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  • Writer's pictureNijay K. Gupta

STRANGE ENCOUNTER – Episode 9 | "God be with you."



This short-form fiction series is set in Rome in the late first century AD. You can read the previous episodes by clicking the link below.


From the previous episode: The last thing Felix remembered from that moment was looking up to see a soldier aiming the blunt part of his gladius (sword) at Felix’s head, ready to knock him out. Then: a quick fade to black.


Three weeks later…


Felix strained to listen as footsteps grew louder; a guard is coming, Felix guessed. Instinctually he backed into the corner of his prison cell, his wrist chains rattling against the floor as he scooted to the wall. He had lost track of time; how long have I been here? A full moon (month)? But he quickly realized it couldn’t have been quite that long. Anna was allowed to deliver food once a week to the prison, and she had only come three times. The approaching guard could be bringing food to Felix, he thought, but more likely he was coming by the cell to heckle and torture prisoners. Felix had nowhere to hide, but he braced his muscles and his nerves for what might come next. 


The guard came into the cell: “Hold still, vappa (scumbag).” Felix felt his chains fall to the ground and the guard hoist him up. Then the guard walked out of the cell. Felix caught on quickly—he was supposed to follow. 


“Where are we going?” Felix asked even though part of him didn’t want to know the answer.


Next thing Felix knew, the sun shone all around him, carts kicked up dust as they passed him on the street, and he could smell fish cooking from a nearby window. He was outside—a free man.  He looked around, confused at what to do next; the only thing he knew for sure was that he should make himself scarce. 


 
Felix ran to Anna and threw his arms around her, exhausted and full of joy they stood together and sobbed.  
 

He started to walk one way, then another, not entirely sure where he was. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw Anna peeking around the corner of a building. She gave a small wave, and gestured for Felix to come closer. Felix ran to Anna and threw his arms around her, exhausted and full of joy they stood together and sobbed.  


As their relief set in Felix found the breath to speak. “Anna, the last few weeks have been a blur. I imagined going to trial and trying to explain to a magistrate why I slugged a soldier, and…I couldn’t think of a way out of this mess. I just wanted to go home, back to you…how in the world did you get me out?”


“I didn’t. It was a stranger. I saw a man go into the prison. A short while later he came out, he saw me, walked right up, handed me a note, and said that I should wait for you to be released.” Anna pulled the note out of a satchel and showed it to Felix. Felix's eyes darted back and forth between Anna and the letter. He didn’t know what to make of the stranger or this letter. Eager to understand who the stranger was and what he wanted them to know, they planned to visit Anna’s cousin Athena that very evening. She had spent some time as an amanuensis (letter secretary) and could read the letter to them. 


 
Hermes made one last request: that we invite you both to our memorial for Hermes, upon the event of his death.
 

That evening.


Felix and Anna sat at Athena’s table and on the edge of their seats, anxious to know who the mystery savior was that bailed Felix out of prison. Felix was also messily devouring bread, trying to regain strength after a harrowing few weeks. 


Athena cleared her throat. 


Aquila and Prisca, philoi (friends) of Hermes and Marcus. 

To Anna and Felix. Greetings. 


I regret to inform you that Hermes has fallen asleep (into death). His past had finally caught up with him. Soldiers skillfully tracked down his whereabouts and he was executed the day before yesterday. Hermes knew this day was coming and was prepared to face his demise. The last time we met together with him, he shared about what you, Felix, did for Hermes in the tavern, risking your life to protect his. He wanted to return the favor and encouraged our community to pay your way out of trouble. Hermes provided the largest sum of money, what I believe to be the majority of his savings. Hermes made one last request: that we invite you both to our memorial for Hermes, upon the event of his death. 


I should tell you that our community wrestled with this request, because we are shy about outsiders, but ultimately we decided to approve, especially since you did such a noble thing for Hermes. Marcus also spoke positively in favor of inviting you.


You will find the location and time of the memorial enclosed, please join us to honor and remember the good man that Hermes was. 

The grace of God be with you.


For a moment, the room held its breath. Athena inspected the paper closely to locate the memorial details; she pointed to the spot and showed it to them. Felix and Anna looked at each other. Their friend Hermes was dead but he’d thought of them before he died and left them this invitation. It was a lot to take in. Tears pricked their eyes and questions flooded their minds. Athena had questions too, but sensed that this was a solemn moment, so kept quiet. She handed Felix the note and bid him and Anna farewell. 


Felix and Anna walked home without a word, pondering and mulling over the decision they had to make. Should they attend Hermes' memorial? Felix weighed the options: on the one hand, these Christians were strange and their secrecy and strict privacy were very suspicious, like the kinds of groups that disturb the peace and bring dangerous Roman attention; on the other hand, Hermes saved Anna’s life and shared his most personal secret with them, and on top of that spent his savings on Felix’s freedom. Regardless of what he thought, Felix knew this decision involved Anna too, so her opinion would be crucial. As they entered their apartment and sat down to discuss, the words seemed to stick in their mouths.


Felix felt a bit of a fascination with these Christians, his curiosity about what kind of people they really are had only grown since he’d first heard about them; but he didn’t want to make any decisions unless Anna was amenable. Felix opened his mouth as if to speak, but he just couldn’t put the words together. He took a deep breath, ready to try again. 


“We should go,” Anna said, decisively. 


Felix drew a small, warm smile. “Then we’ll go.” 



This is the end of Season 1. In Season 2 Felix and Anna will get an inside look at the communal life of early Roman Christians.

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