A thick stream of snot oozes from the beast's nostril, hangs for a moment as if uncertain, then abandons itself to the sandy breeze, a putrid offering to the uncouth gods of this desolate place. At least it misses my outstretched leg! I don't want to think about the foul vapours that regularly emerge from my camel's other end. Suffice to say, my riding companions have long since learned to let me take up the rear.
"Is it far?" I call out, for the twentieth time this day.
"Soon, very soon, my impatient friend," shouts Caspar, his answer as predictable as my whine.
In truth I am weary to my bones of this venture. Four long weeks on the back of a walking rock sculpture and even my bruises have bruises. Thrice we have been assaulted by ignorant bandits who learned to their regret that men do not lightly accost a Magus. Twice we stumbled upon a pack of Roman wolves, fearful of Parthians, wary of our turbans and ornate robes. But they too let us pass. Of course.
But the past few days have pushed my forbearance to the limit. Herod, petty monarch and bloodthirsty tyrant, thought to impress us with his pathetic display of pomp and ceremony - we who have witnessed the grandeur of Ecbatana. His clueless coterie of priests were just as bad, obsessed with ritualised slaughter while the clearest sign of the Creator God's immanence blazed unheeded in the heavens high above their empty heads. A diamond shining bright in the sky, a sign long comprehended by sages and prophets alike, yet somehow gone unnoticed by the so-called holiest of the Jews. Vainglorious fools the lot of them!
"Is it far?" .
"Soon, very soon."
I shift my weight, unable to find a comfortable posture as my beast of burden stumbles and trips over the stony terrain. Even though it is buried inside several folds of cloth, my hidden treasure digs painfully into tender ribs. A star of gold, crafted in antiquity in anticipation of this day, it is truly a gift fit for a king. Yet Herod's advisors were clear: none of the nobility are presently resident in Bethlehem. So I'm curious whose child we will encounter. It's not unheard of for kings to emerge out of obscurity, but it is unusual. What's clear from the prophecies is that his reign will transform the world as we know it. For this reason we have journeyed far to pay homage to a child not yet grown to be a man.
Caspar's burden is peculiar in that he brings incense, fit more for a priest than a king. Yet the ancient scrolls require that he bear such an offering, a portent to our generation that this Priest-King will minister before Almighty God. I have little understanding of such esoteric matters. Doubtless I shall have rested with my fathers long before any of these things come to pass. Yet for mystery's sake we pay homage.
I fear that Melchior's gift may cause offence. Myrrh is better given at funerals than celebrations of a birth. Yet I honour him as my senior and I know he reads extremes of death and life in the writings of the seers. I pray only that our hosts may not be superstitious people, lest they consider his offering some form of imprecation. Yet I remain perplexed: how can one doomed to die turn our world upside down? The prophets do not speak of an old man's timely death but of a life cut short. It is a tenet of faith that you should obey even when the way ahead remains unclear. Hence in humble, uncertain faith, we have travelled far to pay homage.
"The town. I can see it!"
Caspar's cry of raw, unadulterated joy lifts my spirits. Even my cantankerous mount quickens her pace. Suddenly a cloud shifts and our beautiful lodestar reappears in the firmament, hanging directly over Bethlehem, beckoning us ever closer to our journey's end. I don't know what we will find there, whether a home proud or humble, a family rich or poor, a child fair or plain. But of this I am convinced: before this day ends, we will have worshipped God's appointed King.
O Star of wonder, star of night
Star with royal beauty bright
Westward leading, still proceeding
Guide us to Thy perfect light
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