My Plan

From time to time, I post short stories that I have written. Helpful comments about what I've written or suggestions for future stories are most welcome. I also have another blog of stories from my family history

Monday, 30 March 2015

A Sword in the Night

This is an Easter story, told through the eyes of a minor character mentioned in the bible story. I imagine that because he was named that he might have been known to people in the early church.

Old Jerusalem


“Wake Up!”

Malchus groaned as consciousness returned too quickly via a shaking shoulder. He was exhausted and felt stiff and sore from dozing off while sitting on a wooden bench leaning against an earthen wall.

Everyone was on edge. Tension had been building up within the walls of Jerusalem all week. It was supposed to be a day of celebration and remembrance, Passover, but in the palace the ceremonies had all but been skipped, just because some itinerant teacher and his followers were in town and creating mayhem. News of the agitation had even reached the Roman garrison and more soldiers than normal were patrolling the streets.

“Wake Up! Come on, we have to go.”

“What?” Malchus struggled to his feet. “What’s going on?”

“We are going to arrest him. It’s all hands on deck in case of trouble.” said his fellow servant, his cousin.

Malchus didn’t need to ask who they were going to arrest. He knew it was the teacher, Joshua son of Joseph, the rebel from the north.

“What happened? Why now?” He asked.

“One of his followers has, um, changed sides.” was the delicate explanation.

Malchus shrugged, and slowly followed his cousin, not really surprised at this turn of events. The priests had been getting desperate and were more than happy to pay for information, whether or not it was true.

He asked the obvious question “How much?”

“Thirty.” said his cousin.

“Silver pieces? Is that all?” Malchus was frequently surprised at how little it took to buy betrayal. He thought loyalty was worth a lot more.

The two men joined a growing crowd the courtyard, a mix of local and Roman soldiers, temple and palace staff, and several priests. Malchus looked around and very quickly spotted the traitor. The man was standing off to the side on his own, looking at the ground to avoid eye contact, an obvious pariah. Everyone else was milling around chattering with growing excitement. Malchus was wide awake now, joining in the gossip, discovering the shamefaced betrayer’s name was Judas.

The mob left the temple precinct and processed down the hill through narrow alleyways towards the Lion Gate and then to the gardens across the valley outside the city. There were a lot of people in the streets for this time of night, returning home after a Passover meal with family and friends. Malchus wished that he could have gone his parent’s house for the evening but he hadn’t been able to get time off, no one working for the priests could this year. At least he had family, his cousin, with him. He was luckier than some.

Outside the Lion Gate
It was quieter outside the city walls, but there were still a few people around, probably up to no good, Malchus thought. He suspected that some of these people were more deserving of being arrested than the teacher they were looking for.

As Judas led them to a garden, Malchus found himself at the front of the group, alongside the head priest, with a prime view of the unfolding events. They walked into the Garden to see a small group of men at the edge of an olive grove getting to their feet. Malchus watched as the traitor walked up to one of the men and kissed him on the cheek, a puzzling action for a turncoat leading a mob.
Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives
Malchus stayed with the priest as they approached the other group of men who were now standing, waiting. A flash caught Malchus’ eye. Almost too late, he saw the steel sword catching lamp light and twisted away, not entirely avoiding the weapon. He put his hand up to the now stinging side of his head, feeling flatness and warm blood welling up through his fingers. He froze. He gasped for breath. His ear had been lopped off.

Though tears of panic and pain, Malchus saw the man who had been kissed, the one who they had come to arrest, speak to the swordsman who instantly sheathed his sword and slipped back into the shadows. The teacher then bent over and picked something up before gently lifting Malchus’ hand away from his head and replacing it with his own hand. Malchus heard a melodic whisper and the stinging stopped. The other man then stepped away and allowed himself to be arrested.

Malchus grabbed at his ear again. It was there. He checked his other ear, also there. A feeling of immense joy and relief filled him as he realised that he had two ears. Then he wondered what had happened. Had he imagined that his ear was missing?

“Your ear! Are you OK? I saw it…” His cousin trailed off and gulped, putting his hands on Malchus’ shoulders and staring at him.

Malchus dropped his hands from his head.

“It’s fine.” He said, still in shock.

“But the blood…” his cousin grabbed his collar and pulled it up so Malchus could see the red stain.

“It was the teacher. He put it back…” as he said these words, he was struck by the absurdity of what he was saying. No one could reattach a bit of the body that had been cut off. It was impossible.

“A miracle? There have been a lot of stories… but they were about his followers, not real people. Not people like us.” His cousin’s words reflected Malchus’ thoughts.

For the first time, Malchus wondered whether the man they had just arrested was who he claimed to be, the Messiah, rather than the rebel they had arrested him as.

Malchus and his cousin followed the mob back to the palace, talking about the events in the garden and trying to understand what happened. When they got to the courtyard where their journey had started, Malchus returned to his bench, leaned back and closed his eyes, pondering the fate of his ear.

“That’s him, I swear it’s him.” His cousin’s voice disturbed his peace. “The man who cut your ear off! It’s him, near the fire! I’m going to talk to him.”

Malchus kept his eyes shut, too exhausted and confused to want to deal with anything else. He doubted anyone other than the teacher could explain it to him. A few moments later his cousin returned and sat next to him on the bench.

“He denies it, says it wasn’t him... but I think he’s lying.”

The two men stayed on the bench, each lost in thought, eventually falling asleep.

“Wake up!” a hand shook Malchus’ shoulder.

“What?” he forced his eyes open. It was one of the young serving women.

“Everyone’s heading for Golgotha. Come on!”

“Why? Who’s for it?” The prominent hill of Golgotha was the Roman occupiers’ chosen place of execution. Malchus was not keen on Roman style torture as a means of execution; he felt it was too cruel.

“He is going to be crucified! The teacher!”

“What? But he was only arrested him last night. When was the trial?” Malchus rubbed his eyes and shook himself awake.

“Don’t know, but it’s happening!”

“What time is it?” his cousin groaned as he surfaced from sleep.

“Morning. Early. Come on, I thought you’d want to be there.” The serving girl said.

Morning hadn’t brought clarity to Malchus. He didn’t want to watch the killing of the man who had apparently healed him but he could see that the girl wasn’t going to leave without him.

The three followed the gathering crowds to the hill. The area was already packed tight with people so they couldn’t get close, at first. Malchus saw three crosses on the hill; three criminals. He wondered what the teacher had been accused of and who else they had found to nail up with him. As far as Malchus was aware, the man hadn’t actually committed any crimes that the Romans would consider capital offenses. Gradually, as the crowd milled around, Malchus and his companions were able to get to the crosses.

A sign nailed above the teacher said “King of the Jews”. Malchus was shocked at the accusation. It was treason, certainly enough for both the Jewish and Roman authorities to want to kill the man. He wondered if it was the truth. The man didn’t look like a king. He was too humble.

As Malchus looked at the sign and the man beneath it, he caught the teacher’s eye. Joshua seemed to look at his ear, catch his glance again and give a quick smile. Malchus put his hand to his ear before turning and walking away, ashamed that he had played a part in this man’s arrest and execution.

The next day in the temple, it was the Sabbath, a day of rest and not much happened. Malchus got an early night.

“Wake up!”

Malchus groaned and tried to roll over to get away from the hand that was shaking him and get back to the sleep where he didn’t feel bad about recent events, which had culminated in the death and burial of the teacher and the suicide by hanging of the traitor.

“Wake up!” his cousin was persistent.

Malchus gave up on sleep and looked up at his cousin. “What’s going on? I thought all the excitement was over.”

“The excitement has only just started!”

“What do you mean? What happened?”

“The teacher’s tomb is empty. The body is missing. His followers are saying that he is no longer dead. The priests are saying they stole the body. The Roman guards are saying nothing. It’s mayhem!”

Malchus smiled. Jumping out of bed, he was eager to find the followers and to see if what they were saying was true.