|And the Three Wise Magi came from the East to pay their respects to the Messiah|
|"God, Ive got to get down off this bleedin camel." Melchior
groaned as he arthritically climbed down from the smelly beasts saddle. The
camel gave him a look of immense disdain and spat a well-aimed gobbet into
his face. Melchior wiped it off with his sleeve and tried to kick the beast,
which managed to twist its leg sideways1 neatly,
and snorted with a sound that was suspiciously close to a laugh.
Melchior flumped down onto the sand exhaustedly. They had been travelling for days, all the way from Orientar2, just because Balthazar had seen this star moving across the heavens. Despite knowing full well that Caspar was overweight and that Melchior was allergic to camelhair, Balthazar had insisted they followed the star. It was, he had said, a sign. A sign of loose marbles, Melchior had said, and for his pains had become official camel-minder for the expedition.
Now here they were, in the middle of some God-forsaken desert, miles from any civilisation with just a bunch of irksome bactrians for company.
They had had to bring gifts, Balthazar had declared, gifts for the great Messiah who was even now being born.... What gifts they were too; Balthazar had decided them...Frankensence, Myrrh and Ashes of Roses. Melchior had declared that the new Messiah would smell like a cheap tart and had insisted that something a little more practical. Caspar had suggested a Diners Club card, as - he said - they were hell to apply for. But Melchior, ever the accountant, had brought along Gold. Much to Balthazars annoyance. Caspar had drawn the short straw of bringing along the Myrrh, which always reminded people of the smell of undertakers (for the obvious reasons3). Surprise, surprise it was Balthazar who got the Frankensence, and he had been grinning like a spaced-out loon all the way from Orientar.
So here they were, camped around a dank patch of sand which the locals referred to as "El Wadi Pisoll" trying to ignore the bleary-eyed grins from Balthazar, the smell of corpses from Caspar and the constant whiff of aged camels from everywhere. Wise! Hah! This did not constitute Melchiors idea of wise.
El Wadi Pisoll was well-named. The water was a colour that didnt bear close scrutiny and there was a conspicuous absence of anything growing near this particular Oasis, apart from one very sorry looking palm tree which looked about as healthy as anything would feeding off of that water4.
"I tell you," muttered Melchior mutinuously, "this Messiah bloke had better be worth all this."
Balthazar turned a preternaturally happy grin on him and waved a beringed hand airily. "Hey, chill out, guy. The deserts cool. The suns out and were all happy. Im sure the Messiah dude will dig us."
Melchior gave him a look, and turned his back on him. Then he lay down and tried hard to get to sleep.
Melchior was woken in the morning by a camel pissing on the fire. This made a ferocious hissing sound and created a smell which is indescribable5. Waves of noxious steam engulfed Melchior who sat up coughing and spluttering.
"My eyes! My eyes!" he screamed splashing water (admittedly somewhat ill-advisedly) onto his face.
The camel gave him a self-satisfied look and ambled off to its compatriates.
Balthazar was already up and jogging on the spot, the gleaming light of Frankensence-driven zealousy6 on his face. "Come on, come on," he harangued, "Wakey, wakey, rise and shine, its a beautiful morning and were just three miles from the beautiful and historic town of Bethlehem"7.
"Bollocks to that." muttered Melchior under his breath, but he gathered up his things anyway and reluctantly approached his camel which gave the Camelidaen equivalent of a grin as he got close.
|Presently they came upon the small town of Bethlehem where they sought out the Inn.|
|Bethlehem didnt particularly match the description in Balthazars guidebook. In fact, it could be not unfairly said that it was somewhere near the opposite end of the spectrum. It was as classy as a week old bagel with probably somewhere near the same amount of bacteria. The people had a friendly way of ignoring you8 and despite the fact that the camels smelt badly the whole town seemed to out-do the camels in the malodourous stakes by quite a margin. Even Melchiors particularly smelly camel started to sneeze violently after a few minutes of breathing in Bethlehems characterful atmosphere. Even Balthazar, drugged to the eyeballs on concentrated Frankensence, was beginning to have some trouble breathing, and was getting increasingly frustrated because he couldnt see his Star of Wonder through the constant miasma that cloaked the squalor the locals described as the town centre. The swampy river Mushash9 slowly oozed its sluggish way through the centre of town collecting detritus which slowed its already unhurried pace even more. Eventually it flowed into the Dead Sea, which unkind critics might say was why it was Dead.|
|And lo they did come to an Inn; "The Vestigial Vergin"10 upon which door verily did they knock.|
|The door crept slowly open and a dark, wrinkled face appear. It smiled
a brown-toothed smile and spat on the floor in front of them.
"Yeah, waddya want?" it enquired.
Balthazars eyeballs rotated and he replied "We are come to see the Messiah. We Three Kings of Orientar." He spread his arms wide and grinned the kind of grin a cat grins when thrown a pigeon with its wings sellotaped down.
The small wrinkled face11 was unphased by Balthazars theatrics. "Well, we aint got none othem ere, mate." And the door slammed shut.
Unperturbed, Balthazar led his two unwilling Magi onwards. Melchior was just glad to be able to leave the loathsome camels tethered outside the first Inn.
They arrived at another Inn, "The Little Town of Be-e-thlee-ee-hem" and Balthazar rapped on the door with his knuckles. A little hatch drew back in the door and a small pink face appeared, all puffy and blotchy. Obviously been drinking the water thought Melchior. "Hello?" said the face in a shaky, creaky type of voice.
The small pink face screwed up in concentration. "Is he come? Is he come?" the shrill voice enquired, "Wotzat supposed to mean then?"
"Is the Messiah here."
"Oh. Nah, dont fink so. But then, I dont know much about showbiz. Wots e do then? Magician? Troubadour? Bit of a suspect name if you asks me."
Balthazar drew himself up to his full height and treated the small pink being to his best withering look. "The Messiah is no common mummer, he is the Lord on Earth, come to save all our souls."
"Oh, wot another one? Bloody ell why didnt you say that in the first place." and with that the little hatch was slammed shut. From inside the pink creatures shrill little voice could be heard fading away, muttering to itself "...damned kooky prophets coming around here, filling the temples up with broken wares, turning perfectly good water into cheap plonk...."
The Three Magi looked at each other not quite believing what they had seen and heard. A voice behind them interrupted their thoughts.
"Youll be wanting Jeremiahs Stable and Garden Centre. I think theres some bird goin to drop a sprog there any second."
Balthazar, Melchior and Caspar turned slowly around to see what can only - politely - be called a vagrant14. The smell was strong enough to sober up Balthazar who went a sort of greenish hue, but nevertheless approach the speaker.
"Where would this Stable be, erm... urm... sir?"
The vagrant sniffed glutinously and lifted a forelimb to indicate a westerly direction. "Over dere, under that star fing."
The Magi turned and - sure enough - high in the sky (against all the odds) shone a bright burning star of a luminosity unseen by mans eyes (poetic stuff etc.). Without a word the Three Wise Men headed in the direction of the star.
The vagrant watched them go and called after them. "How about buying a copy of The Big Issue then, guv.?" No reply was forthcoming so he spat on the ground and sniffed again. "Well, a simple fanks wdve been enuff."
|And Lo! they did come to the Stable and found therein the Virgin Mary heavy with child and laying on her back with her legs resting on a tin bath surrounded by sheep and goats, cows and hens15 with the Midwife in attendance.|
|Soon the Magi came upon Jeremiahs Stable and Garden Centre. Outside,
leaning on the stable walls was a tall, pale-looking man smoking an anachronistic
cigarette, and examining the hinges of the stable door.
"Good day, sir!" boomed Balthazar.
"Look at the quality of this workmanship. Bloody terrible I say, bloody terrible."
"And who might you be?" Balthazar expounded16.
The man looked up with the haunted expression of one who knows his freedom is running out like sand from an hourglass. "Im the father of the child, who are you?" Joseph took a deep breath, "Are you undertakers?"
"We, sir, are Three Wise Men come from the East to bring gifts for the Messiah. We are not undertakers. And you are not the father of the child - our Lord God is."
"Well," said Joseph stubbing his ciggy out on the stable door, "You smell like undertakers. And if the Lord God has been shafting my Mary hed best not show his face around these parts!" With that Joseph went back to studying the carpentry on the door.
Balthazar led the other two inside the stable. In between the sheep and other livestock and despite the darkness, they could see a crowd of people around the manger. Balthazar pushed a shepherd aside and the Three Wise Men approached the cot wherein lay the contracting Virgin Mary.
"Oh hell." said Caspar, turning white before dropping to the floor.
The Midwife looked up. An angry expression crossed her face. "Right! Thats it! Ive had enough! Will all you people please get out of my bloody way. You, Magi, pick up that fool and get over in the corner there. Shepherds, if you dont stop gawping Im going to knock your heads together. Get over there too - and take these bloody sheep with you." She turned her attention back to Mary.
"Oh look," said one of the shepherds, "theres summit comin out of her." The Midwife gave them all a look and sheepishly they wandered over to the far corner of the Stable.
|And Mary did give miraculous birth to the child of God. And it was good.|
|After some minutes17 the Midwife beckoned
Melchior over. The others watched from the corner waiting for something to
occur. They didnt expect Melchior to burst out laughing, laughing so
loud and so heartily that the Stable walls shook.
Balthazar, Caspar, the shepherds and a few particularly nosey sheep hurried back over to the Mother and Child. Balthazar gasped. Caspar fainted again. The shepherds talked amongst themselves animatedly, and the sheep went "baaah".
The Midwife called Joseph in from outside.
"Congratulations, Joseph of Nazareth, its a girl!"
|1 Camels have very adaptable knee
joints which don't just swivel in one direciton.
2 As in "We three kings of Orientar..."
3 Myrrh is an embalming agent. Come on, you must have known that.
4 The term 'water' is being used here in default of any other known definition. There is a general rule of thumb in the desert that if it is liquid and not otherwise identifiable then it is water. Like so many general rules of thumb it was not entirely reliable.
5 Hence I am not going to attempt so to do.
6 Is that a word?
7 Balthazar, before setting out on the trip had got hold of a copy of "The Tourist's Guide to the Dead Sea (and it's surrounding areas)" from his local tourist office. This gave a somewhat rosier picture than was true of some of the towns hereabouts. It didn't mention the flies which Bethlehem was notorious for, nor did it mention the nightlife which tended to fill out every Inn and Tavern in town, especially on Saturday nights in December.
8 In fact they were known to be very polite when stealing from you (and it was often said in Orientar that the people of Bethlehem were the friendliest murderers in the world).
9 Lit. "Moving Mud".
10 Spelling as on the sign.
11 Gender uncertain; and quite possibly unimportant.
12 Balthazar was the sort of man who (a) called any woman "my good woman" and (b) ignored any outward signs that they might not be a woman in the first place.
13 He also had a pênchant for exaggeration.
14 A great many unpolite descriptions are available, but we shall suffice to say the beings species was difficult to define let alone anything as complex as gender, etc.
15 And a bunch of lecherous shepherds too.
16 Balthazar was one of those people who expounded all over the place (and very messy it was too).
17 Which contained much screaming from Mary - and a certain amount from Caspar.
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