Read Avenger of Blood Online

Authors: John Hagee

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Avenger of Blood (6 page)

As their laughter died down, she thought she heard Victor crying. She looked up and saw Marcellus standing on the colonnaded walkway. He was holding the baby. “I'm sorry to interrupt,” he said, “but Victor's hungry. It's time for you to feed him.”

The stricken look on Galen's face pierced her heart. She hadn't had a chance to tell him about Victor yet; they'd only been talking for a short while. But when she looked at the sundial, she discovered they had been sitting on the garden bench for almost two hours. Rebecca's heart sank. She should have prepared Galen for the news; finding out this way was all wrong.

She glanced at her squalling son and then back at her fiancé. “We still have a lot to talk about,” she said.

“It appears so.” Galen's face had turned to stone but his dark eyes flashed, and she sensed a hint of anger brewing beneath the surface. She didn't blame him. How could he help but feel betrayed? But he would understand as soon as she explained it.

“I'll be right there,” she called to Marcellus.

“Galen, don't think the worst until you've heard my story.” She stood and put a hand on his shoulder. “Will you stay for dinner? We can talk again afterward.”

He nodded morosely. “Of course.”

As customary, the main meal of the day had been served at mid-afternoon. For Rebecca, who had been eating all her meals seated on the hard ground in front of an open fire, it now seemed extraordinary to recline on comfortable sofas while servants scurried around the
triclinium
waiting on the family and their guests.

That day the diners had tried to maintain an air of celebration, yet the atmosphere was strained. Jacob and Peter had been glad to see each other yesterday but were already at odds twenty-four hours after their reunion. Marcellus was a stranger to everyone except Rebecca, but he managed to make polite conversation with Quintus, the second-in-command at the shipping business—not an easy feat, as Quintus was a man of few words. He was, however, a man of great appetite, something no one would guess from his long, lean build.

Galen, who had positioned himself on the sofa to her right, was subdued. He had never been a brilliant conversationalist, and now it was almost impossible to draw him out, even though Quintus made a vain attempt. Rebecca had such butterflies in her stomach, she found it difficult to eat.

After dinner Rebecca and Galen went for a walk, and without really intending to, she gravitated toward the grassy knoll just west of the villa. It was a pleasant spot with several large shade trees and an elliptical-shaped structure that had been set into the hillside, its outer facade of polished Italian marble extending in a wide arc.

“I haven't been to the mausoleum since I got back,” Rebecca had said. “Do you mind?” She motioned toward the heavy vaulted doors, and Galen propped them open.

Entering the family tomb, Rebecca did not feel uneasy as she once would have. Instead, she felt oddly comforted.

It was dim inside, but enough light filtered in through the open doors that her eyes gradually adjusted. In that aspect, it was not unlike the cave she had lived in for the past year. The mausoleum was much more luxurious, of course, with its smooth, gleaming walls. And much more fragrant. The aroma of spices permeated the thick air.

She walked over to the matching pair of carved limestone ossuaries that bore the names of her mother and father. The one marked
Elizabeth
contained her mother's bones. Peter had moved her remains from the funeral bier, which had been placed in a niche in the inner wall, to the ossuary just the previous week.

“If I'd had any idea you would be coming home, I would have waited,” he'd told Rebecca earlier.

But he couldn't have known, and it had been time to complete the burial process. Most of the Empire had adopted the Roman practice of cremation. But the Christians, following the Jewish custom, prepared the body of the deceased for burial and placed it in a crypt. After a year, when the body had decomposed, the bones were gathered and stored in an ossuary, a rectangular box about three feet long.

Rebecca touched the cool stone and whispered brokenly, “Goodbye, Mother.” She had witnessed her mother's murder but not her funeral; by the time Elizabeth was buried, Rebecca was on Patmos. Now, she blinked once but didn't cry. The sadness was not as overwhelming as she had expected, perhaps because she had had a year to grieve. Or perhaps because Galen was with her now. Rebecca reached for his hand and he twined his fingers through hers.

Lifting her free hand, Rebecca lightly ran her fingers over the raised letters of her father's name. His ossuary, she knew, was empty. Because he had been killed as part of a grand public entertainment at the Colosseum in Rome, his friends had not been allowed to reclaim his mutilated body; it had been dumped in the Tiber River. Even though there had been no body to bury, no funeral with friends and family to mourn for him, Peter had prepared an ossuary to honor their father's memory. She loved her brother for that gesture.

“He faced death bravely,” Rebecca said.

Galen had squeezed her hand. “I know. I heard the story.”

After a lingering moment of silence, she said, “I'm ready to talk.”

They walked back outside, and Rebecca leaned against the cool marble while Galen closed the cumbersome doors. When he came and stood beside her, she began, “There's been so much death around me. Victor was like a gift of life.

“It didn't seem like much of a gift at first. He was conceived on the worst night of my life, a night I barely survived, and most of the time I was carrying him I felt I was walking through ‘the valley of the shadow of death'—although I never left the mountaintop cave where I was hiding.”

She had told him then about being raped. She didn't tell him all the gruesome details but neither did she gloss over the facts.

When she was finished, Galen turned his face to the wall and wept. Rebecca came up behind him, wrapped her arms around his waist, and pressed her cheek against his back. She was touched by the depth of his sorrow for her.

“It's all right,” she had said.
“I'm
all right. I survived.”

In a moment he lifted her hands so he could turn and look at her. He leaned forward and she thought he was going to kiss her, then he bent down and simply placed his forehead against hers. He put his hands on her waist but didn't embrace her, and she sensed Galen was struggling to comprehend what had happened to her and how it had changed both of their lives.

He didn't say anything for so long, it began to worry her. “Do you still love me?” she finally asked.

“Rebecca, I could never stop loving you.”

Galen might not have stopped loving her, but he had grown more and more distant. He didn't come to see her the rest of the week. When he joined the Christians who met at the villa for worship on the Lord's Day, Galen had greeted Rebecca affectionately and sat by her. Several times he acted as if he wanted to say something but couldn't quite get the words out. He left when the others did, so she never got to speak with him privately.

The same thing had happened the following week, and the week after that. A few times her brothers had asked why Galen hadn't been around much, and Rebecca found herself making excuses that he was busy. But the truth was, she didn't know why Galen was keeping his distance, and it was killing her. She alternated between being angry with him and being wounded by his absence. She thought of a number of errands that would take her right past his shop, but pride kept her from seeking him out. He would have to come to terms with the changes in their relationship in his own way, in his own time.

A month after Rebecca's return, she had finally been propelled to action when her mother's longtime friend, Helena, had cornered her one Sunday. “When are you and Galen getting married?” Helena asked bluntly. Rebecca didn't have an answer, and she realized just how much she needed one. She
deserved
an answer.

She found Galen in the atrium as he was leaving and managed to get him alone. “I need to talk to you,” she said. “Now.”

He looked trapped, and she felt a brief moment of sympathy. It passed quickly. He had treated her badly.

“I have some questions, and I deserve some answers,” she said when they had walked outside, away from the others.

“Yes, you do.” He glanced at her briefly, then looked away. “I just don't know if I have any answers yet.”

Find some soon,
she was tempted to say. Instead she took a deep breath. This was definitely one time she didn't want to have to pull Galen's thoughts out of him, especially because she was more than a little afraid of what those thoughts might be. But she'd gotten to the point at which not knowing was worse than knowing.

“You said you'd never stop loving me, Galen. What kind of love is it when you don't want to be alone with me, when you won't even talk to me?”

“You know I'm not very good at talking sometimes.”

“That's not an answer; it's an excuse. You may not have been the most talkative person, but you were always good company—and you were always here, with me, every spare minute you had.” Bittersweet thoughts of those happy times flooded her mind, but she didn't stop to dwell on the memories. “You haven't been to see me since that first night after I returned, and when you are here for church, you try to avoid me. Why, Galen? Why?”

He pushed his hair back with both his hands, holding it off his forehead for a moment, then letting it drop with a sigh. “Every time I look at you, I think about how much I love you, then I think about what he did to you, and I just can't get over it. I think about him touching you, and it makes my skin crawl. I can't stand the thought of your being with another man—”

“I wasn't
‘with'
another man, Galen. I was raped!”

“I know.”

“But do you understand that? It wasn't an act of love. He touched me because he assaulted me.”

“I understand that. I just don't know how to deal with it, how to keep from thinking about it, how to . . .” He looked down at the ground, and Rebecca knew there was something else he wasn't saying. Something that bothered him a great deal.

“What else?” she asked.

“You have his child,” he said without looking up.

Rebecca lost all the air in her lungs as suddenly as if he'd punched her. “Yes, I have a child,” she said slowly. “And I love my son dearly.” She took another deep breath and held it an extra beat before asking, “Is that something else you can't get over?”

Galen didn't reply, and Rebecca realized his silence was an answer in itself.

“You don't want to marry me now.” She didn't even bother to phrase it as a question.

He reached for her hand, and the wistful look in his eyes nearly broke her heart. “Maybe I just need more time, Rebecca.”

“Or maybe you need more love.”

As she thought about it now, Rebecca realized that she should have reached that conclusion earlier. She always had understood Galen better than he understood himself.

He did love her; perhaps he always would. But Galen had idealized her. When she returned from Devil's Island, she no longer fit the ideal, and he was unable to accept a less-than-perfect version of love.

Rebecca punched the pillow and lay back down, trying to get back to sleep after her nightmare.

It didn't matter now. None of it did. The only thing that mattered was Victor.

Galen was gone, out of her life. She'd had a dream and lost it, then found it and lost it again. Her heart was broken, but it would mend. And when it did, she wouldn't ever make the mistake of falling in love again. The risk of losing another dream was simply too painful. No man was ever going to accept the fact that she'd been raped and borne a child, and she might as well face that now.

Rebecca decided it was God's will for her to remain single. She would devote herself to a ministry of works, and to her son—just as soon as she got him back.

5

“THIS IS NOT a social visit,” Jacob said, cutting off Naomi's patently insincere greeting.

From the moment she had swept into the room in one of her typically grand entrances, Jacob had known she was expecting them. Naomi did not look the least bit surprised. She did manage to look regal, however, even though she had already unpinned her hair for the evening. Voluminous waves of deep auburn fell over her shoulders, which were draped in an emerald-green
stola
that sparkled with threads of spun gold. Jacob couldn't help thinking of what her tunic and
stola
must have cost; Naomi had always taken great pride in her wardrobe.

“Then tell me why you and your . . . friends . . . are here at this late hour.” As she spoke, Naomi looked Marcellus and Antony up and down, finally dismissing them with an irritated look and a wave of her hand, as if she were shooing away a couple of unwelcome flies at a banquet table.

“I think you know why we're here,” Jacob said testily. It was late, he was tired, and he was angry. They'd walked the better part of an hour—down Mount Koressos, across Ephesus, and up the hill past the Temple of Artemis—to get to the house Naomi had rented. If there hadn't been a full moon, they would never have been able to see the way. He also resented Naomi's arrogance, and he was in no mood to play games. A life was at stake. Jacob was almost certain she knew who had abducted his nephew, and he was determined to drag the truth out of her. His voice rose with his temper. “I want some answers, Naomi. And I want them
now
.”

Antony stepped forward, positioning himself between Jacob and Naomi, and introduced himself. “I represent the family in legal mat-ters—” he began.

Naomi interrupted him. “I'm part of the family and you don't represent me.”

“You are
not
part of our family.” Jacob was almost shouting now.

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