He entered the small room that served as the jail’s headquarters. It was nothing fancy, but he still enjoyed the feeling of walking into “his” office. He dropped his keys on the small rough table. He removed his sword belt and leaned it against the wall before dropping onto the nearby stool. He sighed as he leaned back against the wall.
The jail was usually an uneventful place: his job primarily consisted of keeping an eye on small-time thieves and debtors and a few prisoners arrested for more serious crimes. But this afternoon, the magistrates had sent for him. They often sent prisoners to him, but they never called him into their presence. So when he received the urgent summons, he had run as fast as he could to get there.
When he arrived, two men, bound and bloody from their recent beating, stood before the magistrates. The jailer stepped to the center of the room. He could hear the guards, breathing hard from their exertion, and the muffled groans of the two men. Whatever they had done, the magistrates were clearly upset.
“Jailer, take these two men and keep them secure. They are disturbers of the peace, they proclaim unlawful methods of salvation, and they are not to escape under any circumstances. Do you understand?”
He had nodded and bowed. Turning on his heels, the jailer had walked, back erect, toward the exit. With a jerk of his head, he silently commanded the guards to bring the prisoners. He had purposely kept his pace quick though he knew the prisoners would have difficulty keeping up.
He had taken the magistrates’ order very seriously. At the jail, he took the prisoners to the inner cell, his most secure room. As a double precaution, he had their feet placed in stocks. Then he pulled the door shut behind them, locking it tightly. The men would not be escaping that night.
Now the jailer found himself alone in his office. Stretching his back, he relaxed against the wall. He was on the fourth watch tonight, so a short nap would be a good idea. He stretched out his legs and began to breathe more deeply. Just before he drifted to sleep, he thought he heard muffled singing, but he dismissed it and was soon snoring peacefully.
Suddenly, hours later, he was knocked off his stool by a quaking. The building rattled around him. He was disoriented, and he had difficulty getting his bearings at first. Then, just as suddenly as it had begun, the quaking stopped. Catching his breath, the jailer stood up and glanced around.
At first, everything looked fine, but then it hit him. His door was open! He distinctly remembered closing it. He threw it open and looked out. Every door in the building was swinging gently on its hinges. Panic seized him. The prisoners! He grabbed his sword and raced down the hall. He saw none of his guards, and fear gripped him. With a cry of anguish, he fell to his knees.
“The prisoners are gone…I’ll be killed...” With a sob, he turned his sword towards himself. “What else can I do?” He straightened his arms to thrust the sword into his own side, closing his eyes and holding his breath.
Suddenly a voice rang out.
“Do not harm yourself, for we are all here!” The voice came from the inner cell.
“Get me some light! Guards!” Suddenly the hall was filled with men and lanterns. The jailer pulled open the door to the inner cell. The two men were standing in the cell, their empty stocks lying on the ground nearby. One by one his guards came to report. Every prisoner was accounted for: unchained in their cells, but still present.
The jailer sank to his knees. He silently shook his head, unable to comprehend what had happened. Slowly, he rose and brought the two men into his office. He righted the stool and table and then collapsed onto the seat.
He looked at them for a moment: They were freed, their chains unlocked. And they had saved his life despite their imprisonment. They knew a way of salvation, the magistrates had said. He realized he had only one choice.
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
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