If you are new to this series, you can read the introduction here.
The following morning Mark stepped into the courtyard to be greeted by shifting mists, obscuring his view of the olive trees. He reclined in a chair and his lips began to move in silent prayer, his eyes open, drawn to the changing patterns of the mist. The thin curtain of vapor was suddenly rent asunder as a figure strode into the courtyard. Mark leaned forward, but did not speak until the person was almost upon him. “Peace be with you, friend.” The man pulled up suddenly, almost leaping into the air with surprise. “Who’s there?” he demanded. He moved forward cautiously, and as his features became clearer Mark drew in a sharp breath. “Someone you have not seen in many years, my brother.” As Daniel halted once more, Mark stood up to greet his youngest brother. “Someone who is glad to see you.”
“I heard you were back,” Daniel said, crossing his arms across his chest. “Some of my young friends seem quite enamored with you. But you always did have that effect on people, didn’t you?” Mark offered his brother a wry smile. “If you are referring to Yiftach and company, I confess to growing quite fond of them myself.” Daniel snorted. “Hoping to convert them to the Way, I assume. After all, that is why you have finally deigned to return to your home, is it not?” Daniel’s lip curled in a sneer. “I can’t imagine it’s because you’ve re-discovered your love for your own people. Nor because you have come home to fight for the Holy City.”
“No, my brother,” Mark replied. “I have not come home to fight. Nor to ‘convert’ your young friends, as you put it. I have come home to see our mother, to encourage the members of the Way, and to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Messiah to those with ears to hear…while there is still time.” Daniel stabbed a finger in Mark’s chest. “Well Yiftach and the others may have had their ears tickled by your ‘Gospel’, but I’m here to tell you to leave them alone. We need every able-bodied man we have – I will not have you turning my men into cowards.” Mark looked down at the finger and after a few moments, Daniel withdrew it and stepped back.
Mark looked up to see a scowl on his brother’s face, and he sighed deeply. “Is that how you think of me?” he asked gently. “A coward? That all those who gather here in your childhood home are cowards? Because we will not take up arms against our oppressors?” “Do you deny it?” spat back Daniel. “I admit I will not take up the sword,” responded Mark. “But not to the members of the Way being cowards.” Daniel snorted. Mark continued. “I have seen too many men – and women – tortured for the sake of the Gospel, and when offered the choice to deny their allegiance to Jesus and be released from their suffering, refuse. I have watched them choose death, often with a hymn of praise to G_d on their lips. Cowards? I do not believe so.”
“Fools then,” muttered Daniel, looking past Mark towards the house. His voice suddenly turned tender. “How…how is mother?” he asked. “Frail,” responded Mark. “But sharp of mind, and bold in spirit.” A smile played across Daniel’s face for a moment. “I’m sure she is. And I’m glad to hear it.” Mark laid a tentative hand on his brother’s arm. “Come in and see for yourself.” Daniel shrugged Mark’s hand off and stepped backwards, still looking towards the house. “No. It’s better if I don’t.” His gaze shifted to Mark’s face again. “I came to see you. To tell you to find your converts elsewhere.” He paused, awkwardly. “I cannot make Yiftach and the others stay away. I want you to send them away.” Mark spoke gently. “I cannot and will not do that.” The scowl returned to Daniel’s face. “Then coward or not, you are certainly no patriot.” And with that, he turned on his heels and strode back across the courtyard, leaving Mark staring at his back as he withdrew…