It may have been the twilight which seemed to cause such a sharp change in the Procurator's appearance. He appeared to have aged visibly and he looked hunched and worried. Once he glanced round and shuddered, staring at the empty chair with his cloak thrown over its back. The night of the feast was approaching, the evening shadows were playing tricks and the exhausted Procurator may have thought he had seen someone sitting in the chair. In a moment of superstitious fear the Procurator shook the cloak, then walked away and began pacing the balcony, occasionally rubbing his hands, drinking from the goblet on the table, or halting to stare unseeingly at the mosaic floor as though trying to decipher some writing in it.
For the second time that day a brooding depression overcame him. Wiping his brow, where he felt only a faintly nagging memory of the hellish pain from that morning, the Procurator racked his brain in an attempt to define the cause of his mental agony. He soon realized what it was, but unable to face it, he tried to deceive himself. It was clear to him that this morning he had irretrievably lost something and now he was striving to compensate for that loss with a trivial substitute, which took the form of belated action. His self-deception consisted in trying to persuade himself that his actions this evening were no less significant than the sentence which he had passed earlier in the day. But in this attempt the Procurator had little success.
At one of his turns he stopped abruptly and whistled. In reply there came a low bark from the twilight shadows and a gigantic grey-coated dog with pointed ears bounded in from the garden, wearing a gold-studded collar.
"Banga, Banga," cried the Procurator weakly.
The dog stood up on its hind legs, put its forepaws on its master's shoulders, almost knocking him over, and licked his cheek. The Procurator sat down in a chair. Banga, tongue hanging out and panting fast, lay down at Pilate's feet with an expression of delight that the thunderstorm was over, the only thing in the world that frightened this otherwise fearless animal; delighted, too, because it was back again with the man it loved, respected and regarded as the most powerful being on earth, the ruler of all men, thanks to whom the dog too felt itself a specially privileged and superior creature. But lying at his feet and gazing into the twilit garden without even looking at Pilate the dog knew at once that its master was troubled. It moved, got up, went round to Pilate's side and laid its forepaws and head on the Procurator's knees, smearing the hem of his cloak with wet sand. Banga's action seemed to mean that he wanted to comfort his master and was prepared to face misfortune with him. This he tried to express in his eyes and in the forward set of his ears. These two, dog and man who loved each other, sat in vigil together on the balcony that night of the feast.
Meanwhile Arthanius was busy. Leaving the upper terrace of the garden, he walked down the steps to the next terrace and turned right towards the barracks inside the palace grounds. These quarters housed the two centuries who had accompanied the Procurator to Jerusalem for the feast-days, together with the Procurator's secret bodyguard commanded by Arthanius. He spent a little while in the barracks, no longer than ten minutes, but immediately afterwards three carts drove out of the barrack yard loaded with entrenching tools and a vat of water, and escorted by a section of fifteen mounted men wearing grey cloaks. Carts and escort left the palace grounds by a side-gate, set off westward, passed through a gateway in the city wall and first took the Bethlehem road northward; they reached the crossroads by the Hebron gate and there turned on to the Jaffa road, along the route taken by the execution party that morning. By now it was dark and the moon had risen on the horizon.
Soon after the carts and their escort section had set off, Arthanius also left the palace on horseback, having changed into a shabby black chiton, and rode into the city. After a while he could have been seen riding towards the fortress of Antonia, situated immediately north of the great temple. The visitor spent an equally short time in the fortress, after which his route took him to the winding, crooked streets of the Lower City. He had now changed his mount to a mule.
Thoroughly at home in the city, the man easily found the street he was looking for. It was known as the street of the Greeks, as it contained a number of Greek shops, including one that sold carpets. There the man stopped his mule, dismounted and tethered it to a ring outside the gate. The shop was shut. The guest passed through a wicket gate in the wall beside the shop door and entered a small rectangular courtyard, fitted out as a stables. Turning the corner of the yard the visitor reached the ivy-grown verandah of the owner's house and looked round him. House and stables were dark, the lamps not yet lit. He called softly:
At the sound of his voice a door creaked and a young woman, her head uncovered, appeared on the verandah in the evening dusk. She leaned over the railings, looking anxiously to see who had arrived. Recognizing the visitor, she gave him a welcoming smile, nodded and waved.
"Are you alone?" asked Arthanius softly in Greek. "Yes, I am," whispered the woman on the verandah. "My husband went to Caesarea this morning" — here the woman glanced at the door and added in a whisper — "but the servant is here." Then she beckoned him to come in.
Arthanius glanced round, mounted the stone steps and went indoors with the woman. Here he spent no more than five minutes, after which he left the house, pulled his cowl lower over his eyes and went out into the street. By now candles were being lit in all the houses, there was a large feast-day crowd in the streets, and Arthanius on his mule was lost in the stream of riders and people on foot. Where he went from there is unknown.
When Arthanius had left her, the woman called Niza began to change in a great hurry, though despite the difficulty of finding the things she needed in her dark room she lit no candle and did not call her servant. Only when she was ready, with a black shawl over her head, did she say:
"If anybody asks for me tell them that I've gone to see Enanta."
Out of the dark her old serving-woman grumbled in reply:
"Enanta? That woman! You know your husband's forbidden you to see her. She's nothing but a procuress, that Enanta of yours. I'll tell your husband..."
"Now, now, now, be quiet," retorted Niza and slipped out of doors like a shadow, her sandals clattering across the paved courtyard. Still grumbling, the servant shut the verandah door and Niza left her house.
At the same time a young man left a tumbledown little house with its blind side to the street and whose only windows gave on to the courtyard, and passed through the wicket into an unpaved alley that descended in steps to one of the city's pools. He wore a white kefiyeh falling to his shoulders, a new dark-blue fringed tallith for the feast-day, and creaking new sandals. Dressed up for the occasion, the handsome, hook-nosed young man set off boldly, overtaking passers-by as he hurried home to the solemn Passover-night table, watching the candles as they were lit in house after house. The young man took the road leading past the bazaar towards the palace of Caiaphas the High Priest at the foot of the temple hill.
After a while he entered the gates of Caiaphas' palace and left it a short time later.
Leaving the palace, already bright with candles and torches and festive bustle, the young man returned, with an even bolder and more cheerful step, to the Lower City. At the corner where the street joined the bazaar square, he was passed in the seething crowd by a woman walking with the hip-swinging gait of a prostitute and wearing a black shawl low over her eyes. As she overtook him the woman raised her shawl slightly and flashed a glance in the young man's direction, but instead of slowing down she walked faster as though trying to run away from him.
The young man not only noticed the woman but recognized her. He gave a start, halted, stared perplexedly at her back and at once set off to catch her up. Almost knocking over a man carrying a jug, the young man drew level with the woman and panting with agitation called out to her:
The woman turned, frowned with a look of chilling irritation and coldly replied in Greek:
"Oh, it's you, Judas. I didn't recognize you. Still, it's lucky. We have a saying that if you don't recognize a person he's going to be rich..."
So excited that his heart began to leap like a wild bird in a cage, Judas asked in a jerky whisper, afraid that the passers-by might hear:
"Where are you going, Niza?"
"Why do you want to know?" answered Niza, slackening her pace and staring haughtily at Judas.
In a childish, pleading voice Judas whispered distractedly:
"But Niza... we agreed... I was to come to see you, you said you'd be at home all evening..."
"Oh no," replied Niza, pouting capriciously, which to Judas made her face, the most beautiful he had ever seen in the world, even prettier, "I'm bored. It's a feast-day for you, but what do you expect me to do? Sit and listen to you sighing on the verandah? And always frightened of the servant telling my husband? No, I've decided to go out of town and listen to the nightingales."
"Out of town?" asked Judas, bewildered. "What — alone?"
"Yes, of course," replied Niza.
"Let me go with you," whispered Judas with a sigh. His mind was confused, he had forgotten about everything and he gazed pleadingly into Niza's blue eyes that now seemed black in the darkness. Niza said nothing but walked faster.
"Why don't you say something, Niza?" asked Judas miserably, hastening to keep pace with her.
"Won't I be bored with you?" Niza asked suddenly and stopped. Judas now felt utterly hopeless.
"All right," said Niza, relenting at last. "Come on!"
"Wait... let's go into this courtyard and arrange it, otherwise I'm afraid of someone seeing me and then telling my husband that I was out on the streets with my lover."
Niza and Judas vanished from the bazaar and began whispering under the gateway of a courtyard.
"Go to the olive-grove," whispered Niza, pulling her shawl down over her eyes and turning away from a man who came into the courtyard carrying a bucket, "in Gethsemane, over Kedron, do you know where I mean?"
"I'll go first," Niza went on, "but don't follow close behind me, go separately. I'll go ahead... When you've crossed the stream... do you know where the grotto is?"
"Yes, I know, I know..."
"Go on through the olive grove on the hill and then turn right towards the grotto. I'll be there. But whatever you do, don't follow me at once, be patient, wait a while here." With these words Niza slipped out of the gateway as though she had never spoken to Judas.
Judas stood alone for some time, trying to collect his whirling thoughts. Among other things he tried to think how he would explain his absence from the Passover table to his parents. He stood and tried to work out some lie, but in his excitement his mind refused to function properly, and still lacking an excuse he slowly walked out of the gateway.
Now he took another direction and instead of making for the Lower City he turned back towards the palace of Caiaphas. The celebrations had already begun. From windows on all sides came the murmur of the Passover ceremony. Latecomers hastening home urged on their donkeys, whipping them and shouting at them. On foot Judas hurried on, not noticing the menacing turrets of the fortress of Antonia, deaf to the call of trumpets from the fortress, oblivious of the Roman mounted patrol with their torches that threw an alarming glare across his path.
As he turned past the fortress Judas saw that two gigantic seven-branched candlesticks had been lit at a dizzy height above the temple. But he only saw them in a blur. They seemed like dozens of lamps that burned over Jerusalem in rivalry with the single lamp climbing high above the city — the moon.
Judas had no thought for anything now but his urgent haste to leave the city as quickly as possible by the Gethsemane gate. Occasionally he thought he could see, among the backs and faces of the people in front of him, a figure dancing along and drawing him after it. But it was an illusion. Judas realized that Niza must be well ahead of him. He passed a row of moneychangers' shops and at last reached the Gethsemane gate. Here, burning with impatience, he was forced to wait. A camel caravan was coming into the city, followed by a mounted Syrian patrol, which Judas mentally cursed...
But the delay was short and the impatient Judas was soon outside the city wall. To his left was a small cemetery, beside it the striped tents of a band of pilgrims. Crossing the dusty, moonlit road Judas hurried on towards the stream Kedron and crossed it, the water bubbling softly under his feet as he leaped from stone to stone. Finally he reached the Gethsemane bank and saw with joy that the road ahead was deserted. Not far away could be seen the half-ruined gateway of the olive grove.
After the stifling city Judas was struck by the intoxicating freshness of the spring night. Across a garden fence the scent of myrtles and acacia was blown from the fields of Gethsemane.
The gateway was unguarded and a few minutes later Judas was far into the olive grove and running beneath the mysterious shadows of the great, branching olive trees. The way led uphill. Judas climbed, panting, occasionally emerging from darkness into chequered carpets of moonlight which reminded him of the carpets in the shop kept by Niza's jealous husband.
Soon an oil-press came in sight in a clearing to Judas' left, with its heavy stone crushing-wheel and a pile of barrels. There was no one in the olive grove — work had stopped at sunset and choirs of nightingales were singing above Judas' head.
He was near his goal. He knew that in a moment from the darkness to his right he would hear the quiet whisper of running water from the grotto. There was the sound now and the air was cooler near the grotto. He checked his pace and called:
But instead of Niza slipping out from behind a thick olive trunk, the stocky figure of a man jumped out on to the path. Something glittered momentarily in his hand. With a faint cry Judas started running back, but a second man blocked his way.
The first man asked Judas:
"How much did you get? Talk, if you want to save your life."
Hope welled up in Judas' heart and he cried desperately:
"Thirty tetradrachms! Thirty tetradrachms! I have it all on me. There's the money! Take it, but don't kill me!"
The man snatched the purse from Judas' hand. At the same moment a knife was rammed into Judas" back under his shoulder-blade. He pitched forward, throwing up his hands, fingers clutching. The man in front caught Judas on his knife and thrust it up to the hilt into Judas' heart.
"Ni... za..." said Judas, in a low, reproachful growl quite unlike his own, youthful, high-pitched voice and made not another sound. His body hit the ground so hard that the air whistled as it was knocked out of his lungs.
Then a third figure stepped out on to the path, wearing a hooded cloak,
"Don't waste any time," he ordered. The cowled man gave the murderers a note and they wrapped purse and note into a piece of leather which they bound criss-cross with twine. The hooded man put the bundle down his shirt-front, then the two assassins ran off the path and were swallowed by the darkness between the olive trees.
The third man squatted down beside the body and looked into his face. It seemed as white as chalk, with an expression not unlike spiritual beauty.
A few seconds later there was not a living soul on the path. The lifeless body lay with arms outstretched. Its left foot was in a patch of moonlight that showed up every strap and lace of the man's sandal. The whole of Gethsemane rang with the song of nightingales.
The man with the hood left the path and plunged deep through the olive grove, heading southward. He climbed over the wall at the southernmost corner of the olive grove where the upper course of masonry jutted out. Soon he reached the bank of Kedron, where he waded in and waited in midstream until he saw the distant outlines of two horses and a man beside them, also standing in the stream. Water flowed past, washing their hooves. The groom mounted one of the horses, the cowled man the other and both set off walking down the bed of the stream, pebbles crunching beneath the horses' hooves. The riders left the water, climbed up the bank and followed the line of the city walls at a walk. Then the groom galloped ahead and disappeared from sight while the man in the cowl stopped his horse, dismounted on the empty road, took off his cloak, turned it inside out, and producing a flat-topped, uncrested helmet from the folds, put it on. The rider was now in military uniform with a short sword at his hip. He flicked the reins and the fiery cavalry charger broke into a trot. He had not far to go before he rode up to the southern gate of Jerusalem.
Torch-flames danced and flickered restlessly under the arch of the gate where the sentries from the second cohort of the Lightning legion sat on stone benches playing dice. As the mounted officer approached the soldiers jumped up, the officer waved to them and rode into the city.
The town was lit up for the festival. Candle flames played at every window and from each one came the sound of sing-song incantations. Glancing occasionally into the windows that opened on to the street the rider saw people at their tables set with kid's meat and cups of wine between the dishes of bitter herbs. Whistling softly the rider made his way at a leisurely trot through the deserted streets of the Lower City, heading towards the fortress of Antonia and looking up now and then at vast seven-branched candlesticks flaring over the temple or at the moon above them.
The palace of Herod the Great had no part in the ceremonies of Passover night. Lights were burning in the outbuildings on the south side where the officers of the Roman cohort and the Legate of the Legion were quartered, and there were signs of movement and life. The frontal wings, with their one involuntary occupant — the Procurator — with their arcades and gilded statues, seemed blinded by the brilliance of the moonlight. Inside the palace was darkness and silence.
The Procurator, as he had told Arthanius, preferred not to go inside. He had ordered a bed to be prepared on the balcony where he had dined and where he had conducted the interrogation that morning. The Procurator lay down on the couch, but he could not sleep. The naked moon hung far up in the clear sky and for several hours the Procurator lay staring at it.
Sleep at last took pity on the hegemon towards midnight. Yawning spasmodically, the Procurator unfastened his cloak and threw it off, took off the strap that belted his tunic with its steel sheath-knife, put it on the chair beside the bed, took off his sandals and stretched out. Banga at once jumped up beside him on the bed and lay down, head to head. Putting his arm round the dog's neck the Procurator at last closed his eyes. Only then did the dog go to sleep.
The couch stood in half darkness, shaded from the moon by a pillar, though a long ribbon of moonlight stretched from the staircase to the bed. As the Procurator drifted away from reality he set off along that path of light, straight up towards the moon. In his sleep he even laughed from happiness at the unique beauty of that transparent blue pathway. He was walking with Banga and the vagrant philosopher beside him. They were arguing about a weighty and complex problem over which neither could gain the upper hand. They disagreed entirely, which made their argument the more absorbing and interminable. The execution, of course, had been a pure misunderstanding: after all this same man, with his ridiculous philosophy that all men were good, was walking beside him — consequently he was alive. Indeed the very thought of executing such a man was absurd. There had been no execution I It had never taken place! This thought comforted him as he strode along the moonlight pathway.
They had as much time to spare as they wanted, the storm would not break until evening. Cowardice was undoubtedly one of the most terrible sins. Thus spake Yeshua Ha-Notsri. No, philosopher, I disagree — it is the most terrible sin of all!
Had he not shown cowardice, the man who was now Procurator of Judaea but who had once been a Tribune of the legion on that day in the Valley of the Virgins when the wild Germans had so nearly clubbed Muribellum the Giant to death? Have pity on me, philosopher! Do you, a man of your intelligence, imagine that the Procurator of Judaea would ruin his career for the sake of a man who had committed a crime against Caesar?
"Yes, yes..." Pilate groaned and sobbed in his sleep.
Of course he would risk ruining his career. This morning he had not been ready to, but now at night, having thoroughly weighed the matter, he was prepared to ruin himself if need be. He would do anything to save this crazy, innocent dreamer, this miraculous healer, from execution.
"You and I will always be together," said the ragged tramp-philosopher who had so mysteriously become the travelling companion of the Knight of the Golden Lance. "Where one of us goes, the other shall go too. Whenever people think of me they will think of you — me, an orphan child of unknown parents and you the son of an astrologer-king and a miller's daughter, the beautiful Pila!"
"Remember to pray for me, the astrologer's son," begged Pilate in his dream. And reassured by a nod from the pauper from Ein-Sarid who was his companion, the cruel Procurator of Judaea wept with joy and laughed in his sleep.
The hegemon's awakening was all the more fearful after the euphoria of his dream. Banga started to growl at the moon, and the blue pathway, slippery as butter, collapsed in front of the Procurator. He opened his eyes and the first thing he remembered was that the execution had taken place. Then the Procurator groped mechanically for Banga's collar, then turned his aching eyes in search of the moon and noticed that it had moved slightly to one side and was silver in color. Competing with its light was another more unpleasant and disturbing light that snickered in front of him. Holding a naming, crackling torch, Muribellum scowled with fear and dislike at the dangerous beast, poised to spring.
"Lie down, Banga," said the Procurator in a suffering voice, coughing. Shielding his eyes from the torch-flame, he went on:
"Even by moonlight there's no peace for me at night... Oh, ye gods! You too have a harsh duty. Mark. You have to cripple men..."
Startled, Mark stared at the Procurator, who recollected himself. To excuse his pointless remark, spoken while still half-dreaming, the Procurator said:
"Don't be offended, centurion. My duty is even worse, I assure you. What do you want?"
"The chief of the secret service has come to see you," said Mark calmly.
"Send him in, send him in," said the Procurator, clearing his throat and fumbling for his sandals with bare feet. The flame danced along the arcade, the centurion's caligae rang out on the mosaic as he went out into the garden.
"Even by moonlight there's no peace for me," said the Procurator to himself, grinding his teeth.
The centurion was replaced by the man in the cowl.
"Lie down, Banga," said the Procurator quietly, pressing down on the dog's head.
Before speaking Arthanius gave his habitual glance round and moved into a shadow. Having ensured that apart from Banga there were no strangers on the balcony, he said:
"You may charge me with negligence, Procurator. You were right. I could not save Judas of Karioth from being murdered. I deserve to be court-martialled and discharged."
Arthanius felt that of the two pairs of eyes watching him; one was a dog's, the other a wolf's. From under his tunic he took out a bloodstained purse that was sealed with two seals.
"The murderers threw this pursefull of money into the house of the High Priest. There is blood on it — Judas of Karioth's blood."
"How much money is there in it?" asked Pilate, noddling towards the purse.
The Procurator smiled and said:
Arthanius did not reply.
"Where is the body?"
"I do not know," replied the cowled man with dignity. "This morning we will start the investigation."
The Procurator shuddered and gave up trying to lace his sandal, which refused to tie.
"But are you certain he was killed?"
To this the Procurator received the cool reply:
"I have been working in Judaea for fifteen years, Procurator. I began my service under Valerius Gratus. I don't have to see a body to be able to say that a man is dead and I am stating that the man called Judas of Karioth was murdered several hours ago."
"Forgive me, Arthanius," replied Pilate. "I made that remark because I haven't quite woken up yet. I sleep badly," the Procurator smiled, "I was dreaming of a moonbeam. It was funny, because I seemed to be walking along it... Now, I want your suggestions for dealing with this affair. Where are you going to look for him? Sit down."
Arthanius bowed, moved a chair closer to the bed and sat down, his sword clinking.
"I shall look for him not far from the oil-press in the Gethsemane olive-grove."
"I see. Why there?"
"I believe, hegemon, that Judas was killed neither in Jerusalem itself nor far from the city, but somewhere in its vicinity."
"You are an expert at your job. I don't know about Rome itself, but in the colonies there's not a man to touch you. Why do you think that?"
"I cannot believe for one moment," said Arthanius in a low voice, "that Judas would have allowed himself to be caught by any ruffians within the city limits. The street is no place for a clandestine murder. Therefore he must have been enticed into some cellar or courtyard. But the secret service has already made a thorough search of the Lower City and if he were there they would have found him by now. They have not found him and I am therefore convinced that he is not in the city. If he had been killed a long way from Jerusalem, then the packet of money could not have been thrown into the High Priest's palace so soon. He was murdered near the city after they had lured him out."
"How did they manage to do that?"
"That, Procurator, is the most difficult problem of all and I am not even sure that I shall ever be able to solve it."
"Most puzzling, I agree. A believing Jew leaves the city to go heaven knows where on the eve of Passover and is killed. Who could have enticed him and how? Might it have been done by a woman?" enquired the Procurator, making a sudden inspired guess.
Arthanius replied gravely:
"Impossible, Procurator. Out of the question. Consider it logically: who wanted Judas done away with? A band of vagrant cranks, a group of visionaries which, above all, contains no women. To marry and start a family needs money, Procurator. But to kill a man with a woman as decoy or accomplice needs a very great deal of money indeed and these men are tramps — homeless and destitute. There was no woman involved in this affair, Procurator. What is more, to theorize on those lines may even throw us off the scent and hinder the investigation."
"I see, Arthanius, that you are quite right," said Pilate. "I was merely putting forward a hypothesis."
"It is, alas, a faulty one, Procurator."
"Well then — what is your theory?" exclaimed the Procurator, staring at Arthanius with avid curiosity.
"I still think that the bait was money."
"Remarkable! Who, might I ask, would be likely to entice him out of the city limits in the middle of the night to offer him money?"
"No one, of course, Procurator. No, I can only make one guess and if it is wrong, then I confess I am at a loss." Arthanius leaned closer to Pilate and whispered: "Judas intended to hide his money in a safe place known only to himself."
"A very shrewd explanation. That must be the answer. I see it now: he was not lured out of town — he went of his own accord. Yes, yes, that must be it."
"Precisely. Judas trusted nobody. He wanted to hide his money."
"You said Gethsemane... Why there? That, I confess, I don't understand."
"That, Procurator, is the simplest deduction of all. No one is going to hide money in the road or out in the open. Therefore Judas did not take the road to Hebron or to Bethany. He will have gone to somewhere hidden, somewhere where there are trees. It's obvious — there is no place round about Jerusalem that answers to that description except Gethsemane. He cannot have gone far."
"You have completely convinced me. What is your next move?"
"I shall immediately start searching for the murderers who followed Judas out of the city and meanwhile, as I have already proposed to you, I shall submit myself to be court-martialled."
"My men lost track of Judas this evening in the bazaar after he had left Caiaphas' palace. How it occurred, I don't know. It has never happened to me before. He was put under observation immediately after our talk, but somewhere an the bazaar area he gave us the slip and disappeared without trace."
"I see. You will be glad to hear that I do not consider it necessary for you to be court-martialled. You did all you could and no one in the world," — the Procurator smiled — "could possibly have done more. Reprimand the men who lost Judas. But let me warn you that I do not wish your reprimand to be a severe one. After all, we did our best to protect the scoundrel. Oh yes — I forgot to ask " — the Procurator wiped his forehead — " how did they manage to return the money to Caiaphas?"
"That was not particularly difficult. Procurator. The avengers went behind Caiaphas' palace, where that back street overlooks the rear courtyard. Then they threw the packet over the fence."
"With a note?"
"Yes, just as you said they would. Procurator. Oh, by the way..." Arthanius broke the seals on the packet and showed its contents to Pilate.
"Arthanius! Take care what you're doing. Those are temple seals."
"The Procurator need have no fear on that sicore," replied Arthanius as he wrapped up the bag of money.
"Do you mean to say that you have copies of all their seals?" asked Pilate, laughing.
"Naturally, Procurator," was Arthanius' curt, unsmiling reply.
"I can just imagine how Caiaphas must have felt!"
"Yes, Procurator, it caused a great stir. They sent for me at once."
Even in the dark Pilate's eyes could be seen glittering.
"If you'll forgive my contradicting, Procurator, it was most uninteresting. A boring and time-wasting case. When I enquired whether anybody in Caiaphas' palace had paid out this money I was told categorically that no one had."
"Really? Well, if they say so, I suppose they didn't. That will make it all the harder to find the murderers."
"Quite so, Procurator."
"Arthanius, it has just occurred to me — might he not have killed himself?"
"Oh no. Procurator," replied Arthanius, leaning back in his chair and staring in astonishment, "that, if you will forgive me, is most unlikely!"
"Ah, in this city anything is likely. I am prepared to bet that before long the city will be full of rum ours about his suicide."
Here Arthanius gave Pilate his peculiar stare, thought a moment, and answered:
"That may be, Procurator."
Pilate was obviously obsessed with the problem of the murder of Judas of Karioth, although it had been fully explained. He said reflectively:
"I should have liked to have seen how they killed him."
"He was killed with great artistry, Procurator," replied Arthanius, giving Pilate an ironic look.
"How do you know?"
"If you will kindly inspect the bag, Procurator," Arthanius replied, "I can guarantee from its condition that Judas' blood flowed freely. I have seen some murdered men in my time."
"So he will not rise again?"
"No, Procurator. He will rise again," answered Arthanius, smiling philosophically, "when the trumpet-call of their messiah sounds for him. But not before."
"All right, Arthanius, that case is dealt with. Now what about the burial?"
"The executed prisoners have been buried. Procurator."
"Arthanius, it would be a crime to court-martial you. You deserve the highest praise. What happened?"
While Arthanius had been engaged on the Judas case, a secret service squad under the command of Arthanius' deputy had reached the hill shortly before dark. At the hilltop one body was missing. Pilate shuddered and said hoarsely:
"Ah, now why didn't I foresee that?"
"There is no cause for worry. Procurator," said Arthanius and went on: "The bodies of Dismas and Hestas, their eyes picked out by carrion crows, were loaded on to a cart. The men at once set off to look for the third body. It was soon found. A man called..."
"Matthew the Levite," said Pilate. It was not a question but an affirmation.
"Yes, Procurator... Matthew the Levite was hidden in a cave on the northern slope of Mount Golgotha, waiting for darkness. With him was Ha-Notsri's naked body. When the guard entered the cave with a torch, the Levite fell into a fit. He shouted that he had committed no crime and that according to the law every man had a right to bury the body of an executed criminal if he wished to. Matthew the Levite refused to leave the body. He was excited, almost delirious, begging, threatening, cursing..."
"Did they have to arrest him?" asked Pilate glumly.
"No, Procurator," replied Arthanius reassuringly. "They managed to humor the lunatic by telling him that the body would be buried. The Levite calmed down but announced that he still refused to leave the body and wanted to assist in the burial. He said he refused to go even if they threatened to kill him and even offered them a bread knife to kill him with."
"Did they send him away?" enquired Pilate in a stifled voice.
"No, Procurator. My deputy allowed him to take part in the burial."
"Which of your assistants was in charge of this detail?"
"Tolmai," replied Arthanius, adding anxiously: "Did I do wrong?"
"Go on," replied Pilate. "You did right. I am beginning to think, Arthanius, that I am dealing with a man who never makes a mistake — I mean you."
"Matthew the Levite was taken away by cart, together with the bodies, and about two hours later they reached a deserted cave to the north of Jerusalem. After an hour working in shifts the squad had dug a deep pit in which they buried the bodies of the three victims."
"No, Procurator, the squad had taken chitons with them for the purpose. Rings were put on the bodies' fingers: Yeshua's ring had one incised stroke, Dismas' two and Hestas' three. The pit was filled and covered with stones. Tolmai knows the recognition mark."
"Ah, if only I could have known!" said Pilate, frowning. "I wanted to see that man Matthew the Levite."
"He is here, Procurator."
Pilate stared at Arthanius for a moment with wide-open eyes, then said:
"Thank you for everything you have done on this case. Tomorrow please send Tolmai to see me and before he comes tell him that I am pleased with him. And you, Arthanius," — the Procurator took out a ring from the pocket of his belt and handed it to the chief of secret service — "please accept this as a token of my gratitude."
With a bow Arthanius said: "You do me a great honor, Procurator."
"Please give my commendation to the squad that carried out the burial and a reprimand to the men who failed to protect Judas. And send Matthew the Levite to me at once. I need certain details from him on the case of Yeshua."
"Very good. Procurator," replied Arthanius and bowed himself out. The Procurator clapped his hands and shouted:
"Bring me candles in the arcade!"
Arthanius had not even reached the garden when servants began to appear bearing lights. Three candlesticks were placed on the table in front of the Procurator and instantly the moonlit night retreated to the garden as though Arthanius had taken it with him. In his place a small, thin stranger mounted to the balcony accompanied by the giant centurion. At a nod from the Procurator Muribellum turned and marched out.
Pilate studied the new arrival with an eager, slightly fearful look, in the way people look at someone of whom they have heard a great deal, who has been in their thoughts and whom they finally meet.
The man who now appeared was about forty, dark, ragged, covered in dried mud, with a suspicious, wolfish stare. In a word he was extremely unsightly and looked most of all like one of the city beggars who were to be found in crowds on the terraces of the temple or in the bazaars of the noisy and dirty Lower City.
The silence was long and made awkward by the man's strange behavior. His face worked, he staggered and he would have fallen if he had not put out a dirty hand to grasp the edge of the table.
"What's the matter with you?" Pilate asked him.
"Nothing," replied Matthew the Levite, making a movement as though he were swallowing something. His thin, bare, grey neck bulged and subsided again.
"What is it — answer me," Pilate repeated.
"I am tired," answered the Levite and stared dully at the floor.
"Sit down," said Pilate, pointing to a chair.
Matthew gazed mistrustfully at the Procurator, took a step towards the chair, gave a frightened look at its gilded armrests and sat down on the floor beside it.
"Why didn't you sit in the chair?" asked Pilate.
"I'm dirty, I would make it dirty too," said the Levite staring at the floor.
"You will be given something to eat shortly."
"I don't want to eat."
"Why tell lies?" Pilate asked quietly. "You haven't eaten all day and probably longer. All right, don't eat. I called you here to show me your knife."
"The soldiers took it away from me when they brought me here," replied the Levite and added dismally: "You must give it back to me, because I have to return it to its owner. I stole it."
"To cut the ropes."
"Mark!" shouted the Procurator and the centurion stepped into the arcade. "Give me his knife."
The centurion pulled a dirty bread knife out of one of the two leather sheaths on his belt, handed it to the Procurator and withdrew.
"Where did you steal the knife?"
"In a baker's shop just inside the Hebron gate, on the left."
Pilate inspected the wide blade and tested the edge with his finger. Then he said:
"Don't worry about the knife, it will be returned to the shop. Now I want something else — show me the parchment you carry with you on which you have written what Yeshua has said."
The Levite looked at Pilate with hatred and smiled a smile of such ill-will that his face was completely distorted.
"Are you going to take it away from me? The last thing I possess?"
"I didn't say 'give it'," answered Pilate. "I said 'show it to me'."
The Levite fumbled in his shirt-front and pulled out a roll of parchment. Pilate took it, unrolled it, spread it out in the light of two candles and with a frown began to study the barely decipherable script. The uneven strokes were hard to understand and Pilate frowned and bent over the parchment, tracing the lines with his finger. He nevertheless managed to discern that the writings were a disjointed sequence of sayings, dates, household notes and snatches of poetry. Pilate managed to read: "There is no death... yesterday we ate sweet cakes..."
Grimacing with strain, Pilate squinted and read: "... we shall see a pure river of the water of life... mankind will look at the sun through transparent crystal..."
Pilate shuddered. In the last few lines of the parchment he deciphered the words: "... greatest sin... cowardice..."
Pilate rolled up the parchment and with a brusque movement handed it back to the Levite.
"There, take it," he said, and after a short silence he added:
"I see you are a man of learning and there is no need for you, living alone, to walk around in such wretched clothes and without a home. I have a large library at Caesarea, I am very rich and I would like you to come and work for me. You would catalogue and look after the papyruses, you would be fed and clothed."
The Levite stood up and replied:
"No, I don't want to."
"Why not?" asked the Procurator, his expression darkening. "You don't like me... are you afraid of me?"
The same evil smile twisted Matthew's face and he said:
"No, because you would be afraid of me. You would not find it very easy to look me in the face after having killed him."
"Silence," Pilate cut him off. "Take this money."
The Levite shook his head and the Procurator went on:
"You, I know, consider yourself a disciple of Yeshua, but I tell you that you have acquired nothing of what he taught you. For if you had, you would have certainly accepted something from me. Remember — before he died he said that he blamed no one" — Pilate raised his finger significantly and his face twitched — "and I know that he would have accepted something. You are hard. He was not a hard man. Where will you go?"
Matthew suddenly walked over to Pilate's table, leaned on it with both hands and staring at the Procurator with burning eyes he whispered to him:
"Know, hegemon, that there is one man in Jerusalem whom I shall kill. I want to tell you this so that you are warned — there will be more blood."
"I know that there will be more blood," answered Pilate. "What you have said does not surprise me. You want to murder me, I suppose?"
"I shall not be able to murder you," replied the Levite, baring his teeth in a smile. "I am not so stupid as to count on that. But I shall kill Judas of Karioth if it takes the rest of my life."
At this the Procurator's eyes gleamed with pleasure. Beckoning Matthew the Levite closer he said:
"You will not succeed, but it will not be necessary. Judas was murdered tonight."
The Levite jumped back from the table, stared wildly round and cried:
"Who did it?"
"You must not be jealous," said Pilate, baring his teeth mirthlessly and rubbing his hands, "but I'm afraid he had other admirers beside yourself."
"Who did it?" repeated the Levite in a whisper.
Pilate answered him:
"I did it."
Matthew opened his mouth and stared at the Procurator, who said quietly:
"It is not much, but I did it." And he added: "Now will you accept something?"
The Levite thought for a moment, relented and finally said:
"Order them to give me a clean piece of parchment."
An hour had passed since the Levite had left the palace. The dawn silence was only disturbed by the quiet tread of the sentries in the garden. The moon was fading and on the other edge of heaven there appeared the whitish speck of the morning star. The candles had long been put out. The Procurator lay on his couch. He was sleeping with his hand under his cheek and breathing noiselessly. Beside him slept Banga.
Thus Pontius Pilate, fifth Procurator of Judaea, met the dawn of the fifteenth of Nisan.