Stephen Berer
the Eternal Jew's biographer

The Eternal Jew’s Tale, #126, Medicine Woman

Medicine Woman; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Palestine, published 1884, owned by the author.
Medicine Woman; image colorized and modified by the author, from the public domain book Picturesque Palestine, published 1884, owned by the author.
…Meanwhile, Batkol’s on her own. Leavin’ such chaos and madness to me, she discovers that herbs and cures from extracts, infusions, oils and salves be well-developed in Liguria’s hills…

The Eternal Jew’s Tale
Eighteenth Era, Part 4, ~1425 C.E., Genoa

Talkin’ to some medicine women in town, Batkol takes to wandering into the hills and seekin’ out hamlets lost in time, and their spirit diviners with secret arts: women that hear the voices of plants and can smell the virtues in fungus and bark. Foolishness, it seems to me, but I lets her go on her merry way while I bring knowledge into the world.
So off she gone for a couple of days, and when she come back there’s a girl in tow, saucy and flirty and moody and mean. She lives with us for about a month. Me, I stays scarce workin’ long days, and keepin’ this ferret’s teeth from my shins, leavin’ Batkol to smooth her out. I can’t say she got any smoother at all, before we arranged a boat for her and sent her off, Spainward bound.
Then wanderlust takes Batkol again, so off she gone a second time, out to see them sorcerous dames, me absorbed in work, and yet concerned for her wanderin’ alone. And my worries increase day by day, til after a week my mind won’t bend to interpretin’ sketches and decipherin’ scrawl.
Just after Shakhrit* I’m sittin’ at the bench, and I throws up my hands.
“I gotta find my wife, now gone over a week. That ain’t right. I’m worried sick.”
* morning prayers
Out the door and up the road I hustles. I remembers a town up the river where she first gone to learn about healers in the hills. Walkin’ all night, I arrive the next day, and begin askin’ about women that heal.
Well, men, they don’t know a pimple from a pox. But women, soon as they hear me ask where that healer dwelt, they clams right up, all suspicious and evil eyes. So nothin’ for it. I’m up the road to a further hamlet. There I tells some juicy yarns about my wife. I exaggerates just a teeny bit, sayin’ she be a wonder healer, with many a potion to soothe the soul. There’s chitter and chatter a-plenty now. That goes on for a day or some, when a miserable crone come beggin’ me to brang some potions for her sickly girl.
“I’ll send my wife in a fortnight or so.”
says I, and her shoulder sags like a roof on a rotten hut; hope all gone.
“That won’t do, oh no, not at all. I needs them remedies right away. Guess I must go to that witch of the woods.”
says she, and I mumbles,
“Suit yourself.”
But soft and secret I watch her close. The very next morn she’s out the door and up the road and down some trail and onto paths only animals use, and come to that witch.
I expected to find Batkol inside, when I knocked and gone in. But there, that witch starts screamin’ at me, and pulls a knife, howlin’ the while like some wild and injured animal —
What the hell is Batkol doin’ here amongst such souls untouched by God? —
Thankfully, my walkin’ stick keeps that hyena woman at bay while I drags Batkol down the trail a ways, til she collapses. I carry her — fragile as a dried out stick of birch — til I can’t hear them howls no more. Then I builds a litter to lay her on and drags her nice and comfortable thru them hills and hamlets and towns. Many a gasp and askance look we draw, but nary an offer of help — like I been some brute that beats my wife — til we come to the outskirts of Genoa, where I hires a wagon for the cobbled streets.
I lay Batkol in our silky soft bed, her body covered in rashes and bites, her breasts droopin’ like flaps of skin, her skin like parchment tight on her bones. She sees herself in a glass by the bed and cries out,
“I looks like the specter of death,”
her hair matted with straw and filth, her eyes black holes of emptiness.
That very day I brang in a nurse who sudses and scrubs her like some filthy child, and clips the knots and combs out her hair, then rubs her with ointments to sooth her skin, and feeds her fruit and chicken broth, declarin’,
“I’ll fatten you up right quick.”
And then she puts her back to bed.
“Just eat and sleep, and nothin’ more until your spirit returns to you.”
She closes her eyes but such a cry, startled or fearful, or were it pain knottin’ her guts?
“I can’t sleep. I’ll never sleep pursued by her and her demon crew tearin’ at me, fluids a-drip, stains, disgusting. How can I ever rest again?”
An awful dream, or who knows what.
Such a troubled night, gasps and moans. Next mornin’, first thang out of her mouth,
“Saadia, how did you find me there?”
“I already told you a dozen times or more while carryin’ you back home!”
“But I don’t remember. Please tell me again.”
“Let’s wait until you recover a bit, and save me retellin’ you a dozen more times.”
But like a hound that has scented a deer, she doesn’t let up and finally I sighs,
“You was gone so long, well over a week, and I started fearin’…”
and she blurts out,
“Wait up now. How long you say? My whole time away been less than a week.”
“Sweetie, you say that every time, but I marked the day on my calendar when you gone out. Now looky, today be the twenty third day. It took six days to carry you home, and five more days before I found you. Do the math. Like I sayd, my worries grown and finally I ups and come searchin’ for you. When you come back from your first time up there you told me the name of that village where you first heard of that healer woman, that sorcerer, so that’s where I gone to ask around and learn the where-abouts of that one…”
And so I repeats my rescue of her. I expect Batkol to laugh and clap, but sullen and weary and ghosty her face. And I seen her thoughts are back in that hut and I daren’t ask what suffers she known. When she be ready she’ll tell me, sure, about them agonies she endured.
In the next episode… sometimes ya can’t trust nobody.
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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