The following evening, Verus had to fix some loose ends before pursuing what he believes is right. Mainly making doubly sure neither Ilithya nor her mother Phaedra bother him again. So with his foster mother's help a more 'beneficial' arrangement was made to keep the petty women out of his friends' hair for a long time… or at the very least until they got out of Rome.
Which was exactly what a group belonging to the Friends of Jesus intended and were trying to convince Antonius to do so. As of the moment, Absolom had dressed the older man's injured right leg.
"I'm not leaving Rome!"
Portia reasoned. "Antonius all the city soldiers and of the Empire are searching high and low for you. You must leave Rome as soon as possible."
"Not without the scrolls!" Antonius answered. "Other friends of Jesus have started them but I'm the one responsible now. They must be safe!"
At that same moment, Verus had been asking around for Eliana but they'd not seen her since before the trial. It wasn't until Antonius mentioned the scrolls that they reached the same conclusion: that she was still in the house somewhere or captured.
"I'll get them." Macky offered.
Verus joined in, "And I'm helping him, I have a hunch let's just hope I'm not wrong."
"You'll both need my help!" Antonius tried to get up off the palanquin
"What help? Especially if it means carrying both you and the scrolls," Absolom pointed out.
"You must think of Sophia and Felix, take them to Ephesus where you'll all be safe." Portia said to Antonius gently.
The ex-Senator looked at his children with concern and agreed. "Macky, I leave you the scrolls, finish them and tell others the stories."
"I'll do it Antonius. And there's something else you can give me."
"What is it?"
"My freedom… and Eliana's. If we had to be slaves, beings yours wasn't so bad but the truth is I'd rather be a free man."
"The truth is, you and Eliana were always free. But if it makes you feel better Antonius then shook hands with Macky, I release you both."
A sharp whistle was heard then one of the lookouts rushed in. "The northern route's clear, there's no sign of patrols. We've got to leave now."
"Goodbye Macky, I'll see you again."
"Yes, I know."
Portia hugged Antonius, "Thank you for everything you've done."
The ex-Senator looked to Verus, "Go after Eliana. You'll never find another one like her in your lifetime."
Macky then went to say goodbye to Antonius' children, enveloping them in a hug. "Sophia, take care of them."
"I will." Sophia nods.
The little boy did motions with his hands
"Sophia, I thought…"
"Ah, I can still talk." Felix replied. "I just wanted to say goodbye both ways."
Then he patted Dudemus goodbye. "Don't let Pontius bother you."
Right there, as though reacting to his name being mentioned, the parrot squawked from his hiding place in a basket.
"And as for you," Macky said to his parrot, "I know parrots can live up to a hundred years but in that time I want you learn one thing: not to keep following me."
After Portia and Verus said their own goodbyes to the family, promising to rescue Eliana, the group moved on wearing thick cloaks and walking away en route to their destination.
"I hope they have a safe trip."
"And they will." Absolom answered.
"Yes, but it's ours that worries me."
The four had to take the secret tunnel that lead into Antonius' house. Fortunately they'd planned ahead and had a false one created as bait for the Roman soldiers to venture through.
However upon arriving, they found the hiding place in shambles and the scrolls gone. Macky had hoped to rewrite the stories but Absolom warned them that the soldiers were coming right through the tunnel.
"Hello?!" A familiar voice called from the old master bedroom.
"Eliana? Is that you?"
"Yes, he locked me in!"
Just then Portia noticed something off about the ransacked house. What was that all over the floor? She kneeled down and touched it with the tip of her fingers, "What is all this oil doing here?"
"Hurry, we don't have much time!"
By breaking down the door with a heavy pillar and bust, Eliana was able to climb out. Before she could explain what happened, however, there was the sound of approaching hooves.
"Excellent work, Faustus. Toadie's voice was heard outside. I know they'll reward you as well as they have to me. Or almost."
"Yes. Then what do we do about the house?"
"You'll see. I'll do to the house just what Marcus will do to the scrolls."
What he didn't notice was that the men taking away the scrolls weren't exactly alone.
"I'll be taking that!" Florencia snatched away the torch out of his hand. "This time I'll be making sure a little pest will be out of my life forever!"
The other men didn't bother saying anything. Toadie had protested at first. "But that's my –" he then shrugged, "Heh. What am I worried about? The madwoman is not my problem anymore. Carry on."
Florencia had stormed into the house, intending to murder Eliana while she was still locked up, only to see the girl was freed by four young people.
Now the confrontation had become intense.
"What have I ever done to you? I was only a little girl with dreams that seemed so far away without her mother. You've always hated me for no good reason."
"Your worthless mother took away the love that was supposed to be mine! And your father always paid more attention to you! You! A spoiled snotty little nothing! I'll never forgive you for it!" The older woman shrieked.
"You wasted half your life on a worthless hate?!" Macky snapped in outraged disbelief. "You're sick! And I've known plenty horrible people in my short lifetime."
"What you're doing is unreasonable!" Portia interjected. "You can still turn back and start a new life!"
"What new life?! I'm out on the streets, no one wants used goods!"
"We can end this right now," Verus spoke out, "This doesn't have to get ugly-"
"It already is! Your father will never see you or your little friends alive! Never! Goodbye forever!"
What she didn't see was that the spilled oil was already soaking through her own tunic. The five youngsters tried to warn her to no avail.
It was too late. The torch fell onto the oil, setting it aflame including Florencia's robes. The older woman's screams of agony were ghastly.
"Stop, it's too late!"
Macky had snatched a jug of water, Verus and Absolom grabbed a tapestry which they quickly tore into four parts before soaking them with the liquid.
"Cover yourself well with it but make sure you can see!"
The five ran out fearfully away from the flames and into the streets. Shocked, they looked back at the house where they knew Eliana's wicked stepmother and would-be murderer perished.
"I don't know if you want my opinion, but I think it's high time for you three-" he pointed to Macky, Eliana and Verus- "To get out of Rome like Antonius before something else happens."
"He's right we've got to leave!" Portia agreed, the way Eliana's murderous stepmother died had left her quite shaken.
"Not without those scrolls!" Macky replied.
"But I know where they are!" Eliana cried. "Marcus plans to burn them tomorrow in the circus maximus!"
When Portia questions why put their lives at risk to recover the scrolls, Macky tells her and the others a story…
That same day two of Jesus' followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. But God kept them from recognizing him.
He asked them, "What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?" They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, "You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn't heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days." "What things?" Jesus asked.
"The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth," they said. "He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago."
"Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said."
Then Jesus said to them, "You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn't it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?" Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.
By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, but they begged him, "Stay the night with us, since it is getting late." So he went home with them. As they sat down to eat,* he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment he disappeared!
They said to each other, "Didn't our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?" And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, who said, "The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter."
Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread. And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. "Peace be with you," he said. But the whole group was startled and frightened, thinking they were seeing a ghost!
"Why are you frightened?" he asked. "Why are your hearts filled with doubt? Look at my hands. Look at my feet. You can see that it's really me. Touch me and make sure that I am not a ghost, because ghosts don't have bodies, as you see that I do." As he spoke, he showed them his hands and his feet.
Still they stood there in disbelief, filled with joy and wonder. Then he asked them, "Do you have anything here to eat?" They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he ate it as they watched.
"They added it to the old stories." Portia noted.
"And they'll continue telling them, that's why Jesus will always live on: in their words."
"That of the scrolls." Eliana finished.
"Exactly. Many have given their lives to keep them alive, I couldn't do any less."
"Even so, we're going to need an army to get them back." Verus sighed.
Macky looked thoughtful for a moment. "Nope, I just need a few tools, this little knife and you four."
They'd talked, unaware they'd soon get an extra helping hand the following day in their little quest.
They'd learned every corner of the underground catacombs while living with Antonius, now that was the knowledge they needed. The plan was to go under the arena and snatch the scrolls.
Soon enough, they found a crack amongst some loose bricks and debris just enough to squeeze through. Portia and Eliana climbs up and cautiously peeked through. They saw a small enclosure about three feet deep, a trap door and stuck amongst some sticks were the scrolls.
"I see them! They're right there!" Portia pointed.
"Better hurry before the games start!" exclaimed Verus, picking up a tool.
They got to work as fast as they could, clearing the debris and hacking at the crack. Just then Absolom froze in place, squinted into the crack then held up his hands for the others to stop what they were doing.
"What?" Macky questioned.
Absolom shushed him and jerked his thumb at the crack. "It's Marcus!"
They all looked over to see the devious man move the lever so that the trap door would pull him upwards into the center stage of the arena.
"It's too late, he's going to burn them!" Portia gasped.
Even from where they were they could hear Marcus address the spectators, "Citizens of Rome, I am Marcus, you know me don't you?"
"Yes!" Someone shouted, "We know you're very talkative!"
The crowd burst out laughing.
"You talk so much that no one wants to listen!"
Even as Marcus continued speaking the youngsters continued to hack frantically at the crack
"The friends of Jesus wish to eliminate everything Rome stands for using the words of hate within these scrolls!"
The crowd promptly booed. Finally the opened the crack just enough for Macky and Verus to climb through.
"Absolom stay back, Portia, Eliana, shine a light over here." Macky urged.
He and Verus looked at the ropes that held the platform up in the center stage at the arena, exchanged glances then nodded once grimly. Taking out blade they cut the ropes just before Marcus could even begin to burn the scrolls at the urging of the crowd.
Just as they planned, the platform fell with the scrolls and Marcus, much to the crowds' laughter. The fall caused Marcus to bounce once on the scrolls then land into the enclosure a few steps from the platform.
"Girls, give us a hands with these." Verus called them over.
"And quickly before someone comes to help Marcus." Absolom added.
"From what I heard up there, I don't think anyone's in any rush to be helping him out any time soon." Macky remarked.
Once he said that Marcus started to get up and saw the scrolls were all nearly gone.
"The scrolls!" He turned to his left to see Macky walking out with one of the last baskets with the scrolls. "Thief!"
There was a growl and the men noticed the enclosure was meant to be a holding pen for the lions of the circus, and it looked quite hungry.
In one last attempt to destroy the scrolls, he grabbed Verus by the ankle to try and stop him from walking away. "Get back here!"
"Let go!" Verus strained even as the extra weight started to pull him downwards.
Marcus almost pulled the young man down into the lion enclosure with him, only for Absolom and a complete stranger to come to the young man's aid.
At the same time, the lion pounced on Marcus! The movement involuntarily forced the devious man to let go of Verus.
Instantly the youngsters and new arrival winced in horror as the hungry feline dragged the screaming man away to his doom. Without any weapons, and knowing they couldn't stay too long, the group inevitably fled.
Once the scrolls were retrieved and they were a good distance away from the arena, the others turned to face the man. He looked at Eliana, who stared back as though she'd seen a ghost.
"My little girl! My treasure, is it really you?" Hesperus all but whispered.
At long last father and daughter embraced. The others could only watch with warm smiles at the reunion
"Eliana, my daughter! I thought I'd never see you again!"
"I'd almost lost hope of ever seeing you. But here you are!" They pulled away then Eliana presented him, Father, I'd like you to meet my dearest friends.
The youngsters each introduced themselves.
"This is my father, I'd lost him once and all that was mine. Then I found a new love who helped me find the love that I had lost."
"Young ones, I don't know how I can thank you for being there for my child when I could not."
"Eliana's like the older sister I never had." Macky said with sheepish grin.
"She's a wonderful friend to us as well." Portia smiled, "No Roman noblewomen could compare to her worth."
"And how!" Absolom agreed.
Verus took a deep breath and stepped forwards, "So long as we're all here, and before I lose my nerve…I want to say something."
They all looked to him and were surprised to see Verus kneel before Eliana, "I kneel before you not as the son of a Roman noble, but as a man in love... But I, Verus Equitius, would feel like the greatest of kings if you, Eliana, daughter of Hesperus, would be my wife."
"Will you take me as I am- a simple Greek drifter that recently joined friends of Jesus, who loves you?" Eliana asked him.
"Will you take me as I am- a Roman apprentice still learning his trade?"
"Of course I will!" Eliana threw her arms around him.
Hesperus smiled, "In that case, I shall give you my blessing and this."
"Father, your ring."
"You'll have to take it with you on your way and think of me when you look at it. And when you bring it back, it means that you'll be with it. And that's what I really want. For you to come back, no matter what."
"Of course I will Father, I…."
There was a sound of a horse approaching. They tensed up, though they needn't have bothered, it was Toadie.
"Who is that?" Hesperus questioned, looking at Toadie suspiciously.
"Just a nuisance with a very big mouth." Verus responded.
"You and the Greek maiden have the scrolls, don't you, Maccabeus?" Toadie casually asked. "You were always a crafty boy."
Macky stepped forward, "And you were always a fat -"
"Macky!" Portia stopped him then glared at Toadie, "What do you want Tobias?"
"I want nothing," the portly man replied, "I have everything! This reward has made me the richest man in all Pompeii."
"Pompeii?" Absolom questioned.
"It's the best city on the coastline. I've bought Brutacus a house there, close to the shops, close to the beach…"
"Is it close to a smoky mountain?" Macky asked.
Verus and Hesperus looked at each other uncertainly.
"Of course it is! I've got a magnificent view from my own window." Toadie replied pompously.
"What can I say? Enjoy it." Macky shrugged.
I will." Toadie said in a sing-song tone before turning to say, "And if any of you happen to be in the neighborhood…Don't stop for a visit."
"Oh, we won't." Verus answered.
I forgive you. Eliana said softly. Not that the dishonest man asked for it, he merely shrugged, snapped the reins of the horse once and galloped away with self-satisfied laughter.
"That Tobias truly is…" Portia began
"A fool!" She and Macky finished with a chuckle.
Verus suddenly spoke up, "By the way, you remember what that old woman soothsayer said: mentioning that in eight years, Pompeii would be doomed?"
Eliana playfully hits his arm lightly, "Oh now, don't tell me you believe that!"
Forgiven or not, Tobias and Brutacus would soon meet their death when Mt. Vesuvius erupted on August 24, 79 AD obliterating the city of Pompeii. Upon hearing the news, Luciana left Rome in her grief, never to be seen or heard from again. Ilithya married a wealthy man but lived unhappy till the end of her days stuck with someone she didn't love, while her mother, Phaedra, lost her fortune and ended up infirm on the streets without the support of her daughter. It was said that Tiberius, Portia's uncle had to do much explaining to Portia's father about her missing when he returned.
After bidding Eliana's father goodbye, the youngsters reached a crossroads.
"It's time to make a decision."
"I know where I'm going: To the West. There are Jews in Spain, the city is called Toledo."
"Do they have any quadrigas?" asked Portia
"And if not, they soon will!" Absolom said excitedly. "How about you four?"
"That's what we're about to decide."
"Well I already where I want to go to." Verus answered. "I want to continue onwards, there's still so much to see out there."
Eliana said softly, "I've always wanted to travel far from home and see the other lands my father once mentioned. This is a chance we're both taking."
"Why don't we go with Antonius to Ephesus?" Portia suggested to Macky.
"Maybe someday." Macky pondered. "After taking these scrolls, these stories to the whole world so they can hear them."
"It'll be a long road and a dangerous one." Absolom reminded him.
"I know. Portia, it's your last chance." Macky turned to her.
"My last chance?"
"You can still lead a Roman life."
"How can you suggest that? What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking about you of course Tiberius will accept you, you won't have any hardship."
"Except not being with you." Portia said to him.
"With me… your life will change in every sense."
Portia glanced down then Macky gently lifted her chin. "I can't decide for you. But I do know a story of someone who was in a similar situation."
He told the story… As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, "Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?"
"Why do you call me good?" Jesus asked. "Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: 'You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.' "
"Teacher," the man replied, "I've obeyed all these commandments since I was young." Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. "There is still one thing you haven't done," he told him. "Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."
At this the man's face fell, and he went away very sad, for he had many possessions. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, "How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God!"
"What will it be Portia, Rome or a new road?"
"I know where I'm going." Portia turned to him, "But now it's your turn to choose."
Portia walked up to the path where Eliana and Verus were standing on. "I'm going that way, are you coming with me?"
"Sure." Macky said with a short confident laugh.
The response sent Portia into his arms, they embraced before sharing their very first kiss. Eliana and Verus smiled warmly.
"Macky, you should've known: a girl always wins." Absolom joked.
Verus then looked at Eliana, "Be sure of what you're doing it'll be a hard life."
"We'll all be together and that's what matters to me, nothing else. I'll be reunited with my father someday again soon." She answered confidently.
Absolom then said his goodbyes to the four of them. "We're splitting up but I think we'll always be together in some way."
They waved him goodbye as he walked down one of the paths.
"Think you'll miss anything from Rome?" Portia asks Macky.
"Not Rome. Just our friends, and… Pontius and his own way of bothering me."
"Rawk! Starving over here!"
"Yes, just like that. Good imitation."
"It wasn't me." Portia shrugged.
"Don't look at us." Verus added.
The squawking continued, they turned to see a familiar bird peek out from under one of the blankets.
Somehow the parrot had gotten loose from the group that was headed for Ephesus and followed them all the way to the path. Ah, well at least they won't be completely alone.
And that is how they began their life together. Not long afterwards, they ran into a group of Christians where one of their pastors had Eliana and Verus married to share their joys, sorrows, nights and mornings for better or for worse.