The warning came with the sound of marching feet and a sudden silence in the streets. Paralyzed for a moment, he couldn’t grasp the danger. The boy, who had come with the message, ran at him, pushing him toward the rear of the hovel with a half-shout, half-whisper.
“They’re after you. Go out the back. Run, run.”
There was a shout outside as orders were given. It was already too late. His hand dropped to the head of the boy who was still pushing him, almost unbalancing him, in his fierce efforts to get him to safety.
“No, Alexander. Stop it. It’s all right.”
He would not run. He had his dignity after all. He put down his quill on the crude wooden table and stuffed the unfinished report into his tunic. He glanced around the bare room at the mat of reeds he used for a bed, the dirt floor, the meager provisions. He would miss none of it.
He looked down at Alexander and cupped his tearstained face in his hands. With a thumb he tried to wipe a tear away but left only a dirty smear in its place.
“Thank you, my friend, but we are in the hands of El Shaddai now.”
Alexander blinked hard for a moment, searching his face but then took his hand and turned to face the opening of their temporary lodgings.
A sword drew the covering of camel’s skin aside and a centurion ducked his head to enter.
“You are Onkelos, the Greek from Jerusalem?”
“It is so.”
“Your presence is required.”
Again the camel’s skin was thrust aside, demanding them to walk outside where other soldiers awaited them. Alexander gripped his hand tightly, fiercely, but Onkelos hesitated.
The centurion took a step towards them. “In chains, or not, it makes no difference to me.”
“No, it’s all right. We are ready to go.”
What was he getting Alexander into?
Onkelos had found him at his fire one morning outside the hovel, warming himself. Although he seldom spoke, he had been a godsend. A child of the streets, he knew every secret of this temporary community that served the needs of the Roman legions. There was something special about the boy that Onkelos could not put his finger on, and he had vowed to take him under his care. He had not realized it would come to this.
The harsh sunlight made him squint as he stumbled outside, leaving the illusionary safety of the hovel. Rough hands grabbed him and tore the boy from his grasp.
“Alexander…” he said.
“Shut up and keep moving, spy.”
He glanced back to see if Alexander was alright.
A crowd started to gather, a few taunting grins mixed with a surly silence greeting the spectacle. He was hauled up into a chariot and the horses moved off with a jerking start that almost threw him back into the dusty street. The centurion’s grip held him long enough for him to grab hold of the chariot as they charged down the avenue of spectators, his robe billowing out behind him.
He turned back again toward the crowd, twisting his head from side to side, searching for the boy. He knew some of these people but they didn’t know him. Not anymore. What help they might have given him had evaporated like spilt water in the noonday sun.
He had failed. The thought was as much for his friend and Rabbi who had sent him on this desperate journey as for the boy he could now see running through the crowd behind him, determined to keep up with the chariot and the guard detail running alongside. He had failed them both.
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Footnotes and references included in original manuscript.