N icholas felt water dripping on his face. He opened his eyes slowly, moaning. His head throbbed where he had been hit. He sat up cautiously. A stranger was sprinkling him with water from a nearby puddle.

“You’ve been out cold for a few hours,” the man said. He was bony, a skeleton in shabby clothing. Half his teeth were missing, his eyes were sunken, and his cheek bones protruded.

“Am I dead?” Nicholas whimpered, putting a hand on his heart.

“Not yet,” the man cackled. “What happened? That’s a large bump on your head.”

“I was attacked. A group of thugs took all of my money!” Nicholas growled as he stood up unsteadily. “I swear to you that in five years I will return to my position of glory and have those men hung!”

“Who are you?” the stranger asked.

“Prince Nicholas Radziwill! Leader of men, noblest of the noble!”

The man laughed and waved a hand, cutting him off. “Jesteś nikim! You are a nobody!” the man shouted. “To survive on the streets you must abandon you silly notions of entitlement and endless pride!”

“You don’t even know me!” Nicholas yelled back, reaching for his hatchet. It was gone — stolen along with his money. “I am royalty!”

“If you wish to survive as a pauper, you must humble yourself!” the man snapped. “Otherwise, without money and protection, you’ll never survive.”

“Who are you?” Nicholas spat bitterly. “And what do you want from me?”

“Nikt! Nobody!” The man said. “That is my name!”

“Why did you rouse me?” Nicholas asked. “I don’t have any more money for you to steal!”

“It’s easier to survive out here with two people,” the man who called himself “Nikt” said. “You look like you could use a companion, anyhow… Do you want to travel with me?”

“I suppose so,” Nicholas muttered. “Without money I don’t know how to survive.”

“Look,” Nikt said, bending low to the ground and scooping up a single coin covered by mud. “This should be just enough money to get us to a warmer climate.”

“Where should we go?” Nicholas asked.

“Italy,” Nikt said. “Besides for the better weather, there’s a Jewish community in Padua that is extremely kind to everyone.”

“I don’t care where we go!” Nicholas sighed. “I have five years left to travel this rotten continent. Wherever you want to go, I will follow.” 

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 703)