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North from Jerusalem


"Natural Arcs"
by Adhara Law

(c) 1998 Adhara Law. All rights reserved. May not be reproduced
without express written permission by the author.

***Author's Note: This story received a rating of 10,8,8 from Celeste's
Reviews (a.s.s.m).

He was awakened by the burning rays of the midday sun that bored
relentlessly through his closed lids. He opened them, slowly. When he'd last
looked toward the sky, the deeply burnished sun had barely crept over the
horizon. Now it stood sentry above him; yellowish-white, glaring.

He had long since passed the point of true pain; now there was only a dull
ache that traveled along his shoulders, back and arms, ending at the wrists
he could not move. He licked his lips and tasted blood, but he was not sure
where it came from.


He heard the distant voice and strained to see where it came from. As he
turned his face downward, a dripping rag appeared by his mouth. He grasped it
between his lips and sucked eagerly at the moisture, nearly gagging at its
bitterness but needing it all the same. It was taken away as quickly as it

His head hung from its own weight, his muscles drained of the strength to
support it. The desert sand danced and shimmered as he scanned the ground. A
few feet below him he saw a young man carrying the reed that held the rag up
to him. His mouth worked to form words of thanks, but no sound came out of
the dry, parched throat.

"It will be over soon," the young man said. "Be strong."

And with that, he was gone. His head lolled onto his shoulder as he surveyed
the shadowless hill and saw others like him, hung bleeding and broken to die
a slow and excruciating death, while carrion picked at their yet-living eyes.
He wept, but only for them.
* * *
He knew that a molten desert by day could be a frozen wasteland by night, but
this felt wrong. Cool, still air enveloped his body. He opened his eyes.

Walls of rock surrounded him as he lay on the dirt floor and looked up to see
two very familiar faces. One of them was smiling.

"You are alive," the face said. He could not tell if the man was trying to
convince him or himself. He tried to sit up but the man above him gently held
him down. "You need rest."

His mouth creaked open as he forced his voice from his throat. "Joseph."

He heard faint sounds of someone stirring from the other side of the dark
cave, and then she was beside him.

"I thought I had lost you forever," she said with reddened eyes, her voice
strong but trembling nonetheless.

The blend of terror and relief in her face made his eyes water. He tried
reaching for her hand but could barely lift his own.

Joseph put on a stern face. "You must rest, and then eat. You are still
recovering from both your punishment and the herb."

The herb. The vinegar...

Joseph understood the expression in his eyes. "It was to make them think you
had died. Any more and you would have."

At that, the woman could hold back no longer. Her tears fell out of her like
a torrential storm as her hands, covering her face, tried in vain to stop
them. "It's all right now, Mary," Joseph hushed, putting an arm around her.
"He's safe now."

The inky veil of unconsciousness fell over him as he reached for her in

* * *
He awoke this time amidst the grass of a soft bed beneath him. Joseph was
there, across the room, speaking quietly to an old man. When he saw that he'd
awoke, he smiled and said something briefly to the old man which he couldn't
hear, and then sat by his side.

"We had to move you. It wasn't safe there," Joseph said. He reached for a
bowl on the table beside the bed. "Here. You must eat."

With more strength than he thought he had, he lifted his mouth to the spoon
that Joseph offered him. He had never tasted soup as delicious as this. He
thought that death had a way of wiping the tarnish off the dullest of things.

"In two days," Joseph began as he fed him another spoonful, "we will have to
leave this place."

He swallowed the healing broth eagerly. "Where is Mary?"

"She is seeing to your affairs."

He nodded and opened his mouth for a last bite before his head sank to the
pillow. Every few hours for the next two days, he received the same
treatment, either from Joseph or Mary. He felt his strength return to him,
seeping slowly back into his aching skin and muscles. The monstrous pain
from his broken legs was now only a constant throb. Though his bones and the
wounds on his wrists, feet, and head would never completely heal, he was
alive, and he was beginning to feel it.

On the morning of the second day in the tiny house, Joseph came to him. "It
is time," he said.

The old man and Joseph carefully lifted him out of the grass bed and carried
him outside, where the sun hid behind the dark crags of the mountains. He
winced as they laid him as carefully as possible in the clean, fresh grass of
a large wagon, covered to protect him from the desert sun. He felt the wagon
jostle as someone else climbed in with him. He looked up into Mary's face.

Her eyes reddened as she smiled at him, taking his hand in hers. Relieved
that he at last had the strength, he brought her small hand to his face and
laid it against his cheek.

Joseph climbed in behind Mary, placing small bags and boxes to either side of
him in the wagon. "We will go north towards Sychar, and then east to Joppa,"
he said as he made room in the small wagon. "We should not have any problems.
I know the soldiers in Joppa well."

A few moments later, he felt the wagon move roughly forward as they set out
on their way. Mary sat beside him, looking out at the home she was leaving,
her hand on his. He strained to see her face from where he lay, knowing that
her eyes were struggling to remember every detail of the place she knew she
would never see again.

As the wagon moved slowly but steadily over the rough road towards Sychar,
Joseph and Mary tended to him, never leaving him along for a moment. There
were bags of herbs by his head that Joseph moistened and slathered onto the
wounds on his wrists and feet, wrapping them in rags and checking them every
few hours. On the second day of their journey, the wagon was pulled to the
side of the road so that the rags holding the broken bones in his legs
together could be changed with as little pain as possible. Then they were on
their way again, turning east to Joppa and traveling as quickly as the oxen
and wagon would allow.

It was nearly nightfall when he awoke to the sounds of creaking wagon wheels,
bazaar merchants, and seagulls. Joseph peeled back the flaps of the wagon
covering and looked briefly out into the night. "We are in Joppa." He turned
and leaned over him. "It is good that we arrived so late in the day; we can
find a room quietly and no one will bother us."

He propped himself up on his elbows, wanting to assist instead of lying
helplessly and watching his companions do all of the work. Joseph disappeared
while Mary sat quietly with him, sharing some dates. When Joseph stuck his
head through the flaps of the wagon, he motioned for Mary to help him take
the bags and boxes from the wagon. When that was done, they lifted him, as
they had five days before, and brought him through a doorway into a room at a
small inn. He smiled at them as they laid him comfortably on the small bed.

When they had finished preparing for their stay, Joseph once again checked
his wounds. "Are you in pain?"

"My legs...they ache terribly."

Joseph nodded and reached for a small pouch, extracting a small handful of
brown leaves. "Chew these. They will help make the pain go away, and then
you can sleep."

He took the leaves in his hand. "Joseph of Arimathea," he said, the quiet
power of his voice restored after the long rest in the wagon. "You are
perhaps the smartest man I know."

Blood crept swiftly into Joseph's face as he smiled and turned away.

He chewed the leaves quietly under the ever-watchful eyes of Mary and Joseph.
The pain slowly faded from his legs as he felt the soft blanket of sleep fall
quietly over him. The dim light of the room faded as he called softly for

* * *
Warmth and softness. Darkness. He awoke to these things, the dull ache of his
limbs and the effects of the narcotic leaves he'd chewed creating a confusion
he tried desperately to shake. He felt the warm velvet softness of bare skin
pressing against his own.


A finger gently lay against his lips. "Everyone is asleep," she said, her
voice so quiet in the darkness that he had to strain to hear her.

He turned to the sound of her voice and forced his eyes to adjust to the
darkness that pressed in against him. Slowly he made out the shadow of her
face, framed by her long, dark hair, as she lay against his shoulder. He
painfully raised his hand to touch her cheek, caressing the soft skin there.

She raised her head to look at him through the blackness. "I was afraid..."
she began, but choked off the words as she ran a hand through his thick

He gently wrapped his fingers around her delicate wrist. "There is no need to
be afraid now," he answered.

"But we have so far to go..." She touched her forehead to his rough, unshaven
cheek. "So much can happen. We're not safe yet."

Lifting her face to look into her eyes, he smiled. "Mary, do you think that
I could die, leave this world, without you?"

He felt her breath catch in her throat. Taking his face between the palms of
her hands, she kissed him, gently for fear of bringing more pain than he
already had. But he reveled in her kiss, drawing her closer.

He broke away reluctantly. "You are my wife," he said into the darkness.

"Then love me as you would your wife," she answered, her voice raw and deep.

He ran his hand, scarred and sore, over the back of her neck and through her
hair, letting the pain as he pressed against her skin run through him like
fire, tempered by the feel of her. He felt her stir next to him, moving to
shift the loose robe he wore. The fabric slid over him as she exposed his
chest and stomach, laying small kisses on his warm, damp skin.

His eyes watered as he watched her, felt the terror in her when she thought
she had lost him forever. She loosened her own dress and gently straddled him
as she kissed the skin along his neck, his cheeks, and his chin. He breathed
her name to her, gently took her arms in his hands. He ran his injured palms
over her bare breasts as she lifted her brown dress over her head and sighed
with pleasure.

The deep green of her eyes as they watched him for signs of pain or
discomfort bore into him while she straddled him, moving him into her
carefully and beginning the slow rhythm of their consummation. Small gasps
escaped her. She leaned over him, spreading her long hair over his chest as
he gripped her arms and leaned his head back. They were locked as one. A tear
snaked down his temple as he embraced her, feeling the peace and union he
tried so hard to bring to others with his teachings. She sensed him
completely, knowing how to move so as to bring him pleasure without pain. As
their breathing synchronized into one, he laid a hand to her cheek. "I love
you, wife," he said, gasping as he released himself into her.

Her tiny, almost soundless cries followed his as she pressed herself into
him. She lay herself next to his side and cradled his face in her hand. "You
must rest now, husband."

He felt the smile of her lips as they pressed into his, and he drifted into
dreamless sleep with her by his side.

* * *

Joseph was gently shaking him. "I want you to rest," he said, "but we must
get on board our ship first."

Mary was already lifting bags and boxes as he slowly surveyed the room,
judging by the light streaming through the window that the sun had just
risen. A young but tall boy was standing by the bed, looking as if he was
awaiting orders. Joseph signaled to him and in an instant, they were lifting
him carefully off of the bed.

Thankfully the inn was a short distance from the pier. Seagulls screamed and
circled the boats that dotted the shoreline of Joppa. Few residents of the
small sea town were out at this early hour; only sailors, too busy with their
ships to notice a man, a woman, and a small boy carrying an invalid man
with broken legs and bandages on his feet and hands, were out and about now.
They walked the length of the pier and boarded a moderately sized ship, going
below. He was placed delicately on a small cot beneath a window.

He heard the sailors call to one another as the ship began moving, rocking
its way out of port and away from Joppa. He propped himself on his elbows to
stare out the window to the rolling sea. "Joseph," he said quietly. "Where
are we going?"

Joseph looked down at him, an almost fatherly smile on his face. "To France."

He felt the blankets of comfort descend over him as Mary Magdalene took his
hand gently in hers.

I strongly encourage both positive and negative feedback on my stories. Please
write to me, Adhara Law, at and let me know what you
thought of this story.


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