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Broken Branches Chapter 2

Posted by Jerry E Beuterbaugh Labels: ,

Chapter Two
I do not have the words to describe how I felt when I came to.  In fact, I am not sure of actually losing consciousness.  For it seemed like no time had passed at all since when everything went so very dark and quiet.

What I can tell you is that I found myself lying face down in some snow, but I did not feel cold.  It was no longer quiet, and despite keeping my eyes shut, I could tell that it was no longer dark.  Well, at least not as dark as before.  For when I opened my eyes, I could see that it was after sundown, with several people carrying torches as they walked past.

Torches?  Where had I landed?

I sat up and turned my head to look when I heard what sounded like horses and the creaking of wooden wagon wheels approaching from behind me.  I must admit that I screamed like a little girl when I saw the right front hoof of the lead horse go right through me, and it sure did not help my disposition to improve when I saw one of the wagon wheels slice through my groin.  No, I did not feel a thing, but thoughts can certainly count for a lot at times.

“Well, I have certainly heard much more manly screams in my time.”

I whipped my head around and saw a man looking right at me from a couple of feet away.  With long snow-white hair and a full snow-white beard, I immediately thought that he must be quite old, but the rest of him looked much younger.  He also had piercing blue eyes that seemed to twinkle as he held an impish grin while looking at me.

The man then asked me, “How much longer are you going to sit there in the middle of the road?”

“What just happened?”

“You were run over by a horse-drawn wagon.  Are your eyes not seeing well?”  His grin widened considerably after he asked me about my eyesight.

“You can see me?”

“Yes.  I can see you very well, actually.”

“Can anyone else see me?”

“No, none of these people can see you, and after that scream, it should be fairly clear to you that they also cannot hear you.”

“Am I dead?  Where are we?  What year is it?  WHAT IS GOING ON?”

“I assure you that all of your questions will be answered in due time, but for now, I can tell you that we are in Moldova and the year is 1700, according to the Julian calendar.  I can also tell you that you have been brought back in time to observe the lives of several people.  Come on now, we are going to miss the start of the worship service.”

I stood up and followed him down the street.  We entered an alley that took us deeper and deeper into what looked like the darkest part of town.  Nothing appeared to be obscured from my sight, but as we walked, I could see where illumination from torches became less and less.

It really did not feel like I was walking.  My legs were moving, but it felt more like I was flowing from one point to the next than anything else.

We stopped in front of a doorway to a small house, and it was at this time that I noticed I was wearing the same kind of long white robe as my guide was.  Oh, and we were both barefoot!

Being barefoot may have not been much of deal for you, but it was for me.  For the bottoms of my feet are excruciatingly ticklish, and I NEVER go barefoot of my own accord.

My mind was reeling, and it started spinning even more out of control when I saw my guide pass through the doorway without opening the door.  I was feeling rather faint when his left arm reached back through the door and pulled me inside the house.

The room was small—way too small to comfortably accommodate all of the people crowded into it.  I lost count at thirty standing shoulder to shoulder in less than twenty square feet of space, and I could swear that I felt three or four shudder as I passed through them while being led by my guide to the other side of the room and next to another door.

“Why didn’t we just go around the outside of the house and enter into this side of the room to begin with?”  All I received in reply to my question was a dirty look.

A few minutes after we arrived, a rather large man stood up from where he had been sitting in a chair next to where we were standing.  Everyone in the room became very quiet, and he started to sing in an incredible voice.

The song was about the Torah being given to Moses and entrusted to God’s chosen people, the Israelites.  I was shocked to hear it being sung in English.  So, I just had to ask, “How can he be singing in English?”

My guide did not hesitate to answer with, “He is actually singing in Hebrew, but you are hearing it being sung in English, which is the language you are the most familiar with.  During the journey you are now on, you will hear many different languages as English, and the answer to what language you are actually hearing will be given to you in your mind without you having to ask for it.”

That answer both appeased and piqued my curiosity.  For what was this being given answers to questions I have not asked in my mind all about?

Almost instantaneously, he answered my question, which I had not asked out-loud and he did it in my mind.  For without him saying a word out-loud, I clearly heard my guide tell me that if I would try to focus more upon my thoughts, I would receive all sorts of information—with or without me wondering about something beforehand.

While I was still trying to absorb what had just happened, my guide turned to me and said, “I will continue to speak to you in an audible voice until you become better at hearing me in your mind.”  I smiled in gratitude, and he continued with, “The name of the cantor is Jasher.  He is the rabbi over this group, but you are actually here to observe the remaining years of Saul’s life, who is Jasher’s son.

My guide pointed toward a small man sitting by himself in the corner of another room.  The room was dark, and Saul was silently rocking his upper body up and down with his eyes tightly shut.  He looked to be well into his forties to me because of the great length of his jet black beard, but he was actually only in his twenties at the time.

Yes, I received that last bit of information in my mind as I was wondering about just how old Saul was, but he told me the rest in an audible voice.  “It is on account of how prolifically his beard grows that Saul was chosen to become the next chief priest over the region.  For the Jewish leaders took it as a sign from God that he would keep the Roman Catholic Inquisition at bay in the same way as Samson kept the Philistines at bay long ago, but this decision has not been taken well by everyone.”

After watching Saul rock up and down for what seemed like quite a while, I asked, “Is he praying?”

“Not really.  For he has secretly embraced the teachings of the Zohar, and he is trying to reach a higher level of consciousness through putting himself into a meditative state.”

“The Zohar?”

“Saul was raised a Sadducee.  Sadducees reject all teachings about spiritual life after physical death.  Their premise is that if God had of wanted mankind to live forever, there would be no death.  Therefore, make the best of what life one has been given, and be satisfied with it.  Saul was not satisfied with this, and he embraced the teachings of the Zohar as a means to rise above this level of existence and live forever in the same way as God does.”

“Whoa, that is awfully ambitious.”

“Indeed.”

I wanted to press for more information, but I had a feeling that now was not the time.  So, I brought my attention back upon observing the worship service.

The service ended, but Saul remained in the darkened room while still silently rocking back and forth.  Jasher looked in on his son, but he did not say anything to him.

After giving his father enough time to go to sleep in another room, Saul stood up and slipped out of the door we were standing next to, with us following closely behind.

A couple of miles outside of town, we came upon a fairly large cottage on the edge of a dense forest.  Saul knocked on the front door, and it opened a few seconds later.  Considering the fact that it had to have been well past midnight and way too early for even dedicated farmers to be up by then, it was rather obvious to me that Saul had been expected.

What happened next confirmed my suspicions.  For there were five men sitting around the room, and as soon as the front door closed behind Saul, and older man in what looked like some very expensive clothes asked him if he had the list.  Saul pulled out a piece of paper that he had carried in an inside pocket of his coat, and the older man eagerly took it from his hand.

As the older man read what was written on the piece of paper, he nodded his head up and down in an affirmative motion.  After he had finished reading, he walked over to a very ornate free-standing cabinet in one of the corners of the room and took out a plain cloth sack that appeared to be filled with something rather heavy, which he handed to Saul.

Much to my surprise, Saul told the older man in perfect Latin that it was pleasure doing business with him.  The older man smiled at Saul and then told him in perfect Hebrew that his mastery of Latin was coming along quite nicely.  They both had a good laugh, along with the other men in the room, and Saul left the cottage in high-spirits.

I looked at my guide to see if we were going to keep following Saul.  His head was bowed and shaking back and forth in a negative motion.  I had a feeling that this was not in anticipation of my question concerning whether or not we would be following Saul.

A few seconds later, my guide said, “We need to go back to town now.  We will catch up with Saul later.”

Oh how I wanted to ask my guide about what was going on.  For I was starting to believe that he knew everything ahead of time (or else had been there to see it all before).  However, I kept silent during our walk back to town.

I remained silent as we watched the dawn break.  It was an awesome sunrise, and I marveled at how much it reminded me of seeing the first rays of the sun chasing the shadows down the hillsides of Gaddis Hollow.

It was not long afterward when I heard the marching of many feet.  A column of soldiers came into view, with an officer on horseback out in front.  He stopped and pointed to one of the houses, and several of the soldiers started smashing in the front door with a heavy wooden post that had been fitted with leather straps to serve as handles.

Quickly after entering the house, the soldiers roughly drug out four adults and six children of various ages.  Two of the children were barely toddlers, and when they started to wail, two of soldiers slapped them until they became quiet.  A look of horror was on the faces of all of the inhabitants of the house, but the others kept silent as they were marched down the street in their bed-clothes.

My guide and I watched the soldiers smash down the doors of thirty-nine houses that morning, and by the time they were through, 112 people had been placed into custody.  Then the soldiers marched the people to the edge of town, where a large pit had been dug.  It looked to be around fifteen feet deep and thirty feet wide.

The soldiers tied the hands and feet of the people, gagged their mouths with dirty rags and wrapped them in rough blankets of muslin from head to toe.  When I saw one of the soldiers light a torch and throw it into the pit, which ignited what looked like a pool of crude oil at the bottom, I did not even look at my guide before demanding, “WHAT IS GOING ON?”  After seeing tears streaming down his face, I wished I had of asked more gently.

However, he replied.  “The list Saul compiled was the names of all of the Jewish families who had refused to accept Catholicism.  The man he handed it to in the cottage outside of town is the arch-bishop over this area.  The rest of men in that room were the local bishops and some parish priests.  They had been waiting on a complete list of the Jewish hold-outs to be compiled so that they could be rounded up in one swift operation.  For the secular leaders in Moldova had grown tired of the Inquisition, and the Catholics were afraid of their window of opportunity closing before they had completed what they fervently believe is their sacred duty to rid this world of Judaism.”

After pausing for a few minutes, my guide asked me, “Do you see the bundle containing the young mother and her three month-old triplets?”

I slowly nodded my head in an affirmative motion as the bundle was being thrown into the fire.

“That bundle holds Saul’s wife and his three daughters.  Saul believes that she is unable to bear him any sons, and since her father is one of the most highly respected Jewish leaders in all of Moldova, he did not see where he could just quietly divorce her without it causing quite a scandal.  So, when he heard of the Catholic desires to exterminate all of the Jews in this town, Saul considered it to be an answer to his problem.”

“But why would Saul want to help with the killing of ALL of them?  Did he not have another choice?”

“Saul felt like he did not have another choice.  For  he no longer wanted to be known as a Jew because of growing tired of being hated by others just on account of him being the son of his father.  In his mind, just killing his wife would have brought attention from outside of his group and make it harder for him to assume a new identity.  The Catholic desire to exterminate everyone from his group looked like the perfect solution to his dilemma.  For it would be assumed that he had been killed with all of the rest.

I thought I had detected a flaw in Saul’s strategy.  So, I asked, “What about those five Catholic men at the cottage?  Isn’t Saul afraid of one of them saying something?”

“Saul thinks that they will keep quiet because of being afraid of what the prince of Moldova would do to them.  For the prince has always been a friend to the Jews in his country, and we will see how that goes when we catch up to Saul again.”

In the blink of an eye (or less—perhaps much less) I found myself sitting opposite of my guide in an enclosed carriage that could comfortably sit four adults.  Saul was sitting next to my guide, and I was sitting next to a Catholic priest.

The carriage was being drawn by a matched pair of black horses, and accompanied by two cavalrymen in the front and back.  When we stopped at an inn for the evening, I saw that there had been four soldiers riding on top of the carriage, along with one sitting next to the coachman, who appeared to be a Catholic monk.

Later in the evening, I overheard the Catholic priest asking the monk if he was still okay with the plan to sneak into Saul’s room after he was asleep and slit his throat.  Saul also overheard this, and immediately went to the innkeeper for some help with making his escape.

It was at this time when I found out that the small purse given to Saul when he handed over the list at the cottage contained 100 ounces of gold dust.  I did not find out if that was in troy ounces, but a pinch evidently went a long way.  For after Saul gave the innkeeper a pinch of the gold dust, the innkeeper slipped him out of the back of his establishment and into another carriage, which carried Saul all the way to Constanta, where he secured passage on a Turkish ship, which took him across the Black Sea to Istanbul.

It was while onboard with Saul that my guide told me that it was time for him to disappear from my visible sight.  When I started to protest, he assured me that he would always be there to keep me from getting lost along my journey and to provide pertinent information through my thoughts.  I sure did not like it, but he did not give me a choice on the matter.

By the time Saul made it to Istanbul, he had shaved off his beard completely, as well as cut the length of the hair on his head very short.  Now speaking only in Latin, he would introduce himself as being Julius, and one would be hard-pressed to think of him as being Saul if they did not know better.

Saul exchanged some of his gold dust for silver coins, which made it easier for him to get around, and get around he did.  For Saul soon became more than just another customer to the madam of a brothel, and around three months later, he assumed the role of manager over her establishment.  This is where he lived the high life for the next sixteen years.

Saul’s luck finally ran out, though.  For the madam had him skinned alive by a couple of her loyal customers after discovering that he had impregnated one of her best girls.

The loyal customers were also paid to beat the pregnant prostitute so that she would lose the baby and get back to earning as much as she could, but they took pity on her condition.  So, instead of beating her, they took her to one of the Greek Orthodox monasteries that the Ottoman Turks had allowed to remain open.

Lo and behold, she gave birth to a son, but she died during the delivery.  The monks named the boy, Philip, and gave him to one of the midwives in attendance to raise as her own son.


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2 comments:

  1. Shadow

    Interesting turn of event here...

  1. Jerry E Beuterbaugh

    Thanks for stopping by, my dear Shadow!!! Hang on, it gets stranger.