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.”
“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.