It’s late September 1861, summer’s in its final throes and autumn is ready to come.
School’s out and all children are supposed to return home and fulfill their daily chores and homework...all children? In fact, there are two boys dawdling along the way carrying their strapped books. The dark-haired boy is agitatedly talking to a younger boy with blond curls while emphasizing his words and making full use of his arms as well. The smaller boy listens intently, now and then nodding in silent agreement.
Deep in conversation, they suddenly hear loud howls of protest beyond a rise. Carefully they climb to the highest point and warily peek at the scene below them.
Down by the creek there are two odd-looking older men, in long, foreign clothes arguing in a strange accent with a group of four boys whose faces are well familiar to them.
“Drake and his gang!” whispers the dark-haired boy. “They are actually having fun down there." Obviously the boys intend to beat the heat with a swim since they only wore their underclothes, instead they encircle the two grown men. A mule and an old emaciated horse are standing a few feet apart, both loaded with bags. One of the bags is ripped open and one of the boys is holding a bag upside down, its contents lying on the parched ground, scattered.
“Jed, turn ‘round and hide yourself in this grove, will ya?”
"What`re you up to? There are too many of them!” hisses the younger one. A stubborn expression looms up on his face.
“I can only deal with them if I know you’re safe behind the trees. Have a little faith!” Han asserts forcefully. Jed complies reluctantly.
Waiting a short time, the dark-haired boy casually ambles towards the group.
“Well, what do we have here?” snarls Drake seeing the boy approach. "The Heyes’ laddie! Where’s your thumb sucking friend?"
Han keeps his face blank and answers nonchalantly, “Oh, he’s kept in after school.”
Jed, crouching behind a tree, overhears every word and grinds his teeth. “What is it this time? Is he liable not to have studied his timetables? Or can’t he recall irregular verbs? Well, what can you expect a feeble mind to do?" His friends join in his derisive laughter.
“He’s got more good sense than all of you together. Anyways, what are you doing here?”
Back in the trees Jed flinches and utters under his breath, “Don’t push it too far, you can’t back it up!" He pulls a small pouch out of his front pocket. Then he reaches into his back right pocket and fetches the item within it.
“These strangers are telling lies and trying to snoop on us. My Pa’s always saying not to trust transients or they will cut your throat when you`re not looking. We’re helping our town to get rid of these low-lifes!”
“Maybe you should start at your own house?” retorts Han sneeringly, “Let them be.”
Drake’s face darkens and he moves a step forward. “And why should I do that, you smartass?”
“Oh, maybe one reason could be that the owner of the General Store might be interested to get to know about where his expensive, blue shining hairband could have disappeared to last week? What a coincidence I was there at the same time and one of my best virtues is that I’m such an accurate observer, watching you hide the headband under your shirt. You know, the one Lucy Granger admired a lot the last time she saw it? And if I ain’t mistaken the same Lucy Granger you`ve been making eyes at for quite a while?” A smug grin spreads over his face.
Drake suddenly feels four pairs of eyes staring at him and the blush on his face growing stronger until even his ears seem to shine...He takes a deep breath, getting ready to make his move....when all of a sudden there comes a furious cry out of the grove: “Leave him be!”
Startled, the four boys look towards the trees just as the first of several missiles hits Drake right on the bare skin of his neck, something slimy sliding down underneath his undershirt, something smelly...the other boys are hit as well on different parts of their bodies, making them wriggle in disgust. Drake starts jumping around, scratching himself wildly. “Let’s get outta here!” And swiftly they were gone.
“We’re deeply indebted to you,” says the man with the longer white hair. He has a velvety-soft, deep voice though the way he scrutinizes Han makes him feel uneasy.
“Thanks for your unerring assistance, young man,” responds the other old man wearing a black beard. He holds out his hand but Jed ignores it, puts his own hands behind his back and averts his gaze.
“He’s not a talkative one,” Han excuses his friend. Knowing the advantage of politeness he offers, “Can we invite you to his home? His farm is closest from here. You and your animals could rest up a bit. And Jed, go wash your hands...!”
They help the strangers to gather their belongings and lead them to Jed`s farm. “They are scary, Han,” whispers Jed. “And besides, what’s an unairin`...?" Jed’s mother welcomes the strangers with a crying baby in her arms and asks them to come in.
“We don’t want to bother you. It would be kind if you would allow us to stay behind the barn tonight. We like to sleep in the open watching the sky.”
If possible, the baby’s crying increases another pitch. “She`s getting her first teeth,” Jed’s mother apologizes with a shrug.
Both men look at each other.
As Han watches intently, one of them goes to the mule and fetches a little box. He removes a tin can. “Take this medicine as a present for your hospitality. It’s a myrrh tincture. Massage a little bit on the inflamed gums and the pain subsides.”
Something about the two old men hushes the fears of Jed’s mother, who usually is suspicious of strangers.
Later on, she sends both boys with supper to the two wise men, as she named them to the boys. It`s still early in the evening so the boys join them at the fire. “We haven`t been introduced properly. I’m Han and that’s Jed.”
“Our names are difficult to pronounce to you. We’re from a far country and travelling around, learning something about the country, its people and customs.
Han shifts, somehow he has a feeling that both men are surrounded by an aura of mystery.
“How old are you two?” the man with the black beard asks.
“I´m eleven, he’s nine.”
“The way you helped us was great, Jed,” the white-haired man says softly. “How did you do it?”
Jed remains silent.
“He used his slingshot,” interjects Han.
“So young and already such a good shot? With what did you shoot?”
Without meeting the man’s gaze Jed answers, “Horse manure. There was a heap of horse manure lying behind me. And I made small balls.”
The man waits a moment before he asks indulgently, “Nothing else?”
Jed hesitates. He locks his eyes with Han`s. A silent communication takes place. After a reassuring nod Jed confirms, “No, I mixed it with a hand full of rose hip seeds. Han read it out loud to me out of a book."
“Itching powder!” Both men laugh. “It seems to me you, Han, are a clever and smart boy and you, Jed, are a receptive student. And both of you are real cunning and mischievous. You will go far.”
Han, always curious, finally asks what kind of thing is securing the little box." It`s a new invention called padlock. We travel a lot, and when we reached the New World in Massachusetts, we got to know a very friendly young man by the name of Linus Yale, whose father has a locksmith’s shop in Franklin County. This is a lock with a special locking mechanism, extremely secure.”
Eagerly and with shining eyes Han hastens to ask, “How does it work?”
“The common lock is comprised by a cylinder lock. You need a matching jagged key to open it. Every thief will end up in despair without the key.” Putting the box back again, Han discovers another interesting item: lumps of a translucent, brown-yellowish material.
“Frankincense resin. Very valuable in some countries.”
Meanwhile, light’s fading and Han can’t restrain himself from bringing up the question of what they do to make a living.
The old man with the black beard responds that they are going to meet a friend in a nearby town but obviously missed a junction. Together they will go panning for gold. ... “People who don’t know us give us several names. Healers, magicians or even stargazers.We do many things.”
Jed, always suspicious lets out a doubting snort.
“You don’t believe me?” He reaches forward and grabs behind Jed’s right ear. Opening his hand, he reveals a marvelous marble, which mirrors the light of the crackling campfire, blue and silver sparkles seem to dance on his palm. “Resembles the color of your eyes, it’s yours!”
With an admiring glance and a thankful shy smile Jed pockets it deep into his pants. Actually, the wise man with the white hair tells them, they are a kind of missionaries. Travelling around the world until they attain the end they have in view. Each year, on January, 6th, they celebrate the end of their journey in a small town in a country far East.
By this time it’s getting dark.
“We’ll never see all these interesting countries, we’re just allowed to read something out of books,” muses gloomily a disappointed Han.
“Don’t be sad. Look up at the stars. Can you see the really bright one over there? It’s the evening star. No matter where you are, every human being, irrelevant to where you live or which language you speak, can see this special star. It stirs up hope for every man to try to shoot and aim for and to build a plan what you’re going to do with your life.”
“Can you read the stars?” asks Jed with childlike curiosity.
Both men exchange a glance, each of them look squarely into the eyes of the boys.
“No,” says the old man with the white hair, “but we can repay our debt. You see, my part is to collect as much gold dust as possible. And I can see in your soul that you’re smart and that you can keep your emotions in check. You’re facing difficult times and I’d be glad to give you the skill to become one of the best poker players in the Wild West, so you’re always able to earn enough money to survive. But be careful, winning money doesn`t inevitably mean you`ll be able to keep money." The wise man with the black beard turns to face Jed. “My part is to have faith in humanity and to heal human beings. I’ll promise you endurance to practice your shooting. Your accuracy and swiftness will grow, and maybe you’ll become the most famous shootist of the West. This includes you getting hurt more often than common men but you’ll be able to recover quickly. Your heart is in the right place and you can help others to stay on the right track.” He continues, “So, every time this star appears in the sky, you’re not alone. This is your star - the Star of Kansas. It will always stand for your past and your future. Never forget where you are from and how you’ve been raised and grown up. This is where your flow of life started. It stands for the seed which is planted and blossoms. You know for us, the star bears the name of another town and stands for its own reason...”
Two open-mouthed boys were listening spellbound when Jed’s mother begs them to call it a night... Confused and somewhat shaken by the words, Han nudges Jed. “C’mon. Good night.”
The next morning, they arrive at the camp with breakfast only to find it deserted. The men are gone without a trace. The only thing left is a pile of ember, smoldering in the crisp morning air.