Read Avenger of Blood Online

Authors: John Hagee

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Avenger of Blood (31 page)

“She'll be leaving Ephesus soon. She'll have to go back to Rome to take care of her husband's estate, or what's left of it. And once she's gone, there's nothing she can do to you or your family.”

“I'm sure you're right,” Peter said. “Naomi will be gone, and that will be the end of it.” What Antony said made sense, but it did not completely allay the apprehension resting in the pit of Peter's stomach. That would finally leave, he supposed, when his nefarious sister did.

The next morning, just before dawn, Rebecca willed herself awake. She lit an oil lamp and dressed quietly, then tiptoed out of the room. The guard outside the door had nodded off, so she gently tapped him on the shoulder. Instantly he was on his feet. “What's wrong?” he asked.

“Nothing,” Rebecca assured him in a soft voice. “I have something to do downstairs, but I didn't want to wake the baby yet. If he cries before I return, please bring him to me.”

“Yes, ma'am.” The guard nodded, and in the glow of the lamp, Rebecca saw a relieved smile lift his round face. “Don't you worry,” he said.

Victor would probably sleep for at least another hour, Rebecca thought on her way downstairs. And by then she should have found out what she needed to know. The immense house was eerily quiet, and the lamp cast strange shadows on the tile floors as she walked past the servants' quarters and exited onto the short corridor that ran from the main house to the detached kitchen. The cook would be up soon, but at the moment the kitchen was empty and the fire had not been lit. Rebecca shivered in the darkness and used her lamp to light several more.

She wasn't sure this was the right place to wait, but if Agatha had been sneaking out as accused, she would not likely use the main entrance to the house. That left the corridor between the kitchen and the main house as the spot to watch.

Most of the time Rebecca enjoyed managing the household, but this was the kind of problem she hated having to deal with. Yesterday the steward had approached Rebecca about the matter, saying that Agatha occasionally left the house in the dead of night, then returned just after dawn. He seemed reluctant to make the report and was quick to assure Rebecca that Agatha's work was oustanding in every way. It was just that her behavior was so strange, and he was worried that the staff would start to talk—and worried about Agatha too, he'd said.

Rebecca was certainly worried. What could Agatha be up to, prowling around in the darkness? It was not only suspicious, but it was also dangerous.
If it's true,
Rebecca reminded herself. She hoped the steward was wrong, but she'd found him to be reliable and trustworthy and couldn't imagine what motive he would have for accusing Agatha if he didn't have some evidence.

As she waited, Rebecca periodically unlatched the shutter and peeked out the kitchen window, then closed it quickly to keep out the cold air. By now the sky had lightened to a dull pewter but she'd seen no sign of Agatha. The household would be stirring soon and Rebecca was beginning to feel silly. For all she knew, Agatha could be asleep in her bed right now.

Rebecca asked herself what her mother would have done in the situation and decided that Elizabeth would give Agatha the benefit of the doubt and would ask her quite directly, but without accusing her of wrongdoing, for an explanation. With that thought in mind, Rebecca snuffed out the lamps and left the kitchen to go back upstairs.

As soon as she stepped onto the corridor, she saw two figures approaching the house. One was a woman wearing a hooded cloak. The other was quite tall and thin, and could only be—Quintus! Rebecca was shocked. Agatha was sneaking out at night with Quintus?

Too stunned to move, Rebecca was still standing on the flagstone walkway when the two of them reached the corridor.

Quintus nodded as if nothing were out of the ordinary. “Good morning, Rebecca.”

She responded to his greeting and turned to say something to Agatha, who shifted from one foot to the other, looking embarrassed. Agatha spoke first. “I'd better see to Aurora before starting my duties.” She glanced briefly at Quintus, then darted through the door into the main house.

Quintus moved toward the kitchen door. “Let's go inside and talk,” he said to Rebecca.

She followed him inside and watched silently while he got a fire started in the hearth. As she warmed her hands in front of the blaze, he said, “It's not what you think, Rebecca.”

“Then what is it?”

Quintus stared into the fire for a moment, thinking. “Agatha has had a lot of pain in her life,” he said, “but I don't imagine she's said anything to you about that.”

“No, she doesn't say much about what her life was like before she came here. And I haven't pried.” Rebecca didn't want to pry now, but she sure wanted to know—she had a right to know—what her housemaid was doing out all night with Quintus. “You haven't answered my question,” she said.

“I'm getting there.” Quintus stepped away from the fire and sat on the wooden bench in front of the table. Rebecca turned to face him, standing with her back to the hearth. She had gotten chilled earlier and needed the warmth.

“You've known me all your life,” he said. “Have you ever known me to lie to you?”

“No.” That was one thing you could say about Quintus: he was scrupulously honest. Rebecca's father had trusted him implicitly, and in all the years they had worked together, Quintus had never once done anything to destroy that trust.

“I can't tell you where Agatha goes or what she does; that would betray a confidence. But trust me when I say that it involves nothing immoral. I know it must appear odd, her slipping out of the house in the wee hours of the morning, but it's something that's very important to her—and to me too, now that I know about it.”

“Quintus this is very strange behavior . . .” Rebecca was more puzzled than ever by his answer, if you could call it an answer.

“I know. But I can't tell you any more than that.”

“The servants are talking. Yesterday the steward mentioned to me that Agatha had been seen several times coming home just after dawn. He didn't mention you being with her, though.”

“I worry about her walking through the hills alone in the dark, so when I found out about it, I asked her to let me accompany her. This is only my third time . . .” Quintus paused, evidently worried that he was disclosing too much. “I'll talk to her again, but in the meantime I'd appreciate it if you wouldn't say anything to her.”

“I'll have to say something to the steward. He likes Agatha, but he thinks she should be reprimanded. It sets a bad example for the staff if we don't deal with it. And what about Agatha's reputation? I believe you when you tell me that this sneaking around does not involve anything immoral, but you know how people talk.”

“In just a couple of weeks it won't be a problem for the staff or for her reputation,” he said. Then he grinned sheepishly. “I've asked Agatha to marry me.”

Quintus was practically blushing, and Rebecca almost laughed at the sight, but the lump rising in her throat stopped the sound. “I'm happy for you, Quintus,” she finally said. Then her eyes widened in surprise. “In a couple of weeks? . . .”

“Well, I'm forty-two years old. I didn't want a long engagement.” He did blush this time. “And the shipping season starts in a few weeks. You know how busy it's going to be. So we were thinking that we would get married at the next
agape
feast. The church will already be gathered here for a meal, and we could also make it a wedding celebration— if it's all right with you, of course.”

“Certainly it's all right with me. It just doesn't give us time to plan much of a celebration.”

“Now, I don't want you to make a big fuss over it. We'll just—”

Rebecca shook her head. Honestly, men could be so dense. “Quintus, it's time for
you
to trust
me
. We're going to make a fuss.”

27

March, A.D. 97

REBECCA WISHED SHE'D HAD MORE TIME TO PLAN, but by the end of the second week in March, she and the household staff had put together a proper wedding supper. It was still too early for flowers, so she couldn't make a garland for Agatha's hair, but they had taken one of the elaborate tunics Naomi had left behind and fashioned it into a wedding garment.

Quintus had been a fixture in the Christian community since he was a teenager, so believers from all over the city wanted to join the celebration, and the crowd was much larger than the usual attendance at their monthly agape feast. The weather had turned milder, so tables had been set up along the colonnade around the peristyle garden in addition to the dining room.

Antony was there. Rebecca had hoped he would be. He'd been coming to church with Helena the last few weeks, but Rebecca hadn't had the opportunity to say much more than a few words to him. The day after his mother had been healed, he had sought out Peter and Marcellus and professed his faith in Christ. Two weeks later, Antony had even been baptized.

She noticed now that Helena had cornered Burrus, a deacon from one of the other churches, and was regaling him with the story of her dramatic healing. She would tell the story to anyone who would listen. And if she didn't, Priscilla would. Rebecca didn't know why the little girl had had so much faith at the exact moment it was needed, but she had. If anyone had any doubts that Jesus was the Healer, they had only to look at Helena.

She was beaming today. Of course, Helena took credit for bringing the happy couple together—another story she delighted in telling. Quintus and Agatha seemed blissfully serene in the midst of the hubbub around them. But when Rebecca had managed to speak to them earlier, Quintus had hugged her and said, “Thank you for making a fuss.”

The only thing that could have made the event perfect, as far as Rebecca was concerned, would have been for Antony to not be so distant toward her. In the last two months he had not been to the villa, except for church, and had been at the warehouse only long enough to drop Helena off, once she had regained enough strength to help a few days a week.

Rebecca didn't try to avoid Antony, but she didn't seek him out, either. She didn't know what to say to him. It was not as if she could go up to him and blurt out, “Now that you're a Christian, I want to marry you,” even though that's what was in her heart. Antony must still be very angry at her for rejecting him. He was cordial when he saw her at church, but their short conversations were nothing more than polite social interchanges between strangers. Seeing him now, laughing and enjoying himself at a wedding celebration, put Rebecca in a melancholy mood.

Her mood must have been noticeable, because Marcellus came up to her and asked, “Would you like a bit of fatherly advice?” He nodded in Antony's direction to indicate he knew what she was thinking. “I could talk to him, if you want me to.”

Rebecca was embarrassed that she'd been caught staring at Antony, yet grateful for Marcellus's concern. “N-no,” she stammered.

“Then I'll tell you what I would tell my own daughter.”

Rebecca noticed the way his face softened when Marcellus spoke about his daughter. She recalled John's prophecy, if that's what it truly was, that God would reunite Marcellus and the daughter he hadn't seen since she was a child.

“What would you tell her?” Rebecca asked.

“That when there is a distance between two people, one of them has to be willing to take the first step toward bridging the gap. Perhaps that person is you this time.”

“I don't know what to say to Antony,” she admitted.

Marcellus reached out and squeezed her arm lightly. “The words will come,” he said, “when you make the attempt to speak them.”

The steward interrupted them then, and for a few minutes Rebecca was preoccupied with giving instructions for the servants. When she finished, she decided to follow Marcellus's advice and seek Antony out. For once, she would
make
him pay attention to her.

Antony smiled when she approached, and she took that as a good sign. She said hello and then asked, “Could we talk for a minute?”

“I'd like that,” he said, “but it's awfully noisy with this crowd.”

Rebecca was not dissuaded. “We can find some place a little more private,” she said. Her heart pounded as she led Antony to the library, which seemed to be the only public room the guests had not invaded. She was glad the room was empty. Rebecca was comfortable here, among her father's scrolls and parchments and maps. When they sat down on the long striped settee, both of them spoke at once.

“Antony—”

“Rebecca—”

“You go first,” he said with a grin, but when Rebecca was momentarily tongue-tied, he changed his mind. “No, I'll go first. And the first thing I have to do is to ask your forgiveness.”

That surprised Rebecca. “My forgiveness?” She hadn't been prepared for an apology, and wasn't sure he had done anything to require one.

“I've been very angry with you, and I need you to forgive me for that. That kind of anger is a sin, you know.” Antony grinned so broadly that Rebecca couldn't help smiling back. “Did you ever think you'd hear me say that?”

Before she could answer he said softly, “Besides, I love you too much to stay angry with you.”

For a moment Rebecca thought that her heart had stopped, but she seemed to be breathing. Her tongue seemed to be working as well, so she asked, “You still love me?”

He nodded. “I've never stopped loving you for a moment, Rebecca.”

“But you haven't said three words to me in all these weeks.”

“Then I suppose I should apologize for that as well.” Antony paused for a moment. “My pride was wounded when you refused me. I understand better now why you did, but I was very, very hurt at the time. And even when I would have set aside my pride, I didn't say anything to you because I didn't want you to think I had become a Christian just so you would marry me. I wanted you to have time to see that I've truly changed.”

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