SACRILEGE ALERT-If reading rewrites of holy texts bothers you, you probably should spare me your ire and not read this. Last warning!
Demetrius of Chersonesos looked up at the knock on his door and his already grim visage grew grimmer when he saw who entered. His vision of the murder of a newborn babe the night before caused this interruption of his work and he waved the three men who entered his cluttered office to the chairs before his beautifully carved desk of teak and cherry. The three were his best, most accomplished masters and long-time teachers in this ancient edifice located in the hills above the bustling city of Taksasila. One was a tall, thin man with skin black as night; a wizard of Aksum in the Ethiopian Highlands. One was a pale, dark haired man with piercing blue eyes; a conjuror from the far off island of Hibernia. And one was a bronzed man with weathered skin, black hair, and jade eyes; a healer and visionary from the northern reaches of Parthia. Each had seen much in the world and their gifts had brought them across the many leagues to this center of wisdom and erudition.
"I see we go on a journey once more, Master Demetrius," Diviticus of Hibernia observed, seeing three large pyxides sitting on the floor by the door.
"It must be a long trip, at that," Mithradates of Parthia said laconically, glancing down at his finely made silk clothing with regret. "I will miss my wardrobe whilst we are gone."
"You would have missed your wardrobe if we were merely going to Aornos or Bucephala, my friend," the last man, Sabrakamani of Aksum, quipped wryly as he brushed a hand over his own gray kasmiri kaftan and gazing down at his white silk pants. "Besides, I saw camels and many servants gathering. I believe the Master has a more prosperous guise for us this time."
Demetrius shook his head at their banter and sighed. "A vision came to me last night of a prophet to be born soon being murdered in his mother's womb. I know not why or how other than to say his birth will be portended by a celestial marker and that he comes to a Jewish woman on her way to the census Augustus commands. You will take those chests," he told them, pointing to the finely crafted caskets, "and the caravan assembling in the rear court. Contained therein are gold, frankincense, and myrrh. You are to present yourselves as foreign kings bringing gifts to honor the babe's birth. I spent last night and much of this morning working on an enchantment which will cause the mother to be diverted to a safer place. That enchantment will simply delay the inevitable slaying of the child. What you must do is deliver those pyxides to the family. To demonstrate their pleasant aroma and medicinal qualities, you will mix a sample of the two and anoint the child with it. I have infused the frankincense with a short-lasting protective spell and the myrrh with a longer lasting spell for general well-being until he reaches manhood."
The Master stood and looked at each of his associates in turn. "Mark me well, my friends, this is a dangerous assignment I send you on. From this event flows much anguish and torment, but also much good and, in time, the freedom of the world may flow forth from this. There are many who will try to stop this and so you must use the names given on the travel documents provided at all times. They will pass you through the borders of Rome and see you home safely," he explained. Looking to Diviticus he continued, "You shall be known as Kasparus, King of Hibernia and the gold shall be your gift. Don't give me that look. I know there is no such thing but how many Romans know that?"
"None who wear the uniform of the legion and probably none east of the Rhine," Diviticus replied sourly, his cheeks flaming.
Demetrius looked at Mithradates and smiled, "You will probably be least put out as you can dress as you are accustomed. You will be playing the part of your cousin, Tigranes IV of Armenia and the frankincense is from you. I am sure your uncle Phraates of Parthia will forgive you if this goes well," he said with a chuckle at the amused look on the Parthian's face. Looking to Sabrakamani, he sighed. "You, my friend, were the most difficult to figure out what to do with. Romans in the Levant know Aksumites too well to believe you to be King of Aksum. Thus you will be the King of Kush. I am sure Queen Amanishaketo would be surprised to learn her husband visits a Roman Provence bearing myrrh, but you should be there and gone before anyone thinks to question you. Since nobody here knows what the Queen's husband's name is, you may keep yours or invent a new one. Sabrakamani is certainly royal enough a name."
Sabrakamani smiled slightly. "It should be. My great-great grandfather certainly fled much to carry it to Aksum for my mother and father to give to me."
The Master looked at them all again and nodded. "Bless you on your journey and may the Gods see you home again," he said intensely, his worry plain in his lined face and drooping gray eyes.
The journey was long, and made longer by the horses and extra water they had to carry through the dry hills of Parthia and the arid plains surrounding Mesopotamia and the Levant. By the time they had crossed the Tigris River, the celestial marker the Master had spoke of was plain to see in the western skies. A star, many scores of times brighter than any other in the sky, hung low on the horizon from early in the afternoon until late in the morning. It was so bright that only the sun at its most powerful could chase its brilliance from the sky. And as they neared the Levant, the star drifted ever so slowly higher into the sky until it seemed to hover lower than even some of the passing clouds as they crossed into Judea. They were not even a league into Judea when Sabrakamani, riding to the fore with the vanguard of the caravan, rode back to Diviticus and Mithradates.
"We have company, my friends," he said laconically, gesturing over his shoulder with a large thumb.
Over his should they saw a century of Roman soldiers checking the caravans in front of them very thoroughly before allowing them to proceed along the road. At a word from Mithradates, their caravan smartened their line of march and straightened in their saddles. The men acting as the guards of the three Kings smartened up their formation as well, their weapons loose in their sheathes and their arms limber.
"What be your business in Judea?" the centurion demanded in a mangled pidgin of Parthian and Armenian, his tone bored as his soldiers rifled through their belongings.
Mithradates looked down his patrician nose at the man from his camel. "I do believe what my business is would be my business alone," he replied in an erudite Roman tongue.
The centurion flushed and glared up at the well-dressed man with what he now realized was an Armenia headdress with a gold circlet surmounting it. "Your pardon, Lord, but I have been ordered to inspect all caravans coming into Judea from anywhere but Roman territory," he replied harshly, his tone now bitingly sarcastic with an overemphasis on "Lord." His rough face suddenly grinned, his dark eyes bright. "Especially those from the East."
Sabrakamani nudged his camel up next to Mithradates' and he looked down on the centurion with curiosity. "Truly? And why especially those from the East? When I rode through many weeks ago, this was not the case," he said in Latin just as immaculate as his friend's.
"Only the Governor of Judea and King Herod knows the answer to that, your Majesty," the soldier said respectfully, recognizing the dress of a Kushite King. Having fought the Kushites, he respected them far more than the Armenians, who were little more than Roman clients temporarily aligned with the Parthian Empire. "I was told that I was to bring any Eastern nobles to the King for him to supply to any answers."
The soldier noticed a horseman walk the finest mount he had ever seen to stand abreast of his companions and his eyes widened as he noticed another circlet nestled in the black, wavy locks of the rider. He would almost mark him as a Gaul, but they had not had even chiefs since Julius Caesar conquered them. His scant training in showing respect to dignitaries kicked in and he clumsily bowed to the three men. "Might I ask whom I have the honor to address?"
The horseman snorted and shook his head. "Yae've a pretty way with words fer a warrior," Diviticus replied in his heavily accented Latin, grinning. "I be King Kasparus of Hibernia. My darker friend be King Sabrakamani of Kush. And the fellow with the fancy dress be King Tigranes of Armenia. We be on our way to yonder land on a pilgrimage of sorts."
The centurion's eyes widened and bowed again. "I am afraid King Herod was most specific that Eastern Nobles were to be taken before him," he reiterated stubbornly. "I understand you, King Kasparus, and you, King Sabrakamani, are not exactly Easterners, but I must still bring you all before King Herod."
King Kasparus glared down at the soldier, his fist whitening in its rest on his sword before he snorted and waving farther into Judea. "Then let us be about it. We would like to return to our travels."
The centurion passed his... "guests" on to his centurion who in turn passed them on to the Captain of the Guard of King Herod's Palace in Jerusalem. He instructed the seneschal to make the rest of the Kings' caravan to be made comfortable and refreshed while the Kings were conducted into the presence of King Herod.
While most visitors to the Palace were often caught gawking, these men were not. The Captain passed it off as their being monarchs with palaces of their own. That was certainly the case of Mithradates, who grew up a prince in the household of his uncle Phraates IV of Parthia. Sabrakamani's family was only mildly wealthy, having fled to Aksum with some of their family's wealth following the death of the King of Kush who gave the Aksumite his name. He was a frequent guest of Mithradates, whose family had a palace in Taksasila, and therefore was comfortable around such opulence. Diviticus, however, was actually from a land lacking such opulence and grandiosity. He, however, looked upon such displays of wealth as vulgar and wasteful. He had to catch himself several times on the walk through the Palace from shaking his head direly with a grimace. His people believed such displays weakened the constitution and made a people in general weaker.
They were conducted into a large room filled with low tables surrounded by cushions occupied by lavishly garbed women and men dressed more soberly all ringed with soldiers of the Guard. Diviticus was the first to notice the Roman General seated amongst the hangers-on and Mithradates nodded at his meaningful look. Sabrakamani recognized several more prominent players in Jerusalem politics, particularly three Jewish elders clustered near the King with their heads together.
"Ah, my brother Kings!" hailed a loud voice in Latin that resounded through the room. Herod was an older man in flowing purple robes with a gold circlet in the shape of olive leaves twined with grape vines. He was on the portly side as he rose from his more opulent place at the back of the room on a gilded chair fashioned low to the floor. "You journey from afar, my friends. You must be tired. Come, rest yourselves by my side and tell me what I may do to make your stay more comfortable."
The three men shared a glance before advancing and lowering themselves to cushions on either side of the King of Judea. "Truthfully, we come not to visit with you, King Herod, pleasant as that company might be," Sabrakamani stated boldly. "We are, in fact, on something of a pilgrimage."
Herod's eyes narrowed and he repeated, "Pilgrimage?"
Mithradates saw the shrewd calculations going on behind those eyes and inquired, "Have you not seen the celestial manifestation in the sky above your land? My royal brothers happened to be visiting me when my astronomers and priests witnessed it as well. They interpreted it as a sign from the Gods that demanded a pilgrimage to find where it is that they are marking with such a display. It is thus for which we journey to your land. We merely follow the Gods' sign and to pray for their favor in our roles as sovereigns."
Herod nodded slowly, his eyes closely watching the three men. "So I see," he remarked guardedly. Finally he clapped his hands on his knees and stood once more; necessitating the three men rise as well. "Then I can only wish you well in your search and beg that you return here from whence you go ere you journey home again. Tell me of what you find that I might make a similar pilgrimage. Surely my God would hear my prayers in such a place as well."
Sabrakamani nodded even as he cursed their stupidity for walking into this. "You must surely be right, King, and even one so blessed as you could always find more favor with the God of the Jews."
With a few more pleasantries and promises to return before leaving Judea, the Kings were led back to the courtyard where their men and beasts had been generously fed and watered by the King's servants.
"This was a mistake," Diviticus muttered as they left the Palace grounds and returned to the road northward as the sun neared the horizon. "Herod already knows why we come and those three in the undyed robes know it too."
"Those were Jewish elders, my friends," Sabrakamani replied in a tone just as low. "They would conspire with the King to rid Judea and the Jews of this prophet. Ever do men in power seek to protect such power and ever do prophets portend a shift in such balances of power. Neither the King nor the elders would want this prophet roaming about the countryside stirring up trouble amongst the downtrodden and deprived."
Mithradates shrugged. "What else was there to do? Perhaps if we had known such vigilance on the part of the Romans and the Judeans would be present we could have ventured to avoid it. Alas, we did not know and so we must deal with the situation as it is. I can tell you one thing," he replied philosophically, "we must find another road home. As such as I am a Prince of Parthia, I can guarantee that Herod will neither allow us to leave nor allow that babe to survive. Not only will he attempt to kill us, but the babe's family as well. As such, I think that we should advise the family to flee Judea."
"Egypt," Diviticus blurted.
"Pardon?" Sabrakamani inquired, confused.
"We must suggest they flee to Egypt. Yes, it is still Roman territory, but they won't have to contend with the Jewish elders there," he explained. "And if the Jews are not stoking the fire under the legions, the Romans will leave the boy to grow up. That is all we are after, is it not?"