“House! House!” The impatient shout from outside the courtyard was accompanied by the telltale creaking, jingling, and stamping of a long pack string.
Hiram, the innkeeper, was busy counting stacks of coins. “Shem!” he shouted. “Shem!” The inn would be full tonight. The best private chamber had just been taken by a priest and a Levite, on their way to Jerusalem and wanting to be sure they would not come into contact with anything or anyone that would make them unclean and therefore unfit to visit the Temple. The courtyard was full of loud, dirty men that looked to Hiram’s experienced eye like thieves and cutthroats. Luckily, there was still plenty of stable room and one reasonably good chamber.
The shouts from outside were growing more exasperated, and Hiram swept the coins back into his leather purse and shoved them in an empty water pot. Muttering dire curses on feckless brothers, he hurried as fast as his rotund form could roll to open the gate himself.
“Come in, come in, good sirs!” Hiram bowed low before the dark, imperious face of an obviously prosperous Syrian trader. He pointed out the archway that led to the stable caves for the donkeys and the guards. “Behind the inn, away from the dangers of the road!” he boasted. Then he bowed the leader and his servants through a low door. “Right this way! My best private chamber!” Instead of straw, the room had a real stone sleeping shelf, and even a low table. “I trust you will be comfortable here, and if you need anything…”
The trader grunted. “Food and wine. Now!”
“At once, sir!” Hastily bowing himself out, Hiram ran back the way he had come. “Judith! Judith!” He burst into the kitchen area, a scene of frantic bustle and activity, where his flushed and harried wife and three daughters rushed to prepare food. In the corner nearest the fire, Hiram’s old mother huddled on a stool, cutting vegetables into a bowl on her lap. “More food and wine, at once!” Hiram wheezed. “We have rich guests, and not disposed to be patient. And have any of you seen Shem?”
Shoshana, the eldest girl, turned. “He was in the courtyard a while ago.”
“Well, he isn’t there now,” said Hiram. “And don’t you go out there, either, any of you. Your mother and I will deliver food. You stay out of sight!”
Hiram’s frown disappeared abruptly as he caught the breathless child that catapulted into the room. “Micah, my boy!” He ruffled the black curls of his only son, the hope of his house.
But Micah wriggled free. “There’s a man with a body on his donkey, Papa!”
“And he’s bleeding all over the place! Come see, Papa!”
To be continued…