A Gift for the King
(a retelling of an old Christmas legend)
This is a very old story and has probably been told many times in many ways, and by many
tellers. But, the best tellers of all are not the forgetful humans, but some who were there
who saw and heard and remember. For on a certain night of the year, the wind speaks, and
the rocks and trees answer, and this is the story they tell.
Most of the time, the boy was not really unhappy, for he had no way of knowing that his
lot was the poorest and most miserable of any person in the town, or indeed for many towns
around. All his life, he had been beaten and cuffed about, ordered this way and that, and
treated as something less than the dirt on the stable floor. His master, these last three
years, was the vile-tempered and worse-mannered owner of the low inn on the edge of town who
made his living offering a bit of space for dusty travellers to lay a few blankets on, and
by selling foul tasting drinks to anyone foolish enough to part with a few coins for the sake of what
passed for fellowship in the dimly lit tavern. This innkeeper was one with his customers--rough, often drunk and of the most surly disposition, whose chief method of reward or
punishment was a kick in the ribs or a slap across the face, and who got no more
enjoyment from life than he gave others, which was precious little. Indeed, experienced
travellers usually avoided this man's misnamed hospitality and scheduled their journeys to
end in the city, some two hours walking distance hence, leaving him with the company of
local ruffians and thieves and a few of those sad, quiet drinkers who there spent all their
little fortune before going home to beat their dogs and their wives.
For his part, the boy was perhaps a reminder of all that was wrong with this world, and it
may have been that the innkeeper and his customers found it all the easier to take out their
hatred on him because his very presence seemed a reproach. You see, though the child
was not uncomely, he could not speak -- not a single intelligible word had passed his lips
in his entire short lifetime. Oh, he would sometimes try to make himself understood when he
was especially provoked or frightened, but all that ever came out of his misformed throat
were a few unintelligible squawks and squeaks--nothing that could ever be understood. And
so, to add indignity to insult, he did not even have a name--those who wanted his services
called him "boy", or even "creature". If anyone would have cared to think about it (and no
one ever had), they would have taken him for about nine years old.
No one knew where he had come from; the innkeeper had found him wrapped in an old blanket
and sleeping in the animals' feeding trough in the stable at the back of the inn one
morning, and, not wishing to turn down what he said was a reward for a righteous life, he at once set the child to hard labour.
"If anyone ever does claim it, the creature won't be able to tell what's been done, and in
the meantime, it may as well earn its keep."
And serve the boy did, sweeping the stables, and scraping and washing floors and windows.
He would carry buckets of kitchen scraps to the barn, pick through them for his food, and
then fill them with manure and transport them to the rubbish heap outside the town where he
could expect to meet several wild dogs anxious to nose through what was left.
Once in a while, when business was brisk, he would carry the cups and bottles of what passed for beer and wine
from the store room at the rear to the drunk and sprawling customers in the common
room at the front. These times were particularly hard on the boy, for the regular customers
knew they could say or do anything to him with impunity and in their drunken self-loathing
they usually did.
"Here you creature, get up on the table and sing us a song", one of them would yell, and
the others would take up the chorus and force him to perform. Then when the miserable
noises that passed for a voice came from that pathetic throat they howled with laughter,
taunting and jeering until their eyes filled with tears--not at the child's plight, but at
their own drink-sodden wit. Then they would turn angry, as if realizing the extent of their
own sinful cruelty and, calling him vile names, cuff him about, so that in the end, the
innkeeper would put him outside to mind the stables, lest the boy's continued presence
interfere with business.
One particularly cold winter night, after just such a session, when the inn was much fuller
and busier than ever, a man and a woman arrived, just as the boy was being rudely shoved
from the room. He couldn't hear over the noise what it was the man asked the
innkeeper, but the response was loud enough, for it was shouted to the whole gathering.
"I've no room here, I tell you and that's the end of it. Let her have the baby in the
street, for all I care."
But as he turned away from them, preparing to slam shut the door in their faces, he caught
sight of the boy's form departing at the opposite door, and turned back to the visitors with
a laugh and a sneer. Tell you what, for two denarii you can have a stall in the stable
where the creature sleeps. Put your child in his feeding trough for all I care. Take it or
leave it. Somehow, the thought of forcing one more cruelty on the boy, insulting the
travellers, and making a profit at the same time appealed to his
The boy didn't wait to see what happened next, for he was interested only in escape. The
last thing he needed was to be batted about by yet another rough traveller, this time in the
stable--where at least the animals could be counted on to leave him alone.
With fear and hurt giving him wings, and running for all he was worth, he escaped to the
hills outside the town and there lay down among the rocks. The thin blanket which did double
duty as his coat and was his only possession was barely able to keep the chill night air from
him. The only other clothing he had was a piece of an old tablecloth the innkeeper had
thrown at him one day to cover his nakedness, and which, he constantly reminded
him, actually belonged to the inn, and was being provided out of the goodness of his
charitable heart. And now the boy smiled, for out here were the only friends he had
-- the wind, the rocks, and the trees. And there in the quiet they spoke to him and
comforted him as no human voice ever had.
The voice of the wind was soft and billowy, and it sang a sweet song in his ears--a song
of how the Lord God had made all things, and surely cared for all his works--He would be
with a little boy even if all men's cruel hand was raised against him. Yes, and the trees
answered the song and told the boy of the love of God and how his Holy Spirit had always
protected those who served The Lord of Israel in the past--he mustn't ever despair or give up. And then
the rocks spoke in their low, strong, clean voices, reminding them all that they had been there
longer than boys, wind or trees and so knew the promise made long ago of the Messiah who
would come to save men from sin and set all wrongs aright. The strong rocks took over what
was by now a song and calmed the boy, telling him that if he put his faith and trust in the
salvation of the Lord, he would live with God one day in the resurrection of all souls, far longer
than even rocks would last.
The boy had often come here, and he loved these kind friends,
though he could never tell them so in plain words. A few times, and tonight was one of
these, he spoke a few of his unintelligible squeaks, and it seemed his friends understood
his hurt and pain, for they never criticized him, but continued to sing calmly and
carefully of God's power and love, despite all evil. So at last the boy, safe with the
comfort of his old friends, his only friends, soon fell fast asleep.
But this night was different, for after a time of calm, there came a growing excitement,
with whisperings among the rocks, and rumours among the trees, and finally the wind spoke
the truth aloud: "It is tonight. The Christ is born and he is even now at the inn. The
Messiah has come, and God has proven himself faithful! And the wind, trees, and rocks sang
together joyfully for a long time their praise to God. But, after a while, they slowly grew sad and
became quiet again,--for they could not go to the stable to worship, and they had nothing
to give the Christ, their Lord and Creator on this His birth night as a human child. Much
time passed, as they whispered among themselves, wondering what they could do to honour the
Lord--so close by, yet out of their reach. They had much to say to the Lord of glory,
but no means of entering his rude birthplace to say it. Eventually they formed
a plan, and with their satisfied agreement, there deep silence came over the dark
The boy awoke with a start to the unaccustomed quiet. Off to the West, there
were strange lights in the sky, and for a moment, his keen ears seemed to hear the distant
sound of voices carried by the wind--but the rocks were still, the wind itself quiet,
and even the trees had no more words for him. This quiet was so new, so unnatural, that it
brought a twinge of fear at the prospect of remaining out in that isolated place, and so, feeling
more alone then ever, he decided to go back. Perhaps the strangers who had taken
his meagre bed would be asleep by now and he could curl up in a corner where no one would
notice. Wearily, he made his way down the hillside and trudged back to the inn.
He entered the stable cautiously, for a light was burning, a donkey was tethered in one
of the stalls, and a man and woman were there too. He recognized them at once as the
strangers who earlier had been at the door. They were kneeling in the clean straw,
leaning over the feeding trough, his manger, and looking at something. Anxious not to be
seen, but with all the curiosity of a nine year old eating him up from earlobe to toenail,
he crept silently forward to see. There, in his own bed, if you could call it that, lay a
new born baby. For a long time, the boy stood transfixed, looking at the little face, and
no one moved. Then, even as he watched, there was suddenly a noise outside the stable and
a group of shepherds burst through the door. They went at once to the child,
stopped, and stood over him in tears of joy. When they finally collected themselves, they related
to his parents how angels had come to them and told them that the Christ, the Messiah was
here in the stable and they must come and worship him. The baby's parents said
nothing, just nodded knowingly, and with eyes only for the child, the shepherds too knelt in the straw
in wonderment, giving praise to God for the wondrous work done here.
Even as they did so, the ragged boy who had watched all this from behind the manger
looked down at the little child wrapped just in a few strips of cloth. The baby
opened his eyes and looked up at him. For a long time not a sound was made, and no one
moved. But as the child gazed at him, the boy knew the truth of what the shepherds had
said, and he remembered all the lessons the rocks, trees and wind had taught him. He
knew that this child was indeed his saviour. So, in the worshipful quietness that followed, he
gave him his heart forever that very night even as they had taught him he must. And,
somehow, there came a growing determination about what he must do next. Without further
thought for himself, he took off his blanket, his one possession, and standing there clad
only in the little cloth the innkeeper had thrown at him, he reached out and placed the
blanket over the child. Then, feeling compelled to do so, he opened his mouth to speak, but
it was no squawk or squeak that came out, for he found himself saying in a little whisper:
"Here Lord, take my blanket to keep you warm". And finally, marvel of marvels, he sang a
song, and his voice was deep like the rocks, and smooth like that of the wind, and it
rustled like the trees. For it was then their song, a song of praise and worship to the
Almighty God that they had taught him, singing it to him these many years. And, while he
did so, the rocks, the trees, and the wind outside remained silent, for they had used all
the knowledge and wisdom they had ever possessed to give their voices to the boy for this
moment. They listened, they approved, and they knew their treasure well spent, their
song well sung, their worship well received.
And although this boy eventually grew old, and one day he died, so that his voice went back
into the earth along with the rest of his body, it is said that to this very day, the wind, the rocks, and the trees may
speak to certain small children who listen very carefully, but they can do it on only one special day of the year.