You had been born to be king. You were the heir-apparent, well-beloved of your father, as well as the people. You had been trained in the ways of a wise ruler by your father and his counselors. All was prepared for you to assume the throne when you came of age.
One summer, your father sent you to tour the north countries. While you were gone, your younger brother, Li Ching, spread rumors against you among the court and people. “Your son thinks you a doddering old fool,” he told your father. “When my brother becomes king,” he'd said to the people, “he will seize your inheritance and send your young men to die in the southern mines.” And he said to the counselors: “My brother will have no use for you. He plans to rule by the stars!”
You had been born to be king. But now the counselors would no longer speak to you. The people were plotting to kill you before you ascended to the throne. And your father accused you of many things, full of fury, and sent you from his court in disgrace. You supposed you would die in the western wilderness.
For three months, you wandered with no direction. You ate roots, fruits, and berries, as the court horticulturist had taught you. You had several meals with strangers who found your face friendly. On the fifteenth day of the fourth month, you gained a traveling companion with a sun-darkened face and curly hair. He told you of a king who was coming to his native land, one who would be king over all other kingdoms. This was indeed good news; perhaps you could persuade him to speak to your father and restore your good name.- Perhaps you could once again come into your own.
You walked together for several months, speaking of many things. You walked with him to his destination, where he drew a map ,which would guide you the rest- of the way to his native land. Now your main concern was what sort of honor gift you could offer to this great king.
Fourteen moons had glided through the nights. The fourth night of the fourteenth moon, you had a curious dream: A woman as large as the sky appeared before you; in her right hand she held a brilliant star, in her left she held a bitter herb. “What would you have of me?” you asked. She handed you the herb and said, “This is your gift. Then: “Follow. Follow the star.”
When you awoke, you found the herb growing nearby. You gathered it into your satchel bag. You trusted the dream. Somehow, it seemed such a gift would. persuade the great King of Kings to help you come into your own once again.
A new year had begun. You had come to a great sea, and saw the star shining in the south. It seemed to hover over a small, town. It certainly did not seem like a regal town.
The-star now shown like a hundred stars over a cave. Within you found some unwashed shepherds and-common cattle. Beyond them knelt, an impoverished and frightened couple. She was about seventeen; her hair was long and stringy, her garment was tattered, and yet she seemed the most beautiful woman you had ever seen. He was twenty-one; behind his scraggly beard, his eyes were filled with a sad wisdom.
Between them is the child, wrapped in torn pieces of cloth and lain in a manger filled with hay.
You had been born to be-king. What do you do? You kneel before the child. You hand the gift of the bitter herb to the mother. You have come into your own at last.
Originally published January 1986