Eli wiped the blood from his son’s cheek with a small piece of cloth torn from his tunic. In the dim starlight, he could see the tears—and the fear, in Caleb’s eyes. Looking down, he wrapped his dagger in the cloth and stuffed it in the bottom of his sack.
“Son…please. Remember. Don’t say a word about where we’ve been, who we are…or what I’m planning to do.” As Eli expected, Caleb responded with silence. He hadn’t heard his son’s voice since that night a few years back.
Leaving the shadows and walking into the light of the town, Eli searched for an inn with a vacancy. Caleb followed close behind, carrying his wounded lamb tightly in his arms. They finally came to an inn near the end of the road. Vacancy. Eli hesitated, then knocked.
A grandfatherly inn keeper opened the door. “Yes?” He narrowed his eyes and leaned in toward Eli, looking intently from him to his son.
Eli lowered his gaze and shifted his sack in his hands. “Um…my son and I are looking for a place to stay. Just for the night.”
“Well, then. You’re the last one in for the day.” The man hobbled over to the sign that hung just in front of his inn and turned it around. No Vacancy.
“And sir, one more thing. My son’s lamb. It was wounded. On the journey. Is there a place we can care for him?”
The man said nothing, then turned and led them toward the back of the inn. Though the man walked with a cane, Eli and Caleb struggled to keep up with him. Finally, they came to a stable that housed several animals.
“You can leave the lamb here for the night. Aaron will care for him.” The innkeeper gestured toward one of his servants.
Watching as Caleb gripped the lamb more tightly, Eli placed a reassuring hand on his shoulder. The servant turned from tending one of the other animals and reached for the lamb. From the look on the servant’s face, Eli could tell the lamb’s wounds would be difficult—if not impossible, to heal.
“What brings you to Bethlehem, Eli?” The innkeeper looked deep into Eli’s eyes.
“What? How do you…know…my name?”
“I know your Uncle Levi. And I knew your parents. You came here to Bethlehem once when you were little. Looked a lot like your son, here.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t remember.”
“I was a lot younger, then.” The innkeeper laughed gently, then narrowed his eyes and spoke with compassionate intensity. “You’re walking a crimson path Eli. But it can end here. In Bethlehem.” Tears glistened in the man’s eyes.
“I don’t understand…” Eli watched as the servant cared for the lamb.
“You can avenge your parents. You can avenge your wife. But where will that lead you? When will the crimson path end? Will your son walk this road with you?”
“You don’t even know me.”
“Your Uncle Levi came here not long ago. Looking for you. He’s worried. You have family, Eli. You’re not alone. And they’ve suffered your loss as well. You need to stop running.”
Putting his arm around his son, Eli turned from the stable toward the inn.
Looking to the sky, the inn keeper smiled. “It’s starting to snow. This path might be covered by morning. Come, let’s get inside before it gets too cold.”
When they reached the door to the inn, a young couple was just arriving. The woman on the donkey was pregnant, and the husband seemed desperate.
“Please, sir. My name is Joseph. My wife’s in labor, but all the inns are full. We need a room. If only for tonight.”
“I’m sorry, sir. There are no rooms in the inn.” The innkeeper paused, then sighed. “But we can make room for you in the stable.” He quickly led the couple away.
Later that night, as Eli and Caleb prepared to sleep, they heard singing in the distance. Caleb tilted his head.
“It’s probably the shepherds.” Eli smiled at his son. “In winter, they stay closer to town.”
Caleb shook his head and smiled.
“You’re right,” Eli laughed. “Shepherds don’t sing that good.”
When Caleb was finally asleep, Eli drifted into a dream. In his dream, he was burdened to walk through all the years of history. He saw the wars, the destruction and the violence—the broken families, households and relationships that lined the way. All colored in crimson red. In the end, he heard the innkeeper whispering, “When will the crimson path end?”
Startled awake, Eli saw that Caleb was not next to him. He ran out to the street, and was nearly blinded by the light of one of the stars. A fresh blanket of snow had fallen on the pathway that led to the stable.
Surprised to hear voices in the middle of the night, Eli rushed ahead. There, under the light of the star, he saw Caleb. Talking. To some shepherds.
“Hey, Dad!” Caleb smiled and held out his lamb, healed from its wounds. “Look, Dad, look! Not even a scar! And guess what? We were right. Shepherds don’t sing so good. At least not these ones. But angels do!”
Tears flooded Eli’s eyes at the sound of his son’s voice.
“And Dad? This is Mary and Joseph. The ones with the donkey, remember? They had a baby and everyone’s saying he’s a king or something. His name’s Jesus. But his nickname’s Immanuel. It means ‘God is with us.’ Look, Dad, look!”
Eli felt a hand around his shoulder, and turned to see the innkeeper.
“This is the promised Savior we’ve been waiting for. The Prince of Peace. And this peace comes not as the world gives, Eli.” The innkeeper’s eyes sparkled as he looked toward the baby in the stable. “Kings are worthy of the greatest of gifts, you know.” He turned toward Eli. “The crimson path can end here. For you. Tonight.”
Stepping forward then falling to his knees where the baby lay, Eli began to weep. “My King. You know that all we have was taken from us. Our family. Our home. Our belongings. But there’s one thing I can give you.”
Early in the morning, before the sun began to rise, Eli buried his dagger deep in the ground beneath the snow. When his son awoke, they prepared for their journey. As the sun met the sky, Eli and Caleb walked down a new path—their footprints paving the way in the freshly fallen snow.