Malchus and Rachael - Plutonic Love

by John C. Westervelt with Deanne Crimmel and Mary Kim Gray

Chapter 1 A Centurionís Son

Malchus, a thirteen-year-old boy, looked up from the scrolls he had been studying. The late spring breeze coming off the Mediterranean entered through the open front door and exited through the window beside Malchusí desk. The feel of the air stirring across his arm turned Malchusí mind from his studies to the warm sand beside the water. He took a deep breath to savor the aroma of the bread baking in the kitchen. Tired and a bit restless, Malchus rolled up his scrolls and called out to his mother, "I think Iíll walk down to the beach for awhile."

Brigitte moved from the kitchen to where her son had been studying, "When you relax on the sand, please donít lose track of time. Your father is to return home later this afternoon, and he'll be anxious to see you."

Malchusí father Justin, a Roman Centurion, had been away from home for two weeks. Half of Justin's troops remained at headquarters in Barcino (present day Barcelona) on Spain's northeast coast while Justin had taken the remaining fifty to work with the Roman engineers on the aqueducts at Tarragona fifty-two miles away.

Justin had always insisted on several hours of study for Malchus each day. Understanding the importance of knowing the languages of those under Roman rule, the subjects included Greek and Hebrew in addition to Latin. Mathematics was also important because it was used in the record keeping of the Legions by the Quartermasters as well as in the work of the Roman engineers in the planning of roads and aqueducts.

Brigitte had been busy preparing food for Justinís return. She was ready for a break. She placed the loaves of bread she had just made on the ledge of the window to cool, then lay down on the couch and closed her eyes. Her thoughts drifted back to when she first met Justin eighteen years ago. He was a young soldier then and had been sent to Vindonissa, Gaul (Windisch, Switzerland), which is located on the Aare River ten miles above its joining with the Rhine River. Vindonissa had been home to Brigitte's family for many generations. She recalled three years ago when Tiberius had sent a message to Justin saying, "You are being promoted to Centurion and are to take command of the century at Barcino, Spain."

When the sun began to graze the back of the couch, Brigitte realized that it was late afternoon and Justin would soon be arriving. She opened her eyes, brushed her hair away from her face, then stood to her feet noting that Malchus had not yet returned. Slipping on her sandals, she headed out the doorway and down the path to the beach.

For Malchus time had stood still as he sat listening to the sound of the waves lapping upon the shore. In his hand were a variety of small shells he had gathered as he had walked along the seaís shoreline. Malchus looked out again at the sea. It stretched before him as far as his eye could see. If only he could, he would like to travel to the other side. His thoughts were interrupted by the soft sound of approaching footsteps in the sand, "Malchus, have you lost track of time?"

"Oh, Mother, you startled me."

The feeling in his hand reminded Malchus of the small shells he was holding. Lifting them up to his mother, he said, "I wonder what kinds of creatures used to live in these shells and who created them. You know Aaron, right?"

"Yes. At least, I think I do."

"Well, he is the only one of my friends who is Jewish. The others are Roman or Spanish. Sometimes I like to talk with just Aaron. One time when we were talking, he told me that his god, Jehovah, created everything. Could that be true?"

"Aaron's god is different from the Roman deity Caesar. What Aaron says could be right. I hope you would never make fun of Aaron's beliefs."

"Oh, I would never do that. He is my friend, and besides he is so convincing. But I would never tell our other friends what he told me because they already think Arron is a little different."

Brigitte placed her arm around her son then gave him a quick squeeze. "I love you," she said with a warm smile on her face, "and if there is a creating god to be found, I bet you will be the first among us to find him. Come, letís start home."

With that, she stood to her feet and brushed the sand off her wrap-around and moved toward the pathway. Malchus looked longingly one more time out across the sea, then turned to catch up with his mother.

When the house came in view, Malchus raced toward the door while Brigitte stopped in the garden to pick a few spring herbs for her cooking. By the time she reached the door, Malchus had already filled a cup with water from the well and was beginning to drink it.

"Would you mind setting the table, please?"

Malchus set the cup down and began to gather up the plates and bowls to be put on the table. While he did this, Brigitte busied herself finishing dinner. The stew had been slowly cooking. With the table ready, Malchus said, "I am going outside to watch for father."

He hadnít been standing on the porch long when he saw in the distance the legionnaires marching side by side in two columns down the cobblestone road. As they approached even closer, Malchus counted twenty-five men in each column and could see that leading them out front was his father. He was taller than most of his men and always stood erect.

When the soldiers reached the barracks, his father shouted some commands, and the men fell into rank. His father paced back and forth in front of the lines giving instructions. Then the lines broke, and the men began heading toward their barracks. Malchusís father stepped into one of the buildings then reappeared without his gear but with a cloth sack in his hand.

Malchus called to his mother to let her know that Justin was headed this way then took off running down the path to greet his father. As he neared him, his fatherís pace quickened, and he shouted out, "Malchus, how are you my son?"

Malchus responded, "Great! How about you, father?" and extended his hand.

Justin smiled, took Malchusí hand, then pulled him close to give him a quick hug before saying, "Just fine." Justin reached out and tousled Malchusís blond hair, then together they turned toward the house.

Brigitte moved from the kitchen to the living area to look out the front doorway. Malchus and Justin had just about reached the walkway leading up to the house. When Justin looked up, his wife was already half way down the walkway headed straight toward him.

As his father handed him the cloth sack, Malchus knew what was coming next--a kiss and warm embrace between his mother and father. As far back as Malchus could remember, his father and mother had always been openly affectionate toward one another. The fact that he knew they loved one another always made him feel especially secure and content deep down inside.

As they turned to walk the rest of the way to the house, Malchus followed alongside wondering just exactly what was in the cloth sack that he had been handed. Once they reached the doorway, Justin motioned for Malchus and Brigitte to have a seat on the couch then gave permission to Malchus to open the sack.

As he was untying the leather thong around the top of the sack, Malchus could see two packages. One was wrapped with a blue cloth and the other with white. As he retrieved them, his father said, "The white one is for you and the blue one for your mother."

In his excitement, Malchus began immediately to take the cover off his package. Brigitte held hers tenderly while watching her son. Inside the wrapping Malchus found an ivory piece about three inches long with metal showing on one side. Justin explained, "The metal folds out."

As Malchus unfolded the metal piece, he could see it was a knife, not the kind used in battle but one for cutting rope or carving wood. Turning to his father, Malchus said, "Thank you." Then looking up at his mother he asked, "What is yours?"

Smiling, Brigitte said, "You seemed in a hurry and I wanted to watch you open yours." With this, Brigitte, after a glance at Justin, began to carefully unwrap her gift, which was larger than Malchusí. Inside she found a blue glass vase. With her eyes fixed on the vase she held it toward the light and slowly turned it. After a moment, tears began to flow.

Justin, asked, "Is something wrong."

Oh no, I just never expected to have a blue glass vase. Holding the vase tightly in her left hand, she put her right hand behind Justinís head and pressed her lips against his before saying, "Thank you."

By now, everyone had begun to notice the aroma of the stew wafting through the living area. Justin, having eaten army rations for the past two weeks, was particularly anxious to have a home-cooked meal. Brigitte got up from the couch and headed for the kitchen to dish up the last item to be placed on the table--the hot stew. Once this was done, she called both Justin and Malchus over to the table. Justin sat at one end of the table and Brigitte at the other while Malchus took his seat in the middle. Justin cut open the fresh loaf of bread and served heaping portions of stew on each of their plates.

The conversation became quite animated. Brigitte talked about the seeds she had planted for herbs and flowers. She said, "Iíll keep my blue glass vase filled with flowers all summer." Malchus told his father about the games with his friends using the new leather covered wool ball.

When they had finished eating, Justin complimented Brigitte on the meal then leaned back away from the table. Brigitte stood to clear the dishes away, but the solemn look that came over Justinís face convinced her to sit down again. After a moment of silence, Justin glanced down at the table then looked up and said, "I wish this moment could last forever, however, I must tell you of news from Rome that will not be pleasing to you. Malchus, you may stay, for all our lives will be affected."

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