“Your mother will despise your lagging to return home,” remarked Eiran plainly.
Aquilus sighed and bowed his head. “Wouldn’t everyone,” he muttered.
The prince guided his horse along the familiar streets of Jerusalem. Tenants cried for his attention, swearing by the high priest’s beard on a perfect deal. Dates, pomegranates, and doves were shoved in his face. Veiled women and capped men all worked alongside each other in the condensed stone streets, welcoming him home.
At least, as much of a welcome the Palestinians could give a centurion of the Roman army.
In his red-plumed helm, he was an enemy. They could kill him from his perch on his fine stallion, a gift from his father, or they could kill him in his sleep. They could attempt it, but Aquilus was always prepared, and he frightened quite a few off as he tapped his fingers nonchalantly on the scabbard of his sword.
Even then he had a face of a friend; besides his reflecting Rome in dress, Aquilus reflected Palestine in face. His eyes were golden as a coin of Caesar, outlined by strokes of black lashes. He was not pale like the Latin Romans, but had the skin of honey, like their own kind. Thick, short black curls had grown from the abuse of a military shave while on the path back home.
If he didn’t wear the uniform of a Latin then perhaps he would have been taken back like the warriors of Joshua.
Eiran, as well, was equipped to defend his master. The personal slave was only his age, the son of Esther. He was a Jew, too, and he was ordered to follow Aquilus, so he often left the house. Eiran was a fine young man, strong enough to carry wounded soldiers on his back. His curly, deep auburn hair was cut short, covered by a black and gold kippah hat. His scruff had become a small, well-kept beard during their time on the roads, and now, he looked a proper Jew in the wardrobe of a Roman slave. Today he wore a simple leather tunic and belt over black breeches. Strapped to his belt was a blade. He looked back slightly to his charge, and his green eyes gleamed with a small sparkle of fun.
Despite being stern to his master as a handservant, protective and - Aquilus daresay - motherly, Eiran understood the importance and the benefits of having a little joke now and then. Most of his leisure days were spent at Aquilus’ side, most likely doing something slightly rude or temporarily damaging. He loved him as a brother, the sibling he never had, even though he was his job.
“Domina Hadassah shall skin you alive if you are not at her side on Sabbath,” warned Eiran with a pleasured grin, as if he would have enjoyed that greatly.
Aquilus nodded slightly.
As his slave joked, there was truth. The sun was about to set, so the two had to pick up pace through the tenants. He observed the other men and women noticing the light dimming. The tenants slowly packed up their belongings, squeezing the most out of a business day as the could.
Aquilus and Eiran finally made it through the busy street and the road cleared up. The two had no need for words as they ordered their horses into full gallop.
“I always win!” taunted the soldier, laughing. Aquilus tore in front of Eiran, with a whoop of triumph.
The streets were narrow, and he left no room for his slave to pass him on his chestnut mare. His own white stallion kicked up the dust from the ground and threw it at Eiran’s face. The wind slapped his face, stinging his eyes, though the feeling of victory kissed his cheeks as he whipped by. He crouched on the saddle, urging his horse along. Even the stallion seemed to grin with their victory.
They careened into the next street, screeching to a halt at the steps of the House Cassian.
Aquilus cheered as he threw the reins in the air just as Eiran rounded the corner, sour faced.
“I let you this time,” he hollered over his friend’s celebrating. “Maximus seems sick today, out of his usual hoofbeat. I was being merciful on the poor creature.”
Aquilus scoffed out a laugh, shaking his head. With a proud hop off of Maximus, he sauntered off, allowing Eiran to pick up the reins. “There is nothing wrong with Maximus,” he called off from the entry, out of sight, “just your ego.”
Eiran’s turn to scoff as he led the panting horses to the stables. He undid their bridles and hung them up in their proper places. His master’s was made of leather and metal buckles, while his own was thin, braided hemp painted black and silver. He patted the horses down and stocked up their cells with fresh hay and cool water. “You’re bloated with your ego,” he hollered back, knowing fully that his master was still listening. “No wonder you float in the sea.”
Aquilus came around the back way moments later, his hair soaking wet. He was dressed in trousers instead of his army uniform, and his shirt was draped on his arm as he rustled a towel through his dark curls. As always, his master preferred the slave’s quarters to prepare for Sabbath than his private chamber. As he pulled on his tunic shirt, an indignant frown stained his handsome face. “Oh, har, har,” he growled. “Give me the evening to compose a retort.” Barefoot, he stomped away.
Eiran made a face to his back.
Not many knew of Aquilus-Reuben Cassian’s double life.
Only Esther, his mother, his wife, Eiran, and the Jewish slaves knew of the prince’s split heritage. His father was the one they were most careful around when discussing him. They had to address him by his Roman name instead of his Hebrew one, given to him at circumcision. Yet every Sabbath, in the dark of the slave’s quarters, he was one of them, not a Roman.
Aquilus-Reuben had to be very careful. Before Sabbath, he could not go to his own chamber to prepare, or else his other slaves would find out and tell his father, who barely tolerated his mother’s traditions. He was always carrying his kippah with him, though he only wore it on select days. He prayed for a day when he could be able to live his faith outwardly, but he knew that day was nowhere near. Aquilus felt purely oppressed when in the presence of his father. He didn’t know how to feel, as he was aware that he loved him and was proud of his work protecting their land. But to know that, in one confession, he could be thrown to the streets, he kept those thoughts under careful scrutiny.
He sat beside Eiran, which was obviously a mistake. His slave tore off the prince’s kippah and growled as he put it on ‘just so’. He hadn't much proper practice with it yet, and there was no viewing plate in the slave's chamber to see if he put it on the right way.
“I had it sorted,” whispered Aquilus-Reuben.
Eiran said nothing but gave him a taunting snort.
Hadassah, at the head of the table, lit two candles before her. She taught her son the ways of their ancestors by naming them; Zakhor and Shamor. Aquilus-Reuben had little time to be taught as his father trained him to be a soldier. Now that he was one, he struggled to practice the traditions on his own. Eiran was often the one doing the blessings on the frontlines as the prince slowly learned to do them himself.
His mother rose from her spot and grinned at her son. He smiled as she laid her hands on his bowed head. Aquilus closed his eyes.
“May you be like King David and King Solomon,” she blessed him, “may you have the courage to follow God through your days, and have the strength to rise above the wiles of your enemies. God, be with Reuben. In Your Name.”
“In Your Name,” repeated Aquilus.
She lifted her hands from him as Esther did the same for her son. Hadassah sat down again, grinning at Aquilus. She was always ecstatic when he was home, always asking if he said his prayers. He always said his prayers, yes, with the help of Eiran.
“Ah, my son!” cried Cassian, after Sabbath was over. The Legate beamed as he floated down the steps of the house.
Aquilus had stayed with Eiran in the worker’s quarters over Sabbath, and he was not spotted by the pagans of the household. It seemed that, since his childhood days, the hiding from his father grew more and more difficult.
The prince smiled and, in his uniform, approached his father. As far as Cassian knew, he just got home. The household stood to greet their battle-weary soldier. Eiran marched behind him, carrying his weapons and helmet.
For the most part, Aquilus wore the kippah under his helmet, but he was in the presence of his father. Discreetly he took off the satin cap and placed it in Eiran’s bundle.
“Grata domum /welcome home/,” greeted Cassian with a poised embrace of his son.
“Gratias, Pater,” Aquilus reflected.
Kippahs are now usually called 'yamachas' or 'yamulchas' as they are called in the Yiddish language. The Jews in the early First Century called them 'kippahs'. | Eiran is not to be confused with the name 'Aaron'. | Aquilus-Reuben is not his name. He is called either Aquilus or Reuben, but I have made it a compound name in a few instances so that there is no confusion. | A Jewish woman would most likely NEVER EVER marry a Roman, but I defied history for the sake of a story. | This story takes place roughly twenty-five years after Jesus' Resurrection, when Saints Peter and Paul were active before their martyrdoms.