Marching Orders

We come from a distant country,
From a place of hills and wine —
The Third Galician Legion,
On the edge of Palestine.
Out here in the dust and the desert,
There’s order to be made;
I lead my century of men,
And orders must be obeyed.

I say it to my soldiers
And to my hired hands;
I say it to my servants;
We must have clear commands.
Rome’s enemies are waiting
For faults to be betrayed,
And that is why I say to them
Orders must be obeyed.

When I heard of this holy man
One thing I asked to know;
Who obeys his orders?
Who goes when he says ‘go’?
What is his authority?
His rank, or file, or grade?
I hear that he’s a teacher,
But is this man obeyed?

‘He calls out demons,’ I was told;
‘Commands the dead to rise;
‘He sends his followers out with news;
‘Brings light to sightless eyes;
‘The raging sky obeys him;
‘He calms the crashing waves;
‘One word from him, pigs try to swim,
‘His orders are obeyed.’

So when my closest servant;
Fell feverish with plague
I sent someone to find the one
Whose orders are obeyed.
And soon the word came back to me
That he was on his way;
I told him, ‘Just send one command!’
your words will be obeyed!’

I do not know what order,
What strange and strong command
He issued, but the fever fled,
As quick as windblown sand.
My servant’s pain retreated,
And calmer grew his breath;
And then I knew this General;
Could even outrank death.

Now close to three years later,
I marched with all my men
From Caesarea, by the sea,
Up to Jerusalem.
An escort for the Governor,
To make the Jews behave
Themselves throughout the festival;
To see that they obeyed.

Throughout the week wild rumours,
Were carried on the wind,
About a some-time rebel;
About a would-be king.
But twenty years of soldiering;
I know what I believe:
Just keep your concentration
On the orders you receive.

But then I turned and saw him,
Struggling through the crowd,
Bloodied, bruised and broken,
Humiliated, cowed.
I’d never even seen him,
I’d never seen his face.
But here he was, that General,
Ashamed, abused, disgraced.

And something in me shattered,
Like the breaking of a wall;
Like the cry of a dying soldier;
Like ramparts when they fall.
And all I knew lay broken,
And scattered far away;
And for the first time in my life
I tried to disobey.

I took a step, towards him,
As he came through the city gate,
My hand reached for my sword,
But something made me wait.
I would have fought the Emperor,
I would have seen him through;
But he just stopped. And looked. And said,
‘I’ve got my orders too.’

I knew the men who cursed him,
They came from my home land,
My soldiers took his clothing;
My soldiers nailed his hands.
Soldiers of my empire,
Soldiers, just like me;
The Third Galician legion
At work on Calvary.

Twenty years of fighting battles,
Twenty years of waging war —
Only to discover
It was not worth fighting for.
We came to build an Empire;
We came to do some good;
Instead we took the Son of God
And nailed him to some wood.

He could have called an army
To take him from that place,
But there was something in his eyes —
A look upon his face.
I’ve seen that look in solders’ eyes
When, with every ounce of breath
They fight to like forty legions,
To save comrades from death.

There are lands to cross and conquer,
And kingdoms to subdue.
But other men must fight those wars;
My fighting days are through.
For there are better battles,
And colder, darker borders;
And into them I’ll follow him,
For I have marching orders.