THIRTY PIECES OF SILVER
I sat before the fire, hiding myself amongst the other folk in the courtyard. I swallowed wine in an effort to warm away the coldness in my heart, but it could not be thawed. I weighed the purse in my hands, hefted the silver I'd gained for the price of a kiss. Such a bargain.
Why did I feel so dark inside?
"They say he's to die."
I looked across the fire toward the speaker, a young girl with features obscured by conflicting shadows of flame and night.
"They say he's to die. How can they commit such a sin? He is no criminal!"
My fingers curled so tightly that the coins within the purse bit into my skin. I recognized her. I'd seen her long ago when she lay defeated on the sands before her accusers, and he had bent down to write her defense into the sand.
Who was she, to speak the words that gnawed into my very soul? I shook away the voice that reminded me, He that dippeth his hand with me in the dish, he shall betray me, and rubbed away the cramp that stiffened the fingers of that hand.
Her eyes burned in the flames to the murmuring of voices. "He is my lord," she said, "and he was betrayed."
She wept, faded into the crowd, and became no more than a formless shape amongst so many other formless shapes of men. I brushed my fingertips together, the red fury that her words had kindled gradually fading to a black horror. Woe to that man, memory whispered, by whom the son of man shall be betrayed: it were better for him, if that man had not been born. I shook the bag of coins until they rattled in the cloth, trying to blot out his face.
he night was suddenly very cold. Not even the fire could warm me. I touched my mouth with my fingers and my lips burned with the acidity of my traitor's kiss.
Dost thou betray the son of man with a kiss?
Were the words memory, or did the fire speak them to mock me?
I rose, wrapped my cloak about me, and left the fire and courtyard and the mass of staring men. I lost myself in the night, but I could not lose myself from myself.
"He is no king," I told the wind. "He is a liar and a blasphemer! He is worthy of death." But my own heart revealed the lie. I remembered his eyes, those eyes that had looked deep into my own with love and pleading. Dost thou betray the son of man?
I walked faster, the clinking of the coins becoming tin rattles of death within the smothering folds of leather. The gnawing loss in my heart was growing, becoming something worse, something awful and devouring. It was as though my inner darkness were changing into a monster that opened a flaming mouth to reveal a far-off pit of fire. As the monster grew, so did my horror.
What had I done?
Clink, clink, clink, clink. The coins chattered in my purse. Trai-tor, trai-tor, they whispered as they jingled. Had I betrayed him for this, these thirty pieces of silver?
You are not all clean. Ah, that whispering voice of memory! Would it not leave me be? "He saw the temptation in me!" I shouted to the stars. "I was the treasurer! Money is my desire. How could I not put him aside?" I stopped in the darkness, plunged my hand into my purse and held the silver to the night. "The chief priests do not want him either. They gave me this in exchange for him. He is a blasphemer! Death is his just reward."
The monster inside me laughed and the night turned a pitiless eye to me. Friend, dost thou betray the son of man?
I choked, dropped to my knees in the darkness. The silver fell about me, each coin striking off the cobbles with the sound of a sharply-tuned bell. Their thirty separate chimes beat at me, played in counter melody to the laughter of the devil in my soul.
I had betrayed him. Now he was to die. Remorse painted my soul black. I'd known. Of course I'd known! Did I not exchange him for thirty pieces of silver, the price of a dead slave? I knew the priests' hatred of him. I shared it.
But now... now...
On my knees I gathered the coins into my hands and made my way to the hall where I knew the chief priests and the elders would be gathered.
I burst in on them and didn't recognize my voice as I said, "I have sinned in betraying innocent blood."
For a moment there was a silence, and then one of the priests said, "What is that to us? You see to it!"
The devil within me chortled louder, and it seemed the flames in his smile rose up and devoured me. There was no thought in my mind, no sense of action. There was only a choking well of guilt as I flung the silver from my hand. The coins rang out again, but colder this time as they clashed upon the marble floor.
Then I turned and went out.
There was no point in going on. I had sinned. I had betrayed him, my lord and my God. For love of money, for earthly power, for avarice, greed, and selfishness, I had betrayed him.
There was no way to atone.
Beneath the shadows of a tree, I bound the halter around my neck.
Katrina DeLallo, 2012