Read Avenger of Blood Online

Authors: John Hagee

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Avenger of Blood (9 page)

He was beginning to agree, although he'd originally been disgruntled to discover the Apostle would be riding with them. When Peter had left for the office, Marcellus had gone to tell John what was happening and where they were going—or where they thought they were going. The old man had been infirm when they first returned from Devil's Island, and even though he had regained his strength, Marcellus still checked on him every day.

“I'll be back before the carriage arrives,” Marcellus had assured Antony. He had indeed returned on time, but with the Apostle in tow. “I've been promising John that I would soon accompany him to Smyrna,” Marcellus had explained when he drew Antony off to the side. “He has an important letter to deliver to the church there, and he insisted on going now. I couldn't say no.”

“But he'll slow us down,” Antony had protested.

“Not John. Besides, if we learn Jacob has followed Damian beyond Smyrna, we can leave John there and continue our journey.”

Now Antony silently admitted that the elderly man had not slowed them down at all; on the contrary, he was trying to speed them up.

John leaned over and patted Rebecca's hand. “You mustn't worry,” he told her. “Do you remember the prophecy the Lord gave me before Victor was born?”

She nodded, and a shadow of a smile stole across her face. “You said God had a message of comfort for me. Then you said that the child I was carrying was a son, and that he would become a great servant of the Lord.”

“Do you believe that?”

She held the old man's steady gaze. “Yes.”

“Then God will preserve Victor and give us success in finding him.”

Antony listened to their exchange without comment. He hoped the Apostle was right, although he had never put much stock in prophecy. After all, Ephesus was full of supposed oracles who would gladly prophesy the future for a paying customer.

His opinions about Christians were hazy. Except for his mother, Antony hadn't actually been around that many. And until he had met Peter and Jacob, he had considered it a woman's faith. A faith for the weak and dispossessed elements of society. Now he was discovering that their beliefs cut across boundaries of class and gender, and he still wasn't sure what he thought about it.

Glancing quickly away from Rebecca, however, he was certain of one thing: he was inexorably drawn to her, and had been since the moment he'd met her. Antony had avoided looking at her all morning because his thoughts were entirely inappropriate. She'd been distraught yet determined, and he'd fought the urge to take her in his arms and reassure her that everything would be all right. For one thing, he couldn't promise her there would be a positive outcome. And for another, he barely knew Rebecca; such close physical contact would be offensive to her, not reassuring.

So he'd tried to ignore her at the villa. Now here he was, sitting beside her on a hard bench seat, bouncing along an uneven stretch of highway at top speed, and it was impossible to ignore his feelings for her at such close proximity. He felt her eyes on him again and risked another quick peek.

“You didn't have to get involved in my problems,” she said, “but I'm glad you did.” She paused and then looked away. “Or is it just because you're working for my brothers?”

John cast a knowing look in Antony's direction. “I don't think you'll be getting a bill for his services this time.”

Was it a warning? Antony wasn't sure.

He cleared his throat. He couldn't explain to Rebecca that his primary motivation was a strong physical and emotional attraction to her. “Peter and Jacob have become more than just clients to me,” he said. “I count them as friends.” That, Antony thought, was certainly true. He relaxed a bit and smiled. “And I fear my mother would take a switch to me if I didn't do whatever I could to help you. She dotes on you, Rebecca.”

She looked at him and smiled then, and he nearly gulped at the way her dark eyes came to life. “You're the one she dotes on,” Rebecca said. “She's always talking about ‘my Antony.' Helena is a very proud mother.”

“I only hope I live up to her expectations . . . and yours.”

Antony forced himself to look away. He couldn't dwell on his feelings for Rebecca right now or he wouldn't be able to think clearly. And someone needed to come up with a plan for what to do when they caught up with Jacob. He thought about rescuing Victor for only a moment before his thoughts inevitably returned to the woman sitting beside him.

He couldn't help comparing Rebecca to her older sister. There was a noticeable family resemblance between the two, yet they were quite dissimilar. It had taken only a moment to size up Naomi. As Antony had heard, Naomi was one of the most beautiful women he had ever seen; but outside of a glorious mane of hair, hers was an artificial beauty, achieved with cosmetics and clothes. Rebecca possessed a natural beauty, a loveliness that could not be eradicated even when her face was etched with worry, as it was now.

Yes, Rebecca was quite beautiful, Antony acknowledged. Yet the attraction she held for him went far beyond that, though if someone had asked him exactly what it was, he could not have defined it. He simply knew that Rebecca had an intangible quality he didn't have, a quality he wanted to possess.

As he often did, Antony began thinking in two different directions at once. He was used to jumping ahead and seeing the conclusion of a matter while simultaneously figuring out all the minute details, patiently working toward a goal he had first pictured in his head as a vague possibility until it emerged as a full-blown reality. With the carriage racing toward Smyrna, Antony looked into his future, and he clearly saw Rebecca there.

Now all he had to do was work out the details.

7

ANTONY HELPED REBECCA out of the four-wheeled coach, in one easy swoop lifting her and setting her on the ground, then he steadied the door as Marcellus gave John a hand. They'd been riding for hours, and it felt good to get out and walk around.

“Hear that? I think my joints are still rattling.” John shook one leg in front of him and then the other.

Marcellus chuckled. “That was the driver unhitching the horses.”

“It has been a bone-jarring ride,” Antony admitted. The custom carriage Peter had sent for them had been designed for flexibility over comfort. The two passenger benches could be folded up against the sides of the enclosed coach to allow room for cargo. The unpadded seats were sturdy but hard, and the elderly man didn't have much cushion on his spare frame.

“Don't apologize, son. It's better than walking to Smyrna.” John took a few steps to stretch his legs. “Although I may have to rest for a week before I can even think about preaching.” The twinkle in his still-clear eyes gave away the fact that he was exaggerating.

The old apostle was not nearly as frail as he looked, Antony had decided, and John approached life with tenacity. If nothing else, Antony had to admire him for hanging on to life for eighty-five years.

Marcellus motioned toward the army halt they had just passed. “I'm going to let the soldiers know we've pulled off the road and are stopping for the night. Otherwise, they might become suspicious. I don't want them to come snooping around.” He marched off into the gray mist of twilight, and John went over to talk to the driver, who was tending to the horses.

Rebecca huddled under her cloak, her arms folded against her body to ward off the chill of the newly arrived cool front. “Where are we now?” she asked.

“Roughly two-thirds of the way to Smyrna,” Antony said. “Depending on how early we leave in the morning, we should arrive there before noon.”

Where they would go after that, he had no idea. He was beginning to second-guess his decision to follow Jacob to parts unknown. His first inclination in leaving immediately had simply been to find Jacob and stop him from doing anything rash; if there were any chance of negotiating with Naomi, he was likely to ruin it by impulsive action. Antony and Peter had hastily agreed, however, that with Damian taking the baby away from Ephesus, there might be no negotiations at all—and that meant Victor could be in great danger. Rescuing the child had become even more urgent, but how they were going to accomplish that was a question Antony didn't have an answer for; he didn't even know where to begin looking.

By the time Marcellus returned, a light rain had started to fall, and the passengers all climbed back into the carriage. This time the driver, a hefty stevedore Peter had conscripted for the assignment, squeezed in with them. Fortunately, Rebecca had had the foresight to fill a hamper with food, so they ate a light meal inside the cramped enclosure. She had also thought to bring blankets, which would make spending the night on the side of the road more tolerable.

After they ate, the driver went back outside to stand watch; Antony and Marcellus agreed to take turns with him later. Then Rebecca got John to telling stories about Jesus of Nazareth, whom he had followed for so long, and despite his natural skepticism, Antony found himself listening intently. An accomplished storyteller, John could quickly move his listeners from raucous laughter to quiet awe.

Antony became so caught up in the moment that he was actually disappointed when John's animation faded and he suddenly announced, “It's time to pray before we try to get some sleep.”

Marcellus answered with a nod and a deep yawn. He'd been up all night the previous evening and had dozed off a couple of times during their trip, only to be jolted awake by a bump in the road.

In a hoarse but still strong voice, John began to implore God for Jacob's safety and for theirs. He also prayed that God would help them find Victor. “The secret things belong to You, O Lord. We ask You to reveal them to us now, in Jesus' name.”

Within moments of pronouncing the amen, the old apostle was snoring lightly, and in spite of their uncomfortable positions, it wasn't long before Marcellus and Rebecca also fell asleep. Antony remained awake, and after a while he decided to go ahead and relieve the driver; he wanted the man rested when they resumed their journey.

Perched high on the driver's seat, wrapped in a warm woolen blanket, Antony watched the sky gradually begin to clear, the stars appearing intermittently through the clouds. He recalled John's prayer and wondered if the old preacher's God really could reveal secrets. Was it His unseen hand that now parted the clouds, revealing lights that had been completely invisible a moment earlier? Could He, would He, part the imperceptible veil that shrouded human knowledge?

Again, Antony began to think about Rebecca as part of his future. He had pieced her story together from things Jacob and Peter had said and from questions he had asked his mother. It had not been difficult to get Helena talking about Rebecca, so he now knew that she'd had a fiancé, who had apparently rejected her, although Antony couldn't imagine why. It didn't matter to Antony that Rebecca had a child. That was simply the way things were. If he wanted Rebecca in his life, which he did, then he wanted Victor as well.

As he gazed up at the stars and contemplated the future, Antony found himself uttering a prayer of his own—to what or whom, he wasn't sure. But the words were a prayer, nonetheless.

Please help me protect her. And please help me get her baby back.

Early the next morning, Jacob woke the stable boy at the small inn on the outskirts of Smyrna and instructed him to groom the horse. Then Jacob went back inside the inn to warm himself by the fire. The sleeping quarters had been drafty and he'd slept poorly, lying on a thin mat on the hard floor, covered by a single threadbare blanket. Now he was groggy and chilled to the bone.

The innkeeper served him what passed for breakfast, and while Jacob ate, he listened to the innkeeper's wife berate her husband. They'd been bickering when Jacob had arrived the night before, and would no doubt still be at it when he left.

“Your sister is a cheap prostitute,” the woman complained, her arms flapping as she furiously wielded a broom over the hearth.

“Tullia is not a prostitute,” the innkeeper countered. The barrel-shaped man folded his arms across his broad chest and glowered. “She's a priestess of the fertility cult.”

“Same difference.”

“It is not—” The man stopped abruptly when he looked up and noticed Jacob, apparently deciding that in deference to his guest he should cease defending his sister from his wife's accusations, at least for the moment.

The woman, however, continued her harangue, sweeping around Jacob without ever looking up. “She sleeps with every man who comes around. You want to say that's part of her spiritual duties, Tarquinius, fine. I say she's a common whore.”

The innkeeper listened to the tirade for a while, then abandoned his attempt to keep quiet. “I seem to remember you thought quite highly of Tullia that time she cast a spell on the butcher who cheated us.”

The woman paused long enough to glare at her husband, then started scolding again. “She knows her magic, I'll grant you that, but it doesn't give her the right to lord it over everybody else. She comes in here last night, after I've already cleaned and closed down the kitchen, and wants a complete meal for her and that man. She knows I can't stand him.”

This was apparently news to Tarquinius. “What man?”

The incident must have happened, Jacob surmised, while the innkeeper had been escorting him to the sleeping quarters. The man had wanted to engage him in conversation—Jacob could certainly understand how the man would want to talk to someone besides his wife—but Jacob had been too weary to do more than exchange a few polite words. Now he listened halfheartedly as the couple continued yelling back and forth. Jacob wished they would take their argument somewhere else; he was still too tired to think clearly, and he desperately needed a few minutes of peace and quiet to contemplate how to go about finding out where Damian might have taken Victor.

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