Author: John Sexton
Genre: Adult-Youth [could also be classed as Celebrity or Historical]
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Chapter One -- A Snippet of History, with a Twist!
"We exchanged many frank words in our respective languages." ... Peter Cook, Beyond the Fringe.
"Est is verus?" rang a shrill voice across the cold, dark room that was barely illuminated by dawn's early light.
A glance was all it took, from Pontius Pilate, for his cubicularius to know that his presence was no longer required. The servant made a discrete exit, when the prefect's wife stormed into the chamber.
The iron lady of the household crossed the equally-cold stone floor, as the valet closed the door behind him.
"Est is verus?" she hissed ~~~ "Is it true?" she iterated irritably.
"Is what true, my love?" Pilate twisted his thin lips into a mock illustration of the facetious epithet.
"I have tolerated your peccadilloes over the years, husband," she sniped, in her most pretentious Latin tones, "and I have maintained my silence, in politic discretion. But I warn you: This gutter snipe will be your ruin, and you will disgrace my family in the process."
"More of your profound intuition, Claudia?" the Roman aristocrat snarled bitterly, "another dream perhaps?"
Pilate knew his wife's intentions; he was surprised only by the time it had taken her to make her move. It was nearly a week now, and Claudia Procula had waited all that time to strike.
Perhaps the clamour of the mob, now pressing at the fortress gates, was a factor; Pilate smiled bitterly at the irony. He knew the cause of the disturbance; Tribune Antonius Marius Gallus, commander of the Jerusalem garrison, had already made his report.
"Those noisome Jews, down in the courtyard," Claudia Procula nagged, "they know this youth only too well, husband. You know my feelings on the matter. The very sight of that whelp sends a shiver down my spine," the harpy whined.
Pilate looked at his wife with disdain. He knew her true agenda, and that insight curled his lip in anger.
The bane of Pilate's existence, grew even more impatient, until she flung her yet unanswered demand back at him.
"IS IT TRUE!"
Not waiting for a reply, she waved her arms wildly, then shrieked...
"Then do it! ... heed their call!" she implored him, "do their bidding, and dispatch that little gutter-snipe to the Place of the Skull."
She paused, in obvious frustration.
"Or, if you cannot bring yourself to that decision," she wailed with contempt, "then, at least, be done with him. Sheath your weapon, husband," she smirked at the cruel puns in the triple innuendo, "gird your loins, and return that miserable little rat to the sewer from whence he came! True or not, if news of this reaches Rome, he will be the end of us all!"
Pilate curbed his anger, because -- whether it was raw jealousy, utter contempt, or cold, hard pragmatism at her heart -- the simple fact was that his wife was right.
The youth had, in a matter of days, become more than a mere liability: he was now a threat to the stability of the province, if not the empire, and a more immediate threat to Pilate's own prospects.
In that, at least, Claudia Procula was absolutely correct.
But the newly appointed prefect of this desert-wilderness-arse-end of the empire was not happy with the prospect of what was being forced upon him. He smiled at her bitterly.
"You know," he teased, "that young Adonis could charm the rats out of this city's sewers, if he put his mind to it... and lead them out into the wilderness of this god-forsaken pesthole. He would merely play that pipe of his, and they would all crawl...'
Claudia glared at him.
"What?" Pilate laughed acerbically. "He has done so already, love of my life," he taunted her. "It is true... he has drawn those rats out of that sewer... their temple..." he waved his arm at the balcony that overlooked the fortress courtyard... "with the aid of his beloved pipe."
Pilate returned his wife's glare, with interest.
"Those very same rats," he spat contemptuously, "the Jew priests and their treacherous minions, are down there, waiting in that enclosure, hoping once again to force me to do their dirty work," Pilate roared.
Then he whispered to himself...
"I fear, this time, they will succeed."
The noble Roman was becoming agitated, he did not take kindly to demands from his irascible wife, even less so to blatant political blackmail at the hands of these pestilential Jews.
The mood at the fortress gate was different this time, and Pilate knew why: the youth had warned him. He recalled Adonis's words, and maintained his snarled expression, even as a bitter sardonic grin threatened to destroy his mien.
"This past week has merely brought matters to a head," Pilate rationalized, more for his own sake than for his spouse's edification, "the boy has infuriated these Hebrew officials for months."
Pilate permitted a faint smile, as he recalled the youth's version of events; but that quickly dissipated, when he accepted that the boy's prophesy was being fulfilled, and he knew that the outcome would be far from good.
"Those barbaric Jews abuse their children..." the proud Roman declared indignantly... "mercilessly..." he roared. "They enslave them, with their preposterous superstitions and their vengeful one god! While he..." Pilate waved his arm angrily, towards the boy in the courtyard.
Then, as if he was reading Virgil, he pressed on, in praise of the wayward youth... "with his plain, simple pipe, has continued to entice their tormented children out of the city, to his refuge at Beth-Abba-Ra."
Claudia Procula scowled at her husband, with tacit scorn on her lips, disgust in her eyes.
"That is why they want him dead," Pilate continued, ignoring her silent censure. "That was why they wanted him dead five days ago. This latest stratagem is but a ruse, a move to make this Rome's problem... a new tactic to force my hand.
"Of course, you are right, my ever-vigilant spouse," he conceded bitterly, "you always are! The youth is a charmer, a sorcerer... a god!"
Pilate had whispered that final appellation; he was barely audible, as he continued...
"But I must bring this to an end... he is indeed a liability, and hell-bent on his own destruction," Pilate hissed, then sighed heavily.
The prefect turned from Claudia Procula, and moved towards the balcony, dismissing her with a wave of his hand as he did so. The weight of his new responsibilities had never felt more oppressive.
The Roman looked down towards the cause of the din at the fortress gate.
In a far cry from the behaviour of the crowd that had protested the boy's arrest, earlier in the week, this mob was calling for the youth's execution!
Cries of "crucify him!" could be heard above the din, in heavily accented Latin, just as the boy-god had predicted. No defiant chant, so far, but this crowd's hostility was much less spontaneous; this protest was a gambit.
At the heart of the courtyard, in the early dawn, stood the youth, just as he had five days before.
No! Pilate realized, as he scrutinized the scene more closely through the pre-dawn gloom: this was different. Gone was the coat of many colours, and -- even from a distance -- it was obvious that the youth had been beaten and bloodied. But even more significant was the din emanating from the mob at the gate.
"So... we come, at last, to the bitter end," Pilate echoed Adonis's own phrase, as he contemplated the past five days. His thoughts drifted back to that first early-morning encounter...
The Roman governor's appearance, upon the landing above the courtyard of Fortress Antonia, drew the angry crowd towards the gate. A wisp of vapour traced his warm breath, and dawn's emergence illuminated it with a rosy hue.
As the surge of the ever-growing horde thrust the van of the assembly hard against the iron grill, panic gripped those caught up in the crush. Suddenly the mob's concerted protest was shattered by shrill screams of terror and confusion.
Some of the more daring protesters clambered onto the higher rungs of the iron gate.
Archers on the ramparts drew and aimed their shafts at these potential intruders. The bowmen waited for a signal from Tribune Gallus, commander of the Jerusalem garrison; the young career-officer held firm.
Another great surge of panic hurled the body of the protest towards the gate.
On the first centurion's command, the troops responded with an aggressive lunge; shields raised, leading with their spears, they took one uniform step towards their antagonists beyond the iron grill.
A cloud of dust and a thunderous clatter of boots and weapons silenced the crowd momentarily, cowed with shock and awe at the sudden aggressive display of strength and discipline.
The bowmen strained, as they arched their backs and bows at the ready, and the sun's first rays caused them to squint.
When the crowd eventually reacted, it was with a wave of wrath, peppered with renewed panic, as the crush pushed forward angrily.
Pilate surveyed the fiasco from the top step of the landing; he sniggered contemptuously, as protest was lost in pandemonium.
But his descent towards the prisoner galvanised the rabble, and triggered a roar that reverberated throughout the Fortress. Their concerted chant beat out a renewed air of defiance, never before witnessed in the ancient city: "Free-Bar-Ab-ba! Free-Bar-Ab-ba! Free-Bar-Ab-ba!"... ... ...
On and on they chorused, as their number swelled by the minute. The din thundered down across Jerusalem and stirred the more tardy residents of the ancient metropolis from their slumber.
The newly appointed Prefect of Judaea and Palestine was unruffled in the face of this potential uprising, and it showed; Pilate was as cool as ice!
Steadily he descended the steps, flinging back the rabble's defiance with all the pride and arrogance of a true Patrician.
Tribune Gallus met the governor at the foot of the steps. The garrison commander stamped his foot on the ground, and thrust his right arm into a vigorous salute.
"Ave Caesar!" he cried, and the crisp morning air encapsulated his gravelly roar in a cloud of vapour.
"Qui es hic Barabbas, Tribunus? [Who is this Bar Abba, Tribune?]" Pilate barked above the din.
"I do not know, My Lord," the young officer whined, as he signalled the archers to stand down their weapons. "All that I have been able to ascertain is that the Jew priests and their Pharisees want you to execute him."
"You and Tribune Tacticus," Pilate sneered and glared at the commander, "assured me that there would be no unrest in the city for at least five days, Tribune!"
"That is true, My Lord... no major disturbance!"
Pilate maintained his stolid appearance while he grated through his teeth at Gallus: "You call this a minor disturbance, Tribune!"
"Excellency," the tribune smiled patronizingly, "these Judeans are a surly, irrational rabble... always complaining." He then added insult to injury... "they're slightly more excitable than the Greeks of Tiberias and Caesarea, My Lord!"
Gallus's condescension shattered Pilate's illusion that the young career officer was fully apprised of his dissatisfaction. The tribune simpered, then...flushed with sudden embarrassment...he snapped to attention.
"However, there is little danger, Excellency! The cohort that accompanied you from the coast has doubled the standing garrison. The Hebrew Passover festival is still four days away; the city is secure, My Lord!"
Pilate eyeballed the Jerusalem garrison commander. "Your career prospects depend on it, Tribune. Need I remind you that two of my cohorts are still on exercises... upon your recommendation!"
He stared fixedly at the young officer momentarily, before nodding his head deliberately.
"Now I know why you manoeuvred to have me arrive here yesterday..." Pilate groused, "their Sabbath, was it not... their Day of Rest?"
"Yes, My Lord Pilate!" Gallus replied grimly, and his already flushed features deepened; he ground his jaw deliberately and bit his lower lip.
The prefect's cynical smile masked his acerbic tongue, as he turned to glance at the mob.
"I had thought you suggested the day merely to antagonise the Jew priests," Pilate sniped, then he glared at the young officer. "You had better hope, Tribune, that you were not too clever for your own good."
Gallus snapped to attention.
"Your troops are less than two days march from the city, Excellency," Gallus proclaimed dutifully. "They will be fit, and ready for any contingency, when they arrive with Tribune Tacticus tomorrow. They will be garrisoned well before the pilgrims descend upon the city for their..."
Pilate was suddenly captivated by his first glimpse of the prisoner at close range. He brushed past Gallus, as if he had ceased to exist, and strutted towards the felon.
The mutual captives stood at the epicentre of the chaotic din... they faced off... between the foot of the stairs and the rear of the troops... neither spoke... governor circled... slowly... prisoner stared... blankly... into infinity... Hebrew priests and officials waited... impatiently... at the side... rabid crowd faded... from Pilate's... consciousness... ... ...
The mob's chaotic din thundered down upon the governor once again... the spell was broken! Pilate had no idea how much time had elapsed since his reverie had begun, but, with renewed clarity, he turned from the prisoner towards the chief priest.
Pilate crossed the courtyard, rather than have the Jew priest summoned to him. Though highly unorthodox, this was no gesture of conciliation: it was calculated contempt. Pilate's arrogant swagger and sneering disdain left little doubt where these Jews stood in his model of the universe.
The haughty priest's posture gave every indication that he still resented that he had been forced to appear before Pilate, upon the governor's arrival last evening.
But the arrogance was tempered by fear, no doubt the result of Pilate's threat to confiscate the old man's ceremonial robes and insignia, and close his precious temple, if he failed to appear when summoned, Day of Rest notwithstanding, festival or no festival!
The stiff-necked priest's insistence on speaking only Hebrew angered the prefect, who had it on good authority that the old man was fluent in Greek.
The governor recognised the surly youth at the High Priest's side; he had acted as interpreter at Pilate's only other encounter with the priest, his late arrival in Jerusalem the previous day.
Pilate glared scornfully at the obsequious little toad in the old man's shadow. This arrogant young pup needed taking down a peg. The spotty youth's fawning ways merely made Pilate more hostile.
There was no doubt that the nauseating little Jew harboured ambitions of being a Citizen of Rome, while no doubt retaining all of his Semitic prejudices.
Pilate wasted little time; he entered into animated dialogue above the clamour of the mounting protest.
The young Pharisee dutifully translated for the old priest.
As the leaders flaunted their mutual contempt, the youth's task became more onerous. The governor's cool veneer became suddenly strained; he held up his hand to silence the youth, then glared at the chief priest, and switched from his native Latin to Greek.
"Know this, priest," Pilate snarled, "I will NOT be played the fool!"
The young interpreter made no attempt to translate this.
Pilate sneered with amusement, at the horror that appeared on the troubled youth's spotty face, when the brat realised that his inaction had betrayed his master's stratagem.
The ensuing dialogue was abrupt and rancorous, and came to a resolute finality, when the priest nodded impatiently to one of his servants, who then handed a small musical instrument to Pilate.
The Roman prefect snatched the thin reed pipe from the servant's hands, broke off the unamicable discourse, and crossed the square, to resume his stance before the prisoner.
Pilate was mesmerised by the beautiful young felon's crystalline, blue eyes.
Contrary to the High Priest's claim, the youth did not appear to be a Jew; he was clearly Hellenised, and wore the simple tunic of a Greek youth. However, the plain, homespun garment was almost hidden beneath an unusually-bright, multi-coloured cloak.
The governor was both surprised and suspicious that the prisoner had not been stripped of a robe of such finery. Pilate had little doubt that this was a ploy of the Jew priest, but to what end?
Furthermore, the youth's stunning eyes were heavily painted, in the fashion that Levantine women had adopted, from the manner in which the Egyptians had adorned their kings, before Augustus had crushed that pharaonic lineage for all time.
However, Pilate saw nothing but youthful male perfection, as he gazed at the boy, whose bright eyes exuded an iridescent, sapphire-blue light that beguiled the Roman.
The youth's mascara-lined brow arched imperiously, defying the fact that he was a prisoner. The pharaonic epithets, "Lord of Lords," "King of Kings," sprang to mind.
Pilate smelt a rat, and it was Hebrew: Why would these Jews permit the youth's exotic appearance to remain unblemished?
The Roman was even more suspicious of this, than the fact that the boy still wore his finery.
The Jew priest and his minions clearly hated the boy, and they regarded his attire as an affront. The Jew priest had said as much...
Then Pilate smiled slyly, as he looked towards the gate and the unabating din; for it seemed these Jews feared the boy's supporters, more than they hated the Adonis; and the mob was waxing, in both number and defiance.
The Roman stood back, to better evaluate the prisoner.
The youth was short of stature, little more than three cubits tall; yet...despite being bound at the wrists...he stood tall and proud, like a Roman.
Pilate scanned the boy's smooth, tanned skin; his tousled hair was the colour of the desert sands.
"Golden Alexander! The new Sun god!" Pilate sighed audibly, as he allowed the youth's beauty to take his breath away.
But his overt adoration was rendered inaudible by the monotonous din emanating from beyond the gate. The noble Roman then chided his own distraction, gazed down into those haunting, blue irises, and shook his head in disbelief, again.
"Is this the sorcerer, insurgent and misfit that these Jews want me to execute?" Pilate asked himself. "He is most certainly provocative..." the Roman admitted... "of that there is no doubt... but surely..."
The governor was mesmerised by the youth's enigmatic pose.
The boy neither smiled nor frowned, but when their eyes met, the Roman aristocrat was captivated. There was little expression on the boy's face because it was all in those hypnotic orbs.
The Roman prefect addressed the young Adonis in Koine, the Levant dialect of the Hellenised world.
"The priests say you are a rabblerouser!" Pilate gestured towards the mob. "It would appear that they are right. ... What say you?"
The youth amazed Pilate by replying in Latin.
"These are simple people who merely want justice, My Lord!" He spoke eloquently and confidently. "They know that this is but a sordid attempt to silence me."
Pilate was impressed with the youth's poise and grace.
"Why do these virtuous priests want to silence you?" he probed.
"Because I bear witness to the truth, My Lord."
Pilate secreted a wry smile, then darted slyly at the Jew officials, before he engaged the youth's captivating gaze once more.
"They claim that you are a sorcerer," he challenged the boy, who could not yet have seen eighteen summers.
Pilate held up the small reed flute to the youth.
"They say that you cast evil spells upon their children... through this instrument, and that you pervert them with your dark ways. What say you?"
The boy merely smiled at Pilate, and it disturbed the Roman prefect: as a response it was both unexpected and provocative.
"My Lord," Adonis eventually replied, "that pipe I play to honour my father, who is in Heaven. As for perverting their lambs, they have done that to them, themselves. I have simply ministered to those poor young sheep, as a great man once ministered to me, when I was near death and eternity, by the wayside. I know my lambs and my lambs know me, My Lord.
"When but one of my flock is lost," the stunning youth continued eloquently, "I will go into the wilderness to retrieve him. Such is my love for my brother. I am a good shepherd."
Pilate secreted a wry smile.
"I was told you were a fisherman."
The boy now laughed aloud.
"My Lord," he cried, "that was a deliberate misdirection... conjured by the high priest's interpreter, I suspect," then he spat contemptuously, "that would be his style.
"What the great and pious Lord Caiaphas no doubt said, My Lord," the boy elucidated, "was that I am `a fisher of men.' It is an epithet of the most vile nature, an accusation. I am contemptible to them, one against whom their holy book prescribes death... by stoning.
"But young Saul, there..." Adonis tossed his head towards the pimply interpreter, then sneered as he turned back to the governor.
"The slithery one," Pilate interjected and mirrored the sneer.
Adonis responded with a half twisted lip that insinuated a smile.
"Yes, My Lord," the boy replied, and his eyes sparkled, "the slithery one. He is a sly creature, a viper, as you have already determined for yourself."
Pilate's twisted upper-lip was his only reply, but it was enough to embolden the boy.
"Saul is more cunning than his master, My Lord. He realises that if you knew their true reason for wanting me dead, you would reject their demands.
"So, with the aid of a clever play on words, Saul provided a fisher of red herrings to distract you from that truth. Then he collaborated with his master to package his misdirection in dark magic and sorcery."
The boy finished with a curt nod in the direction of the flute that Pilate still held in his hand.
"You know this translator?" Pilate enquired.
The boy gave a hollow laugh.
"He is my brother..." he elucidated, then added, almost as an after-thought... "indirectly."
Adonis smiled at Pilate's bewilderment, laughed exuberantly, like the boy that he was.
"He is my maternal half-brother's paternal half-brother... so we're barely related at all, in fact... least of all by blood."
The youth grinned mischievously, then took a completely different tack.
"Dear Saul has more than enough reasons to want me dead, My Lord," he declared dispassionately, "he would love nothing more; he has been plotting against me all his life."
Pilate grinned broadly, then cleared his throat.
"But," Pilate responded with a wink, in acknowledgement of the youth's subtle lead, "your supporters have frightened these Jewish officials from taking action themselves. Hence this attempt to persuade me to do their dirty work for them, in the semi-secrecy of this pre-dawn gloom."
The Roman sneered at the priests and the surly youth, Saul, who still stood in the dark shadows, at the side of the courtyard.
"Exactly, My Lord," came Adonis's phlegmatic reply, "they are using the fact that those who would attack them, dare not oppose Rome."
"But surely," Pilate's upper lip curled, as he uttered the words, "these noble leaders of your people... they are..."
The prefect trailed off, as he interrogated those starkly adorned, limpid, blue eyes that had, once again, fractured his line of thought.
"Are you an Egyptian, a Greek, a Roman or a Jew?" Pilate asked sharply.
"All and none, My Lord," Adonis responded cheekily. But he bore an earnest demeanour that was disarming. "I swear allegiance to no nation," he continued, "but I serve all men... I have no family, yet all men are my brothers."
The boy's calm and measured reply impressed the Roman further; Pilate smiled benevolently.
"Pax Romana!" the governor quipped; his grin broadened.
"You are a strange one..." Pilate cooed, eyed the boy in awe, then murmured: "you bear yourself like a prince," before he regathered his senses.
"Surely these are men of truth!" Pilate continued to tease the boy playfully with his cynicism, then he asked grimly, "why do they want your death?"
Adonis flicked the golden locks from his brow, and flared his bright eyes at the prefect.
There was no defiance in Pilate's line of sight, merely the earnest candour of the sweet passion of youth. The Roman was besotted by sheer beauty, as the boy answered.
"They fear me, My Lord, because they fear the truth."
"Indeed, tell me then, young Barabbas..."
The boy released another hearty laugh...
"That is not my name, My Lord: that is what my brothers call me. It means `son of the father,' or more literally, `son of da-da,' in the local tongue!"
Adonis smiled, then added, "in honour of my father."
"Who is in Elysium," Pilate completed the boy's response, in a tone that conveyed his growing admiration for the young prince.
The prisoner grinned in acknowledgement of the Roman's gesture.
Pilate surveyed the youth once more. On one score, at least, the Jews were right, the boy was a sorcerer.
"What is your name, then?" the governor enquired.
"Eliazar, My Lord."
A painful lump distended Pilate's larynx, as he leaned closer to Adonis.
The Roman aristocrat smiled at the youth...
"So tell me, my young cock, ~~ Lazarus: quis est Veritas?"
If you are enjoying this, you might like my other Nifty stories...
This is a two-chapter Potterverse short story [complete].
This is a multi-chapter Potterverse short story [WIP... almost-complete].
This is on-going and I'm updating it as I write each chapter.
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