”My pleasure,” said Manaheem, as he reached for his glass. “It all started with the arrival of those eastern dignitaries to the palace. What fear their words brought to Herod the great!” He took a sip. “Say, this wine is quite good!”
”Nothing but the best,” replied Herod, taking a big gulp. “Proceed!”
”Now, where was I?” mused Manaheem, taking another sip. “Oh yes, those eastern visitors. I had noticed their arrival from my bedchamber window, and was curious as to just what their mission might be. So I silently stole downstairs and hid behind the curtains, listening intently. They told a wondrous tale of a child who was to be born king of the Jews. They told how they’d seen his star in the east and had followed it all the way to Jerusalem. They’d traversed many tiresome miles over rocky terrain. The star had gone before them, guiding them all the way. But, now it had disappeared, and so they came to the palace, seeking information. They wanted to worship the new king. Did Herod, or anyone, know of his whereabouts? I could see from your father’s face that he was extremely troubled at this. He dismissed the visitors, telling them to wait in the hall until he sent for them. Then he called together all the chief priests and scribes, and anxiously asked them where the Messiah was to be born. I didn’t understand what they were talking about, but they informed him that, according to the Holy Scriptures, it was to be in Bethlehem. Then, after dismissing his advisers, he sent for the visitors. He diligently and minutely questioned them as to the exact time when the star first appeared, finding it to be about two years earlier. He then sent them to Bethlehem, telling them to search diligently for the child there. When they had found the child, they were to bring him word so that he too might worship him. Ha! He cared not to worship him. His devilish mind was already at work, scheming how to get rid of this young king; for, Herod the great feared for his royal throne.” He sipped the wine slowly.
Herod took another gulp. ”Father always did seem a bit overly cautious in that respect. But, I figured, better safe than sorry.”
Manaheem raised his goblet to his lips and took another sip. ”That sounds good, brother, but it isn’t always true.”
”Be that as it may, did the visitors return?”
”No!” Manaheem placed the goblet on the table and gestured with his hands. “They never returned. Our father finally realized that he’d been fooled and became furious. I happened to be in the next room when it happened. He was pacing distractedly across the floor and muttering to himself: ‘where are they? It couldn’t have taken them this long!’ Then, he suddenly raised his voice and blurted out, ‘They’ve fooled me! They’ve misled me! They’ve betrayed my trust! Those fools! If they think they’re protecting him, they’re wrong. I’ll kill that child, if it’s the last thing I do!’ Then he called out for me. ‘Manaheem! Manaheem, are you around? Is anyone around this echoing shell of a palace? Manaheem!’ I entered and stood before him. ‘Go,’ he ordered, ‘and tell Malichus I want to see him at once!’”
”I remember Malichus.” Herod ventured, taking another gulp and reaching for the pitcher. “He was the captain of the palace guard at that time.”
”---And of the royal army as well.” Manaheem paused to sip his wine.
”Of course. Do continue.”
”At that moment he was in the courtyard, overseeing one of his sergeants, who was conducting a drill of the palace guard. I descended the courtyard steps, wondering what our father had in mind. They were there in beautiful formation. As Claudius called out the orders and the guard responded, Malichus sat watching and, occasionally, making suggestions. His attention was focused so intently on what was going on that I hated to interrupt. But, as you know, when Herod ordered, we moved. I walked up fairly close to him and called out his name. ‘Malichus! Malichus!’
”He turned toward me. ‘What is it, my son?’
”‘My father would see you at once,’ I yelled.
”’Alright,’ he yelled back, getting up from his chair. ‘Carry on,’ he yelled to Claudius, and I followed him back to the throne room.”
”And then what happened?” asked Herod, still gulping the wine.
”Say, you’d better watch it with that wine.”
”Aw, I know how to handle myself. Proceed!”
”Well, I remained in the shadows, listening to our father’s conversation with Malichus. I was aghast! He informed Malichus of his royal wrath and jealous fear. And then, the dreadful order came. His command was thus: that since, according to first appearance of the star, the child had to be two years old or younger, he, Malichus, was to take a company of the royal army to Bethlehem, and, there, to have all male children two years old or under killed – brutally put to death! What a sentence to impose upon a city! At last the putrid evil that lay buried under our father’s facade of dignity was unmasked. The tyrant valued his own petty kingdom so much that he would have hundreds of innocent children slain to insure its protection. I was enraged that such a thing could happen – and would, unless I could do something to prevent it.”
Herod placed his goblet on the table. ”But what could you, a small boy of ten, do?”
”That was what I wondered. What could I do? Warn people that they might flee? They probably wouldn’t believe me. But, it was worth a try. I’d do it. For the first time in my life, I would be going against my father. Although he was really my stepfather, he’d been like a real father to me, and I had thought of him as such. I had respected him. Up to this time, I had regarded as mere idle rumors the tales of the terrible cruelty and bloodshed which he had perpetrated not only among his subjects but in his own family as well.”
Herod took another big gulp. ”You must be referring to those stories of him killing his own brothers and mother-in-law.”
”And God only knows how many more.”
”I’ve always regarded those things as empty fables.”
”I had regarded them so up to that time. But now I was seeing an even worse situation unfold before my very eyes. All boy babies of two or younger! How extremely heathen!”
Herod reached for his glass again. ”Indeed, how utterly fiendish!”
”So why should I obey him now, or give consent to what he did? Why not dare to stand alone and act on my own convictions? So much freedom seemed to be awaiting me. Why not reach out and boldly embark upon it? And so I did.”
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