“Star of Gold” by Loren Warnemuende

Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com
Photo by eberhard grossgasteiger on Pexels.com

Reuben stared at the gold glimmering in the light of his torch. He knew it had to be gold, though he’d never seen some so close, only the flash and glitter of the king’s regalia he’d seen from the roadside. It must be gold—a wealth of coins peeping from the opening of the supple leather bag secured to the camel’s saddle. They were warm and butter yellow, deep and clear, shimmering as the camel shifted its weight and peacefully chewed its cud.

The beast needed water—that’s why Reuben had been sent in by the stablemaster—but when the boy saw the gold and he couldn’t think of anything else. So much of it! The bag was bursting! Imagine owning even a coin of it. He wondered what it felt like. Was it as soft as it looked? Action followed thought and he reached out one finger, slowly, slowly—

“It is beautiful, isn’t it?” A low voice rumbled behind him.

Reuben whirled around, his torch flame streaming and smoking and throwing great shadows behind the tall bearded man who had entered the stable behind him. It was one of the travelers who had brought the gold. Magi, people said, who had come from the east asking all over Jerusalem about the new King of the Jews.

“I wasn’t going to take it!” Reuben gasped.

The man bent his dark head, his brows raised.

“Oh?” he asked mildly. “Oh! I suppose that is a danger. I shouldn’t have left it unguarded, I suppose. I’ll make a note of that.”

He pulled a scrap of parchment from his voluminous robes. The robes were dusty and stained from long travel, but Reuben could see the fine brocade with intricate silk embroidery. He gaped, but the man’s unconcern gave him courage.

“Who is all this gold for?”

The magi looked up from a fruitless search for a writing instrument. “Why for the King, of course.”

“A king?” Reuben exclaimed scornfully, thinking of Herod and all his glory. “What does a king need more gold for?”

“How else do you honor a king but with gifts?” the man asked. He opened his mouth to say something more, but voices called into the stable from the courtyard.

“Balthazar? Ho!”

“Ah!” The magi smiled. “Perhaps my friends have news. We’ve had trouble finding our King, you see, and your Herod has put his priests to work, searching. Come, join me!”

Reuben cast a last, longing glance at the gold and followed Balthazar from the musty stable, into the chill brilliance of the star-studded night. Out across the Kidron Valley lay the hills of Bethlehem and a particularly immense star. Two other men stood in the yard, their heads bent together in consultation. They glanced up and smiled as Balthazar and Reuben approached.

“The king has been very helpful,” one said, his pale skin and gray beard almost shining in the starlight. “His priests found a prophecy that may give us our answer.”

“Herod is helping you find another king?” The words were out of Reuben’s mouth before he realized, and he blushed furiously at his audacity. But these magi were strangers. They had no idea what kind of grasping, envious king Herod was.

“So generous of him!” exclaimed the third magi, his dark eyes and bronzed beak of a nose reminding Reuben of a falcon.

“Well,” Balthazar said, “what did the priests find?”

The gray-bearded magi spoke, beard bobbing excitedly. “They found a prophecy in one of their scrolls, something about a ‘Messiah’—a chosen one—who is to be born in a town called Bethlehem.”

“Bethlehem?” Reuben’s eyes swung out across the valley. His heart beat hard. “The Messiah?”

“Do you know of this Messiah?” Balthazar asked. “Is he a king promised in your sacred writings?”

“Promised since the beginning,” Reuben whispered. His torch trembled and he continued to stare across the valley.

“But where is this Bethlehem?” The hawk-eyed magi sighed. “We have traveled so far already.”

“Bethlehem?” Reuben turned back to them. “Why, it’s barely six miles away. It’s a tiny town; I can’t imagine a king being born there, much less our Messiah. It’s right across the valley there. See—under that bright star.”

“The Star!” All three men wheeled to look, and their faces lit almost as brightly as the star. “You found it for us! We must go at once.”

Reuben, caught up in an excitement he barely grasped, helped the men and their entourage gather their animals and packs. He rushed about watering the camels, and chafed as they drank slowly and methodically. They alone seemed unfazed by the thrill in the air. At last the men were mounted and ready. Perched high atop his camel, Balthazar smiled down at Reuben. Then he leaned down toward the boy and handed him a gold coin.

“You have helped us more than you could know,” he said. “I think this new King can spare one coin.”

Reuben swallowed hard and nodded, feeling the weight of the treasure warm his hand. But after he watched the magi exit the royal stables, his gaze turned, not back to the coin, but to the great Star across the valley. It glimmered and shimmered, lighting the night, its depths more beautiful than any king’s gold.

Loren Warnemuende

Loren Warnemuende is a writer, wife, and homeschool mom of three. She still has a hard time including “writer” as a valid part of who she is, but for most of her life she’s processed the world and how she understands it through written words and stories. While she loves to read various genres, her own stories seem to flow best when she takes a new perspective on an old tale. She had two short stories published by The Rabbit Room in the anthology The Lost Tales of Sir Galahad. currently editing a trilogy retelling of the Grimm fairy tale “Maid Maleen.” The first of this series, Daughter of Arden – Exile, was published with Bandersnatch Books in November, 2022, and the second and third books are set to come out in 2023.

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