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Ballad of Quintus
April 25, 2019, 6:24 PM

When Quintus was fourteen years old he had reached the height of five foot eight. This was the minimum requirement for new recruits (based on size, not age), when his father, himself a veteran, took him to meet Titus Sabinus. Sabinus looked him up and down and told him he would start as an auxiliary, not as an actual member of his Legion, the tenth. His job would be to stand in front of the legions when in battle, throw his javelins, then rush to the side to get out of the way of the heavy infantry.


He did his job well, and it was noted. Because he was a Roman Citizen at the age of seventeen, he was introduced into the 4th Cohort of the 10th Roman Legion. His duties carried him to many places. First, the wars against the German tribes to the north, then the Parthians to the East. He was always careful to offer sacrifices to Mars, the god of war, as his father had taught him before battles. He counted himself lucky to be a religious type. Many of his comrades fell in combat, but his spear and his shield always served him well.


Orders came from the Golden Palace: they were to march to Palestine. The Roman Governor there, Pontius Pilate, had requested extra troops to stamp out a group of separatists, known as Zionists, who were advocating rebellion.


Palestine was hot and sticky. He did not care for it. The people were worse. These Jews claimed to have only one God, not the pantheon of which his favorite, Mars (although here still called by the Greek name Ares) was a part. It made no sense to him, this one God. How limited.


They were stationed in Galilee when one day word came to them that there would be a crowd gathering that afternoon, potentially rebellious. They would be on hand to quell any Zionists. Because he had gained skill with the short sword, the favorite weapon of the Legions, he was called upon to command a small group who would go in local dress to infiltrate the crowd, to gain a measure of the people. He wasn't afraid. By this time, he had killed his share of Rome's enemies.


He was surprised that this turned out to not be a rebellious group at all. Instead, it was some sort of religious meeting, there to hear a local Rabbi who had gotten some notoriety for his unconventional views. He spoke from the hillside.


He didn't make any sense. He talked about the meek inheriting the earth and the poor being blessed. It sounded upside down.


Quintus served well. He became a centurion, the leader of eighty men. He was still young when the governor himself, Pilate, recruited him to be in his personal guard.


There was a day he remembered well when a man, claiming to be this Jewish Messiah, entered into the capitol city. The whole city was up in arms. From his guard post, he caught a glimpse of this man, a teacher. He recognized him. It was that Rabbi, the one on the hill. This couldn't be! This simple teacher a King?


It wasn't long, barely a week, before this Messiah had been tried, convicted, and crucified. He remembered the day, because it was the same day he and his men hunted down this Zealot, just released, named Barabbas. For some reason, he had been given clemency earlier that day and had wasted no time in raising his brigand soldiers to attack the palace. He killed Barabbas himself, using his short sword.


That night, he was sent for by the governor. No rest for Quintus. This false Messiah was dead, but his tomb needed guarding because it was reported the followers would try to steal the body. His weary men and he were to stand guard. Friday night was quiet and the troops took turn sleeping, but just after midnight the next day, the ground began to shake.


There was a terrible, terrible flash and night became day. There was some form, something at the mouth of the tomb. It was like lightning. The air smelled like lightning. There was a sound like lightning. Lightning. The ropes keeping the stone over the tomb just burst. The stone was tossed aside like a leaf. Then, there was this light in the tomb like the sun rising. In the tomb!


That's all he remembered. They were overcome. When he and his men awoke in the morning, the stone was still thrown away, the tomb empty. The one job they had, to guard the body, failed. They would surely be executed for their failure.


Instead, the head of Pilate's guard told them that they could save themselves. Say the body had been stolen while they slept. They would even be given bribes to ensure their silence. All of them, every man agreed.


Quintus soon heard rumors he refused to listen to. This Rabbi had been seen in Jerusalem – alive. Then, as far away as Galilee. He was still shaken. He went to the Temple of Mars, like he did before every battle, but he couldn't go in. He remembered that flash, like lightning, making day of the night. He couldn't go in. Not when there was power, real power, like what he had seen.


He never went to the temple of Mars again.


When the tenth Legion went to Syria, he gave up his spot in Pilate's guard and went with them. He fought and lived with the Legion until his twenty years was up. When you retired after twenty years, if you lived that long, you were given some land, in Quintus' case, in lower Italy. He farmed. He was successful. He married a junior Senator's younger daughter and did quite well for himself. He had children, grandchildren.


He could not forget that night, the night of the terrible light. He made friends with a teacher of the local synagogue, the faith of the people where he had served, and he lent him a copy of the Septuigent, the newly translated version of their scriptures into the Greek that everybody read. He, a fighting man, especially enjoyed the writings about this Joshua, their greatest general. He was inspired by Joshua's faith, his conviction, his obedience to his God. “As for me and my house,” said Joshua at the end, “we will serve the Lord.”


Quintus remembered that it was nearing the anniversary of the night he could not forget, the one he told himself had just been a bad dream, but one that he could never convince himself had not happened. He and his wife had talked about it deep into the night, many times. This power, this real power, that would be worth serving.


He was reading his new book on his front porch, when he spotted his middle son and his wife and their children coming down the path from the road. He rose to greet them, and they had a feast. On the porch, after dinner he loved just listening to his grandchildren prattle on about the city, Rome. Who was popular and what was happening, what was the latest fashion. The new Emperor Claudius was making reforms that seemed to be helping people, and the future seemed bright.


The grandchildren had some new friends their mother and father had made, and when they returned to the city they were going to celebrate something called passover with them, and a new holiday that would follow on the first day of the week called Easter.


This didn't surprise Quintus. Rome was full of religions, foreign gods, and strange holidays. The word Passover struck a chord in his memory, but not the other one.


“What is this Easter?” he asked.


His oldest granddaughter answered, “It's the night the stone was rolled away from the tomb and Jesus, the Christ, rose from the dead.”


Quintus didn't know what to say. He picked her up and put her in his lap. He looked at them all, playing on the porch, so peaceful. He looked at his farmlands and his servants, back at his barn and his house, where his wife and children were cleaning up after the feast.


He was quiet for a long time.


“What is it, grandpa?”


He held her tightly in his arms. “I've just decided. As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”