A million stars illuminated the heavens as they moved slowly across the Judean night – cold, crisp, silent. The light of a waning moon bathed the earth and sky in a quiet brilliance that seemed to extend forever. Only a light breeze interrupted the perfect stillness that filled the air. Klaus sat on the brow of a hill overlooking a tiny shepherd village of the desert and breathed in the freedom. For the first time in over ten years, his life was his own.
Klaus had only been 15 when the Roman soldiers had swarmed over his little Germanic town, far to the north. The masters of the world attacked his people without warning – killing, pillaging and burning every hut to the ground. He was carving wood that day in his father’s shop. He remembered trying to fight back. But what did he know of fighting? He was woefully unprepared as a youth to give battle to the butchers of the Roman Empire. However, time would change all that.
Amidst their scoffs and jeers they took him prisoner — the lone survivor of his hamlet — and carried him back to Rome. What an amusing prize he was – this red-headed novelty of the north countries — as they sold him into slavery. He was purchased at auction by an agent of Herod the Great and transported in chains another thousand miles to Jerusalem in Judea, where the merciless monarch had established his ‘kingdom’.
Had Klaus been purchased as a mere slave his story may have ended there. But Herod’s servants had selected this husky, wild-eyed youth to be trained as one of the king’s gladiators, to fight in the arena as a spectacle for the entertainment of his guests. And indeed, Klaus proved an able student, driven by anger and defiance of the Romans who had made a slave of him. Within three years, he not only mastered every weapon in Herod’s arsenal, but built his body into the perfect tool to wield them. His frame became a seamless network of muscles from his head to his foot, accented by a thick, red beard that made him the most fearsome warrior in the school of gladiators.
From the moment Klaus first stepped into the arena, he became a favorite – a fighting machine of such skill, agility, speed and shrewd intelligence that he bewildered and overpowered his rivals as much as he delighted the spectators. But surprisingly none of this brought any satisfaction to the young gladiator. Perhaps because none of the rage of his training accompanied him into the arena. His only motivation in the heat of combat was a burning desire to survive, together with a knowledge, deep within his soul, that there was more to his life and destiny than this – something worth living for.
With that conviction sustaining him, Klaus fought on, and lived on. He left the anger behind and developed a deep, booming laugh that was infectious and encouraging to his fellows. He grew big-hearted and good-natured. And he survived. The life expectancy of the typical gladiator was one or two years. Klaus endured for three, then four. And he fought on – for five, six, and finally seven years. Until, even the cruel Herod the Great was persuaded to grant this prize gladiator his freedom – with a reward of a thousand denari. And now, Klaus was going home.
And none too soon. It was rumored in Herod’s palace that one of these villages was to be the victim of his royal brutality. As early as tomorrow the king intended to kill all the children of a single town out of an insane fear that one of them threatened him as a rival. Klaus understood none of it. It was enough that Herod could commit such lunacy. Klaus was one in a million to have survived Herod’s madness. He was leaving Judea forever. He was going home away from this insanity.
Klaus inhaled a huge breath of the Judean night air and stretched his massive arms as he took one last look at the tiny village enveloped in darkness below him. What was its name? Bethlehem. He hoped it wasn’t the town that was to be the target of Herod’s wrath. Standing from the sand and picking up his traveling bag, he flung it across his shoulder. He had a long journey before him. It was time to go home.
He had only taken a few steps when a sound reached his ears – the sound of a scuffle, followed by the shouts of men, muffled by the wind in the night. He froze in his tracks to determine the direction of the struggle. But then he heard a noise that alarmed him, sending his head upright like a sentinel. It was the cry of a woman. Klaus sprang without hesitation, turning and sprinting to the brow of the sandy hill behind him.