He shivered; the darkness was so black. Would he arrive in time? Had he missed everything? Was there only cold and darkness ahead?
Overcome with loneliness, he called out, "Is there anyone out there? I'm cold and all alone, and... I'm afraid".
For a heart-stopping moment, the night was silent. But then, a voice answered. Ahead of him, the darkness parted, and the light of a low fire illuminated the path. He stumbled towards it, his stiff cold limbs moving as fast as they could towards the indistinct shapes ahead. As he got closer, he saw that the dark shapes were cows.
"Welcome, little one", a cow said, "make yourself warm by me. The night is cold, and there is plenty of room for you".
The turtle snuggled in close to the cow's front legs and felt the warmth of the fire soothe his frozen toes. He smiled around at the circle of cows, and they smiled back at him. "Are you all here for the same reason as me?" he asked excitedly. "Is something wonderful going to happen? Do you know what it is?"
The cow by him nodded. "Yes, little one, we are here, like you. The wind speaks of great happenings, and the earth trembles in anticipation. We have been told of the birth of a King among men, but not one like you or the world has ever known. He will not be born on a bed of silk and linen, but on a bed of straw. His mother and father will be all alone on that cold night, and we have come to give them warmth".
The turtle looked at her in wonder. "You are travelling all this way just to take care of a stranger? I know you said he would be a king, but he will be a man, and men have never been kind to you cows. They take your milk and worse, they take your calves from you. Why would you care about the birth of yet another man?"
The cow drew the turtle closer to her. "It is exactly because of this that we must be there.Like us, the mother of this child will have her son taken from her long before she is ready, and like us, she will know the greatest loss a mother can ever know. We, who know the sorrow she will feel, but cannot prevent it, will be there at his birth to give her our love".
"But why is this child-king so very special", asked the turtle, "Aren't there thousands of kings?"
"This child will become a man who will tell people about a message from the Creator, and he will spread this message as far as he can before the fear and anger of men stops him. This message, however, will be so powerful that his death will not stop it, and it will go down through the years, never losing its strength. Its influence will be felt almost two thousand years from now, when it will cause men to pause in a bloody and pointless battle and celebrate the birth of the man that gave them that message".
"What is the message?" whispered the turtle, wide-eyed.
"Love", said the cow. All the other cows nodded.
"Love is the greatest force this world has ever known. All the parts of this incredible force that comes from the Creator - compassion, empathy, caring, concern, and tenderness - these parts connect us all, and show us that there are no differences that cannot be overcome. It may seem obvious to you and me, turtle," -she nuzzled his head - "but humans now and in the future will need this message to remind them that their very survival depends on this love, and that nothing - nothing - in the world is more important".
She sighed. "Little turtle, you will live a long time, and you will see men do terrible things in the name of this child. You will question the worth of his message, and the power of the Creator, when you see the twisted ways in which men will interpret his words. You must always remember that a name means nothing; deeds are all that matters. Do not be tempted into despair at their behaviour; keep the message in your heart and remember love".
"How can you be so calm, knowing all this?", the turtle cried. "A mother and father lose their son? A young man, killed for telling people to love? Evil done in his name? How can you bear it?"
The cow hugged him comfortingly. "Because we have been called to do so. The Creator's love is so strong, it warms the whole world. We have been asked to bear a little of that burden for a family far from home.
"We know that some men do great evil, and we will all feel deep grief in the face of it, but others will do such great good in the name of love. Many will hear the message, and they will feel that love, whatever god they believe in, for love is the strength of the universe, and belongs to no man, nor any single sect. The people that hear this message will change the face of history.
"We cannot despair, knowing such love is in the world. On a night very soon, we will be there to cherish a family that will know agonizing heartbreak, and we will feel it with them. "But you - " the cow smiled and kissed him. "You will carry this magical night with you as long as you live. Keep love in your heart, and you will have the Creator with you always".
Happiness filled the turtle. He knew then that he would be there, and would witness the events of the coming night. Warm and safe, he tucked his head into his shell and slept.
Throughout the night, the cow kept watch; she observed the stars dancing in the night sky, and how they paid homage to one star in the east that glowed brighter than all the rest.
In her eyes, the tears shone.
"2,000 years ago one man got nailed to a tree for saying how great it would be if everyone was nice to each other for a change."