Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #101, Kidnaped!

Bogdan’s Wife; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Old Woman Leaning on Stick by Knaus, owned by Walters Gallery, in the public domain.
Bogdan’s Wife; image colorized and modified by the author, obtained from Wikimedia Commons, Old Woman Leaning on Stick by Knaus, owned by Walters Gallery, in the public domain.
In this episode the search for a job goes awry.

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Sixteenth Era, Part 4, 1280 C.E., Lutsk

…”But who can rent out the roadhouse and mill? And who can compute the taxes due? And who can assess the worth of the grain and the wood and flour and iron implements? Who but a Jew can do all these things? What about you? This ain’t so hard. Can you add and subtract and keep a count of who pays their tax, and keep lists of it all?…”
Shortly after our arrival in Lutsk Batkol and me go investigate Bogdan’s peasants, hamlets and tracts, a half day trek up the northern road.
“You can’t miss Bogdan’s manor house. Cross a stream and up a hill, the woods a mix of pine and birch. At the top of a hill in a grove of oaks, there it be, grand and fit for a king.”
We slog thru many a puddle and creek, and the woods here all be birch and pine. Hill and dale and scrappy plots, abandoned hovels and a burnt out mill. On a ridge we see a thatch roof house with a stone tower, now crumbled in, a lean-to or barn, mostly collapsed, and a scar-faced man pitchin’ dung into a handcart. He has only one ear.
“We’re lookin’ for Bogdan’s manor house,”
says I. He eyes me, squint and scowl.
“What you doin’ in these here parts?”
“Rav Susya of Ludmir sent us here to meet the lord and assess his lands.”
“Assess his lands? Who are you? That Jew tryin’ to steal my tracts or buy ‘em out from under me? Tell that Christ killer to keep away or I’ll have his children’s heads on pikes!”
Then he turns back to heavin’ dung in a cart.
“Sire, Susya has no such thoughts. He sent me here to present ourselves, iffen you need a manager to keep your accounts and collect tax from all your hamlets and all your men, and oversee workin’ your mill and your forge.”
Again that look, a suspicious scowl.
“You think I’m Vladislov’s* brother-in-law? You walk past a ruins? That was my mill. Hamlets and peasants? Look at me. I wouldn’t be shovelin’ shit like this if I owned hamlets and all their men. Down the road you’ll see three huts. Those be my people. That’s my town. The fields that flank the river down there – see if you can assess their worth.”
And again he turns back to heave his manure.
* Polish duke
Up the slope where his hovel rots, his wife, a wraith of a woman, stands. A puffy cap covers her head and a sack of a dress hangs from her neck. A babe in her arms is suckin’ a pap, and three or four bean poles scamper around with nary a stitch of clothes on their backs. And an older girl with a switch in her hand is lookin’ to put a welt on their butts. Oh, and a couple of cows graze, healthier far than that hapless crew.
Batkol yanks me out of my gapin’.
“*I’ll go visit the girls of the land* while you assay the lads workin’ the fields.”
And we set off down that rivery road.
*-* Beraysheet/Genesis 34:1
More hill and dale till we see some huts – dung and mud, straw and sticks – misshapen domes like hornets nests; a hole for a door – these misshapen hives. And around them a swarm of buzzin’ bees runnin’ naked among their mums, same as back at Bogdan’s place.
I leave Batkol down in that glen, knowin’ she’ll learn their warp and weft. And on I goes till bramble and bog swallow the road, no sign of fields. I work my way thru trail and brush to find the roads and fields of men. Nothin’. Confused, I head on back with the sun moseyin’ on down the sky.
Back at the huts I asks for my wife.
“I see’d her…”
some tyke begins to say, till the back of a hand lays him flat.
“Ain’t seen no one here all day. Ain’t that right?”
some mother grunts.
and that’s the end of that, as kids all slink behind their huts.
“No one here. Best be on your way.”
I stands there a minute, peerin’ around…
“If you’re lookin’ for trouble, you’ll find it quick. My man’s just yonder that woodpile there…”
“I don’t see no one; don’t hear a thing…”
And the woman shouts, and out of the huts four or five dames with knives in their hands.
“We’ll see what the lord of the manor says…”
And I back off and pick up a hefty stick, makin’ my way back up the hill.
‘What have they done to her? What must I do? Where could she be? Is she alive?’
Anguish and anger churn up my mind with self-reproach and disbelief as I lope down the road to Bogdan’s place.
At the manor the children bawl out and flee, and that dybbuk wife, she shouts at me,
“What did you do, you plague-bringin’ Jew? You poison the waters or call down a curse? If my Bogdan sees you, he’ll kill you, sure. Devil be gone!”
And she spits three times, and runs in her house and bolts the door.
Now confusion roils my mind still more. Is she murdered, kidnaped, taken as slave? Ill, or servin’ them that are ill?
Helpless. Sunset on the road to Lutsk.
Breathless as that Pheidippides* I stagger into Lutsk.
* others have it Philippides
Nary a light; just the bark and howl of dogs greetin’ me. I batter the door where Susya’s asleep, till I breaks the catch and open it flies. A foul-breathed woman shouts at me,
“Devil be gone! Murder! Thief!”
And here comes a pack of boys and girls with knives and pokers, ready for war, as I fall to my knees gaspin’ a plea,
“Susya. Rav Susya. Help! I need help!”
I doubt they understand a word, so breathless I be, so raspy my gasps, but plainly they see I ain’t no harm; tho lucky, I suppose, I didn’t get stuck with a knife, or clopped on my head with a club. Finally, in stumbles old Susya himself, wearin’ a kittel* as a sleepin’ gown, beard a-tangle, hair stickin’ up, scratchin’ his butt.
* death shroud gown

“What’s all this?”
After much gaspin’, stutters, and yelps, I finally convey Batkol’s been took, kidnapped or killed, I don’t know which.
Foot-stompin’ palaver, babble and curse, till the froth is blown off and we comes to grip with what probably happened, and a plan to respond.
“Looks like Bogdan, that ornery ox, kidnaped your wife. In a day or so we can expect a message will come demandin’ ransom for her return.”
In the next episode, a plan to rescue Batkol takes shape.
About the Author
I am a writer, educator, artist, and artisan. My poetry is devoted to composing long narrative poems that explore the clash between the real and the ideal, in the lives of historical figures and people I have known. Some of the titles of my books are: The Song uv Elmallahz Kumming A Pilgimmage tu Jerusalem The Pardaes Dokkumen The Atternen Juez Talen You can listen to podcasts of my Eternal Jew posts on my personal blog, Textures and Shadows, which can be found on my website, or directly, at: I live just outside Washington, DC with my bashert, and we have two remarkable sons. Those three light my life.
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