The Devil’s Crib
The Soviet Union is nearing collapse and Desert Storm has just ended. Enter the Devil’s Crib — a priceless marvel and Vatican possession. The first American Pope, Isaac I, while under fire from the Vatican’s College of Cardinals, reveals his plan to use the Crib to fund the integration of Palestinian refugees into Israeli mainstream. Some cardinals applaud the idea while others plot to overthrow Isaac. Israel praises the plan while the Palestinian Liberation Organization and their KGB advisor vow to never let it succeed. The PLO, aided by its spy inside Israel, hatch a daring plan. To put a stop to this madness, Swiss Guard Sergeant Jeremias Uhlmann and Israel’s Mossad agent, Endre Yarkas, throw out all the rules. No conjecture or theory is ignored. Leads are followed and people interrogated. Some talk. Some die.
Balthasar, resplendent in caftan and cloak, absently swatted at the fly buzzing his grey beard, threw his royal cloak over his shoulder and started to mount, but held his foot in mid-air as he looked once more upon the Child lying in the manger. The Child’s mother glanced up briefly; then returned her serene gaze back to her newborn son, Jesus. Balthasar threw his leg into the air and continued mounting the unusually tranquil camel. His bearer touched the animal’s knee with a switch and the camel rose, as did the camels of Balthasar’s two kingly companions. Before turning to the east, Balthasar burned this holy sight into his memory: The woman and Child, the men and animals, the glittering night with its brilliant star in the north.
Immediately upon reaching his kingdom, Balthasar gathered his artisans and told them of the magnificent sight he had beheld. “You will craft a replica of what I have described so that the world will always know what the birth of the Child was like.”
A dozen years later, hundreds of the world’s finest artisans gathered in the great hall, collectively holding their breath as Balthasar approached the highly polished black trunk, sitting on its two wheels at one end and legs at the other.
Balthasar slowly opened the lid, gasping at the magnificence of the thirty figurines. Laying in their silk beds were the figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, Balthasar and his two companion kings, four sheep herders, one camel bearer, one cow, one ox, one ass, two dogs, three camels, nine sheep, and two angels. Balthasar fingered the angels and smiled. He hadn’t seen any angels, but, perhaps, he had felt their presence. He lifted out the tray of figures and set it aside. Reaching deep into the cart-like trunk he removed the stable of oak, hand-rubbed to a bright sheen. The stable was fourteen inches wide and fourteen inches deep with three-quarter-inch thick walls, and stood exactly one foot high. He set the stable on the dais he had prepared as a place of honor. Next, he lifted out a sack of the finest, softest sand, which he poured into the stable and on the dais in front of it.
Balthasar returned his attention to the figures. Each piece was made of gold and painted with precious stones crushed to a fine dust and mixed with a mucilage substance. Every standing figure of a human was one inch thick, one and one-half inches wide and five inches tall, and all of the other figures were properly scaled to each other.
The angels’ wings were made of fine silver strands, giving them body, shape, and depth. Balthasar carefully set each piece in the exact place he remembered, until he finally held the tiny figure of Jesus, which he gently positioned in the manger, nestling it into its bed of woven fibers of gold.
He stepped back, wiped a gently rolling tear from his cheek, turned to two of the artisans and nodded. They ran quickly to the trunk and carefully lifted out the gold and jewels, which represented the night.
The radiant night, a sheet of gold thirty inches wide and three feet high, had 389 gems mounted on it, placed twenty-six stones high and fifteen stones across, less one. They were a perfectly matched set of rare Siberian deep-blue emerald-cut aquamarines.
The 362.75 carat diamond with its one-hundred facets, representing the North Star, snuggled in the upper left and sparkled amongst the aquamarines. It would stagger the senses of those few in history who ever saw it.
The entire set weighed 524 pounds and was destined to become known as the Crib of Balthasar.
Tears streamed down Balthasar’s face as he gingerly fingered two of the figurines. The faces of Mary and Joseph clearly showed them as they were: Very young, no older than their early teens.
Balthasar looked at the Crib in all of its glory: The figures standing and kneeling in the sand; the animals looking into the stable; the man; the woman; the Child.
As Balthasar shed tears of happiness and gently touched each of the pieces, he could not know that as the centuries passed the Crib would become a story all its own. A story of blood spilled and rumors abounding; a story of greed, murder, and passion as the Crib passed from one owner or conqueror to the next, from one hiding place to another, vanishing and resurfacing as thousands fought and died for it, until the rumors of its non-existence threatened to become fact, and the fact became a legend known as the Devil’s Crib.
It was just a meaningless old legend . . . the Devil’s Crib . . . yet, somehow people kept dying for it, until 1848, when it vanished the last time, never to be heard of again.
Until . . . .