Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Palestine
The fleet sailed a southerly course hugging the coastline on their left for better half of a day. Cornelius returned to the bow and watched the sparse land slowly passing by. The land revealed mostly high sandy dunes going down to the water. There were also clusters of short gnarly trees breaking the monotony of sand and rocks.
Cornelius heard heavy steps approach behind him. “The master of the ship says that we have another hour or so before we spot our destination.” The one who spoke was another Centurion.
“How are the men, Flavius?”
“Only two or three are still wrenching from the rough seas we went through yesterday. Most of the men are fairing well but everyone are eager to reach land after three weeks in this bucket.”
“Get the men ready.”
Cornelius cast his eyes out at the passing barren coast again then lost himself in thought. He was always deep in thought contemplating on the things of life. Even as a child, he would often go off by himself to just think instead of playing. Lately, he had been wrestling with questions of meaning. The search for meaning started when Cornelius was a survivor of his Roman unit that was almost slaughtered by barbarians in the mountains of Spain.
He was an officer under a commander who had no military experience and only attained his office because of his family’s wealth. He was leading about 150 men in search of a brigand tribe that have been harassing Roman villages in Spain. The commander had heard that the marauders eluded him into a canyon. Elated, he ordered his whole unit to quickly march in after them. Cornelius pleaded with him to send in scouting parties first but the commander wanted a surprise attack and a quick victory. But it ended up being a disastrous trap. More than two thirds of the unit were slaughtered including the inept commander. Cornelius then rallied the survivors and fought their way back out of the canyon. He lead them to a nearby mountain lake where a small rocky knoll jutted out on a finger of land onto the water. He saw that the knoll can be defended because there was only one narrow entrance with water and rocky shelf on both sides. But out of the forty men left, only fifteen were still able to bear arms. The rest were wounded with only a few who can shoot arrows. So, he ordered the wounded to the top of the knoll. Cornelius and the remaining men barricaded the narrow track with a couple of big drift wood trunks and some boulders that were easy to roll. They used the extra shields of the wounded and embedded them in a line to form a crude shield wall. By the time of the first attack, they were ready. The barbarians rushed the narrow track but only six to seven can hit the improvised shield wall at a time. Some tried to attack through the water but were hindered by mud and deadly arrow shots. For two days the attacks were repelled and dead bodies were so piled up high that the attackers had to climb over their dead comrades to get to the defenders who fought back ferociously. But Cornelius and the remaining ten soldiers that were still able were exhausted. When he saw the barbarians form again, he knew they were all as good as dead. But no attack came, instead the leader came to shouting distance and called to Cornelius. The leader spoke. Though Cornelius could not understand the language, the intent of the leader was clear when he saluted Cornelius with his weapon. Then he and his marauders disappeared into the dense forest. When reinforcement finally arrived, Cornelius moved among the dead barbarians and his men. He looked at their calm but dead faces and saw that there were no real differences between his men and theirs. So, he asked himself why? Why do men have to die like this? Why did this have to happen? All sorts of why questions raced through his mind but one kept coming back to him even unto this day, ‘why am I still alive?’
When he returned to his home in Italy after four more years in Spain, he confided with his tutor and mentor, Jacob.
“You are not alone in your search,” Jacob said. “I am afraid the gods of Rome will provide you with no answers that will satisfy your desire for the kind of enlightenment you seek.” Cornelius saw a twinkle in his old teacher’s eye and knew what was coming next. “However, the One true God may provide you the answer.”
Cornelius, of course, had decided to study more what the Scriptures had to say.
“Since you were a boy, you have studied and even mastered the books of Moses, Joshua, Judges, Ruth and the collected histories of the Kings of Israel. The love of history was always your strongest suit. Of course, keeping you awake in the study of the Psalms and the books of Wisdom was always trying. I have to admit that as a boy, I too struggled with the songs, but I persevered and gained a closeness with my God especially when I sing the songs in prayer. You should try it. However, I know you are more into the intellectual and not much into the spiritual. But it is in the spiritual that you’ll gain your answers. The writings of the Prophets is where you and I must venture.”
“You?” Cornelius asked quizzically.
“Of course, my boy,” Jacob said delightedly. “Besides, it had been ages that I closely studied the Prophets. We can journey together.”
“Tyre ahead”, a shout came from above.
The story continues in my next post a week from now.
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