The Moses Stone
My heartfelt thanks go to Selina Walker at Transworld, one of the most talented editors in the business, who worked tirelessly to make sure that this book was as good as we could make it. Her ideas and suggestions helped shape and refine the manuscript and the finished work is so much the better for her efforts. Thanks also to all the other people involved in the publication and marketing of the book at Transworld and especially the cover designers and the sales and marketing experts – producing any book is a team effort, and they've done their absolute best to make sure the book gets on to as many shelves in as many bookshops as possible, and stands out from all the rest!
And, as always, my thanks to my agent Luigi Bonomi – a good friend, a sounding-board for ideas and a source of unrivalled inspiration. As I've said before, without him, I am nothing.
Masada, Judea. AD 73
'We can wait no longer.'
Elazar Ben Ya'ir stood on a heavy wooden table almost in the centre of the fortress and looked down at the faces of the men and women who surrounded him.
Outside the massive stone walls, a torrent of sound – shouted orders, the noise of digging, and of stone falling on stone – formed a loud and continuous backdrop to his words. The racket was interspersed with the occasional thud and crack, as a missile from one of the ballistae, the massive Roman siege engines, crashed into the fortress walls.
Ben Ya'ir had led the Jewish Sicarii rebels for the last seven years, ever since they'd seized Masada from the resident Roman garrison. The Sicarii were radical Zealots. They were so radical, in fact, that they now numbered even the Zealots themselves, as well as almost everyone else in Judea, amongst their enemies. For over two years they'd used the hilltop fortress as a base for raiding both Roman and Jewish settlements throughout the country.
The previous year, Lucius Flavius Silva, the Roman governor of Judea, had finally lost patience with the Sicarii and attacked Masada with the Fretensis legion – some five thousand battle-hardened soldiers. But Masada was a tough nut to crack, and all the Romans' attempts to breach its defences had failed. As a last resort, they had built a containing wall – a circumvallation – around part of the fortress and had then begun creating a ramp that could reach high enough to use a battering ram on the massive wall that surrounded the citadel.
'You've all seen the rampart that is now touching our walls,' Elazar Ben Ya'ir said, his voice strong but tinged with resignation. 'Tomorrow, or the day after at the latest, the rams will breach our defences. We can no longer prevent that, and when they break through the Romans will overrun us. We number less than a thousand – men, women and children. Outside the walls, our enemies can muster five times that number. Make no mistake about this, the Romans will prevail, no matter how fiercely or bravely we fight.'
Elazar Ben Ya'ir paused and looked around. A salvo of arrows flew through the air from beyond the battlements, whistling over the heads of the assembled defenders, but hardly any of them so much as glanced up.
'If we fight,' Ben Ya'ir continued, 'most of us – the lucky ones – will be killed. Any who survive will be either executed, probably by crucifixion, or sold in the slave markets on the coast.'
An angry murmuring rose and fell in the crowd in response to the words of their leader. The Romans had employed a refinement