As nenothtu led the donkey along, the entire unlikely crew in tow, he pondered the situation. Sure, he was aware of the legends, but never had much
thought about a basis in reality.
If this WAS, in fact, a reality.
These little magic trinkets had dropped him into some unusual situations of late. On top of being some sort of cross-dimensional, or cross-time, or
geegaws, they seemed as well to somehow translate languages with a certain flair. Not wanting to get too deeply into an
over-analysis of things (Margo always said he had a tendency to over-analyze) nenothtu decided it was sufficient to agree with whichever 20th century
writer had said that any technology sufficiently advanced would be indistinguishable from magic. That settled it - it was all magic, and magic was
real. No need for further explanations in neno's mind. He could move on to other things.
This Joseph fellow had insinuated that there might be trouble brewing with some petty tyrant's military muscle. Nenothtu strained, but couldn't quite
recall the specifics of the legends. Something about a whole lot of kids being killed, and here he was in party with a woman about to give birth. To a
kid. Eyeing the raging snowstorm, he figured that an imminent attack was the least of their worries. Soldiers were soldiers, and they'd be loathe to
get out into a mess like this when they could just as easily slay young-'uns when the storm slacked up. That left shelter to be found.
Nenothtu had noticed, from the top of a hillock as they had trekked through the snow to meet this couple, a farmstead in the distance, a bit further
along the road. It was towards that goal that he led the tiny one-assed caravan. Most primitive societies had pretty stringent rules as to
hospitality, and he was hoping this one was no different. Nearing the farmstead, he was surprised to note that the looks of it up close suggested that
it was probably more of a way station, which brought him a bit of relief. No need to worry about hospitality when it could be had for a price.
Upon arrival, neno found a place in the lee of a building that would keep the worst of the wind and snow off of the travelers while accommodations
were being negotiated. "Come on, Joe, let's go get some rooms. Once we get everyone settled, we can come back and look after your donkey".
The bearded man wearing a dishtowel on his head just blinked and said "Who?" evidently unaccustomed to being referred to as "Joe".
"Whaddaya think you are, an owl? YOU! Come on, let's get it done. Yer missus has been out in the cold long enough." With that he set off for the
hostelry, not even looking back to see if Joseph was following. Joseph scrambled to catch up, and the two hit the door simultaneously.
Inside it was a seething mass of humanity, packed wall to wall with travelers. Forcing a way through the crowd, neno found the proprietor, with Joseph
right on his heels to take advantage of the holes in the crowd neno made. "Sir! Sir! We need a couple of rooms. Got two separate parties traveling
together, but two rooms ought to do it - one apiece". He hefted the coin bag that he had "liberated" from the bounty hunter for emphasis.
The Inn Keeper eyed the bag. He was loathe to turn away hard coin, but he just didn't have any rooms left. This tall lunatic ought to have been able
to figure that out just by looking around. "I'm sorry, sir, but I've got nothing left. As you can see by looking around, I'm packed full. It this
damnable census. Every man and his brother - and wife, and kids, and stock - well, everyone - is converging on Jerusalem. I've been slammed by it."
The man looked haggard, and sincerely apologetic, but it appeared there was nothing he could do.
"Well, I might not have made myself clear. There's a pregnant woman in the party, and she's nigh on to bustin'. Looks like she's about to deliver at
any moment. We really NEED at least one room."
The Inn Keeper looked even more morose, but simply shifted from foot to foot, and shrugged. "Sorry, sir, but I REALLY have nothing to spare." He gave
his best helpless look along with the shrug.
Nenothtu shifted gears. Maybe if this fellow saw a sale leaving... "Aiight, boss. How far to the next Inn? We might
be able to make it in
this... storm..." he left the thought trailing.
The Inn Keeper looked even more helpless, if that were possible, "You're not likely to find much of anything. The whole area is slammed with
outlanders in for the Census, as I said before. The storm, well, it's got ALL of them looking for lodging. I daresay that everywhere is booked solid.
This is not even Jerusalem - this is Bethlehem, and you've still got a few miles to go to Jerusalem. It'll only get worse closer in." He shrugged,
again. That was getting annoying to neno. He bit down on a response, considering the number of bodies between himself and the exit, and simply turned
toward the door. "Let's go, Joesph. This cat ain't no help at all." and started toward the exit.
"Cat?" Joseph echoed, and started off with nenothtu. He really couldn't see any feline qualities to the Inn Keeper at all. Seeing a sale about to walk
out into the storm, the Inn Keeper had a sudden epiphany. "Wait!" he shouted, gaining the attention of the pair. Nenothtu abruptly turned at the hail,
and Joseph, preoccupied with the imminent birth, nearly ran into him, then turned back to the Inn Keeper himself.
"Speak" neno commanded the innkeep. "I've not got all night to find lodgings."
"Well" stated the innkeep, "that's why I stopped you. Now, it's not much, but it could
be at least shelter from the storm. I've got a stable
out back, a cave where we shelter the livestock when the weather is inclement. You might be able to work out a place in there, to at least stay out of
the snow." Neno's gaze darkened, and the Inn Keeper hurriedly added "Of course I'd not charge you the full price for an actual room..."
Neno cut him off right there by leaning toward him and stating, just above a whisper, "If you shrug again, I'm gonna break both of your shoulders."
Somewhat more loudly, in a conversational tone, he continued "We've got one donkey. I'll pay you shelter and board for two donkeys to let us stay
there, not a damned dime more."
The innkeep, not sure what a 'dime' was, started haggling immediately. "Well, now, I'm not sure I could go that low..." and neno cut him off again by
leaning towards him and adopting the whisper again.
"I'll bet you by God you CAN go that low!" and he grinned that disturbing grin of his.
The Inn Keeper blanched. "Well, yes, of course. I see just what you mean. After all, it's not exactly world class accommodation... I can probably
accept that deal..."
Nenothtu leaned back, and put on his lopsided grin, which was only slightly less disturbing. "Alright, it's agreed then. We'll pay full price for
meals, and what we've agreed to for 'lodgings'." He dropped a couple of the strange, off world coins into the innkeepers hand. The innkeeper looked at
them, didn't recognize them, but was well aware of the many strange and foreign sorts of coin that came his way in this business, in this place. He
started to shrug, looked at neno, and thought better of it, merely pocketing the coins. "They'll do" he said, with an obsequious smile. "Stables are
out back. I'll send someone round later to see that you've settled in, and find out if there's anything else you'll be needing."
Nenothtu turned on his heel, and made for the door, Joseph in tow.
Just before they rounded the corner to where the others waited, a group of four soldiers marched somewhat wearily from the opposite direction to that
from which they had come, making for the inn. "Joseph eyed them, and nervously said "Herod's men. They're certain trouble."
Nenothtu looked at the soldiers and snorted. "Not so much. there's only four of 'em. Leave 'em to me if they get problematic." Joseph just stared at
the stranger like he was a crazy man, but said nothing. Obviously, this fellow had no idea when it came to trained soldiers. Joseph figured that maybe
the cold had gotten to the tall, skinny man's brain, but said nothing.
In the stable, Joseph started unpacking the donkey and setting up accommodations for Mary as far to the back as practicable, after they had lit a
couple of lamps for light. The rest set out clearing straw from the floor to build a fire. "This'll have to be watched close. All this straw makes
this place a tinder box, but we gotta have it fer the lady over there." After the straw and detrius had been sufficiently cleared away, nenothtu
scooped out a pit in the floor to help contain the fire and lit it, using a bit of straw to kindle it and some broken sticks laying around to build it
which BIAD and Tibbs had gathered up..
Not long after everything was set up, Mary went into labor in earnest. Joseph was lost, and somewhat frantic. He'd never attended to a birthing, and
the realization suddenly hit home. In common with first-time fathers throughout the ages, he had not a clue what to do. Neno didn't, either. He wasn't
any sort of a doctor, beyond patching up battlefield wounds long enough to get the victim to a real medic. BIAD came to the rescue, sidling up to neno
and whispering "all those folks in the inn - there's bound to be someone there who can help. A midwife or doctor or something. You might want to check
into that. Soon."
It was as if a light bulb had lit up above his head - 2000 years before there even was such a thing. "Grand idea, BIAD! Maybe you ought to comfort
Mary - you'd be better at it, I think, than anyone here." Raising his voice a bit more, he spoke to the dwarf. " Tibbs,.keep a eye on that fire -
don't let it get out of hand," Then to Joseph "JOSEPH! Yer makin' the critters restless with your bad nerves. Come with me. We got to find a doctor or
something. Let's go." and started for the inn. Joseph, not knowing just what to do, automatically fell in with the command. At least here was
SOMETHING he could do.
After making a few inquiries inside the bustling inn, Joseph finally found a real live midwife. Not a resident there, but a guest, just passing
through for the census. She said she's be out directly, after she'd gathered a few things up that would be necessary. Joseph and nenothtu headed back
to the stables. As they cleared the door of the inn, the soldiers - all four of them - followed and stopped them outside. "You there! Did I hear you
right, saying a birth was about to happen?" Neno and Joseph stopped dead in their tracks, and neno turned around.
"Why sure! what of it?" he grinned - the toothsome grin, not the happy one. It looked as if his estimate of what these soldiers would do had been a
"Show us where. We've a job to do." the soldier replied.
"And what sort of 'job' have you got involving an infant?" nenothtu responded as the soldiers approached closer.
"That's not your concern, you idiot! Who are you to question the kings men? Lead us to it - NOW - or life is about to get hard for you, mister."
Joseph was near frantic, but neno's grin got even wider, showing more tooth. "Idiot, am I? Well cap, with a winning personality like you've got, how
can I refuse? And I SURE don't want MY life getting rough!" He looked back to Joseph, who gave all appearances of being prepared to strangle neno with
his bare hands. "Joe, you go on and check on yer ass, whilst I show these gents to the birthing room" and he threw Joseph a wink. "It's right THIS
way, gentlemen" neno said, turning back to the soldiers and indicating a direction that went between two nearby buildings, rather than the path to the
stables. "We've got 'em all snugged up in a storage shed over here.... follow me" and he set off for the alleyway. The soldiers followed, and Joseph
skittered back to the stable with a warning - they'd have to pack up and get out of there, before the soldiers finished flaying nenothtu. He had to
wonder at the tall man's apparent willingness to sacrifice himself for strangers.
A few minutes later, Joseph was standing in the mouth of the stable with a pole in his hand, watching, as the rest were pretending to pack up at his
warning. Pretending, because BIAD had realized that, no matter what, Mary was in no condition to travel now. Joseph saw a tall, lean figure
approaching, appearing to coalesce out of the snow storm itself.
He breathed a sigh of relief when he recognized neno, but he kept peering into the storm behind neno, his knuckles whitening with his death-grip on
the pole, looking for the soldiers. "Where'd they go?" he asked neno when the other had approached close enough for hearing.
"They recalled another engagement" neno responded simply.
Joseph's eyes narrowed. "Another engagement? In this?" he peered at neno more closely. "Where are they REALLY? We've got to get out of here before
they come." he said. "You can only misdirect them so far... but they'll be back..."
Nenothtu pulled Joseph aside and whispered "they're not gonna be a problem - unless we're still here when this snow melts." Joseph stared at him,
without comprehension, so nenothtu added "They're in a snowbank out there. I don't want to still be here when it melts off of them." he stated
Joseph wasn't believing that, not for an instant. "Four armed and trained soldiers of the king, against only you, and you're telling me that they've
been vanquished? By just YOU?"
Neno gave him a lopsided grin, and said "Yeah, I know. They were outnumbered from the start. Didn't have a chance."
Joseph studied nenothtu for a moment, looking for any sign of guile. Finally, he said "So you're a soldier, too?"
"Used to be" neno responded. "Don't know if I am now or not. I don't really know WHAT I am now. Traveling guardsman, I reckon, but whatever I am,
those soldiers ain't gonna bother any one any more." Then, nenothtu abruptly switched the subject, to cut off any further questioning. "So what is it
YOU do fer a living, Joseph?"
Joseph, still not sure of whether they were really safe or not, simply said "I'm a carpenter" in a distracted sort of way.
"Izzat so? My name used to be Carpenter." nenothtu commented, staring into the swirling snows, and noting the approach of the midwife, finally.
Joseph, having a sudden thought, said with widened eyes "Tell me the truth, mister. Are you folk angels? Did God send you?"
That question took neno by surprise. "Angels? Why hell no, I sure ain't no 'angel'! I reckon it's like Tibbs told you - we're just here to help." As
the midwife entered the cave, and set about her business, neno stared at the swirling, nearly hypnotic snow, and suddenly realized he was back on
Earth - a home that no longer existed in his time. A place he thought he'd never see again. After a moment, he cleared his throat and wiped an eye,
and said in a subdued voice. "As far as who sent me, I can't be rightly sure of that. All I can say for certain is that it's good to be back home for
Joseph looked perplexed. "For what?" This tall scrawny fellow sure had an odd way of expressing himself with strange foreign phrases.
edit on 2010/12/21 by nenothtu because: I ate an errant bit of mistletoe I found laying around in the Edit Room. Thought it was