THE TEMPTATION OF EVE
By Phantom Bard (J. Nakamura)
Disclaimer: This is a work of fan fiction, and is offered for non-profit entertainment. It may be downloaded for personal use only, may not be sold, and must contain this statement. The characters and concepts from the TV series, Xena: Warrior Princess, including Xena, Gabrielle, Callisto, Eve/Livia, and the prophet Eli, are the creation and property of MCA/Universal and Renaissance Pictures. No malice is intended towards these characters or concepts. I would like to express my thanks to the creators of this excellent production for sharing them with us.
This story contains rumors of violence, representations of personal stress, and references to the early life of Jesus ben Joseph based on Luke 2:40-50. Biblical quotations are end noted. Some readers may object to the religious content portrayed. If any of these topics are illegal, indigestible, or will cause insufferable levels of discomfort, please read something else.
Special Thanks: To Sydney Alexis, for her outstanding assistance as beta reader don't blame her for the content. This story has benefited from her corrections and suggestions.
The cruel sun tortured the endless hills and brought to travelers the suffering of the blacksmith, the baker, or the furnace tender. It heated drinking water above body temperature so it mocked her thirst, but she knew the water was a necessity against dehydration and desert sickness. Here the heat grew quickly with the morning sun. It tormented all souls until nightfall, and never fell to comfortable levels even in the hours of darkness. Only the night breezes made sleeping possible, though sleep had become difficult with the discomfort of several days' accumulation of travel dirt and sweat.
Since open water was a rarity, bathing had become a luxury. It was all she could do to wash her feet, hands, and face. She knew she stank, but she grudgingly accepted it because everyone here stank. Even the livestock seemed to smell worse in these lands, if that was possible. It was another of the One God's tests of faith, and she intended to accept it, if reluctantly. Now she even found herself wishing for the chance to bathe in the raw sewage of the Ganges that she'd recently left behind.
Yet this was the land she'd been commanded to travel to. Where the angel had bidden her to go she would go. She was the Messenger of Eli's Way of Love, and she had a mission. So the sun beat down on her and she sweated. She drank another mouthful of water that could poach an egg, and she plodded along the shimmering road towards Jerusalem.
She had spent the last twelve years preaching the Way of Love in the lands of Indus and Chin. She had walked from village to city to town, sometimes welcomed, sometimes reviled, and sometimes ignored. There had been good times and bad, just as she had expected, since leaving the Amazon village where her death sentence had been commuted. As the years had passed she'd become more certain of the Way and more determined to live by Eli's teachings. The passion it conferred had made her strong. Many times her faith had been tested, and many times she had survived by her faith. She was no longer a warrior. She was convinced that the temptation to fight had long ago burned out. She was Eve now, and Livia was only a name in her memory. It was a memory that she knew she could never erase, and a memory that had returned to the forefront of her consciousness these last few weeks.
Ahead on the road, distorted by the shimmering heat waves, Eve saw an approaching centuriae of Roman soldiers. She could hear the endless tramping of their sandals as they drew nearer, raising a cloud of dust. She pitied them as they marched, encumbered by their armor, shields, and weapons. The Way of Love had left her burden lighter than the Way of the Warrior. Less to bear in her hands and less to bear in her heart. Of course in her days as Livia, she thought with a weak grin, she would have ridden. The centurion rode at the head of the column, and he too appeared tortured by the heat. Eve looked up at him as he passed, and he glanced down at her, his face slick with the sweat that ran down from under his helmet. He looked vaguely familiar. Even after all the intervening years she felt a twinge of guilt. Perhaps she had commanded him years ago, but there had been so many soldiers, and she couldn't be sure. She nodded and gave him a slight smile before looking back down at the road. It didn't matter anymore.
Beside her the column of foot soldiers passed, miserable under their steel helmets and segmented body armor. She could smell their sweat and hear their labored breath. And all for what, she thought? The sufferings of the victor and the vanquished, added together, condemned the desire for dominance. Now that she could see it clearly, she knew the attainment of worldly power wounded winners and losers alike. Neither gained peace, and tied to the world, both were eventually defeated by death. To these common soldiers, the glory of Rome meant little as they trudged down this baking stretch of road, hundreds of miles from their homes. Most would be happier with their families, living in peace. And, at the end of their lives, when they looked Death in the eye and their souls were judged, none of their triumphs would matter anymore.
In half a candle mark they were gone; their marching steps silenced as the dust settled, and the road continued on, as if Rome itself had been a dream. Eve had sensed the timelessness of this land. Here armies had fought and died. Kingdoms had risen to glory and fallen into dust, finally leaving only the land, the brilliant sun, and the Hand of God. It had already been going on for over 2,000 years, and 2,000 years in the future the fighting would still rage. For a time it was Rome's turn to rule, and then Rome, like the soldiers, would be a memory, while the Almighty God and His Law would remain. And His faithful would endure, baking in the sun.
Eve reflected on the ancient One God, a severe and jealous God who plagued followers and enemies alike for their transgressions. A God who demanded sacrifices, blood sacrifices, even the life of a leader's son, as tests of faith. She had seen the smoke of the holocausts, burnt offerings, rising from the temple not unlike the offerings to the Olympian Gods and Goddesses she had once known. This God was not above killing every child in an entire nation. He was the bloodthirsty God of one tribe, not the God of all men. This was a complex God with many aspects, and He showed many different facets of His Power to the many nations here in the desert.
Yet a change was coming, if the lessons of Eli and her own visions were to be believed. Already the Son of this God walked these lands. Somewhere in this desert there was a boy who would bring light where she had once brought twilight. They had a connection Omega and Alpha. For she was Evening, and her Twilight had brought a new dawn, while he was the Sun that would light the new day. She had come from the Darkness of her mother, the Destroyer of Nations, ensouled with the spirit of the mad goddess Callisto, and she had been the Bitch of Rome. In the end they had all been redeemed. He came from the Light of his Father, and as the Savior of all men, the Son would redeem the Father as well. The God of Holy Wrath and Retribution would become the God of Forgiveness and Love.
Eve broke from her musings and stared through the heat waves. Far down the road she beheld the walls of a city, and within them a mount, crowned with a great temple. Across the Kidron Valley lay Urusalim Jerusalem, and the ancient City of David. Uru-salim, the name meant City of Peace. It had been the priest-king Melchesedech's capitol over 1,400 years before. And it was the City of God long before He commanded Abram to Palestine to found the Hebrew nation. Within its temple courtyard was the Altar of Abraham, where the patriarch had offered up the life of his son Isaac.
She swallowed a gulp of hot water and continued walking. In her heart a sense of foreboding grew as her steps brought her closer to the city. She had been called, and there would be no turning back. But perhaps this time her faith would seal her fate rather than save her life. Eve remembered her conversation with the angel.
For years it had been Eve's habit to follow her evening meal with a time of prayer and meditation. Often at such times she had received inspiration from Eli's God, or guidance from His angels. That night Eve had knelt with a group of Eli's followers, believing that she would be directed to her next destination. After clearing her mind of worldly thoughts, she had entered a state of stillness and focus. Then she'd perceived a light that had grown in brightness behind her, and she'd felt the peace that always seemed to accompany an angelic presence. The glow had faded and she'd felt a hand laid gently on her shoulder. She'd opened her eyes and turned to look behind her. That time it had been the archangel Gabriel and he had appeared troubled.
"I am sent by my Lord to bring His words to you, Eve," Gabriel had said, "for He lays upon you a mission that will be a test of your faith."
"My faith is strong, angel," Eve had replied, "I am committed to doing the Lord's will."
"You have been a faithful messenger, and you have brought His Word to many. You have worked to prepare the way for His Redeemer, who will bring the Message of Love and Forgiveness to mankind."
"I thought I was the Messenger of the Way of Love, of the Message of Eli " she had said, momentarily confused.
"You are numbered among the teachers of the Way of Love, and you follow in the footsteps of Eli, but the Redeemer is He for whom you both have prepared the way."
"You speak of the Messiah, angel?"
"Yes, Eve, He lives, and His knowledge of the Lord grows with each passing day. But He is still young, and the time of His ministry is not yet achieved. Yet He will soon reveal Himself to the priests, prematurely some feel, but my Lord has foreseen Him teaching in the Temple of Jerusalem."
"Angel, I must go to hear His teaching, so I can pass on His words."
"Yes, Eve. You must go and hear His teachings. My Lord bids you begin the journey with the sun, for you must arrive before the end of Passover."
" I shall gladly go to the Temple, and I shall rejoice in His words."
"Eve, my Lord directs you to the Temple, but not to be His student. You are to be, for a short time, His protector, as once your mother was yours. His words will bring awe and discomfort among the priests, and consternation among the Romans, for His coming will threaten them both. The Nation of Israel chaffs under the yoke of Rome, and the presence of the Messiah could bring rebellion in Judea. Great suffering would result."
"Go as His protector? But angel, I'm not a warrior as my mother was I've given up the Way of the Warrior for the Way of Love." Eve had felt trapped by Gabriel's words. "I have vowed against doing violence, against raising my hand in anger."
"My Lord has rejoiced in your redemption from the Darkness that was in your heart. But you are your mother's daughter, and He knows of no other among the Faithful who can protect His Son in the days to come."
"This Messiah is His Son the Son of God of whom the prophecies speak?" Eve had said in awe. "But surely He's watched over by the host of archangels."
"Eve, I bring you the words of my Lord's Will. He has chosen you to bear this burden. Trust in His Wisdom."
"I I will do the Lord's bidding," Eve had whispered, "though it may bring my soul back to the Darkness."
"Have faith, Eve, for I will watch over you with the eyes of my Lord."
Then Gabriel had smiled at her, and the glow had returned, taking the angelic presence away as it faded, and leaving her behind with her heart in turmoil.
She'd gotten little sleep that night, for her soul was in conflict. Eve had been commanded by the God of Eli to forsake the Way of Love and take up again the Way of the Warrior like her mother. How could she avoid fighting, perhaps even bearing arms and killing, if she was to protect the Son of God from the Romans and the priests of the Temple of Jerusalem? Her mother, Xena the Warrior Princess, had killed seven Olympians and countless mortals defending her. As Livia she would have had the Spirit of Battle to sanctify her violence, but in the Darkness of that life she would have first slain God's young Messiah for the Glory of Rome. How ironic she'd thought.
The still night passed as Eve tossed and turned, weighing her Lord's bidding against her beliefs. She tried to balance the need to fight, even in a righteous cause, against her belief that love could overcome any force. To do her God's Will she would have to forsake Eli's teachings, and in doing so she would chance bringing about her own twilight. The Darkness might return to possess her, for she knew it intimately.
It had only been through God's intervention that she had escaped it the first time. Would she be able to overcome its temptations a second time? Eve had stayed her hand in the past; even standing by as others had been martyred. She had faced down threats to her own life and somehow she'd always survived.
Yet now she was commanded to be a protector, and the stakes seemed so very high. If she had to fight she would win, for she had mastered fighting. Those who could best her could be counted on the fingers of a single hand. But such a fight would require complete commitment, and for that she could do nothing less than allow the Darkness in. Eve feared her seduction by the Darkness, for she was more than her mother's daughter. She would forever carry not only Xena's dark side, but Callisto's violent spirit as well. Would she fall from grace? Having again walked in her Darkness would she be entrapped by it? Would she become Livia again, or worse? Eve wondered if she was destined to be the Darkness to the Messiah's Light. In the end, she had never resolved the dilemma. She still hadn't.
In the last of the night she had slept. A brief vision had come to her before the sun breached the horizon. In it she watched the movements of the stars and the moon, the circling of the planets and the spiraling of the galaxies. It was a vision of the mechanics of the universe, and it brought her peace. So small a part am I, she thought on waking, yet I am connected to the whole of creation, and while I live I will do the work of the living.
She entered the City of David, by a gate near the Pool of Siloam, in the mid-afternoon. It was the eighth day of Passover. Eve was but one of many travelers following the road uphill towards the temple mount. Of all the things she looked forward to, the baths were highest on her list. Jerusalem was now a Roman town, and the public baths were part of what made a Roman town Roman. When she finally found the bathhouse she thanked the Lord rather than the Empire. After a good scrubbing and a long soaking she felt human again. Cleanliness is next to godliness, she joked to herself, and now it wouldn't take a god's strength to stand next to her.
She resisted the urge to burn her clothes. Instead she washed them in stages, shuddering at the rinse water, wearing her outer robes while she laundered the inner ones. She was amazed at how fast they dried in the dry heat. When she had finished with the outer robes as well she went looking for a place to eat.
Not far from the baths she found an inn, and she entered the common room, finding a table and ordering a meal. The innkeeper brought her a plate with flat breads, some vegetables, humus, and mutton, accompanied by a cup of wine. She said a blessing over her food and gratefully began eating as she looked more closely at her surroundings. Travelers from many nations filled the common room, Jews, Greeks, and Romans, mostly, but also Egyptians, Syrians, Arabs and Africans. The sounds of many tongues came to her ears as she ate. All seemed to be at peace together in the universal bonds of hunger and thirst. Still there was a subtle tension in the air she'd felt it ever since she'd entered the city. Her body reacted by sharpening the sixth sense of the warrior she had once been. It whispered of the movements of those near her, the comings and goings of customers, the level of tension in the room, and the eyes of those who appraised her.
Eve looked up from her meal to meet the eyes of a man at a table several yards away. He was looking at her with curiosity, and she perceived little threat from him. He broke their eye contact and leaned close to the woman next to him, whispering and gesturing towards her with a movement of his head. The woman turned to look at her, meeting her eyes and giving her a small smile. Eve smiled back as she reached for her wine. The couple was part of a group of six, and she surveyed the others quickly, finally noticing the small pendant one wore. It was a simple outline of a fish strung on a woven cord. They were followers of Eli.
Minutes later, as Eve neared the end of her meal, the man who had first looked at her approached her table. His face was lit with a smile, his empty hands were held out before him in greeting. His appearance was unremarkable, medium height, a round face with friendly brown eyes. His brown hair was cropped short and he wore traveler's robes. He looked familiar, but Eve couldn't place him.
"Peace be with you, sister," he said.
"And with thy spirit." Eve answered.
"It's been years since the last time I saw you, but you look well," he began, still smiling broadly, "I'm glad you've found a measure of peace since that day on the beach."
"Forgive me sir," Eve said, embarrassed, for she couldn't place this man who obviously knew her. In her travels she had stood on many shores. "I have traveled a lot, and I find I can't recall our past meeting."
"Well, we didn't really meet, but I recognize you. I knelt with the Baptist to be cleansed right before you did, but afterwards all hell broke loose. I fled in terror with the others. We never spoke."
"So much happened that day " Eve whispered, remembering that afternoon. She had come to the shore of the sea in the years before the Baptist moved his ministry to the river Jordan. She'd come with her mother and her mother's partner, in hopes of finding forgiveness for her deeds. The Baptist had called to her personally, sensing her suffering. She had knelt before him as he poured the water over her head, and to her amazement Eve had felt her burden of guilt and despair become a bearable weight, and she had been given a mission to atone for her sins. Her crushing hopelessness had been replaced with purpose, and she had become the Messenger of the Way of Love. Unlike her "aunt" Gabrielle, Eve had no qualms about following Eli's Way, for she felt little competition from concerns like the Way of Friendship. Her remorse at having taken so many lives had left her an empty vessel ready to carry the teachings of Eli, and she accepted the danger it sometimes entailed. Eve felt her new life was a gift from God and not wholly her own.
Only moments after her rebirth, the Olympians had come to execute her. Her mother had fought them, killing three, for Eli's God had appointed Xena to be her protector. If she'd had any doubts about her mission they had died in that battle, and though she'd not known how to start, she'd resolved to see it through. She'd thought it was the most important thing she would ever do. That belief had sustained her until Gabriel's visit a few weeks ago. Now she had a new mission.
"We saw the battle from a distance," he said, snapping Eve back from her memories, "and that warrior defeated the pagan Gods as though they too were mortal. Since then I've never doubted the power of God. I've followed the Way of Love to the best of my ability ever since."
"I guess you've heard stories about what happened after ?"
"We've heard about the Twilight of the Olympians, and we've heard of your mission, teaching the Way of Love." He confirmed, and then added hopefully, "Actually we're honored to meet you. We're hoping you will join us in prayer tonight."
Eve smiled at him and looked over at the others sitting at their table. She felt honored by their offer for she was alone in the city.
"I would be happy to join you. I need to pray for my heart is troubled. Thank you for your kindness."
Eve left the inn with the Elisians and they walked back out through the city gate. They were part of a group camped near an aquaduct by the south of the city wall. The place they had chosen overlooked the mouth of the Hinnom Valley. Farther up the valley was the garbage dump and offal ground of the city. The noise of dumping sometimes disturbed their sleep, and the stenches were catastrophic when the breeze was right. But none in the city cared that they squatted on this choice piece of real estate.
When they arrived they were greeted warmly by the other dozen members of the group, and they all wanted to know more about Eve's travels. She recounted an abbreviated version of her years in Indus and Chin. Her descriptions of these foreign lands were greeted with wonder and many questions. She tried to speak as little as possible about herself, still uncomfortable about casually relating her previous life as Livia. Finally the group settled for their evening prayers. To her surprise they asked Eve to open their prayer time with a sermon. Because it was so much on her mind, she spoke of the coming of the Messiah and the promise of change He represented. She spoke of the declaration of the angel that he lived. That this boy was even now somewhere in the city. The group rejoiced, for their hope was great. The words of the prophets from centuries past, that had been answered by the birth in Bethlehem, had been reconfirmed by the angel. Herod's men had not found the babe after his birth; he had not died in the Slaughter of the Innocents.
Eve remained silent about her mission and about the conflict it was causing her. But when the group knelt in individual prayer it was all she could think of. Again she tried to reach a philosophical resolution, and in the end she couldn't. It was several candle marks later when she gave up and lay down. For a while she watched the stars. Higher up the valley men were cursing and dumping refuse and finally she fell into a fitful sleep.
Eve dreamed she was in a room with a high ceiling. The walls were of gold, wrought with the images of flowers and the winged figures of cherubim. Behind her a pair of double doors stood open to a courtyard. On her right, a table of gold held an offering of loaves. The room was lit by ten sets of candelabra, five on each side, while ahead of her stood an altar where incense burned. Behind the altar a five-sided opening led to a smaller room from which a golden light emanated. Eve felt herself drawn towards it. She passed around the Altar of Incense and stood before the pentagonal door. Through it she could see the twin figures of winged cherubim flanking the Ark of the Covenant. Above the Ark, a cloud moved with the slow power of a thunderhead, and from within it poured the golden light. Eve heard a choir singing praises to God, and before this vision of splendor she prostrated herself on the floor.
When she lifted her head she was looking out onto a landscape, raw from the creation, the bare rock still steaming, yet before her the scene began to change. As Eve watched, plants sprouted from the land. Below the cliff on which she stood, waves washed a beach of the whitest sand. The puffy clouds of a perfect summer day sailed across the heavens as birds swooped and soared among them. In the new-formed meadow around her, flowers bloomed, scenting the air. Right before her a butterfly, iridescent as the most precious of gems, fluttered, finally alighting on a blossom. It was a vision of the triumph of beauty in nature, testimony to the hand of God the Creator, and tears of joy and thanks flowed freely down her cheeks.
The next morning Eve awoke with the sun, resolving to visit the Temple. Although she would not be able to enter, it seemed the best place to search for the boy Messiah. As if to bless her mission, the morning breeze blew up into the valley and the air was fresh. Eve bid her new friends goodbye, after the morning meal, and set off on her mission. She walked along the city wall, back towards the road she'd traveled the day before. From a distance she saw it was jammed with travelers leaving the city now that the Passover celebration was finished.
Eve soon reached the gate and found it impassable. The crowds of families, companies of Roman soldiers, tradesmen, and merchants with their carts had so clogged the road inside the gates that the guards were allowing only those leaving the city to pass. A cacophony of protesting voices rose around her. They were silenced by the Roman officer of the guard, who threatened to close the gates and have them all banned from the city. Eve debated trying another gate, but a Greek trader informed her that the other gates were much the same.
A harried Roman soldier gruffly told her it would probably be three candle marks at the least before traffic would be allowed to flow into the city again. Then he grumbled to her about the tetrarch, the legatus legionis, his centurion, and the engineers who had built the city hundreds of years before. It was worse than any procession in Rome, for there the ways could handle the traffic. Lastly he expressed the opinion that, if Augustus gave Judea back to the Israelites, he would be only too happy to leave this Gods forsaken desert and go home. Next to them a donkey brayed as the driver beat it. For a moment it seemed to eye her beseechingly, then it defecated in protest. The guard jabbed its buttocks with his spear and it jerked into motion, dragging its small cart.
Eve sighed and sat with the growing crowd waiting along the roadside for permission to enter the city. Eventually her head nodded from boredom. She dozed off in spite of the heat and dreamed.
She had ridden into an embattled town as her soldiers carried out their slaughter. The screams of the victims and the crackle of flames filled her rears. In moments she had slain another half-dozen defenders. Then there was a flash and her patron God appeared. Ares, the God of War, paced toward his protégé Livia, the Champion of Rome. After expressing his approval of the battle she had waged, he congratulated her on being named Augustus Caesar's successor.
" then our plans are on target." She remembered saying, as if it were yesterday.
"And soon, you will be the most powerful woman this empire has ever known." Ares had said, stroking her hair with the back of his hand. The anticipation of such power was more exciting than sex, for power was the more potent tool.
"Then no one can stop us from exterminating the followers of Eli as traitors to Rome," she had said from the cold depths of her heart, "and the God she honors."
And then she had drawn him to her, wrapping her arm around his neck, and they had sealed their plot with a kiss. She and Ares had been a good match, each using the other in their quest for domination, yet she had been seduced while trying to seduce him, and her plans for conquest were but one plot among many to the God of War. It still could have worked but for the reappearance of her mother. As Livia she would have embraced the Darkness without reservation, and even war would have become only one tool among many, for the true goal was the unhindered exercise of her will. She had been so close, and the horror of it startled her awake in a cold sweat.
Eve looked around, disoriented, and trying to slow her breathing. She checked the position of the sun and saw that a couple candle marks had passed. Eve noticed that the crowd waiting to enter the city had swelled. The buzz of their conversations droned on around her, exacerbating to her drowsiness. The road was still clogged with travelers leaving the city gate, adding the sounds of shuffling feet and creaking cartwheels. For a while Eve just watched in amazement. Jerusalem was a small town compared to Rome, or even Athens for that matter. There wasn't more than a square mile within the walls. Where had they stuffed all these people?
It was almost two candle marks later when the guards finally started letting travelers enter the city. Because Eve was close to the gate with the early arrivals, she managed to pass into Jerusalem at the candle mark before noon. She was part of a crowd that walked up the road towards the temple mount, grumbling about the delay and gradually dispersing down the narrow streets to their destinations. Eve passed many buildings of pale limestone on her way through the lower city. To her, Jerusalem had the look of a hundred other desert towns, sun baked and unremarkable. Yet when she lifted her eyes, there ahead of her on Mount Moriah was the great wall rising from its foundation stones, some laid over 500 years before. If legends were true, the oldest stones dated from almost 500 years before that. The present temple had been rebuilt by Herod, the Roman appointed King of Judea, in an act not of piety but of placation. It had opened about 35 years before, though some parts were still under construction. As she drew closer she heard the yelling of the work crews and the sounds of hammers.
When Eve finally reached the temple she was admitted to the outermost court, the Court of the Gentiles. It was a wide three-sided plaza surrounding the inner courts and the temple buildings. A notice in Greek and Latin was carved on the pillars between the nine gates to the Court of Women. It warned that none but the Israelites could pass, on pain of death. Beyond the gates and the Court of Women stood the Court of Israel, the Court of Priests with the bloody altar, and finally the buildings of the Temple of Herod. Even in the outer court Eve could smell burning incense and animal sacrifices.
Around her a throng of people went about their business, for in this outermost court, accessible to all, merchants sold livestock and other goods. Some changed money from the traders of many lands. Rather than prayers, the voices of hagglers and hawkers filled the air. Even in this least holy court of the temple it just seemed wrong to Eve, and her eyes hardened at the sight. At least in Rome the business of the markets was conducted in the markets, while the business of worship was conducted in the temples.
"It is wrong to profane the House of the Lord with commerce. This is no place for the greed of the world." A youthful voice beside her said, as if reading her thoughts.
Eve looked down to see a boy with a troubled look upon his face, as he turned to regard her. She guessed he was around eleven or twelve. He was thin, with dark wavy hair and intelligent eyes, like so many in this land. He'd probably grow up to be a good-looking man, she thought. He was dressed in traveler's robes. She looked around but didn't see his parents anywhere.
"I agree," Eve said, "even in Rome people keep the temples for the Gods."
"Here the priests allow merchandising," the boy told her, "because the wealth it produces brings offerings to enrich the temple. Everything to them revolves around the concerns of the world."
"And you feel the temple should be concerned with the spirit?" Eve asked, enjoying his youthful idealism.
"The House of God should be a house of prayer." The boy stated passionately as his eyes scanned the court. "There are markets for this. It makes me angry. It's a sign of the sickness which has grown in the nation of Israel."
"And you would cure this sickness if you could?" Eve asked him, for she was tempted to throw the peddlers out on their butts. The conversation was affecting her, tendrils of her darkness wafting into her heart like the trace scent of battle on a weak breeze.
"I shall one day." He declared, with a certainty that made Eve look back down at him.
"Well, maybe I'll help you." Eve said, as a menacing smile curled her lips.
The boy stepped back, hearing something in her voice that warned him of her potential for violence. Eve saw his reaction and chastised herself, calming the impulse. There was something about this city that magnified her feelings.
"I'm sorry," she said, "my name is Eve, and I'm pleased to meet you."
"Oh," the boy said, having realized he'd never introduced himself, "I'm Jesus ben Joseph of Nazareth, and I'm pleased to meet you, Eve."
They grasped forearms in greeting, Eve smiling down at the boy, charmed with his manners. He smiled back at her, relaxing because she wasn't treating him like a kid.
"Are you here alone?" She asked him. "I don't see your parents with you."
"Well, I'm here on my father's business," he told her, "my family headed back home this morning, but I stayed."
"You're here to conduct business for your father? Is he leaving you to buy oxen or change money?"
"No, I have to talk with the priests inside," Jesus said, and then he looked at her hopefully, " maybe you could come with me?"
Uh oh, Eve thought, I wonder if this kid's starting to get a crush on me. I've seen that look before enough times. His parents left him in the city, and he knows we agree on a few things about the temple maybe in another ten or fifteen years. Eve grinned to herself.
"I can't enter the temple, Jesus. I'm not of the people of Israel. I'm from Rome, but my people are Greek," Eve told him, "and I have to respect the restrictions here."
"Oh," Jesus said, "you look like you could be Jewish, but I guess you're right. You can't object to the merchants here in the outer court where they're allowed, and then walk into the inner courts where you're not allowed."
"Right, it would make me a real hypocrite."
"Well, I guess I'll go in then. But they'll probably throw me out pretty quick cause I'm a kid," Jesus told her, then he added with a grin, "even though I know the Lord's Will better than the priests do."
Eve gave him an appraising look after he made that claim, but she saw he was utterly serious. At least he believed it. Youthful idealism for sure, she thought, I felt like I knew it all when I was his age too.
"If you'd like, I can wait for you," Eve offered.
"That would be great, Eve," he said, "but you must have business of your own here too."
"Well, actually I'm here to try to meet someone."
"Oh," Jesus said, looking down at his feet and thinking, her mom probably got a matchmaker to send her someone or something. She's really pretty; too bad she's not Jewish.
Definitely a crush, Eve thought, observing his reaction.
"The problem is I'm not sure I'd recognize this person," Eve confessed, "I've never met him before and I'm only here because it seems like it's the best place to wait."
"Well good luck," Jesus said as he started to turn towards the gates of the inner courts, "I hope you meet him."
"Thanks, Jesus ben Joseph," Eve said, giving him an encouraging smile, "I hope you don't get thrown out before you can talk to the priests."
"Thanks, Eve," Jesus said smiling back at her, "it was really nice meeting you."
Eve watched him walk up the steps and though the gate, his slender shoulders set with determination. A boy on a man's mission, she thought to herself, going to the Temple to do his father's business. And I wonder why his father's so busy he has to send his son? At his age he should be hanging around the marketplace with friends, getting into trouble with the merchants, and eyeing the girls. He's very serious for a kid his age, concerned with the spiritual welfare of his people. Maybe he spends all his time reading about the prophets some kids get pretty obsessed. Eve grinned. Well I guess I was pretty obsessed too, Eve remembered, and the grin faded. Her memories were mostly about learning how to fight.
As she walked through the temple courtyard turned market, vendors called to her offering their wares. She forced a smile onto her face as she turned them down, often glancing back towards the gates to the inner courts. The boy, Jesus, had seemed like a nice kid, and she hoped he didn't get himself into trouble inside the Temple. She had a suspicion the priests would frown on a kid walking in without his parents for all she knew, only adults were allowed inside. On her second circuit of the court she found herself wondering what a Messiah would look like. Would there be a sense of power she'd be able to perceive? Would he appear with Holy Light befitting the Son of God? Eve realized she held a lot of preconceived hopes, but no real information. Well, I've done a great job of preparing myself for a divine mission, Eve thought derisively, I had more intelligence reports on the towns I used to attack. If my mother could only see me now some protector I'm going to be.
Eve checked the gates again and she saw two priests in fine robes with Jesus between them, escorting him out of the inner courts. Eve quickly made her way towards them. When they reached the bottom step they released their hold on his shoulders and paused briefly, berating him loudly in Aramaic, the local dialect of Palestine. Eve couldn't understand a word of what they said. Jesus turned towards them, and stood, speaking back to them. At first Eve couldn't hear what he said. Unlike the priests, he spoke at a normal level and he seemed much calmer then the two adults. When Eve came close enough to hear, she realized Jesus was quoting the Book of Kings to the priests.
" they followed vanity, and became vain, and went after the heathen that were round about them," ¹ Jesus recited, in the original Hebrew. Then he charged them, saying, "and to adorn your Temple with gold and to wear fine robes, you encourage the traders to do their business in the courts of the Temple of the Lord, which should be reserved for devotion to the Lord alone. From devotion alone should the offerings to the Temple be made."
I'm sure that's going to be well received, Eve thought, especially coming from a kid, and it's worse because it shames these priests before the gentiles gathering around. Eve had to grin. It hadn't taken Jesus long to rile them up and get thrown out.
The priests were just looking at Jesus, and Eve saw shock, guilt, and finally anger on their faces. The taller of the two priests seemed to be taking the whole exchange more seriously than his shorter older companion. He took a step towards Jesus, looming over him, and began shouting again in Aramaic, gesturing with his finger. Eve watched his face getting redder as he became more excited, and she moved to stand directly behind the boy. The other priest suppressed a grin after something the tall priest said. Whatever it was caused Jesus to draw himself up and start quoting another verse, flawlessly pronouncing the archaic biblical language, this time from the Book of Leviticus.
"'Thou shalt keep my Sabbaths, and reverence my sanctuary.' ² So the God of Israel spoke to Moses," Jesus said, in an authoritative tone, "yet this market brings no reverence to His sanctuary, rather it lowers it to the status of a bazaar."
At this the tall priest exploded into a tirade in Aramaic and raised his hand to slap the boy. In a blur Eve reached over Jesus' shoulder and her hand trapped the priest's wrist inches from impact. She twisted it just enough to hold his arm immobile and captured his eyes with hers, a small smile on her face. Eve sensed anger and the birth of malice in the priest's eyes. For a few tense moments neither moved, then the priest relaxed, and Eve released his wrist. The shorter priest took his companion by the shoulder and turned him back towards the gates, ushering him up the stairs and into the inner courts of the Temple. Both Eve and Jesus watched them go while the small crowd of onlookers dispersed, muttering among themselves. For a moment Eve wondered if the priest would cause them trouble.
"I guess your meeting with the priests didn't go too well, huh?" Eve asked, when they had been left alone.
"It went about like I expected," Jesus said, with a sigh, "I never thought they'd take my criticism very well. Still, someone has to take them to task, and the market is just the beginning."
"What about the business your father sent you to do? Did you get a chance to do any of that?"
"Well, actually that's what I was trying to do "
"Your father sent you here to berate the priests?" Eve asked in shock. She thought she'd have to have a little talk with Joseph of Nazareth.
"Not exactly," the boy hedged, "actually I kind of ran away "
Eve stared at Jesus for a moment. The kid had run away from his parents to challenge the priests over their conduct of the Temple? Definitely obsessed, she thought, passionate, naive, and probably hasn't any idea of what to do next. I wonder if he even has a place to stay? I guess I can help him find his parents though, he seems like a good kid, aside from his religious fervor kind of reminds me of how insufferably preachy I was when I first started my mission. She smiled, remembering her tiresome zealotry and how many times her mother had been forced to save her life, in Amphipolis, twice with the Amazons, and again in Rome.
"So what are you going to do now?" She asked him.
"Uhhh, I guess I'll try again tomorrow," Jesus said, and then he grinned at her, "Rome wasn't built in a day either, right."
Eve couldn't help but smile. The kid had determination and principals. He reminded her a little of her "aunt" Gabrielle and her legendary persistence and devotion to the Greater Good.
"You're right; it wasn't built in a day." Eve agreed, before asking, "Would you like to join me for an evening meal?"
"Really? I'd love to Eve," Jesus exclaimed, his face brightening with a wide smile, then it sank a little as he confessed, "but I don't have any money."
"Don't worry about that, I have a little, and I know how we can get more if we need to."
"Well, ok," he said, "and thanks for keeping that priest from hitting me."
"You're welcome, Jesus. And can I give you a piece of advice?"
"Try to make you're criticisms more philosophical, and less personal. Just try to be tactful." Eve told him. "You seem to know the words of the prophets, so teach them what they should be doing based on what God has told his people to do. If you attack the priests personally, they'll become defensive, and they'll be tempted to get violent. Keep it a theological discussion. You know choose a battle you can win."
For a while Jesus thought about what she'd said, and Eve could almost see the wheels turning in his young mind. After a few moments he smiled his agreement at her.
"That's really good advice. I know I can win an argument with them about scripture. Thanks a lot, Eve, you're really smart." And really beautiful, he thought, and she doesn't treat me like a kid. It's really too bad she's not Jewish.
"You're welcome. Now let's go find someplace to eat."
They ended up in the same tavern where Eve had met the Elisians the night before. The tavern keeper was happy to serve Jesus kosher foods. In the city of Jerusalem, a kosher kitchen was good business. When the food arrived, Jesus asked if Eve would mind if he said the blessing. Eve accepted his offer and listened to his sincerity as he spoke.
"O Lord, by thy blessing do we partake of these gifts of sustenance. Accept our thanks for thy kindness. Thou hast provided the manna for the body and the soul, and our spirits rejoice to know thy graciousness. Accept our praises for they mercy. Grant us the strength to walk thy path in body and in heart and in spirit, O Lord. Accept our love for thy righteousness."
Later Eve watched Jesus eating. I guess he eats like a growing boy, she observed, but I haven't seen an appetite like that since the last time I ate with Gabrielle. When their platters were empty, Eve beckoned the tavern keeper over and ordered a little more food. She had spent the last of her money, but she didn't worry. She could always get more by preaching in the streets for alms. And she found her own appetite had returned, having not spent all day walking in the desert heat as she had for the last several weeks.
Throughout the meal they traded stories, and Jesus listened with rapt attention to Eve's accounts of far away lands. Her descriptions of Chin and Indus in particular fascinated him. He sat wide-eyed, chewing the last of the bread and lamb. At the next table a group of travelers listened discreetly, unable to ignore her words. Eventually Eve asked Jesus about himself.
"Well," he said, "my father's a carpenter. I always knew my parents expected me to follow him, but I've always felt I needed to do more. I wouldn't mind being a carpenter, or a fisherman even, it's just that what I really like doing is studying the scriptures. I love reading about the history of my people, and about the wonders of God. I guess I feel like they give me a purpose to teach people God's Ways. I want to make the world a better place. I see so much suffering and I know if people really believed, really lived their faith, then God would take care of His people. He always did before."
One of the men at the next table smiled, having turned partly to face them on his bench. The kid certainly was serious, the woman was pretty, and their conversation was a lot more interesting than that of his fellow travelers. Their journey from Rome had been uneventful, and he had made the trip many times. His party had been overhearing them for several minutes.
"That's a wonderful ambition, Jesus." Eve told him. "Maybe God is calling you to spread His Word. I certainly know that's what he did with me. I was a horrible person before I was reborn. Ever since then I have traveled spreading Eli's words, and trying to help people live the Way of Love."
"I've heard of the Elisians," Jesus said, "but I've never really heard much about what they believe in. I know a lot about the Books of the Prophets I heard you believe Eli was the Messiah."
"No, Jesus, Eli was a teacher like myself. He spent his life finding a path he thought would lead to peace among men. He taught that love could overcome all and make earth more like heaven, or like the garden in which God first meant mankind to live. He also believed that people could change themselves, and by accepting the Way of Love, they could be forgiven for their past evils, and be reborn."
"That's what happened to you?"
"Yes, exactly," Eve said seriously, "like I said I was a very bad person. When I realized it, I was so overwhelmed with guilt that I just despaired and wanted to die. Then my mother took me to the Baptist, and during his ceremony I felt myself cleansed by God's love. I was reborn, and I have tried to follow the Way, and teach what I know."
The man rolled his eyes. He'd met plenty of Elisians, and considered them friendly but a bit preachy and utopian in their beliefs. Still, they weren't threatening to travelers, and he could sympathize with the woman. He'd done things he wasn't exactly proud of too. Of course he'd never been suicidal about it. Maybe she'd been a prostitute.
"Well, everyone commits sins, but if they make the proper sacrifices and say prayers and follow God's Commandments, then He will continue to love them." Jesus stated. "You've been really nice to me, and I can't believe you were that bad."
The listener agreed. A trip to the temples in Rome, and an offering or two had always made him feel better. He could agree with the Jewish kid about that. Gods were concerned with the peoples' devotion, and they always wanted proof of their worshippers' sincerity. Some gold, or a lamb .
"Jesus, I was the worst person you could have ever met." Eve swallowed and told him. Though the immediacy of her guilt had diminished, her remorse was still deep and powerful. "If you'd met me 14 years ago, I probably would have killed you if you had gotten in my way. Everything I did was for the sake of gaining power, and I never hesitated to use anyone I could to further my ambitions and that included the Emperor of Rome, and the God of War."
Now this was getting interesting he and his fellow travelers were listening closely. They weren't even pretending to not follow her words.
"You knew Augustus Caesar?" Jesus asked, wide eyed. "And the God of War?"
"Augustus adopted me, and later I was to marry him. Ares trained me to lead his army."
Oh gods, he thought, it could not be. He had been a young man 14 years ago, and he was old enough to know this story. Everyone in Rome did. There was only one person she could be if her words were true. Once they had believed she would be the next Empress of Rome, but she had gone insane. Her downfall had followed a reappearance of the Greek Warrior Princess, an impossibility, for she had been crucified by Julius Caesar over 25 years before. Yet Xena had returned from the dead, and she had defeated the Champion of Rome in battle in the coliseum. He remembered the day. After losing that duel Livia went on the rampage, hunting Elisians and anyone else she suspected, killing in a mad frenzy directed at punishing her mother, the Warrior Princess. Eventually she had killed anyone she found in her path, lost in her dementia of vengeance, and many Roman citizens had also died. Among the dead were his parents and sister. Then she had disappeared. With the others at his table he hung on her next words.
"I was possessed by the darkness of my mother, the bloodlust of the spirit I had inherited, and I was corrupted by the God of War." She felt the memories more than thought them, the seductive calling of power, then the anguish of self-loathing.
Jesus was just staring at her, for once unable to speak.
"I was Xena at her worst," she declared, "Callisto on the rampage, and I was Ares' lover. I was "
"Livia!" He screamed, jumping from his bench. "The Bitch of Rome."
Eve leapt from her seat, reflexes driving her into motion, guilt, fear, and shock inundating her at the venom in his voice. She spun to face him as he drew his sword. People around them stared, paralyzed by the sudden outburst. Jesus was frozen in his seat, overwhelmed by how fast things had changed. The man was only a yard away, his face contorted with rage, and his sword was on the downswing, directed at her neck.
Eve's left hand slammed up into his wrist, catching his sword hand, and she was already turning, moving under his sword arm. In an instant she was standing to his right, slightly behind him and her right hand twisted the sword from his grasp. The disarm technique was a pure reflex, her muscle memory still flawless after all the intervening years. He staggered forward a step then turned to face his own blade in her hand. For a moment there was silence in the tavern. No one moved. With a long forgotten thrill she saw him realize his impending death, his look of fear and resignation. He saw the feral look of bloodlust in her eyes. She was the terrifying monster who had killed thousands. She was Livia. And then a wavering young voice broke the silence.
"Surely a maggot cannot praise thee, nor a grave worm recount thy loving kindness.
But the living can praise thee, even those who stumble can laud thee.
In revealing thy kindness to them and by thy righteousness dost thou enlighten them.
For in thy hand is every living thing; the breath of all flesh hast thou given.
Deal with us, O Lord, according to thy goodness, according to thy great mercy, and according to thy many righteous deeds.
The Lord has heeded the voice of those who love his name and has not deprived them of his loving kindness.
Blessed be the Lord, who executes righteous deeds, crowning his saints with loving kindness and mercy." ³
Slowly the man crumpled into the chair Eve had leapt from only moments before, realizing his mother and sister would never have wanted him to kill in vengeance. Slowly Eve lowered the sword she held. Her bloodlust faded and she was overcome with remorse, appalled by her desire to kill. And slowly tears began to flow down her cheeks.
"You owe this young man your life." Eve brokenly whispered to the man sitting before her. And I owe him my soul, she thought. "I don't know where your hatred of Livia was born, but I don't doubt it is just. If I could undo the deeds of my past I would do so without a second thought. Take comfort if you can, for the one you knew as Livia is dead." Yet she felt a twinge of doubt as she said it. Her first doubt in over a dozen years.
Jesus had come around the table to stand beside her, and with a quick movement she launched the sword straight up into the ceiling beams, where it stuck, out of reach above their heads. In silence they left the tavern, and the silence followed them out into the street. The silence that surrounded them also surrounded her heart. It was peaceful after the confrontation, but to Eve it also felt empty. It wasn't the red of rage that she had felt moments before, but it wasn't the gold of love she was used to either. Rather it was more like the black of emptiness.
Neither of them spoke, and Eve's focus was turned within. She found herself leading them out of the city gate, along the south wall, and finally to the camp of the Elisians. She thought it was the best place to spend the night since they had no money. In the morning she would try to find his parents, and then continue with the angel's mission.
The Elisians greeted Eve and Jesus with warmth, but they noticed that they both seemed troubled. Eve spoke quietly with the man she'd met in the tavern the night before, recounting the day's events. For a while he said nothing, looking back and forth between them. He could see a strange dynamic developing. Both of them were pretty exceptional people.
Eve was worried about the growing temptation of her old violence, and she felt her mission would require her to fight. Jesus was worried for her future, and troubled by her past not to mention consumed by his desire to return the Nation of Israel to its covenant with God. Finally the man suggested they all spend some time praying. In the background the sounds of yelling, drunken laughter, and a cartload of refuse being overturned reached their ears from higher in the valley above their camp. As if on cue the stench of something dead wafted over them.
With difficulty Eve eventually slipped into the meditative state she sought, and before long a light shown down before her and the archangel Gabriel appeared.
"Peace be with you, and what is that smell?" He asked, glancing around. Finally he made a gesture, and the air was cleaned. "Eve, we have felt the torment growing in your heart. My Lord wishes you to know that your test has just begun. But if you maintain your faith you will succeed. You are closer than you know."
"Angel, I felt the temptation of the Darkness upon me tonight. If not for Jesus' words in the tavern I might have fallen and killed a man. My heart wanted to shed his blood."
"If you had truly fallen his words would have been in vain. It was your own heart that accepted them and resisted the bloodlust."
"Yes, but it was close."
"Sometimes the line between salvation and damnation is finer than a hair." Gabriel said to her with a smile. "Yet in the end, the measure of your faith shall be as an eternity, and the measure of your devotion shall be as an ocean. You and the boy have much in common. In helping him, you have helped yourself. Such is the Will of God and the Way of Love."
She pondered Gabriel's words as his figure disappeared in the light and was drawn up to heaven. For a long time she remained on her knees, deep in prayer. She and Jesus shared a love of God and devotion to spreading their respective teachings. Today they had each saved the other from falling prey to violence. The angel was right about those things. But as for being close to succeeding in her mission, she had doubts. It would be so much easier if Gabriel just pointed out the Messiah and let me protect him, Eve thought. Then she wondered how she would do that without giving in to the urge to kill that she'd felt tonight, or freezing up at a critical moment allowing a tragedy.
"Must it be all or nothing?" she whispered to the sky. But there was no answer.
Unnoticed behind her, Jesus and the Elisians had prostrated themselves on the ground, in awe at the angel's appearance, and now they slowly raised themselves back to their feet. When Eve finally finished her prayers they were still rejoicing. It was the first time any of them had seen anything miraculous, and they were inspired by the angel's appearance. Jesus seemed the most amazed of all, his youthful mind and imagination now had a direct experience to reinforce the scriptures. His faith had never been stronger. As she returned to them they smiled at her and gave her small touches, partly to reassure her, and partly with the hope that a small measure of the angel's favor would transfer to them. They were rather superstitious at heart, much as they would have denied it. A gentle breeze funneled a cloud of stench down from the offal in the valley, momentarily choking them.
"Eve," Jesus hesitantly asked, much later as the others were lying down to sleep, "in the tavern you spoke of having Xena's darkness and Callisto's spirit can you tell me ?"
"Well, it's kind of confusing," Eve began, "my mother was Xena, the Warrior Princess, and at first she was called the Destroyer of Nations. She was a Greek warlord who sought to dominate the known world. She was Ares' favorite, and her ambition and ruthlessness had no limits. One of the towns her army sacked was called Cirra, and in the destruction, the family of a girl named Callisto burned to death. Callisto spent years becoming a warrior, she even became a Goddess, but she was driven insane by her obsession with destroying my mother. Later, my mother repented of her evil and spent the rest of her life trying to atone for her sins. She killed Callisto twice that I know of, and was killed herself three times.
The second time, she and my Aunt Gabrielle went to heaven and hell before Eli brought them back to life. Xena had become an archangel, and went to rescue Gabrielle from Callisto, who had become a demon. While they were fighting in hell she took on Callisto's damnation. She was moved to show mercy and undo the suffering she had caused. She went from being an archangel to being a demon, while Callisto was redeemed. After Xena and Gabrielle were resurrected, Almighty God chose to give my mother a child, and He chose Callisto's spirit to join with my mother's to create me."
"So in a way, God's your father," Jesus stated.
"Well, I never thought of it that way," Eve replied, "I didn't know He had plans for me until I was reborn, but my birth was part of an old prophecy. They called me the Bringer of Twilight, and my birth heralded the downfall of the Olympian pantheon. It was stupid, but they thought I would kill them, so they tried to kill me. God appointed my mother as my protector, and she killed most of them. Later God told me I was the Messenger of the Way of Love. That's been my mission ever since. Besides, in a way, God's everyone's father."
"Then you're kind of like my step-sister." Jesus said, grinning.
"Well, my mother told me that before I was born an angel appeared to her and said she'd bear a son, and what to name me. So I've always figured that God was my father."
Eve didn't know how to respond to Jesus' claim. It was something that had happened before he was born; something he'd heard from his mother. Perhaps it was just her way of making her child feel special. The angel certainly hadn't paid any attention to him tonight. Coupled with his religious obsessions, she wondered if this was really only his delusion, an apocryphal link to the divine. And considering he'd run away from his parents, it might be indicative of a dysfunctional family relationship centered on his father, Joseph. In the end, she decided to humor him.
"I guess that makes sense," she said slowly, "I've come to believe we are living in a time of change, and God's hand is much in evidence in these times. It certainly explains why you love scripture so much."
"He's constantly at work in the world," Jesus declared, "and now I see it wasn't just chance that brought us together at the Temple this afternoon. We're like family, sort of, and we're here to help each other."
"So I guess we'll be going back to the Temple tomorrow," Eve said with a smile, "and the best preparation for that conflict is a night's rest. Let's get some sleep, brother."
Jesus gave her a big smile, and grabbed her in a hug, before he flopped onto the ground a few feet away and quickly dozed off. There was a clatter and a muffled crash as garbage was dumped into the valley several hundred yards away. With a sigh Eve lay down, and she continued thinking about the angel's words as she slipped into sleep. I guess maybe I'll meet the Messiah at the Temple tomorrow, she thought, and my real mission will begin.
In her dream, Eve walked in a garden, and by some sense she knew it was in a time long past. On the plants around her, on the animals that moved amongst the plants, and on the birds that flew above, she saw no blemish. The day was perfect in all ways, and in the light that fell from heaven there was no stain. She sensed that the life around her was in all things, and all these things were bound together, animate and inanimate, seen and unseen. Her spirit was lighter than it had ever felt, as if Livia had never been. She was at peace with the world and herself, and her soul rejoiced to be part of this great and perfect balance. And sometime, just before the dream faded, she knew this was how the world was meant to be in its first design. This was the vision of the harmony of things that God had sought to confer on mankind, once long ago before the fall. Her heart broke for the loss of that one chance to know God's perfection through the manifestation of the world he had created, and the knowledge that she had once cleaved to its antithesis drove her to wakefulness.
The sun crested the horizon in the moment she opened her eyes, and she met its rising light through tears she quickly wiped away. Perhaps today she would meet the Messiah she had been sent to protect. Today I may be called to fight for his life, she thought, and perhaps I will lose myself in the darkness of the violence that I have resisted for so long. Maybe I'll become another sacrifice at the Temple, and with that thought a wry grin crossed her face.
She glanced over at Jesus, who was still sleeping, and she thought, today I will hopefully reunite him with his family. It's the second day after Passover, and they must be very worried by now. I'll have to ask the guard at the city gate if anyone has come looking for a missing boy.
Like most people encamped outdoors, the Elisians rose shortly after the sun, for the day rapidly heated, and sleep became difficult. They ate a small meal of bread and water, and soon Eve and Jesus were walking back towards the gate of the city. There Eve asked the guard if a family had come searching for a missing boy, but the man had heard nothing. He was the same Roman soldier she had talked to the previous day. Without the traffic jam at his gate, he seemed happier. After agreeing to send anyone asking for a missing boy named Jesus to the Temple, and bade them a good day.
Having walked from the lower city to Mt. Moriah, Eve and Jesus parted. Eve agreed to wait in the Court of the Gentiles while Jesus went into the Temple to talk with the priests. When he had disappeared into the inner courtyard, Eve spent some time looking around the market. The merchants' pitches were becoming obnoxious. Then she got an idea for a way to attract the Messiah, while making some money for lunch at the same time.
Eve found a spot before the steps leading up to the gates of the inner courtyard, and she began to preach. She was a new spectacle and an audience quickly grew around her. Eve was careful to speak only of the prophets, and related their wisdom to her audience as parables. It was a technique of moral storytelling she had developed with her Aunt Gabrielle, drawing on the bard's dramatic presentation and her own knowledge of scripture. She used the method often when she traveled in foreign countries. There she adapted the biblical words to the current time and place. It made the messages relevant to her listeners. Soon the people were laughing and asking her for more stories. She entertained them, but always made sure they understood the messages hidden within. It was religion "light" for the semi-devout masses, and they loved it. She soon found her shawl littered with coins.
Near noon she noticed Jesus in the crowd of listeners, smiling as she concluded a parable about a group of brothers from Gaul who had sold one brother into slavery in Rome. As the years passed, the brother had become an educated citizen, and made his fortune planning his master's estate. When a time of famine came upon the family in Gaul, the brothers sought the wealthy Roman, offering to buy food. She spoke of how they were finally reunited with the brother they had wronged. Eventually the family was once again whole and saved from starvation. All recognized the story of Jacob and his son Joseph, a tale of forgiveness and God's love, shown by his providing for the devoted among his people. When she finished, she gathered up the coins in the shawl and asked a man entering the Temple to give half to the priests within. Then she took Jesus and they went in search of food and drink for a noon meal.
"So how did your talk with the priests go?" Eve asked Jesus as they sat eating a lunch of fish, bread, and wine at a tavern in the upper city. That day they both ate heartily, the delicious aromas of spiced lamb and fish grilling in the kitchen priming their appetites.
"You were right. I didn't attack them and they actually sat and discussed things with me. They answered my questions too." Jesus said, smiling, before stuffing his mouth with fish and swallowing. "I don't know if they'll change anything, but they said I could come back to talk more this afternoon. I think they were surprised that I knew as much as they did."
"Change can take a long time, but being able to make them listen is the first step."
"I think some of them were thinking about what I said, too." Jesus reported. "If they think long enough, maybe they'll start doing things differently."
They ate in silence for a while; savoring the food and piling the fish bones on the sides of their plates. Then Jesus praised Eve for her storytelling.
"That was a great approach to teaching scripture, Eve. I don't think I've ever seen anyone do that before. It's a way to reach the people who can't read or don't spend time studying. But I bet I could use it on the priests, too. I could save the real meaning of the story until the end, and I could make the stories tell about what's happening right now, here in Jerusalem."
"Of course you could. It might even make your arguments harder to resist, after all, you want to correct what's happening now with what the scriptures say God wants people to do."
"I'll try it later this afternoon. By the way, have you had any luck finding that person you were looking for?"
"No, not yet." Eve said. "I thought drawing a crowd would bring him to me, if he was around the Temple this morning, but I guess he wasn't there. I'll keep trying this afternoon when we go back."
They finished their meal with orange slices and returned to the Temple. Again Jesus went to speak with the priests, and again Eve presented parables to the people at the market in the Court of the Gentiles. The crowd loved her stories. They were simple people who despised being talked down to, and Eve was neither pedantic nor patronizing. She spoke without the presumptuousness and gravity of the priests. Most had never encountered humor in biblical stories, but with Eve, they laughed and learned. Candle marks passed, and the afternoon wore down towards evening, and finally Eve gathered the coins her audience had left.
Eve found a place to sit, and she waited for Jesus to return from the Temple. The air carried the sounds of the merchants, calling to each other over the clatter of their packing and closing down for the night. During her wait, she noticed several large groups of priests hurrying through the gates into the inner courtyard. Finally the sun began to set over the Temple walls, and still Jesus had not returned. Eve began to worry about her young friend. She started pacing back and forth along the bottom of the stairs below the gates, watching for his return.
Yet another half-candle mark had passed, and Eve was wondering if she should infiltrate the Temple, when she heard the sounds of many people approaching the gates from inside. At last Jesus came out of the Temple, but this time he was surrounded by priests, and they were happily arguing amongst themselves the very points of canon law that Jesus had mentioned to Eve. Jesus looked radiantly happy. When he saw her he waved and ran over, practically leaping up to embrace her. Eve was startled, but seeing how happy Jesus was relieved her growing worry.
"Oh Eve," Jesus gushed, "the parables worked better than I hoped. They listened for candle marks, and in the end they didn't even interrupt or question me. Now they're arguing among themselves because of what I told them. They listened to me!"
"That's wonderful, Jesus." Eve said, genuinely happy about his accomplishment. "I'm very happy for you. I knew you could do it."
"They asked me to come back tomorrow and speak to the rest of the priests, including the High Priest! They think I'm some kind of prophet or something."
And with those words the realization hit her. This boy, Jesus, consumed with passion for his God, living to spread His Word, and determined to better his people, was more than she had realized. He believed that his father was not Joseph the carpenter of Nazareth, but the One God himself. He had claimed he'd run away from his family and come to the Temple on "his Father's business". Now the priests were according him the status of a prophet. Eve had finally realized that he was the Messiah. Her mouth went dry and she stared at him for a few frozen moments. She saw a vision of him outlined with light, while behind him a host of angels gathered around. Then she blinked, and the glow was just the last light of evening behind him, and the host of angels was a crowd of priests in their robes, standing in the courtyard. Jesus was looking at her with concern.
"Eve, are you alright?" He asked, staring into her eyes as she recovered.
"Jesus, where were you born?" She asked.
"Huh? In Bethlehem, why?"
"But thou, Bethlehem Ephratah, though thou be little among the thousands of Judah, yet out of thee shall he come forth unto me that is to be ruler in Israel; whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting." 4 Eve recited softly. "Behold I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me; and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom you delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of Hosts." 5
They were the words of the prophets Micah and Malachi, and they had revealed the birthplace of the Messiah and his actions. The words were 500-800 years old. Eve had no doubt that they spoke of Jesus.
It was just a few moments, but it seemed like hours, as they stared at each other while the words of the prophets sank in. Eve had been fulfilling her mission without knowing it for almost two days. Jesus had been preparing to fulfill his mission for years, and now he was confronted by his destiny. And now Eve knew she would fight, and if necessary kill, even if it meant returning to her darkness, and the conflict within her was finally put to rest.
Among the priests who had listened that afternoon there was dissension. They had heard the boy's words, spoken with an understanding few of their scholars could claim, but more disturbingly, spoken with an authority no priest could achieve. He hadn't merely quoted scriptures. He had dictated the Lord's Will as though it was his own. It had been done without personal reference. He had not claimed to be anything more than a boy concerned with the nation's adherence to their ancestors' covenants. Still there had been a sense of divine guidance, as if he were speaking for the Lord. And his arguments had been irrefutable.
Many of the priests were already convinced he was a new prophet. However, he had said nothing of the apocalypse or the Messiah. He had spoken mostly about honoring their forefathers' agreements with the Lord, but there were some new arguments. He had spoken of God's forgiveness of sin, of His love of all men, and the rebirth of the soul through faith. It was almost the same as the doctrine of crazy Eli, that faith healer, founder of the Elisian movement, and self-styled teacher of the Way of Love.
The Pharisees, who held to a conservative interpretation of the scriptures, were particularly disturbed. They were a powerful group in the city, and in the Temple. The last thing the Pharisees desired was change they didn't initiate themselves. Like any entrenched interest, they considered unexpected change a threat, and they would fight to maintain their influence. The boy could be considered an agent of change. Therefore he could be considered a threat to their power. Now, while he was still largely unknown, they had a chance to remove his threat. They would try to arrange events so that they appeared to have had no hand in the disappearance of a young prophet.
In the watches of the night, a tall priest spoke to the High Priest, and the High Priest spoke to a centurion. The centurion spoke to his cohort commander. Somewhere along the way, the concerns about an upstart desert boy became a fear of messianism. Civic unrest, nurtured by nationalism among the Israelites, could lead to possible rebellion in Judea. The cohort commander had already heard reports of the appearance of Livia in a tavern the night before. She had been accompanied by a boy spouting scriptures, both in the tavern and at the temple. Now he suspected a conspiracy between the Elisians and radical Jews. Livia had been the greatest warrior of the Roman Empire. Who better to lead an uprising against the Roman military than their ex-Champion?
Pilus Prior Crassus Cloacus, the cohort commander, didn't care much for the Pharisees. But he understood them, because like him they craved power. He didn't really understand religious fanatics; they were unpredictable, unstable, and prone to martyrdom. These people's brains had been baking too long in the desert sun. Their history was too long, and their God was too harsh. Jerusalem was a fanatic town. It had been the first lesson he'd learned, and he knew the signs of a plot. Well, this plot wouldn't hatch on his watch, and if it were true that Rome hadn't been built in a day, then it was also true that it would take many years for it to fall. And it would take more to bring it down than a washed up warrior and a desert boy with delusions of grandeur.
Though he commanded a cohort of six centuriae, he could stop this developing mess quickly, quietly, and with relatively few men. The Elisians were reported to have a camp south of the city walls. In the city dump, of course. They were pacifists, and they were few in numbers. Without the reinforcements of the radical Jewish factions, they could be taken into custody quietly, by just a couple dozen soldiers. The pilus prior smiled and called for his deputy.
They had used the money Eve had made by storytelling to buy food and drink, and they brought this to the encampment of the Elisians outside the city walls. There they held a joyful feast celebrating the success of Jesus' discussions with the priests. At his request, Eve said nothing to reveal her conviction that he was the Messiah. They sang hymns and Jesus spoke to them, and they had prayed. The festivities were accompanied by the sounds of several cartloads of refuse being thrown into the valley further up. Finally, full in body and spirit, they settled on the ground to sleep. They dozed off as the slop basins from the butcher's alley were being poured into the dump, filling the air with a reek of entrails and blood.
Just before closing her eyes, Jesus said happily to Eve, "I could be content calling no town home, and with nothing but the ground as my bed, for the Lord is my house and my comfort." It may have been his first prophecy, and one day it would be true.
Eve dreamed of the inequities of the world, and she saw the wickedness and savagery of mankind before her. Each act of degradation and violence and evil was displayed on a harsh, flat landscape under the full light of the sun. Suddenly she heard the fanfare of a multitude of trumpets. From the hills bordering the plain of sin, a host of the righteous marched, with banners bearing the emblems of a crown, a lamb, and a dove. The sun glinted on the points of their spears, on the polished facets of their armor, and it brightened the white of their robes. Before them rode a chariot drawn by two horses, and its color was red. The left horse was black and the right horse white. Upon the chariot rode a king crowned with gold. He was a mighty warrior, and in his right hand he carried a sword of polished steel. His armor was blood red, and upon his breast, embossed in white, was the symbol of a five-pointed star. And in her vision of power, Eve heard a voice call out above the landscape saying, "Upon whosoever shall bring wickedness unto my kingdom, shall I come in righteousness. And I shall bring justice unto the oppressed and mercy unto the faithful".
The dream shifted, and Eve looked on as a hall became filled with souls. They knelt before the throne of a king, waiting to be judged. The hall was the shape of the interior of a pyramid, with the king's throne at its center, under the apex high above. He was the same king that had ridden the chariot of war, but he seemed greater in his years. Now his raiment was blue, while the emblem on his chest was an equal armed cross. He lifted his left hand in a gesture and the hall fell silent. With a mighty voice he spoke. "If thy heart shall repent of thy wickedness and be filled with love for the Lord, then forgiveness and mercy shall follow thee all thy days, for the love of the Lord is everlasting, and his kingdom is without end". They were the words of a vision of mercy.
At last the visions faded away, and she was left in a cloudscape, alone with the archangel Gabriel, and he spoke to her.
"The Lord thy God's love is manifest in the strength of the righteous warrior, and in the mercy of the wise judge, when they follow his commandments. If you would follow the Way of Love, then you must balance these things in your heart. Truly, they are interwoven as the warp and weft of the fabric of creation, and either alone is a force out of balance which must fall to evil".
"Finally I understand, angel," Eve told him, "the Way of Peace must be upheld with strength, just as the Way of the Warrior must be tempered with mercy."
"Such is the Will of God, Eve," Gabriel told her, "unto Israel the Lord of Hosts has shown love, and soon, unto all men shall the Lord God make a covenant. His son has felt his mission, but the time of his ministry is not yet ripe. Still, even now some fear him and his message, and he will need your protection. Know that none would assault him before the face of God. Have faith Eve, for the eyes of the Lord watch over you."
When she awoke it was still dark, but by the height of the moon Eve reckoned dawn would come in about three candle marks. She had felt at peace, remembering the visions of her dreams, but now that peace was overshadowed by an increasing sense of foreboding. Eve's uneasiness soon graduated to a sensation of impending danger. It was her long ignored warrior's sixth sense. It had often saved her life when she had been Livia. Now it was tingling and she knew better than to ignore it.
Quietly she roused the sleeping boy, but before she could rouse the Elisians she marked the approach of torches from the east. A company of Roman soldiers was marching towards them from the city gate, and she had no doubts they were looking for Jesus. She didn't realize they were even more interested in her.
Cohort Commander Crassus had the reports of her whereabouts and he had an agenda of his own. He hoped to apprehend Livia. He had never met her, but he had heard the stories from before his enlistment. Technically, she was still in desertion from the Roman army, and she had never been brought to justice for her renegade activities. When she had disappeared, the search for her had become inactive. Most commanders had more pressing things to deal with, and most of the older ones were afraid of confronting her. He had no such fears. Her mother and her sidekick were reported dead. Livia had become an Elisian pacifist, and probably hadn't fought in almost fifteen years. He had no doubt that he could arrest her, and the reward for dragging her to Rome in chains would be great. At the very least the Legatus Legionis Marcus Aquilarus, his legion commander, would praise him, but in his dreams he saw the aging Caesar Augustus awarding him royal favor for his heroic act. He could almost hear the applause of the citizens as she was fed to the lions in the coliseum.
As for the Jewish boy, well, if the troops captured him then he'd be found strangled in a ditch. If they didn't, the Pharisees and the High Priest would discredit him. They would bear the blame for any acts of unrest stemming from the fervor of their people, and he knew they knew it. They were subjects in an occupied land. They ultimately lived or died at the whim of Rome. Like he himself, they were trapped between their people and the Empire. Their jeopardy was the result of their own conniving for power. They played a dangerous game, but it was the best they could do, not having had the luck to be born of Roman citizens.
The approaching troops had spotted the Elisian camp as Eve was shaking her friends awake. She told them to take Jesus with them, and that she would stay to face the soldiers. She arranged to meet them later. The possibility that the Romans would actually be able to detain her was simply a joke, for there were only two dozen of them and they had brought no archers. She was more worried about the Elisians getting lost in the dark they were good people, but not highly practical.
The Elisians were still too groggy from sleep to argue, and fear hastened their decision to follow her orders. The Romans were scarcely fifty yards away when the Elisians bolted in all directions, running away from the city walls and into the darkness of the desert. They hauled the boy Jesus along with them, while Eve knelt where she was and prayed.
The soldiers saw the fleeing Elisians, but Pilus Prior Crassus, who had taken command their company, issued no order for pursuit. Instead he marched them double-time towards the lone woman kneeling in the sand. The description of her was very accurate. He was sure she was Livia, and he couldn't believe she wasn't trying to escape. She just knelt there praying. Typical Elisian, he thought with disdain, she had once been a warrior, but now she was just another pacifist. Her trust in her God was in vain, and it would be no shield against his orders. His men surrounded her, and still she hadn't moved. This was way too easy, and he felt a touch of nervousness as he approached her. Though he wasn't a "by-the-book" soldier, he didn't like inexplicable reactions from potential enemies, especially fanatics, or martyrs. Nevertheless he squared his shoulders and addressed her.
"Livia, former Champion of Rome, I am here to take you into custody for crimes against the Empire, and treason against Augustus Caesar." She barely acknowledged his words with a glance before he issued his orders to the soldiers. "Shackle her wrists and ankles, and make sure she isn't armed."
Four soldiers approached her from behind while the cohort commander faced her, and the remaining twenty men continued to encircle them. She could sense their approach as well as hear and smell them, and she knew the moment they reached for her wrists. It seemed so easy for her to seize the shackle from the soldier behind her and snap the cuff onto his wrist. She was still on her knees and she jerked the shackle chain down, clamping the other end onto a second soldier's ankle. They moved as if in slow motion, she thought, but to them she was a blur. Shock was finally registering on the commander's face, but Eve had already spun away, pulling the feet out from under a third soldier and taking the ankle restraints he held. She clamped one end around his ankle as he tried to regain his feet, and pulled the chain dumping him onto his back again. The fourth soldier had a hand on her shoulder, and she closed the other end of the shackle on his wrist. Now the four soldiers were attached in pairs, wrist to ankle.
Pilus Prior Crassus had drawn his gladius and swung it at her, anger twisting his features. She ducked his blade and then caught his sword arm on the return swing, her right hand on his wrist, her left at his elbow. She twisted her hands, raising his elbow and bending his wrist back, until he dropped the sword with a grunt of pain. Eve shoved him into the four shackled soldiers, leaving them all struggling on the ground. Then she scooped up his weapon.
Two soldiers had moved to intercept her. She slammed the sword pommel across the cheek of the first, then shoved him into his companion. The second soldier caught his comrade, trying to maintain their balance. Eve dropped and spun, sweeping his legs and landing them both on their backs. Then she made a dash in the direction the soldiers had come from.
Three soldiers were close enough to have engaged her, but one was frozen in surprise, another was taking a hesitant step forward, and the third was drawing his sword. She flipped over all three of them and hit the ground running. She never looked back.
Behind her she could hear them yelling, some trying to help their commander release the shackled soldiers, some following in pursuit. Encumbered with their weapons, shields, and armor they couldn't close the distance or overcome her head start. By the time she reached the south road they had fallen too far behind to pose a threat. As she slowed down on the road, she realized she had escaped without causing any real injuries to the Romans. Their casualties were mostly battered pride and deflated egos. Better yet, Jesus and their friends had not even been chased. She allowed herself a smile and almost threw the officer's gladius into a gully. Then she thought better of it and shoved it through her sash, hiding it under her robes.
Eve couldn't chance trying to enter the same gate the soldiers had just marched out of, so she crossed the road heading east. Soon she was swallowed by the shadows at the mouth of the Kidron Valley. She turned north following the stream that ran down the valley, and headed uphill towards the Garden of Gethsemane. A gentle night breeze brought the aroma of cedars as it whispered along the banks from the higher ground ahead. She moved silently in the night, and the valley rose quickly on either side of her. To her left stood the walls of the City of David, and on the right lay the darkness of the desert, while above her the sky was lit by millions of stars. Here and there a campfire marked the presence of a shepherd or a band of sleeping travelers. She heard only the low sounds of livestock shifting, and none noticed her passing up the valley. In the mud by the side of the stream she found the fresh sandal tracks she sought, and she rejoiced.
It didn't take her long to reach the first bridge spanning the Kidron stream. Beneath it, waiting nervously in the dark stood the Elisians and Jesus. She was almost among them before they realized she was there, and several started with fright.
"Sorry about that," Eve apologized, "stealth is an old habit. Is everyone alright?"
"Praise the Lord," the man from the tavern said, "we have all escaped unharmed. How did you get away from all those soldiers?"
"There weren't that many," Eve said, trying to reassure them, "they couldn't catch me wearing all that armor when God lightened my feet."
Jesus rolled his eyes at her, for he was the only one who had seen how she could fight.
"Let's walk up the valley," Eve said, "when daylight breaks it will probably be safe to enter the city. They seemed to be looking for me, and I don't think they'll recognize any of you. When you get inside, I need you to do something for us. I'm going to take Jesus to the Temple. The angel said no one would assault him before the face of God, and he's supposed to talk with the priests."
Eve spent a short time outlining her plans to the Elisians, and they were more than willing to help. After all, she had just saved them from a confrontation with the soldiers. When she was finished her instructions, they continued upstream. As the elevation increased, the highlands on either side steadily rose. They moved through the shadows below the mansions on Mt. Ophel, above the City of David. In silence the group walked under the second bridge, and soon the walls of the Temple platform on Mt. Moriah loomed above them on their left. Ahead, on their right, the Mount of Olives was outlined against the stars in the late night sky. Finally they passed under the third bridge, and entered the Garden of Gethsemane. Eve halted them in the garden, and in the last of the night's stillness they prayed.
Jesus looked at the ancient olive trees surrounding them, and the low wall surrounding a grotto on their right. The stream gurgled from within its depths where the deep shadows of benches and shrubs lay. It brought him a sensation of peace. On another day I shall have to explore this place, he thought, the serenity I feel here would be an aid to prayer.
The first traces of light behind the Mount of Olives marked the coming dawn. It painted the scattered tendrils of clouds with hues of violet and rose. Eve led her group in silence towards the walls of the Temple platform, where the red glow of a few torches stood out among the remaining shadows. She headed for the massive Gate of Solomon, located just north of the center of the wall. A road led from the third bridge to the double arches of the gate. Eve's party appeared from out of the trees, coming around a bend like any other early morning travelers.
At the gate the pair of Roman soldiers allowed them to pass. They had no orders, and saw nothing clandestine in their approach. The search for Livia and Jesus was being conducted by Crassus Cloacus, without higher authority, and only his selected company of soldiers knew they were hunted. These guards, having been on duty since midnight, had no idea they were considered fugitives. To them, Eve's people were simply more early rising fanatics who couldn't wait to begin their devotions in the Temple.
They entered the Court of the Gentiles unchallenged. Eve and Jesus walked towards the gates to the inner courtyards. The Elisians scattered, leaving the Temple grounds and wandering off into the city streets to complete their part of Eve's plan. At the gates, Eve and Jesus sat on the steps furthest to one side, watching the sunrise over the Temple walls. Later this morning Jesus was to continue his talks with the priests, and the High Priest would be in attendance.
"I'm really looking forward to this talk," Jesus said, "but if you think it's too dangerous we can leave. I don't want you and your friends to get in trouble with the Romans because of me."
"Jesus, the Elisians are used to trouble with the Romans. It's something they've come to expect over the years." Eve told him. Then she pointed to the warnings carved on the gates to the Temple. "Besides, the Temple is the safest place for you. I'm sure the Romans won't try to do anything to you in there."
"You really think your plan will work?"
"Of course it will. I know what the Romans want and what they fear." Eve told Jesus, with a smile on her face. "Have faith."
Jesus grinned at her. The sun had risen above the walls and the courtyard was bright. Around them the merchants were opening their businesses. The early morning crowd was growing, and noisy greetings began to fill the air. They sat on the steps, eating some bread and cheese that Eve had gotten from a vendor close by. At the second candle mark after dawn they watched the High Priest arrive and enter the Temple through the middle gate. It was only moments later when a full centuriae of Roman soldiers entered the Court of the Gentiles. Eve quietly signaled Jesus to enter the Temple. He rose and walked up the steps and through the gate.
Eve turned away and walked into the growing crowd, quickly becoming just another anonymous figure. The Romans broke into groups of four, and they began to search the courtyard, looking for a woman and a boy, whom their officers claimed were a threat. She easily eluded them, covered in her desert robes, head shrouded, blending in with the crowd.
It was just as easy for her to exit the temple platform at the northwest gate where the soldiers had arrived. She followed a narrow passage into the Antonia Fortress, named for Marc Antony, by its builder, King Herod. Here she began a search for the legion commander. She wanted an officer who outranked the cohort commander that had tried to apprehend her last night. Probably the same one responsible for the soldiers entering the Temple today, she thought with disgust. She didn't know his name, but she knew his face and his voice, and she had his sword. And she had a commander's experience as an added advantage. She understood imperial politics and the army.
In any fortress, Eve knew, the higher an officer's rank, the more comfortable the quarters. In the Antonia that meant higher in the structure, where there was fresh air and a view. The towers overlooking the city were the prime quarters, having also more distance from the outer city walls in case of a siege. She took the stairs two at a time, up four flights to the top floor. Twice she ducked into empty rooms to avoid roaming patrols. For her it was almost too easy.
At last Eve looked around a corner into a hall along the front of the fortress. At the far end two guards flanked a doorway. These would be the quarters of a legatus legionis, a legion commander, or perhaps one of his deputies, a tribunus. Either would outrank the cohort commander who had attacked her last night. It was time for a leap of faith.
Eve came around the corner striding fast. She had covered half the distance to the door before the guards reacted. They were young soldiers who had no idea who she was. All they did was move forward to ask about her business with their officer. She barely broke her stride as she reached up and slammed their helmeted heads together, grinning as they dropped to the floor. She was feeling more like her mother with each passing moment her mother and a blond warrior she'd never met. In three more strides she was in the officer's quarters, staring in amazement at the man behind the desk. She barked with laughter when he looked up to see her and nearly fainted. It was like old times, almost like fifteen years had never been.
"Well Marcus," Eve sneered, "I see you've had a couple promotions since we last met. So, youre a legatus now."
"L, Li, Livia?" The man stammered in shock, "wha, what are you doing here?"
"I was just in the neighborhood and I couldn't pass up seeing an old friend." She said, tilting her head and smiling, relishing his discomfort. In Gaul he had been in constant terror of her. As Champion of Rome she'd had little patience with his spinelessness and incompetence. "You must forgive me if I can't stay for long."
"But I thought you were ."
"What? An Elisian? Dead? What did you think?" She asked, looking out the window and gesturing as if talking to herself. Then she turned towards him, leaning on his desk, smiling and staring at him with widening eyes. In a confidential tone she informed him, "I'm here to keep you from getting skinned alive by the emperor after your subordinates start a riot in the temple and Jerusalem goes up in flames."
"Huh? What riot? What are you saying?"
"Marcus, one of your cohort commanders tried to arrest little old me last night," she said, giggling and pulling out the officer's gladius. Her eyes were wide with glee seeing the look of terror on his face when he realized she was armed. "He wasn't very friendly, but now he's got a centuriae searching the temple, and the crowd doesn't want to play with the soldiers."
"Oh gods," he wailed softly, "if the Jews riot I'll be done for. Our Procurator, Annius Rufus, will blame me. I know he already has it in for me."
"Look out there." Eve commanded. Her whole persona had changed, becoming more businesslike. She dragged him to a window and pointed down into the temple courtyard below. "The place is packed. The Jews already hate Rome. The soldiers are getting frustrated and edgy. You'll have a great view when the fun starts."
"No, no, no! I've got to do something! I can't let them riot!" he protested, shaking his head and imagining the disaster unfolding. He couldn't believe this was happening. But he could guess who was behind it.
"Do you have any idea who's responsible? He's a cohort commander " Eve described the man she'd seen last night.
"That's Pilus Prior Crassus Cloacus, damn it," Marcus Aquilarus cursed, his panic dissolving into anger, "that ambitious bastard will start a civil war. He has no understanding of politics."
"You'd better stop this before it gets out of hand. I may be able to help," Eve told him with a chilling smile, "but if I find this Crassus first, I think I'll skin him alive."
"If I find him, I'll skin him." The legatus legionis replied grimly. "I'll have to call the guards. You should leave."
"I'll see you later, Marcus." Eve said with an evil grin as she watched him blanch, considering that unpleasant possibility.
Eve sauntered back down the hallway, around the corner, and down the stairs. The whole talk with Marcus Aquilarus had been strange. She'd actually been gleeful about terrifying him. It wasn't like her and she thought how appalled her Aunt Gabrielle would have been. Eve was on the ground floor, nearing the passage leading back to the temple courtyard, when she turned a corner and came face to face with Pilus Prior Crassus Cloacus and six soldiers. They were both so shocked that for a heartbeat neither moved.
"Get her!" He screamed before Eve's fist slammed into his face, driving him backwards.
The soldiers were filling the narrow passage from wall to wall. There was no way for Eve to avoid them. One soldier started to move forward to support his commander, and Eve kicked him hard in the belly, knocking him down. She advanced, grabbing a soldier who had started drawing his sword and spinning him around, shoving him into two others. Divide and conquer, she thought, remembering the words of her patron's uncle. She kept pushing him forward, using him as a shield to force her way past the other three. Then she flipped over him, landing and quickly spinning to kick him in the head. He went down and didn't move.
The three soldiers she had forced aside had drawn their swords and were facing her as a group, advancing. A phalanx, she realized, outflank and encircle. She charged them, feinting to the right, then cutting left. Her momentum carried her six feet up the wall. With her second stride she launched herself into a twisting flip, landing at their backs. It took them a moment to turn, trying not to cut each other with their swords in the narrow space. She took out the middle soldier with a kick in the face, spun on her right heel so she could smash the soldier on her left in the head with a spinning hook kick, and struck down the soldier on the right with a back knuckle strike.
The last two soldiers standing had placed themselves between her and Crassus. Eve wanted him and they were in the way. She drew his sword and faced them. They clashed with a ringing of blades, but their sword work could not compare to what Ares had once taught her. She disarmed the soldier on her left, flipping his blade into the air. When it came down she snatched it with her left hand. Before he could back away she smashed him in the face with the pommel. Then she assaulted the soldier on her right with both blades. He was frantically trying to defend against the onslaught. It didn't take long for him to become confused. She saw the opening in his defense and swung both fists, hitting him twice, one sword hilt striking his temple, the other his cheek.
Eve turned to face the cohort commander, a sword in each hand. He was still partly stunned from her first blow, and blood was oozing from his nose and lips. Eve crossed her blades, trapping his neck between them against the wall. She felt an upwelling of long abandoned sensations, the iceberg whose tip had shone when she took the sword from the man at the inn. A wild look came into her eyes and she giggled at the cohort commander. His stupor gave way to terror as Eve leaned on the blades, cutting into his neck. He realized he was going to die and the woman was clearly insane. All the worst rumors he'd ever heard about her were nothing compared to the reality. She would kill him gleefully, just for the sheer joy of spilling blood, revenge but a distant secondary motive.
Eve was lost in the moment. She wasn't even Livia. What had bloomed within her had died before her birth, vengeful warrior, mad goddess, fallen demon, but finally hallowed angel. In those timeless moments her spirit passed through its tortured years to live again, to feel the insatiable need again, and finally to be resolved with its pure soul. She heard the voice of a scared young boy, the savior of all mankind, bringing salvation to her in her moment of temptation.
"Blessed be the Lord, who executes righteous deeds, crowning his saints with loving kindness. My soul cries out to praise thy name, to sing high praises for thy loving deeds, to proclaim thy faithfulness - of praise for thee there is no end. Near death was I for my sins, and my inequities have sold me to the grave; but thou didst save me. Oh Lord, according to thy great mercy, and according to thy many righteous deeds. Indeed I have loved thy name, and in thy protection have I found refuge. When I remember thy might my heart is brave, and upon thy mercies do I lean. Forgive my sin, O Lord, and purify me of my inequity. Vouchsafe me a spirit of faith and knowledge, and let me not be dishonored in ruin. Let not Satan rule over me, nor an unclean spirit, neither let pain nor evil inclination take possession of my bones. For thou O Lord, art my praise, and in thee do I hope all the day."6
"When I commanded the Army of Rome, I beheaded scum like you before looking at them twice." Eve told him. "Pilus Prior Crassus Cloacus, your actions have jeopardized your legion commander, the safety of your troops in the temple, and the peace of Judea. That's insubordination, incompetence, and instigating a riot. These are crimes against the Army and the Empire of Rome."
She slammed her knee up into his stomach and he sagged onto the blades, unconscious.
"You're lucky to be dealing with Eve and not Livia," she told him, though he couldn't answer. Eve dropped the soldier's gladius and dragged him away to carry out her sentence.
The better part of a candle mark had passed while Eve was inside the Antonia Fortress. When she returned to the temple, she found the crowd larger and angrier. She blended in, circulating, playing cat and mouse with the soldiers.
As the time passed, the courtyard had become dangerously crowded, and here and there Eve noticed a man or woman with a necklace displaying the outline of a fish. The Elisians had called all their brethren to the Temple. There also seemed to be a constant stream of Jews entering the Temple. Word had spread. Jesus would have more than an audience of priests for his talk. Among the Jews the hopes for the appearance of the Messiah had never been stronger. Ever it seemed these people were looking forward to the day when they would be free of foreign powers. The Romans were merely the most recent overlords. Every soul dreamed that one day soon the Nation of Israel would take its place as a free land, unhindered in its affairs, and ruled by its rightful king. The whispers of those who had heard the boy the night before had brought the hopeful to the Temple. Not all of the priests were Pharisees.
The Roman soldiers were becoming increasingly surly as their search continued to fail. Soon the scheduled talk in the Temple would begin, and they would have missed their chance to end this threat quietly. There were already too many people in the courtyard, and an unusual number had entered the Temple.
Eve heard the people inside the Temple fall silent. The hush from within went unnoticed over the noise of the crowd in the Court of the Gentiles, but she had been listening for it. Jesus was astonishing his listeners, she thought with a smile. Around her the crowd was becoming restless from the soldiers questioning and harassing them. She felt the peoples' tension rising to an incendiary level. Enough is enough, she thought.
Eve climbed the steps before the central gate to the Temple and surveyed the throng filling the Court of the Gentiles. Across the courtyard more people were still entering. As she stood watching, a couple passed her and entered the gates to the inner courts. They looked like a troubled husband and wife, and the slump shouldered man was supporting the visibly upset woman.
The hundred Roman soldiers were spread out among almost two thousand civilians. The centurion and his optio stood on the steps watching their men. They spared the couple entering the Temple an exasperated glance. Eve moved until she was only six feet to their right, where she could listen to the officer and his second-in-command conversing.
"They come in an unending stream," the astonished centurion said to his optio, "they must be packed like sardines within."
"Without a doubt, sir," the optio replied, "all these zealots drawn by the hope of seeing this boy Messiah. I hate this city."
"Come now, Chlamydius," the centurion chuckled, "surely it must be better here than in Gaul or Britannia. Here we deal with politics, but there are no naked, crazed warriors waiting to decapitate us. The Jews are preoccupied with their own power struggles, and the Elisians are pacifists."
"All true, sir," the optio said, "but they are all fanatics just dying to be martyred, heh heh. I would almost prefer an enemy with less pretense."
"Was it always so when you served in the colonies?"
"Sir, it was glorious. I served in Gaul fifteen years ago, and I remember it like yesterday. I was young then, just a legionnaire conscript from Salonae. But under the Champion of Rome we conquered in Caesar's name. None could stand against her legions. I was proud to be a soldier, sir. Yes, those were glorious days."
"So I have heard. Even in Rome we studied her campaigns. Hmmm, and now Crassus orders us to apprehend her. In a way I hope we fail in this search." The centurion confessed. "We endanger our soldiers in this volatile crowd, and for what? For Crassus Cloacus' ambition? For his obsession with apprehending Livia?"
"I agree, sir," the optio said, "she never jeopardized her troops needlessly. When we fought, we conquered or died with honor. Some said she enjoyed the favor of the God of War. All knew she had the favor of great Caesar. She was certainly a finer commander than Crassus, sir."
"And what would you do, centurion, if you were unlucky enough to find her?" A voice cold with menace said softly. "Would you chance igniting a riot in the Temple for the sake of satisfying the ambitions of Pilus Crassus Cloacus?"
The centurion and the optio spun to face the woman who had approached unnoticed and spoken from so near. She was no more than an arm's length away and the blood stained point of a gladius glinted from the opening of her robes. She would easily kill them both before they could draw their own weapons. The optio's mouth hung open and his eyes were filled with fear. He hadn't drawn a breath since she'd spoken. Her eyes were dark and wild, just as he remembered they had been in battle.
"Would you set Judea on the path to rebellion over a boy from the desert?" Eve continued. "I offer you two possible solutions. Either call off this search and order your soldiers back to their barracks, or duel with me here and slay me if you can."
"But, but you're an Elisian," the centurion stammered, "you're a pacifist. You can't fight with that sword, your God won't allow it."
The grin she met his words with was challenging and feral.
"Before today you would have been right, centurion," Eve told him, "but my God has given me a mission. I am no longer the teacher of the Way of Love. I have been commanded to be the protector of the young prophet, and I will fight, and in His Name I will kill."
The coldness in her eyes convinced him not to chance her words being a bluff. She was now both a fanatic and a legendary warrior. He'd heard the stories and knew he couldn't beat her in a duel. Just trying to arrest her would probably cause the crowd to riot. He had nothing to gain. He nodded his agreement to calling off his troops.
"What of Crassus?" The worried centurion asked.
"I think you will have no trouble from him," Eve reassured him with a smile, "he now has more than enough trouble of his own."
They followed her glance to the walls of the Antonia. Fifty feet above the courtyard the figure of an officer hung by his foot from a rope strung out of a tower window.
"I see," the centurion said with a grin, "and what of the boy?"
"He will go back to the desert to complete the years of his youth." Eve told him with certainty. "By the time he returns, if he returns, you'll both be pensioned, and the problem will fall to those who follow you."
"But is he what they call him," the optio asked, "the Messiah?"
"Look behind you Optio Chlamydius." Eve said, gesturing with the point of her sword.
The centurion and the optio reluctantly turned away from her and saw a crowd of priests coming through the columns of the gate behind them, chattering and arguing vigorously. In the center of the crowd Jesus was walking between the man and woman Eve and the officers had seen entering the Temple. He turned to his mother and spoke.
"How come you sought me? Why is it you don't know that I must do my Father's business?"
Joseph and Mary looked at their son, not understanding his meaning. He was their boy; a prodigy in his study of the holy books, and obsessed with religion, but he was still their boy. Maybe one day he would be a great rabbi, or a priest. But he had run away when they started back to Nazareth after the Passover, and they had been worried sick. Now they wouldn't let him out of their sight for weeks. Like it or not, he would become a carpenter. After all, he was twelve, and he was old enough to take on some practical training. Loving the Lord was a good thing, but a man had to be able to support himself and his family. Had not the Lord spoken to Moses saying, "Honor thy father and thy mother "?
Joseph spread his arms and shrugged as he looked at his wife, his expression clearly saying, 'I never sent him to the Temple on business". Mary just shook her head. She put an arm around her son's shoulders and directed him down the steps. He allowed her to lead him through the outer courtyard, towards the Gate of Solomon, and the road back to Nazareth. Joseph followed, perplexed at his son's behavior, but happy to have found him. He'd never have heard the end of it if they hadn't, and he sent a silent prayer of thanks to the Lord.
The crowd watched them go, parting like the Red Sea to let them pass. The soldiers didn't move to stop them. There had been no order to seize them from the centurion or the optio, and so they too stood aside. The officers watched from the steps. Livia had been right. He was just a boy being dragged home by his parents brainy perhaps, but not at all what they would have seen if he'd truly been the Son of God, King of Israel, or whatever. He just wasn't believable as a threat to the Empire. Certainly he wasn't worth starting a riot over.
The father, mother, and son walked towards the Gate of Solomon and the officers noticed the crowd seemed to be moving along with them. Flanking the trio were hundreds of Jews and others, many of whom wore fish pendants. They poured out of the gate and filled the road heading east, forming an escort for the boy and his family. In the Garden of Gethsemane, and visible on the bridge crossing the Kidron stream, hundreds more waited to join the throng. And still more followed, entering the Court of the Gentiles by many ways, and exiting through Solomon's Gate.
When they looked back Livia was gone. For a few moments the centurion and the optio searched the crowd for her, but they never saw her again. She had disappeared as easily as she had appeared. They both breathed a sigh of relief. There would be no blood shed today, at least, not their own.
Eve made her way out of the Gate of Solomon, discreetly following Joseph and Mary and their son. She stayed far enough behind them that they never noticed her, but close enough to have protected them if they were challenged. After some miles the crowd gradually dispersed.
She followed them on the north road, and on the second day they passed Sychar, and then Sebaste. On the third day Eve watched from the crossroads as the family walked northeast, starting the last ten miles to Nazareth. She turned southwest, for she was headed to Caesarea, fifteen miles away on the coast. There she planned to take a ship back to her ancestral homeland, and the town of Amphipolis, on the border of Macedon and Thrace. It had been so many years. Eve looked back one last time, and in the distance she saw the boy turn and wave to her. She waved back, a smile slowly capturing her face. She left the officer's gladius stuck in the earth at the crossroads.
The next night Eve stayed at an inn in Caesarea, not far from the port. After her evening meal she knelt in her room to pray. Slowly she cleared her mind and the feeling of peace grew within her. Soon she achieved the transcendental state she sought. In moments the room brightened, signaling the appearance of an angelic presence. The archangel Gabriel stood before her in the fading glow.
"You have performed your mission flawlessly, Eve," he said, "you succeeded in protecting the Messiah without killing. The people of Israel rejoice, for they have been reminded that their King will come among them and redeem their people."
"Angel, I am happy I was able to meet the Son of God and keep him safe. And I understand the Lord's belief that only I could have intimidated the Romans enough to make them leave him alone. Still I am troubled."
"You still fear the power of the darkness within you."
"Yes angel. At first I wanted to kill Crassus, and I was all too willing to slay the centurion and the optio if they hadn't agreed to let Jesus leave."
"Eve, when your mother turned from her darkness, she remained a warrior, but acted in the interest of the Greater Good. When you turned from your darkness, you went from the extremes of violence to the extremes of pacifism. From Rome to Eli. You must live the Way of Balance. Remember the visions of power and mercy?"
Eve thought about what the angel said. She remembered the armed king in his chariot and the king who rendered mercy in judgement. They were the same king but in two different roles; the two facets of God's love, balanced in righteousness and forgiveness. She perceived the true lesson of the Way of Love, and it was very close to the Greater Good that had driven her mother and Gabrielle all those years.
"I understand, angel. God's Way of Love is strength and mercy in balance the strength to defeat an enemy that must be fought, and the mercy shown in forgiveness of an enemy when he repents."
"Exactly, Eve. You have within you the spirits and souls of two warriors, and in you they shall be balanced. Xena and Gabrielle balanced each other so well. But you shall encompass both Xena's dark and light, and Callisto's rage and purity. Your years serving Rome are now balanced by your years following Eli. You shall teach without being a teacher, and you shall fight without being a warrior. This is the Will of my Lord."
"It shall be as the Lord wills, angel."
She had striven for knowledge, progressed to understanding, and finally been blessed with wisdom.
As Eve watched, the angel's right hand glowed. The brightness became too great to bear and she had to look away. When it faded and she looked at Gabriel again, he held a sword in his hand, and it was the sword of an archangel. He laid it on the floor in front of her. Then he smiled at her and the brightness surrounded him, and he disappeared as it faded, leaving her alone in her room.
Eve looked at the sword for a long time. Finally she grasped the hilt and lifted it, reveling in the perfection of its balance and weight. It was a superior tool for her work. She stood in the center of the room and swung it in a pattern of parries and attacks, and the sound of the blade slicing the air was like a song in her heart. There was a smile on her face, for she had triumphed over her temptation and at last she feared no fall from grace.
1Endnotes: Biblical source attributions.
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse