The End Of The Magi by Patrick Carr
INTRODUCTION—THE END OF THE MAGI BY PATRICK CARR
Following his vision of the coming Messiah, the prophet Daniel creates a select group of men who will count down the calendar to the arrival of Israel’s promised king. Centuries later, as the day nears, Myrad, a young magi acolyte, flees for his life when his adoptive father and others are put to death by a ruthless Parthian queen.
Having grabbed only a few possessions, Myrad escapes the city, and searching for a way to hide from the soldiers scouring the trade routes, he tries to join the caravan of the merchant Walagash. The merchant senses that Myrad is hiding secrets, but when the young man proves himself a valuable traveler, an epic journey filled with peril, close escapes, and dangerous battles begins.
With every day that passes, the calendar creeps closer to the coming Messiah. And over everything shines the dream of a star that Myrad can’t forget and the promise that the world will never be the same.
EXCERPT FROM THE END OF THE MAGI BY PATRICK CARR
From Chapter 2
Myrad reached up to adjust the circlet slipping to the right to rest unceremoniously on his ear, another sign, and not the least, that he didn’t belong. He removed the band of silver copper alloy and squeezed it between his hands, hoping to force the emblem of power and influence into a better approximation of his head. The single palm engraved on it mocked him.
Gershom took the crown with his ink-stained hands and balanced it atop Myrad’s head. “Until we have time to have it fitted to you, the trick is to carry yourself so it doesn’t slip.” His eyes crinkled. “And carrying your head high and steady will convey confidence.”
Gershom grabbed his ceremonial quill and parchment. Then he retrieved a pair of jeweled ceremonial daggers, which he placed through their sashes. With a nod, his adoptive father turned him toward the door. “It’s time. Remember, walk one step behind and to the right, as is proper for an apprentice.”
They stepped out into the hallway. With his first ungainly step, the circle of metal resumed its accustomed position on his ear. His trousers couldn’t disguise his deformity. Beneath the flowing silk his right foot was fixed, bent inward, forcing him to walk on the outer edge. Try as he might, he couldn’t straighten it or keep the limp from staggering his gait for more than a few feet without pain. After the fourth attempt to keep the symbol of elevation atop his head, he gave up, determined to carry the crown in his hands until they reached the imperial court. His fingers brushed the engraved palm. Someday, if he rose high enough in the ranks of the magi, there would be five more to keep it company.
They rounded the corner, merging into a vaulted hallway decorated with tiles in a thousand shades of blue, and their solitude vanished. Everywhere Myrad looked, magi flowed toward the throne room where King Phraates IV, the Arsacid, the king of kings, held court. Brilliant colors rippled with their steps, every shade of the rainbow in evidence. Two men, walking close to each other and speaking in whispered tones, wore crowns bearing six palms.
Gershom turned, his dark eyes, even more wary than before. “Yes?”
“Do you think I will ever attain the sixth palm?”
His hand drifted up to touch the four palms of his own crown. “Who knows? Perhaps you shall. It’s not unknown for Hebrews to be elevated to the highest positions in the land. Do you wish to be one of the twenty? A satrap bears much responsibility.”
Myrad looked at the men again. Something in their conversation must have concerned them. The man on the left schooled his features to stillness, but a muscle twitched in his cheek as he glanced over his shoulder at the guards following as if seeking reassurance. The man on the right brushed his hand against the dagger at his belt. The folds of silk parted enough for Myrad to see a plain hilt, no jewels or decorations, just functional leather.
Dropping his voice to a whisper, he nodded toward them. “Father, they’re frightened. Why?”
Muscles twitched along his father’s jawline. “Musa.”
The king’s concubine? What did she have to do with this?
A man with five palms on his crown stepped out of a side corridor, matching their pace. A moment later, when they came to another intersection, the man put a hand on his father’s shoulder.
“Gershom, a word.”
His father pointed toward one of the heavy columns lining the passage, and they stepped aside into the shadows. “Masista, I thought you were in Antioch.” They exchanged arm clasps, but the other magus’s expression never warmed.
“Phraates had me recalled. He no longer wishes to oppose the might of Rome with might of our own.” His face twisted. “He wishes a more conciliatory stance.” He leaned in closer. “There are whispers,” Masista added. “Musa means to be queen despite the vote of the magi.” His eyes darted toward the recesses of the hall. “You need to leave Ctesiphon.”
Gershom shook his head. “The magi have been kingmakers in Persia for centuries. Whatever Musa intends is of no importance. Why are you telling me this?”
The planes of Masista’s face hardened. “We’ve become too much like the Romans. Our kings slaughter their way to power, and blood is spilled in the throne room. The influence of the magi has waned with the years. Augustus’s concubine has the king’s heart in her hand. Do you think mere tradition will stop them?”
Gershom straightened, his head lifting a fraction. “I’m not so naïve as you might believe. I have made preparations. If need be, Myrad and I can flee.”
“Then go now. There are more soldiers in the palace than usual. Many more.” The magus glanced once more over his shoulder and then left them, continuing toward the throne room without looking back.
“Who is he, Father?” Myrad was shaken by the conversation. “A friend?”
Gershom pursed his lips. “He’s one of our emissaries to Rome and Armenia. Not necessarily a friend, but not someone to ignore either. Your apprenticeship can wait. I think a quick trip out of the city for a few days would be wise.”
They started back toward their quarters, but before they made it to the previous crossway, soldiers in gleaming mail stepped into their path to block them. “The king requests the presence of all magi tonight,” the soldier in the middle ordered. “No exceptions.”
Gershom’s hand found Myrad’s arm, squeezing a warning. “Of course, Captain. I have forgotten some important papers in my rooms.” He stepped to the side, but again the soldier blocked his way.
Gershom bowed. “Perhaps you would allow my son to retrieve them for me? He’s not one of the magi.”
The captain studied Myrad with a hard gaze that stopped at the circlet he held at his side. “The king demands the presence of all magi. Now.”
Myrad tried to swallow the knot of fear in his throat, but it wouldn’t go away. Politics in the empire could be ruthless and bloody. The magi were the stabilizing influence, the power behind the throne that smoothed tensions between clans. No king would attack his own magi, would he? He swallowed again, or tried to.
They turned a corner, and the corridor, already massive, opened, the ceiling fleeing toward the sky as echoes of a thousand conversations merged into worried murmurs. Ahead, a large vaulted arch led to the imperial throne room. Rank upon rank of cataphracts stood at attention before the doors, hereditary nobles sworn to fight for the satraps or the king. Each man wore scaled armor and a helm covering everything except the eyes, and each held a long spear in addition to the sword belted at his waist. Masista stood at the back of the crowd in front of them, then melted into it with a last look of warning.
Gershom stopped so quickly that Myrad walked into his back. The buzz of voices in the entrance hall carried nervous undercurrents. He heard snatches of conversations, the tone becoming strident as they waited for admittance. Then the massive doors to the king’s court opened, and momentary relief settled over the assembled magi as those closest stepped through.
His father didn’t move but stood staring behind them at the way they’d come. Quickly, he turned away. Myrad shifted his weight to his good foot to look backward.
His father’s hand found his shoulder. “Don’t.”
“What’s back there?”
“Soldiers,” his father whispered. “Many of them. Listen to me, Myrad. The magi are about to cast their final votes to confirm or deny Musa as queen. The votes will be taken in order of rank with the satraps first and the apprentices last. You must vote in opposition to me.”
He shook his head. “I don’t understand.”
“I know and that’s my fault.”
Gershom clutched at his tunic, pulling him forward. “Don’t argue. Just watch me and vote in opposition, and pray no one will think to connect you to me. If nothing happens, then I’ll explain.”
“And if something does happen?”
His father touched the dagger at his belt. “Then find me. Now stand apart and go in with the last of the apprentices. We don’t want the king’s men to see us talking.”
AUTHOR BIO—BY PATRICK CARR
Patrick W. Carr was born on an Air Force base in West Germany at the height of cold war tensions. He has been told this was not his fault. As an Air Force brat, he experienced a change in locale every three years until his father retired to Tennessee.
Patrick saw more of the world on his own through a varied and somewhat eclectic education and work history. He graduated from Georgia Tech in 1984 and has worked as a draftsman at a nuclear plant, did design work for the Air Force, worked for a printing company, and consulted as an engineer. Patrick’s day gig for the last eight years has been teaching high school math in Nashville, TN. He currently makes his home in Nashville with his wonderfully patient wife, Mary, and four sons he thinks are amazing: Patrick, Connor, Daniel, and Ethan. While Patrick enjoys reading about himself, he thinks writing about himself in the third person is kind of weird.