he night was filled with the glow of nine torches burning brightly in the darkness. Meir galloped alongside Adin, his best friend, and seven armed peasants hired to help them track down the supposed kidnapper.

“Faster! Faster!” Meir urged his horse frantically. The only sounds were hoofbeats and loud breathing.

“Stop!” one of the peasants yelled and brought his horse to a sudden stop. “There! Look at the road! Someone has passed through here on a carriage.”

Adin leaped off of his horse and swung his torch so that its light danced along the ground and illuminated deep track marks in the mud.

“We’re on the right trail, my friend.”

Suddenly they heard the sound of voices further up the road.

“GO! GO!” Adin roared.

Everyone charged full speed ahead down the dark road.

“Stop!” Meir bellowed as two men wearing black robes appeared ahead on the road.

The peasants withdrew weapons and began galloping in circles around the two strangers.

“We’re just beggars traveling to our lodgings!” The men threw back their hoods to reveal long, unkempt beards and travel-worn skin. “Whoever it is you are after, we’re not them!”

“Empty your pockets!” Adin barked. “Any weapons?”

Stale bread crusts and three coins quickly appeared.

“Did you see a girl pass through here?” Meir peered through the inky blackness to see the men better.

“No girls. Just a man on a wagon several hours ago.”

“What did he look like?” Meir’s heart began to race.

“Masked face. Was smoking a pipe, I believe. We asked for a donation and he threw a rag in our faces. A real nasty fellow.”

“Let me see the rag.” Adin ordered.

“Here.” The beggar tossed it to him. “I figured I’d use it for something at some point.”

“No clues here. It just reeks of smoke.” Adin shrugged.

“Let me see that.” Meir took the rag and noticed the unique emblem imprinted in the corner. “I know this sign. This rag came from the House of Dufin. Dufin is a wealthy landowner, a poritz, who I’ve done business with in the past.”

“Did you have trouble with him?” Adin asked.

“No, not at all.”

“There must have been something that angered him. He hired someone to kidnap your daughter!”

“There’s only one way to find out.” Meir swallowed hard. “We have to go to his palace.”

“Doesn’t he live across the river?” one of the peasants asked. “That’s another few days of travel. Are we going to be paid more?”

“Money isn’t a concern!” Meir said angrily. “I’ll pay each one of you so much money you won’t know what to do with it! Just help me get my daughter back!”

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 755)