Herod was furious. He ranted and raged for over an hour as he berated his spy, shouted contradictory orders at his household, and fretted within himself at the meaning of the arrival of so strange a visitation. Even as he lashed out, his mind was processing everything he knew so far. He made sure that those who served the visitors asked subtle questions, and pretty soon Herod knew all about the appearance of the Great Star in the East over eighteen months earlier. He even knew about the Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh that lay in such rich abundance among the possessions of the visitors. His servants had used the opportunity of watering the camels to go through all their belongings to glean whatever information they could for their fear-filled King.
A messenger arrived within Herod’s court that one of the visitors, the merchant from Yemen, sought private audience with the king. This messenger was ordered to admit him at once, and then to go and summon all the king’s advisors and city leaders. Rumours, so dangerous in their potential for uprising, were already starting to spread. Balthazar entered the king’s presence as if he were an equal. A slight and an arrogance that the king chose to ignore, for now.
‘My Lord king’, announced the merchant, ‘I am sorry to add to your regal concerns, but I have a further reason for joining my friends to come pay homage to the new-born king’. He missed the glint of royal rage flick across Herod’s face. Balthazar continued, ‘as well as gifts for the young king, I have a treasure beyond measure for your royal majesty, one that will ensure the legacy of your highness is long remembered into the future.’ Behind Herod’s mask of curious interest, Herod’s mind finally caught hold of the situation. He already knew of the several stone jars filled with the thick resin of the myrrh tree, and had guessed that this visitor, at least, was not quite as noble as his fellow travellers. ‘You are a hustler! Herod thought to himself, ‘a merchant with a mission to make money. I can certainly work with that.’
Signalling to Balthazar to sit beside him, a rare honour for one so fearful of assassination, he listened with apparent great interest as the merchant made his pitch. It was masterfully done by both men. Had Herod not so many other things to worry about, he would have enjoyed the tricks of the wily salesman. He would certainly not have purchased such coarse untreated resin, but now he needed allies and the greed he perceived within the eyes of the merchant would give him the foothold he so desperately needed to take control of the situation. ‘My friend,’ he enthused, ‘the wisdom of your words has moved me. I am, as you can see, an old man. Death will indeed soon claim me, and the luxuriant myrrh you have brought from your homeland will indeed be remembered for generations to come. My steward will pay you whatever you ask. But please forgive me, I must meet with my king’s counsel on some important matters of state. I will join you and your friends shortly.’
Balthazar left the king’s presence with mixed emotions, while delighted to have secured such a favourable deal, he still had that unsettling feeling that all was not well. He charged the king’s steward twice what the resin was worth, a price the clearly worried steward did not even quibble. ‘No,’ thought Balthazar within himself, ‘all is not well’. His mind kept returning to the pregnant young woman along the roadside they had passed only the day before. As he rejoined the others, Herod swept into another room nearby, filled with his advisors, religious leaders, stewards and senior nobles. ‘My friends,’ he snarled, ‘it would appear that we have a problem!’