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The Shroud of Edessa: the Secret of Mary Magdalene

Table of Contents:

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Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

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PUBLISHED

Published by the Author 2017

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Copyright © 2017 by the Author M. A. Sebastian

M. A. Sebastian asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work in accordance with the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 and all international conventions.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents, while based on history, are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Author/Publisher, except where permitted by law.

This book is sold subject to the condition that it shall not, by way of trade or otherwise be lent, re-sold, hired out, or otherwise circulated without the publisher’s prior consent. It will not be transmitted in any form, binding or cover other than that in which it is published.

No responsibility for loss caused to any individual or organisation acting on or refraining from action as a result of the material in this publication can be accepted by the Author/Publisher.

I would also like to acknowledge the tireless work of the Author Ian Wilson and thank him for his incredibly well researched book, ‘The Shroud’. For anyone wanting to know more about the real Shroud of Edessa please refer to Mr. Wilson’s excellent book.

Published by Sui Generis Consultants Ltd

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(Non-fiction – History) Palestine Through the Eyes of Jesus

From Islam’s ‘Dome of the Rock’ to the myth of a Judean central monarchy, reality has been obscured by a history written by vested interests and religious fundamentalists.

‘Palestine Through the Eyes of Jesus’, cuts through the propaganda to reveal a first century Middle East, torn apart by religious fanatics and on the verge of rebellion.

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(Non-fiction – Religious History) The True Sayings of Jesus: the Nazarene Paradigm

For a Rome in love with Jewish prophecy, a Greek mystery religion stole the words of a Galilean Rabbi to create a popular Roman cult that changed the world.

After 10 years of research, author Antonio Sebastian explores the Q-Sayings hidden in the Gospels and their parallels in the Dead Sea Scrolls to find the words of the Jesus of history and trace their uniquely Jewish paradigm.

Where biblical scholars and literal translations have failed, Antonio succeeds in following the ideas and meanings of these teachings from Nazarene Judaism to modern Kabbalah.

Paperback format and as an Electronic Book for Kindle and iPad.

Available from Amazon, iTunes and Shakespir. Also direct from our website.

(Fiction) The Shroud of Edessa: the Secret of Mary Magdalene

A year after her husband’s horrific death, Mary Magdalene must return to a Jerusalem on the verge of a rebellion. Judea is torn between religious fundamentalists and the soldiers of a brutal occupation. In her husband’s tomb she finds a mystery that she cannot destroy. To protect a secret she cannot understand she must risk everything she loves.

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The First Letter of Jesus: the Secret of the Nazarenes

Palestine in the first century is a melting pot of Hebrew, Greek, Roman and Oriental thought. Lost in dreams of its past, Judea is a country at war with its own future. One man is caught between two worlds and strives to stop the violence.

Rabbi Yeshua bar Yosef is an Israeli prophet and mystic who has seen, within the Judean cult of animal sacrifice, the extermination of the Jewish people. Before the forces of darkness silence his voice forever he is determined to protect the ‘Secret of the Nazarenes’.

First Letter’ is the first four chapters of the Historical Fiction novel, ‘The Last Letters of Jesus’ and is available as a FREE download from www.thejesusofhistory.com.

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The Shroud of Edessa

The Secret of Mary Magdalene

[]Chapter One

The children laughed as they gathered stones. A little girl giggled as she held her skirts for her brothers to collect enough stones to throw. They pushed past Mariamne as they raced each other to grab the best view of the execution. Laughing as she ran the child looked back, stones falling from her makeshift basket.

The sky was turning red and the heat of noon had long since faded. The shadow of Temple Mount chilled Mariamne to the bone. She had been walking for weeks but she couldn’t stop now, not now that she was so close to Jerusalem. A year ago tomorrow, her husband had died on this hill, alone amongst strangers. She wouldn’t fail him again. She shivered as the sweat cooled on her back.

The smaller children ran ahead. Some of the bigger boys tested their rocks in their hands. Grimly they walked toward the place of skulls, click, click, click the sharp stones sang. Mariamne stopped walking and followed the children with her eyes. She turned to speak to her husband — she only just managed to stop herself from saying his name out loud. She frowned, impatient with her own indecision. Rabbi Yeshua bar Yosef would have known what to do.

Her brother touched her arm, trying to draw her away, “It’s a stoning, Mari” he pointed ahead of them with his chin.

On the other side of the Kidron Valley, from the east of Jerusalem, a crowd emerged blinking from the shadow of the Lion Gate. As if to a festival, the people noisily crossed the valley and came up the hill toward them. To their left, already a circle of children sat around the place of stoning waiting for blood. A young girl was being led by her brothers, her eyes red from crying. She looked at Mariamne as she passed. Behind them came the elders of the Sanhedrin.

Mariamne reached out for her mother-in-law. Maria was lost in thought and jumped at the touch.

“Wait here with Philippos, Mother.”

The old woman smiled but continued to walk toward the Temple. Mariamne nodded to her brother, “Stay with her Philippos.”

“Of course Master!” He replied sarcastically as he ran after Maria. Mariamne smiled.

Since Rabbi Yeshua bar Yosef had died, many of the Galilean Nazarene School had come to call her ‘e Mara’ or as they say in Galilee, ‘The Master’. Her husband had appointed his younger brother, Ya’akob, to be the spiritual leader of their school when he died but Jerusalem is a long way from Galilee and many students now turned to Mariamne for answers and ignored Jerusalem. She was not looking forward to seeing her strangely intense brother-in-law. Many years ago they had been close but since Yeshua’s death he had changed so much. Ya’akob’s letters arrived in Magdala but they were instructions rather than communications. Increasingly she realised that the Nazarene School in Judea was leaving her husband’s Galilean teachings behind.

She fingered the ebony fish that her husband had carved for her. Held on a red string, it was the image of a carp spitting out the prophet Jonah. Yeshu had loved the humorous story as it represented the trust we learn to have in God. The idea that we find our fate on the road we take to avoid it is the cornerstone of the Nazarene philosophy. She wondered what fate awaited her tomorrow.

In accordance with Jewish custom, Mariamne would have to return to Jerusalem for the anniversary of her husband’s death. The tidal wave of grief, which had consumed her a year ago, had still showed no sign of abating. Hoping to find a relief from the pain, she had decided to make the journey to Yeshua’s Yahrzeit ceremony into a pilgrimage. She had decided to travel from Galilee to Jerusalem on foot.

She was fast approaching middle age but her flaming red hair and pure white skin remained unblemished. She was sure that Yeshua would approve of her getting the fresh air and exercise. Since her husband’s death she had hardly eaten. At least now she had an appetite.

They had left Magdala on the banks of Lake Tiberius two weeks ago. The gentle hills of Galilee had soon given way to the furnace of the Judean desert. Only the most devout had volunteered to join her on foot. Her brother and her husband’s friends kept her close. Her son was still too young for such an arduous journey and she had left Yehuda with her maid, Winna.

At almost fifty-five years old, many would consider her mother-in-law, Maria, to be an old woman but despite this she had insisted on joining the Nazarene Yeshiva on their journey toward her dead son. Her coach had met them near Jericho and she had walked barefoot back toward Judea in silence. Since her son’s death, Maria had lost interest in the world. Part of her was already in Sheol with Yeshua.

Mariamne watched her mother-in-law pass the Judean mob. Maria had only been fourteen when she had married the young widower, Yosef bar David, chief stonemason to the Jewish King. While still young she had often been mistaken for a Hebrew princess. Now her beauty and grief marked her out as if cursed by the Greek gods.

Mariamne felt Addai at her shoulder and smiled. Addai was an Arab from the city of Edessa, in the Kingdom of Osroene. He had worshipped her husband as a master and as a friend. Now he followed Mariamne like a lost puppy. Apparently wealthy, he was without pox or wife. The women of Magdala often constructed lies to account for their failure to catch his eye.

Addai was leaning on his metal shod walking staff and watched his master’s mother stride up the hill toward the Temple of Solomon, ‘She still hears his voice’, he said mostly to himself. He looked embarrassed as he realised he had spoken aloud. He smiled at Mariamne by way of an apology. He looked sadly toward the pretty young girl who was being led to a brutal death by her own family. He said nothing but looked at Mariamne and raised his eyebrows.

Mariamne frowned. Like her mother-in-law, she wore black. A strand of her red hair had escaped her shawl. She looked back at Shimon and Ya’akob as they followed the last of the Nazarene Yeshiva, her faithful shepherds. They stopped in front of her. Both brothers were fishermen and sons of an ex-gladiator. Her husband had called them ‘sons of thunder’ and since his death they had appointed themselves her personal bodyguard. She impatiently tucked the offending hair away.

Shimon, a head taller than most, looked over at the crowd on the hill of skulls. The young Jewish girl was now being buried to her waist by her father and brothers. A group of women, Mariamne suspected them to be the girl’s family, stood by dry-eyed as the men of Jerusalem gathered rocks to stone the girl to death. Shimon smiled a question, he knew his master’s wife and her sense of right and wrong. Mariamne nodded, her mind made up. Her husband had given his life to stop the animal sacrifices; she couldn’t now walk past as they sacrifice a child.

She strode toward the half buried girl as Shimon and Ya’akob cleared a path. By the time they pushed through the ring of spectators, a Pharisee Rabbi was being helped up on to the back of a wagon. Acknowledging his audience, he put his hand up for silence. He smiled sadly and shrugged. He held both his hands out as if a gift toward the terrified girl now buried to her chest in the sand. “You have all been insulted!”

He nodded his head agreeing with himself. Sensing that he now had the attention of the crowd, he raised his finger toward the sky, “The Law of Moses has been insulted!” he screamed.

The man was a born actor, his timing perfect. As the crowd murmured angrily he held his hands out again for silence. He looked at each face before him, drawing out the tension. Many of the people in the crowd leaned forward. His finger jabbed toward the sky again, “God himself has been insulted!” His finger shot forward like a spear, “By her!” he screamed as he pointed toward the girl. Her loose hair shrouded her face and her shoulders shuddered as she sobbed quietly to herself. The crowd, now eager for blood, pushed forward.

“Each stone you throw is God’s will. She refused to obey her father! God demands her blood!”

Mariamne stepped forward, putting herself between the stones and the young girl. She smiled up at the Rabbi, “How do you know?” She asked quietly, her green eyes smiling.

The Rabbi gripped the sides of the wagon with gloved hands. His eyes narrowed dangerously.

Mariamne just smiled back, “That it’s God’s will, I mean?”

“Who are you to question me?” The priest hissed as he pulled his prayer shawl over his black cap.

Mariamne smiled and nodded. She bent down and picked up a rock. She held it up to the priest.

“Did God make these stones?” Mariamne looked to the face of the girl’s father and then back to the Pharisee. He ignored the question. Mariamne shrugged and continued speaking to the crowd.

“If God made the earth and split the sea, does he need a priest to kill a child?”

The Rabbi smiled like a fox, “You are from Galilee?” he said, ignoring the implication.

Mariamne nodded.

“Maybe in Galilee women choose their own husbands, but here in Judah girls are taught to obey!”

One of the Pharisees standing in front of the Rabbi drew back his arm to throw. Shimon’s hand went to the pommel of his sword. Mariamne stepped closer to the girl.

“All things are of God, these stones and this girl. He gave her life, is it not sacrilege to take it?” Mariamne lifted the long black hair from the girl’s face. Her eyes were full of fear as she looked pleadingly to her father. He flinched as though struck as he now recognised the love he had nearly lost. He threw his rock to the floor and fell to his knees before the girl. He held her to his chest and like a man woken from a nightmare, he looked accusingly back at the Pharisee.

Mariamne smiled as she felt the cloud of evil pass — the spell had been broken. The priest jumped down from the cart and pushed his way through the crowd and was quickly surrounded by other Pharisees. Like a flock of crows they crossed the valley heading back toward the city like a black cloud.

Shimon pulled the child from the pit and handed her to her father. The Judean kissed the top of her head and looked at Mariamne with shame. “What kind of madness consumes us?”

Mariamne looked up quickly. Her face softened into a smile. She touched the girl’s soft cheek with the back of her fingers. She looked back at the father, “The madness of the sons of man!” she whispered sadly.

The mother of the girl glared at Mariamne and grabbed the girl by the arm pulling her away from her husband. Turning toward the city, she pushed the girl before her and the other women. The child stumbled and received a blow from her mother’s staff. The mob muttered resentfully but lacked a leader to justify their lust for blood. They began to follow the women back toward the city dropping their stones as they went.

The father sadly watched them go. He looked up at Shimon and then at Mariamne and frowned in recognition. “Didn’t I see your husband speak in the Temple?” he asked.

“Wasn’t he the Rabbi of the Nazarenes?”

Mariamne nodded and bit her lip. She turned on her heel and headed back down the valley with the rest of the Nazarene students. Ahead of her she could see Philippos and Maria entering the city. She was angry with herself for the delay. She shook her head in disgust.

Shimon nodded to his brother to go with her and the others.

As she descended the hill, Mariamne swore quietly to herself. Yeshua was waiting for her. Tomorrow they would put his bones into a small white box and she would never see him again. How could she have wasted so much time on such a pointless quest. As she hurried to catch up with her mother-in-law, she failed to notice the tears running down her cheeks. A passing woman stopped to ask Mariamne if she was alright, but seeing the anger in the woman’s face swallowed back her comment and quickly hurried on.

On the hill of skulls, the Judean father looked up at Shimon, “Didn’t the Romans crucify him?”

Shimon nodded, “A year ago tomorrow.”

[]Chapter Two

The Roman soldiers ignored her as she approached the Lions Gate. They didn’t even look up from their game of dice as she passed. She used to hate the Romans but now she was beginning to think that they were the only thing keeping her country together. The only time a Judean would speak to a Galilean was when they were both fighting the Romans.

She looked up at the wall towering above her. When she and Philippos were young they often competed to see who could swim the furthest underwater. She had always won. As sound and light were compressed as she entered the tunnel, in the shadow of the gate, she remembered swimming underwater in Lake Tiberius, the inland Sea of Galilee. She put her hand out and touched the golden stone of Jerusalem. Is this what being in a tomb felt like?

As she entered the streets to the north of the Antonia Fortress she could see the walls of the Temple beyond it. Yeshua had said that Herod’s Temple reminded him of a dragon dominating and threatening the city. There was nowhere in Jerusalem from which you couldn’t see the Temple. She headed south toward the upper city and the mansion of her father-in-law. Surrounded now by students and friends she began to feel better. It was strange but here in the Judean capital, she felt closer to her husband. She found herself searching the features of every passing face until she realised it was for his she was looking. She was tired and he was gone. She sighed. She leant heavily on her walking staff. Ya’akob shot his brother Shimon a worried glance.

Emerging from a cafe, Philippos waved and steered Maria toward them. Philippos had never lost the radiance that only wealth could give a man. Yeshua used to say that her brother could find a wine shop or a brothel in the middle of the desert. He had a charm that came from his deep love of life and everyone he met.

The older woman smiled when she saw her daughter-in-law. “Were the family grateful?” Maria asked as she took Mariamne’s hand and looked into her eyes. Mariamne smiled and shrugged sadly.

“Yeshua would be proud of you,” Maria said as she caressed her hand. Dropping it, Maria turned toward her home the matter already forgotten. Mariamne found herself standing and watching her friends disappear into the crowd. Is this how it felt for Yeshua, watching his family carry on with their lives — had he watched them step into a future he could no longer share?

The narrow streets were full of people and animals. The limestone paving stones were protected from the sun by the brightly coloured canopies, which were stretched from one side of the road to the other. The gloomy streets were steeped in the smells of cooking and perfume, mixed with the heavy stench of animal dung.

Like most civilised cities, Jerusalem had flirted with Greek culture for the last 300 years. Most of the conversations and all of the graffiti were in Greek but only Judeans were allowed into the Temple. Where Galilee had married Greece, Judea used her reluctantly, like an old poxed whore.

As they followed the main road south toward the upper city, Mariamne noticed that more and more of the shop signs were now in Hebrew. The Judeans were growing more and more nationalistic every day. It was true that Galileans hated Roman taxes but most of them lived a Greek lifestyle. Galilee was nothing if it was not cosmopolitan. The Judeans, on the other hand, kept things simple; they just hated everyone who wasn’t Judean. Her husband had taught a path between the extremes of Greek hedonism and Judean nationalism. Despite being popular, the idea had got him crucified.

As she passed the west wall of Herod’s Temple, Mariamne tried not to look left. She hated the Temple and all it stood for. The cult of animal sacrifice had cost her husband his life. Now his brother, Ya’akob, taught the Nazarean School there. Would Yeshua see that as progress she wondered?

Herod had built an arena for chariot racing to the south of the Temple that marked the beginning of the Tyropoen Valley. As they reached its northern wall, they turned right and headed toward the upper city. Here the houses turned in upon themselves and in the Greek custom, kept their beauty a secret from the street. The road widened and the people’s clothes appeared more expensive.

A few metres in front of the Nazareans and heading in the same direction, a Roman and his servants were shopping. The Roman’s slaves followed him like so many remora fish following a shark. A slave girl had just paid for her master’s purchase from a heavy purse she kept around her neck. A young Judean girl pushed passed and cut the leather thong. In a second she and the purse were gone. The Roman sent his guards after the thief. He beat the girl while he waited for the guards to return.

He didn’t see the two Sicarii assassins pass behind him. He was dead before he hit the ground. His heart run through by a well aimed blade. The Judean assassins glared at Mariamne but Ya’akob put himself between them. They disappeared into the crowd. If it were not for the Roman lying in a pool of his own blood she would have believed that the death was just a dream, it had all happened so fast.

Shimon put his arm around her and herded the Nazareans forward and away from the inevitable riot that would ensue. The streets passed in a blur to Mariamne. She had been to her husband’s family home only once. Yeshua had been estranged from his father. Even their son Yehuda had not been welcome in the house of Yosef the king’s stonemason. Maria led them forward and stopped outside a gate that dwarfed her. The door swung open and gave way to a paved courtyard.

It had taken her over two weeks but she had done it. Like one of the students of Yohanan the Baptist she had walked all the way from Magdala to Jerusalem. As they entered the cloistered courtyard, the sound of water reminded her of the last time she had been to her husband’s house. Animals were stabled to her left and a cedar tree grew in the middle of the courtyard. She almost fell into the shade of the tree. She sat down heavily on the wall surrounding it.

A slave came out from the shadows of the house and handed her a folded sheet of parchment. It carried the seal of the Nazarene School. She broke the seal and began to read.

“Mariamne — when you read this note, present yourself to me at the Temple. The servant who gave you this will direct you. From your brother Ya’akob.”

For a second, Mariamne felt the flash of consuming anger that would once have framed her response, before she had met Yeshua.

Philippos looked over her shoulder. She looked up into his face and frowned her question. Philippos shrugged waiting for the explosion. Seeing none, he sighed his relief, “I’ll go to see him. Ya’akob’s head is always in the clouds.”

He reached for the note but Mariamne pulled away, “No! Yeshua would want me to go,” she said frowning. She looked up at her brother.

He smiled and copied the way his best friend, Yeshua, would push his hair out of his face and look at you from the side, “It’s good medicine,” he mimicked his old friend’s Judean accent.

Mariamne smiled to herself and nodded, “For my pride and my anger.”

The strain of the journey dissolved as they both started laughing. Shimon came over and handed Mariamne some water, “What?” he asked.

Mariamne wiped a tear away and smiled up her giant protector, “We have to go see Ya’akob at the Temple. Will you come with me?”

He laughed, “The last time I was in Jerusalem they tried to kill me! Why not?”

Maria insisted that they take the coach back to the Temple by way of an apology for her son’s rudeness. Mariamne’s feet were sore and she was sure that she wouldn’t have made it past the theatre on the edge of the upper city let alone all the way back to the Temple. Maria shared her late son’s hatred of the animal sacrifices. She had rarely been to see the Temple, the object of her husband’s work. Despite this aversion she insisted on accompanying them. The coach quickly took them through the streets and left them at the south west corner of Herod’s Temple. They wearily climbed the floating staircase that led up to the administrative area of the Temple.

The servant who had given Mariamne Ya’akob’s message led them to the cedar lined offices of the Temple administration. Above a forest of cedar pillars a ring of offices occupied the roof of a building designed to remind the people of heaven. The Judean analogy was not lost on Mariamne — as the doors to a large cedar lined office were pushed open — in Judea the priests alone stand next to God and they alone speak for him.

A man clad in the embroidered black of the Pharisees stood with his back to them. He was looking out over the animal sacrifices in front of the sanctuary. Even from here Mariamne could hear the screams of the dying animals, the sweet stench of burning flesh made her want to gag. Seemingly unconcerned, the black robed priest turned as they entered the room. Mariamne always felt nervous when she met her husband’s younger brother. The blue of her husband’s eyes had made her think of the bright summer days of her childhood and a Galilean lake full of blue happiness. The blue of Ya’akob’s eyes were intense and unfathomable like a sky just before the black of night. Those eyes were staring into her now. Beside her, Maria, removed her shawl.

Ya’akob seemed to wake as if from a dream.

“Mother? I didn’t…” he looked at Philippos as though for the first time and frowned, “expect you all!” He moved to take his mother’s hands but stopped himself.

He looked at Mariamne without smiling.

“How could we not come?” Mariamne heard the knife in her voice and was angry with herself.

She forced herself to put her anger aside. She remembered the deep affection her husband had felt for his little brother. They had been so close and Yeshu had worked so hard to protect him, particularly at the end.

Like her, after her husband’s death, Ya’akob had seen Yeshua in dreams. They had never really had the time to discuss that.

She felt an explosion of love in her heart, Ya’akob seemed so alone. Much to his shock, she enveloped Ya’akob in a hug and for a second his arms embraced her but he quickly recovered.

He gently pushed her away.

“Ritual cleanliness…” he looked to Philippos for support, “you understand!”

Maria snorted. She was still angry with her son, “Rubbish!” She said under her breath but loud enough for Ya’akob to hear.

He held his hands together as if in prayer. He looked up quickly and flashed a smile that didn’t include his eyes.

“I cannot enter the tomb until…” he paused, trying to find the right words, “it has been cleansed.”

He gestured toward some divans. “Would you care for…” indicating some water and bread.

Mariamne shook her head.

“I’m sorry Ya’akob! What do you mean?” Philippos asked.

He looked at the water sadly. His hands held in front of him.

“The bones…” he looked through Mariamne as if she wasn’t there, “are unclean!”

It was Jewish custom to lay the dead on a slab in the family tomb. After a year, the family return and place the bones in a white stone box called an Ossuary. These boxes are then stored on the shelves within the tomb. Ya’akob’s vow of ritual cleanliness meant that any contact with the dead would spiritually contaminate him. He could not enter the tomb until Yeshua’s bones were finally interred into their own Ossuary. Her husband had fought against a literal interpretation of these rules of cleanliness. Under the rules of the Pharisees, Judean men could not have any contact with non-Jews. This racial and spiritual supremacism was becoming a cult in Judea. Yeshua had said that it would lead to the slaughter of the Jewish people. Mariamne was beginning to see what he meant.

Maria stood up decisively, “At dawn, Mariamne and I will go to my son. We will do what must be done. Come at noon — we will have the ritual then.” She pulled her shawl over her head and threw the tasselled ends behind her by way of dismissal. She walked to the door as Shimon opened it for her. Mariamne smiled at Ya’akob and only just stopped herself from reaching out to him, he seemed so lost.

She followed her mother-in-law out of the office.

Tomorrow then, she thought to herself, she will be able to say goodbye to Yeshu but in her heart she knew that she never would.

 

[] Chapter Three

Mariamne had not expected to sleep, her mind seemed to be intent on torturing her and Jerusalem was so noisy; she could hear the lives of others all around her. The angels, or at least exhaustion, had granted her the gift of oblivion. She woke before dawn. She felt strangely clear headed and rested. She reached out across the bed for Yeshua but felt only emptiness.

She wondered if grief, like leprosy, were a disease? When Yeshua had died, she felt something deep inside of her die with him. Maybe you can catch death? Maybe she was dead and her body had not yet been told. She rolled over in bed and like every morning for the last year wished that she too were dead.

She put her hand on the warmth of her still flat belly, never now to swell again. She thought of their son and rejected her selfish indulgence. Yeshu would be angry with her. She sighed and swung her feet out of bed. Their son, Yehuda, would complete Bar Mitzvah and he would be a man, but for now he needed her.

Maria’s maid, Ester, had left an oil lamp burning for her. She was glad of that light now. She washed and quickly dressed. She began her morning prayers, the ones which Yeshu had taught her. She covered her head with Yeshu’s prayer shawl and lit her travel candles. Clearing her mind, she entered the clear lake of her soul. Touching, if only briefly, that place within her where everything was one and exactly as it should be.

She was as prepared now as she ever would be. She was not looking forward to opening the tomb. She did not want to see her husband as just so much rotten flesh and bone. She did not want to remember him like that. She tried to find courage but felt her eyes prickle. Like gathering clouds and the promise of a storm, she knew that soon she would be crying again. Maybe she would end up like a dried-up wild grape, all hard and bitter. Surely she had no more tears to give?

Philippos and Shimon were already waiting for her in the kitchen. As usual, Maria was supervising everything. They would hold the ceremony and vigil at the family tomb. It was a small plot that surrounded a cave. The tomb stood at the head of a gentle valley. It had belonged to her husband’s family for generations. Already others had purchased plots nearby because of its Herodian connection; it was becoming the preferred gravesite for the Jerusalem’s elite.

Her mother-in-law looked up as she walked in, “You should eat!” She said as she passed Mariamne some cake. Mariamne had always had a sweet tooth. She took some wine without water and nibbled the sweet cake full of almonds and honey. Maria frowned at the wine but said nothing.

As they climbed onto the coach, Mariamne was still eating the cake. She looked to the sky. She could see millions of stars; the day would be fine. Thank God, she thought, she didn’t think she could have endured a rainy day. Shimon was loading some heavy urns full of scented water onto the back of one of the wagons. Mariamne realised that she might not be able to face what she knew she must. Like a swimmer too far from shore, with a sense of panic, she realised she might not make it. Before she could jump off, the coach lurched forward. She sighed resignedly and settled back for the journey.

As they followed the ridge heading south, the sun reached out over the Dead Sea. Addai opened the leather curtain of their carriage and let the sun play on his face. A delicate man but with a handsome face, Mariamne remembered asking Yeshu about him one night in bed. Yeshua had explained to her that in Addai’s simplicity God expressed the completeness of His eternal truth. Until now, she had never really understood what he had meant. Almost as if he could read her thoughts, Addai smiled at her like a child. At that moment, she knew that she would be alright. She knew that she was not alone. She would reach the other shore somehow.

The coach came to a halt. Shimon and his brother, Ya’akob, jumped down and moved to pull the stone away from the small entrance. Mariamne gritted her teeth. She didn’t want to smell the stench of death. Philippos took an oil lamp and bent to duck into the tomb. Mariamne held his arm.

“I have to…” she whispered. He smiled and touched her face.

She took the lamp and pulled her shawl across her nose. As her eyes grew accustomed to the dark, she dropped the shawl. Instead of the cloying stench of death, all she could smell was fresh flowers. She took the lamp and looked around the floor, thinking that maybe Ya’akob had sent flowers ahead. There was nothing but sand and dust.

She looked to the slab where they had left Yeshu’s body. He had been over six foot tall. The Shroud that wrapped his body looked so small. She looked around to ensure that she had not made some kind of mistake. Confident that this must be her husband’s body she put her hand out to touch it.

“We couldn’t get the other bloody lamp to light!” Philippos swore nervously as he pushed his tall frame into the tomb. Mariamne jumped.

“Are you alright little sister?”

She put her hand to her mouth but nodded in the dancing light.

“What’s that bloody smell?”

“Flowers,” she replied.

Philippos frowned, “That’s strange — he didn’t smell that bloody good when he was alive!”

She shot him a scowl.

He put his hand up by way of apology, “Sorry! Nervous I suppose.”

Maria came in next and took the jars of scented water from Addai. She looked at Mariamne but would not let her eyes rest on the body of her son.

“Let’s begin!” She said.

Yeshua’s body had been wrapped in a single sheet, which folded over at her husband’s head and covered him completely. The Shroud had been wrapped and then fastened with a strip of linen to keep the body together as it decomposed. Mariamne began now to untie this strip at her husband’s chin.

Philippos and Addai passed in more lamps and placed them around the tomb. Addai began to sweep the sand out of the door.

Maria now couldn’t take her eyes from her son’s body. She didn’t notice the tears that were rolling down her cheeks. She had to support herself on the slab, “So much blood! My God, so much blood.”

Mariamne’s jaw ached. She realised just how hard she was still gritting her teeth. As she finally removed the last knot, the sheet fell in like a deflated wine sack. Mariamne pulled the linen strip from around the body. She lifted the sheet back from the feet but only bones remained. A cry caught in her throat. Her husband was gone. What was left was nothing. She let her breath out in a sigh.

Maria began to lift the bones and wash them lovingly in the scented water. One by one she placed the bones in the white box, which had been prepared by Yosef himself. Mariamne envied Ya’akob his absence. No wife should have to see her husband like this she thought to herself. But then maybe, we should acknowledge that what we love in a person is so much more than flesh and bones.

Mariamne lifted the Shroud and began to fold it. Maria, without thinking, reached to help her. As Mariamne held the Shroud now folded in four, Maria gasped and pointed to the Shroud, “His face, my God, his face!”

Mariamne, not understanding what her mother-in-law was pointing at, screamed and dropped the Shroud.

Addai put down his broom and held a lamp to the Shroud. Philippos picked it up and held it toward the light from the small entrance.

Maria was sobbing, “It’s his shadow, the Shroud has his shadow!”

Mariamne’s curiosity overcome her shock. She took the lamp from Addai and looked closely at the Shroud as Philippos held it. She ran her fingertips over the face of her beloved, “It’s him!”

She looked up to her brother, “Could all the blood have left such an image?”

Shimon had heard all the screaming and pushed his bulk into the tomb, “What’s wrong?” he asked looking up at them as he climbed from his knees.

Philippos handed him the Shroud, “Hold this, Shimon!”

He handed him the Shroud and took the lamp. He could trace the shadow of his best friend’s massive shoulders. He ran his hand down to the blood, which had come from the wound in his chest. He shook his head, “I don’t think so. It’s something else.”

Mariamne ran her hand over the face of her husband. She tried to catch her breath.

“We should take it to Ya’akob,” she said. “He has seen Yeshu in dreams as we have.”

Philippos took her hand. “He will have it burnt. It is forbidden to make an image of a man, much less keep something of the dead. He will fear it being turned into an idol. The last thing you can do is tell him!”

Maria moved to one of the water urns by the entrance of the tomb and kicked it over. They all turned toward her. She picked it up and emptied it out. Mariamne caught her thinking and took some of the rags she had brought. She took the urn and began to dry it.

Maria looked at each one in turn, “This is an act of God and it must be our secret. No one else can know.” She reached out and touched the face of her first born. “Something happened to my son and it is now between us.”

Mariamne looked at the image of her husband burnt into the Shroud, “If this is all I have of him, I can’t give it up! No matter what Ya’akob says.”

Shimon nodded and looked to Philippos who shook his head.

“Why did I let Yeshu talk me into blockading the Temple?” Philippos said as he began to lay rags into the urn to protect the image of his friend.

Mariamne lovingly folded the Shroud and laid it in the wide necked urn. Maria pushed rags on top of the Shroud. They looked at each other, unsure of what to do next.

Shimon took the urn and passed it out to his brother Ya’akob. He followed it out and stored it under the seats of the coach. “Don’t move from this spot brother, guard that urn as you would Yeshua himself!” Ya’akob frowned his silent question. “Don’t ask me brother. Not yet!”

The rest of the morning was spent preparing for the funeral service, a twenty-four hour vigil.

At noon Yeshua’s brother, Ya’akob, arrived with the rest of the Nazarene School. Yeshua’s father arrived on horseback following a Roman carriage.

Mariamne just wanted to be alone with the Shroud but she would have to allow the others to complete her people’s customs. Yeshua’s father had been the childhood friend of Herod Antipas. They both shared a passion for architecture. Under the noses of the Romans, together they had rebuilt Israel and Judea. Despite their efforts, the Judeans hated Antipas. His stepdaughter Salome had been one of her husband’s dearest friends. It had hit her hard when Yeshua was murdered.

As Salome descended the wooden steps of the carriage, Mariamne could see that she had been crying and her dress was ripped as a public expression of her grief. Salome’s face lit up when she saw Mariamne. She hated to admit it but Mariamne was glad to see her, the princess had supported the Nazarene movement in Galilee and often helped with the orphans and the poor. Over the last year they had become good friends.

She was surprised to see just how genuine the girl’s grief seemed to be. In that moment she confirmed what she had always suspected, Salome had always loved her husband. She couldn’t help wondering if they had been more than friends. She pushed that thought away for another day.

At the entrance to the tomb, her father-in-law, Yosef, was standing talking to his son Ya’akob. Her husband had been a big man but his father was taller. Mariamne noticed how he looked down at his younger son, Ya’akob. In many ways Yosef resembled her husband but they had never been close. Yeshua had been like a lion whereas her father-in-law reminded her of a wolf to Ya’akob’s desert fox. Like Yosef, Ya’akob was born with a wall around his soul that could not be crossed. Before he was crucified, Yeshua had written to his father from the dungeons of Antonia Fortress. Mariamne was not sure if she would ever be able to forgive the old man for the pride that had cost her husband his life.

Since being admitted to teach in the Temple, Ya’akob had again begun to dress as a Pharisee. Now both the father and the son wore the black and wide embroidered collars of that school. Ya’akob had taken the Judean Nazarene School back to its nationalistic roots. His teaching was now more like Yohanan’s than his older brother’s. Mariamne could see a split between the Galileans and the Judeans in the future but to honour her husband she would do all that she could to avoid it.

Out of the corner of her eye, Mariamne saw Ya’akob motion to one of the new Judean members of the Nazarene School. She did not recognise the man. Yosef’s eyes flicked toward Mariamne like the tip of an assassin’s blade. The sycophant dutifully scurried toward her, “The master wishes to see you at his father’s house when the vigil is over,” he announced in a Judean accent so thick she struggled to catch his meaning. She frowned and leaned forward to better hear him. Mistaking her intention the small man recoiled from contact with one contaminated by death, “The master needs no reply!” He squeaked as he ran off.

As the ceremony began and the candles were lit to mark the beginning of the vigil, Philippos began to play his lyre and quietly began to sing Yeshua’s favourite prayer, “Avinu Malkeinu.”

His voice brought her back to her grief and for a moment she felt Yeshu’s arms around her.

Mariamne’s voice joined her brother’s, as it had so many times when they were children, “Our Father, Our Lord.” Her gentle soprano voice lifted above her brother’s tenor adding the sweetness of her grief.

“Our Lord, inscribe us in the book of good life, in the book of good life. Our father, Our King, inscribe us in the book of redemption and salvation.”

One by one the crowd picked up the lilting minor chords and sang to God for the soul of Rabbi Yeshua.

For now, Mariamne forgot all about Ya’akob and the Judean Temple. As the crowd sang, she looked across at Ya’akob and remembered Yeshu’s words, “Sufficient unto the day are the evils born of it.”

Tomorrow was another day.

 

[] Chapter Four

The vigil was almost over and Mariamne had not seen Addai all morning. For one second she had panicked and rushed to the hidden Shroud to see if Addai had stolen it. When she saw the blood stained Shroud in the urn, she felt guilty for doubting her husband’s most faithful student but she could not lose the Shroud. She could not lose that connection to her husband, not now.

As Mariamne emerged from the tomb and Shimon pushed the stone across the door, Mariamne turned around to see Addai standing behind her smiling like a child. He had a Roman Legionnaire’s leather satchel held in front of him. It was an envelope of brown leather the length of a man’s forearm that was suspended from a shoulder strap. Usually the soldiers would carry papers and clean clothes in these satchels. It was obvious that this satchel had never been used.

Addai looked around to make sure that they were alone, “For the Shroud! It will be easier for you to keep it close,” he whispered.

“Where on earth did you get that from?” Mariamne hissed.

Addai smiled, “I found a soldier who knew of my home.”

He would not be drawn any further and hid behind a smile and a shrug.

During the journey back into Jerusalem, Mariamne transferred the Shroud to the leather case. By the time she stepped down from the carriage she had the Shroud safely next to her skin beneath her cloak.

Mariamne offered up her hand to help her mother-in-law.

“We’ll examine the Shroud together tomorrow, I promise! When we have the house to ourselves.” She whispered and squeezed Maria’s hand.

Now she will have to deal with Ya’akob and the Judean Nazarenes. She wasn’t sure which was less appealing, a funeral or meeting her brother-in-law. She hugged the Shroud to her heart as she climbed the steps to her room and wished that she were home in Magdala with her son, Yehuda.

***

“I am not the enemy Mariamne! I never…” Ya’akob turned as she entered the room, “wanted it thus.”

It was late and she was tired. Mariamne had been summoned and she resented it. She said nothing and waited for the senior Rabbi of the Nazarene School to go on.

Yeshua had said that his little brother interrogated every word at the gates of his heart before he spoke. As children, in the battle for their father’s love, a wrong word would have forever lost him the war. Over the years, Ya’akob had hidden his humanity so well that now he often struggled to find it. Each of his words were as carefully planned as a king places his troops against an enemy.

“The sacrifices…” Ya’akob paused as he turned his head to consider his point, “are necessary… for the moment.”

Mariamne felt the demon of her old anger surge in her chest.

“Then you have not seen what Yeshu saw!” She said quietly. “The darkness they create in the Temple will consume our people like a curse.”

She touched the leather satchel beneath her housecoat like a talisman. She hid the movement by pulling her shawl across her shoulder.

Ya’akob frowned, “You are a woman, what can you know of darkness?”

Mariamne was stunned.

“Are you a Pharisee now? Are you a Judean that will listen only to men!” She hissed.

She took a deep breath. Yeshu had taught her that our weaknesses are mirrored for us by our enemies. This too was a lesson. She tried to shut the door to her anger.

Ya’akob smiled as if to a child, “We are all limited by our inherent nature. It is not your…” he steepled his fingers and touched their tips to his lips, “it’s not your fault that you don’t understand.”

He smiled as though his point were made.

Mariamne was surprised that she suddenly felt clear headed. Maybe Yeshu’s teaching was finally taking root in her soul. Much to Ya’akob’s annoyance, Mariamne smiled.

“Yeshu also taught that to judge another is to call judgement down upon ourselves. When you conclude that my vision is limited you damage your own soul.” Mariamne whispered quietly.

Ya’akob sat down behind his father’s desk and placed his hands on each arm of his ornate chair. His knuckles were white but when he spoke his words were gentle.

“We cannot afford to alienate the Judeans. It will take time to change their allegiances.” He said.

“How much water can you add to wine before you consider it only water?” Mariamne asked.

Ya’akob held his fingers before him and frowned into them.

“The Judean cult is a poison. Yeshu’s teachings are the antidote.” Mariamne leant over the desk. “Do you wait for the patient to die before giving it to him?”

“The Judeans call Yeshua ‘the Comedian’. They don’t take him seriously.” Ya’akob retorted angrily.

“And this from his brother! You have become a Pharisee.” Mariamne could feel that she was losing control.

“The Judeans were looking for guidance! ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s’? What were the Sanhedrin supposed to think?” Ya’akob waved his hand in dismissal.

“Then, as now, the Judeans want to kill anyone who is not Judean enough.” Mariamne snapped as she came around the desk.

“You saw Yeshu in a dream. I know you did. He tried to reach out to you.” Mariamne angrily wiped away a tear. She wouldn’t give in to her grief, not in front of him!

“It was just a dream, Mariamne. Just a dream!”

Without thinking Mariamne pulled the Roman satchel from beneath her coat. She unclipped it and put it on the desk. She didn’t notice the tears that fell from her face staining the expensive linen.

She held the cloth up in the lamplight, “Do you see his shadow?”

Ya’akob was intrigued despite himself, “It’s Yeshu?” He reached out to touch the face of his brother.

Mariamne pulled away and folded the Shroud. She put it back into the leather satchel.

“Where did you get it?”

“He left it for us in his tomb.”

“His Shroud?”

Mariamne realised that she had gone too far. She could see where this was going to go. She looked toward the door and wished that she wasn’t always so determined to win.

“He left his image on his Shroud?” Ya’akob began to fathom the implications.

Mariamne began to move toward the door.

“You must burn it. It’s unclean! The gullible and the superstitious will make it into an idol.” Ya’akob stepped closer.

At that second Mariamne wished that she were a man; she so wanted to strike him.

“So the brother you dismiss as a comedian reached out to us from the grave and you want to work with those who killed him. Go to hell!” She shouted.

She turned from the room and slammed the door behind her.

She heard the door open and she could feel Ya’akob’s eyes on her as she strode down the hall but she refused to look around.

She was angrier with herself than she was with Ya’akob. Why had she shown him the Shroud? It was only her pride. Yeshu would have laughed at her.

There were whispers that Ya’akob was close to Isaac, the leader of the Qumran Sicarii. She had risked the Shroud and her life just to make a point. She reached her room. She shut the door and leaned her forehead against the solid wood. Ya’akob was right. If anyone saw the Shroud they would turn it into an idol. Yeshu would not allow himself to become an idol. All of his teachings were intended to bring a student back to God. What the hell had she just done?

Maybe tomorrow she should go to Ya’akob and have him burn the Shroud? Yes, tomorrow she would do that! It is what her husband would have wanted. Tomorrow then.

 

[] Chapter Five

Mariamne awoke slowly. In her dream she had been walking in the Valley of Doves with Yeshu. The sun had been rising over Lake Tiberius. She could still hear the wind in the trees and the cool night wind on her cheeks. She brought her hands to eyes and found them wet. How many more tears can a person hold she wondered to herself.

It was already late, the light was breaking through the shutters and dust danced like angels in its wake. She groaned remembering her argument with Ya’akob. Yeshu would be disappointed with her; he had loved Ya’akob and trusted him. Once again her anger had got the better of her.

She rolled out of bed and pushing the curtains aside, opened the shutters. Jerusalem was golden in the crisp clear light of spring. In the distance she could see the Temple and the smoke of burning sacrifices. Yeshua had hated the sacrifices. He had refused to eat meat. In Galilee they offered only incense and olive oil to God but the Judeans offered the lives of the innocent and the powerless. How could Ya’akob live with that?

Mariamne looked toward the golden caped marble of the Temple. She imagined the demons Yeshua spoke of flying over the roofs like doves. She turned back into the room. She would have to burn the Shroud. She could not let her husband’s legacy be destroyed. She lifted some garments but couldn’t find the Roman satchel. A stone fell to the pit of her stomach. She hadn’t been drunk? She looked around the small room but couldn’t see the brown leather satchel. Fear began to posses her.

She began to throw clothes to the floor. She pulled the sheets from the bed. She opened the cupboards but found only spare blankets. Her breathing was fast and shallow. She couldn’t get enough air. She could hear the blood rushing in her head. Yeshua had left her a message from beyond the grave and now she had lost it! What kind of a wife was she?

She opened her bedroom door, “Ester!” She shouted down the corridor.

In a moment, Maria’s handmaiden arrived with a smile. “Can I help you Lady?”

“Call Shimon! We’ve been robbed,” Mariamne shouted holding a pillow to her body.

Ester’s hand went to her mouth, “Shit! What did they take?”

Mariamne threw the pillow at the young girl, “Don’t waste time! Call Shimon!”

Mariamne disappeared back into the room to dress.

By the time she had made herself equal to the day, there was a knock at the door.

“Come in!” Mariamne shouted.

Shimon and Ester tumbled into the room.

“Someone has stolen my bag Shimon!”

Shimon frowned and looked around the room as though he might spot something Mariamne had missed. The implication of her statement penetrated the fog of his shock and he quickly looked back at her, “The bag?”

Mariamne nodded.

“What did this bag look like Lady?” Ester asked in a small voice full of dread.

They both looked toward the young girl.

“A brown leather Roman Legionnaire’s satchel,” Mariamne explained.

Ester’s hand went to her mouth. Her hand was shaking as she pushed her hair out of her eyes. She looked up at Shimon nervously.

“Why?” Mariamne added, now suspicious.

“He told me it was his! Honest!” Ester said.

“Who told you?” Shimon’s voice growled.

“Rabbi Ya’akob. He told me to fetch it this morning before he left,” she said looking down.

“The bastard!” Ester added under her breath.

Mariamne looked at Shimon.

“He will be heading for the Temple! How long ago did he leave Ester?” Mariamne asked.

“Not long before you called me Lady. I’m so sorry! Was it valuable?”

“Priceless! Child.”

Shimon headed for the door, “I will saddle two horses. Dress for riding.”

Ester helped Mariamne into some leggings left by Matias, one of the brothers. “What was in the bag, Lady?” Ester asked.

Mariamne looked up at the girl and touched her face, “Mementos of my husband, child. Don’t worry it’s not your fault. This is between me and Ya’akob.”

Ester looked relieved.

“Rabbi Yeshua was always kind to me, Lady. I will do whatever I can to help you.”

Mariamne was already out the door as she heard the horses in the courtyard.

She had not ridden for years but it soon came back to her. Shimon had roused Conall who served as Yosef’s personal guard. He was an old warrior from the lands of the Celts. He had been with the family as long as anyone could remember.

Together they burst through the gates into a crowded street.

It was in the middle of the morning and the streets were full of people intent on buying lunch.

Shimon rode ahead of her and cleared the road. They cantered where they could, which drew some angry stares. Mariamne didn’t care. She wouldn’t lose her husband again. Not like this.

As they got to the Temple mount, they reined in at the bottom of the floating stairs. Conall pulled a boy out of the crowd and flashed a coin at him, “Now be a good lad and hold these horses.”

The boy nodded reluctantly and took the reins.

Thinking better of the bargain, Conall turned back, “And if you move from this spot I will hunt you down and kill your family.”

The scar that pulled his face into a permanent smile made Conall’s threat a promise.

The boy nodded miserably.

Shimon took the stairs on the south west corner two at time. Conall hovered around Mariamne uncertain how much help this fiery woman needed. She pulled up her skirts and raced to catch Shimon.

At the entrance to the Temple compound, at the top of the floating staircase, a crowd had gathered. Shimon pulled men aside. He ignored the protests and glared as one man went to draw his sword. Seeing the size of the Galilean, the man thought better of it and turned away.

They got to the centre of the crowd.

Ya’akob was laying on his back with his head down the stairs. A pool of blood was forming into a waterfall toward them.

Conall bent to help his master’s son. He lifted his head and put his cloak beneath it. Ya’akob did not move. Shimon lifted the unconscious man’s legs so that he was laying on one of the wide stairs.

“Is he dead?” Mariamne asked from behind her hand.

Conall felt for a pulse, “No my lady.”

“The bag?”

Shimon searched Ya’akob’s body but shook his head. “It’s gone!”

Mariamne fell to her knees, defeated.

She found herself sobbing. Twice now she had let the love of her life down.

She looked at Ya’akob who was covered in blood.

Yeshua would not approve of her ignoring his brother’s suffering. She got up and kneeled down besides the unconscious body.

She pushed Conall away, “He needs a healer not a warrior.”

She felt around Ya’akob’s head but was relieved that the skull seemed to be intact.

As she touched the impact wound Ya’akob moaned in his sleep.

“Pain is good! He’s still in the world. Take him home. I will do what I can.”

[]Chapter Six

Ya’akob now lay deathly pale on his bed. Ester stood looking down at him.

“But why help him?” She whispered to Mariamne who was sitting on the bed next to her patient.

“Ester, he’s my only hope of finding…” Mariamne looked over to Shimon. He shook his head emphatically.

Mariamne stood up and looked hard at the young girl.

She was obviously pretty, with an easy smile that sometimes dimpled her cheeks, but she was not very bright. Mariamne sighed.

“Ya’akob is my only hope of finding my…bag but he’s my husband’s brother. I have no choice but to help him!” Mariamne shrugged.

Mariamne had been caring for Ya’akob day and night for a week. She had kept him sedated with opium extracted from the wild lettuce. The swelling on the back of his head was retreating and she had reduced the sleep-inducing drug. She hoped that now he might safely recover consciousness.

She felt for his pulse, it was strong and his blood pressure good. She also hoped that he would shed some light on the identity of the thief.

Ester looked doubtful, “I’ve said too much already! It’s not my place but Rabbi Yeshua was always so kind but they just let him die. It just don’t seem right! That’s all!” She looked down at Mariamne’s unconscious patient and sniffed dismissively. “Cold bastard!” She muttered under her breath as she strode away.

“Have you heard anything from Addai?” Mariamne asked Shimon for the hundredth time.

Philippos had just joined them. Shimon looked up and raised his eyebrows passing on the question.

Mariamne looked around at her brother.

“Of Addai and the bag, not a bloody word!” Philippos replied as he handed Mariamne a bowl of warm water.

She began to wash her patient. As she ran the cloth over his face he moaned and tried to sit up. Shimon held him down, “Rest easy Rabbi, you’ve had an accident.”

Ya’akob relaxed and fell back into the pillows.

His eyes fluttered open. When he saw Mariamne’s face he frowned. He tried to speak but only managed a croak. Mariamne lifted a cup of water sweetened with honey to his lips.

He drank gratefully and fell back onto the pillow.

He motioned for Philippos to bend close, “Where is the bag?”

Philippos straightened up. He looked at Mariamne pointedly.

“We were rather hoping to ask you that! You were the last one to have it.” He snapped.

Mariamne felt Ya’akob’s forehead and cheeks. “That’s more than enough questions for now. He needs to rest. We will pursue this tomorrow.”

Ya’akob opened his mouth to speak but Mariamne began to spoon some broth into it.

Philippos and Shimon left the room.

Mariamne helped Ya’akob finish his first meal in days. Afterwards he fell back exhausted.

As Mariamne moved to leave the room she heard him call her name.

“I’m sorry Mariamne.” She heard Ya’akob whisper.

She shut the door without a word.

***

The next day Ya’akob was much stronger. His mother Maria was sitting at the foot of his bed reading to him when Mariamne walked in with a tray of food.

“I thought I had lost another son.” Maria put the book down.

Mariamne looked down at Ya’akob. He still looked weak as he rested against his pillows.

“Your son stole the Shroud from my room while I slept!” Mariamne replied while looking at Ya’akob.

Maria put her hand to her face and went white, “No! My son wouldn’t do such a thing.” She said more as a question than a statement. She looked to Ya’akob for confirmation.

“Whatever caused his image to be imprinted on the Shroud, the last thing Yeshua would want is for it to be turned into an idol.” Ya’akob said tiredly.

Maria looked at Ya’akob as if she had never seen him before.

“You don’t have the right. It is not your decision to make.” Maria snapped.

“Ya’akob’s right. I was going to bring it to him but he stole it before I…” Mariamne said as she picked up the soup and passed it to Ya’akob.

“Do you know who attacked you?” She asked.

Ya’akob shook his head.

“I was walking up the steps to the Temple and then it’s a blank…” He ate some soup. “I don’t know who or what hit me.”

“So you have no idea who stole the Shroud?”

Ya’akob shook his head. “No, but I’ve already sent a message to Uziel at Qumran. The Sicarii will find the thief.” Ya’akob considered his next line with his head tilted.

“Perhaps God will forgive them, I don’t think the Sicarii will!” He pointedly looked at Mariamne.

Mariamne stared at Ya’akob without blinking.

“There is nothing more for me here. I will leave in the morning for Magdala. Philippos has already hired a coach for us.” Mariamne said to Maria.

She turned to leave without looking at Ya’akob. As she reached the door, Ester was standing just outside. As she passed her in the corridor Ester touched her arm and hissed.

“He’s a bloody fanatic. Be careful.”

Mariamne touched the girl’s arm and smiled.

She had a terrible feeling of dread. She had lost her husband, his Shroud and now the Sicarii were after her family.

When she got to her room she shut the door behind her. She found herself checking the corners of the room for an assassin. She went out onto the balcony. Only four days ride to the north and she would be home in Magdala.

She fingered the ebony carp snuggled between her breasts. “Father, lord I know you have a plan for me. Your will not mine, just show me what I must do!”

She heard only silence. She would have to wait till Magdala.

 

[] Chapter Seven

The road, north of Tiberius, was desolate. “It’s not Sabbath is it?” Mariamne asked Philippos.

He opened one eye, “No! Day after tomorrow.” He immediately fell back to sleep.

The coach lurched as the matched pair swung into a trot. As the road swung closer to the western shore of Lake Tiberius the mass of Mount Arbel towered over them.

Mariamne lifted the leather curtain and looked up at the blue of the mountain. Nestled at its knee was the gorge known as the Valley of the Doves. It was there that she had lost her virginity to Yeshu all those years ago. Her last happy memory was of them teaching there on the Sabbath before he left for Jerusalem and the blockade of the Temple. If only she could have convinced him to wait.

She thought of her son and how big he was getting. She suddenly felt so old.

She looked over at her brother and kicked him, “Have you heard anything of Addai?”

Philippos sighed and pushed his shawl back from his face. He looked at his sister and sat up.

“For the hundredth time, no!”

“Do you think he’s dead?”

Philippos looked at her but did not reply.

“Maybe the thieves who took the Shroud killed him as well?” She added.

Philippos looked past her and watched the sun paint the cliffs red.

“What do you think the image in the Shroud means?” He said quietly.

Mariamne turned to her brother, “I really don’t know. I’ve never heard of such a thing. With the Shroud gone, we will never know what Yeshu was trying to tell us.”

Shimon slowed the coach as they entered the streets of Magdala. They turned left at the port and followed Magdala’s main street into the old town. The streets narrowed and people had to step aside to let them pass. The massive walls of their compound gave way to the huge double gates, which stood open. Shimon skilfully jinked the team and the coach between the gates and entered the huge courtyard of their family house.

Mariamne sniffed in the scents of home. She could smell food cooking. Ya’akob jumped down and opened the coach door for Mariamne.

Winna, Mariamne’s Nubian maid, rushed out from the main house. Her name meant ‘friend’ in her own language. She was one of the few people Mariamne could actually call a friend. She had always suspected that Addai was in love with the girl but had been too shy to speak. Mariamne embraced the girl and wondered how was she going to tell her that Addai had disappeared.

Instead she asked about her son, “Where’s Yehuda? Is he well?”

Winna rolled her eyes, “Where else! He’s with Salome in Tiberius.”

Mariamne turned to Philippos. He nodded to her to go on. She took Winna by the arm and directed her into the house.

Although Nubian, Winna had the fine features of an Arab bloodline. She had been with the family since before Mariamne’s marriage. Only her poverty had prevented her own marriage. Without family or dowry she had few options. Yeshua had called her ‘little sister’.

Mariamne turned to the girl, “Winna, I know how fond you were of Addai…”

Winna turned frowning, “Of course I’m fond of him! Why? What’s happened?”

Mariamne sat the girl down on a sofa and sat beside her.

“There was an accident in Jerusalem, he disappeared. I…we fear the worst.”

Winna laughed.

“He’s not lost! He’s upstairs.” She pointed to the upper floors. “On the roof as usual.”

It took a moment for the implications to sink in and Mariamne frowned, her mind jumping ahead.

“Well if he’s here, that means—?”

She jumped up and ran for the stairs. The house consisted of four main floors. The top floor and roof were given over to the private rooms for the family. The roof was a favourite with many of the Nazarene students for private prayer and meditation. Addai could always be found on the roof if he was not studying Torah in the town.

Mariamne raced to the roof and was out of breath when she got there.

Addai was in prayer and looking over the inland sea with his back to her.

“Addai! Where the hell have you been?”

As she reached Addai he had half turned around with a smile.

“I thought you were dead, you idiot!” She shouted.

Addai recovered himself and laughed. He had only half stood up when Mariamne hugged him.

“Where have you been?” She asked him.

Addai patted her back like a child. “My dear lady, I am so sorry to have worried you. It was an accident.”

Mariamne recovered her composure, “Somebody attached Ya’akob, he nearly died. We thought you had been killed.”

Addai looked down. He could not catch her eye.

“Addai, we lost the Shroud. It’s been stolen!”

He looked into Mariamne’s face and frowned.

He bent down to his prayer mat and lifted his cloak; beneath it was the Roman satchel. He lifted the brown leather case and gave it to Mariamne.

Her mouth dropped open. “But! How did you get it?”

Addai moved to the waist high wall that surrounded the roof. He looked out across Lake Tiberius to the city of Hippos.

He turned to Mariamne and looked at her carefully, “The Rabbi taught me that we find our fate on the road we take to avoid it.”

Mariamne felt like she was swimming in treacle.

“What do you mean, Addai?”

“I left Edessa because I didn’t want to be a soldier. I didn’t want to hurt people.”

Mariamne made the connection.

“Ya’akob? It was you?”

“I couldn’t let him destroy the Shroud. It was not an accident that I was on those stairs as Ya’akob was going toward the fires.”

“But you’ve always been so gentle?”

Addai looked ashamed, “I will be judged, I know. I accept that.”

Mariamne hugged the Shroud like a child. She didn’t know what to think.

“It’s true that Ya’akob stole the Shroud, but I was going to give it to him anyway. Rabbi Yeshua would not have wanted to be made into an idol.”

Addai looked deeply at her, “But…what God creates you cannot destroy. The Rabbi also taught me that!”

Mariamne put her hand to her mouth. She didn’t notice the tears that ran down her cheeks.

“It must be…no one can ever know!”

Philippos joined them on the roof.

“Addai, we thought you were dead man.”

Mariamne held up the Roman satchel to her brother.

“Oh Shit!” Philippos reached out to the Shroud. “Is it—?”

Mariamne nodded.

Philippos began to take the Shroud out of the satchel.

“Not here!” Mariamne said as she put her hand on his.

She looked at Addai.

They went down to the main family room on the floor below them. Winna, curious to see what all the commotion was about, joined them.

Mariamne took the Shroud out of the satchel and unfolded it. Philippos pushed two divans together.

Addai helped Mariamne lay the Shroud out. It was twice the length of a man and twice the width of his shoulders wide.

One side appeared to hold Yeshua’s shadow. Winna gasped, “It’s the Master!” She whispered.

As Mariamne examined it she realised that one side was the front of her husband and the other his back. Where the Shroud had been wrapped around him it now bore the image of his shadow.

Philippos frowned, “Is it painted?”

Mariamne looked carefully at the face of her husband.

“No! Definitely not paint!” She looked up at her brother.

“What could have done this?”

He shrugged.

Mariamne looked up at her friends.

“No one can know of this. If the Sanhedrin know, we are dead and if the people find out we will have betrayed everything Yeshu worked for.”

Addai looked at them one by one.

“Whatever we do, we must protect the Shroud!”

 

[] Chapter Eight

From the bottom of a deep sleep, Mariamne came back to the world with a jolt. She lay in the darkness waiting for her soul to catch-up. Her heart was racing. She searched the darkness around her for the source of her alarm.

Bang, bang, bang.

“Mother! Come quickly.”

She threw her feet out of bed and pulled on a robe. She didn’t even bother to cover her hair.

Opening the door she saw her son, Yehuda. He was standing in the corridor with Ester.

Before she could open her mouth to ask the obvious question, Ester gushed, “Maria sent me. There isn’t much time.”

“Mother, Conall is in the courtyard. He said to wake you.”

“Conall? Here? Ester, what’s happening?”

“The Sicarii!”

As they raced down the stairs, Mariamne found herself searching the shadows for the Judean fanatics.

The courtyard was entirely lit by flaming torches. In its centre, a fountain fed a circular horse trough. Standing by it Conall was talking to Addai.

Addai gave out a cry and his legs failed him. Conall tried to help him to sit on the fountain. He could do nothing except kneel down by the grief stricken man. Seeing Mariamne he quickly stood and strode toward her.

He pulled her to one side, “My Lady! It’s Ya’akob! He’s searching for a thief.”

He looked back at Addai.

“He got to wondering about your man Addai. He sent the Sicarii to the man’s family in Jerusalem, the bastards! They were not gentle.” He whispered.

Conall looked back at the broken man weeping into Winna’s shoulder.

“Poor wee man! His brother’s dead!”

Mariamne hardly understood his words. For a second she wasn’t sure if she was still dreaming. This had to be a dream. She pushed her uncombed hair from her eyes and her hand was shaking.

Conall helped her to sit on a mounting block set against the wall.

She tried to clear her mind.

The white-flecked horses paced restlessly; the fire and the grief were making them nervous. Yehuda took their heads and stroked them soothingly.

Mariamne looked around at her friends and family. Yehuda’s face was white with a fear he couldn’t understand. She took a deep breath. She bent down and picked up a piece of discarded baling twine.

“Uziel’s assassins are coming north for Addai and for the Shroud!” Mariamne said to herself.

“I can’t give up either!” She said through gritted teeth. She took Conall’s hand and pulled herself to her feet. She pushed her hair out of her eyes and tired it back with the twine.

The enormity of this realisation hit her. With a sudden clarity she knew the way forward.

She had been waiting for this all along, as if it had been planned.

Addai and Winna came to stand with her.

Mariamne looked up at Philippos, “I will have to leave with Yehuda. We will take Addai and the Shroud. We can’t stay.”

Conall looked at Philippos, “That might not be such good idea! It’s a death sentence for Philippos and anyone else those fanatics find alive.”

Conall turned to Mariamne, “You’re all going to have to run. There is no staying! Not for anyone. Not even for the slaves and servants.”

He looked at Ester, “There is no going back for you either little lassy.”

Philippos stroked the horse’s nose thoughtfully, “That’s all very well but where do we go?”

Mariamne put her hands on her hips and tried to think, “Yeshua’s Uncle Tabor, he went to Gaul? We could go there!”

Philippos frowned, “Gaul has a large Judean population, but that might be a bit obvious!”

Mariamne watched the fountain sightlessly, “Drakon the Greek, he moved his business to the island of Cyprus.”

Philippos nodded, “That’s a good idea but again, lots of Judeans!”

Addai groaned, “What have I done? My brother and now your family!”

He pulled Conall’s sword from its scabbard and put it to his throat but before he could push the blade home, Mariamne stayed his hand.

She smiled, “Little brother, yesterday you reminded me of Yeshu’s words. It is true, we find our fate on the road we take to avoid it? We don’t see it now but this is all part of a plan. You did what you believed to be right, who can do more?”

She put her hand to his face, “It is, just as it is meant to be! Trust in the light of the Creator.”

Addai, now embarrassed, gave Conall his sword back, who took it with a nod.

Addai looked at Winna and sighed.

“There is one place that you would be safe.” Addai whispered.

“The King of Edessa is my cousin. He might help us.”

Every one stopped talking and stared at the little man. Winna looked as if she’d been struck.

Philippos was the first to recover, “For two years I’ve known you and this you don’t mention?”

Addai looked at them with innocent eyes, “It’s complicated. My family are…complicated!”

Conall laughed, “Cyprus or Gaul are the obvious choices, the Sicarii will be watching the ports. Complicated or not, Edessa has the advantage of surprise.”

Mariamne nodded. She pulled Yehuda to her and looked up at Conall, “How long will it take to get to Edessa?”

Conall frowned, “With your coach and a wagon, maybe a month.”

She turned to Yehuda, “Feed the horses and let them rest. Tomorrow we begin!”

She looked at each face in turn, “By first light we must be on the road to Edessa.”

Yehuda led the horses toward the stable. He was chatting to them all the way.

Conall watched him go, “Just like the man himself! No mistaking his father!”

Philippos scratched his chin absently, “We won’t be able to stop for a few days. They’ll check the nearest inns.”

Winna looked worried, “We’ll never be able to pack in time and anything we have sent to us will lead them straight to us!”

Mariamne nodded, “We’ll have to wait until this has blown over and we are in a strong position.”

She turned to Philippos, “We have to protect the Shroud! At least until we understand what it means.”

Conall put his hands on her shoulders, “You know I will dear girl but the Sicarii can’t be far away! You don’t want to be here when they arrive!”

As the sun rose over the mountains and the night sank into the depths of the inland sea, a Roman style coach and a wagon rolled out of Magdala heading north, toward the mountains of the Lebanon.

 

[] Chapter Nine

The endless plains between Antiochia and Karkamis worked on her mind like opium. Tiredness and lethargy allowed her red hair to escape her shawl and framed her face like blood on fresh snow. The moon had died twice since they had left Galilee. A week ago they had abandoned the sea to follow the Orentes River inland toward Antiochia. Like a ring on a noble’s finger, the Orentes River wore the city of Antiochia like a jewel. But, the rivers of Antiochia were left far behind.

Now between them and the city of Edessa lay the Euphrates River. Drought had desiccated its flood plains and its fields were as bleached and dry as old bones but in the rains of winter the river became a raging torrent. With no bridge or ferry they would have to risk their lives to ford where they could. Addai had said that Karkamis was the safest bet.

The coach lurched and Mariamne awoke with a jolt. Ester was asleep in the shade of the teak lined cabin. Flies buzzed lazily as Winna annoyed them with a zebra’s tail flywhisk. Nightfall should see them into the city of Karkamis and tomorrow, if heaven willed it, they would cross the ford to the east of the city. In three days they would be in Edessa and this torture would be over.

Her son Yehuda, like his father, never tired of asking questions. He rode with Philippos above. She could hear the murmur of their conversation.

“What was Yohanan the Baptiser like?” She heard Yehuda ask.

“The kindest man I ever met, until I met your father!” She heard Philippos reply.

“Yes! But what was he like?” The boy insisted.

Mariamne closed her eyes again and began to drift back to sleep.

She felt a hand on her shoulder shaking her awake. As she opened her eyes, Yeshua leaned over and shouted to her. She tried to understand what he was saying. Yohanan appeared beside her and pointed behind them, “Run! They’re coming!”

She woke with a start. Without thinking she opened the cabin door and jumped out. Philippos reined in the horses as Mariamne jumped up beside Yehuda. She pushed her son to one side and stood on the roof of the coach. She shielded her eyes against the setting sun. In the distance to the west she could see a trail of dust rising to meet the sun.

Without question and without doubt, she shouted so that Addai and Conall could hear on the wagon, “They’re coming!” She pointed to the west.

Conall stood up and looked in the direction she was pointing, “Oh shit!”

Conall looked toward Philippos, they were an hour away from the ford at Karkamis, “We have to cross tonight! Hurry!”

Mariamne looked toward the sky and could see thunderclouds gathering in the north. If it rains they would be trapped on the west bank with the Sicarii behind them and nowhere to run.

If it rains they were dead.

Philippos thrashed the tired horses into a trot and shouted for everyone to hang on.

He looked at his sister and shouted, “I hope you’re bloody sure?”

She nodded.

She looked back at the approaching dust cloud. She was sure!

They could not keep the pace and had to slow to save the horses. An hour became two and it was dark before they reached the city. They had hoped to stay at an inn tonight but that would be a death sentence. Mariamne looked up at the sky above the city towers, bright flashes from the sky were reaching for the land. Like a kiss she felt the beginning of rain on her face.

Philippos looked at his sister with a face stretched tight with tiredness and fear. He lashed the horses again.

As they approached the river, one of the river guides jumped up and down to warn them.

“It’s raining! You can’t cross!” He pointed to the river, already rising.

Philippos checked the horses and looked back at Conall but the Gaul didn’t stop. He swerved the wagon around their coach and pushed ahead into the river. The horses’ eyes flashed white with fear but they obeyed his commands.

By the time both the carriages were in the middle of the river the wheel hubs were underwater.

Poles had been set to mark the safe path but the current was bending them down. In another few minutes they would be blind.

Philippos shouted to Conall, “Faster! For the love of God, faster!” Mariamne looked back but the rain was growing stronger, she could not see the city. She looked toward the east bank, she could just make out the deeper black of the tree line. They would make it she was sure. She looked to her son but he didn’t look worried. She put her hand on his shoulder, “Don’t worry we’ll be alright!”

He looked up at her in frustration, “I’m not! The horses! What about the horses?”

Mariamne looked ahead at Addai’s wagon and the horses were indeed struggling. With the water up to the horses’ chests the current and the weight were pulling them down river. The sky was split by another clap of thunder and the rain redoubled its efforts.

Mariamne closed her eyes and prayed, “My father, my lord, your will not mine. I give my life not theirs!”

She looked up and ahead of her she could see the lights on the riverbank. Conall and his team were already surging out of the water at a canter. Now free of the water, the horses wanted to put as much distance between them and the river.

As their coach came up alongside Conall and Addai, Philippos was using all of his strength to control the frightened horses. Yehuda jumped down and before his mother could stop him took the lead horse by the head. He took his head collar and led them toward the inn. Conall had jumped down from his wagon and put his hand out for Mariamne.

“Look!” He pointed toward the river. Already trees and the bodies of dead animals were being washed past in the flood.

“Those bastards won’t be able to cross for days!” He laughed.

“We can rest the horses here tonight.” He said and put his hand on her shoulder. “Your son did well. He’s brave like his father!”

After a month of slow and painful travel, they felt elated to have cheated both the river and the Sicarii. Mariamne pulled her shawl back and allowed her hair to be washed by the rain, which had very nearly killed them all.

Philippos grabbed his sister and hugged her like a man brought back from the dead.

Conall pointed to an inn, “Get the horses into the barn. We’ll stay together tonight but we must be gone by morning.” He pointed to the other bank and in a flash of lightening they could see a line of horsemen standing on the other bank. They were dressed in the black of the Sanhedrin.

“That river’s not going to stop them for long!”

 

[] Chapter Ten

For three days the rain had lashed the plains of Edessa into a swamp. Occasionally the storm eased and Mariamne glimpsed the rolling hills that seemed to go on forever. Despite the cold of the summer storm the horses steamed from their toil. They kept their heads down and pushed into the traces in a never-ending world of pain.

As the rain eased, Mariamne lifted the leather curtain and scanned the horizon behind them for any sign of the Sicarii horsemen. They had been alone on the road since they left Karkamis, no sane person travels in this weather not even assassins.

Conall and Addai were in the lead wagon. Addai seeing her in the window waved and pointed ahead of them. He was laughing. Mariamne lifted herself so that her shoulders were through the window. As the sun finally came out, she could see the plains ahead drop away to reveal a verdant valley like a giant footprint with a shining city at its toe. To the right a castle defended the road. A sodden sentry scowled at them as they passed.

Mariamne pushed her wayward hair out of her eyes and squinted in the unaccustomed sunshine. At the head of the valley a golden city sprawled out across the fertile plains, surrounded by a casemate wall studded with towers like teeth. As they rolled to a stop on the ridge above the city, Mariamne jumped down and was grateful to finally stretch her legs. She helped Winna down to the Roman road and together they walked to join Conall and Addai. Like a kitchen garden, the defensive wall enclosed a sparkling city bigger and brighter than Jerusalem.

Conall looked down at Addai whose eyes were moist, “Tell me again why you fecking left this paradise?”

Addai looked up at Conall and laughed, “It’s complicated!”

Conall put his massive hand on the little man’s shoulder, “Life’s fecking complicated!”

Looking out on the golden city, Mariamne could see an inner wall surrounding a palace compound. Blood red tiles capped golden mansions throughout the city. Canals and carp ponds bisected the city. Pools of blue dotted the city like jewels.

Addai pointed to the palace compound, “We have to get into the palace.”

Conall slapped him on the back, “Let’s hope they’ve missed you.”

Addai looked back at them nervously and bit his lip, “My family’s…”

“I know! Complicated.” Conall added.

The guard at the city gate waved them through as they rattled into the city. Rome had banned metal shod wagons in the daytime because of the noise. Mariamne gritted her teeth, she could understand why. She pulled the curtain down and hoped for the best.

It was late afternoon as they approached the palace gate. A sentry separated himself from his men and strode toward them. Addai jumped down to meet him. Addai spoke to him and looked back toward them. The Edessans spoke a Semitic dialect but Mariamne could only make out a few words. She did understand the words for ‘sick’ and ‘ill’. Addai came back to speak to her so she opened the coach door.

“My cousin is sick. His physicians are not permitting anyone to see him.” He said apologetically.

Mariamne looked at her son and felt sick, “What can we do?”

“Don’t worry, I have a plan!” Addai said quietly.

“It was your last plan that got us here in the first place!” Ester said rather unkindly.

“I’m sorry…” he looked at Mariamne and then to everyone, “to all of you!”

Mariamne put her hand on his, “What do you want us to do?”

Addai looked up to Conall as he joined them, “We passed an inn a few streets ago.”

Conall nodded.

“Wait for me there.”

Mariamne nodded and smiled encouragingly.

Addai shut the door and went to speak to Conall.

They turned the coaches around and soon found the inn.

Edessa had a huge population of Hebrews from both Judea and Israel. The staff at the inn made them welcome but Conall insisted that they sleep together in the barn and stay ready to move at any moment.

“When they come, those bastards will be cautious. They can’t slaughter us here like they can in Jerusalem but they are cunning. They will try to catch us alone and undefended.”

They spent an uncomfortable night in the coach, while Conall and Philippos took turns to keep watch. Mariamne kept the Shroud close to her, wishing it were her husband himself and not just his shadow.

Morning came early as the storm had finally passed. Addai came to find them and with him were a platoon of soldiers surrounding a richly turned out carriage. Mariamne walked out of the barn to meet them.

Addai stepped forward to speak, but Mariamne was looking at the young girl as she stepped out of the carriage. Something about her reminded her of Addai.

Mariamne glanced back at Addai, “Your sister?”

Addai nodded.

“This is Helena of Adiabene, my little sister.”

Helena strode through the soldiers and smiled. “Addai said that you might be able to help my husband?”

Addai looked embarrassed, “Abgar has been sick for a while. His physicians think he will die.” He looked at his sister and then back to Mariamne, “He’s young but he’s a good man!”

Mariamne knew the likely price of failure. She closed her eyes and let her fear wash over her like a wave, leaving her calm and clear in its wake.

She smiled at the young girl, “I’ll do what I can.”

Mariamne went back to their wagon and grabbed her medicine bag. She put her hands on Yehuda’s shoulders, “Wait here with Conall. I’ll be back.”

As she climbed into the royal coach she thought to herself, ‘I hope!’

 

[] Chapter Eleven

As Mariamne was led into the king’s private apartments, his physicians scowled at her as she passed. Not since Yeshua was murdered had she felt so alone. The corridors were lined with cedar from the Lebanon and hung with tapestries painted with mythical beasts and gods.

The sweet smell of incense barely masked the stench of death. Helena turned back to her as they walked, “This last winter a plague swept the city. Many have died. I got sick but recovered. Abgar was not so lucky. He has held on for weeks but now he is weak.”

The young girl could not have been more than eighteen but privilege had made her self-assured. In many ways she reminded Mariamne of herself at that age.

“Is he eating?” Mariamne asked absently.

“He loses everything.”

Mariamne nodded.

As they entered the young king’s rooms, she was struck by the beauty of the Greek architecture and the space and light of the rooms. In a giant bed, a young man lay unconscious despite the billowing curtains and the noise from the city. Despite weeks of suffering, Abgar was still a handsome man. His physician had kept his beard carefully trimmed but his cheeks were hollow and his skin almost white.

Mariamne looked toward Helena for permission. The young girl nodded.

Mariamne sat on the bed and felt the King’s forehead and pulse. He was still in the grip of a fever.

“Cut fresh garlic and onions to fill a pot. One fresh chicken and a little salt. As quick as you can.” She looked at Helena and then back at the King.

“I also need some hot water, blankets and close those shutters!”

Helena was stunned, not being accustomed to being spoken to as a servant.

Mariamne looked up at the girl, “Now!”

The young girl ran to get what was needed to save her husband.

Mariamne added an extract of blue mould to the hot water and sweetened it with honey. As she lifted the King’s head his eyes fluttered open. He weakly lifted his hand to touch her face.

“Are you an angel?” He muttered.

“No my lord, I’m a friend of your cousin Addai,” she lifted his head.

“Drink this it will help you.”

“Is Addai here?” He smiled and drank her potion.

He fell back exhausted and immediately slept.

Mariamne piled blankets over him and sat next to him holding his hand. He was as cold as death.

It seemed like hours but it could only have been moments. Her eyelids were growing heavy and for a moment she dreamt. She was with Yeshua and their son walking in the Valley of the Doves. The inland sea lay before them. She turned and put her hand on her husband’s face.

Helena shook her awake, “Mariamne, the soup you asked for.”

Mariamne shook her head to rid herself of the dream.

She carefully fed the king one spoon full at a time.

He was still delirious. He began to sweat. So far the king had kept the food down.

“Have your men light a fire, Helena.” Mariamne ordered.

This time without question the young girl gave the order.

Later the king began to shiver despite the heat. As afternoon became evening, Mariamne began to sing him a lullaby to soothe his dreams. Not long after midnight the convulsions subsided and finally the young man slept a natural sleep. Mariamne felt his forehead. She nodded; it was now a healthy temperature.

Addai joined her. “Get some sleep lady, let me watch for a while.”

Mariamne shook her head. She took his hand and smiled.

“Stay with me and tell me of Edessa.”

Before dawn they dosed while the king slept.

A shadow separated itself from the window and came toward Mariamne.

Like smoke he drifted closer to the sleeping woman. A wickedly curved blade, the length of a man’s forearm, appeared as he drew it from his belt. Like the striking of an adder, the blade flashed forward and buried itself in Mariamne’s form. She awoke with a start and screamed.

Addai reacted without thinking and threw himself on the man like a terrier. They fell to the floor as Addai tried to immobilise the blade hand of the assassin. Although trained as a boy in the arts of war, years of peace had made Addai soft. The assassin gained purchase and lifted his arm to sink the blade into the chest of his attacker.

Mariamne smashed a vase on the man’s head and he fell over Addai with a grunt. Addai pushed the man off and pulled himself away from the inert body. He looked at Mariamne in shock.

She put her hand to the side where she had felt the blow expecting a torrent of blood but her hand in the candlelight was not red. She frowned, “I thought he’d killed me?”

Addai came to her and looked at her waist. Beneath the folds of her robe the leather satchel had been sliced through the middle. Mariamne looked up at Addai, “Oh no! The Shroud!”

She quickly unclipped the shoulder strap and passed the satchel to Addai.

He unfolded the Shroud and held it up to the light near Abgar’s bed. The blade had missed the outline of Yeshua but had pierced the Shroud to right of his master’s head. From the bed a weak voice said, “Rabbi Yeshua, you came?”

Addai looked at Mariamne and put the Shroud down with an open mouth.

“Cousin how do you know the Master?” He asked.

King Abgar smiled and coughed as he tried to speak. Mariamne sat next to him and helped him sip some of the honeyed water. He nodded his thanks.

“I wanted to die. He came to me in my dream. He said to hold on. He said my brother would come home to save me.”

Abgar took Addai’s hand, “Thank you brother!”

A groan from the floor reminded them of the assassin. Abgar went to the double doors and called the guard.

Addai looked at his brother, “There are more in the city.”

Abgar smiled, “My men will find them.” He looked at Mariamne, “If you are not an angel, tell me of this man, this Rabbi?”

 

[] Chapter Twelve

Torture had failed to produce the remaining assassins and the Judeans of Edessa would not give up their own to protect a Galilean. In the weeks that followed, Mariamne and the Nazarenes stayed within the palace as guests of the king. No more attacks were made though Conall said the Sicarii were still close and probably waiting. Eventually their guard would drop and a Sicarii blade would find them. Time was on the side of the assassins. Mariamne could see no alternative but to run, but to where?

Mariamne was sitting in the palace garden reading Torah with Yehuda. Queen Helena arrived with her maids, seeing Mariamne she dismissed them. She sat down next to Mariamne.

“Abgar has been telling me about Rabbi Yeshua and his teachings. I would like to know more, can you teach me?”

“How is the king today, my Lady?” Mariamne asked by way of deflection.

Helena smiled, “Well…thanks to you! Actually, I’m jealous, he still half thinks you’re an angel.”

Yehuda snorted and laughed. Mariamne gave him a playful punch in the arm. “Ow!” He said and rubbed his wounded arm.

Mariamne took a breath and looked carefully at the young queen.

“The road is difficult and the gate through which we enter is narrow. Of those who begin the journey not one arrives.”

Helena frowned, “Does that mean you won’t teach me?”

Mariamne laughed and put her hand on the young girls hand, “We just began!”

They both looked up as there was a commotion at the garden entrance. The king arrived. He dismissed his guards to the edges of the garden.

He had become himself again over the weeks of Mariamne’s care and all traces of the fever had passed.

He smiled at his wife and took Mariamne’s hand, “Helena’s told you?”

“Told me what Lord.” Mariamne looked at Helena quizzically.

“We want to formally convert and join your Nazarene school. I want to support your work with the poor and the widows here in Edessa.”

Mariamne bit her lip and looked away.

“Have I asked too much?” The king asked.

Mariamne shook her head, “There’s much that can be done here, but not by me. I have to protect the Shroud.”

“Where will you go?”

Mariamne smiled sadly, “I’m not sure.”

***

Yehuda had become devoted to Ester. Only eight years separated them, which later in life would be nothing but for a boy approaching his Bar Mitzvah it was a chasm filled only with despair. Ester had taken to walking the gardens in the evening and Yehuda had not yet exhausted his imagination for excuses to follow her. He was so captivated by the young girl and the way she walked that he didn’t notice the sentry leave his post and stalk him from behind. Before he knew what had hit him the Sicarii had pulled him behind a hedge and held a knife to his throat.

“Where’s the Shroud, Yehuda? Tell me now or die!”

Yehuda struggled but the man’s hands were as strong as an olive press. He looked behind him but could not see the face, “Go to hell, you Judean bastard!” He shouted.

Hearing him shout, Ester turned. She left the path and saw the struggle. She raced toward the Sicarri who had no choice in the darkness but to strike. The knife sliced her throat open to the bone. Yehuda sensed his opportunity and kicked down with his heel and felt it connect with a shinbone. The man swore and for a second his grip loosened.

Yehuda ran towards the guards and shouted “Assassin! Assassin!”

Conall had been looking for Ester with much the same intention as Yehuda. He heard the boy’s yell and ran. Seeing the girl’s body sprawled in a pool of blood and a guard calmly walking away he continued his sprint without pause and hit the assassin in the back like a stampeding bull. They both tumbled to the ground but much to the assassin’s surprise he could not lift his head or gain his feet. All of the tendons in his neck had been severed when Conall slashed his throat. His last breath bubbled between his fingers as he tried to stem the flow of his life’s blood. Conall knelt over him and punched him in the face. “That’s for the wee girl, you bastard!”

Yehuda was at Ester’s side holding her still warm hand. Her eyes were already dead.

Mariamne and Philippos had heard the screaming from within the palace. Mariamne ran to Ester’s side but there was nothing she could do. She put her hand on her son’s shoulders as the boy was racked by the grief of his first love.

Conall walked over to them as he wiped the blood from his blade.

“They almost got Yehuda! It might be time to go.”

Mariamne nodded.

“We leave for Cyprus as soon as it can be arranged.”

***

Three days later, a Roman coach and a wagon left to the east of the city following the spice trail for India. They were accompanied by a platoon of Edessan soldiers. Like hyenas, the two remaining Sicarii followed the caravan at a distance. From the city wall, Conall watched them disappear into the rising sun.

***

Shortly after, a small party of Romans left the city through its western gate. The covered wagons headed toward the port of Laodicea and the island of Cyprus. Mariamne looked back at Edessa as they climbed out the valley and onto the rolling hills above the city. She felt the warmth of the leather satchel protecting the Shroud and wished that she were home in Galilee with Yeshu.

In another life she thought to herself, if it pleases God, let it be in another life.

She looked to her son who was now very much a man, everyday more and more like his father.

What would the future hold for him, in such a violent world?

Addai had said goodbye from the gates of the new Nazarene Synagogue. Mariamne had told the tearful little man that they would meet again, but in her heart she knew that they would not.

She looked toward the west and wondered what fate she would find on this road she hadn’t chosen.

She felt for the ebony fish Yeshua had carved for her, which lay between her breasts and smiled. She remembered his words, “We find our fate on the road we take to avoid it,” and frowned.

Mariamne of Magdala hugged her son whose grief acclaimed him now to be a man. She looked out the window and wondered what would be the fate of her son, the son of Rabbi Yeshua the Nazarene.

The End

 

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(Fiction) The Shroud of Edessa: the Secret of Mary Magdalene

A year after her husband’s horrific death, Mary Magdalene must return to a Jerusalem on the verge of a rebellion. Judea is torn between religious fundamentalists and the soldiers of a brutal occupation. In her husband’s tomb she finds a mystery that she cannot destroy. To protect a secret she cannot understand she must risk everything she loves.

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The First Letter of Jesus: the Secret of the Nazarenes

Palestine in the first century is a melting pot of Hebrew, Greek, Roman and Oriental thought. Lost in dreams of its past, Judea is a country at war with its own future. One man is caught between two worlds and strives to stop the violence.

Rabbi Yeshua bar Yosef is an Israeli prophet and mystic who has seen, within the Judean cult of animal sacrifice, the extermination of the Jewish people. Before the forces of darkness silence his voice forever he is determined to protect the ‘Secret of the Nazarenes’.

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The Shroud of Edessa: the Secret of Mary Magdalene

A year after her husband’s horrific death, Mary Magdalene must return to a Jerusalem on the verge of a rebellion. Judea is torn between religious fundamentalist and the soldiers of a brutal occupation. In her husband’s tomb she finds a mystery that she cannot destroy. To protect a secret she cannot understand she must risk everything she loves. Historical fiction brings historical fact alive with Antonio Sebastian's new short story from the Nazarene Chronicles. The lost years of the Shroud of Turin begin with Mary Magdalene. Book two in the series sees Judea on the verge of civil war.

  • Author: Antonio Sebastian
  • Published: 2017-01-25 15:50:14
  • Words: 18315
The Shroud of Edessa: the Secret of Mary Magdalene The Shroud of Edessa: the Secret of Mary Magdalene