Friday, September 9, 2011
FICTION FRIDAY: One More Time, Chapter 20
CHAPTER 20 - MAY AND JUNE, 30 CE – CAPTURED
It neared sunset by the time they took their leave from Petronius, so Hamath and Enoch mounted their horses and rode back to their inn rather than try this notorious tavern after dark.
The next morning they broke their fast, mounted their horses, and headed north. They had no friends to take with them, so Hamath decided he’d buy Paulos from Bildad. He decided that would be safe. The man loved money, or he would not be kidnapping people to be slaves.
They found the tavern as Petronius said, a squalid building that had seen better years. The sour smell of urine and vomit hung in a noxious miasma around the sagging structure. Judging from the seedy appearance of the three men who exited the door as they arrived, this wasn’t a hangout for the wealthy—or at least not for the legally wealthy. Hamath left Enoch guarding the horses. Normally that wouldn’t be necessary, but this looked to be one of those places where horses might not be remain where they were tied.
Hamath allowed his eyes to adjust to the dim interior of the inn, then asked after the tavern owner from the nearest person he saw.
“Who wants him?” The man’s voice grated as though drug over a rough, dry streambed.
“Hamath of Tyre, and I seek information.”
“I’m the tavern master. Tell me what is it you want, and perhaps for a coin I might provide the answer. If I feel like it.” He smiled an oily, gap-toothed smile.
“I’m looking for the slave master called Bildad. I wish to buy a slave from him.”
Hamath dug a silver shekel from the purse on his belt and held it up.
“Oh, that Bildad. You are too early for him. That one doesn’t come forth until the sun is well past its zenith. For another coin, I might give him your message.”
Hamath pulled another shekel from the bag. “He can find me at the inn south of the temple,” he said. He walked out the door.
Hamath and Enoch both breathed a sigh of relief as they headed back to Jerusalem.
“That is one place where I’d want my back to the wall,” Enoch said.
“Better yet, don’t go in there. It smelled worse inside than out here. The tavern master might have been the first to place a knife in your back if you didn’t pay your bill. Or perhaps even if you did, if he thought you might have a few coins left worth stealing.” Hamath shook his shoulders as though wanting to be rid of an unseen and unpleasant monkey riding there.
Enoch and Hamath and entered their inn, sat at one of the tables in the great room, and Hamath ordered a dish of food and a flagon of wine. This was the first time in Enoch’s life that he had eaten at the same table with Hamath, and he wasn’t sure how to act. Hamath chatted with him as he would a friend. At times, Enoch wondered if this was still the same man he left Tyre with.
Bildad did not contact them that afternoon or evening, and the next morning, Hamath wondered if they would have to go back to the toxic tavern. He and Enoch discussed the best method of approaching the slave trader, and finally decided they would wait until after the mid-day meal, then go back to the tavern and wait outside until—or if—Bildad showed up, agreeing they would leave the vicinity before sundown.
With trepidation, they mounted their horses and rode back to the tavern. They tied the horses to bushes where they could graze across the road from the tavern, sat down on a handy log, and prepared for a long wait. Bildad showed up sooner than they expected. A dozen men accompanied him. The massively overweight man wore a robe stained with grease and dirt. A graying thin scraggly head of hair and beard nearly hid and sharp black eyes, small and set so close together they nearly met . His nose was thin and red-veined, evidencing years of drinking even more than he ate. Hamath rose and walked across the road, stopping the large man before he could enter the tavern.
“Are you Bildad?” Hamath asked.
“Maybe. Then again, maybe not. And who would you be?”
“I’m Hamath of Tyre. I sent a man to you, one Paulos, a man with a broken leg. I want him back.” Hamath didn’t think he should first offer to buy Paulos—he planned that as part of the bargaining process.
“You want him back, eh?” Bildad mocked him. “Then go find his bones beside the road. That cripple you gave me wasn’t worth my trouble. He died on me when we were only one day out of Tyre. You swindled me, Hamath of Tyre.”
“Swindled you? I gave him to you. You weren’t out one shekel.”
“Not out one shekel? I fed him, watered him, medicated him. And still he died.” He smiled a malevolent smile. “It appears to me you should pay me for my loss. It would be better luck if I had a slave to replace the lost one. You are soft now, but give me a month, and I’ll put muscle on you, Hamath of Tyre.” He nodded to his men, who seized Hamath’s arms.
Enoch sprang up from the log where he watched the proceedings. Drawing his short sword, he ran across the road. “Stop, you brigands!” he shouted. “Let him go!”
“No! Enoch, go back—get help, go tell...”
Hamath couldn’t finish. One of the thugs struck him with the butt of his sword, dropping him to his knees, stunned. He watched as the man turned to meet Enoch. The scar-faced swordsman wiped his bloody sword on the grass, laughing at the still-twitching body lying at his feet.
“Chilead, you idiot!” Bildad backhanded him, giving him yet another scar across his face with the ring on his pinky. “We could have had yet another slave—and that one looked like he was used to working.”
“One day you will go too far, Bildad,” Chilead snarled, wiping blood from his cheek.
“If you don’t like my company—or the color of my money—there is nothing to keep you by my side. You are free to go at any time. Unlike this one.” He grinned, pushing Hamath over with his foot. He kissed the ring that had raked Chilead’s face with fleshy puckered lips.
Chilead turned his back and strode into the tavern, kicking the door open and muttering curses.
The other men trussed Hamath and threw him over the back of his horse. One pulled the purse from Hamath’s girdle and another from Enoch’s body, laughing that now they had the price of an evening of eating and drinking for the lot of them. The men walked into the tavern with Bildad. They paid no attention to Enoch’s body cooling in the mid-afternoon sun. It would raise no eyebrows for a body to be found outside this tavern. Hamath's view of the world turned hazy, then black.