Story of the Month
I’ve met some prophets.
Most were charlatans, or deluded, or both, but not this one. So why did I play along with it? It was politics, that’s all. Choose your battles they say, and it wasn’t worth arguing with those bloody priests and their bloody book. Jealous shaman waving shreds of power in front of their raggedy flock, their people, clinging to their own tiny, desiccated piece of the action. And this prophet had form, they told me, he’d crossed the line somewhere, like they all do eventually, and they were determined to see him hanging.
It was politics.
That was the crux of the matter.
There was no evil in him, the goodness and truth leaked from him like light through a shutter, his disdain for their intrigues was palpable and I think that appalled them, because he called them on it – their sins and their venality and their power-trips – he saw them for what they really were, saw them naked and grasping and godless; he refused to be impressed by them, and it was killing them.
So they killed him.
To keep the peace, quell rebellion, dampen thoughts of unrest. Collect taxes of course. And paperwork, lots of it, because they’re a stroppy lot; they’re very touchy, ever ready to take insult. Little man syndrome if you ask me, the width of an entire nation.
But this guy? I had no interest in him either way. He just stood there while they bellowed at him, and quoted passages from their book right back at them, so they tore their beards and wailed at him, and he seemed unafraid. Was unafraid. Oh, there was no doubt he was trouble, a charismatic smartarse, and there was a purpose to his actions, but it was nothing to do with me, or the state.
Not our problem.
I was reluctant to intervene.
Still, I gave them a loophole to save their fractured, tender pride, a get-out-of-jail-free card that, typically, they took the wrong way, because they’re a cross-grained bunch, and the crowds were persuaded to chant the wrong name and so this skinny guy went to the nail and the cross, his only crime refusing to subscribe to their florid madness, while a bloody terrorist got to walk free.
Disgusted, I left them to it. I went back to my quarters for some bread and wine, shouted for my slaves, for warm clean water and a small scrubbing brush. I needed to wash the filth of them from my hands.
And then the following month another prophet.
An endless procession of wide-eyed mad men, frothing at the mouth and quoting that sodding text at each other. Where do they all come from – the desert? The wilderness must be full of the buggers, wandering about in rags, setting fire to the undergrowth. I can’t wait for the next posting: somewhere less argumentative I hope. Give me Germans with their spears, or Dacian charioteers, at least they stab you in the front.
And I’ve heard they’re growing vines in Gaul to make wine fit for a Roman consul. Or Rome even, dear yes, a posting to Rome would be the pinnacle. Anywhere but this sandpit of priests and that bastard of a book.
by James Ross