Here is Chapter Fifteen…
Chapter Word Count: 4109
Monthly Word Count: 19,544
The anger of Nazareth dissipated quickly. They didn’t touch any other member of the team. It was as if every proud word that Mary had said about her dear son, Jesus, was released onto Jaime in one swift moment of violent aggression. It may have been that the riot only required one human sacrifice to quench its desire for blood. It may have been the hand of God that protected them. Ambigo preferred to believe that the townsfolk didn’t know that he and the rest of the team were friends of Jaime.
They rushed down the hill as safely as they could to reach Jaime’s still body at the bottom. Simon was the first to arrive and guarded him like a rabid dog, refusing to allow anyone else to touch him or move him until Ambigo was finally able to catch up to them. Jaime regained consciousness within seconds of their arrival and moaned in pain.
Ambigo’s training in emergency situations took over his body and he tended to Jaime with little sentience of his activities. Instead, he watched for angry villagers and assessed the situation, barking out orders in English, “Simon, we need to leave the town. It isn’t safe for us here. Can you direct us to Egypt as soon as we can stabilize Jaime?” The strange expression of a soldier glazed Simon’s eyes. “Yes, sir!” Ambigo scanned the crest of the hill for aggressive townsfolk. “If we leave without our supplies, we are back at ground zero. Do I have any volunteers to return to Joseph and Mary’s house to try to retrieve our belongings? I wouldn’t blame you if you don’t want to. They could be tearing apart the house as we speak.”
Without a word, Simon and Tad ran up the hill to retrieve the supplies. “I need the rest of the team to surround us in a circle with your backs to me. Guard us just in case they come back to finish the job, except you, Madi. I need you to help me.” Madi quickly knelt down beside them. Father Garcia translated Ambigo’s words into Aramaic for Andrew and Philip, explaining the concept of protecting Jaime by surrounding him, facing outward. They silently complied.
Jaime looked like a bloody mess, but Ambigo could tell that the blood was coming from superficial wounds that water and a week would heal without incident. More importantly, he was worried about a spinal cord injury. He had performed initial tests while barking out orders to the team, but now he needed to talk intimately with Jaime.
“I didn’t see you fall, but I saw them throw you head first. Can you tell me how you fell?” Jaime held Madi’s hand and stared blankly ahead. He was panicked and scared, but did his best to answer Ambigo’s question, “I was able to stop most of the fall with my arms. I smacked my face with my arms. Both my eyes!” He cried loudly, “Sweet Jesus, NO! I fell right on both of my eyes! I can’t see a thing! I can’t take another adjustment so soon!” He grabbed Madi’s clothing, pulling her to him. “Don’t make me! Please, I can’t do it again!” He was mad with fear. “The doctors! The doctors said that we should never do an adjustment two days in a row! I can’t!” Madi allowed him to pull her to him. She looked sick at the thought of having to do another adjustment.
Ambigo held Jaime down, trying to calm him. “Dammit, Jaime! You need to stay still. If you’ve injured your spinal column, there’s no hope for you if you get a jolt.” He turned toward Ambigo’s voice. “If I’ve broken my neck, kill me now. I might as well die than be a quad here!” He bolted up, jumping up and down as if to test himself. “Look, I haven’t broken my neck. I can walk to Egypt just fine. Just point me the right way and I’ll walk all the way there.” Ambigo and Madi stood up and tried to get him to lie back down. “I don’t need an adjustment. Just let me hold Madi’s arm and I’ll get there just fine…” The blood from his injuries dripped down his face and onto the ground in gory red splashes. “I could go right now.” He grabbed Madi’s clothing again, bleeding on her tunic. “Madi, please! Please! Not now! Not tomorrow! Please!” He was sobbing and she gently pulled him down to the ground.
Ambigo patted his head. “No adjustments. I’m glad that you are so well. When I saw you at the bottom of this hill, I thought the worst.” Father Garcia interrupted from his guarding position, “Jaime, you said you could go to Egypt right now?” The bleeding man was still sobbing. “Yes. Yes. Just don’t let them do an adjustment on me today. Please!” The priest turned and helped Jaime to his feet. “Madi, take his other arm. We are going to test his spinal column rather vigorously, I’m afraid.” Ambigo followed Father Garcia’s gaze toward the town. Simon and Tad were running as quickly as they could with the supplies and they were followed by the angry mob.
The mob lost interest in them about a mile out of town, but they kept running for two miles more out of sheer fear and adrenaline. When they finally slowed, they were a pathetic group. An outside observer would have thought that Father Garcia and Madi had also been severely injured because they were so covered in Jaime’s blood. Panting and out of breath, Philip took one look at the three of them and fainted dead away. Fortunately, Tad was close enough to deflect most of his fall.
Simon scanned the terrain. “There is water about a half mile away, I think. I’ve kind of lost track where we are. Is it possible to go on for a bit more?” He directed his question to Ambigo, who was trying to wake Philip. “Jaime?” Ambigo called in Aramaic, “Can you go on for another half mile or so? We need to clean your wounds.” Jaime was winded and in pain. It was visible to all there that the man should be allowed to rest. “I’ll do whatever you want if you promise you won’t let Madi fix my eyes until after tomorrow.”
Simon replaced Father Garcia and comforted Jaime. “If anyone tries to get near your eyes, I will personally snap their necks.” Ambigo agreed, “We won’t even suggest fixing your eyes until you tell us to, even if that means you’re blind until we go home.” Andrew gave confused looks to the team, but his questions remained unanswered. Ambigo had revived Philip and the team made a slow march to the water that Simon promised.
By the time they were close enough to the lake, everyone rushed to it for a drink. There was no boiling of the water. There was no gathering of wood. The camp duties were neglected for at least an hour after they arrived. Simon looked at the lake in wonder. Father Garcia patted him on the shoulder. “Good work navigating, my boy. It’s beautiful.” Simon shook his head. “Weird.” Tad looked up from the water. “What’s the matter?” Simon shrugged. “Last time I was here, it was just a pond.” He shook his head and shrugged his shoulders. “Huh… I hope we’re not lost.” Father Garcia responded, “If we are, we’ll worry about it tomorrow. Today, we lick our wounds.”
Madi moved Jaime into the water, washing him from head to toe, inspecting his body for cuts and scraps. Ambigo helped her and they washed the blood stains from his tunic. The camp was set up and the fire was blazing by the time they got out of the water. Jaime sat by the fire, shivering and shaking out his wet tunic. Andrew approached him, “I have an extra robe. Would you like to take yours off and wear my extra while yours dries?” He shivered, “Y-y-yes. Th-thank you. I really appreciate this. I’m sorry I got us in this mess. I couldn’t s-s-see any way out of it.” Father Garcia nodded, shaking his clean tunic over the fire. “Sometimes the only way out is through.” They all nodded.
Madi stood close to the fire, pulling her tunic away from her slender body and shaking it. “What happened back there? Why didn’t you just give them some dumb speech about loving their neighbor or something?” Tad answered for Jaime, “I don’t think he could have said anything that wouldn’t have angered them. He was destined to be thrown from the hill. He couldn’t escape it because we can’t change history. I saw it coming, but it still surprised me when it happened.” Father Garcia glared at Tad. “Let’s keep our theories on the inevitability of history to ourselves, Father Judean.” He glanced over at Andrew and Philip, indicating that he would prefer to keep this discussion away from their ears and Tad blushed in recognition.
The team was awkwardly quiet and Ambigo noticed Madi’s eyes were scanning imperceptibly. He whispered, “Are you alright?” She nodded and whispered back in English, “I’m just reviewing the events in the synagogue. I’m wondering what the rabbi said that set Jaime off and had him spouting scripture…” Her eyes moved quickly under her lids as if they were watching a film within her mind. The food was cooking and the group talked eagerly about the trip ahead of them. Ambigo whispered, “You can review what you’ve filmed?” She responded quietly, “Yeah. I guess you wouldn’t have known that. We can’t film and review at the same time, though. They’ll be a dead spot in my visual records, but I still record audio.” Ambigo nodded thoughtfully.
Simon’s ears perked up while he was cooking. “Did you hear that?” He asked Tad, but the priest shook his head. Simon handed the food to Tad and stood up, scanning the terrain. He shook his head. “I must be hearing things.”
When the food was distributed, the conversation died down. Only the sounds of hungry eating filled the air. When they finished a collective sigh of fulfillment passed between them. No matter the strife of the day, a good meal can erase all anguish. Jaime spoke, “I don’t know who cooked that food. I don’t even know what kind of meat it was, but thank you. I feel better already.” Simon laughed. “You’re welcome. It was the roast that was supposed to be Joseph and Mary’s dinner tonight. We took it along with our supplies. I guess that would be considered stealing, huh?” He turned to Father Garcia for absolution.
Father Garcia squinted and shook his head. Ambigo provided it, “I told Joseph and Mary to leave town for a couple of days for their safety, so it would have gone to the rats anyway. Of course…” Ambigo paused playfully. “…you couldn’t have known that. You were busy trying to rescue Jaime.” The group was quiet again and Jaime responded, “Thank you, guys. That… that was a mess.”
Simon’s ears perked up. “I heard it again. Did anyone else hear it?” The team shook their heads. Simon stood up, looking at the landscape in the dying sunlight. “I think I’ll do a perimeter sweep before we sleep.” He picked up a big stick that had been gathered for the fire. “I don’t want any angry Nazarenes to surprise us in our sleep. I think we’ve taken enough damage today.” Tad stood up. “Should I go with you?” Simon shook his head. “Nah. It’s probably just my imagination getting the best of me.” He smiled and twirled the stick like a gun. “I see beasts where there are none.”
After Simon left, an uncomfortable silence hung over them. They waited for him to return and tried to ignore the events of the morning. Philip finally spoke, “You cannot see?” Jaime’s face contorted. Jaime obviously missed the sort of communication that a stern look from Father Garcia could convey. He chose to remain silent and Father Garcia answered for him, “Jaime was hurt in the fall. We’re hoping his eyesight comes back after he heals.” Andrew queried, “But…” He looked from face to face. His eyes rested on Madi. He didn’t look at her scars. He didn’t look at her shivering body huddled in her wet tunic. He looked her straight in the eyes. “I thought he said that you could fix his eyes.”
Madi’s steely gaze turned to Father Garcia, but Andrew continued, “Don’t look at him for answers. All of you turn to him for your answers. I want the answers from you. Can you restore his sight?” She stared at him, unblinking. He stared back, but no untouched human could out-stare Madi or Jaime, so he blinked. He may have lost the contest, but he didn’t release his hold on her attention. “Just tell me the truth… I want to hear it from you.” Madi sighed, “I cannot restore the sight of just anyone. I can only help Jaime. We… have a special bond.”
“What does it take to make this… special bond?” Andrew was insistent. She breathed out heavily, “Why? Why does it matter to you?” Andrew looked away. The contest was over and Madi had inexplicably won. Philip watched them, “I don’t believe it.” He flung his bedding squarely at Jaime’s face. It bounced off his face and headed for the fire. Tad scrambled to rescue it before it became singed. “What the hell are you doing, Philip?! The guy just fell down a mountain. It’s not time for a pillow fight, you dork!” He said the English insult with the Aramaic words, but Philip understood their meaning.
“I’m sorry. I…” He caught the blanket as Tad threw it back to him. “I guess I didn’t believe he was blinded by the fall. I’ve never heard of anyone being blinded by falling down. It doesn’t make sense…” He looked at Jaime closely. “I thought maybe you were trying to fool us the way you fooled Mary…You didn’t even flinch…” Jaime responded angrily, “Of course I didn’t flinch, you bozo. I can’t see.”
Father Garcia calmly continued, “Philip, Jaime and Madi are special. Their eyes are very delicate. We need to protect them from harm if we are in a situation like this morning. A fall or a blow to the face can make them blind, but they have the ability to heal. Do you remember the night before we arrived to Nazareth?” Philip and Andrew nodded. “Do you remember how Jaime screamed and we had to hold you back from helping them?” They nodded again. Jaime continued, “That night, I had a small… a VERY small problem with my eyes. It was nothing like what it’s going to take to get me whole again…” He shuddered and Ambigo cringed at the thought of holding him down.
Jaime pulled his knees to his chest and covered his face with his hands. Ambigo continued, “Andrew, I sense that you have a personal interest in this subject. No matter who the person is, no matter how much they have suffered because of the lack of sight, I wouldn’t wish these eyes on them.” Both Madi and Jaime nodded their heads in agreement. Andrew swallowed and turned his eyes toward the sky. He sniffed back the tears that had started gathering in the corners of his eyes.
Father Garcia continued, “More importantly, we will never try to fool you. If you recall, it was Joseph that wanted to fool Mary, not us. In retrospect, it was a bad idea for us to follow along with his deception. Any joy that we gave her last night was dashed to pieces this morning…” Father Garcia stared into the fire. Madi turned her back to the fire in an effort to dry the backside of her tunic. Tad quietly tried to console Father Garcia, “It’s just one story, Father Garcia. It’s probably less than 10 verses. One story out of thousands and as far as I can tell, we couldn’t have avoided it…” He shrugged. “We’re doing the best that we can do.”
Andrew asked, “You say you will never try to fool me, but every answer is filtered through you. You hide something from us.” Philip nodded. “If you can’t reveal all that you know, then we will never truly be part of this group. We might as well go back to Bethsaida.” Andrew nodded. Father Garcia sighed. “We aren’t hiding something from you. We don’t know how to say things. Our land is very different from yours and it is very hard to find the words that will help you understand. Just as Jaime’s eyes are different than yours. Our tongues are different also. It’s so…” He breathed heavily with the weight of it. “…hard to think of the words that will make sense.”
They heard rustling behind the bushes and turned to see Simon, “Guess who was lurking in the bushes like a thief?” He hoisted Petros in front of the group and dropped him at Andrew’s feet. “I think this belongs to you.” Petros had the look of fear on his face, but the team laughed at the sight of him. Jaime was confused, “What’s going on? Who’s here?” Ambigo grabbed Jaime by the shoulders, “It’s Petros!” Then, to Petros, he yelled, “No! Don’t explain! Don’t tell us a thing! Let me guess!” Ambigo stood up and started pacing, thinking of the most probable answer. “You returned to Galilee and found that we had…” he paused for comedic effect, “…KIDNAPPED Andrew and Philip.” The group laughed.
Ambigo continued, “You tracked us to Nazareth, but you were curious. You wanted to know if we would find our rabbi, maybe even warn him. So you hid in the shadows. Then you saw the town throw us down the hill, so you figured now is your chance.” Ambigo tapped his chin. The story wasn’t turning out as funny as it seemed when he started. “But,” he paused. “You’re only one man and we…we have a…” he waited, allowing the team to catch up to him, “…a ROMAN soldier guarding us. And to your horror! The soldier heard you and hunted you down…” He put his hand on his hip, “…again. And caught you…” he pointed at the team, and they followed along. “Again!” They called out in unison. “Am I right?” He smiled at Petros and gave him a playful tousle of his hair.
Petros looked down at the fire, “Yeah, except you guys kidnapped my brother… and his friend. That’s the only part you missed…” Madi was genuinely happy, “Andrew is your brother?” She stopped herself and looked at the two men, “Oh yes, of course…” She sucked in a loud breath of air, “…and you are Philip.” Her lips became thin and she pursed them tightly, nodding. “Of course… this just keeps getting better. Figures…” Ambigo looked from face to face in confusion. Madi asked Tad, “You knew?” Tad nodded. “And you still let them come with us?”
Father Garcia intervened. “I knew, also, Madi. The more time we spend with them, the more likely we are to encounter Jesus.” The team nodded and Ambigo finally broke down and asked, “What’s going on?” Jaime tried to explain, “Andrew is Petros’ brother…” His voice trailed off. Petros finished trying to warn his brother, “They think you know this rabbi from Nazareth. I’m sorry I didn’t take you with me.” Andrew laughed. “Petros, you’re as dumb as a rock! They didn’t kidnap us! Don’t you see? This is the biggest adventure a man could have in a hundred lifetimes. We are searching for a man. One man in thousands. From what I’ve gathered from them, this man may not even exist! It’s a grand mystery! I wouldn’t run away to Kadesh when I can face an adventure such as this!”
Andrew grabbed Petros in a brotherly bear hug. “Petros! You are dumb as a rock!” Father Garcia interrupted, “No, Andrew. Take your words back.” Andrew dropped his brother and faced Father Garcia’s stern face. “Petros, come to me.” Petros sat next to Father Garcia. “You are NOT as dumb as a rock. You were very brave to follow us and chase us down. If we were what you believed us to be, your bravery is unmatched among us.” He turned Petros to face the group. “Everyone, tell Petros how brave he was.” The group looked at each other.
Ambigo spoke first, “I’m sorry I made fun of you. The Father is right. You are very brave.” Simon had a glint in his eye, “Considering that I have you outsized by half and you STILL took a swing at me, you ARE one brave guy.” The rest of the team nodded in agreement. Father Garcia patted Petros on the shoulder and continued, “The three of you have a choice. You can decide right now whether you want to be part of our team. We will withhold NOTHING from you. We will try to explain everything to you to the best of our ability.” Simon squeaked. Father Garcia faced him. “This is a command decision, Simon. We will tell them all the history of the man we seek.”
Madi faced the fire again, “Do we have to tell them our…” She pulled her legs under the tunic, hiding her scars. “…our history. Do they need to know where we come from?” Father Garcia looked at Madi’s feet, peeking out of her tunic. They were flawless. No one would have known that there her thousands of scars on her legs just above them. “I would prefer that they not know WHERE we come from.” He faced Andrew, Philip and Petros. “The search for our homeland is not an adventure that you are destined to undertake. Please don’t search it out.” He faced Madi again. “As far as your personal histories, you can share as much as you feel comfortable. That is your information and you do not need to give it to anyone.”
He faced the three men. “Today, you decide. Come with us to Egypt and we will tell you all that we have heard about the man we seek. Go home to Bethsaida and you can resume your life. Our paths will cross again, I assure you. You have the choice. If you go to Egypt with us, you will be part of our team. Philip? Will you join me?” Philip looked at the other members of the team, “Are you joking with me? Of course I’ll join you!” Father Garcia turned to Andrew. “I believe I know your answer. Will you join me?” Andrew nodded seriously, “No question in my mind. Yes.”
The priest turned to Petros. “I wouldn’t blame you if you left us. We have acted strangely since the moment we met you. We’ve hidden information from you. We’ve hunted you. We’ve attacked you and tied you down. We chased you to your home…” He smiled playfully. “…We’ve kidnapped your brother…” The group laughed. When the laughter died down, he continued, “Seriously, though. You have a wife at home, waiting for you. If you do not join us now, we will understand. Petros, will you join us?”
The team watched Petros’ face. He looked at Madi’s feet. He looked at Simon’s bulging forearms. He looked at Jaime’s sightless face. He looked at Tad’s knowing arms folded over his chest. His gaze rested on Ambigo’s eyes. “You, Ambigo. I have your word as a healer that you will always tell me the truth?” Ambigo looked back at him earnestly, “I always have. I give you my word as a healer to always tell you the truth.” Petros looked at his brother and Ambigo continued, “More importantly, I give you my word as a man who experienced John the Baptist. You know how a meeting with him goes.” Petros looked back at him, locking eyes. “I vow to willingly go back to John the Baptist and do whatever he tells me to do if I ever lie to you.”
The two men held each other’s gaze for what seemed like an eternity. Petros finally answered Father Garcia’s question, without taking his eyes off of Ambigo, “Yes, Father Garcia. I will join you.” Andrew cheered and the rest of the team joined him in the revelry. Petros and Ambigo didn’t take their eyes from each other despite the hugs and congratulations and Ambigo worried that he would some day regret that vow.