“I believe in vengeance.”
She felt saddened at the unrelenting quality of his voice. “And judgment. Judge, and you shall be judged with the same measure of mercy you mete out.”
He gave a hard laugh.
“God is not partial,” she said. “You can’t bribe him or overpower him. He doesn’t think as man thinks. If you stand on the law, any law—Ephesian, Roman, or German—you bear the judgment already for disobedience. And the sentence is always the same. Death.”
He stood and glared down at her. “It wasn’t by my choice that I became what I am!”
“But by your choice you continue in it.” She watched him move away into the shadows again. Everything about him revealed his bitter rage and frustration. Did he think his anguish and sense of hopelessness were no less obvious? She knew more about what he felt than he could ever guess.
O Lord, why was it his child you gave to me? Why did you send me here to this man so that I remember the things done to me? Shimei interceded and brought me to you, and you healed me. Now, I see Atretes and feel the old wounds reopened. Hold me fast, Father. Don’t let me slip; don’t let me fall. Don’t let me think as I used to think or live as I used to live.
“Life is cruel, Atretes, but you have a choice. Choose forgiveness and be free.”
“Forgiveness!” The word came out of the dark shadows like a curse. “There are some things in this world that can never be forgiven.”
Her eyes burned with tears. “I once felt the same way, but it turns back on you and eats you alive. When Christ saved me, everything changed. The world didn’t look the same.”
“The world doesn’t change.”
“No. The world didn’t. I did.”
He said nothing for a moment and then spoke heavily, “You know nothing of pain, woman.”
“I know all I ever want to know.” She wished she could see his face and look into his eyes as she spoke to him. “We’re all walking wounded, Atretes. Some wounds are physical and obvious. Other wounds are secret and hidden so deep that no one but God sees them.”
“What wounds do you bear?” he said sardonically.
She didn’t answer. She would not open herself to his mockery or disdain.
Atretes frowned. He could see her face in the moonlight, and it wasn’t defiance that held her silent. “What wounds?” he said more gently, wanting to know.
“Private wounds,” she said doggedly.
Her stubbornness infuriated him. “There’s nothing private between us. You’re here because I suffer your presence for the sake of the boy. Now tell me of what you speak.”
She shook her head. “Perhaps one day I will, Atretes, but not because you command me to do so. It’ll be when we can both trust one another and not until then.”
“That day will never come.”
“Then we will never speak of it.”
Atretes stepped from the shadows. Rizpah felt instinctive fear of him. She knew this was the look countless men had seen just before they died. She went cold inside, waiting for the blow.
Atretes looked into her dark eyes. She said nothing. She just sat, waiting. As others had waited.
Tightening his fist, he remembered the young Chatti gladiator, standing before him with his arms outstretched, waiting for the final thrust through the heart. He remembered so many more. . . .
And still, Rizpah sat, afraid, but making no protest or appeal.
The calm resignation on her face stirred him—and suddenly an image filled his mind: Caleb on his knees, head tipped back slightly, exposing his neck as the mob screamed, “Jugula!”
The Jewish gladiator’s words echoed in Atretes’ mind once again: “Free me, my friend.” As Caleb had placed his hands on Atretes’ thighs and tipped his head back, the German had been overwhelmed by his friend’s courage . . . and by the strange peace that had seemed to settle over Caleb as he prepared for death. Atretes had given his friend his wish. He had set him free. And as he did so, he had been filled