I crossed the Bab-el-Mandeb on an Arab trader’s dhow when the previous moon was still new. It was a dangerous passage, but once safely across, I made my way northward, through the Kingdom of Aksum, always keeping the sea to my left. I travelled along an ancient road, one used by merchants trading salt, spices, silks, even slaves; ostrich plumes and ivory; gold from beyond the Mountains of the Moon. But the few fellow travelers I met were always flowing southward, against my grain, and I was left to go on alone. That suited me for I was lost in contemplation of a strange heavenly light—a star, but brighter than any star I had ever seen, more a beacon guiding me to a place somewhere beyond my imagination.
And I was wary. Traveling alone is dangerous business in these times. I was not part of a large caravan and there are brigands and djinn along every road and a man carrying what I am carrying—gold, a gift worthy of a king!—has a mark on his back. I moved cautiously, my senses alert, with only my prayers to protect me. Day after day, night after night, with only that single star to guide me.
Yes, I was lonely. Yes, at times, I felt lost. But not once did I despair. For reasons I cannot explain, what I most felt deep in my bones was…hope. I imagined myself on the brink of a miracle, a witness to something that might transform this weary world into something better. I had no idea what that something might be, but I sensed it dimly, a shimmering mirage across this vast empty space.
And then, suddenly, this space wasn’t empty anymore. Two men came riding out of the east, moving steadily toward me as if they knew I would be just here, in this place. At a distance, they hailed me and lifted their arms to signal they meant me no harm. My muscles relaxed and much to my surprise, I felt a surge of joy course through me, a gushing spring of cool water in this lonely desert. I felt as though I were finally complete, part of a greater whole. And I had a strange sensation these two felt the same. I almost laughed, but kept my dignity.
“I am Balthazar,” I called.
“I am Gaspar,” one of the travelers answered.
“Melchior,” said the other.
We greeted each other joyously, oddly not as strangers, but more like long-lost brothers. We easily found a common language, and in a torrent of words, we told our separate stories. We had each seen the star; we had each been pulled along its path by some unseen hand toward an unknown destination; we each bore gifts worthy of a new king: mine was gold, theirs was frankincense and myrrh. But even though the common destination of our separate journeys remained unknown, we now felt linked together, bonded by destiny. The three of us were one.
For the next few days, we rode together, moving north and west, sometimes in a line so we could converse, sometimes, if we were lost in thought, in single file. We tried to discern an end to this journey, but all we could ever see was the star, visible now even by day, but slowing, as though nearing its destination. We had crossed into Judaea and were now on a more travelled road, one leading to Jerusalem, the city of peace. Perhaps that was where we would encounter this new king—if indeed there was a new king.
One morning, we watched a small cloud of dust on the road ahead turn into a group of riders. Soldiers. We moved aside to let them pass, but they stopped and hailed us.
“We have been sent by Herod, King of Judaea. He has heard of your arrival in his kingdom and wishes to properly greet you so he may hear your news. We will escort you to him.”
We looked at each other in utter amazement. Was this to be the end of our journey? Is this where our star would finally come to rest, over Jerusalem? Was Herod the king we sought?
There was nothing to do now but follow the soldiers. We would know soon enough. After all, everything is written in the stars.
Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon. Jamie’s website is www.musingjamie.net.