Through the bright blazing days of mid-autumn they sailed westward. In the shadow
of the rigging, young shipmaster Abiel Ben Heled leaned to the rudder bars and, by
observing the mast's shadow across a bronze ring at its base, held his ship on her
heading. Athelia leaned into the wind as they ghosted along under the huge square
mainsail, the topsails and foresail all billowing white above them like benign clouds.
"For a time at least," Abiel thought, "I am as God created me to be." It was the illusion,
however vague, of freedom in a world where men were bought and sold like cattle. So
benign and harmless was
the sea, so heady was the illusion of freedom
that it was easy for Abiel to forget the warning
once given by his father: "My son, those who
sleep in death beneath the waves are those
who forgot their fear of the sea. For the sea,
like Jehovah, is jealous and will not be mocked."
As they drew closer together in the warm evening, her hair brushed his arm and the
fragrance of the cinnamon sachet around her neck teased his senses. He shivered, yet
felt strangely warm, and with joyous energy surprised them both by putting his long,
bronzed arms around her and drawing her to him.
"Abiel!" she gasped.
He kissed her, smothering any further protests; and in a moment of delight he felt her
resistance melt as she relaxed against him. Then she began to push away.
"Abiel, please! Father may come up here and see us!"
They stood staring at one another wordlessly. In the starlight Abiel could see her eyes
were narrowed as she breathed through parted lips, and he knew he had awakened in
her the same desire as in himself, the wonderful desire God had given to men and
"The Nazarene thought he was Messiah?" asked Abiel incredulously.
"Yes he did," said Shemuel. "And so the Romans taunted him - and us. They made a
crown of thorn rose vines and jammed it on his head. That was his king's crown, they
laughed. Then at the top of his cross they put a sign: 'This is the King of the Jews.'"
Shemuel sighed deeply. "That scene has haunted me through the years, just as
these passages of scripture written by King David have haunted me. Abiel, we know
that David wrote many passages describing what Messiah will do in his reign. Why
then did David describe in such perfect detail what happened to that Nazarene? The
gambled for his coat, just as it was written a
thousand years before."
Abiel knew at that moment a rising dis-
comfort in his soul, a curious drawing of his spirit.
Angrily he waved his hand as if to dismiss the sub-
ject. "Shemuel, surely you remember thousands of
Jews have been crucified before and after this
Nazarene! That he was crucified means nothing."
"Yes. But did the birth of any of those others
frighten Herod into a massacre? Did any of them
heal the sick or raise the dead? Did the sun go dark
and the earth tremble when they died? No!"
"Shemuel! You surely agree he could not be
"No, no. He could not be! If he were, then
where is he? He cannot rule the world if he is dead."
"Ah," said Abiel, relieved.
"And yet," Shemuel twisted his hands in agitation, "Abiel, this mystery is very great.
For, if the Nazarene was not Messiah, then who was he?"
At Paul's direct gaze, Abiel became uneasy. Did Paul know somehow of his plans to
sail north across the open sea to Greece? Did he know why? "Perhaps," Abiel said
carefully, "you mean we might wreck if we were to leave the shelter of Crete?"
"No," said Paul. Then with each word he tapped the table with his finger. "I mean we
will wreck if we so much as leave this port."
In the shadows beneath the lamp, the Centurion's face was dark and somber. "Paul,
how do you know this? Is this one of the powers you spoke of, that the Nazarene has
"Yes," said Paul simply, "to attest to the truth he is the Messiah and I am his apostle.
I have direct communion at times through the Holy Spirit, just as did our prophets of
old - thus the ability at times to know of future things."
"Will there be a storm to wreck us, or what?"
"I don't know. I don't know how it will happen. But I am earnestly warning all of you. If
we leave this port, this ship is doomed."
"Lydas," she threatened through clenched teeth, "I'll scream, and people will come out."
Her head snapped back as the slave merchant struck her across the mouth. He drew his
arm back to do it again. But the hatch door slammed open then, and it was Phlegon's turn
to be frightened. At Abiel's menacing approach, the merchant reached into the folds of
"Leave your dagger sheathed," Abiel growled, "or I'll break your arm." Grabbing the
merchant by the tunic with one huge hand, Abiel slammed him back against the wall.
Phlegon's turban went flying, and greasy foul hair fell across his forehead.
With a trembling hand the girl dabbed at the blood around her mouth. "It will be all right.
Thank God you came, Abiel."
"Before I came in, I was listening. I heard what you told Phlegon."
"I wish you had not heard, Abiel." She began to cry. "But I'm glad you know now. I love
Abiel motioned to the spectators. "Back inside." Then he took her in his arms and
whispered, "If I had to sail this ship into Hades for you, I'd do it."
In the few hours that Abiel slept the waves grew higher still. Athelia climbed like a sea
bird into the towering green mountains of water; and each time she rode over the top,
the sailors would pat her rail or deck in gratitude. Other ships, they knew, broke apart
and died in seas like this. About midmorning, though, Athelia did not climb fast enough
into a huge wave and for the first time tons of water came crashing down in a torrent that
thundered across the main deck, sweeping ropes and gear overboard. The gangway
flipped up, cracked against the rail, and swirled away aft.
A horrified Farnaces watched from the aft deck as, for a few heart-stopping seconds, the
ship rolled from side to side spilling the water. Then, to everyone's relief, she began to
Pandemonium broke out as the off-duty crew and many passengers came boiling out of
the forward hatchway, preferring to drown in the open. Abiel, jarred from sleep, bolted
from his cabin and nearly ran into the ashen-faced Centurion.
"What happened, Ben Heled?" the Roman rasped.
"I think we took a wave over the bow!"
"What can we do?"
"You can get out of my way!" Abiel snapped.
The Centurion then spied his wet, bedraggled and aghast soldier.
"A wave... water, sir! It came over the ship! I thought surely I was dead."
"Ship... a ship can't survive that!" Julius looked gravely at Lupus as rain and blowing
mist streamed down his florid face. He staggered with another pitch of the deck. "Paul
was right! Paul - not Ben Heled!"
"Sir, please go back inside. You're in no shape to be out here."
"Lupus, no matter what I tell you, don't bring me any more wine. That's an order."
$12.95 U. S.
THE SIN BEARER
BY TOM TAYLOR
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