The Centurion's Man by Ken Proctor

The Cenurion's Man

By Ken Proctor  

The small oven is hot and the flat bread will cook quickly. I place each one sesame side down on the flat stone slab that is the floor of the oven, so that the seeds will toast and release their fragrant oil to season the loaves. As they bake, I go to prepare the Commander’s cup, and remember that I had seen Ephod, the butcher, catch the lamb’s blood in it. And yet, there it is, safe in it’s place. I watch myself cross the small room, lift the cup down and look inside. Relief, like a cool drink, refreshes me... the cup is empty.

With both hands I carry my master’s cup to the laver and rinse it with fresh water... just to be sure. An amphora of good wine was cradled in its gimbaled wood frame, and I tip a half measure of the rich red vintage into the cup, followed by a half measure of the fresh water. It would be sweet but not strong... cleanse the pallet without intoxicating. The cup was ready.

Now for the bread. I drift down to look over my own shoulder into the small brick oven and discover that the teff has browned nicely. And as the flat bread baked the small amount of water in the dough has turned to steam, causing the bread to puff perfectly. Quickly I snatch the seven flat breads from the heat and let them rest a moment on the tabletop to cool. The toasted sesame seeds have indeed imparted their essence to the bread, and the whole room smells so good that, with a bit of butter, I could eat the pantry door.

Three loaves I will serve him on his return, three I will set aside for the evening, and the smaller one will be my portion. Taking a shallow serving platter of woven reeds, I break the three best loaves into it. The master may then dip the fragrant bread into either the oil or the wine, though being fresh baked it will need neither to soften it. It will be a good meal to refresh my master. He will be pleased with my work.

A cloudiness passed over my thoughts and I drifted upward into pain. Tried to twist away from a cart. Can’t move, the market is full and the people press about me. Can’t move. “Halt the cart!,” I cry out, but the words are lost in the din. “To many people.” A small shabby man snatches at the parcels I bare. “Thief, Thief!” But the press all about that pins me also prevents his escape, and the cart still comes. The carter cracks a small whip about the beast who draws the cart, forcing a way through the busy market. The thief falls beneath a wheel, scattering my goods. His cry is cut short.

Again, I am a spectator, watching myself grasping at strangers who can neither help themselves or me. A small boy nimbly rolls under the cart, to the small safe lane between the axles, then wails in anguish as his mother falls before the heavy wheel. She clutches my belt for aid and in her panic seals my fate as well. Mercifully, as the cart passes over my hip and thigh, I strike my head on the cobbles and know no more.

“Misha? Can you hear me? Misha,” someone is calling from far away... far above me. But the pain is above and I shrink away from the pain. Deep, crushing pain. And the rasping of broken bones that grate and stab with each tiny movement. But worst of all, the dry cough that shakes my frame and shifts the bone’s and twists my broken flesh.

“Let me go,” I beg. But the words form only briefly, in a moment of rare clarity in my fever addled mind. Trapped between the painful reality above, and the frightening dementia of my tortured dreams below, I choose the dreams. “Let me go.” And I drift again downward, ever downward, welcoming now the lesser of two onerous states. Embracing the chaos... awaiting oblivion.

Sesame. The sweet, nutty aroma is still strong in the kitchen where the loaves lie broken. I watch my hands arrange the pieces... but there is blood on the bread. The rusty iron smell of fresh blood rises from the platter and taints the scent of fresh bread. Before my stricken eyes, the bread slowly turns from broken loaves to broken flesh.

How could this be? I watched every step as I carefully prepared and baked the way bread. Every ingredient was perfect, the best that could be had in the market.

The master is coming soon, though I do not know exactly when. I cannot serve these broken loaves. Near panic, I begin to hastily prepare new loaves, when I remember the four remaining from this batch.Next Chapter

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Giving your heart to others by listening to their heart

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When you grow a leader who values people you help the whole world

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