Claudia’s red and gold robe is torn. Kohl runs down her cheeks mixes with tears. Two men drag her through the dusty street, up the hill towards the Jewish Temple. The two men are surrounded by a group of about thirty others. All of them wear austere religious garbs, a dress Claudia has only become accustomed to seeing after moving to Judea from Rome after her wedding. The men who surround her smell of sweat and they speak agitatedly and excitedly to one another.
When they arrive at the temple they push Claudia to sit on the ground at the entrance and send one of the group in to find who they were looking for. The messenger returns about ten minutes later puffing, his eyes darting between the beady eyes of the others.
“He’s not here…I searched through the whole temple and he’s not here,” he reports.
“What do we do with the girl?” asks one of the men guarding Claudia.
“Follow the law…. Stone her” calls another in the pack.
Pontinpor hurries to shut the window before the dust storm. She tries to do on her tiptoes, being careful not to wake her mistress. As she sticks her head out the window to pull in the pane she notices a large group of people walking towards the main entrance gate, apparently unperturbed by the ominous weather. Some look like the Jewish religious men she sees when she goes on errands for her mistress. Their hair is long and curled and they wear distinctive hats on their heads. She notices one man who is not wearing the formal dress. He wears a simple white tunic and is being forcibly led by two of the other men. She has seen him before.
Once she closes the window, she hears her mistress stir and when she turns to check on her she sees her sweating and writhing in her sleep.
She walks over and squeezes her mistress’s hand.
“Wake up my lady…Everything is fine. You are safe here” she says softly.
Her mistress sits up suddenly. She opens her eyes wide and gasps. Her crinkled hair is stuck to her forehead. She looks to her left and right. Her breath is shallow. She squeezes Pontipor’s hand and after a few moments of silence speaks.
“Pontipor…” she says as she struggles to catch her breath. “Do you remember the time we were in the market place and we saw the woman being dragged by the Jewish priests from the temple and we followed them to see where they were taking her?”
“Yes my lady, I remember, they took her into the temple and they asked a man there what they should do with her. He defended her and she was freed.”
“Pontipor I had a dream that I was that woman but there was no one to stop me from being condemned. I was being stoned when I awoke,” Claudia explains.
“My lady, that man is here. Just now I just saw a group walking towards the gate and they are bringing him here.”
Claudia flips off her sheets and bounds to the window, forces it open and peers down to the forecourt. The air is reddening and becoming thicker with dust. She coughs as her lungs adjust. At the front of the group is Jesus, the man Pontipor and herself had seen in the temple.
One of the group standing near Jesus at the front of the crowd wraps on the large wooden entrance door. Claudia holds her breath as one of the servants answers the door. After a short conversation the servant closes the door again and few moments later her husband appears at the entrance along with two of his guards, one to either side of him.
Pontius as usual has awoken early. He is already dressed in his roman uniform. The dress is simpler than that of the Jews. He wears a red sash over one shoulder to indicate his Roman authority as well as an ornamental crown of golden leaves. His guards wear linen tunics, dyed red, and leather protects their chests.
“What is it that you want?” Pontius says irritably.
“We found this man perverting our nation and saying that he himself is the Messiah, a King. He must be put to death for insurrection,” a spokesman for the group spits.
“If the case you find against this man has to do with your own nation, go judge him according to your own law,” Pontius sighs and moves to turn back into the entrance.
The spokesman moves forward towards Pontius as he attempts to exit. “Governor, we do not have the authority under our own laws to put anyone to death. This is the only punishment befitting for the behaviour of this man,” he pleads.
Pontius turns back towards the spokesman and the crowd. Claudia sees that her husband’s demeanour has changed. His stiffness in body has loosened. He looks around at the crowd in front of him. Claudia imagines he is sizing up his options. She turns from the window and speaks to Pontipor.
“Quick, help me dress…I must go to tell Pontius to bring him to no harm.”
“As you wish Madam,” Pontipor acquiesces.
Pontipor helps Claudia into a clean simple white robe and ties a golden tassle to define her figure. She pulls a brush through Claudia’s hair as her mistress rushes to tie her own sandals upon her feet. There is no time for colouring her face. Claudia is fortunate. She has not lost any of her wholesome beauty and freshness since giving birth to her two sons and she is not a lady who requires artificial colour to be striking to the eye.
As soon as her sandals were secure, Claudia sprints out from her bedchamber, down stone stairs to the foyer and then out through the entrance to the forecourt. All eyes move from Jesus and Pontius to her. Pontius flashes her a questioning look.
Filled with a rush of confidence she speaks, “Pontius, I must speak with you at once. It is of urgent importance.”
She moves closer to him and gently motions for him to enter the foyer so they may speak without being heard. He takes a short breath, wipes his eyes and follows her into the high grand marble foyer.
“What is it wife? What could be of such importance that you must speak with me at this moment when I am trying to sort out what to do in order to keep the Jews from rioting?” Pontius asks with his shoulders raised.
With warm eyes and expressive open hands she pleads, “That man, Jesus, he is innocent. You must let no harm come to him. I have had a deeply deeply disturbing dream about him this very night. Please do not let him be harmed.”
There is silence and Claudia holds her husband’s gaze pleading with the warmth of her eyes. Pontius’s shoulders drop slightly and Claudia catches a glimpse of the man she knows lives deep within her husband, despite his harsh exterior. She has glimpsed this true strength before in his tender glances towards the children and in the way he at times looks upon her. Claudia has witnessed the true strength of pure compassion in the way Jesus spoke against the crowd on that day at the temple. Never had she witnessed a woman caught in such a predicament treated in such a loving respectful way by a man, Never had she witnessed a man to be so strong as to stand up to such a rabid crowd with no concern for how he would be judged for doing so. For a moment she sees in her husband a part of what she had witnessed in Jesus.
Pontius scratches his head and he blinks, “I will speak with him further.” He motions to his guards to bring Jesus in to speak with him.
As Jesus is led into the foyer Pontius’s shoulders move forward. Pontius does not look at Claudia. Claudia sees Jesus’s face is white and there are shadows underneath his eyes. Despite this and his hands being bound he still stands tall and breathes evenly. He shows no signs that the tension emanating from the crowd outside is perturbing him. He stands silently. Pontius walks back and forward and around Jesus with his finger on his lip. His gate is erratic.
Pontius lifts his finger as he speaks, “They say that you are a King…Are you a King?”
Jesus does not hesitate before giving his answer, “I’m not a King of this world. If I were a King I would not be in this situation in which you find me now. I’m a King of a different dimension where different rules and values reign.”
Claudia holds her breath.
“What do you mean another dimension?” Pilate says with both curiosity and mocking in his tone.
Jesus says, “I came into this dimension to testify to the truth. For this purpose I was made and for this purpose I am here now.”
There is a long pause. Pontius sniggers. “What is truth?” he asks shaking his head. Despite his sarcasm his eyes are eager as they seek an answer from Jesus.
Jesus gives no reply.
Pontius huffs and leans forward impatiently. He raises his voice, “You know I have the power to have you killed?”
Jesus does not react to this more forceful tone but responds, “You have no power unless it was given to you by my father in heaven… The ones you have handed me over to you have the greatest sin.”
Pontius swallows and stands earnestly for a few moments returning Jesus’s gaze before he breaks it and looks away…. A smirk and a single cackle of another facet of his self pieces his reverie and he decisively turns and walks back out to the crowd.
The guards lead Jesus back through the entrance and outside, following Pontius. Claudia hugs the wall as she quietly drifts to a place where she can secure a view.
The crowd murmurs about the re-emergence of the pair. Claudia sees Pontius sit down on his grand chair before he raises his right hand to signal to the crowd for silence. He booms. “As you know it is custom that I release a prisoner for you on the passover. Today I give you two choices of prisoner – Barabbas, a convicted serial murderer and a menace to your society, a danger to be let onto the streets. Or, Jesus, whose only crime is that he claims to be a King. These are your two choices.”
Silence….then a few disjointed cries.
There is murmuring between the crowd and then from the back a small group of a few men start shouting.
The shouting gets louder and louder as others and then eventually almost all join in.
Pontius stands and walks towards a marble font a few metres in front of his chair. He raises his arms, his palms facing the crowd and cries, “I wash my hands of this man’s blood.”
He splashes his hands into the water of the font. As he removes them he flicks the water off his hands and onto the crowd. He turns from the crowd and says quietly to one of his guards, “Have him crucified”.
Pontius does not look at Jesus as he walks back into the foyer. Claudia looks to Pontius with desperation and although the pair’s eyes meet, Pontius stares right through those of his wife. He strides through the foyer and up the staircase that leads to his chambers.
After Pontius’s exit Claudia turns back outside and continues to watch as the crowd leaves the forecourt and Jesus is led away by the crowds. Visibility is fading as the dust thickens. It is difficult for Claudia to see any further than the length of the forecourt. She blinks her eyes not only to release release dust but also to re-orientate herself. The crowd is leaving but she notices a figure standing still. As she focuses she sees it is a woman peering back at her. Claudia meets this woman’s eyes and she is struck by their resemblance to those of the woman she had seen in the temple. The woman gives short nod to Claudia beckoning her. Claudia pulls up her dress and joins the woman. They follow at a safe distance behind the crowd.