The Christmas short story, “Star of Stars” is now available at online retailers. It is a Christmas story about the wise men or magi. It is 7605 words long or approximately 30 pages.
Buy it at Amazon.com or Smashwords.com
(If you don’t own a Kindle, Smashwords offers a variety of formats, including epub.)
Here is the description:
Rashan believes the stars control the destinies of gods and men.
So when the magi of first century Persia discover a new star heralding the birth of a Great One, he is excited, until he learns it points to a distant, small Roman province called Judaea. He believes there must be some mistake – how could someone so great a star had been created for him be born in such an insignificant place? On the journey to pay homage to this new king, Rashan struggles with his doubts, but what he finds when he arrives changes everything he believes.
And here is an excerpt for you:
“Judaea?” Rashan looked at his friend with disbelief. “Are you sure?”
Lavarnadad leaned forward, showing him the wax covered board covered with his calculations. “See for yourself.”
Rashan took the board. He and Lavarnadad were in one of the smaller workrooms of the palace at Saavakineh, Persia. The room was furnished only with a low table – now covered with ancient clay tablets of star observations and parchment scrolls containing the writings of more recent philosophers – and cushions to sit on. The only decoration was a mural of stars and constellations on the wall behind Rashan. During the day the window opposite gave plenty of light to the room but now with the sun already set the room was becoming dim as the light faded. The oil lamps by each man’s elbow cast flickering shadows around the room.
Rashan pulled his lamp closer while he examined Lavarnadad’s calculations. They looked correct. He picked up the scroll of the Greek philosopher Eratosthenes. “Are you sure you followed what this Greek wrote exactly?” he asked his friend.
Lavarnadad shrugged. “Rub out my calculations and do them yourself.”
Rashan looked up at his friend to see a slight challenge in his eyes. Well, he would do them himself then. He rubbed out the marks, smoothing the wax to make a fresh writing surface. Then he took his stylus and referring to the scattered reference documents as needed, re-did the calculations.
When finished he stared at the board. He couldn’t believe it. He rechecked his work, but the answer still came out the same. Lavarnadad was right! He looked up to see a slight smirk on his friend’s face.
“You’re right,” he said. “At least that’s what this says.” He looked back down at the board.
“I told you,” said Lavarnadad. “I’m the best cartographer. Old Hormisdas and Gushnasaph wouldn’t have asked me to find out the location if I weren’t.”
Rashan looked sharply at his friend, but the words were true. Though young, Lavarnadad had already distinguished himself. And both men knew his affinity for all things numbers and any writings dealing with numbers, whether Greek or Babylonian or Persian. Add to that his skill at drawing and his seeming inability to ever get lost and maybe he was the best cartographer. Rashan wished he had some special skill. He’d had the same education as Lavarnadad; his friend must have simply been born under better stars than Rashan. That was the only explanation.
He looked back at the board. “What I don’t understand is why this indicates Judaea. That’s in the West. The prophet Zarathustra predicted the prophet-king would come from the East.”
Lavarnadad took the board back. “Maybe this is a different prophet-king. I don’t know. You know religion isn’t my strong point. Let Hormisdas and the others debate that. I only know what the calculations show. ”
“Or maybe your Greek doesn’t know what he’s talking about.”
Lavarnadad didn’t react. “Maybe.” He stood up. “Are you ready to go show the others?”
Rashan nodded. Gathering up their reference materials and lamps they put everything away save for Lavarnadad’s wax-covered board. Then they grabbed their cloaks and headed to the Observatory. Rashan wrapped the warm, blue wool around his shoulders as they mounted the stone steps. He knew he’d be glad of it before long. The nights could be cool.
When they reached the top Rashan noticed that Hormisdas and Gushnasaph and some of the others were already there. Some had tablets and parchment charts spread out on the lone table, busily writing down their observations as night fell and the stars came out. Others stood gazing up into the heavens or talking quietly at the edge of the parapet. Rashan and Lavarnadad joined those at the parapet.
Rashan looked down. They were at the top of a tower above the palace complex. Below, beyond the courtyards and walls of the palace the city was settling down for the night. The moon rose, tonight a great shining sickle in the sky. The still warm breeze brought him the scent of flowers from the gardens below as well as the distant smells of the city itself. Distantly, he could hear merchants calling out to last minute customers before closing their shops and animals bleating to be fed and milked. Somewhere outside the city a shepherd piped to his sheep.
Rashan loved this time of day. He loved coming up here and observing the stars. They were what truly controlled men’s destinies. Religion was fine for others, but for him, he believed in the stars.
He looked up at the sky to see if he could see it. A moment of searching and yes, there it was, low on the horizon, seemingly part of a constellation where it didn’t belong, a different one now than two months ago when it had been discovered. He remembered that night. He and Lavarnadad had been the ones recording the observations. It had started out as a night like any other, but then he had noticed a star that did not belong. Pisces had been in that position near the horizon, and that night there had been an extra star in the constellation.
“Lavarnadad, you see that?” He pointed.
Lavarnadad looked up from his writing. “See what?” He followed Rashan’s pointing finger.
“That. Doesn’t it look like there’s an extra star in Pisces?”
Lavarnadad looked, squinted, looked again, first with one eye open, then the other, and then did it all over again with his head tilted. “Looks that way.”
He turned a puzzled face to Rashan. “Could it be one of the planets? But we’ve accounted for them all,” he went on as if thinking out loud.
“Yes,” said Rashan. “That’s why I mentioned it. It shouldn’t be there. Nothing should.” He watched Lavarnadad carefully write down the observation. “It wasn’t there yesterday.”
Lavarnadad looked at him. “Wasn’t it?” Rashan watched him check the last few days observations. He wasn’t surprised. Lavarnadad was like that; he had to check everything out.
Lavarnadad looked up at him. “You’re right. It wasn’t there, or in the days preceding. At least no one’s recorded it.”
Rashan nodded. He’d done his own checking before he mentioned anything.
Lavarnadad called over one of the other magi and asked him what he thought. He told another, and soon the news of a star where it shouldn’t be spread across the whole Observatory, which was soon buzzing with excitement. What could it mean? In the end Hormisdas had decreed they would observe it for awhile before forming any conclusions.
And so over the next days and weeks careful observations were taken and recorded of the misplaced star. More magi than usual came up to the Observatory, making it very crowded. Excitement built, especially after it was discovered that this new star did not move. Rashan knew – every magus knew – that the stars, moon, and planets formed nested shells around the earth. The moon moved, the planets moved, and even the stars moved, eventually. Each month there was a different constellation ascendant. But this star did not move. As the weeks went by and Pisces moved across the sky, it stayed where they’d first seen it, low on the western horizon.
Speculation ran rampant in the palace as old prophecies were dusted off, ancient writings and star observations studied, and everyone vied to be the first to accurately predict what this star meant. Rashan believed that it meant a Great One had been born. After all, the best any man or king could hope for was a fortuitous conjunction of planets or stars at his birth, and what greater omen could there be than a brand new star?
Over the last month a consensus had emerged that this star did indeed herald the birth of a great one, a king definitely, or perhaps a great priest or prophet or perhaps some combination of those three, perhaps even the prophet-king spoken of by the great prophet Zarathustra. Gushnasaph, expert in Western writings, disagreed with this last. He said that Jewish writings spoke of a Great Coming One and since the star was in the western sky, he believed this was the one it heralded. This started some arguments and to bring peace, Hormisdas asked if the location of the star could be determined. Gushnasaph said yes, and the task was given to Lavarnadad who had shown skill with using numbers and making maps. And Lavarnadad had promptly asked his friend Rashan to help him.
And now they had the results. But as Rashan watched Hormisdas spot them and start towards them, he wondered if they would solve anything at all.
Hormisdas reached them. He had grizzled hair and a long, gray beard and wore long robes over his knee-length tunic and breeches, more to keep his old body warm than to imitate Greek styles, Rashan thought.
“You have finished?” He held out his hand. Others gathered around to listen.
Lavarnadad handed him the wax-covered board, and Hormisdas held it out in front of him at arm’s length. Rashan wondered how much he could read or even see at his age, but there was nothing weak about his mind. When he handed the board back, Hormisdas fastened Lavarnadad with a piercing gaze. “Well?”
Lavarnadad bowed. “The new prophet-king is in the West. In Judaea.”
Rashan heard a gasp from some of those gathered around.
“Judaea,” Hormisdas repeated. “You are certain?” He peered at Lavarnadad, his face fierce as if daring him to be wrong.
Rashan felt sympathy for Lavarnadad. He remembered when they’d had this man as a teacher. Under his fierce gaze, Rashan felt like a boy again himself, learning his lessons.
But Lavarnadad matched him stare for stare. “I am certain.”
Hormisdas stared at him a bit longer, then turned away. “Very well.”
A murmur of voices broke out on the Observatory. Rashan knew what they were saying. He was thinking it himself. How could it be Judaea? What was important about a small province of the distant Roman Empire?
He circulated around, listening but not joining in on any conversation, his gaze turned up to the heavens, as if he was intent on observing the stars. He wandered over to the chart table and watched the two men there recording tonight’s observations. Aside from that new star there was nothing unusual going on.
Gushnasaph, brown beard trimmed and carefully combed in the Greek style, drifted by, talking excitedly to a group of younger magi, his followers. Rashan heard part of what he was saying. “It’s just as the Jewish Torah prophesied: ‘A star shall come out of Jacob; a scepter shall rise out of Israel.’ You see, this is the one the star heralds! We must travel to Judaea and pay him homage.”
He and his group of followers drifted away. Rashan went to the parapet and leaning against it watched the stars twinkle in the heavens. Travel to Judaea? That was a long way away! It was a longer journey than even most merchants were willing to make. And yet, it did make sense to pay this new king homage. It would never do to risk slighting him. Rashan looked at the star. And especially not when he was obviously so great that he had his own star.
Lavarnadad came up to him. “Rashan! Everyone’s talking about going to find this new king!”
Rashan turned to his friend. “Judaea’s a long way,” he pointed out.
“Yes, but Hormisdas says it’s the opportunity of a lifetime.”
“But he’s old!” Too old. Could he even make such a trip?
“Yes, but he says he’s waited all his life for something like this. It’s a fulfillment of prophecy, and he’s not going to miss it.”
Rashan thought of Gushnasaph quoting from Jewish writings. “But whose prophecy? The Jews’ or ours?”
“Does it matter?” Lavarnadad’s face shone. “It’s just so exciting to be a part of something like this.”
Rashan leaned his back against the parapet. “So you’re going?”
“Yes. Gushnasaph is going as he’s the expert on Jewish writings and we’ll be going into their territory, and they both asked me to go. It’ll be great finding out if my calculations are correct. I think they just want to use my cartography skills to make sure they don’t get lost.”
Rashan just looked at his friend. What if they were all wrong, and the new king wasn’t in Judaea? Wouldn’t they be going on a very long trip for nothing?
Lavarnadad misread his silence. “Don’t worry, Rashan. You don’t have to miss out. I can definitely use an assistant, so there’s a spot available for you if you want it.”
Rashan hesitated. “I don’t know, my friend.”
“What do you mean? You’d be fool not to go if you had the chance! Hormisdas is right! It is an opportunity of a lifetime! Rashan, everyone is trying to find some excuse to go!”
Rashan looked off into the distance. “Maybe I’ll do my temple rotation now.”
Lavarnadad grabbed him by the shoulders and spun him around. “Are you a fool?”
Rashan gripped his friend’s shoulders in turn. “Lavarnadad, how do we know he’ll be there? The prophecy says he’ll come from the East. It could be a long trip for nothing.”
“The star points west. There’ll be something there.”
Rashan wasn’t convinced.
“My friend, come.” He let go.
Rashan dropped his hands and looked up at the star. He wanted to believe, he did. But only Jewish prophecies pointed west, and he didn’t believe in them.
Lavarnadad put his hands on the parapet looking out at the stars too. “Since when do you care about religion, Rashan? You’ve always said you believed in the stars.”
Rashan watched the star, one of thousands, faintly twinkling but otherwise unmoving, declaring itself different, important. Yes, he did believe in the stars, and this one portended something great just by existing. Maybe it would be a trip for nothing, but if he went he could find out what this star really meant.
He turned to his friend. “All right, I’ll come.”
Lavarnadad grinned and clasped him on the arm. “Great! We’ll find the Great One and worship him. You’ll see!”