Dateline: 11th September, (1 Tishri) 3 BC
They emerged from the water in the evening, having swum deep during the day, on the edge the Jewel of Greece, the Mediterranean Sea. Cool air and shifting breezes met their wet skin as Isa sighed happily.
I can unplait my hair, now, and let it dry. It's cumbersome, my Edward.
"Let me." The Emrys pushed himself effortlessly to his feet to reach her, kneeling behind her on the pebble-lined shore. The moon had not yet risen, but the stars overhead in the autumn sky were clear. In fact, there had been one that the Emrys had been studying for a while.
When a man existed for centuries, he developed many interests. Watching the stars in their courses was one of his. This anomaly had manifested days prior and he had been filled with the desire to travel to where the star seemed to be resting, over the land that was the earth.
He saw his mate's focus move upward as well, through the medium of her thoughts. She preferred, as she always had, to speak silently to him. You said it meant a king was to be born? A great king?
"Indeed. I wanted to see this king and see the family into which he comes." He stood, drawing Isa up with him, and started to move to the east. "We have lived long, my love. And though we move apart from humans, I believe their struggles affect our existence. A king that is so great that the heavens themselves announce him is one I want to study." They had time, after all. The merely lifespan of a human being was nothing compared to the many centuries he and his mate had roamed together.
They ran together through the countryside, over gentle hills that were green and well-trimmed by sheep and other livestock. Here and there, herdsmen watched over their flocks during the night. No matter where he had traveled, it was a familiar sight. Holding Isa's hand, he squeezed it and they exchanged a smile. All things of this nature appealed to her; his wife had an appreciation for the simple things in the world.
A quick glance above showed him, with his fine eye for even the most minute changes in perspective, that he was very near the the place he sought. He came to a halt at a small distance from another group of shepherds and their many sheep. There was no great city, here. Not the sort that humans felt were suitable for their royalty in this age, in his observance.
He stood and pondered, thinking that he might try running farther and checking from beyond this point to see if he needed to veer north, which seemed possible. He opened his mouth to tell Isa his plan when a flare of light caught his attention. A flare that came from above, arrowing to the nearest hill, where the shepherds were chewing on dried meat.
Almost, Edward called out to them in warning, not knowing what dangerous object might be falling from the sky. But then, the object halted in the sky and he saw—
"Edward? Is that a man?" Isa's whisper was curious, as she always was, but he knew she was caught by surprise because she spoke out loud.
The man-like figure landed slowly in front of the shepherds, who had fallen to their faces in fear. Edward could catch each nuance of the frightened men's thoughts and turned his own attention to the man who had just arrived.
And there was nothing. No thought could he catch.
"Don't be afraid!" the man directed, speaking in a form of Greek that the Emrys knew. All at once, a sense of power emanated from the man; power that had the Emrys afraid for the first time in hundreds of years. He stepped directly in front of his wife, prepared to defend her.
Don't be afraid, the powerful—man? No. This was more than a man. This was a being almost divine—creature said silently to him.
Eager to find his thoughts, Edward followed it back to the source, to the fellow's mind, but could not find anything further. It was as if a wall sprang up. A warm wall, but a wall nonetheless.
The divine being's voice was both quiet and powerful, reaching Edward and Isa's ears without their having to concentrate, but not seeming too loud to the human shepherds, either. It was extraordinary. "I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people:Today a Savior, who is Messiah the Lord, was born for you in the city of David. This will be the sign for you: You will find a baby wrapped snugly in cloth and lying in a feeding trough."
He translated for Isa, who did not have the same affinity for languages—her talents were more in the design and manufacture of apparel—and added, "He means Bethlehem? The town down there," he added, pointing in the direction one of the shepherds' thoughts indicated.
An anointed one? There? My Edward, that does not seem to be an important place at all. You said the skies foretold a king.
He had to smile at that, just a little, for her thoughts unwittingly echoed his own from earlier. He considered catching the divine being's attention to confirm this when another surprise took his breath away.
An entire armed host appeared, lining up behind the first in rank and file, their shoulders proud, their aspect joyful but solemn. None of their weapons were bared and Edward concluded they were behaving as emissaries.
But for whose benefit? The shepherds'?
He was still processing the message that the divine being had given. There was no mention of a king at all, but an anointed one. Anointing...well, that often was an indicator of kingship, among the people of this region, he had learned.
Could a king be resting in a feeding trough?
But would anyone other than a king warrant such an army to announce his presence?
The army proclaimed in one voice: "Glory to God in the highest heaven, and peace on earth to people He favors!" Then, with a gesture of respect that the Emrys didn't know how to interpret, for shepherds did not generally garner such attention from, well, anyone, the warband looked heaven-ward and seemed to disappear, as did the first man who was perhaps their commander.
Finally, Edward glanced down at Isa, whose thoughts were ever butterfly soft. My Edward? Will we go to this town to see if the king the stars tell of is there?
The shepherds were still standing, stammering as they recovered from what could only be a divine visitation, as far as the Emrys understood such things. "Have you ever...?"
"I need new sandals, now."
"My wife will not believe this."
"Did we lose any sheep?"
Following their thoughts, Edward realized their words were merely diversions from their real thoughts. Awe and amazement figured prominently, as did the need to investigate.
One of the shepherds, a man of middle years with a full beard and powerful shoulders, said, "Let's go straight to Bethlehem and see what has happened, which the Lord has made known to us."
"Yes, my Isa. We will. And," he added with a hesitant smile, "we might find this newborn king before they do."
Her golden eyes twinkled in the light of the stars. Then let's go.
A feeding trough, the man said. Edward knew they had to first look for stables, where livestock would be kept. Horses, perhaps. Donkeys. Cows. Those animals used feeding troughs. And there would be an infant, so, as he and Isa made their slow way toward the town, he sent his awareness ahead of him, seeking thoughts that were centered on an infant.
While he did so, he monitored the thoughts of the shepherds, just in case any had been gifted with a special insight for this peculiar visit.
I wonder how that couple is doing? I bet she's ready to birth before morning, poor dear. She looked so tired. Glad Malchus gave them the stable. It'll be nice and secluded for them since we're so crowded. All right, all right, I'm coming! Not complaining that Quirinius decided to hold that census this year or anything, but — all right! Coming!
That sounded like the right kind of place and he had an image, now, of the stable where the baby might be. Isa's hand in his, they blurred through the streets, seeming as a wind to the humans who were about. Thoughts pummeled his mind. Thoughts about a census and declarations of loyalty and and the names of the great Caesar, Augustus, who had been ruling long over the vast empire of the Romans. *For this, his Jubilee Year, he was going to be awarded a new title or somesuch and had decided to extract an oath of loyalty.
The House of David was historically from the City of David which was here, in this place called Bethlehem. The Emrys concluded, then, that the infant whose birth was shown in the stars was born of parents who had had to come to this place to sign that oath. So would this newborn king, the infant the divine being spoke of, cause trouble for Caesar Augustus?
The notion troubled Edward as he and Isa slowed to a human pace.
What is it, my husband? You are clearly troubled. She looked around. No one is concerned about us, are they?
He shook his head, noting that their wind-dried garments were not considered at all unusual, either, since apparently many "outsiders" were currently staying in this place. Well, that was to the good.
"A new king born in a time and place that has an emperor might be a concern," Edward shared with Isa. "I wonder if Augustus has heard of him, yet?"
"Oh! Look! Just as the angel said!"
Caught up in his own political notions, Edward realized he had fallen behind in the search. With a self-conscious laugh, he wrapped one arm around Isa and translated all they could hear as they moved slowly in at a little distance behind the shepherds. Slowly, those humble, sheep-smelling folks straggled one by one to a small place, set apart by a yard where donkeys and other animals wandered.
"The one who came from the sky, I would guess," Edward said. "An angel. I guess he that is what they called the armed messenger."
Ahead, there was a small fire carefully tended at the opening of a place where the smell of animals was most prevalent. The shepherds were all but stumbling over themselves to tell the couple with the baby what had happened to them.
"And then a whole host came!"
"And they said not to be afraid. I was, anyway."
"Is this the baby? Look at his eyes! They're already open!"
"What's his name?"
"You're visiting for the Census, right? Do you want to come stay with me? My wife and daughter are good with babies. You could rest."
"Oh, like your house doesn't smell like a stable?"
"Look at him! He grabbed my finger!"
"Do you need anything to drink, lady?"
"I can run home and get you a new garment."
"Do you have enough blankets?"
The couple to whom all these questions were directed answered as best they could. The father of the child didn't look like royalty at all. And his wife, the young woman with the exhausted demeanor and sweat-dampened hair, didn't appear royal, either. Both, though, had the air of being satisfied. Pleased. Humbled. As if they had done a hard thing. He had seen parents after the birth of their firstborn and they often appeared much the same.
Yes, a regular home would be a good place to stay, if Mary will allow it. I can't believe David's City doesn't have the accommodations for this registration.
The mother cradled her son, nuzzling his thick hair and smiling a secret sort of smile. Oh, these men are so kind. I must remember all of this. He'll want to know. I must be able to tell him everything when he's older.
"His name is Yeshua," the father said aloud. To the woman, he whispered, "Don't tell them where we're from just now."
"Yeshua," the shepherds repeated in unison.
The baby made a small mewling sort of sound and all the adults, rough men as they were, gasped to hear it. "Listen to him!"
"He's probably hungry."
"Tired. I know that sound."
"Enough. Let them be. Look, we'll be back in the morning."
Each man paused in front of the baby, hardly breathing, their thoughts full before they jogged away from the stable and into the streets.
One of the men approached Edward and Isa, his face aglow and his eyes wide. "Did you see? Did you see? An angel came!"
Not taking the time to translate for his wife, Edward answered in Latin. Outsiders, the man's thoughts had told him. So he was and always would be. "I saw something," he said.
"A messiah! And he was announced by an angel!" The man's reply was in a rough Latin-Greek hybrid, but Edward understood him well enough. "Right here! In Bethlehem."
Isa spoke in Latin as well, smiling in her winsome way at the shepherd. "Is he well, this anointed one?"
"Yes. You should see. They're right there," he added, pointing. "Good evening, my lord, my lady!" And the man was off, his thoughts still rolling over and over the visit he had just had with the infant king.
Still, the Emrys hesitated before making himself known to the couple and their baby. "I don't want to disturb him."
Images fluttered in Isa's gentle mind. "We could just linger nearer, pretending to be staying at this place," she said aloud, indicating the crowded, foetid abode nearest them with a wave of her hand. "Perhaps bring the mother something to eat?"
"You are so compassionate," Edward whispered to Isa, lifting her hand to his lips to kiss it. "Do you wish to come with me?"
She sniffed a little and shook her head. I'll wait out here, beloved. With a smile, she added, It's not as if anyone would consider harming me.
He ignored the heartbeats—a practice so long established that he didn't even pay it any thought, anymore—and stepped into the crowded dwelling. An inn, apparently. A place for visitors to stay. Still in Latin, to keep his presence here consistent, he called for help. "Food?"
The reply was also in Latin, albeit a rough version of it. He nodded to himself; that was how things were, here, apparently. "Yes, we have some if you have gold."
"I do," he said, fishing some from the purse he carried tied to his waist. "For two."
Ah, that's good. "We don't have any rooms, my lord. But I can get you food."
"It's all I asked for."
Now if that other couple had only asked for food, I could have accommodated them. I should go check on them, just as soon as things settle a bit. See if they need anything. If they had that baby yet.
Pleased that someone else would be tending to the newborn king, Emrys took the slightly-charred bits of mutton and flatbread with thanks before ducking back out of the inn to Isa's side.
Let's go, she said without wasting time.
Together, they stepped with human speeds to the stable with its bright fire and the scents of beasts overwhelming almost everything. Blood, though. He smelled that. The strange used scent that accompanied childbirth.
"Who are you?" the father of the babe challenged, coming to stand in front of the fire.
"I just brought you food from the inn," Edward offered, holding out the linen-wrapped bundle. "And my wife, here, had a blanket for the baby." Isa quickly doffed her shawl and held it out, too.
"Oh, thank you," the woman said, her voice firm. "It is much appreciated. Joseph, let them come."
It was a sight the Emrys would remember, as he recalled everything, with a certain awe for the rest of his existence. "I heard he would be a king," he said softly to the mother. Mary, her name was.
Her thoughts were clear and forthright. A king? Is that what the angel meant? She started and met his eyes, her own shadowed with more misgivings than a girl should have so young. "We have waited for him a long time," she said at length.
Isa knelt and touched the baby's swaddled feet. "He is precious," she said slowly.
"Would you like to hold him?" Mary offered.
Isa stood slowly. "No, no thank you." Their flesh might disrupt the quietly observant infant.
"May your son live long and reign truly," the Emrys said, meeting the eyes of the father and mother. "And may you know joy in him."
The couple exchanged a glance and then both looked to their son. "He is God's. Let it be done according to His will."
It was as if a cold, wet sheet passed over the Emrys's skin. "It is an uncertain thing, lady, leaving things to the will of the gods."
Joseph, her husband, stood behind her, his hands protectively on her shoulders, his own back straight. "It is the only way for us."
Isa took Edward's hand in her own. Shh, my Edward. We can watch over them, can we not?
He nodded, almost imperceptibly. Then, to the humans, he said, "May your faith be rewarded." With a little bow, he studied the infant for another moment. "Be careful, little king."
They backed away, as befit leaving an anointed ruler, before turning to leave the town of Bethlehem.