Titus In Jerusalem- Part I

This is the first part of the second Titus Pullus short story concerning Herod the Great. Using Josephus as my primary source, the 10th and 3rd Legions are detached by Marcus Antonius, under the titular command of Gaius Sosius, to assist the Idumean in his final thrust to solidify his claim to the throne of Judea. His rival Antigonus had invested Jerusalem, and once more this ancient city finds itself under siege. The various gates and towers mentioned were real, and were part of the pre-Herodian defensive improvements made by the Judean king once he consolidated his power.

And with that, I hope all of my readers enjoy the return of an old friend!


“What? When?”

Scribonius’ expression of shock was such that, while I felt much the same way, I could not stifle a chuckle.

“You better close that mouth,” I told him. “No telling what will fly into it.”

“Well, when you come marching in here and tell me what you just did, what do you expect?” he retorted.

That, I had to admit, was a fair question, although I could not resist pointing out one thing.

“You are in my quarters,” I teased. “Seems like you’d be a bit more appreciative seeing how you’re sucking down my wine as you waited for me.”

“And look where that got me?” he grumbled. Then, he turned serious, all levity gone. “So you’re serious.”

“I am,” I agreed, but not without regret that I had to be the bearer of bad news.

We were back in Damascus, after the abbreviated campaign helping the fat toad Herod battle Antigonus for the throne of Judea. Although, after spending time there, none of us really understood why anyone would want to rule over such a barren place, full of fractious, intractable people like the Jews had proven to be. Nevertheless, word had arrived that we were to once more march back south to help Herod finish the job that we had begun. Theoretically it was still winter, but that does not mean much in that part of the world; if anything it is more pleasant than the warmer months, although it does get cold at night. Most importantly, word had arrived from Judea that Herod once more required our assistance. This time, rather than the small town of Jericho, Herod’s rival for the throne of Judea had invested the capital of Jerusalem. And Jerusalem, being the largest city in the country, was a much tougher nut to crack than Jericho had been, which was why Herod was screaming for help. Besieging a city is a grim business, requiring a special set of skills and equipment; Herod might have gotten the equipment from us, but I knew that his men did not have the skills. Although I had not heard any names attached to the force encircling the city, I assumed that Joseph ben-Judah was there somewhere, and I thought about sending a messenger ahead to try and find out what awaited us. The only reason I decided against it was, given our orders to prepare to march immediately, the likelihood was high that we would meet the courier on the road to Jerusalem, and I would have perhaps one or two days’ warning about what to expect. And ultimately, it would not matter one way or the other; Sosius had made that much clear.

“Antonius wants Herod on the throne, not Antigonus. So we’re going to do that for him,” was how he had put it.

“And what Antonius wants…” I heard Spurius mutter, and while I was not happy, I could not stifle a grin hearing his favorite Primus Pilus grumbling.

“How soon can the 3rd and 10th be ready to march?” Sosius asked, and Spurius and I exchanged a 1

“A week,” we both answered simultaneously, prompting another chuckle.

“Then make it so,” Sosius ordered.

“Will you be accompanying us, sir?” Spurius asked.

“Yes,” he answered tersely, “the Triumvir has so ordered.”

I had to admit that he did not look any happier at the prospect of returning to Judea than I, or Spurius for that matter, felt. Which, in a perverse way, actually made me feel somewhat better.


As promised, at dawn exactly a week later, we marched from camp in Damascus, but this time with our heavy baggage. The men, having had a week to adjust to the reality that their winter of debauchery was going to be significantly shortened, while not chattering like magpies, were not completely sullen and silent. If pressed, I would say that the atmosphere was one of muted resignation; that was certainly how I felt about matters, being forced to leave Miriam behind at the villa we were renting from Uncle Tiberius. Diocles, as always, was going with me, but Agis and Eumenis were left behind to attend to her needs. She had taken the news as she always did, with a calm and quiet acceptance that, frankly, I found more unsettling than Gisela’s tantrums.

“This is the life I chose for myself, Titus Pullus,” she explained once when I asked her why she did not seem to get angry or upset when I was suddenly sent away somewhere. “I knew that this would be the way of it. But,” she gave me a shrug and the smile that I had come to love so much, “the heart wants what the heart wants. And nothing else matters. At least,” she teased me, “for a weak woman like me.”

As she always did, Miriam set my own heart to rights about my departure, but this time was made even more difficult because of who we were marching to help; I had hoped I had seen the last of Herod the king of Judea. Yet, here we were once more, eating dust and building the calluses on our feet back up, heading to what is without a doubt one of the most difficult and dangerous types of military operations; the siege of a fortified city.


One thing about besieging a city or fortification for any length of time that one might find surprising is the fact that anyone approaching smells it before ever laying eyes on the area. Whenever you have thousands of people, congregated into a small space like a walled city, there is always a stench. Even in Rome, where we have the most advanced system of waste removal in the known world, there is a foul odor emanating from the poorer areas of the city. But when this is compounded by several factors; the city itself is in turn surrounded by several thousand soldiers who cannot go anywhere and the level of sanitation is primitive, usually nothing more than deep pits that are filled with cac then covered over, it creates a smell that one never forgets. In the case of Jerusalem, we were still at least four or five miles away when a vagrant breeze informed us we were close. As was often the case, Scribonius and I were marching together, and we exchanged a glance as our noses wrinkled at the smell that one never forgets.

“By the gods that’s rank,” Scribonius spat, as if trying to rid the foul humors that had drifted into his mouth.

“And we’re going to be wallowing in it for as long as it takes,” I replied, my grim tone matching my thoughts.

Approaching from the northeast, we had traveled south along the Iordanus, and in doing so had marched within sight of Jericho and the fortress that the 10th had assaulted, only to be betrayed by Herod, who had promised us that we would be given the town to sack as a reward for our suffering and losses experienced taking the fortress that guarded the town. That treachery by Herod still rankled, and the men had been vocal about their displeasure as we marched past the town walls, which was lined with understandably nervous citizens. Fortunately for them, they were only subjected to obscene gestures and taunts as we marched by, something I normally did not allow, nor did Spurius, but this time neither of us were disposed to stop the men from voicing their frustration. The way I saw it, if that was the least the people of Jericho suffered, they should count it as a lucky day. Jerusalem itself was shielded from view by a series of low ridges; it was just the smell at first that let us know we approached. Then, topping the last of the series, we saw arrayed down the slope before us one of Herod’s camps, complete with ditch and walls. The camp wall closest to the city was perhaps a hundred paces up from the base of the slope, and across a narrow ravine rose the slope of the hill on which the eastern wall of the city ran. Naturally, Sosius had sent a courier ahead, but we could instantly see that the party trotting out to greet us did not include Herod; even from a distance there would be no mistaking the fat king. Instead, we were met by a party of what I assumed were men somehow connected to Herod in some way, either by blood or allegiance. One man in particular struck me, reminding me of someone although I could not place him directly. He was the most richly attired of the Jews, but while he was formal in his greeting, there was little of the haughty demeanor of the Judean king. Another notable absentee was ben-Judah, although the man I had been examining supplied not only the answer to two missing men, but his own identity, albeit indirectly.

“My brother and his commander are visiting the camp on Golgotha,” he said, but it took me a moment to realize the meaning.

“Thank you for coming out to greet us, Your Highness,” Sosius replied, which confused me further, until he turned to make introductions. “This is Joseph, Herod’s brother and the king’s heir should he fall.”

Indicating Spurius and I, standing side by side, he introduced us, but I am afraid I was not sure of the protocol for the proper way to greet the second in line to a throne. Consequently, I made a mess of it by bowing while he had reached down to offer his hand, in our style of greeting, and I felt the blood rush to my face, not helped by Spurius’ snickering behind me.

“Thanks for going first,” he whispered to me as he strode past me to take Joseph’s arm.

Once the pleasantries were dispensed with, Sosius asked Joseph about our disposition.

“That,” Joseph admitted, looking a bit uncomfortable, “is what my brother the king is deciding now.”

“Now?” Sosius asked incredulously. “He’s known we were coming for days! And he’s just now deciding where to settle us?”

“He has had other things on his mind,” for the first time the king’s brother flashed a sign that he was in fact related to Herod by blood, his stiff tone matching his suddenly erect posture.

Like his brother, his hair and beard were black as a crow’s wing, and like all noblemen of the East, his hair was curled and treated with some oily substance that made it gleam in the sun. Although not fat like his brother, there was a softness about him that Herod did not have, which I know sounds strange, but as heavy as Herod might have been, one only had to look at him to know that he was a man who would do anything to achieve his aims.

Oblivious to my examination, Joseph and Sosius stared at each other before Sosius finally muttered, “This isn’t going to do any good. Do you at least,” his voice carried with it his feeling of frustration, “know what we’re supposed to do while we wait for him to decide what he’s going to do with the army that is going to give him Jerusalem and his kingdom?”

At this Joseph flushed, and looked embarrassed; although I did not particularly care, I considered that it must have been difficult to be in his position at the moment.

“As you can see, there is room at the top of this hill,” he pointed back over our shoulders. “You can have your men make themselves as comfortable as possible outside the walls up there.”

Knowing there was nothing left for us to do at that moment, Sosius gave him a curt nod, then relayed his orders to us.

As Spurius and I strode up the hill to our respective Legions, we exchanged a look, and he summed it up.

“This is going to be a mess.”


It was not until sundown the next day before our dispositions were finally made, and as I had expected, we were divided up, with the 3rd sent to a new camp on the northern side of the city, while we stayed put. After much discussion; if Sosius and Herod shouting at each other in the Jewish king’s version of a praetorium could be described as such, it was decided that rather than enlarge the camp on this hill, we would create our own. It was a somewhat awkward arrangement; essentially the Porta Praetoria and constituent wall ran along a north/south axis perhaps a hundred paces below the summit of the hill, with the rest of the camp arrayed on the opposite slope from the city. Not only did it mean the camp was not pitched on level ground, most of it was out of sight of the siegeworks. We did this for a simple reason; the standard and level of sanitation in the Jewish camp was appalling, and just our brief examination of their camp when we were deciding what to do informed us that there was already the beginning of an outbreak of the bloody flux that is so common in situations such as this. Thanks to my time spent under the command of Caesar, who I would say had an obsession for cleanliness, along with my own observations of the causes of what is usually the most potent killer of men participating in a siege, sickness, it was an easy argument to make to Sosius.

“If we share this camp,” I did not soften my words at all, “we’ll lose more men because they caced themselves to death than from any swords.”

While Sosius had never served under Caesar, he saw the same things that I did, which led to the shouting match between the Judean king and Antonius’ representative. In the end, as I knew we must, we prevailed, and there was a distance of more than two hundred paces down the slope between the two camps. The hill itself was referred to as the Mount of Olives, but all that was left were the stumps of the grove of trees that gave the hill its name; as we learned, Herod had been nothing if not thorough, denuding the surrounding hills of every tree to use for his siege engines. It must be said that it was something of a chore to hold briefings; although the distance from one side of the city to the other is not all that great, because of the encircling works, Spurius and his Centurions had to make a circuitous route to come to Herod’s camp. Despite the stench and squalor, the Judean king refused to relinquish control of where our meetings were conducted, meaning that we were forced to go there several times a day, especially during the early stages of the siege. Consequently, Scribonius and I would trudge together down the hill, wondering what new idea Herod would have. I will give him this much; he was extremely industrious in coming up with ways to crack the very tough nut that was Jerusalem, even if it was not that imaginative. His plan, such as it was, involved essentially repeating the assault of Pompey, a little more than two decades before, at least in the sense of realizing that the huge building that the Jews call their Temple was the key to the city. Situated in the northeastern quadrant of Jerusalem, its eastern and most of its northern faces were part of the city walls, and they towered over the ravine below, helped by the steepness of the pitch of the hill on which it sits. Not surprisingly, this promontory is referred to as the Temple Mount, and because of its size, the thickness of its walls, and its location, even if we breached the walls at another point, if we did not take the Temple, the defenders would have it as a last redoubt. Personally, I had had enough of assaulting prepared fortifications in Judea; the experience of the small fortress outside Jericho, which had been hastily constructed, told me that assaulting the Temple was going to be bloody. If we were to assault the city from another point; say, the southern wall, we would have to breach or surmount it, then fight our way through the streets, driving Antigonus’ men into the Temple, whereupon we would essentially have to start over. However, if we were to attack either the northeast or northern walls, take the Temple, and then make our way through the streets, the only other redoubt of any strength was a small but well-situated palace, located hard up against the western wall on the opposite side of the city from the Temple. Consequently, Herod’s strategy of trying to copy Pompey’s approach made the most sense, although there were still a number of challenges facing us. Not lost on me, or Spurius I assume, was that, although Pompey had begun his siege of Jerusalem making the Temple the focus of his preparations, he was actually aided by guile, in the form of an unlocked northern gate that allowed him to gain a foothold in the city. While Herod indicated that he was pursuing a similar stratagem, smuggling in messengers to men he believed, or hoped, would be loyal to him, just from his tone I sensed that he did not place much hope in this as an outcome. Fortunately, he was not content to wait with his other preparations as he pursued this as well, and there had been some progress made by the time we had arrived. Essentially encircling the city, much as Caesar did at Alesia, the only difference was that there was not a twin set of defenses, since all of Antigonus’ forces were now contained within the city. There would be no help coming from Herod’s rival, and once Jerusalem was taken, Herod would no longer have any rival claimants to the crown. The Idumean had also begun a number of mines, strategically placing them around the perimeter of the city in such a way that it would make it difficult for defenders to cover all of them and still have enough manpower to defend the Temple outer wall. While I was forced to admit that, overall, Herod had certainly been active and not just been waiting for us to arrive to do the brute labor, there were still several things that disturbed me about what was taking place. Naturally, the sanitation problem was the foremost, but I had instituted a very strict rule about fraternization with Herod’s men in the other camp; most of this was because of the chance for disease spreading, but never far from the back of my mind was the episode with Cornuficius, when I had led the 6th for Caesar during his time in Alexandria and abbreviated campaign in Pontus. I had witnessed then the extreme sensitivity these Jews had about matters of what they considered honor; as I had once observed to Caesar, until I met them I never thought I would run into a more argumentative and contentious bunch of people than Romans. However, what concerned me the most was the fact that Herod had chosen to start constructing his siege towers, all three of them, at the bottom of the ravine, just slightly north of the northeast corner of the walls. In doing so, he was announcing to anyone with eyes and more sense than a goose where he was planning to attack, and although I understood his reasons; the ground in this part of the world is extremely rough and broken, I believed that it would be worth the effort it would take to disperse the towers more evenly. The other problem was that their location put them within a sortie from a strongly-built stone structure that guarded the northern gate. Hard up against the northwestern corner of the Temple, during our first briefing with Herod he informed us that this fortress was integrated with the Temple by way of an underground passage that allowed men and supplies to be transported without threat of interception. When I heard this, it did not take long for me to recognize the danger to the towers; what took a bit longer was deciding how I could bring it up without Herod taking offense.


“I think you just lay it out to Sosius,” Scribonius advised. “The instant you do he’s going to see you’re right. And when he does, then it’s his problem, not yours.”

It was the end of the third day, and we had finally gotten settled in enough to be given our respective tasks. While I had expected it, given where we were located on the Mount of Olives, I was still not happy about the prospect of being charged with the continued construction of the towers, along with their security. Granted, I understood the men would be happy, because Spurius’ boys were going to be responsible for the mines underneath the walls. I considered Scribonius’ advice, and as usual, I took it. The next morning I told Sosius of my concerns, which he listened to with a growing expression of concern.

“Let me ride out and take a look myself,” he told me, “then we’ll talk.”

Naturally I agreed, and when the messenger arrived to summon me to the praetorium; Sosius had made his own headquarters in our camp, since it was closer to Herod, I made haste to comply. His manner was grim, and when he opened his mouth I discovered that it was not just due to what he had seen.

“I went out there and took a look,” he began. “And you’re right. That fort is not much more than two hundred paces away, maybe two hundred-fifty from the closest tower.” He paused, and I admit I was curious why he seemed to hesitate now that it appeared the answer was clear. “But,” was his first hint that I was not going to like what I heard, “I also talked to Herod about it. And he assures me that there won’t be a sortie from the fort.”

“How can he do that?” I asked, more astonished than angry. Then I thought of something. “Does he have someone inside that can make sure they don’t?”

Sosius shifted his gaze away from me, clearly uncomfortable.

“I asked him that,” he admitted. “But he says no. He also says that it doesn’t matter, because he knows it won’t happen.”

“I still don’t know how he can be so sure,” I shot back.

Sosius shrugged, and replied, “Neither do I, but he’s adamant that there won’t be any threat coming from that fort. However, I did get him to agree to move the construction of the two towers we’re responsible for farther away.”

Understanding this was about the best I could expect, I could not resist saying bitterly, “That’s easy for him to say; it’s not going to be his fat ass bleeding in the dust.”

Silete!” Sosius commanded, his tone sharp, but I knew him well enough to understand that his heart was not in it and he was just doing what was expected of him. “We have to take him at his word, Pullus.”

Dismissing me with a wave, he did not hear as I said to myself, “You may have to, but I don’t.”


Despite my misgivings, we took up the tasks to which we had been assigned, and with the extra manpower, the pace of the progress naturally increased. Nevertheless, it was not without more recriminations and argument. Specifically, it concerned the third of the three siege towers, and who had the responsibility for it. Although it had been decided that, while the men of the 10th would use two of the towers to assault the walls, the third was reserved for Herod’s Jewish troops, which would be led by ben-Judah. However, when the detail of men I had assigned to take over the construction of the third tower, mistakenly assuming that the Jews would be thankful to allow men who could essentially do this in their sleep to step in, the Centurion in charge received a nasty shock. As usual I was standing with Balbus and Scribonius, when Metellus, the Tertius Pilus Prior came rushing up to me, his face as red as his sagum.

“Primus Pilus, you wouldn’t believe what those…those cunni did!” he stormed, completely forgetting to render a salute.

Normally I was not disposed to excuse such behavior, but I knew Metellus well, and just one look at his face was enough to tell me that there were more important matters to worry about.

“What did they do?” I asked with a sigh, trying to keep my voice mild, knowing that it was not going to do any good to get as excited as he was at that moment.

That, as I was about to discover, was not destined to last.

“When we showed up to the tower, not only did they refuse to allow us to step in and take over, they refused our help at all!”

“What?” I asked, more puzzled at that moment than angry. “Why would they do that?”

“Because they’re a bunch of proud cunni who’ve forgotten their place!” Metellus replied indignantly. “When I saw they didn’t want us to take over building the fucking tower, I actually offered to just lend a hand and let them keep working! Do you know what they did?”

“No,” I responded, suddenly fighting a losing battle to keep my own anger quelled.

“They started throwing rocks at us to drive us off!” Thinking of this seemed to make Metellus actually begin to shake with rage; I cannot say that I was far behind him.

“They did what?”

I was not actually the one who asked this; I had forgotten Balbus and Scribonius were there, and it was my Pilus Posterior, his scarred face twisted in shock who had spoken. Scribonius, normally the most reserved of us, let out a gasp of astonishment, while I felt the coil of anger in my gut that is always there start to unwind itself.

“Come with me,” I snapped to Metellus, but before I could stalk off and head directly to where the recalcitrant Jews were presumably waiting, Scribonius put a gentle hand on my arm.

When I whirled about to face him, he shook his head and said quietly, “Titus, don’t. I suspect that this isn’t a random event.”

I forced myself to calm down, although it took an effort, once more heeding my wise friend’s words.

“Why do you think that?” I asked him.

His face plastered with his frown, he considered for a moment, but if I was expecting one of Scribonius’ well thought-out reasons, backed with unassailable logic, I was to be disappointed.

“I don’t know, exactly,” he finally admitted.

Balbus snorted at this.

“I say you take us,” I knew Balbus was referring to the First Cohort, “and we head over there and stomp those bastards into greasy smears in the dirt.”

“Of course you do,” Scribonius shot back, clearly nettled. “But while I can’t say why this happened with any certainty, what I can say and be sure of is that you marching over there and engaging in a brawl. Or worse,” he added, shooting me a glance that carried his warning, “is a very, very bad idea. Think about it,” he insisted, ignoring Balbus and focusing on me, knowing that ultimately I would make the decision. “Put aside how much of an insult it is, or why it’s happening. How is it going to look to them,” he gestured with his head over his shoulder in the direction of the wall, where as always there were men watching everything we did, “if they watch these supposed allies rolling around in the dirt trying to kill each other?”

“We wouldn’t have to ‘roll in the dirt,’” Balbus shot back, but I saw the doubt flashing through his eyes. “I bet if we just show up they’ll change their mind. After all,” he pointed to Metellus, who had remained silent as his superiors argued, “Metellus’ boys are already there waiting. With the First, they’ll collapse like an empty wineskin. But,” he said grudgingly, “if you want to be sure, bring the Second too.”

“They’re already working on their tower,” Scribonius objected. “Which means that we’d lose time on two of the towers, not just one.” He shook his head. “No, I think that this is unfortunately something that you have to take to Sosius and let him thrash Herod.”

I felt my jaws clench from the frustration I was feeling. In temperament, I was much more aligned with Balbus, preferring to handle any problem in what I considered the most direct way, which was usually either killing it, or beating it into a pulpy submission. But my experiences as Primus Pilus for the last decade, with all the political wrangling and subtle maneuvering had forced me to recognize that there were times where brute force was not the best solution. And as much as I hated to admit it, I knew that this was one of those times.

Sighing, I told Metellus, “Pull your men back with us for now. I’m going to go talk to Sosius.”

Without waiting for his acknowledgment, knowing he would obey no matter how much he did not like it, I spun about and began stalking up the hill to find Sosius.


“He what?” Sosius’ mouth had dropped open when I told him what was taking place. “How do you know Herod is behind this?”

“Who else?” I asked, then continued, “I don’t see ben-Judah being behind this. He’s not the type to turn down help, especially with something like this.”

Sosius did not respond, but I saw he was in agreement.

Sighing, he stood up, and picked up his helmet from his desk, saying wearily, “Fine. Come with me and let’s get this sorted out.”

Somewhat to my surprise, Herod was actually in his own headquarters tent, and I got the distinct impression that he was waiting for us. Fortunately for everyone, he did not keep us standing outside his office, and the moment we entered I saw that he was not alone. ben-Judah was standing there just behind Herod’s chair, but when our eyes met he could only give a helpless shrug, which made me feel a bit better that I had not misjudged the situation.

“What can I do for my Roman friends?” Herod’s fat cheeks folded up as he gave us his version of what I suppose he thought was his winning smile.

If it was his intent to put us off our guard, he did the opposite; Herod was normally not a smiling, or friendly man, even to those to whom he owed everything. Of course, with the exception of the two men who were the ultimate founts of his authority, Antonius, then later, Octavian. For those of us under their command, he barely deigned to be polite, so this show of good humor was off-putting at the very least.

“You can explain to us,” Sosius’ tone was icy, “why your men drove mine off when they came to help construct the tower?”

If I found Herod’s smile disturbing, it was his attempt to display surprise at Sosius’ words.

“What?” he exclaimed, twisting his fat body in his chair to gaze up at ben-Judah. “Is this true, ben-Judah?”

Herod’s military commander, who I had known for more than a decade at this point, turned a deep red, and he opened his mouth to say something. However, whatever look passed between the two served to still what I was fairly certain he was going to say, which was a protest at being put in this position.

For a moment they two glared at each other, then I saw ben-Judah’s jaw clench as he muttered, “Yes, Highness. It is true that some of the men were not happy about our Roman friends coming to help.”

“Well, that is unacceptable!” Herod pounded the desk with the flat of his hand in such an obviously theatrical way that I did not know whether to burst out laughing or into applause. Facing back to Sosius, he raised his hands in a gesture of apology, oozing unctuous sincerity. “I can only offer my most humble apologies, General. That is certainly most unfortunate. I will punish those responsible, I can assure you.”

We stood there for a moment, but Herod made a point of returning his attention to whatever it was on his desk so, seeing that there would be nothing else coming from him, we turned to go. Which, as it turned out, was exactly what he wanted us to do.

“General,” he called out just as Sosius was reaching for the flap that served as the doorway into Herod’s private office. “I just had a thought.”

Uh-oh, I thought; I have been told I have a vivid imagination, but there was no place my mind could go whereby I could imagine Herod saying anything we would like. And I was right.

“Yes, Highness?” Sosius’ tone was neutral, but I knew him well enough to see that his thoughts were running parallel to my own, because he looked very much like a man who was about to thrust his hand into a beehive without any real expectation there was a honeycomb awaiting him, only angry bees.

“While I cannot condone what my men did, and they will be punished,” he hurried to cut off Sosius’ protest, “I cannot fault their ardor or desire to be involved in this siege.” He paused for a moment, clearly gauging our reaction; for our part neither of us spoke, but exchanged a glance. Seeing that we were not disposed to say anything, he continued, “To that end, I have decided that I would like my men to construct the third tower on their own, without any help from our Roman allies.”

Sosius did not reply immediately, and I could tell he was trying to do two things at once; determine what Herod’s deeper game was, and how to respond.

“Highness,” he finally began, his tone careful, “that is indeed a commendable sentiment, and I applaud both your men’s devotion to duty, and to you,” he smeared a bit more honey on the turd coming out of his mouth, “but I feel compelled to point out that they do not have the experience in these matters that mine do. I just worry that there will be…mistakes in the construction that may prove costly to not just the tower being ready, but to the mission itself.”

“I understand they are not as familiar with using hammer and nails as your men,” Herod’s words dripped with an acid condescension, “but my men are all professional warriors. And I have every confidence that they can attach some sticks together to make a tower that even a Roman would approve of,” he laughed, I suppose at his heavy-handed attempt at humor, but neither Sosius nor I found it humorous.

I glanced over at ben-Judah, trying to determine if he was involved in this, but frankly, he looked as unhappy as we felt, and I felt a pang of sympathy for this man who had chosen to follow a ruler like Herod. Sosius, I suppose sensing that this had been Herod’s goal all along, pursed his lips in a way that I had recognized was the sign he was struggling to maintain his composure. Glancing over at me, the best I could offer was a shrug, thinking not only was this a battle we could not win, but was not worth fighting; I was certain that other matters of greater importance would come up as this siege progressed. Unfortunately, I was wrong, but all I can say in hindsight is that Sosius did not see what was coming any more than I did.

“Very well, Highness,” he said this with a sharp exhalation of breath. “If that is what you want, we are here to help. So, please let us know if you change your mind.”

“Oh, I will, but I doubt it will be necessary,” Herod replied genially, then without saying anything more dismissed us with a regal wave.

“Pluto’s cock,” I muttered; Sosius was so distracted he did not admonish me.

We left Herod’s private office and exited the tent, stalking back to our own camp with its own problems, but we had only gone a few paces when I heard someone call my name. Both Sosius and I spun about, but when he saw it was ben-Judah, the Legate gave a snort of disgust.

“No doubt he was in on this,” he said bitterly, “and right now I don’t think it will do any of us any good for me to talk to him.”

“I’ll do it,” I assured Sosius, and without another word he turned and continued stomping away.

ben-Judah looked over my shoulder at Sosius departing, and I saw his mouth twist into a frown behind his beard.

“He doesn’t feel like talking right now,” I tried to make it a joke, but it was a weak jest and did not wipe his expression off his face.

“Does he think I was part of this?”

I hesitated, but realized that lying was not going to change anything, so I answered with a simple nod. He uttered an oath that, while I did not understand since it was in his own tongue, I was fairly certain I knew the sentiment behind it.

“Well, I didn’t,” he spat into the dirt, but then looked up at me to search my face. “I swear it, Pullus. I didn’t know he was going to do this.”

I returned ben-Judah’s gaze, but I saw no trace of guile there, and along with what I knew of the man I was inclined to believe him. However, there was one thing that nagged at me.

“I believe you,” I said, but when I saw him visibly relax I hurried on, “about not having anything to do with Herod’s decision to let your boys build the tower. But what about what started it all?”

His expression turned wary, and he asked, “You mean the rocks?”

“Yes, I mean the rocks,” I could not restrain myself from lacing my tone with a fair amount of sarcasm. “What else would I be talking about?”

He flushed, but did not reply in kind, saying instead, “I didn’t know about that either. But I know who did.”

“Who?” I admit I was bewildered that the commander of all the Jewish forces would not be aware that this act was going to be perpetrated, because as soon as I heard the specific details I knew it was not a spontaneous act.

“Judas bar-Levi,” he spat out the name.

“Your second?” I asked incredulously. “He did this behind your back?”

“He did,” ben-Judah assured me. “One of the rankers loyal to me overheard him giving the men who threw the rocks instructions about when to do it.”

“But why?”

I could not fathom how this kind of dissension in the ranks of Herod’s army was a good thing. For a moment, ben-Judah did not answer, and when he did it was with a weariness that informed me that this had been preying on his mind.

“Because,” he said slowly, “Herod is no longer happy with my service. He suspects my loyalty, and he does not like the fact that we are friendly. Although nobody has said it aloud, I am fairly certain that he did not tell me about what he had planned because he was afraid that I would warn you beforehand.”

I stood there absorbing that for a moment, my mind racing with the implications. Having our ally torn apart from within by internal politics was never a good thing; for an operation like a siege, when the men would be in one spot for an indeterminate amount of time, that was even worse. On campaign and on the march, men set against each other could be removed from proximity to their rivals, simply by rearranging the order of march. That was not feasible during a siege operation.

“How did you fall out of favor with Herod?” I asked him.

Once more he paused, then answered quietly, “My brother.”

“But we captured your brother,” I replied, thinking of the man who had commanded the last troops in the small blockhouse inside the fortress outside Jericho.

“We did,” ben-Judah nodded, and I did not need to know the man to see the torment there. “But when Herod ordered his execution, I intervened and asked him,” he closed his eyes, “no, I begged him to spare my brother.”

From what I knew of Herod, I could see how this would upset him, but not to the extent of thinking ben-Judah was going to betray him, and I said as much.

“Before we ever faced my brother in the field, Herod had asked me what I would do if he ordered Malachi to be executed. I told him that my brother had chosen his path, and he should suffer the consequences for resisting the true king of Judea. But,” he gave a helpless shrug, accompanied by a sad smile, “that was before.”

“Before when it was just an idea,” I finished for him.

His answer came in the form of a miserable nod of his head as he looked anywhere but at me.

“Joseph,” I said quietly, and it was enough of a rarity for me to use his praenomen that it caused him to look at me, “Believe me when I tell you that I understand and appreciate your position. While he wasn’t my brother, I once had a friend who was someone I considered to be just as close. We grew up together, we joined the Legions together.” I paused, mainly because I was surprised at the sharp stab of pain this memory caused me; I had believed I had put this matter behind me long before. “But at Pharsalus, when the 10th mutinied, my friend, Vibius Domitius was his name,” I do not know why but I felt it was important to utter his name, “chose to side with the mutineers. And I chose to remain loyal to Caesar. I almost struck my best friend down that day.”

When I stopped speaking, ben-Judah considered that for a moment, then asked, “What finally happened?”

The laugh that came from me was soaked with the sense of loss I felt.

“We served out our enlistments once I returned to the 10th,” I did not need to elaborate on that since ben-Judah was aware of my role with the 6th with Caesar in Alexandria, “and when his ended he went back home. But then, when all the ruckus with The…Liberators,” I spat between my fingers in the old sign of laying a curse on the souls of those rotten bastards, “and Octavian and Antonius took place, he re-enlisted in Brutus’ army.”

“Did you ever see him?”

Sighing, I replied, “Yes, at Philippi. I spotted him on the far side of where we were fighting. And in that moment, I decided I was going to end this…thing between us.” I made sure to look at ben-Judah when I continued, “I decided to end it the same way I’ve solved most of my problems, by killing Vibius.”

Now ben-Judah was staring at me intently, but if he thought he knew where this was headed, I am fairly certain he was wrong.

“What did you do?”

“I…” searched for the words that could best sum up all the things that I felt in the short period of time it took me to run across the rear of our lines to draw myself opposite to Vibius. “…I just couldn’t do it. When all is said and done, the truth is that when I was looking Vibius in the eye, I could no more kill him than you could go along with the execution of your brother. That’s not who I,” I amended, “we are. We’ll kill our enemies because that’s what we do. But when it comes to something like this?” I shook my head and said no more.

For a long moment we stood there side by side in silence.

Finally, ben-Judah broke it by saying, “Be that as it may, that’s the reason Herod doesn’t trust me anymore.”

“So he’d condemn you for the ‘crime’ of not wanting to see your brother executed?” Once more I could only shake my head, but then without thinking it through, as usual, I blurted out, “Why would you want to follow a man like Herod, knowing that?”

“I’ve been wondering that very thing myself,” he admitted, glancing about to make sure nobody was within eavesdropping distance.

From a distance I am sure that it looked like two senior officers conferring on some matter, but like ben-Judah I was a bit nervous about the subject matter.

“But I’ve come to the conclusion that what makes a good king does not necessarily make a good man,” he continued. “And Pullus, you have to understand how much turmoil the people of Judea have suffered over the last several years. While I may not like Herod’s methods, I still think that he’s the best man to bring some order to all this chaos.” He waved a hand about as he said this last.

“Well, at least Antonius has reached the same conclusion,” I agreed. Then, clapping him on the shoulder, I said, “And now I have to get back to building our two towers. Have fun with yours.”

Despite the somber tone of our conversation, I had to laugh at the face he made, and we parted ways.


With only two towers to build, we were at least able to increase the pace of construction, but not without attempts by the garrison to stop us. Our main camp on the Mount was at the far southern end of the section of the wall for which the 10th was responsible, so we created three smaller camps parallel to the wall which ran in a north/south direction, with the northernmost camp located at an oblique angle to the northeastern corner, where the wall turned to an east/west orientation. About halfway down that length of northern wall the original wall had been altered so that it enclosed the fortress that guarded the northern gate; our third camp was positioned in such a way that it was roughly equidistant between the eastern wall where the Temple was, and the fortress. The third tower, that Herod had essentially tricked us into allowing his men to construct, was being built farther north of the northern wall, but was positioned so that the fortress was to the right a few hundred paces. Once their tower was built, it was more or less a straight line to the northern part of the Temple wall, but the ground was extremely rough. Despite being rebuffed in our attempt to help, I did not feel right about not sending a messenger directly to ben-Judah, suggesting that he expend part of his resources and effort in smoothing the path. Unfortunately, the only way to do that properly was by constructing mantlets, at least two, preferably more, that could be used by the men assigned the task to smooth the surface while under cover. My suspicion that my suggestion would be ignored was borne out over the next several days, but I could not pay more than passing attention to what they were doing; I had problems enough of my own.


Within our section of wall there were three gates, one located at the far left of our siege line, just around the corner where the eastern and southern walls intersected, called the Essene Gate, while the second one was the Susa Gate, which led directly into the Temple Quarter. Finally, almost directly north across the city from the Essene Gate was a smaller gate, this one also leading into the Temple Quarter, named the Tadi Gate, but this one was directly in front of that fortress I mentioned earlier, making it a suicide mission to try to storm. For a general of the sort who fought their “battles” while reclining on their couches, the Susa Gate was the obvious choice for an all-out assault, as it led directly into the heart of our main objective, the Temple. But, as any experienced military man knows, what is obvious to you is equally obvious to an enemy who is even somewhat competent. Consequently, the Susa Gate was the most heavily fortified and guarded gate of the entire city. Facing the wall, the Susa Gate was flanked on either side by two towers, although the one to the left was built up, with a stone roof and a series of slits that were large enough for scorpions to fire down on anyone approaching while under complete cover. Compounding the difficulty was that someone, either the original architect or more likely another man with a keen eye, had built a parapet on the roof itself, which provided partial cover to a ballista that could lob rocks, or what was more likely, pots of Greek fire. The tower to the right was weaker, but only marginally; it lacked the roof and had only a parapet. However, it was slightly larger in diameter, so that it mounted not one, but two ballistae. The first tower, which we learned was referred to as the Ophel Tower, was strategically located at the junction of the outer wall of the Temple Quarter, and the southern boundary wall of the Quarter that was inside the city. Perhaps the best way to describe it was think of a box, and within that box is one smaller box which shares two sides of the bigger box and fills about a quarter of the first one. This was what compounded the difficulty for us; if we avoided the section of wall by the Susa Gate and instead pushed the tower farther south along the east wall, once over the wall we would be faced with assaulting the inner wall of the Temple Quarter. Theoretically, once we were on the parapet, we could use it to advance north to take the Ophel Tower from the flank, then use that as our entry into the Quarter. However, that was a choke point that would require far fewer men to hold it than it would to take it. Besides which, although the walls were too high for us to see it ourselves, we were assured that the tower’s firing slits were incised into the tower almost all the way around, so that the parapet itself could be swept by fire. And as wide as the parapet was; we were told the walls were twenty feet thick, we would have to advance so tightly packed together that just a few scorpion bolts would erase a Century as if it had never existed. All this meant that our options for assaulting the city were limited, and it did not take long for that reality to settle in with the men, whose behavior while they worked was suitably grim. This siege was going to be difficult; the assault once all was prepared would be bloody, and the men of the 10th had sufficient experience to understand this. Even if the defenders inside had been content to just stand and watch us, this was going to be a hard slog; unfortunately Antigonus and his men did not seem content to do that.


Although our main camp was still on the opposite slope of the Mount of Olives, I had begun spending my nights in one of the three camps, each of them large enough to sleep at least two Cohorts apiece. Even before we began work on the towers, Sosius had given us the orders to create these camps and the attendant siegeworks that went with it. And naturally, Herod fumed at what he believed was an excessive delay.

“The sooner the towers touch the walls, the sooner Jerusalem falls!”

If he said that once, he said it at least a hundred times. But thankfully, Sosius was either not listening to Herod’s importuning, or chose to ignore the Judean king. I endeavored to stay away from the Jewish camp unless it was absolutely necessary, but fortunately Sosius told both Spurius and I that we were needed elsewhere, and that Herod’s constant demands for information and progress reports would be handled by the Legate.

“You two do what you know needs to be done,” he had told us, and both Spurius and I were happy to comply.

That did not keep the fat man from making a nuisance of himself; at least once a day he would mount his poor horse to make an inspection of the works himself. Never shy about giving advice, the unfortunate rankers would be forced to stop their work and come to intente when he would show up. As difficult it was for the men, it was even more of a burden for whatever hapless Centurion happened to be standing there, forced to answer Herod’s questions, which were invariably accompanied by barbed comments about our seeming lack of progress. Despite how much I loathe Herod, I must admit that when he and I did interact, the questions he asked were good ones, showing not only a probing intelligence but a keen grasp of some of the more subtle aspects of siege warfare, at least as conducted by Rome. That is why it was hard for me to reconcile the fact that, as much knowledge as Herod seemed to possess, he was seemingly indifferent to the conditions in his own camp. The one happy result, albeit accidentally, that came about as a result of Herod insisting that his own men construct the third tower was that it caused ben-Judah to construct another camp, directly north of the fortress. Situated just to the south of what I suppose could be called a suburb of Jerusalem, the camp of the Jews was just a mile from the fortress, and roughly equidistant to the west of our third camp. Well out of range, but close enough that help could be summoned if the camp fell under attack. I imagine that his experience as part of Caesar’s command in Egypt rubbed off on ben-Judah, because his camp was almost an exact duplicate of one of ours, at least as far as the sanitation. With all that said, the responsibility for what happened on a night, about a week after we made our final dispositions and were well underway to building the towers, lies squarely with ben-Judah and his men.


As fortune would have it, I had chosen to spend the night in the third camp, the one closest to the fortress and more importantly, to the Tadi Gate, and I was awakened by the blast of a bucina sounding the signal that enemy troops had been sighted. Even before the sound of the horn died in the night air, there were shouts of alarm, coming from the direction of the western rampart, the one closest to the city. Because of where I was staying, when I leapt from my cot, I ran directly into another man, knocking him sprawling.

“Watch out you big oaf!”

Normally I would have knocked the man who said such a thing to their Primus Pilus out with one punch, but not only was I cognizant of the fact I was sharing quarters, it was who I was sharing with that kept me from doing so. Instead, I laughed and offered Scribonius my hand to pull him up.

“Sorry,” I grinned.

“No you’re not,” he grumbled as both of us headed out of his tent after hurriedly throwing on our armor and harness.

That made me laugh, and I admitted, “True. I do like seeing you knocked on your ass.”

Any retort he might have made was cut off by the sight of men not on watch scrambling from their tents, most of them still in one stage or another of donning their armor and harness.

“Hurry up, you lazy bastards! We’ve got company!” I yelled, as Scribonius and I trotted in the direction of the rampart.

“I was wondering when they’d make a sortie,” Scribonius commented as we ran up the ramp to where there was already the guard Century arrayed.

Even in the darkness I immediately saw the dull gleam of helmeted heads bobbing up and down in what was clearly a disorganized mass, lit by the men of the enemy carrying torches, but the fact that they were close enough that I could immediately see them caused me to unleash a string of bitter curses.

“Pluto’s cock!” I recognized Scribonius’ voice, and it was notable enough that it was my friend uttering this oath and not me that I still remember it. “How did they get this close? Don’t the Jews have sentries out there?”

“If they did, they’re either dead or are going to wish they were,” I said bitterly. Turning about, I issued a string of commands to my cornicen, who had just stumbled to his place.

“Sound the call to send Fourth through Sixth Centuries out!” I snapped, then without waiting for an answer, turned and went sprinting for the forum, which would be the first place those men would assemble. Shouting over my shoulder to Scribonius, I finished, “You take the rest out the Porta Decumana! I’m taking the others out the Sinistra to hit them from the side!”

“We’ve only got two sections on guard at the tower!” he reminded me, although I did not need it.

This tower, the only one Herod allowed us to move to a safer location, was being constructed just behind the camp, so that the camp was between it and the enemy. Under normal circumstances we would have been alerted well before the enemy had gotten so close, meaning that we could have easily blocked any sortie, but because of some sort of failure, the circumstances of which I was currently unaware but was determined to find out, we were now on the back foot. Now I could only hope that those two sections could hold off this sortie long enough for the rest of us to come help. Making matters even more serious was that we only had the framework of the tower built, and that only partially, which meant that it was still bare wood. The green hides that are stretched around the frame of the tower are the last part of the construction, and then only after they had been soaking in water barrels for at least a full day. If the enemy raiding carried pots of Greek fire, and there was no reason to believe they did not, it would be almost impossible to keep them from destroying what we had built. Ultimately, it was going to be a race, one that depended on those two sections of men holding them off.


There is no way to accurately measure time in such moments, but my experience told me that the Centuries I was taking command of formed up as quickly as it was possible for them to do, so that it was not long after the bucina call that we were moving at the double time towards the Porta Sinistra, the left-hand gate of a Roman camp. Helping our cause was the size of the camp itself, since it was the only one built to handle three Cohorts, although there were only two currently there. The slightly larger size was in anticipation of the need for more men in that camp, since it was the closest to the fortress. While I did not know at the time, my assumption was that this force was coming from the fortress; it was only after the fact that I learned differently. Making our way out the gate, there was the inevitable pause that comes from a large body of men forced to squeeze together to exit a gate, but the Centurions quickly got their Centuries back into order. Normally at this point I would have called for a quick counsel with the three Centurions, but I could hear men shouting in our tongue, outside the walls of the camp, and although the walls blocked our view around the corner, the lurid light of torches made a glow that only added to the urgency. Although there was no way to tell with any certainty, it did not appear that the tower itself was on fire, but I knew there were just a handful of moments before that became the case.

Consequently, my only order was to bellow, “Follow me!”

Without waiting for any acknowledgement, I began sprinting for the corner of the camp, but even over the sound of my own breathing I could hear the clatter of equipment as the men followed closely behind. Turning the corner, the sudden flare of light from what appeared to be at least three dozen torches momentarily caused me to slow as my eyes tried to adjust to the sudden change in light. Taking in the scene before me, what I saw was a single thin line of our men, arranged in a semicircle around the tower, but even as I watched, the attackers were skirting around the last man on the far side of the tower. To my left, Scribonius and the first three Centuries were in much the same condition as we had been a moment before, disorganized and trying to shake out into a line of Centuries. Ideally, I would wait so that we could hit the raiding party simultaneously, but even as I watched, I saw an arc of fire, trailing sparks and droplets of flame, flying through the air in the direction of the tower. The pot of Greek fire landed short, splattering in a brief explosion of flame, in between the tower and the line of Legionaries, with some of the globs of sticky fire hitting the base of the tower, where they guttered for a moment before flickering out. Almost simultaneously, I heard one of our men shout in pain as apparently one of the shards of the pot that carry the Greek fire struck him, and I was vaguely aware of the sight of some of the sticky substance clinging to the back of the man’s calf.

“Someone help him,” I roared, although I did not break stride, skirting the puddle of flame on the ground to reach the thin line of Legionaries.

Without waiting, I leapt forward through one of the gaps between men of the defending section, barely having time to bring my sword to the first position in preparation for an attack by the leader of the sortie. Wearing a high conical helmet, with dangling flaps that told me he had not tied the helmet on, he was a heavily bearded, squat man, younger than me, wearing the scale armor that is favored by Jewish warriors, as well as those of the other Eastern nations. It has the advantage of being lighter than our heavier mail, allowing its wearer to move with more ease and agility; however, it is lighter, making it easier to poke a hole through. Which is what I attempted to do, launching a thrust underneath the man’s own blade that was slashing down at me at the same time. And that is when I remembered something that I had forgotten to do, and that was grab a shield from someone; all I had to defend myself was my vitus.


This particular fight marks the first, and only, time that I used my vitus on someone other than my own men. Somehow, in the eyeblink of time I had as his blade came flashing down, I understood that if I just raised the vitus to try and block my attacker’s blade, at the most it would absorb some of the force, but I was reasonably sure that before he began his sortie, he had sharpened his blade. And as thick as a vitus may be, a keen blade would slice through it with ease, and still hit me; it looked as if he was aiming for my right shoulder area. That made his angle of attack slightly awkward, as he had to twist his body to accommodate his aim. Consequently, without any thought, I swept my vitus across my own body, mimicking at least the angle of his attack, raising my vitus just above shoulder level so that the twisted vine hit his blade from the side. The power of my countermove, aided as always by my bulk and strength, was such that I knocked his blade from its intended path enough that it barely missed my head and came slashing down just a hand’s breadth away from my own right arm. At the same time, my own blade was punching forward in a first position thrust, and between my own power and his momentum, he essentially ran himself through on my blade. While a normal first position thrust would bury about a foot of my blade into a man’s gut, this time I felt my right fist, wrapped around the hilt of my sword, punch him in the stomach, bringing his face just inches from mine, blasting me with what would be one of his final breaths right in the face. The odor of wine, rotten teeth and the gods know what else was almost overwhelming, but I was more intent on trying to withdraw my sword, hampered by what had just become his dead weight, sagging against my body. Thankfully, I heard the sound of the Centuries I was leading arriving, and out of the corner of my eye saw their dark shapes hurtling forward, the noise suddenly overwhelming as they shouted their own battle cries. Despite having seen and caused so much death, it was extremely disconcerting to have this man’s face inches from mine, the blood now pouring out of his mouth to soak his beard. But it was not that, or even the low moan that was rattling me; it was his eyes, which despite having only the flickering light of the flames from the Greek fire, even now slowly guttering out on the ground behind me, were boring into mine in a silent plea. Normally I would twist the blade when I withdrew it, both to inflict more damage and to break the suction that is caused by the bodily fluids, but my sword was buried too deeply into his body for even someone as strong as I was. Pointedly refusing to meet his gaze, I shoved the man away with my left hand, still clutching the vitus, and withdrew my blade. Without the support of my sword, he collapsed onto the ground with a moan only slighter louder than the one that had been issuing from him for the last few heartbeats. Now that I was free, I stepped over him to catch up with the rest of the men. But not before pausing, and with one hard thrust, ending the man’s misery.


The sight that met my eyes was of a horribly disorganized mess of a fight, where, from a combination of our headlong charge, the darkness and the fact that our enemy was in nothing resembling any kind of order, there was not even a hint of a formation. The combatants from both sides were inextricably mixed together, composed of small knots of men, some bashing with their shields, others countering with a thrust or slash. Pausing for a moment, I tried to determine where I was most needed, but even as I did, a Jew behind the leading edge of fighters launched another one of those damned pots, and I watched it arc over the fight, my heart suddenly seizing in my chest as I saw that it was going to come perilously close to the tower. But, although it was far enough, his aim was off sufficiently that the pot shattered a few feet to the left of the tower, the momentum of the vessel sending the globules of flame spattering forward from its impact point. While it was a good thing that it missed, it also informed me that they were in range.

“Push these bastards back!” I began roaring, over and over, but before I added my own body to the task, I turned and spotted the last of the Centuries I had led out the gate just then arriving. Shouting to the Centurion, Aulus Glabius, I pointed in the direction of the tower. “You stand by over there, and be ready to smother any flames that come close. But by the gods, if any of you get burned, I’m going to skin you!”

Without waiting for a reply, I hurried forward.


By the time the fight was done, while we had saved the tower, it was a close-run thing, with the two vertical supports closest to the attack suffering some charring on the surface of the heavy, square timbers used for the base of the tower. Additionally, we suffered some casualties; a half-dozen men were dead, while twice that many were wounded, of which at least two severely enough that they would be out of action for most of this siege. Fortunately the casualties suffered by Antigonus’ sortie were much, much higher; there were at least two hundred men left behind, all of them dead. At least, once the men were done looting and stripping the bodies of all valuables, but not before making sure none of the enemy still had a breath of life in them. Scribonius’ force had turned the tide, slamming into the attackers from behind, and he was standing next to me as we both waited for the casualty reports from the other Centurions of the Second Cohort.

He turned to me and asked, “How did they get so close without any kind of alarm being raised by ben-Judah’s men?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted, but I added, “But I’m going to find out, first thing in the morning.”

Although I was fairly confident that there would not be another attempt, I increased the guard around the tower to a full Century, as the rest of us retired to get what sleep we could. Which, as I knew from long experience, would be next to impossible, at least for me. While I knew some men who were able to jump from a sound sleep, participate in this kind of hot, frenzied action, then return to their slumber just as quickly, not only were they a minority, I was not one of them. Scribonius, on the other hand, was one of those, and I was consigned to lying next to him, grinding my teeth as I listened to his snoring. As usual, my mind was the part that kept me from sleeping, as it ran through the battle again, and I critiqued every decision I had made, and tried to determine if the inevitable mistakes were unavoidable. I cannot say that being this way is easy, but I believe that my relentless drive to correct my mistakes played a large role in why I managed to not only rise through the ranks, but to survive. Naturally, luck plays a large part, but I will cross over in Charon’s Boat with the deep-seated belief that along with the luck, my self-critique played a large role in my success.


Not surprisingly, when I rose the next morning, I was not in the best frame of mind for a conversation with ben-Judah, but I was grimly determined to get to the bottom of the matter. Deciding it would be prudent not to go alone, as always I chose my closest friend, and the man who was the only one able to save me from myself. When I asked Scribonius to accompany, not only did he not hesitate, but he was clearly not surprised that I had asked him. Being frank, I would have liked to bring Balbus along, in the event that diplomacy did not work, but he was with the rest of the First in the middle camp.

“Let me guess,” Scribonius said as we strode out of our camp, using the back gate on the opposite side from the walls, which was a slightly longer but safer trek. “You need me to keep you from doing something stupid.”

“Something like that,” I admitted with a laugh, not without some chagrin.

When we came within sight of the Jewish camp, we stopped just out of range of their slingers, allowing them to notice our presence. There was a series of shouts, followed by a flurry of movement as one of the men on guard duty disappeared. A few moments later, we were beckoned forward by the remaining sentry. Taking a deep breath, I resumed striding towards the gate, where I was met by ben-Judah himself. Just from his manner I could see that he knew why I had come; his posture was rigid, his expression wary, although his tone was genial as he greeted me.

Once the formalities were observed, he said grimly, “I am guessing I know why you are here.”

“If you think it’s to find out how a force of about four hundred men could slip past you from that fortress, then you’re right,” I confirmed.

His face flushed, but he kept his tone the same as he replied, “As I thought. But that force did not come from the fortress.”

I frowned as I tried to determine the meaning behind his words. And as always, Scribonius arrived at the truth first.

“Wait,” he gasped. “Are you saying they came from here?”

ben-Judah shifted his feet, but I have to give him credit, he did not flinch as he confirmed Scribonius’ guess.

“Yes,” he admitted. “It turns out one of my sub-commanders was in the pay of Antigonus. He was commander of the guard last night, and the men he used for his sortie were supposed to be the relief for the men at the outposts.”

He was referring to the small fortified positions that were arranged parallel to the northern wall from the east corner to the west.

“Wait,” I shook my head as I attempted to make sense of what he was telling us. “It wasn’t that bastard who had your men throw rocks at us, was it? What’s his name?”

“bar-Levi?” Joseph shook his head. “No, it was not him. It was another man.”

Frankly, that did not make me feel any better knowing that there was more than one officer of his command who was suspect.

“But how did all those men follow him?” Scribonius asked. “Surely they couldn’t have all been on Antigonus’ payroll! How would he have known that the men selected for the guard duty would obey him?”

Now ben-Judah looked thoroughly miserable, and if I am correct in interpreting his expression, if the ground swallowed him right then he would not have been all that upset.

“Because he was the man who created the guard roster,” ben-Judah admitted.

Which at least told me why he looked so uncomfortable. Although I cannot know for sure, what I do know is that the overall commander, at least in the Legions, is the man responsible for selecting the guards for each shift. Of course, in our case that means nothing more complicated than which Century or Cohort, depending on the size of the camp. But since the Jews did not have that level of organization, it was likely that the overall commander had to choose each man. At least, judging from the embarrassment of ben-Judah, that appeared likely. As bad as this was, I could not discount a possibility, but it was not one I was willing to voice, at least in front of Joseph ben-Judah.

Instead, I asked him, “How do you know if he was the only one?”

ben-Judah sighed, and admitted, “I don’t. Not really. But,” he shrugged, “only time will tell.”

This was not a satisfactory answer, at the very least. But for the first time I got a glimmer of an idea that, perhaps, Herod was aware of this possibility, which is why he insisted that these men be segregated from mine. Seeing that there was nothing that could be done, we departed back to our camp, leaving ben-Judah looking disconsolate; at least, that was what he wanted us to see. Yet, now that the seed of suspicion had been planted, it was destined to take root and grow. The hard part of the siege had yet to begin, and now I had to worry about whether or not ben-Judah and his men, at the moment of the actual assault, would be fighting with us, or against us.









Speak Your Mind