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out of molehills

are mountains made


by

Anne Honeymouse
Year 23

Augustan Era
Province of Galilee

Country of Palestine

Empire of Rome
About the ides of November

It was three hours past midnight. The land thereabouts


was sparsely populated. A good time and place for a
secret meeting. At the edge of the desert, the land was
mainly flat. Well lit by a full moon. Almost impossible for an
enemy to attack from ambush.
The caravan from Parthia had more guards than usual
and their lord had provided the best of his men. He
considered the errand important and the chances of failure
had been eliminated as much as possible.
They had taken the wrong route on purpose. Deliberately
missing the last oasis by many miles. They were short on
water, what better reason to be travelling by night. More
importantly, they were able to approach the village from
the north.
The leading guards had stopped on the crest of a gentle
rise, waiting for the master merchant. In the distance a
cluster of buildings lay at the foot of a small hill. Only from
this direction could he see the signal fire, lit deep inside a
cave on this shadowed side of the hill. From where he
watched it looked like a new star hanging above the
village. The merchant waved the caravan on ‘No Romans
in the area.’
As they got nearer, Jewish rebels, dressed as
shepherds, abandoned their sleeping flocks and kept
pace, guiding them to the inn’s stable. The rebel leader
Seth waited inside with his commanders. Whilst the rest of
his men replenished their dry waterskins, the merchant
and his bodyguards entered leading an ass that bore two
clay pots.
He patted the load. ‘The gold is hidden inside the jars
filled with incense. Our great king’s contribution to the
struggle to free your country from the Romans. It amuses
him that their own coins will pay for the uprising.’ Palestine
had been conquered sixty years previously but the
populace was not yet inured to occupation.
‘Slow their expansion to your own kingdom,’ thought
Seth bitterly, but told the merchant to thank his king. The
caravan left quickly, their main mission completed. As his
men came in, Seth recalled an old prophecy that said the
saviour of the Jews would arrive on an ass. He shared this
and his men cheered for they thought an oracle had
blessed their cause.
The rebels would journey south to their homes the next
day, but Seth would tarry. He had brought his wife, heavy
with child, to allay suspicion. The babe was due any day
now and he would await its birth before returning to his
native town.
He went back to his room in the inn. His ‘son’ was
already delivered, asleep in a manger. Gently, Seth picked
up the child. Disturbed, he woke and opened his eyes.
Blue eyes. Roman eyes. Seth stifled a shocked cry. His
wife had sworn she had given up whoring when they
married, but obviously she still plied her old trade. He
turned, his arm raised, but she lay asleep, exhausted. He
would beat her the next day, when she could feel it.
Year 15

Tiberian Era
Province of Galilee

Country of Palestine

Empire of Rome
About the ides of January

Onus was slowly wandering the streets of Nazareth. The


sun was past midday. His father was expecting him to
help with the carpentry. He was already late.
Passing through the Square of Wells he heard running
footsteps behind him. On turning, a young woman rushed
into him and fell to the ground. He gazed upon her slim
body lustily. Her face was pretty, but her eyes crossed.
Perhaps she had seen two of him and dodged the false
one.
A mob ran from an alley beyond her, then slowed their
approach. A voice called out ‘Stand aside.’ Onus looked
up. The men were clutching stones.
‘What is her crime?’ he asked.
The same voice answered ‘She is a prostitute.’
Onus looked the crowd over, recognising most faces. He
called to the eldest ‘Joshua, even married I have seen you
in the brothels.’ Then the youngest. ‘And Samuel, surely
your balls have dropped and cock risen many times by
now.’ Whose faces turned red. The group eyed each other
nervously, wondering who would next be taunted.
Onus saw they were faltering. ’Let he who is virgin cast
the first stone,’ he offered. Grumbling amongst
themselves, they each and every turned away. Onus
again looked at the woman. Her eyes were wide, adoring.
‘How easily are all fools swayed,’ he thought.
The woman spoke for the first time. ‘Master, how can I
thank you?’
‘I’ve nothing planned for the afternoon, and no money,
but you do owe me one,’ he suggested.
‘Come,’ she said, rising and taking his arm. ‘I have a
room in the Persian quarter. On Mazda Lane.’
* *
Onus arrived home after suppertime. The table was
empty. His mother hadn’t prepared a meal for him. His
father was in a foul temper. ‘If you don’t work, you don’t
eat,’ he shouted. Onus stood there sullenly. He accepted
the scolding. They were happening more frequently those
days.
Seth stared at his son without seeing him. His wife’s son
really. He was certain he himself was not the father. Ever
since he was born he had been a disappointment in so
many ways. Grabbing a blanket, Seth headed for the door.
‘I’m going in the wilderness to pray,’ he told his wife.
Onus watched his father leave. Every month or so he
said he was spending the night under the stars. Not
always after they had rowed. Onus knew his father was
keeping a secret. In the morning’s, on his father’s return,
Onus could smell stale perfume on his clothes. He was
seeing another woman. Angry now, he decided to follow
his father and confront him wherever he met his mistress.
He left the house at a run, before his father was lost to
sight.
* *
Onus had been on the trail nearly two hours. His father
really had gone into the wilderness. Onus wondered why
he was travelling so far. No one lived out there. The sun
had set and the last light was fading. Soon it would be
dark as pitch. He could trip and break a leg. He shivered.
The wind was getting up and it was the coldest time of the
year. He was hopelessly lost, but would not call to his
father for help. As he walked into a shallow dip, he
decided to sleep there. The wind passed over him when
he lay down. Cursing his father to hell, he drew his robes
tight and closed his eyes.
* *
Onus blinked. The sun had risen above the edge of the
dip and shone in his eyes. He stood and looked around.
No one else in sight. His father would have risen with the
dawn and be home by now. As he emptied his bladder,
watched a vulture fly overhead and land on a on a pile of
boulders. Their shape seemed familiar. Memory stirred.
He had been here once before, as a small child. He had
played as his father dug a hole.
His curiosity was aroused. He walked towards the rocks,
searching the ground. He was looking for a large flat
stone, surrounded by damp earth. He remembered that
day long ago, copying his father, pissing on ground where
he didn’t want plants to grow.
Within minutes he had found it. The sun not yet strong
enough to dry the soil. On the surface much like
thousands of other slabs. No reason why anyone would
attempt to move if they didn’t know something lay below.
He raised it a handspan then slid it over. Uncovered was a
wood lined hole. It contained a polished cedarwood box.
Onus recognised his father’s hand.
He kneeled and hefted the box. It was heavy and he
heard the clink of metal on metal, moving inside it.
Opening the box, he was assailed by a strong waft of
incense, just like the smell on his father’s clothes. As he
blinked away tears, the sun was reflected back at him.
The box held gold. Over three hundred coins stamped
with the head of a roman emperor.
He filled his purse, and then re-buried the hoard. He
carried it over a mile from its previous resting place. He
didn’t want his father finding it. He was feeling thirsty,
hungry and overwhelmed. He set off sunwards, knowing
that if he kept moving east he would reach water. Now he
could also buy food. And he needed time to think.
* *
Onus was sitting by the River Jordan, slaking his thirst.
Further along, on the opposite bank, was an inn. In front of
it, a man was belly deep in calm water, having a rant. A
hundred paces more and white water was breaking noisily
over rocks as the river sought lower ground.
Behind the inn, a man and his guards had ridden up. As
his men tended the horses he walked round the building to
the river’s edge. ‘You are the Baptist,’ he stated rather
than asked and waded out to join him.
The Baptist had not seen or heard the guards and
assumed the man to be on his own. After exchanging a
few words he pushed the man’s head under water. Drew a
knife strapped to his leg. Stabbed the man through the
heart and cut his purse strings. Well practised moves. He
pushed the corpse into the current to be borne away over
the rapids. ‘How many times do I have to tell you people?‘
he roared. ‘Take a breath before you go under.‘
He started towards dry land, to check in private, his
gains. The guards had rounded the inn. Their captain
sent a man to the floating body. Who signalled a finger
across his throat. ‘Take him,’ said the captain, pointing at
the Baptist. ’Let him explain the death to Herod.‘
Onus had been engrossed. Unaware that someone had
joined him. He was startled by a voice close by. ‘This land
is full of thieves,‘ it said with a heavy accent. ‘A man of
means should keep only bronze in his coin pouch and
hide his real wealth elsewhere about his body.‘
Onus turned and saw an oldish man with torn robes
patting at a swollen eye with a wet rag. ‘I myself learned
that lesson the hard way this last night,‘ he continued.
‘Still, the robbers left me a few items I can trade and I
have friends in Jerusalem.‘
Looking at Onus’s threadbare clothing and knife at his
waist, he realised he may still be in danger. ‘Forgive me,
the bang on my head has made me forget my manners. I
am insulting you and your countrymen.’ He apologised. ‘I
am Matthaeus of Greece.’
‘I am Onus of Galilee’ was the reply. ‘How do you come
to be so far from your own country?’
‘My old bones don’t like the cold and your country is mild
in the winter,’ replied the Greek. ‘Far to the north it
becomes so cold that a river like this will freeze so thick it
will bear a man’s weight and he can cross from bank to
bank.’
‘Walking on water,’ considered Onus. ‘It sounds
wondrous.’
Matthaeus chuckled. ‘You have a sharp mind. I have told
that simple fact to many people over the years, but none
have expressed their understanding of it so clearly.’
‘Let us away to the inn to break our fast,’ offered Onus. ‘I
am sure we are both hungry and I would trade more tales
of your adventures for a meal.’
* *
After both men had eaten their fill, they sat quietly for a
while. Onus was considering his new place in the world.
With wealth he could become a man of importance but in
order to match wits with others of his new found status he
needed an education. The Romans, owners of the world,
used Greek teachers.
‘Master,’ he beseeched. ‘I would ask that you abide here
awhile and that I may learn from you. I would pay for food
and board and a stipend for your journey onwards.’
Matthaeus looked at him. The man had a keen
intelligence, yet was clearly agog like a cretin, at his
stories. Still, however the gods provide. His own body no
longer healed so quickly and he needed rest. He also had
the tutor’s desire to pass on knowledge to a student.
‘Agreed,’ he said at last. ‘And I would hear of your own
life. Let us toast to seal the bargain. Pass the ewer.’
‘Only water?’ mused Onus.
Matthaeus took hold of the pot and after a short prayer
poured a crimson liquid into Onus’s cup. Who gaping cried
‘You have turned it to wine.’
The Greek laughed. ‘Merely added, whilst your attention
was elsewhere, some crystals which gave up their colour.
It would now taste vile. Interestingly, like wine, it would
make you vomit and leave you with a headache when you
woke.’

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