Death and Fortune: Book One of 1526

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Chapter 15: The Dybbuk

Day Gives Way to Night


“You’ve been most kind to a poor, destitute prisoner,” spoke Harold as he stretched himself out on the floor, “Thanks be, that Sag Belly is a greedy man.”

Heinrich shrugged. From where he sat leaning against the wall, the dampness seemed to have seeped into every bone of his hungry body. The straw was mouldy. Moss grew from parts of the stonework and the urine and diarrhoea of the prisoners had pooled at one corner of the dungeon. “It is as you said,” Heinrich sneezed, “if I’m going hang either way no harm in helping a fellow man.”

“May Lady Fortune bless you,” Harold stood up and even in the dim light of the dungeon Heinrich could see that beneath his dirty rags Harold’s rib bones visibly protruded. “I never told you what I’m in for, did I.”

“No,” Heinrich touched the fragment of the tora he kept around his neck.

“I’m in for me debts,” said Harold.

“For your debts?”

“You heard me. I fell behind in my rents. Hard year and truth be told I wanted a new gown for the wife, boots for the son, and a hat for myself. Is that not reasonable?”

“Very reasonable,” said Heinrich as he wiped his runny nose on the hem of his robe.

“I couldn’t make my rents and old Long Chin the landlord he had me taken off to the keep until my family paid what’s owed. I figure I’ll be here till Lord Death takes me, for there’s little enough chance that my poor wife, nor my little son, bless their souls, will scrape together enough groats to feed themselves let alone free me.”

“It’s a cruel world,” said Heinrich

“That it is,” Harold scratched his head, “us both have been ill used by Fortune. But I’ve been thinking there might be a way to save you.”

“Go on,” said Heinrich.

“Those big hats, you Jews wear, they give much shade to your face, and that cloak of yours, covers you well does it not? So if another man were put in your place now, well it would take a man with a keener eye than me to tell the difference. Now, Sag Belly’s a greedy swine, and no one cares much about me. If we were to bribe him to let us change places and then you could pay him off and escape. Then more then likely I’ll hang in your place.”

“But what good do you get from such an arrangement,” said Heinrich.

Harold grinned, “I get to go to the land of glass and gold and bow before the All Father, so that my immortal soul will dwell forever in bliss, then I would welcome the scaffold. The bishop sells indulgences and that’s what I want. You buy me to heaven and I’ll get you out of here.” The debtor spat on his hand.

For the first time in weeks Heinrich felt his spirit lift. Perhaps he could take his family, go south with the Travellers and flee Eisenberg.

“There’s just one problem isn’t there,” Harold continued, There’s no way I can trust you to keep your word.”

“I can swear an oath, an oath on this tora scroll I have around my neck.”

“That won’t do,” said Harold. “You folk killed the Lamb of God. The oath of a Jew can’t be trusted.”


The evening rain spattered off the hats and cloaks of the mercenaries as they marched through the rows of dripping grape vines heavy with the new seasons fruit.

“This Lord will have a rich cellar,” said Sokal as they drew up to the high, arched oak doors of the noble house. The mercenaries kept their hands on their weapons as they crowded around the threshold.

Peter lifted the iron knocker and slammed it three times against the wood. The cold northerly sent sheets of rain hammering into them and peter was about to suggest breaking the door down. When he heard the sound of a latch moving.

Standing to greet them was a portly man with receding grey hair, dressed in wealthy yet old-fashioned hose and tunic. He looked at the assembled soldiers and Peter could see his eyes moving over their swords and muskets and lingering on the Turkish princess. “Welcome,” he said and bowed, “to the house of His lordship the Marquis Ujlaki.”

“We are in need of lodgings,” said Peter, “is the lord of the house at liberty?”

The man paused.

“Dead is he?” shouted one Peter’s soldiers, “Like all the other idiots, used his blood to oil a scimitar.”

“Don’t matter even if he is there.” Called out another, “the only lords in Hungaria now are those that wear turbans.”

“Best stoke the fire, master, and fry up the salted pork,” said a third man.

“Send yourself down to the cellar and break open your best casks,” said a forth.

“Have the maids and serving girls meet us in the hall,” said a fifth.

Peter smiled at the steward. “You’d best let us in quickly. The wetter my men are the less open to persuasion.”


“Tell me more about this Jewish Magic,” Harold’s pale skin appeared slightly luminous as he drew close to Heinrich, as close his manacles would allow.

“I don’t know if I can,” said Heinrich, “It’s dangerous to even speak about it, especially to a Christian.”

“Can it summon him,” whispered Harold, “the Oldest Enemy?”

“Oh no,” Heinrich looked toward the ceiling, “It summons the power of a dybbuk.”

“A dybbuk?” asked Harold, “what diabolical thing is this?”

“Shh, do not speak its name so loud. It is the dispossessed soul of a dead man bound to this earth.”

“And does it work, this Jewish spell?”

“Oh it works,” said Heinrich, “You feel a chill enter the room when the dybbuk is summoned, and if ever an oath made under such a ritual is broken the dybbuk will attach himself to the spirit of the oath breaker, it will torment him day and night and drive him to lunacy.”

“Will it?” Harold stared at Heinrich. His eyes had, over his long imprisonment, become like hollows in his thin bony face. “Will it harm my soul to be present for such a ritual?”

“I believe not,” said Heinrich, “It is after all us Jews who perform such magic, and there is little hope for our eternal souls in any case as we are forever damned by the murder of Christ.”

This answer seemed to satisfy Harold and he grinned excitedly. “Let’s do it. Let’s do it and then tomorrow we’ll bribe old Sag Belly to let us change places. You can walk and I shall go to heaven.”

“First,” Heinrich cleared away the mouldy straw. “We draw on the ground the six pointed star of David.” Using the iron case that held his scroll, Heinrich scraped the sign into the damp rock. Around the star he drew concentric circles. Then scratched beside them the Hebrew letters B and J.

“What now?” Harold whispered.

Heinrich began to chant prayers in Hebrew.

The sound of his secret language excited Harold even more who from his squatting position on the ground rocked back and forward.

“Dybbuk, dybbuk,” Heinrich cut his finger on the sharp edge of his manacle and dropped his blood into the star. “Dybbuk, hear me. It is Heinrich son of Mendel. I call you. Come, you are bound to me. Come I have an oath to make before you.” As Heinrich spoke he felt a chill in the air and his heart began to beet. In that dim, cold dungeon, his blood dripping onto the stone, Heinrich could easily imagine that he had actually summoned an evil presence. “Yahweh forgive me,” he murmured under his breath. “Dybbuk,” he spoke, “I feel that you are here and I ask you to hear my oath and if I should break it then…” he paused unwilling to say the words.

Harold looked on in horrified satisfaction.

“If I should break my oath, then my soul belongs to you, may you haunt me till Death take me.”

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