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A Matt Marchese/ Alan Scott Joint

Chapter 4: I, the Judge

I stared out my cell window, a mere slit cut high into the pale rock walls of the fortress of Antonia. Beneath me passed the multicolored parade of the city. Its voice was the voice of Leviathan, a constant drone... but if you listened long enough, the sound became a flat, sarcastic hymn that rose to the third Heaven, appalling the cherubim with its clamor. When it wafted into the ears of my Father, the hymn stood revealed for what it was, the derisive laughter of Lucifer, who thought blood running from an open wound was funny, and death the biggest joke of all.

Yeah, it laughed at ordinary Yusefs like you and me. It was the voice of the foreign conqueror with the whip who laughed at each stroke to drown out the cries of the victim. A subtle crack of the lash to hide the small cries, a louder snap to cover the anguished moans of my stiff-necked people.

The key turned in the lock. The heavy door of my cell swung open and slammed against the wall. Pilate's personal guard entered, two hulking Samaritans in matching centurions' garb, followed closely by Pilate himself, carrying a half-empty goblet and with his free arm draped familiarly around...

...Judas. Cute. Getting cuter all the time.

"I might have guessed you were Pilate's punk, Judas," I spat. "The time you did for zealotry in the Roman big house must've given you a taste for rough trade. How does it feel to be selling out your people -- for the second time?"

The little chiseler came at me with a snarl, but Pilate threw one arm across his chest to hold him back.

"Now now, my dear boy," Pilate purred. "Don't let the King of the Jews upset you so." He turned to me with a smile I didn't have to be the son of God to recognize as false. "Judas has been useful to me in so many ways, you know. He delivered you to the Sanhedrin and, in turn, to me. And when you proved so terribly difficult to do away with, he was invaluable in luring you out of hiding and back into the loving arms of the Emperor's justice. It was a simple matter to fake his death -- a cheap sorcerer's trick."

Pilate bent his head to one side and squinted at me, his face split by a lopsided smirk. He swirled the wine in his goblet around once or twice and then tossed it back in a single gulp.

"I'm empty, Son of God," he laughed, holding out the cup. "How about a refill?"

"I won't take that cup from you, Pilate. I don't do cheap sorcerer's tricks."

"Of course you don't," Pilate replied flatly, his laughter gone now. "You do bigger tricks, more... dangerous tricks. You rise from the dead. You launch a new cult of martyrs and fanatics. You threaten the stability of the Empire with your twisted vision of law and order."

"I know the score," I said.

"You only think you do," he snapped.

Something big was happening here, and I didn't need to be a prophet to foresee it. All the major players were here in Antonia, but I couldn't help feeling that there was someone sitting on a higher pillow than Pilate -- and Herod.

My resurrection had obviously taken them by surprise; who wouldn't be amazed when a guy goes down for the crucifixion count and bounces right back a couple of days later? But I hadn't shown myself yet to anyone but my 11 remaining apostles, and I knew they were still solid as Mount Tabor. How had these goons known that I hadn't really bought the vineyard for keeps?

Pilate turned to his guards and whispered. The one on my right turned and left the cell. I tensed for action, but didn't move... his other shadow was watching me like the ravens had while I was hanging on the Hill of Skulls.

Pilate strolled over to my water bowl and stuck his hands in. He stood there and washed his hands - over and over. We sat and watched in silence as the long seconds turned into minutes. Pilate's second guard returned -- I'd lost my chance for a fair fight, if I'd ever had one. Pilate kept turning the water over in his hands. His actions got more and more violent as the time passed. His face contorted in a rictus of pain and his breath came out in short, sharp gasps. Finally Judas spoke.

"Boss, you can stop now. Your hands are clean."

Pilate spun around and drove his fist square into his little toady's jaw. Judas dropped to his knees with a whimper of pain. A thin trickle of blood ran from the corner of his mouth, onto the floor. Pilate stood above him with his fists clenched, his face turned to the ceiling. His voice was an anguished wail.

"My hands will never be clean!"

As the cry of guilt faded into echoes down the stone hallway, a commotion at the door signaled the arrival of more players on the stage. I watched as a pair of manicured hands and a shapely set of pins pushed through the space between Pilate's goons. I gasped despite myself as Mary Magdalene stepped forward to greet me with a chaste kiss.

"Turtledove!" I cried. The questions tumbled out in a rush. "What are you doing here? Have these goons hurt you? Pilate, if you've harmed her in any way, I'll tear down this fortress until there's not one stone left standing upon another!"

"Calm yourself, king of kings," he smirked, once again in control of himself. "No one's touched a hair on your little friend's pretty head. And look, there's someone else here to see you as well."

My brother James stood at the doorway. He walked forward slowly and pulled Mary gently away from me, all the while refusing to meet my gaze.

I smelled a big, fat, unkosher rat. Pilate turned to greet my brother. "Ah, the Teacher of Righteousness has arrived! Our little company is complete."

Pilate turned back to face me, "My dear Jesus, you simply must realize how much the 'Hebrew Problem' has vexed my master in Rome and his predecessors over the centuries? Since your recent crucifixion failed to put an end to this unfortunate savior psychosis that's gripped Palestine in recent years, I'm afraid that the great and powerful Caesar, in his infinite wisdom, has decided that a 'final solution' is now required. If your people want a priest-king so badly, why, we shall give them one. We would have preferred you, of course..." His voice trailed off, he shrugged his shoulders, and spread his hands out with the reddened palms up, as if to say, "What's a poor governor to do?"

I nodded my head sidelong towards my brother and Mary. "You haven't told me how they figure into this."

"As the leader of the Essenes and a direct descendant of the line of David, James supplies the necessary royal and messianic credentials. As a niece of the High Priest and also of the house of David, Mary provides the breeding potential that the plebes expect from their Messiah. As former associates of yours, they both provide a needed continuity. Together, they will produce a royal heir to the throne of Judaea -- one who answers only to Rome, of course."

"My people will never fall for it, Pilate. It's a sap's plan."

"Is it, my friend? I think not. The emperor has hand-picked a dozen centurions, sworn with a blood-oath, to escort James and Mary to a villa in Gaul this very night. There they will wait until a male child is born, raise him up to be the scion of Rome, and deliver him to the grateful masses as their savior! He will launch a mock war against us, which he will appear to win, and ascend to the throne... whereupon Rome will continue to collect the taxes that the people of Jerusalem will now pay gladly and without rancor to their very own Messiah! And, since we can't seem to eliminate you in a more traditional way, you will remain here in the dungeon of Antonia for the rest of your life!"

I shook my head. I had to admit, Pilate was showing a gift for long-range scheming that I wouldn't have given him credit for. It sounded like a plan the thick-headed Jewish zealots might actually buy. I turned and fixed James squarely with a glare.

"James, we played together in Nazareth. Remember when I turned your teacher into a goat when he beat you? Is this how you betray your brother and your countrymen? What would Mom say?"

James stared at the floor.

"Yeshua, you know that the Romans will grind us into dust, destroy our temple, and scatter us to the winds. You've foreseen it yourself. This will allow our people to remain in the land that Adonai has given us."

He moved closer to me, pulling Mary along with him. His eyes bulged as he tried to convince me using every oratorical flourish he knew -- everything I'd taught him.

"We've been thrown out too many times. I'm afraid that if we leave again, we will never return!"

"Oh ye of little faith," I admonished.

Mary broke away from James and ran to me. She stood directly in front of me, and grasped my arms at each elbow.

"Yesh, Yesh. You know he's right."

Her thumbs hooked in the folds of my robe and she pulled herself slowly up to my face. The smell of her was frankincense and myrrh, burial spices -- the smell of death. Slowly, a sigh escaped her, making the tawny hemispheres of her breasts quiver. She leaned forward to kiss me, her arms going around me to encircle my neck.

"Who's the lucky stiff you buried, sister?" I muttered.

She pulled back an inch.

"John. I helped them prepare John last night. He wanted you, you know. The same way that Judas and Pilate want each other."

I felt my stomach tighten. I looked down at her small hands with their slender fingers. They were the hands of the daughter of a Levite. Hands that knew how to kill a goat or a lamb -- or a disciple that had loved me. Instinctly, I pulled away from her.

"You killed him, didn't you? So now there's no one between you and me, is there?"

In answer she drew herself close again and whispered in my ear. "I couldn't bear the thought of him touching you. I can't bear the thought of anyone touching you except for me! It doesn't have to be James, you know. Everything Pilate said about James is true of you, too, or all of it that matters. It could be you and me in Gaul, far away from this horrible place. I love you, Yesh. You know that. You know I want it to be your child, not his!"

I wavered. I'll admit I wavered. But this wasn't a mountaintop in the desert, and the kingdoms of the earth that Mary was showing me started and ended with her own sweet flesh. It didn't take forty days to decide this time.

"No, Mary. No. I'm the jury now, and the judge, and I have a promise to keep. Beautiful as you are, as much as I almost loved you, I sentence you to death."

Mary staggered back a step. Her eyes were a symphony of incredulity and incomprehension, an unbelieving witness to the Truth. Slowly, she looked down at the hilt of the dagger protruding from her linen shift where the blade had gone in -- the blade that Pilate's men hadn't thought the Prince of Peace would be packing.

"How c-could you?" she gasped.

I only had a moment before I'd be talking to a corpse, but I got it in.

"It was easy," I said, "I didn't come to bring peace this time -- I brought a sword."

Besides, I can always bring her back.

-- The End --

Chapter 1 2 3 4

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