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| There Ain't No Justice |
| #78 |
- Gift of the Maga -
by Ace Lightning
At the great Collegium of the Magi in Persia, the astrologers finished their
calculations and turned to one another in astonishment. "The One who will be
born at the moment of the Grand Stellium will, indeed, be a world-changer!"
In seconds, the astrologers' news spread through the entire Collegium. The
alchemists murmured it over their alembics. The thaumaturgists heard it from
the demons and spirits they held in thrall. The numerologists hurried to the
Hall of the Stars and, combining their calculations with those of the
astrologers, soon determined exactly where the Child of Promise would be
born, and what His name would be.
Not all of the Magi were men, and not all were practitioners of the classical
arts of magick. There was one Maga, in particular, who belonged to none of
the schools, for her arts were not classifiable according to the systems that
the Collegium taught. Vashti was more of a generalist; at least that was how
she preferred to think of herself. Most of the Magi thought of her as little
more than a jumped-up hedge-witch. When the news of the prediction reached
her, she was in the Alchemists' Tower, distilling a potion from nasturtium
buds and rare Eastern fruits. The Magus working near her cocked his head as a
mouse scampered up his robes and squeaked in his ear. "My familiar tells me
that the astrologers have determined what the signs in the sky predict. There
will be born a child whose life and teachings will change the entire world!"
"A world-changer, indeed. Well, any baby changes his mother's world when he's
born," she muttered. It took more than some astrological rumors to excite
Vashti. Still, as she worked, she thought about the idea. Even a mystically
prophesied Child starts out as a baby, needing to be fed and changed and kept
warm. She knew these Magi. They would send a delegation to bring gifts to the
child. But, being men, their gifts would be symbolic things, like gold,
frankincense, and myrrh. They would never think to bring clean rags for
swaddling cloths, or a carved wooden toy. She set aside her potion, and left
for her tiny rooms near the kitchen. As she was leaving, her companion
noticed the potion, and asked, "What are you making, Vashti? Liquid gems?
Elixir of immortality?"
"Steak sauce," she replied, as the door swung shut behind her.
Once in her chambers, she rummaged in a drawer and pulled out a packet
wrapped in midnight-blue silk. Inside were seventy-eight thin plaques of
ivory. Each one was painted with a different colorful scene. She spread the
silk carefully on the table and began to shuffle the ivory plaques, chanting
to herself in a singsong whisper. Soon her eyes were half-closed, and a
barely perceptible tremor ran through her body. She stopped shuffling and
collapsed the plaques into a neat pile. Then she took a plaque from the top
of the pile and laid it, picture side up, on the silk. She repeated this
several times, arranging the plaques in a pattern in front of her. When she
had her pattern complete, she stared at it with a slight frown of
"The Sage, yes...Death, and the Hanged One, of course...and the Empress! And
beside her, the Priestess...but the Priest, and the Emperor...." Suddenly
Vashti swept the plaques together and re-wrapped them in their silk cloth.
But instead of returning them to the drawer she had taken them from, she slid
the bundle under the pillow on her sleeping-pad. Then she hurried out of the
room to find one of the senior Magi.
"Caspar," she said, "I know what the stars have said to us. I'm not trying to
argue that, indeed, a World-Changer is about to be born. But I have had
....certain signs... that the changes that he will bring will not be quite
what we've been expecting. And there are some aspects that I find
"Foolish witch! I do not believe in your hearth-magicks. This child will be
the Prince of Peace! I have already made plans; Melchior and Balthazar will
accompany me as we bring our ritual gifts to the Child of Promise...even if
he IS being born in some backward little village in the dirty end of the
When Vashti approached Melchior, he was busy packing for his long trip. As
the older man stuffed silk robes and curl-toed slippers into a camel bag, she
tried to explain what she had seen in the images on ivory. "But, Vashti my
child, you know your little peasant divinations lack the true vision that we
gain by observing the heavens. This Grand Stellium is something that occurs
once in several thousand years. This Child of Promise will bring a new
destiny to the entire world! Now, where did I put that striped turban...?"
Balthazar's carved-ebony face was sympathetic. "No, Vashti, I know that your
methods are at least as valid as any others. But a World-Changer WILL change
the world. Change isn't always pleasant. You have to live with some of the
more painful aspects if you want to have the more pleasant ones. Besides,
none of US will be here to see it happen. After all, the Child isn't even
going to be born for a few more weeks."
So Vashti went back to her room, and slept that night with the colorful ivory
plaques beneath her head. And she dreamed...
She saw a man in the prime of his life, with a kind face framed by flowing
hair and beard, speaking to crowds of people. She saw him lay his hands on
desperately ill people, who immediately recovered their health.
She saw the same kind-looking man, wearing only a dirty loincloth and a piece
of thorn-vine wrapped around his head. His face was twisted in agony, because
his body was fastened to some sort of wooden framework by large nails driven
directly through his flesh.
She saw armies of oddly-dressed men, each wearing a symbol that was a
stylized picture of that odd wooden framework. The men were killing
methodically, then destroying everything they found.
She saw scrolls of ancient and mighty wisdom, tales of the Gods of many
lands, powerful magicks, histories, and all manner of writing, piled up and
burning...and the one who wielded the torch wore the symbol, too.
She saw the graceful temples smashed, the sacred groves cut down, and in
their place buildings topped with the wooden crossbars.
She saw a woman, heavily pregnant, being tied to a stake with kindling at her
feet, while men wearing the crossed symbol smiled at the executioner ready to
ignite the oil-soaked tinder...
Vashti woke up, gasping. With hands that shook uncontrollably, she took out
the painted plaques again and created another pattern of pictures. "Can this
be stopped? Can it be lessened? How?" she asked. She stared at the pattern
for a long time. "The Empress...and the Priestess..."
At the appointed time, Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar left to attend the
miraculous birth. They traveled in state, with servants and treasure-wagons
and extra baggage-mules. It would take them weeks to reach the town with the
strange name...Bethlehem, was it? Vashti thought that, even though the birth
was weeks away, they might still arrive late. Well, that fit perfectly with
When the Grand Stellium, and the birth of the World-Changer, were about a
week away, Vashti quietly took a fast horse from the stables, loaded her
simple belongings onto it, and rode westward, following the caravan's trail.
The night of the Grand Stellium found the three Magi still far from
Bethlehem. They pitched their silken tents and stared up at the marvelous
arrangement of lights in the sky. In all of recorded time, no Grand Stellium
had ever been quite so grand. From her inconspicuous campsite on a ridge
nearby, Vashti watched her brethren, smiling to herself. She could overtake
them now, if she wanted, and arrive in Bethlehem before they did. Yet her
dreams and visions had let her know that she should wait, and arrive just
after they did. So she lay back and watched the mystery in the sky, until she
Twelve days later, the three Magi rode into Bethlehem with full pomp and
circumstance. They found the newborn child exactly where they had calculated
he would be, although they were surprised at the humble surroundings. The
baby's parents were surprised to see three richly-dressed Magi, carrying
"I am Yosef the carpenter," said the man holding the baby, "and this is my
wife Maryam, and our newborn son Yeshua. Why do you honor humble folk like
us, O wise ones from the East?"
"Great portents in the sky have led us to you, O Yosef!" rumbled Caspar. "We
come with gifts of great symbolic meaning and enormous value, to present them
to the Child of Promise." Sinking to one knee, Caspar held out his gift with
a flourish. "I bring you gold, O Prince of Peace!" He presented an elaborate
golden crown on a silken pillow, with gems of many colors set here and there
in the gold. Baby Yeshua tried to grab the crown with his tiny hands, but
missed. He began to frown.
Melchior stepped forward. Bowing deeply, he held out a vase-shaped container
of silver filigree. "Behold, I offer you precious frankincense, O Child of
God!" A strong, musky odor rose from the jar. Yeshua's tiny face screwed
itself into an expression of distaste.
Then Balthazar moved near the child. With a dignified tilt of his head, he
offered a jar carved from a single flawless amethyst. "And I bring you myrrh
from the embalmers of Egypt, O Dying and Reborn One!" The aroma of the myrrh
clashed violently with the frankincense. Yeshua turned his face away and
began to squeak. Yosef quickly handed the baby to Maryam, who started to
fumble with the bodice of her robe, then stopped as she realized that the
Magi were still there. Yeshua's cries ascended into a wail. Maryam looked
The three Magi bowed, and went out, leaving their gifts in the straw on the
floor. Sighing, Maryam dropped the top of her robe and began to suckle the
infant. Yosef said, "Now, what are we going to do with all these expensive
presents? I don't think it would be polite to sell them."
"No, it wouldn't," said Vashti, stepping into the stable. "But I am one of
the Magi myself, and I have some gifts for you and the child that might make
more sense." She held out a bundle to Maryam. "Clean rags for swaddling
cloths. No baby ever has enough clean cloths." She went to the small cookfire
and began to boil some water. When it was boiling, she added a handful of
leaves from a packet she carried. "Here, dear, let this cool a bit, then
drink it. It will strengthen you, and help you recover from the birth. What,
nobody ever told you about steeped raspberry leaves?" She took the baby, who
had fallen asleep, and rocked him gently as Maryam sipped at the leaf brew.
Soon Maryam and Vashti were like old friends. The younger woman - she was
barely thirteen - had never had a chance to learn much birthing lore from
other women, so Vashti's knowledge of potions and midwifery was very welcome.
Maryam was young and healthy, and possessed of a quick mind and a kind soul.
Under Vashti's care, mother and child thrived, and Yosef found his own life
returning to normal.
Maryam was not surprised that Vashti knew the circumstances of the baby's
conception and birth. In turn, Vashti was not surprised. There had been women
impregnated by Gods before, and heroes and demigods born to mortal women. But
Vashti had the feeling that Maryam had not been an ordinary girl even before
her God chose her to bear His son.
One night Vashti showed Maryam the ivory plaques. The girl looked at each
picture, then chose two. The first one showed a Priestess, enthroned in front
of a temple, with a crescent Moon beneath her feet. "That's me, before I got
pregnant," said Maryam. She then chose a picture of a full-figured woman,
crowned with stars and holding the scepter of an Empress. "And this is me,
now." Vashti gravely kissed Maryam on the forehead, whispering a Word.
And Maryam remembered Who She was. She smiled at Vashti and said, "Only a
Goddess can give birth to a God." Just then, the baby God woke up, screaming
for milk. The moment passed. But people began to look at Maryam and see
Vashti and Maryam had many private talks, often with the strange pictures to
guide their thoughts. Baby Yeshua began to toddle, and then to speak. He was
a strange child, wise beyond his years, but sunny and kind-hearted.
"I must go back to the Collegium," Vashti told Maryam. "My work here is done.
Remember what I have taught you, and what to teach your son." And she packed
up her few belongings and rode away to the East.
Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar were waiting for her when she returned to the
Collegium. "Where have you been? Why did you follow us? What did you do to
the mother of our Child of Promise?" She smiled at them and said, "I just
reminded her that she is the Mother of God."
"Why? Surely she has enough cares, knowing that her child will grow up to
change the whole world!" said Balthazar. "But the world can change in many
ways, and not all of them are pleasant," said Vashti. "My visions showed me
armies killing in the child's name, smashing temples, torturing women,
because their knowledge of their God was purely male. But if they remember
the Mother of God, She will temper their instincts toward violence. Now that
Maryam remembers that She is the Mother of God, so will His followers in the
ages to come." And Vashti slipped out of the room and down to the Alchemy
"I tended to your brew while you were gone," said the alchemist who had
worked beside her. She dipped a fingertip into it and tasted the mixture.
"Just as I planned it - steak sauce." The alchemist turned away, shaking his
head. But Vashti began setting up the ingredients for another potion, singing
quietly to herself in Latin. Her companion listened, straining to understand
the unfamiliar language, as Vashti sang "Ave, Maria, gratia plena..."
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