Jerusalem By Moonlight


ON the way to Bethany in the moonlight we talked. I was determined not to say the usual sort of thing that women like to hear. As I remember we talked of serious matters, she attempting to explain her faith to me, I making reference to the classic philosophers, insofar as I had read and understood them, and throwing in some humble ideas of my own.

Atop the Mount of Olives we paused and looked back at Jerusalem, that savage, bigoted and dangerous city. Never before had it looked beautiful to me, but that night I swear it was, the roofs and columns of the temple gleaming in the moonlight, against the background of the velvet sky studded by a thousand stars. To the north the Great Bear and the Guards: south, the Lion; to the east the golden Bear-star, while to the west the Hunter and his ever-faithful Dogs were disappearing into the mists of the horizon. As usual in those desert lands, the night was cold. Many would have invited their woman to shelter under their cloak, or considered the surroundings romantic. Yet I judged it not the time nor place to tell her of my feelings again. She knew, anyway.

On the way down the mount I could have sworn I heard something. Or sensed something, at least. We were being followed, though the scattered trees and bushes provided but little cover. The man – I assumed it was a man – was taking a risk. But I said nothing, simply reflecting how fortunate it was that I had accompanied her.

We reached Bethany, and she indicated her address. I left her a few yards from its stable block. ‘Did you have the feeling that we were being followed?’ she asked.

I was surprised. ‘Yes. But I didn’t want to worry you. Didn’t think you’d noticed.’

She nodded. ‘So I thought. Take great care when returning.’

I tapped my sword. ‘I reckon to be a match for any lone brigand. And there was but one.’

‘I repeat, take great care. I shall pray for you. And from now on, my centurion, you never keep things from me, certainly not to try to protect me. Between us, it must always be the truth.’

Then we kissed.


THE JOURNEY back was something of an anticlimax, in that I neither saw nor sensed anyone. It occurred to me that were I to be attacked by a Secarius, my enquiry might be solved, for what more likely than that the assailant would be the killer of my friend Dio? But I saw nothing, save for a few moments as I began the descent from the Mount of Olives. Here the Temple came into view, and I thought I might have glimpsed a shadowy figure making its way into the South-East Gate. From a distance of half a mile I could not be certain, and there was not the slightest chance of making an identification.

But it merited enquiry. A quarter of an hour later I had crossed the Kidron Valley and scaled the escarpment to the South-East Gate, where I was duly stopped by a member of the Temple Guard. I knew the man slightly.

‘State your business … Oh, it’s you, centurion.’

‘A man entered this gate less than half an hour since. Do you know him?’

‘Yes, centurion. His name was Judas. An effete youth, always dressed in the latest fashion, who has attached himself to the man Joshua bar-Josef.’

‘Why was he entering the Temple at this hour of the night?’

‘He lodges here occasionally, in the Court of the Gentiles. He had accompanied Joshua to Bethany, but turned back upon discovering that no suitable lodgings were available there. His explanation seemed plausible, so we let him in.’

‘Yes,’ I agreed. ‘Plausible. That’s the word.’