So -- as inspired by my favorite Christmas carol... a first, unfinished (much work still to be done) draft of The Drummer Boy. Merry Christmas.
Father heard the shout and stopped walking. The night was black as ink, but I was still out with Papa and the goats. I gripped Papa’s thumb tighter so I wouldn’t lose him to the voices in the dark.
“Who’s there?” Papa called.
The figures, dressed in robes that glittered with moonlight, waved from the other side of our little sea of moving goats. When they walked toward us, the animals scattered in two directions, moving out of the way and bleating their unhappiness.
I worried about gathering them back up, but Papa kept a hold of my hand and watched only the men coming toward us in the darkness.
“Blessings to you, on this beautiful night,” the tallest man said. He smiled at Papa and laid one warm hand on my head. He ruffled my hair just a little when he took his hand back. This man was not a shepherd, not in clothes that captured the moonbeams and a beard combed soft and full.
Papa bowed his head in greeting. “Kind sir, what brings you through our valley tonight?”
“Haven’t you heard? The babe we’ve waited for has come.”
Papa didn’t say anything, but his hand tightened on mine again. I looked up at his face – the face usually full of laughs and smiles and kisses – and saw something new.
“Papa?” I asked. “Papa? Do we have another baby?”
Papa did not answer. He looked at the visitors, one after the other. “Say it again? Tell me again.”
The tall man smiled again and laid one hand on Papa’s shoulder. “It’s true. We are on our way to welcome him. The world will be different now that he has come.”
I tugged on Papa’s finger. “Papa? Who is coming? Is Mama having another baby?”
The visitors all chuckled. Their rumbling laughter sent me hiding in the folds of my father’s dusty robe, but I peeked out of my safe haven and sent a smile to the closest stranger. He smiled back and winked one eye.
“Where?” Papa let go of my hand and let me cling to his clothes.
“Not far. Only another day’s journey from here, we think,” one of the men replied. “We are bringing gifts to celebrate his birth.”
“I want a gift!” I said, boldly, from my hiding place.
Laughter rumbled from the men again. “Oh, my boy! He is a gift for us all, this new baby.”
“But who is he?”
“The king.” My father’s voice was soft.
“He is our new king,” the tall man said as he kneeled down in the dust. He held out his hand, each finger encircled with a wide gold band and jewels that reflected the stars.
I looked up and Papa nodded at me with a smile. I reached out and took the stranger’s hand. He pulled me closer, until I was tucked right up against his chest, looking out over our herd with him. One long arm pointed up to the sky over my shoulder. “See that star? That is a sign from God that his son has some to lead us all.” I could feel his voice against my back. He smelled of wood smoke and something spicy. I leaned into his warmth and followed his gaze up to the bright star.
“God’s son?” I whispered. Papa had told me God would send us a king some day and that king would teach us to love one another. He would bring all of God’s love down to us and keep us safe.
“Can I give the new baby a gift, Papa?” I asked from within the tall man’s embrace.
Papa’s eyes changed. He looked out over our goats and the dry ridge where we lived. He looked back over his shoulder to where our tents stood, a small fire burning on the horizon. Finally, he looked at the men surrounding me – at their rich robes and jeweled hands.
“We do not have as great a gift as these men, son. We do not have a gift worthy of a new king.”
“But your welcome will be gift enough,” one of them said. “His parents will know you come to welcome him. That will be enough.”
Papa shook his head just a little and looked at me as I stood still tucked in the man’s glittering embrace. “We may not have a gift worthy of a king, but I insist we welcome you for a rest and a meal. Come, son – show our new friends the way home.”