Read Avenger of Blood Online

Authors: John Hagee

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Avenger of Blood (10 page)

“You know the one I'm talking about,” she said. “That little bantamweight bully she spent time with last year. He's back in town, and he was with her last night—just as surly as ever. I sent them away hungry, I'll have you know.”

The light of comprehension dawned on the round man's face. “Ah, that man. The one who called you an old crow.” Tarquinius quickly regretted speaking the memory aloud and tried to make amends. “I'm glad you sent them away, Severa,” he said apologetically as the woman moved toward him, shaking the broom. “He's a bad sort, even if he is an officer.”

“More than a ‘bad sort,' I'd say. He's not only mean, he's married! Tullia had the audacity to ask for extra food for his family, while she's standing here, under my roof, with her arms draped around him. I tell you, she doesn't have a shred of decency, and I'm sick of her thinking she's better than the rest of us . . .”

Jacob stood up to leave. He couldn't take any more bickering. Fortunately, he had settled with the innkeeper in advance, so he slipped out quietly now, before they came to blows.

He mounted his horse and returned to the highway, uncertain where to go. Should he continue on toward Pergamum, or should he stay and search in Smyrna? Jacob let the horse amble while he silently prayed for guidance. He allowed his mind to concentrate on the possibilities. He couldn't imagine Damian wanting to claim paternity, although he had sired the child; Jacob felt sure the kidnapping had been motivated strictly by Naomi's greed. If Naomi had wanted Damian to take the baby back to Rome for some reason, he would have left Ephesus by ship. And if Damian had simply wanted to remove the baby from Naomi's house and hide him somewhere else, he would have stayed around Ephesus. It was a huge city, a quarter of a million people, and there would be any number of places he could have hidden a small child.

No, Damian was taking the baby to a particular place, for a particular reason. Jacob just didn't know where or why.

With absolutely no clues to go on, Jacob made the decision to stay in Smyrna. He couldn't picture Damian traveling more than one day's journey from Ephesus with a young infant.

Once Jacob had determined to search Smyrna, he sought help from the one man in the city whom he knew personally. He'd only been to Polycarp's house once before, and then he'd entered the city from the harbor rather than the highway from Ephesus. But after a few wrong turns Jacob found himself in familiar surroundings, and a half-hour later he was knocking on Polycarp's door.

The young pastor greeted him enthusiastically. “Jacob, we'd gotten word you had been released, praise be to God!” Polycarp directed a young boy of ten or eleven, probably one of his disciples, to take care of Jacob's horse, then he asked, “Is John with you?”

“No, but he's planning to come soon,” Jacob said. “He needed some time to recuperate, but he's ready to travel now. I would have brought him, but a situation came up and I had to leave suddenly.”

The two men went inside the modest house, which could in no way compare to the familiar opulence of Jacob's family estate, but he felt comfortable and very much at home, as he had previously.

Thirteen months ago, Jacob had escorted John on a ministry trip to several churches in Asia, and while in Smyrna, John had appointed Polycarp bishop over the church there. Jacob had been privileged to preach for Polycarp's congregation, an experience he had both feared and relished. Shortly after that, while they were still traveling through Asia, Jacob and John had been arrested and brought back to Ephesus for the mandatory sacrifice.

Polycarp had not changed a bit in the year since Jacob had seen him. He still had the same serious, yet not stuffy, demeanor, still spoke in the same calm, compassionate voice. Even though he was quite young for the important position John had entrusted to him, Polycarp inspired confidence. He was also a sound teacher, a matter that had been important to John because some of the churches, even those well established in the faith, had fallen prey to false doctrine.

“John wrote that you have a plan to try and get the believers released from Devil's Island,” Polycarp said. “Quite a few of our church members wound up there as a result of the persecution.”

“I know.” Jacob explained his intentions briefly, then gradually steered the conversation to the purpose of his visit. He told Polycarp about Rebecca and Victor, told him of John's prophecy over the child, and then he told how Damian had absconded with the baby.

Polycarp was uncharacteristically vehement in his reaction. “No snake ever crawled as low to the ground as Lucius Mallus Damianus.”

“I take it you've encountered the man,” Jacob said dryly.

“Not personally, thank the Lord, although he made several trips here last year, right after you and John were arrested. After he persecuted the believers here for a while, he went on to Pergamum and throughout the region. It's only by the grace of God that I avoided being caught in his snare.”

“I have no idea where to look,” Jacob said, “but I have a hunch that he may have brought Victor here to Smyrna.” Jacob described the carriage in which Damian had been riding, the two black stallions that had pulled it, and the fact that a young woman had been traveling with him and the child. “Perhaps someone in your church has seen him or knows where he might be likely to hide in this area.”

“I'll get the word out, and I assure you we'll do whatever we can to help. Above all, we will pray for God's will. Even a vile monster like Damian is not beyond God's reach; he cannot hold the child captive one minute longer than God allows.”

Polycarp rose, saying, “I'll contact the deacons right away, and I'll ask them to spread the information.”

Jacob nodded. “I appreciate your help.”

Polycarp left to find a messenger, but Jacob suddenly called him back. Bits and pieces of the conversation he'd tried not to overhear that morning had been floating around in his mind, and now they seemed to come together all at once. The innkeeper's wife had referred to a bully who had paid attention to her uppity sister-in-law the previous year, a bully who had just returned. “He's a bad sort, even if he is an officer,” Tarquinius had said.

An officer.
Could it possibly have been Damian the innkeeper's wife had turned away at the inn?

“Polycarp, do you know a woman by the name of Tullia, a pagan priestess?” It was unlikely, Jacob told himself, unless Polycarp knew her by reputation. “She's a practitioner of the magical arts,” he added.

Jacob knew it wasn't much to go on. If Smyrna were like Ephesus, that would describe four out of five people. Most of the population practiced some form of magic, whether it was wearing an amulet to ward off evil, or offering an incantation to beseech the spirits for assistance in some endeavor.

“Tullia? You think she has something to do with Damian bringing the baby here to Smyrna?”

“You know her?”

Polycarp sat back down, a most somber look on his face. “Tullia is a witch,” he said. “The most wicked woman in this city.”

8

AGATHA FOUGHT THE URGE to go back to sleep. Her head was throbbing but at least she had quit vomiting and she'd been able to nurse Aurora. That was the important thing, Agatha told herself. Nothing had happened to Aurora.

When the cook brought a bowl of thin gruel to her room, Agatha managed to sit up in bed. “What day is it?” she asked.

“Friday,” the pudgy woman replied. She wore the proof of her skill in the kitchen around her waistline. “Steward has assigned another housemaid to your duties until you're up and about.”

Agatha nodded and took another bite of the steaming hot gruel. It was bland but satisfying. “This is good,” she said. “Thank you.”

“Plain food is what you need when you're ailing. I'll bring you some more later.”

When the cook left, Agatha slowly finished the meager but nourishing meal. The rumbling in her stomach settled down.

Friday,
she thought. She'd been attacked two days ago, and most of the time since then was a complete blur. Marcellus had told her about the kidnapping when she first regained consciousness, but she'd been so sick and in so much pain that she had slept for long stretches of time. Now and then someone would wake her up to try and get her to eat a bite of food, or take care of her when she threw it back up. And during the night someone had brought Aurora to her to nurse. But Agatha couldn't straighten out the sequence of events in her mind.

After a few minutes, when she was sure the gruel was going to stay in her stomach, Agatha set the bowl aside and stood up. At first the room spun wildly, then she got a little steadier on her feet. She did not have to report for work, but she desperately needed to speak to her employer. If she hurried to the dining room, Peter might still be there.

She dressed as quickly as she could and started making her way to the main part of the house. Trembling and unsteady, Agatha had to stop and lean against the wall for support a few times. She closed her eyes and prayed silently.
Lord, please let me find favor in his eyes. He was kind to me before; please let him be kind again.

Peter was the one who had found her that bitter, wintry day when she'd been huddled against the pier, her body wrapped protectively around Aurora, so tiny and frail and too weak to cry. They would have starved to death if Peter hadn't had mercy on them. He had taken Agatha in, given her a job, and allowed her and Aurora to live in this magnificent mansion. And he'd brought Agatha into the family of believers as well. She couldn't lose all that now; she just couldn't.

When she found Peter, he had finished breakfast and was preparing to leave for the harbor.

“Agatha! What are you doing out of bed?” Peter was startled by her sudden appearance in the dining room.

Trying not to sway, she reached out a hand and touched the sloping head of one of the dining sofas. “I needed to see you,” she said, her voice fragile and breathy.

“Please, sit down.” He walked over to Agatha and helped her sit down on the
triclinium
she was holding on to for support. “Now, what is it?”

After a few deep breaths, she looked up at him and said, “Are you going to send us away?”

He blinked and looked surprised. “No, of course not. Whatever gave you that idea?”

She covered her face in her hands as relief swept over her weakened body. Relief mixed with remorse. “I've brought such trouble on your house, and now Victor is gone. I should have stopped that man.

Like I told Marcellus, I didn't know who he was, but I should have done something.”

Peter sat down beside her on the couch. “We know who took Victor. He's a very evil man, Agatha. You couldn't have done anything. I'm just glad you're alive. We thought he'd killed you at first.”

“You know who did this?” Agatha asked. Her mind struggled to comprehend the implications of that.

“We think we do. This man . . . he hates our family and would stop at nothing to hurt us.”

As Peter told her about the others leaving the previous day to find the kidnapper, Agatha felt guilty for being so relieved that they knew who had done this terrible thing. She'd been frantic with worry that the kidnapper had been after Aurora, although that didn't quite make sense. No one had wanted her to begin with, so why would they want her after all these months?

Aurora was
her
baby now, Agatha reminded herself, and no one was going to take her baby away. Not again.

By the time they neared Smyrna, Rebecca was miserable. Throughout the morning, she had barely spoken. The others probably thought it was because she was worried about Victor, and Rebecca did not bother to correct their assumption; it would be too embarrassing. She was worried about her son, of course, but that was not the cause of her silence.

The truth was that Rebecca was physically suffering. She had not nursed in almost two days. Now she was swollen, painfully tender, and growing increasingly upset about it. She didn't know how long she could go without nursing before her milk would dry up and she wouldn't be able to nurse Victor at all. Somehow that thought was almost as depressing as the fact that he'd been kidnapped.

The simple act of feeding her baby was one of the most precious things in her life. She'd been so traumatized by Victor's conception that she'd been afraid she wouldn't love him enough, and so isolated on Devil's Island at his birth that she feared she wouldn't know how to take care of him. How would she manage without her mother's guidance? she'd wondered. Or the guidance of any other woman, for that matter? But the first time Victor had latched on and started to suckle, Rebecca had felt not only a deep bond of love but a fiercely protective maternal instinct, and that instinct had kept her and her baby alive through the nightmare of exile on Patmos.

Even now she often thought about her own mother while nursing Victor. There were a thousand questions she'd love to ask about raising children, a thousand precious moments with Victor she'd love to share. She had always been close to her mother, and now that Rebecca was a mother herself, she missed Elizabeth more than ever. Rebecca knew she could always ask Helena whatever she needed to know, but it wasn't the same as having her mother nearby.

Rebecca also wished her father could have known Victor. She believed he would have been proud of his first grandchild, regardless of the circumstances of Victor's birth. It was only after she had returned to Ephesus that Rebecca learned her baby had been born on the day her father was executed in the Colosseum at Rome. She drew comfort from the convergence of the two events, realizing that at the very moment death had claimed her father, God was giving her a new life to cherish—giving her a new beginning, in a sense.

Two days ago that new life had been snatched from her, and now she was riding in a crowded coach with three men who were intent on helping her get Victor back. Rebecca tried to focus on their kindness now, but thinking about the loss of both her parents had compounded her physical misery, and her eyes began to fill with tears.

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