In one of the Hells I saw a Star.

Travelling by gray-blue morning and purple twilight, a caravan made time through the desert - in the footsteps of Alexander, who 320 years before had staggered back along this route and died drunk and resentful, the world conquered but so what.

The Star eased westward, soft-lighting the way for the long train of concubines and double-humped camels, retainers and men-at-arms - a host headed by a Wise King of the East, one who had taken his crown from the severed head of his own father. This Wise King ruled ten million people in his country and another million in the neighboring country.

He travelled west, following this loosed Star, at the behest of his keenest seers. Again and again, in trances they had told him to chase the bright sign westward, where he would find One who would be King Of Kings and Lord Of Lords, who would one day rule a thousand nations, to whom every other king would kneel.

This Wise King Of The East, and his assembly, had marched a year and still the Star showed no sign of stopping.

His men-at-arms rebelled and were executed and replaced. Concubines who began the journey virgins had given birth - and the sons anointed and the daughters put out for the sky to eat. Fever had culled the host once - and then again.

And still the Wise King Of The East, ever resolute, ever fixed in purposed - like the North Star, quiet and fixed at the center of the ever-changing cosmos - still he pressed on with such determination that it might be believed that he himself could drag behind him the entire mass of his caravan on his own lone strength and will.

He would follow the star to its destination, however afar. He would. He would be ushered into the presence of this One destined to rule all the earth.

Yes, and when he was announced, when he was brought before this One...then...on this, the oracles and seers always kept silent, none would answer. They swooned into the weeks-long coma which concluded their prophetic trances or they held together their lips so tight the mouth and jaw around went white and blue with the rageful effort of it, the eyes rolling back into the head.

The silence from the oracles was as clear an instruction as any directly uttered. What was to be done next was a matter for the king alone to decide - for the King and the Sky God at his right shoulder.

So the Wise King of the East would face the King of Kings and he would do as he had always done. He would speak and act as king, his voice would itself be the voice of all powers in the Sky and the Earth, and his action would be all the action of Water and Nature. His would be a decision without fault, perfect and true and unquestionable. Incontrovertible. Yes.

But as the king paced sleepless in his hot tent, peeking at the progress of the blazing afternoon, where the star, hanging in the hazy blue sky, still shone bright in the West like a mirror flashing a signal from a distant ship, he was afraid.

Every day that passed, every week, his unease about this meeting with the King of Kings blossomed in his imagination like a blight, taking on a hundred grotesque shapes, turning hopes to fears, plans to terrors, mighty pronouncements falling from his lips like lightning bolts turned to the spent heaving of a drunk.

"Alexander died in this waste. Alexander, who conquered my very own grandfathers, even he, he died on this road."

The Wise King from the east drew the door, and turned to face the blackness in the tent and was blind for a minute.

He called his armorer and bid him again make ready his arms and armor, lest the day should come upon them unaware. He told his captain to drill the men, yes, even in this heat, to be prepared for an encounter with the King of Kings.

Then, one night, encamped outside Jerusalem, Crossroads of the West, at the edge of that vast kingdom ruled by Augustus, the Wise King of the East received his riders, who had at Damascus changed their camels for stallions.

The Star, they said, had settled over a town an hour hence.

Many had seen the Star. Many, curious, had come to make of it what they could or would. But in this town there was no sign of a host, there were no banners, no evidence of any Great King there at all, so the riders said.

Without the thousand hard miles behind them, the two riders might have been vexed. But now all that was left in them was grief and despair.

There was no one of name in this town, which was called Bethlehem.

The occupying army of Augustus and local worshippers of Yahweh - a cousin of the Wise King's own Sky God - and that mocking Star, yes, but no King of Kings, no. No one of royal birth at all.

"Oh, your Mightiness has been deceived!" they lamented.

The Wise King of the east thanked them for their service and then had them beheaded there in his own tent and then he displayed the heads in a special pavilion with their four eyes in a porcelain bowl. He decreed that any man or woman or slave or beast in his caravan who should despair or lose hope would meet the same end and as immediately.

It was at this time that the king himself felt a flicker in his own faith in the words and vision of his seers. Until this day his worries had been how he would act upon meeting the future king of all kings, but his faith in the vision, in the guidance of his oracles, who had shown him the right way time and time again, was so strong as to be a thing out of mind.

"Perhaps they have been lied to. The spirits, the demons and the dead, who run screaming in and out of the shadows of their prophetic vision, they have been playing games. Or worse. Has the Sky God brought me here as Olive-Eyed Athena lured cursed Alexander astray, to kill him in his bed? Has the Great Winged Benevolence lured me away from the green valleys and snow capped peaks of home to make me a fool and hand my kingdom to my enemies in my absence? Does my palace burn even now? Oh, please let it not be so! Please let it not be so!?"

And he watched with a steely vulture's stare his subjects pass before the severed heads and the porcelain bowl of eyes, watched as they bowed deeply and silently yes, silently - yes, even the relatives and friends of these two faithless riders, bowing deeply and silently.

That night in his prayer tent, as a priest chanted and incense sent up smoke, the Wise King prayed for guidance and courage, prayed and prayed, until he fell asleep.

Still unaccustomed to travelling by day, he was awake before dawn, covered by his servants, with his priest still chanting

He threw off the covers and called his grooms and had his best horse readied, and he called his body servants and they washed him and shaved him and rouged his lips and braided his beard and lined his eyes with kohl made from the rarest tree in his kingdom.

He put on silks of red and blue and gold from China and a superb sword from farther east still, and he brought for a gift a jar of myrrh - that precious ointment used most especially to anoint the dead.

He would stand before this King. And he would offer the gift of myrrh - used to anoint the dead. And he would let the Sky God inspire him how he would.

The Wise King with four hand-picked fighting men and a valet and a fast rider reached the city of Bethlehem while it was still dark.

Bethlehem was spilling over in the middle of a season of census in which Augustus's subjects were being summed by bureaucrats across his kingdom. The bureaucratic necessity was that each man must return, at his own expense, to his birthplace, to be properly counted.

It was a mad, jovial, rustic mix. Reunited friends who had not seen each other in a decade, traded stories and confessed old hurts. Marriage arrangements were made, murders committed, promising business ventures embarked upon.

The Star hung low over a hillside of sheds and huts at the edge of town.

The Wise King and his bodyguard wound past campfires and up alleys, navigating by the Star above, until finally they cast no shadow before them or behind them or to the left of or the right. And the light - seeming brighter than ever - fell straight down on their heads like a slight warm rain.

They stood there before the open door of a stable, lit inside by a few small lamps.

The Wise King positioned his bodyguards outside and went in.

The place stank of livestock and human excrement. And of blood too. A couple drunken thieves lounged in the straw at one end. In a stall, a man hurriedly copulated with a silent woman who held herself up with one hand, held aside her gown with the other.

In the lamplight sat an adolescent girl, pale and fragile, and a tired husband, a tradesman of some kind, crouched by her in the fluttering gloom. The girl held a tiny bundle. A swaddled newborn. An old prostitute sat with them, giving the girl a remedy mixed from vinegar and herbs.

A voice from the shadows, thickly accented by a language closer to his own that to that spoken in this country:

"You have come for an audience with the King of Kings."

"I seek him," he replied.

And it was then - called upon to act, called upon to be a king - that the Wise King from the east felt all the weight leave him and felt his shoulders grow strong and his spine gathering up the power of a mighty bow used by the heroes of old. Yes, just as he knew it would.

"There he is."

In the shadows nearby, two brother Kings of distant lands knelt gleaming with wealth equal to the rest of Bethlehem combined,. One had come from the far west, a Black King from the land of gold and precious wood and ivory. The other, from a bleak land north of the Wise King's own - a man who, with an army at his back, would have been the Wise King's enemy. But the present circumstance brought all three to the same befuddled low.

The Wise King stood and approached the weary girl and the tradesman father. And he offered them the jar of myrrh, that ointment used to anoint the dead.

The father took it and bowed deeply and silently and gratefully.

The Wise King turned back to the door, back to wear the other two kings, the Black King and the King of the Bleak North, knelt still.

The Wise King made subtle and secret gestures to his bodyguard crouching outside.

The bodyguard moved quickly, drawing silent, oily swords.

The Black King's neck was chopped through in one, the heavy blade mixing skin and ivory and flesh and gold into one mess.

The King of the Bleak North lost all sensation in his body as his spine was hacked through, lost all sense of mind when his skull was halved like a dense fruit.

Before they were cut down, the girl and her husband, blinded by the lamps, knew only that someone was again approaching them. The thieves and illicit lovers were killed too with equal speed and silence.

The corpses were thoroughly disposed of - every joint disconnected, all distinguishing features annihilated.

The swaddled child, King of Kings, dozing through all, was hurried off.

The Wise King took the child home, back to his palace in the East.

The King's own concubines nursed the boy.

And in time, the boy became a mighty king, became the mightiest of kings. His throne was made of ivory, gold and rubies, and all around it were displayed the shattered skulls of his enemies. He had many wives and many sons and he conquered all the nations and he was worshipped as a god.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are YOU saying a tradesmen and a teenage mother would have essentially changed the course of the TERRIBLE BUDDHA'S career?

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 12:38:00 AM GMT  
Blogger Neal Romanek said...

Hmmm. I think maybe it could be a cautionary tale? "The Savior is not a person" perhaps.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009 12:59:00 PM GMT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is unfortunate that the measured pace of your prose is tripped by a word with the letters “f” and “k”, booking-ending “u c”.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009 8:59:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Neal Romanek said...

Beautiful word, isn't it?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 7:54:00 PM GMT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

No. Trite. Unbecoming of a true artist, as you obviously are. Try kcuf.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009 11:27:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Neal Romanek said...

Fucky, fucky, fucky, fuck, fuck...fuck fuckity fuck fuck fuuuuuuuuuhhhhhh...ck.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009 6:09:00 PM GMT  

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