained in several cage wagons, Jesus surveying the lot. Many were Greeks or Egyptians, along with exotic Nubians and a small number of Jews. An attractive young Jewess was also imprisoned, sitting quietly in one corner of a wagon.
   “What are those black slaves in the other cage?” asked Jesus, never having seen Negroes.
   “Nubian barbarians, from south of Egypt.”
   “Like Ethiopians?”
   “Similar, but much more exotic and savage,” said Callicles. “Due to their rarity in Anatolia, my Nubian slaves are 800 each, the males are strong as an ox and make great gladiators.”
   “Their color looks similar to the people of India, but the facial features and hair are much different from anything I’ve ever seen,” Jesus observed, shocked at their appearance.
   “Well, they’re Nubians,” said Callicles, “Tell you what Julius, if you want to buy some, I’ll cut the price to – ”
   “I’ll stick with Greeks,” Jesus replied, still staring at the unfamiliar Nubians.
   “Okay, if you’d like to purchase a group of six, all used to each other, I recently bought a lot from an estate on the Mediterranean coast. They’re all Greeks, all skilled, and one is a teacher. One woman is a midwife; I forget her name, but she’ll definitely come in handy to the owner for delivering children or veterinary work.”
   “Really?” Jesus asked, walking to a separate cage, six slaves within. Inside were four men and two women. Looking at the group, Jesus noted all seemed strong and healthy, with one, obviously the teacher, an older bearded man sitting on a bench. “These slaves look fine to me,” he said, “I’ll take them.”
   “They’re a damn good deal at 500 each,” a frowning Callicles replied, thinking he may have made a mistake offering slaves to Jesus at so low a price. “They were with their former master for over ten years, so there’s no need to break them in, and like I said, each one is skilled.”
   “Sold,” said Jesus, looking to the group.
   “You six, get your asses out here,” Callicles barked, opening the cage door. All obediently exited, the trader chaining them together.
   Glancing to the other cage, Jesus saw the imprisoned Jewess sitting quietly.
   Making eye contact with his Hebrew kinfolk, the vampiric Christ took pity on her. Turning to the trader, he asked, “How much do you want for the Jewess?”
   “Oh yes, look at her, she’s only fourteen years old and a virgin, she’d make a perfect whore wouldn’t she?”
   “I suppose,” said Jesus, looking to the girl.
   “I know,” a chuckling Callicles replied, “Jew broads are great pieces of ass, I’ve laid a slew of ‘em. A friend of mine bought her near Galilee and traded her to me in Damascus for some horses. I reckon eight hundred will do it, she’s gorgeous isn’t she? You know, I’d screw her if I had the time, I’ll bet she’s tight as a knot, but I’m a businessman, and cute pussy’s as common as sestertii.”
   “Make it five hundred and I’ll take her too,” said Jesus, hiding his disgust at the trader’s remarks.
   “Five hundred?”
   “Yes, thirty five hundred for all.”
   “But she’s a fine piece of – ”
   “I don’t care, thirty five hundred denarii or nothing,” said Jesus, “I can go to Rome and buy slaves like this for half the price you’re asking.”
   “How about thirty six fifty? She’s a fine looking girl, and I have to make a profit on – ”
   “I’m sure you're making a profit friend Callicles, thirty-five,” said Jesus, holding firm.
   “Deal,” Callicles replied after a reflective pause, shaking Jesus’ hand firmly, a bit saddened that he had driven so hard a bargain for some of his finest slaves. “You’re going to screw her aren’t you?” he asked, unchaining the Jewess from an iron bar.
   “I have a wife,” said Jesus, “But my father may need a concubine.”
   “That old man? I don’t mean to offend, but he must be sixty.”
   “He’s fifty five and my mother is forty nine, would you believe she’s pregnant?”
   “You’re kidding.”
   “No, at 34 years of age I’m going to have an infant sibling.”
   “It’s not unheard of, but is very rare; I imagine the midwife I just sold you will come in handy after all,” said Callicles, chaining the Jewess to the other slaves and fastening the free end to one of the cage bars.
   “Bring them to the wagon, then I’ll pay you.”
   “Sure, I have to head to my office to retrieve the titles, I’ll meet you there in a bit.”
   Jesus nodded, walking to the wagon, where his father, Mary and Gavinal were still engaged in conversation. Drusus the Illyrian had dropped by, enjoying a pitcher of strong Egyptian beer, making comments on occasion while constantly ogling the Magdalene. “We have seven slaves father,” Jesus announced, nodding to Drusus.
   “That’s two more than I have!” Gavinal exclaimed, “I guess I’ll have to buy a pair to keep up with you friend Julius!”
   “He still has thirty or so available,” said Jesus, looking to the prefect.
   “What kind?”
   “Mostly Egyptians, Jews and Nubians, I think I bought all the Greeks he had.”
   “I only buy Greeks, maybe next time,” said Gavinal.
   Callicles arrived with the slaves, shackled in chains, following behind him. “Here are the titles,” he said, handing seven parchment documents to Jesus, “Everything’s in order, signed by the prefect of Chrysopolis and his notary. I suppose since Gavinal’s here he’ll be witness for the transfer.”
   “So noted,” Gavinal replied with a nod, looking to Jesus, “Don’t worry Julius, I’ll have Marcus notarize them tomorrow.”
   “Thanks,” Jesus answered.
   “No problem,” said Gavinal, turning to Joseph and the Magdalene.
   “Climb on the roof of the wagon slaves,” Jesus ordered, “From here you’re going to our farm, there I shall inform you of your duties.” Young Demosthenes had been correct; the slaves understood Latin perfectly, and obediently climbed aboard the wagon. Reaching into a leather satchel, Jesus produced 3,500 denarii, handing a heavy bag of Roman silver to the trader.
   Shaking Jesus’ hand, Callicles said with a broad smile, “Thank you Julius, you drive a hard bargain. No matter, I’ve made a hell of a lot of money today, the only others who spent more than you were friends Gavinal and Marcus!”
   “I know Marcus, he’s the town notary,” replied Jesus.
   Noticing the Magdalene, Callicles asked, “Who is this beautiful creature friend?”
   “My wife, Maria Hittica.”
   “She's lovelier than Helen of Troy,” said Callicles, bowing to Mary.
   “Thank you sir,” Mary replied, disdaining the remark, finding Callicles a man that she simply didn’t like.
   “Care to get drunk?” asked Callicles, thirsty for wine.
   Looking to his father, Jesus asked, “Will you run the goods to the farm?”
   “I’m going to need a hand with the oxen and slaves son,” answered Joseph, “Could we come back later?”
   “Hold on a minute folks,” said Callicles. Calling a mercenary, he instructed in Anatolian, “Fetch a slave and have him bring a Gallic wine cask and a brick of cheese here for my friends.”
   Nodding, the mercenary found a slave, who carried the heavy cask to the wagon while the mercenary brought along the twenty-pound brick of cheese. “A present for you and your family Julius,” said the trader, “Fine Gallic wine and sharp cheese from Hispania.”
   “Thank you Callicles,” Jesus answered, again shaking his hand, “You’re a good man, and if you wish to stop by our farm you are welcome. We have cured meat in our smokehouse, fresh water in our well, wine in our cellar and now, seven fine slaves to serve us.”
   “I may visit later,” Callicles replied, making a mental note that wine was available at the Chrysippus farm.
   “He lives just up from Marcus’ place,” said Gavinal, “Right on the Euphrates.”
    "Are you coming back to get drunk with us?” Callicles asked.
   “Definitely,” said Jesus, looking to his father, who nodded eagerly.
   “Stop by Gavinal’s office when you return, that’s where we’ll be,” Callicles advised, Jesus, Joseph and the Magdalene climbing aboard the heavily laden wagon with the oxen in tow. Looking to the prefect, he added as Gavinal smiled, “We’ve had a binge going for the last day or so, and I’ve been working so hard tonight I’m almost sober, can you believe it?”
   “At times sobriety can be a curse, we should see you in a few hours,” Jesus answered, taking the reins and pulling out.
   “I’ll need another twenty gross of roof tiles for the store, Julius the elder bought all I had a few weeks ago,” said Drusus, drunk on Egyptian beer.
   “Okay, Demo will fix you up,” Callicles answered, grabbing a bottle of wine from a slave.
   The pace was slow as the horses strained against the weight, Joseph remarking, “Lousy Arabians, fast as lightning in a race but not worth a damn when it comes to pulling power.”
   “We’re almost there,” a patient Jesus replied as they drove onto their property.
   “We should have hitched up those oxen, it’s a wonder the horses haven’t strangled from the load we’re carrying,” said Joseph, harnessing for horses in those days simply oxen harnesses, only smaller. When hauling heavy loads they would often cut a horse’s wind, especially on hills.
   Arriving at the house, they stepped from the wagon, his mother appearing in the doorway. “Look woman, oxen, slaves, everything!” Joseph exclaimed, while Jesus unhitched the tired horses.
   “Yes,” Mary replied, “You're running late, the dinner I made is cold.”
   “I’m sorry,” said Joseph, “But don’t you worry about that anymore, we have slaves to cook dinner for you!” Mary nodded and stepped into the house, the Magdalene following.
   “She didn’t seem particularly impressed,” Jesus observed, helping the slaves from the wagon.
   “She’s pregnant son, women act weird when they’re pregnant.”
   “Maria!” Jesus called to his consort, as the slaves were present.
   “Yes Julius?” asked the Magdalene, appearing in the doorway.
   “Would you deal with the slaves while father and I stable the animals?”
   “Sure,” she replied, ducking inside, returning with a lit table lamp and stepping from the porch.
   “Feed them meat and vegetables, and make certain they and the beasts have water,” said Jesus as she led her charges to the slave quarters.
   “Right,” she answered.
   He and his father leading the beasts to the stable, Jesus said, “Get their names tomorrow, I’ll speak to them in the evening so we can figure out what duties to assign them to.” Leaving the animals in the stable, they headed to the house and entered. Grabbing his cold dinner, Joseph wolfed it down, his wife sitting at the table.
   “We have to head to Gavinal’s,” he explained with a full mouth.
   “Why?” asked Mary.
   “To get drunk mother,” said Jesus.
   “Oh,” his mother replied, staring at the pair.
    Giving his wife a hug, they left, walking to the trail leading from the farm. “Since I have to unload the wagon and deal with the slaves tomorrow, I’d better not get too drunk should I?” Joseph asked.
   “Indeed,” Jesus agreed as they headed for town.
   The efficient Magdalene did everything Jesus requested, cruelly leaving the slaves chained in their quarters, but feeding them what all considered a banquet: winter vegetables from Vitellius’ market, a side of smoked boar, a bucket of fresh water, ladle, and several drinking cups. Heading to the stable, she fed and watered the horses and oxen, returning to the house to check on Jesus’ mother.
   Making certain she was settled in for the night, Mary Magdalene then went out and killed someone by sucking his blood until he died in her arms, and like any normal vampire, not caring if he was a robber, highwayman, priest or merchant. Though she had no proof, she figured the man was some sort of criminal, as he had skulked in the shadows some miles south of town. Not having Jesus around to prevent her from taking those he considered unsuitable made it much easier, and she took a free hand in obtaining supper. Robbing the victim, she found nine aurei and several hundred denarii in a satchel. Also inside was assorted jewelry and smaller monetary denominations – bronze sestertii, orichalcum dupondii, red copper asses, and bronze quadrans. Finding rolled parchment documents, she ignored those, tossing them in a thicket of blooming briars. Finished, she threw the corpse into the Euphrates, where it floated away in the current.
   Unknown to her, the man was no thief; he had been a Roman moneylender on his way to collect interest and principal payments from the many indebted people of Tibernum. In typically efficient Roman fashion, another collector would be sent later, so it didn’t matter. During the time she was taking her victim, Jesus and father were heading past the town pantheon and continuing to Gavinal’s residence. Arriving at the gate, the guard recognized Jesus and let them in, advising them to go to his office instead of the residence.
   “Why?” asked Jesus.
   “Because his wife will kill you if you wake their baby,” the guard answered, “Nothing personal, but Phoebe Claudia Domitia doesn't like drunks.”
   “We’re not drunk yet, and if she doesn’t like drunks, why’d she marry Gavinal?” asked a smiling Jesus, his father frowning.
   “For one thing, he’s wealthy, for another, probably because he knocked her up with their first child a few years back, his daughter Gavinalla Marcia,” the guard replied with a grin.
   Jesus nodded to the guard, he and Joseph proceeding to Gavinal’s office, a small annex located off the mansion atrium. Knocking, Callicles opened the door and let them in, greeted by the prefect and the trader as they entered.
   “Good evening,” Callicles slurred, looking to Jesus and smiling while he took a gulp of wine from a goblet. In the lamp lit room, Callicles’ barroom tan was all the more evident, his forehead and face bright red from years of drinking wine in excess.
   “Welcome Julius the elder and younger,” said Gavinal, sitting at his desk drinking directly from a bottle, almost too drunk to rise from his chair.
   “Greetings my friends,” Jesus answered, “It looks like you’re happy this evening.”
   “It all depends,” said Gavinal.
   “On what?” Joseph asked.
   “On if you’re drunk,” said Gavinal, tossing a bottle of wine to Jesus. Catching the bottle underhanded, Jesus broke the clay seal, dug out the wax stopper, and chugalugged from the bottle, handing the remaining half to his father, who quickly drank the rest. “Can you catch another?” asked the prefect, Joseph sitting the empty bottle on his desk.
   “Easily,” Jesus answered, clapping his hands and holding them high.
   Gavinal threw a bottle to Jesus, who caught the bottle overhand with his left. Breaking the seals, he chugalugged from the bottle, handing the remaining half to his father.
   “Sinistere,” Gavinal observed.
   “Yeah, he’s a southpaw, so is Demosthenes,” said an unsteady Callicles, putting down the glass and leaning heavily on the desk.
   “Gaius Julius was left-handed; so was Marcus Tullius Cicero and Senator Cato,” a superstitious Gavinal replied, not recalling Jesus had signed the contract and deed using his left, “The Delphic Oracle has said those who are sinistere are favored by the gods.”
   “Really,” said Jesus, “I imagine after some of the things I’ve been through, the gods must be showing me favor lately.” Callicles collapsed unconscious, Jesus looking to his drunken form on the marble floor.
   “Looks like we got here a little late,” said Joseph.
   “Not really,” Gavinal replied, “Callicles has been drinking for two straight days, it’s about time he had rest.” Rising unsteadily, he walked over to move the trader to a leather couch.
   Jesus, assisting him, hauled Callicles to the couch while Joseph finished their latest bottle.
   “Callicles shouldn’t drink so much,” said Jesus, Gavinal handing him another bottle.
   “Aren’t you one to talk,” Joseph retorted.
   “So, do you like the farm I sold you?” Gavinal asked, as Callicles, an arm lying on the marble floor, snored in the background.
   “Very much, and with seven slaves we should have it working this year,” said Jesus, taking another drink.
   “Yes, Callicles told me that you’re curing meat over there, the men at the garrison could use some, perhaps you could sell them a few sides.”
   “We’ve taken and hung many. Marcus Tullius wrote that split sides, if salted and smoked constantly, cure in only two months or so,” said Jesus, again taking a seat.
   “True,” Gavinal agreed, seating himself at the desk, “How much would you want?”
    “I’ll give you and they a few sides to be neighborly,” Jesus answered, relaxing in a padded chair, “All I ask is that you give me your opinions of the quality, and next time I’ll sell you some.”
   “You’re very kind, what meats have you in your larder?”
   “Auroch, venison, and pork; the smokehouse is almost full, we could actually use the space.”
   “How did you acquire so much?” Gavinal asked, looking to Jesus unsteadily, “Do you trap them?”
   “No, we hunt them for sport with spears or knives, the land’s full of game,” Jesus lied, “My father and I are good with blades, he taught me to throw as a child in Volsinii.”
   “My son can hit anything within fifty cubits,” said a boasting Joseph.
   “Perhaps you could hunt on my property too,” Gavinal suggested, opening another bottle.
   “Certainly,” Jesus replied, “I like to hunt at night when there’s more chance of surprise.”
   The conversation continued for several hours, the prefect consuming another bottle of undiluted wine between latrine breaks. “We and our wives will have to get together one evening for dinner,” said a badly slurring Gavinal, walking from his personal lavatorium, Jesus finishing a fourth bottle.
   “Perhaps later,” replied a drunken Joseph, “My wife is pregnant and has had sickness lately.”
   “Oh yes, Callicles told me, that’s incredible,” said Gavinal slowly, drifting in and out of lucidity from consuming so much wine. “I have to turn in,” he added, looking in double vision at Jesus and his father, Callicles snoring on the couch, an arm on the marble floor.
   “We'll let ourselves out,” said Jesus.
   “Thanks,” the weary prefect replied, Jesus and father heading for the door. “Don’t forget Julius, you and yours are always welcome here,” he added, walking unsteadily to the atrium.
   “And you are always welcome at our farm friend Gavinal,” said Jesus. Leaving the compound, Jesus nodded to the guard as he opened the gate. A few minutes later they walked past Callicles’ darkened caravansary, heading south of town.
   “Gavinal sure was piped, along with that Callicles fellow,” said Joseph, arriving at the farm at four.
   “Look who’s talking.”
   “You’re drunk too.”
   “Yeah, what can you do?”
   Entering the house, Jesus noticed Mary Magdalene sitting at the kitchen table, annoyed at him being late. “Where have you been?” she asked, thinking he would have returned about midnight.
   “You know, we were drinking wine at Gavinal’s,” said Jesus, sitting down.
   “Why did I ask, have you had anyone to eat?”
   “I’ve gone without before.”
   “It seems wine can replace blood,” Joseph observed.
   “For a time,” said Jesus, “As I’ve said, vampires do not live by blood alone.”
   “That’s obvious,” a chuckling Joseph replied, heading for his bedroom.
   “Have you eaten?” Jesus asked, opening a wine bottle and pouring a goblet.
   “I took someone south of here while you were gone.”
   “Was he a robber?”
   “Who knows, he was there, so I killed him,” said Mary, looking him in the eyes.
   “What if – ”
   “I don’t care Jesus, you do. I look at them as lunch, and if you’re not around to stop me I’ll take just about anyone.”
   “You will not harm our family or friends,” said Jesus, a stern look on his face.
   “Are you stupid, I was talking about strangers,” Mary retorted, pouring herself a goblet.
   “So, how are the slaves?” Jesus asked, knowing it was pointless to lecture her regarding suitable victims.
   “I left them in their quarters, fed them vegetables and a side of smoked boar, and gave them a pail of water and cups.”
   “Very good, did you see the young Jewess?”
   “Yeah, she’s beautiful, what did you buy her for?” Mary asked, thinking she was a waste of money.
   “I took pity on her, she’s a fourteen year old virgin and that amoral trader wanted to sell her to me as a whore.”
   “So what, she’d make a good whore with her looks,” an equally amoral Mary observed, at least regarding whoredom and vampirism, taking a deep drink of wine.
   “Prostitution is not a proper occupation for a Hebrew woman, nor any other woman for that matter,” said Jesus, finishing his goblet.
   “I suppose being a slave is?” asked Mary, her moral outlook regarding slavery coming to the surface.
   “That’s not my intention, I intend to employ her to tend to my mother’s needs and will give freedom to her later.”
   “I thought I was supposed to care for her,” said Mary, folding hands on the table.
   “You still can, she will help you.”
   “Okay, but you have too much heart,” the Magdalene replied, realizing she would never understand her Jesus, the kind, just vampire. The sun rising, they moved to their dark room next to his parents’ bedroom and settled into sleep.
   A hung over Joseph rose at ten and drank a bottle of wine for breakfast to kill the hangover; heading to the slave quarters near noon to inspect his newly purchased servants.
   “My name is Jos – I mean Julius,” said Joseph, “I and my wife are the master and mistress of this farm, what are your names please?” Each answered in turn, Joseph noting their names on a piece of parchment. “Thank you, we shall treat you well. For the time being you may rest, my son Julius the younger will assign each of you later,” he replied, turning to leave.
   “Can you unshackle us master?” a muscular slave named Ganymede asked with an imploring expression.
   “I’m sorry, I haven’t the keys, my son has them and is in town at present,” lied Joseph, ogling the attractive Jewess, she noting his observations and looking to the floor, the rest of the group nodding as he turned and left. This is going to be better than I imagined, Joseph thought as he returned to the house.
   At dusk, he walked to his son’s room and roused his son. “Jesus wake up, you have to unshackle the slaves,” said his father, shaking him in the bed.
   “Unshackle them!” Jesus exclaimed, rising with a start, “They should have been released last night!”
   “They’re sitting chained in their quarters, I told them you have the keys.”
   “Give me the keys woman, why didn’t you unshackle the slaves?” asked Jesus, shaking her awake.
   Clumsily reaching to the floor and handing him the keys, Mary murmured as she opened her eyes, “They’re all right sitting chained in their shed aren’t they?” Focusing, she added with a frown, “You may not realize it, but I don’t care about them, besides, they might have escaped and then you’d be yelling at me about that!”
   “You should care, they’re our slaves,” said Jesus.
   “They’re your slaves, not mine, I’ve never wanted to own anyone and never will, the thought is repulsive,” the Magdalene retorted, rolling over and hugging a pillow.
   “Oh,” said Jesus, not having known of his consort’s negative feelings regarding slavery.
   Leaving the bed, he dressed and headed to the slave quarters with his father.
   “I got their names,” said Joseph, “The pretty Jewess is called Ruth.”
   “After the prophetess,” Jesus replied, entering the austere slave quarters. “I’m very sorry, I didn’t realize my wife hadn’t unchained you,” he said while Joseph stood quietly, “My name’s Julius, eldest son of Julius the elder here.”
   Each thanked Jesus he released them. “You may rest and settle in tonight, later I will assign you to your duties,” said Jesus, “That is with the exception of Ruth; you, young woman, will follow us to our home.” The Jewess nodded, rising to follow them.
   Walking to the house, Joseph whispered, “What about the problem we discussed regarding you and the slaves?”
   “All in good time, I’ll handle it,” Jesus replied as they walked in. Entering the kitchen and taking a seat, he looked to Ruth and said, “You are to be my mother’s personal servant. She is pregnant and requires attention from a devoted person, are you able to cook?”
   “You’re not going to rape me?” Ruth asked, looking to the floor, envisioning her rape by Jesus and his father.
   “Of course not,” a frowning Jesus answered, “Please look at me girl, only barbarians rape women, and trader Callicles informed me that your virtue is intact.”
   “He should know master, he stripped me naked and checked before he bought me.”
   “How can people do such things?” said Jesus, closing eyes and thinking of the chaste modesty practiced by both sexes of their Hebrew kinsfolk.
   “I can cook master,” Ruth added, finally answering his question.
   “Yes, please sit down,” Jesus ordered. Staring at him, she took a seat. Looking to his father for a moment, he turned to the girl and asked in his native tongue, “Do you speak Aramaic?”
   “Yes,” said Ruth, astonished at the words coming from a clean-shaven, shorthaired man who looked like any other Roman to her.
   “Well then, I bought you to save you from the fate so many other lovely slaves of the empire fall into. A young woman of your fine caliber should be saved for marriage to a good man, instead of the bondage of the brothel.”
   “Thank you master,” said Ruth, tears welling in her eyes.
   “Don’t mention it, simply help my mother and father, and in time we’ll find you a good man for a husband.”
   “I've always wanted that,” Ruth replied, wiping away tears, not believing the words she heard.
   “You will sleep in my parent’s bedroom on the floor until we build you a separate room and cot,” said Jesus, “Their room is down the hall to the right, please go tend to my mother’s needs if you would.”
   After Ruth left the kitchen, Joseph smiled broadly. “Like I’ve said, I really like your style son.”
   The vampiric Christ looked to his father and nodded. They sat at the table for a while, drinking wine and planning their next moves.
   “So, what are the names of the other slaves father?”
   “Let’s see,” said Joseph, retrieving parchment from a tunic pocket, “Their names are Icarus, Penelope, Electra, Ganymede, Cyril and Brutus.”
   “Brutus? What kind of a name is that for a Greek, it’s a Latin name.”
   “Go figure, I asked him that too; he said he was a Greek born in Rome.”
   “That explains it, what skills do they have?”
   “The women are skilled in weaving, sewing, cooking, tanning and tending animals; the one called Electra is also a midwife. Cyril, the old one, is a teacher and linguist, Icarus is a skilled blacksmith, Ganymede's a carpenter, and Brutus said he can do most anything. Incidentally, Brutus worked as overseer on a farm before their master, a fellow named Marcus Trajanus, died last year.”
   “Excellent, we’ll assign the men to clear and plow the fields, using Brutus as overseer, and employ the women to take care of the animals, if that’s all right with you.”
   “Sure, you’re the guy who bought them, why do you think you need my approval?”
   “I wanted to be sure, as the elder Julius you’re considered their master.”
   “I am?”
    “Yes, further, in the empire, as patriarch you have the power of life and death over the entire family, not just the slaves,” said Jesus, informing him of the finer points of Roman tradition.
   “That’s ridiculous,” retorted Joseph, “I'd never kill any of my family, what kind of crazy society is this?”
   “It’s Roman society father, and no crazier than Judean society is if you ask me, it’s just the way it is.”
   “How do you know all that?”
   “I lived in Rome, don’t you remember?”
   “Yeah you did, I’m sorry. What the hell, at least they don’t circumcise people around here,” said Joseph, having noted Callicles and Gavinal immodestly relieving themselves at the caravansary, practically in front of him.
   “That’s true,” a frowning Jesus replied, looking ruefully to his crotch for a moment.
   “They did it to me too, it was uh, tradition I guess,” said Joseph, leaning his head on an upright arm, never having understood how mutilating a newborn baby’s penis would bring him closer to God.
   “I know that father; anyway, Mary and I will have to be moving on later, you and mother will then in fact be the masters of this farm once we leave,” said Jesus, returning to the original subject of the conversation.
   “The wanderlust of vampires, Herodotus wrote of that in his treatise on legends,” Joseph observed, still trying to understand the absolute authority of the patriarch of a Roman family.
   “We won’t be leaving for a while, but I eventually want to head back to Europe, to Greece and Rome,” said Jesus, thinking of his necessary task regarding citizenship, solvable only in the Eternal City.
   “Why there and not some place like Scythia?”
   “I’d like to see the Parthenon again,” replied Jesus, figuring he would keep the task to himself for the present, it not immediately imperative.
   “What's that?”
   “A beautiful marble Temple on the Acropolis in Athens, dedicated to goddess Athena Parthenos.”
   “Interesting, will you ever return?”
   “Of course, I intend to make Tibernum a permanent place that Mary and I can return to.”
   “Oh,” said Joseph, wondering when Jesus would decide to take off, recalling his son’s past wanderings through Europe, India and Asia.
   “Will you be here for the baby’s birth?”
   “Yes indeed, and probably for a time after that. Don’t worry dad, we’re first going to get the farm running smoothly for you.”
   “That’s good, I need someone’s help. I don’t know the first damn thing about farming.”
   “Neither do I,” said Jesus, “But it can’t be that hard, with our trained slaves it should prove easy.”
   The Magdalene stepped into the kitchen, finishing the brushing of her black locks. “Hi Joseph,” she greeted, stifling a yawn and placing her hairbrush on the kitchen table. She looked to Jesus and said, “I’m hungry, let’s find someone to eat.”
   “Careful woman, Ruth’s in the house,” Jesus replied.
   “Who?” asked Mary.
   “The Jewess,” said Jesus.
   “Oh yes. So, what are you going to do about that, she has to find out about us eventually you know.”
   “Entrancement will take care of it,” a confident Jesus answered.
   “How?” asked Joseph.
   “Early tomorrow evening I’ll entrance them, but I haven’t decided on how to proceed yet,” said Jesus, swirling wine in his goblet, pondering what suggestion he would employ to accomplish the task.
   “If I were you I’d figure out something soon,” Joseph replied, refilling his goblet and offering the bottle to Jesus.
   Jesus nodded and continued, “Perhaps I could lead them to believe Mary and I are late sleeping artists or scholars, or maybe I could make them forget we even exist unless we’re in their presence.”
   “Like they’ll forget about you each time you leave?” asked Joseph, placing the bottle on the table.
   “Yes,” said Jesus, rising from his chair, “That’s why I told them that you’re the master of this farm, such will prove much easier for all involved. Further, Mary and I have no real use for slaves anyway.”
   “I’ll say,” Joseph replied, “I was wondering how you’d do it, either way seems complicated, but I suppose you know what you’re doing when it comes to that.”
   “Don’t be so sure, he’s screwed up before,” the Magdalene observed. Jesus stood, quiet, turning for the door with her following. “Sorry, I didn’t mean anything by that,” she said as they stepped from the porch.
   “Don’t worry about it woman,” Jesus answered, “I have screwed up before, and you’ve made it abundantly clear to me over the past year.”
   “I’m only trying to watch out for you.”
   “I know, that’s why I’m not particularly upset about it.”
   “Oh,” said Mary, falling silent, still feeling she had hurt him.
   “Since it’s early, do you want to fly south?”
   “Sure,” she replied, the couple assuming chiropteric form.
   Rising on a draft, they observed Callicles’ torch lit caravansary to the north doing business with the people of Tibernum. After a few hours, they alighted and transformed near a village about 40 miles north of Mansahir, surrounded by dense scrub and chaparral.
   “It’s about another two hours to Mansahir,” said Jesus, “Do you want to fly on or find someone around here?”
   “This’ll do,” Mary replied, “You know, that’s the second time this week we’ve flown from town, are you hungry for human blood or do you feel like moving on?”
   “A little of both probably,” said Jesus, strolling the dark road, “We’ll have to stay in Tibernum for a time yet, for mother to have her baby and to get the farm running smoothly.”
   “I don’t mind, when I was alive I never had a place to stay for long. My parents were dead by the time I was thirteen and my aunt threw me out at fifteen.”
   “I never knew that, why?”
   “My aunt, she was just a cranky old bitch, my parents had me late in life and after they died I guess she didn’t want to raise another child,” said Mary as they walked along.
   “So that’s why you turned to prostitution.”
   “That’s about it, I needed to feed myself and looked good, so it seemed to be my best option.”
   “You still do, I’m very sorry you had to turn to that profession.”
   “Why? There wasn’t anything you could have done, that was over ten years ago. You didn’t even know me then and were wandering about India, Cathay or wherever.”
   “If I had known, I would have helped you.”
   “That’s your problem Jesus, you always want to help people. It seems to be some weird compulsion of yours, why, don’t you remember what those bastards in Jerusalem did?”
   “I know what they did woman, but just because people there treated me badly doesn’t give me license to treat others in that fashion.”
   “So look at it this way then, shit happens and you can’t help everyone.”
   “You’re right about that.”
   Walking further, they heard a disturbance occurring up the road and moved toward it.
   It was a pair of robbers, just having beaten their victim to death.
   “What are you looking at?” one asked as Jesus and consort walked up.
   “Nothing in particular, we were passing through when we happened upon you,” said Jesus, “So, why were you beating on that man?”
   “What business is it of yours?”
   “None, I was idly wondering, that’s all.”
   The other drew a sword and growled, “If you must know we were robbing him, and since you’re here we’re going to rob you too.”
   “I think not,” said Jesus, Mary chuckling at his unconcerned demeanor.
   “Who’s the giggling bitch?” asked the first robber, pointing to Mary.
   “A friend of mine who doesn’t take kindly to being called a bitch,” Jesus replied, “In fact, she can be really mean at times, just ask her.”
   “Isn’t that too damn bad,” the swordsman retorted, starting toward them.
   “I warn you, you shouldn’t try to rob us,” said Jesus.
   “Why not?” asked the swordsman, pausing.
   “Because we’re vampires, that’s why,” the Magdalene answered, smiling and baring her fangs.
   Both turned and ran, taking cover in the scrub. Mary started after, Jesus holding her arm and remarking, “Let’s hunt them down, I think it will be sporting don’t you?”
   “Can I suck this guy’s blood first?” Mary asked, pointing to the body.
   “Sure, we have plenty of time,” said Jesus, watching the thieves run to a cave to hide, seeing them by the heat of their bodies.
   Mary drained the corpse, wiped excess blood from her mouth on the victim’s grayish tunic and rose to her feet. “Where’d they go?” she asked, knowing Jesus had been watching them like a hawk.
   “They’re hiding in a cave,” Jesus replied, “Even from here I can smell them.”
   “So can I, let’s surprise them.”
   Transforming, they flew to the mouth of the cave as their terrified assailants cringed inside, hoping they had eluded the vampires. Returning to human form, Jesus clearly saw one from his body heat, standing about ten feet back in the cave. He walked in boldly and asked, “Guess who?”
   The swordsman burst from a crevice, gladius raised above his head, intending to cleave the vampire in two. Stopping the sword and breaking his arm at the elbow, a bone piercing the flesh, Jesus intoned, “Silly thieves, verily I say unto you, beware of vampires dressed as Romans.” His sword falling to the ground, the robber screamed in pain and dropped to the cave floor, clutching his broken arm.
   “You said that last time,” Mary observed, moving for the other terrified thief, frozen in place by Jesus’ hypnotic power.
   “No I didn’t,” said Jesus, index finger in the air, “If you recall, the last time I said: Verily I say unto you, beware of Hebrew vampires dressed as Romans.”
   “Oh yes, you’re quite right, I’m sorry,” Mary replied, plunging fangs in the neck.
   “I figured you might like to watch her, I told you she was mean,” said Jesus as he knelt beside the moaning, terrified form, writhing in agony on the floor of the cave. “Guess not,” he added, grabbing the victim, going for the jugular and sucking his blood until he died. Dropping the corpse, he belched and said, “Get their money, I’ll head out and drag the other one in here.”
   “Okay,” replied Mary.
   Walking to the road, Jesus lifted the cadaver over a shoulder and carried it to the cave. “It’s a shame about this man,” he said, dumping the body to the cave floor, “Had we come along sooner we could have saved him.”
   “Who cares, and he must not have had much money on him, they only had a hundred denarii between them.”
   “Really? That’s the equivalent of four aurei, so I reckon it’s a fair haul.”
   “I got nine off of the guy I took last night.”
   “I forgot to tell you, I put it and some other money in your bag in the cellar.”
   “Thank you woman, with the way it’s mounting up I suppose we’ll have to take our latest earnings to the cave.”
   “Don’t mention it,” said Mary, dropping the coins in a small leather pouch and handing it to him.
   Hurling the remains down a deep shaft, the bodies crashed to the bottom hundreds of feet below. Their cleanup work completed, they left the cave, assumed chiropteric form and flew toward Tibernum. A squall blew up en route, soaking them to the skin during their flight, Jesus and Mary transforming to a pair of damp clothed vampires at the farm entrance. Returning near three, they walked into the house to see Ruth and his mother at the kitchen table.
   “Why are you up so late mother?” Jesus asked, annoyed by the itchy feeling of his damp wool tunic.
   “I wasn’t feeling well, Ruth made me some soup.”
   “This could become a problem,” the Magdalene whispered.
   Jesus nodded and said, “Thank you Ruth, please go now, I need to talk privately with my mother.” Ruth bowed to him and returned to his parent’s bedroom. “Is everything all right mother?”
   “I’m fine, and Ruth is very useful, but how are we going to prevent her from discovering you and Mary are vampires?”
   “My thoughts exactly,” agreed the Magdalene.
   “Don’t worry, I’ll handle it,” said Jesus, looking to his consort.
   “Yeah right,” his consort retorted, walking to their bedroom.

* * *

   Forced to play the dubious role of vampire hunting detectives for several months by Emperor Tiberius, Decius Publius and his contubernia finally arrived in Anatolia, led by the obsessed Dr. Thucydides. After interviewing over 200 families in perhaps twenty towns in northern Judea, Lebanon and western Syria, they arrived in Antioch on a sunny spring midmorning. Walking about the town forum for several hours, most of the populace looked upon the interrogatives of the doctor as the babblings of a madman. Just after noon, centurion Decius spoke up, having grown thoroughly tired of the situation.
   “There’s not a soul here who knows anything either doctor,” said Decius while his contubernia ordered lunch at a carryout café.
   “Want anything to eat Decius?” his executive officer called from the counter.
   “Grab me whatever sounds good Marc,” Decius answered, turning from the physician and reaching for coins from his money belt.
   “I’ve got it commander,” said Marcus, waving away the coins.
   Nodding and turning to the doctor, Decius said, “After today we’re heading back Thucydides, we’ve no evidence this Jesus of yours was ever here, let alone anywhere else.”
   “He can’t have just vanished, he must have come this way,” said a frowning Thucydides, staring at the parchment depictions of Jesus and Mary.
   “Look, even if he did, there’s no proof, and we’re doing nothing here but wasting time,” Decius replied, Marcus handing him lunch and a cup of diluted wine. Walking to a table, Decius sat down to eat his meal, the doctor joining him.
   “You going to have anything to eat?” asked the centurion in a mumble, his mouth full.
   “Perhaps later,” said Thucydides, looking about the town.
   “He’s not here, especially during the day, if he was ever here at all,” mumbled Decius, grabbing the cup and washing his food down with a gulp of wine.
   “You’re right centurion, the trail has grown cold,” said Dr. Thucydides, admitting defeat.
   I wonder where Jesus and his girl are now, thought Decius, finishing his lunch while the defeated physician stared into space. Poor bastard, if he only knew, he thought, hiding a smile. An hour later, Decius and company headed south, marching to Judea, leaving Antioch and Anatolia behind.
   That evening, Jesus rose just before sundown and walked to the kitchen. Since the room faced east, none of the sun’s destructive rays presented any danger, so he sat down and poured a goblet of wine. Joseph had installed two windows in the common area of the house during the afternoon, while slaves Icarus and Ganymede moved in the new furniture. Satisfied with his accomplishments, he headed to the kitchen.
   “Aren’t you up early,” said a surprised Joseph.
   “Good evening father,” Jesus replied, “How was your day?”
   “It went very well, Brutus and the other slaves have started clearing brush and plowing the field by the river, it’s about twenty acres and should be good for a start. I also installed some of the windows and they look really nice.”
   “Why didn’t you have one of the slaves install them?”
   “Because if they broke one I’d probably kill them, those things cost 42 denarii a piece!”
   “Yeah,” said Jesus, “Aside from that, replacement windows aren’t exactly available at Drusus’ store.”
   “Would you believe the upper part of the frames are hinged and can be opened to let in fresh air?”
   “They have sliding ones in the temples and government buildings in Rome.”
   “What will they think of next?” said Joseph, pouring a libation and sitting down. “So, what’s on your agenda tonight, other than the usual?” he asked after draining the goblet.
   “Dealing with our slaves I suppose.”
   “What have you decided?”
   “I figure the simple approach will be the best. I’ll tell them Mary and I are late sleeping thinkers; philosophers of a sort. If you wish, you can reinforce that suggestion later by telling them I’m just a rich, lazy drunk who sleeps all day.”
   “You wouldn’t mind that?”
   “Why should I mind, they’re just slaves,” Jesus replied, breaking into a laugh, “Besides, none of us have to work anyway, with our money and servants.”
   “I like to work, I have most of my life, so I guess it’s too late for me to quit now.”
   “Of course father,” said Jesus, refilling their goblets.
   After sunset, Mary walked from their room, joining Jesus and Joseph at the table. Sitting down, she immediately asked Jesus what he intended to do regarding the slaves.
   “Well, I imagine I’ll tell them – ” Jesus began, his father interrupting him.
   “Get this, he’s going to tell them he’s a rich, lazy drunk who sleeps all day!”
   “No, you’re going to tell them that father,” Jesus replied, “I’m going to tell them I’m a philosopher who sleeps late, only rising in the evening.”
   “Both statements are true,” said Mary, rising and strolling to the porch for some evening air.
   “Well dad, do you want to watch me do my thing with the slaves?” Jesus asked, rising from the table.
   “You won’t entrance me will you?”
   “It doesn't work that way, only those I wish to entrance are affected.”
   “I guess,” said Joseph, stepping to the porch after his son.
   “Coming Mary?” asked Jesus, his consort relaxing in a chair.
   “I’ll stay here,” she replied, having seen Jesus use his hypnotic power many times before.
   “Are they in for the evening?” asked Jesus while they headed to the slave quarters.
   “I’m not certain, but they should be,” said Joseph.
   Opening the door, Jesus saw that his charges had returned for the evening, the women preparing a meal for the group. “Good evening,” he announced in his Draculaesque monotone, the slaves turning and beholding the vampiric Christ. Waving his left, he mesmerized the group, his father watching. One of the women was motionless, holding a ladle above the stewpot, and a male was frozen in place, rising from a stool. “Verily I say unto you,” he intoned, “I, Jesus of Nazareth, known to you and those in town as Julius the younger, am a philosopher and thinker. I rarely rise before dusk, and never walk upon the earth by day. You will accept this as a normal occurrence, and will never question each other or my family otherwise regarding me or my consort, Mary the Magdalene, known to you as Maria the Hittite. Do you all understand?”
   Each nodded in a zombielike fashion, slackjawed before Jesus. Satisfied with their response, he waved his hand and released them from the entranced state.
   “Good evening master,” said Brutus as another male slave finished rising from the stool.
   Joseph raised eyebrows, amazed at the simplicity of the hypnotic feat.
   “Well – how did your work go today?” Jesus stammered, at a rare loss for words.
   “We’re plowing the field by the river; the women are tending the smokehouse and the animals,” Brutus answered, apparently as spokesman for the group.
   “Very good,” said Jesus, “Your name?”
   “Brutus of Rome,” replied the slave, bowing.
   “Thank you Brutus, is there anything any of you will need to make you more comfortable with us?”
   “Such as, master Julius?” asked Brutus.
   “Food, clothing, shelter?”
   “These quarters are quite adequate master,” Brutus answered, “Each of us has our own room and privacy. As you can see, we have our clothes and the food is very good. I was wondering if I could dig a latrine for us, and perhaps plant a small garden.”
   “Certainly,” said Jesus, “Anything else?”
   “Would you have anything to read master?” the elderly slave asked, looking to Jesus intently.
   “Your name is?”
   “Cyril of Athens.”
   “You must be the teacher,” Jesus replied, “Not much at present, but if you will give my father a list of what you like, we will provide you with scrolls.”
   “Thank you master,” said Cyril.
   “Don’t mention it, do you women need anything?”
   “Do you have a loom master?” asked a female slave named Penelope.
   “And perhaps some more cooking pots master?” asked Electra, a midwife in her fifties.
   “Yes, and please, don’t call me master every time you speak to me,” said Jesus, “It’s degrading.”
   “Of whom?” Cyril asked.
   “Of yourselves,” said Jesus.
   “That goes for me too,” added Joseph.
   “Very well,” said Brutus, “What should we call you?”
   “Julius will do,” said Jesus, “Unless of course we have visitors, at that time perhaps master Julius would be appropriate.”
   A slave named Icarus raised a hand as if he were a student in a schoolroom.
   “Yes?” Jesus asked, “Your name?”
   “Icarus, I’m a blacksmith, would you like me to set up a forge?”
   “By all means, what will you need to build it?”
   “A stone hearth and an anvil, bellows, hammer and tongs,” said Icarus.
   “Okay, my father will take you to town to pick up the things you’ll need.”
   “I’ll have to get out the wagon again,” Joseph observed.
   “I can build sheds for the forge and the latrine,” said a slave named Ganymede in a deep booming voice.
   “Very well, please talk to my father during the day about what you’ll require, he is the patriarch of this farm, and any of you may feel free to talk with me in the evenings,” Jesus replied.
   “You sound like an educated man Julius,” said Cyril, eyeing Jesus, “Would you care to discuss the sciences and philosophy some evening?”
   “Um, Julius,” Penelope spoke up, “What do you do with the skins of the animals you hunt?”
   “I’ve been leaving them in the woods, would you like me to save them to make leather?”
   “Yes please, I worked in my former master’s tannery with Electra.”
   “Okay, I’ll leave the skins outside the smokehouse, and I suppose we’ll have to save bark from oak logs,” Jesus replied, recalling that trader Callicles had also asked about leather.
   “We’ll have to save urine too,” said Electra, “A large pot in each latrine should suffice.”
   “Yes,” answered Jesus, familiar the more disgusting aspects of tanning leather. Spending about an hour more with them, he said, “Please forgive us, we must go, and may you all have a good night.” Father and son then left the slave quarters, heading for the house.
   “That was incredible, it was as if you turned them into statues!” Joseph exclaimed.
   “I know not how I do it, but it does come in handy.”
   “I’ll say, and the way you treated them was very kind and noble.”
   “Slave be kind to your master, master be kind to your slave,” said Jesus, stepping to the porch.
   “What did you think of that Joseph?” asked Mary, relaxing in a chair on the cool evening.
   “It was incredible,” Joseph replied, entering the house and closing the door, leaving her and Jesus on the porch.
   “So, what are you going to do about Ruth?” asked Mary.
   “She’s next, after dinner.”
   They headed into the night, staying near home, taking a pair of deer. The Magdalene carried a cloth for wiping her mouth, blotting excess blood from her face after dropping the emptied doe to the ground.
   “You’re sloppy with your food woman,” Jesus observed while gutting the animals.
   “I’ve never been able to keep the blood from my lips like you do.”
   “It’s easy,” said Jesus, demonstrating with one of the carcasses, “First you slash the great artery with your fangs, then press your mouth into the wound and suck them dry.”
   “I do that, it doesn't seem to work for me.”
   “Must be a matter of technique,” Jesus replied, lifting the carcasses over his shoulders. Holding them by their heads with their backs arched, he made certain they wouldn’t drip blood on his off-white Roman tunic.
   “I imagine some of us are better than others when it comes to that,” said Mary as they came to the smokehouse.
   “Probably,” replied Jesus, dropping the animals, “After all, no one is perfect, and at least you don’t have to watch how you speak to people all the time.”
   “Very true,” Mary agreed, Jesus skinning and beheading the carcasses.
    Finishing the task, he sat the skins and meat on a bench while Mary unlatched and opened the smokehouse door. Salting the flesh first, Jesus suspended the meat on wrought iron hooks hanging from the ceiling while Mary stirred coals in the fire pit with a poker. “We need oak logs,” said Jesus, looking to the smoldering embers, “Have the slaves split wood?”
   “There’s a stack of hardwood sitting just outside,” the Magdalene answered.
   “I’d best strip the bark from those logs before we burn them,” said Jesus, reaching for a hatchet near the door.
   “One of the slaves has offered to make leather from the skins, and oak bark is used for tanning leather.”
   Jesus stripped the logs, sitting the bark in a bucket next to the skins. Stoking up the fire, he pulled a rope hanging overhead, almost closing the vent in the roof, assuring the logs would only smolder, and opened two flue vents at the bottom of the structure to allow ventilation. Gray smoke began to course lazily out of the roof opening once Jesus closed the door. The packed smokehouse operating 24 hours a day, carpenter Ganymede had already started construction of an adjacent structure to be used for containing the cured meats.
   “Dad’s going to have to sell some of the meat,” said Jesus, stepping to the porch, “I also have to send some to Gavinal and the garrison.”
   “We should offer some to Callicles too,” Mary replied, heading into the kitchen.
   “Good idea.”
   Frowning, Jesus noticed his hands were itching. He looked to them, scratching especially at his palms. Walking to a bronze kitchen basin, he washed them, relieving most of the discomfort. Strange, I wonder what made my hands itch like that, Jesus thought, drawing a blank. Sitting down and opening a bottle of wine, he poured goblets, his father walking in.
   “Would you like wine father?” asked Jesus.
   “Sure,” Joseph answered, nodding to the Magdalene, “You weren’t gone very long.”
   “We took a pair of deer by the river,” said Jesus, handing him a goblet, “They’re gutted, skinned, salted and hanging in the smokehouse. I left the skins outside the door for Penelope to tend to for tanning, and I see Ganymede has started building a shed for the cured meat.”
   “I told him with the amount we’re acquiring it might be best to build another structure.”
   “Excellent,” Jesus replied after draining his goblet, “I want to send some to Gavinal and the garrison tomorrow, along with a few sides for trader Callicles. Perhaps we can arrange to sell them our excess on a regular basis before we’re up to our ears in meat.”
   “You can always leave the animals to rot in the woods like you used to.”
   “It’s such a waste to do that, besides, we have seven slaves to feed along with you and mother. Now to the matter at hand, would you please bring Ruth in here father?”
   “Right,” Joseph answered, rising from the table and heading to the bedroom.
   “What are you going to tell her?” asked Mary, pouring another goblet.
   “The same thing I told the others.”
   His father returning with the slave moments later, Jesus said, “Hello Ruth, how are you this evening?” He waved a hand and she became motionless.
   “Is she out of it?”
   “What do you think dad, wave your hand in front of her.”
   Joseph not only waved his hands in front of her face; he even snapped his fingers. It was as if she had turned to stone, never once moving or even blinking.
   “Yes,” said an amazed Joseph, staring at the statuesque Ruth.
   “Verily I say unto you Ruth,” Jesus intoned, “This woman Mary, and I Jesus, known to you as Maria and Julius, are creatures of the night, and we do not walk upon the earth by day. You will not perceive this fact, and will only see us as thinkers, philosophers of a sort, passing much of our time in contemplation and study. This will always appear normal to you, and you will never question our family or any others regarding us, do you understand?”
   Ruth nodded slowly, the vampiric Christ waving a hand, snapping her from the trance.
   “Quite well, master Julius,” Ruth answered, blinking her eyes.
   “Good,” said Jesus, “By the way, you may call me Julius, my father is master of this farm.”
   “You needn’t call me master either,” Joseph added, “Julius will do just fine.”
   “Slaves always call their owners master,” Ruth replied.
   “Not here child,” said Jesus, “When we have visitors, it may be appropriate for you to use that title, but at other times our given names will suffice.”
   “Yes, uh, Julius.”
   “Very good, return and tend to my mother please,” Jesus ordered. Ruth bowed and returned to his parent’s room.
   “That was easy,” said Joseph.
   “They should present no further problem for us father. With them, the farm should be fully producing within a year.”
   “That’s certain, Brutus seems to know everything about farming and has already advised me to find seed to plant the fields.”
   “Excellent, Callicles has seed available, why don’t you head there tomorrow and pick some up. Please have the slaves load the wagon with meat for he and Gavinal too so we can get rid of some of it.”
   “Okay,” said Joseph, pouring another goblet.
   The next day, as Jesus and Mary slumbered in their darkened room, Joseph had the slaves load the wagon with sides of cured meat. He drove to town, accompanied by Icarus and Brutus. Cyril and Ganymede tended to their chore for the day, constructing an open-faced shed for Icarus’ forge. With cured lumber available thanks to Jesus’ nighttime logging labors, erecting the structure would prove quick and easy.
   Arriving at the caravansary, Joseph and slaves walked up and greeted Demosthenes. Barley and wheat seed were on his list of things to purchase, as were items for the forge. “Hello son, where’s your uncle?” he asked.
   “He should be along soon, he’s got a bit of a hangover,” the lad replied.
   “He’s still on his binge?”
   “He’s always on a binge, what can we do for you sir?”
   “I’m looking for seed and implements for creating a forge.”
   “We have all those things,” said Demosthenes, pointing up the street, “Seed’s in wagons forty and forty-one, tools are in wagons fifteen through thirty. I’ll find my uncle and meet you at the seed wagons.”
   Joseph and his slaves headed to wagons forty and forty-one, arriving as the red-faced, balding Callicles and his nephew walked up. “Julius the elder!” he exclaimed, firmly grasping and shaking Joseph’s hand with both of his, “What can we do for you today – I see you’re already putting your slaves to good use.”
   “I’m looking for blacksmith tools and seed for my fields,” said Joseph.
   “We have many kinds of seed for sale, considering it’s planting time,” Callicles replied, looking to a list nailed to the side of the wagon, “Let’s see, we have barley, carrots, leeks, wheat, cucumbers, lettuce and muskmelon of three types, along with onions, cabbage and garlic. This year we also have something called rice, imported from Cathay. It has to be started in little pots and transplanted into water, like in a swamp from what I’m told.”
   “Rice?” asked Joseph.
   “I’ve heard of rice,” said Brutus, “My former master spoke of it, he had intended to plant some this year.”
   “What does one do with it?” Joseph asked the slave.
   “You eat the fruits, little brown things growing from the top of the plant,” said Brutus, “Aside from planting the seedlings in water, it grows much like wheat does, but you eat the grain whole.”
   “Can it be it ground in a mill?” Joseph asked.
   “That my master did not tell me, he was still studying the information.”
   “It’s said one can either grind it into flour or consume it as is,” said Callicles.
   “I think I’ll pass this time, perhaps you can get more information on it?”
   “Sure,” the trader replied.
   “What else have you available?” asked Joseph.
   “We also carry herbs, such as basil, borage, fennel, comfrey and dill, together with flax and hemp seed for rope and cloth fiber, and opium seed for medicine,” said Callicles, hawking his wares.
   “What do you think we need Brutus, I’m new to all this.”
   “Dirt farming’s a lot different from running a winery in Gaul isn’t it?” a smiling Callicles asked, slapping Joseph on the back.
   “Really,” Joseph lied, wincing from the hard slap, “Shipping amphorae of wine is one thing, farming’s another.”
   “Let’s get drunk again before I leave,” said Callicles, reminded of his beloved wine.
   “Definitely,” Joseph replied, “So Brutus, what do you think we should buy?”
   “I’d buy five large bags of wheat, four of barley, and one smaller bag of everything else.”
   “Yes, with the seed he has available we can plant crops of vegetables and herbs, and will have no need to purchase any locally.”
   “Very well, we’ll do as Brutus says, how much do you want for my order?” asked Joseph.
   “I usually charge around 80 denarii for an order like this,” said Callicles, scribbling figures on parchment, “For you Julius, sixty will do.”
   “Is that a good price?” asked Joseph, looking to Brutus, not at all familiar with the going rates for seed grain.
   “A very good price for the amount we need.”
   “Done,” said Joseph, shaking the trader’s hand firmly.
   “You also said you needed tools?”
   “Yes, for building a forge,” Joseph answered.
   “Okay,” said Callicles, turning to his nephew, “Demo, fill Julius the elder’s seed order, I’ll take him to the tool wagons.”
   “Yes uncle,” Demosthenes replied, unlocking and opening wagon forty.
   “Stay here and see to the order Brutus,” said Joseph, “Icarus, please follow me.” They followed Callicles to the tool wagons, where Joseph let Icarus pick out the implements he needed, this order amounting to 145 denarii. A 600-pound cast iron anvil filled the order, along with a one-pound hammer, a five-pound hammer, a gigantic ten-pound hammer and three wrought iron tongs of various lengths.
   “They’re fine iron tools, made in Greece,” said Callicles as they closed the deal. Calling a pair of slaves, he ordered, “You two will assist this slave carrying these tools to his master’s wagon.”
   “Yes master,” the slaves answered in unison, they and Icarus sitting the heavy anvil and other tools on a wheeled cart.
   “Will you need a bellows for the forge?” Callicles asked, familiar with the art of blacksmithing.
   “Yes,” Icarus replied for Joseph, having momentarily forgot one of the most important tools for a forge.
   “We have them right over here for only 60 denarii,” said Callicles, showing them an elaborate bellows system made in Rome.
   “Sixty?” asked Joseph.
   “For you Julius, forty-five.”
   “Take it master, it’s a Vulcan bellows,” Icarus advised, familiar with the quality Vulcan brand name.
   “Sold,” declared Joseph.
   “Excellent,” Callicles replied, shaking Joseph’s hand firmly.
   “I have something for you too friend Callicles,” said Joseph as the group walked to the wagon, slaves following with the merchandise.
   “Such as?”
   “Take a look in the back of the wagon when we get there.”
   Brutus and Demosthenes joined the group as they passed wagons 40 and 41, Brutus and another slave pulling a wheeled cart laden with seed, a cloud of dust springing up behind them.
   “You’ll be planting your spread with wheat and barley,” Callicles observed, looking to the cart.
   “Mostly,” Joseph replied, “One can always sell grain and from what Brutus says, they’re not too hard to grow.”
   “I know little of farming, but barley and wheat are my best sellers.”
   Arriving at the wagon, Joseph paid for the merchandise. Opening the rear door, he said, “Look at this, we brought meat for you.”
   “By the gods!” Callicles exclaimed, inspecting the lot, “Nicely salted and smoked, auroch, deer and boar. How much do you want for it?”
   “Take some for free, we have too much as it is.”
   “You have more?”
   “Is it for sale?”
   “Yes, actually,” Joseph stammered, he not much of a trader.
   “I’ll buy it all if you like,” said Callicles, “I can sell every bit of it during our trip south, both Syrians and Jews are meat eaters.”
   “We do want to keep some for ourselves and Gavinal, but there is a quantity of cured sides I can sell you.”
   “How many?”
   “I’d say perhaps thirty carcasses are hung, smoked and cured. A lot of pork and venison, and some auroch.”
   “Have you any horsemeat?” Callicles asked, it one of his favorite foods.
   “No, wild horses are scarce around here.”
   “A shame, so, how much do you want for the meat, and when would you like to sell it to me?”
   “I’ll have to ask my son, he’s in charge of meat sales; if you’d like to come by, please do, but preferably during the evening.”
   “I’ll come by tomorrow night, is that all right?”
   “Certainly, for now, take a few of these and see how you like them.”
   “Are you sure?”
   “Of course, we have plenty.”
   Callicles picked out several sides, had his slaves unload the meat, and ordered them to load the wagon with Joseph’s purchases.
   “Please assist his slaves with loading the anvil,” Joseph ordered his slaves.
   “Yes master,” they answered. The heavy anvil and tools were loaded first, followed by bags of seed.
   “What are you doing with the other meat?” Callicles asked after Joseph closed the door.
   “I’m heading to Gavinal’s to drop it off,” Joseph replied, he and slaves climbing aboard the wagon.
   “I’ll see you tomorrow night about eight,” said Callicles while Joseph pulled out and headed to Gavinal’s mansion.
   “Right, take it easy.”
   “Easy’s the only way I take it!” Callicles yelled as Joseph drove off.
   Arriving at Gavinal’s mansion, Joseph showed him Jesus’ gift of smoked meats, one side of auroch, two of boar and one of deer. “These are top quality aren’t they?” said Gavinal, inspecting the food.
   “My son wants you and the men at the garrison to try these for starters and perhaps buy from us in the future.”
   “I’m sure we will. The shipments for the garrison are never as fine is this, and are always moldy salt pork or venison.”
   “Very well,” Joseph replied, “Icarus, you and Brutus take this meat to the prefect’s larder.”
   “My slave will show them there,” said Gavinal, having called a slave to the wagon. While they unloaded the wagon, Gavinal again observed the meat was of fine quality.
   “Thank you kind Gavinal,” Joseph replied, “I’m sure you and the men will enjoy it.”
   “Most of us will, excepting for centurion Caius, he’s one of those vegetarians.”
   “He is?”
   “He’s a follower of the Mithric faith, many of them abstain from eating meat,” said Gavinal, “I think it’s weird, we Etrurians usually like meat when we can get it.”
   “What the hell, to each his own,” Joseph replied as the slaves returned.
   “I thank you very much, Julius the elder,” said Gavinal, shaking his hand.
   “Don’t mention it; I have to head home, my son and Icarus plan to build a forge during the next few days.”
   “We need a blacksmith in this town, there hasn’t been one here since Isaac of Megiddo died about a year ago,” said Gavinal. “Let me know when you’re set up, if you’re interested the garrison will have plenty of work for you.”
   “I definitely am, thanks,” Joseph replied, he and slaves climbing aboard the wagon. He headed home, pleased with the news he would tell Jesus – that the meat was sold, the seed was purchased, and that they would soon have blacksmith work for Icarus, making even more money for the farm.
   This pleasant news was told to Jesus when he rose in the evening, he observing that his father seemed to have a natural talent when it came to conducting business.
   “It also helps if you have good merchandise to sell,” said Joseph as they sat in the kitchen drinking wine.
   “You say Callicles will be stopping by tomorrow night?” asked Jesus.
   “Yes, he wants to buy the meat and get drunk with us.”
   “Good, we’ll have wine available for him to get drunk, then we’ll sell him the meat.”
   “Shouldn’t we sell him the meat first?”
   “Not if you want to get a good price for it,” said a smiling Jesus.
   Later, the Magdalene walked out, she and Jesus going about their nighttime depredations, taking a rare pair of robbers lurking outside town, looting and dumping the bodies in a cave. Jesus, feeling the need to work, had decided to assist Icarus and Ganymede in constructing the forge, so getting supper early allowed him to pursue this task.
   “Why do you want to help your slaves?” Mary asked, walking back to the farm.
   “Who knows, maybe I just want to get to know them.”
   “Do what you feel like,” she replied, heading into the house.
   Long past dusk, the two slaves were working by torchlight as Jesus walked out to them. “Good evening master Julius,” said Ganymede, forgetting Jesus had stated they could call him Julius, dispensing with any titles.
   “Julius will do my Ganymede, and good evening to both of you, aren’t you working a little late tonight?”
   “I want to have the forge operating as soon as possible,” said Icarus.
   “That’s very industrious, but you needn’t overwork yourselves in the process of doing so,” Jesus replied, raising an eyebrow at their accomplishments.
   “Your father let us rest during the afternoon after we unloaded the wagon,” said Ganymede, standing on a ladder, nailing down the last of the roof planks.
   “Would you fellows want assistance?”
   “From you sir?” asked a surprised Icarus.
   “Sure, I could use the exercise,” Jesus replied, the slaves looking to him incredulously, “So friends, what needs done?”
   “Okay,” said Ganymede, stepping down from the ladder. “Most of our work is finished for today, but we still have to place the anvil on the stone,” pointing to a flat boulder sitting in the middle of the structure, “It’ll be hard, though I think the three of us can manage it.”
   “Certainly,” said Jesus, looking at the anvil, “Let’s do it.”
   The slaves moved to the anvil, Jesus kneeling down to assist them. “Please be careful, it’s very heavy sir,” Ganymede warned, he and Icarus kneeling down.
   “I’m good at lifting weights,” said Jesus, the three lifting the anvil. Using vampiric strength, he lifted most of the weight, the slaves feeling the 600-pound anvil had strangely lost some of its mass. Sitting it on the stone with a thud forcing the rock an inch into the earth, Jesus observed, folding arms across his chest, “That wasn’t so hard was it?”
   “Not with three strong men!” Icarus exclaimed.
   Looking about the structure, Jesus noted it was nearly finished, with the exception of the hearth. “You’ll need to move stones from the riverbank for the hearth, you can do that tomorrow if you like. Are either of you masons?”
   “No,” came the replies.
   “I am, so I’ll help you build the hearth during the next few evenings,” said Jesus. The slaves staring at him, he added as an afterthought, “It’s a good thing we have some concrete left, it’ll save my father a trip to Drusus’ place.”
   “You want to help us with it?” asked Icarus.
   “Why not, neither of you know how to lay stone and I do. Now friends, would you care to join me in a bottle of wine?”
   “Yes, if it’s all right with you,” Icarus answered.
   “If it wasn’t all right with me I wouldn’t have asked you,” a smiling Jesus declared, walking out and returning with a magnum he had hidden nearby. Digging out the stopper with an awl, he took a long drink and passed the bottle to Icarus.
   “There’s a law in Rome against slaves drinking wine,” said Ganymede as Icarus passed him the magnum.
   “We’re not in Rome,” Jesus replied, “We’re on my father’s farm, and if you recall, they also have laws in some Roman cities against slaves using brothels.”
   “Yes Julius the younger, but what does that have to do with us standing here drinking wine with you?” asked Ganymede.
   “Slaves or not, you’re still men aren't you? And men have their needs don’t they? There’s a brothel in town, and I was thinking if you help my father in running the farm well, good wine and a visit to the brothel on occasion would be a reasonable reward.”
   Both Icarus and Ganymede stood thunderstruck at the words of Jesus. Here was a man they saw as a Roman slave owner, not known for treating slaves in any manner other than property, drinking wine with them and treating them like men instead of common animals.
   “Are you serious Julius?” asked Icarus.
   “Verily I say, though we may own you, you and your fellows are still people. A master who treats his slaves well will never have to worry about slaves becoming recalcitrant or of them plotting against him,” intoned Jesus, an index finger in the air.
   “What of Electra and Penelope?” asked Ganymede, noting they would have no use for whores.
   “What about them?”
   “Well, they’re women sir,” said Ganymede.
   “I’m sure they have their needs, so we shall find them satiation too. Men and women do not live by toil alone, but by relaxation also: verily I say, strong wine, revelry, and good sex, all in moderation of course, definitely have their uses in leading a pleasant life.”
   “I’ll say,” a smiling Icarus replied, growing inebriated from the undiluted Gallic wine.
   “Master Julius,” said Ganymede, still not comfortable calling an owner by his given name, “Cyril asked me if you have found anything for him to read.”
   “Not yet, but I’ll make a point to find him reading materials over the next few days.”
   “I shall tell him Julius,” Ganymede replied, forcing himself to call his master by his given name.
   “Why don’t we walk to your quarters so I can tell him myself?” asked Jesus, motioning in the direction of the slave quarters. The slaves followed Jesus, he knocking softly and opening the door, stepping into the slave’s lamp lit common area.
   “Greetings Julius the younger,” said Cyril, opening eyes and sitting up in a chair.
   “Good evening Cyril,” Jesus replied, Icarus and Ganymede moving past and sitting down in simple but functional chairs. “I’m attempting to find scrolls for you to read, having some perhaps as early as tomorrow evening.”
   “It has only been a few days, if you are occupied with something else – ”
   “No, no,” said Jesus, putting up a hand, “You’re an intellectual, and will need good literature to pass your leisure time, so I will provide them as soon as possible.”
   “I thank you,” Cyril replied, studying what appeared to be a wealthy Roman man, speaking to him as if he were an equal.
   “You’re welcome,” said Jesus, “Forgive me, I have to go. Will you tell the women we’ve gathered extra cooking pots, and that we also have a loom for them, sitting at the house?”
   “I shall,” Cyril answered as Jesus turned and left, closing the door behind him. The teacher looked at Icarus and Ganymede, sitting quite pleased with themselves. “What is up with you two?” he asked, watching Icarus break into a broad smile.
   “You're not going to believe this, Julius the younger helped us place the anvil, then he drank a huge bottle of wine with us, and told us he wants to take us to the whorehouse sometime soon!”
   “He did?” asked Cyril.
   “Yes,” said Ganymede, “He said even though we’re slaves, we’re also men, and that along with work we have need of life’s pleasures.”
   “He is an Epicurean, that explains it,” Cyril remarked.
   “A what?” asked Icarus.
   “An Epicurean, I believe that Julius the younger is a follower of Epicurus of Samos. He was a philosopher who lived in Greece about 300 years ago. Epicureans believe pleasure is the ultimate good, and that this ideal should be the goal of life.”
   “Not a bad idea, I like wine, women and song,” said Icarus.
   “That is not what I meant,” Cyril continued, “Epicurus stated the pursuit of intellectual pleasure is the ultimate goal, and that sensual pleasures, while fulfilling a need, are subordinate to the intellect.”
   “What?” asked Icarus and Ganymede.
   “Pleasing the mind is better than pleasing the body.”
   “It is?” asked Ganymede, staring at him.
   “Theoretically,” said Cyril, looking to the pair and breaking into a smile.

* * *

   Jesus awoke before dusk, intent on finding reading materials for Cyril the teacher. With Callicles due to arrive at eight, as soon as the sun dipped below the horizon he took a horse and headed to the caravansary. Riding along, he hoped he would catch the trader before he headed to the farm, to see if he had scrolls available for purchase.
   “Julius the younger!” Callicles exclaimed while Jesus tied up the horse, grabbing and shaking his hand firmly. “What brings you to my humble market sir, I only saw your father yesterday!”
   “Greetings Callicles of Athens,” said Jesus, “Since you seem to carry everything, I was wondering if you had literature for sale.”
   “You’re talking about scrolls?”
   “I have some, not much, most of what I have is poetry and philosophical trash penned by clowns who lived centuries ago, nobody wants to read that crap today.”
   “Such as?”
   “Who knows, I’ve never read them,” said Callicles, “They’re in my wagon, just over there.”
   “Shall we?” asked Jesus, looking to the wagon.
   “If you insist.”
   They headed to wagon one, an oversized, ostentatious vehicle on gilded wheels. Callicles unlocked the door and moved down hinged steps, used for ease of entry. “Please come in Julius,” he said, motioning to Jesus.
   Jesus entered, noting an oil lamp burning brightly in the oversized wagon, a bronze chimney above, fed with oil by a lead pipe connected to a tank mounted on the roof. The trader’s personal wagon, built in Rome, was complete with a down stuffed bed, running water fed to a sink from another tank on the roof, and a desk equipped with hinged slots for papyrus or parchment documents, serving as an office and file cabinet for the trader.
   “Welcome to my mobile home,” said Callicles, moving a pile of papyrus from the top of a short, oblong wooden box. Lifting the box, he added, “This is what I have, ten denarii will cover it, and if that’s too much I’ll give you them for free, I’ve had them for over ten years!”
   Jesus opened the box, perusing the parchment scrolls. Some were written in Greek, with which he was unfamiliar, but most were written in Latin, which he read and understood perfectly, many Latin translations from the Greek as he noted the authors.
   He calls these works trash, the man is truly a barbarian, thought Jesus, noting priceless works in the box, selections penned by the storyteller Homer, the contemporary Roman poet Ovid, and the Greek philosopher Diogenes, also known as the cynic of Sinope. Looking further, he noted writings of Plato, Aristotle, Epicurus, Marcus Seneca, father of the stoic, Lucius Seneca, along with copies of speeches by Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman statesman. History texts were represented with works originally penned by Herodotus, Greek historian and contemporary of Pericles, who had lived over 400 years earlier. “I’ll take them,” he said, feigning disinterest as he closed the box, “You said ten denarii?”
   “That’ll cover it,” Callicles replied, not knowing or even caring about the true value of the literature, “It’s almost time for me to head to your farm to buy your father’s meat, do you want to get drunk with us when we get there?”
   “Of course,” Jesus answered, “Let me pay you for these scrolls and we’ll head there.”
   “Sure,” replied Callicles, Jesus dropping ten denarii in his hand. Leaving the wagon and walking to his horse, Jesus tied the box to the saddle as the trader said, “My slaves have to hitch up a wagon first, I’ll see you in about an hour.”
   “Do you know where we live?”
   “Gavinal gave me a map, he said you’re by the south pond, tract twenty one, near Marcus’ place.”
   “That’s right,” Jesus replied, mounting an Arabian gelding.
   “I’ll see you in a bit,” said Callicles, Jesus riding off with the literary treasures.
   Cyril will certainly be pleased, thought Jesus as he rode to the farm. Arriving, he carried the box of scrolls into the kitchen. He was greeted by Joseph, who asked where he had been.
   “I rode to Callicles’ market to buy literature for Cyril,” said Jesus, sitting the box on the table.
   “Oh,” Joseph replied, “I take it the scrolls are in the box.”
   “What selections did he have?”
   “History, philosophy and poetry. Perfect reading material for a man of Cyril’s tastes.”
   “Excellent,” said Joseph, “I like how you’re treating the slaves, making them feel like they’re part of the team.”
   “I feel if we treat them more like servants instead of slaves, they will come to like being owned by us.”
   “I agree, we should also make it a point to reward them when it comes to exceptional work.”
   “I already had that in mind father. Last night, I drank wine with Icarus and Ganymede, making them such an offer.”
   “You drank wine with them – what was your offer?”
   “That we’d let them get drunk once in a while, and that we’d allow them to head to the brothel occasionally, provided they performed well for you.”
   Raising eyebrows while thinking of his Hebrew upbringing, Joseph replied, breaking into a smile, “You know son, I wouldn’t have approved of such a thing in the past, but what the hell, I suppose it won’t hurt, giving them some of the pleasures of life.”
   “My thoughts exactly.”
   Changing the subject, Joseph said, “I’m glad you're here, Callicles will arrive shortly and I’m going to need you for pricing the meat.”
   “Of course, I believe we should receive six denarii a side, or twelve denarii per animal.”
   “Okay, I figure we’ll sell him 40 cured sides, leaving 10 to sell to Gavinal and another 10 for ourselves.”
   “No, we have perhaps ten more curing that will be finished soon. I think we should sell him 50 sides.”
   ”You do?”
   “Indeed, Callicles won’t be back till fall, and at the rate we’re going we’ll have three times that when he returns, regardless if Gavinal buys from us.”
   “I see, that’s a good idea.”
   “The settling price should be around 300 denarii,” said Jesus, figuring the amount in his head, “Therefore, we’ll start out asking 550.”
   “Because if I know Callicles, he’ll jew us down to 300 denarii, even if he’s drunk.”
   “That covers a fair portion of what we spent with him,” a smiling Joseph observed.
   “So you’re a meat vendor today,” said the Magdalene, walking into the kitchen and taking a bottle of wine from a cupboard.
   “Dad needs my help and Callicles wants to get drunk when he gets here, so I figured I’d hang around a while.”
   “Yeah, probably for the wine, that figures,” replied Mary, heading to his mother’s room to converse with her and Ruth.
   Callicles arrived at eight thirty, accompanied by two slaves and nephew Demosthenes, Jesus and Joseph walking out to greet them. “Quite a spread you have here,” he observed in the moonlight, he and his group stepping from a wagon.
   “It’s only a thousand acres,” said Joseph, shaking his hand, “Not as big as our place in Gaul, but I suppose we’ll have to make do.”
   Callicles laughed at the remark, asking, “Say friends, would you like to get drunk?”
   “Wouldn’t you rather look at the meat first?” asked Jesus.
   “Hell no, I saw what your father had earlier, if the meat here is of the same quality, I’d be wasting time looking at it, instead of using it wisely by getting drunk with you.”
   “Since you put it that way,” said an amused Jesus, looking to his father, “Come in friend Callicles, welcome to our home.”
   “Stay here and look after the slaves Demo,” Callicles advised. Demosthenes nodded as the trader joined Jesus and Joseph. Stepping to the porch, he said, “Interesting, your house is made mostly of wood.”
   “Yes, my son and I are also carpenters and there are a lot of trees in this part of Cappadocia,” Joseph replied, walking to the kitchen.
   “True, but that’s not what I mean Julius the elder. I have lime whitewash aboard my caravan you could use to paint it with,” said Callicles, sitting down at the table, looking about to see if anything else was needed that he could sell them.
   “Really?” asked Joseph.
   “Yes, lime whitewash protects wood from rot and if applied properly can make a wooden domicile look as if it were made of marble,” Callicles answered, embellishing a bit.
   “I’ve heard of it,” said Joseph.
   “What’s the price?” asked Jesus.
   “It’s cheap, thirty denarii would buy enough to paint this house four times over.”
   “They also paint concrete with it in Rome,” said Jesus, having seen the Eternal City in his mid-twenties.
   “That’s right,” Callicles replied.
   “Let’s have a drink shall we?” asked Jesus, producing a fresh bottle and three goblets, filling them for his father and guest.
   Callicles, having been sober for a short time due to his earlier hangover, grabbed and drained his goblet, looking to Jesus for a refill. Jesus refilled his goblet, topping off he and his father’s, emptying the bottle.
   “That’s one down,” Callicles declared, again draining his goblet.
   “There’s plenty more where that came from,” Jesus replied, opening another bottle.
   Holding up his goblet for another libation, Callicles said, hawking his wares, “I forgot to tell you, there’s another item I picked up you may be interested in, perhaps you’ve heard of it. It’s called soap, imported from Gaul.”
   “Yes I have,” Jesus replied, refilling the trader’s goblet, “It’s used for washing clothes, leather and sometimes even people, I believe.”
   “That’s right, a lot more effective than using olive oil and scraping the skin with a strigil, I tried it during this trip and after that, I’ll never go back.”
   “How much do you want for the soap?” asked Joseph.
   “It’s sold in yellow bricks a cubit long, a hand deep and a hand wide,” said Callicles, using his hands to describe the size. “Cheap too, only three denarii for a brick, you cut them into smaller pieces for use.”
   “Would you like to try some son?”
   “Sure, I’ve even used it when traveling, at that price we should get at least ten bricks, and probably some whitewash too.”
   Needing a refill, Callicles raised his goblet, and for the next few hours the group sat in the kitchen, talking of everything and getting drunk on strong wine. “They say Tiberius had another stroke at Capri about a month ago,” Callicles related as the conversation continued.
   “Really?” asked Jesus, having seen the Emperor one day when in Rome, “When he dies, who’s in line for the throne?”
   “Some kid named Caligula. I heard that from the procurator in Antioch.”
   “Little boots?” asked Jesus, referring to the nickname Caligula.
   “It’s said that’s what they call him,” said Callicles, “His real name’s Gaius Caesar.”
   “I like Caligula better,” replied Jesus, taking a gulp of wine.
    Needing to use the latrine, Joseph rose from his chair as his wife walked into the kitchen.
   “Who is this friends?” Callicles asked, nodding to Mary.
   “My wife Maria,” answered Joseph, introducing her, “Maria, this is our friend Callicles of Athens, a Greek trader.”
   “Good evening,” said Mary.
   “Good evening to you ma’am,” Callicles replied with a slow nod.
   “Is there anything you need mother?” asked Jesus.
   “No, I came out to see what was going on and get a bottle of wine for your wife, Ruth and I.”
   Joseph handed her a bottle and three goblets. Accompanying her to their bedroom, he quickly returned and walked out to the latrine.
   “So, you’re using her as a house slave,” Callicles observed, thinking of the attractive Jewess.
   “She’s taking care of my mother during her pregnancy.”
   “Yes, I forgot, your mother’s going to have a baby,” said Callicles, starting to slur his Latin, “That’s very rare for a woman her age.”
   “Shall we have a look at the meat?” asked Jesus, wanting to sell the sides before Callicles drank himself into unconsciousness.
   “Sure, let’s go,” answered Callicles, rising unsteadily from his chair as Joseph returned.
   “We’re headed to the smokehouse dad,” said Jesus, Callicles staggering along behind him.
   “Right,” Joseph replied, grabbing a table lamp, “I’ll follow you.”
   Walking outside, a reeling Callicles exclaimed, leaning heavily against the chimney, “I have to piss!”
   “So do I,” said Jesus, both pausing and relieving themselves next to the chimney. “Truly the pause that refreshes,” he added, adjusting his tunic.
   “I’ll say,” Callicles replied, still relieving himself.
   Nature’s call satisfied, they headed to the smokehouse. Joseph had walked on carrying his lamp, using it to light a pair of torches placed at the entrance.
   Opening the door, Jesus said, “Have a look at this!”
   “By the gods!” the trader exclaimed, looking to the hung carcasses, smoke rolling from the structure. “How much do you want to sell?” he added, blinking his eyes, his sobriety returning temporarily, as it always did when he had to conduct business.
   “We have 50 cured sides available,” said Joseph while Callicles stared at the smoked meats.
   “Price,” Callicles replied, leaning against the smokehouse.
   “I figure 600 denarii is a good price,” said Jesus, raising the asking price a little more.
   “No,” replied Callicles, shaking his head, “That’s too damned high Julius – will you cut me slack my friend?”
   “How about five?”
   “Three and a half.”
   “Four fifty.”
   “Four, no higher,” said Callicles, staring Jesus in the eyes.
   “Done,” Jesus declared, offering his hand to the trader.
   Callicles shook his hand heartily in the warm evening, remarking, “My friend Julius, your hand is cold tonight isn’t it?”
   “I get that way, especially when it’s warm outside,” said Jesus, shaken that he had been able to detect his lower body temperature.
   “Cold hand, warm heart,” a smiling Callicles replied, yelling to his nephew, “Demo, get the slaves over here to pick up this meat!”
   “Yes uncle,” the lad answered, taking the reins and moving the wagon to the smokehouse.
   “We agreed on four hundred?” asked Callicles, reaching in a tunic pocket.
   “Yes,” said Jesus.
   “Okay, let’s see, 400 denarii is, dividing by 25, sixteen aurei, right?”
   Counting out 16 aurei, he placed the coins in Jesus’ hand.
   “The meat is sold,” said Callicles, his temporary sobriety fading.
   “I thank you sir,” Joseph replied.
   “Don’t mention it. Your son drives a hard bargain, but I’ll double my money on this in Syria and northern Judea.”
   “Sell the pork before you get to Judea, those Hebrews can't stand the stuff,” said Jesus.
   “Food is food, whatever the animal, they're a weird bunch aren’t they?” Callicles asked as his slaves loaded smoked meat in the wagon, Joseph counting each side leaving the smokehouse.
   “That’s an understatement if I ever heard one,” Jesus replied, recalling his dealings with his kinsmen.
   “My son doesn’t get along with Jews very well, he had a run-in with them some time back,” said Joseph, Jesus laughing loudly.
   “Neither do I, they seem a greedy lot, but I just look at them as challenging customers,” Callicles replied.
   “I’ve noticed that too,” said Jesus, thinking of filthy rich rabbis like Joseph Caiaphas, along with his former disciple and friend, the traitorous Judas Iscariot.
   “So, what’d they do to you?” Callicles asked, leaning against the wagon and farting loudly.
   “I had trouble from their religious leaders,” said Jesus, Joseph looking to the night sky and smiling at the gross understatement.
   “From selling them pork?” asked Callicles with a sly grin, believing Jesus and his father had been smoking and selling meat for a long time.
   “No, but it may as well have been as bad,” Jesus answered, the conversation continuing for about another hour.
   “It’s getting late, I have to head back, we’re closing up and heading to Mansahir tomorrow night,” said a sobering Callicles, “Do you want the lime and soap before we leave?”
   “Sure,” Jesus replied, looking to his father, who nodded.
   “Come by tomorrow morning, I’ll fix you up before we go,” said Callicles, climbing on the wagon and taking the reins. “Fetch me a bottle of wine Demo,” he added, sitting beside his nephew.
   “I thought you’d had enough,” Jesus replied as Demosthenes handed his uncle a bottle.
   Pulling the cork with his teeth and spitting it to the ground, Callicles took a deep gulp and answered, “Hell no, one can never have enough wine!” He motioned the horses forward, the wagon driving off and heading to town.
   “You got four hundred denarii, more than we even wanted!” Joseph exclaimed, walking into the house, Callicles driving off in the distance.
   “Here’s the money,” said Jesus, handing it to his father.
   “I thought it was your money,” Joseph replied, looking to the coins in his hand.
   “I have plenty,” Jesus answered, sitting down at the table and folding hands.
   “Why did you sell him the meat for 400 instead of 300?” asked Joseph, slipping the coins in a pocket.
   “One must be shrewd when it comes to vending, he’ll triple his money on that meat, so I figured I’d get our fair share from him.”
   “He will?”
   “Easily, don’t take his word for it on what he’ll sell it for. Callicles is a businessman, and didn’t become a wealthy trader and Roman citizen by being foolish or charitable in his dealings with people. Further, regarding our position this evening, when it comes to selling one starts out high and goes low, not the other way around.”
   “He’s a Roman citizen?” asked Joseph, having understood the last part of Jesus’ sentence.
   “Didn’t you see the signet ring on his left hand?”
   “No, you wear yours on your right.”
   “That’s because I’m left handed,” said Jesus, annoyed that his father’s powers of observation were not as acute as his had become.
   “Oh yes,” answered Joseph, heading to his bedroom, “I’m sorry son, I’ve had it for tonight.”
   “Good night father,” Jesus replied as his father closed the door.
   Almost immediately, the Magdalene walked to the kitchen from his parent’s bedroom, remarking, “It’s about time, I’m famished!”
   “You haven’t died yet have you?” asked Jesus, leaning back on two legs in his chair.
   “Yes I have, thanks to you.”
   “You know what I mean,” said Jesus, moving the chair to the floor and rising from his seat.
   “What do you want to do?” Mary asked, still thinking of supper.
   “It’s very late, I suppose we should take something around here,” Jesus answered, heading for the door.
   “I guess it’s deer or boar tonight,” said Mary, starting after him.
   “What can you do?” Jesus replied, the couple heading into the woods on their quest for an evening meal.
   Finding a pair of porcine creatures sleeping near the property of Marcus Pertinax, they sucked them dry, with Jesus, not wanting to waste the leftover meat, gutting them afterward.
   “We’re low on meat,” said Jesus, preparing the animals for transport.
   “Yeah, Joseph told me you sold that drunk fifty sides for 400 denarii. I can’t believe it, you got a good price and I’m damn proud of you.”
   “Thank you,” Jesus replied, hoisting the carcasses over a shoulder and starting toward the smokehouse.
   “You’ve done a lot of good things for your folks, and your father told me you’re treating the slaves as if they’re your own family,” said Mary while they headed through the woods.
   “I always try to treat those I encounter as I would wish to be treated by them, that is of course with the exception of criminals, or those who would wish do us harm.”
   “I understand that, and believe me, I think it’s an admirable thing to do,” the Magdalene replied, her words trailing off.
   “What are you getting at?”
   “It seems you’re doing the same things you did during your ministry, in a disguised fashion.”
   “Yes, that’s quite true.”
   “Why, in the end people treated you like shit, they hated and killed you – you don’t owe them anything!”
   Jesus paused, dropping the gutted carcasses to the ground. “Please sit down woman,” he said, standing about 200 yards from the smokehouse.
   “This place is as good as any,” Jesus answered, sitting on the ground and folding hands in his lap. She did as told, he continuing, “I remember you telling me over a year ago that I hadn’t changed, even as a vampire, and I submit you were correct in that observation.”
   “Okay,” Mary replied, not knowing where the conversation was going.
   “It’s obviously not my nature to be an individual who simply takes advantage of any opportunity coming my way, regarding those we take.”
   “Tell me something I don’t know,” Mary retorted, staring at the treetops.
   “Well, to those I encounter in our travels, if they show me no ill will, I allow them to continue in their lives.”
   “I know that too,” said a frowning Magdalene, feeling that he was lecturing her.
   “However, it is not my place to tell you how to conduct your life, though I do prefer you abide by my criterion regarding people.”
   “I know that, you didn’t want me to kill centurion Decius, or your parents, or the pair of Greeks while on our way to Mansahir.”
   “Precisely, I feel just because a group of fanatics had me killed in Judea, doesn't mean that I should behave in the fashion that they did. Such would make me a hypocrite, countering all I profess to believe in.”
   “Aside from hypocrisy, you mean turning the other cheek don’t you?” she asked, thinking of a man Jesus had spoken to in the distant past, outside Capernaum.
   “Not exactly, I may have been wrong regarding that. I now feel if one should strike you, strike him back fast, and hard! However, as a vampire, I believe when people are innocent we should allow them to pass unmolested.”
   “Innocent when it comes to those who are not threatening others, or only to us?” asked Mary, listening intently to her former teacher, the undead rabbi, Jesus of Nazareth.
   “I understand, though at times I may not agree with you.”
   “Meaning like I told you some months ago, I look at people differently now. I see them as food, without any moral considerations whatsoever.”
   “Oh,” said a shocked Jesus, feeling he hadn’t succeeded informing her of his convictions regarding the taking of mortals. “So, you think there’s nothing wrong with killing anyone you encounter?”
   “That’s right, but I will and must defer to you as my master when we are together, regarding people you say I cannot take.”
   “Very well,” said Jesus, wondering why she didn’t seem to get the point of the conversation, that only those deserving such a fate should be taken by a vampire. Hoisting the carcasses to his shoulders, they headed to the smokehouse. He split the remains by ripping out the spines, leaving the meat to be dehaired and hung by the slaves in the morning.
   Fixated in one of his contemplative moods, they retired to their dark bedroom. Mary settled into sleep while Jesus sat in a chair, recalling the events of his life over the past few years. Am I wrong? he thought, considering her words. Remembering his travels through India, he determined to explore that possibility, using a method of meditation he had learned on the subcontinent. Moving to the floor, he assumed the yoga position, and focused on his inner self for the first time in several years. Hands in his lap, the tip of his left index finger touching the tip of his thumb, he slipped into a higher state of being, an altered state of consciousness.
   “Jesus my son! Why have you forsaken me?” called out the jealous desert god Yahweh.
   “Who are you, why do you call me your son? I died in the name of Yahweh for the sake of the good – who forsook who!”
   “I am the one true God of your fathers.”
   “Sure you are.”
   “You doubt me?”
   “Yes I do.”
   “You are my greatest creation, even greater than Gilgamesh.”
   “You abandoned me on the cross,” Jesus retorted.
   “Surely not,” said Yahweh.
   “Yes you did!” declared the Leviathan of the deep, the ultimate first cause, the progenitor of the god Yahweh or Elohim, his brother Baal laughing heartily at the folly of his jealous sibling.
   Yahweh fell silent. A burst of light came across Jesus’ tormented mind, his vampiric self cringing from the brilliance.
   “Who are you?” asked Jesus of the shining Leviathan.
   “I am that I am – the alpha and the omega.”
   “You speak in twisted riddles like Yahweh,” said Jesus, turning from the brilliance.
   “Fear not child of my child, the light of wisdom cannot harm you,” the Leviathan intoned, “Behold, you have yet much work to do on this earth, and in the fullness of time a wise teacher will be sent unto you, revealing many secrets. Walk justly upon the path before you, and guard Mary the Magdalene well, for she is to you as the moon is to the sun!”

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