by Alan Loewen
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Askar stood on the ziggurat observing the star-strewn sky above him. Goose bumps covered his exposed arms due to the chill night air, but he had learned over years of studying the night sky to ignore the discomfort of the body.
Below him, the dark streets of Babylon stretched away in all directions, with only the occasional lantern of a night watchman breaking through the stygian darkness.
The other mages had either ignored him or outright laughed when he showed them the ancient scroll. Crumbling with great age, it was truly a miracle that it had survived the centuries.
Askar had spent months painfully interpreting the ancient tongue, his imagination afire with stories of dreams, visions, fiery furnaces, lions’ dens, and disembodied hands writing curses on a palace wall.
Yet, the ancient work also referred to a coming king that would be born to the Hebrews and, by the gods!, the work actually had a formula to determine the year of the coming king’s birth.
Yet, the secret of the formula lay outside of his knowledge until one day he met a scribe from Jerusalem who remembered how the ancient Hebrews determined time.
With great eagerness, he made the calculations, working on the ancient Hebrew calendar starting from when King Artaxerxes allowed the temple and the walls of far-off Jerusalem to be rebuilt.
When the answer lay before him as ink on papyrus, his hand shook, but he put his excitement aside and redid the calculations a second time.
The calculation proved true even after a third attempt and the halls of the temple rang with his shouts of triumph. The gods had blessed him. The advent of the coming king of the Hebrews was so near, it may have already happened.
Hastily, he consulted oracles, read the entrails of slaughtered goats, and searched the smoke arising from a burning ass’s head in vain, but there was no further revelation.
In frustration, he turned to the stars.
After weeks of searching the scroll of night, the Star came to him, and he fell to his knees weeping in joy and gratitude.
The next day he prepared for his journey, two fellow mages excitedly joining him for the journey, not because they were to meet a King, but because their youthful wanderlust was to be sated in foreign lands.
“Askar?” one of them asked as they loaded the caravan, “I understand bringing the new king gold, but why myrrh and frankincense?”
Askar tested the strap on a camel. “The ancient writing says the King will be cut off. As it will be my gold that greets his birth, it will be my myrrh and frankincense that will cover him in his tomb.”
He gave a final tug on the strap ignoring the camel’s protest. “The sun is setting,” he said impatiently. “Say goodbye to Babylon. We follow the star.”