I Give My Myrrh To Thee

We know very little about the Three Kings.  In time for Christmas, this fictional story is about the secret burdens of a young Balthazar.  It is meant to exemplify the spirit of the season and remind us of the hope and joy that rests in the King of Kings, and Savior of the World.  Enjoy!

***

“I don’t like that tutor’s lessons.  He bores me,” eight-year-old Ekurzakir complained as he walked along the stone path through the courtyard surrounded by the palace walls.

“He bores everyone,” his ten-year-old brother Balthazar agreed.  “Nutesh agreed with us too,” he referred to their older brother, “But Father and Mother like him.  Nutesh said we’ll never be rid of him.”

Ekurzakir sighed and kicked a stone with the inside of his foot.

Suddenly, Balthazar sniffed the air.  “Do you smell that?”

Ekurzakir inhaled sharply through his nose and shook his head.  “No.  What’s it smell like?”

“Like…burning.  Something burning.  I wonder if the cook set fire to dinner again.”

Ekurzakir giggled.

Balthazar sniffed again and said, “It’s getting stronger.  It’s awful.  Do you not smell it?”

“No,” Ekurzakir shook his head, and tried again to smell the offending scent.  “I really don’t smell it.”

Balthazar stopped walking and held his abdomen with one hand.  “I don’t feel well…”

Suddenly, his younger brother looked concerned. “Should I call the healer?”

“It’s as if something is rising inside of me,” the ten-year-old said, and then his expression went blank.  He stared straight ahead, and his left arm began to shake.

“Balthazar?” Ekurzakir asked, his face the picture of terror.  “What’s happening?”

But his brother did not respond.

Ekurzakir looked around somewhat frantically, hoping that some adult would walk by and notice their distress.  But no one came.  Tears began to well in young Ekurzakir’s eyes.  “Please, stop,” he begged Balthazar.  “Please stop what you’re doing.”

As suddenly as it started, Balthazar’s arm stopped shaking and he looked around, confused.  His eyes drooped slightly. “I’m so tired,” he said, and stumbled backward.

Ekurzakir caught him by the arm.  “What just happened?”

“What?” Balthazar asked, confused.

“Why did your arm shake?”

Before the ten-year-old could answer, the boys’ blood chilled at the sound that reverberated throughout the palace grounds.  The long, deep boom of the battle horn that announced an invasion was a sound they both knew all too well.

“We must go seek shelter,” Ekurzakir said, and grabbed his older brother’s arm.  “Come, Balthazar!”

Balthazar lethargically followed, blinking forcefully in an attempt to awaken himself.

“Prince Balthazar!  Prince Ekurzakir!”

They turned at the sound of their names, and saw one of their father’s advisors running toward them.

“I am so glad to have found you!  Follow me immediately!  I am to get you to shelter.”

“Uktannu!” Ekurzakir exclaimed.  “Balthazar was sent an omen of the invasion!  He fell ill just before the horn sounded!  His arm shook…as if…as if he was longing to hold a sword!”

Balthazar shot a disapproving look at his younger brother.  “I’m very tired,” he told Uktannu.  “I feel it’s very hard to stay awake right now.”

“Come, both of you.  There’s no time for this.  Come!” Uktannu urged them, and grabbed them by the arms.  He nearly dragged them the rest of the way across the courtyard and into the safety of the palace walls.

They were led toward the cellar, but Ekurzakir stopped in his tracks when he saw his eldest brother.  “Nutesh!  Nutesh!  Are you going to fight the invaders?”

Fourteen-year-old Nutesh, dressed in armor sized for his stripling frame, turned to face his eight-year-old brother.  His expression was that of a boy trying desperately to appear stoic.  But it was not hard to see the fear in his eyes.  He walked over to them, and Uktannu was forced to oblige and stop dragging the little boys to safety.

“I will ride with Father.  He has asked me to accompany him.”

“Balthazar has had an omen!” Ekurzakir proclaimed.

“Would you stop saying that?!” Balthazar shot back.

Nutesh glanced between them, and then took Balthazar by the hand.  “Brother,” he said, and searched his brother’s eyes as the ten-year-old seemed to be trying to stay awake.  “Brother, should anything happen to me, the crown will one day fall on your head.  Do well and follow the teachings of our parents.”

Balthazar nodded, and blinked again.

“Are you unwell?” Nutesh asked him.

“I feel very much like sleeping.”

Nutesh seemed concerned, but had much on his mind.  He grabbed the back of Balthazar’s head with his hand and drew him into his chest armor.  “Pray for my safe return, and I will pray for your safety behind these walls.”

“I will pray,” Balthazar promised.

“Prince Nutesh, it is of the utmost importance that I follow the King’s instructions and get these young boys to safety,” Uktannu insisted.

“Of course.  Stay well, Balthazar.  And Ekurzakir…” Nutesh locked eyes with the eight-year-old.  “…be careful who you speak to when you announce an omen.  You will attract attention we do not wish to have.”

Ekurzakir nodded solemnly.

The teenager turned and hurried away, and Uktannu led the boys into a door with a spiraling stone staircase leading deep into the dungeon-like cellar, where hopefully the King’s precious cargo would be safe.

Their other sisters and brothers joined them shortly, with various servants escorting them one by one.  Locked in the dark, Balthazar fell asleep in his twelve-year-old sister’s lap, unable to keep his eyes open any longer.

He awoke hours later to the sound of a thunderous roar.  Outside, they could faintly hear the sound of a baby crying, and men shouting.  There was an eerie silence in the cellar, with none of the siblings speaking.  Even five-year-old Tabni was silent.  They could all hear shouting, and banging, and the angry and desperate and terrified screams of those trying to fend off their city’s worst nightmare.  But there was no smoke seeping through the door, and the door itself was not rattling with the sound of an enemy combatant attempting to break through.  They were safe for now.

Balthazar had lived through this moment four times in his short life.  Their father was usually successful in fighting off the neighboring attackers, even when they entered the city walls.  But the ten-year-old knew these battles came with a heavy price.  He had no time to process the thoughts flooding his mind.  He certainly did not think of his brother’s odd insistence that he had received an omen earlier, or shaken.  He remembered none of that, anyway.  He concluded that it was Ekurzakir’s runaway imagination that had overcome him in their moment of terror when the horn first blew.

The stillness in the cellar was jarred suddenly as the door was thrown open, and the Queen ran in with one of her maids barely keeping up with the torch behind her.  Someone slammed the cellar door shut.

Tears streamed down the Queen’s face, and she fell into Balthazar’s confused arms.  “Oh, my babies, my babies,” she sobbed, unable to articulate anything more complex than that.

Befuddled, Balthazar finally found his voice.  “Mother,” he pulled out of the hug, but she only went to embrace Ekurzakir, Tabni, and their sisters.  When she seemed to have calmed down, Balthazar asked again, “Mother, please.  How have we fared?  What has happened to the city?”

“We are victorious, but Uktannu has betrayed us.  He is fallen by the sword.  Your brother and father have returned and are alive.  And we are now destroying the last of the enemies within the walls.”

Balthazar breathed a sigh of relief.

“Mother, Balthazar received an omen,” Ekurzakir said again, and Balthazar seized him by the arm.

“Stop this at once!” he ordered his younger brother.  “Stop saying things that did not happen!  You ought to know better.”

“But it did happen!” the eight-year-old insisted. “Your arm shook.  You said you smelled something burning, as if the city burned!  And then you felt something rising in you—Father’s conquering forces, overcoming our attackers!” he concluded.  “And then your arm shook, as if you held a sword.  You must need to go and fight with Nutesh!  That’s what the omen means!”

The Queen looked between the boys and frowned in concern.  “Is this true, Balthazar?  Did you truly receive such an omen?”

Balthazar clenched his jaw in frustration.  “I remember nothing of that sort, Mother.  I promise you.  And I don’t think Ekurzakir is able to interpret omens even if I had received one.”

The eight-year-old folded his arms with contempt.  “I did see it happen,” he said.

The Queen seemed troubled, and she stood.  “Well…we will discuss it with your father later.  We will stay here until the guard enters and tells us that the city is free of the last of the invaders.”

Ekurzakir stormed off, dissatisfied, and sat with Tabni and his twin sister, Gemeti.  Balthazar rolled his eyes, but his mother placed a comforting hand on his shoulder. “No one will make you fight before your time, my son.”

“I am not afraid to fight,” he said immediately.

She smiled.  “Of course you aren’t.  You will grow to a powerful warrior one day.  But do not let your younger siblings goad you into going into battle before you have completed your training.  You will join your older brother soon enough.”

He nodded in agreement, and mother and son stood staring at the door, waiting for the signal that they could step out into the wreckage that they would again need to rebuild.

***

“On the anniversary of your birth, and after eleven years of life in this land, I will share the records of our people with you, my son, as I did for your older brother who will one day be king in my place.”  Balthazar’s father held the torch in front of them as they walked down a narrow, stone passageway underground to the well-guarded, secret rooms beneath the palace.  “My father did this for me when I was eleven, and now I do this for you.  To teach you the promises of the prophets and the covenants we keep with the Father in Heaven.”

Balthazar nodded reverently and followed his father the King in silence.

“You will learn much in these next three years before you join me at my side in my court, learning the ways of governance so that, should your brother die, you would be able to rule and reign in this house.”

“Yes, Father,” Balthazar replied.

“And after much tutelage since you were only four years old, you are now able to read and understand.  So you should spend your free time at least in part searching the scrolls and studying the prophets.”

“Yes, Father.”

“This will prepare you to understand the ways of the Lord.”

They rounded a corner and stepped through a narrow, low door.  The King stooped low before standing up straight in the large room.  Balthazar breathed out in awe as he saw seemingly numberless scrolls of records, organized carefully on shelves.

The flickering light of the torch that his father holstered against the wall made the room seem even more majestic.

“It is an impressive number of records, my son,” the King agreed with the reverent awe communicated on his son’s face.  “And you should be as respectful of it always as you are now.  These are the records you, too, will keep.”

Just then, Balthazar smelled the burning again.  His eyes grew wide, and he looked to his father in alarm.  “Can you smell that, Father?”

The King looked troubled. “Smell what?”

“The burning.  The same burning I smelled before the invasion.  Father…it is not the torches.  It is a different smell.”  The eleven-year-old’s mind flew through the possibilities that perhaps Ekurzakir was right, perhaps this was an omen, perhaps the city they had just repaired was now being invaded yet again.  He half expected to hear the horn, but he wondered if the horn could even be heard down here, deep under the palace.

He felt the cramp in his stomach, and the odd sensation of rising occur yet again.  “Oh, no,” he said aloud, and his father looked helpless and concerned.

Then, Balthazar’s expression went blank.  His tongue migrated to the right of his mouth and protruded out, and he smacked his lips.  And then his arm began to shake.  He jerked his head and fell.  The King caught him before he hit the ground.  He made an odd noise, and the King clenched his jaw in frustration that he could do nothing to help.  He dared not call one of the guards in, lest they believe his son had a devil.

Almost as quickly as the episode came on, it ended, and Balthazar blinked drowsily.  “Father?” he asked.

“Oh, my son,” the ruler exhaled in relief.  “Balthazar…”

“What happened, Father?  Is it another invasion?” he asked, his words slurred.  He tried to blink the sleep away.

“No.  I do not know what it is, but it is not an invasion.  History may be repeating itself and…” he looked into the eyes of his exhausted eleven-year-old, “…just sleep now, my little one.  We will deal with this when you awaken.”

***

“Your uncle was believed to have a devil,” the Queen told him.  They sat in the privacy of the King and Queen’s bedroom suite and spoke in low tones so that no servants could hear.  “He began to have odd behavior when he was thirteen.  And it got worse and worse.  The devil would seize him unaware, and thrash his body on the ground.  Then the devil would leave him.”

The king pursed his lips, and folded his arms.  “It is why he did not become king, Balthazar.  Because the word spread, and the household believed it was a devil.  Even my father believed it was a devil.  I never did.  I did not think my brother, so righteous in thought and deed, could have a devil.  I thought it was a sickness.  And now that you have it as well, I believe more firmly than ever that it is a sickness.”

“Shall we call for the healer, then?” Balthazar asked his parents, his heart racing as he considered the gravity of what they were suggesting.

The Queen shook her head. “There are no remedies for this.”

“We have already searched.  When I became King, I searched for remedies from every healer, going as far east and west as our trade routes may.  And then my brother died when an episode threw his body down and he hit his head.  This happened when you were quite young—too young to remember,” his father told him.  Then a thoughtful glint entered his eye.  “Perhaps that is why the Lord suffered my brother to be ill for so long.  We searched for a remedy, and know that none exists.  So that we do not need to search again.  So we might keep you hidden.”

The Queen looked over at her husband.

The King leaned in and said, “None but Ekurzakir know of this.  And the Lord saw fit to give you a warning.  When you smell burning, and feel the rising feeling, the episode is about to overtake you.”

“Yes, Father,” Balthazar agreed.

“So you might hide yourself, and lay down, and protect yourself.  So that you might not suffer the same fate as Nikanur your uncle.”

“But what if it happens in a crowd?” Balthazar asked, worried.

“You would need to remain in the palace, my son,” the Queen said mournfully.  “You would need to remain secluded.  So that no one would see.”

“And you might still be able to reign in my stead, should Nutesh fall by the sword or succumb to sickness,” his father concluded. “The fate of the kingdom might rest in our ability to hide you from the world.”

Balthazar felt tears welling in his throat, and beat them down.  He would not cry in front of his father.  “But…I don’t wish to protest your orders, Father, but…I do not wish to never feel the sun on my face again.  I do not wish to remain in the palace as a prisoner for the rest of my days.”

“You will do as I instruct,” his father told him firmly, but the Queen took his hand comfortingly.  The King softened his tone slightly as he added, “for upon your shoulders rests the land, and the records, and all else, should Nutesh perish.  You are second in line to the throne.  It is likely that sometime in your life, you will be King.  You must not shirk your duties.  There are too many dependent on you to lead.”

“Nutesh is young and healthy,” Balthazar told them both.

“You know as well as we do that life is fleeting, and at any time our Lord God might call Nutesh home,” the Queen said softly, and stroked his hand.  “As He already has Ettu.”  Ettu was Nutesh’s older sister, fourteen months his senior, who had only died six months ago of a raging fever.

He bowed his head in shame.  He did not mean to force his mother to relive that pain.  After a long silence, Balthazar nodded. “I will do it.  I will remain hidden.  I will not go without the palace walls.”

“You may spend your days studying the scrolls, and learning, and growing in stature and strength.  And perhaps you will outgrow this sickness,” his father said hopefully.

Balthazar nodded again.  “Yes, Father.”

“Never let anyone see you thrash.  You must always be within short running distance of a secluded place.  We will assign a servant to accompany you at all times,” the Queen told him.  “And in this manner will we hide this from the world, so that no one will believe you have a devil.”

“Thank you for saving me,” he looked up at them suddenly.  It had just connected in his mind that his fate would be far worse than a lifetime of seclusion if it became known that he had been possessed by a devil.  Then the pressure would mount for him to be killed.  And even the King and Queen might not be able to withstand that sort of political pressure.  His parents, through this sentence of imprisonment, had actually freed him.

“We love you, my son,” the Queen embraced him.

The King clutched his shoulder and after a moment, when Balthazar and the Queen separated, he summoned his son’s gaze.  The ruler’s piercing eyes seemed to peer in to Balthazar’s soul. “I have told you before, and I have instructed you never to tell this to Nutesh.  But I know…I have received a promise…that you will accomplish an important purpose.  And you will be remembered for thousands of years.”

Balthazar nodded solemnly.

“They will sing for ages about your journey on this Earth.  Balthazar, your fate is not a grim one but one worthy of endless song.”

“Yes, Father,” he said softly.

And then the King’s strong arms pulled his little son into an embrace.  A single tear rolled down the ruler’s cheek.  “And it is my duty to keep you safe,” he whispered.

***

The infinite depths of space enveloped him.  He stared up at numberless worlds, all created by the Eternal Father, and for a moment was floating in that space, away from the palace, and in a world all of his own.  He came here every evening.  It was the only place his personal guard, Rihat, did not accompany him.  Here atop the palace roof, on a small ledge out of sight of any onlookers, he was completely alone with his stars and his God.  He prayed here.  He thought here.  He dreamed here.  He often even slept here.

Suddenly, his reverie was broken as he felt a sharp pain in his abdomen.  He jumped, and looked at the source of the offending sensation.  A small stone.  And then another one flew into his leg.

“What?  What is the meaning of this?!”

He heard adolescent laughter and looked over the ledge to see his fourteen-year-old brother Ekurzakir with his friends in the garden below.  “See?  I told you we’d find him here.  My brother, the mad hermit!”

Balthazar clenched his jaw in frustration. “Leave me in solitude!” he growled.

That only made Ekurzakir and his friends laugh more.  “That quite proves your point!” one of them declared.

“Okay, okay, Balthazar, we’ll leave you to search the sky for your magical star.”

“You’re a fool, Ekurzakir!” Sixteen-year-old Balthazar yelled after his brother as the boy turned and led his friends away.  “You mock the prophecies and you will pay!”

Ekurzakir made his hand into the likeness of a mouth and motioned it ‘speaking’ as he walked away from Balthazar.

Balthazar picked up a stone and hurled it back at his brother, but missed and hit his friend instead.

The teenager whirled and was about to go after him, but Ekurzakir caught his arm.  “We must not actually harm the hermit.  He’s mad and doesn’t know what he’s doing.”

“I know exactly what I’m doing!  It’s you who doesn’t realize what he’s doing!  It’s you who goes about spreading lies about me out of jealousy!  You sin against your family and your God, and you will pay!”  Balthazar picked up another stone and hurled it at Ekurzakir, and his brother ducked out of the way.  With a nervous chuckle, the fourteen-year-old pulled his friend’s arm as he turned and walked away.

Balthazar exhaled, trying to get the anger to leave his body.  He knelt down and closed his eyes briefly before looking up at his beloved stars again.  “My Eternal Father in the Heavens, why hast Thou placed me in this body?  Why hast Thou given me this burden to bear?  Why must I be Balthazar, the hermit Prince?” he said with disgust.  “Why?  Why must I be afflicted with such a sore thing to bear?  Is this not more grievous than is fair to give to a man?  Was Job so afflicted as me?”  He immediately realized his error, and sighed.  “I am an imperfect man, and feel quite overwhelmed,” he confessed.  “I cannot go without the walls and fight with Father.  I cannot defend our family and our home.  Ekurzakir mocks me endlessly.  He is jealous, and believes that it is not a sickness, but a devil that I have.  I feel…I feel certain that Thou will soon send a King to conquer all of our enemies, and all of our afflictions.  But if it is Thy will, perhaps Thou could send the King now, and cease my waiting, staring at the stars for Thy sign.”

He fell silent, and fixed his gaze upon the infinite glory above.  But the stars held their place in the firmament, and nothing new appeared.

“Prince Balthazar!” Rihat’s voice sliced through his personal despair with a tone of distressed urgency.  Instantly, Balthazar forgot his worries and stood to face his guard who ascended the ladder to the rooftop platform.  “Prince Balthazar, come quickly.  Your father and Nutesh…”

Rihat usually did not look so disturbed.

“What is it, Rihat?  What’s happened to them?”

“There has been a horrible accident.  The healers are working, but you must come now.”

“Send word to Ekurzakir.  He isn’t far,” Balthazar said immediately, and followed his guard down the ladder.  Oh my Father, please do not allow me to have an episode right now.

They met another servant who had sent word to Rihat, and they ran together as the servant led them down through the palace.  Down an endless maze of stone corridors, down to the new defense tunnels that the workers had only just started constructing.  It was Nutesh’s idea and he had been leading the project, with the support of the King.  A cloud of dust still hung in the air around the collapsed tunnel where a large crowd of servants stood.

They pushed through the crowd and found a team of healers attempting to dress the wounds of the King and his eldest son.  Balthazar’s breath caught in his throat as he saw the horrific nature of the wounds.  He had never before seen the bones of a living person, let alone his beloved father and brother.  He immediately felt sick.

The healers placed splints and wrapped bleeding wounds in tightly-wound cloth.  They elevated the legs.  More healers came with oils and sprinkled them on the King and prince’s chests.  Guards arrived and ordered the gawkers to leave.  The healers began to chant the healing hymns in a desperate attempt to save their lives.

“We must move them to places of healing, not surrounded by the filth of this tunnel,” Balthazar ordered.  “They will not heal here.”

“We have learned that moving an injured person too quickly will take their lives, my lord,” one of the healers advised. “It is my humble suggestion that we leave them both here until the blood no longer soaks through the bandages immediately.”

Balthazar reluctantly nodded his agreement.  “Then…I will stay here with them.”

Ekurzakir shortly arrived without his friends, and grabbed Balthazar’s shoulder.  “What’s happened?” he demanded.

“The tunnel collapsed,” Balthazar pointed obviously.  “Bring the architect here who constructed it.  Bring him here immediately.”

“Yes, Prince Balthazar,” a guard responded, and ran to find the architect.

“You may leave, Ekurzakir,” Balthazar ordered his younger brother.  “I only wanted you to come to see what’s happened.  There is no need for you to stay.  You may go back to your friends.”

“I…I want to stay.”  The fourteen-year-old’s typical sarcastic, defiant tone was gone, replaced with a shaken horror Balthazar had never heard from him before.

He felt his heart softening, and nodded.  “Very well,” he said softly.

“My lord, I suggest that we treat bleeding wounds which do not stop bleeding with a heated bronze probe,” one healer said.  “It will cause a burn, but it may stop the bleeding.”

“Use your best judgment and your efforts will not be punished,” Balthazar told him.

A half hour went by, and the healers used all of their modern medicine and magic.  They continued to pray for healing.  But the blood soaked through the bandages despite their attempt to cauterize the wounds.  Neither Nutesh nor the King awoke.  Nutesh coughed blood several times.  A messenger left the city gates to ride quickly to the Queen, who was visiting her cousin in the north.  It would take two days to bring her word.

The architect was brought to the scene, and looked in horror at the collapsed tunnel.  He immediately fell at Balthazar’s feet.  “My lord, my lord, I sorrow deeply,” he exclaimed, his breath catching in his throat.  “Please, have mercy.  I do not know what happened.”

“You will investigate what happened.  You will return here tomorrow and you will discover the source of the collapse, and give me a report.  You will then ensure this never happens again,” Balthazar ordered.  “Do you understand me?”

“Yes, my lord.”

“Look at this scene.  Look at it!” he felt anger rising in his chest.  “If I discover that your incompetence was the reason behind this collapse I will have you executed,” he yelled.  “And I will have others investigating so that you can’t falsify the results.  Now leave.  Go!”

“Yes, my lord,” he said, his voice shaking.

Rihat looked concerned as the architect was led away.  He placed a caring hand on Balthazar’s arm and said, “Prince Balthazar, perhaps it would be wise to wait a bit to decide on any final judgments.”

Balthazar shot an angry glance at Rihat, who bowed his head.  Then the sixteen-year-old’s expression softened, and he nodded.  “I…will take some time,” he stated succinctly.

After a while, a few servants brought stools for Ekurzakir, Rihat, and Balthazar.  They sat as sentinels by their father and brother’s side.  Finally, about an hour after the architect had left, Nutesh’s twenty-year-old frame let out a harsh, agonal gasp, and then rattled out a horrible-sounding breath.  He coughed more blood, and then stopped breathing.

Balthazar dropped to his brother’s side and grabbed his lifeless hand. “Nutesh, please…” he begged.  “Please revive.”

The healers wafted vapors into the Prince’s nose and mouth as they held his head back.  They chanted the hymns of revival.  But Nutesh did not revive.

Ekurzakir knelt beside Balthazar, his eyes wide and terrified.  “Is he…”

Balthazar could not hold back the sob from his throat.  He clenched his dead brother’s hand in both of his, and then stood.  He stumbled backward, and Rihat caught him.  “My lord, do you need to leave?” he asked knowingly.

But Balthazar shook his head.  It was emotional distress, not an episode, that was overcoming him now.

Well into the early hours of the evening, they stood watch over the King.  Even after the servants came and removed the body of his brother to be dressed for his funeral, Balthazar stayed.  Ekurzakir stayed with him and uncharacteristically, he seldom spoke a word.  Finally, the King’s breaths grew further apart.  Though he did not cough blood like Nutesh had, his body became pale, as if dead.  And then, hardly in the manner Balthazar thought a king should die, he did not go suddenly, but faded so slowly that for several minutes, Balthazar was unsure he was actually dead.

The healers did not seem to know either, until one of them placed his hands on the king’s wrists.  The elderly man’s face was grave as he declared, “The King is dead.”  He then turned to Balthazar.  “All hail, King Balthazar.”

“All hail King Balthazar,” the others echoed, and Ekurzakir scrunched his face in anguish.  The fourteen-year-old fell down at his father’s side and wept openly.

Rihat placed a hand on his charge’s shoulder.  His inquiring expression, illuminated by the light of the torches surrounding the dreaded scene, seemed to ask Balthazar, “are you still well, or do you need to leave?”

Balthazar simply nodded in acknowledgement.  He felt numb.  He couldn’t process what had just happened.  “Send word throughout the land.  And send a messenger after the one who left to inform my mother.”  He heard himself speak as if someone else had spoken.  “Physicians, prepare their bodies for a dignified burial.  Guards, let no one walk on these grounds.  Not until the architects have had time to inspect it and determine the cause of the collapse.  We will ensure that nothing like this ever happens again,” he told them with determination, simply because he wanted to be determined and sure about something right now.  He stood and walked away, unable to bear the sight of his deceased father on the floor.

Under a starry sky, King Balthazar headed to his room, Rihat following closely behind.  Maybe he would awaken and find it had all been a horrible dream.  Maybe going to sleep would somehow transport him into a reality where everything was as it was a few hours before.  But the sixteen-year-old knew in his heart that it was not so.  My Lord and King, give me strength.  I cannot bear this without Thy help.  I ask this in the name of the Messiah, Who I know will come.  Let it be so.

 

***

“You cannot let this happen, Mother!  You cannot!”

“Ekurzakir, calm yourself immediately.  You are behaving as a child.”

“I am concerned about the welfare of our kingdom!!” the fourteen-year-old exploded.

His mother gave him a skeptical, perhaps even annoyed glance.  “You are annoyed that your brother is about to be crowned.  Tabni is behaving more rationally than you.”

“Tabni is an eleven-year-old child who doesn’t understand the gravity of our king being possessed with a devil!”

The Queen promptly slapped Ekurzakir across the cheek.  “You will never pronounce that in this household again.”

The boy held his cheek, shocked. After a tense moment, he said, “I know about his thrashing.  I saw it happen and no one believed me, until I discovered that he continued to have episodes.  He’s had them his entire life.  The devil overtakes him,” he dared to say, and his mother raised her hand again, but he stepped out of the way.  “You know it!  You knew it for years, and you’ve protected him.  That’s why he hides in this palace.  So that no one else would know.   How can you permit him to rule the land?!”

“Because he is an intelligent and capable young man who shows restraint and compassion, and more than all of those things, wisdom.  A life of seclusion and hiding his secret illness has turned him into a deep thinker and a scholar, and you, Ekurzakir, are disgracing yourself!”

The boy’s brow descended.  “You are shielding evil in our home and allowing it to come into our land.”

“I am sorry to say that you, my son, would not know evil if it entered your own body.”

He looked shocked.

“I know you doubt and even mock the prophecies.  I know you have laughed at Balthazar for his belief in the sign in the sky and the coming of the Messiah—things you know we have taught you.”

Ekurzakir was silent.

“You believe no one sees your behavior, but I have both seen and heard all, and I am ashamed.  You may leave, my son, and return as soon as you are ready to sustain your brother as King over the land.  May the Eternal Father watch over us if anything should happen to Balthazar, and you become our next ruler.”

The boy took a hesitant step backward, as if not quite sure that his mother really meant all she had said.

“Must I repeat myself?” the Queen asked him, and pointed to the door.  “Leave me in peace.  Now.”

As Ekurzakir left the chamber, he rounded a corner and was met with Balthazar and Rihat.  The young man clenched his jaw and his fist, and brushed past his brother, muttering, “All hail Balthazar, king of the demons of madness.”

“What did you just say?” Balthazar demanded.

Ekurzakir turned and, with his fist still clenched, said, “Nothing.  Nothing, my lord.”  He said the last with a heavy tone of disgust.

Balthazar exhaled in disappointment, but said nothing to his younger brother.  Then he turned and entered his mother’s chamber.  She seemed upset, so he asked, “Did Ekurzakir trouble you, Mother?”

“Yes,” she said, and nodded to Rihat.  “Thank you.  We will speak privately.” He bowed and stepped outside.  When he was gone and the door was shut behind him, she turned again to her son and said, “This isn’t why I called you, but it is something we need to discuss.  We might have to send Ekurzakir away.”

“Send him away?  Where?” Balthazar asked.

“Perhaps to my cousin in the north.  Or far west—”

“Mother, why would we send him away?  He is second in line to the throne,” Balthazar said.  “If anything should happen to me—”

“He may be the thing that happens to you, in due time,” she warned, and her face was the picture of anguish.  “I hate to say it, but he is growing angrier and jealousy rages within him.  I fear…”

His brow wrinkled in concern.

“It would be safer if Tabni were next in line to the throne…”

“Mother, please,” Balthazar said immediately. “Don’t wish ill on Ekurzakir.”

“Oh, of course not!” she immediately protested. “That’s not at all what I mean.”

“I’m sorry I suggested it.”

“Balthazar, your brother knows.  He knows about your illness.”

The sixteen-year-old nodded slowly.  “I am aware.”

“He may expose you.  He believes you have a devil.  He believes the kingdom is in danger, or at least that’s what he says he believes.  If he publicly states his fears, plenty will follow him.”

Balthazar sighed.  He went over to his mother’s mattress and sat down.  Rubbing his eyes with one hand, he said, “It’s been nearly eight months since my last episode.”

“It may happen at any time then,” she said.

“Maybe it will never happen again.  It’s what I’ve prayed for.  It was the promise I received.  When I was deep in the spirit, reading the records.  Two years ago.”

“You never told me this,” she responded, and placed a gentle hand on his cheek.  “Are you quite sure?”

“Quite,” he confirmed. “But I do not know when, or how.  I thought perhaps when the Messiah comes, that will be when I can stop hiding this part of my life.  I feel quite certain that He is the key to all healing.”

She nodded slowly.

“Father believed in the Messiah.  He believed in the signs of His coming.  Honestly, I don’t know how anyone could look up at the sky and not believe in numberless worlds, and the Eternal Lord who created it all.”

“You are capable of deeper thought than most.  It comes from so much solitude.”

He snorted.  “Yes.  The ‘Hermit Prince’ becomes the ‘Hermit King.’  Mother, maybe Ekurzakir is right, in part.  Maybe I should not be king.  Maybe I cannot project strength in my condition.”

She seized him by the arms and forced him to stand. “Balthazar, King of our people, Lord of this land, you are strong.  You are the strongest person I know, and have ever known.  You are wise.  You must never project weakness by asking such questions again.  You are better than that.  You were made of majestic, divine substance, and now is your hour to serve the will of our God, and this people.  Do you understand?”

He nodded slightly.

“Look me in the eye and tell me who you are, my son.”

“I am the King.  I am a servant of the Eternal King.  I am a divine son with infinite potential.” He recited the words she had given him from a young age, though now he had to replace the word ‘prince’ with ‘king.’

“And don’t you ever forget it.  The Lord our God will heal you, if He promised to do so.  Just focus on the task ahead of you.  If your secret is meant to come out, it will come out.  But we will do all that is possible to contain it.  And the Eternal Father’s ways will not be thwarted.  Be confident that you will accomplish His purposes.”

He nodded again.

“Now…about what I called you here for.” She smiled.  “It’s time to plan your ceremony.”

***

Twenty-year-old King Balthazar pushed past Rihat and stormed into the armory. “I must,” he argued.

“You must not!  If you enter the battlefield—”

The horn blew, and Rihat winced.

“We are facing an invasion, and the King will ride out with his brothers!  I will not hide in the depths of the palace!”

“If you have an episode—”

“I had one only two months ago.  I will not have one!”

If you do—”

“Then I will face the consequences!  I am the King!  I may do whatever I wish!”

“Yes, my lord, that is true.  But you may not be free of the consequences of what you do.”

“I already said that I would face the consequences!” he yelled as he put on his armor.  “Now cease this line of questioning immediately!”

“My lord, I do not question your orders, and I will obey whatever you ask.  But I am deeply concerned.”

“I know you are deeply concerned.  Now get out of my way, Rihat!”

He nearly ran into Ekurzakir, who was at the door with Tabni right behind him.

“We ride out to meet them.  If they desire war, we will give them war.  We will not allow the kingdom to fall to that filth,” Balthazar declared.

Ekurzakir looked surprisingly approving, and Tabni nodded his immediate agreement.  It would be Tabni’s first time in battle, and Balthazar could see the fear in his eyes.  He placed a comforting hand on the boy’s bony shoulder.  “We will be victorious,” he promised.

Ten minutes later, the royal horses left the palace as the sword-clad royalty rode forth, surrounded by their guards.  It was only after exiting the gates that Balthazar smelled it.  At first, he denied it was happening.  It was the smell of the torches, or of some awful scent outside the palace walls with which he was unfamiliar.  He had dared venture outside the palace on numerous occasions now, but at Rihat and his mother’s insistence, he mostly stayed inside, close to a secluded place to have an episode in private.

And now here he was, on his horse, the figurehead of the Kingdom.  After having just argued with Rihat for the eightieth time about the wisdom of leaving the palace walls.  With all eyes on him.  Without any place to go.  And if he retreated, it would be a gesture of surrender.  There was no choice but to have his episode right here, in front of everyone.  With all eyes on him.  Terror gripped him as he realized that he was about to lose his kingdom.  All because he insisted on this now obviously foolish plan.

My Eternal Father, is there any way Thou could take this burden from me in this the hour of my need?  Is there any way I could be victorious and not lose my kingdom?

But he felt the rising feeling in his gut, and knew it was coming.

But then an arrow flew past his face, and impacted a guard right behind him.  His guard cried out in pain as his arm was struck.  It was an act of war.

Balthazar drew his sword and raised it high into the sky, knowing full well that in moments, he would drop it as he fell off his horse, unconscious.  Holding his own horse steady, he tried to cling to that feeling in his gut as long as he could, thinking that perhaps he could delay the inevitable as his warriors rode past him at top speed.

Ekurzakir and Tabni rode into battle without question, and in a rather risky move, Balthazar dismounted, and laid face-down on the ground near his horse.  He would likely be trampled.  He knew he had just condemned himself to death, but perhaps his kingdom would still live, and would think of its deceased King Balthazar as a strong leader who had fallen in battle and not disgracefully behind the palace walls.

Then, before the episode began, he felt himself being hoisted upward.  And the world disappeared as it always did.

He awoke on his own bed, his mother the Queen at his side, with Rihat standing as a sentinel near the door.  He bolted upright, and looked around.  “Were we victorious?” he demaneded.

“Yes, easily so,” the Queen said.  “They were ill-prepared for how aggressive they were.  You, however, my son, were quite foolish.”

He sighed, and leaned back.  “I had no choice, Mother.”

“You were nearly killed.  And it is sure that you were discovered by at least some, when Rihat rode out to retrieve you.  You might have been trampled.”

He looked at her pained expression and asked, “How is it being explained?”

“That you knelt in prayer to ask for victory from our Eternal Father, and that He granted it to you.  And that you were wounded by a stray arrow, but are recovering.”

“Well, that’s very good.”

“We cannot do this again,” she told him firmly.  “You will not do that again.”

“How can I allow Ekurzakir and Tabni to ride out into battle and I stay behind?”

“Other kings stay behind the walls of their palace,” his mother replied.

“I am not one of them!” he proclaimed.  “We were blessed with years of peace after my coronation.  We will not be so fortunate throughout my entire life.”

“Then you must face the consequences of the kingdom believing we have a possessed king!”

He locked eyes with her, and did not respond.

“You must lose your pride, Balthazar, or you will lose your kingdom!”

“The Messiah is coming soon—”

Stop!  Stop using that as an excuse to believe that you do not have this affliction.  You have an illness.  You will never be a normal king!”

He looked shocked by her words, and found that he was clenching the blanket on the bed.

She seemed sorry for her words, but unwilling to take them back for fear of giving him ground to argue against her.  So she stood up, silent, and prepared to leave.

“Mother…” he started, and she turned slightly.  “I was given a promise.  I believe the promise.  And so should you.”

She nodded slightly.  Then, hesitantly, she said, “But my son, until the promise is fulfilled, you must not allow yourself to be discovered, lest destruction fall upon you and you annul the very promise you were given.  The Lord’s promises are predicated upon our faith and obedience to His will.”

It seemed an angle he had never considered.  He did not respond, and so she turned again and left his room.

Rihat stood still in the corner.

“You may leave, Rihat,” he instructed, and Rihat bowed and took his leave.

Then twenty-year-old King Balthazar stood from his bed and knelt down on the floor, asking earnestly for guidance.  “I am willing to follow Thy instruction, Oh Lord God.  Even if it means my embarrassment.  What should I do?”  And he received a clear answer—a clearer answer than he had ever felt, since he received his promise among the records years ago.

“Search the stars every night,” he was told.  And so he did.

***

Hooves pounded across the desert landscape.  An enormous caravan, led by a man and his brother.  By night they traveled, and by day they slept.  They followed the eastern light in the sky.

The chill of the desert bristled against Balthazar’s skin, but he did not for one moment slow the progress of their determined trek to complete what he felt was his life’s purpose, and his hope for salvation.

The King was not worried about the robbers and degenerates they encountered along their way, partially because they were so far into the wilderness, and partially because no sane person would attack a caravan their size.  But still, he sent spies ahead to scout out the land and ensure they did not walk into a trap as they sped with all haste toward the Lord’s light.

For days they had encountered not a soul, but unexpectedly one evening, he saw one of his spies riding his horse in full gallop back toward the party.  He called an immediate halt.

“My lord!” the rider exclaimed, pulling his horse to a short stop. “My lord, there is a larger caravan than ours, proceeding from the northwest.  They are twice as large, and are led by what looks to be two kings, if our vision does not fool us.”

“Two kings?  Do you recognize them?” Balthazar demanded of his experienced spy.

“I do not, my lord.  Perhaps…perhaps one is King Gaspar.”

Balthazar searched his memory and tried to remember Gaspar.  They had met briefly, years and years ago.  He remembered, vaguely, that his father had encouraged him to trust Gaspar.  He was much older than Balthazar.  “Rihat,” he summoned his trusted advisor, “select two diplomats to ride out with the spies and meet the party.  Send greetings and request word back if they be friend or foe.  Find out the purpose of their journey, and inform them that we are following the eastern star to fulfil a prophecy in our land, and mean no harm.”

“Yes, my lord.”

An hour later, the diplomats and spies returned.  “King Gaspar and King Melchoir request an audience with King Balthazar regarding the prophecy and the star.  They report they are also following a star, and what they know of an ancient prophecy.  They are surprised to learn that they do not journey alone, and suggest that if our purposes are the same, we might join forces and journey together.”

Rihat, who stood near Balthazar in his tent, immediately caught his king’s arm and whispered, “Do you believe this to be a good idea?  May I remind you there is no privacy here.”

Of course, if Balthazar suffered an episode out here, not only would his own men see it, but the kings of two other kingdoms would, as well.  Just then, Ekurzakir entered the tent.  He folded his arms with some indignation and announced, “The astronomer has suggested tonight that we are presently journeying directly for Jerusalem, a city controlled by Herod the King.”  The unspoken ‘I told you this journey was a horrible idea,’ was written on his expression, and the words themselves were unnecessary.

Balthazar pursed his lips, dissatisfied with this news.  Herod was brutal, and controlled far more land and men than Balthazar.  Indeed, he controlled more than Balthazar knew Gaspar or Melchoir controlled.  Especially Melchoir, since he scarcely remembered the man’s name.

But the three together amassed a force that could perhaps rival Herod’s forces in Jerusalem, if it came to war.  It was easier now to make the decision than it had been in the past.  Balthazar had already decided that when faced with national security versus his own personal secret, he would choose what was best for his people regardless of personal consequences.  “We join forces, then,” he announced to his diplomats and spies.  “Ride out again, and announce that we will shortly follow you.  We will discuss an alliance as we attempt to discover the location of the newborn Messiah.”

Soon thereafter, the caravan had tripled in size, and three kings led the way toward the bright future that rested under a spectacular celestial manifestation.

***

“Brother…brother, I am sorry to wake you.”

Balthazar stirred in his bed.  He turned around to see Ekurzakir standing over him, one hand across his abdomen.  It was the seventh day of their journey together with Melchoir and Gaspar’s caravans.

“What’s the matter?” the King asked, gauging his brother’s expression.  The nineteen-year-old looked like he was barely able to keep himself standing.

“It started earlier today…I didn’t say anything.  It started here,” he indicated his middle abdomen. “And now it’s worse, and moving downward through my body, but it’s worst right here,” he pointed to the lower right.  “I feel there is something inside me that is traveling down, trying to get out,” he said through clenched teeth.  “Perhaps a spirit, a demon…I don’t know.  It wasn’t that painful before.  But now…Brother…please, call the healer, and let no one in the company know.”

“Sit down,” the King ordered him, and exchanged places with him, forcing his younger brother to lay down.  He winced in pain and cried out when Balthazar accidentally touched his abdomen.  The young king was immediately deeply concerned.  “Guard,” he called urgently. “Call the healer.  Send him here right now.”

Ekurzakir breathed deeply, and sweat dripped down his forehead.  “I have never felt anything like this before.  Just moments ago…I vomited.  Please, Brother, please do not tell anyone that I have a demon.”

“I do not believe you have a demon. I believe you have a fever,” the wise king told him.  “It started in your bowels and now it’s spreading, and coming out in your sweat and in your vomit.”

The teenage prince looked up at his brother with an expression Balthazar could not quite place.  Was it…regret?  Fear?

Balthazar gripped his brother’s shoulder and said, “We will take care of you, my brother.”

The healer came quickly, and was accompanied shortly thereafter by both Melchoir and Gaspar, who wanted to know what was going on.

“It’s my brother,” Balthazar told them.  “He is fallen ill with a fever of the bowels.”

“So young,” Melchoir said mournfully.  “Is there anything we might do for you, Balthazar?  You have been so kind to us.”

“Pray,” Balthazar answered immediately.  He looked over as the healer poured some liquid down Ekurzakir’s throat.  He looked back at the two kings.  “Please, pray for his recovery.”

They did not journey that day.  Instead, they held a vigil by Ekurzakir’s side as he writhed in pain.  The cool, wet cloths did not calm his fever.  The healing oils and vapors did not drive out the sickness from within him.  He vomited more, which the healer said was a good sign—the sickness was coming out.  But Ekurzakir seemed to only get worse.

Hours later, his pain seemed to get suddenly much worse.  “I feel…” his hands went to his abdomen, and instead of writhing to find a comfortable position, he tried to stay as still as possible.  “Different.”  His breaths came in desperate gasps, and sweat poured down his face.

Balthazar placed his hand on Ekurzakir’s abdomen and was surprised to find it had turned to stone.  His head shot upward toward the healer.  “The sickness is overtaking his bowels,” he said urgently.

Melchoir and Gaspar stood and walked over, concerned.

“His abdomen is like a rock,” Balthazar said helplessly.  “What does that mean?”

“I have seen this before,” the healer said.  “When…I am sorry to use the word, as I know you don’t like it, my lord, but it was when a demon had inhabited a man’s abdomen and turned it to stone from the inside out.”

Melchoir took a step back, and Gaspar looked alarmingly between Balthazar and the healer.  “Is there a demon in Ekurzakir?” he demanded.

“No,” Balthazar insisted, and raised his voice. “There is no demon!  This is a sickness!  A fever!”

“My lord, I do not wish to upset you,” the healer said, “but perhaps it is time to call the priest.”

“My brother still has his senses!  There is no demon that overtakes a man that does not take his senses as well.  He has a sickness!” he yelled angrily, and stormed out of the tent.  “Guards!”

The healer suddenly looked very worried.

“Guards, bring me Namini the priest!”

“Yes, my lord,” one guard said, and they took off as quickly as they could.

Balthazar returned and pointed at the healer.  “Do you have other remedies?  Something to treat a sickness that turns the abdomen into stone?  Anything else to do for my brother?”

“My lord, I am doing all that I can,” the healer said desperately.

“You will focus on healing, then, and leave the demons to the priest!”

“Yes, my lord.  Immediately, my lord.  I apologize deeply.”

“Get to work!” he screamed in response, and then turned and left again.  He did not walk far until Rihat approached him.  “I am not unwell,” he said, and shoved the man out of the way.  “Leave me in solitude.”

He walked through the camp, ignoring those who bowed to him.  He came to the very edge, where the sun, low on the horizon, glinted its powerful rays in his direction.  He squinted, allowing it to bathe his face for a moment as he breathed and calmed himself.  Then he lowered himself to his knees, and began to pray.

Moments later, Melchoir approached.  “Balthazar,” he summoned him.

The twenty-one-year-old turned and faced his elder.

“The priest has arrived.”

Balthazar nodded, and stood in silence.

“You seem quite convinced it is not a demon.”

“Yes, I am,” the young king confirmed.

“May I ask why?  How can you know something like that?”

“Because I can tell the difference between sickness and demons.  We have people in our kingdom who are inhabited by demons, just as I’m sure you do as well.  But there is a clear difference.  And accusing a person of having a demon when he does not only desecrates his name needlessly, and creates a frenzy as everyone is worried they will be possessed next.  It is always prudent to assume a person does not have a demon until he is conclusively proven to have one.”

Melchoir studied Balthazar curiously. “Your own brother suggested he might have a demon.  He said it earlier.”

“And is that not telling?  What demon would make itself known willingly?” Balthazar challenged his elder.  “They are disabled when named.  Why would it bring itself closer to being driven out?”

The older king nodded in agreement.  “That is not unreasonable,” he conceded.

Balthazar led the way back to the tent, and Melchoir quietly followed his young peer.  The young king noticed that Rihat had entered the tent, and looked quite concerned.  The elderly priest Namini bowed before the king and said, “My lord, how might I serve you and your brother in this the hour of your need?”

“Tell me if a demon inhabits my brother, or if it is a sickness,” Balthazar commanded.

Namini bowed again and walked over to Ekurzakir, who was decreasingly aware of his surroundings.  His eyes were now closed, and he allowed his hand to flop down onto his abdomen after Namini released it.  Namini waved his hands over the teen’s abdomen and inspected his eyes, prying one lid open after the other.  Then he stepped back and said, “This is no demon, but a fever which threatens to overtake him.”

“Thank you,” Balthazar said, somewhat exasperated.  “You may go.”

“My prayers are with you, my lord,” he said, bowed, and then left.

Balthazar approached his brother again, and took his hand as he knelt down next to him.

“Shall we take our leave of you now?” Gaspar asked.

Balthazar did not answer at first.  Finally, he sighed and shook his head.  “You both may stay.  Ekurzakir and I had each other when we watched my father and elder brother die.  You will now be my brethren in this hour.”

The three kings sat quietly together, awaiting what seemed to be the inevitable demise of a nineteen-year-old boy.

***

“Why are you seeking the King of Kings?  Why do you follow the star?”

The softly spoken question interrupted the silence.  Gaspar, Melchoir, and Balthazar sat around a warm fire in the desert, listening to the crackling of the flames.  The question was the first thing Balthazar had said since Ekurzakir slipped away into the arms of his Eternal Father.

Melchoir realized, once he looked up and found Balthazar staring at him, that he had directed the question at the eldest king.  It was not something they had previously discussed.  Indeed, the answer was not something Melchoir was ready to share.  Weakness was never discussed in one’s own court, let alone with another neighboring king.  To do so was not only bad politics; it could threaten national security.  At all times, a king had to appear strong, and his kingdom running in perfect order.

But for some reason, Melchoir felt that he could share the information with Gaspar and Balthazar, whom he barely knew.  “In my kingdom we are facing spiritual decay.  We are not diligent in performing ceremonies as we once were.  My people are lustful, prideful, and disrespectful.  They have stoned a prophet.  And they have allowed an elder priest to die naked and starving.”  He looked down in shame for a moment, half expecting to see judgmental glances from his peers.  But when he looked up, he realized he simply had their attention.  Balthazar even looked sympathetic.  “I have brought unburned frankincense from our temple as a gift for the Messiah.  I have been promised from Heaven that doing so will rejuvenate the faith in our land and we will sing the praises of the King of Kings again.”

“In my land, we are struggling financially,” Gaspar said suddenly.  “Our trade is drying up with an unrelenting drought, and a new famine.  Most of our families have not seen more than one small meal a day for months.  Many regularly see even less than that.”  He looked between the two kings.  “I have brought the last of our gold.  I plan to give it to the Messiah, with the promise from an angel that if I do so, we will prosper yet again.”

Balthazar was taken aback.  He had no idea that these two lands were in such dire condition.  And the amount of faith they had was truly remarkable.  He felt a sense of guilt descending upon him.  It was the same feeling he had right after the tunnel collapse that had killed his father and brother.  He was ashamed that only moments before, he had been praying for himself, and feeling sorry for his own struggles.

Why had he come to see the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords?  Because he had been afflicted with an illness that had plagued him from youth.  Because he had personally suffered.  Gaspar and Melchoir had gone on this long, difficult journey away from their kingdoms in an effort to save the lives of their people.  And Balthazar just wanted to no longer deal with his episodes.

He bowed his head in shame.

“And you, Balthazar?” Gaspar asked.  “Why have you come out here, seeking the newborn King?”

The twenty-one-year old did not answer.

There was silence again, neither of the other kings willing to disrupt their young peer who had a more powerful kingdom than either of them, especially when he had so recently lost his brother.  They glanced at each other after a few moments went by, and then relaxed into their seats, assuming their young friend was not in a mental state to respond.

“I have brought myrrh,” Balthazar said finally.  “At first I thought that it symbolized my suffering.  But now I realize that was foolish.  And I have come to see the beauty of the plan of the Eternal Father.  I have brought myrrh to symbolize death.”  He looked up, and smiled slightly.  It was the smile of a man accepting a fate he did not want.  It was clear he was very close to tears, but he did not weep in front of the other two kings.  “I have lost my father and two brothers.  Our land has known war for as long as I have been alive.  We have been victorious, and remain safe.  But at great cost.  Always at great cost.  And then, senseless sicknesses claim the lives of the young.  Like Ekurzakir.  And my eldest sister.  Why?  I don’t know.  But we are promised that the Messiah will take away all suffering—all death.  And so I will lay my myrrh at His feet.  And await the end of death, and the coming of peace.”

***

“Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judæa in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem, Saying, “Where is he that is born King of the Jews? for we have seen his star in the east, and are come to worship him.” When Herod the king had heard these things, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him. And when he had gathered all the chief priests and scribes of the people together, he demanded of them where Christ should be born. And they said unto him, In Bethlehem of Judæa: for thus it is written by the prophet, “And thou Bethlehem, in the land of Juda, art not the least among the princes of Juda: for out of thee shall come a Governor, that shall rule my people Israel.”

Then Herod, when he had privily called the wise men, inquired of them diligently what time the star appeared. And he sent them to Bethlehem, and said, “Go and search diligently for the young child; and when ye have found him, bring me word again, that I may come and worship him also.”

When they had heard the king, they departed; and, lo, the star, which they saw in the east, went before them, till it came and stood over where the young child was. When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceeding great joy.” (Matthew 2: 1-10)

The house and everything around it seemed to be bathed in light.  Balthazar dismounted and found that he could scarcely walk.  His legs were stiff and wobbly at the same time, and his head nearly spun.  He was here.  It was finally happening. The promised day that he had awaited nearly his entire life.

A plain door, with a simple man standing outside.  He looked like every common villager Balthazar had ever passed by.  And he was the earthly father of the King of Kings.

The other two seemed equally as overwhelmed by this moment, and it was Gaspar who eagerly proceeded first.  The three were granted entrance, and saw the little child with his mother in the house.

Rihat stayed outside as the kings approached the young boy.  Balthazar could hardly believe what he was seeing.  It was as if those eyes by themselves had the power to pierce his soul and begin to repair the pain of suffering and loss.  He found himself approaching, laying the myrrh at the tiny child’s feet, bowing his head deeply as tears streamed down his face.

Was this happening?  Or was it a dream?

Suddenly, he was staring at himself, from above.  He was floating.  He was in space, surrounded by the stars that had enveloped him in his days of solitude as a youth.  He was among the infinite creation of the Almighty.

“Balthazar,” he heard his name, and felt his soul come alive.

“Thy sins are forgiven thee.  Thy faith hath made thee whole.  Go, and sin no more.”

In that moment, his eyes were open, and among the eternal darkness of space, his face was bathed in the most brilliant white light imaginable.  He gasped, and words could not describe the glory he beheld.

And then it was over.  He stared into the eyes of a toddler, a little child.  The boy smiled at him.

Balthazar wept.

***

“Men and women of my kingdom, this is why I journeyed so long to Jerusalem, and Bethlehem.  This is why the kingdoms of Gaspar and Melchoir are now united with ours.  Because we have all experienced healing, and the same healing is available to each one of you.”  Balthazar’s voice carried down from his stone platform in his palace, surrounded by palace guards, servants, and common folk he had invited to this occasion.  Three scribes furiously wrote the words he spoke so that the message could be broadcast far and wide as quickly as possible.

“My people, on this day each year, I declare that we will gather together and sing as one unified kingdom in thanksgiving to our Eternal Father for the gift of the newborn Messiah, the King of Kings.  We will await for His day to come when He will end death and suffering, and we will fall at His feet in worship.  We will carefully observe the laws of our God, and we will conquer enemies with His protective arm watching over us.  And one day, we will all look upon the glory of His face as I have.”

He searched the eyes of his people, and then added in a softer tone, “Do not hide your afflictions from each other.  Instead, bear one another’s burdens.  And do not dwell on your own burdens.  Lay them at the feet of the One who will remove all suffering, and be free.  He will make your burdens light to bear.  This kingdom will now worship the King of Kings, and Lord of Lords.   And through Him shall all the nations on the Earth be blessed!  My people!  Rejoice!  Sing praises to His name!  For my glory, the glory of flesh and blood, will fade.  But the glory of the Eternal King shall live forever!  He will conquer death!  Believe in Him, and you will know nothing but life!”

The people cheered loudly, and he drank in the sound of their joy.

And even through the noise of the crowd, he heard in the distance, perhaps from deep within him, his father’s voice. “I am alive.”

And Nutesh’s voice.  And Ekurzakir’s, as well.  And his sister Ettu’s.

He felt tears welling in his eyes, and he held out his hands to the crowd.  “Your dead shall revive!” he promised them, and felt as if his own words were a promise to himself, as well.  “And your wounds shall heal!  My people…behold.”  The crowd fell silent and stared at him expectantly.  “This is the dawning of a new era.  An era of life everlasting.”

Overhead, without the palace walls, a brilliant star burned brightly in the sky, and not far away, a little child grew into the Prince of Peace, and Hope of the World.

 

 

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