IT was at the council of Kings that the news, heavy laden, had broken. Not one amongst them was empowered to turn time back upon its axis, to forfeit the events that had conspired to assassinate the Son of the people.
One sat quietly playing jacks on his own. His woven sack spilled over with the calcine of former men. Knuckles and wafers – now pieces in a game of making fortunes and telling fortunes … finding that on this day they had turned red in the bag and the marrow wept from their parched pores and splinters.
“He would not bruise” whispered the consort to the noble, as he approached.
The small man lent over and spoke quietly.
“They beat the body on the hour – neither breaking skin nor bleeding beneath – and for this it was said He was healing of Himself repeatedly. The scores had gone and the skin was as new.
“Longinus then had to prove with a poke from his metal; and here he addressed the crowd saying that he will bleed now for certain. And when the water poured from his chest it smelt sweet above the stench, and came not as a seeping but like a rivulet from the open wound; and to the greater aggravation of the imperial Romans the Martyr was becoming a god, even then, in His days of subjugated weakness.”
“But what did he speak of? Did the Chosen One address the crowd? Did He say some Holy wisdom or make some final claim?”
“He muttered much we could not hear – a mad rant some thought, brought on by the pain – for His eyes were looking up, and to whom He spoke no one saw. If given water the wretch did say a few words, usually of blessing, as though with sympathy for the bearer. His consolation embraced His following who suffered His days of torture.
“Killing the peacemaker was going to be a mistake – one toss of a silver coin and the fates decide, with Mars on side – perchance to shatter the earth and blacken the sun. To what end?
“There was looting in the barracks below and small contests clashed constantly in the streets. Many of our soldiers were lost to a crowd with mere pelts and barbs. The riots took officials too. Our parliament is now decreased by a third, whilst the hoteliers report that the crowds plundered their stock having crashed through the vaults and raided the cellars whilst the soldiers stood back. Some said that they ate and drank, mourning alongside the protesting rabble. They did not execute their duties and this is known – evident by their fear of reprisal or sympathies for the King of Men.”
A young boy servant interrupted this report, bringing the afternoon’s mead. Several sweetmeats were laid upon the tray beside with flourishes of garnish. The Monarch pushed the tray to one side, dismissing its offering absentmindedly.
“Continue” he said gravely, “tell of what next did happen?”
“Well, it was then by day two, that the elephants did arrive. These were not your pageant variety; the kind decorated as we have seen before, with fabrics and jewels … no, no, no, - these had their hides blackened with tar and had moved into the city in a procession of no less than ten. Ten of them! Moving trunk to tail, a convoy of protest sent from the eastern sympathizers – who did not appear in person, oh no, they chose to remain in their mosaic homes and send their emissaries into the fray. It was a spectacle until their death …”
He paused, and looked over at the wine cup, yet no offer came. He resumed, “You see they were making their way to the very execution hill, when one trampled a child and the crowd then turned. The beasts were felled and lay groaning in the street while their keepers fled, cutting their tails before they went.
“The beasts’ noises could be heard for half a mile or more and it took until nightfall to quiet. This evaporated much of the merriment the free wine had provided.
“The second night still had their camps about and around the hill, but they were greatly subdued. It was then that the whores went on strike. One had shrouded herself in funerary and the rest complied. If a man approached they beat their chests and yelled insults and curses – anatomical curses – and the men soon left. The harlots are loved and no harm would come to these women.
“The public anger for this trial had been epic from the start and yet they would have us believe it is an execution as any other – just another day in Roman Israel. Not one account of this public uprising may live to satisfy the fanatics. On the third day this is what was said, and the parliament agreed – for already they feared the legends to come and could feel His immortal ghost beckoning the ages. The hereafter could be dealt with at some later stage, if true it was.
“And what of the engineers? I had heard of curious workings?”
“The shipwrights and carpenters are strong amongst themselves – it is an intermingled trade, where many have had a long association with one another. They convened a base camp together and created little artifacts in wood. There was a peaceful presence all told – carving little crosses to give to the people saying “remember this day”. Some of those tokens were engraved upon with inscriptions of comfort or date and some even wore them on a necklace or waist. The carpenters had given out a thousand or so of these pieces. Here is one such souvenir.”
He put his hand into a calfskin pouch and produced a rough wooden cross that was scored with the date.
“I see” said the King motioning him to return it to its purse.
“What of the children at this time?” he asked. “I heard something of their mothers?”
“Yes, I was coming to that. This was on the third day – a strange recollection.
"The peoples' love for this man was blindly underestimated. For it was not by just a phantom reputation he had inspired – He had hundreds of true followers who claimed to have been healed and witness to His very miracles. These fanatics converted more and their appeal against His death was stronger than had ever been for anyone previously convicted. It was no small thing that the usual intimidation did not expire their hopes to save Him. Up until the very end they had rallied in the grounds and stood line upon line confronting the guards who stood shoulder to shoulder surrounding the entire periphery of hill.
“And, to be reckoned, a great many of these guards were face to face with that of their own and although they did not allow more than a few to enter, they did not anger the protestors beyond containment.
“There became a fetid smell and still the crowds persisted their chanting and wailing, with some heard to be praying.
He was interrupted.
“You were going to tell of the children?
“Yes, yes, I am coming to that my Host. Oh, but wait – did I mention the fireballs that came through the night? Tangle-weeds of light – we thought, surely this was the wrath and rage of the Heavens? It was said also, for on this second night when all had fell to darkness blue flames lit up the scaffolding and the wretch could be seen by all. No amount of lamps lit could create a scene such as this was. Pieces of moon had broken away and sailed into our land, one by one forming balls that twisted as they fell. They sung through the air as big as a man’s head and some, as huge as chariot’s wheels.” He emphasized this very loudly for surely above all else this was to be named a miracle.
The King listened in earnest and pondered its reality.
“And for how long did these lights remain?”
“The entire night until the morning when the blue became gold. It was then, and just then, upon the rising of the sun, that the voices could be heard.”
“Why those of the children – of their singing? The mothers of Antioch and Antipodes, from Bethlehem and the greater Jerusalem – to the Moors from the East where the cloth is most vividly contrived and the women are spiced; and also, from the North with bosoms covered in fur – women of wealth. These were ones who could not be easily displaced and were accompanied by servants in train, and, had brought their young into this terrible place.
“For by now the stink had risen and the grounds about were trodden flat, and the airs were drenched with sweat and sorrow and much confusion; for they wanted to know how a citizen of the people could be treated so.
“They suffered this with Him the only length that they could go. And then, upon the morning’s brow, the children with their sweet sweet voices, sang to Him.
“And they kept singing for many hours and were soon joined by the simple women who too had now brought their young and these pure voices quieted the crowds, and so the infantry did not stop them from this solace. When He finally gave over to death, it was during the choir of thousands singing but simple nursery tunes. If a tortured death could be said to be with peace, then this was so.
“The corpse, His face, was not turned in pain or fear – as most who go the way of the nails – His face, I saw myself was most beautiful in countenance – it looked as though He was still listening to the voices of the young.”
“And what of the birds?”
“Yes, yes, the birds had come in – at the dawn, with flocks encircling the spaces above. Sparrows and starlings perched the wooden rail – covering every inch. They did not go to the other convicts but just to Him. They did not afflict His body but sat in an orderly way surrounding, and this cheered the children.
“All in all this ensemble of public protest methinks will be on the record for the evers – that the weight of the love He incurred, even unto death, shall be remembered with the magnitude of a brokenhearted people.”