‘…And you are absolutely certain,’ said Melchior, ‘that this is the right place? I mean, I know that it is under the star, but then, truth be told, so is the rest of this village. So is the rest of this country, I shouldn’t wonder. High up, stars, shine all over the place they do. Must be some margin of error there, star-wise, that’s all I’m saying. Maybe we should check out the five star places first.’Balthazar sighed – again. ‘None of the five star places have angels hovering over them,’ he said. ‘Nor,’ he continued, ‘are they packed with shepherds watching their flocks, donkeys and assorted beasts of the fields.’
‘Or giraffes,’ said Gaspar.
Balthazar nodded his agreement. ‘Or gira… Did you say giraffe?’
‘What’s a giraffe?’
‘It’s a bit like a tall cow,’ said Gaspar, ‘with a long neck. My cousin brought one back from his travels. Dead, mind. Same as the big tusky, grey thing. Don’t travel well, apparently.’
Balthazar stared. ‘Do you see any of these tall cows around here?’
‘No,’ said Gaspar.
‘Then in what way, pray, are they relevant?’
‘I’m not sure,’ answered Gaspar. ‘I just have a feeling that someone will find that there’s only the giraffe left to play, in the future…’
Balthazar stared manically at Gaspar, his fists tightened and his jaw clenched. A small vein squirmed like a lug-worm below the skin of his forehead.
‘Shall we go and look inside,’ suggested Melchior, summoning the slaves to help them down from their mounts.
‘And where did you come by these things?’ asked Gaspar. ‘I’ve never sat on anything so uncomfortable in my life. They smell like the inside of an old sock and they spit. What’s wrong with a horse?’
‘These beasts are our traditional mode of transport,’ answered Melchior. ‘A man’s wealth is measured by them.’
‘I,’ said Balthazar, ‘have thousands.’
‘Sooner have gold,’ said Gaspar, gripping the gift-wrapped parcel he had borne with him from Arabia. ‘Think I’d rather travel on one of them long-necked cows, if I’m honest. At least they don’t have lumpy backs. And also,’ he continued as he was helped down from the musky beast, ‘how come yours has got two lumps and mine has only got one? Know exactly where to sit with two lumps. Never sure with one: either slide off its back end or wind up dangling from its neck…’
‘Rank,’ blurted Balthazar, suddenly aware that he had brought myrrh for the baby and nobody else even knew what it was. ‘The higher your rank, the more lumps you get on your camel.’
Gaspar gave Balthazar one of his stares. ‘So,’ he said, ‘where’s his then?’
‘His lumpy thing. Surely you’ve brought one for him if they’re so valuable; King of Kings and all that. Must be worth at least three lumps.’
‘They’re called camels,’ said Melchior, breaking the uneasy silence. ‘And they only come in one and two humped varieties.’
‘Bit of a design flaw there then, isn’t it? I’d be inclined to have a bit of a word.’
‘With Himself, you know, when we get in to worship him, have a quick word in his ear. See if he can get it sorted.’
‘He’s a baby!’
‘Got connections, though,’ said Gaspar.
The three wise men had, by now, all been brought down from their camels and were straightening their robes in preparation for their big moment. Melchior was checking his frankincense. ‘You can never go wrong with perfume,’ he thought. Gaspar was scraping camel doings from his satin slipper. Balthazar, meanwhile, was chastising his Chief of Staff. ‘‘Take him myrrh,’ you said. ‘Everyone likes a bit of a rub down now and then,’ you said. Nobody else has even heard of it. Have we got nothing else we can give Him? Maybe jewels, or something?’’
The Chief of Staff looked crestfallen. ‘We left in a bit of a hurry,’ he said, ‘if you remember. Didn’t really have much time to shop around and myrrh always goes down really well in my family.’
‘Your family the myrrh merchants, you mean?’
‘Come on,’ said Gaspar, who had by now got the worst of it off with a stick. ‘Let’s go in.’
The three wise men entered the stable and fell to their knees at the side of the manger.
‘Gawd,’ said Gaspar, peering in. ‘He’s an ugly little bleeder, isn’t he?’
‘That’s a pig, you fool,’ snapped Balthazar.
‘Really?’ sneered Gaspar. ‘One humped or two?’
‘I think, gentlemen,’ said Melchior, rising to his feet. ‘That we may be in the wrong place.’
Balthazar and Gaspar also rose, brushing the crud of the stable floor from their robes as they prepared to leave.
‘So what now?’ asked Gaspar. ‘This had to be the place. What about that star?’
‘It appears to have moved on,’ answered Melchior. ‘They have a habit of doing that, apparently.’
‘And the Heavenly hosts?’
‘They appear to have found themselves rooms at the Travel Lodge. Perhaps we should join them. Try again in the morning…’
‘But how long is it going to take us to find him?’ asked Gaspar. ‘How long do we have to keep looking?’
‘Who knows,’ answered Melchior. ‘Could be days. Could be weeks, years…’
‘Could be,’ said Balthazar, ‘millennia…’
Originally posted December 24th 2019.