If you’re likely to be offended by a different slant on a biblical story I wouldn’t object if you avoided this.
EYES ON A HOLIDAY
The problem with being a conquered people, thought the crippled Roman soldier as he watched a trickle of Jews making their way to the synagogue for morning prayers, the problem with being a conquered people is you have all these soldiers and civil servants wandering through your land, looking down on you and thinking your religion is nuts and poo-pooing you for believing it. Of course, it is nuts: I know that, but then even though I was a proud Roman soldier I was never actually a proper Roman, but came from the West where we worshipped much more sensible gods….
It was the Sabbath. The trickle of people became a torrent and he watched as the Inn-Keeper and his wife, complete with teenage son and babe in arms, joined it.
When the streets were empty and the sounds of worship whispered out of the synagogue, he wandered towards the Inn.
“Why, hello darling,” enthused Balthazar, “You not joining in the mass worship of our jolly hosts in their Holy House?”
“Synagogue,” grunted the soldier, wincing at the pain as he tried to look less crippled, and failed.
“We’ve been to see the baby,” grunted Melchior. “Have you taken a peek?”
“Parents haven’t got two sesterce to rub together,” grunted Caspar. “It seems gifts were expected. Silly habit if you ask me: one baby looks very much like another baby, that’s my opinion. Still I left a pouch of frankincense. Just a little pouch, mark you. Paupers like that wouldn’t know what to do with a cartful! You leave a gift?”
“I left the light,” nodded the soldier. “And as you can see from my poor legs it cost me a great deal of effort raising it so high! Pity it’ll be going out soon.”
“I met some darling little shepherds,” sighed Balthazar. “They really were the sweetest of men, if not a little rough and drunk! They bore a nice white fleece. But the baby: I gave him myrrh, just a little, for I foretell he is not to enjoy a long life…”
“Nah,” muttered the soldier, “there’s talk of an uprising against our lot, the Romans, you know, and if there is he’ll no doubt bear arms and be dead by the time he’s thirty!”
“That’s the way of men,” sighed Melchior. “So, my friend Balthazar, myrrh was a well considered gift. I gave a gold coin, for I see they must flee for their lives before this year is out!”
Balthazor nodded, serious for a moment.“I spoke to Herod, the darling little man, and I mean little most specially: he knew nothing of a new king being born and I got the feeling that there might be a night of the long knives before long if he decides there is one. He hopes to be the father of a mighty dynasty, and when the Romans are deposed in battle, to form a Jewish empire of his own. So that baby, if his destiny is to be a king, must be polished off.”
“I see that too,” nodded Caspar.
“The silly man,” scoffed the crippled soldier, “has he any idea how mighty the Roman army is? Can he conceive of the force commanded by one Centurion, and multiply it by a thousand? If your baby is to be a soldier against that unbeatable force I fear he will be massacred!”
“I whispered to the father, an insignificant little worm called Jo-Jo, that he might well spend the coin I gave for the baby to finance a holiday. Egypt’s nice at this time of year, and being part of the great Empire he should have no trouble with borders.” nodded Melchior.
“I heard rumour that Herod is such a bastard he might even order the slaughter of all infants in order to get the one,” murmured Caspar.
Balthazar shook his head. “I doubt he’ll go so far, darling,” he said. “As I see it he intends to make it known that he could do that. Such knowledge would reach the ears of the parents in that dreadful stable, and without the dire king actually doing anything they’ll flee. Once in Egypt – for that is the logical place for them to go – they’re hardly likely to return whilst this king still reigns. So your gold coin could save the child, darling.”
“That is what I whispered to the carpenter,” nodded Melchior.
“I wonder…” muttered the crippled soldier.
“You wonder what?” asked Caspar.
“The child had a twin, born before it in that same stable.”
“What of it, darling?”
“Will the same threat fall on her? Will the king fear that a queen might arise from this sorry little town?”
Melchior laughed. “A queen?” Never! The girl will become a woman and hence a drudge! She will bear sons, maybe, for that is the function of all women everywhere: the only true function!”
“Never was a truer word said, darling…” muttered Balthazar.
“And therein lies the frailty of our species,” muttered the old soldier. “It is the men who fight and die and the women who dress their wounds. Something is awry, somewhere. Sometimes I ask myself why it is we fight.”
Caspar looked surprised.
“For glory!” he said. “At least, that’s why the fighting class fight! For the glory of their masters!”
“And the sorrow of their women,” muttered the crippled old soldier.
© Peter Rogerson 24.11.12
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