Iscariot: Chapter 12 – In which we are made aware of the political situation in Rome.

This entry is part 12 of 20 in the series Iscariot

Recently, my girlfriend and I decided to take a vacation. During the initial planning stages, she asked me where I wanted to go. I replied that I wanted to go to the beach. Any beach really. I grew up on the ocean and it makes me happy. She also makes me happy so I thought combining the two would be aces. She chose Charleston, South Carolina and since it fulfilled my one requirement, I agreed.
One of the places we visited was Fort Sumter. Notable for being the site of the first shots of the Civil War. What happened was that the South wanted to secede but the federal government had just spent a ton of money on coastal forts to deter another British invasion. Since they had paid for Fort Sumter they felt that regardless of what South Carolina did, the island and the fort were U.S. federal property. South Carolina disagreed and the two sides pointed canons at each other for a bit.
Nowhere in the Art of War does it say to keep your enemies cannons pointed directly at your most important port city. South Carolina knew this. At the time, the fort wasn’t quite completed nor stocked but it would have been soon. Confederate Charleston was running out of time.
Although war had not yet been declared, everyone knew it was coming. Still, the South needed an excuse that didn’t just boil down to “We would prefer to keep owning black people.” They needed something more abstract and that became a “Federal Power vs. State’s Rights” argument. Fort Sumter became the touchstone that everyone needed to finally light the fuse.
This sort of thing has occurred many times throughout history, including what occurred between Rome and Judea not long after the events herein. While it would be another 30 years before the Great Revolt, the pebbles were already falling and the avalanche was well on its way. I wonder if a few people tried to stop it, thinking that one or two changes would alter the path of history. There are those that see an inevitability and decide to fight against it anyway. They usually fail, but it’s worth it for those rare occasions where you can actually make things right. The Great Revolt, the wars that followed, the destruction of the temple? Somebody failed to stop it but I’m guessing someone tried to.


Chapter 12

In which we are made aware of the political situation in Rome.

James and Judas currently sat in a parlor in the Roman offices and waited with a mix of anxiety and impatience. As they sat, James tried once or twice to ask Judas a question but both times Judas simply put his hand up and shook his head. He then glanced towards the guards and smiled. James frowned and sat back in his chair. He stared at his companion and pondered the man.

If they ever wrote down the story of what he and Jesus and the rest of the apostles were trying to accomplish, he thought, one word would be used to describe Judas Iscariot and that word was “loyal”. James had never questioned that. That said, James and Judas had never really gotten along. Judas sort of bummed him out. Maudlin has its place but it seemed to James that Judas never had a happy day in his life.

James on the contrary was not one to mope. He was not one to worry endlessly about trivial things. He didn’t understand the point of it.

As such, before this morning, he would never have thought to seek the man’s aid. However, here he was on what felt like an ill-advised mission at the suggestion of an angel who seemed…unnerving at best.

James had met angels before in a peripheral way. However, never once had an angel actually come to him for something. Ethereal matters had always been more in Jesus’ wheelhouse. Truthfully, none of the things they spoke of were particularly interesting to James. Not turning rocks into bread. Not jumping off mountains to prove a point to god. (Various musings in both Luke and Matthew. Both in their respective books 4:1 through 4:12 or so.) Those sorts of things. Lucifer, however, was a whole different creature. Showing up unannounced at his door with Judas and a mission.

He had stated that James had a part to play in saving the world but needed to be in the correct place at the correct time. James didn’t understand, but he didn’t care. The only thing that mattered was ensuring that his half-brother Jesus was safe.

It was something that he’d spent a lot of time contemplating for the last few days with zero help from anyone else. Judas had been blind drunk, Peter was getting creepy with all of his talk about the message being more important than the man. The Zealot was almost catatonic. Mary was gone. His mother refused to see that there was any sort of problem and wouldn’t listen to reason, and the rest of the apostles had been busy arguing and accusing each other of betrayal. Despite all of the schemes he had come up with, it had never occurred to him to simply go to Pontius and ask for his brother’s release.

Upon arriving at the palace and to his great surprise, the gatekeeper showed them into the waiting area. That was about a half hour prior and here they sat drinking water in silence until finally a man walked in and spoke.

“Greetings, gentlemen. My name is Marcus and I am the personal secretary to Prelate Pontius Pilate. He will see you now. This way.”

James and Judas followed Marcus into a large office full of clutter. Scrolls were piled high on tables, chairs, and anywhere else they would fit. Casks of wine were strewn about and plates with some half eaten meals were piled in a corner.

“Ah, gentlemen. I apologize about the wait and the mess. Things have been a bit hectic and our usual cleaning people have all quit. Unfortunately, it would take months if we wanted to bring someone in from the provinces and Marcus here refuses to do the washing up. Can I offer you some refreshments?” Pontius said while waving his hands towards some chairs.

James was on edge but Judas appeared calm as they sat down in the offered seats.

Finally, Pontius made his way behind his rather large desk and faced the two men. He made a show of organizing some parchments in front of them and finally asked, “What can I do for you?”

James paused for a moment to think. Finally saying, “We would very much like for you to release my brother.”

Pontius smiled which put both James and Judas at the opposite of ease. “I would love nothing more, boys. When I set up this meeting with your secretary, Jesus was included on the agenda here.” He pulled out a parchment which had a list of words written on it, one of which was the name of their friend. “I put a big asterisk next to his name. See? We’ll get to him.”

James and Judas saw. Judas pondered for a moment but James spoke up. “Our secretary?”

“Your man, Lucifer. I believe Marcus spoke with him on Monday. So that’s all fine. I am completely prepared to hand the Jesus fellow back to you. Scout’s honor. However, before that happens, we need to attend to a little business. May I speak candidly and off the record?”

James and Judas shared a quick glance before turning to the Prelate. “Off the record?” Judas asked.

“Yes. I don’t know if you’re aware but Rome is very keen on keeping records. You all remember the census, yes? The home office loves stuff like that. They also like to know who has come to complain about the government. It gives the higher ups a nice list of people to crucify for sedition if the rabble starts acting out in front of company. They would love to know that you fellows were here but I would rather they didn’t. Hell, I don’t want Rome to know about the majority of the crap that goes on here. Unfortunately I’ve had a couple of soldiers die and it’s hard to hide that in paperwork.”

“Are you saying that you want to protect us?” Judas asked.

“Not really, no. You’ll forgive my candor gentlemen, but I don’t actually care a whit about either of you. Nor anyone in this gods forsaken land. No, I’m protecting Rome. That sounds rude, but there it is. You see Judea as your chosen land. Fine. Do you know what I see?”

Judas and James now sat in confusion. Still, they played along. “What do you see, Prelate?” Judas responded.

“I see an empty desert with an small strip of beach on our sea. Now don’t get me wrong. I love a good beach but the empire already has hundreds of nice beaches. Ever heard of Sardinia?”

“No,” James replied cautiously.

“Well it’s gorgeous there. Hundreds of miles of pristine sand, warm water, and quaint shops that sell little souvenirs made out of seashells. Been in the empire for about two hundred and forty years. That came after the Punic Wars with Carthage. Now that, gents, was a war worth fighting. After taking Carthage out of the equation, Rome controlled the entire Mediterranean. Totally worth it. Judea on the other hand isn’t worth squat. The High Priest and King Herod think they’re this great power, but to Rome, they’re nothing more than a bothersome gnat. Eventually Rome is going to get sick of you, burn down your temple, salt all of your fields, put your kids into the infantry, and call it a day. You cannot beat us. Rome will succeed. But it’ll be the Pyrrhic wars all over again. Herod and the High Priest will doom you all and in doing so, greatly weaken my empire.”

“We’re not on the side of Herod nor the High Priest.” James explained. “And if Rome hates us so much, why don’t you just pack up and leave? We’d all be happier with you gone, anyway.”

“Yeah. You say that. Maybe you would. Maybe people in the North or the East would leave you alone. I can’t say about that. Unfortunately, Rome can’t just leave. It would make us look weak and it’s not a good time for that. Rome is going through a slight identity crisis at the moment. For some reason, Judea has turned into a bit of a call to arms for a small but vocal group of senators. And I sort of get that. It’s a nice, safe, and abstract target that everyone in Rome can yell about so that the citizenry doesn’t pay attention to actual problems. That would all be fine, except that your High Priest and that lunatic king decided to start a dick measuring contest with us. They want us gone wholesale and they’re threatening to try and remove us by force which is absurd. If you want to compare cocks, Rome will come swinging with the biggest, uncircumcised dick you ever saw.”

“Ok,” Judas interjected. “If I may, what does any of this have to do with Jesus?”

“Everything. I just want you to understand what you’re up against. I want you to understand the enormity of Rome. That the only reason anyone cares about you is because of a small strip of beach on the Mediterranean which, if we didn’t control, would break up our perfect map. Do that and then consider a much nicer alternative to war.”

“Which is?”

“I want to install your boy into Herod’s position. If I did that, I think he and I could keep the High Priest in check and gods willing, we could keep Rome in the dark forever about the nonsense that occurs out here.”

“Herod’s position? You mean king? Rome would never allow you to do that. Also, how can you just replace a king with commoner? Jesus doesn’t have royal blood,” James stated.

“Rome doesn’t care which one of you is in charge as long as you keep quiet and pay taxes. As for the method, I propose to use my well trained army of soldiers to go burn down the man’s house and kill him. Finally, as to royal blood, lineage is great and all but it’s not nearly as important as the aforementioned army.”

“That can’t be all there is to it. You can’t solve arguments with an army.”

“Kicked your asses. And I can do the same to Herod. If everyone is dead there is no lineage. If there is no lineage, whoever claims the throne gets to be king, and whoever has the support of the army automatically has the stronger claim. QED. After a few months, everyone will settle down and accept the status quo. Again. This is lieu of Rome coming in and obliterating every man, woman, and child.”

“Alright,” James said. “Say that we agree to this. Then what? Jesus can go free?”

“Well. That’s where it gets a bit tricky. I’ve already made him the offer. He refused. In fact, he also refuses to leave. He keeps going on about sacrifice and saving the souls of everyone. I don’t know from that. I’m thinking about your current lives and your children and loved ones. I don’t want a martyr. I want a king who can keep his people from rebelling and out of the thoughts of Rome. You, in turn, want your friend to remain alive. We both have needs and when that happens, compromises can be made. Go down and try and talk some sense into him. Marcus will show you to his cell. Do your best lads. The fate of your little world depends upon it and we are very quickly running out of time.”

Series Navigation<< Iscariot: Chapter 11 – In which there’s a bit of exposition until the angel Lucifer shows up and has a brief chat with Judas.Iscariot: Chapter 13 – In which the Passion of the Devil. >>

About Philippe L.

When not out exploring the stars with his good friend Hotblack Desiato, he makes his living here on Earth keeping other people's money safe from the hands of thieves and spinning the occasional yarn. He enjoys beer and coffee very much, but unfortunately he can't eat shellfish or tomatoes.

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