The emperor was an asshole
but there was a job to do.
There was pride in clanking around
in armor, the scabbard bumping thigh
with every stride, a reassuring presence.
Some of the guys liked it more than others.
The most gung-ho, the ones who drove
the nails, never got promoted.
They were too valuable in that role
and too bloodthirsty to put in charge
of anybody but the next convict.
The officers saw through the ruse
but accepted it. Their place in Empire
was safest of all. There was always
someone above to obey, it didn't matter
who, and if the regime changed there'd
still be plenty for good soldiers to do, all sorts
of orders to execute. Blameless, immaculate,
one didn't even have to watch the nails go in;
most captains, myself included, would casually
turn away and daydream about their next lay.
There was a certain protocol, the prisoner's
name checked against The List. When I saw
where this One was from it took me back
to younger days when I knew a girl in Galilee.
But orders are orders and I nodded to the guards.
He seemed quite content shaving the wood
and I intervened when Guard #I lifted his whip
to make Him go faster. I wanted to watch
those practiced hands work and anyway
the duty roster was clear for the afternoon.
He notched and fitted the crossbeam snug
and smiled to Himself. He ran a hand
along the joint and I swore I felt
the smooth grain in my fingertips.
It was tight and right and I thought
to myself, "What a waste of talent."
The trouble began when he refused to dig
the hole for the crucifix to stand up in.
The guard grabbed Him but as soon as
their skin touched the centurion went soft.
Guard II tried, too, and now there were two
hardened soldiers standing mute and motionless
as men who've survived being struck by lightning.
I sent a runner for cavalry as a circle of
infantry closed in on Him. Surrounded on
all sides, he picked up the cross at its base
and swung it round to keep them at bay.
It was a miracle. The soldiers fell to their
awed by this display of superhuman strength.
He was walking away when two horses arrived
and charged down hard upon Him. But before
they could trample He lifted His hand and they
were soothed. He touched the ankle of one rider
and he slipped from the saddle the way fat slides
off a spit. Then He mounted easily, unlike any
civilian I've seen, and let the horse lead the
The other horseman was dumbstruck
so I roughly commandeered his stallion.
I followed closely--not in pursuit but to see
what wonderful thing He might do next.
I relinquished my sword, abandoned my post,
and kissed my pension goodbye.