Saturday Morning, 33 A.D.
The dark air was stagnant with the smells of leather, metal, and men.
He sat quietly on the hardwood bunk, his tunic-clad body hunched over, elbows on knees. The other seven in The 8 On 12 were asleep.
Another morning. Yet he knew something had changed, was changing, and it was something important.
He rotated the folded fabric in his hands slowly, almost reverently. He stared at the floor, his mind trying to see what was coming.
Blinking, he turned towards the whisper. The perpetual grinning face of Lucius winked back from the next bunk.
"Couldn't sleep, big guy?"
Gaius looked down at the blood-stained tunic he held.
"No. Rough night."
Lucius rolled out, over, and sat down lightly next to his large friend in a smooth quick motion.
Gaius had to smile. Lucius "The Cat" was quick and deadly even when half-asleep.
Lucius nodded toward the cloth, his voice soft and muted.
"Who'd ya get that off of"?"
The quiet grunt of a laugh escaped The Bull's craggy face.
"All those years of gambling with you idiots and I finally win......this. A dead man's tunic."
Lucius held out his hand.
"The Golgotha detail? I lucked out. Got to come back here for some rack-time."
Gaius gently gave him the cloth. Lucius opened it up and studied it.
"Nice material. Someone put some work into that. So, who was this guy?"
Gaius leaned back, his eyes staring ahead, reliving it. He shrugged.
"I dunno. Some Jew, I guess. The Old Man had me nail the judgment sign on the cross."
Lucius leaned forward to give the fabric back.
"What'd he do to win a rooftop view of Golgotha?"
No response. The big man stared ahead, lost in memories. Lucius slowly slid away then quickly poked him. Gaius' body instantly jerked up and away as a huge hand slashed the air where Lucius had just been sitting. Lucius grinned at his now fully-awakened friend.
"So why'd we kill 'im? What was on the judgment sign?"
Gaius shrugged again.
"Jesus. King of the Jews,", The Bull chuckled as he remembered, "The Old Man loved that. Really ticked off the fat cats."
He shook his large, dark-haired head.
"Dunno why the Governor is playin' footsie with those idiots. It's not like they're Romans."
Understanding finally dawned on Lucius' face.
"He's the guy at the Praetorium? They beat him to a pulp."
The big man's face contorted into disgust.
"Yeah. That's the guy. Glad the Old Man kept us outta that. Let the newbies and wannabes feel all tough and bad poundin' a helpless man. That's not being a soldier. That's not war."
Lucius glided back over and sat on his own bunk. He looked the big man in the eyes.
"Gaius. What is it?"
The Bull looked away, his whisper fierce and angry.
"We killed an innocent man, Lucius. The guy was no criminal. We...", he swallowed hard, "We murdered an innocent man."
The two men sat amid the soft, sleeping noises of the others for awhile.. Lucius broke the silence.
"We don't judge 'em, Bull, we just carry out the judgments. We're not decision-makers. We're order-takers. Besides - ", The Cat stood and stretched his battle-scarred body, "how do ya know he was innocent?"
Gaius slowly got to his feet., setting the tunic gently on his bunk. He looked down at his small friend.
"His eyes, Lucius. The love in his eyes. He said he forgave us."
The two men moved silently down the hallway to the courtyard. Stepping outside into the dawn, they felt the prelude of a searing day in a dusty land.
"Wait. Whadda ya mean he forgave you?"
Gaius slowly recalled the events as the memory played out before him.
"The fat cats were mocking him. The scumbags hanging on either side were swearing at him. The mob was screaming at him. He looked at them all. And then he looked at me.", Gaius looked up, reliving the moment, "That's when he said it..."Father, forgive them. They don't know what they're doing.""
Lucius nodded matter-of-factly while continuing down the early morning street.
"So his dad was there. That sucks."
"No, Lucius, that's just it. He...he was talking to God."
Lucius shot a sideways glance at The Bull.
"Well. Crucifixion'll do that to ya."
"A lotta people get religion at the end, Bull. It's human nature."
"I'm thinkin' he was right."
"Right 'bout what?"
"That his father was - is - God."
Lucius tugged Gaius' arm as they turned into the mess hall.
"You're sayin' he was a Son of God, like the, uh, Hercules story?"
Gaius nodded as the realization hit him.
"Yeah. I guess I am. All the things that happened. The dark at midday. The earthquake when he died. And I think the Old Man feels the same way."
"Wait-wait-wait. You're tellin' me he died that afternoon? That's not even a quarter of a day! Nobody dies that quick on a cross."
"The fat cats had some big religious thing comin' up so they wanted everyone dead before they got all holy. We had to break legs so they'd suffocate. I got the bludgeon. I did the other two first, but when I got to him, he was already dead. The fat cats were yelling for the Old Man to make sure.", the big man shook his head, "But he knew. And I knew."
Lucius moved closer.
"And then what?"
Gaius straightened up and sighed.
"The Old Man handed me his short spear and nodded. I did a cross thrust, up and through. Water and blood. But, Lucius, he was long dead before I touched that spear."
"Bull, almost nobody dies that fast from a crucifixion!"
Gaius locked The Cat with a vice-like gaze.
"He died on a cross - but that wasn't what killed him."
Immediate recognition caused both men to instantaneously turn and snap to attention.
Centurion Flavius Maxis strode toward them in full armor, years of disciplined service honing his movements into precision and efficiency.
The Bull and The Cat barked in unison.
The Old Man's leathered face softened as he approached, his thoughts going to The 8 On 12.
12 on the sundial cast the shadow directly behind the gnomon, behind its back. The 8 always had his back. No enemy had every gotten through. The enemy dead numbered in the hundreds that were unlucky enough to be across fromThe 8 On 12 in battle.
He liked that they called him The Old Man behind his back but never to his face. Their loyalty was without question. Their bravery and prowess were unequaled in the Cohorte.
The Centurion was tired but managed a smile for two of his best. He stepped forward to clasp Gaius on the shoulder then Lucius.
"You, Bull, will be in charge of The 8 On 12 until I return. Cat, you are my witness to his charge."
"May I ask, Sir, where you're going? And why you don't take us?"
The Centurion sighed, letting his hands drop as he gave them a wry smile.
"I have been asked by the Governor himself to oversee a guard detail for a dead man. It seems that Jew we crucified has the Jewish hierarchy all upset."
His smile disappeared as The Old Man's eyes locked onto Gaius'.
"They said he told people he would rise from the dead in three days time. And the Jewish leaders think his followers will steal the body to make it appear so."
The Old Man and The Bull held their gaze, confirming what they were now beginning to believe.
The Centurion looked over at The Cat.
"But I don't think that will be the case given -."
Lucius blurted out an interruption.
"But sir, if there's gonna be trouble, we oughta be there with you."
Another smile, this one a bit grimer, flickered across The Centurion's face.
"There are new recruits that need experience. It would be best to get that against unskilled foes. So - get some chow, get some rest, and have that barracks spotless when I get back."
The Bull and The Cat stiffened to attention.
The Old Man moved past them and spoke over his shoulder as he strode away.
"Besides, gentlemen, if this King of the Jews is who I believe he might be, we could take the entire Legion.........and it wouldn't matter."
The Centurion strode down the deserted street as a thought slowly grew into a belief. He softly whispered to no one in particular.
"If death can't stop him..."