After a good breakfast and plenty of water, his master loaded Samuel’s back with their travel gear and some fresh supplies. He then helped his lady onto his back once again.
Upon leaving Jerusalem, the road remained rocky and pitted. It was used by many travelers, coming and going from the city, and there were large ruts in the road made by so many feet, hooves, and carts passing over it. The little party made their way over many sloping hills, with the terrain becoming increasingly more rocky. Samuel had never been on this road before. The road cut right into the side of a mountain, so there was a steep ledge on one side which he had to keep clear of. He could feel his lady tightening her grasp on his bridle as they made their way around every bend. The drop off was steep and intimidating. Samuel could see the city which they had left far below.
After many hours of climbing, one hoof in front of the other, Samuel was relieved to find the road starting to level out. Instead of scrappy brush and rocks, he could now see lush trees and smell the fragrant foliage. The air felt clearer, no longer muddled with dust and noise. Master Joseph led them to a circle of rocks at the side of the road to take a rest. When he reached for his lady to help her down, she cried out in pain.
“Joseph, I do not think that we have much time. It has started already,” his lady said, as he gently eased her down to a low, flat rock. She was gripping her belly, her face pale and shining.
“We have to get to Bethlehem, Mary,” Master Joseph said, crouching down next to her, his hands placed on her own. “We are too far from Jerusalem now, and we need someone to help.”
His lady bowed her head and nodded, still holding her middle.
“Yes, we must get to Bethlehem,” she said softly.
Master Joseph gave his lady some fresh bread and water. She sipped at the water, but was unable to eat. He then helped her onto Samuel’s back again and they continued along their journey.
They stopped several times that afternoon to give his lady a rest. Samuel tried to walk smooth and steady, to ease her discomfort, but she would still periodically grip his bridle and mane and let out a gasp. They trudged on until evening.
It was already dark when they finally reached the city limits. They were just passing by a silvery expanse of pasture land nestled in next to the mountain, when Samuel could see the yellow glow of the city ahead of them.
“Look, Mary! We are nearly there!” Master Joseph called out.
Their relief was short-lived, however, as they found the streets of the city bustling with commotion. There were road-weary travelers with bundles on their backs, street vendors still selling their wares of fresh food and oils, pack animals and goats trailing after their masters, and children chasing chickens across the road. As they passed each building, hoping to find a place to stay for the night, the sounds of people laughing and talking, animals braying, and children crying emanated from the windows and doors. Everything was full.
Where were they to stay?
As Master Joseph approached the last building on the street, with the same noise and busyness flooding from within, Samuel’s heart sank. His master knocked on the door. A harried looking man, with a portly middle and balding head answered at his knock. He immediately started shaking his head when Master Joseph inquired about a place to stay.
“We are already piled to the rafters as it is,” the inn keeper huffed. “I am sorry, but you cannot stay here.”
“But, sir, my wife…” Master Joseph began, and just then his lady let out an involuntary wail, clutching at Samuel’s neck.