Caspar sat beside his camp fire and offered up his hands to its warmth. He had travelled far but soon his journey would be ended. A noise made him sit upright, alert and ready. He reached for his stout staff and gripped it tightly.
“Caspar, you old goat. Mind if I join you by your fire?”
Caspar looked around as his name was called, peering into the darkness. At last he made out a figure, leading a camel by its rope.
“Melchior. Old goat yourself. I should have known that thing would attract your attention.” He gestured towards the bright object that illuminated the night sky. “Come and be welcome. Do you have food or wine?”
“Plenty of both, and I’ll share them willingly in exchange for the use of your fire and your company for the night.”
As the new arrival settled his camel for the night and took his seat next to the warming blaze Caspar re-started the conversation.
“What do you think it is, that bright object?”
“A new star, perhaps. It is surely a sign.”
“It is a comet.” A fresh voice echoed out of the darkness.
“I know that voice.” Melchior barked out a laugh. “Balthasar, were you following me?”
“Not so much following as going the same way.”
“Come, friend Balthasar, sit with us.” Caspar beckoned him forward.
“And you, too, may share in what food I have.” Melchior added.
“No, let me contribute. I don’t have much, just some dates and a stale loaf of bread, but it will add to your feast.”
“So, friend Balthasar.” Caspar was anxious to ask a question. “What is this thing, this comet?”
“It is something we have seen before, though not in this lifetime. There are descriptions in the books of knowledge. You can tell it’s a comet by the tail that follows it. Its coming is a sign of great portent.”
“So what is the difference between a star and a comet?” Asked Caspar, tearing a lump off of a loaf of bread.
“The only difference I have seen is that the comet moves through the firmament but the stars stay more or less constant. No one knows more than that.”
“Does this comet have a name?”
“I was thinking of calling it Bailey’s Comet. It seems to fit with the season. I have some in my bag if you would like a sip.”
Caspar and Melchior laughed at their friend’s joke as they passed the bottle around.
“So what is this comet made of?” Melchior asked, his interest piqued.
“I have no idea. We would need to send some craft up there to find out.”
They all laughed at this new ribaldry. Send a craft into the sky to find out what a comet was made of, indeed. Such an implausible act.
“Where do you think it will lead us?”
Balthasar answered. “Bethlehem, I have no doubt. I passed through Jerusalem on my way here. The temple scholars are abuzz with gossip. They say that the star, sorry, comet is a symbol of the birth of the Messiah who will lead the Jews to freedom.”
“The Jews breed Messiah’s by the dozen. Or so it is said.” Melchior commented.
“True, but King Herod takes it seriously. He commanded me to find the child and return to him with news of its location, so that he may go to worship.”
“King Herod will do many things, I’m sure, but worship the arrival of the Messiah isn’t one of them.” Melchior counselled. “I advise you to return home by a different route and give Jerusalem a wide birth.”
“Why he didn’t just have you followed I don’t know.” Caspar grunted. “He might even have offered you an escort to protect you from bandits.”
“I’d be more worried by Romans than bandits.” Balthasar commented dryly as he patted the hefty Arabian scimitar that he had laid on the ground beside him.
Together they chanted “What did the Romans ever do for us?” then laughed so much they nearly choked on their food. The bottle did another circuit.
“So how’s the Magi business treating you two?” Caspar asked his companions.
“Rubbish.” Melchior answered for them both. “How can you make any money out of being a wise man when the internet can answer any question almost instantly.”
“I have heard of this internet. How does it work?” Asked Caspar. He was the oldest of them and the least well versed in the latest innovations.
“No one knows. Not even the people who created it. The nearest way I can find to describe it would be if you and a group of men gathered in the market square gossiping. You might tell another that your neighbour’s cow has died and the next minute someone in the Forum in Rome knows all about it.”
“Why would someone in the Forum in Rome be interested in my neighbour’s cow dying?” Caspar’s face took on a puzzled look.
“I don’t know, but apparently he is. I think it has something to do with birds. They listen to what you say then carry it around the word. It’s called twittering.” Balthasar took another pull at the bottle, warming to his theme. “But it is more useful than that. You can make money on the internet. There is a Nubian Prince who can get me a share of millions of shekels that’s been left in a warehouse. All I have to do is send him some money so he can pay the taxes on it and then it’s mine.”
“Wow, that is impressive. Have you sent him the money?”
“No. That’s the problem. I have to wait for a camel train to set off for Nubia so that I can send him the money. But it will happen soon.”
“And what does the internet say about this comet of yours?” Melchior asked.
“Ah, it depends on who you consult. If you follow the teachings of David Bar Ike then it tells of a race of giant lizards who will one day rule the world.”
“And if you don’t follow his teachings?”
“Then it is a conspiracy by the Americans.”
“Who are the Americans? Are they anything like the Armenians?”
Balthasar shrugged. “No idea. I have consulted all the maps of the known world and the Americans don’t appear on any of them.”
“Does it mention a Messiah?”
“Not as such. But it doesn’t not mention a Messiah either. There is a tribe in Britannia that thinks the Messiah will be called Louis Van Gaal.”
“Did you remember to bring a present?” Caspar asked.
“Of course. I brought gold.” Balthasar replied.
“A bit flashy.” Caspar was jealous of so generous a gift and the favours it might earn Balthasar.
“I got it cheap off a guy called Gordon. He was selling it off at rock bottom prices, the idiot.”
“It isn’t fair to take advantage of other people’s stupidity.” Melchior chipped in.
“I can’t help it if the man knows so little about how the gold market works that he announces two years in advance that he is going to sell all his gold. Anyway, what did you bring, Caspar?”
“I brought Frankincense.”
“Good call. Mothers always need something that smells nice when they’ve got a bay in the house. How about you, Melchior?”
Melchior shuffled in his place, clearly embarrassed. “No one mentioned presents to me.”
“Ah, come on, Melk’s. Everyone knows when you visit a baby you have to take a present. You must have something.”
Melchior searched in his pack and pulled out a pottery jar, sealed at the top. “Well, there is this.”
“What is it?” Balthasar asked.
“It’s Myrrh. My doctor prescribed it for my rheumatism.”
“It will have to do. Mind you, I can’t imagine the Messiah needing it for quite a while.”
“Well, until they create the NHS it’s always best to have a few free medicines around.” Caspar tried to support Melchior.
“What’s an NHS?”
“Not a clue, but apparently it’s the best thing that Labour ever did, even though they didn’t really do it, at least not by themselves.”
“And who are Labour?”
“Well may you ask. I get these visions from time to time, you know.” Caspar explained. “I have no idea what they mean.”
“So you’re some kind of Prophet? I didn’t know that.” Melchior encouraged Caspar to explain more.
“I wouldn’t go that far. I don’t have burning bushes talking to me or anything like that.”
“Good job too. Sounds like a recipe for a forest fire.”
“What else have you seen in your visions?” Melchior asked. “What will become of this new Messiah?"
“It will end badly, but I don’t know how or why. There will be wars and death.”
“So why bother coming to visit him?”
“I’m a wise man. That’s what we do.”
“Not so wise, in that case.” Balthasar chuckled. Caspar threw him a scowl. Balthasar decided it was safer to change the subject. “In Jerusalem I heard that the Messiah had been born in a stable.”
“That’s bloody Tory health policy for you.” Grumbled Caspar. Balthasar ignored him.
“Apparently his parents had to go to Bethlehem to register for tax.”
“That’s a bit weird. When I register for tax I just go to the local tax office in the town square.”
“I know, but its these Romans for you. Apparently everyone had to go to the town of their birth and register, by edict from Caesar.”
“Sounds damned inefficient to me.” Melchior spat a pomegranate pip into the fire. “Thousands of people criss-crossing the country just to register for tax. So where did the Messiah’s parents come from?”
“Well, his father is from Bethlehem, which is where the Messiah was born, but his mother is from Galilee?”
“Whoa. I didn’t know it was a mixed marriage. That’s a four day walk. I assume they did walk.” Caspar started to arrange his blankets ready to settle down for the night.
As Balthasar copied Caspar and settled down in front of the glowing embers of the fire, Melchior stared morosely at his jar of Myrrh and wondered if he’d be able to swap it for a baby’s rattle.
“Yeah. Still, people do the strangest things sometimes. Look at us; following a comet across Judea in the hope of seeing the newly born Nigel Farage, hailed as the New Messiah.”
* * *
Next week’s blog will be a review of the predictions I made for the second half of the year. You can find them here if you want to remind yourself of what I said: http://www.readwave.com/old-bob-s-almanac_s19098 In the meantime, if you are given any Amazon vouchers for Christmas why not consider redeeming some of their value by buying one of my books. You can find more information on them by clicking on the ‘books’ tab at the top of the page.
I’d like to wish a Happy Christmas to all my readers.