Her stomach grumbled and her mouth watered as she anticipated that evening’s meal. They would have a full house with family and foreign travelers filling the inn tonight. Ruth smiled and lifted a ladle full of stew to her lips, sipping the rich broth. Suddenly, the front door slammed shut and Ruth jumped, burning her tongue and dropping the ladle into the pot. She turned to find her father stamping his feet and brushing frost and hay from his cloak.
“Abba!” Ruth ran to her father and was enveloped in his powerful embrace. He was a strong man with wide shoulders, broad hands and a genuine smile. His eyes creased as he smiled down at his daughter. Ruth clung to him, breathing in the smell of the sheep and goats, listening to his heart beat from under his woolen cloak.
“My Little Ruth, how are you this cold winter’s day? Staying warm and helping your mother, I hope?” He cocked his head and lifted her chin with his chapped fingers, “And staying out of trouble?” He looked her straight in the eyes and then laughed. “Well, at least you are inside where it is warm!”
Letting go of her father, Ruth blushed and then pulled a bench close to the fire for him to sit on. As her father sat, exhaling loudly, she settled down next him. “Mama is at home, caring for Benjamin. My job ...” she stopped and jumped up, running to the fire. She started stirring the stew again, “... was to keep an eye on dinner.” She smiled sideways at her father who smiled and nodded at her.
“You’re a good girl, Ruth. Thank you for helping your mother. We will have a full house tonight!”
“Yes, Papa,” She focused on the stew, watching the broth and vegetables swirl as she stirred, mustering up her courage to ask. “Papa?”
Papa sat with his reddened hands extended toward the fire, “Yes, my Ruth?”
“I hoped to go to the market today. To see the travelers. Mama said it’s too dangerous, that I must wait for Andrew. But, by the time he arrives home, the market will be closing. Could you take me, Papa?”
Ruth’s father rubbed his chin thoughtfully. She caught a glimpse of the twinkle in his eye, the same sense of excitement that coursed through her own veins. He nodded then and a wide smile broke out across his features. “I’ll tell Mama that I sent you for some oil for the lanterns.” He reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out several coins. “There’s a little something extra for you ... perhaps a few sweet dates? To help to celebrate your tenth birthday?” Ruth rushed to her father and hugged him fiercely.
“Thank you, Abba! Thank you!”
“Be careful, now. Go straight there and then back. Before the sun goes down, I want you back to the inn.” He looked at her sternly, but Ruth could see the laughter glinting in his eyes. “Off you go!” Ruth raced out the door, fetching her cloak. As she ran down the crowded street toward the market, she heard the coins dancing in her pocket.