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There were three men - and they were friends. They met often to discuss the heavens. Well able to buy the charts, the instruments to measure the spaces where the sky held stars, one night they each found a new bright star and hurried the next day to meet and talk and wonder about such a brilliance in the sky.
They speculated on its source, but mystics as well as astrologers, they marveled at its suddenness and one night, one said, "Shall we follow it?" with some laughter, for how can men follow a star across a sky?
The star hung outside each man's window as he lay upon his bed and tried to sleep. Three men, one star shining in three places, and they talked each day about its suddenness, and they measured more space of sky.
Little boys ran with messages between the places where the men studied stars. There were more speculations about this star than any of the others - and so - more messages.
The most taciturn broke one evening's silence as they stood watching the bright new star. "We spend such time staring, perhaps we should try to follow this movement to the west." Then they sat, within the light of lamps and planned a journey to find a star.
No one had heard of such a thing and there was some scoffing among their peers, there was also quiet watching for these three men were called wise, and if these three felt compelled to invest such time and money in a caravan of camels, then some of the other mystics and astrologers stood beside their own windows to watch the same brilliance move slowly toward the west.
These others knew they were called too. How else explain the waking nights, hands hiding tired eyes from the splendor in the skies; how else explain the exhausted dawns when some hurried, after the night's hiding, to see where the star hung now, and then were sad for it was hidden by the morning's light.
And so, the others made some jokes about obsession and knew they wished to be obsessed. And so, some others made some jokes about obsession and knew they were obsessed and knew also, that they were afraid to acknowledge such obsession.
They explained to themselves, one hand over eyes at night, within their solitary beds, they explained a family's needs and knew that one of the three was leaving a family to follow a star. They explained important work in relation to other important stars they knew about, remembering that one of the three was leaving some careful figures about some smaller stars gathered in these same heavens. They knew that man would lose his years of research and with that, important recognition, but he was leaving these lesser starts to follow an unknown one. They envied him beneath their ridicule, for they knew he was not bound by books.
There was a farewell celebration for the three and the others noted that the wise ones were already on their way; their eyes already following a star across the sand. That those three were not aware of the drink and talk within the room.
All of the men that night, even with their backs turned against the spaces opened to the sky, all of the men that night, felt the star calling through the darkness.
A wife watched the same star and hated it. Some children watched and wondered why such a star would call a father from their sides and cause a mother's rage to move around them.
One woman wept to be left behind and watched each night; she ached to understand the restless yearning the star evoked.
There are no paths across a desert, just sand wastes and rough men who sometimes jostled each other in some kind of play, but mostly there was only sand and angry, sullen men whom the three knew were contemptuous of the rich who had time and money to follow such a star.
But, a caravan's a caravan and if the caravan carried salt or spices - or - three men watching for a star, no matter. The pay was fair and most days the weather turned out good for travel.
One night though, there was a sudden storm of sand. The camels knelt as the wind blew strong and men drew their hoods down to cover their bowed heads. The star, like all the other stars, was hidden. The sand made new dunes across the backs of camels and of men, and, as those dunes edged higher and the wind, too loud for sleeping kept a restless rhythm through the night, some of the rough ones, heads down to escape the restless rushing, some of the rough ones remembered the bright start and, remembering, waited for the wind to die so they could find the star again within their night.
Another night even the full moon, making its path across the sand as the bells and the hoofs made some music in the moonlight; even the bright moon could not diminish the bright star.
There were hours, there were days as well as nights to wonder where the star was leading them as the caravan moved slowly toward the city of Jerusalem. The rough men liked Jerusalem with its noise, its food, its women, and the star seemed to wait beyond the wall for the three men to ask questions of the astrologers in this new place.
Yes, they had seen it. Yes, there were some old myths. And yes, sometimes it called strongly to them too. But no, they were not going to find its resting place beyond the earth's edge, like all the other stars within the sky.
Herod, over wine, asked the three to return to tell him more about an infant king if it should turn out that such a star should herald such a king.
Beyond the wall, a few more days of travel, for now the star seemed not to move but only beckon through their nights. As the camels moved along the road, the desert far behind them, the three men, tired from all the travel; tired, seeing all the quizzical looks; tired, seeing Herod's fear beneath his smile, three men knowing that what was sought had almost been found, three men closed their eyes to imagine the gift giving.
For one had brought an enameled vessel full of frankincense across the desert, unsure who would receive it. One brought myrrh in an alabaster jar. One carried a carved box of cedar wood holding coins of gold, for - before they began to follow such a star - they had determined to honor the mystery that beckoned.
The caravan leader did not halt the caravan but led it past the place they sought. No one paid attention to such a dusty cluster of animals outside a cave's low opening, although later, someone remarked he had seen a young man bending for water at a stream nearby.
The caravan continued on until the star appeared in the evening's blue, and then they all knew they had passed the place they had come to see.
Some grumbling, lurching as each camel was turned, so now the last was leading the others to the place they had passed.
And, it was just what they had passed ... a poor place, but this time, this night, the star was still and shining down upon them, its radiance astounding them, almost blinding them, as the camels knelt and the three, reaching into pouches, brought out the gifts they had brought across the sanded wastes.
Bending to walk into the cave - or hut but something low - bending they came in as quietly as a camel caravan and thirsting men would allow in that evening's peace; bending, they walked in to where a single oil lamp lit up a circle of light, to show a mother and a baby and a father standing protectively behind them, wary and silent himself.
She was young, but not younger than these tribes' wives, and she held the infant in that arm's curve of innocence and knowing with which a woman with her first born cradles her first born.
The men had come miles through days and nights and weeks to find a mother and a child and the father watching carefully.
The robes, dust-filled and worn from the long traveling, still showed that the three were high born and of the rich. The three gifts, in containers as costly as their contents, were offered haltingly in this strange space.
Haltingly, because despite Jerusalem's old myths, the child was a surprise, but they knew the gifts were for the child. Haltingly, because old legends had spoken of a king; haltingly, because although they never could explain it to themselves and never tried to explain it to each other, they knew the child was king.
The mother smiled as though she knew some secret they could not guess, some sadness in the smile as though she knew some burden in the secret. The father ducked his head to acknowledge such a giving.
The baby smiled too, although he was just an infant and some say that infants cannot smile. His eyes were round and dark and wide - looking into the light as the three men spoke briefly of the star, the caravan, the desert.
The three remembered Herod's face over wine and talk, and because these three were called wise, they suggested that the couple not return along the road they'd come, for the fears of Herods turn to rage and innocents are blamed for what astrologers cannot explain.
That was all there was. A giving of some gifts, a warning and then, bending again, they left the low place, and climbed back upon the camels. The bells and the hoofs along the path made that particular music beneath the particular star.
They had not spoken much about what they would find; they did not speak much now that they had found it.
And the long trip back held its own fatigues and storms and the similar grumblings of the similar guides.
On their return, their peers asked questions and received few answers beyond that the gifts were given to an infant king. The wife never forgot that she had been deserted for a star; the children wondered throughout their lives what had called a father on such a journey.
The woman who had wept because she wanted to follow the star too, the woman saw something of its reflection in the man's eyes until he died. He had seen something his wisdom could not explain - that much he shared; he had seen the brilliance of a star.
He had followed the star and found a baby. It was enough for him, although he could not explain it to the others. It was enough to know he had been obsessed and content to acknowledge his obsession.
It seemed to the woman that he was full of peace, of patience, as though the giving of the gift to an infant had removed some of the driving intensity that had marked his career. He seemed not to mind, if he noticed at all, that others received honors he would have expected for himself, if the star had not burst into his night those years ago.
The one whose lifetime work was wasted, wasted they said, still puzzling at such a loss, the one whose lifetime's work was wasted, took to writing songs and stories about stars and sands and skies and because he was quite old, others said it was because he was too old, but the ones who knew and loved him said he was young until he died.
All in all, it was strange story and people talked of it for years. Three men, seeing a brilliance in the sky, followed it; gave three gifts of some extravagant cost to a child and - as nearly as anyone could figure out from the first shared details - they left the gifts of incalculable worth on the dirt floor of a stable - or cave - the details were vague, for a young mother, a young father, and an infant son.
And, it turned out, the only ones to regret the trip were the ones who had hidden their eyes from the star. For them, even to their dying days, they remembered over wine, three men, whom they called foolish, three men who had traveled long days across a desert to follow a star which led them to a child.
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