The Stable Boy’s Tale
By Stephen B. Bagley
NOW, OF COURSE, after all these years, I’ve heard the tale from other folks. It’s plain there be a few misconceptions about the whole happenin’ that I, Gregor Nikolas, intends to correct hereforth.
Let me start at the beginning with me being born. Perhaps that be too far back, but I won’t bore you with much detail other than to say that I was eighth in my family so it was no surprise when my pater forgot me at Keloe’s Inn when I was seven. Keloe has gotten some bad jawing about him due to the events that I am about to relate, but truthfully he wasn’t a bad or cruel innkeeper. He washed his plates once a week even if they had been wiped clean by travelers, and made us all take baths once a month whether we needed them or not. Still he fed me and his other workers fair enough and let us sleep inside when it rained or snowed, so we could forgive his unnatural obsession with cleanliness.
That particular night we was full up. His mighty hineyness Augustus Caesar had ordered that all folks return to their birthing place so that they could be counted and taxed. Them Romans be generally good at taxing and at building roads and bridges and have the appeal and personality of old dead, rotten fishes – ’specially if those fishes carry swords and spears and be pretty easy about swinging them in the vicinity of other folks’ innocent necks.
Anyways, a lot of folks had returned to Bethlehem. Folks usually left Bethlehem when they was old enough to leave since it was a one-donkey town at that time and didn’t have much to keep someone down on the farm unless they was just partial to drudgery. Galene, my sweetie except when she’s got her temper up and then she don’t belong to the gods or any man, said we were going to leave as soon as we saved enough for passage to Rome. Rome was a big city and sounded exciting except for having all those Romans there.
Since folks left town as soon as able, there wasn’t much need for lots of extra rooms or inns for that matter. In fact, there were just three inns in town, if you counted ours twice and Nero’s Inn of the Seven Seas once. (They served a tasty salad dressing there, I hear told.) So we was jam-packed with folks, so much so that I saw the fleas leaving.
I was out getting more water to water down the wine. The night was cold and clear. Away from the inn, it was as dark as a soldier’s heart. There I got my first suspicion that somethin’ was up. No, really, somethin’ was up. A star as it were, shining pretty bright. In fact, as I stood there, I realized that it was almost bright enough to read by if those folks who claim to be able to, really can and aren’t just foolin’ the rest of us.
I got the water out of the well, nearly freezing my hands off, which would have been fairly inconvenient and I’d have to become one of those beggars at the gates. ‘No Hands Gregor’ they would call me, I’d bet, and then Galene would come and see me and weep at her handsome man and cuddle me and hold me.
The cook yelled at me from the back door so I woke up from my daydreaming and took the water bucket over to him. He half-heartedly cuffed me for taking so long, but I’m quick and young and he be old and slow, so he only hit the side of my head and bruised his hand.
I slipped past him and made my way to the common room, which was filled with smoke and noise. Galene was serving ale to some merchants and easily avoiding their hands. She smiled at me and then frowned. She did that a lot. She’d see me and think that she loved me and then see something on me that she needed to be changing, like me washing my hands or getting the manure off my feet. She also had an obsession about cleanliness. I just hoped it wasn’t catchin’.
Keloe hollered at me. He was standing at the door, letting in the cold or maybe letting it out. Hard to tell. He was mighty stingy with the fire wood.
“Take these people to the stable,” Keloe said smugly. “We have no room in the inn.”
A man stood there. His clothes were simple but clean. Behind him patiently stood a donkey on which was a woman who was, as they say in the market, with child. Of course by that, they meant she was going to have a baby, not that a child was with her holding her hand or nothin’ like that. I frankly don’t understand folks sometimes.
“Follow me,” I told the man. I waited until Keloe had closed the door before I added, “Actually, you’re lucky. The stable is much warmer and has a better class of rats than in the inn.”
The man darted a look at me and then smiled. He looked back at the woman, and he was serious again. She was young and pretty in a quiet sort of way. I led them around back to where Keloe had dug several rooms into the hill to make a place for the animals. We had one empty stall, though.
I grabbed a pole and raked the fresh straw over the area.
The woman gave a little gasp.
“Mary!” the man said.
I realized then and there that she was ‘bout to give birth there and then.
“Help me,” the man said. We both helped his Mary into the stable. I found – no, borrowed clean blankets from some of the packs of the inn’s guests and spread them out.
“We need light,” the man said. “And water.”
I ran to the inn and snatched up an olive oil lamp. The cook tried to stop me, but I ducked under his arm and was outside and back at the stable before he drew enough breath to bellow.
I gave the lamp to the man and then went to get water from the well. I felt a real urgency about this that, looking back, should have surprised me, but it was like the whole night was expectin’ somethin’. I felt my heart leap and move in my chest in a strange new way.
I brought the man the water bucket and then backed away from the stable. Overhead the star poured out light like it was a river of brightness.
“There you are,” Galene said. “What are you up to? You have cook so mad–”
“Shhh,” I said, reaching out and taking her hand.
“Now, I already told you that you won’t be getting no sweetness from me until we’re wed so–”
“Be quiet,” I said. “Listen. Listen.”
She was silent for a few moments and then quietly asked, “What are we listening for?” Her eyes were wide.
The night was still and quiet. The stars whirled above.
“For the world to change,” I said, not really understanding what I was sayin’ but knowin’ somehow it was true.
From inside the stable came a baby’s first cry.
(From Tales From Bethlehem. Copyright 2012 by Stephen B. Bagley. All rights reserved.)