Now another surprise was waiting at their tent. As Melchior
raised the flap to enter, there was a whimper from within. Gaspar
pushed past his hesitating companion and lit the oil lamp. By its
glow they saw the girl Thantia crouched behind a pile of robes.
“Please!” she gasped. “Please hide me. My father has beaten me and I fear for my life!”
“I fear for ours if he finds you here,” Melchior said.
Gaspar held the oil lamp closer and saw the bruises on her face and arms. “We cannot send you back to him. Remain here with Melchior and Balthazar. I will return shortly.”
Then he made his way to the place where old Dibon rested, and he told the elder what had happened. Dibon nodded and said, “My daughter and her husband will find room for Thantia until Nevar regains his senses. You were wise to come to me.”
Gaspar and his companions delivered the girl to Dibon, and went with them to the dwelling place of Dibon’s daughter. Later, in their tent, Balthazar grumbled again about the delayed departure. But they settled down at last to sleep, as the fires of the encampment burned low around them.
In the morning, by the first rays of the rising sun, Gaspar was awakened by Balthazar’s panic-filled voice. “Wake quickly, Gaspar!” he pleaded, shaking him. “Someone has stolen our gold!”
Gaspar saw at once that the words were true.
The leather sack of grain contained only grain now. Though the tent showed no sign of forced entry, and though their regular supplies were untouched, the gold had vanished.
“I cannot believe it!” Melchior gasped. “How could a thief have entered while we slept? “
Gaspar agreed such a thing was impossible. “The gold was stolen before we retired last night,” he reasoned. “We were away from the tent during the gaming and fire, and again while escorting Thantia. A thief could have entered at either time.”
“What of the perfume and incense? ” Melchior asked.
“Untouched,” Balthazar said. “My special knot is still in place on the other bags.”
“Only the gold,” Gaspar mused.
“It is truly as if someone knew where to look.”
“The girl!” Balthazar exclaimed. “We found her in here! She could have searched for the gold and found it.”
“Possible,” Gaspar admitted. “But I cannot bring myself to believe it.”
“We cannot leave Ziza without the gold,” Melchior said.
“Let us put our minds to the problem while we work at the stable,” Gaspar said.