11

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The sun had already set by the time the four travelers reached Caiaphasís compound. Malchus, knowing how tired and hungry everyone was, headed straight to the stables so Elmo could feed and water the donkeys while the rest of them stored the goods. As the light of dusk disappeared, Malchus lit the olive-oil lamp and left the storage area to make a final check of the empty carts.

As he neared the carts, he could hear the rustling of straw as the footsteps of someone drew nearer and nearer. Malchus stood still to listen. With a few more steps, the visitors walked into the dim light of his lamp. Malchusí heart leapt as he exclaimed, "Ruth! Rachel! I didnít expect to see you out so late."

"We thought you might be hungry," replied Ruth as she glanced down at the large baskets filled with food that they were carrying.

Hans, not being shy, stepped forward and said, "Ladies, let me relieve you of your heavy burden," and he handed one basket to Malchus while he held the other. "Now where to, Captain?" he asked as he smiled at Malchus. But this time Malchus, Clement, and Elmo replied at the same time, "The tool shed!"

So the tool shed it was, and they all turned and began to make their way down the dirt path toward the shed. Hans, perceiving Rachelís quality and beauty, walked alongside her and introduced himself, "My name is Hans. Whatís yours?"

"Rachel," she said as she watched Malchus ahead of her busily talking to her mother, "So, what brings you here?"

"A ship, a donkey, and now you," he said with a twinkle in his eye.

"So youíre one of those sailor boys," she replied.

"I suppose you could put it that way, but Iím not much different than Malchus. As a matter of fact, he and I are cousins."

"Really?" she said with a glimmer in her eye. "I would never have guessed it, because you seem as different as night is from day."

"Well, donít let my sunshine blind you," he said with a slow smile.

"Donít you worry. I can see perfectly on sunny days. Now would you care for some dinner?" she said rather curtly.

"Thank you, for the invitation. I think I will," was his response as they entered the tool shed.

Ruth moved toward the low table in the shed and motioned for Malchus and Hans to set the baskets on it. Clement, seeing how dark it was, placed the lamp in the center of the table while Ruth began to unpack the baskets. Elmo, who felt half-starved by now, was already sitting cross-legged at the table when Ruth asked Hans where he was from. Of course, Hans obliged and entered into a friendly conversation with Ruth about his hometown in Gaul.

Malchus, who had been waiting for just the right moment, stepped back from the table to exchange a few words with Rachel. He began with a rather serious tone in his voice, "For the seven days we were gone, I thought about the last comment you made to me before we departed. It was almost as if I were listening to an echo repeating itself over and over in my mind."

"If you think you were listening to an echo, you should have listened to my mother tell how she missed you every day."

"Rachel, youíre one of the biggest teases I know," he said with a bit of exasperation in his voice.

"I canít help it. Youíre fun to tease," she said with a sideways glance.

Caught off guard by her winsomeness, Malchus cleared his throat and changed the subject, "Speaking of your mother, I must let her know how grateful I am for her feeding the four of us at this hour. Iíll be sure and thank her for making her daughter help as well."

With that, Rachel held her middle finger with her thumb and flicked Malchus on the arm and commanded, "Sit down and eat before itís all gone."

The flirting sound of Rachelís voice caught Ruthís attention, and she looked up, "Rachel, I believe itís time that you and I leave these young men alone to finish the food and wine weíve brought in peace."

Then she turned to Malchus, who was now seated at the table, "And Malchus, please see that these baskets are placed beside the kitchen door when you finish."

Malchus nodded his head in the affirmative to let her know that it would be done. Rachel, who was looking over her motherís right shoulder, imitated Malchus by nodding her head in the affirmative as well.

Malchus, knowing her teasing nature, wadded up one of the bread towels into a small ball and threw it at her. But instead of hitting her, it came undone and landed on the ground behind Hans.

"Trying to get my attention are you, Malchus?" inquired Hans.

Rachel, knowing she had had the last word, turned and left to follow her mother out the doorway of the tool shed. But before she stepped out of the door, Rachel looked straight at Malchus and flashed him a big smile.

As soon as the women were gone, Hans, who could eat and talk at the same time, spoke up, "What a beautiful girl. Did you see her smile at you, Malchus?"

"She wasnít smiling at me. She was smiling at all of us."

But the expression on the faces of the other three indicated they disagreed.

"Malchus, my dear cousin," Hans said, "I think you need to look the facts square in the face. Rachel likes you. Now, do you like her?"

"Hans," Malchus replied, "Rachel and I are friends of the heart. Nothing more and nothing less."

"You canít fool me, Malchus. I saw you take a big gulp and almost blush when she flashed that smile at you."

"Well, maybe she does have a special place in my heart."

"Special place!" Hans exclaimed. "If she had smiled at me like that, sheíd have more than just a special place in my heart. Sheíd have my whole heart."

"There is only one problem, dear cousin. She is Jewish, and Iím not."

"So what. She is a girl, and you arenít. What is the problem?"

"No, you donít understand, Hans. Jewish women can only marry Jewish men."

"Now that is a problem," said Hans as he nodded his head.

Not wanting to be caught in the middle of a discussion between cousins about women, Clement and Elmo kept their eyes focused on their food and continued to eat slowly.

Soon everything got quiet as the four tired, young men concentrated on the food and wine. It was Malchus who finally said, "Letís head to our rooms and get a good nightís sleep. Hans, your room is next to Elmoís."

On the way to the rooms, Clement and Elmo led the way with the olive-oil lamp, while Hans and Malchus followed behind with the baskets for returning to the kitchen.

Hans, full of questions, asked Malchus, "Does Caiaphas know you are a Roman citizen?"

"No, and I havenít told him either. If I had brought it up, he may not have given me this job. Besides, even if I had told him, I have no way of proving I am a citizen. Knowing Caiaphas, he probably wouldnít have believed me anyway, because I donít look Roman."

"Does anybody know youíre a Roman citizen?"

"Just Ruth and Rachel. I trust them. Of course, they now figure that you too must be a Roman citizen, because youíre my cousin. But I donít think it would be wise to volunteer this information to Caiaphas. If he should ask, I would tell him. But, in the meantime, letís keep it quiet."

"This Caiaphas, the priest, tell me more about him."

"Well, from what I have observed, he is more of a business man than a high priest. He has tables in the temple for changing money and sells a lot of animals and birds for sacrificing. As soon as I saw the furnishings of the Great Room I knew Caiaphasís operation was financially successful."

"Sounds like he is cheating the people."

"You can think that, but you had better not be caught saying it or your job, if you get one, could be on the line. Now letís get some sleep. In the morning youíll meet the high priest himself."

Clement and Elmo had already reached the doorway of their rooms when Malchus and Hans caught up. "Elmo, show Hans his room next to yours and make sure he has adequate straw for the bed as well as a cover. Oh, and Hans, after breakfast Iíll talk to Caiaphas about making you an indentured slave, so that you can work along with the three of us."

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