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Then We'll Come From the Shadows

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Josef limped out of his tent, leaning heavily on his wooden stick. His leg ached with a dull hot pain, but he couldn’t bear to be alone in the dark hut. The partisans would celebrate the first night of Chanukkah tonight, Księźniczka had told him. “You can watch if you want,” she said, “no one will mind.”

Josef found a sturdy tree at the edge of the clearing and propped himself against it. The bark was cold and rough against his back, but he did not move. Night had fallen, but the stars were bright overhead and faint moonlight filtered down through the branches of the trees.

The partisans gathered in almost complete silence, the only sound their quiet footsteps and a hushed rustling as they brushed past each other. Instinctively, Josef looked for Księźniczka. She was standing to one edge of the group, bundled in her coat and scarf. He knew her movements well enough to find her even in the dark, among the crowd.

Josef relaxed a little when his eyes found her (he was safe, she was safe). His leg spasmed with pain and he clenched his jaw, dug his fingers into the tree bark until it passed. He hoped detachedly that his leg would heal enough to fight with the partisans again. If not, he would find a place to hide and pass on information to them. He would do what he could. He had friends to avenge, and the memory of a young man who had never been his.

Two of the partisans carried out a battered wooden table; another spread a cloth over it, though Josef couldn’t tell the color in the dark. The rabbi among the group came forward with the Chanukkah lamp, holding it tenderly against his chest with both hands. Josef knew him only as Elijah; he had a long greying beard and a steady hand with a gun.

Elijah held up the Chanukkah lamp so the others could see it and then set it down on the table. The eight-branched lamp was crudely carved of wood by one of the partisans, with a small cup of scrap tin on each branch to hold the candles. Elijah cupped his hands around the branching lamp, standing for a moment with bowed head. Then he stepped back and began to chant a blessing in Hebrew, his breath puffing out white in the winter air. The rest of the partisans joined in the chant raggedly. Josef could pick out Księźniczka’s melodious alto among the rest.

A flicker of light, and then a single candle was burning in the lamp. Elijah set the candle he had used to light it in the center of the lamp, in a cup set a little higher than the others. Such a small flame, but the eyes of those around him strained towards it, even their bodies leaning towards the light.

Josef’s eyes sought out Księźniczka again. Her face was set and determined.

Their plans were all in place. This was the first night of Chanukkah; before the lamp was fully lit on the eighth night, Księźniczka would be gone. She would take with her the forged papers, Josef’s photograph, and his family ring. He, who would never marry a woman, could at least shelter her with his name.

He was unlikely to hear any news of her afterwards, for good or ill. He wanted to believe this tale would end happily: that the princess would go out from the dark woods and reach her journey’s end safely, escaping barbed wire and bullets and the deadly white mist. If he imagined it fiercely enough, perhaps it would come true. He held Księźniczka’s image in his mind and thought of her stepping off a ship’s gangway into the light, her feet set firmly on a new shore where her child could be born in freedom.