“Sarah! Sarah!” A rough demanding voice thundered over the sound of complaining camels, braying donkeys, and the babel of a dozen tongues. A short stocky man rushed across the walled yard in front of the inn to where his wife was talking with a servant. "Sarah! Did you or did you, not order grain from Zachariah of Bethany?"
"I did not!" Sarah's dark eyes flashed in anger. "I bought it from Simon the Samaritan. Simon's grain is better quality and it costs less.”
"Woman, I don't deal with Samaritan Dogs," retorted her husband.
“I refuse to let feelings interfere with business." Sarah answered.
"Huh!" snorted Abner. "I'll remember that the next time you take in strays."
"Strays?" Sarah moved toward the door.
"Strays!" shouted her husband. "Strays like that man and woman whose baby was born in our stable. Strays like every beggar who appears at our gate."
"Innkeeper! Innkeeper! Look to these horses!" An authoritative voice interrupted his tirade.
Abner spat in the dust as he watched a Roman Centurion dismount. "Roman Swine!” he muttered. “They take the best of everything-our money, our food--" As he walked toward the officer, a well-rehearsed smile crossed his face, his voice became oily and smooth. "Yes Sir, we will give your animals the best of care. Jude, take these fine horses to the stable. Come in, Sir, and have some refreshments. Nothing is too good for the Roman Commander."
Sarah sighed and pushed a strand of black hair out of her eyes as she watched her husband disappear into the tavern. She was tired, and the day had hardly begun. There was so much work to do to keep the inn running smoothly. And then there was her little son to care for. She smiled. He was such a beautiful baby.
Suddenly, a thin boy in a ragged cloak dodged under the nose of a camel and slid to a stop in front of her. “Good day to you, mistress,” he said.
“Jacob!” Sarah exclaimed. “How many times have I told you not run in the court yard.” She looked down into a pair of bright brown eyes.
Jacob made an effort to look repentant but a big smile betrayed the effort. “But Mistress, I bring good news. Mother is feeling stronger. She went to the well for water today.”
"That’s wonderful, Jacob,” Sarah said. She glanced toward the oven in the corner of the yard where a servant girl was working. Abner must still be inside with the Roman. That was good. It was always easier to help those in need, if Abner were busy elsewhere. “Do you know what? I baked too much bread today. You must take a loaf to your mother."
"Mistress!" A voice hissed at her from the direction of the stable. The urgency in the voice made Sarah forget about the bread. With Jacob beside her, she stepped into the cave where they stabled the smaller animals. This was the place where the young girl had given birth to her baby a few days before. Now a small bay mare chewed hay from the manger where the baby had slept. Sarah peered into the darkness, then as her eyes adjusted to the dim light she saw its owner.
"Ishmael? Is that you?” she asked as a young Arab stepped out of the shadows. She looked up into his face and was reassured by a long narrow scar on his check. She had cared for that wound when he was a boy. He was taller now and had grown a beard since she had seen him last. The grim look on his face sent a shiver down her back.
"Mistress, you must flee from this place. Herod's soldiers are coming," Ishmael said in low voice.
"Soldiers? Here?" Sarah turned white. Her eyes widened in fear. Out side she could hear the normal everyday sounds of the inn. Inside the cave, her world was falling apart. She was silent a moment collecting her thoughts. She did not notice Jacob slip away..
”Ishmael, wait," Sarah said. “I must get Abner. He must hear this from you." She knew that Abner would never believe her, not until the soldiers marched into the inn.
"Hurry, Mistress. If I am missed at the palace, my life is not worth the stones under my feet." Ishmael backed the little horse away from the manger into the darkness of the cave.
Sarah hurried across the yard. "Abner! Come quickly!"
"Sarah?" He looked at her face. "Sarah, what's wrong?"
"Ishmael, you know, the young Arab who trains Herod's horses? The one we helped when he was hurt? He must speak with you. Please come, Abner.” Sarah wanted to catch his arm and drag him to the cave, but she knew that any such behavior on her part would make him angry.
"Another one of your strays," muttered Abner as he followed Sarah into the cave. He stopped near the entrance and peered into the darkness. “Show your self, boy. What great disaster have you brought to my door?”
Ishmael materialized in front of him. "Herod"s soldiers are marching to Bethlehem," he said "They plan to take you to the palace for questioning,"
"Why?" sputtered Abner. "I pay my taxes. I obey the laws.”
"Did not three strangers come here four or five nights ago?" Ishmael’s voice was one of quiet authority.
"Strangers?' Listen, boy, this place is full of strangers traveling from here to there. Why should I notice any strangers? Why should I believe you, for that matter?” Abner blustered.
"Three kings. Rich men from the land of Persia. "They rode great white camels and were searching for a new born king," Ishmael continued as if Abner had not said a word.
“King? What king?” Abner said. Talk sense, boy. Herod has no infant sons. He paused, his face reflecting the horror Sarah felt. When He spoke again, all bluster was gone from his voice. “Are you saying these rich men went to the palace seeking a new born king? And than came here? To my inn? No, boy. It can’t be.”
"I remember them," Sarah said. “They did come here, Abner. They sought the child that was born in this stable and brought him gifts. I thought it strange at the time. They said they had been following his star. They didn't stay at the inn."
“Now, you are beginning to understand,” Ishmael said. "The Persians were supposed to return to Herod's court when they found the baby. They didn't. The king is furious. He will kill anyone who helps that baby."
"The baby. Is it here?" Abner asked.
"No," Sarah said. "The family left right after the visit of the kings."
Ishmael leaped on his horse. "I must go. Do not wait for Herod."
Abner turned to Sarah. "Women, what have you done to me? Everything I ever worked for is slipping through my fingers. Why? You-- you insisted that those people use my stable that night. You and your strays have ruined me."
"Abner, there is no time. Get what money you can. I will get our son.”
Late that afternoon Abner sank down on a stone, exhausted. Sarah, her arms aching from the weight of the baby, laid the child beside him. They had walked for hours up and down the hills near Bethlehem. They were no longer sure where they were going.
"Abner, what are we going to do? Where shall we go?" Sarah asked.
The innkeeper put his head in his hands. "I don't know, wife." The baby started crying.
A twig snapped. A man stepped out of the bushes. "Do not be afraid," he reassured them. "I have come to help you."
"Help?" Abner looked at the shaggy unkempt face above him. "Why? I have never seen you in my life."
"But I have seen you," answered the man not bothering to hide the contempt in his voice. "Your woman gave me food when I was hungry and had no place to go. I heard you berate her all the way to the city gate for that act of kindness.” His hand stroked the handle of his knife that he carried in his belt. Abner looked at him dully. “But you can rest easy, Innkeeper. I will not harm you. I would not cause pain to the woman who sits beside you. You see, I am Jacob's uncle. Your wife has been good to the boy and his mother. Jacob begged me to help you. I rarely refuse my nephew anything.. Come, I will find you a safe place to stay."
After a short time the weary innkeeper and his family came to a small cave hidden in the hills. While their guide built a small fire and cooked some food; they were joined by another, a dark man with a scar running across his face. He stared at Sarah playing with the child on her lap.
"What is it?" she asked, frightened by his intent gaze.
"You are indeed fortunate,": The man spoke to Abner.
"Fortunate? How can that be? We have nothing left." Abner was bewildered.
"You have not lost everything." said the man grimly, looking at the baby. "I have just come from Bethlehem. Blood is flowing in the streets. Herod's soldiers have orders to kill all the baby boys who were born in the last two years."
Sarah cried out and clasped her son close to her. Abner shook his head slowly trying to clear his thoughts. "Killing all the baby boys?” he repeated in horror He looked at the cooing child.
"But why?" whispered Sarah. "Why was our son spared?"
For a moment there was silence. The fire snapped, the wind whined outside the cave. Then Abner spoke softly, "Because of you, Sarah. You saved our son -- you and your strays."