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The Wood Cutter
by Julie Michaelson
For Sale
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the angel said...
...Be not afraid;
for behold,
I bring you
good news
of a
great joy.
[Luke 2:10]
Time: A day before
the Crucifixion.
Place: In a small
forest, outside Jerusalem.
Characters: Valdai,
a Roman slave, and
The Angelic Holy Host.
Only a small sliver of light
pink showed in the very early morning sky; the sun was just
beyond the dark horizon. Several stars could still be
seen twinkling in the waning night sky. It had been a moonless night. The breeze was chilly against the muscular bare shoulders of Valdai, the wood cutter. Being strong and healthy, he was able to begin his work much earlier than most: seeing just enough in the misty morning air, with the aid of a couple of lanterns, to swing his huge axe against a tree trunk. The grass underneath Valdai's big sandaled feet was cold, and soft: smelling of tiny flowers, and little insects; it reminded Valdai of long ago at his parents' house, years before he had been captured as a slave by the Romans. Valdai was a big, strong young man, and well-used by his master for the heaviest of work in the bridge, and road-building near and outside the city boundaries.

Valdai had just been given permission by
his master to marry a young slave in his
house, named Kradera. Kradera,
a lovely orphaned Greek girl, who had
lost her parents in a battle with the Roman army,
had been brought to his master's house, and
had soon gained favor as a baker and cook
of Greek foods: providing wonderful
dishes for her mistress's frequent
parties. Kradera had higher status than
Valdai, being an in-house servant, and
could have easily found another slave,
a higher-status slave, to marry.

But Kradera had fallen in love with the
ruggedly handsome Valdai.
And, soon their master would
marry them, as was
the custom.

And, this morning, just as the night sky
was surrendering itself to the conquering streaks of the powerful sun's rays, Valdai found himself to be in a good mood. He began humming a bit to himself as he swung
his axe, again and again, against a tall
sturdy tree in the small forest outside
the city. He was on loan, actually, to the
Roman army: having been selected by his
master to do some work for one of the
Centurions' units. Valdai's master was
a financially astute man; he was used to
loaning out his best slaves for a small fee:
especially to the Roman army corps of

As a valuable slave,
Valdai had been issued his orders, and
then mostly left alone for the day: he was to cut
down several large tree trunks, ready them for transport, and bring them back, by the end of the day, up Calvary Hill:
toting them on a large cart driven by two oxen.

It was very hard, grueling work;
Valdai's bare shoulders were gleaming with sweat,
and his muscles were contracting beneath
his sunburnt skin, that had seen long hard
days in the hot Jerusalem sun. Each swing of the axe
was heavy and purposeful; Valdai must complete his task by sunup the next day: an execution, of several Roman prisoners,
was to take place on Calvary Hill.

A crucifixion.

Valdai gritted his
large jaw muscles,
in a moment of fear
and horror; he was a
slave, and the Romans
could do whatever they wished with him.
So far he had proved
useful to them, and
was treated well for
a slave.

His master had never
whipped him, and didn't demonstrate
a cruel temper, as many of his peers,
toward his house servants. True, just
as every Roman slave, Valdai bore the heavy
leather yoke collar of one's possession, but
he considered himself luckier than most; Valdai had been bought by a wealthy landowner, on the way to Jerusalem several
years back, only a week before he could have been sold to
the gladiator trainers. Valdai knew that some of the gladiators were well-paid athletes.......and, some of them were not: men who had fallen into the unfortunately dire circumstances of being captured as enemy soldiers by the Roman legions.......and
used like circus animals for the emporer's entertainment in Rome.

So Valdai considered
himself to be lucky,
indeed. And, now
he had been granted
permission to marry;
certainly his master
hoped to see Valdai
and Kradera breed
strong sons......more
slaves for the large,
and wealthy household.
with the gods' favor,
Valdai and his bride
would fulfill their
masters' expectations.

Valdai gave another
grunt as he swung his
axe, for the last time,
against this particular
tree. It was the tallest,
and for that
reason, Valdai had
chosen it as his first
task even before the
dark sky to the east
was beginning to show
streaks of pink and
yellow light.

A big cracking sound
splintered the dark,
misty air, as the tree
fell hugely onto the wide, grassy knoll.
After an eerie moment of absolute
stillness, small birds
could be heard chirping their early
morning song.

Valdai stood quietly
for a moment: just
staring at the fallen
tree, and wiping the
sweat off his neck,
and off the dark mass of hair on his muscular chest,
with the edge of the tunic which he had
taken off and laid across another tree stump.
Valdai had already been in the forest for several hours;
he stopped for a moment, and set down
his axe. He leaned over to grab a big
animal-skin bag full of cold water, and bent his head back
for a long thirsty drink. In another bag
were some small cakes and bread loaves,
from Kradera's kitchen.

In a few hours,
several other slaves,
from the Roman barracks, would be
joining Valdai to help
finish cutting down
the timber.

But for now, as the
sun was making only
slivers of streaks high up in the eastern
sky, Valdai was quite alone in the forest.
Setting down his drinking bag, he picked up a small loaf
of bread which Kradera had carefully
wrapped in a thin piece of cloth.
Valdai sat down on the tree
trunk, and began to
bite chunks of the
fresh bread with his
strong, even teeth.

A strange sound suddenly permeated
the stillness of the
dark, misty forest.
Slightly alarmed,
Valdai swiftly turned his head around: the
sound was coming from the big tree he
had just fell.

Or, rather, the sound
was coming from behind it.

What WAS....... it?
Some woodland creature?
A bear? A lion?
A stray......BULL?

Heart pounding, Valdai immediately
stood up, and went to
pick up his large axe:
whatever it was, he was well able to defend himself:
a tall, young, muscular
man who was accustomed to grueling,
toiling labor that went on for long hours of the day and
night. And, naturally,
he was no stranger to
quick movements with
his axe or stone hammer.

Valdai jumped atop
the wide tree trunk,
and squinted in the
darkness. Here in
the forest, daylight
would only very slowly permeate
the shadowy dimness of
the waning night.

Valdai almost growled
in his native tongue;
usually he only spoke
in Latin, even with
Kradera. Slaves were
punished for using
their birth language;
it was considered an
act of rebellion among
their Roman masters.

But at this moment,
Valdai had forgotten
himself; something
was out there in the
forest, and it was big
enough to make a loud
strange noise.....and,
he was quite alone
out here.
"What IS ....IT?"
Valdai jumped off the
tree trunk, and sprinted behind the
2nd tree, that he was
going to begin chopping next.
Feeling a bit foolish
for such a big, strong
man, Valdai cussed to
himself, again in his
mother tongue, and
peered from behind the
wide trunk of the
tree, into the eerie

Suddenly, a glowing
light, almost as misty
as the cold morning
air, began to spread
behind the fallen tree
trunk. It was not just
one light, but many,
many lights.

And.....the lights were moving.


Valdai, a big strong
man, found himself
slipping to the ground
behind his hiding place.
He felt as if
he couldn't breathe;
his limbs felt like
the bread dough which Kradera
kneeded in her kitchen.
Suddenly, he wished he were there:
safe and warm
in her lovely scented kitchen:
full of Greek foods, and
Kradera's lovely Greek womanliness;
her large dark eyes framed by the
heavy cloth tied around her beautiful
long hair, and her womanly figure hidden
beneath a large, wide apron.

A strange thought
for a big muscular
slave who was used to
working outdoors:
day, and night.

He whispered, again
in his native tongue.
He whispered again:
something inaudible:
an expression he used
to hear his mother
say, as a very young boy. How strange: Valdai
thought he had long
forgotten his mother's own dialect.

Still unable to stand,
Valdai crawled, on his
knees, along the
heavy underbrush:
skinning and bruising
his big knees.

But he didn't even
feel the scratches.
All he could do was
stare straight ahead,
with mouth open, and
hands gripping the
rough grass in front
of his bended knees.

For there, for what
seemed to be miles
and miles behind the
fallen tree limb were
shimmering, light-
were they

Valdai held his breath: afraid to breathe. Kneeling
in the cool mist of
the coming morning,
were what appeared
to be thousands,
and thousands,
and thousands.......
at least HUMAN-like.....beings
singing: their sparkling heads lifted
to the sky, and their
hands lifted in adulation and praise.

Praise of......WHAT?

What WERE.....they:
some mysterious gods? An ARMY?

Valdai, whose ruggedly handsome face shone in the
warm golden light
of the beings kneeling
behind the fallen tree
trunk, could not breathe or blink; he
just kept staring,
open-mouthed: knowing that no one
would ever believe him, even if he did
feel brave enough to
tell......even Kradera.

For he knew he was
seeing an army.

An army of unbelievably powerful

That must have come
from another kingdom, surely.

And, this kingdom was
not like any other,
whose King was not
like any other.......

Valdai collapsed face
down on the cool,
rough grass, and small
stones. He was breathing painfully;
his heart was pounding like a loud
drum. He began to
pray to his Roman gods that this army
of Light would soon
go away.......

leave him.

And, that ordinary
tree trunk........

he had
there was
wiith the
a multitude
of the
heavenly host
praising God.
[Luke 2:13]

Copyright 2012.

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