Of the many layers built into my epic poem The Atternen Juez Talen, I have a particular fondness for integrating folktales, fables, and legends into my stories, modified to fit the time and location. The following scene integrates components of a traditional Slavic fairy tale, to help build out the detail. I have translated it back into Old English (standard English) prose, to make it more accessible.
“I once was a poor man, just like you. Poverty wrapped herself just like a noose around my neck. I could hardly breath. Or like burrs that twist up in a boy’s hair so you can’t pull ‘em out, so she clung to me. Indentured myself to a local knight who was granted a fief, rewardin’ his sword. All gnarled and pocked his face and his heart, and he turned his eye on my darling child. Ever and again, with leer and with sneer he come to my cottage burnin’ for the girl. Oh, her tremblin’ and, oh, her tears and oh, the appall that blanched her face. She who could buy us an honorable life, but I, I preferred my poverty than to sell my child to that viperous knight. And so I endured indignities rakin’ his pigsty and makin’ cakes of cow dung, while he cursed and spit. Nor did he spare the lash to my back, until my heart were cold as ice.”
“An indentured man is owned like a mule but I decided to run away. Troublous times, skirmish and raid. Our lor be off lootin’ in slaughter and rape. That’s when I ups and decides to flee. I borrows an oxcart out of his barn, me as the ox; and my wife and my girls begins to load it with all we own. Now I hears a moan from the stove, and louder it groans, so I peek inside. Scrape and grate and out of the coals like a wisp of smoke, a spirit emerges, pale as a corpse, nor more than ash. Children scream and my wife faints, and me, I spits and calls on The Name.
“‘I ain’t no dybbuk. Be not afeared. I am your Poverty, indentured to you like a servant. I go where you go.’
“Wondrous strange and my mind a-race that such a one is bound to me.
“‘Well, there’s nothin’ for it. You are ours, and those who serve must do their work, so help us carry some of our things.’
“The wraith glides over to pick up a dish but my children say, ‘nay, that’s for us.’ Me, I pulls out a bottle of schnaps and sets it in front of the fireplace, then says,
“‘I need your help out here to put the choppin’ block in the cart.’
“I takes my ax and swings it down to wedge its blade into the block.
“‘Where can I grab this heavy block?’
“asks she. I points and says,
“‘There by the blade of the ax the wood be split. Slip your fingers into the crack.’
“So done. And me, quick as a cat pulls out the ax and the crack squeezes closed, and her hand is caught in the block like a clamp. Oh cry; oh scream; oh bitter her moan and me and my girls we hustle away down the road to Rovno, here.
“Now soon the gnarly knight returns, and there, our house open wide as a barn and nothin’ inside, but a bottle of schnaps.
“‘Them bastard Jews be run away,’
“he growls, and takes a gulp from the crock. And another gulp and he hears the moan of the wraith outside,
“‘Help me, oh Lor.’
“Thinkin’ a spirit be callin’ on him, another gulp and he pokes his head out the window, and there, the girl.
“‘Who be you, oh prissy maid?’
“And she, a-thinkin’ of what to do, and sees there’s nothin’ for it, says,
“‘Oh handsome knight, oh savin’ lor, see here. My hand be caught in this block.’
“And the tipsy knight, his head a swirl, comes to inspect, and the wraithy girl kisses his neck, and a fire begins to warm the old man, and he frees her hand. Not many days and the two are betrothed. Now see how Poverty clings to his arm, and soon that knight has lost his lands and now he’s livin’ in my old hut. And here I am attached to a prince, keepin’ accounts and managin’ his lands. Now lift your eyes and looky ahead. There be his castle and that’s where I live.”