His beloved had settled back down, and extended her arms. He had gently settled the baby, his Son in God, onto her chest. the baby had nestled there for a moment, them wriggled around, finding his mother's nipple once more. He'd gone to help, to move the baby slightly, but his wife to be had stayed his arm with a gentle smile, and her wisdom reached out to him, just as it had through the birth. All was as it should be, all was as it would be.
Just then the stable door had burst open, and an aged matron from the town finally bustled in, with a young girl in tow. She'd stopped and stared, a huge grin on her face at the sight of the mother and infant finding each other.
"It's here then, everything all right?" Joseph nodded, unable to speak past the lump in his throat. The matron took charge, and he found himself outside in the sharp air whilst orders were given to the young girl, and everything finished with "..and don't disturb that baby as you go!"
He could hear the to-ing and fro-ing inside, as he sat in the silence and considered the stars in the sky, and how the world have been remade and nothing could ever be the same again. Plans began to form, for how best to transport the two people his world now centred upon, for the long journey home. It was bright and clear, far brighter than he thought it should be, and he'd begun to search the skies for the moon, to see just how bright this light could be, when figures drew closer. He shrank inside, hoping there would be no trouble, and relaxed quickly enough when some shepherds smiled and waved their greetings. By the time they were close enough to converse, he'd settled into his role as Proud Father, and he spoke with the whisper of God in his ear, and determined to not be surprised at any events of the night.
The shepherds settled down outside with him, and lit a fire and cooked food and hot drinks, as they awaited the matron's pleasure. Joseph had not realised how tired and hungry he was, and then wondered about Mary...? As if reading his thoughts, the lead shepherd knocked on the stable door, and the matron opened it.
"Not yet, she needs peace for her and the babe." The shepherd nodded, and handed over a cup.
"We collected the herbs fresh, from the hills, as we came down. Made it fresh here, just now. For her milk." The matron sniffed the brew and smiled "You've one or two of your own, to make this that well! She'll be happy with this, I'll be bound." And she closed the door firmly.
Joseph conveyed his thanks to the man, who was rough and gruff and wrinkled from a life outdoors. He shook the thanks away "I've had seven of my own, man, and I know how it feels these first few hours. The herbs were there for the taking, and a newbabe born - what else would we do with them! The mothers hate the drink 'tho, it's bitter... as bitter as her milk will be sweet!" They all laughed and sat around the fire, telling stories of the births in their families, and how their own sons had found their place in the world.
Joseph crept in last, when the door was finally opened to the visitors. Mary was clean and fresh and her sweat ridden hair had dried. The babe was snuggled onto her, the head barely seen over the warm shawl that encompassed them both. Her gaze never left the baby's face. The shepherds sat in quiet wonder, and gave gifts. More herbs, a warm fleece, a new born lamb. Joseph began to allow confusion into his mind, as they all sat in quiet wonder and adored. How could...? What was ...? But the voice of God whispered to his soul again, and he felt the calm acceptance return. Was not every birth a miracle, and should not all babes be worshipped?
His gaze, in turn, never left the sight of his son, peacefully settled upon his mother's breast.
The matron and her apprentice left with the shepherds. "She's a good girl, that one, done well. No problems I could see. The baby is sucking well and all should be well. I'll return when I can." He settled in the hay beside them both, whispering gently as she lifted the sleeping baby this way, then that, marvelling at how he knew how to find his mother's nipple, how to curve upon her breast and fall asleep once more. Somehow, this was so much more special than all the sleeping, feeding and loved babies that he'd ever seen before. So much more special than any other baby who had ever fallen asleep upon his mother's breast.
He dozed slightly, then awoke, as footsteps once more made their way to the stable. His eyes were dazzled by the gold woven into the cloth, his nose and throat flooded with the rich perfume and spiced air that entered. But nothing was richer to him now, than the sight of the mother and child in each other's arms, nothing more sweet to him, than the smell of a newborn nursing upon his mother's milk. Thus he held his own amongst the jewels and silks and marvelled at how well his beloved coped with the richness and wisdom now kneeling at her feet, and the depth of the revere from everyone as they adored the child.
The eldest of the three, spoke to him at length before he left. In absence of another mother to be there, he felt that Joseph should attend in detail to the baby's needs. Joseph nodded, and listened to another long tale of newborns and milk and comfort. Another huge bundle of herbs was pressed into his hands, with directions for making sure the baby was left alone with the mother as much as possible. He nodded, puzzled, for there was a shadow in the face of this king, and fear, well hidden, deep in the folds of this ancient face.
The puzzling did not last for long, as no sooner had their footsteps faded, than light and air filled the scene and Joseph once more was delivered unto the word of God.
He felt he had aged a thousands years in the few moments it took for the message to be passed on. Gazing down at the sleeping mother and babe, their breaths intertwined and their hearts beating as one, Joseph felt such pain and fear grip him as he almost lost his mind. The baby was curled around Mary's body, as if holding onto her heart, his little fists held a few strands of her hair. She was slumbering gently, everything in her attending to the child. The babe would move, she would move. A hand would raise, check him, stroke his cheek, settle him in her arms a little more, and she'd drift off. The thought of any harm coming to this little miracle... the thought of death and pain being wrought against any mother, a newborn torn from her arms.... bad enough, but the thought of this mother, this child... his child.... He fell to his knees and tears fell silently to the stable floor.
He prayed as he packed, prayed as he planned and prayed as he slept at their feet, guarding them against the door. When they rose, the baby was strapped firmly against Mary's chest, so it would be warm and fed and cared for in the miles that lay ahead. Eager to be gone as quickly as the angel had bidden them, Joseph helped Mary up onto the donkey, the warm fleece padding for her to sit on. She was in pain, and tired, but all was well with her and her son, so nothing else mattered.
He gave her the bitter herbs to chew, to keep her sustained throughout the journey, and they escaped Bethlehem without notice. Throughout the long trek ahead, the baby snuggled into the warm folds of flesh, safe from wind and sun, and grew strong from his mother's milk. Love poured from Mary's breasts, into the baby's heart, and the family thrived.