The first blast of the shofar sounded over Jerusalem, a long drawn out breathy moan that echoed throughout the city followed by three shorter blasts, like the sound of groaning. Nine times more the shofar wept, this time in quicker, short blasts which made Gushnasaph think of someone sobbing.
"Not the happiest new year's celebration I've ever been witness to," he said to Larvendad as they stood in the shadows of an alleyway.
"It it a ram's horn, like the one their patriarch Abraham found in a thicket to replace his son Isaac on the altar of sacrifice in their scriptures," Larvendad said. "The Hebrew new year's celebration is about repentance. It is not only the new year, but the anniversary of the first man, Adam's sin."
"What a dreary religion," Gushnasaph remarked. "All blood and moaning near as I can tell."
"On the contrary," Larvendad said, stepping from their hiding place to join a throng of revelers.
"Leshanah tovah tikateiv veteichateim!" one of the men said to Larvendad, who replied in kind.
"What did you say to him?" Hormoz asked, stepping from the alleyway as well to watch the throng move further down the street.
"May you be inscribed and sealed for a good year," Larvendad replied. He ate the piece of apple dipped in honey one of the men had handed him. "A blessing for a sweet year."
"I hope sweetness includes us getting past the gate without being noticed," Gushnasaph said.
"That is why we waited for the beginning of this celebration," Larvendad replied. "There are many people coming in and out of all the gates today. And Herod still thinks we're in his archives studying. So long as one only enters and sees, but does not touch the illusion I conjured of us studying his scrolls, we won't have to worry about the gates at all."
They moved along the streets, heading for the southern gate to the road leading to Bethlehem. Along the way, Larvendad spotted what he'd been hoping for; a Jewish family heading out of the city, on their way to visit family for the upcoming feast of Yom Kippur, still ten days away. A small suggestive mental nudge from Hormoz within the minds of the family, and they were treated as long lost relatives.
The opening they were to pass through was called the Zion gate, a rectangular passage beneath the imposing stone walls of Jerusalem. Upon the walls, Roman guards nonchalantly walked; none of them terribly vigilant--an assignment to this armpit of the empire was not a promotion or an honor. It was not Rome's elite who policed Israel. The three Magi could only hope that no message had been sent from the palace.
As they neared the Zion gate, Gushnasaph saw them; twelve of Herod's temple guards cutting down the adjacent street towards them. The leader pointed and barked orders.
"We've been found out!" the young magi shouted to his companions.
"They're coming from all sides!" Hormoz shouted.
Gushnasaph picked up the young boy who stood between him and the oncoming guards and handed him to his father.
You need to get your family out the gate as swiftly as you can, he mentally commanded the man, who immediately took the boy and shouted to his family to get through the gate.
Gushnasaph returned his attention to the oncoming group of soldiers, and adopted the same defensive stance Larvendad and Hormoz already stood ready in. The soldiers were all wearing helmets, so the possibility of a mental suggestion was out of the question. It would have to be something elemental then.
Larvendad struck first, just before the group from the east street reached them. It was as if a great stone fist grew out of the wall of Jerusalem, and pounded the earth where the attacking soldiers had once stood. To the west, Hormoz, unable to command stone, called upon the element of air to lift his assailiants clear off the ground, hurling them hundreds of feet into the air and letting them drop to a messy death. Gushnasaph pulled the flames from the torches of the northern group and increased them into a great pillar of fire that rushed forth from his extended arms to engulf the remaining attackers.
Larvendad looked up to the walls to the Roman guards, who looked down in a mix of horror and unresolved duty, then at the ones who currently blocked the Magi's exit through the Zion gate.
"Your fate can be the same," Larvendad's voice boomed at an unnatural volume, "or we can be on our way." The inner flame that had guided them blazed in his eyes.
Moments later, the three men were on their way out the gates of Jerusalem, headed into the darkness toward Bethlehem.