“People will talk about this night forever, I think.”
“You’re right, Marcus. Even us Romans will talk about the night a king was born in Bethlehem.”
The two soldiers stood beside the city gate for a moment longer, then moved on, making their rounds for Caesar on a cold night in the foreign town.
“I still don’t understand why the shepherds came to town,” Marcus said. “Maybe they were just frightened by the storm and wanted to get out of the weather.”
“Nah,” Crispus responded. “I talked to several of them. They heard something, angels they said, singing in the sky. One of them claimed he actually heard the word KING in the singing.”
“Yah, and he also said he heard the word PEACE at the same time. Imagine it! A king who brings peace. Now there’s cause for celebration!”
“How about we go check on the horses. I think our centurion had them moved into the stable cave behind the inn.”
“To keep ‘em out of this nasty weather.”
The two men walked up the hill, stopping occasionally to listen as the locals skittered through the streets speaking in whispers.
“Hey you! Stop there.” Marcus was calling to a woman who seemed to be in a hurry.
“Where are you headed out here in the middle of the night?”
“I’m sorry, sir,” the woman replied. “I’ve been helping deliver a baby up in the stable cave behind the inn. Strange lady who is certain, like they all are, that her new baby boy will be the Messiah. Seems that if your baby is born in Bethlehem he’s automatically going to be KING.”
“You think she may be right?” Crispus asked the question as if he already knew the answer. “Several shepherds claimed that this baby is the one! MESSIAH they called him.”
“I don’t know, sir,” The midwife answered. “This woman was different than all the others I’ve tended to. She was tired but calm, as if certain the baby would be born healthy with two legs, two arms, and a strong heart. She was right, too. The little fellow is a beauty. As if crafted in the image of King David!”
“Ha!” Crispus spat. “There is only one king and that’s Caesar. No Jewish baby is going to take his throne.”
“You’re right, sir,” the midwife bowed as she spoke. “But this one is named Emmanuel, God with us, Jesus. The mother says he will save us from our sins.”
“Go home, woman,” Marcus laughed. “You’ve been up too long tonight!”
The two soldiers walked on, up the hill toward the stable cave. Silent now, ruminating on what they had heard from the shepherds and from the midwife.
“My missus never thought our son would grow up to be the new Caesar,” mused Crispus.
“Course not,” sneered Marcus. “You’re not even Roman. Just a conscript from up north. No kings come from up there, just poor soldiers.”
“Ones with sharp swords,” laughed Crispus, swinging steel toward his friend.
The stable cave was smelly, like a hot barn should be on a cold night. A few Roman horses were stabled in the darkest corner, far away from the mangy animals owned by the locals. Reuben, a local who the centurion had charged with caring for the steeds, stood as the two soldiers approached.
“The horses are fine tonight,” Reuben bowed as he spoke. “Though there’s been quite a commotion in here.”
“What’s happening?” Marcus was the first to speak.
“Baby born over there by the wall. Yowled a lot. Loud enough to raise some of the hill shepherds. They left a few minutes ago, after bowing and scraping and acting like they were in the synagogue or something. And it’s not even Shabat!”
“Did they use a name for the baby?” This time it was Crispus, speaking very poor Hebrew.
“Yes. His name is Jesus. The mother says he’s the Messiah and will save us all from our sins, or from Rome.” Reuben’s voice trailed off when he spoke about Rome.
“No one will ever save you from Rome, scum!”
“Be careful with our horses.”
Reuben watched as the two men ambled over toward the manger where the mother and father had placed the child.
“Who is the kid?” Marcus asked.
The mother looked up, softly, kindly, honoring the question with her heart and her eyes.
“His name is Jesus, sir. The shepherds told me that an angel sang the name to them from the sky, and it is the same name an angel told me to call him. Jesus. Emmanuel. God with us.”
Her eyes filled with tears as she spoke, her voice like the whisper of a summer breeze, her hands stroking the thatch of wild black hair on her son’s head.
“God with us.” She stopped speaking for a moment, and then looked up again at the soldiers. “I guess that means he’s your Savior too.”
“Ha!” Marcus spat again. “We have no king but Caesar.”
“That is true, my friend. But even Caesar needs saving. Maybe Jesus can care for that.’
Marcus started to laugh, but felt Crispus touch his elbow.
“Come,” Crispus said. “No need to stay here any longer.
The soldiers turned toward the cave opening.
“He loves you,” the mother sang toward them as if she believed the words.
“Funny star,” Crispus said as the men emerged from the stable cave.
“You mean that one?” Marcus pointed up towards Shepherd Hill. “Seems to be pointing right at us.”
“I wonder if it can sing.”