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==<O>==

(Most of us would like to have had more of a say about the stations in life we've come to occupy. We don't get to choose our parents, for example. But what of the man who finds himself assigned to perform a dreadful deed -- one he cannot, but any exertion of will or imagination, avert?)


The darkness was absolute. No fire burned within range of his sight. Neither moon nor stars bedecked the sky. Had he not taken his post in daylight, he would not have known where he stood. Only the rough stone wall of the crypt against his back served to remind him of it.

The swaddling darkness had robbed him of his sense of the passing of time. The lack was halfway between a comfort and a curse. His thoughts had come unmoored, which partly assuaged the pain of his deed, but if he could not think plainly of it, how, then, could he repent of it?

Several of his men, aware that he'd stood the vigil each of the two nights before, had offered to take the duty from him. He'd thanked them with his usual formality, and declined. This was where he belonged, the only imaginable place where he could finish grieving.

He'd vowed to himself, silently, that he'd stand the night vigils until the tetrarch rescinded the order that the tomb be guarded...perhaps until God should grant him surcease from his regrets.

When summoned to bring a condemned to the place of execution, he'd thought little of it. Executions in this rebellious province were common. Given the belligerence of the locals, they demanded a military guard. He and his had been detailed to this rude place as agents of law. The law required that its forms be protected in their observance, if it were ever to gain the allegiance of the barbarians among whom he dwelt.

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