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An Apocryphal Tale for Oestara by Sadie Rose Bermingham
“When we first began to write the Rayne Wylde vampire stories we had a little joke that Jabez Everman had been hanging around at some of the principal political hotspots of history. There was some little quip about him selling miniature crosses at the Crucifixion, which was in very poor taste, I know! This story sprang from it and is probably no better off in the taste ratings. Anyone who has strong Christian convictions probably ought not to read it at all as it will only upset you, even though it’s really quite mild by my normal low standards. As usual, if you choose to ignore the warning, don’t come crying to me about desecration and profanity afterwards. I am a worthless Pagan and I will not be sympathetic.
Apologies to the Rayne fans, he isn’t in this one. I thought he deserved a little break, but he will be back!”
PART 1 – THE EVERMAN
Since leaving his homeland of Egypt there had been good days and bad days for the tall, bronze-maned Vampire who currently dominated the small cell beneath the palace of Caiphas. Jerusalem had brought many good days but it was in Jerusalem where the bad luck hit him, and hard.
Akhenaten had not believed that he was fallible. That in itself was a weakness, a vulnerability born of two thousand years and more of wandering from place to place like a nomad, altering his name and changing his circumstances as his latest halt required of him. Since leaving Egypt behind him he had borne many names. The most oft repeated was a title that translated roughly from Aramaic as The Everman. It was a curious conceit, but he liked it well enough.
Once the Pharaoh Akhenaten had been all-powerful, born of the great god Amun-Re, no less, as was every King of the Two Lands of Egypt. Mighty warlords and the leaders of nations had quaked before him in the halls of his sacred city, Amarna. The tributes brought to him there were lavish; gold enough to build a city fifty miles wide; jewels of such brilliance that they rivalled the very stars for their beauty. But material wealth had not been enough for him. Akhenaten desired immortality. He wanted the world to speak his name in tones of reverence; The Heretic King of the Two Lands, the Pharaoh who would never die.
In Amarna he traded all that he had for one Eternal Kiss, an endless curse that would follow him into infinity. On his knees before the temple shrine he had erected to the sacred Sun God, the Aten, turning his back on the pantheon of Egypt’s old deities, he received the agonising barbed tribute; the flesh-rending bite that drove the last of his mortality from his body. He was resurrected as a true, living God.
And all that he had worked for turned slowly to ashes around him. One by one, those he loved were taken from him, by plague or by false words. Most cruelly, his precious Neferneferuaten, foremost and most beautiful of his wives, was accused of treachery and torn from the sanctuary of their palace home; brutally raped and killed by soldiers of the Priesthood of Amun Re. Her body was dumped upon the temple steps in Amarna as a warning to all who would continue in the worship of The Aten.
The name of Akhenaten was slowly wiped from the face of history. Though he could not die, that did not mean that he could not be erased and replaced. The priesthood of Amun adopted a new pharaoh and the traditional Godhead was restored in Thebes. Life simply went on without him. Amarna languished and fell into ruin, reclaimed by the shifting sands of the desert.
And the old gods laughed long and hard at his despair, turning their backs on Akhenaten, just as he had repudiated them. All he was left with were memories and his dwindling estate. Sly thieves gradually filched that which the desert did not snatch back until a few sparse possessions were all that were left to him.
Not that he had any possessions to brag about right now.
This evening he barely had clothing enough to protect his modesty. The pit he had been flung into was deep and dark and bone-numbingly cold. Its disgruntled occupant huddled in one corner, his arms wrapped around his knees and his long, dark, gold-streaked hair cascading like a ragged blanket over his naked back and shoulders as he contemplated this latest twist of fate.
Never one to rest on his laurels (even when he still ‘had’ laurels to brag of) on his arrival in Jerusalem Akhenaten wasted no time in sounding out the names of those with power and authority. He had come to this city of sinners with barely a coin in his pocket, but all of that was to change.
Sirenius was an important name in the court of the potentate, Caiaphas. He was also a very old man, and rich beyond the dreams of most ordinary citizens. The wandering Egyptian exile quickly saw a way in which to work this situation to his advantage. He acquired newer, grander robes from the shop of a merchant in Cain Street, via the open back door, whilst the proprietor free spin was not looking. Adopting the name of Jesus Barabas, he moved among the traders and money lenders of the city, letting it be known that he was the son of Sirenius, returned from the home of his cousins in Galilee, where he had trained as an usurer of lands and properties.
In addition, he let it be known that his ‘father’ had not many more moons to live upon this earth and that he, Barabas, was the old man’s sole heir. In the drinking houses and temples of the city of Jerusalem, he made pacts with the greedier merchants and money lenders, promising them a division of the old man’s estate, once he was properly buried, in exchange for a fat fee from each man.
Akhenaten planned to be well away from Jerusalem by the time Sirenius passed into the afterlife. Unfortunately, one of those he gulled turned out to be his undoing. The fellow was a friend of Pilate and also of Sirenius and a little digging around quickly revealed the truth. Sirenius had no sons, only daughters. The fellow, whose name was Akarus, sent guards to the house of ‘Barabas’ and in the night they finally outnumbered him, but only after an almighty struggle which saw one man dead and countless others carried to the sanitoriuim. At last they bound him in irons and dragged him away to the palace where he was stripped and beaten with great relish by his tormentors.
Their deathless captive fought off the two who came back to his cell planning to rape him, and bled them both with a will, for he was ravenously hungry for fresh blood. For this new outrage he was sentenced to death by crucifixion, the favoured amusement of the Roman invaders at that time, and cast into the pit where he now found himself.
If his conditions had not been so uncomfortable, he might have laughed out loud at this predicament. For over two and a half thousand years he had been living yet dead. He doubted very much that a few nails and a very public hanging would alter that.
PART 2 – THE NAZARENE
It was late on the following evening when the cover of his pit was hauled back, allowing faint twilight to seep down briefly into the darkness. It also admitted the coarse voice of one of his assailants from the previous day.
“Company for ya!” the guardsman bellowed.
This was all the warning he got before a tall, emaciated-looking man was dropped unceremoniously into his dungeon and the shutter of iron and solid cedar-wood came thudding back down again. As the dust settled and the vibrations stilled, Akhenaten got his first good look at the newcomer. He lay where they had thrown him, half on his back, with his knees canted sideways into the dust. Glazed eyes stared back up at the strips of blurry light spilling down from cracks in the cover of their pit. His long, solemn face was sun-gilded and careworn, yet Akhenaten sensed that he was not an old man. Dark eyes were framed by golden lashes and his hair and beard, though ragged and matted with blood and dust, were still fair and spilled around his head like an aurora. The skinny body, barely concealed within the rags of his simple shift spoke of long deprivation and harsh living. His expression was tranquil however, although his flesh told the tale of a worse beating than ‘Barabas’ had received on the previous day.
Akhenaten was no fool. He listened carefully to the gossip of men who believed him beyond caring. All through the day the palace chatter had been of nothing else but the man from Nazareth, the fellow they were calling the King of the Jews. He worked miracles, they said. He raised the dead and insulted the money-lenders by chasing them from the temples. He cured the sick and lame with a touch. The hysteria was near boiling point. He was here, they whispered urgently. The King of the Jews, in a cell like a common criminal. They had beaten him, the gossips insisted, until the blood ran in rivers from his body. After that they had crowned him in a ring of thorns and spread him roughly on the ground like a whore, where those who were so inclined had used him with no regard for his ‘regal’ status.
He uttered not a sound, the muttering voices declared, not even when forced to crawl on his hands and knees so that he could be mounted from behind. Twenty seven men had violated him thus, the eager gossips related, over and over, and not once had he raised a hand in his own defence nor his voice in protest.
Akhenaten huddled in his corner and watched the limp, motionless stranger for a long time. The night swallowed the last shafts of light but still the new prisoner lay, staring at the place where they had been. Overhead, the noises of the busy palace yard fell quiet too, until at last it was still enough for the Everman to hear his companion’s tortured breathing. He could smell the drying blood and sweat on his near naked body and licked his lips from time to time, conscious of his hunger.
When the first harsh breath rattled in bonus veren siteler the fellow’s throat, he started anxiously, wondering if the man was dying. Then it came again and he picked words from the hiss and crackle of exhaled air.
“Oh… oh my Father…. Oh my Father….” Over and over he whispered it, like some kind of mantra.
“You think he can save you here?” Akhenaten enquired silkily, at last.
The whispering stopped at once. He caught the flicker of dark, defiant eyes in the cold, foetid gloom. The mortal was looking at him as though he had not even realised there was anyone else in the cell.
“He… He must do… He must do as His prophets have foretold.” The poor fellow was shivering and rambling, not making any sense.
His companion took pity on him. Rousing himself from his own corner, he scrambled over to kneel beside the man, awkwardly reaching out to pull the scraps of his tattered garment back around him. The night’s chill did not trouble Akhenaten, his body seemed to retain heat from the day and the cold here was little more than a dull miasma. The human was suffering however. He shrank from the contact, though he did not whimper. The Everman tasted his fear. He licked his lips.
“I am not going to hurt you,” he said, forcing his voice to be as gentle as he could make it. “You’re cold. Lie close to me, if we share what little heat we have it might just help.”
The young man trembled still, but did not resist. Akhenaten lowered himself stiffly to the ground once more and wrapped muscular arms around the leaner, colder body beside him. The man they were calling the Son of God was rigid in his quiet embrace, his knees turned defensively towards Akhenaten as they lay together on the hard earth.
“They have treated you cruelly,” the exile whispered, his lips bare inches from the other man’s ear.
“They acted towards me as their creed commands,” his cellmate breathed huskily. He sounded drugged, too breathless, his voice too soft and high. “It was not their fault, their hands were guided. It has been foretold. They followed false guidance. It is all a test… all a test.”
“Why are you making excuses for them?” he asked incredulously. “After the things they did…”
“They are blind. They do not understand what they are doing. They only follow. I tried to get them to follow me, but they were blinded to the truth.” The mortal shuddered again. Akhenaten pulled him closer, stroking his own hands soothingly up and down the fellow’s naked back, being careful of the bloody welts torn into his soft skin by the barbs of a cruel lash. He experienced an irrational spurt of anger. This man could allegedly heal the sick and feed the masses but he could not use his magic to defend himself or ease his own pain.
“What do you know of the truth?” he demanded, perhaps a little more gruffly than he had intended.
“I know.” Those wide, slightly feral eyes turned towards him in the darkness. “I know. My Father, who is in Heaven, has told me all. On the morrow they will take my life.”
“You’re ridiculously calm about that,” Akhenaten retaliated. The scent of his fellow prisoner’s blood was rich and tempting in his nostrils and on his tongue. He still felt angry.
“I accept my path, I will not fight it. My Father says that this is the way to His Right Hand. I will live forever in Heaven beside Him.”
“You could live forever on the earth and not be crucified at all,” the man calling himself Barabas promised him rashly.
“Why would I want that?” his cellmate asked, sounding bewildered. “What is this world compared to the glory of My Father’s Kingdom?”
“It’s not short of the odd glory,” Akhenaten assured him.
“Gold and palaces…! What are they but transient things? All shall fall back into dust at the end of days. Only my Father’s Kingdom shall endure.” The young prophet stirred suddenly, finding his strength again and rolling up onto one elbow, facing him through the gloom. Akhenaten’s quiet, golden eyes picked out his features in the darkness as easily as a cat’s. In spite of the dirt and blood and his gaunt face, he was very beautiful. There was energy within him, a sense of light and strength that his fragile body belied. The undying one raised a hand and caressed his cheek with the backs of his fingers, feeling that energy course through him briefly, even from that light contact.
“Are you content with what you have achieved here?” he asked softly. “Don’t you think that there should have been more time?”
“Others will complete the work I came to begin,” the mortal whispered back at him. “It matters not what befalls me tomorrow.”
“I know who they say you are,” he hissed tersely, in response. “And I know what they did to you earlier. Aren’t you angry? Don’t you want to see them ripped limb from limb? I would, had it been me that they… used.”
His cell-mate’s dark eyes had shifted away from his face momentarily as deneme bonusu veren siteler he spoke but now they moved back to meet his own again, more boldly.
“What difference would that make? Would it undo the wrongs they have done me? My Father tells us that all physical retribution is wrong. It perpetuates a cycle of unending violence. My Father is a peaceful God.”
The Everman snorted cynically. “That’ll be the day!”
“The Kingdom of Heaven is closed to those who are dark of heart and heavy of hand. My Father’s will is peace. It is men who turn that will towards violence.” His voice shook and his frail body with it.
“If you say so,” Akhenaten murmured, shaking his head.
“What do you believe in?” demanded the man whom they were calling King of the Jews. He sounded slightly irritable, as if his companion’s cynicism was a matter he should take personally. “Do you believe in ‘anything’ at all?”
The other chuckled wryly to himself. He sensed that this response annoyed his cell-mate but the young mortal controlled it supremely well.
“My friend,” Akhenaten assured him at last. “I have believed many things in my time. I have worshipped at the altars of one god and of many. I have even tried bending my head and my will to none at all. I have followed the judgement of deities and of men. Neither benefited me so much as following my own counsel.”
“You have no Faith,” the prophet told him grimly. “How are you to change things for the better if you have not the Faith to alter the smallest of things in your life?”
“Do you have Faith that your Father-God will spring you from this trap?” Akhenaten demanded. “Did you have faith that he would save you from a beating? From betrayal?”
“I do not expect you to understand,” the young man sighed, pushing himself upright and turning away with a shake of his head.
“What do you mean by that?”
He was silent for a while, head bowed, eyes closed. Akhenaten wondered if he was praying, or just ignoring the question but finally he murmured; “You are a man renowned for resorting to violence to further his aims. Is that not why you are here? Is it not true that you killed a man?”
“I killed a Roman. Had he remained in Rome, he would still be alive. Or some Roman would have murdered him and saved me the trouble!” the undying one glanced sidelong at him, gauging his response to this observation.
“They come because it is their purpose, just as it is my purpose to speak to the people of Judea and Galilee of my Father’s will,” stated the King of the Jews in heated tones.
“Good for you,” Akhenaten, sank back against the wall, folding his arms across his bare, sweat and dust-streaked chest and surveying the human grimly. He nodded upward towards the trapdoor of their cell and the world that went on beyond it. “Not good for ‘them’, unfortunately.”
“What do you mean?” Those solemn, accusing eyes met his again. Akhenaten read suspicion in that level gaze and a degree of scepticism. He found himself taking to the mortal in spite of his bull-headed determination to be right all the time. They had that trait in common, he supposed.
“What do you think I mean? You’re a Nazarene. You’ve seen how the Romans treat your people. Their fucking horses get better care! Where I come from, the Gods wouldn’t stand for that nonsense at all.”
“Again, that defence. There is only One True God. All others are a pale imitation,” the prophet advised gravely.
“When I attempted to convince my own people of that, they branded me a Heretic and would have had me killed… were I not already dead.” Akhenaten forced a humourless laugh.
His fellow prisoner narrowed his eyes, suspecting mockery.
“How can you be dead and still talk?”
He shrugged evasively at that. “A miracle?”
“You make sport of me,” the young man also sat back, leaning against the farthest wall, but never taking his eyes off Akhenaten. His solemn gaze swallowed up the near naked form of the tall, well-muscled, long-haired prisoner. Golden eyes glittered back at him impassively.
“No. I was telling the truth. I was born a son of the Two Lands that your people call Egypt a little over thirteen hundred years ago. I was raised in the belief that the Great God Amun Re was my father and that when I became the King of my realms, I would be the God’s representative on earth. Re’s element was the Aten, the sun, and my teachings led me to the belief that He was the giver and receiver of all life. I eradicated all worship of the Lesser Gods within my Kingdom in return for the beneficence of Re. I built a city and mighty temples to his solar image, The Aten. And behind my back the old Priests sat and whispered and plotted my downfall.” He offered a smile devoid of mirth. “So you see, we have something in common after all.”
“You mock me,” his cellmate reiterated. “But your mockery does not erode my Faith.”
“I am not mocking you,” Akhenaten said softly. “Every last word is true.”
“How can you have lived as a mortal for so many hundreds of years? Only God could grant such a boon. And why would He do so?” The young prophet eyed him sceptically.
“You’ve got me there,” Akhenaten shrugged again. “Look…. what do your friends call you?”