Seen, But Not Herod
The courtyard echoed to the sound of people yelling, banging sticks and swearing whilst three camels sat calmly chewing and observed the antics surrounding them with the sort of disdain that only a camel can truly evince. In the midst of this cacophony, three richly robed gentlemen emerged hurriedly into the courtyard, mounted the recumbent camels and then joined in with the yelling, stick banging and swearing until the camels finally deigned to stand up and saunter away. This is a performance that seems to precede any camel journey, which provides a welcome source of amusement for the camels, if not the riders.
"Well!..." Exclaimed Melchior, clearly about to embark on a lengthy complaint.
"Schtum!" Responded Balthazar before he could say any more.
"Really! How dare…" Melchior fumed.
"I said schtum and I meant it. Schtum!" Balthazar glared at his companion, urged his camel on and set off through the Palace gates at a steady trot.
Melchior followed with a face like thunder and Caspar a little way behind, looking distinctly uneasy. A short distance from the Palace, Melchior cantered to come level with Balthazar.
"Now look here, Balthy. Nobody died and made you King of…well, King of Us. Where do you think you get off, telling me to 'schtum', eh?"
"Melchior" Balthazar sighed, wearily, "did you happen to notice that the Palace Grounds were seething with guards?"
"Well, now you come to mention it, yes"
"And what was your opinion of King Herod? Would you describe him, perhaps, as an approachable sort of chap, open to criticism and happy to engage in the cut and thrust of witty debate?"
"Well, not really, I…"
"And yet, Melchior, and yet, unless my senses deceive me, you were about to embark on a, no doubt, prolonged and hearty critique of our recent host, probably at the top of your voice and in the shrillest of tones, would you agree?"
"I've got one or two things to say about him, too right!"
"So, if we take the ubiquitousness of the Palace Guards as a given, along with the generally evil and malicious nature of our recent host. How long do you think our heads would have remained attached to our bodies if I had allowed you to give vent to your, doubtless entertaining and carefully considered, criticism, hmm? I'll accept an answer to the nearest second"
"Well, if you put it like that…"
"I do put it like that, Melchior, I do." Balthazar trotted on.
"I still don't see where he gets off, treating us like sh…" Melchior looked over his shoulder at the looming castle and thought better of it "Shepherds. 'Tell me where you find the babe, so that I may come and worship too' Huh!"
"He's the King!" Balthazar shouted over his shoulder.
"We're Kings too, Balthazar" Caspar remarked, timidly.
"Are we, Caspar? Are we really?" Balthazar brought his camel around to face his companions.
"Well, yes Balthazar. We are." Caspar nodded.
"You tell him, Caspy. We're all equal, here." Melchior patted his companion on the back, raising a small cloud of dust in the process.
"Ok, if we're Kings, what is it we're Kings of, hmm? Tell me that?" Balthazar looked at his two fellow travellers with a stern expression.
"Go on, Caspy, tell him" Melchior encouraged.
"Erm, well, we're known as Kings back home." Caspar ventured.
"That's as may be, Caspar, but it doesn't answer my original question. What are we actually Kings of?"
"I've got a few servants" Caspar muttered.
"Fine, fine. But do you have a Palace like Herod's?" Balthazar nodded in the direction of the huge white marble structure behind them with its towers and castellations, "Or hot and cold running Roman Guards in every corridor?"
"Chance would be a fine thing!" Melchior said, with feeling.
"What I'm saying is, this is his country. He owns everything and everyone for miles around and if he gets upset, then everyone suffers. We might be known as Kings but we're really just men of learning. We're like Kings to the common folk but when we come up against the likes of Herod, well…" Balthazar shook his head.
"Hoity-Toity" Melchior stated.
"That's as may be" Balthazar snapped, "but it doesn't change the fact that he is the King of this country. If he wants to be 'hoity-toity', who's going to tell him not to? Are you, Melchior?"
"I've a good mind…" Melchior began.
"No, you haven't. That's part of the problem" Balthazar said, as kindly as he could, "Look chaps, as long as we're here, whether we live or die is entirely in his hands. For that reason, and that reason alone, I suggest we keep schtum"
"So, what about this business of telling him where we find the baby? Are we going back to him?" Caspar asked, as they set off again.
"What do you think, Caspar? Does Herod strike you as the sort to go off and worship anything? Dangle the little lad on his knee, perhaps?"
"Probably not" Caspar agreed, sullenly.
"I reckon he'd have him dangling alright" Melchior said, darkly, "it's not really a 'dangling on your knee' type name, is it, Herod? I wonder if he was chosen because he'd got the sort of name that strikes you sh…shepherdless before you've even met him? I mean, it wouldn't be the same if he was a King Simon would it? As names go, I reckon it speaks volumes about him."
"Oh yes" Caspar nodded, "he's horrid"
"No, he's Herod!" Melchior laughed like a drain and nudged Caspar heavily, who tittered.
"Will you two stop acting like some cheap comedy act and show a bit of decorum" Balthazar snarled.
The camels strode on as silence fell over the three riders.
"Hey, the star's still in the same place." Melchior said, eventually, eager to change the subject, "I could murder those shepherds for sending us on this wild goose chase. You don't think…you don't think they sent us to the wrong place deliberately?"
"Why would they do that, Melchior?" Caspar queried.
"So they could get to the baby before us, that's why!" Melchior snapped, "I'll bet that's where they were going with that lamb!"
"I think you're crediting them with a little more intelligence than they're really capable of demonstrating." Balthazar chuckled, "I'm sure those shepherds came from a long line of people whose highest talent was being able to count sheep without falling asleep."
"Oh yeah? Well if we get there and the floor's covered in sheep's…doings, remember who told you first!" Melchior said, haughtily.
"You think being a shepherd runs in families then, do you Balthazar? Like being a King?" Caspar asked, slyly.
"Not the same thing at all" Balthazar blustered, "If the best that your family could manage was to sit in fields counting sheep, then of course you're going to be a shepherd. Being a King, that's more your divine providence, isn't it?"
"So, we're Kings because God decreed we should be, is that right?" Caspar asked, innocently.
"Yeah, something like that." Balthazar agreed, fully aware that he was on philosophically shaky ground.
"And this child? Is he divinely ordered?"
"Well, yes, I'm sure God had a hand in it. Quite a bit more, actually, when you think about it. I mean, I don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure the Heavens weren't rearranged and choirs of angels laid on for my birth" Balthazar pointed out.
"My dad fell down the temple steps, blind drunk, on the night I was born" Melchior commented, morosely, "Or so my mum told me. She was a saint, that woman!"
"Well, there's your divine intervention, if she was a saint…" Balthazar began.
"No, not like that. Not with the band of light around her head and a knack for miracles. I mean she was a saint to put up with my dad."
"Anyhow" Balthazar glared at Melchior, "what I'm trying to say is that you don't just become a King. There has to be some divinity there. It comes down the family line."
"It's heredity" Caspar agreed "but what about Herod, where does he come into all of this?"
"That's different, Caspy sweetheart. That's Herrodity!" Melchior tittered
"Will you two knock off this music hall routine! We've a long way to go and if I get much more of this, I'm not guaranteeing that all of us are going to make it" Balthazar stroked the pommel of his sword, meaningfully.
Balthazar's camel strode on, with its rider desperately trying to look regal silhouetted against the rising moon. Melchior and Caspar muffled their chuckles in their robes as the long and hazy line of camels and kings swayed slowly onward, toward Bethlehem.
There will be another Alternativity story before Christmas comes around, but if you would like to see the whole series to date, pop and have a look at 'A Christmas Cracker'