"Sunset" By Timewalkerauthor.

It is sunset, and I am waiting to die.

I cannot think of a better time for it. After all, I am in the sunset of my life; why then should I not die in the sunset of the day? I have seen so much, lived so much, and worked so hard. I am ready for rest-ready, as they say, to go out in a blaze of glory. The day and I will go together, and it will be welcome.

The battle was a difficult one, perhaps the worst I have ever seen in all my service to the Empire. This...people...they fought like animals, and I don't blame them. They were a thorn in the Empire's side, so it was only a matter of time before Rome crashed down on them in all its might. Who wouldn't, given those odds, pour everything they had into it? They were dead anyway, so they may as well live til the end came. It was noble! I won't forget them, though I suppose that is small comfort now, knowing that my own time is short. My wounds are not what I would once have called grievous, but I am not the young man I used to be, either. I'll bleed to death, I think; at any rate, I know that I was counted among the dead at the end of the fighting. There will be more tomorrow, down the river a distance, so there was no time for any burial. All the more for me, as it means I'll see the sunset before I go. This will be a great tomb soon enough; for now, let it be a thing of beauty.

I have not even named myself yet. Does it even matter now? History will forget me; I am one of the small in the scheme of things. Nevertheless, someone may remember me, I suppose, if only for awhile. I would only wish that my family would be left alone-that no one trouble them with stories of my lonely end. So I will keep my family name to myself, and only say that I am Julius, and that I am-no, was-a centurion. I have no claims to fame, only that I was loyal to my Empire-and I suppose that will have to do. There are some who would say that I was not truly loyal, that I was too kind, too good. Such things are not in keeping with the spirit of the times, the spirit of the Empire itself in these "enlightened" days, which is why, they say, I never rose any higher. Perhaps it is true. If that is disloyalty, then I am guilty of disloyalty of the highest order! I acknowledge it. It would truly have been treason to say it thus, but here, at the end, I suppose I shall say it to you: I have known this for years, but I persist because I have a greater loyalty, yes, higher even than that I hold to Caesar.

I was a much younger man, but still not what I would call young. My prisoner was most unusual, in that he did not act like a prisoner at all; he never cursed me, nor railed against the Empire or any gods, nor did he so much as once try to escape-quite the opposite, in fact. He and those who accompanied him on our long voyage were pleasant and engaging, and what is more, they fairly brimmed with purpose. He spoke as though this voyage, one that most men would have feared with their lives, was a gift from the God he claimed to serve. Had it only happened once, I would have thought him taken mad, but this was his perpetual attitude, and that of his companions. I was puzzled, to say the least.

His name was Paulus, but it was not what he preferred, for he was a Jew. They were known for holding fast to their native tongue and names whenever they could do so, and this one, though quite learned and skilled at both the common Greek and the formal Latin, would rather go by Saul, the name of some king of his land's past; I never took the time to learn more of that. Nevertheless, call the man what name you will, he was unique; and as I discovered, he had a way of making impact anywhere he went.

Rome was our destination, and I was glad, for I had not seen the city for some years. My wife awaited me in the lands around, and my children, and I was most anxious to return. As I was going there already, and as the prisoner required transport, it only made sense that I should guard him, and avoid spending any more of the Empires's money on a hired escort. Nevertheless, I was not amused, for my hurry was growing urgent indeed. I had little time to bother with another provincial troublemaker, and wanted no part of the assignment; but the local governor, on the authority of his king, made it plain that I had no choice; and that line of authority was a little too close to the highest levels for my comfort. So it was that I found myself onship, heading for Rome, with a man older than his years, a starry-eyed doctor far too in love with the sea, and a handful of soldiers.

I was determined that this trip would be unenjoyable for myself, and that the others should share in my unhappiness. It was not long, however, before, despite myself, I found myself warming up to this oh-so-unusual prisoner. How could I not? He was filled with life; every particle of his being fairly vibrated with it. I came to discover that he was only on trial for causing a disturbance, which in the end turned out to be a question about his own religion. It was a trivial thing that had been made to be much; and yet, this Saul acted as though he had already been pardoned from a thousand crimes more vile than I could know. Before long, it became an obsession with me, to understand him.

Indeed, he explained it to me plainly, time and time again. As I look back, I see that his message was quite simple; the problem was me, in that I did not want to find it so simple. I think, I knew, even then, that if I found him to be telling the truth, it would change my life forever, and that was something that I feared.

Paul-for that is how I insisted on calling him; I could not fathom one who had citizenship in Rome and yet disdained to use a Roman name-spoke often of the cause of his state. He would tell anyone who would listen how he had been a sinner-and that I could understand. Who cannot? I had all my personal wickednesses, my weaknesses and flaws, and I knew them well. But he would always go on to speak of being saved, born again, and this was a mystery to me. He claimed to be forgiven by one who mattered much to him, I could see, one called Christ. This name had some significance among the Jews, I knew, a promised king of sorts, though I was confident that Rome would never allow that particular happening to occur! Paul claimed that it already had happened-that their Christ had been and gone, in the form of one whose name was Jesus. I could not seem to grasp whether this Jesus the Christ was a man or a god. It was not until much later that I understood that He was both. It was then that I thought back, much further, to an old friend I had not seen in quite a long time. Flavius and I were soldiers together, of the same town, and we had risen through the ranks together, until we had at last attained the rank of centurion, and then of course we were parted-the necessity of command rank, I suppose. He was my oldest friend, and we were together in Judea when the rumors rose of a new prophet among the Jews.

I was privileged to see him, more than once, this one they called Christ. He was nothing to the eyes, I remember thinking, but he did make an impression, and his following was quite impressive. But Flavius saw him much more often, as he received assignment in Jerusalem-and that meant that he was on duty on the day. The day. I speak of the day that they put the Christ to death.

Flavius told me later of the respect he had gained for this man, even before that day; he could not understand how the Jews could be so contemptuous of one of their own when he was so obviously a good man. When he was brought to the castle on the night of that hideous tragedy, that mockery of justice, Flavius took charge to ensure that no harm came to him that was not authorized by the governor or the king. When his own men spit on the man and beat him, Flavius by his oaths and law had to turn a blind eye-but you can be sure that eye was filled with tears, for his love of this man was increasing even then.

He was there when the nails were hammered, and though he had to give the order to do it, he has never truly forgiven himself for it. I know how he felt, I think, when he was determined that suffering should be short; when the Jews voiced their complaints, that the bodies should not stay on the crosses over their holy day, it was simply an excuse to do what he intended anyway. I know he was greatly relieved when he discovered that the Christ was already dead; the legs would not be broken to hasten the process. Nevertheless, to be sure, he had one soldier pierce the body; it sufficed quite well, though I think it pained him even to allow that small, additional injury. Looking back, and knowing all the stories now, I can only agree with Flavius's whispered judgment: "Truly this man was the Son of God."

Now, years later, here were those words from the lips of Paul. I could scarce believe it when he said that Christ was alive-no one could survive a crucifixion! Yet, if it were so, it would more than explain everything about this strange little man.

I escorted him all the way to Rome, and was I was no longer with my men, I was allowed to stand as the captain of his guard while he awaited his trial before Caesar. It was two years-two years!-and I am ashamed that it took me nearly all that time for me to understand:

It was for me.

If I could ever understand one part of Paul's message it was that, that Christ had died for me. Sin? What did Paul know of that? I had so much. Yet Christ was the answer even for that, for He had suffered as penalty for my sin, as well as that of the whole world. In time I came to believe that He was alive. I believe it to this day.

Paul believed it, as well. He was willing to give his life for it. I am only glad that he was not called upon to do so before I could learn the truth. I do know that he did die, in the end; I hear that he was telling the executioners of Christ until the moment they raised the blades to take his head.

And now, hear I sit, under my tree, waiting for the sun to go down. Waiting to die. I suppose it is true that Christ has cost me something of my career; I have seen men half my age come to lead whole legions. But I think that it would be far worse for me to have gained all in this life, and have never found hope for the future.

For you see, that is what it comes down to. Hope.

As the sun goes down, I know that I am alone on this battlefield. But I know also that I will not be alone for long-no, only another moment. I can see Him coming now.

Sunset? No. For me, it will be sunrise, forever.