The three travellers


Now the three had journeyed several days when at last they came upon the Oasis of Ziza, and Gaspar who was the wisest of them said, "We will rest our horses here this night. It will be safe.""Safe for horses and men," Melchior agreed. "But what of the gold?""Safe for the gold also. No one knows we carry it."The sun was low in the western sky as they approached, and Gaspar held up a hand to shield his eyes. It would be night soon.A young herdsman came out to meet them and take their horses. And he said, "Welcome to the Oasis of Ziza. Have you ridden far?""A full moon's journey," Gaspar replied, speaking in the nomadic tongue. "What is your name?"And the herdsman answered, "They call me Ramoth, sire.""Here is a gold coin for you, Ramoth. Feed and water our mounts for the journey and another will be yours on the morrow.""Which way do you travel, sire?""Towards the west," Gaspar said, purposely vague.When the young herdsman had departed with the horses fat Balthazar said, "I am not pleased, Gaspar. You lead us, it is true, but the keeping of the gold is my responsibility. And travellers guided by the heavens would do well to journey by night.""The desert is cold by night, my friend. Let us cease this bickering and settle ourselves here till the dawn."Then Melchior and Balthazar went off to put up their tent, and Gaspar was much relieved. It had been a long journey, not yet ended, and he treasured these moments alone. Presently he set off to inspect the oasis where they would spend the night, and he came upon a stranger who wore a sword at his waist."Greetings, traveller," the man said. "I am Nevar, of the northern tribe. Do you journey this route often?""Not often, no. My name is Gaspar and I come with my two companions from the east."Nevar nodded, and stroked his great growth of beard. "Later, when the sun is gone, there a are games of chance--and women for those who have the gold to pay.""That does not interest me," Gaspar said."You will find the companionship warming," Nevar said. "Come to the fire near the well. That is where we will be."Gaspar went on, pausing to look at the beads and trinkets the nomad traders offered. When he reached the well at the far end of the oasis, he saw a woman lifting a great earthen jar to her shoulder. She was little more than a child, and as he watched, the jar slipped from her grasp and shattered against the stones, splashing her with water. She burst into tears."Come, child," Gaspar said, comforting her. "There is always another jar to be had."And she turned her wide brown eyes to him, revealing a beauty he had not seen before. "My father will beat me," she said."Here is a gold coin for him. Tell him a stranger named Gaspar bumped you and made the jar break.""That would not be true."Continue Story"But it is true that I am Gaspar. Who are you?""Thantia, daughter of Nevar.""Yes, I have met your father. You are very lovely, my child."But his words seemed to frighten her, and she ran from him.Then he returned to the place where Melchior had erected their tent. They had learned from past encampments to leave nothing of value with the horses, and Gaspar immediately asked the location of the gold."It is safe," Balthazar told him. "Hidden in the bottom of this grain bag.""Good. And the perfume?""With our regular supplies. No one would steal that."Melchior chuckled. "If they did, we could smell out the culprits quickly enough!"And then Balthazar said, "There is gaming tonight, near the well.""I know," Gaspar replied. "But it is not for us."The fat man held out his hands in a gesture of innocence. "We could but look," he said.And Gaspar reluctantly agreed. "Very well."Later, when the fire had been kindled and the people of Ziza came forth from their tents to mingle, the three travellers joined them. Almost at once Gaspar was sought out by a village elder, a man with wrinkled skin and rotting teeth. "I am Dibon," he said, choosing a seat next to Gaspar. "Do you come from the east?""Yes, from Persia.""A long journey. What brings you this far?"Gaspar did not wish to answer. Instead, he motioned towards a group of men with small smooth stones before them. "What manner of sport is this?""It is learned from the Egyptians, as are most things sinful." Then the old man leaned closer, and Gaspar could smell the foul odour of his breath. "Some say you are a magus."Continue Story"I have studied the teachings of Zoroaster, as have my companions. In truth some would consider me a magus.""Then you journey in search of Mazda?""In search of truth," Gaspar replied.Then he felt the presence of someone towering over him, and saw it was the figure of Nevar. His right hand rested on the sword at his waist. "I would have words with you, Gaspar.""What troubles you?""My only daughter Thantia, a virgin not yet twenty, tells me you gave her a gold coin today.""Only because I feared the broken water jug was my fault.""No stranger approaches Thantia! You will leave Ziza this night!""We leave in the morning," Gaspar said quietly.Nevar drew his sword, and Gaspar waited no longer. He flung himself at the big man and they tumbled towards the fire as the game-players scattered. Gaspar pulled Nevar's sword from his grip.Then Thantia broke from the crowd, running to her father."This stranger did me no harm!" she cried out."Silence, daughter!" Nevar reached for a piece of burning firewood and hurled it at Gaspar, but it went wide of its mark and landed on a low straw roof nearby."The stable!" someone shouted, and Gaspar saw it was the herdsman Ramoth hurrying to rescue the horses. The others helped to quench the flames with water from the well, but not before a quantity of feed and supplies had been destroyed.Then Gaspar and Melchior went in search of fat Balthazar, who had disappeared during the commotion. They found him behind the row of tents, playing the Egyptian stone game with a half dozen desert-riders. He had a small pile of gold coins before him."This must cease!" Gaspar commanded.The nomads ran at his words, and Balthazar struggled to his feet. "It was merely a game.""Our task is far more important than mere gaming," Gaspar reminded him, and the fat man looked sheepish. "While you idled I was near killed by the swordsman Nevar.""A trouble-maker," Balthazar agreed. "I will not rest easy until Ziza is behind us on our journey."Then as they passed the burned stable on the way to their tent, old Dibon approached them saying, "This ruin is your fault, Gaspar. Yours and Nevar's.""That is true, old man. We will stay here tomorrow and help rebuild the stable."Dibon bowed his head. "A generous offer. We thank you."Continue StoryBut when they were alone, Balthazar complained, "This will delay us an entire day!""We will travel a distance by night, as you wished"