The meeting with his advisors had troubled Herod even further. Once all the politicking had settled down, it became clear that the appearance of this bright new star did indeed portent the arrival of a new king. One of the religious scholars had even found an obscure reference in the Holy Scriptures to a virgin giving birth to a child who would be the Messiah, the one who would deliver the Jewish people from tyranny and oppression. All had shuddered when they heard this. Their very survival and grasp for power depended completely on a continuance of the uneasy alliance and status quo with the Roman Empire. The last thing Herod, or any of those who were associated with him, needed was an uprising, to be led, some years into the future by a child born in Judea sometime over the last two years, or even just about to be born.
It was now early evening, and Herod had been neglectful of his guests. They were resting in their assigned rooms, but each of them growing more anxious with every passing hour. It was clear to all of them that Herod’s palace was not exactly filled with any semblance of excitement at the recent or pending arrival of a new born king. The absence of the star also troubled them, they worried that they had taken a misstep along the way; somehow they had gone terribly badly wrong.
Herod’s summons to join him was courteous enough, and his mask of warmth and welcome was firmly fixed in place, but even as he began to speak, the three visitors were finally growing in what they hoped would not be widom learned too late.
‘My friends’, exclaimed the king, ‘my heartfelt apologies for my unavailability today. So many affairs of state; so little time left.’ He smiled warmly at Balthazar, who felt as if his world was falling apart. All his certainties, all his financial successes felt hollow to him, as did the words of the king. Melchior wished his father was still alive, he surely would have known what to do in such a dangerous situation. Caspar was thinking about his father too, and wondering if he would ever see him again.
‘Now, my friends’, continued Herod, ‘I will not deny that your arrival has caused considerable consternation amongst my household and even my city. You will have noticed, no doubt, the absence of joy in my palace, I have not been blessed with the birth of a new king, nor is there much chance of that happening,’ he chuckled, ‘However, my advisors and scribes have found a reference that may be of help to you. It is an old legend, a fireside tale really, of a Messiah, a deliverer who will be born to free us oppressed Jews from Roman tyranny. We believe this Messiah is the reason that a star of such magnitude and brilliance as you have seen first appeared. When was that appearance again?’
The question was unexpected and unsettling. Casper stammered ‘Eighteen months ago my Lord’. ‘Ah yes, good that would concur with our calculations too’. None of the visitors missed the look of hungry satisfaction in Herod’s cold eyes, as if he had just decided on a particular course of action.
‘Well, my friend,’ Herod concluded, standing up, his guests rushing to stand too, trying to ready themselves for whatever happened next. ‘Sadly this Messiah has not been born in my household, but we know from our searches of scripture, that He is prophesised to be born in Bethlehem. It’s a small village, a few miles south of here, you would have passed it on your way here.’ Balthazar’s heart felt as if the finalpiece of an internal jigsaw slotted into place. He saw again, the young woman, bent over in pain, upon the donkey. How could he have been so foolish, so distracted by greed and riches?
‘My friends, I know you have travelled far but your destination is nearly within your grasp. Take with you, enough to pay homage to the new born king, leave all else here, send me word again when you find him and I will bring the rest of your Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh with me when I go in person to pay homage too. I’m sure you are keen to end your quest, so go now, take only what you can carry. Even though it’s nighttime, you will be safe enough. Look, a strange light has grown in the sky, you will be safe for now, but hurry back.’ With that he swept from the room.