The Centurion's Man by Ken Proctor

The Cenurion's Man

By Ken Proctor  

My feverish mind drifted through a seemingly endless and disjointed series of dreamlike visions. A confusion of ordinary, even mundane, images that could have been memories had it not been for certain elements. Disturbing elements that skewed the almost remembered, almost familiar scenes, and rendered them implausible... and often frightening. I struggled to find meaning, to grasp onto some thread of logic or meaning, eventually seeking only to escape each fantasy only to find myself drifting into another.

Why was Megosh, the fisherman, casting his net into the sea and drawing it out again filled with sparrows, which he then released? “Two for a penny,” he called to me and laughed. The sea lapped at my bare feet. He re-gathered his now empty casting net, draped it over his right shoulder and waded into the sea for another cast. A small boy brushed by my hand and I stood in the market, a tin smith’s daughter offering cups, plates and oil lamps. But my master has a fine cup and needs no lamp. I turn to the sound of bleating, a ewe crying for her lamb. The butcher’s servant, holds a very fine yearling lamb securely between his knees while the butcher, Ephod, thrusts a keen knife and drains the lamb’s blood into my master’s cup. I see myself recoil, but cannot move. “Not the master’s cup,” I cry out, but the cup is full. “It is enough,” laughs the butcher. “Enough for all.”

In my dream, I flee around a corner and see myself in my master’s house, preparing a meal for his return. I have come to the pantry and from the shelf select a muslin bag of finely ground flour, olive oil from the first pressing, a pinch of sea salt out of the box entrusted to me. Moving these into the kitchen, I mix them in my large, shallow stoneware bowl to form a loose, moist crumble. To this I add just a little clear water from the pitcher, just enough that the mix would form a ball. All that remains is to knead in the leaven and bake the small loaves.

I can feel myself relax, watching myself perform these familiar steps with care. The master has been fair and often kind to me, and although I serve as a bondservant in his home, he grants me many of the privileges of a freeman, a paid employee. In his home I find provision, security and a measure of comfort I had not known before. And trust. Into my hand he has placed his keys, his coin and his cup: the keys that secure his spices and wealth, the coins for the shopping and provisioning of his home, and his fine silver cup, which I return to him full. In the day that my bond is paid, my bondage served, I hope to stay and serve still in my master’s house, if he will have me.

With this in mind, I watch myself prepare the bread as a master baker might fuss over an apprentice. Returning to the pantry, I am reaching for the leaven in its loosely covered masonry jar, but even as I reach for it, it seems to draw away from my hand. On tiptoe I try again, straining toward the jar but still not grasping it. I must have the leaven for the master’s bread, or it would not rise to make the fine, light loaves for my master’s table. Drawing the bench from the hall into the pantry, I stretch myself and extend my hand once again for the leaven, but the shelf has become impossibly high and the leaven far out of reach. I try to shout encouragement to myself. “Reach! Stretch!” I call, but no sound comes out, and my shouts fade to weeping as my vision clouds further with tears of frustration. Again my dream is bereft of normality and my fears, which had receded for a time, now clutch at my chest.

What shall I do? My master, the commander, will return soon and I must be ready with his meal and his cup.

“Sesame.” The answer comes softly. It is my mother’s voice calling gently, “Use the sesame.”

Of course! I see myself turn again to the pantry, to the secure spice cabinet, and taking a dark key from its hiding place above the door lintel, I open the cabinet and select the small, tightly woven purse of sesame seeds. Locking the cabinet, and returning the key to its place, I scurry back to the bowl on the table. Quickly I separate the dough into seven smaller portions, though the last one is a bit smaller yet. Patting each one in my palm, I form them into round, flat disks, what my people would call “way bread” or teff, for it is the quick, unleavened bread common to travelers. But now I press the sesame seeds into the surface of each, to add its distinct, nutty aroma and flavor.Next Chapter

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