When Onofrio’s inner clock woke him up, it found Horacio sound asleep on his father’s chest. Senobia rested her head on his right arm softly snoring. Her leg was draped over his knee and wore a faint smile on her happy face. He was captured in a tangle of warm loving flesh and he smiled at his good fortune. Onofrio had long been accustomed to waking up shortly before the sun shed first light on the world. Delicately extricating himself from the loving mesh that held him, he tip-toed slowly to the door and quietly slid it open. As expected there was a vague creamy glow brushing the far side of the hills. The sky was a mat of hazy purple blue and only a faint star hung on to its glow in the eastern part of heaven. An invisible breeze blew in a lazy swirl as if not anxious to began another heated day. Stepping out onto the patio seemingly alone, he felt a small hand find his own in a warm grip. It was Horacio, come to be with his dad as had become his morning ritual. It was good training for his young son.
Together they washed their faces and literally sneaked into their clothes before the girls in their lives woke up. The kitchens of Serou were already a buzzing storm of activity. Tremiyo, general in command was seen at his usual pace sampling, checking, ordering and being king of his domain. Serou was entertaining a large group of people later today and Tremiyo would never be caught unprepared. Serou’s hospitality would never suffer an unkind word. Attention to detail was Tremiyo’s key to success. This morning even the cricket traps attracted his attention. There would be guests that relished crickets soaked in honey as a sweet treat. Locusts were out of season.
Kitchen staff was now accustomed to Onofrio and young Horacio come to breakfast and be with Tremiyo. It indicated a family time they admired. A tray with bowls of steaming wheat porridge arrived. Along came a pitcher of fresh milk and small bowls of honey. Warm bread straight from the ovens kept company by creamy butter and fruits preserved in an earthen jar. Cheese curds in an oval bowl shaped like a ship. There was enough food to feed an army of children and Onofrio looked at the serving girl in question. The girl pointed to the door and there stood Senobia with Sintia and Angelica coming to have breakfast with the men in their lives. The girls swamped their father with affection and Horacio made an effort to push them away as if they were invading his private space. Sibling rivalry, it’s been called.
It was not long before Samuel showed up. He too had grown fond of the morning activity in the kitchens of Serou. It seemed to set the mood of the day. He was going to Pontius Pilate this morning and would receive instructions from someone regarding his duties. Wagons, surreys and chariot were tools Samuel grew up using. Where he may not be considered an expert, He was nonetheless quiet capable. Horses, camels and donkeys had been his childhood toys.
As a group they occupied Tremiyo’s headquarters table entirely. After the children were attended and she had her kiss or two from Onofrio she addressed her brother Samuel. Sam did not know that Senobia could be quiet demanding when her spurs were rattled.
“I want to know why you choose to associate with that woman Magdalene. Every mouth in town has a tainted rumor to tell about her. From childhood ‘til now she’s been a fountain of unfavorable stories. I have no right to tell you what to do or not do. But I have a right to protect my husband’s reputation. I will not have it be said that Onofrio was seen in the company of that woman. Onofrio tells me that you wish to gather information about Jesus of Nazareth for what purpose is unclear.” She was red in the face and Tremiyo saw that from across the room. Knowing his daughter was stomping the dirt about something he had to come see.
”I have volumes of prayers and speeches recorded in my keep. Father and I attended many of His meetings and father instructed me to write down what I heard. I did that for a considerable length of time. My notes are numbered and dated as father instructed me,” Senobia was riding a high wave of information she dumped on her brother. Who happened to be dumbstruck by his younger sister’s tirade. Onofrio simply crossed his arms and stayed clear of her fire. Tremiyo heard only the last part of her speech. He calmly settled down with Sintia immediately in her papa’s arm.
“Senobia dear, the notes you took and recorded for us to read at a later time, did you hear those directly from the Nazarene?”
“Father dear, you know I did.” And she took a defensive pose.
“Senobia dear, what you’ve heard about Magdalene, the opinions you have formed are based on second or third hand information. You seem to forget that gossip is contagious. You choose to put aside a lesson I taught you many years ago, ‘Thou should not judge, lest thou be judged.” You commit a sin by judging without proof. Have you seen Magdalene commit a sin? Have you explored her mind to know why she acts the way she does? Are you judging her from the one time you saw her sashay cross the street? If you base your opinion on that incident then I’ve been talking to a rock instead of you. Magdalene is thought of as a sinner by enough people. Your contribution is not needed. Instead of all that you should pray for her forgiveness, pray for her welfare. Pray that God has a plan for her. Then you will be the daughter I raised to be a righteous and honorable individual. Speak no more ill of her in this house and cleanse your soul of any misgivings you may harbor. Finally think on this, people that raise falsehoods against her are equally guilty of sin as they say she is.” Senobia was not that easily put on a shelf and she then spoke to Onofrio, “I have a right to protect your reputation. You could make it easier for me if you stayed away from her.” And Onofrio saw a light tinge of green on her cheeks. Jealousy, plain pea green jealousy. Between chuckles suppressed with effort, he pointed a finger at her in a jovial manner and spoke to Horacio, “Your mama is jealous, pea green with jealousy.” And when he laughed, so did Horacio.
It was Samuel’s turn to speak laughingly and looking over to his father he addressed Senobia, “Sister dear, father is right in this respect. Things said about her, for whatever reason may be false. The woman I met last night was not at all what the rumors say. I shook the hand of a lady devoted to helping the poor, heal the sick and bring the words of her god to those that want to hear it. I saw no trace of sinfulness about her. We visited and she spoke of her obligations to some disciples and the works of the Nazarene. Hardly a sinful endeavor, if I may say. I was expecting a far more exotic or glamorous woman with flirty eyes and wiggling when she walked. I should not say but, I was somewhat disappointed. I would dare to say that if she was what people say, she would not surround herself with holy men on a godly mission. I’m not sure, I cannot say but there is some logic in what I say about her. She called me a friend and I chose to believe she was sincere. I saw no reason to feel otherwise.”
Tremiyo eyed his son carefully then cautiously asked, “You didn’t spend your entire time herding camels while you were on your Chinese adventure, did you?”
“No sir, Amin Hassan is an earthly man. He drinks and curses something fierce. He praises Allah with every breath and I’ve seen him bow to his God many times. He has a respect for honesty although he doesn’t practice it full time. Only when it’s convenient and profitable.”
“Why didn’t you try to come home sooner, if you knew where home was?” Tremiyo asked not from idle curiosity. But, wanting to know.
“Sir, Amin Hassan taught me many things. One of them was to always protect myself from danger. Without the security of the caravan I would be in extreme danger, by myself. For a long time, I was afraid of the night. I suffered nightmares from seeing my mother brutally murdered by that bandit. Amin Hassan was there to see me though those terrible nights. I did not have the courage to try and find my way home by myself. I’m sorry to sound cowardly, but the dangers of the trail were extremely real to me. I’m grateful to Amin Hassan for bringing me here. Tremiyo felt a painful stab to this heart from hearing that. He momentarily saw his young son in a hostile environment, alone and suffering nightmares from his ordeal. At such a time, the circle of loving arms provided by Senobia, her father and Samuel was a welcome haven reserved for them only. There’s no need to say how freely their tears flowed.
Onofrio walked away to be alone. He too had been kidnapped in childhood. He knew the dangers of the trail. He had been left there to die. His childhood years cruised through his mind as he surveyed the circle of family swaying to the rhythm of their hearts in happy union. His ordeal happened a lifetime ago. And yet today, he still felt tormented by the loss of his father and mother in that distant farm somewhere close to Granada, in Iberia. He fixed that location in his mind as being his personal heaven. He would go there, one day.
The morning meal provided a touch on their spirits to serve as a silent adhesive to their lives. A deeper sense of family. One could say. The sun had barely cleared the hill tops. The morning clatter of birds had long been their daily symphony. Now partly ignored by familiarity. The sky was a tapestry of godly art. Today Nature was putting forth a special effort in the flawless blue of heaven and a special shade of gold to fleck wispy clouds with sprinkles of early light. Samuel was meeting Pontius Pilate, later this morning.
But unbeknown to the general public, even Pontius Pilate was subject to marital difficulties. This morning he spoke to his wife, Claudia in what to her was a familiar tone of keeping his temper barely in check. “I’ve asked you politely numerous times not to associate with that woman, Magdalene. Your maid Irma, told me that you went to Bethany last night to hear this Magdalene woman speak. Not only that, you drove yourself there in one of my prize chariots. Claudia, these Jews do not like us. You put yourself in mortal danger by going out at night, unescorted. Should you be harmed, I would have to bring out an army to your aid or castigate your attackers.” Claudia, much to her husband’s chagrin never forgot that she was a free Roman citizen. She had the liberty to do pretty much what she wished to do. She was a direct descendant of a royal family. Her mother’s name was Julia, the daughter of Emperor, Augustus Caesar. And though she respected that she and Pilate were husband and wife, she nonetheless held on to her royal liberty. She resented and rebelled against him dictating to her.
Distant and coldly she answered, “Mary of Magdala is my friend. One of the few people I can call a friend without ulterior motives. She wants nothing of me and I want to learn about Isis from her.” Claudia answered her husband while brushing her hair. Attentive to his spiel but distant in a feminine fashion. Shiny healthy Auburn hair in long strands to her shoulders. A natural curl, she jealously guarded with care and attention. Her eyes could be called green and sometimes in the proper light could be seen as grey. She had an unpretentious imperial glide to her step. A lesson she learned in court as a young girl. Her feminine attributes were the envy of countless females. She was sought after by the local social circles. Be they Roman or the upper crust of Judea. It was common practice to first consult Claudia regarding any given problem prior to going to Pontius Pilate. And he knew it. The practice irked him at first until he realized that people coming to him for favors had been screened by his wife.
Her husband continued ignoring her indifference, “Claudia, her reputation is that of a prostitute. The streets are filled with her adventures in darkened dens. I don’t like the name of my wife associated with such tales. Understand that my concern is for your welfare as well as my life’s companion. You’re my wife and I care a great deal for you.” (That was as close as he could come to saying, I love you.)
“My dear Pontius, I am completely in tune to your feelings. I respect your regard for me. Please allow me to add that if you know without question that Mary of Magdala is a prostitute then be kind and not let me know. She suffers enough opinions from her own people without yours. Your voice would be the final nail in the local condemnation. I would even dare to say that Rome and Judea both expect far greater things to fall in your grasp of attention instead of baseless local gossip more in keeping with bored house wives.”
Like a great ship without wind, the powerful procurator of almighty Rome came to sit by his wife and took her hand. “My precious Claudia, leave all that aside and tell me why we need another Godly figure in my house. Jupiter is god enough for us both. Jupiter saved you from the turbulence of your youth and brought you here and be safe with me. You have been assigned to me as my wife by royal decree. Tiberius loves you. You are his blood kin. I am responsible for your safety. You ask me to reserve my opinion about your friend and I ask you to consider me the shield of your safety and help me protect you.” Pontius was of all things, still a politician.
Through the twisted paths of family history young Claudia came to be a princess in the royal court of Rome. History would only vaguely record that her mother Julia’s, disrespect for her marital vows was an embarrassment to her father Emperor Tiberius. Because of her numerous indiscretions, he was forced to exile her to the wild isle of Pandataria. Later out of kindness and parental concern he had her moved inland to a less hostile place. She was nonetheless still in exile and there she would die. Her numerous indiscretions were her judge and executioner. Claudia knew her family history far better than anybody. Based on that ruthless fact young Claudia had ample reason to respect her marital vows. Leave us not forget that she was an extremely attractive young woman. A prize sought by many admirers that would delight in her obvious charms and more so from what a union with her would provide. Some adventure seekers would want her only as a boasting prize. A bar room brag. Careful summation declared that nobody could come close to the love she felt for the young valiant warrior she fell in love with. Nobody could give her the liberties she enjoyed being the wife of the most powerful man in all Judea.
Claudia was an intelligent young woman. She had pride in her royal blood and did not need empty compliments to boost her self esteem. She had been schooled by the best tutors Rome had to offer. Her natural curiosity was a useful implement she used to nourish her intellect. She knew politics from first-hand experience. The royal court in Rome had been her childhood classroom. Her class mates, a vital source of countless views.
She rose from her vanity chair and dropped her outer robes to the floor. Clothed in a sheer negligee her body with its slight feminine curves and flawless skin were still a masculine inspiration to her husband, after all this time. He knew not what bodily ointment she always used. Today, in the early morning breeze the pleasant odor reached his attention. Automatically visions of past encounters blazed through his mind. He gazed at her near nudity in lusty inspiration and took a deep breath to calm the man within. In her usual casual stride she went to a nearby closet to investigate its contents for today’s proper attire. As if she had learned it from him, her concentrated attention elsewhere was his silent dismissal.
Claudia’s interest in the Goddess Isis also stemmed from her ability to often see events in the future before they happened. Typically Roman she was also superstitious. She did not seek a remedy for this ability so much as she sought an explanation. She had foreseen disaster in her husband’s prosecution of Iesus of Nazareth. She saw horror befall him for crucifying such an innocent man.
Pilate had no other way around it. She told Pilate that her supplication to Iesus healed their son Pilo of his club foot. Pilate, given his just due was an amateur attorney. He dealt in facts. In proof positive. This land was overrun by fairy tales and baseless miracles. He knew the story of the resurrection of Lazarus, four days dead. He was convinced it was a clever theatrical trick. Well executed, but nonetheless still a trick. Dead men did not walk away from their graves. But, Lazarus did.
He had suffered in throat gripping silence his disappointment that his son would never be a military man with his affliction. The man had a right to be proud of himself and his accomplishments. He was from a respectable tribe in central Italy and hard earned his way to be an equestrian knight within three aristocratic orders. He harbored illusions of his son bringing glory to their family name. He and Claudia could well be called to some high office in Rome where he knew she longed to be. She never voiced it but he knew that Rome called to her heart. He castigated her in remote silence. But then he saw himself and his wife receiving praise from the emperor and respect from the crowd. He felt the cheers blush his face and his chest fill with a pride that would never happen. Pilo had a club foot and was deemed a military reject. He took no solace in castigating his wife for her inability to deliver a son free of blemish. It was typically the thing men did. He turned his back and refused to speak to her. Their marriage suffered a freeze. The day Claudia brought Pilo to him and had the boy demonstrate his flawless stride and healed foot, he simply gave Claudia an inquisitive look and did not accept her story. He did not accuse her of lying but he could not believe that a street healer, a son of a carpenter from a throw away village could do such a thing. Gods mended broken humans. not this Jesus individual.
Out of sheer kindness or something deeper, he refused to declare that it was his appeal and sacrifices to Jupiter that brought the miracle about. It was Jupiter, almighty Jupiter that healed his son and not some homeless beggar on the street.
Pilate was not altogether a cold-hearted man. He saw the tears flowing down his beloved Claudia’s face . He saw the relief in her eyes that she had redeemed her failure to give him a flawless son. She was doing it now, full grown. His heartfelt kindness allowed her to have the credit and mend the rift in their marriage. Love has countless ways of making itself be known.
And Claudia? Did she love her husband? Though she condemned him fiercely for crucifying Iesus she reserved a secluded spot where she hid her love for him. She acknowledged in silence his precarious political position. Rome was a demanding mistress and Pilate was not a favorite item of adoration. She was wise enough to know that almighty Rome would rattle the rafters seeking a replacement for her husband.
Judea was an assignment turned down by several qualified prospects. It was hell on earth. It was a torment on the logical judgment of renown scholars. Various learned councilors were consulted for guidance or solutions to the Judean problem. None came forward with an acceptable solution. One suggested. they all be put in chains and sold back to Egypt. Cleanse the land of them and establish an eastern Rome.
Herod Antipas knew well that the instigator of John’s beheading was his wife, Herodius. And yet was defenseless against her will. She was king Herodius, the ambitious one in quest of greater recognition and power. Her husband was a limp tool with no force of his own. For which time would pay him a just penalty. That too was known to Pontius Pilate. He logged it in his mind. It may have been a bridge he need burn and not cross. Top level politics are tricky ground on which to navigate. High points and pitfalls are known to follow each other in circles. Pilate knew that also. He knew, his position in Judea was precarious. He hoped for greater things to come from his faithful service and sacrifice.
The greatest torment was his castigation by Claudia. She was a dream fulfilled he never tired of. She was a love so deep he could not imagine life without her. He knew she had mellowed towards him. He blamed his added weight, his newly acquired habits and his mind always crowded with problems tinted in Jewish tones. His efforts to maintain a respectable figure before his countless appointments proved to be a pitfall. He was constantly combed, wiped, perfumed and changed into fresh robes until he gained an unwelcome femininity. His cheeks were tinted, his lips glossed, his eye lashes trimmed and his hands in constant care. His fingernails became polished pearls. Claudia was repelled by such gross attention on a man of his stature and importance. His efforts to mimic Augustus, Tiberius and top heads of the Roman Hierarchy became a comedy act, Claudia despised. Her childhood in Roman courts provided the true images and Pilate’s mimicry fell short.
The day had hardly started and all these thoughts already weighed him down. He almost hated to make his usual appearance. His personal feelings forced aside, he donned the official mask of procurator of almighty Rome. Chief Judge and executioner over all Israel. Added to his dislike was the mundane chore of collecting taxes. Due today.
He came close to inviting Claudia to share the first meal of the day with him. But she was busy with her maid Irma, selecting the proper robes for today. He decided to arrange vacation time at their home in Caesarea Maritima on the coast. A time alone to mend their damaged bonds. And when he left her, Claudia discharged her maid Irma permanently and threw herself on the bed to cry.
The world was making a detour around her youth. The valiant hero warrior she adored as a young girl was vanishing before her eyes. His hair was rapidly leaving making him a stone faced near bald dictator of Roman law. His robes betrayed the bulge his abdomen became. He saundered in his walk as if always tired. His private times with her had faded into memories of another place. A time when he carried her to their couch and feasted on rich culinary delights he ordered specially for her. He had snow harvested from the distant mountain tops to cool her drinks and delight her with novelty treats made with the white foamy magic of the gods. Their taste for wine was a cherished union they enjoyed as if those times would never end. He had musicians and entertainers to please her artistic interests. He brought in poets to read to her exclusively and she adored it. Rome was far away but here she was queen without challenge. Here she was the supreme Goddess her husband adored. As he often proved with vigor. Even the happy times with their children had faded into a distant past. She sought relief from the reclusive scenes their marriage had become. He knew no word of praise for her efforts to recapture his interest in her. She suspected that he had acquired a mistress. She sought out Magdalene as a consultant to her dilemma. She reached out to the teachings of Isis to add calm to her tormented soul. She went deep into her lessons and almost became a priestess. And yes, she loved her husband dearly. She would do anything to regain the happy times they shared. Judea, stone hard, sand blown Judea robbed her of a loving, attentive husband. She never forgot that for better or for worse, she was Pontius Pilate’s wife. She would always be. In a confusing frenzy she yearned for Rome and knew not why. In a fleeting moment of despair she remembered her loving grandfather Tiberius. She loved the man and he loved her dearly as a child. He caught her more than once mimicking his imperial posture. He filled with joy to see this lovely child put out her chin, hold her shoulders back and give the audience a royal glare. She imitated his walk flushing her oversize robes behind her as he often did. He saw in her a miniature portrait of himself. He was deeply touched by the fact that the truest compliment one can give is duplication. She duplicated his imperial person with love and doubtless admiration. She was only a child and knew not to deceive with false compliments. He was genuine love and security she felt a need of. All that was another place faded by time and distance. But she yearned for the truth she felt in her grandfather’s arms. That love was unquestioned and undemanding. No empty pretense required.[Previous Episode] [Next Episode]