That’s the story of The Trumpeter of Krakow in a nutshell.
Eric Kelly won the Newbery Medal for it in 1929 and my kids rate it high on the list of books they loved at around age 12.
Joseph Charnetski, 15 years old, has fled with his family to Krakow, Poland, after Tatars attacked and pillaged their Ukrainian home. The year is 1461. Joseph is not aware that hidden in the family’s luggage is the Great Tarnov Crystal, a stone which the Charnetski family has sworn to protect with their lives. So far, they’ve guarded it for 200 years.
When they arrive in Krakow, the Charnetskis find shelter in the home of an alchemist. They change their name and take every precaution from being discovered. It’s clear that dangerous men are pursuing the stone, and are willing to risk anything to get it.
A key plot element is the legend of the trumpeter of Krakow which stems from events in the 1200s. At that time, in a tower in one of Krakow’s churches, a watchman was always posted, ready to alert the people of invaders by blowing his trumpet. One night he began to sound the alarm. Enemy archers shot at him, but he continued playing until his throat was pierced. At that, his note was abruptly silenced, but the alarm had been enough. Krakow was saved. The city still honors his memory by trumpeting a hymn called The Hejnal from the tower every hour, ending the tune suddenly on a high note. You’ll have to read the book to see how this tradition impacts young Joseph as the Charnetskis strive to protect their treasure.
Because this book was written in the 20’s, the language is more formal, and Eric Kelly uses a stiff vocabulary. His descriptions of medieval Poland are rich, but his characters, especially the female characters, are a little dated. Nevertheless, it’s an exciting adventure story, and a lot of Dark Arts, creepy guys, and shady alchemy make it quite suspenseful.
My own kids listened to this on CD, and I think it would make a better read-aloud for many as the reading level is difficult for the age group who will enjoy it. That’s about ages 10-15 I’d guess. Give it a whirl with stout readers or good listeners.