It was a sunny day in Galilee. Seabirds wheeled, ants crawled, clouds drifted.
A crown of dust hung over old Capernaum on the shores of Lake Gennesaret. It was the dust of commerce and freight, motion and work, missions and games -- the dust of life. Insects, too, hovered over the town: drawn by the rot-rich earth tilled by the farmers, by the dung of asses in the street, by the offal cast away by butchers.
It was the last market day of Sextilis, in the year Tiberius XIX.
The road from Bathsaida was clogged with travelers. There were plodding clots of merchants' carts interspersed with swifter strings of those moving on foot -- consumers and beggars, students and fools, thieves and pilgrims. They could see the dust over Capernaum, and it made them less weary to walk the final mile.
The sun was hot. The shadows were short. Some stumbled.
A void in the traffic surrounded a strange duo along the road. One sat upon the shoulders of the other, drooping with exhaustion over his ride's brow. The rider was sunburned and baby-faced, his bulbous, heavy body wrapped in rags. The one who served as his steed wore armour from head to toe, as colourless as the dust itself save for faint traces of burnished crimson showing through at the base of scuffs or at the edges of dents.
The armoured man stood straight. He did not lean or stagger under his burden. His chin was high, his eyes hidden.
Capernaum had neither walls nor a gate, for Rome kept the peace. Never the less a sort of informal border could be discerned that marked the transition from country to town: smaller mews ringing quaint courtyards flanked by flocks of olive trees replaced the rolling green fields; sheep wandering by the way became dogs; the smell of human oils overtook the smells of excrement and grass.
The armoured man and he who rode him went south upon the avenue. The passersby afforded them a wide margin. Word spread that strange men had come to town, and children pushed their faces at the windows in an effort to catch a glimpse.
"A warrior carries a fat man," went the whisper through the market's stalls.
"Where do they go?"
"Where do all pilgrims go today? To seek Mara Yeshua!"
The line outside the famous teacher's Yahad was long. Some in the queue shared water or biscuits. Some chatted. All cast fleeting glances at the silent armoured man and his sagging charge.
A Pharisee at the road's edge recited from the Tanakh in lilting, guttural Hebrew. His eyes were glazed and unfocused, like a Yogi. Those who passed close to him nodded reverently in acknowledgement or stooped to touch the hem of his robes. Most ignored him.
On the opposite side of the road a wiry ascetic in a ragged loincloth exhorted the pedestrians to repent, for the end of days was nigh. He spat and shouted, waved his arms and carried on. He sang about the death of Yohanan, a sign of the broken covenant between the sky and the world. He pled for righteousness to reign, before it was too late.
A baker gave him a crust of bread.
The afternoon waned and the pool of pilgrims shrank. At sunset a bearded man who called himself Yakob announced the end of admissions for the day and those still waiting murmured resignedly and shuffled away to find an inn or a stable or a length of grass for spending the night. In moments none remained but the armoured man, who neither swayed nor sighed but instead stood steadily in place, his tarnished masque expressionless.
Yakob hesitated, cleared his throat, then said, "Go find rest, pilgrims. Tomorrow you might see my brother."
The armoured man looked up. Where his eyes should have been were two black lenses, as inscrutable as stones. From behind the masque his voice issued tinny but bold, muffled but certain: "Sir, we must meet with Yeshua."
Yakob smiled uncertainly. "Even if not for the hour, we do not permit weapons within our walls, good pilgrim."
"Sir, I carry no weapons."
"You come in armour."
"I have no blade. This armour is my flesh, sir."
Yakob narrowed his eyes, uneasy. "That is not Roman armour...nor forged by any Greek or Persian craft I have ever seen. Where do you march from, pilgrim? What is your tribe?"
The armoured man paused. He exchanged a look with the man sitting on his shoulders, who shrugged. At last he carefully said, "I am Jeremiah. My companion is called Tim. We are in a desperate situation, stranded far from home."
"Where is your home, pilgrim?" persisted Yakob.
"Sir, we are castaways from a storm in time." He spread his metal-covered arms in an attitude of appeal. "Please, will you help us?"