فصل 26

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فصل 26

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CHAPTER 26

The Burial

And perhaps it was the twilight that caused such a sharp change in the procurator’s appearance. He aged, grew hunched as if before one’s eyes, and, besides that, became alarmed. Once he looked around and gave a start for some reason, casting an eye on the empty chair with the cloak thrown over its back. The night of the feast was approaching, the evening shadows played their game, and the tired procurator probably imagined that someone was sitting in the empty chair. Yielding to his faint-heartedness and ruffling the cloak, the procurator let it drop and began rushing about the balcony, now rubbing his hands, now rushing to the table and seizing the cup, now stopping and staring senselessly at the mosaics of the floor, as if trying to read something written there …

It was the second time in the same day that anguish came over him. Rubbing his temple, where only a dull, slightly aching reminder of the morning’s infernal pain lingered, the procurator strained to understand what the reason for his soul’s torments was. And he quickly understood it, but attempted to deceive himself. It was clear to him that that afternoon he had lost something irretrievably, and that he now wanted to make up for the loss by some petty, worthless and, above all, belated actions. The deceiving of himself consisted in the procurator’s trying to convince himself that these actions, now, this evening, were no less important than the morning’s sentence. But in this the procurator succeeded very poorly.

At one of his turns, he stopped abruptly and whistled. In response to this whistle, a low barking resounded in the twilight, and a gigantic sharp-eared dog with a grey pelt and a gold-studded collar sprang from the garden on to the balcony.

‘Banga, Banga,’ the procurator cried weakly.

The dog rose on his hind legs, placed his front paws on his master’s shoulders, nearly knocking him to the floor, and licked his cheek. The procurator sat down in the armchair. Banga, his tongue hanging out, panting heavily, lay down at his master’s feet, and the joy in the dog’s eyes meant that the storm was over, the only thing in the world that the fearless dog was afraid of, and also that he was again there, next to the man whom he loved, respected, and considered the most powerful man in the world, the ruler of all men, thanks to whom the dog considered himself a privileged, lofty and special being. Lying down at his master’s feet without even looking at him, but looking into the dusky garden, the dog nevertheless realized at once that trouble had befallen his master. He therefore changed his position, got up, came from the side and placed his front paws and head on the procurator’s knees, smearing the bottom of his cloak with wet sand. Banga’s actions were probably meant to signify that he comforted his master and was ready to meet misfortune with him. He also attempted to express this with his eyes, casting sidelong glances at his master, and with his alert, pricked-up ears. Thus the two of them, the dog and man who loved each other, met the night of the feast on the balcony.

Just then the procurator’s guest was in the midst of a great bustle. After leaving the upper terrace of the garden before the balcony, he went down the stairs to the next terrace of the garden, turned right and came to the barracks which stood on the palace grounds. In these barracks the two centuries that had come with the procurator for the feast in Yershalaim were quartered, as was the procurator’s secret guard, which was under the command of this very guest. The guest did not spend much time in the barracks, no more than ten minutes, but at the end of these ten minutes, three carts drove out of the barracks yard loaded with entrenching tools and a barrel of water. The carts were escorted by fifteen mounted men in grey cloaks. Under their escort the carts left the palace grounds by the rear gate, turned west, drove through gates in the city wall, and followed a path first to the Bethlehem road, then down this road to the north, came to the intersection by the Hebron gate, and then moved down the Jaffa road, along which the procession had gone during the day with the men condemned to death. By that time it was already dark, and the moon appeared on the horizon.

Soon after the departure of the carts with their escorting detachment, the procurator’s guest also left the palace grounds on horseback, having changed into a dark, worn chiton. The guest went not out of the city but into it. Some time later he could be seen approaching the Antonia Fortress, located to the north and in the vicinity of the great temple. The guest did not spend much time in the fortress either, and then his tracks turned up in the Lower City, in its crooked and tangled streets. Here the guest now came riding a mule.

Knowing the city well, the guest easily found the street he wanted. It was called Greek Street, because there were several Greek shops on it, among them one that sold carpets. Precisely by this shop, the guest stopped his mule, dismounted, and tied it to the ring by the gate. The shop was closed by then. The guest walked through the little gate beside the entrance to the shop and found himself in a small square courtyard surrounded on three sides by sheds. Turning a comer inside the yard, the guest came to the stone terrace of a house all twined with ivy and looked around. Both the little house and the sheds were dark, no lamps were lit yet. The guest called softly: ‘Niza!’

At this call a door creaked, and in the evening twilight a young woman without a veil appeared on the terrace. She leaned over the railing, peering anxiously, wishing to know who had come. Recognizing the visitor, she smiled amiably to him, nodded her head, waved her hand.

‘Are you alone?’ Aphranius asked softly in Greek.

‘Yes,’ the woman on the terrace whispered, ‘my husband left for Caesarea in the morning.’ Here the woman looked back at the door and added in a whisper: ‘But the serving-woman is at home.’ Here she made a gesture meaning ‘Come in’.

Aphranius looked around and went up the stone steps. After which both he and the woman disappeared into the house. With this woman Aphranius spent very little time, certainly no more than five minutes. After which he left the house and the terrace, pulled the hood down lower on his eyes, and went out to the street. Just then the lamps were being lit in the houses, the pre-festive tumult was still considerable, and Aphranius on his mule lost himself in the stream of riders and passers-by. His subsequent route is not known to anyone.

The woman Aphranius called ‘Niza’, left alone, began changing her clothes, and was hurrying greatly. But difficult though it was for her to find the things she needed in the dark room, she did not light a lamp or call the serving-woman. Only after she was ready and her head was covered by a dark veil did the sound of her voice break the silence in the little house: ‘If anyone asks for me, say I went to visit Enanta.’

The old serving-woman’s grumbling was heard in the darkness:

‘Enanta? Ah, this Enanta! Didn’t your husband forbid you to visit her? She’s a procuress, your Enanta! Wait till I tell your husband…’

‘Well, well, be quiet,’ Niza replied and, like a shadow, slipped out of the house. Niza’s sandals pattered over the stone flags of the yard. The serving-woman, grumbling, shut the door to the terrace. Niza left her house.

Just at that time, from another lane in the Lower City, a twisting lane that ran down from ledge to ledge to one of the city pools, from the gates of an unsightly house with a blank wall looking on to the lane and windows on the courtyard, came a young man with a neatly trimmed beard, wearing a white kefia falling to his shoulders, a new pale blue festive tallith with tassels at the bottom, and creaking new sandals. The handsome, aquiline-nosed young fellow, all dressed up for the great feast, walked briskly, getting ahead of passers-by hurrying home for the solemn meal, and watched as one window after another lit up. The young man took the street leading past the bazaar to the palace of the high priest Kaifa, located at the foot of the temple hill.

Some time later he could be seen entering the gates of Kaifa’s courtyard. And a bit later still, leaving the same courtyard.

After visiting the palace, where the lamps and torches already blazed, and where the festive bustle had already begun, the young man started walking still more briskly, still more joyfully, hastening back to the Lower City. At the comer where the street flowed into the market-place, amidst the seething and tumult, he was overtaken by a slight woman, walking with a dancer’s gait, in a black veil that came down over her eyes. As she overtook the handsome young man, this woman raised her veil for a moment, cast a glance in the young man’s direction, yet not only did not slow her pace, but quickened it, as if trying to escape from the one she had overtaken.

The young man not only noticed this woman, no, he also recognized her, and, having recognized her, gave a start, halted, looking perplexedly into her back, and at once set out after her. Almost knocking over some passer-by carrying a jug, the young man caught up with the woman, and, breathing heavily with agitation, called out to her: ‘Niza!’

The woman turned, narrowed her eyes, her face showing cold vexation, and replied drily in Greek:

‘Ah, it’s you, Judas? I didn’t recognize you at once. That’s good, though. With us, if someone’s not recognized, it’s a sign he’ll get rich…’

So agitated that his heart started leaping like a bird under a black cloth, Judas asked in a faltering whisper, for fear passers-by might overhear:

‘Where are you going, Niza?’

‘And what do you want to know that for?’ replied Niza, slowing her pace and looking haughtily at Judas.

Then some sort of childish intonations began to sound in Judas’s voice, he whispered in bewilderment:

‘But why? … We had it all arranged … I wanted to come to you, you said you’d be home all evening …’

‘Ah, no, no,’ answered Niza, and she pouted her lower lip capriciously, which made it seem to Judas that her face, the most beautiful face he had ever seen in his life, became still more beautiful. ‘I was bored. You’re having a feast, and what am I supposed to do? Sit and listen to you sighing on the terrace? And be afraid, on top of it, that the serving-woman will tell him about it? No, no, I decided to go out of town and listen to the nightingales.’ ‘How, out of town?’ the bewildered Judas asked. ‘Alone?’

‘Of course, alone,’ answered Niza.

‘Let me accompany you,’ Judas asked breathlessly. His mind clouded, he forgot everything in the world and looked with imploring eyes into the blue eyes of Niza, which now seemed black.

Niza said nothing and quickened her pace.

‘Why are you silent, Niza?’ Judas said pitifully, adjusting his pace to hers.

‘Won’t I be bored with you?’ Niza suddenly asked and stopped. Here Judas’s thoughts became totally confused.

‘Well, all right,’ Niza finally softened, ‘come along.’

‘But where, where?’

Wait … let’s go into this yard and arrange it, otherwise I’m afraid some acquaintance will see me and then they’ll tell my husband I was out with my lover.‘

And here Niza and Judas were no longer in the bazaar, they were whispering under the gateway of some yard.

‘Go to the olive estate,’ Niza whispered, pulling the veil over her eyes and turning away from a man who was coming through the gateway with a bucket, ‘to Gethsemane, beyond the Kedron, understand?’ ‘Yes, yes, yes …’

‘I’ll go ahead,’ Niza continued, ‘but don’t follow on my heels. Keep separate from me. I’ll go ahead … When you cross the stream … you know where the grotto is?’ ‘I know, I know …’

‘Go up past the olive press and turn to the grotto. I’ll be there. Only don’t you dare come after me at once, be patient, wait here,’ and with these words Niza walked out the gateway as though she had never spoken with Judas.

Judas stood for some time alone, trying to collect his scattering thoughts. Among them was the thought of how he was going to explain his absence from the festal family meal. Judas stood thinking up some lie, but in his agitation was unable to think through or prepare anything properly, and slowly walked out the gateway.

Now he changed his route, he was no longer heading towards the Lower City, but turned back to Kaifa’s palace. The feast had already entered the city. In the windows around Judas, not only were lights shining, but hymns of praise were heard. On the pavement, belated passers-by urged their donkeys on, whipping them up, shouting at them. Judas’s legs carried him by themselves, and he did not notice how the terrible, mossy Antonia Towers flew past him, he did not hear the roar of trumpets in the fortress, did not pay attention to the mounted Roman patrol and its torch that flooded his path with an alarming light.

Turning after he passed the tower, Judas saw that in the terrible height above the temple two gigantic five-branched candlesticks blazed. But even these Judas made out vaguely. It seemed to him that ten lamps of an unprecedented size lit up over Yershalaim, competing with the light of the single lamp that was rising ever higher over Yershalaim - the moon.

Now Judas could not be bothered with anything, he headed for the Gethsemane gate, he wanted to leave the city quickly. At times it seemed to him that before him, among the backs and faces of passers-by, the dancing little figure flashed, leading him after her. But this was an illusion. Judas realized that Niza was significantly ahead of him. Judas rushed past the money-changing shops and finally got to the Gethsemane gate. There, burning with impatience, he was still forced to wait. Camels were coming into the city, and after them rode a Syrian military patrol, which Judas cursed mentally …

But all things come to an end. The impatient Judas was already beyond the city wall. To the left of him Judas saw a small cemetery, next to it several striped pilgrims’ tents. Crossing the dusty road flooded with moonlight, Judas headed for the stream of the Kedron with the intention of wading across it. The water babbled quietly under Judas’s feet. Jumping from stone to stone, he finally came out on the Gethsemane bank opposite and saw with great joy that here the road below the gardens was empty. The half-ruined gates of the olive estate could already be seen not far away.

After the stuffy city, Judas was struck by the stupefying smell of the spring night. From the garden a wave of myrtle and acacia from the Gethsemane glades poured over the fence.

No one was guarding the gateway, there was no one in it, and a few minutes later Judas was already running under the mysterious shade of the enormous, spreading olive trees. The road went uphill. Judas ascended, breathing heavily, at times emerging from the darkness on to patterned carpets of moonlight, which reminded him of the carpets he had seen in the shop of Niza’s jealous husband.

A short time later there flashed at Judas’s left hand, in a clearing, an alive press with a heavy stone wheel and a pile of barrels. There was no one in the garden, work had ended at sunset, and now over Judas choirs of nightingales pealed and trilled.

Judas’s goal was near. He knew that on his right in the darkness he would presently begin to hear the soft whisper of water falling in the grotto. And so it happened, he heard it. It was getting cooler. Then he slowed his pace and called softly: ‘Niza!’

But instead of Niza, a stocky male figure, detaching itself from a thick olive trunk, leaped out on the road, and something gleamed in its hand and at once went out. With a weak cry, Judas rushed back, but a second man barred his way.

The first man, in front of him, asked Judas:

‘How much did you just get? Speak, if you want to save your life!’

Hope flared up in Judas’s heart, and he cried out desperately:

‘Thirty tetradrachmas! 1 Thirty tetradrachmas! I have it all with me! Here’s the money! Take it, but grant me my life!‘

The man in front instantly snatched the purse from Judas’s hands. And at the same instant a knife flew up behind Judas’s back and struck the lover under the shoulder-blade. Judas was flung forward and thrust out his hands with clawed fingers into the air. The front man caught Judas on his knife and buried it up to the hilt in Judas’s heart.

‘Ni… za …’ Judas said, not in his own high and clear young voice, but in a low and reproachful one, and uttered not another sound. His body struck the earth so hard that it hummed.

Then a third figure appeared on the road. This third one wore a cloak with a hood.

‘Don’t linger,’ he ordered. The killers quickly wrapped the purse together with a note handed to them by the third man in a piece of hide and criss-crossed it with twine. The second put the bundle into his bosom, and then the two killers plunged off the roadsides and the darkness between the olive trees ate them. The third squatted down by the murdered man and looked at his face. In the darkness it appeared white as chalk to the gazing man and somehow spiritually beautiful.

A few seconds later there was not a living man on the road. The lifeless body lay with outstretched arms. The left foot was in a spot of moonlight, so that each strap of the sandal could be seen distinctly. The whole garden of Gethsemane was just then pealing with the song of nightingales.

Where the two who had stabbed Judas went, no one knows, but the route of the third man in the hood is known. Leaving the road, he headed into the thick of the olive trees, making his way south. He climbed over the garden fence far from the main gate, in the southern corner, where the upper stones of the masonry had fallen out. Soon he was on the bank of the Kedron. Then he entered the water and for some time made his way in it, until he saw ahead the silhouettes of two horses and a man beside them. The horses were also standing in the stream. The water flowed, washing their hoofs. The horse-handler mounted one of the horses, the man in the hood jumped on to the other, and the two slowly walked in the stream, and one could hear the pebbles crunching under the horses’ hoofs. Then the riders left the water, came out on the Yershalaim bank, and rode slowly under the city wall. Here the horse-handler separated himself, galloped ahead, and disappeared from view, while the man in the hood stopped his horse, dismounted on the deserted road, removed his cloak, turned it inside out, took from under the cloak a flat helmet without plumes and put it on. Now it was a man in a military chlamys with a short sword at his hip who jumped on to the horse. He touched the reins and the fiery cavalry horse set off at a trot, jolting its rider. It was not a long way — the rider was approaching the southern gate of Yershalaim.

Under the arch of the gateway the restless flame of torches danced and leaped. The soldiers on guard from the second century of the Lightning legion sat on stone benches playing dice. Seeing a military man ride in, the soldiers jumped up, the man waved his hand to them and rode on into the city.

The city was flooded with festive lights. The flames of lamps played in all the windows, and from everywhere, merging into one dissonant chorus, came hymns of praise. Occasionally glancing into windows that looked on to the street, the rider could see people at tables set with roast kid and cups of wine amidst dishes of bitter herbs. Whistling some quiet song, the rider made his way at an unhurried trot through the deserted streets of the Lower City, heading for the Antonia Tower, glancing occasionally at the five-branched candlesticks, such as the world had never seen, blazing above the temple, or at the moon that hung still higher than the five-branched candlesticks.

The palace of Herod the Great took no part in the solemnities of the Passover night. In the auxiliary quarters of the palace, facing to the south, where the officers of the Roman cohort and the legate of the legion were stationed, lights burned and there was a feeling of some movement and life. But the front part, the formal part, which housed the sole and involuntary occupant of the palace - the procurator — all of it, with its columns and golden statues, was as if blind under the brightest moon. Here, inside the palace, darkness and silence reigned.

And the procurator, as he had told Aphranius, would not go inside. He ordered his bed made up on the balcony, there where he had dined and where he had conducted the interrogation in the morning. The procurator lay on the made-up couch, but sleep would not come to him. The bare moon hung high in the clear sky, and the procurator did not take his eyes off it for several hours.

Approximately at midnight, sleep finally took pity on the hegemon. With a spasmodic yawn, the procurator unfastened and threw off his cloak, removed the belt girded over his shirt, with a broad steel knife in a sheath, placed it on the chair by his couch, took off his sandals, and stretched out. Banga got on the bed at once and lay down next to him, head to head, and the procurator, placing his hand on the dog’s neck, finally closed his eyes. Only then did the dog also fall asleep.

The couch was in semi-darkness, shielded from the moon by a column, but a ribbon of moonlight stretched from the porch steps to the bed. And once the procurator lost connection with what surrounded him in reality, he immediately set out on the shining road and went up it straight towards the moon. He even burst out laughing in his sleep from happiness, so wonderful and inimitable did everything come to be on the transparent, pale blue road. He walked in the company of Banga, and beside him walked the wandering philosopher. They were arguing about something very complex and important, and neither of them could refute the other. They did not agree with each other in anything, and that made their argument especially interesting and endless. It went without saying that today’s execution proved to be a sheer misunderstanding: here this philosopher, who had thought up such an incredibly absurd thing as that all men are good, was walking beside him, therefore he was alive. And, of course, it would be terrible even to think that one could execute such a man. There had been no execution! No execution! That was the loveliness of this journey up the stairway of the moon.

There was as much free time as they needed, and the storm would come only towards evening, and cowardice was undoubtedly one of the most terrible vices. Thus spoke Yeshua Ha-Nozri. No, philosopher, I disagree with you: it is the most terrible vice!

He, for example, the present procurator of Judea and former tribune of a legion, had been no coward that time, in the Valley of the Virgins, when the fierce Germani had almost torn Ratslayer the Giant to pieces. But, good heavens, philosopher! How can you, with your intelligence, allow yourself to think that, for the sake of a man who has committed a crime against Caesar, the procurator of Judea would ruin his career?

‘Yes, yes …’ Pilate moaned and sobbed in his sleep. Of course he would. In the morning he still would not, but now, at night, after weighing everything, he would agree to ruin it. He would do everything to save the decidedly innocent, mad dreamer and healer from execution!

‘Now we shall always be together,’2 said the ragged wandering philosopher in his dream, who for some unknown reason had crossed paths with the equestrian of the golden spear. ‘Where there’s one of us, straight away there will be the other! Whenever I am remembered, you will at once be remembered, too! I, the foundling, the son of unknown parents, and you, the son of an astrologer-king and a miller’s daughter, the beautiful Pila.’3 ‘Yes, and don’t you forget to remember me, the astrologer’s son,’ Pilate asked in his dream. And securing in his dream a nod from the En-Sarid4 beggar who was walking beside him, the cruel procurator of Judea wept and laughed from joy in his dream.

This was all very good, but the more terrible was the hegemon’s awakening. Banga growled at the moon, and the pale-blue road, slippery as though smoothed with oil, fell away before the procurator. He opened his eyes, and the first thing he remembered was that the execution had been. The first thing the procurator did was to clutch Banga’s collar with a habitual gesture, then with sick eyes he began searching for the moon and saw that it had moved slightly to the side and turned silvery. Its light was being interfered with by an unpleasant, restless light playing on the balcony right before his eyes. A torch blazed and smoked in the hand of the centurion Ratslayer. The holder of it glanced sidelong with fear and spite at the dangerous beast preparing itself to leap.

‘Stay, Banga,’ the procurator said in a sick voice and coughed. Shielding himself from the flame with his hand, he went on: ‘Even at night, even by moonlight, I have no peace! … Oh, gods! … Yours is also a bad job, Mark. You cripple soldiers …’ Mark gazed at the procurator in great amazement, and the man recollected himself. To smooth over the unwarranted words, spoken while not quite awake, the procurator said:

‘Don’t be offended, centurion. My position, I repeat, is still worse. What do you want?’

‘The head of the secret guard is waiting to see you,’ Mark reported calmly.

‘Call him, call him,’ the procurator ordered, clearing his throat with a cough, and he began feeling for his sandals with his bare feet. The flame played on the columns, the centurion’s caligae tramped across the mosaics. The centurion went out to the garden.

‘Even by moonlight I have no peace,’ the procurator said to himself, grinding his teeth.

Instead of the centurion, a man in a hood appeared on the balcony.

‘Stay, Banga,’ the procurator said quietly and pressed the back of the dog’s head.

Before beginning to speak, Aphranius, as was his custom, looked around and stepped into the shadow, and having made sure that, besides Banga, there were no extra persons on the balcony, he said quietly: ‘I ask to be tried, Procurator. You turned out to be right. I was unable to protect Judas of Kiriath, he has been stabbed to death. I ask to be tried and retired.’

It seemed to Aphranius that four eyes were looking at him — a dog’s and a wolf’s.

Aphranius took from under his chlamys a purse stiff with blood, sealed with two seals.

This is the bag of money the killers left at the high priest’s house. The blood on this bag is the blood of Judas of Kiriath.‘

‘How much is there, I wonder?’ asked Pilate, bending over the bag.

Thirty tetradrachmas.‘

The procurator grinned and said:

‘Not much.’

Aphranius was silent.

‘Where is the murdered man?’

‘That I do not know,’ the visitor, who never parted with his hood, said with calm dignity. ‘We will begin a search in the morning.’

The procurator started, abandoning a sandal strap that refused to be fastened.

‘But you do know for certain that he was killed?’

To this the procurator received a dry response:

‘I have been working in Judea for fifteen years, Procurator. I began my service under Valerius Gratus.5 I do not have to see the corpse in order to say that a man has been killed, and so I report to you that the one who was called Judas of Kiriath was stabbed to death several hours ago.’ ‘Forgive me, Aphranius,’ answered Pilate, ‘I’m not properly awake yet, that’s why I said it. I sleep badly,’ the procurator grinned, ‘I keep seeing a moonbeam in my sleep. Quite funny, imagine, it’s as if I’m walking along this moonbeam … And so, I would like to know your thoughts on this matter. Where are you going to look for him? Sit down, head of the secret service.’ Aphranius bowed, moved the chair closer to the bed, and sat down, clanking his sword.

‘I am going to look for him not far from the oil press in the garden of Gethsemane.’

‘So, so. And why there, precisely?’

‘As I figure it, Hegemon, Judas was not killed in Yershalaim itself, nor anywhere very far from it, he was killed near Yershalaim.’

‘I regard you as one of the outstanding experts in your business. I don’t know how things are in Rome, but in the colonies you have no equal … But, explain to me, why are you going to look for him precisely there?’ ‘I will by no means admit the notion,’ Aphranius spoke in a low voice, ‘of Judas letting himself be caught by any suspicious people within city limits. It’s impossible to put a knife into a man secretly in the street. That means he was lured to a basement somewhere. But the service has already searched for him in the Lower City and undoubtedly would have found him. He is not in the city, I can guarantee that. If he was killed far from the city, this packet of money could not have been dropped off so quickly. He was killed near the city. They managed to lure him out of the city.’ ‘I cannot conceive how that could have been done!’

‘Yes, Procurator, that is the most difficult question in the whole affair, and I don’t even know if I will succeed in resolving it.’

‘It is indeed mysterious! A believer, on the eve of the feast, goes out of the city for some unknown reason, leaving the Passover meal, and perishes there. Who could have lured him, and how? Could it have been done by a woman?’ the procurator asked on a sudden inspiration.

Aphranius replied calmly and weightily:

‘By no means, Procurator. That possibility is utterly excluded. One must reason logically. Who was interested in Judas’s death. Some wandering dreamers, some circle in which, first of all, there weren’t any women. To marry, Procurator, one needs money. To bring a person into the world, one needs the same. But to put a knife into a man with the help of a woman, one needs very big money, and no vagabond has got it. There was no woman in this affair, Procurator. Moreover, I will say that such an interpretation of the murder can only throw us off the track, hinder the investigation, and confuse me.’ ‘Ah, yes! I forgot to ask,’ the procurator rubbed his forehead, ‘how did they manage to foist the money on Kaifa?’

‘You see, Procurator … that is not especially complicated. The avengers came from behind Kaifa’s palace, where the lane is higher than the yard. They threw the packet over the fence.’ ‘With a note?’

‘Yes, exactly as you suspected, Procurator.’

‘I see that you are perfectly right, Aphranius,’ said Pilate, ‘and I merely allowed myself to express a supposition.’

‘Alas, it is erroneous, Procurator.’

‘But what is it, then, what is it?’ exclaimed the procurator, peering into Aphranius’s face with greedy curiosity.

‘I suppose it’s money again.’

‘An excellent thought! But who could have offered him money at night, outside the city, and for what?’

‘Oh, no, Procurator, it’s not that. I have only one supposition, and if it is wrong, I may not find any other explanations.’ Aphranius leaned closer to the procurator and finished in a whisper: ‘Judas wanted to hide his money in a secluded place known only to himself.’ ‘A very subtle explanation. That, apparently, is how things were. Now I understand you: he was lured out not by others, but by his own purpose. Yes, yes, that’s so.’

‘So. Judas was mistrustful, he was hiding the money from others.’

‘Yes, in Gethsemane, you said … And why you intend to look for him precisely there — that, I confess, I do not understand.’

‘Oh, Procurator, that is the simplest thing of all. No one would hide money on the roads, in open and empty places. Judas was neither on the road to Hebron, nor on the road to Bethany. He had to be in a protected, secluded place with trees. It’s as simple as that. And except for Gethsemane, there are no such places near Yershalaim. He couldn’t have gone far.’ ‘You have utterly convinced me. And so, what are we to do now?’

‘I will immediately start a search for the murderers who tracked Judas out of the city, and I myself, meanwhile, as I have already reported to you, will stand trial.’

‘What for?’

‘My guards lost him in the bazaar last evening, after he left Kaifa’s palace. How it happened, I cannot comprehend. It has never happened before in my life. He was put under surveillance just after our conversation. But in the neighbourhood of the bazaar he doubled back somewhere, and made such a strange loop that he escaped without a trace.’ ‘So. I declare to you that I do not consider it necessary to try you. You did all you could, and no one in the world’ — here the procurator smiled — ’could do more than you! Penalize the sleuths who lost Judas. But here, too, I warn you, I would not want it to be anything of a severe sort. In the last analysis, we did everything to take care of the blackguard!‘ ‘Yes, although …’ Here Aphranius tore the seal off the packet and showed its contents to Pilate.

‘Good heavens, what are you doing, Aphranius, those must be temple seals!’

‘The procurator needn’t trouble himself with that question,’ Aphranius replied, closing the packet.

‘Can it be that you have all the seals?’ Pilate asked, laughing.

‘It couldn’t be otherwise, Procurator,’ Aphranius replied very sternly, not laughing at all.

‘I can imagine the effect at Kaifa’s!‘

‘Yes, Procurator, it caused great agitation. They summoned me immediately.’

Even in the semi-darkness one could see how Pilate’s eyes flashed.

‘That’s interesting, interesting …’

‘I venture to disagree, Procurator, it was not interesting. A most boring and tiresome business. To my question whether anyone had been paid money in Kaifa’s palace, I was told categorically that there had been nothing of the sort.’ ‘Ah, yes? Well, so, if no one was paid, no one was paid. It will be that much harder to find the killers.’

‘Absolutely right, Procurator.’

‘It suddenly occurs to me, Aphranius: might he not have killed himself?’6

‘Oh, no, Procurator,’ Aphranius replied, even leaning back in his chair from astonishment, ‘excuse me, but that is entirely unlikely!’

‘Ah, everything is likely in this city. I’m ready to bet that in a very short time rumours of it will spread all over the city.’

Here Aphranius again darted his look at the procurator, thought for a moment, and replied:

That may be, Procurator.‘

The procurator was obviously still unable to part with this question of the killing of the man from Kiriath, though everything was already clear, and he said even with a sort of reverie: ‘But I’d like to have seen how they killed him.’

‘He was killed with great art, Procurator,’ Aphranius replied, glancing somewhat ironically at the procurator.

‘How do you know that?’

‘Kindly pay attention to the bag, Procurator,’ Aphranius replied. ‘I guarantee you that Judas’s blood gushed out in a stream. I’ve seen murdered people in my time, Procurator.’ ‘So, of course, he won’t rise?’

‘No, Procurator, he will rise,’ replied Aphranius, smiling philosophically, ‘when the trumpet of the messiah they’re expecting here sounds over him. But before then he won’t rise.’ ‘Enough, Aphranius, the question is clear. Let’s go on to the burial.’

The executed men have been buried, Procurator.‘

‘Oh, Aphranius, it would be a crime to try you. You’re deserving of the highest reward. How was it?’

Aphranius began to tell about it: while he himself was occupied with Judas’s affair, a detachment of the secret guard, under the direction of his assistant, arrived at the hill as evening came. One of the bodies was not found on the hilltop. Pilate gave a start and said hoarsely: ‘Ah, how did I not foresee it! …’

‘No need to worry, Procurator,’ said Aphranius, and he went on with his narrative: The bodies of Dysmas and Gestas, their eyes pecked out by carrion birds, were taken up, and they immediately rushed in search of the third body. It was discovered in a very short time. A certain man …‘ ‘Matthew Levi,’ said Pilate, not questioningly, but rather affirmatively.

‘Yes, Procurator … Matthew Levi was hiding in a cave on the northern slope of Bald Skull, waiting for darkness. The naked body of Yeshua Ha-Nozri was with him. When the guards entered the cave with a torch, Levi fell into despair and wrath. He shouted about having committed no crime, and about every man’s right by law to bury an executed criminal if he so desires. Matthew Levi said he did not want to part with the body. He was agitated, cried out something incoherent, now begging, now threatening and cursing …’ ‘Did they have to arrest him?’ Pilate asked glumly.

‘No, Procurator, no,’ Aphranius replied very soothingly, ‘they managed to quiet the impudent madman, explaining to him that the body would be buried. Levi, having grasped what was being said to him, calmed down, but announced that he would not leave and wished to take part in the burial. He said he would not leave even if they started to kill him, and even offered for that purpose a bread knife he had with him.’ ‘Was he chased away?’ Pilate asked in a stifled voice.

‘No, Procurator, no. My assistant allowed him to take part in the burial.’

‘Which of your assistants was in charge of it?’ asked Pilate.

‘Tolmai,’ Aphranius answered and added in alarm: ‘Perhaps he made a mistake?’

‘Go on,’ answered Pilate, ‘there was no mistake. Generally, I am beginning to feel a bit at a loss, Aphranius, I am apparently dealing with a man who never makes mistakes. That man is you.’ ‘Matthew Levi was taken in the cart with the bodies of the executed men, and in about two hours they reached a solitary ravine north of Yershalaim. There the detachment, working in shifts, dug a deep hole within an hour and buried all three executed men in it.’ ‘Naked?’

‘No, Procurator, the detachment brought chitons with them for that purpose. They put rings on the buried men’s fingers. Yeshua’s with one notch, Dysmas’s with two, and Gestas’s with three. The hole has been covered over and heaped with stones. The landmark is known to Tolmai.’ ‘Ah, if only I had foreseen it!’ Pilate spoke, wincing. ‘I needed to see this Matthew Levi …’

‘He is here, Procurator.’

Pilate, his eyes wide open, stared at Aphranius for some time, and then said:

‘I thank you for everything that has been done in this affair. I ask you to send Tolmai to me tomorrow, and to tell him beforehand that I am pleased with him. And you, Aphranius,’ here the procurator took a seal ring from the pouch of the belt lying on the table and gave it to the head of the secret service, ‘I beg you to accept this as a memento.’ Aphranius bowed and said:

‘A great honour, Procurator.’

‘I request that the detachment that performed the burial be given rewards. The sleuths who let Judas slip — a reprimand. Have Matthew Levi sent to me right now. I must have the details on Yeshua’s case.’ ‘Understood, Procurator,’ Aphranius replied and began retreating and bowing, while the procurator clapped his hands and shouted:

‘To me, here! A lamp to the colonnade!’

Aphranius was going out to the garden when lights began to flash in the hands of servants behind Pilate’s back. Three lamps appeared on the table before the procurator, and the moonlit night at once retreated to the garden, as if Aphranius had led it away with him. In place of Aphranius, an unknown man, small and skinny, stepped on to the balcony beside the gigantic centurion. The latter, catching the procurator’s eye, withdrew to the garden at once and there disappeared.

The procurator studied the newcomer with greedy and slightly frightened eyes. So one looks at a man of whom one has heard a great deal, of whom one has been thinking, and who finally appears.

The newcomer, a man of about forty, was black-haired, ragged, covered with caked mud, and looked wolf-like from under his knitted brows. In short, he was very unsightly, and rather resembled a city beggar, of whom there were many hanging about on the porches of the temple or in the bazaars of the noisy and dirty Lower City.

The silence continued for a long time, and was broken by the strange behaviour of the man brought to Pilate. His countenance changed, he swayed, and if he had not grasped the edge of the table with his dirty hand, he would have fallen.

‘What’s wrong with you?’ Pilate asked him.

‘Nothing,’ answered Matthew Levi, and he made a movement as if he were swallowing something. His skinny, bare, grey neck swelled out and then slackened again.

‘What’s wrong, answer me,’ Pilate repeated.

‘I’m tired,’ Levi answered and looked sullenly at the floor.

‘Sit down,’ said Pilate, pointing to the armchair.

Levi looked at the procurator mistrustfully, moved towards the armchair, gave a timorous sidelong glance at the gilded armrests, and sat down not in the chair but beside it on the floor.

‘Explain to me, why did you not sit in the chair?’ asked Pilate.

‘I’m dirty, I’d soil it,’ said Levi, looking at the ground.

‘You’ll presently be given something to eat.’

‘I don’t want to eat,’ answered Levi.

‘Why lie?’ Pilate asked quietly. ‘You haven’t eaten for the whole day, and maybe even longer. Very well, don’t eat. I’ve summoned you so that you could show me the knife you had with you.’ ‘The soldiers took it from me when they brought me here,’ Levi replied and added sullenly: ‘You must give it back to me, I have to return it to its owner, I stole it.’ ‘What for?’

‘To cut the ropes,’ answered Levi.

‘Mark!’ cried the procurator, and the centurion stepped in under the columns. ‘Give me his knife.’

The centurion took a dirty bread knife from one of the two cases on his belt, handed it to the procurator, and withdrew.

‘Who did you take the knife from?’

‘From the bakery by the Hebron gate, just as you enter the city, on the left.’

Pilate looked at the broad blade, for some reason tried the sharpness of the edge with his finger, and said:

‘Concerning the knife you needn’t worry, the knife will be returned to the shop. But now I want a second thing — show me the charta you carry with you, on which Yeshua’s words are written down.’ Levi looked at Pilate with hatred and smiled such an inimical smile that his face became completely ugly.

‘You want to take away the last thing?’ he asked.

‘I didn’t say “give me”,’ answered Pilate, ‘I said “show me”.’

Levi fumbled in his bosom and produced a parchment scroll. Pilate took it, unrolled it, spread it out between the lights, and, squinting, began to study the barely legible ink marks. It was difficult to understand these crabbed lines, and Pilate kept wincing and leaning right to the parchment, running his finger over the lines. He did manage to make out that the writing represented an incoherent chain of certain utterances, certain dates, household records, and poetic fragments. Some of it Pilate could read: ‘… there is no death … yesterday we ate sweet spring baccuroth …’7 Grimacing with the effort, Pilate squinted as he read: ‘… we shall see the pure river of the water of life8 … mankind shall look at the sun through transparent crystal …’ Here Pilate gave a start. In the last lines of the parchment he made out the words: ‘… greater vice … cowardice…’ Pilate rolled up the parchment and with an abrupt movement handed it to Levi.

‘Take it,’ he said and, after a pause, added: ‘You’re a bookish man, I see, and there’s no need for you to go around alone, in beggar’s clothing, without shelter. I have a big library in Caesarea, I am very rich and want to take you to work for me. You will sort out and look after the papyri, you will be fed and clothed.’ Levi stood up and replied:

‘No, I don’t want to.’

‘Why?’ the procurator asked, his face darkening. ‘Am I disagreeable to you? … Are you afraid of me?’

The same bad smile distorted Levi’s face, and he said:

‘No, because you’ll be afraid of me. It won’t be very easy for you to look me in the face now that you’ve killed him.’

‘Quiet,’ replied Pilate. ‘Take some money.’

Levi shook his head negatively, and the procurator went on:

‘I know you consider yourself a disciple of Yeshua, but I can tell you that you learned nothing of what he taught you. For if you had, you would certainly take something from me. Bear in mind that before he died he said he did not blame anyone.’ Pilate raised a finger significantly, Pilate’s face was twitching. ‘And he himself would surely have taken something. You are cruel, and he was not cruel. Where will you go?’ Levi suddenly came up to the table, leaned both hands on it, and, gazing at the procurator with burning eyes, whispered to him:

‘Know, Hegemon, that I am going to kill a man in Yershalaim. I wanted to tell you that, so you’d know there will be more blood.’

‘I, too, know there will be more of it,’ replied Pilate, ‘you haven’t surprised me with your words. You want, of course, to kill me?’

‘You I won’t manage to kill,’ replied Levi, baring his teeth and smiling, ‘I’m not such a foolish man as to count on that. But I’ll kill Judas of Kiriath, I’ll devote the rest of my life to it.’ Here pleasure showed in the procurator’s eyes, and beckoning Matthew Levi to come closer, he said:

‘You won’t manage to do it, don’t trouble yourself. Judas has already been killed this night.’

Levi sprang away from the table, looking wildly around, and cried out:

‘Who did it?’

‘Don’t be jealous,’ Pilate answered, his teeth bared, and rubbed his hands, ‘I’m afraid he had other admirers besides you.’

‘Who did it?’ Levi repeated in a whisper.

Pilate answered him:

‘I did it.’

Levi opened his mouth and stared at the procurator, who said quietly:

‘It is, of course, not much to have done, but all the same I did it.’ And he added: ‘Well, and now will you take something?’

Levi considered, relented, and finally said:

‘Have them give me a piece of clean parchment.’

An hour went by. Levi was not in the palace. Now the silence of the dawn was broken only by the quiet noise of the sentries’ footsteps in the garden. The moon was quickly losing its colour, one could see at the other edge of the sky the whitish dot of the morning star. The lamps had gone out long, long ago. The procurator lay on the couch. Putting his hand under his cheek, he slept and breathed soundlessly. Beside him slept Banga.

Thus was the dawn of the fifteenth day of Nisan met by the fifth procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate.

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