Aksinya and Dobrushin rode in the carriage to a hotel near the center of Wien. It was almost midnight, and she couldn’t read the name. Aksinya trembled with chill and anticipation. Within the carriage, she sat close to Dobrushin. The warmth of his body came to her through her new coat and her woolen dress. They didn’t speak the entire time. When they arrived, Dobrushin let her down from the carriage and gave her his arm. He didn’t have to, Aksinya took it automatically. She held him tightly as if she never wanted to let him go.
They entered the hotel, and he spoke to her, “Princess, I have arranged a room here.”
The lobby was dark with only a single gas lamp over the reception desk. From what Aksinya could see, the hotel was a fine but not luxurious place. Is smelled a little of age and was a bit stuffy, but that description could fit most buildings in Wien. The sleepy desk clerk sat up straighter. Dobrushin came to the desk and asked for his key. He introduced Aksinya, “This is my wife.”
Aksinya gave a broad smile. The word, wife, from Dobrushin’s lips were very pleasant to her. She held his arm more tightly.
Dobrushin led her to the left and up the stairs. Half the gas lamps had been extinguished and the rest were turned low. In spite of that, the hall seemed bright since the light wooden walls reflected the lamps’ gentle glow. Dobrushin stopped before an inner door and unlocked it. The gas lamp directly inside the door had been lit, but it was adjusted to its lowest setting. They entered the room, and Dobrushin turned it up bright. He closed the door behind them. He gently disengaged Aksinya’s arm from his and removed her coat. He hung it on the hook by the door. Then he removed his overcoat and hung it beside hers. With the taper left in the gas lamp fixture for that purpose, he crossed the room and lit the other two gas lamps. Aksinya stood before the door unsure what to do. She glanced around the room. It wasn’t large. It had a coal fireplace at one side that was lit with a meager fire. Extra coal sat in a scuttle at the left side. The ash pot and implements were on the other side of the opening. Before the fireplace were two chairs and a low tea table. Beyond them, a wide window sat in the far wall. Below the window was a wooden table and four chairs. At the left was a bed and a desk. The other two gas lamps were on that wall. Fine oriental rugs covered the area of the fireplace, the table, and beside the bed and the desk.
Dobrushin pointed to the door on the left in the room, “There is the bath. It has a toilet.”
At the last, Dobrushin took an open container of incense and placed it before the fireplace. He lit it with the taper then fished in his vest pocket for Aksinya’s surety. He glanced at her and then placed the necklace and locket on the smoking incense. Aksinya could already smell the gentle bite of frankincense. Dobrushin returned to the door. He returned the taper to its holder.
Dobrushin took her hand and blushed, “I’m sorry. I forgot to get you any nightclothes.”
Aksinya trembled, “I won’t need any.” She raised her face to his, “Kiss me. I want you to kiss me.”
Dobrushin took her in his arms and put his lips on hers. Aksinya threw her arms around his neck, “I don’t understand what this kind of love is, but I want to know it with you tonight.” She pressed her lips to his and wouldn’t stop kissing him.
Finally Dobrushin finally disentangled her arms from his neck. His face was red, “Come, my love, we need to ask God to show us mercy and keep us in safety.”
Aksinya’s breath released in gentle pants. She nodded.
They knelt at the side of the bed, he took her hand, and Dobrushin prayed, “We praise you God of our fathers. We praise your name forever and ever. Let the heavens and all your creation praise you forever. You made Adam and also Eve his wife, who was to be his partner and support; and those two were the parents of all human beings. This was your word: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone; let us provide a partner suited to him.’ So now I take this my beloved to wife, not out of lust but in true marriage. Grant that she and I may find mercy and grow old together. Amen.”
“Amen,” Aksinya replied, “Do you love me?”
“I love you. I married you.”
“Help me take off my clothes.”
Aksinya stood before him expectantly. Dobrushin took off his coat and unbuttoned his shirt. Aksinya reached up and fumbled with his buttons. She smiled, “I’m not very good with buttons.” She undid one after the other. A golden cross lay against his chest. It depended from a necklace.
Dobrushin pulled her to him and kissed her again.
Suddenly, a great roar filled the small room. A hot sulfurous wind rushed through the place. There was a dark flash then a scream like the sound of metal cutting metal, and across the room, beside the fireplace stood a large black shape.
Dobrushin clasped Aksinya closer, and she could feel him tremble.
The demon looked them both up and down and laughed, “Be very afraid.” He sniffed, “What do we have here? I should have guessed as much. The contract called me because of this. I knew your lust would eventually be your undoing.”
Aksinya pushed back a little from Dobrushin, “There is no question of lust here. This is my husband, Dobrushin Sergeevich Lopuhin.”
“Your husband?” The demon cackled. “He is not your husband yet. Not until he beds you. Haven’t you heard what Solomon wrote about me? That I am always hatching plots against newlyweds; I mar the beauty of virgins and cause their hearts to grow cold. Plus, you are contracted to me. You can’t be the crown of any man while I hold your surety.”
Dobrushin’s voice was strangely calm though Aksinya could feel his hands shake as he held her, “Demon, the surety of the Princess Aksinya is being consumed. You must return hers and release her to me. I claim her in the name of the Lord God Almighty.”
Asmodeus spat, “That isn’t that guy’s name. I know that guy’s name. You must properly invoke it or your claims are void.”
“You lie, Asmodeus. I know God. The hearts of men cry out His name because he is just and merciful.”
Asmodeus took a step toward them, “You forget, puny man. I have been here before—many times. I killed Sarah’s seven betrothed one after the other so none were left.”
Aksinya yelled, “But you couldn’t murder Tobias.”
The demon snarled, “Do you think this man is like Tobias? Tobias had an angel to help him. This man is nothing. I will kill him as easily as you crush an insect under your foot. As easily as you beat the Lady Natalya. As easily as you tried to seduce, Ernst von Taaffe.”
Aksinya put out her hand, “I am forgiven those sins, and you may not murder my beloved, because he is innocent.”
Asmodeus howled, “No man is innocent. Especially one who is about to rob you of your virtue.”
“He is my husband. I gladly give him everything.”
“Your betrothed until he takes your virginity. But he can’t have you because you are betrothed to me.”
The demon took a sniff. He glanced around, “Your surety.” He stared at the heart-shaped necklace in the incense and his eye twitched. Already the flames licked around it. Already it blackened and glowed. Aksinya could detect a smell unlike the frankincense. It was a smell like fresh caviar, but sweeter. It was the sweetest scent Aksinya had ever known.
Asmodeus cried out, “I haven’t much time.” He snarled again and took a step toward Dobrushin, “You, man, shall die.” He raised his arm and rushed at Dobrushin. Dobrushin stuck out his arms to protect himself.
At the last moment, Aksinya grabbed for the demon. She jumped forward and interposed her body between the demon and the man. Asmodeus claws bit deeply into her. They cut across her thin body and through her dress, through her skin, through her bones.
A veil of blood rose in the air between the demon and the girl. Aksinya gave a single gurgling scream and collapsed to the floor. The demon cringed back. He leapt again to the side of the fireplace.
Dobrushin cried out. He knelt beside Aksinya and lifted her head and shoulders in his arms.
Her lips trembled. Her face contorted in pain, “There, demon, you are in default. You cannot harm me, yet you have murdered me.”
Asmodeus brought his hands to his face. His features displayed an appearance that had never been there before. He glanced all around.
Aksinya’s breath came in whispers, “You must return my surety. You must release me. I am truly God’s now and not yours.”
The demon shrieked and was suddenly gone. The incense sputtered then flared up. The charm within it fell to ashes. Aksinya’s hair suddenly became a single long braid down her back.
Dobrushin clasped her in his arms.
Aksinya weakly lifted her hand to the side of his face, “You need not shed tears for me, my beloved, because you released me from the demon.”
Dobrushin held her more tightly, “I can’t let you go so easily.”
“Don’t let go of me, just hold me until I breathe my last. I’m cold already.”
Dobrushin put his face next to hers and sobbed into her hair, “Please God, don’t take this wonderful woman from me yet. She is the only one of her kind on your earth. She was innocent and betrayed by a creature of darkness.”
“Not innocent,” Aksinya coughed, “Only forgiven.” Blood trickled from her lips down the side of her face.
“Please, dear God, she was forgiven. She is your child.”
A bright light flashed in the room followed by a low tone like a bell, and another being stood near the fireplace.
Aksinya shuddered, “Did the demon return?”
The creature was tall and bright. Its features were so bright they were difficult to discern in the darkened room. Still the being seemed to smile, “Do not be afraid.”
Aksinya’s voice came lower, “It is an angel. I can tell.”
The angel bowed to them, “Princess Aksinya, Dobrushin Lopuhin, I am the angel Raphael. I’m sorry I’m late, but Upper Egypt is much further from here than it was from .”
Dobrushin cried out, “Can’t you see she is dying. Heal her. Please, in God’s name, heal her.”
Aksinya touched Dobrushin’s face again, “My love, angels can’t heal, only God can do that.”
Raphael opened his hands and smiled again, “Only God can heal. Or that other thing.”
Aksinya’s eyes fluttered. She whispered, “I have renounced sorcery. I would rather die than ever use it again.”
Raphael glowed brighter, “In that case, I am allowed to reverse some of the actions of that demon in the world. He should never have been able to harm you, Princess Aksinya.” The angel stepped closer to her.
Dobrushin raised his hopeless face to Raphael, “Please help her.”
“I’ll do better than that. Just as her surety returned with the end of her contract, so the spiritual and physical injury caused by that creature can be removed.” Raphael held his hands over Aksinya, “In the name of God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Remove the marks of Satan from this woman, your servant, Princess Aksinya.”
“Please, God,” cried Dobrushin.
Immediately the horrible wounds across Aksinya’s body sealed. As thought time turned back, from left to right, her flesh stitched together and the blood returned to her veins. Her face became less pale and her breathing returned to normal. In moments, she lay peacefully in Dobrushin’s arms. Her lips turned up in a gentle smile. Her dress still bore the claw marks of the demon. Her pale flesh showed through it.
Raphael shrugged, “I could not do anything about the dress. It is fully corporeal.” He stood and backed toward the fireplace, “That creature will not bother you again. I bound him for a time, and he shall not be released again until that time shall pass. Ensure you do marry her tonight, otherwise I can’t be responsible for what might occur.”
“I have married her.”
Raphael smiled, “Until you are one, there is no marriage in the eyes of God.” With a flash and a low gonglike sound, the angel was gone.
Dobrushin lifted Aksinya in his arms. She was chilled. He laid her in the bed and undressed. Then he gently tugged the ruined dress off her body. His heart caught in his throat. She was slim and wonderfully made, not the full curves of a woman, but the slight form of a dancer. The crucifix lay between her small breasts and the burn scars caused by it permanently marked her chest. Dobrushin slipped into the bed and pulled the covers over them. Dobrushin held her left hand. Scars covered it. He kissed each one. He held her cool body close to his and kissed her forehead then eyelids. He felt her body begin to warm next to him. She gave a start, and her eyes flashed open, “Where is the angel?”
“He has gone.”
She felt her body, “And I am whole… and naked.” She turned toward Dobrushin and touched him, “And you are also naked. Her breath caught, “Still, that is bad because I had more questions for him, but it is good, because I want you to love me. Now is the time for you to truly marry me. Kiss me, Dobrushka.”
He kissed her.
“Touch me here and here. And kiss me there,” she moaned. After a while she reached for him, “Can you tell. I am ready for you.” She lay back and her arms slipped around him. He reached around her shoulders.
Dobrushin whispered, “I am as new to this as you. I can’t find the right place, help me.”
Aksinya laughed, and moved her hands downward. He pressed forward, and with a mutual gasp, they came together. Aksinya wrapped her body around his and cried out with amazement. She trembled over and over and then relaxed. His body shuddered once then again and again. Finally he lay still. Aksinya held on to him and wouldn’t let him move. She kissed him and kissed him again. Finally, she let him roll to the side, but she still clasped him possessively.
When she caught her breath, she brushed the hair away from his forehead, “You gave up your position as priest for me.”
“At this moment that is what you are thinking…?” He smiled at her, “But the answer is yes.”
“You would have given your life for me.”
“But in the end, you saved me. I don’t think Raphael would have been able to cancel any harm the demon would have done to my body.”
She stroked his face, “Did the demon injure you?”
His voice cracked, “No, but the demon almost stole my beloved, my wife.”
She smiled and kissed him, “Truly your wife now.” She nestled in his arms, “What will we do in the future? Where will we go and what will we do?”
“We will leave Wien. I have been working in immigration law. The are a place where many of our Russian compatriots are escaping…”
She snuggled closer to him, “We will go to ?”
“To in the . I already made connections. They are looking for lawyers who can speak Russian.”
Aksinya pouted, “They speak a kind of English there. How will we communicate?”
“We shall learn English.”
“Yes, I guess. You’ve thought this through for a long time.”
“I realized early that Father Makar would oppose any help I gave you, and I knew that you would require much help.”
Her pout deepened, “Am I such a problem?”
“Yes, Aksinya, you are a very great problem. Plus, I don’t think there is a diminutive for Aksinya.” He rolled to face her, “What will I call you, wife?”
Aksinya wasn’t certain she should frown or smile. She harrumphed and plucked at her lip, “My father called me Aksyusha, but I would like you to call me, Aksenyushka or perhaps Princess.”
“Very well, I shall call you Princess Akenyushka. May I kiss you?”
“Yes, you may kiss me all you wish.” Their lips touched.
“You were much more passionate before.”
“Shall I be passionate again?”
“Yes,” she trembled as she stroked his face, “But I have an important request.”
He tried to make out her face in the dim light, “A request.”
“It’s wet and sticky over here. Can I sleep on your side of the bed?”
Dobrushin let out a great laugh, “It’s a little damp over here too.”
Aksinya scowled, “What did you do to me?”
“Didn’t you like it? Wasn’t it what you always desired?”
“Yes, but I didn’t think it would be so messy.” She pressed herself very close to him, “I want to be on top this time.”
He smiled again and tried not to laugh, “Why?”
“I like to be in control, and the wet place will be on your side and not mine.” She placed her lips on his and did not remove them.
Aksinya had him twice more and both times she was on top. They slept very late into the next day.
Aksinya swung off the streetcar and skipped down the in . She wore a tweed dress and a jaunty tweed cap. She carried a leather briefcase her Dobrushushka had given her at her graduation only a month before. It reminded her of the briefcase she owned when she attended Sacré Coeur, but she never remembered carrying that one herself. She was very proud of this briefcase—it held her diploma in linguistics and teaching from . Radcliffe was one of the few woman’s college she could attend since all the Catholic ones excluded her. She had mostly escaped notoriety, but still she and Dobrushushka attended a very small Russian Orthodox Church near his office.
Aksinya spotted the Baptizer Greek Orthodox Church across the street and started counting the buildings down from it.
She and Dobrushin had been in for a little over four years. They were delightful years. She already wondered what she would do to seduce him tonight—it had been two days already since the last time. He was already a partner at the law firm. Everyone in the firm knew he was married, but Aksinya rarely showed her face there. Dobrushushka begged off officially because of her schooling. That was a good thing, she didn’t need notoriety. She didn’t want her Dobrushushka to lose this job.
Aksinya halted when her counting reached the correct house number and glanced at the building. She stopped skipping and walked carefully up the stairs in front. The sign was right beside the door: Sacred Heart of Christ, Russian Orthodox Seminary for Young Women and Girls.”
Aksinya smiled. That sounded like just the place for her. All the other schools where she applied to teach mistook her for a student. None of them had called her back. She luckily heard about this place from a friend at their Ecclesia.
Aksinya pulled the bell. After a couple of minutes a matronly woman dressed as a chamber maid answered the door. She was pleasant looking. Aksinya smiled and announced in English, “I am Mrs. Aksinya Andreiovna Lopuhin.”
The maid responded in broken English, “This is a Russian academy, are you certain you are at the right place? We don’t accept married students.”
Aksinya changed to Russian, “I am here to apply for the position of English and linguistics teacher. You posted it with the Russian exchange office.”
“Yes, so we did.” The woman frowned and looked Aksinya up and down.
“Is there a problem?”
“None at all.” The woman’s tone of voice said there was. “I’ll take you to see the headmistress. She is also the wife of the owner of this school.”
The building was similar to many of the row houses Aksinya was familiar with in . The foyer wasn’t large. It opened to a stairway that led up into the building and a hall that led to the rear. A parlor was on the right and a classroom on the left. Aksinya could hear the teacher lecturing through the closed door.
The maid didn’t lead Aksinya into the parlor or upstairs but rather headed down the hall on the first floor. They passed a second and a third classroom on the left and right and finally arrived at a large dining room and kitchen. They were also on the left. On the right was a door labeled Office of the Headmistress. The door was closed. Outside the door sat four hardback chairs in a row. A girl of about twelve slumped in one of the seats. She didn’t seem very happy.
The maid turned a stern look at the girl then pointed to the seats. Aksinya sat next to the girl. The maid knocked at the office, entered and closed the door behind her. She exited just a moment later, “The headmistress will call for you in a moment.”
Aksinya answered “Thank you.”
The girl beside her stared at Aksinya.
Aksinya stared back, “I’m Aksinya Andreiovna Lopuhin, and you are?”
The girl answered, “I’m Anastasiya, but everyone calls me Stacy.” Her Russian was from , but the name Stacy was said purely in English.
Aksinya laughed, “Do you speak English?”
“Not well. We’re supposed to learn it here.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“My brother taught me some words and the Sister didn’t like me to say them at all.”
“What were the words?”
Stacy motioned for Aksinya to lower her head a little and whispered into her ear.
Aksinya blushed, “Is that why you are here to speak to the headmistress?”
Stacy nodded woefully.
“You have a Nun teaching here?”
“Yes, she is Orthodox but not from .”
“What does she teach?”
“English, German, and French, but mostly German.”
The girl, Stacy asked, “Are you going to go to school here? Where are your mother and father?”
Aksinya laughed, “I’m applying to be a teacher here.”
The girl’s eyes widened, “You look so young.”
“I’m married,” Aksinya held out her right hand.
Stacy admired Aksinya’s plain golden ring, “Mother told me they married young in the old country. Just how old are you?”
Aksinya laughed again, “I’m twenty-three. I just graduated from Radcliffe.”
“Do you like school that much?”
“Yes, I like it very much. I never was able to go when I was young.”
“You’d hate it if you were my age.”
“Why is that?”
Stacy held out her red hand, “Sister already used her ruler on my hand, and now I have to speak to the headmistress. If she tells my mother, I’ll get the strap for sure.”
“Perhaps you should tell the headmistress you didn’t know what the words meant and beg her forgiveness.”
“I truly didn’t know what the words were, and I still don’t know what they mean.”
“Then tell her that.”
“Sister wouldn’t listen.”
“Sometimes they are like that.”
The door cracked open, and a call came from inside the office. It was Russian accented English and sounded very pleasant, “Miss Anastasiya please come inside.” To Aksinya, the voice seemed slightly familiar.
As Stacy passed Aksinya, she whispered in Russian, “Don’t let her voice fool you, she is quite strict.”
After a few minutes, Stacy exited the office. She held her features set in a look of contrition. The moment the door closed, she gave a very American, thumbs up to Aksinya, and mouthed, “It worked.” Then louder she said, “I hope you do teach here.” She skipped back down the hall to her class.
The door opened a crack, “Mrs. Aksinya Andreiovna Lopuhin, please enter.”
Aksinya stood and entered the office. The headmistress had her back to Aksinya and walked back to her desk. The woman seemed young. Very young for a headmistress. One shoulder drooped a little lower than the other, but her back was ramrod straight and her clothing was very fine, much finer than Aksinya’s.
The desk was large and filled one end of the room. The office was rather deep and had a fireplace on the left wall. Some padded chairs and a simple tea table were arranged before the fireplace. An unpadded chair sat before the desk. Without turning, the headmistress pointed to that chair. Aksinya stood beside it and waited for the headmistress to sit.
The moment the headmistress turned, Aksinya dropped her briefcase. Her mouth fell open. She couldn’t speak.
The woman before her gave a cry, “Princess Aksinya.” She rushed around the desk and embraced her.
Aksinya couldn’t get her breath she couldn’t speak. Finally, she threw her arms around the headmistress and exclaimed, “Lady Natalya.”
Natalya buried her face in Aksinya’s thick braided hair and blubbered. They stood together for a long time without saying anything. Finally, Natalya spoke, “I thought I would never see you again, Princess.”
Aksinya kissed her cheeks, “Dear Lady Natalya, I would never have guessed I would find you here. Is Herr von Taaffe with you?”
Natalya gave a laugh, “I am Mrs. Natalya Alexandrovna von Taaffe, though not called a Lady anymore. And you?”
“Father Dobrushin married me although he is not a priest anymore, and I am no longer a Princess.”
Natalya’s moist eyes held Aksinya’s, “You will always be a Princess. My lady’s maid told me you were looking for a job.”
“Please, Lady Natalya, I’m certain you would not wish to have me around you all the time. I know I will bring back terrible memories to you.”
“You don’t understand at all Princess. You are the reason I am here today. Wait with me for a while. Let me hear all that has happened to you since we parted, then we will have luncheon with Sister Margarethe, and we will discuss your teaching work in my school.”
“Sister Margarethe is also here?”
“Herr von Taaffe retained her as our housekeeper. She converted to Russian Orthodox and entered an order in the . Our school is loosely affiliated with .” Natalya held Aksinya at arms length and looked her over, “Dear friend, we have so much to talk about and so much to share. I do love you, Princess. I want you to remain with us forever.”
“In spite of everything that happened?”
“Because of everything that happened before. That time marked the end of a horrible and wonderful period, yet redemption came to you, to me.” She held Aksinya close, “I could not bear to lose you again, Aksinya. You redeemed me, the first of many. You shall redeem many more. God exceeded our expectations in spite of what we had done.”
- The End -
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