Mitzi the Kid


Southeastern Poland

Summer, 1634

The sun rose toward high noon. A buzzard circled slowly over his head as the gunfighter stepped from the saloon. Red dust puffed up from each step, and the sneer on his face was even more twisted than before.

Mitzi the Kid stood up from the chair in front of the Marshall’s office. “Black Bart, what are you doing in town? Didn’t I throw you out yesterday?”

Black Bart spit into the street. “You’re nothing but a sniveling little mouse, and I never listen to mice.”

Mitzi stepped into the middle of the street. Women grabbed their children and hid inside shops. Black Bart’s eyes were like flat river rocks. “Draw, you lily-livered coward.” Mitzi stood and watched him for a movement.

There, Black Bart’s finger twitched. Mitzi’s gun cleared leather and started firing before Black Bart could get his gun out. The man in black fell to the ground, and there was silence . . .

Broken by whistling.

Mitzi sat up, suddenly aware that he had fallen asleep with his precious book on his face. He definitely didn’t want to be caught with the book again, not when he should be picking rocks. He hid the book under a couple of rocks on the sledge, and hurried over to the first furrow from last fall. He would have to get the rocks out before they could plow and plant this spring. He found a rock, and tossed it to the pile at the edge of the field before the whistler could top the hill behind him.

Mitzi bent over, grabbed another chunk of rock, and with a quick twist of his shoulders threw the rock to the pile. At least he was still close enough to the edge of the field that he didn’t have to use the sledge. Dragging a sledge full of rocks was one of Mitzi’s least favorite activities. He bent, threw another rock, bent, threw rock, then more of the same.

He kept working as the whistling stopped. Then he heard a familiar voice. “Mstislav, I see you’re picking rocks.”

Mitzi looked over, and it was Aleksy! “I’m Mitzi. I’m fourteen, great-grandfather was Mstislav. And shouldn’t you be at your duties? Were you dismissed? Are you back for good?”

Aleksy laughed as he gave his little brother a hug, and pounded him on the back. “No. The count declared a break. I think it is a new mistress. And while most of my workmates could only talk about having parties and entertainment, I’m here to see what you’ve been neglecting.”

Mitzi grinned as well. “And you walked the whole eighty miles?”

Aleksy shook his head. “No, I was able to ride part of the way. Otherwise, I’d still be on the road.”

Mitzi and Aleksy sat down on the sledge and pulled grass stems to chew on. Mitzi leaned back on his elbows. “I was sad to see you go. How long will you be home? Now that you’re gone, it’s been my job to pick the rocks before the first plowing. I was hoping you were back for good.”

Aleksy laughed and leaned on his elbows as well. “Wishful thinking, brother. Even if I were back for good, I’d get a different job than picking rocks. That’s yours!”

“I’ve been reading that book you brought. I’ve read it through twice already. Who is this man, the author? He sounds like some Frenchman, with a name like L’Amour.”

Aleksy tousled Mitzi’s hair. “From what I could find out, he was an American, but he doesn’t live here in Europe. He was from before the miracle.” Aleksy pulled a little booklet from his shirt. “But I learned about something even better than L’Amour. I brought it home to show the village elders. They probably will want to have a meeting tonight, so I don’t think anyone else will have time to come out here and catch you sleeping again.”

Mitzi blushed, but his discomfiture was quickly forgotten. “What is it? Is it a story as well?”

“No, it’s in good German. It’s just a couple of pamphlets. They’re about something called the grange.”

****

Mitzi arrived at the village meeting early, so he could get a good seat. He was perched on a barrel very close to the front. As always, the gathering was in the open area between all the houses.

With only seven extended families, and nine houses, this wasn’t the largest village in the district. There wasn’t a shop of any kind, so nobody sold spices. That meant that they were not a town. They had their own small scriptorium, but it wasn’t really large enough for the meeting, so they met in the courtyard.

In the old days, when Uncle Olek was a young man, the village had been the direct support of the manor. But when the manor house had burned down twenty years ago, the Olbermann family moved off to the town and left the village elders in charge of making sure that the fields were planted and rents were paid. Even the manor was twenty minutes walk from the village. And so the village became sleepier and less exciting week by week and month by month.

He smiled as he saw Frau Walczak, bustling around in the cobble-stoned space between the houses. She always called it a courtyard, saying that even castles did not have so fine a space for their activities. It was not quite like a plaza or courtyard in a town. It really was just a wide space, with houses on all sides.

Herr Piotroski supervised the setting of planks on top of barrels to make the head table. The preparations were finished, and Old Uncle Olek came out of his house, and sat down at his seat. That was the signal, and the rest of the village council, all the heads of households, gathered around the table.

The meeting started. Mitzi let his mind wander as Herr Piotroski gave the same old announcements. Finally it was Aleksy’s turn. Aleksy took out the pamphlets and put them on the council table. “Here are the basics for organizing our village into a grange. The grange will protect our farms and families by making us part of a larger coalition. More, it will get us access to The Grange Proceedings, which are newssheets about the advances in agriculture, and broadsheets on how to make improved tools that will work for us.”

After he sat down, there was a moment of silence, then the talk began. In the tradition of the village, all the adults seemed to be talking at the same time, and as loudly as possible. Everyone, at one time or another, pointed at the pamphlets laying on the table and waved their hands in the air to emphasize some point or other. As it grew darker, lanterns and torches lit up the area, food and drink were brought out from the houses, but the discussion never stopped.

Uncle Olek waved his cane at Herr Piotroski. “But it’s not new! This sounds just exactly like what we’ve been doing all along.”

Herr Piotroski ducked, and nodded. “Yes, I agree. But if we form an organization, one that is bigger than just our village, we can get better prices and what money we do get will go farther.”

Mitzi’s father, Hans, picked up the pamphlet, and looked at it as the others shouted. Then he stood up, and raised his hand for silence. “It says here, if we set up this organization, we can have a voice in politics. And I like what it says about cutting out the middleman. It means that we could get more money, and even the people we sell to would get more.”

As the night wore on, formidable quantities of both beer and bread were consumed. To Mitzi, it seemed that all the wrangling was really more about making sure everyone knew that everybody else had heard them, and that they had heard everybody else. The real selling point had been that everyone had heard about villages in Germany which organized and were having great success.

The last holdout was Herr Grabowski. He stood up and shouted, “You all sound as if we will have to pave the courtyard with gold bricks just to use up all the money we will make. You all act like enthusiasm will solve all your problems. You need to know, that if you’re not willing to work this idea won’t work for you.”

Herr Piotroski banged his cane on the table when the whole village tried to shout down Herr Grabowski. When it was a little calmer, Herr Piotroski said, “So you’re saying you don’t think we should try this?”

All eyes went to Herr Grabowski. He frowned under his heavy black brows. “No, I’m not. I’m saying that if everyone is willing to make this work, I’ll try it too.”

****

The Duroski manor had fallen to hard times. It lay on the side of a valley closer to holdings of the Polish nobles. The family was almost nonexistent now. The only living heir when the old man died was his son, Jarusz. He was a bully and a wastrel, but the old man had no other choice. There were not even nephews he could leave it to. So the manor fell into disuse as Jarusz Duroski spent his inheritance on anything and everything except proper maintenance.

Now Jarusz was home and out of money. He and his band of lowlifes were camped at his old manor. The house itself was still standing but most of the outbuildings were collapsed and decaying. There were no servants, just he and his men.

Jarusz and his men were drinking in the old dining room. The table had been hastily repaired with a mismatched leg, and it was not strong enough to lean on, but it was able to hold the leather jack full of beer, and the map spread out in the middle. He leaned over and examined it for a moment, then placed his finger on an area next to his land. “And who owns this land here?”

Boris, his second in command, replied, “That land belongs to the Olbermann family. It is part of an inheritance that went to a German cousin about ninety years ago. They moved to town when their manor house burned. It has been almost twenty years since they have been in residence on that property, but I don’t think that the land belongs to anybody else.”

Jarusz stroked his beard. “So the family has not been there? That just may be the answer to our supply problems. There’s nothing else here we can forage. Perhaps if we occupy the ruins of the manor, we can claim that we were just protecting the property from the bandits and thieves.”

That brought a laugh from the men in the room. Jarusz laughed as well. They would really be “protecting” the land from themselves. He pulled his knife from the scabbard and started picking his teeth. “With a little effort perhaps we could convince the Olbermann factor that it should really be ours, and not belong to someone who abandoned it more than a decade ago.”

Boris stood up, his eyes alight. “And even if we can’t get the land for our own, we can claim payment for protecting it.”

Jarusz nodded. “Very well, gather up the men. We’ll go camp in the ruins of the Olbermann manor. It looks like a very nice little valley, and it would fit nicely into my holdings.”

Boris nodded. “Yes, Your Excellency. Everything will be ready at first light.”

Jarusz yawned. “No need to leave that early. We’ll go when I’m ready in the morning.”

****

With a crunch, the last rock landed on the pile at the edge of the field. Mitzi stood and stretched his back. At least this field is now done. Mitzi got his switch, and started the ox moving. He needed to get these rocks down to where they were building a new shed.

It had been a week since Aleksy returned to his posting. And the organization of the grange was complete. Mitzi himself had been appointed as clerk because he could write well in German. Even though he was still picking rocks out of the fields, he felt more important.

He came out onto the road, then noticed sounds of an argument drifting up the hill from the village. Mitzi shaded his eyes, to see who was waving their hands now.

Down at the edge of the village, there was a group of armed men that Mitzi didn’t recognize. He’d never seen anyone like that in this area. Opposite them, a group of villagers stood shaking their fists in the air. He wanted to hear this, but he couldn’t leave the ox up here untended.

He tried to hurry, but oxen are slow, and by the time Mitzi had the ox put away, and the sledge behind the barn, the group of strangers was gone. He ran over to his father. “What was all that?”

Hans was still angry. “Those Cossacks claim that they are protecting us from bandits. They have moved into the ruins at the manor, and they want us to provide them with food. I think they’re the wastrels that have all but destroyed the Duroski holdings. But they definitely don’t work for the Olbermann family, and we owe them nothing.”

****

That evening was the regular meeting for the grange, so the tables in the courtyard had been set up again. Mitzi took his seat to the side of the head table, and had paper and his ink pot ready to take notes. He was interested to see what the leadership would decide to do about the Cossacks.

Herr Piotroski stood up and banged his cane for order. When it was relatively quiet, he began. “This opens the monthly grange meeting for New Olbermann. And while we settled on an agenda last meeting, let’s talk instead about what everybody has on their minds anyway. What do we do about Duroski and his Cossacks?”

Mitzi’s father, Hans, stood. “Yes, agree.”

Herr Piotroski nodded. “Fine, we will open the discussion of Duroski and his men, and save the discussion of the cost of seed for next meeting. I’ll go first.”

There was some murmuring, but no disagreement. Mitzi got busy writing the record of the meeting.

Herr Piotroski laid out all of the particulars of what they said, and what we said, and then opened the floor for general discussion. There were a couple of moments of silence, as everybody waited to see who would go first. Then the shouting and hand-waving started. Tonight, the participants were grim and everybody showed expressions of concern.

Hans stood to speak. “But what can we do? These men are armed like soldiers. They claim they have feudal right over us.”

Herr Piotroski stood. “Our leases, our grants, and our loyalties have always gone to the Olbermann family. These men follow that blockhead Duroski. They have been camped at his old family manor for several months now, and have probably either destroyed or completely stripped anything there. I think they are hungry, and clamoring for new ground. I know for a fact that the son, Jarusz, has coveted this valley for as long as he can remember. Our village will never owe that parasite anything.”

There were rumbles of agreement all through the meeting, but nobody stood to speak. Finally, Mitzi stood up. “I know I’m young, but I don’t think we need to stand for this. It’s just like in my book that Aleksy gave me. The people in town are being threatened by a rowdy gang, and they came up with a plan. That’s what we need, a plan.”

When he sat down, the meeting moved into the typical calm and reasoned discussion of the village. That is, everybody waved their hands in the air, and shouted their opinion at the top of their lungs. Groups began to form. People with the same general opinion tended to stand in the same area.

Finally, it began to look like there were only two groups. One was for the appeal to the law, and the younger group was for a more violent solution.

That was when Herr Piotroski stood and banged his cane for silence. “We haven’t heard from Uncle Olek yet. Uncle Olek, which action do you think we should pursue?”

Everybody turned to the old man at the other end of the table from Mitzi. He had not allowed them to make him president, but he was still respected and expected to sit on the council.

Uncle Olek stood slowly, and looked at the entire village. His eyes were burning under his bushy white brows. “I think that we have a responsibility to the Olbermann family. So it is the right thing for us to send a representative to town and let them know what is happening.”

That brought a huge reaction from the crowd. It sounded to Mitzi kind of like a roar. People started shouting at Uncle Olek, and then shouting at each other.

Uncle Olek was still standing up, waving his hands for quiet. Finally Herr Piotroski banged on the table and shouted until it was quiet. “There you go, Uncle Olek. What else do you have to say?”

Uncle Olek took a deep breath, and steadied himself with his cane. “I was saying, before I was interrupted, that we also have a responsibility to the Olbermann family to protect their land. So I think we also need a plan to protect the village. And it is here at the grange that we look for plans to protect our homes and families.”

The shouting began again, and the discussion went on for a while. Finally, Herr Piotroski stood and banged with his cane. Mitzi decided that everybody was getting a little tired because it didn’t take as long to quiet as it had before.

Herr Piotroski said, “As president of this grange, I’ve decided. Tonight we will send someone into town with a letter. Mitzi will write the letter for us, and we will send Wictor to town with it. Wictor, make sure you give it to the Olbermann family, and wait for their reply. The law should deal with this.”

Wictor was Mitzi’s cousin, just a year younger. He could also read and write a little, but not as much as Mitzi. The agreement between the village families and the Olbermann family was handed to Mitzi. He was to make a copy that would be presented to the intruders when they came back in the morning. And another paper detailing all the decisions of the grange would be prepared and sent with Wictor when he left in the morning. Mitzi realized that he would be up very late tonight getting all the paperwork ready for the confrontation.

Mitzi meticulously finished the minutes of the meeting, then started on the other articles. But he couldn’t help but think about the trip to town. Wictor would be walking all day, and reach the inn after dark. It would take at least a day to negotiate with the factor for the Olbermann family, and then a whole day back to the village. Mitzi really wondered if there really was time to wait for the Olbermanns to respond.

****

Early the next morning, Herr Piotroski and Uncle Olek stood at the entrance to the courtyard. They watched as Wictor ran down the road and over the hill. There was no way Wictor could return for at least three days, and perhaps longer, if it took time for him to locate the factor, or convince him of the seriousness of their petition. He carried a sack with food and a blanket. Evidence of apprehension and discomfort were visible on the elders’ faces. But they were resolved. The law said thus and such, and the law would be obeyed.

Now it was time for the Cossacks to return. Herr Piotroski and Uncle Olek stood by the road with the other adults. Mitzi stood with the other young men in the courtyard, near the doors of the homes, and the mothers had insisted that all the children stay with them inside the houses.

Herr Piotroski had been adamant that they should not arm themselves with axes and hoes because they didn’t want to provoke violence, and would only resort to it as a final choice. So the boys stood as grim and threatening as possible with their hands at their sides.

Then on the road opposite of where Wictor had disappeared, Mitzi heard a clatter. A man on horseback, followed by twenty swaggering men on foot came down the road towards them. Mitzi nudged his cousin Karl. “Come on, I want to see this.” He and the rest of the boys ran to Uncle Olek’s house because it was the tallest. They hurried inside, and ran up to the garret, then squeezed out the window and sat on the roof on the courtyard side. From here, they could see the entire village.

Everyone in the village watched the splashy color and glitter of steel as Duroski and his men approached the village elders. The two groups finally met, and Herr Piotroski waved the paper in the air.

Jarusz Duroski stepped down from his horse. Mitzi was not close enough to hear everything said, but the captain waved his fist in the air, and then struck Herr Piotroski’s paper to the ground.

The brigands laughed, and moved closer around Duroski as he pulled himself back up on his horse. He laughed with his men, then pointed at the hay barn just outside of the village. Then he shouted in a voice loud enough for Mitzi to hear. “Burn it to the ground!”

Several of the Cossacks were armed with swords or clubs. Some of them marched over to the hay barn just outside the village, and began lighting fires. When the grange elders ran over and tried to defend their barn, they were struck to the ground. Mitzi jumped up, and crawled through the window, followed closely by the other young men.

They hurried down the stairs, but before they reached the front door, they encountered Aunt Marie. She was Uncle Olek’s spinster daughter, older than Mitzi’s mother. She lived with Uncle Olek, and took care of him. Now she was planted firmly in front of the door, with her hands on her hips.

“Where do you all think you’re going?” Aunt Marie’s voice was stern, and the young men skittered to a stop in front of her. All of them were more afraid of Aunt Marie than they were of the intruders outside.

Mitzi felt a hand push him forward, and he cleared his throat. “Aunt Marie, we’re going out to help. We can’t just stay in here and let them burn down the village. They are threatening the village elders. We’ve got to go and help.”

“No, you don’t. You are to stay in here. We can’t afford to lose you, and the brigands have already left. You just wait right here until I get word from my father.”

By the time the boys were able to leave the house, the barn was fully engulfed. The brigands were outside the village on a hill. They stood and watched the blaze.

Mitzi’s father and the other elders of the grange were frantically filling buckets to keep sparks from the barn under control, but there was no saving the barn. Herr Piotroski signaled the boys to come help with the buckets.

Duroski could be heard laughing as he and his men left for their camp next to the burned-out manor house.

****

That evening, as Mitzi sat at his little table to take notes, he felt waves of anger and determination wash across the meeting. After the intruders had left that day, the village spent a long time dealing with hot spots in the barn. The only thing that kept it from burning other buildings were the old stone walls, and the fact that there was almost no hay left after the winter.

The leaders of the grange were seated at the front table. Everyone was streaked with soot, and exhausted. Herr Piotroski stood and announced that the brigands had demanded that the supplies be set out on the morrow. And further, if the supplies were not put out, two houses in the village would be set afire.

At this statement, the mood of the villagers became, if anything, more determined. Snatches of conversation drifted across the courtyard. Mitzi’s mother could be heard. “But what if they have firearms? What can we do for that?”

There was more hand waving and shouting. It was very difficult for Mitzi to write down what was happening, because he had trouble telling what the consensus was.

Uncle Olek said, “We have six light crossbows in the village. And a couple of the boys are very good. But they would never stand against a concerted attack. There are still more of them than there are of us.”

Finally the grim defeated mood shifted. More and more, the hand waving was to support a plan of attack. Ideas came faster, and eyes lit with hope and defiance. Finally Herr Piotroski stood. “If this plan has any chance of success, everyone must do their part. If not we will have a disaster.”

****

Mitzi was at his post on top of Uncle Olek’s house. His part of the plan was to watch the watcher. The Cossacks had a man at the edge of the clearing near the road. He had been there since first light.

Mitzi knew this because he had been out on the roof, lying on his stomach and watching the road all night. As jobs went, it wasn’t too hard. The worst part was the almost overwhelming smell of bacon grease, and it was making Mitzi hungry.

One of the main sources of income in New Olbermann was rendered pig fat. They collected it in barrels and sent it in to town to sell in the fall after the slaughter, and again in the spring when they thinned the hogs.

Today the barrels of pig fat were being used for something else. In the center of the village, he could see the tables set up again. It seemed that nothing could happen in the village without tables being set up in the courtyard. But this time, instead of setting the table up at one end of the courtyard, the tables were right in the center. Food, barrels of beer, and other consumables were stacked in the open area on the tables.

After some time, the activity around the table stopped, and the villagers withdrew to their houses. Everyone waited for ten minutes, then Mitzi noticed the watcher nod his head in satisfaction. Then he strolled down into the grove, and ambled towards his camp.

“That’s it! He’s gone to his camp,” called Mitzi. The tension in the village ratcheted even higher. Final preparations were made, and the smell of frying bacon lay over the village like a blanket.

From this point on, his job was to tell everybody in the village where the intruders were. It was just a faint clatter that attracted Mitzi’s attention. Turning, he saw the brigands. They were all trooping over the hill, dressed in flashy tabards and shirts. “Uncle Olek, here they come. I think it’s all of them, all right. They must all be really hungry.”

Uncle Olek was inside the window, at the top of the stairs. “Mitzi, can you tell if they’re carrying any guns?”

Mitzi shaded his eyes and looked carefully. “No, Uncle Olek, I don’t see any guns. I don’t see any crossbows, either. Almost all of them have a club or a sword, but that’s all I see. I don’t think they expect us to resist.”

The Cossacks marched right up into the courtyard of the village. Everybody was safely inside. Mitzi crouched down on his rooftop so they wouldn’t notice him, but none of them looked up.

Jarusz dismounted and walked over to the tables. “Very nice spread.” He turned to the men. “You there, Pavel. You get the first taste.”

Pavel was a young man, but Mitzi didn’t like the looks of him. The wastrel had close-set eyes and greasy, unkempt hair. He stepped up to the table. “Smell that? Fresh food!” He picked up a piece of bread and tore into it hungrily.

The captain watched him for a moment and then grinned. He slapped Pavel on the shoulder. “I guess it’s not poisoned. Have at it, men.”

Pavel looked startled, but then grinned and picked up a hunk of cheese. The rest of the men surged forward. “That sure makes me hungry,” said Pavel.

With a rush, the outsiders flooded into the courtyard, crowding around the table and grabbing samples for themselves. The mood among them turned almost festive as they congratulated themselves over their easy conquest of this village of sheep.

Mitzi watched closely. When the last man was inside the village, Mitzi called in a clear piercing voice, “Now!”

With a crash, barricades were thrown up across the entrances to the center of the village. At the same time, second story windows overlooking the intruders were thrown open, and cauldrons of boiling grease were poured on the men below. The resulting howls of rage turned to fear when flaming bundles of straw were cast down on the men. The grease caught fire.

The Cossacks ran from side to side, trying to dislodge the barricades, but these were the bolsters used at harvest time when the hogs were driven into town from the surrounding woods. They were very sturdy and pig proof.

The fire spread following trails of the hot grease, and the food on the table was now aflame. Many of the brigands were on fire as well. Some of them were trying to climb over the barricades, and others were pounding on the village doors, trying to escape the building conflagration. The houses had all been built in a day and age that called for fortification from time to time, so the doors were very thick and reinforced, and there were no windows on the first floor, only small arrow slits.

Now, any time a man came within range of one of the arrow slits, a rain of crossbow bolts drove him back to the center of the courtyard. Upstairs, now that the grease was all spent, pots of boiling water were dumped on the men in the center. And from the rooftops, Mitzi and his cousins sent an avalanche of field stones onto the heads of the men below.

A group of five or six men picked up anything they could use as shields, and together they forced their way through the barrier on one side of the courtyard. But they were the only ones that escaped. Smoke and steam obscured the sights below, and finally the screams stopped.

For a moment, the village was silent. Mitzi felt an odd feeling of horror. It had been much worse attacking these men than it ever was dealing with slaughtering the hogs. The picture of a man covered in flame, trying to climb over the barrier kept repeating in his mind’s eye.

Then his father, Hans stuck his head out of the garret window. “Mitzi? Are you all right? Come in here, boy.” As he scrabbled down off the roof, he started thinking about exactly what they had accomplished. They had won! The Cossacks were dead! He climbed back into Uncle Olek’s house.

When he walked out onto the square, he really was a mixture of emotion. He was relieved that it was over, he was still excited by the battle, and he was sickened by the carnage.

The flames had only scorched the stone fronts of the old houses, but he couldn’t bring himself to look at the bodies yet. He felt his stomach clench. A wave a nausea flooded his mouth, and he had to run out of the courtyard and empty his gut over and over. And still the vision of the flaming man was before his eyes.

****

The gunman lay crumpled face down in the red dust of the street. A wisp of smoke curled away from Mitzi’s six shooters. Mitzi looked around. In that window protruded a rifle barrel. From the door of the hardware store, Uncle Olek with his big old horse pistol looked out. And there was Mitzi’s mother, gathering up the family pistols from his brothers and sisters. He might never know exactly who shot Black Bart, but he or his family, it was the same.

****

Mitzi bent over and grabbed another chunk of rock. With a quick twist of his shoulders, he threw the rock to the pile at the edge of the field. It just wasn’t fair. After everything that happened, here he was picking rocks again. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Then he heard a familiar whistle over the hill. Aleksy was home! He hurried out of the field just as Aleksy came to the wall. “Aleksy, you’re back!”

“Yes, when the news of your difficulties came to the ear of the count, he insisted that I hurry home to help. But from what I heard in town, I’m too late. You have already saved the day all on your own.”

Mitzi grinned, and then his face fell. “Yes, I guess we did. But Aleksy, you didn’t see it. It wasn’t like the book, not the same at all.”

Aleksy nodded, and the two of them walked toward the village together, not speaking. When they came into the village, Mitzi shouted, “Aleksy is home!”

That brought everyone out of the houses. Herr Piotroski slapped Aleksy on the back. “It is definitely time for a party tonight.”

****

That night, the table was set up in the courtyard. Everything had been repaired after their encounter with the thieves, but the town still felt uncomfortable with the awful truth.

So the first thing they did that night was hold a torchlight procession out to the hill near the manor. There they placed a sign on the mass grave dug in the hill. And it said:

“Here are the graves of twenty-seven men.

They came to steal our food and burn our houses.

They never left.”

New Olbermann Grange

****

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