Balthazar tried to shake off the unsettling feeling that all was not well. Their arrival into Jerusalem almost went unnoticed, such was the vast crowd of people pressing to get in and out of the city. Herod’s reign was dependent on calm and order, this chaos caused by the census did not improve the ageing king’s mood. He made sure his network of spies were on full alert. The last thing his kingdom needed was a surprise event that could potentially spark an uprising.
Melchior and Caspar were overwhelmed by the sights and smells of the ancient city. Even Balthazar seemed uncertain as to how to proceed with their quest. Standing near the gate into the city, was a man, almost hidden in shadow. He had paid little attention to the initial arrival of this company of Eastern travellers. His eyes were flitting from place to place, watching for tell-tale signs of pending violence. It was only when one of the regal travellers mentioned King Herod that his interest was piqued. It was Melchior who had asked Balthazar how he had intended to approach King Herod; the spy stepped out of the shadows and greeted the company as if he had been waiting for them all along.
‘Welcome my friends,’ he called, ‘How may your servant be of use to you this day?’ Balthazar sighed with relief, recognising the seal of the Royal household around the greeter’s neck. Showing a confidence that he didn’t exactly fully feel, he replied: ‘Ah good, a servant of the King! Here you, take us to your master and be quick about it, we have travelled many miles to celebrate the King’s good fortune!’
The spy hid his confusion masterfully, ‘Certainly my Lord, at once; but forgive me? Is my master expecting you?’ The three travellers looked at each other in alarm, such was their focus on the journey that only Balthazar had given thought to their arrival. Even he seemed unsettled by the question. ‘Ahh, no, not exactly,’ he stuttered, but then recovering himself he declared, loud enough for all around him to hear him. ‘But my good King Herod will be glad to receive us when he sees the treasures we have brought him to celebrate this auspicious occasion, the birth of a new King!’
The spy felt the air being sucked out of him, it was as if time itself slowed to stillness as several bystanders looked with new interest at the arriving dignitaries. It was a moment of startled shock, but he was well trained and knew instinctively that his first priority was to get these Eastern madmen off the streets of the city. ‘Of course, my Lords,’ he said softly, a note of hidden menace in his silken voice, ‘forgive me, I know he will want to meet you at once. Please follow me’.
As the spy led the company through the busy streets, making sure to go a longer than needed way, he signalled to one of his fellow watchers to go directly to the Palace and tell the king immediately all that he had heard and seen. Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar had little idea of the chaos that their arrival was causing. They had expected to feel elation at the end of their pilgrimage, but the city clamour and their inauspicious welcome had worried them. Even Balthazar was missing the comforting presence and assurance of the heavenly star.
All their worries were wiped away, when they heart the heralding trumpets announce their arrival at the gates to the Palace. Even at short notice King Herod knew how to put on a good show. He swept down the steps to greet his unexpected guests as if he had been expecting them all along. ‘Welcome, my friend, Welcome,’ he gushed, as slaves and servants rushed to bring water for their weary feet and wine to refresh their dry mouths. ‘My home is even now making ready to receive you. Please rest a while in my shaded courtyard as we prepare to greet you properly. Had we but known’, he glared at his spy leader, ‘of your coming we would have made better welcome. Come rest awhile, set aside all matters of concern or importance. I shall finish my affairs of state, and return to you shortly.’ With that, he swept out of the courtyard, his spy following quickly behind him.