Eiran hadn’t been expecting a visitor so late. Especially not Aquilus.
“Eiran,” the judge Alon grumbled from the entrance of his cell, “Eiran!”
The young priest snapped awake, still groggy with pleasant dreams. He smacked his lips sleepily and turned his attention towards the glowing rectangular shape that was the doorway. He was met with the stern silhouette of one of the Sanhedrin. He gasped and reached out for his tunic and sandals.
“What’s going on, Alon?” he asked, his voice raspy with the late hour. He pulled his wool cloak over his tunic and met the judge at the doorway. He guessed he had no time to anoint himself.
The judge, he took it, was as tired as he was. He hadn’t cared to dress further than his white robe, so Eiran could rule out an emergency.
“You have a visitor,” he announced, his tone suggesting his absolute annoyance.
No one should have been awake at an unholy hour except for the unholy.
Eiran squinted, holding back a groan. He hadn’t invited anyone, nor had he scheduled anything. He was as confused as Alon, perhaps even more so as the judge led him out of the cells and to the outer gates of the temple.
“Could it wait until morning?” inquired Eiran, clutching his cloak to himself. The bonfires illuminating the temple court could not curb the gusty wind that blew down from the coast. He stumbled over himself to keep up with the old man who was determined to go back inside and go to bed.
Alon shook his white curled head. “I asked him to return then, but he said he will be gone by dawn.” He stopped to frown. “Didn’t say where he was going.”
Eiran wouldn’t go so far as to say he was excited that this meeting was happening, but his curiosity had him journey to the outer wall by himself.
When he got there, he could make out a silhouette of a man, black as the night itself, standing beside his horse.
Eiran was uneasy. He backed up slightly and collected a torch from the nearest bonfire. Gripping it nervously, he returned to the walls to face the stranger.
“I was wondering when you’d wake up.”
The young priest let out a relieved sigh. “Oh, Aquilus,” he gasped in short laughs. “Why didn’t you just say so?”
Aquilus pulled himself into the firelight, immediately frightening his friend. It didn’t seem the prince had gotten any sleep at all, and he had been weeping recently. Nevertheless, as he stood before him, his face was as cold and unforgiving as a stone edifice. He shocked Eiran.
“What’s wrong?” the priest interrogated. He clutched his friend’s shoulder and pulled him into the temple’s grounds. “Aquilus, you look horrible.”
Aquilus defied him and wrenched himself from Eiran. He stumbled backwards slightly and his horse whinnied uneasily. The prince - his eyes wild with anger - again stood outside the walls and planted himself sturdily there.
“And I should be forgiven for it,” he snapped. “Eiran, I’m leaving Jerusalem.”
Eiran held his cloak to himself. He was afraid that he wasn’t scared enough at what his friend said. He cocked his head to the side and frowned.
“For how long?”
Aquilus scoffed at him; an unfamiliar and most unwelcome noise from him. “I don’t expect I’ll ever come back to this hades!” he cried.
Eiran stepped back. “You dare swear on false gods?” he snapped. “In the shadow of the Temple, no doubt! What has possessed you?”
Aquilus shook his head, turned, and mounted his horse. “Nothing but hatred,” he answered, “hatred for Jerusalem, hatred for my father, hatred for the Temple! I despise Palestine, and all that resides within it. I want nothing more than to see it burn, to see myself burn! I hate the world!”
Eiran knew this couldn’t be Aquilus Aurelius speaking. His friend would have not despised the Temple, nor wished to find himself dead. Something had happened. As Aquilus numbly stared into the darkness, fingering the reins of his horse’s bridle, Eiran wondered if he was waiting for the priest to stop him.
“What did your father do to Flavia?” he whispered. His voice carried over the winds picking up.
Silence. Aquilus’ form seemed that of a dead man’s, swaying with the zephyrs that promised a storm. Where the disaster was to take place - Jerusalem or within Aquilius - was the question Eiran had.
“He killed her.”
Eiran listened to the pitting in his stomach and looked at his sandals. The tears threatened, but this feeling of already knowing - as if he didn’t need to be told that Cassian had lost his senses - barricaded them in the sinews of his heart.
“I’m sorry,” he said hoarsely, swallowing harshly. The wind was cold and blew around his ankles. He shivered.
Aquilus still did not turn.
“I’m going to Rome, Eiran,” he finally said, his voice quiet as a tragic lover’s. “I won’t be returning at all.”
“Rome?” Eiran wrinkled his nose. “Not many Jews are there. How would you keep the traditions without guidance?”
Aquilus sat there a moment, then turned. The clops of his horse’s hooves were the only sound as the wind held its breath.
He glared hard into Eiran’s eyes, emitting poison.
Finally, he moved. He reached to his satchel and pulled out a cap of cloth. He held it high enough for Eiran to see.
“Exactly, Eiran,” he said, no emotion in his voice. “Exactly.”
Aquilus tossed the kippah into the air, letting it fall into the mud. Without another word, he tugged the reins back, yelled an order to the horse, and galloped away to the Eternal City.
This may seem a pretty short chapter but it took me months to finally write. Hope you like it! Soldier of God will now take place in Rome, about a year and a half later (travel was ridiculous back then).