Crucifixion Team 5

Crucifixion Team Number Five

© 2011 by David L Nelson, All Rights Reserved

“Rufus,” Rufus stared a morning stare down the road. “Rufus, you’re supposed to be watching your crew hang up that barbarian.”

“Sir, yes Sir.” Rufus answered.

“He’s trying to pull his foot off that nail, and where’s the shim, how come you didn’t shim that nail?” Lucius was pointing at the new guy who didn’t answer.

“Grab this arm!” Rufus yelled at the new guy. Rufus leaned down and tapped the barbarian’s ankle back into place. Then kneeling he took a 2nd nail with its shim and pounded it through the heel. With his chisel to the side of the nail in the ankle, he tapped it over til it bent into a right angle.

Lucius sneered, “You know it’s going to brake when you try to straighten it, then it will be too short to use over.” he said shaking his head. After a loud moan the barbarian said something in that disgusting northern tongue which clearly referenced Rufus’ mother, his móðir. So, Lucius added, “And whatever he said about your mother, it’s true.”

“Sir? Hey I didn’t put that nail in . . .” Rufus was protesting.

Lucius cut him off. “New guy’s your problem, so it’s your mistake.”

Rufus didn’t answer for a moment, then he added, “if he was talking about my mum, then I think he’s got a lithp.” Rufus tried to smile but gave more of an odd grimace.

Lucius looked at the list in his hand, then stared down the road leading back to Jerusalem and wondered if he’d ever get his work finished. Two cartful’s of prisoners nervously waited their appointed moments of joy. Those roughly four minutes that it takes to nail them up to the Olive trees lining the road on both sides. During the nailing of the man of the hour, Lucius could see the faces on the carts change back into themselves. Then when they started heading back down the road to Bethrakhel, Lucius had the notion that their faces gained an almost animal quality. Some of those Greek geniuses would say he was injecting his own inner change of heart into his perception of their appearances. Some of those Greek geniuses would claw each other’s eyes out in order to make it to the next tree. “Rufus?”

“Lucius, Sir. If you don’t mind, I’m still holding ‘is one’s arm down. I,” Rufus coughed and grunted while he and the new guy wrapped four arms around the barbarian’s one and the tree limb. Gaius drove the nail in and hammered the wrist down. Because the nail in the wrist allowed the arm to pivot under the shim, the executionee was permitted an opportunity to scoot down and rest. Sometimes they’d try to play the shim. So, Cyrenius had ordered that an extra nail be hammered into the middle of the palm. As the Greeks were so fond of saying, two points define a straight line and that line terminated at the shoulder; no pivoting.

Lucius stood back and put a check next to the name, Ærngunþió, and stared at the prisoner’s blue squinting eyes for a moment. “Even their names have a lithp.” Shade from the olive tree covered the prisoner’s face. Ginger wavy hair, orange beard and such bright blue eyes, how did you get so far south? You had to admire his spirit. Beaten dying yet still defiant and cunning. He was waiting even then for an opening, but with the new guy having crippled him, it was hardly going to matter. “Vercinger . . . Vershindger . . . Hey New Guy, Rufus is pretty lucky Gaius has arms today and you have feet.” Lucius would have liked to see that pink arm swinging at heads after it slipped off a shimless nail. Maybe it would still happen next tree. “What’s your barbarian mother call when you go home for Solstice?” Lucius asked him.

Facing heaven, the new guy squinted; Lucius had the courtesy to move so that he cast his shadow across the new guy’s face. “Were she still alive, she would have called me her favorite son.” Putting his hand up to push blond hair out of his face, he left a streak of barbarian blood across his forehead. “Could have been his own.” Lucius thought. He could see that Lucius was not that easily amused, so he put it plainly for the working man. “My name is Vercindeborridix in my tongue, but when I became a Roman, I was advised to change it to Borridicus by the civil agent.”

Lucius and Gaius laughed, and Gaius added, “You mean they called you ‘Ridiculous’ and told you it was your name.” Rufus wanted to know what was so funny; the olive smell of the broken shim in his hands reminded him of his mother’s dress closet. He’d missed the joke.

“I prefer just ‘Victor’ if you don’t mind.” The right side of his mouth tweaked up and the lines in his forehead smoothed a bit, though it was hard to tell under the blood streak. Lucius thought it looked like a fake smile.

At the next tree, the new guy was kneeling hammer and nail in hand near the prisoner’s foot. With the end of his writing stylus Lucius pointed at the heel bone and said, “We put the nail through there. That way the prisoner can stand on the nails with his feet on either side of the tree trunk. If you put it through the ankle, or into the front of the foot, they just buckle like a sack of potatoes and die. Mind you don’t forget that olive shim there.” Lucius pointed at the bag of shims. “Olive squares underneath the head of the nail both help prevent bleeding to death and” Lucius smiled at his cleverness, “hold the nail onto limb. You see, if the nail has been used a few dozen times, the head may have been pounded down a bit. If that happens, the prisoner can just slip his heel or wrist right over the nail and run away. Take the wrist for example,” Lucius pointed at the new guy’s wrist with his short sword, “even with a new nail, without the olive plate under the head; you could just twist your arm over the top of the nail by pulling it between the bones.” Victor listened with a look of not believing. “Imagine if everyone thought that they could just hop off the tree and back into freedom.”

Lucius scratched his nose with the blunt side of his stylus, and checking his list, the name was Bardavid. “Both Herod and Cyrenius prefer that the prisoners be able to live a day or two, and, be stuck to the tree during those couple of days, I might add. That way, passersby are impressed with the importance of obedience to the laws and ordinances of Rome and of this jurisdiction. It’s a deterrent; if we just killed them . . .” Bardavid’s other foot caught him in the temple. Lucius didn’t get to finish his thoughts on not killing the poor man because Lucius’ sword wasn’t where it should have been, at Bardavid’s throat. As he rammed his short sword into Bardavid’s solar plexus with the blade held horizontal, he looked down at Victor and said, “well, and if we do have to kill them, try to do it so that your sword doesn’t get stuck in his ribs.” Lucius pulled back on the blade. It stuck. He’d sunk it up to its hilt in Bardavid’s upper belly. Bardavid’s face silently screamed. More than just bubbles came out, but his lungs were paralyzed when his diaphragm was skewered.

Gaius pried Bardavid’s ribcage away from the tree and looked behind him, made a hrrumph noise. “It’s not his ribs you have to worry about. You’ve killed the tree.”

Lucius yanked on the hilt with both arms by putting a foot underneath the sword and he fell on his backsides. Vomit and blood covered Lucius’ arms and sword. Almost clove his own nose in half in the process. Even the prisoners left on the cart were laughing. Looking around a moment he leaned forward with his hands on his knees and wished it was Tuesday, his day off day. Shaking puke and fluids off by jabbing sharply at the nearest cart, the prisoners froze. “Alright guys, this one’s for the meat wagon, pull him down, who’s next on the list? Saul Bethsaïda come on down, you have received the call to greatness!”

Saul kept saying over and over, “but I I I I can wait ‘til the next tree, it, it’s, it’s, it’s okay, I’m in no real hurry really. James of Capernaum said he was ready to go, take him, I can wait really. Funny, Funny thing is I’m really innocent you know, all I did was slap at Herod’s little nephew, and, and, and he’s a nephew by marriage and twice removed anyway, um, too, of all the crazy things.” Saul giggled a little moment, then another, then another. “I didn’t, I didn’t even hit him.” he giggled some more.

Lucius who had been in Palestine for several years spoke a smattering of Hebrew, lots of Aramaic and he had been learning Greek. Lucius said in Aramaic, “I don’t speak Aramaic.” Saul repeated his plaintiff soliloquy in Greek and then in Latin. Greek was obviously Saul’s strong suit, and Latin was absolutely far from his better abilities. Considering whether to hack off his arms and legs, Lucius could tie off the stumps, and just lean him against the trunk for speaking such bad Latin. He decided to just do what he always did, and nail him to the tree. It’s a duty really, it’s not like he’d be paid more for doing things better than usual. And messier.

Five trees down and forty-five to go on this side of the road. In Bethrakhel they’d empty the corpses refill with new prisoners and head back to Jerusalem. His boss, a centurion of Greek extraction named Arachnides, called it a ‘continual equilibrium’, there was always the same number of bodies on the carts, live or dead. Equilibrium was his love, not Athena, not Isis, not wine.

“Hey Lucius.” Victor was hammering a nail with a bright piece of olive wood into Saul’s heel bone. Saul whimpered. The olive wood darkened from the center.

“What’s up, New Guy?” Lucius asked holding his short sword up to Saul’s throat.

“What if this guy’s innocent?” Victor asked. Lucius arched his eyebrows and scratched behind his ear with the hilt of his sword.

“Um, I don’t know. I hadn’t really thought about that before. Spose they’re all guilty of something, and maybe some of nothing, I’m just a soldier like you.” Grating on Victor’s ears, Lucius’ voice sounded like a grain mill pulled by a donkey. Wincing, Lucius had obviously nicked his neck but pretended not to notice. “Oh,” Lucius paused a moment, “but I do know this much, if you don’t do your duty, you’re a deserter and I’d be tacking you up to the next tree myself.” Lucius made a thin lipped smile and chuckled at his little joke.

“You do see me hammering here, don’t you?” Victor gave it one last tap for good measure. “I just can feel it in my stomach; this man doesn’t deserve death for what he did.” Standing back they all examined their work, “he didn’t deserve this.” Victor added.

“That’s what I’m trying to tell you . . .” Saul interjected. With each heel pegged to either side of the trunk, Saul stood tall and leaned forward a little. Part of the olive square at his right wrist cracked. Gaius examined it and made a shake of his head, waving them on.

Rufus answered for Lucius, “And you don’t deserve it either, but that’s exactly where you’ll be. Do you want to take his place?” Rufus had nudged Lucius out of the way to make this statement heard.

“Please take my place, I’d happily take yours.” Saul was begging.

Ignoring him, they moved onto the next tree, and the next and the next and the next and the next. In Bethrakhel, they discarded the bodies at the quarry dump outside the city and washed up for lunch. While the carts were being reloaded, they ate flat bread and mutton strips with unfermented wine. “Lucius is too cheap to get us the good stuff,” Gaius said.

“No, you little drunk,” Lucius answered, “I get the newest wine possible so that you and Rufus will be able to make it all the way back to Jerusalem before team three gets back from Emmaus. I’m doing it for you. Besides that wasn’t a bonus last week, that was the money we saved by not buying the ‘good stuff’ you wanted.”

“You gave it back to us?” Rufus asked.

“Every penny.” Lucius barked back. “So, drink up all you want, I’m just making sure the centurion isn’t going to have us whipped like dogs for being late again.”

On the way back the two carts with twenty-five prisoners each rolled along in a regular rhythm. Lucius didn’t get kicked in the head again all afternoon. However, they did come across a young man who was quite a bit livelier than he should have been. His skin was warm and held its color. Most of the executionees were pale, blue, or missing pieces. This guy didn’t even have any bite marks, not even from mosquitoes. “Who’s been feeding you?”

“God the Father feeds my soul.” He said.

“Oh, which God is that, Zeus? Bacchus?” Lucius questioned him.

Gaius asked, “Borridicus?”

The man on the tree smiled and said, “Zeus is a stone on a tree stump, nothing more.”

“Careful, you could be crucified for that kind of talk.” Rufus said, elbowing Gaius in the ribs.

Lucius was more serious, “Someone’s been feeding you. Who is it?” Lucius leaned in close to the man’s eyes. Body sagging slightly the victim on the tree was eye to eye level. “Who?”

“God the Father’s Son said, ‘man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.’” He whispered.

“Your god has a son who said that?” Victor asked. “He’s definitely not a Roman god.”

“Nor Greek neether,” said Rufus.

“No. He is the God of Israel who sent his Son into the world to live in a tabernacle of clay because He loved the world and so that His Son could take away the sins of . . .” the victim passed out. Rufus slapped his cheeks a couple of times, but nothing happened.

“How long has he been up here?” Victor asked, holding his hand over his sternum. His face paled like he’d seen a ghost. “He’s telling the truth,” Victor was whispering but just to himself, “the God of the Jews? But . . .”

“What’s that Victor?” Gaius asked.

“I don’t really know, I think he was hung up by Crucifixion Team Three . . .” Lucius said.

“But that would be at least four days ago.” Rufus answered.

“Wait, wait . . .” Victor tried to ask.

“No that’s three days ago just look at the corpses we’ve tossed onto the carts. That’s only three.” Gaius put in.

“Well, that would be one or two days of death and two or one days of dying.” Said Rufus.

“It was four.” Lucius stated at just above a whisper’s volume, he was looking at the team schedules. “Give him some water and wake him up, then give him some meat and bread.” Lucius waved at Gaius. “I want to come back and watch on our rest day. Let’s see if we can find out who else has been feeding him . . . hmm, maybe we’ll give them his place and let him go.”

“You can’t give him a pardon,” said Rufus. “You . . .”

“You want to be the one explaining to the centurion why we have one too many bodies on the carts?” Rufus was silent. “Didn’t think so.”

“You had one too many in Bethrakhel just today,” said Gaius trying to defend Rufus.

“Did you see the centurion at Bethrakhel?” Now Gaius was quiet. “Didn’t think so.”

Tuesday, team five’s day off, they hid behind some shade trees to the side of the road and watched. Lucius didn’t want to have to explain anything to anyone at all. Pedestrians would pass and sometimes they’d even speak with the prisoner, but no one gave him any food nor water, not one. For about a half hour a Sumerian did hold him up while he spoke with him, but that didn’t amount to much of an offense to Lucius. Eventually, crucifixion team two came down the road and they also interrogated the prisoner. Noticing how his skin had a healthy glow, Tiberius, the head of the team, a huge barbarian looking Latin with a thin red beard, was asking almost the same questions as Lucius.

Finally, Tiberius ordered one of his crew to give the man some water and meat. Lucius and his team rushed forward screaming. “Don’t do it! Don’t do it!” stopping at the tree, panting, Lucius stood up to Tiberius and said, “Don’t do it.” He panted a couple times more. “We were just duped into doing the same thing two days ago. So, we hid to see who else was feeding him, and,” Lucius couldn’t help but smile for half a second, “it’s you.”

Tiberius’ left eye closed from the bottom up a couple times. Lucius was grim faced again. Team Two was incredulous but Rufus and Gaius had a good laugh as usual. Tiberius and Lucius walked away from the road a ways and talked a few moments. On returning, Tiberius bowed and with a wave of his left hand said, “After you.”

“Wait wait!” Victor was yelling as Lucius plunged his blade held horizontal into the poor guy’s belly up to the hilt.

“I think you’ve killed another tree.” said Gaius.

Tiberius hammered down on his shoulder with his axe cleaving him in twain down to his fifth rib. Gaius was nodding approval. “He was innocent, and I . . . I wanted to interrogate him some more.” Victor didn’t know what to say exactly. He’d wanted to question more about the Hebrew God.

“The tree was innocent too.” Rufus added. “Come on.”

“Alright guys, time to go.” Tiberius said, “We still have a long day ahead of us, it’s not our day off, and if it were, we wouldn’t have spent it here.” After extensive hand shaking, some hugs and smacks on the shoulder, and a bit of vomiting from the carts, crucifixion team number two headed down the road.

The following week, crucifixion team number five was given special duty. Some political prisoners were being hung up on Big Head Hill. Opposite the city, the hill looked like a skull’s face. Lucius poked Victor in the ribs, “make sure to put the nail in the heel this time. We wouldn’t want Herod to be disappointed. Pilate wouldn’t give a rat’s about these guys but the council wants them hung up with care for all to see.” Lucius kicked at the dirt shaking his head. “I just don’t get it,” he said, “this is supposed to be a time of forgiveness for the Hebrews, but the council’d prefer to make a public spectacle of the punishment instead.”

“What waste of time. Look at all those great trees lining the road leading up here,” said Gaius.

“And we get to dig postholes so that the council can show Rome that they get rid of their insurgents.” Rufus added.

“Insurgents?” Victor was asking.

“Trouble makers, tax protestors, and heretics.” Rufus explained.

Lucius looked like he was strangling his sword hilt when he said, “and Rome doesn’t even care, I can promise you that.”

“. . . but didn’t they let Barabbas go?” Victor asked, pounding his shovel into the earth, scooping out rocks and just a smattering of soft dirt. Lucius was standing up with his arms outstretched then pointing at the ground while marking an X with his toe in the soil. A few yards away he did it again.

Get digging boys, they’ll be here soon.” Opening his pack, he counted out six nails per customer and eight shims for a total of eighteen nails and twenty-four little squares of olive wood. Each shim with a small hole bored through the center, and there were extras for breakage. Scratching his head, and spinning in a semi-circle, he reminded Gaius of the Persian monkey show the in the market plaza. “Oh, there you are . . .” Lucius was saying to a bundle near the edge of the hill sitting on a plank of wood. Picking it up, it contained a bottle of paint, a sponge, and a bottle of vinegar mixed with nightshade pulp. “Ah ha!” he yelled, he also had found lunch. “Oh crap.” He said.

“What is it?” Rufus asked.

“I’m not finding the wedges.” Lucius pointed at the post holes. Picking up a palm sized olivewood square Victor showed it to Lucius. “No, no, no, no, I’m looking for triangle shaped wedges the height of your knee.” Lucius had his mouth wide open and he was panting like a dog, twisting his head every which way.

“What’s it for?” Victor asked.

“Huh? oh, you jam them in the hole after you put the post in to hold it tight until you’re ready to take it down again.” Lucius was running back and forth looking all over the place.

“There’s plenty of rocks,” Gaius said “we’ll stomp a few of them into the sides after we raise them up.” Lucius was visibly relieved.

“That is a good idea, start stacking three piles of them.” Lucius scratched behind his ear with his sword hilt. “There’s not enough time to go back and get them now.”

Approaching the hill a crowd was coming from the city. Two prisoners were carrying one cross; the other two were carrying their own. Ushered forward by crucifixion team two, Tiberius followed behind them. Two of the council members, Annas and Caiaphas, followed behind him and the centurion came with them.

“Damn.” Lucius whispered, but loudly enough for all of his team to hear. At length he took a deep breath and told his team, “cheer up men, at least Pilate and Herod aren’t coming to our little dinner party tonight.”

Below in the city, there were families spending the afternoon on their roofs to see the show. On arrival, Victor noticed that one of the prisoners had wreath of thorns on his head. It was a little like Caesar’s crown of bay leaves but without the leaves and with thorns and dried nettles. Victor was about to take it off, but Lucius shook his head no. “I’d take it off too but the centurion is here.”

Tiberius greeted Lucius like a brother grabbing each other’s shoulders and shaking one another like they were trying to knock each other’s armor off.

“Uh hmm.” The centurion cleared his throat. “Make them all kneel thank you,” he said to anyone listening. Every soldier stepped forward quickly to make the prisoners drop their knees. Holding his scroll up high, the centurion turned and faced the little crowd that had flooded in behind the council members. “By order of Imperial Rome, with agreement from Herod the Tetrarch and the Council of Jerusalem, these three men, Jeron the thief,” and as he read the names, he put his hand on the head of the accused going from one to the next, “Andrew the extortionist and Jesus the usurper and tax collector . . .”

Caiaphas shouted, “tax protestor, and heretic!”

“Tax protestor,” the centurion continued, “are ordered crucified until dead!” Victor held his hand over his sternum and felt the warmth that had surged up in his chest as heard Jesus’ name. He could feel the heat with his fingers as he held his hand to his heart. Turning again to the soldiers, the centurion said, “get started boys, we haven’t got all day.”

Laying notched cross beam into notched post, team members wrapped ropes around the joint in a crisscross pattern. Rufus was tying off the cross while Victor handed out nails. Lucius held his sword up to Andrew the extortionist’s face while team five laid him back onto his cross. Tiberius ordered team two to get started with Jeron the thief. Jeron was putting up one hell of a fight until Tiberius clocked him on the back of the head with the flat of his sword. But when he heard the centurion clearing his throat he put his sword away.

Some distance off the centurion was talking with the council members. Caiaphas and Annas had the sourest looking faces. Both of them played with their grey beards stroking them in different directions and both had their eyebrows so scrunched together that they met in the middle. Clean and white their robes had a neat gold piping that ran along the sleeves and seams.

Gaius stood with Jesus who breathed heavily while waiting his turn. Meantime the centurion instructed Lucius on the uses of the paint and square placard. Lucius set down on the ground and began writing. “Rex Iudæorum” Lucius read out loud as he wrote. “RAΣIΛEYΣ TΩΝ ΙΟΥΔAIΩΝ” he said in his best Greek, but he sounded more like an Egyptian. Gaius laughed at his accent. “Did I spell it right?” Lucius asked.

“How should I know? I’m not a scholar.” Gaius answered.

“But you’re Greek?” Lucius answered and asked at the same time.

“My mother was, but I grew up in Masalia in southern Gaul.” Gaius rubbed his eyes and finally said, “you’re as Greek as I am, Lucius.”

“Isn’t it good enough the way it is?” asked Rufus.

“Okay, can anyone speak Hebrew better than me?” Lucius looked around but the council members were not in hearing distance. At least they weren’t close enough where they could avoid pretending that they didn’t hear him. Besides, he was pretty sure they wouldn’t be interested in getting their feet any dirtier than they already had. They’d never deign to step in dirt which had been soiled with the blood of prisoners. As a Roman, Lucius didn’t want to take the trouble to walk over to them either.

“Don’t look at me, I just live here,” said the centurion. All the soldiers grinned at that one but tried not to enjoy it too much.

Victor walked over to the Jesus who still hadn’t been hammered down and looked into his eyes. In his heart, he felt the warmth that had been there earlier when he’d first heard his name spoken. Embarrassed, Victor stared at his feet instead and wondered how he would be able to hammer nails into them.

“גלן היהחים” said Lucius with an Accent that sounded like he’d moved to the coast and retired. At that, even Jesus smiled. As they lay him on the cross, Victor heard the whispered voice of the young man that Lucius and Tiberius had killed, “this is God’s Son.” Victor looked around to see who had spoken though he knew the voice. Taking Jesus’ foot in his hands, he placed it on the spot where he wanted it on the side of the post. There were several nail holes in the post already. Wiping the mud from the heel, he felt as though he would throw up. Tears filled his eyes and spilled into his work. Clearing the crusted mud was easier once it was wet. Rather than pounding away, he decided to clear the muck from the other foot first. It had a brittle quality to it like a scab and Victor realized it was a mixture of dirt and blood which had caked onto the heel. Continuing with the cleaning, he noticed that a light layer of dried blood covered most of his skin. Blood seeped into the main trunk of the cross from the victim’s back; Victor could see it happening from where he was kneeling.

Gaius leaned over to Victor and said, “the centurion is watching you, hammer away.” Victor picked up a shimmed nail in his left hand and held it to the left heel. Raising the hammer, he could see that he’d scratched the skin which turned red under the scrape. It started bleeding. Applying pressure with his thumb, he searched for something to staunch the flow.

Whispering in Victor’s ear, Rufus in a harsh voice said, “Do you want to take his place?” Smacked Victor in the back of the head.

“But he’s innocent,” Victor said quietly in meager protest.

“Innocent?” the centurion asked. “Maybe you know better than the council who is innocent and who isn’t.” Pulling Rufus out of the way, the Centurion switched helmets with Victor. The centurion took the simple metal covering and exchanged it for his own. On Victor’s head he slapped a polished silver helm with a brush two fingers wide and four tall. Suitable for sweeping, and for showing who was boss, the bristles had been died crimson red.

Wearing Victor’s simple head gear, the centurion asked him, “so tell me, Centurion, is he innocent?”

Victor hesitated and the Centurion continued, “that’s what I thought.”

Finally “Yes,” Victor said. The other soldiers were trying not to look, or at least trying not to appear to be looking.

“Shall I nail him to the cross, or you?” The centurion asked.

Victor looked down at the ground and shook his head no. “You’re a good kid, get over there,” he pointed at the rest of team five. At the feet of Jesus, the centurion knelt on one knee. Leaning in he hammered the heels of Jesus to the sides of the post. Lucius handed Victor that ridiculous sign and told him to hammer it to the post above his head.

While nailing it down, still prone, Victor leaned over the face of Jesus and whispered “I’m sorry.” He smiled at Victor and sighed. After raising the crosses, the soldiers stomped a bunch of the biggest rocks they could find into the post holes. After that, they just waited. Mourners surrounded the hill under the cliff side and on the slope. Jeering and pleading rolled up the crowds in alternating waves.

Victor sat on the side of the hill, dangling his feet over the cliff face while the other soldiers drew straws for the purple robe Jesus had been wearing when he’d arrived. Tiberius said, “Herod put it on ‘im, said he was the ‘king of the Jews’ but once it was all bloody, ‘e didn’t want it back again.”

“Well I’ll take it, my wife can wash it in the cold stream.” Rufus said.

Gaius won the draw, he put the robe on and stretched. Felt good, good material straight from Herod’s wardrobe. “Hey Victor,” he called, “feel how smooth this is.”

From up on the cross, Jesus said, “Forgive them Father for they know not what they do.” Victor felt the warmth in his heart blaze like a fire, and he felt a calming peace. The anger at this so clearly unjust execution was lifted and he could feel all the muscles in his neck relax at the same time. He wanted to ask so many questions. However, the centurion was still standing talking to the council members, more of whom had arrived.

Sudden changes in the shadows caught Victor’s attention. Midnight’s darkness fell. He would have run. But it was so black. One of the council members did run straight off the top of the skull face. Everywhere there was screaming and cursing. About three hours later, the sun came out again. Lower in the sky, but there it was. Victor stood up and walked over to Jesus’ feet. On top of Victor’s head, the centurion’s helmet stood out bright red among the crowd that had gathered closer.

“Father, into thy hands . . . I commend my spirit,” the prisoner said.

Looking up from up at the lifeless face, Victor felt the warmth in his heart slowly retreat to the sky. And Victor said, “Certainly this was a righteous man.”

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