The Innkeeper’s Wife

She was known simply as “The Innkeeper’s Wife,” though her husband had been dead for years, killed in a wagon accident, no doubt due to intoxication, which had become habitual with him. It had been an unfortunate marriage. But she did remember a saying of his, and knew how true it was: “in the Innkeepin’ business, you’ve got to be all’ round handy!” Which is why he had married her: she knew the skills of midwifery, and how to cure sickness.

So she carried on the business alone of tending the only decent inn in Bethlehem, which included a grog shop, The Frothy Mug. It was a lot of work, and the Innkeeper’s Wife was past all pretension or modesty, dressing as she did in practical work clothes. This caused gossip in the village, which provoked the ruling elders to have a talk with her. “You go about with bare arms, and no head covering,” they pointed out. “It’s unseemly of you! With your generous proportions–you’re a temptation!”

She only laughed at them. “Oh, if only I could be a temptation again!” she said, tossing her head back. She looked at the Head Elder. “You, Abraham, I took you from your mother’s womb! You were such a happy child, and now look at you—grown into such a long-faced man! Go home now,” she commanded, waving her hand. “Go home, all of you!”

And they did! For if one of them should fall sick, or a child grow hot with fever, who could they seek healing from, but the Innkeeper’s Wife? For she knew herbs, and even some casting-out spells, it was said.

So when the young woman, leaning heavily on the arm of her agitated husband—she assumed it was her husband–came looking for a room that evening,  the Innkeeper’s Wife had to send them down to the stable, for her inn was full, and even the stable had begun crowding up with people, all come to register for the imperial tax. It was obvious that the young woman, who might have been handsome, if she weren’t in such distress, would soon be in labor. So shortly afterwards, the Innkeeper’s Wife gathered up her equipment, and with the orphan girl, Urchie, close behind, went down to the stable, to see what she could do for the poor woman. A good thing, too. For the birth was a difficult one. But the son—ah! He was plump and pink and strong and cried like a heathen.