Behzad kicked the sides of his camel. “May your offspring be tormented with fleas, you lazy beast!” The camel trotted a few steps, and then returned to his accustomed amble. “Hey! Wait for me!” Behzad called to his companions for the thousandth time.
Melchior pulled on his reins. “We ought to wait for him, Tellis. He might get lost once we enter the city.”
Tallis sighed and stopped. His gaze never left the bright star overhead. He rocked side to side as his camel shifted its weight from foot to foot.
As Behzad approached, he wiped his forehead. “Do you think we could at least stop for a bath and meal? It will be dark soon.”
Tallis grunted and flicked a switch on his camel’s rump. Melchior and Behzad followed.
Behzad noted the few inhabitants moving along the road. “Are you sure we have the right place? It seems that if a city were celebrating a royal birth, there would be a lot more people around. This place looks as if it hasn’t seen a celebration in a thousand years.”
Tallis ignored him, and Melchior shrugged his shoulders.
A man with a donkey and a loaded cart rumbled toward them – perhaps a merchant, looking to sell his wares.
Melchior said, “Ho there! Could you tell us the way to the king’s palace? We want to honor the newborn king.”
“Newborn king? There has been no declaration of a babe born in the palace.”
Tallis turned his focus from the star and scowled at the man. “This is not just any king. He is the Prince of kings! We have seen the sign in the skies.”
Seeing the signs of trouble, Melchior quickly added, “We are strangers from Babylon. We only need directions to an inn or a room for the night.”
Behzad slid from his camel’s back. “Ahhhh…yes! My legs are like calves’ jelly and my patooka is sore.” He rubbed his backside. “A hot meal and a soft bed would be very—“
“No!” Tallis’s dark eyes narrowed. “We will not rest until we find the new king.” He leaned his head toward the merchant. “Tell us the way to the palace.”
The man stepped backwards and gave a slight bow. “You will find Herod’s palace in the center of the city. Follow the way past the markets and beyond the pool of the palms.”
Tallis straightened himself and looked toward the gate. Behzad groaned and climbed back onto his camel. Melchior nodded to the man. “Blessings on you, Sir. May your children be many and your barns be full.”
The narrow streets were filled with people hurrying about their daily business: merchants with wagons, housewives with baskets, young men with sheep, young girls with water jugs, elderly ones with walking sticks, and children scampering in and about everyone else. Some stared at the strangers, dressed in silk and gold chains, but others acted as if eastern nobles visited their city every day. After asking directions a few more times, they finally reached the center of the city and the gates of Herod’s palace.
Tallis looked up at the sky. He twisted this way and that. “Something is not right. I cannot see the star.”
“It has to be right,” Melchior said. “Where else would the king of the Jews be located but in Jerusalem? The star brought us here. You just can’t see it because we’re in the city.” He dismounted, but Tallis remained where he sat –stiff and silent.
“Hey! Wait for me!” Behzad emerged from the bustle of carts and sheep and crowds of people. His camel snorted and snuffed and shook its head.
For three whole days, the Babylonian nobles abode in Jerusalem. Melchior calmed the troubled and jealous King Herod. Behzad found the food bazaars, while Tallis conferred with the priests and scribes. Ever since the Babylonian strangers arrived in the city, the king had become increasingly unhappy, and the people were afraid.
Finally, a prophecy of Micah showed where the king would be born. “…for out of thee shall come a Governor that shall rule my people Israel.”
Melchior adjusted the cushion on his camel. “Bethlehem? Why would a king be there? Do you think King Herod really wants to worship the newborn child?”
Tallis didn’t answer. He was already fifty steps ahead, looking at the skies again. The star was back –and seemed to be moving south toward Bethlehem.
Behzad kicked the sides of his camel. “Hey! Wait for me!”
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