“There shall be signs, and you shall hear of them in this chamber.”
“And what shall be the aim of the king?”
“To establish the reign of justice.”
Vergilius queried much regarding the government of the new king, and got replies adding more to his curiosity than to his knowledge.
It was near the middle hour of the night when a voice announced: “The keeper of the new door will now leave the council.”
Vergilius heard a stir coming near him in the darkness. Hands were laid upon him, and, presently, one took his arm and led him away. The two climbed a long flight of stairs and made hastily across a broad roof. At a railed opening they came to other stairs, and, descending, entered a passage, dark as had been the chamber. At its end the Roman received a password. Then a door swung and again he was on the pavements of Jerusalem, and, far away, could see the lights of Temple Hill.
His conductor, returning, announced the departure of “the new voice.”
“We will now hear from the keeper of records,” said one.
A voice quickly answered: “He secured a lock of his hair.”
“And what says the keeper of the hidden light?”
Then said another voice: “He now sees but one obstacle.”
“And what says the Angel of Death?”
A low, deep tone broke the silence in which all waited. “The sixth day before the kalends, he shall claim his own,” so it answered.
“Enough,” said the questioner. “The ways lead to safety. I bid you go.”
One by one the councillors began to leave. There was no treading upon heels, for one was well out of the way before another was allowed to go. So cunningly was their room devised that half the exits led to one thoroughfare and half to another; and so many were they, it was said, no more than two councillors came or went by the same door. And of all who came, so say the records, not one knew another to be sure of him.
For the king there were three great perils: the people, Caesar, and his own family. The descendant of old John Hyrcanus of Idumaea—a Jew only by compulsion—had no understanding of the children of Moses. He tripped every day on the barriers of ancient law, and often his generosity was taken for defiance. Caesar was not so hard to please. He had vanity and laws not wholly inflexible. Herod’s family, with its evil sister, its profligate sons, its voluptuous daughters, its wives, of whom it is enough to say they were nine, its intrigues and jealousies, gave him greater trouble than either the kingdom or the emperor. He built a city near Jerusalem, on the sea. Magnificent in marble and gold, Caesarea stood for a monument of Herodian troubles. Therein he sought to amuse the people, to pacify his kindred, and to flatter Caesar. Its vast breakwater; its great arches through which the sea came gently in all weather; its mosaic pavements washed daily by the salt tide; its palaces of white marble; its great, glowing amphitheatre—these were unique in their barbaric splendor, albeit, in the view of the people, an offence to God.