Star of Bethlehem
The Third King
The sand blew roughly against their veiled faces as the caravan trudged through the desert. Mounted atop their camels, the three kings rode on, leading the band through the darkness, guided only by the light of a single bright star in the night sky. He had become one of them, a mysterious Magus, one of Persia's elite Magi Kings. He rode among them, veiled, not to protect his face from the blowing sand, but to hide his hardened, immortal skin from the eyes of the mortals around him.
The tall dark man, the mortals called Balthasar, could sense the growing dissension within the caravan. From atop his camel, he could hear their hushed whispers. They believed that the Kings had gone mad. No wise man would wander the barren desert following a star simply to see a newborn baby. There had been moments during their journey when it did seem like madness, but they were committed to see their quest to its end. They had come to far to turn back now.
The previous night, the Magi had stood before King Herod and told him of the star that had brought them to his kingdom. They had traveled from Persia to see the ancient prophecy fulfilled, and asked the monarch where the baby lay so that they might see this "King of Kings". Herod explained that the babe of whom they spoke was to be born in the town of Bethlehem, but he had not yet found the child. Herod urged the three Magi Kings to search diligently for the infant, and upon finding the babe, he asked that the Magi Kings send word to him so that he too might pay homage to this "chosen one".
But Balthasar saw that Herod's true intentions were not so honorable. As he stood, staring at King Herod with immortal eyes, Balthasar also looked into his mind. He saw that the mortal king seated before him was plotting to slaughter this child whose destiny to overthrow Herod's reign was foretold by the prophets.
Balthasar felt his ancient heart quicken. Mighty King Herod feared a newborn infant. Could it be that this child they had crossed the desert to find was truly the son of God? Was he witnessing an act of a supreme being, of God himself? Balthasar had to know...
He rode on in silence, listening to the undercurrent of gossip among the caravan with inhuman ears. Men had been disappearing along their journey from Persia to Herod's throne, and finally, to Bethlehem. It was assumed that the missing men had abandoned the mission across the desert and fled back to Persia, but had they been able to see beneath the sand, they would have found many bloodless bodies along their route. Balthasar's immortality came at a very high price.
It didn't matter. He had no need for grooms and servants and cooks, and, in fact, had no real need for his camel, although it did help him to hide his pronounced limp. He shifted his body slightly, finding the camel saddle to be extremely uncomfortable.
"Do you require another pillow, my master, Balthasar?" An attentive young servant called up to him.
He waved the boy off, refusing his offer; as he instinctively reached down to touch his lower leg. Feeling the cool porcelain limb was still in its proper place, the King urged his camel onward. The excitement was building within him with each passing hour. He was nearing the end of this journey, nearing the fulfillment of perhaps the greatest prophecy ever foretold. If the Jewish prophets were correct, then he was about to look into the eyes of God incarnate!
How he wished he could share this moment with his maker. She had an inquiring mind, and spent centuries in search of philosophical truths. He knew she would have been eager to join him in this quest. With the rise of the Jews, they had spent countless hours together debating the reality of a single God. They had stood and watched the gods of the Egyptians, Greeks and the Romans fall, and yet they still had never found answers. She could debate nightly until the sun rose. Oh, how he missed hearing her ideas on philosophy and religion, but that was lifetimes ago...
As the Kings traveled on through the night, his mind drifted back to his mortal days in Egypt. As a young man, he had been a soldier for his Pharaoh until the battle, which cost him his lower leg. He survived the fight, but over the years, he lost the inner-struggle with bitterness. Angry and disgusted with his deformity, he became a sharp-tongued servant, traded from household to household until the day he saw her. Her hair was as dark as coal with warm brown eyes that masked her intelligence behind their sultry, mysterious beauty.
He had never met a woman like her before. Maybe he never would again. Her knowledge of politics and philosophy intrigued him, and after speaking with her for only a few brief minutes, he had known that he would be her loyal servant until his death.
He fulfilled that oath, managing her household until he became deathly ill. He never dreamed that she would repay him with eternal life... But then he hadn't known that his Mistress was a vampire.
He still missed her, and thought of her often, but it was impossible for him to return. She already had a companion, and he loved her far too much to spend eternity watching her love another man.
He was known as Bomani when he left Egypt to travel the world. He journeyed far north, until he reached the distant land of Persia, where he began training as a Magus. After countless hours night after night of voraciously reading, learning and teaching others, his reputation gained him favor with a wealthy Lord in the desert land. The Lord had been unsuccessful in conquering nearby nomadic tribes and begged for Bomani's assistance. Using his strategic plans, the Lord was able to reclaim his lands from the nomads, and upon their victory, he gratefully bestowed upon him a new Persian name. He granted him a noble title meaning, War Advisor... Bomani became, Balthasar.
Upon the monarch's death, he bequeathed the rule of his small kingdom to the much-admired magus, Balthasar. Soon, Balthasar became a benevolent ruler who was adored by all who lived within his reign. Always careful to keep his face veiled, no mortal ever laid eyes on his ageless flesh.
Many years had passed before the news reached his region that Moses had led the Jews to freedom from slavery in Egypt. The ancient ruler was pleased. Having been a servant during his mortal life, he too, believed that every man should be free, but the thought of the cosmos being created by a single omnipotent God, as the Jews claimed, seemed preposterous to him at the time. In his opinion, the world was too complex to be the work of one being.
Over the centuries, there were many Jewish prophets who foretold of a coming Messiah, and although Bomani, or Balthasar as he was known in Persia, did not practice this religion, the Magi in his country always strived to gain knowledge of the spiritual as well as the physical world, so as the prophecies of the different religions reached his kingdom, Balthasar kept record of them.
Decades later, he awoke to find the night sky aglow as the heaven's parted to welcome a single star's beam of light. The light shone directly onto him casting his silhouette over the desert sands. He stood in awe of the strange light, finally wondering if this was the sign from Jehovah as the Jewish prophets had foretold.
Quickly the Magi came together to discuss this blazing sign that glowed above them. Determined to understand the star's true meaning, Melchior, Caspar and Balthasar vowed to follow the star's light, and within hours, they set out on their journey to seek out â€˜the one born to be King'.
Many weeks had passed since they left Persia, and tonight their journey would reach its end. Balthasar could see that the star's light had stopped ahead of them, shining down on the rooftop of a small house in the town of Bethlehem. As they drew closer, Balthasar's brow furrowed. The star shone not on a home, but a lowly cattle stall. Could this truly be the birthplace of a mighty king?
The night air seemed too quiet as the Magi dismounted their camels. Not even the sound of the desert winds broke the silence of the moment. Balthasar could feel magic surround him as he collected his gift for the child, and silently he wondered how he would know if this was truly the "Christ Child" that filled so many of the Hebrew prophecies. Servants quickly surrounded him placing the robes of royalty over his windblown linens. Finally, two more servants approached the dark veiled King as he knelt to receive his crown. Upon placing it on his head, the servants bowed, whispering praises to their ruler as they retreated back to the caravan.
Balthasar gazed down at his appearance. It still stunned him to see his royal turnout. He had been, Bomani, a slave for most of his mortal life, and at times he still felt like that servant of long ago, not the Magi King of this night.
He took his gift of gold and approached Melchior and Caspar. He didn't know them well, but he knew that they were very committed and learned Magi Kings, and, like himself, longed to know if this was indeed the Son of God.
The three Kings nodded to one another and slowly entered the stable. Nothing could have prepared Balthasar for the scene he found. He could sense a tangible love filling the stall, touching and surrounding all who entered. The animals were alert, but stood eerily still and silent as Balthasar quietly gazed at the mother of this "Child of God".
He looked into her mind and found that her name was Mary. Her face radiated a pure beauty unlike anything he had ever seen. Her long dark hair was pulled back and she looked up toward her husband with deep adoration.
Balthasar felt his hands tremble as her mind opened further to him. She was truly a pure beauty, for although she had given birth to a son, she had never laid with her husband, or any mortal man. Mary, the mother of this Chosen One, was a virgin...
Then he turned his silent attention toward her husband, Joseph. He was a tall man with dark brown curled locks of hair. His hands were hardened from years of hard labor. The Magi King easily read from his mind that he was a carpenter, and although all of his family and acquaintances insisted that Mary had disgraced him, this humble man bravely upheld her honor and stood beside her. He believed he had seen an Angel of God who proclaimed that he would name his wife's son, Jesus...
"An Angel of God..." The thought echoed through Balthasar's mind.
Gradually he let his vampiric eyes fall onto the baby lying in the manger. This was not an ordinary child. This baby did not cry, and Balthasar could see wisdom in the child's eyes. And there was something else. A light emanated from this infant; an aura of light so pure that could penetrate into even the darkest of souls.
It was this child. His mind whispered. The babe lying before him was the source of love that Balthasar had felt when he entered the stable. It had been coming from the child!
He stared at the baby and suddenly felt the hair on the back of his neck begin to rise. When the child met his eyes he heard a voice speak inside of his mind...
He fell to his knees and bowed his head, hiding the deep red blood tears that were falling from his eyes. He was unworthy to see such a miracle! Without a word, Balthasar offered up his gift of gold, an eternal metal symbolizing the eternal king. He felt Mary lift the weight from his hands, as he remained at the manger with his head bowed.
He began chanting a silent prayer when he heard the voice in his mind once more.
~~ You have been brought here by God to save his only son. You are a most worthy servant, Balthasar, for as you are now a king, you were once a slave. In my Father's kingdom the meek shall inherit the earth, and the servant shall be served. ~~
Then the voice was silent. Balthasar could feel his body tremble as he rose up to look at the innocent child wrapped in swaddling clothes. The baby seemed to glow, bathed in the light of the bright star that had led the Magi to his cradle; his beauty was indescribable. All of the gods that the ancient vampire had ever worshipped hungered for riches and sacrifice. They were powerful, vengeful and vain, but this child was vulnerable, defenseless and innocent... If the Hebrew prophecies were truly the word of God, then this was like no God Balthasar had ever known. This was a God who loved his creation so much that he chose to come down from the heavens and walk among his people as one of them.
The Magus suddenly found it difficult to believe what his eyes saw before him. Balthasar cast his gaze down, ashamed to look upon the babe. How could he, a blood drinker and child of the night, deserve this God's love? Had this God of the Jews called him? Could his journey across the desert be part of a divine plan?
He forced his eyes up one last time to look upon the child before rising to stand. The star had led them to meet King Herod, and then to find this baby, all in the dark of night. He stood slowly, knowing now why he had been brought to this place to see this miracle.
Balthasar approached Joseph and nodded in greeting. "Glad tidings to you, Joseph. I have been given a sign from God that King Herod wishes to slay this child. He fears your babe is the child the prophets foretold would grow to overpower him and take his throne. You must take Mary and the child away from this land and into Egypt. Use our gifts to finance the journey, but make haste. Herod may already be searching for you."
He turned to face Caspar and Melchior, and the three Magi Kings slowly exited the small stable. It was decided that each would take a different route to return to their homelands so that Herod would not be able to question them on the location of the Chosen One. Balthasar watched as the caravan dispersed. He sent his grooms and servants with Melchior and Caspar. He would no longer need them.
Instead, the mysterious Magus turned and walked alone toward the south, toward his ancient home of Egypt. With each step, he removed a royal garment until he was clothed only in a slave's white robe as he walked through the darkness. The Magus King, Balthasar, was no more.
Bomani moved quickly as the blowing desert sands stung his uncovered face. Finally he stopped and looked up into the night sky, weeping tears of joy for the knowledge that he was no longer alone in his endless night...
"You gave us your gift of love in darkness, that even we, who live only in the dark of night, might see your light..."
Centuries have gone by since that night, and each year a dark stranger still walks through the same sands to the place where a stable once stood. The bright light of a single star shines down, silhouetting his thin frame on the sand, and he stands alone and silent, looking up into the starlight, hoping that one day there will be an end to his wandering. And waiting for the day when the child he saw so many years ago will finally bring his servant home...
Lisa Wilson wrote her first book entitled "The Wonder of Unicorn Creek" at the age of eleven. Her tiny elementary school was her publisher, and it was a whopping nine pages long. Since then she has been an avid reader and writer of dark fiction, but only recently began publishing her work. Her stories have been seen on Horrorfind, Twilight Times, The Writers Hood, Savage Night, The Murder Hole, Behold and Shadowkeepzine. She recently won Second Place in Behold's short story contest, her short story "Immortal Beloved" has been recommended for a Stoker award, and her first novel Night Walker is currently seeking a publisher.
Lisa is currently working on two more novels. When she's not writing, Lisa is a professional singer, performing with the San Diego Opera as well as other musical theater companies. She lives in southern California with her husband and two children.
Previously published in Horrorfind. Re-printed by permission of the author.
Sir Edward Burne-Jones. Painted circa 1888.