Maxentius visited me in my cell that night. I could tell from his eyes that he, too, had wept.
"It's not your fault," he said.
"I know how you zealots are. But you had nothing to do with this. It was I."
"You? What did you do?"
He looked away as he spoke. "I rigged the wheel. I made extra space so you would 'disappear' without being crushed. But I must have... made it unstable, somehow. It must have collapsed under its own weight. The rotation set it off."
"They think Jesus did that. I was wondering myself."
"I let those people in too close. A foolish trick... I killed those people."
I marveled at the sight of an Emperor who actually cared if a few people died. "But why wasn't I killed?" I asked.
"Ha! That you can thank your God for."
"You created a lot of Christians today. But their faith is based on fear. I am trying to spread a message of salvation, not fear."
"Salvation is based on fear. You are offering to save them from some terrible fate that they are afraid of."
"No. I am saving them from what they are right now, already."
"Catherine, I am so glad that you're alive." He touched her hair. She did not fear his touch. She welcomed it.
"I have so little control now," he continued. "After today, even less. My generals are not superstitious. They still want you dead. They know their troops will be facing shields with crosses on them. Their soldiers must know that Christians can die."
"Another perversion of our beliefs. Yes, we have conquered death. But we are not invincible warriors. We are not warriors at all."
"Listen to me. You don't have to die. I've arranged it."
"What are you talking about?"
"Among your followers is the best blacksmith in Rome. He has volunteered to craft you the finest sword in the Empire."
"What am I to do with a sword? The pen is my sword."
"You'll find no parchment in the Colosseum. But you will find a sword. It will be in your holding cell there. I've arranged to have only one guard to come for you. He is the nephew of a Senator, stupid and incompetent. You will kill him easily. And then, get the Hell out of Rome."
"How can you ask me to kill?"
"The guard must be dead. Or they'll be sure that I was involved."
"I'm not going to kill anyone."
"Yes you are. I don't have time to arrange anything else. And take the sword with you. They will know you wherever you go. And then you can go about your business saving Christianity."
"You must know I can't do this."
"I am asking less and less of you and yet you will compromise nothing. Without compromise you are useless! Useless! I don't have time to argue with you," he said angrily as he walked out of the cell. "Feel along the wall at waist height. You will feel the hilt. Pull it out."
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