Friday, December 29, 2006

Chronicles of the Magi: Part 5

The arrival of a merchant train in the city of Jerusalem attracted little attention. Throngs of people came and went from the holy city, and this group appeared to be Jews of the diaspora, making their way upon a pilgrimage to sacrifice in the Temple. Their accents were decidedly Babylonian, and their servants and slaves of Parthian dress, but the lords themselves were dressed in the custom of southern Judea.

The bulk of their caravan remained in the outer city while a small delegation comprised of the three lords and a retinue of guardsmen entered the city proper, staying in one of the most luxurious inns in all of Jerusalem. Messengers were sent forth with one question on their lips. And soon all of Jerusalem was talking of the three eastern lords who had arrived in the city of the Jews. They had come to find a new king. A king from heaven, it was said. And while the three lords never phrased it so, the word "Messiah" began circulating along with the accounts of these men and their fabled riches.

And as such messianic rumors inevitably did, they reached the ears of Herod the Great's advisors. Herod the Great, an Idumean whose love for Hellenistic culture had endeared him to the Romans, whose ambition to restore the Jewish temple made him the king of the Jews, and whose treachery and willingness to go to any lengths to gain and retain the throne had left a path of assasinations behind him. Herod the Great, who here, at the end of his years was dying of a disease that ate away at his vitals and chewed his innards. Assasinated by his own avarice and lust. His magicians could do nothing to avert the outcome of the disease, and though his days were numbered, he still considered them his days. The days of Herod the Great. Not the days of any messianic usurper. And when the rumors of the magi's search reached his ears, he summoned them to the palace.

"You're Parthians," Herod said when Gushnasaph, Hormoz and the venerable Larvendad stood before him. Larvendad had recovered from his nearly fatal wounds during the desert crossing, and had finally stood on his own feet when the group had crossed the fabled Jordan river.

"We hail from the ancient kingdom of Persia, yes," Larvendad replied haughtily. He had lived long enough that the idea of his national identity being Parthian was still foreign to him. In his mind, he was still a Persian.

"And you have come here seeking a king?" Herod asked, grazing from a platter of decadent food beside his throne.

"Indeed," Larvendad said. "We have seen a sign in the eastern lands that spoke of the birth of a new king. A great king. We thought you, as lord and protector of this land, might know something of this birth."

Herod spread his hands in ignorance. "I know nothing of any king being born. Certainly not of my loins," he said, "unless you're talking about that bastard Antipater."

Herod stole a glance away from the old man to the middle aged man standing beside him. That one was staring at him in a way that pierced him to the core. It worried him. Whether or not there was any truth to these men's search was irrelevant. The people had made it a reality; a reality that would need to be crushed. At this point, anyone could step forth and make the claim that they were the one these men were seeking. It wouldn't matter if the three endorsed the pretender or not--it would likely result in a bloodbath, and Rome was watching. He would have to be crafty, as he always had been.

"You have my assistance in every way possible. Please make use of the archives my scribes have--we have copies of most of the sacred writings of our people, which may serve to shed light upon your search." Herod smiled and raised a glass of wine to honor his new guests. "And when you achieve your goal, find this new king and let me know who he is so I may also come and worship him."

The words flowed from his lips without hesitation. A lesser man might fear the wrath of the gods, but the fire in his bowels had proved to Herod many years earlier that he was already cursed by the gods. If this child, this king, was truly the messiah, a voice of the gods on earth, then Herod would have his revenge on the gods for smiting him with this disease. Eye for an eye, and tooth for a tooth.

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