Beauty and Martyrdom
|Sarah was tall, blonde, and widely regarded as the most beautiful of women. Her beauty not just that of her perfect curves and glowing skin nor her startling blue eyes and dazzling smile. Her beauty came from deep within her. It was the overflow of a love and spiritual fruitfulness that had blessed her church for a decade now. All the men loved her, yet none had won her heart. She was only in love with her God, most alive in fact in the act of worship. As she sang now with the rest of her church in this deserted place deep in the forest the sunlight in her hair gave her an almost magical quality. Not a few of the young men were singing with gusto and vigor that came from a desire to impress her more than God Almighty. But her eyes were shut, lost in the rapture of her song of praise and she did not see their wandering eyes.
The church was derived from about half the population of their village in the Allobrogees tribal territory south of Lugdunum in the Roman province of Gaul. They thought that they were safe here with their Lord in the forest far from human habitation and all was smiles, laughter, and joy.
The Roman soldiers cleaned their blades on the grass, glancing at the bodies one last time. Assured by the mess of blood, hacked heads, and lifeless eyes staring up into the blue sky they turned back through the forest towards the main road, some miles away, moving in single file between the trees. Sarah was covered by three young men whose last act had been to protect her by falling on top of her. Sarah waited till the sound of marching feet, on cracking branches, faded away to be replaced by the bird song. Her breathing was difficult, but she would take no risks, not now, she wanted to live. When the silence finally came, she heaved the bodies aside. The stench and the sight of blood were overwhelming, and she felt sick to her stomach. She had known the people that lay on top of her for many years. But now their bloodless pale faces and limp heavy forms were a horror to her. Quickly moving away from the pile of her friends and family she retreated to a tree trunk by the shade of the trees and just sat there staring into the center of the glade. The Roman soldiers had been brought here by one of the villager’s hostile to Jesus with some story of plots against Rome and weird religious rituals that did not respect the supremacy and the proclaimed divinity of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. They had been unarmed but the Roman commander would probably report this as just another bunch of bandits exterminated in the forest. These brutal pagan soldiers accustomed to continual warfare on the frontiers had no time for Christians and were happy to kill them and take what plunder they could from the corpses. But her friends and family were poor people who dressed simply. So, the army had not lingered long looking for coins that they knew were not there. Sarah was now homeless also. She knew she could not bury the bodies, but she decided that she could burn them and say a prayer for them. They were after all now martyrs assured a place in heaven having died in the very act of worship in fact. She rejoiced that she was a witness to their sacrifice. There were all too many martyrs these days, yet even despite this, the church kept growing. At peace, she smiled towards heaven and towards those in that better place. Gathering dry branches from the forest she piled them around the corpses. She found a blanket wrapping food, the pastor's gospel scroll, and a cup into this and tied it so easy to carry. She prayed thankfully to God for her friends now in glory. The wood was dry and when lit the evening breeze fanned the flames. Then conscious that the fire might draw the attention of others she retreated into the dark of the forest.
Word count: 699