10th of Tamuz, 5391 ( July 10, 1631 )
The trip by cart from Grantville to a wooded hillside above Magdala had only taken a day. Seen from the hillside, the village looked large. Yossie had expected Magdala to be a tiny place, but if it had been walled, he would have called it a small town without hesitation.
After a month's rest, the old horse had recovered from the trip east from Hanau. They had followed the good road north up the broad Saale valley almost to Jena. From there, they had turned west to climb up a side valley to the broad plains around Magdala. Where the slopes of the valley had been dominated by vineyards and orchards, the plains around Magdala were cropland, with hedgerows dividing fields. Aside from the trees along the stream north of Magdala, the only trees were on the low forested hills rising above the croplands.
Yossie had hoped that they would spend Wednesday night in Magdala, but Thomas had insisted that they stay in the woods to the east. Yossie had eaten cold meals and slept under the same cart often enough on the road from Hanau, but the night had been uncomfortable. After a month living with the Adduccis, he'd grown a bit spoiled.
"Tell me again," Yossie asked, as he and Thomas ate a breakfast of cold sausage and bread. "Why couldn't we spend the night in Magdala? Yesterday, that man in Bucha said that half the Imperials in Weimar had gone north to chase the Swedes."
"Right," Thomas replied. "But I don't believe him. He also said things were so bad that honest townsmen would rob a stranger for the shirt on his back. Foragers have stripped the land, and I'll bet that we're not far behind the stragglers who burned that village we passed. Best we not tempt anyone."
As they pulled out of the woods Thursday morning, Yossie remembered how the trip had started. "Those Papist scum murdered my Maria," Thomas had said, glaring at the two Bavarians who'd been assigned to the Murphy's Run forge.
"Where is she buried?" Yossie had asked, trying to be sympathetic.
"Buried!" Thomas had barked. "Do wolves bury their prey? I saw those beasts throw my poor Maria into a ditch." His voice had faded to a whisper. "I could do nothing, I tell you."
When Thomas had asked Yossie to help bury his daughter, Yossie hadn't said yes immediately. As they drove across the flat cropland toward Magdala, Yossie thought over the advice he'd received from his companions.
A passage from the Talmud had come to mind after Thomas had asked for Yossie's help. It was reprinted in the prayer-book at the start of the morning prayers.
"Of these things a man may eat the fruit in this world while the principal remains in the world to come: Honoring father and mother, acts of kindness, timely attendance at morning and evening prayers in the house of study, providing for guests, visiting the sick, providing for a bride, escorting the dead, deep prayer, and bringing peace between a man and his fellow, but the study of Torah is equivalent to all."
Escorting the dead to the grave, of course, was the subject that dominated Yossie's thoughts. He knew that it would also be an act of kindness to help Thomas, and that it could help make peace between Thomas and the two Bavarians.
When he'd asked his sister Basiya's advice, she'd shocked him. "Thomas' daughter was killed for kiddush ha-Shem," she'd said, flatly. The term referred to martyrs who'd died for the sanctification of God's holy name.
"But she was Lutheran," Yossie had objected.
"If soldiers had come to our home because we lived in the Jewish quarter, and if they'd murdered me, you'd say I died for kiddush Ha-Shem. Soldiers did come to his house because he lived in a Lutheran town and they did kill his daughter. How is it different?"
"So you want me to go?"
"No," she'd replied. "I'm afraid you'll be hurt. But I think I'd find it hard to say no if I was a man. Please be careful."
Yakov's advice had been no surprise. "These things have no fixed measure," the rabbi had quoted, and then changed the subject. That Talmud quotation was from the same section of the prayer-book that Yossie had thought of when Thomas first asked his help. The meaning was clear enough. Helping Thomas would be good, but Yossie was under no obligation.
When Randolph Adducci heard what Yossie was planning, he'd gone over to the locked cabinet where he kept his guns and returned with an American pistol, a revolver, he'd called it. Randolph had spent that evening and the next teaching Yossie to shoot the pistol and to care for the mechanism.
Randolph's wife Paulette had said nothing, but just before they left, she'd pressed a book into his hands. It was black, with a red ribbon bookmark and a gold cross on the cover. Yossie had felt uncomfortable taking such an obviously Christian book, but he couldn't embarrass her by refusing it.
As they drove between the hedgerows toward Magdala, the village seemed to grow in size. The inward-facing houses around the village perimeter were packed so closely that they almost formed a wall. Many houses had outbuildings behind them, and low walls joined those, forming an outer defense perimeter.
"Who are you and what do you want?" a militiaman demanded as they followed the road between two houses.
"Until a month ago, I lived here," Thomas replied, looking closely at the man. "Heinrich, don't you remember me?"
The militiaman peered. "Thomas? The new smith? I thought they killed you." He paused, looking wary. "There's nothing left here for you. After the fire, there were thieves. They sifted the ashes for anything of value." He glanced at Yossie. "Who's your friend?"
Yossie's attention was on the village as much as it was on the conversation. The houses on the near side of Magdala were mostly intact, but on the far side of the village square, all he could see was ruin.
"Joseph Hanauer," Thomas said, in answer to the guard's question. "He's come with me from beyond Rudolstadt to help. I don't want anything from Magdala but to see that my daughter is buried properly."
"We buried most of the dead. Some were burned, though, and all we could do is guess who they were. Where did your daughter die?"
"Maria was washing clothes in the stream when they came," Thomas said, pointing northwest, toward Weimar. "I saw, well, my wife saw it all. Maria ran south, but the Imperials got between her and the village."
Yossie could sense the tension in Thomas' voice. "As God is in heaven, I tried . . . They would have killed us," he said, sputtering to a stop.
"Where did she die?" the guard asked, almost gently.
"To the west, in the low pasture."
"Then she may still be there," the guard said. "The Imperials took the cattle, so nobody goes there anymore. Go, and God be with you."
They passed the ruin of the smithy on their way out of Magdala. The fire had been so intense that the chimney over the forge had fallen. "That's where I was when they came," Thomas said, and then fell silent.
They followed a grassy lane to the west. "Maria tried to run, but the open fields offered no shelter." Thomas said. "My wife saw them first, we ran to try to help, and then . . . " He fell silent for a moment. "See the willows ahead? She tried to take cover there."
The willows grew along a shallow ditch through idle pasture land beyond the village fields. Even if Thomas had not been there, the body would not have been hard to find. The buzz of flies attracted Yossie's attention to one clump of willows, and the smell of decay hung in the air as they approached the ditch.
"Maria," Thomas whispered, and then stopped, frozen, staring.
Her body was half submerged in the ditch. She was lying face down, and her clothing covered everything that was above the water. That didn't stop the flies.
"I've never," Thomas started to say, and then fell silent again.
Yossie had no experience in such matters, but Rabbi Yakov had served for years in Hanau's Jewish burial society. "We should wash her body," he said. "Let's lift her onto the back of the cart first."
They used a bucket to pour clean water over the body, washing away many of the maggots, and then set to work dressing it in a robe Thomas had bought at Grantville's Value Market. That was the hardest part of the job, at least from a physical perspective. The body was on the verge of falling apart. If it hadn't been for the clothing, the corpse might well have come apart when they lifted it from the water. They ended up simply rolling the body onto the robe and then wrapping it up, without even trying to fit the arms into the sleeves.
By rights, Yossie knew that women ought to prepare a woman for the grave. By rights, she ought not have been left to decay, of course, and by rights the burial should have been immediate, not weeks later. Logic told him that it was better for men to do the job than nobody, but still, the work made him very uncomfortable.
"We ought to say something," Thomas said, after they washed their hands in clean water taken from upstream.
Yossie hesitated. The only prayer that came to mind was in Hebrew, a prayer for martyred congregations from the Sabbath liturgy. There was something appropriate from the funeral liturgy, but he hadn't attended enough funerals to memorize it.
"Merciful Father who sits in heaven," he began his halting translation. "Remember with mercy the saintly and the righteous and the innocent and the holy woman who died as a martyr for your holy name." Yossie paused, trying to think through the next sentence. "With love and friendship she lived and died. Faster than eagles and stronger than lions she did the Lord's will.
"Remember her, Lord, among the righteous of this world. Avenge the blood of Your servant." He fell silent at that point. The next part of the prayer was too complex to translate without pen and paper.
As Yossie came to a stop, Thomas spoke. "In Jesus name, Amen. Thank you, Joseph. Let's go."
Yossie was shocked to hear what he considered an idolatrous ending added to a Jewish prayer. Turning back toward Magdala to hide his reaction, he faced a new shock. Where the sky to the east had been clear, there was a distant pillar of smoke rising over the hedgerows.
As they rode up out of the marshy pasture into the cropland, they could see that the smoke came from beyond Magdala somewhere to the southeast. The smoke clearly rose before the more distant hills, though, so it was not more than a few miles beyond the village.
The burnt-out block where the smithy had been faced them. As they drove toward the ruins, a boy stepped out.
"Thomas the Smith?" the boy asked, and then went on without waiting for an answer. "I remember you. My father said to tell you—to tell you that there are raiders in Gottern, to tell you that they will be here next. Get away. Go south on the Blankenhain road."
"And I remember you, Martin," Thomas said. "How do we get to Rudolstadt if we go that way?"
"I don't know," the boy said. "But the raiders are coming up from the east, and we have to empty the village fast to avoid trouble. You should go quickly."
Once they made their way out of Magdala, the road south was no worse than the road up from the Saale valley to the east. There were small villages every mile or two along the road. Some were empty ruins, and none were free of signs of war.
Their view of the column of smoke to the east was obstructed only by hedgerows as they rode through the fields. At times, the hedges along the road were high enough to block the view, but there were few trees to block the distant view when their perch on the cart allowed them to see over the hedges.
After half an hour, the road began to veer west, with low wooded hills to the south. In another half hour, they reached the large village of Blankenhain. The place was as battered as Magdala, and again, they were met by a member of the local militia.
The man approached warily, brandishing a pike.
"Which road to Rudolstadt," Thomas called out, before the man came close enough to challenge them.
"That way," the man said, pointing south. He stopped and sniffed distastefully. "What's in your wagon?"
"My daughter," Thomas said, "dead a month. We're taking her to her grave. Is the way south safe?"
The man backed away a pace. "No roads are safe, but we've heard no bad news in the last few days."
"We just fled raiders coming at Magdala from the east," Thomas said. "They must have been close behind us on the road up from the Saale."
"They're probably going to Weimar," the man said. "You'd best be going on south."
The road onward from Blankenhain was better than the road from Magdala, but not as good as the road they'd followed north up the Saale valley. They were still in a land of wide fields and hedgerows, with few trees. The forested hills to the east and west were higher than the hills around Magdala, but not enough to create a well defined valley.
As they drove on, Yossie's attention slowly turned from the raiders somewhere behind to the angel of death hovering over the cart. It was not right to ignore the body of Thomas' daughter Maria. The right thing to do when watching over the dead is to chant psalms. Yossie's prayer-book held many psalms, and he knew a good number of those by heart. They were all in Hebrew, though, and he didn't dare let Thomas see text in that language or hear him chant them in their traditional form.
As he chanted under his breath, he slowly grew aware that Thomas was doing something very similar, although louder and with German words and a Christian sounding melody. Yossie still had the Christian Book that had been pressed into his hands, and it suddenly struck him that it might do Thomas some good.
"Thomas, Frau Paulette gave me this before we left Grantville," he said, pulling the book out of his bag.
"A Bible, in English?" Thomas said, handing Yossie the reins and taking the book. "She is your landlord? Didn't you say she was Catholic?"
"Yes." Yossie hadn't even dared open the book, but now, as Thomas leafed through it, he saw that it was printed in small type on incredibly fine paper.
Thomas had complained on occasion about his eyesight, and as he held the book, he held it close, making it clear that he was nearsighted.
"Thomas, there is a red ribbon, see what it marks."
"The letters are very small," Thomas said. "It is in Italian letters, too." He then began to read, in very halting English. "The Lord ruleth me. I shall want nothing. He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up, on the water of refreshment . . . "
After a few lines, just as Yossie began to recognize the psalm, despite the strange language, Thomas stopped. "I know this," he said, and then recited the same psalm in German.
Thomas began to work through the psalm line by line, reciting the German after laboring through each line in English. All the while, Yossie listened in wonder. He too knew the psalm. It was not part of the daily liturgy, not one that he had memorized by regular recitation, but he knew it. He would never have imagined that it would be the one passage an American Catholic would mark or that a German Protestant would know by heart.
They were leaving the high plains, descending into a gentle south-trending valley as they studied the Book of Psalms. The fields of the plains behind them were replaced by orchards, vineyards and pastures as the land grew steeper.
Their study was abruptly interrupted by the clatter of hooves and distant yells. The road curved around a hillside that blocked their view of whatever was happening.
They had hardly packed away the Bible when a wagon came around the bend toward them. It was a heavy freight wagon pulled by four lunging horses. There were men running beside the wagon and more men riding it, armed with pikes and guns.
Yossie froze. He had the reins, but there was no escape. The cart was trapped on the narrow road between a steep bank and a hedge. There was no place to pull off so the wagon could pass. The old horse stopped of its own accord as the heavy wagon came closer.
"What do we do?" Yossie asked. He still had one hand in the bag where he'd just put the Bible. His fingers brushed the cold steel of Herr Adducci's pistol.
"I don't know," Thomas said.
The approaching team slowed and a man jumped off to run forward. "Off the road!" he yelled, a huge pistol in his hand.
Four horsemen came around the shoulder of the hill at a gallop, obviously chasing the heavy wagon. Yossie's attention was on the little pistol in his hand and on the gunman reaching for their horse's bridle.
"I said, out of the way," the man yelled, hauling the horse roughly to the downhill side of the road and giving it a hard slap.
The horse started, and the cart came perilously close to tumbling into the ancient hedgerow below the road. If they'd had a young spirited horse, things might have gone badly, but theirs was an old nag, sure footed, patient, and slow to respond.
Ahead, most of the other men had jumped off the wagon to form a skirmish line facing the approaching horsemen. The air was split by the sound of gunfire, both long guns and pistols.
"Off the road, you swine," the gunman said, raising his pistol. Behind him, a pikeman came their way.
There was a roar, two gunshots in quick succession. The man with the pistol had fired, a loud booming shot, and Yossie felt a great jerk in his arm. The other shot had been the sharp high crack of an American gun, and it took Yossie a moment to realize that he'd fired the pistol in his hand. Neither shot had struck a thing. The jerk had been nothing more than the recoil.
The pikeman was still coming, so Yossie held the pistol with both hands, as Herr Adducci had taught him, and fired a second time.
He missed the pikeman, but one of the freight wagon's lead horses reared up and screamed, lashing out at the pikeman from behind before it slowly collapsed to the ground.
Their old horse was shuffling and prancing nervously. For a few seconds, Yossie's attention was fully taken with controlling the horse. The way forward was blocked by the wagon, and their horse was hemmed in on the sides by the hedge and the fallen horse.
By the time the horse had calmed. Thomas was standing by the cart with a pike in hand, holding back the gunman while the downed pikeman sat groaning on the ground between them.
"Bavarian scum," Thomas said, as Yossie took the gunman's big wheel-lock pistol.
As he looked around, Yossie saw that things had changed. Half of the men who'd been on the cart were gone, and the others, aside from the two nearest, were standing dejectedly under the guard of two of the cavalrymen.
We're really sorry, but this is only available to up-to-date paid subscribers.
If you're not already a subscriber you need to know that our columns and editorials are free, along with a few other items, but almost all stories and all downloads are paid only.
- The Grantville Gazette Staff