You’re being taken to die, boy. If you were smart, you would have run for it while I was sleeping
Chaim ushered Marat and Naftali into his most expensive room. “Don’t worry about payment. Stay as long as you like.”
“We’re not staying any longer than this snowstorm lasts. But in the meantime, where’s the alcohol you promised?”
“Coming right up.”
Chaim disappeared from the room and a few moments later returned with a heavy box.
“This alone is worth a small fortune. Enough heavy drinks to last a week…. I’ll come back in a moment with some food.”
Chaim left and came back with copious amounts of food for his two guests.
“Thank you,” Naftali whispered.
“Of course.” Chaim cast Naftali a significant glance. “Eat up, you look like you’re going to faint from exhaustion and hunger.”
Marat watched the exchange closely.
“Don’t talk to him.”
“I was onl—”
“No.” Marat’s dark eyes bore into Chaim.
Chaim nodded and quickly backed out of the room.
Naftali reached for a piece of food, and Marat watched him silently as he began to eat. After a few bites, Marat stood up and slapped the food out of Naftali’s hands.
“You’re still a prisoner. Don’t forget that.” Marat tossed the blanket on one of the two beds onto the floor. “Sleep.”
Naftali lay down on the hard floor, grateful, despite the circumstances, to be in a warm room and not traveling through a snowstorm.
He watched through one eye as Marat opened the box and chugged down an entire bottle without pause. The giant man smacked his lips in satisfaction and settled onto his bed, which creaked and sank underneath his weight.
Sleep fell over both, and they drifted off as the snow piled up on the windowsills.
Naftali woke as the first rays of sunshine poured through the windowpanes.
He turned and saw Chaim standing by the door, which was slightly open.
Silently, the innkeeper beckoned to him.
Naftali rose from the floor.
“Tell me your story.”
Naftali told him. Behind him, Marat snored loudly, his long arms hanging from the sides of the bed.
“I’ll think of something. Just daven.”
“I haven’t stopped davening since he took me.”
Marat stirred in his sleep, and Chaim quickly slipped away, shutting the door softly behind him.
“Best sleep I’ve had in too long.” Marat swung himself off the bed with a satisfied sigh. “And the vodka here is golden.”
“Maybe we should stay longer.”
Marat looked out the window. A cold blast of wind rattled the glass and the giant shivered.
“We leave today. But first, another drink.”
Another empty bottle rolled across the floor a moment later. And then another… Marat stuffed himself with some more of the food from the previous night. Eventually, he fell back onto the bed, which folded underneath him like an accordion. Soon he was snoring.
Naftali watched Marat sleeping and began to plot his escape.
It was now or never.
Naftali pushed the door open and saw a long hallway before him. He ran down the hallway, followed a winding staircase to the main landing, and found himself face-to-face with Chaim the innkeeper.
“How did you get away?”
“He’s drunk himself into a drunken stupor. I need a horse.”
Chaim led Naftali outside, behind the inn. It was no longer snowing, but the ground was covered with several feet of snow and the temperature was below freezing. Chaim unlocked the padlock to the stables, and Naftali followed him over to one of the horses.
“Wait.” Chaim placed his hand on Naftali’s shoulder.
“There’s no time! I need to get onto the horse and gallop off! He may wake up at any moment!”
“I know, I know.” Chaim sighed. “But you won’t make it more than a few miles in these conditions. Besides, you’re still a child. You’re built for the warm walls of the beis medrash, not for the deadly cold outdoors. And if by some neis you make it back home, then what? Who knows if they’ll bother executing you in the city square. They may just choose to finish you off right where they find you.”
“Please, just give me a horse!”
“I can’t.” Chaim wiped a tear from his eye. “It would be a twisted act of kindness. I would really be sentencing you to almost certain death.”
“So what would you have me do?” Naftali’s voice shook. “Return to that room and wait faithfully for him to awaken? Be good until he brings me to the city square for my execution? I can’t just sit idly by while he drags me to my death!”
“What is your name, child?”
“Naftali. Naftali HaKohein Katz, from Ostrowo.”
“Naftali, return to the room and stay there for now.”
“You’re telling me it’s better to resign myself to certain death, instead of at least trying to escape?”
“Taking this horse and collapsing a mile away from here in the snow is not an escape.” Chaim shook his head. “There must be a better way, and we will find it. If Hashem arranged such miracles that you’ve turned up in our village, instead of some random place, then Hashem is clearly guarding you from harm. All will be well, Naftali. Just place your complete faith in Hashem, and we will both see you saved from this terrible situation. Now go quickly, before that man awakens!”
Naftali nodded, then turned and ran back to his room.
Marat awoke later that evening. He sat up and blinked as he swiveled his head to take in his surroundings.
“You’re still here, little one?”
“Where else would I be?”
“You’re being taken to die, boy. If you were smart, you would have run for it while I was sleeping.”
“And then what would have happened?”
“I would have chased you down until the ends of the earth, bringing the full wrath of the king’s men on your head when I found you.”
“So, Marat, am I smart?”
Marat stared at Naftali for a long while, the cogs in his brain turning slowly. Then he opened his enormous mouth, and his laughter shook the rafters.
When he had finished laughing, he stared at Naftali, deep in thought. Finally, he spoke.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 912)
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