N icholas grasped the soldier by his shoulders.

“Who is dead?” he demanded.

“King Stephen VIII Báthory!” the soldier cried. “The illness that he has been battling for the past seven years has finally claimed his life!”

“So the King of Poland has died,” Nicholas repeated. He sighed.

“The rest of them are coming,” the soldier said, gesturing towards the horizon. “Soon, everyone will arrive at your castle.”

“What?” Nicholas asked in alarm. “What are you talking about?”

“Men are already fighting over who should succeed King Báthory,” the soldier replied wearily. “Half the Poles wish to be ruled by the Zamoyski family, and the other half want the Zborowski family to rule. Every man of power who has an opinion on the matter is heading towards your castle for an emergency meeting.”

“And what is the purpose of this meeting?” Nicholas asked in annoyance. “I never volunteered my castle to be the center of any debates!”

“I thought someone would have told you already,” the soldier said in surprise. “They have to elect a new king before daybreak tomorrow!”

A massive crowd of Polish-Lithuanian nobles sat around the long wooden table in the large castle dining room. Servants circled the table serving the royal guests fresh fruit and glasses of water.

The mood in the room was dark; the men all extremely somber. On Nicholas’s instructions, a servant played a mournful funeral song on a flute.

“No alcohol for your guests?” Shaul asked Nicholas. The prince had personally requested that Shaul interrupt his learning and join him at the head of the table.

“Ne! No!” Nicholas whispered back. “A little wine for these men will turn them all into animals. Trust me, this is going to be hard enough as it is. The arguing hasn’t even begun yet!”

“Enough of this pathetic silence!” a massive, red-bearded noble shouted suddenly, banging a meaty fist on the table. Everyone jumped in alarm. “Yes, I too am saddened at the loss of our mighty King, Stephen Báthory, son of Stephen VIII Báthory! But the country needs a leader! It is upon us to elect a king... today!”

“That is General Jan Zamoyski,” Nicholas whispered to Shaul. “He represents half of the people here who don’t want the Duke Maximilian of Austria to be elected as the new king!”

“Go on, tell us who you think should be elected,” sneered a tall, pale-faced man in royal clothes. “We all know that you would prefer anyone over the mighty Duke Maximilian!”

“And that is Peter, a member of the rich and powerful Zborowski family!” Nicholas murmured in Shaul’s ear. “Now watch as the two of them battle it out and deafen our eardrums in the process!”

“That’s right! I would!” the general thundered. His massive chest heaved as he breathed deeply, seeming to swell to twice his size. “Prince Sigismund Vasa is the perfect candidate for the throne! He is the only man qualified to rule this country!” (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 706)