Axle the Ox

Axle the Ox (12″ long)

A ox, though strong and durable, is a big animal, costly to maintain. And a yoke of oxen? Well, only a prosperous landowner could afford to feed such a pair! Which is why Axle was so valued. For he was reputed to have the strength of a pair of oxen. This was mainly based upon a story, widely supposed to be true, in which his former driver, while intoxicated, had inadvertently tied the back end of his wagon box around a tree, after which the driver settled down against this tree and went to sleep. When the driver woke up, the front half of the wagon, including the axle and the ox in harness, was gone. The ox was found, luckily, not too far off, swishing his tail and nibbling grass, still attached to the axle and both wheels, one of them broken. Hence the name, Axle.

Such was Axle’s fame, after that incident, that he became a rare prize, traded by speculators, until at last, a Roman nobleman by the name of Punctilius, personally inspected and then bought the animal, at an outrageous price. One of Punctilius’ servants, a wayward Gaelic fellow named Ailbeart, expert with draft animals, was put in charge of him, and ordered one day to haul a load of Byzantine carpets to Jerusalem. So Axle and Ailbeart set out upon the long journey with their precious cargo. Ailbert, always with an eye for opportunity, happened by good luck to be travelling during the period when people all across the empire were reporting to designated cities or villages to be registered and taxed, as  per the instructions from Caesar Augustus. Ailbeart soon discovered that “his” rugs were highly desirable among those Roman administrators who had been sent out to various nondescript villages to oversee the registration and taxation. So Ailbeart developed a tidy business, taking a nice commission with each sale, which is how Axle ended up in a stable in miserable Bethlehem. For there was a chance, Ailbeart had concluded, that he might just be able to bribe this particular Roman administer, one Tiberius Claudius Balbilus, with two of those rugs, the ox and wagon thrown into the bargain, and by that means secure Roman citizenship. Oh joyous thought! Whatever the risk, should old Punctilius find out.

Thus was Axle, well-fed, carefully groomed, and proudly owned, with polished horns and hooves, about to be orphaned away from his good life. But he was at rest, now, in this humble stable, and soon to be a most unlikely witness to the birth of the Christ child, savior of the world.