The priest bowed before his king and retired. The pagan noble looked up at this ruler of the land of the one God and felt a thrill of horror. Herod, turning quickly, beckoned to the young knight, his wrinkles quivering with anger. Now, indeed, he was like a lion at bay.
“Ha-a!” he roared, and his head bent slowly and his voice fell to a low rumble as he continued. “’Tis an evil time in Jerusalem. I weary of this long fight with traitors. They grind their points; they stir poison; they swarm in the streets. They rob me of my friends, and now—now they seek alliance with Jehovah to rob me of my throne. ’Tis well you should know and beware. I have a plan which will make them desire my good health. Report to Quirinus, and remember”—he took a hand of the youth in both of his with a fawning movement—“I have need of friends.”
That very day an order went forth that certain of the learned men of every city be assembled in the amphitheatre at Jericho, and be there confined to wait the further pleasure of the king. It was a bold plan through which Herod hoped to confound his enemies and insure his safety. He decreed that on the day of his death all these men should be executed.
Among the orderlies at the castle was one David, a young Jew, whose face and bearing had attracted the eye of Vergilius. There was in both something admirable and familiar. Straightway the tribune chose the young Jew for his own service, and soon held him in high esteem. Together they set out one morning, with a troop of horse, bound for the southern limit of Samaria. Thus quickly orders had arrived from the emperor. They sent Vergilius on a journey to inspect roads and report “as to hopes, plans, and theories of import to the king.”
That morning as they left the old city, Vergilius and the young Jew rode abreast.
“Tell me,” said the former, presently, “what know you of the new king?”
“Of him I have thought much and know little,” said David. “My mother taught me to look for him. That was before the evil days.”
“And you learned what of her?”
“Little save the long hope. She taught me an old chant of the coming. If you wish, I will sing it.”
Being bidden, he sang, as she had sung who hushed the revels of Antipater, of signs and fears and of arrows to fly as the lightning. Words, melody, emotion, the note of inveterate wrong, were those of the slave-girl.
“The same nose and blue eyes, and fair, curly locks—the same feeling and chant of faith,” said Vergilius, thoughtfully. “Did you not live in Galilee and suffer ill fortune?”
“We lived in Galilee, and, by-and-by, were as those hurled into Gehenna.”
“And have you a sister in Rome?”
“I have a sister, but know not where she may be. Cyran the Beloved, so my mother called her.”