Aksinya woke very early the next morning. She stood in the darkness and folded her blanket. She straightened her dress. She hadn’t bathed much since she came here. She was certain she smelled, but that couldn’t be helped. She tried to smooth her hair. That was impossible. Ekaterina usually brushed it in the morning for her. It was not long enough to braid properly, but it wasn’t short enough to not be a problem. It just touched her shoulders. She had no mirror and was glad of it. She couldn’t stand to look at herself. It was too dark anyway. She brought out her rosary and quickly said the first decade and the last prayer. She would complete them later. She crossed herself then lovingly drew her hand over the leather cover of the Greek Bible. She wanted to take it with her, but she knew she couldn’t. It wasn’t really hers. She had memorized most of the Gospels and Acts. She wanted to begin to memorize Paul’s letters next.
Aksinya turned abruptly and stepped to the door of her room. Although nothing changed, the room seemed to darken. She felt for the handle and pulled the door open. Her hand stretched out to the wall at her right. With her right hand trailing against the wood, she followed the hall to the back of the rectory. The outside door only halted her for a moment—it was bolted but not locked. She went out through it to the small backyard where she and Ekaterina hung the wash every Wednesday. In the predawn night, the low clouds reflected enough light for her to see. Aksinya’s eyes were so accustomed to the dark, it seemed almost bright to her. The thin gate that led outside the yard had a simple wooden latch. She opened it and in the predawn, exited into the street outside the rectory.
Aksinya knew generally where she was within the city, but she wasn’t certain how she should go. She recalled little of her flight here. She only remembered the stone wall that lay on her left the entire time. Aksinya tentatively placed her right hand on the wall at the street outside the rectory and began to walk up the street.
The morning was cold, and her breath formed gentle swirls in the air. Her clothing was insufficient for the day, but she didn’t have a cloak anymore. She could only imagine with regret her warm mink cloak. As she walked, the morning clouds seemed to descend. They enclosed her, but she kept her hand on the right hand wall and continued along the cold cobblestone street.
Around her, she could hear and smell the city come awake. The rich fragrance of coffee filled the air. She smelled butter and eggs as they cooked. Somewhere bacon sizzled and the scent of the hot grease flowed into the street. Aksinya remembered bacon. Her mouth watered. Her empty stomach rumbled.
The muted conversation of waking mothers and fathers came to her. She heard crying babies. The creaking of harness and wheels moved in and out of the fog. She caught the nicker of horses and their heavy hooves on the cobbles. As of yet, none of this came within her sight. The fog pressed down against her and kept it all hidden from her. She could tell the world was lightening. She could feel a little warmth seep into the cold late winter morning.
Aksinya didn’t stumble. She didn’t falter. She kept moving forward. Slowly shapes began to appear in the fog. A lampman passed her on the other side of the street. She recognized him because he carried a long taper and a tool that he used to cut off the gas at each lamp. The light of the morning already dimmed the blaze from the gaslamps. It was too early for the beggars and too late for the prostitutes to be in the streets.
The moment Aksinya stepped into the street that served both Sacré Coeur and her house, the fog seemed to rise. She didn’t need to see, she had the stone wall to guide her. Her fingertips were frozen and she couldn’t feel the wall anymore, but she still knew it was there. She continued along it toward her house. As she moved closer, she noticed for the first time a large dray outside it. Some furniture sat at the back of the moving carriage. A few pieces were stacked inside it. Most of it was out in the street. Two men exited her house. They carried one of her chairs. Aksinya recognized it immediately. It was the floral one her father had liked so much. It was very well made and the fabric was silk. Aksinya removed her hand from the guiding wall and hurried her steps.
Her attention was centered on the men at her house, so she didn’t notice the dark figure who moved from the entrance of Sacré Coeur when she passed and headed back the direction she had come. A whiff of sulfur halted her for a moment then she continued.
Aksinya stopped breathless before the two men. They paused and put down the chair. One was tall and heavy with large features and a swollen nose as though he had been struck there many times. The other was a thin younger man with straggleing greasy hair and protruding teeth. They didn’t smile, but they did wait for a moment to allow Aksinya to catch her breath.
Finally, she forced out, “What are you doing in my house?”
“Your house?” the larger man spoke. His lips rose over his teeth, but he didn’t smile, “We’re removing the goods.”
“The bills haven’t been paid.”
“Not paid? But they were…They were all paid.”
The younger man leaned on the back of the chair. The large man stuck his dirty hand into his coat and brought out an official looking paper. He didn’t give it to Aksinya, but held it up at arms length so she could see it.
The younger man’s voice was slightly high pitched, “Helmut, why are you taking the time to show that to her? We have work to do. She’s just a putzfrau, a cleaning woman.”
“Halt Mal14, Willi. Don’t you remember our instructions?” He made a gesture behind his back.
The younger man scratched his head, “You don’t mean.” He glanced meaningfully at Aksinya.
“I’ll let her read the ruling. You check the horses,” he turned around and winked.
“Oh,” Willi nodded, “I’ll check on the horses.”
Helmut’s lips rose over his teeth again. It wasn’t a smile.
Aksinya reached for the paper.
Helmut pulled it back. His frown deepened, “Please don’t touch it. It is an official document.”
Aksinya moved a little closer to the paper. Under her breath, she read the document, “There is a list of litigants and claimants.” Her voice filled with dismay, “The list is very long. It says, that because the alleged Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna is in arrears for…,” she gasped.
“Is there something wrong?”
“The amount is so large.”
The man made a loud huff under his breath, “That is why the directive tells us to take everything from the house. It still won’t be enough to pay for it all.”
Aksinya wailed, “You will take everything I own, and it still won’t be enough.”
Helmut’s nose twitched, “It won’t be enough at all.”
“What about my jewelry?”
“We haven’t seen any jewelry. Perhaps the previous repossessors removed it.”
Aksinya’s eyes widened, “But my father’s money.”
The man’s face twitched again, “I heard it was all Russian. It isn’t worth the paper it is printed on any more.”
“But I have nothing else.”
“I understand there were loans too. They must all be paid.”
“What will I do?”
The man did smile at that, “You? Who are you?”
Aksinya lowered her head. Her voice was very low, “I am the Countess Golitsyna.”
The man’s laughter filled the street, “I find that hard to believe, but we were told to watch for a young woman who came to the house and claimed to be a countess.”
She raised her head, “They told you to watch for me?”
The man shut his mouth. He shrugged and shoved the paper back into his coat. After a moment, he announced a little too loudly, “When she is found, the alleged Countess will be in debtor’s prison for a long time. It serves her right for trying to fool everyone.”
“I…I didn’t.” The sound of heavy hooves and wooden wheels come from behind Aksinya. She turned around. A large carriage moved up the street behind her. It stopped quickly and a couple of men in priestly robes stepped from it into the street. Their eyes swept over Aksinya and the large man behind her. They ignored her and stepped toward the entrance of the school. The doors had not been opened yet that morning. The taller priest struck the door with his staff. Aksinya stood frozen in place. She was suddenly very cold. She had no coat and had not eaten anything since last evening. The day was above freezing, but not much.
The priests stood at the doors to Sacré Coeur. The taller priest paced in front of the large doors. The shorter tapped his staff impatiently against the ground. There was a long moment until the door opened. Before Aksinya could note what went on at the doorway, she heard another coach approach from the other side of the dray. She wondered with apprehension how all this would end up. The dray blocked the street so either of the carriages would have problems if they tried to maneuver around it. The coaches might be too large to pass each other comfortably too.
Willi came back around the dray. He had a large grin on his face. He smirked, “Done and done, Helmut. Is it really her?”
“Don’t know. I didn’t think she would be so ugly or look like a drudge.”
Aksinya balled her fists and swung back toward them, “What’s done?”
Willi called around the dray, “She’s over here, officers.”
Two senior police officers came around the dray on the street side. They glanced first at the other carriage. Aksinya followed their eyes. She shuffled her feet to warm them a little. She wasn’t very successful. A familiar voice caused her to turn toward Sacré Coeur again.
At the entrance to the school, Frau Drescher stood just inside the door. She pointed toward Aksinya. When the priests began to walk toward Aksinya, Frau Drescher turned and yanked the heavy door shut again.
The policemen stepped up to Aksinya. They both frowned at Helmut and Willi. The two repossessors ducked their heads and walked back toward the house. They both stopped before they moved out of earshot and turned to hear what the officers had to say to Aksinya.
The policemen were both well groomed and handsomely uniformed. Aksinya wasn’t certain about their ranks, but she had the impression they were both high ranking. The older policemen didn’t nod he simply addressed Aksinya, “Are you the alleged Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna.”
“Alleged. I’ve heard that twice already. I am the Countess Golitsyna.”
“If that is true, then Fraulein Golitsyna, I have a warrant for your arrest.”
“Under what charge?”
At that moment, the two priests stepped up to them. They stood close behind Aksinya, but not too close. Aksinya stepped back a little and rotated so she could address all of them together. The taller priest had a thin and nervous face. His eyes were piercing. He wore a thick woolen cloak over his shoulders, but that didn’t hide the collar and dark robes under it. The other priest was dressed similarly, but his face was less tense and a little rounder.
The tall priest sniffed and jerked his head up. His German was tinged with a heavy Italian accent, “Who are you, officer?”
“I am Captain Gerber and this is Sergeant Nagel. We are here to arrest the alleged Countess Golitsyna. And you?”
“I am Archinquisitor Gallo and this is Inquisitor Esposito. We are also here to arrest the alleged Countess.” The Archinquisitor sniffed, “Is this she?”
Captain Gerber frowned, “She has made that claim.”
“Then it is simple. We will take the Fraulein into our custody.”
Aksinya snarled, “Inquisitors? Take me into custody? What do you mean?”
Archinquisitor Gallo sniffed again, “It is always the same with these people. They never imagine they have done anything wrong.”
Aksinya ducked her head, “I know I am guilty of much wrong, but I would like to know exactly what I am accused of.”
The Archinquisitor let out a slight smile, “Well that’s refreshing. This should make things easy. The main charge against you Fraulein Golitsyna, if that is your real name…”
“Of course it is my real name.”
“Hum, as I was saying before you rudely interrupted me. You have been accused of sorcery. That is the main charge.”
Aksinya’s hand rose to her cheek, “The main charge?”
“There are many others.”
“But I am Orthodox… You have no jurisdiction over me.”
“You claim to be a member of the nobility. You have been a student in our Catholic schools. You have made claims within the framework of the Austrian aristocracy. Your actions have affected members of the church and its leadership. We are allowed under the laws of this empire and the Catholic Church to accuse you and try you. This is well established in law. We also possess authority above that of the secular authorities. Captain Gerber, you may have her following our trial. For now, we will take the Fraulein into our custody.”
Captain Gerber wasn’t so easily cowed, “This is highly irregular, Father. I need to check with my superiors.”
“You may check all you will, but I have both a secular warrant and an ecclesiastical one. Inquisitor Esposito, the documents please.”
The Inquisitor brought out a case with papers, riffled through it, and pulled out an official looking document with church seals on it. He pulled out another with the seals of the Austrian courts. He handed both to the Captain.
Aksinya was trembling. She shuffled her feet again.
The sergeant noticed. He stepped closer to her to block her escape.
The Captain nodded, “Good, Sergeant Nagel.” He turned toward Aksinya, “We will not allow you to escape, Fraulein. We have been seeking you for a long time.”
Aksinya’s teeth chattered, “I’m not trying to escape. I am very cold. Would one of you make up your mind, please?”
Archinquisitor Gallo sniffed, “This isn’t some kind of game—as you will shortly learn.”
Aksinya wrapped her arms around her body, “Captain Gerber, I surrender myself to you.” She held out her hands for a moment then quickly pulled them back for warmth.
The Archinquisitor stepped toward Aksinya, “That is not acceptable. Inquisitor Esposito take the woman into custody.”
The Inquisitor’s German was also strongly accented, “If you please, Fraulein, come with me.”
Aksinya glanced at the Captain. He returned the papers to the Archinquisitor, “I’m sorry, Fraulein Golitsyna, right now, the church has legitimate and legal claims against you, but in the near future, I will have the opportunity to arrest you again.”
Inquisitor Esposito stepped behind Aksinya and grasped her elbows. He turned her and marched her toward the waiting coach. At that moment, the doors to Sacré Coeur opened. The Reverend Mother ran out. She was followed closely by Sister Margarethe and Frau Drescher. The Reverend Mother cried out, “Countess, Countess, we were searching for you.” The Reverend Mother couldn’t take Aksinya’s hand because the Inquisitor held her arms. She bent her neck toward Aksinya.
Archinquisitor Gallo took a deep breath, “Reverend Mother, do not show any respect to this woman. She is accused of sorcery along with much more evil. She shall be tried for these crimes.”
Sister Margarethe put her arms around Aksinya and held her close. She turned her head toward the Reverend Mother, “The girl is freezing. Do you have a coat for her, Father?”
“I am an archinquisitor, Sister. Unhand the woman, we are taking her to the Cardinal’s residence.”
Aksinya whispered, “Where is the Lady Natalya?”
Archinquisitor Gallo grabbed Sister Margarethe’s arm, “Let go of her or you will incriminate yourself, Sister.”
The Reverend Mother took a step backward toward the doors of Sacré Coeur.
Sister Margarethe held more tightly to Aksinya. She turned her head toward the Archinquisitor, “She is just a girl—not more than a child.”
Aksinya whispered again, “Where is the Lady Natalya?”
Sister Margarethe put her lips close to Aksinya’s ear, “I will tell you later.”
Aksinya wailed, “There will be no later for us to speak—tell me.”
Archinquisitor Gallo tugged at Sister Margarethe, “She is right she will be held in isolation for everyone’s protection.”
Sister Margarethe’s voice trembled, “She is with Herr von Taaffe.”
“Is she well?”
Sister Margarethe grasped Aksinya more tightly, “She is well.”
As though Aksinya waited only for those words, she relaxed in Inquisitor Esposito’s grasp. He almost let go. Only Sister Margarethe’s embrace prevented her from pitching forward to the cobblestones that were nearly as cold as she was.
Aksinya awoke with a start to a persistent chill. Her hands were cold and her feet were cold. Her ears and nose were cold. She tried to pull herself into a ball. The surface where she lay was hard and freezing, and she had nothing under her or to cover herself.
Her teeth chattered. The room was filled with gloom. She scrutinized the place. It wasn’t so dark that she couldn’t make out anything, but there was an almost permanent twilight. At the top of the high wooden walls a frosted pane allowed a degree of light inside. It wasn’t much light, but the day, Aksinya remembered, had been bleak.
She lay on a hard wooden bench. It was just long and wide enough for her to lie flat, but would be very uncomfortable for a normal sized man. She rose up on one arm. A putrid smell came to her through the cold still air. She peered under the bench. A chamber pot lay under it. The pot wasn’t very clean. The walls of the very small room were close. The space was so small the bench completely filled one end.
Aksinya sat up the rest of the way and stared around her. The walls behind and on either side were uniform dark wood. In front of her was a wide door made of a thick wooden lattice. The wood looked very sturdy. The lattice was open but stout. The lattice door meant she had absolutely no privacy. Anyone who entered the hallway outside the door could observe her.
Aksinya stood. Her legs almost buckled, and she took an involuntary step to keep from falling down. The floor was stone. It was freezing through her thin shoes. She regained her balance and stumbled to the lattice work door. She gazed out into the corridor. She couldn’t see very far, but beside the door sat an old woman in a thick habit. The woman was sewing. She didn’t look up at Aksinya, “You finally awake, deary?”
Aksinya stared at the woman.
“I expect you’re hungry.”
Aksinya licked her lips.
“You slept through breakfast, so there won’t be anything for you until supper.”
Aksinya cleared her throat, “May I have tea?”
“Tea for the likes of you? I don’t think so.”
“It will just make you need to pee, and I don’t have a mind to clean up your mess more than I need to.”
“Who are you?”
The woman laughed, “I don’t need to tell you anything. I’m your jailor. That’s enough for you to know. If you don’t cause me any problems, I will ensure your stay is not harmful to you. If you cause me problems, I will make your life miserable.”
“Where am I?”
“There is no harm in telling you that. Perhaps you can guess…” The woman glanced up at Aksinya.
Aksinya shook her head.
“No…then you are in the residence of the Cardinal of Wien.”
“He would be the Archbishop.”
The woman’s voice tightened, and she shook her needle at Aksinya, “He is officially a Cardinal. You must never forget this.”
Aksinya took a breath, “I am very cold. Could you get me a blanket?”
The woman ignored her request.
“Why am I here?”
A cackle with the undertone of a tremble came from the woman, “You know why you are here. You are a sorceress.”
“Are you afraid of me?”
“I shall not remain here during the night, that’s certain. During the day, there are many just outside these corridors who will come to my aid. At night, the guards are men and the corridor is locked. They molest you at their own risk.”
“You are young though ugly. The darkness brings out the beauty of any woman—so I’ve been told.”
Aksinya backed to the bench and pulled her feet up under her dress. She hugged her arms around her knees and began to recite the rosary.
The woman’s voice was filled with humor, “The rosary. That’s fine to pray, but it won’t do you any good. From what I hear, the Pope’s sent his inquisitors. They’ll expose all your guilt and then some.
Aksinya kept praying.
Before the room darkened completely the old woman brought a small bowl to the door and shoved it through the low rectangular hole at the bottom that was made for that purpose. She pushed a second bowl more gently under the door. She rose expectantly in front of the lattice, “Don’t be slow, sorceress. Push the slopjar under the door. I’ll empty it.”
Aksinya shook her head, “I haven’t used it.”
“I will only empty it once a day. When you are finished push the bowls back under the door. I’ll see you in the morning.” Aksinya noted the old woman’s laughter as she made her way down the corridor. She heard a heavy door open and shut. A metal lock turned.
Before every trace of light drained from the room, Aksinya stumbled to the bowls. One held a congealed mass of thick cooked wheat cereal. It wasn’t seasoned at all. The other was filled with water. Aksinya took a long drink of the water. She stuck her fingers into the hardened cereal and felt the last remnants of warmth. She ate it all and washed it down with the remaining water. Then she curled up on the bench and tried to sleep.
A heavy sound woke her. She raised her head. She didn’t dare speak. Then she heard it again. It sounded like the slap of a bare foot against stone. She caught a whiff of sulfur in the air. In the darkness, a large dark figure stood outside her door.
Aksinya shivered and trembled at the same time.
Asmodeus voice thick with mocking amusement tumbled out of the darkness. Aksinya was so used to seeing his lips curl up over his fangs, she wasn’t certain if she could see them or she just imagined them in the darkness. The demon chuckled, “Dear alleged Countess what a terrible predicament you find yourself in.”
Aksinya stared at him.
“Didn’t I warn you not to confess? Didn’t I tell you to not seek out the Church.” He spat the word. “You sought to resist me. That was a new experience for me. None of my previous masters ever tried to fight against me before. But that doesn’t matter. There is no hope for you now.”
“There was never any hope for me from the beginning, was there, demon?”
“Ah, the little girl finally speaks. Yes, you are right. There never was any hope for you.”
“Why are you here now demon. Have you come to give me more instructions or did you just come to torment me.”
He laughed, “I have no more instructions to give you, alleged Countess. I’m here to steal all hope away from you.”
Aksinya pressed her lips tightly shut.
“You will never be rid of me, but now, I can torment you as I desire.”
“You lie. You may only torment the guilty, and I am confessed and forgiven.”
Aksinya heard a slight change in the tone of Asmodeus’ voice, “I warned you not to confess. I still have power over the world, and the world will do my work for me well.” He stuck out his hand and pulled it back.
The dress Aksinya wore slipped off her body. At the door, the demon held it in his fist.
“There, alleged Countess, the night is cold. Your cell is colder. This dress shall keep until the morrow.” He threw it far down the corridor where Aksinya could never retrieve it. “I can still torment you, but I don’t need to torment you. That was never my plan. I sought to bring everyone around you down to your level. Already my plans have come to a wonderful harvest. It is a harvest you shall reap for me. Could you imagine that you would see the ruin of everything you hold dear? You don’t need to imagine it, because you will soon live it. Everyone you touched will be harmed. Little girl, you don’t have any idea the havoc you have wrought in this world—soon you will know all.”
Aksinya huddled naked and shivering in the corner of the bench and the wall.
“This is usually the time you threaten me, alleged Countess. Why so quiet?”
“Because speaking will do no good. It never did any good before. The only thing that matters anymore is that I am confessed and forgiven.”
“What about your friends?”
“For them…for them.”
“Hah, don’t say you are willing to die.”
Tears trickled down the sides of Aksinya’s cheeks, “I cannot say that. I am not willing to die for them. I wish I was able, but I am not.”
“That is your problem. You were willing to release a demon to protect your family, but you would not have died for any of them. Let me tell you a secret, alleged Countess. I killed your family. I killed them all. If you wondered at your injuries when you traveled with me from your cellar to your family’s estate, they came about because you helped me bring about the deaths of your own family. I delayed just long enough between heaven and earth so the Bolsheviks would have the time to do their dirty work. You were marked with the touch of hell in the place where time has no meaning. Already you have been to hell; therefore, you should embrace your new home with even greater fervor.”
Aksinya was breathless, “You let them murder my family? You were sworn to obey me.”
“Never sworn to obey you. I swore to do evil in your name. You are such a fool, little girl. You tried to negotiate with a demon. My purpose is temptation and evil. I have no other purpose in heaven or earth.”
“So… I see.”
“Too late. Always they understand too late.” Asmodeus stretched to his full height, “Ah, evil is so liberating, but you have chosen a different path, haven’t you.”
“I have chosen.”
“With all the pain and suffering you will know. I could offer you life, liberty, freedom, sorcery.”
“It wouldn’t help my friends.”
“I could continue to lie to you and tell you it would. Would that change your mind?”
“I have chosen.”
“I must be completely clear because I don’t wish to lose all the potential of evil within you. If you determine to follow me, I will save you from all this pain and suffering.”
“But you won’t help my friends.”
“I will not help your friends or your enemies. I offer you evil and only evil.”
“You offer me relief now and eternal suffering later. Christ offers me suffering because of my own actions now and eternal life later. In either case, I can’t help my friends…or my enemies, and I don’t wish to bring any more evil into the world.”
At the word, Christ, the demon cringed. He frowned, “Very well. You will not know peace until your dying day, and I shall reap your soul in any case.”
Aksinya’s teeth chattered, “You will not have my soul. I am marked by Christ as His own.”
Asmodeus snarled, “Shut up, Countess.”
“I am His. I am Christ’s.”
Aksinya hugged her naked body more closely. The rosary pressed solidly against her chest. She pulled it out and raised it up, “In spite of all the pain and suffering I might face because of this decision, I choose Christ. You can’t do anything about that. My mind is free of you. I am Christ’s, not yours. I can swear, and I can hold onto the promise that is mine. I only wish I knew this before I knew you. Begone.”
At that moment Asmodeus was gone. All that was left was an acrid stink. Aksinya wondered if her confession had sent him away or something else.
In the morning, the old woman came to the cell door and tried to rouse Aksinya, “Sorceress.” She knocked against the wooden frame with her stick. Aksinya didn’t move. In the early morning darkness she squinted at Aksinya, “Sorceress, where is your dress?” She struck the wood harder, “Wake up, sorceress. I have your breakfast.” Still Aksinya didn’t move. The old woman hobbled back up the corridor. She cried for the guards. They wouldn’t enter the corridor—they had been warned by the Archbishop’s secretary not to enter it for any reason. The women in the kitchens ignored her. She finally made her way up to the archbishop’s secretary’s office. She lifted her stick and thought better of it then she tapped hesitantly at the door with her fist. The door immediately opened. The secretary’s servant stood there with a surprised look on his face. When he recognized the visitor, his look turned to anger. The old woman curtsied a little crookedly.
The servant was about to shut the door, but the old woman stuck her stick in the jam, “I need help…the prisoner.”
The secretary’s voice came from the depths of the room, “What is wrong, Otto?”
“It is Frau Mauer.”
“What does she want? She has her instructions. She is neglecting the Cardinal’s prisoner.”
Frau Mauer curtsied as deeply and evenly as she could, “Sir, I think the prisoner is dead. She is naked in her cell, and she won’t wake.”
The secretary rushed to the door, “Naked, dead. This cannot be. I instructed you to care for her. If something happens to her, the Pope’s inquisitors will be down on our heads. Do you wish that?”
“You told me not to open the cell door.”
“I told you to watch her carefully.” He snarled, “Otto, get a kitchen woman and come with me. There can be no delay.” He motioned to Frau Mauer, “You come with us too.” They started down the steps toward the basements. “How long has it been since you found her?”
Frau Mauer was breathless, “I tried to get the guards to help, then the kitchen women. No one would help, that’s why I came right to you.”
He glanced at his pocket watch, “Dear God, frau, it is already seven and you were to serve her at six. Already an hour. Quickly.” He moved more quickly. They paused at the kitchens to retrieve a blanket and a lantern. Secretary Schwab called for Frau Becker, the mistress of the kitchen, and she followed them past the guards, where the secretary collected the key to the cell, and then into the corridor.
At the cell door, the secretary took one look inside and turned his face away. With his face averted, he unlocked the door and pushed the kitchen mistress, Frau Becker, inside, “See if she is alive.” He handed the blanket to her.
Frau Becker paused a moment but the look on the secretary’s face drove her more than any words. She laid the blanket over Aksinya’s naked body, and put her face close to the girl’s. The woman called over her shoulder, “She’s still breathing.”
“Thank God,” exclaimed the secretary. “What’s wrong with her?”
“What did you expect? She’s naked and freezing.”
“What should we do?”
The woman tucked the woolen blanket around Aksinya’s body, “It’s too cold in here for a thin girl like her. Bring warmers and hot water bottles. Hot tea and food later.” She stated almost accusingly, “Where are her clothes. Was she molested?”
Frau Mauer called from the corridor, “Her dress is out here on the floor.”
“Bring it to me.”
The secretary nodded at Otto, “Get warmers and hot water bottles. Go now.”
Frau Mauer brought the dress to the open cell door. Frau Becker barked at her, “Frau Mauer, bring that here and help me dress her.”
Frau Mauer grumbled, but entered the cell, “She did it herself. I’m sure.”
The woman began to pull the dress over Aksinya’s head, “Secretary Schwab, this dress is too light for this place. Did you want her to die from exposure?”
He stared accusingly at Frau Mauer, “The girl was fine when she came here.”
“She is certainly not fine now.” They pulled the dress over the rest of Aksinya’s body. Frau Becker held her close and rubbed her hands.
Otto returned with two coal packed metal warmers, “The hot water bottles are being filled.”
“Go back and tell them to bring them right away.”
He nodded to the kitchen head.
She stopped him, “Bring another two blankets.”
“Yes.” He ran back down the corridor.
Frau Becker laid Aksinya down again and placed a warmer near her head and one near her feet. The kitchen head ordered Frau Mauer, “Take off her shoes and rub her feet.”
Frau Mauer jumped, “Her feet?”
“I’ll do if it you won’t. Here, take her hands and be gentle. When the circulation returns she will be in great pain.”
Frau Mauer shook her head, “I’ll rub her feet. I don’t want to be that close to her.”
Otto returned with four hot water bottles and two blankets. The woman wrapped the blankets around Aksinya and put the hot water bottles in the layers. She put the warmers under the blankets but where they wouldn’t touch and burn Aksinya’s skin. She and Frau Mauer rubbed Aksinya’s chilled hands and feet.
Aksinya gave a moan and tried to sit up. The woman’s voice was very kind, “Don’t get up. Don’t move for a little.”
Aksinya whimpered, “It hurts.”
“Aye, it does hurt.”
Aksinya squeezed her eyes shut then opened them wide, “Who are you?”
The woman smiled, “I’m Frau Becker.”
Aksinya moaned again and began to shiver, “It really hurts.”
“Why did you take off your dress?”
Aksinya groaned, “I didn’t take it off.”
“Were you molested?”
Aksinya didn’t reply.
Frau Becker turned toward Secretary Schwab, “You need to question the guards. The girl was attacked in the Archbishop’s own home.”
Aksinya gritted her teeth, “They didn’t molest me.”
“…But your dress.”
Aksinya let out her breath, “You would not believe me anyway. I am here to be tried. No one molested me.”
“Tried, surely you aren’t the one.”
“I am the one.”
Frau Becker stared at Secretary Schwab, “This isn’t a joke is it, Schwab? I’ve heard the rumors. This girl is to be tried as a sorceress?”
Secretary Schwab shrugged.
Aksinya was shivering a little less, “I am a sorceress. That is why they locked me up.”
Frau Becker’s gentle hands didn’t stop rubbing Aksinya’s. She mumbled, “Then you are not fully sane. They put a poor crazy girl in a cell and are going to try her for sorcery. Does the Archbishop think this is the Fifteenth Century?”
Aksinya tried to smile, “I am perhaps not sane, but I am a sorceress.”
Frau Becker gave Aksinya a very sad look then she turned to the secretary’s servant, “Get some food and hot tea. Bring sugar and milk.”
Very quickly Otto returned with a tray that contained wheat mush, cheese, bread, and tea. Frau Becker placed it on the bench. Aksinya’s eyes were closed. Frau Becker tried to hand Aksinya a spoon to eat the wheat mush. Aksinya couldn’t hold it, so the frau fed her and held the tea for her. After a while, Aksinya was able to hold the spoon on her own. She had to grasp it in her fist, but she could get it to her mouth. She ate everything on the tray.
Frau Becker collected everything and returned it to the tray. Aksinya had already pulled out her rosary. She began to pray the decades. Frau Becker stared at her. Aksinya glanced up in embarrassment, “I did not pray before I ate. I couldn’t finish my prayers last night. Thank you very much for taking care of me.”
Frau Becker stepped out of the cell. She was the last one to leave. Secretary Schwab locked the door and pocketed the key.
Before Frau Becker departed, she gave the secretary a stern look, “Anyone who would try this girl is insane. Keep her warm and feed her or this will happen again. Keep the men away from her, or something worse will happen.”