Mary Magdalene, Wednesday December 13, AD29
I was woken this morning by thundrous banging on the door. Dawn’s first fingers were barely visible in a dark sky.
“Just ignore it,” murmured Cyrus, and put his arm around me without opening his eyes. I thought of Jesus as he did this and another wave of guilt swept through me. What do I think I’m doing? The banging started again, even more heavily. I rolled over out of Cyrus’s embrace, put my cloak around my shoulders and shuffled out. I was afraid to open the door straight away. You never know who it might be. I motioned a pair of bleary-eyed servants to go back to their quarters.
“Who is it?” I called.
“It’s me, let me in!”
I knew the voice but couldn’t place it. I was relieved that it wasn’t Jesus, and reassured that it wasn’t trouble in the form of a soldier or my neighbour Matthias. Or a priest waiting to drag me away to be stoned to death for adultery.
“Please! Mary! Let me in! Help me!”
It was Simon. Simon the Zealot. Simon the Zealot who had deserted Jesus to join a band of men who would bring about the new Kingdom using violence. I unbolted the door. His clothes were torn, his filthy bare feet lacerated. His eyes were wild with the desperation I had heard in the knocking and his face was shiny with sweat, but the sight that hit me was the deep gash to his head, from which large volumes of blood had flowed and were still oozing, coagulating in his hair and beard.
“Come in, come in. What have you been doing?”
He staggered in and I rebolted the door.
“Can I stay here Mary? Will you hide me from them?”
Whoever ‘they’ were, I knew I could end up dead myself for harbouring a fugitive, but I didn’t hesitate. I took him to a back room and brought a bucket of water to wipe away the blood and cloths to bind his wounds. While I got to work he told me his tale in a quavering half-whisper.
He had joined a band of sicarii, or ‘daggermen’, a group whose name places no strain on the imagination. They believe that the Jews need to remove their oppressors by force, and their idea of force is assassination of people in authority. Understandably, the authorities deal mercilessly with any daggermen they catch. Simon was the only one to escape when his band of revolutionaries was surrounded and attacked just outside Bethsaida by over two hundred Roman soldiers, who beat and manacled them before leading them away to a slow crucifixion in full view at the edge of town. The Romans can make death by crucifixion last for days by attaching a perch to the cross where the victim can rest when the pain in his limbs and empty lungs becomes unbearable. It sounds merciful but it just extends the agony and the mental torture.
Cyrus came in to see what was going on, and, tough as he is, flinched at what he saw.
“Give those wounds a really good wash with plenty of fresh water Mary, or they will become infected. Here, I’ll refill the bucket. We don’t want the servants getting involved.”
When he returned, he had some jars of oils with him. More frighteningly, he also had a needle and some thread. He took over the bathing from me, getting the wounds as clean as possible, sluicing them instead of dabbing them, flooding the floor in the process. Then he applied oils of eucalyptus and sandalwood followed by frankincense and myrrh, all of which he said would aid healing and reduce scarring. It was Simon’s turn to flinch, but he barely murmured.
Cyrus explained his theory that there were invisible things hidden in dirt which could cause what he called infection, leading to gangrene and possible death. He said that faith was all very well for curing possession and internal pains, but in his experience cleanliness and the right oils were better for cases like this.
Then he threaded his needle and announced he was going to put a few stitches in Simon’s head. I had never heard of such a thing, and I won’t record the words that erupted from Simon’s mouth in the minutes that followed, but I trust Cyrus more than anyone in matters of healing. Who, after all, would argue with the great Eleazar, personal tutor to Jesus of Nazareth?
I brought Simon some fresh straw to lie on and put his cloak over him, hoping he would be able to get some rest despite his pain. Then he took a sip from a draught Cyrus offered him and fell straight into a deep sleep.
By now the workers were out in the fields but it was still early. I kept looking in on Simon throughout the day but he remained asleep and motionless. Not much else happened.