Read Immortal Online

Authors: Glenn Beck

Immortal (8 page)

At least I know he understands Latin
. Perhaps, Agios thought, he should use that tongue to speak with Krampus. He might be quicker to talk in his native language.

The three men saw their destination a day before they reached it. Megisthes was a fortified city in the mountains, a place of domes and spires. It ran along a ridge and commanded valleys on three sides, in morning light a shining, rose-colored metropolis carved in stone. Farms lush with produce nearly ready for harvest crowded the valleys. They were an anomaly in the barren mountains, but Megisthes seemed perched on a vast oasis.

They camped outside the city and the next morning Caspar, Agios, and Krampus took a long, winding road across the plain and up to the broad summit of the ridge, where guards allowed them to pass through a gate and into the outer courtyards of Megisthes. Agios saw that the streets, though narrow, were carefully paved with precisely cut pale sandstone. The houses and buildings were of pinkish granite, and though crowded, the place seemed well ordered, the people happy. They appeared to recognize Caspar, but they shot curious glances at Agios and Krampus. No one spoke to them as an armed man led the three to the inner city and to the gates of an enormous palace.

Word had been sent ahead and a second guard met them at the inner gate and then led Caspar, Agios, and Krampus into a collection of airy, comfortable rooms. They found Melchior in his library, surrounded by a hundred or more scrolls. He rose from his seat at a table: a tall, dark-haired man with a flowing black beard and brown eyes that had the faraway gaze of a scholar.

He was taller than Agios by a few finger-breadths, though not as muscular. He wore a gray knee-length tunic, the garment belted at the waist, and Greek sandals. His expression seemed open and honest and his features had the mark of intelligence.

“Caspar!” he called, crossing the room to embrace his old friend. “It's good to see you. The time of the prophecy is near.”

The two men embraced, and then Caspar turned to introduce Melchior to Agios. As a hired guard and nothing more, Agios hadn't expected to be allowed into Melchior's home, much less treated as a man of any significance. But Caspar seemed full of surprises.

Agios bowed slightly and then gestured at Krampus. Ill at ease as he generally was beneath a roof, Krampus shambled a step toward him. “This is Krampus. He's my friend and a strong fighter. He will help us defend ourselves.”

Krampus looked at Agios for direction. Agios bent his head, and Krampus imitated him.

Without reacting to either Krampus's size or his ugliness, Melchior said, “You are welcome, too. I hope we will have no need of violence, but I am grateful for your strength.”

Krampus grinned, obviously pleased, at least at Melchior's tone. Agios doubted that he understood any of the words.

Caspar told Melchior, “I have explained that the trip may be difficult. We will be few in number, and we will be carrying valuable things. I don't wish to take a guard of any size— our mission is not a political one, and the less warlike we seem, the easier it will be to pass borders. Are you in agreement, Melchior?”

“Certainly, if these two men are willing to fight.”

Agios nodded but held his tongue.

Melchior looked at him silently and then asked, “What gods do you worship, Agios?”

“None,” Agios confessed.

Looking surprised, Melchior asked, “None at all? Are you a complete unbeliever?”

Agios told him, “My people have no gods, though we believe that everything has a spirit of its own. But as for worship, no, I have no god to pray to. If I have faith in anything, sir, it's in spirit and in life. I can't believe in gods. It's hard enough for me to believe in people.”

Caspar smiled. “Though our friend is not a man without
beliefs, or without any sense of spirit.”

“I wonder more than believe,” Agios corrected.

Melchior asked, “But how do you feel if others believe?”

With a shrug, Agios said, “So long as it harms no one, let each believe as he wishes.”

“Well, well,” Melchior said, his voice thoughtful. “Perhaps you may find more to believe in by and by.” He rang a bell, and a servant came to the library doorway.

“These men are tired after a long ride,” Melchior told him. “See that they have baths and fresh clothing and a good meal.”

Agios explained Krampus's special needs—the big man would never sleep inside a building or tent, but insisted on being in the open, or at least in a place where he could see the sky—and the servants found a room for Agios with a balcony outside. Krampus indicated that he would be content to sleep there, out in the air. They bathed and donned fresh clothing provided by Melchior, and later they ate together. The two scholars dined elsewhere. Krampus obviously relished the food—roast peafowl and goat's meat—and when they had finished, he spread his arms, as if to take in the entire place, perhaps the entire kingdom. “Good,” he said. For him it was quite a speech.

That night as Agios readied himself for bed, a servant came to the room. “Melchior commands your presence,” the servant said. Agios checked on Krampus, who had fallen into a sound sleep, and he followed the servant to a tower built into a corner of the city wall—a tower far too tall to be a defensive post.

The servant said, “He awaits you at the top.”

A spiral stairway of many hundred steps led up and up. Agios climbed steadily, though his thighs began to ache just past the midway point. The stair ended on a flat, roofless platform. Agios stepped out into the night. A sky like black velvet stretched overhead, sprinkled with stars looking unusually bright, for the moon had not risen.

“Come here,” Melchior said. He was a silhouette in the darkness.

Agios felt the fresh breeze of the mountains. In the faint starlight he could tell only that Melchior stood alone. With some caution Agios walked across the platform to stand near him.

“Caspar just left me. He suggested I show you a few things. This way is north,” Melchior said, taking Agios's upper arm and turning him so he looked out over the low parapet. “Do you know the stars?”

“I know some have names for them,” Agios said. “The Babylonians call one Ishtar. My own people didn't name the stars, but I can tell my way from them.” He looked up. “There is the North Star, for example. It is always in the night sky and shows a true direction.”

“Look straight ahead, and to the west, and a third of the way up from the horizon. Do you see that star, the brightest one?”

He couldn't have missed it: a star as bright as the Morning Star or Evening Star, nearly as bright as a beacon, brighter than the last time he had caught sight of it. It flared and seemed to shoot brilliant beams of light. “I see it, sir. I noticed it in the desert some days ago.”

“It is a new star,” Melchior said, his voice taut with an underlying excitement. “It is not a wandering star, of the kind the Greeks call
. I don't think it is a fixed star, at least not one of the ordinary kind, for the whole dome of the sky slowly rotates through the year, turning around the axis of the North Star, but for the ten months since that one appeared, it has been in the very same place, growing steadily brighter. The planets roam, the fixed stars rotate but keep their patterns—but that star alone is faithful to its place in the heavens.”

Agios didn't know what to say. He grunted thoughtfully.

“It is something new,” Melchior said. “It's an omen.”

Omens. They crammed the world full, if you listened to all the priests of all the religions. A crow flying overhead was an omen, or an oddly shaped fruit, or the cry of a wolf, or an earthquake or a storm, or drought or flood, wind or calm.
Omens everywhere, and most of them evil
, Agios thought.

As though reading his mind, Melchior said, “This one means something good, Agios. Something wonderful. I've read about it in the old scrolls and have discussed it with wise men. My friends Caspar and Balthasar have seen it, too. Balthasar is on his way and will be here in the next few days. We must prepare. If the prophecies are true, if this is the sign in the heavens I've been looking for, that star will grow steadily brighter. When it is as bright as the full moon, we must leave. That may be in a few days or in a few weeks—there's no telling. When the time comes, we must begin our search.”

“And what do you hope to find, sir?”

“Someone to whom Balthasar, Caspar, and I must bow,” Melchior said.

Agios tried to peer through the darkness but he couldn't quite make out Melchior's features. “Mithridates?” he asked, naming the man he recalled as ruler of the entire Parthian Empire.

“Mithridates died years ago,” Melchior said. “Phraates holds the throne now—but I don't mean him, either.”

“Then who?” Agios asked.

Melchior took a deep breath. When he spoke again, his voice was low and full of awe: “I mean the hope of the world, the one whose coming is foretold in prophecy. I mean a King of Kings.”

It was the second time Agios had heard the term. This time it made him shiver.

Chapter 6

althasar arrived the following day. He was from the far southern desert country, a swarthy, heavyset man of great vigor. He spoke the common language, Aramaic, with a pronounced accent and a booming voice. As soon as he met the others, the three prepared for the journey. Agios and Krampus stayed out of the way, but after nightfall Melchior invited Agios once again to the observation tower. Krampus remained below, on solid ground.

Agios followed the three scholar-kings up the stair. When they arrived on the platform, Balthasar cried out in wonder. “This is the clearest I've ever seen it,” he said. “It is a glory in the heavens.”

“Is it as bright as the full moon?” Melchior asked.

Balthasar gazed. “Very nearly, I think. Much brighter than it was only two nights ago.”

“Then we leave tomorrow.”

“I agree,” Balthasar said.

Caspar asked, “Have we all our gifts?”

Melchior said, “I have thought long about the question, and as my gift I bring gold, the purest that I could find, as is proper for a gift to a great king.”

Balthasar murmured in reply, “That is well done. There will be need of gold, whoever his family might be. I bring a cask of myrrh. It's very costly. In my country people burn it as an offering to the gods. It is said to have a calming effect on a troubled spirit. It is, I think, fit as a gift to a great healer of souls.”

“And I bring frankincense, a resin more costly than gold.” Caspar said. “If the family is in need, they can trade it for whatever they desire. No merchant would refuse even a fly's weight of it.”

In the silver light of the star, Balthasar looked impressed. “I know of it. It's surpassingly rare. In my land, doctors prescribe it as a medicine for the relief of pain.”

Caspar, whose face was normally expressive of enjoyment, nodded and looked solemn. “There will be much pain in his life, as there is in the life of every great man,” he said. “And he will take upon himself the pain of the world. Frankincense cannot ease that, but perhaps it may hearten him to know that there is an end to every pain, and that those who care will offer what relief they may.”

Balthasar was silent before asking, “With all these riches, do we travel with a strong guard?”

Caspar said, “With only two men. With Agios here and with the giant Krampus.”


“That's an exaggeration,” Melchior said. “But he is taller than most, and very strong. You have not seen him yet. Don't let his looks startle you. He's loyal to Agios, and I think with him we need no stronger guard.”

“May it be so,” Balthasar said.

Melchior said, “I'll have my men prepare our animals. Let us get what sleep we can. We will set off in the afternoon and will travel mostly by night, for the star will be our guide. Agios, tell Krampus.”

“I will,” Agios said. “He will need no camel or horse, though. He prefers to walk.”

“That will slow us.”

“No,” Agios said. “He is untiring.”

“Very well.”

And with that they all separated. Agios checked on Krampus: He slept soundly, out on the terrace. He had turned and the light of the new star fell full in his face, softening his grotesque features, making him look at peace and—well, not exactly normal, but certainly no monster. What had warped and twisted him, beyond Roman cruelty? Agios did not know, but reflected that the deformity had not reached Krampus's heart. For that he was grateful.

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