She had always suffered a little from sea-sickness on rough passages, but even today’s moderate swell was turning Mary’s stomach, so close to term was she. They had set sail, Joseph and his wife, just a few days earlier – forced by plague to make the crossing while they thought they still could.

Alas, they could not. At least, not as easily as they had hoped.

Two days becalmed, frustrated by the sight of distant land astern and abow with neither coming closer, had been chased away by this swell. A swell that drove the refugees lurching in perpetual danger of an accidental jibe towards the coast, all the while threatening a storm to come.

Already since, they had sought refuge in several ports. But every call for safe haven was met with the same reply: “no, no, no”.  Finally, outside a town on an estuary guarded by a castle on either bank, they were directed to an anchorage deep inside the river.

Shelter from the storm that was already beginning to boil in open water just a finger-count of miles away. And a makeshift maternity bed, of a kind.

With the anchor set, Joseph went below to tend to Mary, easing the passage of life from the watery depths to the surface. On the eastern shore, three skippers saw their anchor light – a hurricane lamp rigged hurriedly – and set out to bring supplies of fresh water, lamp oil and gas. A messenger was sent higher up the river, whence a small craft of the fishing fleet departed to deliver a portion of their catch to the couple.

In that manner was a child born. Merry Christmas.

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