Chapter 1

Somewhere in Israel, sometime 7 BCE

 

“Bitch!”

Pantera half-hissed, half-spat the word under his breath, drawing his hand to his cheek.

He could taste the blood, metallic like the taste of his sword. His teeth were still intact so at least that was comforting. He could feel his face beginning to swell. He knew that feeling so well. In his line of work that was a common occurrence. But this was different. It was not often a woman or a girl delivered such a blow.

He looked at her, cowering on the floor, drawing her shawl over her face, concealing all but her eyes. He walked over to her drawing his sword. “Now you’ll not do that again, will you,” he said softly, pulling her up onto her feet. Her eyes were wide with fear and he could feel her trembling. He placed the point of his sword at her throat and smiled.

She closed her eyes, expecting the worst. She felt the tip of the weapon at her neck, cold and uncaring. She was just a girl. How could she die when she was so young? She had seen little of life, living in a small village no-one ever came to or had heard of or cared about. And now she was going to die there. All she had known was her mother and father and a few of her neighbours. He laughed. She could smell his breath on her face and feel the spittle as he spoke.

“No. That would be too good for you. I like you. I want you to like me and maybe we could become good friends.”

The stench of his breath made her want to turn away but forced her to open her eyes and look at him. His face was close to hers. Slowly he dropped his sword, its tip tracing a path over her clothes, between her breasts, over her abdomen and stopped between her legs. He stopped there and pressed it forward. His breathing was loud and heavy now. He paused to lick his lips. He grinned again.

She screamed and tried to slap him with her open hand but he managed to grab it, dropping his sword. He laughed again. “I like them with a bit of life,” he said. “Maybe you like it hard.” He rubbed between his legs and smiled again.

She spat at him, her eyes wide with fear and anger. Wiping his own eyes and his face, his expression changed. He slapped her face hard with the back of his hand, sending her across the room in fits of hysteria.

“Shut up!” he barked, grabbing her arms. She screamed again. “Shut up or I’ll shut you up!” he hissed drawing her face to his. She stopped, looking at him, terrified.

“Please, we have money. Not much, but you can have it. Have it all. Just leave us alone. Please just take it and go.” He released her hand and followed as she went over to the body of an old man lying on the floor in a corner of the house. He was bleeding from a wound in his side. He had tried to stop it, pressing hard with both his hands but was failing miserably. His clothes were soaked with sweat and blood and a small patch of sand was brown with it, just below where he lay. He was barely conscious. He knew he would die soon but forced himself to stay alive, despite the pain. He had to stay alive for the sake of his daughter.

She found a small bag of coins inside the old man’s clothes. “Here, it’s all we have. Take it! Just leave us alone. I won’t tell anyone. Please, just go!”

Pantera opened the bag. Inside were a handful of silver coins. “Very nice. That’ll do very nicely. See you can be nice. Let’s be friends again. If you’re good to me, I’ll be good to you.” He stroked her face gently. “See, there’s no need to be afraid. Now just come over here and let’s take this off, it all covered in blood.” He stroked her breast, grinning all the while.

She screamed again and tried to run. He caught her, pulled her back and threw her to the ground. She kicked, trying desperately to keep him away as he leaned down towards her. Now she no longer feared for her life because now she knew what he wanted. She would rather die than let that happen. With all her might she tried to throw him off her. He was too heavy and all her efforts were wasted. Even if he hadn’t been heavier, he was bigger and stronger. He was a trained soldier, trained for years to fight and kill and take what he wanted.

He held her down easily. Her small body, barely that of a woman was so light that even with the minimum of effort he was able to restrain her. However, despite his pleading to her to remain still and enjoy the experience, she continued to fight. He tired of persuasion. He held her at arms length, pinned to the ground with his left hand and punched her hard across the face. He felt her face give way to his fist, he saw the blood come from her mouth as she spat out her teeth.

He ripped the clothes from her now almost lifeless body. For a moment he stopped to admire the flawless skin and the mound of pubic hair at the bottom of her belly. Her breasts were not quite fully developed but beautifully symmetrical and soft. He grinned as he massaged them and began breathing heavily as he put his hand between her legs. He forced himself between them and reached down positioning himself. He groaned as he anticipated his next move.

She fought to stay conscious, telling herself that she was having a bad dream, that this was all going to end soon and her father would come running to comfort her. She no longer felt the pain, all she was aware of was a heaviness on her body and somewhere far away the sound of groaning, and the stench of an unwashed body.

She knew what was happening but thanked God that He has granted her freedom from the pain she knew she ought to be experiencing. Now if God really were merciful, she would live to see this beast die a slow and agonising death. Her lips moved in silent prayer as searing fire stabbed at her belly.

……

When she regained consciousness, she slowly became aware that she was in her own home. She tried to move but felt a pain in her jaw. She was naked and bleeding from her mouth. She spat the blood out and felt a pain in her right ear. She tried to cry but even that caused agonies.

Slowly she was able to focus her eyes on the walls around her. She was completely naked. She pulled her  torn clothes over to her and covered herself as best she could. Her arms ached and her legs felt so very heavy. She sat up as best she could, resting against a wall. She looked down wondering why her whole body seemed to be on fire. Then she saw the blood between her bruised legs. Suddenly, the memory of what had happened burst upon her.

She looked around, frantically searching for her father. Some distance from her she could see his body covered in blood and dust. He had been propped against a wall and was staring at her, holding a wound in his side.

The awful realisation that he had witnessed everything, seen all that had happened to her, tore her heart from her and, unable to control herself, she let out a long, sustained wail. She crawled over to him, tears in her eyes begging God to let him live and forgive her for wishing harm to the beast that had so violated her.

“Father, father!” was all she could say when she reached him. There were tears in his eyes. His breathing was slow. He blinked. “Father, please tell me what to do!” she implored him. He always knew what to do. Why didn’t he answer now! “Father. Tell me what to do. I don’t know what to do. I think they’re all dead. The bastards have killed us all!”

He stared at her, barely able to breath now. “Child. Hide!” he whispered. “Don’t let them find you. Stay alive and God will avenge us.”

He closed his eyes and breathed no more.

She buried her face in his body and gave over to the despair that now racked her body.

……

She awoke. She became aware of the stillness outside broken by the crying of women in the distance. Her father’s body ‘though warm, was lifeless. She began to cry again. She covered his face with his clothes and rose to her feet. Dazed and wondering what to do she dressed as best she could in her torn clothes and walked towards the door.

Outside the sun was shining, hot and bright. The dust rose in the breeze and settled again. As she looked in the direction of crying she saw an old woman rocking back and forward with a small child in her arms. She was covered in blood. Every so often she would look at the sky and shout, “Why?”

Mary looked around. There was no sign of the Roman Legion. Here and there lay horse droppings and the bodies of men, some women and some children. All were dead. All were bleeding or covered to some extent in blood. From within various homes, came the crying of other women.

She walked out into the sunlight. The old woman saw her and stopped crying. “My child! What have they done to you? Where is your father? Your family?”

Just then a young boy appeared from the house behind the old woman. He had tears in his eyes. “Grandmother! The bastards! The bastards! They’ve killed mother and father. There was nothing I could do.”

The old woman looked at him and covered the face of the child in her lap. “Do not fret my son. I am well and we shall manage.”

“But grandmother, I was so frightened. I saw them kill mother and father. I was so frightened. I did nothing. I am so ashamed!” He fell to his knees and hid his face in his hands. “I did nothing to stop them! I hid. I don’t deserve to live! I want to die! I want to die too!”

“You did the right thing my son,” said the old woman, trying to reach him. “You could have done nothing to stop them and by hiding you did your father’s will. You are alive to remember them and carry on. Be strong and someday God will avenge us.”

“No! No! Grandmother. God will punish me. He will punish me for being a coward. I was so frightened that I hid and let them kill my family! The bastards! The bastards! They killed father. They killed mother.” He looked up and saw the child in his grandmother’s lap. “No! No!” he screamed. “The bastards! The bastards! Not my baby brother!”

He stood up and as he looked along the road out of the village, he punched the air and shouted, “You bastards! Kill me! Kill me! Come back and kill me!” He fell to the ground in a fit of crying and rolled in the dust.

……

“Pantera! Get over here! You bastard, you’ll get what’s coming! Never mind all that. Get the men over there and in order. Now! I said now!”

The centurion threw back his red cloak and mounted his horse. He rode over to the soldiers gathering just outside the village. It had been a good job and well done. These bloody peasants! They needed to know they had been conquered. If they had been spared the sword, it was only because they made life easier for those who served Rome.

That Pantera ‘though – he was a real liability. He had a taste for killing. He loved to kill just because he could, especially children. He loved to see the fear and terror in the eyes of the parents as he plunged his sword into the little bellies and felt the warm blood wash over his hands. But more than that he loved the sound of crying women. Most of all he loved to rape young girls. The Bastard!

He was a real bastard. But then, that was what being a soldier for the glory of Rome was all about. Kill those who opposed the rule of Rome and subjugate those who were sensible enough to realise they could not withstand the might of her army. After so many killings you began to enjoy the experience. Rape – well that was another matter. Humiliate a nation for long enough and you would pay a heavy price.

“Right you filthy lot! Over here! Come on, over here! Now!” Pantera was shouting at the men as they gathered into standard columns. “Time to march! The fun’s over. Now on to the next place! And no slouching!”

As they marched away, Pantera looked back with a grin. Yes, he thought. She had been pretty, that girl. What was her name, he wondered. Maybe on the way back, he would call on her again. Yes that was an idea. If he had time – and the inclination. No need to bother the parents next time.