Return Passage Interrupted

Lucius, sensing Malchusí concern, said, "In the morning we shall walk the docks to look for a Spanish vessel to take you home."

Malchus had a second night of restless sleep, but this time the excitement had yielded to apprehension. During the night he was awakened a few times by the sounds of equally restless sheep that had been loaded on a ship nearby. At dawn he arose and looked for Lucius.

He found Lucius checking his mooring lines. Lucius agreed to an early start, so they began the walk along the dock. Roman peace encouraged trade across the whole of the Mediterranean Sea. Ships had come from across the known world to this large man-made harbor. Goods flowed from here to Jerusalem, one of the trade centers of the area. After passing several dozen ships, one from Spain was found.

Lucius approached the man who appeared to be in charge, "I am Lucius, captain of the Seneca from Spain and Rome. May I speak to the captain?"

"Shalom, my name is Ahab. I am captain and a trader from Spain."

Malchus, standing back a pace, observed Ahab. His eyes appeared close set and focused on Luciusí chest rather than his face. One hand was stroking the fingers of the other, followed by a switch the other way. He appeared to be a strange fellow.

"My friend Malchus is looking for passage to Barcino, Spain. Are you going that way?"

"Yes, I shall put in there, but first Malchus would need to help me get my load of goods to Jerusalem. I have contracted for donkeys, carts, and drivers for the sixty mile trip."

"We will talk it over, then let you know."

After walking on a ways Malchus said, "I would like to go to Jerusalem. I have read about that ancient city."

"That trip would be a good adventure, but I have concerns about Ahab. He looks the part of trader more than a sea captain. I should not judge, but I sense a scoundrel."

"Is this not my best chance to see the city?"

"I have come to believe, as your father said, ¬Ďyou can take care of yourself.í If you must see Jerusalem, then this may be your best opportunity."

In the meantime dozens of carts had been assembled on the dock beside Ahabís ship, and the crew was filling the carts with wool, linen, cork, and metals which looked to be tin, lead, copper and iron.

Malchus and Lucius walked around the carts and saw Ahab directing the crew from the deck. "Ahab," Malchus called, "I would like to accept your offer. What is your charge for passage to Barcino, Spain?"

"Your cost would be ten denarii, payable in advance."

Lucius interrupted, "Malchus will get his things from my ship and join you for your trip to Jerusalem. He will pay you the ten denarii when safely delivered to Barcino. You will want to remember that you are dealing with a Roman citizen."

Ahab, in a not too gracious manner, accepted the offer.

Malchus went back to the Seneca with Lucius to gather up his bundle of belongings. Lucius disappeared into his cabin for a moment then came back with a leather pouch in his hand.

"Malchus," he said, "inside the pouch are fifteen denarii. Ten are for Ahab, and the remaining five are for you. Watch that character closely and do not give him his denarii until you safely reach port in Barcino."

Malchus listened carefully to Luciusí advice then took the pouch, slipped the cord around his neck, and tucked the pouch in an inside pocket of his outer garment. Before he turned to step off of the ship onto the dock, he thanked Lucius for all his assistance.

Malchus now hurried down the dock to begin the trek to that famous city of Jerusalem. When he arrived at Ahabís ship, the caravan drivers were completing the harnessing of the donkeys that would pull the dozen carts. Ahab showed Malchus where he would sleep on the voyage to Spain and suggested he leave his bundle of belongings so they would not get lost in Jerusalem. One of the young men asked Malchus to guide a donkey down the dock. The small caravan cleared the harbor area then moved through the streets and out a city gate on the east side of Caesarea.

On the road Malchus learned from the drivers that the route would be east across the Plain of Sharon to Sychem where they would rest overnight before continuing on to Jerusalem. The drivers said that there would be no night travel because Ahab didnít trust the robbers after dark.

It seemed as if the donkeys almost knew the way as they stayed on the trail and pulled the carts behind them. Malchus was free to look at the countryside. Flocks of sheep grazed on the plain, while shepherds watched over them. Farmers worked the hillsides growing and harvesting grapes, figs, and olives on the land further east.

By day the road was filled with travelers from every walk of life. Traders from all over the Roman Empire were moving goods to Jerusalem. Malchus could overhear people speaking Latin, Greek, and several dialects of Hebrew. He guessed that some of the men must have been speaking Aramaic. Besides those on business, there were families traveling together. During daylight hours there was safety in numbers.

The sun was low in the west when Ahabís little caravan reached Sychem. As a trade route juncture, the town had facilities for watering and feeding both donkeys and men. Ahab announced that they would spend the night here.

Malchus made himself a bed of hay from the supply bought for the donkeys. As soon as the stars came out, Malchus slept while enjoying dreams of what Jerusalem might bring. The next morning Ahabís group joined other travelers on the road to the historical city.

Malchus observed the direction of the sunís shadow as the day marched by just as Lucius had taught him. He could tell that the route was mostly south. By late afternoon the altitude increased as the men and donkeys labored in their walk. The afternoon sun on Malchusí right flooded the great walls of Jerusalem. In many ways the view was what he expected from the descriptions he had read about the land of the Hebrews, except it was even more magnificent. At this hour the gate was open and people were streaming in and out of the city. Malchus now understood why it had taken so many years to build the wall.

The little caravan moved into Jerusalem to a trading area not far from the Temple. Ahab met with the local merchants and haggled over prices for the items he had brought to sell. Not long before the supper hour, all deals had been completed. Ahab paid the men that had furnished the donkeys and carts and they were soon on their way. For the first time since the meeting in Caesarea, Ahab spoke directly to Malchus, "Letís walk east a ways to Bethany where the prices are better, and Iíll treat you to a meal."

Malchus was surprised by this sudden generosity and agreed to join Ahab for supper. Maybe he had misjudged Ahab, and he wasnít the scoundrel he had suspected after all. On the outskirts of Bethany, they approached an inn. A wooden relief carving above the door appeared to be a loaf of bread and a cup of wine. Malchus thought, "How inviting to a weary and hungry traveler."

When they reached the door, Ahab rang the metal bell mounted on the doorpost. The innkeeper welcomed them in and offered them a table with a simple bench on either side. The innkeeper stood beside the table while Ahab and Malchus seated themselves, then he explained that he had prepared a stew with meat and vegetables and freshly baked bread.

Ahab responded, "Thatís good. Bring us bread and wine so we can begin while you see that the stew is heated." After the long journey, the food and wine tasted so good that Malchus finally felt like he could begin to relax. The two hungry travelers ate in silence. When Malchus had eaten his fill, he thanked Ahab for the meal. Ahab responded by thanking him for the help he had given with the donkeys and suggested that they complete their evening meal with a delicious old wine.

Malchus watched as Ahab pulled a wine holder from his bag and poured a cup for each. As Malchus drank, his mind rushed ahead to the sights he hoped to see tomorrow in Jerusalem. Looking across the table, he wondered why Ahabís cup was still full. The long walk must have been tiring for suddenly Malchus felt very sleepy.

"Malchus, you look drowsy. Letís go outside and get some fresh air." Even though the darkness of night covered the countryside, the two men walked outside, closing the door behind them.

As morning arrived, the warm sun danced on the straw in the stable behind the inn until it reached the eyes of a sleeping Malchus. He awoke. The last thing he could remember was the wine. Instinctively he pressed his hand to his chest. Fear gripped him. His money was gone. He thought, "Ahab was a scoundrel just as Lucius and I had suspected. Why did I trust him for a drink of his wine?"

Next, Malchus felt the pocket low in the back of his garment and concluded, "At least I still have my ivory handled knife." Malchus shook his head then brushed himself off so that he could go around to the front of the inn and talk with the innkeeper.

Malchus knocked on the door and right away it was opened by the innkeeper who invited him in and probed him with the question, "Where did you spend the night, and where is your friend?"

"I slept in your stable, and heís apparently not my friend. He drugged me and took my money."

"You know, I didnít like the looks of your fellow traveler."

Realizing he would not go to Spain with Ahab, Malchus asked, "Which road do I take to reach the center of Jerusalem?"

Walking out front, the innkeeper began to speak and point, "Take that road west to Jerusalem. The center of the city is two miles ahead. But first let me get you some bread and wine."

Malchus ate, thanked the innkeeper for his kindness, and began the walk toward Jerusalem. His mind felt numb as he walked. He wished the road he was on led into Barcino, but it didnít. All he had to hold onto now were the words of his father that were running through his mind, "I have complete confidence that you can take care of yourself under any circumstances."

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