SILAS walked to the house where Peter and his wife were hidden, aggrieved by the weight of the news he bore.
Tapping three times, lightly, he entered the room where they had often met with brothers and sisters in Christ or prayed long hours when alone. He found Peter and his wife in prayer now. Peter’s wife raised her head, and her smile vanished.
Silas helped her up. “We must go,” he said softly, and turned to assist Peter. “Paul has been captured. Soliders are searching the city for you. You must leave tonight.”
As they headed out, Silas explained further. “Apelles is with me. He will show you the way.”
“What about you?” Peter spoke with grave concern.
“You must come with us, Silas. You’ve served as Paul’s secretary as well as mine. They will be looking for you too.”
“I’ll follow shortly. I was working on a scroll when Apelles brought me the news. I must return and make certain the ink is dry before I pack it with the others.”
Peter nodded gravely, and Silas ducked into the house where he had been staying. All the papyrus scrolls, except the one on which he had been working, were already rolled and stored carefully in leather cases. Silas had known the day would come when he would have to grab the pack and run. Lifting the weights that held open the newest scroll, he rolled the papyrus, and tucked it carefully into its case. As he slung the pack over his shoulder, he felt the full weight of responsibility to safeguard the letters.
As he stepped out into the street again, he saw Peter and his wife and Apelles waiting. Silas ran to them. “Why are you still here?”
Apelles looked frantic. “They wouldn’t go farther without you!”
Torn between gratitude for his friends’ loyalty and fear for their safety, Silas urged them on. “We must hurry!”
Apelles was clearly relieved to be moving again. He gave further instructions in an urgent whisper. “We have a carriage waiting outside the city gates. We thought it best to wait until nightfall, when the ban on wagons lifted. It will be easier to slip out now.”
Peter was well-known in Rome, and would be easily recognized. They would have a better chance of escape in the confusing influx of goods into the city and the cover of darkness beyond the walls.
Peter walked with difficulty, his arm protectively around his wife. “When did the guard come for Paul?”
“They took him to the dungeon this morning.” Apelles raised his hand as they came to the end of the street. He peered around the corner and then beckoned them on. The young man made an effort to appear calm, but Silas felt his fear. His own heart beat with foreboding. If captured, Peter would be imprisoned and executed, most likely in some foul spectacle designed by Nero to entertain the Roman mob.
“Silas!” Peter’s wife whispered urgently.
Silas glanced back and saw Peter struggling for breath.
He caught up to Apelles and grasped his shoulder. “More slowly, my friend, or we’ll lose the one we’re trying to save.”
Peter drew his wife closer and whispered something to her. She held tightly to him and wept into his shoulder. Peter smiled at Silas. “Right now would be a good time for God to give me wings like an eagle.”
Apelles led them more slowly through the dark alleys and narrow streets. Rats fed on refuse as they passed by. The sounds of wagon wheels grew louder. While the city slept, a tide of humanity poured through the gates, bringing with it goods for the insatiable Roman markets. Some drove overladen wagons; others pushed carts. Still others carried heavy packs on their bent backs.
So close to freedom, Silas thought, seeing the open gates just ahead. Could they get through without being recognized?
Apelles drew them close. “Wait here while I make certain it’s safe.” He disappeared among the wagons and carts.
Silas’s heart pounded harder. Sweat trickled down his back. Every minute they stood on the public street added to Peter’s danger. He spotted Apelles, his face pale and strained with fear as he struggled through the crowd.
The young man pointed. “That side. Go now! Quickly!”
Silas led the way. His heart lurched when one of the Roman guards turned and looked at him. A Christian brother. Thank God! The Roman nodded once and turned away.
“Now!” Silas made a path for Peter and his wife to pass through the flow. People bumped into them. Someone cursed. A wagon wheel almost crushed Silas’s foot.
Once outside the gates and away from the walls, he let Peter set the pace.
An hour down the road, two more friends ran to meet them. “We’ve been waiting for hours! We thought you’d been arrested!”
Silas took one of them aside. “Peter and his wife are exhausted. Have the coach meet us on the road.”
One remained to escort them while the other ran ahead.
When the coach arrived, Silas helped Peter and his wife up and then climbed in with them. Shoulders aching, he shrugged off the heavy pack and leaned back, bracing himself as they set off. The sound of galloping horses soothed his frayed nerves. Peter and his wife were safe—for the moment. The Romans would search the city first, leaving them time to reach Ostia, where the three of them would board the first ship leaving port. Only God knew where they would go next.
Peter looked troubled. His wife took his hand. “What is it, Peter?”
“I don’t feel right.”
Silas leaned forward, concerned. “Are you ill?” Had the rush through the night been too much for the venerable apostle?
“No, but I must stop.”
His wife voiced an objection before Silas could do so.
“But, my husband . . .”
Peter looked at Silas.
“As you say.” Silas leaned out to signal the coachman.
Peter’s wife grabbed him. “Don’t, Silas! Please! If they capture Peter, you know what they’ll do.”
Peter drew her back and put his arm around her. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, my dear, and that’s what has sent us racing into darkness.”
Silas struck the side of the coach. Leaning out, he called up to the driver to stop. The coach jerked and bounced as it drew to the side of the road. While his wife wept, Peter climbed down. Silas followed. The horses snorted and moved restlessly. Silas shrugged at the driver’s questioning look and watched Peter walk off the road.
Peter’s wife stepped down. “Go with him, Silas. Reason with him! Please. The church needs him.”
Silas walked to the edge of the field and watched over his friend. Why did Peter tarry here?
The old apostle stood in the middle of a moonlit field, praying. Or so Silas thought until Peter paused and tipped his head slightly. How many times over the years had Silas seen Peter do that when someone spoke to him? Silas went closer, and for the barest second something shimmered faintly in the moonlight. Every nerve in his body tingled, aware. Peter was not alone. The Lord was with him.
Peter bowed his head and spoke. Silas heard the words as clearly as if he stood beside the old fisherman. “Yes, Lord.”
When Peter turned, Silas went out to him, trembling.
“What are we to do?”
“I must go back to Rome.”
Silas saw all the plans that had been made to protect Peter crumble. “If you do, you’ll die there.” Lord, surely not this man.
“Yes. I will die in Rome. As will Paul.”
Tears welled in Silas’s eyes. Both of them, Lord? “We need your voice, Peter.”
“My voice?” He shook his head.
Silas knew better than to attempt to dissuade Peter from doing whatever the Lord willed. “As God wills, Peter. We will return to Rome together.”
“No. I will return. You will remain behind.”
Silas felt the blood leave his face. “I will not run for my life when my closest friends face death!” His voice broke. Peter put a hand on his arm. “Is your life your own, Silas? We belong to the Lord. God has called me back to Rome. He will tell you what to do when the time comes.”
“I can’t let you go back alone!”
“I am not alone. The Lord is with me. Whatever happens, my friend, we are one in Christ Jesus. God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to His purpose.”
“And if they crucify you?”
Peter shook his head. “I am not worthy to die in the same way the Lord did.”
“They will do everything they can to break you, Peter. You know they will!”
“I know, Silas. Jesus told me years ago how I would die. You must pray for me, my friend. Pray I stand firm to the end.” When Silas opened his mouth to argue further, Peter raised his hand. “No more, Silas. It is not for us to question the Lord’s plan, my friend, but to follow it. I must go where God leads.”
“I will not abandon you, Peter.” Silas fought to keep his voice firm. “Before God, I swear it.”
“I swore the same thing once.” Peter’s eyes shone with tears. “I didn’t keep my vow.”
Peter ordered the driver to turn the coach around. His wife insisted upon going back with him. “Wherever you go, I will go.” Peter helped her into the coach and stepped up to sit beside her.
Determined not to be left behind, Silas climbed up.
Peter shoved the pack of scrolls into his arms. The unbalanced weight made Silas step down. Scroll cases tumbled.
As Silas scrambled for them, Peter closed and locked the coach door. He hit the side of the coach. The driver tapped the horses’ flanks.
Peter looked out at him. “May the Lord bless you and protect you. May the Lord show you his favor and give you his peace.”
Silas frantically retrieved scrolls, shoving them into the pack. “Wait!”
Slinging the pack over his shoulder, Silas ran to catch up. As he reached for the back of the coach, the driver gave a harsh cry and cracked his whip. The horses broke into a full gallop, leaving Silas choking in the dust.