The day had been long, and he was hot and tired – tired of standing over the scorching fire all day, making wheel hoops and horseshoes. He’d had few calls that week for the fancy plates and shields he so liked to make. If only he were rich like that cloth shop owner who had stopped by a few days ago to get his horses shod. When Barabbas had asked him how his business was, he’d replied, “Not too good right now, but I don’t care. I only keep my shop open for something to do.” If he had this man’s money, he thought, then, he could make what he wanted to, or not work at all if he didn’t feel like it.
Perhaps, he should try raising his prices and cutting corners. He did want his family to enjoy the best. But, it was the Romans who really bothered him. They’d take every shekel you made in taxes if they could. And what do they do with it all? Gorge themselves, that’s what. The community could certainly stand some improvements. But no! They don’t care for the people. They’d kill you if they got a chance, just like they did his grandfather. After he’d given them his best efforts, they’d turned on him and crucified him, along with the rest of the Spartan captives. He would despise them forever for that. They’re all tyrants, he thought, and murderers at heart! And the local rulers aren’t any better! There’s that putrid puppet, Pilate, always bowing and scraping to that Cyclops, Caesar, and his hired helper, Herod! Everyone knows they add to the taxes they're required by Rome to collect in order to fill their own coffers. Laws are passed for their political expediency rather than for the good they might do. And then there are those Roman soldiers, always parading up and down. They’ve even added a tax of their own, supposedly for their upkeep. Yes, things are truly in a terrible state!
All these thoughts were running wildly through his mind that afternoon, when the door opened and in walked one of them – a Roman soldier in the flesh. He cringed. The unwelcome visitor inquired about the sword hanging on the back wall, but when told the price, declined to buy it, saying, “I’ll wait until the next increase in the soldier’s tax. There is another half-shekel raise scheduled, you know.” – As if it wasn’t high enough already! The smith nodded patronizingly, though all the while something inside of him wanted to take the down sword and thrust it into the soldier’s back as he turned to leave. But, he thought better of his compulsion and reached for another horseshoe instead. As he carried the horseshoe to the hearth, he made every effort to present a calm exterior.
In a moment, the soldier was gone. But, his exit was followed by the entrance of another figure who was very strange looking. He wore a pitch-black tunic with a wide white belt and a black hat with a white ribbon. His stern face sported a big black mustache, but no beard. The mustache curved down and then up on the sides like one of those fancy door knockers Barabbas used to make. It connected nicely with his bushy black and white sideburns. He looked very strange indeed, and a bit frightening! He stood for a minute, looking the place over. Then, he smiled politely and motioned for the proprietor to come toward him.
“Yes, sir?” Barabbas said politely. “I’d have come quicker, only I was working with that horseshoe there, and was afraid to drop it. May I help you, sir?” He noticed that, despite the stranger’s odd appearance, he still had the look of a Jew about him.
The stranger’s penetrating eyes wandered over the profusion of fancy cups, plates, knives, shields and other objects displayed for sale and rested upon the large sword hanging on the back wall. “That sword there, of what does it consist?”
“Why, it’s made of the finest iron available, sir. Nothin’ but the finest.”
“Well, how sharp might its edges be?”
“Why, sharp enough, sir. Sharp enough to split a rock, or pierce a wall, or—or—or—-”
“Or,” ventured the stranger, lowering his voice, “slit a Roman soldier’s throat?”
“Yes! Or slit a Roman soldier’s throat, confound ‘em! Now I’ve gone and said it, haven’t I? I’ve finally said what’s been brooding inside of me. I suppose you’re one of ‘em in disguise, or one o’ their spies. Well, arrest me, if you will, and have done with it. Our lives are without hope anyway under your wretched tyranny!”
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