Here is Chapter Twenty-Five…
Chapter Word Count: 1929
Monthly Word Count: 50,634
The jovial joking of James evaporated after his second visit with John the Baptist. As Ambigo suspected, James had not been allowed to bring Andrew with him when they got to the front of the line. Andrew had to go into the cave alone, just like every other pilgrim. The core team discussed quietly in English whether they should send in another member while Andrew met with him.
“We’re so close. I don’t want to waste another moment here when we are a little over a day’s walk away from him.” Simon fidgeted on the ground. Father Garcia added, “The last time we saw him, we asked about a rabbi from Nazareth. Now, we know that he probably never knew Jesus as a rabbi from Nazareth. We can ask him better questions now.” Ambigo shook his head. “He’s really good at NOT answering questions.”
Jaime suggested, “You go in, Dr. Thomas. You’ve talked to him before. He’ll trust you more and you’ll be able to crack him this time.” Ambigo held up his hands to stop Jaime. He didn’t speak. He didn’t want to relive the experience with John the Baptist. He didn’t want any of the team to experience it. Madi came to his rescue. “Anyone who has truly encountered John the Baptist is not willing to return. I think the only reason James went back is because he wasn’t… paying attention the first time. Look at him…”
The team looked over at James. His hair was wet and his forehead was anointed with oil. He was nothing like the silly boy who had danced for the crowd at the bonfire last night. “Do you think he wants to go back in?” The team sounded a “Nu-uh,” in unison. Madi’s harsh voice replied, “Then don’t ask us to go back in. I don’t know about Ambigo, but it’d take all of you to drag me in there.” Tad replied, “Well, it was different with you, Madi. We wouldn’t ask you to go back in…”
She looked at him angrily. “Good thing, because I’d take you out if you tried to force me back in…” She looked at him with disgust. “St. Jude, my ass.” Tad took a deep breath and tilted his head to the side. “I’ve been patient with you. Ever since our conversation about the potential… only potential, mind you… that some of us might be… might be, Madi… saints, you have been unbearable.” She grabbed his tunic and pulled him closer to her. “Maybe I don’t like being called a slut!”
Tad shook his head and looked surprised. “When have I ever called you anything but your name?!” Father Garcia separated them. “Madi, you might recall that it was I who implied that your name is similar to Mary Magdalene, not Father Judean.” The newest members of the group had noticed the argument and watched in amazement. Madi pulled her knees to her chest and wrapped her arms around them, tucking herself into a little ball. Ambigo patted her on the shoulder. “I’m sorry, Madi.” She pushed him away. “Fuck you.”
Jaime shook his head and chided her, “Don’t say mean things to Dr. Thomas.” She looked up from her knees. “Why the hell not?!” Jaime looked at her with his steely gaze. “Because you’ll remember every mean thing you ever said to him when he has to do an adjustment on your eyes.” She stared at him, not speaking, just rocking back and forth. When she finally spoke, she unwrapped her body. “Good point.”
Father Garcia let the angry air dissipate. When the newest members of the group started talking amongst themselves again, he broached the subject. “We agree that meeting with John the Baptist is not a pleasant experience. Do any of you want to volunteer?” The faces scanned each other and in the end, everyone shook their head. Madi ran her hands on her rough tunic. “We should have coached Andrew. He was planning on going in. We should have told him what to ask.”
Philip approached the group. “I’m going in next…” He looked at them uncomfortably. “…that is unless one of you guys wants to go in first.” Ambigo shook his head. “Oh, Philip… Don’t go in there. I promise you, you’ll regret it. Please…” Tad spoke, “I heard Petros trying to convince Andrew not to go. If he doesn’t want his brother to go in, you know it must not be a good thing.” Philip put his hand on his neck and rubbed. He looked to the ground and then looked at Father Garcia. “It’s just… I heard Father Garcia ask for a volunteer…”
Simon stood up and placed a firm grip on Philip’s shoulder and made him sit down on the ground with them. Father Garcia whispered to the group in English, “Did I ask for a volunteer in Aramaic? I thought I was talking in English…” Simon was firm. “No, you were speaking in English.” He increased his grip on Philip’s shoulder. “Ow! Ow! What? What’s the matter? So I can understand you. I can’t recognize all of your words, but I heard him ask for volunteers and all of you shook your heads. I’m willing to go. Ow! Stop it!” Simon released his grip.
Father Garcia calmly responded in Aramaic, “Philip. No one volunteered because we don’t think it’s a good idea for anyone to go in. I really shouldn’t have asked them. When Andrew comes out, you’ll see. Look…” He pointed at James with his brother. “Do you think James would want you to go in?” Philip looked at his friends. The Thunder Brothers looked more like the Cowering Brothers. Philip rubbed his face and tugged on his right ear.
Simon made a decision. “You’re not going in. It’s a waste of time. We are a day’s walk away from the man who heals cripples. That guy…” he pointed to the cave, “…doesn’t know anything about his cousins. He’s not going to help us because he can’t. We have to accept that. I want to be on the road as soon as Andrew gets out of the cave and comes to his senses. I don’t want another night in the rowdy shanty town… I don’t…Father, I don’t think it’s safe to be here.” Father Garcia nodded. “You’re right, Simon. It isn’t wise for us to stay here. Philip, don’t let any of the others enter the cave. Let’s leave as soon as Andrew is able to go.”
Simon retrieved Andrew from the cave and gave him a large bear hug. Petros hugged his brother from the other side and they inched him away from the cave. Soon, Simon had the entire group on the road toward the man who heals the cripples, leading the way. Ambigo brought up the rear and walked with Philip and Bartholomew. “How long have you been able to understand us?” Philip shrugged. “Since the beginning, I guess. The more you talk amongst yourselves, the more I learn. Petros is right. You sound like the Germanic tribes.”
Ambigo shook his head. “How could you have encountered the Germanic tribes? They are so far away.” Philip kept walking steadily. “I am well educated and I have a gift for languages.” Ambigo called ahead, “Tad, come back here.” Tad approached them and Ambigo said, “Philip would like to learn more about our language. Are you willing to teach him? He says he has a gift.” Tad shrugged. “If I’m going to teach him, I should teach Petros as well. I think he understands more than he’s willing to admit. I’ve seen him react to our words when he thinks I’m not watching. Would you like to learn?” Philip nodded and the two of them walked ahead to gather Petros.
Ambigo was left at the back of the group with Bartholomew. He sighed and stretched. Walking was so much easier when he didn’t have to worry about cutting his feet. He had completely abandoned his habit of kicking sharp rocks out of the road. Bartholomew spoke, “Philip says that you refuse to believe in God, even when faced with miracles.” Ambigo looked at the young man and couldn’t contain his laughter. “How many miracles has he told you I’ve experienced?”
Bartholomew crinkled his forehead, “Well, there were the sandals…” Ambigo answered, “I didn’t have sandals. One of the divers noticed and gave me some sandals. Not a miracle.” “You saved all the divers.” “We carried the divers to the woman on the shore. Philip was with us. He was one of the men to carry the divers. We didn’t lose any because there were so many of us. Not a miracle.” “How many miracles do you need before you believe?”
Ambigo sighed. He had no idea what to say to this man. It was a good question. What would it take for Ambigo to believe in a higher power? “Bartholomew, let’s not talk about God. If you want belief and faith, talk to Simon. If you need to feel healthy and well, talk to me.”
Up ahead of them, Simon stopped walking. It didn’t take long before the group was crowded around him. Father Garcia asked, “What’s the matter, son?” Simon looked around and the landscape and grabbed James’ robe. “Are you sure we’re on the right road?” James looked to John and the two of them answered together, “Yes…” Simon shook his head. “How much further did you say?” John shrugged. “From here, about a day’s walk.” Simon pointed. “There’s water over that swell. We better camp here tonight.”
Father Garcia asked, “Are you well?” Ambigo approached him, putting his hand to Simon’s forehead. He was burning up with fever. “Help me, Bartholomew. We need to get him into the lake. Let’s hope one of your miracles comes along.” Simon fought them. “No! I’m just fine. I just need to rest. I have to talk to Father Garcia. I can hear them!” He grabbed Petros’ robe. “Herod’s soldiers! I hear them. They are breaking up the shanty town!”
If there had been doubt in their minds before, none remained. It took six of them to contain him and drag him to the lake. Bartholomew looked at Ambigo with terrified eyes. Matthew helped hold Simon in the water. He looked up catching Ambigo’s eyes, mouthing the words, “Madmen and Charlatans.” Ambigo shook his head, whispering, “Neither. He’s still sick. He got overheated from the walk and he must still have a bit of…” he couldn’t think of the word “infection” in Aramaic, so he used the English word instead, “…infection left over from when I pulled his tooth.” Bartholomew nodded. “Is infection a demon? He looks like he has a demon.” Ambigo shook his head. “There are no demons, Bartholomew. He’s just sick.”
Ambigo’s stomach felt like he had eaten rocks the previous night at the bonfire. They felt like they weighed him down as they gave Simon a bath in the cool lake. His patient quieted and began to shiver. “We have to take him out… now!” The six of them carried him out of the lake. Simon pulled him close to his lips. “The shanty town! They are massacring them!” Ambigo whispered, “Then we should stay far away from them, don’t you think?” Simon nodded and lost unconsciousness.
All night, they took Simon in and out of the water, bringing his fever down and quieting his demons. The team stayed at the shore of the lake, safely hidden from the road behind the swell. They didn’t even hear when Herod’s soldiers passed.