My name is Melchior, “king of light.” I am Assyrian, and, like others of my race, I am a proud man, but not so proud that I don’t seek to learn what is written in the stars. Like the meaning of this new jewel: an exceedingly bright star I have been watching and following for days on end. It keeps leading me ever westward. I think it may be more than just a star—perhaps a miraculous sign in the nighttime sky, and if I—we—are correct, it is the heavenly sign of a new earthly king.
I say “we” because, much to my astonishment, I have encountered another star-gazer who has been following this same heavenly messenger. He has come here all the way from Bharat. He is younger than I, but he seems to be a most learned man, as curious to know what this star means as I am. I thought to bring along a gift worthy of a new king; so did he. Strange that we both brought a resin from a tree, but while his is a healing balm, mine is burned to make a fragrant offering to the gods. It comes from the mountains of Arabia where they call it frankincense, and it can transport the thoughts and prayers of men upward to heaven on wings of aromatic smoke. In its embrace, we forget the stench of this world and inhale the sweet perfume of the next. Frankincense takes away our mortal cares; it supplants our human loneliness.
I did not ever presume to travel with another, but I must say, I am grateful for this new companionship. When one is alone, time has a way of seeding doubt. What if this journey is a fool’s errand? What if there is no new king? But in the company of my new friend, I have put away such thoughts. His quest validates mine. If I am deranged, then so is he. There is some small comfort in that.
For several days now, we have travelled together and I must admit, I am refreshed. The tedium of this slow, incessant plodding has been broken by our conversations, by the sharing of our stories, by our mutual delight in the movement of the stars. Often we rest during the day and travel by night so that we may observe and record the course of this bright heavenly messenger. We have each read ancient sacred texts foretelling the birth of a Messiah, someone sent to save mankind, but we both believe these were writ in faith, not fact. Men like Gaspar (for that is my new friend’s name) and I seek to understand, not merely believe. Like alchemists, we seek the essence of things, laboring to distill truth from the appearance of truth.
This morning, we stopped at a caravansary to take some meager refreshment—fresh dates and goat’s milk—and to water our weary beasts. A stable boy remarked that only two days before, he had been told of another man traveling alone, he, too, following a star. Another traveller had spoken to him and told the boy that the man was richly dressed and “black as pitch.”
“An Ethiope?” I inquired. The boy looked at me dully and shrugged.
“Where was this man? Which way was he going?” I asked. The boy pointed west, toward the place called Israel, the ancient land of the Hebrew people once ruled by wise kings, David and Solomon. Now, it is called Judaea and although it has a king—Herod is his name—he is no more than the puppet of the Roman governor, a man called Pontius Pilate. I turned to Gaspar.
“Should we search for this man? Maybe he knows where to find our new king.”
Gaspar was silent a moment, then nodded. “ Yes. There have always been three of us.”
“What do you mean ‘three of us’?”
He pointed to the sky. “We are three. It 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.