"If you want to ever see the boy alive, you need to impress me. Quickly"
Marat spoke slowly, his gaze steady on Naftali’s face.
“You know something, little child? I think it might be a shame to see your little mind go to waste. Just a pity. You’re clever, and there’s not too many boys like you in this world. If I’m the king of strength, then perhaps you’re the master of wits.”
“I don’t understand what you’re getting at.”
“I’m offering you a way out. Better act quick, or I’ll reconsider my offer.”
“Ah… How much?”
“Go fetch every coin in this village, boy. Then, I’ll tell you how much.”
Even with Chaim's help, the sum they brought back to Marat was not pleasing to the giant fiend.
“Never mind my entire proposition.” Marat snarled at the bag of coins Chaim offered him. “If I’m going to renege on a direct order from my king, I won’t do it for less than a real fortune. If you want to ever see the boy alive, you need to impress me. Quickly. Otherwise, we’re leaving right now.”
Chaim glanced at Naftali, whose face was white.
“Wait a moment. I just realized I can still add to these coins. I’ll be right back.”
“No, don’t bother.” Marat grabbed Naftali by his shoulder and shoved him toward the door. “I never should have bothered. We’re leaving this moment, and if you stop me, I’ll—”
Chaim threw himself in front of the door.
“Stop! Just give me a moment and I’ll bring you more money!”
Marat reached out with his free hand and sent Chaim sprawling onto the hallway floor.
He swung Naftali over his shoulder, kicking and screaming, and stomped out of the inn.
Chaim raced for his own room, screaming at Marat to wait.
Outside, Marat stepped in front of a man passing by in a wagon.
Marat unsheathed his sword and tipped it toward the wagon driver.
The wagon driver sized up the fierce looking giant and bolted for safety.
“Get in the wagon, boy.”
Chaim arrived, panting, and dragging a large chest behind him.
“Don’t take the boy, and you can have the entire chest.”
“Here.” Chaim knelt to the ground and opened the chest lid. “It’s all yours. The money for the boy. A fair trade.”
“Fair trade?” Marat looked at the thick pile of coins inside the chest and a grin spread across his face. “Yes, yes, it looks like you are right.”
“It’s too heavy to carry, but we can each take a side and throw it in the wago—”
Marat brushed Chaim aside and lifted the chest with ease. The lid snapped shut loudly and Marat slid the chest onto the wagon.
“Thank you for doing this. But we both know I’ve given you a very giant sum for the boy.”
Marat suddenly snorted with laughter. He lifted Naftali up again and tossed him into the wagon, leaping inside himself in one giant bound. The wagon rocked back and forth and the horses whinnied.
“Goodbye.” Marat snapped the reigns, and the wagon took off.
Chaim ran behind the wagon, shouting in protest.
And then, as suddenly as he had taken off, the Marat stopped the wagon.
Naftali rolled off the wagon. Chaim grabbed his arm and they both took several steps backward.
“And what am I supposed to say to the king?” Marat stared off into the distance. “Should I risk my own head for a chest full of coins?”
“Tell the king that the child died along the way. Say there was a storm, and that the boy passed away in this village. He was buried here in our local cemetery, and we will back up your story if they ever come to verify your words.”
Marat considered Chaim’s words for a few moments. Then he took off, disappearing with the wagon into the distant wilderness.
Chaim breathed a sigh of relief.
“Hopefully we’ll never see him again.” The innkeeper turned to Naftali. “You cannot return home; you must stay here for a few years. I will provide you with everything you can possibly need — food, shelter and study partners.”
“How can I ever repay you for your kindness?”
“Don’t even think of such things. I am just thankful that your life was spared, and that I was able to play some part in it.”
Chaim was true to his word. Naftali spent the next period of his life learning around the clock, while all of his needs were provided by Chaim. Eventually, the innkeeper approached the young talmid chacham and requested that he commit to taking his own daughter as a kallah.
“I know soon the entire village will be making you offers, Naftali, but I would be so honored to have you as my son-in-law.”
Naftali committed, but on one condition.
“Tell me, what was the money in the chest going to be used for?”
“Hmmm? Oh, the money we gave to that rasha… That was a fortune of money I had saved up since my daughter was just a baby, it was meant to be used for her wedding.”
“I thought so… Listen, I would like us to add right here in the contract that I am committing, with the help of Hashem, to one day pay back the entire sum of money that was inside that chest and give it all to your daughter.”
“There is no need to make such a condition, Naftali. I am fully moichel and would do it again in a heartbeat!”
“Still, I feel I must one day pay you back. Let us please add it.”
“Okay, if you feel so strongly about it, I will allow it.”
Neither one of them had any inkling how such a massive sum of money could ever be repaid, let alone by a man who had no plans of going into any sort of business.
But Hashem has a plan, and the stage was now set for more miracles to occur.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 913)
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