National Novel Writing Month, affectionately known as NaNo is going on this month. The goal is 50,000 words during November. My project this year is Seeing The Life. It's a fictional story surrounding the life of Jesus.
Dassa, daughter of the innkeeper, as the novel begins is sent to fetch the midwife because the young very pregnant woman in the stable is in labor. Here is a rough draft of the first chapter.
"Dassa, Dassa," Miriam called as she entered the backdoor of the inn which lead to the kitchen and general work room.
Dassa looked up from her chore of chopping leeks for stew. "Yes, Mother?"
"I need you to go fetch Midwife Tabitha. The couple your father put in the stable... the woman is in labor. She's in the early stages, but I think you should leave now before it gets any later. Too many strangers in Bethlehem to delay."
"Yes, Mother." Dassa scooped up the chopped leeks and tossed them into the stew pot. She dipped her hands in water for a rinse and went to grab her cloak hanging by the door.
"Take your father's. The darker color and will conceal you better. Keep to the shadows. Go straight to her house and back. The darkness conceals those who seek to do evil."
With a nod, Dassa covered her face with her veil, drew her father's black cloak around her and slipped into the night. She hurried down the narrow alley to the not much wider street. A dog sniffing through a pile of rotting garbage growled at her as she passed as far from him as the meager roadway would allow.
Dassa scanned both directions. She did not want to be seen by Romans or any others out at night. She pulled her eyebrows together in confused thought. Something wasn't right. Not seeing anyone she turned down the street rushing past the buildings which housed both businesses and homes. Few lights glowed in the windows and on rooftops.
The evening had progressed into night. The inn, during this busy time, stayed active long after the rest of Bethlehem slept. Those who had come to town for the census register seemed to stay up eating and drinking until the last watches before dawn. Then they complained if the noises of a busy day interrupted their sleep.
Dassa didn't think highly of most of the travelers. They were a loud, demanding group as a whole. Sometimes one or two would be polite but... Dassa just tried to avoid them as much as possible. This posed challenges as some slept in the inn's main room. It was a small inn. Deep within the city, they had a reputation of good food, decent wine, adequate beds, and a fair price. They had become a regular spot in the routes for a goodly number of traveling merchants. Not having a courtyard and only a tiny stable tended to keep the Roman's away.
By now Dassa had walked several blocks from the inn. Nervously she slipped into a dark doorway. Something was different. She tried to figure out what. The brightness of the night. It was more luminesce than it should be. The glow quivered, almost like the flame of an oil lamp. No, that wasn't quiet right. She didn't have the proper word. She gazed at the wall across from her. There seemed to be a light which shone separately from the moonlight. She tilted her head back seeing neither the moon nor whatever created this strange glimmer.
She moved out of the doorway, hurrying faster. The unusual illumination was making her not only nervous but also afraid. She wanted to get to the midwife's house and back home as fast as possible.
Dassa stepped out of the narrow street into the town square. She walked quickly. As she passed the well Dassa looked up. More of the sky was visible. She stopped and stared.
The moon, nearly full, shone brightly. This was not what held her attention. A star, brighter than any other, pulsed with a luminosity Dassa had never experienced before. The light caused the strange shifting of shadows which seemed as if they were being chased away by the starlight.
A dog's bark and hobnailed shoes sounding on the cobbled street brought her focus back to her errand. Dassa ran across the square into the shadows on the other side. If a soldier found her she would never be home again. She paused, listening. The clank of the soldiers' boots faded. With a silent release of the breath she'd been holding, Dassa left the sheltering darkness and slipped around the corner. Only two more streets to cross.
Arriving at the midwife's house Dassa pressed herself into the doorway. The position of the door let the moonlight and the strange starlight illuminate where she stood. Dassa felt as if the moon and star's glow outlined her against the wood. She knocked quietly, afraid the sound might carry and alert the guards, hoping someone in the house would hear.
"Who comes in the night?" A male voice called.
"Dassa Bat Eli, we have need of Midwife Tabitha. A guest is in labor."
The door opened and the man's hand reached out grabbed her arm, pulling Dassa inside.
"What was your father thinking sending you out on this errand? He should have come." Tabitha's husband, David, frowned at her.
"He could not. We are full to over flowing. The couple having the baby are in the stable. It was the only place with some privacy."
Tabitha came from the back room with a bundle containing what she needed. "Stop scolding the girl, David. She just did as she was told." Tabitha patted Dassa on the cheek, a loving grin on her face. "Praise Yahweh for getting you here safely. David, come, escort us to the inn, please."
"Why is it that babies always choose the middle of the night to be born?" David grumbled as he wrapped his wife in her cloak and grabbed his own.
Dassa and Tabitha entered the stable behind the inn. David had gone to the main building saying he would let Miriam and Eli know she was safely home. The journey back had gone faster since they didn't have to keep to the shadows because David was with them. They still kept to the lesser traveled streets and alleys not wanting to meet the Romans. Both the midwife and her husband had commented on the strangeness of the light from the sky. The star, brighter than before, chased more of the shadows away.
"Joseph," Dassa whispered from the dark entry way. "I've brought the Midwife Tabitha."
"Praise Yahweh. Will you help my wife? She is young and we are both scared." Joseph's fear was palpable.
"Peace Joseph. I'll do what I can. Yahweh is the one who brings forth the miracle," Tabitha said approaching the young woman lying on clean straw in an empty stall. "I'm Midwife Tabitha. Your husband is very nervous. He didn't tell me your name." She shot Joseph an amused glance. He smiled sheepishly.
"I'm Mary." Just as she said the words a contraction rippled down her body causing the mother to be to stiffen in pain.
Tabitha counted until the contraction ended. Kneeling beside Mary, she asked questions. Some the girl answered, others brought confused looks to the faces of the young couple. "Dassa, please get me some water. I have most of what else I need."
"Yes ma'am." Dassa left the stable again noticing the starlight shining brighter still. It seemed to pulse like the beat of a heart. Hurrying to the kitchen, she gathered several water bags. Her mother came from the front room and kissed her cheek.
"How is the mother?" Miriam asked.
"Scared. So is her husband. I'm to bring water."
"You stay near Tabitha. She may need you to get things that are normally in the house. The stable isn't where I'd want to give birth, but it's the best we could offer."
"Yes ma'am. Mother, have you seen the star that's shining so brightly?" Dassa put the straps of the bags over her shoulders and picked up a large bowl.
"Earlier. Is it still shining?" Miriam stirred the kettle and ladled out the stew into bowls.
"Even brighter. If you can spare a moment come and look." Dassa held the door open as she and her mother stepped outside. Miriam's mouth dropped open. The moon appeared pale in comparison.
"Oh my, I've never seen anything like it." The women stared up at the sky as the single star banished all others.
"I must get back to Tabitha," Dassa said leaving her mother wide eyed with wonder.
As she entered the stable Tabitha and Joseph stood near the doorway talking quietly. Tabitha kept looking at Mary resting in the straw.
"It's not possible, I tell you. I've never encountered this in all my years as a midwife."
"It is so. The angel said she would bear a child as a virgin and so she is." Joseph's face was serene and calm.
"But how?" Tabitha asked.
"By the power of the Most High and the Holy Spirit. An angel came to Mary and told her. When I found out about her pregnancy I was going to divorce Mary but the angel assured me to marry her."
Dassa stood quietly listening. The words of the prophet Isaiah spoke in her mind: Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel. Her betrothed, Micah, had read them to her just last week. Immanuel, God with us. Was this the sign? Was the prophecy being fulfilled? Here in their stable? How could that be possible? The Messiah was to be a king. He was to free their people. Kings weren't born in cattle stalls.
"Dassa, Dassa." Tabitha's stern call brought her back to the present. Her questions would have to wait until Micah came. "Bring me the water and then go get your mother. Hurry, there's no time to lose."
As she approached the stall where Tabitha now stood waiting she slipped the bags off her shoulders. Dassa looked at Mary's sweat drenched face. She held onto Joseph's hand as another contraction pressed down. Dassa handed the bowl and bags to Tabitha and ran back to the kitchen.
"Mother, Mother, Tabitha needs you, come quickly," Dassa said as she found her setting more bowls of stew before hungry men and women in the front room of the inn.
Dassa saw her mother's lips move in prayer as she threaded her way through the crowd. "Is something wrong?"
"I'm not sure." Dassa kept silent until they had left the house. "Tabitha and Joseph, Mary's husband, were talking when I came in. They were saying something about Mary being a virgin."
"Impossible," Miriam scoffed.
"It is in Isaiah; Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin will conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel."
In silence they entered the stable. Tabitha signaled them to come near.
"You must check this girl, Miriam. See if you find the same as I."
"So what Dassa heard you say is true?" Miriam's jaw dropped in shock.
"You examine her. Dassa you pay attention. I want you to check her too. Are there any women in the inn who could also be a witness? We must hurry, it will tear soon."
Dassa watched as her mother checked the girl. Mary's embarrassment was evident. She turned her face into Joseph's hand which she gripped.
Miriam sat back on her heals. "And a virgin shall conceive... I'll go get Abigail, she and Micah arrived a short while ago to help." Quickly rising, she nearly ran from the stable.
"Dassa, now I want you to check." Tabitha instructed as to how to the proceed and what she should feel for. Dassa went red with embarrassment. She looked at Tabitha who nodded.
Slowly Dassa knelt between Mary's knees and did as Tabitha had said. She found the bit of tissue proclaiming Mary's virginity. Dassa pulled her hand away and stared at the pregnant young woman. She would be about the same age as Dassa. God with us. This woman was giving birth to the Son of God right now, in their stable.
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