A Cousin from Gaul
Malchus awoke to a sun peeking through the shutters that covered the window. He opened the shutters then turned and called out, "Letís have some breakfast and prepare for the dayís trading."
The three seated themselves at the dining table while the innkeeper brought a large bowl of steaming porridge from the kitchen. Figs and wine were on the table. Malchus had planned the three days of trading as if he were a quartermaster in a Roman century. As they ate, Malchus explained, "On our first day we shall stop at ships from Ethiopia for spices and ivory, from Sicily for fine woodwork, and from Arabia for incense, myrrh, ginger, and cinnamon."
Clement asked, "How many carts shall we take?"
"Only one. On each day we shall buy what we can carry in one cart. On the second day we shall buy silk, honey, drugs, and perfume from the Greek traders, and silphium from Cyrenaica."
"What is silphium?" Elmo asked as he wrinkled his nose.
"An herb with unique medicinal properties, which has been used by the Greeks for many years," answered Malchus. Then without hesitation, he continued, "Finally, on the third day we shall visit ships from Egypt for paper, Spain for copper and cork, and Gaul for clothing, pottery, and cheese."
That day the buying went according to plan, and the goods were purchased in time for the three to be back at the inn a couple of hours before dinner was served. The second day was a repeat of the first. The third day began as routinely as the other two. The three from Caiaphasís compound purchased products from Egypt and Spain then moved on to their last stop, a ship carrying goods from Gaul.
As Malchus approached the captain, he glanced over at the members of the crew. A young man about his age looked familiar. He was muscular and tall. The seamanís blue eyes and blond hair were the same as his.
Looking back at the captain, he said, "I am Malchus from Jerusalem. I would like to see your goods."
After looking over the stock, Malchus selected some clothing, pottery, and cheese as planned. As Malchus was about to leave the ship, the seaman who looked familiar approached Malchus.
"My name is Hans. My home is in Vindonissa."
Malchus grasped Hanís right hand and covered the clasp with his left. "Cousin, it has been nearly four years since I saw you last in Vindonissa. I never expected to see you here."
"My surprise at seeing you is equally as great. I thought you were in Spain."
"My family has lived in Spain since we left Gaul. Not long ago I left Spain with my father for Rome, but instead of returning to Spain as planned, my ship was diverted to Palestine where I found work as a yeoman in the compound of the high priest."
"I canít believe we are meeting at the east end of the Roman world."
"And what brought you to Caesarea?"
"I was a seaman on the flat-bottom boats on the Rhine. One shipment was portaged from the Rhine to the Rhone River. Where the Rhone meets the Mediterranean, I helped move the goods from the flat-bottom boats to a freighter. The captain asked if I would like to sign on for a voyage to Caesarea, so here I am."
"Why donít you come out to the cart and meet my assistants, Clement and Elmo."
As the four young men exchanged greetings, Malchus observed the sun moving out over the sea. "Hans, why donít you come with us to our inn. We can have some supper and spend some time talking about family."
Hans returned to the ship and soon came back with his pack of belongings. The four set off down the dock with Elmo leading the donkey, Clement walking beside the purchases, and Malchus and Hans following behind in excited conversation.
Once they arrived at the inn, the innkeeper served a delicious meal of mutton stew. The sun had set when the four young men moved down the hall to their room. The olive-oil lamp, offered by the innkeeper, cast a warm glow over the room where the four would later bed down on mats for the night.
Hans asked with a little hesitation in his voice, "Could I find work in Jerusalem? I would like to see that old city."
"Yes, I think you could work with us at Caiaphasís compound. However you must agree to become an indentured slave for two years."
"Are those the terms to which you agreed?"
"Then I could accept them too."
"So youíll stay here with us tonight, then travel with us tomorrow?"
"It looks that way."
"Thatís what I call a man of decision, donít you?" Malchus said as he nodded to Clement and Elmo, who both nodded back.
"Now," Malchus continued, "why donít we all turn in and get some sleep, because weíll have to get up well before daybreak to pack our carts. That way, we can reach Sychem while the sun is still up."
The light of the moon filtered through the shutter as Malchus stirred on his mat. Soon all were asleep except for Malchus who was thinking back over the events of the day and wondering about his mother who was probably concerned about his whereabouts by now. In the morning he would leave a note with the innkeeper to give to the captain of the next ship going to Spain. With this problem resolved, Malchus drifted off to sleep.
The night had passed quickly, when Malchus heard the cock crowing and began stirring on his mat. Malchus shook Clement, Elmo, and Hans to let them know it was time to get up. While Clement and Elmo harnessed the donkeys, Malchus and Hans helped align the carts behind the animals.
As Malchus slipped back inside to leave a note to his mother on the desk, he could see that a light was on in the kitchen and could smell the aroma of porridge. When he poked his head around the doorway to the kitchen, the innkeeper was busy pouring the porridge into bowls.
Malchus, who knew how long a day the innkeeper had ahead of him, said, "You didnít need to go to this trouble so early."
"I am feeding you young men because I know itís what your mothers would want for you," insisted the innkeeper.
"I am glad to see you because I want to leave this note to my mother with you. Please give it to the next captain who stays here whose ship will make a stop in Barcino, Spain." Then Malchus moved to the door and called the others to come inside.
After the others came in, the innkeeper spoke to all four, "My helper will stay with your carts while you eat a bowl of porridge and some figs and a cup of wine. You have a long day ahead of you."
As Malchus finished his last spoonful of the warm porridge, he thanked the innkeeper for his help and for his kind hospitality over the past several evenings and bid him farewell.
As the young men departed, the innkeeper thought to himself, "The chances of the captain of a Spanish ship coming into my place are very remote, but Iíll leave the young manís note on the desk, just in case."
With the first sign of light, the caravan of three carts headed east. The dawn grew brighter and brighter until it was full day, and the road began to fill with travelers. Five hours had passed when the road turned south beside the foothills. Hans, since it was his first time in this country, asked questions along the way, "What is being grown on the trees in those groves on the hillsides?"
Since it was his third time to pass this way and he was feeling comfortable with the familiar landmarks, Malchus answered, "The nearest ones are olives. Those farther over are figs."
Elmo, feeling a bit hungry for a snack, suggested that everyone help themselves to a few figs. Clement responded, "Not far ahead is a well. Letís stop there for our snack while we water the donkeys."
After the donkeysí thirst was satisfied, Elmo passed around the figs. As they ate, Elmo told Hans about a girl named Rachel that he should meet at Caiaphasís place. Clement, watching Malchusí expression, said, "Elmo is teasing you, Hans, Rachel has already been spoken for."
Hans turned to Clement and questioned, "What is this all about?"
Malchus interrupted to say, "Enough of this. It is time to get moving if we are to reach Sychem before sundown."
After staying the night in Sychem, the three carts joined the other travelers at daybreak on the final leg to Jerusalem. While there was a sameness to the sound of the creaking of the loaded carts on the dusty road, the view to the east was unique. The sun rising over the hills painted a picture that was different from the days before.
As they closed the distance to Jerusalem, Malchus could see that the sun would set before they would arrive, but he figured they would reach home around dusk.
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