e felt as old as the hill he climbed. The vaunted, once-strategic, and impossibly high Hill of Vaws challenged him daily to climb its height and worship at the temple atop its craggy summit. The mound in the desert had once been relevant; now it looked out over a wide, empty and sere desert. Atop the hill’s scrub-covered crust, an equally ancient temple clung barely to live, kept going only by the priest and his four apprentices. A joint popped and he reflected again on retiring. But a glance at the gilded star atop the shrine, its glittering outline and the shadow it cast upon the hill, reminded him of his purpose here. Chapped lips creaked open in a half smile.
The golden star was a beacon of sorts, a thing by which to herald the Liberator, Savior, Redeemer, or Protector as He was wont to be named. Though the star reflected light, it was said that it would glow like the sun should the Liberator come. The priest, the star, the pillar, the chapel, and even the hill itself waited patiently for the Son of Man. “Glow like the sun,” the priest panted.
At one time, twelve wise men had kept constant vigil inside the chapel; they had long since passed on, leaving only the old priest and his apprentices. Finding young men to devote their lives to a run-down building atop a barren hillside in the middle of nowhere was almost impossible—and he wasn’t sure how long these men would remain. The perils of youth.
The ancient priest put his head down and trudged the remaining feet to the top of the hill. He was bent over with exhaustion and sore, tired muscles. It took an effort to straighten his frame, and a chorus of pops and snaps sounded. The priest grimaced and gazed out at the brown and dusty desert that stretched on in seemingly endless directions all around the hill.
A few scrubby trees near the chapel provided shade and aromatic herb bushes imparted the area with a sweet and heady fragrance. Being the highest point in the area, the vantage provided a vast overview of... nothing. Far beyond his vision, behind a cloud of dust, the large city of
hulked in its teeming of humanity. Jerusalem ... the old priest sniffed at that word—he called it by another name entirely, Urušalimum, an ancient name for an ancient settlement. Jerusalem
Inside, the chapel was a mirror of its outside. Stone walls inlaid with thick timbers, three small, windowless openings carved from the stone, a slightly peaked roof, and a small statue with a star atop it. The star inside the chapel did not spin and was dull with age. The old priest sat on a bench, his old knees long since retired from kneeling on the hard surface. Heaving another tired sigh, he gazed at the star on the altar. His lids soon became heavy, fluttered briefly, and finally closed.
He awoke with a start and stared around the room. Night had fallen and the chapel was cloaked in darkness, the only light coming from a bare crescent of a moon. Every few seconds, a tiny glimmer of light would reflect through the small openings in the chapel—moonbeams bouncing off the gilded star outside. But night would not have awoken him.
There had been a bright burst of light in his dream, and as he opened his eyes, he felt warmth on his lids. He closed them again. When an even brighter radiance lit up the backs of his eyelids, he snapped them open.
His head whipped around, aged and worn tendons creaking in agony. He stared at the once-dull statuette as it lit up with a bright white glow.
The star on the altar!
For only the barest of seconds, the room filled with the light of a hundred suns and the warmth of a midnight bonfire. Eyes lined with the wear of many years sparkled with vibrancy, knees that had long been ground down with age and decay fell painlessly to the floor in reverence, sagging ears perked, and wrinkled lips curved upward in a gap-toothed grin of ecstasy.
In the time it took his ancient eyelids to open and close in the heavenly glow, the light sniffed out and he was once again alone in the dark. But his smile did not waver, and his tired knees held out for a few more moments as he relished a sense of peace and fulfillment.
The Chaldeans were right, a star was coming… but it was more than a star. Deep in his soul, he could feel a presence, a great, overpowering, and peaceful presence. Warmth filled his cheeks and his eyes watered. A man, a man was coming with the star. The Redeemer! At last, the Savior of Man! He could almost hear the tiny heartbeat, far off near Urušalimum. A baby was going to be born, a new king, the King, the King of Man, the Redeemer...
A fallow and hoarse voice cried out, “He comes. He comes!”