It has been over two years since I actively begun research on a manuscript of historical fiction about a conflicted assassin during the final year of Jesus’ life (approx. 33 A.D.).
Everything is still in an extremely rough state, but, I am getting back into research mode and attempting to breathe life into it again. Below is a sample called The Encounter.
Tovi’s connections revealed that Capernaum was the base of operations of the person he was seeking. Having arrived the previous night, he rose just before dawn and wandered around, getting a feel for the quiet fishing village. He eventually found himself down by the adjacent seaside port and sat on an embankment that overlooked the Galilean Sea.
The night before had been an unusual one. One that even now he wrestled with, as far as trying to understand what really happened. He had been dry and sheltered enough when he had borne witness to one of the strangest storms he had ever experienced. During the late watches of the night, the sound of the wind and rain had set him on edge. That for him was uncharacteristically nerve wracking, as he prided himself in being master over all his fears. Still, the essence of this storm was unlike anything he had ever been exposed to before. It almost felt as if it had a life of its own; one with malicious intent. He told himself it was just his imagination, but the problem with that questionable excuse, was he was not one given over to spurious imaginations of any kind whatsoever. Needless to say the previous night had been a sleepless one.
Now as he watched the now quiet waters that lay before him, he spotted a local fishing boat rounding the spit of land that formed a breakwater for the sheltered bay that lay at the foot of his current location. A familiar unease that lingered from last night’s strangeness began to swell into unexpected nervousness.
As the boat drew near, the features of those on board became more distinct. There were by his count thirteen men on the boat. They at first looked like regular fishermen, but upon closer inspection most of the men were not clothed in the manner of those who plied that trade. As the boat finally scraped up on to the sandy beach, Tovi was suddenly struck by their good fortune. Last night was host to a storm anyone on land would have sought the deepest cave to avoid, but to have come in from the open sea this early meant that they must have travelled from the opposite shore during the night. Many an unsuspecting traveller and quite a few experienced sea-farers had been caught unawares out on the Sea of Galilee, known for its many sudden and violent storms. The sea had proven time and again that it was no respecter of persons. For this group to have survived last night’s violent weather was nothing short of a miracle. If you believed in such things.
Three of the group by now had disembarked, showing an easy familiarity with getting the boat secured on the beach. The rest were clearly unaccustomed to this mode of travel and their countenance revealed fear, mixed with relief as they stepped ashore. If his judge of character was as acute as some of his nefarious associates claimed, not a little bit of awe was also etched on those faces as they stepped onto dry ground.
All except one. Curiously this individual seemed the most at ease, while the rest seemed to defer to him with barely controlled agitation. Could this be the one he was seeking?
If Tovi’s initial investigations proved accurate, this individual was some sort of self-appointed Rabbi and not a fisherman who generally travelled the regional waterways. Strangely, he seemed more at home on the water than his other companions. His background checks had already determined that this Rabbi was also known to be a skilled carpenter by trade. Now he seemed to have become some sort of radical teacher of the Law.
While Tovi was familiar with the entrenched Mosaic Law that permeated everything in this country, he prided himself in his studied lack of acknowledgement of it. He could not recall when any of the Patriarchal writings had borne him any benefit. Under normal circumstances this was not something he would have given any further consideration; but given who had retained his services it was important that nothing be left to chance.
By now the men had left the boat and started up the path that would lead them past where he sat. He had never met any of them before, but began keeping tabs on them ever since accepting the contract ten days ago. Although he had no fear of being recognized, he still turned and faced away from them until they passed by. As they drew abreast of his position he caught snippets of conversation as they talked among themselves.
“Why…think to…out of the boat? What were you…thinking…?”
“…see the size of …waves…and that wind!”
“How did he stop it! How can…wind…obey him? One minute we…dead men and the next …!”
“…don’t know…all of you but…scares me…this…strange…not…right!”
With his back still turned Tovi wondered who, or what they were talking about. He surmised that it may have something to do with last night’s storm. He chanced a glance up the hill to see how far they had traversed and was about to get up and follow when he froze sensing someone behind him.
“Hello friend” said a quiet voice.
The voice was gentle, compelling and sounded slightly inquisitive. Even so Tovi did not like surprises. With his back still turned to the stranger he slowly reached into his tunic sleeve and held fast to the handle of one of the hidden daggers strapped to his left forearm.
“ You will not need that today my friend” continued the voice with a small trace of humour.
Tovi’s already jagged nerves were now coming fully apart at that last remark. Tovi did not remove his hand but slowly turned to face the source of the voice. It was the man the men in the boat had deferred to as they came ashore.
“I do not know you so I am no friend of yours; and I am sure we have never met so therefore you are no friend of mine.” Tovi responded.
“Well then since you put it that way, consider yourself well and truly met!” the Rabbi/Carpenter said with a big smile.
There was no perceptible guile in the stranger’s face, and no detectable deceit in his voice. At least any that Tovi could perceive. If anything this crazy fool (he had to be; no one acted this way) seemed genuinely glad to be here talking with him. But the thing that kept Tovi off balance, was the fact the stranger somehow was able to anticipate his intentions.
“I was watching you as we drew near to the beach” he said. “Kind of early to be out in the morning dew by yourself”.
Tovi’s frayed nerves ratcheted up another notch. He was not accustomed to being observed. That was his domain and to be caught unawares on the receiving end did not sit well with him at all.
“I could say the same about you; and what and when I do is none of your business!” Tovi retorted. “And why would you be watching me anyway?”
“Where are my manners? My sincerest apologies; my name is Yeshua Ben Joseph. I have been watching you for a long time now. I have a message I have been eagerly waiting to give you.”
With his hand still holding the dagger hidden inside his tunic, Tovi regarded him with open suspicion, attempting to decipher any latent subterfuge in the man. The man seemed so damnably happy! As if anyone could really be happy in this god-forsaken Roman-oppressed land. For the life of him he could not possibly imagine what message this stranger had for him. Humouring him seemed the best course of action at this juncture. If anything it may provide an opportunity to ferret out any of his weaknesses that could prove useful.
“Is that so?” Tovi sneered. “And just what is this message you have for me?”
A haunted, far off look momentarily passed over the eyes of the Rabbi. This sudden change in expression seemed to be in sync with the early morning sun, which slid behind a cloud Tovi had not noticed before. This caused the alreday cool morning temperature to lower even further.
“That which you have lost will be found; that which you have sought to attain will come to pass; but at a great price.”
Tovi was not sure, but for the briefest moment he could have sworn the man standing before him was about to cry. He started to dismiss out of hand the strange words that had just been spoken to him, but as soon as the last words faded away on the man’s lips, he began to feel the pressure of last night’s fear and uncertainty ebb away. But old habits die hard and Tovi instinctively glanced around and looked up the path where the twelve men had just walked, but they were already out of sight. He looked back at the Rabbi and backed up a few steps.
“I do not know who you think you are or what you think you are doing, but I strongly recommend you leave…now!”
The Rabbi’s face was smiling again and did not seem at all put off by Tovi’s abrupt tone; Actually he seemed more energized than before.
The Rabbi nodded and smiled brightly as he started walking up the hill.
“Tovi Ben Zani we will meet again. It has been wonderful talking with you!”
As the Rabbi walked past, there was no way he could miss the shocked expression on Tovi’s face. There were very few people currently alive who knew his real name and they were not the sort to share that knowledge. He certainly had not revealed it. Tovi turned around to watch him go up the hill and discovered he was looking at an empty path. The Rabbi was no where in sight. He had simply vanished! He whipped his head around and saw the boat was still beached where the men had left it. He then turned back and ran up to the crest of the hill overlooking the bay, looking in every direction, but still could not find the Rabbi. It was at this point that Tovi felt the warmth of the sun again on his face. Glancing up at the sky, he could no longer see the cloud that had obscured it a few minutes ago.
This was not a situation that bode well and the inexplicable momentary peace he had felt earlier as the Rabbi spoke with him also vanished. He had heard of mystics and soothsayers who claimed the dead walked among the living and nervously wondered if this person was one of those. But that would be foolish thinking in the extreme. He did not believe in ghosts.
Then it hit him. He had been talking with the very person he had been seeking. When the Rabbi introduced himself why had he not recognized his name? He had just missed the perfect opportunity to fulfill his contract. For whatever reason which now totally eluded and frustrated him, while he was in conversation with the Rabbi, it had never even entered his mind to act upon the reason he had sought him out in the first place!