My Victory | A Short Story by Immanuel Portus
Immanuel Portus is the 1st Place Winner for Grade 11 in the 2017 Seton Short Story Contest
Pebbles struck the centuries-old wall as sandal-clad feet pounded the crude pavement. The sandals’ owner sped down the narrow corridors and alleyways of Jerusalem. The dry and arid desert air whipped his face and swept his dark hair back. He took a flight of stairs in a couple of bounds and sprang off an adjacent balcony.
He landed hard on a potter’s clay roof and to soften the impact, folded his knees and rolled down his right shoulder. He straightened up and flexed his shoulders nonchalantly as he took in the view of the Western Wall and the Citadel of David. A flock of sparrows roosting on a protruding beam noisily took flight, surprised by this uninvited visitor. He sauntered to the edge of the building and looked down. A lean-to lay a consider-able drop away.
Just like old Omar’s tents. He knew from experience that lean-tos made perfect and convenient crash mats for the sturdy Egyptian canvas carried enough spring to propel its human missile sideways. He glanced askew to make sure that no one was looking and dove off twisting his body into a somersault, landing feet first on the tent and bouncing off to the right onto solid ground.
He reached for his back and felt the familiar outline of his gladius, a short sword prided by the Romans. Nestled in thick leather, it was fastened to a belt strapped across his back. The best swordsman in Rome crafted it. His father had given him Scalaris, the sword, for his 17th birthday as a token of following in the footsteps of a powerful warrior.
He took off running, weaving through the labyrinthine alley-ways and streets of David’s City. He dug his heels and hurtled down faster, clattering pebbles and little clouds of fine dust appearing in his wake. He turned hard around a corner and almost upset two women carrying a wide papyrus basket filled with dried figs and flatbread.
He missed the couple by two spans and smacked into a merchant hollering at the top of his voice, “Fine cedar planks from Lebanon and silver ingots from Sheba!!”
He ran into him just as he was shouting “Sheba” so that the merchant ended up screeching, “- and silver ingots from Shebaaaaaaaahhh!!”
The youth was dizzy for a few moments before resurrecting himself from the pile of expensive cloth and perfume that was the merchant. The merchant sprang up and roared, “Of all the vile—!!”
The youth’s eyes went wide. He recognized this man. The merchant stopped short and discreetly bent down to trace a rough outline of a fish on the dirt. He rubbed it off with his foot as soon as the youth had seen it.
The merchant nodded to him with a knowing look and said, “Pilate. The Antonia.”
The merchant resumed his hollering with, “I’m telling you! None in all Israel has fine clothes and wood like these! Come and…..”
The youth turned and ran on. He veered to the right as he side-stepped a group of travelers. He slowed down to catch what they were saying.
“A miracle worker, isn’t He? I heard from the fishermen of Galilee that He calmed the sea and commanded the storm!”
A woman lugging a yellowed burlap sack said, “My aunt is a neighbor of this Martha whose brother died. This Martha’s brother was returned to life by Jesus from Nazareth. My aunt ceases not to discuss such things with me late into the night. Why, dear me! Imagine a dead man walking! I’ve never seen the likes of these since my blessed birth.”
A wizened old man, appearing to be the woman’s chaperone, pondered out loud, “My honorable friends, Jesus of Nazareth is indeed a remarkable person worth listening to and learning from. He claims to be the Son of God and the Messiah, which I assume, is what led to his imprisonment and arrest. The Pharisees and their cohorts are intent on exacting punishment on Him. But surely, my friends, if He really is the Messiah, then won’t He allow Himself to be made ridiculous and treated like a criminal?”
“He won’t be,” said the youth firmly under his breath. The old man turned to look for the source of this unwarranted statement but the speaker had gone.
The youth stopped and went up the three steps to the door of Ben Kor Juda’s bakery. The familiar aroma of fresh bread waft-ed over him. He knocked without hesitation on the aging door. The door opened with a jolt to reveal Ben, the owner of the bakery. Ben was a ruddy and hale man garnished with smudges of flour.
“IXTUS,” said the youth. Ben nodded gravely and traced the shape of a fish on the mound of dough he was kneading.
“Cyrus, my good friend! Thank the Almighty you arrived with-out mishap. How are your parents faring?” cried Omar, guard of the Temple of Jerusalem.
Similar shouts of greeting reached the ears of the youth or Cyrus, for that is his name.
Cyrus answered, “My father is sailing the Mediterranean with his cavalry division to quell some uprisings by the tribal lords. My fair mother Octavia is in Nineveh attending to her friends and holding her banquets.”
“You’re not with them?” asked Shariff, a fellow tax collector of Matthew the Apostle.
“There are more important things to attend to than just sitting around hearing military banter and listening to women guests talk about things not worth knowing.”
There were a few scattered expressions of mirth around the dimly lit bakery.
“Besides, I’ve come to believe in Someone who has shown me a higher meaning in life. Higher than chariot races, stories of gods and goddesses, gold, power, olive crowns, and palaces. That’s a higher victory than all my father’s Gallic campaigns.”
Cyrus was a Roman descended from the great Scipian House. His father, Marcus Scipian Flavianus was an Eagle Legionary of Rome and devoted his time and efforts to the expansion of the imperialistic Roman Empire. His mother was of the nobility and to forget the loneliness of Cyrus’ father’s absence, indulged in unending celebrations for her friends.
Shortly after the Roman invasion of Judea, Cyrus’ father was assigned by Emperor Tiberius to oversee the area and help the local rulers in quelling uprisings. Cyrus was born in an atmosphere of Jewish hatred for the Romans. Due to his parents’ busy occupations, he became self-reliant and blended in with the people through learning the language and accepting their customs.
He first learned of Jesus Christ from a certain Roman centurion whose slave was healed from a dreaded disease. Since then, he had followed Jesus and His disciples as they went across the land. He was present during the Sermon on the Mount and the Feeding of the 5000.
He came across this secret group of zealous members, the Story Keepers as they were known, who would do anything to protect and record the writings and teachings of Men of God from be-ing lost in antiquity.
The Story Keepers arose during the Old Testament. They proved to be instrumental in helping the inspired writers write down their words and tell the stories of God and His people. They were composed of persons from all walks of life. Far from the typical scribe with his parchment, billowing robes, and a wispy beard.
“Is everyone here?” asked Nedry, one of the boy shepherds who visited our Lord at the stable, now a grown man of philosophical proportions.
“Not quite, my good friend,” said Felix, a sculptor of the out-skirts of Emaus.
“Festus wouldn’t be able to come to this meeting. He received orders from his garrison to patrol the streets tomorrow morning with the Praetorians.”
Festus was a member of the feared elite soldiers, the Praetorian Guard of Rome, and secretly a disciple of Christ. He travelled widely throughout the Roman Empire. After returning from a mission in Greece, he thought of using the acrostic ‘IXTUS’ as a call sign among the most secret followers of Jesus. It still stands to this day as, “Jesus Christ, Son of God. Savior.”
“None of that matters! I met Ayesh the cloth merchant moments before arriving. He relayed to me what his sources in the high priest’s household know! Pilate pronounces his sentence TO-DAY!” cried Cyrus, “We must act now!”
“To your feet, all of you! Shariff, send word to Festus and to the others! You all know what to do! To the praetorium! Get moving!”
Ben never barked orders that fast, faster than any Assyrian archer could reload his bow with fresh arrows.
The Story Keepers piled out of the bakery and hurried to the Antonia Fortress where Pilate would be passing judgement on Jesus. The crowd was so thick they couldn’t pass through. They found out with a shock that they had come too late to prevent Jesus’ sentence.
They had come too late and the crowd was still undulating with cries of, “Crucify Him! Blasphemer! Crucify the Nazarene!”
Obviously goaded on by the Pharisees. Cyrus thought bitterly as each cry from the crowd sent flashes of pain shooting through his skull. Ayesh had given his message too late.
Why did he give it too late? Cyrus shrugged it off, uninterested with answers at the moment.
Presently the crowd’s shouts reached a crescendo as Jesus was being led by Roman foot soldiers to His crucifixion. Cyrus could barely see the figure of Jesus amidst the rippling throng of humanity around him.
Where’s Festus? Cyrus wondered. He knew only too well that a member of the Praetorian Guard such as Festus could disarm six soldiers in a flourish.
He spotted a group of Pharisees and Teachers of the Law not far from where he stood and could see that they were egging their supporters on hurling more insults and mockeries at Jesus. Cyrus fairly shook with rage. He wished he could seize these imbeciles and villains and throw them down to Leviathan.
He immediately calmed himself, having a great soldier for a father who had always taught him the decades-old family mantra: ‘Calmness prevails in the storm’. He looked around and noticed women crying while holding their children close. He glanced at his companions, who were all motionless with grief and shock.
Their plan of rescuing Jesus from Pilate’s clutches was now falling into ruins. The Romans were now prodding Jesus toward the city walls. Cyrus immediately understood that Jesus was going to be crucified on one of the hills outside the city walls.
I can get there first and figure out a plan however desperate.
He turned toward his friends to inform them of his daring plan.
Before he could say anything, Nedry turned to him and said, “It’s up to you, Cyrus. You’re the only one who can get to the walls ahead of everyone. You’re the only one who can reach any point in this city without touching the ground.”
Nedry’s eyes glinted with hope as he continued, “May you be victorious-as a Roman and a Story Keeper. God be with you”
The others nodded their heads gravely.
“We’ll try to reach you in time although the chances of moving through this crowd are slim.” said Felix. Cyrus raised his right hand in salute to his most trusted friends and mentors.
He squirmed through the mass of people with much difficulty and spotting a trading caravan hitched to a pole, proceeded to climb. The rough and coarse cloth scratched his palms as he hauled himself up. Directly overhead was an unfinished building’s window ledge an arm’s length away. Cyrus sprang up, grabbed hold of the dusty ledge and pulled himself up. He went out of the opposite side through another window and lighted on an empty balcony.
From this vantage point, he could see that it would be a series of leaps and vaults from one building to the next then a jump down the roof of the library. He inhaled deeply and sprang forth, his hand moving with startling coordination as they grabbed hold of ledges and crevices.
His lissome figure was framed against the afternoon Judean sun as he traversed the maze of rooftops. He leapt over gaps, somersaulted in the air to reduce the impending impact, and jumped over protruding structures. His mind was spinning as fast as his figure for Nedry’s words kept coming back to him.
“May you be victorious-as a Roman and a Story Keeper.”
They resounded in his mind as he sought for an explanation to the inexplicable feelings coursing through. Victorious- It kept ringing in the far corners of his mind. It probably meant-
Only one last gap separated him from the roof of the library. He burst to a sprint and vaulted over the gap, limbs outstretched with the agility of a mountain lion. The few sellers and their customers down below in the alley were given a fleeting glimpse of a soaring sandaled figure armed with a sword across his back.
Cyrus touched down on the roof of the library and skidded to a stop on the dusty surface. He stood on its tapered edge and looked down far below. It seemed farther a drop than he had anticipated. As this building was located in the outer ring of the city and prone to sand being blown in through the windows, makeshift canvas canopies had been constructed over every opening. An updraft of warm desert air swept by and fluttered his clothes.
“The Lord is my aid,” he muttered and arced through the air, his clothes and hair flapping crazily and his stomach knotting as the first canvas roof rushed up to meet him. He spread his arms forward to stabilize his fall as he knifed through space. He flipped lightly at the last moment and landed on his back.
With a sickening snap, the wooden struts supporting the canvas broke in two and tore free off the wall. For a few moments, he thought his life was arriving at an untimely end as he plummeted farther down below. With a jolt, Cyrus and the canvas roof he tore off crashed into another identical roofing structure followed by a second crack, another gut-wrenching moment, and ended in another crash on the last canvas roof. The last one was only a short distance from the ground. This time, the canvas held and out climbed its fortunate passenger.
He dropped down to the ground amazed and whispered incredulously to himself, “God really is my aid.”
He stumbled and forced his way through a crowd forming along a street. Jesus must be close, I wonder-
A Roman soldier was prodding Him with the butt of his spear for Jesus had fallen under the heavy weight of the Cross’ cross-bar. Jesus was dragged to his feet by one of the Romans only to stumble, almost losing His balance. The Roman soldier hefted his spear and turned to Jesus.
Cyrus immediately reached up behind him and felt for his sword. His heart seethed with anger mixed with a turbulent whirlwind of conflicting emotions. From diminished hope, to grief, to horror…….
He gripped Scalaris and drew it. The Roman soldier who prodded Jesus with his spear heard the distinct sound of a sword being unsheathed. The soldier tensed and forgot all about Jesus momentarily as he searched for the sound’s source. Scalaris was halfway out of its scabbard when Cyrus stopped, transfixed.
It wasn’t the soldier who caused him to stop. Cyrus knew a member of the great Scipian house like himself would not fall to an enemy’s sword. Jesus was looking straight at him. Whether because the Lord heard the sword as well or simply knew of Cyrus’ presence and his intentions, is unknown.
This would be best described in Cyrus’ own words.
Jesus looked at me straight in the eyes. My hand froze as it was pulling Scalaris out of its scabbard. My whole world froze. Here was I, face to face with the One to whom I devoted my very self since hearing about Him from Centurion Paulus.
He was dripping with blood from all the countless wounds he had received. A trail of crimson blood could be seen on the dusty road where He carried His cross. It would be impossible for me to forget this moment, the moment when He suffered for us all. I would never forget the way He looked at me. He knew me. I could feel His love searing through my heart. All the pain, the grief, my known and unknown hurts-washed away by His love. His blood, His sacrifice. I didn’t understand until this moment.
I barely noticed another Roman soldier pulling along a young man to help Jesus carry His cross. Time seemed to stand still on that fateful afternoon. Jesus smiled. He smiled. He smiled amidst His suffering and torment. My whole world, or the world I believed in, came crashing down as it dawned on me that He was actually GLAD during His suffering. His suffering was a sacrifice for our salvation. God’s words, “I Am” from the Old Testament echoed in my mind.
I don’t remember when my face became streaked with tears. It was not about me. It was about Him. All my life, I was centered on victory-my ideal victory. Jesus gave it all. All the love that I didn’t feel from my own parents, He gave me. All my hurt, my confusion, and my pain was taken away by my Lord and Savior.
Who am I? Who am I for Him to know my very being, to know of all my pain and incompleteness? The answer hit me with the force of a high wind during a tempest. It’s not because of who I am. It’s because of what He is doing for me right now.
Nedry’s words “May you be victorious,” echoed in my heart like the final notes of a Grecian choir. I now know what Victory is. Not by my own but by the Love, by the One who made me. Here is victory, God’s victory being shown and glorified.
I do not remember when He resumed His long walk to His ulti-mate sacrifice. I do not recall how I was standing on Golgotha watching Him, His calm, peaceful, and loving face contrasted to His torment. His mother and the Apostle John were by the foot of the cross looking up at Him. I do not remember the moment I turned and ran down the hillside.
Cyrus ran on, down the craggy hillside as he dodged people coming his way. An earthquake rocked the ground as lightning flashed in the sky. He tripped over some bushes, steadied himself and kept on running.
You made me free, Cyrus’ heart pounded. I will begin life anew. He ran for a long time until he reached the Mount of Olives. He lept up the first tree and scrambled up its strong and comforting branches. He leaned on the trunk, his mind and heart throbbing from all that he had seen. He encountered the fierce love of God in the storm that was swirling around him. Amidst the sadness, he saw the light of joy. Amidst apparent defeat, he found victory.
The City of David lay sprawled out before him with the three crosses silhouetted against the setting sun. Rain and lightning danced in the sky as Heaven seemed to proclaim with the sound of the wind whipping through the olive trees, “My Victory”.
Anno Domini 63
Cyrus Scipian Flavianus
Is am writing this in the year of our Lord, 63. I serve the Apostle John as his scribe. Our Lord has ascended to Heaven after the Resurrection in fulfillment of the prophecies.
The events which have gloriously unfolded were seen in the eyes of a youth intent on serving God and fulfilling his “higher meaning” and idea of victory. There are mysteries that remain unfathomable to the wisest men that are reserved for the Almighty alone and to those He wishes to make known. God’s ways are of a higher nature incomprehensible to man. The youth, Cyrus, saw this firsthand. He saw the very truth and the conquering love of God.
How can I say this? I was that young man back in the streets of Jerusalem on that fateful day. Yes, I am Cyrus. I am a Story Keeper. To all those who doubt in their hearts, fear not and let the doubt be washed away like the obsidian cliffs bordering the Caspian Sea. Fear not and believe. God made Man for one thing- to be with Him and nothing else. I have come to believe after seeing all these. He was a rose trampled on the ground. For Me. For You. Above all.
His Victory is My Victory. My Victory is His Victory.
Est Victoria, Victoria.
About Immanuel Portus
A hilarious raconteur, he is the oldest among his 3 siblings. He loves acting, playing the guitar, Saint Philip Neri, and creative writing. He is a competitive runner, soccer player, and a "tree climber." He spends most of his free time figuring out how to: do a backflip, bring back dinosaurs from the past, cook up a flying car, and build a real lightsaber. He lives near Taal Volcano (The World's Smallest Active Volcano) in the Philippines. He hopes to be a filmmaker and an inventor one day soon.