the sky, there to burst into a profusion of branches that obscured the light. The air was clear and heavy with pine scent and very quiet.
Hania looked around, "Here?" she asked doubtfully. "But we're in the middle of nowhere."
"Isn't it great?" asked Maks happily.
"We have to walk a ways," said Kalina, shouldering some of the lighter luggage. "This way." And she set off at a brisk and swinging walk. Maks trotted happily after her.
"Wait!" cried Hania, as she slung a bag over one shoulder, a backpack over the other, picked up a grocery sack and the remaining soda bottle and staggered after her charges.
There followed a period in which she was aware only of the awkwardness of her bundles, the sunlight flickering through the woods, and the passing of the tree trunks against an infinite green underworld.
"Stop!" she panted to her companions after a time, and sank down onto the pitchy soft needles at the side of the trail.
"No, we're almost there, come on," they urged her.
The walk was difficult, but worth it. Hania, seated at the edge of the forest with Kalina and Maks, leaned back against a tree and thought, "this is heaven." Before them stretched a pale-green field of grain, in the distance a heavy dun horse was pulling a wagon, and under them the moss was soft and springy. It was neither hot nor cold and the sky was blue and wide and full of birds.
"Oh, look. A stork," pointed Maks, as a big white bird rose from the grain and glided, all legs and long beak, past them.
The village was a string of houses along two sides of a narrow, paved road: houses ranging from cabins of vertical wood slats, with windows sagging at odd angles, inhabited by the elderly, to spruce stucco blocks belonging to persons who owned cars and commuted to work in nearby towns, to old, Germanic-looking structures of patinated red brick fronting identical-looking barns. The yards opened onto meadows, the meadows onto fields. There were grape vines scrambling over doorways, and fruit trees, and hens, and after the city, an amazing absence of noise.
The house, when they reached it, was a small brick building with low beams and rooms that opened inconveniently one off the other, with big white tile stoves in each corner. The kitchen facilities were rather charming but antiquated––a brass faucet and a large gas stove of dangerous aspect. The bathroom, however, had been renovated in an un-aesthetic Leroy Merlin style that left nothing to be desired in the way of hygiene.
Kalina and Maks struggled with the wooden shutters and flung open the back windows. They did indeed look onto a frog pond and a bit of the neighbor's barnyard. Somewhere a cow was lowing and a large rooster, with a speckled neck and mad jumble of tail feathers, strolled superciliously about the grass. It would be fine here for awhile, thought Hania, pleased at the children's pleasure. Even Kalina's face had lost its sullen and injured air; she looked almost happy and carefree for a moment.
Hania hooked up her laptop, feeling an immense sense of relief when the screen lit up and the internet appeared. Konstanty was within reach. Now he seemed even more accessible than when she had known him to be living above her head in Warsaw. She was barricaded by distance from any hint that she might be pursuing him, and yet she had a perfect excuse for writing to him. Happily, she began to type:
As Catholics and Protestants were burning each other elsewhere in the 16 th century, Poland remained 'a country without stakes,' full of differing ethnicities and faiths: There were Poles, Lithuanians, Germans, Ruthenians, Tatars, Jews, and smaller Armenian, Dutch, Italian, French, Greek and Scots minorities; the population was not only Catholic, but also Muslim, Jewish, Karaite, Orthodox Christian, Uniate, and Protestant. Jews had had far-reaching protection since Bolesław the Pious's Charter of Kalisz in 1264: if a Christian fought with a Jew, the matter was to be judged by the Jews, if a