What could a carpenter in Nazareth do about it? Nothing, but when there was no rain, when men were restive and angry and full of fear, when people spoke of the curse of Heaven on the withering grass, and Roman slights, and an anxious Emperor gone into exile in mourning for a son poisoned, when all the world seemed filled with the pressure to put one's shoulder to it and push, well, in such a time, I didn't go off to the grove of trees to sleep the day away.
It was getting light.
A figure broke from the dark shapes of the houses of the village, hurrying downhill towards me, one hand upraised.
My brother James. Older brother—son of Joseph and Joseph's first wife who died before Joseph married my mother. No mistaking James, for his long hair, knotted at the back of his neck and streaming down his back, and his narrow anxious shoulders and the speed with which he came, James the Nazirite, James, the captain of our band of workers, James, who now in Joseph's old age was head of the family.
He stopped at the far side of the little spring, mostly a broad swatch of dry stones now with the glittering ribbon of water gurgling through the center of it, and I could plainly make out his face as he stared at me.
He stepped on one big stone after another as he came across the creek to me. I had sat up and now I climbed to my feet, a common enough courtesy for my older brother. "What are you doing out here?" he demanded. "What's the matter with you? Why do you always worry me?"
I didn't say anything.
He threw up his hands and looked to the trees and the fields for an explanation. "When will you take a wife?" he asked. "No, don't stop me, don't put up your hand to me to silence me. I will not be silenced. When will you take a wife? Are you wed to this miserable creek, to this cold water? What will you do when it runs dry, and it will this year, you know."
I laughed under my breath.
He went right on.
"There are two men as old as you in this town who've never married. One is crippled. The other's an idiot, and everyone knows this."
He was right. I was past thirty and not married.
"How many times have we talked about this, James?" I asked.
It was a beautiful thing to watch the growing light, to see the color coming to the palms clustered around the synagogue. I thought I heard shouting in the distance. But perhaps it was just the usual noises of a town tearing off its blankets.
"Tell me what's really eating at you this morning?" I asked. I picked up the wet robe from the stream and spread it out on the grass where it would dry. "Every year you come to look more like your father," I said, "but you never have your father's face really. You never have his peace of mind."
"I was born worried," he confessed with a shrug. He was looking anxiously towards the village. "Do you hear that?"
"I hear something," I said.
"This is the worst dry spell we've ever had," he said, glancing up at the sky. "And cold as it is, it's not cold enough. You know the cisterns are almost empty. The mikvah's almost empty. And you, you are a constant worry to me, Yeshua, a constant worry. You come out here in the dark to the creek. You go off to that grove where no one dares to go. . . ."
"They're wrong about that grove," I said. "Those old stones mean nothing." That was a village superstition, that something pagan and dreadful had once taken place in that grove. But it was the mere ruins of an old olive press in there, stones that went way back to the years before Nazareth had been Nazareth. "I tell you this once a year, don't I? But I don't want to worry you, James."
Excerpted from Christ the Lord: The Road to Cana by Anne Rice. Copyright © 2008 by Anne Rice. Excerpted by permission of Knopf, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.