Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Special: The Promise Star

Merry Christmas, everyone! However you celebrate, I hope you enjoy my Christmas gift to you: a holiday short story from the world of Blood in the Snow . . . where they don't actually celebrate Christmas, but I figured out their equivalent, so we're all good. 

"Please, Father, may I have just one more story?
Her father, the emperor of a great kingdom, shakes his head and stands. "It grows late, my snow-flower. You need sleep or you will be tired and grumble through the whole Promise celebration tomorrow."
The emperor's daughter looks up at her father with pleading eyes. "Please? I'll go to sleep as soon as you're done, and I won't so much as frown tomorrow, not even once. And no one tells the story of the Promise Star like you do."
"Very well. One more story."
Long, long ago, when there was no emperor and no king, when the Middle Kingdoms were nothing but hundreds of squabbling families —
“Like the Fire Islands are now?”
“Exactly as such.”
In those distant days dwelt a man who knew the Divine better than he knew himself. He studied all the prophecies and promises which the Divine had given, and he longed for the days in which they would be fulfilled.
“Did he know the prophecy about me, Father?”
“No, daughter. That prophecy came much later.”
One day, this man, whose name was Shai, prayed to the Divine, asking “Oh, greatest of great ones, when will You fulfill what you have promised? You say You will send one who will end all war and bring peace to all people, who will set free the slave and bind up broken hearts. Yet since the days of my father's fathers, we have been at war, and at war we still will be when my sons’ sons are grown if something does not change. I beg you, O Divine, give to me a sign that Your promised peacemaker will come.”

The man did not expect an answer, and so he was bewildered when a voice came from the stillness. The voice was quiet, yet it thundered in his soul, and it was gentle, yet it carried the force and majesty of a mountain storm. And the voice spoke: “Shai, son of Huang, I have heard your prayer. Now, look to the sky.”

So Shai looked, and there he saw —
“The Promise Star!”
“Indeed, now sit still, and let me tell the story. Or perhaps you wish to tell it to me?”
“Nooo! You finish, Father.”
Shai saw in the sky a new star, one far brighter than any others. And the light from this star fell to the ground before Shai and formed a doorway in the air that shimmered like silver. Then the Divine said, “Enter this gateway and I will show you the fulfillment of many promises.”

So Shai stepped into the silver arch and disappeared from the circles of this world. On the other side, he found himself in the midst of great sand dunes that stretched as far as his eyes could see. And in the sky above him was the star, for its splendid was so great as to stretch across worlds.

Shai saw nothing that would fulfill any of the promises of the Divine, so he resolved to follow the star that had brought him here. Surely, if the Divine had placed such a powerful sign in the sky, it must lead to an equally great promise.

As he trekked across the sandy plains, he encountered a tall man with skin dark as dark as the night sky and hair like the silver starlight, who glowed with the same radiance as that light. With him was a woman, dark-haired and sharp of face and tooth. Shai bowed to them, for he recognized them as an angel and a dragon, though they took the forms of men.

They bowed back and bid him speak. “Great ones, ” he said, “I have come from a distant land seeking the fulfillment of the Divine's promises. Are you what I seek, or do you know where I might find my goal?”

“We are not, ” the angel replied. “But we seek the same. Come, wise one, let us follow the star together, for three may see what one cannot.”

So they traveled onward, following the star. Along the way, they met a woman with hair the color of flame. She greeted them courteously and said, “Honored friends, I am Destiny, a prophetess of the Divine. I perceive that you seek what I do: the fulfillment of His greatest promises. Let me join you, for where many gather, there the Divine dwells.” They agreed, and the four continued their search.
“Father, if Destiny was a prophetess, why did she have to search? Couldn't she just know where the promise was?”
“Only if the Divine told her, my daughter. No prophet or prophetess knows all of the Divine's plans. They know only what they are told.”
On they traveled. As they went, they were joined by two more who were also seeking the fulfillment of the Divine's promises. One was like the men who dwell to the south and west of us: dark of skin and hair and bold of speech. The other was a pale woman who carried on her shoulder a creature that she called a dragon, though it was more like a winged lizard than a true dragon.

Shai and his companions continued to travel across the sand, following the star. Though they had little food or drink, they were sustained by their faith in the Divine and their hope in His promises. As they traveled, they shared stories of their worlds and sang of the Divine's great works.

After many days, they encountered a great caravan full of men and camels. The woman who was a dragon hailed the caravan and inquired to where it went.

“We seek a king,” replied one of its leaders, a wealthy priest and scholar who called himself Melchior. “A ruler like no other. We saw his star in the east and come to worship him.”

“We seek the same, ” said the woman, smiling like a cat. “Let us travel together.”

The caravan was reluctant to let such unusual strangers journey with them. But they could not refuse, for they valued hospitality as we do honor. And as time went by, they came to appreciate the wisdom and knowledge of Shai and his companions.

At last, the star led them to a great city and a magnificent palace.”Ah, ” declared the caravan leaders, “Surely this is the place where the king has been born.”

The woman who was a dragon shook her head. “This place smells of treachery and evil. We will find no true king nor promise here.” The angel agreed with her, as did the prophetess Destiny. Shai, for his part, knew nothing of treachery in that place, but it seemed to him that the star was leading them still onwards. However, the caravan leaders insisted, so in they went.
“Why did they not listen, if the dragon and the angel and the prophet all told them the same thing?”
“I know not, daughter, save that it must have been in the Divine's plan for them to enter the palace.”
Within the palace, they found a false, Giftless ruler who claimed he alone was king of that country. But as they continued to inquire, he sent for wise men, priests, and scholars. These men had studied the words of the Divine as well, and they sent the travelers on towards a small town called Bethlehem, for their own prophets had declared the king would be born there.

So they went on their way. As they drew near to the town, their spirits rise, and they became quite merry. Yet Shai began to worry. How could a king born in this world bring peace to his world? Moreover, he knew that all the others had brought gifts for the king who would fulfill the Divine's promises, yet Shai had nothing to give.

They reached the town, and the star led them to a little home where there dwelt a carpenter and his wife and their young son. When they looked upon the boy, the angel and the dragon both cried out in joy, and the caravan kings whispered, and tears ran down the prophetess's cheeks. But Shai looked, and he did not understand.

Then all the others brought out their gifts: frankincense and myrrh, and gold in many forms. One by one, the brought their gifts to the child-king and his parents and worshipped the Divine's promised peacemaker.

Last of all, Shai approached. And now, when he looked in the child’s eyes, he understood. This child, though as human as Shai him!self, carried the essence of the Divine. And somehow Shai knew that the child's actions in this world would bring peace to all realms. In awe, he knelt and worshipped and wept that he had no gift to offer.

Then the child reached down, as he had not for the others. He touched Shai's mouth and hands and laughed joyously. And suddenly, Shai understood this too. “Yes, ” he whispered so only the child could hear. “My mouth, my hands, my service; all these things are yours. I will tell my world what I have learned here; I will prepare the way for you to come.”

Then he and the others left the house rejoicing in what they had seen. And that night, the star shone one last time, and its light again formed the gateway to bring Shai and the others from other worlds home. Shai, upon his return, did all he said he would do. And it is because of his prayer, his journey, and his work that we now celebrate Promise Morn and remember that the Divine always fulfills His promises.
The emperor kissed his daughter's forehead. “Now, it is time that you sleep. Rest well.”
“I will.” The emperor's daughter snuggled down into her bed. “Father, I want to serve the Divine like Shai did.”
“I am glad to hear that. I have no doubt, my daughter, my snow-flower, that you will.” Then he departed, leaving his daughter to sleep and dream of stars and prophecies and promises yet to be fulfilled.

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