Jack and Gayle
Your first taste of The Cross Maker
Chapter One
Caesarea, Palestine 28 A.D.
The one man Caleb ben Samson wanted to see on his cross was Barabbas. For today, it looked like he might have to settle for a substitute.
The burning rays of the Mediterranean sun stretched the shadows from the masts of the Roman warships across the wharfs and warehouses of the seaport of Caesarea. Gulls drifted lazily under the cloudless sky. The aging dock and dilapidated buildings on the south side of the bay looked ready to collapse, and listless sailors tucked themselves into shelters hoping for a sea breeze to cool their brows. Offshore, the masts of international freighters listed in their mooring, their keels touching the seafloor.
Standing between the lengthening shadows, Caleb ran his calloused hand across a misshapen cross resting against a crate of olives. A steady stream of sweat had glued the back of his tunic to his skin.
Where the cross had come from was a mystery, but a blue tassel and dried apricot rested atop the crossbeam, catching his attention. The blue tassels were the identifying symbol of the zealots, a radical Jewish sect determined to drive the Romans out of Palestine. Their extremist wing included the Sicarii, a group who swore to cut the throats of any Jew found helping the Romans.
Barabbas was their leader—and the apricot was his calling card. Caleb’s father had been one of his first victims.
Caleb reached for the tassel just as a tremor underfoot made him pivot. A pyramid of logs, once piled next to the warehouse, tumbled toward him in a thunderous roar. He snatched the tassel and apricot from the crossbeam, then hurdled over the first log and sprang toward the safety of a small alcove in the side of the warehouse, just wide enough to shelter him. Several of the logs hurtled off the edge of the dock.
In the aftermath, the cross lay broken on the ground.
Caleb had no doubt who was responsible for this—both the cross and the falling logs. It had to be Barabbas’s henchmen. If only he could get Barabbas, the leader of the zealots, on a proper cross. He and Barabbas had played cat-and-mouse with each other throughout Palestine.
This had been a close call.
The closest call had occurred north of here, near the base of Mount Hermon. The snow-capped mountain, the highest in Palestine and the source of the Jordan River, had long been a sacred place of worship for the pagans. Caleb knew it as the fabled home of the giants who Joshua had defeated after crossing into the Promised Land.
After tracking Barabbas there, Caleb had stepped into a clever snare and ended up hanging upside-down from a tree branch. Fortunately, a young hunter had chanced upon him and cut him down. Fortunately for Caleb, anyway; Barabbas had arrived soon after and the young hunter had paid for his good deed with his life.
Caleb had then found himself a fugitive, taking temporary refuge in cities like Ephesus and Alexandria. And Barabbas had continued his murderous quests, slashing the throats of many fellow carpenters Caleb knew. It was clear now that there was no place to hide from this vigilante. It was kill or be killed.
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