A Fictional Account
Of the Life of Paul
By Kurt Schuller
Copyright 2001 Kurt Schuller
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TWENTY YEARS LATER
Saul's' white Arabian charged hard toward the chasm ahead . The sweat from his horse flew past him like a warm vertical rain, yet he was unconcerned. He and Obadiah had run courses that were more demanding than this. Saul wiped Obadiah's sweat from his hand on his coarse wool tunic. If he lost the reigns at this point of the mountainous trail it could prove fatal Obadiah did not hesitate as he approached the precipice. With 12 feet of open air in front of them the colt launched itself confidently over the abyss. A sudden strong headwind gave them unexpected resistance. Fortunately the other side of the chasm was sloped, allowing the Arabian's rear legs the opportunity to scramble furiously, getting just enough traction to save them from falling backward into the gaping void. Regaining his stride, the colt galloped back up to speed. But the delay allowed Marcus to close part of the gap.
Riding the best horse that the Roman government's money could provide, his mare timed her leap with precision and nailed a perfect three point landing, transitioning effortlessly back into as full gallop.
“Blast!” Thought Saul. “I am going to have to dig a little deeper into my bag of tricks.”
Hearing Marcus‘s mare on his heels, Saul grabbed the colt‘s mane ever tighter and dug his heels into The Arabian‘s muscular hindquarters. The trail ahead wound down around the rocky cliff and was extremely narrow.
Saul relaxed his grip on Obadiah's mane “He won‘t be able to pass me now” thought Saul. “All I have to do now is keep him behind me.”
Rounding a blind corner, Saul was surprised to see a smirking Marcus beside him. The trail around the corner had unexpectedly widened, leaving the mare room to slide by Saul's right. The younger and stronger horse took full advantage of this opening, and for the first time in the race, took the lead.
“How could I have forgotten that? “ Saul clenched his teeth together so tightly his cheeks began to turn white. Obadiah grunted uncharacteristically, apparently as perturbed as his master at the thought of being bested by a female. This situation was now very dire. Marcus was about to beat him, and Saul’s stomach began to turn at the thought.
“I will not let him win” Saul said to himself, yet there were no more places on the trail that he could possibly pass.
There was only one option left him. Yet to call it an option was to stretch the words definition. What Saul was about to do was a choice few men would not make, regardless of the circumstance.
Pulling hard to the left on Obadiah’s reigns he forced the colt off the trail and over the edge of the trail. Both horse and rider leaned back in an attempt to stay upright as they hurtled down the severe incline .
Marcus wondered aloud “What is that crazy fool doing?“
Obadiah did a left leg stumble, righted himself and then did a right leg stumble, miraculously regaining his equilibrium. The wild gyrations knocked Saul out of the saddle and he flew up and landed with his left leg still on his horse, but only by his ankle. The rest of him was dangling from the horse‘s side, his right foot becoming repeatedly familiar with the harsh landscape below him. With a burst of strength, his upper body and forearms managed to pull him up and back into his saddle. Arriving at the trail below they found themselves back in front. Horse and rider crossed the finish line just outside of the Army encampment, and to the few soldiers who cared to watch it seemed an apparent easy victory.
Climbing off his horse, the throbbing pain in his right foot made him realized the price that victory had cost him. His badly turned right ankle was swollen and purple. Additionally, he had scraped his large toe raw, deep red blood dripped from his large toenail which hung to his foot by only the barest scraps of torn flesh. Balancing himself on his left foot he turned to check on Obadiah, relieved to see him uninjured . He stroked the horse‘s mane affectionately and whispered softly in his ear.
Marcus arrived, jumped off his horse and ran toward Saul, his face red and eyes glaring. “I had you, Saul,“ he said stern-faced. Saul just stood and leaned his head against his horse for support. He was in too much pain to even answer.
Marcus‘s voice rose and the anger was evident in his eyes “You‘re lucky you didn't kill yourself and your horse! “
The centurion had trouble deciding what irritated him the most, losing yet again, or Saul‘s recklessness with his own life. As he tried to decide, he noticed the pool of blood that was slowly expanding below Saul's foot.
Marcus‘s angry demeanor quickly transformed into a look of concern, as he watched Saul’s face turn ashen as shock began to settle in. Not wishing to alarm him, he flashed a weak smile and a forced laugh.
“Your foot has seen better days, let me get my surgeon to tend to it.”
Saul felt light headed and dizzy. He grabbed his horse‘s mane for support, waving off the suggestion with his right hand as he held himself up with his left
“It‘s nothing, really “ Saul smiled faintly, “I will be..... just......just..”...his eyes rolled up inside his head, and letting go of Obadiah’s mane, he slid to the ground, unconscious.
The irritation in the surgeons voice was unmistakable “The foot looks much worse than it is. The good news is nothing is broken. The bad news is he’ll need to keep of it for at least a week.“
Marcus’s concern for Saul kept his temper at bay and he chose not to make an issue out of the doctors disrespect. “Thank you Doctor.” He said icily. “I will call you if I need you again. You are dismissed.”
The Centurion's surgeon saluted and walked away muttering to himself as he left. Marcus always knew that the men under him did not understand his love for Saul. While Saul was a Roman citizen, he was not considered one by the rank and file of his men. Years of dealing with what they considered ”the rabble“ had left most of them with an attitude of contempt for these stubborn big nosed people. Duty in Palestine was widely regarded as one step removed from total exile. Marcus on the other hand, had spent most of his life in the region., and was not only used to it’s extremes but thrived in them. Growing up in Tarsus, the son of the Roman Consul, he did not even see Rome until his 18th birthday, when he was sent there to be trained as an officer. He loved this land of great contrasts, with its stark desert splendor at it’s interior, to it’s rich and deep green fertile coast.
Waking to the desert sunrise, he never failed to pause and watch the dawn sky as it slowly revealed its rich tapestry of crimson red, fire-orange and glowing golden brilliance.
A sly smile crossed his expression, as he thought of how many women had yielded to his embrace, intoxicated by the jewel-like shimmer of another sparkling Mediterranean sunset.
But he understood why his men loathed this dry and dusty realm. Its hot and arid summers could wear down the strongest of men. And after the beauty and sophistication of Rome, the simple life of Palestine offered little of interest to them.
But what amused them the most was this lands fixation on having only one God The idea was just so ridiculous to them that they mocked this belief at every chance. So while he understood how they felt about their commander consorting with a Jewish Pharisee, He was quick to squash any outward signs of it. After all, he was the Commander and they were his soldiers, and under Roman code they owed him complete allegiance. He would have given the surgeon five lashes just for condescending tone, but feared that Saul might suffer for it. After all. Saul was a Citizen of Rome. Just the same, Roman citizen or not, the sight of Saul kneeling in prayer to Jehovah angered and sickened them. This rift was complicated by the fact that Saul never missed a day of prayer. Marcus thought of all their trips together and could not once recall a morning that did not find Saul kneeling in prayer at the day’s first light. And, as a proud Pharisee, he was always quite vocal and visible. Marcus had long ago given up trying to get Saul to be more discreet. Saul was stubborn about only few things, his total devotion to his God, his love and loyalty for Marcus, and his complete refusal to ever lose a race to him.
Hearing Saul snore he walked over and sat down on a chair next to the bed. Some color had returned to his face and he seemed to be resting peacefully “Well Saul, I hope the victory was sweet, cause I am going to have a lot of explaining to do before Pilate.”
He would be overdue in Jerusalem and Pilate was not renowned for his patience and understanding. And he had gained a reputation for being even less hospitable since the trial and execution of the Nazarene a few months back. Rumor had it that he was being haunted by the dead man’s ghost. Marcus laughed to himself at this thought. “Spirits are to scare impudent children, not Roman Proconsuls”. He had never thought that Pilate was very stable to begin with and wrote off his recent irrational behavior as simply part of his nature. He had heard rumblings that a change was in the winds. From his point of view it couldn’t come too soon. He stopped worrying, with a week to think about it he was sure he could cook up a plausible excuse
Saul began mutter and mumble in his sleep.
“Saul....can you hear me?”
But Saul, in his unconscious state, was not in the Romans Centurions’ tent but in a very different place. A blinding light forced him to close his eyes. Opening them to just the narrowest of slits, he tried to make out his surroundings with little success. All that he could see was the blinding light, and he strained to listen to a faint echo of a voice.
“Why do you persecute me?” it whispered faintly. Again the voice repeated the phrase, only now it was not whispering. Growing louder and more forceful it shouted, “WHY DO YOU PERSECUTE ME? “
Saul cupped his hands hard over his ears in an effort to quiet the din, but still it penetrated.
“Am I going mad ? “
And then there was silence.
The light dimmed and Saul was able to gradually open his eyes. A man walked slowly toward him with a pronounced and exaggerated limp. As the figure grew closer Saul could see that, at the least, he had been badly injured. His hands and arms were bruised and scraped. His long blond hair was matted with thick congealed blood, and his face was turned to the right as if the neck had been broken. He understood now the reason for the strange limp. His leg bone had been snapped in two and it was only his flesh ,tendons and muscles that held his leg together, so when he put weight on it bent under the strain. The sharp edges of his broken femur moved in and out of a bloody wound with each step that he took. Saul was stunned that the man was able to walk at all. The figure reached up its bruised and bloody hands and placed them on its head, taking it and turning it to face Saul. The left side of his jaw had suffered a compound fracture, leaving two sharp edges of bone protruding from his cheek. The mouth sagged at a hideous, crooked angle.
Saul‘s blood ran cold as he began to understand exactly what was approaching him.“ He‘s been stoned!”
He had seen the result of this execution style many times before. Wanting desperately to run, he found himself unable to move. He tried to close his eyes, but he had no control over them. He could only watch in horror, as the walking corpse came toward him. The figure stopped a few feet from him and paused expressionlessly. The distorted mouth slowly began to curl its swollen lips into a hideous smile. The sight of this sent chills down Saul‘s spine. Then the cadaver spoke in a soft, gentle voice.
“Why do you persecute me?”
With that Saul woke and jerkily sat up in his bed, feeling very disoriented. Afraid that the corpse had come back with him from his nightmare, he struggled to focus uncooperative eyes. With a great burst of effort he was finally able to make out Marcus there in the tent with him.
“Marcus.....help me“ whispered Saul, reaching out his hand to his friend.
As Marcus reached to take his hand Saul's eyes grew foggy again. The surge of adrenaline from his nightmare dissipated and he fell back into unconsciousness. Marcus summoned the surgeon.
“He seems to be delirious,”
The surgeon gave Saul a perfunctory examination “Drugged is more like it,” laughed the physician. “I‘m surprised he was able to wake up at all with the amount of the Myrrh I gave him. He is heavily sedated, and will not be coherent for several hours. May I go now sir?”
Marcus dismissed him with a wave.
Sitting next to his friend, he thought for a moment. “Drugged, mmm, I may never get an opportunity like this again“.
He gently shook Saul‘s shoulder to be sure that he was still out.
“Saul, do you remember back when we were boys in Tarsus and we both wanted that same girl...oh what was her name??? Rachel, that‘s it...Rachel. Anyway, I wanted to get this off my chest, cause it has bothered me for years. I really didn't love her you know. I was really just mad at you for always beating me in all those races you tricked me into running with you. I knew that you had fallen in love with her, but that didn't matter to me back then. It was a competition that I could win so I tried my best and won.”
The sedated Saul stirred slightly and Marcus paused, waiting for him to resume full unconsciousness.
“What I did not expect however was the way you reacted to it.” Marcus sighed “I know you haven’t brought it up once since then, but I can tell that I really hurt you.”
Swiftly changing gears he took on a scolding tone. . “You know. It‘s not my fault that you can‘t handle rejection. You could have had lots of other girls! Just what did you find so special about this one in particular?”
Marcus leaned forward, elbows on his thighs, head cupped in his hands looking down at the dirt floor of his tent. Dropping his hands to his knees he looked up at Saul and said “I have never understood that about you“.
“As long as we've been friends since then, I've seen you go out of your way to keep women at a distance, afraid of letting anyone get too close. “
“Saul,” He paused, sat up straight and spoke with an uncharacteristic softness “you still love her, don‘t you? “ The sincerity of his own remarks startled him and he got up from the chair began to pace, resuming his sarcastic tone.
“Anyway, I feel a little guilty about it and I have for quite sometime. I’ve just been too proud to admit it to you. And this seems like a perfect time to get it off my chest. So here we go“
He sat down, took a long deep breath and with considerable effort finally blurted out, “I apologize! “
He felt rather proud of himself. “Well that was great. I feel much better!” Slapping his hands triumphantly on his thighs, he got up to leave, but the sound of Saul‘s voice stopped him . “Rachel? “creaked Saul weakly.
Marcus turned to see if Saul was awake. He watched as his unconscious friend again spoke as he slept. “Rachel?”
His face softened and with a sad smile and in a gentle voice he said
“I really am sorry Saul.” With that he left the tent.
Click here for Chapter One
Click here for Chapter Three