On the – almost – last page of his new novel Lux Perpetua Andrzej Sapkowski writes: „Farewell my good and noble sirs. May Providence shield you on your travels from calamity and bad luck. No, no. I told you, enough is enough, that’s the end of my yarn. My fancy can fly no more.” So ends the imposing, 1800-page, trilogy set in the first half of the 15th century in a Lower Silesia racked by bloody wars and continuously broken and patched-up alliances. If we add that the region was a scene of acute religious conflict in whic Hussitism played the chief role, we have an ideal backdrop for a writer of historical novels.
And indeed, on the first level the Narrentum, God’s Worriors and Lux Perpetua are a well spun yarn about times past. The author makes every effort to acquaint us even with the war machines of those times. This passion for engineering makes Andrzej Sapkowski a kind of Polish Tom Clancy who, instead of developing a fascination for modern submarines, devotes his labours and many pages to descriptions of old-fashioned armoury. Except that our author is far, far more sophisticated than Clancy.
For on another level, Sapkowski’s trilogy is a polemic with the tradition of the Polish historical novels of Kraszewski or Sienkiewicz, who wrote about cruel times depriving them of their cruelty and basic human dimension. Whereas the author of the Witcher does not conceal that his characters are not – let us say – refined people but wallow in what Bakhtin called the “material-corporeal pit.”
- Mariusz Czubaj, Polityka nr 48/2006
“Reynevan! Here! Quick!”
Someone at the back of the courtyard howled, wheezed and choked. Reynevan leapt to his feet and ran towards the gate. An arrow whistled past his head. Then a bang and a flash – a fiery puddle spilled over the cobbled courtyard, filling the air with the stink of burning fat. A second bottle crashed against the house wall and burst with oily flames which cascaded in a flood over the ledges. The third bottle fell on the stairs, the fire ball instantly engulfing the two bodies lying there with a hiss of vaporised blood. More missiles came flying from the gate. Suddenly it became light as day. Reynevan saw a bearded figure in a fox fur hat kneeling behind a vestibule pillar. It could only be the master of the house, Maizl Nachman ben Gamaliel. Kneeling next to him was a youth who with trembling hands was trying to load an harquebus. Behind the other pillar stood Rixa Cartafila de Fonseca, holding a bloodied cleaver; the look on her face made Reynevan shudder. Just behind her, with a strange-looking firearm stood…
“Thybald Raabe? You here?”
From the gate flew more arrows, knocking plaster off the walls. The youth trying to load the harquebus shrieked and curled up. Rixa took a step back from the roaring flames, covering her face with her forearm. Reynevan dragged the boy behind the wall. Thybald Raabe gave him a hand.
“Bad…” panted the goliard. “Things are bad, Reynevan. They’re about to attack… We won’t last…”
From the gate, as if backing up the claim, came a war cry, a hatred-filled howl. Swords flashed, naked blades glistened in the fire glow.
“Death to Jews!”
Rabbi Maizl Nachman ben Gamaliel rose to his feet. He turned his face to the heavens. Spread out his arms.
“Baruch Ata Hashem, Eloheinu,” he cried out, as if intoning a song. “Melekh ha-olam, bore meori haesh!”
The house wall cracked and exploded with a plume of plaster, lime and mortar. From the cloud of dust emerged something, something that had been in that wall, bricked up. Reynevan gasped loudly, Thybald Raabe practically sat on the ground.
“Emet, emet, emunah! Abracadabra! Abracaamra!”
The thing which emerged from the wall was roughly human shape, a kind of clay snowman, except that between its massive shoulders where its head should have been, it had a slight bump. Shorter than a man of medium height, it was squat and stocky like a barrel, it marched on its stumpy legs, with big fat paws swinging just above the ground. Before Reynevan’s eyes, the paws clenched into fists, huge like bombard shots.
Golem, I thought, it’s a golem. The truest golem, the legendary clay golem, the dream of wizards. The dream, the passion and obsession of Radim Tvardik of Prague. Wish Radim was here… Wish he could see that…
Golem roared, or hooted, like a giant ocarina. The Magdeburgian mob crammed in the gate was struck with fear, the horror petrified the thugs, drained the power from their legs. They stood unable to escape as the golem ran towards them in a swaying trot. They didn’t even defend themselves as he fell on the throng thrashing it with his massive fists in a measured, methodical way. A scream, a horrifying scream, rent the night’s air over Yavor. It didn’t last long. In the silence which followed one could hear the hiss of burning oil floating on the puddles.
A thick mixture of blood and brains slowly trickled down the gate wall. .
The sun rose. The clay golem having returned to the hole in the wall, stood there, blending in with the surroundings, practically invisible.
“I was dead, and here I am alive,” said Maizl Nachman ben Gamaliel sorrowfully. “But blood has been shed. A lot of blood. May I be forgiven when the Judgment Day comes.”
“You saved innocent lives.” Rixa Cartafila de Fonseca motioned her head towards a portly woman embracing and cuddling three black-haired girls. “You were defending the lives of your loved ones, rebbe, from those who meant to harm them. Says the Lord: Mind what Amalek did to you on the way out of Egypt. You shall clear the name of Amalek from under the sky. You have cleared it.”
“I have.” The Jew’s eyes lit up only for the light to die immediately. “And what now? Abandon everything again? Again wandering? Nailing mezuzas to new doors?”
“It’s my fault,” Thybald Raabe mumbled. “I exposed you to harm. It’s because of me now…”
“I knew who you were,” interrupted him Maizl Nachman, “when I was giving you shelter. I supported your cause, out of conviction. I was aware of the risks. Well, I’m not new to escape and wandering either…”
“I don’t think it necessary,” said Reynevan. “When taking corpses away, the locals had a clear view of the matter: they wanted to rob you and you defended yourself. I don’t think anyone in Yavor holds that against you. And no one will bother you if you stay.”
“Ah, holy innocence,” sighed Maizl Nachman. “Holy and good… Your name is… Reynevan?”
“It is Reynevan, indeed,” chipped in Thybald Raabe. “I know him and vouch for him…”
“Ay, what are you vouching me? He helped a Jew. What better voucher do I need? Hey, what’s wrong with your hand, girl? The one with the tsadik Chalafta’s ring?”
“Three broken fingers,” replied Rixa coldly. “It’s nothing. It’ll be all right on the wedding day.”
“What wedding? Who will want you? Old, mouthy, rash, and you can’t cook either – I’ll wager whatever you want, even my own tallith. Give me your hand shiksa. Jehe sz'meh raba mewarach l'alam ul'almej almajja!”
Before Reynevan’s disbelieving eyes Rixa’s fingers straightened out, the swelling disappeared and the bloody bruises dissolved into nothing. The girl sighed, flexing her hand. Reynevan shook his head.
“Well, well…” he said slowly. “I’m a medic myself, rebbe Maizel, and I’m not a stranger to artes magicae. But to heal sprained joints so smoothly… I’m full of admiration. I wonder where one can learn this…”
“From me,” said the rabbi tersely. “When you have seven years to spare, look me up. And don’t forget to get circumcised. But now, as King Salomon used to say to Queen Sheeba – let us move to the business in hand. You wanted information. Let me learn your business.”
Reynevan briefly explained. Maizl Nachman listened, his beard nodding.
Translated from the Polish by Wiesiek Powaga