Every night I dream of my tomb given over to Him, rolling the boulder shut with the Christ buried within. Would that I had found a way to die in His place.
Now I empty my belly into the bottom of the hide boat. A naked Pict with a blue-inked face screams gibberish. I, who know five languages, am at his mercy.
Memories: Nearly drowning off Britannic Dumnonia. Fever in Gallia's forests. Wine in Massilia with Mary Magdalen, Philip, and Lazarus.
Where are my disciples? There is only this angry Pict. I touch my staff, my robe, my pitiful sack of goods. At least I have Mark's goatskin parchments, witness to His words. And His precious blood in its silver cup, last relic of His body.
I miss my ship, a good Roman gaulus so unlike this wretched leather scow. More yelling as my guts twist anew. The blue man lives for anger -- he has so little else.
A muddy beach, a high hill beyond. I have bought tin in such places, and silver for the Temple in Hierosolyma. The blue man smiles, pointed teeth glistening like salt. I have no coin, but he seems satisfied to be rid of me. His tiny boat bobs away.
My head clears of fever. Time to find people, bring word of Our Lord. I stagger toward the high hill, surprised to find my staff still in my hand. Then my disciples pour from the trees, ragged and footsore. How did they precede me here from our vessel's foundering? I must have fevered long in the Pict's care.
"Joseph of Arimathea!" they cry. "You have been delivered!"
"Weary, I am," I say. "And you, weary all." I jab my staff into the slope, claiming succor from this land. The wood bursts into flower, one last miracle after a lifetime of miracles. I have seen the dead rise, lepers healed, water flow like wine, but this spray of white hawthorn shatters me to tears. My Lord is close now, as close as He has ever been since I sealed His death away in my own tomb.
Then a man steps from a crack in the world, teeth pointed as the Pict's, skin as green as the narrow-eyed man from Sin had been yellow that I once saw chained to a millstone in Alexandria. The miracle of the flowers belongs to this green man.
Like a lover, the green man whispers in my ear. "Welcome to my Britannic shore, though you bring a thousand years of pain."
"Pain is of this world. Grace lifts it from our souls."
He takes the Grail from me. "Grace is as grace does. I'll keep this safe. You have churches to build and pagans to slay." Then he slips beneath the earth, just as He did.
My disciples clutch at me. "You seem unwell."
"Where is the green man?" I ask.
They trade worried looks. There was no green man. "Rest, sir. Please."
I check. Mark's gospel is still safe, His words made text. I sit beside my flowering thorn and drink a little wine. Something else is missing, but I cannot think what. In memory, my now-vacant tomb rolls shut once again. Later, in the desert, Simon Peter and I shovel dirt into a fresh grave in order to ensure the ultimate miracle. Moonlight picks out His face, soil crusting His lips as they seem to shape my name.
Copyright © 2003 Joseph E. Lake, Jr.
Jay Lake lives in Portland, Oregon, with his family and their books. In 2003, his work is appearing in diverse markets such as Realms of Fantasy, Writers of the Future XIX, and The Thackeray T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases. For more about him and his work, see his website.
Three the Rivals
The Symbols at Their Doors