Old and Wise
By Storie

Seacouver : December 1999

“Because it’s a farce!” Methos’ tone indicated that he had expected his companions to know this.

“Sacrilegious so-and-so,” Joe muttered, and maneuvered down the hall, out of sight.

“Did it ever occur to you that it might be considerate to keep certain opinions to yourself?” Duncan fixed Methos with the darkest expression he could muster, which wasn’t especially intimidating on a man holding a flocked camel under each arm. “What is myth to you might be a sacred truth to someone else. You could hurt a friend’s feelings with your flip comments. Ever heard of ‘live and let live’?”

“But the truth is exactly what I’m talking about,” Methos insisted, unwrapping an Oriental figure in elaborate costume. “Read the Bible for yourself, Duncan. These guys weren’t kings, they weren’t from the Orient, and nowhere is it written that there were only three.”

“Yeah, yeah, whatever. Just try to be more polite about these things around Joe, all right? And around anyone else for whom the holiday holds some Christian meaning.”

Methos sighed in exasperation as he placed the figure on the floor beside its camel.

Syria, northeast of Damascus : January : 3 B.C.

Melchar pulled the linen robe snug around his neck, reluctant to cover his head despite the unmerciful stoning by hard, tiny particles of sleet. He subconsciously envied the laborers in their woolen clothing: unadorned, signifying their caste, but warmer than the richly dyed cloth reserved for the royal priesthood. It was pointless, this deliberate exposure to the elements. The sky was overcast and the Star, though it could yet be discerned, would soon be banished by the dawn.

He clutched to his chest the parchments on which he had carefully charted the celestial phenomenon they had pursued through the past months. No less than a dozen Median priests were scattered about squinting toward the heavens as they studied Mithraic prophesies on scrolls, drew astrological maps and recorded their own accounts of the event. Behind them, amidst the clatter of a caravan settling for a day of rest, a singular noise penetrated Melchar’s own study with persistence, alerting him that a once-small problem was growing steadily critical. With a farewell glance to his elusive quarry, he lowered his head against the cold and damp and hurried into the camp.

The tent had been erected and a fire warmly blazed. Beltazaar crouched against the flame, trembling with fever, rendered breathless and weak by an incessant cough. He opened his eyes when Melchar clasped under his arms and drew him into the tent.

“How does it look for me now?” His voice was little more than a whisper.

Melchar had hoped the question would not arise, for he could not lie to a friend and an elder. He allowed his eyes to meet Beltazaar’s rheumy gaze and the old man nodded in resignation.

“So be it as the stars have said,” he murmured. “So be it, but for one request. I desire that my eyes might behold the fulfillment of the prophecy before I am gathered to my fathers. Can you cling to my life for me, Melchar, until then?”

Melchar squeezed the old man’s bony fingers. “I will prepare the tea.”

All the medicines in the world would not prevent the inevitable; Melchar had consulted the constellations, prescribed herbs, applied poultices to Beltazaar’s throat and chest until the hide peeled in protest. He could bring about relief of the aching stiffness in old joints, comfort against digestive disturbances, a cure for sleepless nights, but this particular illness defied his medical expertise. Progression would slow, whether out of generosity or mockery Melchar could not tell, then bear down again, brutally pressing life out of Beltazaar’s frail body. Age was a traitor equal to the malady, formidable foes sharing a pact against the ancient magus. There was little Melchar could do in retribution.

Beltazaar talked while Melchar brewed the tea, alternately reciting liturgies and rambling incoherently about the battle between Ormazd and Ahriman as though it were taking place right in front of him.

Or within him, Melchar winced.

Amesha Spenta!” Beltazaar abruptly proclaimed, staring wide-eyed at Melchar.

Bountiful immortal. But the old man could not know. Melchar pretended to ignore the pronouncement as he cradled Beltazaar’s head and poured the tea between his lips. The sedative effect was almost immediate. Melchar brought out a Khordah, recorded by his own hand, and read prayers to Beltazaar until the old man fell into exhausted slumber.

Seacouver : December 1999

“Happy Birthday and Joyeaux Noel.” Methos handed Duncan a package. “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.” The gift he laid in Joe’s arms was conspicuously shaped and reacted to movement with gentle sloshing gurgles. Joe picked at the wrapping.

“If this is what I think it is, I may just have to forgive you for those earlier comments about my choice of Christmas music.”

Methos smiled, sadly. “Please accept my apologies. I meant no offense. The ‘three kings’ song aggravates my devotion to historical accuracy.” Joe cocked an eyebrow and grinned. “That song, and these things,” Methos nudged a bearded wise man with his toe. “The story is a legend based on assumption, and no one seems to care about the reality.”

Joe shrugged. “Most Christmas traditions are based on variations of customs that have passed down from ancient times; not many of our holiday celebrations are rooted in reality. That shouldn’t stop you from enjoying them. After all, consider your magi, there: however many of whatever they were, they were following a star they’d never seen before based on a prophesy that may or may not have been divinely inspired, on blind faith that the star would lead them to a supernatural king at some point along the way. If the rest of the story is fiction, it’s no stranger than the few facts that we do know.”

Methos’ smile warmed into soft laughter as he shook his head at the bottle in his hand. “Well,” he took a sip, “I certainly can’t argue with that.”

Israel, north of Jerusalem : January : 3 B.C.

“If it weren’t so ungodly cold,” Melchar hissed into the night. He rode a fine horse, an intelligent steed that responded well to discipline. The animal’s good nature and sensibilities were tasked to the limit, however, by the presence of a camel on a lead. Beltazaar insisted he was strong enough to ride without assistance, so Melchar reluctantly resumed his own place in the caravan for the darkening hours following the sunset. After the moon peaked and began her descent toward the western horizon, however, he heard Beltazaar coughing more frequently and noticed that he swayed unsteadily forward in his saddle. Melchar moved alongside to lead Beltazaar’s mount for the remainder of the night.

“How is he,” Darek drew his horse alongside Melchar. “He looks bad.”

“He is weak and tired and old,” Melchar responded, carefully impassive. “He is very sick.”

Darek gazed for a moment at the Star and turned to Melchar, stricken. “Beltazaar has been a father to me, a mentor.” He swallowed hard. “He always has an answer to my question. Who will answer my question when Beltazaar is no longer among us?”

“A place of rest awaits him, until Ahura Mazda triumphs over Angra Mainyu and welcomes the virtuous souls into his kingdom,” Melchar reminded him. “Meditate upon the scriptures and take comfort in knowing that you will see Beltazaar again in the afterlife.”

The words did not help, but both pretended otherwise. Darek pulled ahead in the caravan, leaving Melchar alone with his own regrets, hopeless wishes and helpless tears. He distracted himself from Beltazaar’s condition by focusing on the guiding Star and contemplating the prophecies by which the magi pursued this alien light.

The Jews had been carried away captive into Babylon nearly half a millennium ago. When Cyrus ascended to the Persian throne some four decades later, he promptly conquered the Medes and proceeded to take Lydia and Babylon, thereby inheriting the captive Jews. One year after that, Cyrus issued a decree permitting the Jews to return to Palestine and rebuild their temple. Many of the captive Jews, however, chose their new life under Persian rule over the opportunity, and the burden, of restoring Jerusalem. Their descendents held faithfully to ancestral custom and faith and, as a result, the Jewish prophecies were almost as well known among the magi as their own Zoroastrian scriptures. Both religious studies predicted that a new star would herald the arrival of a supernatural messiah of royal birth.

The brilliant entity the magi now followed had appeared one night more than a year prior, vanishing at dawn to be seen no more. No more, that is, until three months afterward, when preparations for the journey had been completed and they had set out westward across the desert, uncertain how far away in time and distance the assumed King would be found. The Star had reappeared that night to the consternation of some and the delight of all, for it proved not a stationary planet but a light that traveled without the limitations of orbit or the boundaries of constellation that commonly ruled the solar system. It was a miracle. It was a wonder. The Median priests had pursued their Sign faithfully every night thereafter.

A ripple of unrest began at the head of the caravan, the leaders slowing and pointing both straight ahead and toward the sky. By the time Darek rode back to Melchar, the entire procession had halted. Darek answered before Melchar asked.

“The Star appears to be slowing.” His breath caught in his throat with excitement. “We must have achieved our glorious destination! In the morning we will enter Jerusalem and enquire of Herod the King as to whether we may gain audience with the child Prince.”

Jerusalem : January : 3 B.C.

Their entrance into the city was met with wide eyes and jaws agape, this contingent of a royal priesthood who had traveled more than one thousand miles in the wake of a Star that, it was foretold, would lead them to a god-king. Deity or not, it was nevertheless in the best interest of politics to welcome the Prince into the world with due benevolence. It was never too soon to nurture good relations between ruling entities. Thus they rode into Jerusalem on carefully groomed and costumed horses, Median astrologers dressed in their finest apparel, mistaken by many to be exotic kings and foreign rulers on the mere basis of first impression.

Seven magi presented themselves to Herod, who received them with ill-concealed trepidation. Melchar was of necessity among them, for he alone was fluent in the native dialects. Introductions were barely accomplished before Herod inquired as to the purpose of their visit.

“We have come to pay homage to the new King, whose birth was announced by the Star of prophecy.”

Herod blinked without expression, but his face slowly turned crimson as he cogitated on the implications of Melchar’s answer. As the revelation sank in, Herod called forth a weak smile and a number of priests from the local temple to explain what such prophesies could possibly have to do with Jerusalem.

Nothing, at this point in time, Herod’s priests informed him. The Jewish messiah, the King of the Jews would, according to the prophet Micah, be born in Bethlehem of Judea. A sign of the birth would indeed be the appearance of a brilliant new star in the heavens.

“A Jewish King,” Herod arose from his throne and descended the dais. He strolled away from the magi, then turned abruptly to face them. Melchar distrusted the emotions that twisted Herod’s features with amusement and rage. “When did this Star first appear, that would have announced the child’s birth?”

Melchar reluctantly told him. “About sixteen months ago.”

Herod nodded thoughtfully. “I must also pay homage to this King,” he said at length, to Melchar. “Do seek him out and, when you have found him, bring me word again, that I might visit the divine offspring and serve him with appropriate respect.”

Seacouver : December 1999

Duncan studied the Bronze Age dagger with an expression of equal gratitude and surprise. “Sure you aren’t parting with memories too sweet to share?” he joked.

“Letting go of the past, one piece at a time,” Methos responded with a brief smile. His gaze lingered again on the nativity set.

Duncan rolled his eyes at Joe, but the Watcher was becoming both concerned and curious as to Methos’ covert interest in the image of the Ethiopian king.

Bethlehem : January : 3 B.C.

Beltazaar was, if nothing else, determined. He had rallied from the verge of death yet again, awed as the rest when their caravan crested a hill and looked out across the City of David. Their celestial guide was no longer moving; it rested, still and serene and brilliant and unmistakable, above Bethlehem.

Melchar dismounted and reached up to Beltazaar. “We can sleep through the remainder of the night. We will search for the Jewish messiah in the morning.”

“No,” Beltazaar protested. “We must find him now, while the Star yet shines. His own people do not appear to know him, and we are strangers here; how will we recognize him, when no man can lead us to him, if we have not the Star to guide us?”

The message flowed like water throughout the caravan and the other magi, whether in agreement with Beltazaar or out of venerable respect, moved the caravan to the outskirts of the city. Leaving camp underway, the magi continued into Bethlehem, searching for a place in which the rays of light descending from the Star might meet the earth. Most walked, but Beltazaar remained aboard his camel and Melchar rode his horse alongside. Dawn would be coming soon; they hurried as best they could among the narrow streets in search of the destination that should fulfill a world of prophecies.

They failed. After splitting up and searching the whole of Bethlehem, no place was found of which the Star seemed especially fond. After a dejected consultation, the magi trudged wearily toward the edge of town, beyond which lay their camp.

And there it was. A small house, plain and unpretentious, with a tiny woodshop attached to one side. It was the last home on the outskirts of town, and they had trotted right past it hours before in their haste to enter the city and locate the King. They stared at the simple home bathed in Starlight, and Melchar shuddered as an involuntary chill wafted the hairs on the back of his neck. He glanced at his contemporaries and found similar reactions expressed on each face. They stared in reverent wonder until Darek broke the silence. He spoke quietly, as though fearful of being the one to interrupt the moment.

“We must return after the family has awakened. We should back to camp now and record the last of the Star’s journey and its destination; we need to prepare our gifts for the King.”

Seacouver : December 1999

“Where are you going? The weather is nasty out there. I can hear sleet against the window.”

Methos pulled his jacket snug around his neck and glanced at Joe. “There is one more gift I need to get.”

Joe snorted. “Good luck. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve; I wouldn’t want to brave the masses that are going to be out tonight.”

Methos smirked his trademark smile. “Don’t worry; I’ll survive.”

Duncan couldn’t resist: “Take care that you don’t lose your head!”

Methos shot him a patronizing grin as the elevator descended from the loft.

Bethlehem : January : 3 B.C.

Breakfast was accomplished on the merits of convention, prepared and eaten in a vague acceptance that it must be, and therefore was, done. Bethlehem awoke before dawn had fully exchanged her diaphanous nightwear for daytime garb. The city was bustling with activity by the time the magi and half the strength of their caravan approached the little house on the outskirts of town.

Darek would have knocked on the door, had the appearance of a man from the woodshop not spared him the effort. The stout young carpenter, perhaps in his early thirties, gaped in astonishment at the regal entourage before him. Melchar stepped forth and introduced them as the Magi, the priesthood descended from those who served Zarathusthra for the kings of the ancient Median-Persian empire, come to worship the Jewish King whose birth was announced by the strange new Star.

Instead of expressing even greater incredulity at this announcement, the Galilean relaxed as though such a visit were a perfectly normal occurrence and pushed open the door of his house for them. “I am Joseph,” he announced simply. “The child and His mother are here. You are welcome in our home.”

They entered softly, as though afraid to disturb some holy scene, but were immediately put at ease by the squeal of a young boy scampering through the room, closely pursued by his mother.

“Mary,” Joseph nodded in her direction, “my wife. The child you sought is Jesus.”

Melchar looked the young mother over with dismay; she was a lovely girl, hardly more than a child, and would not be a woman for years yet to come. He wondered if civilizations would ever advance to the point that fathers would allow their daughters to become women before giving them in marriage on the erroneous belief that as soon as a girl begins menstruating she should begin bearing children. It grieved him to see girls not fully grown carrying babies in their bellies, struggling to give birth, often dying in the process. This girl should have been allowed to become a woman before becoming a mother, he complained inwardly; she should have been allowed to fully mature before having her bones so violently broken in childbirth. No vigorous man in his thirties could comprehend the torture he was capable of inflicting on a young virgin wife in the name of duty, procreation or even, sometimes, love.

But this child was fathered by a God, and a God would have had no choice in the matter, Melchar thought, if He wanted His son to be born of a virgin. Even God would have had to select a girl for the job in order to fulfill His promise, because social structures rarely permitted a girl to complete her teen years unmarried and childless.

His reverie was interrupted as his companions drifted alongside and past him, filling the room and gazing with adoration at the boy in his mother’s arms. Melchar looked around their little home, struck by the incongruence of a King born to a carpenter. A King should possess wealth and riches, not only for luxury and comfort, but because financial prosperity was necessary for a ruler to have. How could the boy possibly hope to ascend to any throne from these humble beginnings? Melchar was glad of the gift he had chosen for the child. He stepped forward and lowered a cloth bag to the ground beside Mary’s feet, opening it to reveal the gold coins inside. Her eyes widened and misted over as she sat on a stool beside the gift with the boy on her lap.

Others moved forward, then, with gifts of gold, jewels, fine linens, offerings befitting the grandest of Kings. Melchar smiled in approval. The foundations for prosperity were laid. Melchar wondered about the kingdom this child would someday rule.

Darek approached, knelt before the boy and offered an alabaster box of Frankincense, a sweet odor burned throughout the centuries in religious ceremonies by priests offering oblations to their gods. Others came behind Darek with similar gifts, all befitting a member of a royal priesthood.

Melchar’s arm was grasped firmly in a trembling grip as old Beltazaar moved past him on his way to Jesus. The elderly man sank heavily to the floor by Mary’s feet and held forth a jar. Melchar’s stomach gripped as he realized what it contained even as he understood, in accordance with the Jewish predictions for the child’s eventual death, the significance of such a gift. The child gripped the jar of myrrh with both hands as Mary took it from Beltazaar and placed it on a table behind her stool. The boy reached out to Beltazaar, who took the child from Mary into his own lap. Beltazaar rocked the child and sobbed, heartbroken, as he recited the prophecies that foretold the death of the man the boy would someday become.

Jesus cuddled against the old man and stroked his shoulder, then drew back and playfully grabbed Beltazaar’s beard. “Don’t cry.” He pulled down on the beard until he could kiss the wrinkled brown cheek. “Abba loves you. Abba’s!” He pounded a small fist against Beltazaar’s chest. “Mine!” The boy clapped his hands with exuberance and threw his little arms around Beltazaar’s neck and squeezed tight as though he would never let go, while the old man clung to the child and wept with unspeakable joy.

Seacouver : December 1999

Methos cursed the weather in the lost language of the Medes, lost because it had not been documented before deceasing under the influx of other languages that pervaded that region more than two millennia before. Methos wondered who had come to the conclusion that such records did not exist and how many others, like him, held such precious records in their possession. Many a historian would give his life ten times over to possess any one of Methos’ chronicles. He wriggled his shoulders coyly within the warmth of his jacket; what they don’t know can’t hurt me; and keyed a number into his cell phone.

“Curator’s office,” announced a tired male voice.

“Hello, Thomas, this is Adam.”

“Adam Pierson! How the devil have you been? The museum is exceptionally grateful for your anonymous loan through the holiday season. The artifacts are so appropriate for this time of year. We’ve had literally thousands of visitors enamored of your Persian and Turkish antiquities, especially those that hold specific relevance to the traditional Christian themes. I can not begin to imagine how you managed to acquire such a collection, and I can’t thank you enough for your willingness to share these things with the museum.”

“Well, since you put it that way,” Methos’ voice conveyed his smile, “I did call to ask a favor.”

“Name it. If it is within my power, you will have it.”

Methos briefly stated his request and Thomas was eager to comply.

“That’s it? I was afraid you would ask to borrow something I do not have the authority to release. Come on by, then. I’ll be here until at least midnight, anyway. Just knock on the side door. I’ll brew some tea.”

Arabian Desert : February : 3 B.C.

“Melchar, awake! Hurry!”

Melchar responded to the panic in Darek’s voice by abandoning his bedding for the chilly night breeze before he was even coherent. He staggered, almost fell, as he muzzily realized that Darek was sprinting away through the camp. Melchar pulled himself together and trotted after the younger man, forcing himself to full consciousness as he ran.

Melchar smelled the stench as he approached the tent. A group of men had already moved Beltazaar out under the open sky and were dismantling his tent in order to burn it. Darek was weeping, heartbroken.

“We were talking, and he began speaking nonsense,” Darek explained. “I could tell he was sick and I told him I would go and bring you with your medicines. He called out to the boy Jesus, to the Jewish God, and then he collapsed.” Darek raised tear-filled eyes to the sky. “It was the dream that finished him. It was too great a dream for a frail old man. It was more than he could bear.”

Melchar gave orders to wash the body as he returned to his own tent to collect the spices and fragrances used in embalming. He shuddered at the memory of that night in Bethlehem. After a day spend in the presence of Joseph and Mary and the child King Jesus, the magi and their attendants had collapsed into a grateful sleep in their camp outside the city. Beltazaar experienced a violent dream that night, a visitation from the God of the Jews who instructed him that the magi should return to their homeland via a different route because King Herod meant to take their lives and the life of the child they had traveled so far to see.

Melchar wanted to share this dream with Joseph and encourage him to join the magi, with his wife and child, in order to escape Herod’s intentions. Beltazaar shocked everyone by refusing to alert Joseph to the danger, insisting that the same God who had spoken to him in a dream would speak to Joseph as well in order that he might spare the child’s life. They had broken camp immediately and set out due east, toward Jordan, before daybreak.

They were now in the middle of the Arabian desert, miles from cities and civilizations, and Melchar had no spices with which to embalm the man who had been to him, also, a priest, a father, a mentor. He enquired throughout the company for spices, frankincense, myrrh, anything he might use to prepare Beltazaar for a proper burial, but none were to be found; all such possessions had been left behind in Bethlehem, gifted to the child King.

Melchar raged, he wept, he beseeched the constellations for those things he so desperately needed and in the end, prepared the fragile old body in accordance with custom: removing the vital internal organs and placing them in jars, cleansing the abdominal cavity and filling it with sand in lieu of the frankincense, myrrh, and other aromatic spices that should have sweetened the precious, deceased body. He wrapped Beltazaar tightly in strips of clean cloth and watched in helpless despair as laborers buried his beloved friend under the desert sands.

Seacouver : December 1999

A tear dropped to the earth and a snowflake drifted softly down to land in it: a world of sorrow cleansed, for a moment, by purity, perfection and flawless beauty. The snowflake melted and the tear was gradually surrounded by myriad other droplets until both tear and snowflake were washed away, leaving in their wake a timeless memory.

Methos sighed and shuddered and rapped sharply on the curator’s door.

Thomas greeted Adam with an enthusiastic hug, took his coat, sat him in front of a heater and shoved a delicate porcelain teacup in his hand. Methos inhaled the warm, spicy fragrance as he sipped from the tiny cup, placed it gingerly onto its saucer, and settled the fragile affair onto the table beside his chair.

“In a hurry?” Thomas inquired. “Of course, you would be. Look at the time, both the hour and the day! I haven’t much family with whom to celebrate, and so I forget to show proper respect for the schedules of those who do. Please forgive me.” He led Adam into the museum, through a labyrinth of corridors to the gift shop. He produced a ring bristling with keys, selected one without even looking, and unlocked the door.

Adam went straight to a display of imported containers of various sizes, created from various materials, and selected a small alabaster jar, approximately two inches tall, with a tight fitting lid.

“That is it? This is all you wanted? You may have it, Adam. No, I won’t accept payment. Happy holidays. Ah, blasted telephone. I had better take this call. You know the way to your collection, don’t you Adam? Go on ahead, and I will catch up with you.”

Methos looked over the display of his memoirs, each item conjuring forth its own memory. Hasting to accomplish his task before Thomas should catch him in the process, he wrested the lid off a large alabaster jar and, using a spoon from a different era, filled the small container with a couple of scoops from the larger one. He then replaced both lids, wiped the spoon clean, and returned to the gift shop. Thomas was involved in intense conversation and it appeared he would be thus occupied a while. Methos tucked the ancient spoon into Thomas’ pocket by way of a gift, and let himself out into the cold.

Jerusalem : April : 45 A.D.

“Bless you for meeting with me,” the diminutive elder took Melchar’s hand in greeting. “I have wanted to speak with you and learn more about you since you introduced yourself to me outside the temple. I still do not understand why you insist that you were with the magi who visited Jesus when he was but a child. You are yourself too young to have been there at all; you would not have even been born then!”

Melchar smiled. “I am older than I look; believe me. I heard you were writing his story. I thought I might be able to provide a few details.”

“You accept me, then, as a follower of Jesus.”

Melchar tilted his head in perplexity. “I understand you were one of his disciples; that you witnessed firsthand the sermons he preached, the miracles he performed, the love he showed every one he met, regardless of their caste within the social structure.”

“Thank you,” the gentleman nodded. “Many people never really accepted me as a man of God,” he informed Melchar wistfully. “I had been a tax collector before Jesus invited me to follow him. I was a new man from that day forward. But people remembered who I had been before. I had hurt people, cheated them, took money from them that they needed to survive and caused some of them to have to beg for their very bread. I am so sorry I did such things. In some cases I was able to make restitution after I became a disciple. But some people, no matter how much you change or how much remorse you express for your errors, will never forgive you. They are so filled with memories of what you were that they can not see the better man that you have become. This is sad, but that is the way of it.”

Melchar nodded in mute agreement.

Seacouver : December 1999

“Ah, he has returned!” Joe strummed his guitar for emphasis. “He did indeed survive!”

“You’re dripping,” Duncan complained. “At least stand on the rug.”

Methos complied as he peeled off his jacket and stepped out of his wet shoes.

“No luck?” Joe asked.

Methos retrieved his jacket in response and pulled a small jar from one of the pockets. “Who is that for?” Duncan wanted to know.

“It is a gift for your crèche; for one of the members of your crèche.” Methos knelt beside the figures on the floor and stuffed the little alabaster jar into the saddlebag of the camel that belonged to the Ethiopian King.

“What is it, and why, if you don’t mind?”

Methos smiled at Joe. “I don’t mind. It is myrrh. Tradition has it that this king, Balthasar, offered myrrh to the Christ child. Gaspar offered Frankincense, and Melchoir offered gold. Myrrh, however, was special; it was a product that a wealthy man of that period would store away against the event of his own death, to ensure proper embalming and burial. Chances are that if Balthasar presented myrrh to Jesus, he was giving his own supply away.”

“He could have bought more for himself later,” Joe surmised.

“I am sure he would have,” Methos gently touched the porcelain hand of the Ethiopian king. “Had he been granted the opportunity to do so.”

“I won’t offend you by singing the song,” Joe said regretfully.

“You can sing it,” Methos said. “I don’t mind. But would you mind skipping the first verse?”

Joe grinned. “You got it!” His fingers effortlessly located the chords and he began to sing: Born a babe on Bethlehem's plain; Gold we bring to crown Him again...

Methos closed his eyes, leaned back against the coffee table, and listened. At the fourth verse he accepted a bottle from Duncan, got to his feet and joined in: Myrrh is mine; its bitter perfume breathes a life of gathering gloom; Sorrowing, sighing, bleeding, dying, Seal'd in the stone-cold tomb…

He clinked his bottle against Duncan’s, then against the gift of Maker’s Mark that Joe hovered possessively near. “Merry Christmas,” he smiled at the crèche; “to everyone who celebrates the season in the tradition of their choice.”

“Merry Christmas,” Duncan and Joe echoed the sentiment, and all stopped to listen to carolers walking the streets below.

Hark, the herald angels sing…

“You know, Matthew was the only disciple who wrote about the journey of the magi. The physician Luke records the visitation of the angels to the shepherds, but he says nothing about the heavenly host breaking into song…”

Methos ducked a projectile ornament thrown by Duncan, and another hurled by Joe as he scrambled into his shoes and grabbed his jacket.

“See you guys tomorrow,” and he fled to the elevator.

“Yeah, we can’t have Christmas without the turkey!” Joe yelled after him.

“Luke the physician,” Duncan mused after Methos had gone. “Do you think he and the old guy might have been contemporaries?”

“We’ll never know all the things that old man could tell us, because there are too many things he isn’t willing to share,” the Watcher retorted. “And even if he would…I’m not sure I’d want to know it all.”

Duncan laughed as Joe threw back his head and sang lustily along with the carolers.

Hark, the herald angels sing! Glory to the newborn King!

Christmas blessings and holiday hugs,

Storie

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