CHAPTER XVII      MEETING

Ignatius and Cornelius


 

Balthus,today in uniform as an auxiliary commander, met Ignatius and his assistant, Luke in the outer office.  Balthus knew nothing of pleasantries, the Bishop expected none.  Balthus asked about the name “Luke” for he had never heard it.  Luke, sycophantic, a near- groveling bow, a stand-in actor coming on-stage, his gestures flying, was about to launch into the story of the apostles. It was the sort of thing of which the Bishop would approve.   Balthus cut him short. Balthus, had taken no liking to this greasy rolly-polly Syrian toady, this brown lickspittle, a local type new to a Balthus who but had briefly been in Syria.  As for apostles, whoever they might be, he was disinterested.


He was abrupt, “Alright, I didn’t ask for a speech!  The Quaestor will see you now.  Follow me”.

Balthus marched, the Bishop erect, elegant, unperturbed might be said to have coasted, or floated serenely behind him.  Luke, on the other hand, had shortened himself further. His shoulders were hunched, neck down and forward, head bent sideways as prone dogs do when their master is about, nevertheless kept his eyes upward and darting about to be sure to miss nothing.  His short legs were at a trot behind the strides of the taller men.  He was a servile turtle in full tilt ,ridiculous.


S. Cornelius met them, not seated, as power’s protocol would have it when there were inferior callers, but erect.  Here was a stern, husky man in commanding military uniform.  He wore no cuirass or sword, but a cotton tunic, his chest almost spectacularly medaled, an oak leaf and acorn awarded wreath on his head, awarded bracelets on both wrists.   Positioned in a special stand next to his long, imposing table was the pommeled special staff of a senior commanding centurion. If a visitor did not already know his reputation, it announced itself.  It was impressively grander than his rank.  The fact of that would tell any perspicacious visitor that there was a puzzle here.   The stern face, no emotion on it, provided no keys to the puzzle at all. 


 On the first days at work, S. Cornelius was more comfortable in this habitual dress, appropriate to one used to commanding.  His scarred face was too rough to be handsome,  but the strength of the man was in it.  Even so his expression was one easily interpreted as quizzical,  doubting. . Perhaps it was the long scar that ran down his check that contributed to it or the not quite symmetrical jaw. That set of his face made the Quaestor into an immediate contradiction.


That he had blue eyes was a bit of a shock to any Syrian visitor, for those blue were in themselves dangerous, they carried the menace of the evil eye.  Against its magic curse, any Syrian, indeed any eastern Mediterranean likely wore a special amulet, likewise blue.  The amulet was painted with a blue eye, so here then confrontations, an eye facing the eye facing it. It was deemed sympathetic protection.    Luke coming here a Deacon, dressed in a dull black course cotton gown buttoned to the collar, Luke could not wear his amulet outside, as was his custom.  His bishop had told him not to wear it on this visit, however much the feared risk on such a visit, Ignatius insisted on purity.  He did not want to be tainted with the superstitious.    Luke had obliged, almost. His camel bone carved, polished and painted with that opposing, counter-menacing blue eye on it was hidden on its chain beneath his robe.  Luke prayed, it might have been to God,  but then again Baal was not unlikely, that his apotropaic facing eye would not lose its power by having temporarily lost its sight.  


He depended on its power, for in this situation, where the Quaestor was blue-eyed as well as officially dangerous, for empowered by Rome, Luke knew too well who held all strength, unless of course, there was something quite special in the powers of the God that his Bishop, Ignatius, held in such worshipful awe.  Luke had no such confidence. 

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