To arrive at the court of another man, to arrive without status, and unheralded and unexpected, was a strange thing. Also I had no contacts there. There could be no casual words in quiet corners over cups of wine which told much to the speakers and little to the eavesdroppers. No, different skills were needed.
In truth, my foot was hardly set down the first corridor before I saw fear everywhere. Not the usual level of anxiety. Faces sealed shut, eyes everywhere. This was not what I had expected. I had expected joy, for normally a King rejoices in the birth of a clear heir.
Of course I understood this people might not be able to read the skies as clearly as I could. I understood they might not see the importance of this child. It had not occurred to me that they might not know of him at all.
Audience (never had I used audacity and authority so compellingly). An old man crumbling before me – no, not the right image. Eaten as a parasite eats out a caterpillar. Dear knows if the real Herod was the parasite, or the caterpillar. Evil and power both taken to extremes. My own recoil in horror, from something too like the image of what I might, just possibly, become if my very worst instincts were fed and flattered.
Then, council taken with Karima and Melchior. She had seen the death, he the ignorance. Did I mention that? Herod’s total ignorance of all that is real wisdom? As well as his ignorance of any child. In the end, his councillors plucked up the courage to tell us that if the child were born it might well be in Bethlehem, a small village well within the allowed margin of error we had plotted. Prophecy, they said, and precedent, their greatest king ever having been born there.
But I could have wished we had not aroused further fear in that terrible, terrified evil old king.