9

A Buying Trip to Caesarea

Malchus, Clement, and Elmo had grown accustomed to a relaxed, fun time around the table in the shed as they shared while they ate. On this evening, Malchus decided he could no longer put off the trip to Caesarea, so he explained, "Tomorrow we shall prepare for a trading trip to Caesarea and depart the following day."

Clement, who was anxious to get started on such an adventure, quickly inquired, "How many donkey carts shall I prepare?"

"Three," Malchus responded, relieved to see Clementís willingness to follow his leadership, "and be sure to select the strongest animals."

"Elmo, you can fill wineskins and wrap bread for us. Oh, and donít forget to package some grain for the donkeys."

"Yes, sir, captain," Elmo replied with a chuckle.

Malchus, who was preoccupied with the planning, seemed not to hear Elmoís jesting. "Tell me, Clement," Malchus said, "about the Jewish inn where you stayed on the outskirts of Caesarea."

"Well, it was clean, secure, and more affordable than most of the other inns in the city."

"Can we reach the inn in time to get a room on the second day out?"

Clement crossed his arms then lifted his right hand to stroke his chin as he thought, "If we leave at the first light of day, and spend some time riding the carts, we can make it to Sychem on the first day and reach the inn in Caesarea by late afternoon on the second day."

Clementís words assured Malchus that Sychem was the best route. So with that, Malchus stood to his feet and advised that everyone should get a good nightís sleep so they could get an early start on getting all of the preparations completed.

When dawn came, Clement prepared the carts and picked out the best three donkeys while Elmo wrapped the food for both the men and the donkeys. Since the men would be eating at the inn and in the city, Elmoís preparation was for while on the road and for emergencies.

After Malchus passed by the stable to see how everything was going with Clement and Elmo, he went to Caiaphasís office to make arrangements for taking three hundred denarii with them. At the noon meal, he sat down with Clement and Elmo and explained, "I plan to divide our money three ways. Each of us will wear a money pouch around our necks, hidden at all times under our outer garments. When the money I am carrying has been spent, we shall exchange pouches in the privacy of our room."

Clement asked, "Are you afraid we might be robbed?"

"I have been robbed before, so I want to take every precaution to prevent it from happening again."

By the time evening came, everything was set for the journey, and they were ready for a hefty meal. When they reached the kitchen doorway, the slave girl, who often handed out the food, was busy just inside the kitchen, and Rachel was standing in the doorway instead. It was always so refreshing to see Rachel, because her smile and quick wit could make a strenuous day suddenly seem pleasant.

They were the last ones in line, so they watched as she served the others first. When she finished filling Clement and Elmoís bowls, the two of them moved quietly toward the shed. When Rachel got to Malchusí bowl, he could tell that she was deliberately taking an extra long time to fill it.

Then she broke the silence with a question, "I hear you are going on a seven day journey to Caesarea. Is that true?"

"Yes, itís true."

"Are you taking Clement and Elmo with you?"

"Yes."

"Good, because even though you are strong, it is best not to take such a long journey alone."

"Rachel, I know what Iím doing. Trust me."

"It isnít that I donít trust you, Malchus. Itís the people you may meet along the way that I donít trust. Besides that, my mother would be devastated if anything were to happen to you."

"Your mother?" queried Malchus.

"Yes, my mother and I would be devastated," she said placing particular emphasis on the ¬ĎI.í "Now, here," she exclaimed as she handed back his bowl to him, "take this and be on your way."

As Malchus moved to catch up with Clement and Elmo, she called out to him, "Malchus?" The tone of her voice got his attention this time as it was much softer, "Iíll be looking forward to your return."

Malchus, realizing that she wasnít kidding with him this time, turned around and with all the confidence he could muster up in his voice he answered, "Iíll be back, Rachel. Donít you worry about me."

Night came quickly as did the morning. It was still dark when Malchus heard Clement and Elmo getting ready in their rooms. Malchus figured he had better get up as well. It wasnít long before each moved outside to see if the others were ready. Clement and Elmo moved toward the stable to harness the donkeys while Malchus made a check of the supplies in the carts. Even in the dark, the animals were responsive to the hands that had tenderly cared for them over the months.

The eastern sky had just begun to lighten when the caravan of three young men, each leading a donkey pulling a cart started across the upper city to the Gennath Gate. Outside the gate, Malchus stayed out in front leading the donkey of the first cart, while Clement and Elmo now rode in the carts of the other two donkeys that trailed behind Malchusí cart. The road turned east for a little ways before joining the road from the Sheep Gate, which leads generally north toward Sychem in the foothills thirty miles ahead.

As he walked, Malchus thought about Rachel. The words she had spoken the night before seemed to echo over and over in his mind, "Iíll be looking forward to your return. Iíll be looking forward to your return." He wondered if she would look different to him after not having seen her for seven days. In his mindís eye, he could still see Rachelís dark eyes set in an olive complexion reaching out to him. Her smile, sometimes mischievous and at other times caring, haunted him.

When he reached the crest of the hill, he looked back over his shoulder. The silhouette of the city wall rested quietly against the orange and red sunrise on the horizon. The only sound was that of grass being pushed aside by the well oiled wheels turning on the carts behind him. Ahead of him was the dusty trail that led to Sychem and on to Caesarea. Clement and Elmo practiced whistling with two blades of grass while the donkeys lumbered along. About midday the son was hot, and the animals were thirsty, so they decided to rest awhile under a tree near one of the wells Clement had spotted on a previous trip.

After the donkeys had drunk their fill, Elmo stroked the ears of the donkey pulling his cart and looking longingly into the donkeyís eyes saying, "Iíll be looking forward to your return."

Malchus suppressed a smile as he spoke, "Letís get back on the trail so we can make Sychem while the sun is still up. Clement, you lead the way and Iíll ride in the cart for awhile." As he rode along, Malchus studied the terrain to the east. These were the mountains of Judea and Samaria. He remembered well the mountains of Gaul, which were much more majestic than these. Still, the mountains of Palestine gave Malchus a reverent feeling, having studied the history of these people. The three-donkey caravan kept moving until a mid-afternoon break when Elmo was assigned to walk out front.

Many travelers were on this road, some on donkeys and others on foot. The sandaled feet were uniformly dusty. Despite the dust, the wraparound cloaks shone in blue, green, red, and purple. Malchus enjoyed looking at the faces of the travelers and wondering where they were from and where they were going.

As the sun was fully in the west, a town came into view up ahead. Malchus asked Clement, "Do you think that is Sychem?"

"Yes, that should be our stopping place for the night. We can find a proprietor who will have water and pens for our donkeys. On his grounds, weíll be safe sleeping beside our carts."

After a night under the stars, the three were up before sunrise and down the road a short distance when an orange sun rose from behind the hills. This day was about like the one before, as first Malchus then Clement and finally Elmo would lead his donkey.

At midday the road turned west. Just about the time that the small convoy arrived at the inn outside Caesarea, the sun was setting on the sea. The evening sunset was as beautiful as the sunrise of the last two mornings.

After they had secured the donkeys, Malchus moved toward the entrance of the inn. With the observant eye of a centurionís son, he noticed six-pointed stars mounted above the door and above each of the windows on either side of the door. Malchus could see that these carved wooden decorations were larger than his stretched out hand. He wondered if there was any significance in the decorative touch. The thought was dismissed as he knocked on the door. Clement and Elmo stood behind.

Soon after the knock, the innkeeper came out saying, "May I help you?"

"Do you have room for the three of us?"

"Youíre in luck as one of my travelers left after lunch. Come, bring your things inside."

As the innkeeper walked down the hall toward a row of rooms, the keys on his belt jingled. Stopping at a room he juggled his keys before quickly finding the one for this room. As he turned back he said, "Two of you I recognize from a previous visit, but you are a new one to me," he said as he squinted his eyes to look closely at Malchus.

"Well, I am new to this area, sir, and I only recently accepted an appointment as yeoman for Caiaphas, the high priest in Jerusalem."

"I see," said the innkeeper slightly surprised, "Iíve never been much involved with such things. Nevertheless," he said with a smile, "you are welcome to stay here, and I hope you will find your stay most pleasant. You will find stables out back where you can bed down your donkeys. They should be quite safe out there as I have dogs that keep a good watch."

After seeing that the donkeys had sufficient food and water and were secured for the night, the three sat down to a simple yet tasty meal. Safely in their room, sleep came quickly. None of the three could have imagined the turn of events, while calling on trading ships in the harbor during the next three days.

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