They spent one more night in the valley close to the river. Samuel tried to stay on guard again, but he was so tired that soon he drifted into sleep.
This time Samuel was awoken by men’s voices approaching on the road. The moon light was bright, making the dirt on the road shine white. All he could see of the men was dark shadows moving along the glowing path. There was a subtle stirring close by, and Samuel noticed his master rising from the ground next to his tent, where he had evidently been sitting, keeping watch. Master Joseph leaned heavily on his walking stick, a beautifully carved piece of wood which he had crafted with his own hands.
As the men approached, they saw Master Joseph standing there, armed with his heavy stick, watching as they passed. They were heavily cloaked, revealing only a small portion of their faces. One of the men raised his hand in greeting. “Good evening, brother,” he said.
“Good evening,” was Master Joseph’s response. His voice did not have the same gentle tone which Samuel was accustomed to. It was more of a voice of warning. Samuel shifted his weight, and the men looked in his direction and at the dark tent.
The three men looked at each other, evidently weighing their options. Finally the same man spoke again. “Might you have a bit of bread to share this evening with three of your brethren?”
Master Joseph stood for another few moments before nodding his head. He took a small satchel from the ground and threw it in a slow arch to the man on the road, who caught it with a smirk.
“Thank you, brother,” the man sneered, after peering inside the satchel at its contents, and the three of them proceeded on down the road.
Samuel watched their dark shadows become smaller and smaller on the glowing white road.
A soft voice came from inside the tent. “Is everything alright, Joseph?” his lady asked. “I thought I heard voices.”
“It was just some travelers, like ourselves, Mary,” Joseph said gently. “Try to get some rest. We will be leaving the river tomorrow, and there will be many hills.”
Samuel groaned within himself. Although he was happy to leave this flat valley, with its dust and heat, he was not looking forward to reaching the hills again.
Samuel was right to dread the coming day. The road became rough and rocky, with switch backs to the right and left, as they tried to climb a steep incline. Luckily he was very agile and, even with his lady on his back, was able to keep his footing stable. His master strapped several of the bundles onto his own back, easing Samuel’s burden as he tried to get to the top of the hill. Of course, once he was to the top of one hill, there was another standing even taller in front of him.
The road became more congested with travelers as the day wore on. They were approaching Jerusalem, a large city where his master had taken him many times before. By that evening they had reached the city gates, entering into the city as the sun began to set below the horizon.
That night Samuel slept in a warm stable close to an inn that his master and lady stopped at near the edge of town. Even though it was very busy, with people and animals walking every which way, it was the first time that he was able to relax a bit since leaving his own stable. For one evening, at least, he could eat fresh oats, drink clean water from a barrel that the inn keeper’s son filled for him, and lay in some warm straw.
He worried about his lady, though. As the innkeeper’s son had taken him away, he had looked over his shoulder to see Master Joseph with his arm around his lady. She was leaning heavily on him and her face looked pale. Some fresh food and a bed would do her good as well.