The Innkeeper’s Story, Chapter Four

The morning sun warmed the tiny courtyard behind the kitchen. There were no guests; even the ruffians had finally left. Jemima, Joanna, and Rachel had laid out a newly shorn fleece and were beginning to sort and pick it. They added handfuls of fluff to Judith’s basket, and she spun it into fine wool thread on her spindle.

On her knees near the arched gate, Shoshana turned the grinding stone around and around in circles that were not as rhythmic as usual. She was trying hard to pay no attention to the young man sitting cross-legged nearby, leaning against the warm stone wall. It was the first time Jonathan had been up from his pallet in the kitchen for more than a few minutes. Shoshana’s heart was beating uncomfortably, and it wasn’t because of the effort of grinding.

“The birds neither toil nor spin, yet your heavenly Father provides for them.” It was Jonathan, speaking in a slow, dreamy, voice. Everyone stopped and stared. Jonathan, who had been gazing at the wool, looked up, flushed, and laughed. “Sorry. I was just thinking about that Teacher. That’s one of the things I heard Him say.”

“So it was Him you were talking about!” Shoshana blurted. “You’ve met Him yourself? Please tell us about Him!”

“He’s so—He smiles all the time. He talks about such ordinary, everyday things. Spinning, and sowing seed, being kind to each other.”

“I hope He didn’t say we shouldn’t spin or work!” put in Jemima.

“Oh, no! He says to do your best in all you do, as if you were doing it for—for the Holy One. Our Father, He calls Him! ‘Your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.’ I guess He meant that it’s God—our Father—providing for us, not just our own work. And we should be thankful.”

A scornful laugh came from the doorway. Shem had joined them. “God provided for you, all right! Where was He when you were stripped and beaten? It wasn’t any heavenly Father who saved your life, it was my father!”

“It was all of you,” said Jonathan. “And before that, it was a Samaritan. Yeshua says we should all love and care for each other. Maybe that’s one of the ways God cares for us. ‘Love even your enemies!’ That’s what He said.”

Shem snorted. “Well, I came to tell you, being the loving guy I am, that you’d better get inside because those thieves didn’t go very—!”

There was a sudden movement by the gate, a short, strangled shriek, and a man had Shoshana in a cruel grip, a long knife against her throat. He laughed. “Love your enemies? Sounds great! How much do you love me, sweetheart?”

The courtyard erupted in screams as several more men, knives flashing, leaped through the arched gate. Shem whirled around into the kitchen behind him, nearly running into his brother. “Hiram!” he gasped. “Knives! Grab knives!”

In seconds, he and Hiram, armed with kitchen knives, burst back out into the courtyard—and stopped dead. Every woman and child hung frozen in the grip of one of the thieves. Jonathan had struggled to his feet, but was contemptuously ignored. The leader stood in the center of the courtyard, grinning. “Oh, I wouldn’t,” he said politely. “And don’t expect your servants to join you any time soon, either.”

“What do you want?” demanded Hiram hoarsely. Different words screamed inside him. Judith! Mother! My girls! And where is Micah?

The leader’s smile broadened. He gestured expansively. “Why, anything I happen to feel like taking! This little beauty, for instance.” He touched a tear on Shoshana’s face. “Now why, I wonder, didn’t you have her serving us? Don’t you want your guests to have the best of everything?”

Jonathan stepped forward. “It’s me you want! Take me and let them go!”

Shoshana cried out, and the men all laughed. “You? Why would we want you?” asked the leader. “We killed you once. Not very thoroughly, I’m afraid.” He pursed his lips and pretended to look sorrowful. “We must be growing careless!”

“Please!” said Jonathan. “I have much more than what you took! Take me, and I’ll show you. I’ll give you everything! Let her—let them go!”

Hiram saw his mother’s lips moving and knew that she was praying. He dropped his knife and stepped forward. “This man is a guest in my house. Take anything you want, but leave my family and my guests alone.”

“But I don’t think you understand, my good man. We have every intention of taking everything. You need not offer what you cannot keep anyway. I have a hankering to own an inn. And just think—this one comes with servants, ready-made!” He smiled at Shoshana and pinched Rachel’s cheek. She tried to bite him, and he laughed again.

“On the other hand, training would be such a burden! Maybe we’ll just kill you all.”

Shem laughed harshly. “Well, there you go, Jonathan! This is your chance! Let’s see you love them!”

 

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