AN: This originally was going to be a story about the Centurion at the Cross, but somehow he didn't end up in this version. I've marked this complete for now, but perhaps one day Aemelia (the unnamed girl here) will meet the Centurion. I don't know.
Many things which you see here have been borrowed from other, wiser scholars. Acknowledgements and notes are to be found at the bottom.
My thanks to Laura Andrews for encouraging me to write this and for all her betaly comments late last night, and to WillowDryad for patiently warning me of the dangers of second-person, until I finally believed her and gave it up. Also to my mother, who read this before publication, made encouraging and impressed comments, and is now making me an Easter basket. Thanks, mum.
Praise to You, O Christ.
"Do you think I care if Aslan dooms me to death?" said the King. "That would be nothing, nothing at all. Would it not be better to be dead than to have this horrible fear that Aslan has come and is not like the Aslan we have believed in and longed for? It is as if the sun rose one day and were a black sun."
"I know," said Jewel. "Or if you drank water and it were dry water. You are in the right, Sire. This is the end of all things."
C. S. L, The Last Battle.
ante diem III Nonae Aprilis, octavodecimo anno Tiberius Caesar
She remembered that day as long as she lived. It was the day the sun went out.
All seemed well that morning. The sun rose as it always did and the noise of the festival crowds began outside-buying and selling and singing and bargaining and sacrificing and stealing. Inside, she and her mother were weaving and she dreamed of Penelope and Odysseus, ignorant of the impending doom. So the morning passed and the sun climbed higher and higher in the sky, until at the sixth hour it stood almost directly overhead and the heat, even indoors, was oppressive. Then the light failed.
At first it was as if a cloud passed over the sun. Then it seemed it was about to storm, and she ran outdoors to see if a thunderstorm could blow in so swiftly. She was just in time to see the sun go dark, like a candle snuffed out. For a moment there was silence—black, frightening silence in which even the suddenly-visible stars seemed dimmed and the street noises hushed. Then the cries began—shouts and screams and the sounds of people like panicked sheep, running this way and that and stepping on each other in their fright. Her mother rushed out and dragged her inside. They sat in the darkness, trembling, listening to the people shrieking without and the Greek cook wailing within.
"The gods are angry—they shall kill us all—it is the end of the world—Helios is dead—Great Hades have mercy—ohh-ohh-ohhhhh—"
It seemed an eternity that they sat there in the stifling heat and the motionless dark, waiting, listening. Just when she thought she really could bear it no longer, a breath of breeze came through the window and she ran to the door to look out again. The stars still shone, however weakly, but black clouds were piling in the west, blotting out even that faint light. Her mother came and stood behind her, and they watched the blackness grow until not even a pinprick of starlight pierced the dark. Then Jupiter hurled a lightning bolt across the sky. She cowered against her mother as it hit with a rumble of thunder, and a great wind tore the rain loose from the clouds.
It was as if war had broken out on Mount Olympus itself. Jove, King of Heaven, flung his bolts quick and fast. They chased each other across the heavens, ripping jagged trails in the skies, flashing a pallid illumination over Jerusalem, and the thundering anger of the god deafened mortals. Had some new Prometheus stolen a forbidden gift for man? Had some Phaethon overstepped his ability and brought ruin? What or who had called down the divine wrath? No one knew. The joyous throngs which always crowded the city at festival time were stricken with terror; snatches of cries from mortal throats—Latin, Greek, Aramaic, Hebrew—could be heard between the roars of heavenly rage.
Her mother's hand was tight on her shoulder, her mother's voice repeated ancient prayers over and over. Jove, most glorious, most great, God of the storm, thou who dwellest in the heaven. . . ." And still the storm raged. The rain had been but a brief, chilling blast, quickly come and quickly gone, but the battle in heaven seemed to go on for all time.
Then there was a blinding flash of light, brighter than all the rest, and the earth underneath them shuddered at the thunder that followed. The girl and her mother were thrown from their feet by the violence of an earthquake that rattled the roof-tiles and clattered the paving-stones, shattered the dishes and shook down the plaster. Her teeth knocked together as she fell, and she screamed.
Then it was over, and they were picking themselves up and dusting themselves off. Her mother hurried to find the cook, but the girl stood in the door and stared out. The clouds . . . yes, the clouds had broken . . . the light was growing . . . merciful Apollo! the sun was shining! The chariot of Sol was saved from whatever watery billows had drowned it when Jupiter's thunderbolt knocked it, flaming, from its courses; and the earth was saved from the fiery wrath of heaven. The smile of heaven warmed her damp chill, and she wept to be alive. Her mother called her to come help sweep up the plaster and crockery. It was about the ninth hour.
She sang as she put the damage to rights, feeling as if she had narrowly escaped the jaws of Cerberus; but she sang an old and mournful song, for the darkness and the quake had shaken her. And in the evening, when the debris was gone and supper was over, she slipped outdoors again and watched the sky darken—normally this time, slowly, the sun slipping behind the rim of the world with Lady Venus to herald the evening. The street sounds were muted, and outwardly all seemed at peace, but through the open door floated gossip in Greek.
"Nearly a riot this morning . . . festival mobs . . . Lady Claudia was quite upset all day—bad dreams, her maids said . . . a son of the immortals . . . wished him dead because he was a god? Those heathens! . . . "
The moon was rising now—but oh, evil omen! The day before it had been full; it ought to have been bright and shining—it was blotted out in a blood-red shadow, and she couldn't help feeling that the virgin goddess Diana, mourning the dread sin of that weird day, was herself sorely wounded. Diana and Apollo both? She shivered, and went inside.
"ante diem III Nonae Aprilis, octavodecimo anno Tiberius Caesar." Literally, "the third day before the Nones of April, in the eighteenth year of Tiberius Caesar." In the Jewish calender, the fourteenth of Nisan. We would date it April 3, A. D. 33.
The three-hour eclipse of the sun is mentioned by Matthew, Mark, and Luke, as well as Sextus Jusius Africanus (surviving in quotation by George Syncellus), Phlegon of Tralles (2nd century, quoted by Africanus and Eusebius), Turtullian, and others. The quote from Eusebius (surviving in translation by Jerome) will suffice:
"Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of Olympiads, also writes about this, in his 13th book writing thus: "However in the fourth year of the 202nd olympiad [A.D. 32/33], an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea." (rbedrosian(dot)com/jerome_chronicle_03_part2(dot)htm)
The terrible thunderstorm is my own addition, not being found in any historian, and I hope my readers will not be offended by this poetic license.
I found the prayer to Jove (Zeus in the original) in Edith Hamilton's Mythology: Timeless Tales of Gods and Heroes, under "Zeus (Jupiter)," where it is attributed to Agamemnon in the Iliad.
The date and the lunar eclipse are borrowed from Frederick Larson's work with NASA software. More at bethlehemstar(dot)net.
The name of Claudia for Pontius Pilate's wife is borrowed from Dorothy Sayers's Man Born to be King play cycle.
Pilate's wife's dream comes from Matthew 27:19, "As Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: 'Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.'"
"Weird" may seem a strange word choice here, but "fateful" didn't seem to quite fit, and I use the word in its older meaning, from the Old English "Wyrd" or Fate. Merriam-Webster defines it thus: "Fate, destiny, especially ill fortune," from which "weird" comes to mean "of, relating to, or caused by witchcraft or the supernatural."
Lastly, I would never equate Diana with Mary the Mother of God, yet Simeon's words to the Virgin Mother, "And a sword will pierce your very soul," seemed like an interesting tie-in with the way a Roman might see a blood-red Moon. Perhaps it only makes sense to me.
Thank you for reading, and may you have a blessed Resurrection Day.