Sunday, April 10, 2016

Before Winter: Chapter 20

Changed the title back. Sorry. Anyway, I made some major edits between posting the last chapter and this chapter, so if there are inconsistencies, I apologize. (That's why it looks like a chapter was skipped, among other things.)

Twenty: A Plan

Sweet, cool water. Timothy drank deeply from his hands, and splashed the water over his face and arms, washing away the dust and blood. His cuts stung at the contact, but he kept scooping water over them until they were clean of grime.

Resting his elbows on the edge of the well, Timothy gazed at the angry streaks of red in the sky that announced the beginning of the day. On the ledge next to him sat the cup he had contrived from the rolled up piece of parchment he had received from Paul. It was small, but better than his hands. He held it in one hand, and tipped the wooden bucket, filled with water, so that a thin stream ran into the cup.

When it was almost full, he balanced the bucket back up on the edge of the well and began making his way back to John Mark, cradling the precious water with both hands. He moved as fast as he could, fearing discovery, but it was more difficult to walk with his hands full, and once his leg buckled underneath him, spilling some of the water onto the ground. He caught himself, however, and reached Mark at last.

Kneeling down, he felt his friend’s forehead. Cold and clammy.

“Mark,” He whispered, “You must drink some water.” Mark’s head rolled to one side, and he muttered something without opening his eyes.

Grasping the back of Mark’s neck, Timothy tilted his head forward, so that he could drink. He was shaking with exertion, struggling to keep the cup steady. “Come on, Mark,” he urged.

Mark grunted, and swung his good arm around, almost knocking the cup out of Timothy’s hand. Then he blinked, and opened his eyes.

“I brought you some water.”

Mark stared at him, and Timothy was not sure he even understood what he was saying, but he opened his mouth a little, and Timothy dribbled some water into it. Coughing and gasping, most of the water seemed to run down his cheeks, but some was swallowed.

As soon as his breathing had calmed, Timothy tipped the cup again. “You need to drink.”

Sip by sip, Mark drained the cup. They rested under cover of the trees and shrubs all day, dozing as much as they could. A few travelers passed in and out of the city gates, but no one entered the grove, and there did not appear to be any search for them. In the afternoon, Timothy returned to the well for more water, hoping that the heat would keep people inside at that time. By evening, Mark was more alert, sitting propped up against the trunk of a tree, and Timothy decided it was time to discuss their plans.

“We will need to find food soon.”

Mark turned to look at him as Timothy continued. “It is dangerous to go back into the city, but I think I must make the attempt this evening. I will go to the docks, to the ship we reserved passage on.”

“You are the one with a bad knee.” Mark remarked, with a faint suggestion of a smile.

Timothy glanced down at his leg. “I think the bone slid out of place to the side, but when I came back from getting water the first time, it clicked back around. At least I can bend it now.” He did not mention that bending it or putting his weight on it still caused pain. “Anyway, I am steadier on my feet than you.”

The dusk helped him avoid notice as he slipped into the city, limping toward the port. Moving slowly, keeping to the shadows, it took him almost an hour. The ship was still in its berth. It was late in the evening now, and the only light he saw on the ship was a single lantern on deck, where he guessed the night watchman was standing guard.

He was about to step forward and hail the ship, when another shape moving through the darkness caught his attention. Alexander the coppersmith. With a start of surprise, he recognized the man. His bulk was unmistakeable.

Before Timothy could decide whether to wait for him to pass or to confront him, he was joined by another figure—a sailor, Timothy guessed—and they began conversing in low tones. Catching the word “Christians”, Timothy decided to creep along the line of stacked barrels so that he could hear what they were saying.

“...I tell you, I have no ties with them.” It was Alexander’s voice, the persuasive tones he knew well. “It was I who got them thrown out of the city.”

Timothy’s eyes widened, as he realized what Alexander was saying. It made perfect sense. Who else could have known that they would visit Carpas’ house? Alexander must have known much more about Troas than he had let on.

“And why do you suddenly want to go to Philippi, instead of Rome?” The sailor asked gruffly.

“I don’t care where I go, as long as I get out of here tonight,” Alexander responded. He shifted a bundle from under one arm to the other, and Timothy squinted, trying to get a better glimpse of it. It looked like the packet of books and parchments. Paul’s books and parchments. What was Alexander doing with them?

“Fine. Then you have…” The sailor left his sentence hanging, and Timothy heard the faint chink of coins exchanging hands.

The two men moved off, away from the ship Timothy had been trying to reach. For a moment, he hesitated, then decided to follow them. Angry at Alexander, and curious about the bundle he was carrying, he became careless, stepping away from the shelter of the barrels. A hand was clapped to his shoulder.

“What’s this, skulking in the shadows? You trying to steal something?”

Timothy turned to look at his inquisitor. “No, I…”

He was cut off by a sharp exclamation. “Wait!” The man pulled his face closer to examine it. “Aren’t you one of those atheists that got thrown out a couple days ago? I thought you were…”

Timothy did not wait for him to finish. A sudden jerk freed his shoulder from the man’s grasp, and he was off running, dodging between rows of crates and storehouses in a zigzag pattern. He never stopped to see if the man was actually pursuing him, but ran most of the way back to the gate, only settling back into a limping walk when he could run no further.

One word ran through his head. Philippi. If that was where Alexander was going, he would follow him, by land or sea. He would not get away with this, Timothy promised himself.

“Mark!” Timothy gasped, as soon as he reached their hiding place. “We need to move, now.”

“Help me up then.” Mark asked no questions, holding out his left hand, and Timothy pulled him to his feet. For a moment he stood swaying, feet spread wide for balance. He stretched out his arm and grabbed hold of Timothy’s shoulder to steady himself. “My head,” he muttered, “dizzy.” They stumbled away from the city together, Timothy throwing frequent glances back, fearful that they would be pursued.

“Where are we going, then?” It was only after they had been walking for several minutes that Mark asked the question, and Timothy had an answer ready.

“We’ll walk as far as we can tonight. There is a village down the coast a little way…if we can reach it, I hope we can find someone to help us. Could you walk that far?”

They needed to keep to the coast, heading east. He was not sure exactly how far away the village was, but he recalled several hours of walking, the only time he had gone there while Paul was staying in Troas. Since their progress would be slow, Timothy doubted they could reach the place before the middle of the next day, since they would have to stop soon for the night. In their condition, they could not travel far in the dark.

“I’ll walk as far as I can, and when I can’t walk any further, you’ll know it,” Mark said.

It was a clear night, and they walked steadily, only stopping when Timothy spotted a branch that he thought he could break off and use as a staff, to ease his leg a little. At first they kept straight east, but after an hour or so Timothy veered north a little, to keep the coastline in sight. Timothy did not want to use the high road, lest their crippled state should excite remark, but whenever they could, they used winding lanes leading to fishermen’s huts or faint tracks worn into the hillsides by livestock.

With one arm, Timothy supported Mark, who stumbled along, barely conscious of his surroundings. At least the terrain was mostly level, Timothy thought, and the area was cultivated enough that he had little fear of being set upon by wild animals.

When they could go no further, they collapsed at the side of the road, and spent the remaining hours of darkness in a futile attempt to sleep.

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