I pushed the sica dagger against the sharpening iron. The satisfying shing of metal filled the room. The sica was shorter than a sword but long for a dagger. Its curved blade was perfect for reaching around the shields and armor of Romans. At least, that’s what Judas told me. Soon we’d find out.
I guided the weapon along its edge. A small spark flickered between the weapon and the tool. Father sat on a stool with his head in his hands. Mother watched the ceiling as if expecting something to come through it.
I heard the faint thunk of wood on wood. I stopped sharpening. A few eerie seconds of silence passed. A crash echoed from the north. Father pulled his hands away from his face. His skin was weathered. Continually cracked from the time he spent in front of the smelting furnace. Since birth, a purple blotch above his right eye gave his face the appearance of being permanently smudged. He rubbed the back of his hand across his eye.
“They’re getting closer.” He said to no one in particular.
Another thunk of a Roman catapult. A few seconds of bated breath. A thud. Father stood and paced the room. He took uneven steps across the stone floor, favoring his injured leg.
Mother’s eyes tracked him back and forth as if watching two woodcutters pull a saw along the width of a fallen tree.
“We should go.,” she blurted. “Flee! Let’s go to Jerusalem. Egypt! Daniel, please let’s go.”
Father watched the ground as he made another lap across the floor. He shook his head.
“It’s too late.”
I struck the blade across the iron again. I marveled at the perfection in the curve of the blade. Father built these weapons with precision. Good thing, the time to use them was here.
The door burst open and Judas hurried in. He was a giant of a man, well-built and broad-shouldered. He appeared a head taller than most of the inhabitants of Sepphoris. He wore his brown hair loosely just above his shoulders. A Roman broad sword was tucked in his belt and a quiver of arrows slung over his arm. I’d known Judas since I was a youngster. He trained me to handle these blades.
My father straightened and wiped the worry from his face. Judas surveyed the room. He smiled at me, nodded to Mother, and gripped Father by both shoulders.
“It’s time Dan!” he nearly shouted with a wide smile. “The Romans are making their formations. They’ll be here in hours.”
Another thunk. No one spoke. Eyes on the ceiling. A crash. A couple of shouts. Father was right. They were getting closer. Father nodded and limped to Mother.
“I must go.”
I swallowed hard. A bead of sweat rolled down my temple.
The time had come.
Father gathered several sicas from the table and handed one to Judas. Judas tossed it. He caught the flat side of the blade on his finger. It balanced as if two angels suspended it in the air.
“You do amazing work, Daniel.” Judas dropped his hand and caught the weapon by the handle. He tucked it into his belt opposite the sword. “And in the morning, when these weapons have shed the blood of thousands of Romans you will have brought freedom and justice to Galilee. And from there, who knows…Maybe Israel!”
Father muttered thanks. He embraced Mother, as if for the last time. Their eyes locked for a moment. Neither spoke. He took a deep breath and faced the door.
“Young Justus,” Judas pointed his open palm at me and beckoned me to “come.” I scraped the blade against the iron one more time. I could hear my blood pounding. Judas had been training me my whole life for this day. It’s finally here. I took a step toward the door.
“Judas, he’s too young.” Father put his hand on Judas’s chest. I froze. Judas looked at Father’s hand as if about to smack an insect. He wrapped his fingers around Father’s wrist and removed his hand. He spoke slowly staring at Father.
“I have trained that child since birth.” He pointed at me while keeping his eyes on Father. “He’s better with a blade than you are.” He grabbed a dagger out of Father’s hand. “Though, you build them better.” He dragged his finger along the blade.
I took another step.
“Justus. Stay.” Father held his hand out to me. He wouldn’t look at Judas.
“What is this?” Judas squared his body to Father.
“Judas, the entire wrath of Rome is about to rain down on us. He’s not yet eighteen. We have to think of our fam—”
“Let it rain! We’ve trained our whole lives for this. You sacked the governor’s palace with me. The revolution has begun!” Judas raised his hands in the air as if we had already achieved victory. “We can’t stop it now.” Judas dropped his hands and inched closer to Father. Their noses nearly touched. Mother gripped her hands against her chest. Her eyes darted between Father and me.
“It’s too much, Judas!” Father took a step back. “Simeon told me General Varus himself is coming to Sepphoris. We can’t win.
We’ll lose every man. My son. My family line with it.”
Judas studied Father as if he were a peculiarity. He shook his head and paced before the doorway. The sica blade tapped against his chin.
“Daniel, Daniel, Daniel. If only Gideon had been so pessimistic. Or perhaps King David facing a Philistine giant. Did not Judah the Maccabee face similar odds? Where would we be then, hmmm?”
Father shuffled away from the door. He positioned himself between Judas and me. I snuck a step closer to the door.
“Enough games, Daniel. The end of days is here. Your namesake saw this day hundreds of years ago. A day when we would smash the idol of the kingdoms of this world and establish an everlasting kingdom. The Prophet Amos prophesied of the day when justice would roll down like mighty waters. That day is here! We can only lose if we do not march into battle.”
My chest pounded. Today was the day. I was afraid it would come before I was old enough. That I wouldn’t get to be in the fight, but it was here. Why wouldn’t Father let me go?
“Judas, I must protest. The law of Moses says that soldiers should first be —”
“I can do it, Father!” I interrupted. My face burned.
My parents’ eyes hurt me more than a well-earned thrashing could.
“There, you see?” Judas added “He can do it. Besides, there are thousands of Roman soldiers coming against the soldiers of God, Daniel. We need every man.”
Judas tried to step past Father. Father extended his injured leg, shifting in front of him. He winced. My whitened knuckles began to ache. I slackened my grip on my weapon. A bead of sweat tickled the back of my ear.
“Judas,” Father looked over his shoulder. His eyes met mine. He released a long sigh. “He’s my son. My only son. Can’t you see—”
“Daniel, let him go.” Mother interjected. All eyes turned to her. “It will be alright.”
Father stared at mother with an open mouth.
Judas cracked a wide smile.
“Now you see, Daniel. You are being less sensible than a woman.” He patted Father’s shoulder and laughed. He strode out the door, shaking his head at his joke. “Let us meet our destiny!” he called from outside.
Mother returned Father’s gaze. A single tear fell down her cheek. It was as if they were having a conversation I couldn’t hear. Finally, Father extended his hand. Mother took it and squeezed once. Father ambled out the door. He motioned subtly for me to follow.
I tested the blade against my arm hairs. Razor sharp. I crossed the room to Mother. We were alone. I lowered my face to kiss her forehead. She placed her thumb and forefinger on my chin, holding my face towards her. She spoke in a whisper.
“You take care of your father. Do you understand, Justus?”
A matching tear ran down her dry cheek. She pressed her head into my chest and squeezed tight. A single sob shook her small frame. Her back rose with an inhale. She pulled herself away and wiped her cheeks with her palms. She pointed towards the door unwilling or unable to look at me.
“I swear by God I’ll bring him home, Mother.”
Her head snapped up. The moisture in her eyes enhanced the deep brown color in them.
“Do not swear the future by He who makes it, Justus.”
“Justus!” The voice of Judas came from outside. “Our destiny awaits.”
I set my jaw and stepped through the threshold. The thunk of another catapult echoed over Sepphoris….
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