“A trader? No. Carpentry was my trade – although, some said I did better as a fisherman. As to what brings me south: that is easy. I came looking for a merchant: a merchant with a message. I have a great interest in messages.”
THEY ARRIVED amidst the snorting of camels and the loud
shouting of orders. The Carpenter watched the caravan unload. The sun-shimmer
on the dust-clouds kicked up by the dark-robed men made him squint. Where was
he – this merchant, this messenger, about whom the Carpenter had heard so much?
He took another sip of the strong red Arabian wine in his cup, and waited.
The Merchant took in the dimensions of the inn and calculated
roughly how much of his animals’ burdens he was likely to leave behind. But,
first things first. He needed to wash the desert from his face and feet and
hands. The prospect of a cool jug of water was almost as refreshing as the
water itself. Yes, he would introduce himself to the inn-keeper, perform his
ablutions, and then join that fellow he’d spotted as he crossed the threshold –
the one sipping wine in the shade. The one whose glance had stopped him in his
“Peace be with you, my friend”, said the Merchant, placing
his hand lightly upon his chest by way of greeting.
“And with you also”, replied the Carpenter, gesturing
towards the stool opposite. “You have travelled far and your beasts are heavy
laden, it is good to give them rest and take shelter from the relentless sun.”
“True words, my friend,” the Merchant replied, “even if they
are garnished with the accents of the distant north. You are a Galilean?”
The Carpenter smiled and nodded slowly. “Yes. A long time
ago. I was a Galilean.”
“What brings you so far south? Are you a trader?”
“A trader? No. Carpentry was my trade – although, some said
I did better as a fisherman. As to what brings me south: that is easy. I came
looking for a merchant: a merchant with a message. I have a great interest in
Though the sun was at its zenith, and the landscape all
around buckled and wavered in its heat, the Merchant felt a chill run through
him – as though a sword, sheathed in ice, had suddenly been driven into his
“Who are you, Carpenter?” The Merchant’s voice withered to a
whisper. “There is something in your eyes that I have seen before. Are you one
of His messengers?”
The Carpenter laughed, broke an unleavened loaf and refilled
his cup. “Won’t you join me? Whoever makes this wine surely knows his
“Thank you, no”, said the Merchant, struggling to regain his
composure, “I do not drink wine.”
“No? A pity. But then I hear your message is an austere one.
Can you reduce it to a single word?”
“Indeed, I can, Carpenter, and that word would be “Submit!”.
“Submit? Submission? Surrender? This is your message?
This is what you believe the One True God demands of his children?”
“No, of course not. The One True God is all Love and Mercy.
Submission is what I, the One True God’s chosen messenger, demand of men. The
human race is not fit to choose, it is too proud, too lustful and too greedy to
be left to make its own way to the One True God. If men are not shown a clear
path, then they will stray. If I ask them to obey, it is only fair that I leave
them the clearest set of instructions.”
“Instructions?” The Carpenter took a thoughtful sip of wine
and smiled, as if remembering an old joke. “Yes, I tried that once, standing on
a hill in Galilee. They were simple instructions – or so I thought at the time.
They didn’t take.”
“But, that’s just it! What use is there in a rule that is
not enforced? If men prove unwilling to follow the path, then we must shepherd
them with the sword!”
“The sword you say? I had a friend who tried to defend the
work of the One True God with a sword. I will say to you, Merchant, what I said
to him: ‘Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will
perish by the sword’.
Wonder and terror vied for control of the Merchant’s features.
With a wild cry, he fell to his knees.
When he looked up the Carpenter was gone. On the table,
scrawled in wine as red as blood, the Merchant found a single word.
This short story was originally
published in The Waikato Times, The
Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru
Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Thursday, 24 December 2015.