“Linus,” ordered Herod, “send a page to find Manaheem and tell him I want to see him at once.”
The servant bowed and exited. Herod continued talking, half to himself and half to Herodius. “Where that rascal has been keeping himself lately, I cannot figure. He hasn’t reported to me in quite some time now.”
“Well, darling, didn’t you tell me that he just got back with his former wife?”
“Yes, I guess that might explain it.” Herod reached for his wineglass. “Now, how would you explain last night’s attack?”
Herodius also reached for her glass as she spoke. “Oh, that’s simple. The outrage of Aretas at your sending Samantha back to him.”
“But I sent him many gifts. How ungrateful can he be?”
“Well, I don’t know much about other cultures, but perhaps it’s quite an affront in his world to send back a wife.”
Herod sighed and sipped his wine thoughtfully. “You really think that’s all there was to it?”
“Of course. What else could there be?”
“I don’t know, but I kind of wonder if somehow maybe Pilate might have had something to do with it.”
She started to laugh, thus spurting out some wine from her mouth. “Pilate? Don’t be ridiculous!”
“Well, Pilate is starting to get jealous of me. He could easily have taken advantage of the situation to add fuel to Aretas’ rage and supply him with troops as well. That was quite a formidable army we put down.”
“Aw, Herod. I’m sure that those were Aretas’ own forces. He certainly doesn’t need help to stage an attack on this palace. I’m certain as well that his rage needed no fueling.”
“You mean,” Herod asked, reaching for the pitcher, “that my sending his daughter back to him was such a big insult as to provoke that attack?”
“It’s entirely possible, my dear.” She held out her glass for him to fill. “But why bother ourselves with reasons. The workmen are repairing the palace, and here we are together again. Let’s take advantage of these moments together.” She placed her glass back on the table and took his from him, placing it on the table as well. Then she threw her arms around him and pressed her lips to his.
MANAHEEM WAS WITH CLARESSA, when the page found him. They were sitting on a bench in the public park, talking. Of course, the page found them easily by noticing the strange looking chariot, which was tied nearby.
“You know, my dear,” Manaheem was saying, “these are very uncertain times.”
“What do you mean, darling?”
“Well, one never knows what’s going to happen next, nor how one’s fortune will fall. For myself, I hope to be coming into a small sum of money any day now. At the same time, there may be some very distinct changes on the political horizon.”
She gave him a squeeze. “Oh, Manaheem, that’s one thing, I like about you. Sometimes you talk in the profoundest of riddles, and yet somehow, what you say has a certain ring about it. I do wish, however that you would make it just a little more clear to me.”
“Well, Claressa, darling—-” But just then, he noticed the page standing over him. “May I help you?”
“You are Manaheem, aren’t you?”
“I’ve come from King Herod. His Majesty would see you at once.”
Manaheem looked at Claressa. “This, my dear, may be part of what I was just saying to you. I’m afraid I shall have to leave you. I’ll drop you home and then I must go and see what our king wants.” He turned to the page. “Did he say what it might be in reference to?”
“No, sir, he didn’t. There’s no telling with him, these days. Could be anything. May be your head, after what happened to John.”
“The Baptist. Cut his head clean off, he did. They brought it right into the party, on a silver platter. It was utterly sickening.”
“I should imagine!” By now they had reached the chariot and started to mount. He turned and raised his arm in a parting gesture to the page. “Well, then we’re off. Tell Herod I’ll be there shortly.”
After the page rode off and they were on their way to drop off Claressa, she asked, “Are you really going?”
“What? After what that page just said?”
“Oh, Herod wouldn’t do anything like that to me. I’m his foster brother, remember. And, besides, I have a mission to complete for him. I’m sure that’s why he sent for me – to tell me to ahead and complete it.”
“Well, if that’s all he wants, why didn’t he leave that message with the page?”
“It’s much too dangerous, dear. The page could have been sidetracked, or waylaid and the message fallen into the wrong hands. No, in matters like this, these days, it pays to be careful.”
“Well, I’m still not at all certain what you’re talking about, but I guess it’s alright.”
“Soon, dear everything will be clear and truly alright. Just wait and see, my dear.”
ALTHOUGH IT WAS A LITTLE while later when Manaheem arrived at the palace, Herod and Herodius were still lost in each other’s arms. But, as the door opened and Manaheem entered, Herod broke himself free of the embrace, and looked up.
“Well, brother dear, I haven’t seen you in quite some time now.”
“I have been enjoying the bliss of married life once more.”
“What did I tell you, dear?” inserted Herodius to Herod.
“Well, your page said you wanted to see me. I surmise it would be to tell me that it’s time to put our little plan into action?”
“Yes, it is, as a matter of fact. But why are you so short and businesslike today? You haven’t said a thing about the attack on my palace. Is something bothering you, brother, dear?”
“Just that I’ve been hearing about your butchery of the Baptist. I told you, you would never learn. You’re getting more and more like your father all the time.”
“Oh, were you a follower of that maniac, John?”
“No, but his death is still an affront to common decency.”
“Well, I’m sorry, my dear Manaheem, but there was nothing I could do. I had made a promise to Salome, Herodius’ daughter, after she’d danced for me, that I would give her anything she wanted up to half my kingdom. And that is what she asked for, of all things-–the head of John the Baptist on a silver platter.”
“No doubt she was put up to it by you,” ventured Manaheem, pointing to Herodius, who simply smiled.
Herod continued, “I really didn’t want to kill him, but I had no choice. I couldn’t go back on my word.”
“Oh, no, of course not. You couldn’t lose face with your friends-–if indeed that’s how it really happened, which I wonder. I know that you hated him because he spoke out against what you’re doing. The two of you together probably planned the whole thing. I ought to just turn my back on the likes of you and never speak to you again.”
“But Manaheem, brother, dear—”
“I ought to, but, I won’t. I’ll help you just for the fun of it, not to mention that I need the money you’re paying me. Oh, but I’d love to see this whole thing backfire on you. That would really be interesting!” With a laugh, the strange looking figure disappeared through the doorway.”
“Is he always so cynical?” asked Herodius.
“Yes, dear. That’s my foster brother, the cynical non-conformist. I always did find his ideas tedious. And yet, you know something? It was really because of him and his non-conformist ideas that I decided to go ahead and marry you publicly and be done with it.”
“It was a wise choice, if I do say so.”
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