Disasters and Miracles
  Finding himself in charge of St Paul's journey to Rome, a centurion discovers more than he bargained for ...

The Voyage - Extract

I’d been conscripted for another journey taking prisoners to Rome, and I thought I’d be back for the winter. There was nobody special, no-one a centurion of the Imperial Guard like myself couldn’t handle; simply more criminals destined to end their lives in the blood-soaked arenas of the eternal city.

What surprised me was the mention of Paul.

Paul of Tarsus, a prisoner of Governor Festus, had been held in Caesaria for two years. There was talk about his healing powers, rumours of prophecy, even miracles, but I’d never paid much attention. It was an unusual decision to send a man not accused of murder to face death. Not my place to question it, and it would be interesting, I thought, to meet a legend.

Our ship was scheduled to make all ports along the Asian province. I arrived early to meet the captain and ensure my quarters were suitable; it’s good on occasions to flaunt Rome’s authority when people least expect it. As the prisoners were checked on board, I listened to the names and scanned them trying to guess which was Paul. A prophet would surely be tall, whipped to thinness by desert winds, with sombre eyes and a grey beard. Gaunt with holiness. It would be easy to pick him out.

It was not.

‘Paul of Tarsus, bound for Rome.’ The announcement made me blink. The man himself was neither tall nor sombre, though his beard was grey and his face lined. No, he was short, almost as short as my woman back home, and his eyes glittered as if he was gazing at something wonderful.

‘Y-yes,’ he said, his voice low. Then he looked at me.

There are two types of men in this world: leaders and the led. I’ve always believed myself to fall into the first category but this man, prisoner though he was, was more so. Even though his stature was nothing, his gaze raked me through, as if he were seeing everything about me, assessing me for some purpose of his own. I believe I took a step back, though I like to think I didn’t, and I opened my mouth to speak, but he lowered his eyes and the moment was gone.

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