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The Innkeeper's Daughter
It’s a cold winter evening, and I’m walking home from the market. Shivering in my thin tunic, I shift the basket of spices to my other hip. I want so badly to try some on my fingertip, for their smell is tantalizing, but I know Mother needs to have it for the food she is preparing for all the people staying at our inn before dark, and already the sky has begun to paint its dazzling colours across the sky. I walk away from the market stand where I got the spices and walk back down the road towards the inn.
The streets are busy this time of night, even though the coming night brings a chill to the air. Everyone is bustling home for supper, mostly girls like myself, carrying jugs of water, baskets of fruit or bread. They all remind me I must hurry myself.
When I push back the curtain and walk into the house, I see that Father is talking to a man with a shaggy brown beard and a tired-looking woman who looks heavy with child. I don’t think much of it, since we are getting lots of people in our inn around this time. It is nearly time for the census, where everyone in Jerusalem will be counted. I really don’t see the point, but then, the king has many strange ideas.
I walk past the woman and man on my way to the kitchen, where I knew Mother would be. Now that I study her closely, the woman is very beautiful. She has long, flowing dark hair under her scarf and a pale face, sort of like an angel, but her eyes have bags under. Perhaps she and this man have journeyed far.
I walk into the kitchen and find Mother and Danna pounding wheat for bread. “I brought the spices,” I say, setting the basket down on the wooden table.
“Thank you, Chava dear,” Mother says, crushing the last bit of wheat, scooping it up in her hands, and pouring it into the big wooden bowl. “I was wondering if you’d like to help me, too. We’re nearly done, and I need this bread for tomorrow. Danna here has been such a big help.”
Danna gives me her smug smile and tosses her long hair over her shoulder. Even though she’s only twelve -- two years younger than me -- she acts like she’s two years older. She is much prettier than me. Her long, thick brown hair is always so neatly combed, while mine is untamable, and her brown eyes are not dull, but sparkling and bright. Everyone always thinks she is perfect, and they rarely notice me.
Just then, I hear the travelers’ voices from outside the kitchen, and they interrupt my thoughts. It sounds like that the women is pleading, and Father is protesting. I run out of the kitchen and see the woman is almost in tears, and her husband is trying to reason with Father.
“Please, sir,” the woman begs. “My baby is about to be born; we need a place to stay.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, but all the rooms are filled up,” Father says. His voice clearly says there will be no reasoning with him, but I know better. His eyes say that he is very sorry for this inconvenience.
“Enos, please, we beg you.” The man says. His voice is low and clear, and he sounds like he is hanging on every word he says as if it is his last hope. “Mary is very weak and tired, and we have traveled far. Surely you have but a cellar or something like to spare.”
Father shakes his head. “I am very sorry, Joseph, son. You must find another inn.”
“All the other inns are filled, for the census is quickly approaching.” Joseph says, a hint of terror in his deep voice.
“Please!” The woman is crying now, tears streaming down her pallid face. I cannot help feeling sorry for her.
“They can stay in the barn!” The words come out of my mouth before I can stop them.
All three people turn to me. “Excuse me, Chava?” Father seems not to have heard me properly.
“They can stay in the barn!” I repeat. “Sure, there are animals in there, but it’s warm and dry!”
There is restored hope in Mary’s eyes. “Oh, dear girl. You have no idea what you have done for us.”
“Would you like to show these two weary travelers to the barn?” Father says. He looks relieved that he is no longer responsible for this misfortune.
I nod, and turn towards the door. Mary and her husband follow me out the door into the darkening night. I walk around to the side of the house, where the barn is. As I walk, I realize what a strange impulse I’d had. Why had I said that? I’ve always done things like that. I’m strange that way, but Mother says that I have the gift of making quick decisions under pressure. I think this is another way of saying I’m impulsive.
When we get to the barn, I’m kind of embarrassed. I mean, Mary and Joseph have traveled a long way, and at the end of their journey, this is what they get? It contains nothing more than five cows, three mules, two oxen, and a few chickens, plus a whole lot of hay and a manger full of it. “It’s not much, but it’s shelter.” I say as Mary and Joseph walk into the stable.
“It’s perfect,” Mary declares. She sits herself down on a haystack and sighs in contentment, rubbing her stomach.
“Yes, thank you, dear child. You have no idea how much this means to us. How can we ever repay you?” Joseph smiles at me.
“Oh, it’s nothing.” I reply, shrugging. “Just call if you need any food or anything. I’ll be able to hear you through the window.”
“Thank you again, child.” Mary says. There was something about her -- even though she looked so exhausted, she looked so...so holy. “What is your name?”
“My name is Chava!” I shout over my shoulder.
Though I am already far away from the stable, I am sure I hear Mary murmur, “Chava. It means "life" in Hebrew. How perfect, Joseph. It must be a sign.”
Tal woke with a jolt. Something was wrong. He knew when something was wrong; it was just instinct. He looked over to the sheep, and they were all bleating piteously, looking up at the sky. Tal looked, too, and gasped at what he saw.
The starry night sky was ablaze with colours, vivid, brilliant shades of azure, turquoise, indigo. Even the clouds were dyed the beautiful colours. But even more beautiful were the beings that soared through the heavens. They were so beautiful that Tal knew at once they were angels. They were exquisite people in long, flowing white gowns, soaring through the sky on huge white wings. Their heads were surrounded by a blinding glow so bright it hurt Tal’s eyes.
And they were singing.
The angels’ voices were even more stunning than their appearances. They sang of things that Tal didn’t understand, of a prophet and the king of all people. “He is born, O He is born, rejoice all earth, for Christ is born! Hosanna, hosanna, praise to the Lord for Christ is born!” Tal didn’t know what they were singing about, but he really didn’t care. He stood there, entranced, underneath the rejoicing heavens, paying no mind to the biting wind or his bare feet going numb through his sandals.
And there was a star. A beautiful, radiant, glorious star shining down, lighting up Tal’s enraptured face. He was astounded at the beauty of the star, but a little frightened of its power, for he knew it had to be powerful.
Then another shepherd who Tal knew as Omer cried, “Let us go see Christ the Lord!” Omer broke into a run, forgetting all about his sheep, who, unbeknownst to him, followed, bleating still further. The other shepherds followed Omer as well.
Tal didn’t know who they were talking about, but he cried, “Wait for me!” and ran after them.
I yawn and close my eyes, resting my head on my straw pallet. But before I can go to sleep, I am awakened by a strange sound coming from outside.
“What is that?” Danna asks, sitting up and rubbing her eyes. Mother and Father are still asleep.
I shrug. “I don’t know. Let’s go see!”
I run outside, the cold sand stinging my bare feet. I can hear Danna follow me, trying to keep up. I stop, waiting for her, and look up. There is a huge star shining in the sky, glowing so brightly that I have to look away after a few moments. And there are angels swooping around the star, singing in voices so beautiful they take my breath away.
Danna has a strange look on her face, as if she is hypnotized by the angels and the star. Then she shakes her head and whispers, “We’ve got to follow the star.”
“What?” I swivel around to look at her, puzzled.
“We’ve got to follow the star!” Danna repeats stubbornly, as if it is the only thing she can say. She breaks into a run, heading toward our stable. I realize suddenly that the luminescent star was right over the stable. I didn’t know why, but I suddenly felt compelled to follow Danna. My feet and legs start running as if they are not connected to my body, and soon I reach the stable. Danna is waiting for me, and when I approach, she pulls open the stable door and motions for me to come inside.
Somewhere in the stable a lantern is lit, casting its flickering light on the hay and the rafters. I see at least ten shepherds and a few townsfolk all bunched up around something at the back of the stable. I’m curious as to what it is, so I push through the crowd. When I see what they’re all looking at I am speechless.
It’s a little baby boy, a beautiful baby boy. He is wrapped in swaddling cloth, and is lying in the manger, hay all around him like a pillow. Mary is crouched down near the stable, looking down at him endearingly, and when she tickles his chin, he grabs onto her hand with his tiny fingers. I figure he must be her son. But how can he be? Mary is pretty, but this baby is...he is glorious. His skin is creamy and smooth, and he has pretty little rosy cheeks. He has a little fuzzy tuft of brown hair on his head, and bright, glittering dark eyes. He shines with a certain radiance that I cannot quite place.
Something stirs inside me, a wanting, a longing. I am drawn to my knees, gazing adoringly at this glorious baby boy. “He’s -- he’s beautiful,” I whisper.
“Yes,” Mary smiles at me, a smile that seems to illuminate her entire face. “He is.”
“What is his name?” I ask.
“Jesus,” Mary said, almost reverently, stroking Jesus’ downy head. “Isn’t it a splendid name?”
“Yes,” I had to agree. “It’s a perfect name.”
I heard Danna approach me from behind, but I did not turn. “He’s...kinglike,” she murmured. When she said it, I knew it must be true. This baby, baby Jesus, was our King. The king of all people. I don’t know how I knew, but I did.
“Look outside!” A little girl I knew to be Kesandra cried, wrenching open the stable door. I ran outside, shivering as I did so, and looked up. There, the angels were singing still, their hauntingly beautiful voices wafting into the heavens. My heart felt like it was about to burst with happiness. I knew that the Lord had come to save us. He had sent Jesus. And I had seen him. I felt like I could sing with the angels.