Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon

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Chapter 19

Aksinya woke in the dreary cell they had assigned her under the Rathaus at Wien. She was alone. Frau Becker had allowed her to take the blankets marked with the bloody crosses at each corner. She still wore the dress Ekaterina had given her. Sloppy crosses in her blood still marked it also. Aksinya felt somewhat safe. She recited her rosary. That was her true comfort.

She heard steps outside her cell and rose from her knees to sit on the hard cot she had here. There was a knock on the door to warn her and the guard called out, “Fraulein, prepare yourself and stand away from the door.”

Aksinya knew the drill by now, “I’m ready.”

The small hatch at eye level in the door opened. The matron glanced inside. Aksinya showed her hands, and a heavy key clanked in the lock. The door opened. The matron nodded to her. A male guard stood behind her. The matron motioned, “Your priest and a Frau are here to visit you. I will remain with you, if you wish.”

Aksinya shook her head.

Father Dobrushin and Mataruska Ekaterina entered the cell.

Aksinya smiled then that turned down a little, “Where is Father Makar?”

Ekaterina and Father Dobrushin glanced at one another. Ekaterina shifted her mouth, “He would not come.”

Aksinya glanced down. When she looked up again, the cell door was shut and the two stood alone with her. Aksinya tried to smile again. She opened her hands, “It isn’t much more than I had at the Ecclesia…”

Ekaterina sat beside Aksinya and put her arms around her.

Aksinya sniffled, “Aren’t you afraid you will be tainted by me. Everyone else who has befriended me has been ruined.”

Ekaterina held her closer and clucked, “Don’t be foolish. We know all about you. We won’t abandon you.”

“You should.”

Father Dobrushin stuck his hands behind his back, “We will not.” He waited a moment then asked, “Why did you leave the Ecclesia? I told you not to go.”

“I had to find Natalya. I had to know if she was alive. I love her. I didn’t realize…”

“You didn’t realize…”

“All of that was the demon’s doing. He visited me while I was in the Cardinal’s house. He told me he had planned everything.” Tears choked Aksinya’s words, “He told me he allowed my family to be killed.”

Ekaterina pulled Aksinya’s head against her and stroked her hair.

Aksinya moaned, “I caused them all such pain. I wish I were dead. If I were dead, the world would have been such a better place for everyone.”

Ekaterina shook her gently, “You are not dead, and the Dear Lord doesn’t wish you dead. Now, your life’s work must be to right this wrong. Do you wish to add more sin and evil to what already exists.”

Aksinya sat up and drew her sleeve across her eyes, “I’m afraid what I’ve done can never be made right.”

Father Dobrushin sighed, “Perhaps it cannot, but likewise, you can’t bear all the blame for what has happened.”

“I willingly bear it.”

“You may not bear any more than that which is your own sin. Others made choices. They can only be held responsible for those choices—not you.”

“I face a trial in the courts of Wien, now.”

Ekaterina smiled, “And we will do everything we can to help you.”

“Their mind is already made up too. When I had my preliminary hearing, they told me, I will go to the workhouse to pay off my debt. I will go to prison for beating Natalya. My aunt and uncle won’t help me. They hate me. They lost their position in the community and among the nobility. Herr von Taaffe has lost the backing of his father. I sent him away before. He cannot help me. I have no money. All of my goods, jewelry, and clothing have been sold. They still weren’t enough to pay my debts. I, even now, have a contract with a demon, and I pray to God I could be rid of him.”

Father Dobrushin pressed his hands together, “There may be a way to be rid of the demon.”

“You shouldn’t speak about such things too loudly even in jest. I know he watches me. He waits for more ways to destroy anyone close to me—to torment me.”

“Princess…”

Aksinya turned her face away, “You shouldn’t use that address with me. Aksinya is enough.”

“Princess Aksinya…”

Aksinya clenched her jaw.

“Listen to me. Did the demon give you a surety? Think…it would be something to bind the contract to you.”

“He gave me a locket. I detested it from the beginning and hid it in my jewelry box.”

“What did it look like?”

Aksinya thought for a moment, “It was shaped like a heart and silver colored, with a tarnish that couldn’t be cleaned. On the outside were strange marks like words of an odd language and in the center a fish. It couldn’t be opened, and it had a chain connected to it of the same material with links that were also heart shaped. It wasn’t large and could be worn as a necklace.”

“Where is it now?”

“Likely in my jewelry box and sold with everything else. I couldn’t stand the sight of it. I hid it under the drawer inside.” She pressed her lips together, “Do you think it could help?”

“I think it is a key to ending your contract with the creature.”

“Then I was a fool to lose it. It is like everything I have done—thoughtless and harmful.”

Ekaterina pulled Aksinya close again, “When is your trial?”

“In three days, but please don’t come to it. I would prefer you not have to hear anymore that is bad about me.” She tried to smile again, “I shall gladly face all the punishment I deserve and then some. After that, I will feel like I have atoned for a portion of my evil.”

Father Dobrushin was thoughtful, “How did they get the jury together so quickly?”

Aksinya rubbed her nose and smiled, “Ah the problem of my peers. I waived a trial of my peers and accepted a four judge panel. They called it the Schöffengericht.”

Father Dobrushin sighed and frowned, “That might not have been wise, Princess.”

Aksinya squinted, “I don’t care if it is wise. I want to get all of this over with.”

“The repercussions of rushing through these very important details will potentially be your incarceration in a workhouse or prison. Have you thought that what happens to you might be important to others?”

Aksinya’s mouth fell open. When she was able Aksinya choked out, “Why would anyone care about me?”

Father Dobrushin’s voice rose, “Don’t you care for anyone?”

Aksinya cried out, “I care for many, many people. I love them all, but my existence causes them all pain. No one should love me. No one should give me a second thought.”

His voice softened, “Just as you can’t stop your affection for those you love, they can’t halt their love for you.”

“I don’t understand. Why should anyone love me?”

“Why should they not?”

“The reasons they should not love me, Father are too many to count.”

“You don’t want to win at your trial, do you?”

“No, I don’t. I want to be punished.”

Father Dobrushin’s face displayed great anger for a moment. He turned toward the wall then back toward Aksinya. She picked at the bandage on her arm. Father Dobrushin asked, “What happened to your arm?”

Aksinya stared at the bandage on her forearm and hand, “It was necessary.”

“What was necessary?”

“The clothing must all be marked with crosses or the demon can remove them. He tried to freeze me to death in the Cardinal’s house.”

“He, you mean the demon? What does that have to do with your arm?”

“I…I cut myself to mark my dress and blankets so the demon could not take them again.”

Ekaterina asked, “You marked them with your blood?”

Aksinya’s shoulders rose, “They wouldn’t give me anything else to mark them with.”

Ekaterina grabbed the hem of Aksinya’s dress and scanned it. She looked at the blankets, “Are these the ones you marked?”

Aksinya smiled, “Frau Becker let me keep them. That was very kind of her.”

Father Dobrushin asked, “Have you seen the demon since you were at the Cardinal’s house?”

“No. He has ignored me since then, and that makes me very happy.”

“I pray for you every day, Princess. I want you to be free of this creature. I also don’t want you to be punished for something you did not do.”

Aksinya’s stared at him wide-eyed, “What do you think I am not guilty of?”

“Whatever your sins, this trial is only about your assault on the Lady Natalya and your debt. There is nothing else that they will try you for and the outcome and guilt is uncertain.”

“Uncertain. I did indeed beat the Lady Natalya. I did allow my household to fall into debt…”

“Princess,” he interrupted her, “Have they assigned a defender to you?”

“Like the Inquisitor Esposito?”

“Yes, like the inquisitor.”

“They have not.”

“I will defend you.”

Aksinya laughed, “I don’t think it will do any good, but I shall permit it.”

“I was not of a mind to give you a choice.”

Aksinya scowled at him, “If the court will allow you, I shall be happy to have you defend me.”

A knock came at the cell door.

Ekaterina touched Aksinya’s arm, “We must leave. Would you like us to bring you anything?”

Aksinya pressed her hands together, “Yes, please bring me the Greek Bible Father Dobrushin lent me. I only know the Gospels and Acts. I wish to memorize Paul’s letters.”

Ekaterina stammered, “Memorize? Certainly. I will bring it tomorrow.”

Captain Gerber and Sergeant Nagel escorted Aksinya into the courtroom on the main floor of the Rathaus. Aksinya beamed at the configuration of the room. Unlike the chapel in the Cardinal’s house, this was the proper courtroom of Aksinya’s experience. The roof was tall and impressive. The colors of the walls and accouterments were light brown with accents and details in grey-blue. A tall and wide solid desk, the judge’s bench sat at one end. Behind it was a large raised seal of the nation and emperor of . The seats for observers and witnesses within the courtroom were also light brown. A rail with a center opening ran across the front between the desk and the benches. Directly in front of the opening was a single chair that faced the solid desk, and behind the chair at either side, was a table each with a couple of regular chairs. It all reminded Aksinya of her adopted father’s court when he sat in judgment of his people. At that thought, her smiled turned down.

Captain Gerber led Aksinya to the table on the left. She sat. He and Sergeant Nagel stood behind her. After a few minutes, Father Dobrushin entered the courtroom. He wasn’t dressed in Orthodox robes today. He wore a dark suit without a priest’s collar. He paused a moment and glanced around as though he was very familiar with the setting and felt very comfortable there. The Father noted Aksinya and proceeded to the table where she sat. Captain Gerber and Sergeant Nagel nodded to the priest. At the table, he bowed and spoke in Russian, “Princess Aksinya, good morning. Would you permit me to sit at the table with you?”

Aksinya almost did not recognize the priest. He had trimmed his beard into the close rakish style worn by many Austrian men. It looked very pleasant on his face. Aksinya felt a twinge of desire that she hadn’t known for a long time and felt a little ashamed. She mumbled, “Good morning, Father Dobrushin.” The volume of her voice increased slightly, “You should not show me so much deference otherwise the nobility of and the Church will rise up against you.”

Father Dobrushin smiled, “In spite of that, I shall always honor you, Princess.”

“You are very kind to me, thank you. Please sit, as I have no other defenders. I’m glad Matushka Ekaterina chose not to come.”

“She would have come except Father Makar would not permit it.”

“Have I caused another problem?”

“It is not you…”

“Then the demon?”

“Father Makar has not been happy with you since you escaped to the Ecclesia.”

“He believes I am insane.”

Father Dobrushin’s brow creased.

Aksinya lowered her eyes, “I overheard…”

“So I guessed.” Father Dobrushin pulled a stack of papers out of his briefcase, “Princess Aksinya, I intend to defend you to the best of my ability. I don’t wish you to go to prison or the workhouse.”

She crossed her arms, “I asked before, why would you care?”

He folded his hands, “Because you think the way you do, that is difficult to explain in a way you might understand. A normal person would not ask why, they would simply be grateful for the assistance.”

“Do you think I am insane?”

Father Dobrushin took her hands, “Look at me, Aksinya.”

She raised her eyes to his.

“I do not think you are insane.”

“Then would you tell me why you are helping me?”

He laughed, “You are a Russian Princess. That should be enough for any honest Russian.”

“Father Makar doesn’t think so. Does that mean he is not an honest Russian?”

Father Dobrushin drew in a deep breath, “Father Makar is an honest Russian, but he thinks your problems are all mental.”

“If they are all mental, doesn’t that mean he should show me even greater sympathy?”

Father Dobrushin smiled, “Sometimes you astound me.”

“Is that good? Is that why you are helping me?”

He cleared his throat, “I am helping you because you are a Russian and a refugee.”

“I know you have helped many refugees, Ekaterina told me, but is that the only reason?”

“You confessed to Christ through me. Since that time I have been determined to help you.”

Aksinya smiled, “You are my priest and confessor. I am glad you haven’t given up on me.” She glanced away, “Ekaterina has also been a great help to me,” she finished quickly, “but I am glad she is not here to see my shame.” She brought her eyes back to Father Dobrushin, “Do you love me like she loves me? Do you think she loves me like a friend now? Is that why you are helping me?”

“About that, you’ll have to ask the Matushka. She does love you, and I love you. I’m not certain I am your friend, but I would like to be.”

“Because I astound you?”

“That and many other things.” Father Dobrushin pulled out a fountain pen and began to organize his papers.

The prosecutors came to their table. They nodded toward Aksinya and to Father Dobrushin. Father Dobrushin stepped over and shook their hands. Aksinya heard only quiet greetings between them. The priest sat down again and continued to glance through his papers. The benches of the courtroom began to fill behind them. Aksinya fidgeted for a while then asked Father Dobrushin, “Why are there so many people in the benches? Is there an important trial later?”

Father Dobrushin’s lips turned down, “You haven’t seen the papers for a while.”

“They don’t give me anything to read in the jail. I only have the Greek Bible you brought me.”

“You have been on the front page of every paper in the city and perhaps since well before the ecclesiastical trial two weeks ago.”

“I have?”

“If you look closely, the men on the back row are all photographers and reporters. They are not allowed to take pictures in the courtroom. When you leave here, they will all try to snap your picture.”

“Really? What did they say about me?”

“Nothing flattering.”

“But what did they say?”

“They called you a witch and a sorceress.”

“That’s pretty innocuous and besides, it’s true.”

“There were other things less flattering, but mostly they called the Cardinal and the inquisitors to task for trying a mentally ill girl in an ecclesiastical court.”

Aksinya’s brow wrinkled, “The mentally ill girl was me?”

“Yes.”

“Thank you.”

“Why this time?”

“Because you believe me.” She glanced at him from the sides of her eyes and sighed, “I’ll try not to bother you again.”

“When? Now? It’s too late.”

At that moment, two judges came through the door at the right and two judges through the door at the left behind the large desk. The bailiff of the court struck his staff against the floor, “Hear ye, hear ye, this Schöffengericht is convened in the name of Emperor Charles the first of and the . I present The Honorable Gustav Richter, The Honorable Artur Kuester, Lay Judge Albert Vogler, and Lay Judge Oscar Amsel. May the justice of the Lord God Almighty reign in all the affairs of men.”

The judges were all stern looking men. They wore heavy powdered wigs. The two professional judges were dressed in red judicial robes with white stoles and split cravats, while the robes of the two lay judges were black. Everyone in the courtroom stood except Aksinya.

The presiding judge, The Honorable Gustav Richter sat at the center of the large desk. He stared down his nose at Aksinya, “Girl why don’t you stand to honor the court?”

Aksinya slowly came to her feet, “I apologize, Your Honor. I will stand to honor the court. I did not before because of my rank.”

“Your rank?” He glanced down at the papers in front of him, “Ah, your Rank.” He immediately stood back up, “You are that one. I’d forgotten, please accept my apologies Princess Aksinya.”

Aksinya continued to stand, “You need not address me as Princess. That was the ruling of the ecclesiastical court.”

Father Dobrushin gently tugged Aksinya back into her seat, “The defense acknowledges the rank of the Princess Aksinya and reminds this Schöffengericht that ecclesiastical courts have no force of law in modern .”

Judge Richter smiled, “That is so counselor.” He glanced at Aksinya, “Princess, may we be seated?”

She nodded.

Judge Richter smiled again and motioned for the court to sit. He smiled down at Aksinya, “Princess, I do ask your permission to sit higher than you as that is good order for a court in this case.”

Aksinya smiled again, “I do give you my permission, You Honor.”

“I’d rather not have to grant you my seat in any case.” He grinned. A titter traveled through the courtroom. Judge Richter continued, “Lay Judge Amsel, will you please continue with the proceedings.”

The Lay Judge began to read from a list. It started with “Is the Princess Aksinya Georgovna Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov also known as Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna, present?”

Aksinya raised her hand and answered, “I am.”

Lay Judge Amsel read from his list of witnesses. It was very long. The Lay Judge asked if the witness was present and when they gave their answer, he continued to the next name. The names were merchants at first, but soon arrived at Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska.

Aksinya turned to try to catch a glimpse of Natalya, but she couldn’t see her over the crowd.

The next name was Herr Ernst Franz von Taaffe. He, like Natalya answered present, but Aksinya couldn’t see him. Then the Lay Judge called for the Novice Sister Margarethe Traugott and the names of the two novice sisters who had been at Aksinya’s house. They all answered affirmative.

After the Lay Judge Amsel called all the names of the witnesses and everyone answered they were present, the Lay Judge announced, “Except for the Princess Aksinya, Ladies and Gentlemen who were just called as witnesses, please follow the instructions of the officers of the court and move to the witness’s lounge until you are required to testify.”

The men and women whose names had been called vacated the benches in the courtroom. The guards opened the large doors at the back, and some waiting spectators entered the courtroom to take the newly vacated places.

Judge Richter waited until the doors were shut again then he addressed the prosecutor and Father Dobrushin, “Gentlemen, will you produce your credentials.” The prosecutor and priest brought papers out of their briefcases and approached the bench. They handed them to Judge Richter, the presiding judge. The judge glanced over the documents. He wrote a couple of notes and handed the documents to the other judges, “Prosecutor Trauen, you are familiar to me. Herr Father Lopuhin, I know of you by reputation. You have worked as an attorney for the Russian refugees in Wien. I am pleased to have you in my courtroom.”

“Thank you, Your Honor. You may address me simply as Herr Lopuhin.”

Judge Richter nodded to the two men.

After they had taken their seats, Judge Richter turned to Aksinya, “Princess, would you please take the witness seat so I may ask you some questions?”

Aksinya nodded and stood. The entire courtroom stood, and she walked to the chair before the judges’ desk and sat. Everyone in the courtroom sat.

Judge Richter glanced at his papers, “Princess, according to Austrian law, you are not required to be sworn in. If your statements are not truthful, this can be held against you and may add to any civil or criminal penalty you might face.”

Aksinya nodded, “I understand. I will tell the truth.”

“When and where were you born?”

“I was born in Tsarskoye Selo near on March 15th 1900.”

“That means you are now nineteen and above the age of majority. Princess what is your religion and education?”

“I am Orthodox, but I don’t know my standing in the church.”

Father Dobrushin stood, “She is confessed and communicating, a member in good standing in the Russian Orthodox Church.”

Aksinya glanced down.

Judge Richter continued, “Thank you counselor. Princess, your education?”

“I was educated by my governess and priest. I have only a few months of formal education.”

Father Dobrushin stood again, “The Princess speaks, reads, and writes, Latin, Greek, Russian, German, and French. She is highly educated and is considering continuing her studies at university.”

Aksinya turned a perturbed glance at the priest, but he didn’t seem to notice.

Judge Richter nodded, “Princess, do you have any occupation other than student?”

“No.”

The Judge made a mark on his paper. He asked, “Do you have any dependents?”

“I am only dependent on others.”

The court erupted in laughter. Aksinya glanced around nervously. Father Dobrushin gave her an encouraging grin.

Judge Richter chuckled, “Please tell the court your current income and property.”

Aksinya took a deep breath, “I have no income at all. I once had much property and many goods. I left my property when the Bolsheviks murdered my family. I left all that behind and escaped to . Here, I thought I owned a house, but I found that I had been cheated. My goods, I brought from with me, but they were all taken to pay the debts on the house, and I still do not own a house. As far as I know, the only things that I have left are those I am wearing.” As an afterthought, she added, “And the dress is borrowed.”

The court again filled with laughter.

“Now, Princess, I must ask you, do you have any previous criminal record.”

Aksinya held her hands together, “Until the Cardinal had me tried on charges of sorcery, even though I was a very great sinner, I had never been accused of any wrong doing. I was found guilty of sorcery and notorious sinning by the ecclesiastical court. I don’t remember all the charges or the punishments…”

Father Dobrushin interrupted her, “I’m sorry, Your Honor, the witness caught me by surprise. The Princess Aksinya has no criminal record and has never been accused of a crime in any court of criminal or civil law.”

Aksinya glanced back at him, “Is this true?”

“The judge does not mean an ecclesiastical court. You have no criminal record no matter how notorious you believe your sins to be.” He turned to the judge, “Your Honor, please strike the Princess’ response to your question, under her criteria, Martin Luther, the Pope, and all the Saints in Christendom might be considered criminals.”

Laughter again was heard from the benches and the desk.

“I agree with your comment, counselor. Judges, strike the Princess’ statement from your notes and recollection. Princess, you have chosen rather than a trial by your peers to a trial by Schöffengericht. This does not mean you may not appeal your prosecution or that you may not ask later for a trial by your peers. The decisions of this trial will, however, be considered during any further judicial proceedings or appeal. Do you understand this?”

Aksinya nodded.

“Princess, you must answer aloud.”

“Yes, your honor. I understand.”

Judge Richter continued, “Now Bailiff, read the charges against the Princess.”

The Bailiff stepped to the front beside Aksinya and read, “Princess Aksinya Georgovna Holstein-Gottorp-Romanov also known as Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna you are charged with willful assault and battery against the Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska. You are further charged with engaging in deceitful loans and business practice that did result in the theft of over a hundred thousand marks sterling. The exact amounts and specific items are listed as an appendix in the court documents.”

Aksinya sat with a strange expression on her face. She stared expectantly at the Bailiff. A slight tremble shook his paper. Aksinya asked, “Is that all?”

The courtroom laughed again.

She glanced around.

Judge Richter held his hand in front of his face. After a moment, he choked, “If it isn’t enough, I suppose we could add a few more.”

Aksinya turned toward Father Dobrushin. He covered his face, “Princess, those are quite enough.”

Judge Richter gave a sigh, “Yes, I was making a joke. That is all the charges.” His voice became stern, “Princess Aksinya, do you understand the charges?”

She nodded.

“You must speak, Princess.”

“I do understand them, and I am sorry for them.”

Father Dobrushin whispered to her, “This is not a confession. Just answer the judge’s questions.”

“Now, listen closely, Princess Aksinya. Do you plead guilty, not guilty, or do you wish to remain silent.”

She sat up straight, “I surely am gu…”

Father Dobrushin stood, “The Princess wishes to plead not guilty.” He took a step to her side, “Please, Princess. If you plead guilty, the court will have no other recourse than to immediately sentence you. This is not a question of sin—it is a question of civil and criminal law.”

She whispered, “I don’t want to do anything wrong. Are you certain I should say not guilty? I am guilty of many wrongs.”

“If you are uncertain, just say you remain silent.”

“Very well.” Aksinya faced the judge, “Of guilt I am certain that I am guilty of many sins, but of this trial, Father Dobrushin tells me I should at least remain silent. He is my priest, and I follow his commands in this.”

Judge Richter covered his face again. After a moment, he glanced at Father Dobrushin and shook his head, “Was she like this at the ecclesiastical trial.”

“I was not there, Your Honor, but I expect so.”

“She is truly artless. It seems she cannot lie.”

Aksinya stared at the judge, “Did I say something wrong?”

A titter ran through the court again.

“No, Princess, you did not say anything wrong. You are very fortunate that Father Dobrushin, that is Herr Lopuhin, is advising you.”

Aksinya smiled.

Judge Richter studied his papers for a moment, “Now, Princess Aksinya, I wish to ascertain the facts of the case as you understand them.”

Aksinya nodded.

“There are specific details of time and place, but generally, tell me about your house across from Sacré Coeur. How did you acquire it and how did you take care of the bills.”

“My courtier acquired the house for me. I was both surprised and pleased to learn of this, because that allowed me to have a place for my family’s household items.”

“Your courtier? Who is this person?”

“He is the demon I called from the pit. His name is Asmodeus.”

A quiet groan went through the courtroom.

Judge Richter put his head in his hands, “Princess Aksinya, do you realize by making such claims I could incarcerate you in a mental institution?”

Aksinya clenched her fists, “Your Honor, the Pope’s ecclesiastical trial found me guilty of calling a demon and sorcery. If you must send me to such a place, I insist you send my ecclesiastical accusers as well.”

The judge’s mouth fell open. He steepled his hands and lowered his head, “You do have a point there, Princess.”

Father Dobrushin stood again, “Your Honor, it was established by an ecclesiastical court that Princess Aksinya was guilty of sorcery and of calling a demon. Any statement she should make concerning this issue has been established by a court acknowledged though not accepted by the state of .”

“Yes,” Judge Richter breathed, “Yes, I understand.” He glanced at the other judges to his right and left and pronounced, “I instruct the other judges to take this into consideration. Although unprecedented, this may be considered a fact in finding for this court.”

Father Dobrushin bowed, “Thank you, Your Honor.”

The judge let out a deeper sigh, “I also postulate that we will not be able to interview this creature who contracted the house and the goods.” He shook his head in anticipation of Aksinya’s answer.

Aksinya looked confused.

Judge Richter didn’t pause any longer, “Princess Aksinya, I would like to move to the second charge. Concerning the Lady Natalya, would you tell us what happened the night she was injured?”

Aksinya looked down, “It is very embarrassing for me. The Lady Natalya was my only and best friend.” She looked away in the distance, “Isn’t it enough to know that I took a fire iron and beat her with it. I beat her until she did not move. She didn’t fight back. She covered her head, and I beat her until blood soaked her dress.” Aksinya glanced around, “I’m sorry. That’s all there is.”

The judge opened his hands, “Surely there was a reason? Why did you beat the Lady Natalya?”

Aksinya glanced up suddenly, “I will not say.”

Judge Richter stared at her for a moment, “Very well. Those are the questions from the bench. Prosecutor Trauen, do you have any questions you wish to ask the Princess?”

The prosecutor stood, “No, Your Honor.”

“Herr Lopuhin, you may question the defendant.”

Father Dobrushin stood, “Thank you, Your Honor.” He walked to the bench, “Princess, concerning the question of the houses and goods, did you meet any of these merchants.”

Aksinya shook her head.

“Remember, Princess, you must speak your answers aloud.”

“No, Father, I never met any of them.”

“Did you sign any documents for the house, loans, or goods?”

“No, Father.”

“Did you ever carry any money?”

“Of course not. I’ve never carried money ever in my life.”

“Concerning the Lady Natalya, did you trust her?”

“Yes,” Aksinya’s tone was indignant. “I trusted her with everything. She took care of my jewelry and clothing. She was my confidant and friend.”

“Thank you, Princess.” Father Dobrushin turned to the bench, “Your Honor, at the moment those are all my questions for the Princess.”

Judge Richter pulled out his pocket watch, “We shall take a short break. Following that we will reconvene and begin to question the witnesses. At your permission, Princess Aksinya.”

Aksinya nodded and the judges stood and trailed out through their doors behind the large desk. In response to Father Dobrushin’s motions, she returned to the table where he sat. He stood and waited for her to sit. She sighed and turned toward Father Dobrushin, “Am I really artless?”

“Can you tell nothing but the absolute truth?”

“That is a rhetorical question. I’ve lied many times before. I’m certain I have lied…”

“…but you are uncertain if you could lie now.”

“Should I lie?”

Father Dobrushin frowned, “No.”

You don’t have to be snappish. She moved her mouth to the side, “I didn’t realize you were a lawyer.”

“In the seminary, like most universities, we study theology. Post graduate work is in law, theology, or medicine. I studied law. One of the reasons the Orthodox Church sent me here was to help in the legal matters for refugees.”

“I see.”

“There is a further problem that will come up in the court.”

“That is?”

“Your immigration status.”

“Am I not legally here in ?”

“You are and you are not. The red Russians sent a letter to the court requesting they extradite you for the murder of your family. The extradition is not part of this trial, but will become an issue at sentencing or your release. The white Russians wish you back to help rally the war effort. The same issue concerns your sentencing or release.”

Aksinya pouted, “I do not wish to return to .”

“I understand that. Where do you wish to go?”

“I don’t know. Beyond this trial, I have no purpose at all—other than to be rid of the demon.”

“Yes, we shall see about that.”

The spectators began to return to the courtroom. They hurried to their seats. Right at the specified time, the judges’ doors opened, and the Lay Judges then the Professional Judges entered the courtroom and took their seats.

Judge Richter shuffled his papers for a moment and made a decision, “We shall hear particulars about the theft of the house and goods first. Call the owner of the house, Herr Tauber as the first witness.”

Herr Tauber was an elderly and balding man. He wore a tight black suit with a split white cravat. He was thin and nervous. He sat tall with his buttocks perched primly at the front of the witness chair.

Judge Richter began, “Herr Tauber, please state your full name and the reason you are a witness before the court.”

“I am Franz Heinrik Tauber. My house was contracted in a loan in the name of the Countess Golitsyna. The loan was never paid and it defaulted.”

“Was any earnest paid as surety on the house?”

“Yes, it was paid in Russian roubles which I quickly cashed because of the troubles in .”

“Have you ever met the defendant who is seated in this courtroom?”

“Who is the defendant?”

Judge Richter pointed at Aksinya, “The defendant is that young woman seated there.”

“That young woman? I expected a Russian Princess or at least a Countess. That’s what the newspapers have portrayed. She looks like a drudge. Is this a trick?”

Judge Richter frowned, “This is no trick Herr Tauber. The woman seated there is the Princess Aksinya.”

“I’m sorry, ma’am. I meant no offense.”

Aksinya’s eyes burned, “No offense taken.”

Judge Richter hurried on, “So you never actually met the Countess or Princess before.”

“Never. This is the first time I’ve ever seen her.”

“Then who negotiated the house and the loan?”

“A man who portrayed himself as her representative and courtier.”

“What was his name?”

“He called himself Anatov Aznabaev.”

Judge Richter pulled out a paper and scrutinized it, “The signature is in Russian and does indeed look like it reads Anatov Aznabaev.”

Herr Tauber added, “All the loan documents were signed by Anatov Aznabaev in the name of the Countess Golitsyna.”

“You met this man and saw him sign the documents?”

“He was a pleasant person. He brought wine and food fit for a noble court with him. I had no idea he planned to cheat me.”

Judge Richter made a sign with his finger, “Captain Gerber, you have my permission to leave the court and alert your force to apprehend this man Anatov Aznabaev. If at all possible, I wish him as a witness. In any case, I want him arrested for fraud.” Captain Gerber stepped to the bench and Judge Richter handed him an official paper with the judge’s seal on it.

Aksinya spoke, “It will do you no good.”

Captain Gerber paused. Judge Richter paused, “What will do no good, Princess?”

“Anatov Aznabaev is the name my demon, Asmodeus, uses. Because he is a demon, he will be impossible for you to find.”

Judge Richter smiled, “Let us try, Princess. That will keep all things in good order for my court.” Captain Gerber conferred with the judge for a moment. Judge Richter raised his head, “Herr Tauber, do you have any idea where Anatov Aznabaev may be found?”

“Herr Tauber shook his head, “I thought he lived at the house I sold. It is empty now.”

Captain Gerber nodded and exited the courtroom.

Judge Richter glanced back at his notes, “Herr Tauber, was the house damaged?”

“No.”

“You have it back in the same condition you delivered it?”

“Yes, but I lost three months interest…”

“I see that is your claim.” The judge glanced to the left, “Prosecutor Trauen, do you wish to question the witness?”

“No, Your Honor.”

“Herr Lopuhin?”

Father Dobrushin jumped up. He spoke quickly, “Herr Tauber, the Countess had the use of your house for less than three months, but you had a surety of earnest money that is greater than the interest and you received the house back without loss. As far as I can tell you came out positive in this venture. What actual claims remain that you wish to make against the Countess? It seems to me, that you owe her money.”

“But the contract…”

“Herr Tauber, this is a criminal court. The question is one of theft. It appears to me, that the Countess did not legally make a contract with you. That rather your contract was with this person Anatov Aznabaev. In any case, you should return the surety and be paid the interest. How much would you then owe the Countess?”

Herr Tauber’s lips quivered, “I suppose a thousand Marks.”

“There is no indication of theft here at all, that is theft by the Countess from you, rather you have potentially conducted a theft from the Countess. If I were her, I would sue you in civil court and ask that you be tired for criminal theft.”

Prosecutor Trauen stood, “I object to the questioning of the witness.”

Judge Richter seemed surprised, “I’m not certain Herr Lopuhin is not correct. This is a criminal trial against the Princess, but the actions of Herr Tauber are close to criminal and civil fraud. It does not seem to me that there is any indication of theft, in this case, by the Princess. Herr Tauber, you are dismissed.”

The house owner stood on shaking legs. He bowed to the Princess and exited the courtroom.

Judge Richter pursed his lips and looked down the witness list, “Bring in the next witness. That is Herr Frump. He holds the next greatest claim against the defendant.”

Herr Frump entered the courtroom and took the witness chair. He was a jovial man with a little too much weight. He wore a stained apron under his suit coat and held his butcher’s hat in his hands.

The Judge began at a little faster clip that before, “Herr Frump, please give us your full name and occupation.”

Herr Frump grinned, “I am Vladimir Frump, a butcher for the Sacré Coeur district in Wien. But I am not certain why I am here, Your Honor.”

“Why is that Herr Frump?”

“I have no current claim against the Countess.”

“How is that?”

“After the courts disbursement from the sale of goods in the house, a priest came by my shop and settled the bill.”

Judge Richter pawed through the papers before him. He turned to the junior Lay Judge, “Lay Judge Amsel, are any of the monetary claims against the defendant still outstanding?”

“No, Judge Richter, they have all been settled.”

Judge Richter laid down his papers, “In that case, there can be no criminal liability against Princess Aksinya. Therefore, is there any reason to continue to question these witnesses? Prosecutor? Defense?”

Father Dobrushin put up his hand, “Presiding Judge, before you release the witnesses, I’d like to ask each a single question.”

“I see no reason why not. You may begin with Herr Frump.”

Father Dobrushin stepped up to the bench, “Herr Frump, did you contract with the Countess or with someone else.”

“I contracted with Anatov Aznabaev. He said he represented the Countess.”

“So your claims were really against Anatov Aznabaev and never against the Countess, yet you accepted the Countess’ goods against the debt of Anatov Aznabaev.”

Herr Furmp’s merchant smile slipped into a frown, “I didn’t think I would be on trial here. My claims were paid.”

Father Dobrushin turned toward the Judge, “Yet, Your Honor, the claims were most properly against Anatov Aznabaev. Why should the Princess Aksinya not have an equal share in the claims against this man? It seems to me that these claimants have all been made whole, but she has born the entire burden of a debt that she did not cause.”

Aksinya spoke very clearly, “Although I did not know Herr Frump, I did benefit from his business. I ate his very fine beef and blessed his meats at my table every night. I do not wish to make any claim against him or his business.”

Herr Frump stood at the witness chair and bowed deeply, “God bless your words, Dear Lady. I felt myself lucky to balance my books after such an incident. I am more than blessed by hearing you disburse me of any guilt as well.”

Father Dobrushin drew his hand across his face, “That is not the outcome I desired or expected.”

Judge Richter laughed and the rest of the court broke into mirth. The judge held up his hand, “I do under my authority as the presiding judge of this Schöffengericht pronounce all the charges related to theft dismissed and absolved. I will state in the official records that they were brought wrongly and with prejudice. This will be presented to all the claimants along with a potential petition to be used by the Princess in any civil litigation against them. She shall be able to claim in civil trial any difference between her benefit and what she was forced to pay. I shall leave the details to her representative, Herr Lopuhin. Herr Lopuhin, will that please you?”

“That pleases the defense.”

“Prosecutor?”

“The prosecution agrees with the judge’s assessment.”

“Therefore, I release this Schöffengericht for luncheon. At one we shall begin with the assault and battery charges. Sergeant Nagel, there is no reason to return the Princess to her cell.” Judge Richter stood and the other judges followed him out their respective doors. The courtroom began to empty. A clump of reporters stood at the back and waited for Father Dobrushin and Aksinya to walk out the main door.

A policeman conferred with Sergeant Nagel, and the Sergeant motioned to Father Dobrushin, “Sir, you may follow me to the private luncheon room in the Rathaus. Judge Richter instructed me that you should dine there.”

“Thank you.” Aksinya and Father Dobrushin followed the Sergeant out the side door of the courtroom.

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