Aksinya trudged wearily behind the demon. The faint scent of sulfur came to her every now and then. He carried a large banded chest across his wide shoulders. In it, so he said, were all the goods and wealth of her family. It was impossible to imagine that such a small space held everything, but she herself had seen her bed and linens and all her clothing go at the last into that chest. Everything. She knew it was possible and that it might be true. Her sorcery books showed her how to make such places to conceal large parts of the world. She knew how to do it herself, but to see it done so easily on such a scale… It was incredible. Baba Yaga’s hut couldn’t be as wonderful as the demon’s chest.
The demon didn’t flag. She did. He had served her a fine luncheon laid out on her family’s china. That was a few hours ago. Now, she was ready for dinner and for bed, and she had no idea where they would stop for the evening—her family’s estate was well away from any large city or town.
Her shoes meant for a street were not designed for travel on frozen dirt roads and the snow covered countryside. Her feet hurt, she was cold, and she was hungry. She wondered more than once why they had not taken the carriage. As she understood it, that was also packed away in the wonderful chest.
Unfortunately, the horses had been stolen by the Bolsheviks and were not returned. That’s what the demon told her. She wasn’t sure if she should believe him. Perhaps the horses were also in the wonderful chest. She trudged behind him with her eyes on the dark frozen dirt road.
“At least it is not wet,” called Asmodeus back to her.
“I’m ready for dinner and an inn.”
“You can’t stay at an inn in this part of the country.”
Aksinya was dismayed, “Then where shall I stay—a farmhouse?”
“Don’t worry, Countess. I shall take care of your needs. Your first need is for a servant. I know of a perfect one that will meet your requirements—and mine. That is our first step.”
After a short while the frozen dirt road became surrounded by trees, and they walked in a forest. Still, there was almost no traffic on it. The road turned abruptly in to stone paving and they entered a large town. The sky was already turning dark, and Aksinya was very tired. People began to populate the edges of the place. Traffic began to fill the streets.
Aksinya ran to catch up to the demon, “What place is this?”
“We are in , countess.”
Aksinya stopped cold, “? It cannot be .”
Asmodeus halted as well and turned toward her, “Why can it not be ?”
“ is more than two days by carriage from my house…What did you do?”
“I made the world bend a little.”
Aksinya raised the hem of her skirts enough to glance at her legs, “They don’t pain me more than a days walking.”
“You didn’t touch me.”
“Then it is not levied against my soul for you didn’t carry me either.”
“That shall be seen. You have enough on your soul already.”
“Zatknis'7! Demon,” She put her fists on her hips, “By the way, you are a demon carrying a large chest across your shoulders and we are surrounded by people, but no one looks at you oddly.”
“You are my mistress. You see and hear me in truth. I don’t allow them to view me like that. Would you like to see what I seem to them?”
Aksinya chewed her lip a moment, “Yes. Show me what you seem to them.”
The demon blurred a bit and suddenly came into perfect focus. He appeared like a small ancient servant. His face was kind and his hair was white. He had a long beard that made him look a little like an orthodox priest or at least a deacon, but his clothing was that of a highly placed servant. He carried a heavy casket like a jewelry casket on his shoulder. His face was ruddy and made more ruddy by his supposed exertion. He looked like he had been carrying the casket for a long time. His clothing perfectly matched the style and the cut of Aksinya’s own. She was obviously his mistress and to all the world she would certainly look like a cruel one.
Aksinya’s eyes flashed, “You idiot demon. Do mean to embarrass me to everyone in the streets of . Why did you choose to look like that?”
“Countess, I would select your words carefully. Already you are in danger because you appear to be an aristocrat. There are many who would begrudge you that, but you certainly leave the stink of the bourgeoisie in a very proletarian city.”
“You caused this. You made this happen, and you must protect me in any case.”
“That I must, but I don’t have to make you look good, and if I have to protect you then you will compel me to harm them.” The demon pointed with his thumb at the passersby who stopped to watch the arrogant young lady berate her ancient kindly-looking servant.
Aksinya stood straight. She glanced around. Finally, she cleared her throat, “Go on, Asmodeus. Lead me where you must. I’m tired, and I’m certain you are too.”
The demon smiled and turned. He started out again along the side of the road. Aksinya heard a couple of snide remarks, but no one followed them or threatened her. As they proceeded deeper into the city, Asmodeus led her to a streetcar stop. They waited there for a streetcar. Aksinya gladly sank onto the bench while the demon stood beside her. On the way, he had returned to his normal form, at least in her sight. She could not ever forget that he could change his form and perhaps hers. That made her think. “Demon.”
“How can I see the form you present whenever I want to?”
“Ah, I’d rather not say.”
“But I want to know. I order you to tell me.”
“There is perhaps a phrase in one of your books that would do quite well.”
Aksinya let a Latin phrase trip off her lips. Immediately she could see the demon in his current guise. “That will do satisfactorily. Thank you, demon.”
“And thank you Countess. It is indeed a pleasure to see you accomplish sorcery.”
Aksinya sucked in her breath, “You tricked me.”
“Again, yes. You feel desire again too.”
Aksinya blushed and squirmed in her seat, “Not at all.”
The streetcar came up, and they boarded. Asmodeus paid the fare. They rode the streetcar past the city center and out toward the west side. Aksinya sat and Asmodeus stood. Certainly the world changed to accommodate a nearly seven foot tall demon who carried a gigantic chest on his shoulders. He seemed to fit on the streetcar without trouble. The entire world suddenly seemed less solid than ever before to Aksinya.
Asmodeus woke Aksinya. She lifted her head and stretched. The streetcar was almost empty. They arrived on a quiet street well to the west of the city center. It was a wealthy neighborhood. Aksinya recognized many of the names and coats of arms on the large houses. The demon led again when they exited the streetcar. Aksinya complained, “When are we going to stop. I’m hungry, and I want a bath. I’m sleepy. It’s night. We can’t keep walking forever.”
The demon turned his head to give her a look but didn’t stop.
Aksinya glared at him, “I can’t keep walking forever.”
“I wish to finish this business tonight. I do not want to have to draw your bath or serve your food ever again.”
“Why does this have to be about what you want? You are my servant.”
“Already, I have shown you the things I can tempt you to do. Don’t you realize yet, you are the mistress of a demon. I tempt humans into sin. I have tempted you into sin after sin. I will continue to do this, and if you don’t grant me this simple desire, it will be more than the grave sin of sorcery and onanism that you will be guilty of. You choose this, I did not.”
“Onanism is not a sin.”
“You believe it is.”
Aksinya struggled to catch up to him. He stopped at a very great house. It was fully lighted with gas lamps and some electrical lights. Asmodeus stared at the place for a while then he led Aksinya to an alley at the far side. He laid down the chest and sighed, “Now, countess, please wait here a moment while I check on your servant.”
“Please don’t be all night. It is getting colder.”
The demon opened the chest and pulled out a heavy long mink cloak that had been Aksinya’s mother’s. The lining smelled like her and that was soothing to Aksinya. Asmodeus placed it over her shoulders then he closed the chest, “I will not be long.”
Aksinya watched him move toward the back of the house. When he was out of sight, she sat on the chest. After a bit, she curled up on the top of it and pulled the cloak close. Her breath came in white clouds. She closed her eyes.
The next thing Aksinya knew, Asmodeus was shaking her, “Wake up, Countess. I found her. She is just what I expected. I want you to see her too.”
“I just want to sleep.”
“You may sleep all you desire after we have your servant. I will let you sleep the whole day away if you wish.”
Aksinya sat up, and the cloak fell from her shoulders. She shivered and pulled it back on. She sniffed the collar while she tied the clasp at the top then she jumped off the chest, “Take me where you want to go, demon.”
The demon led her to the back of the great house. They climbed a wall and walked along it to the window of the dining room. The curtains were not drawn and they could observe the entire family around the table.
Aksinya stared at the people in the dining room, “I recognize them.”
“That is the family of Prince Aleksander Simonovich Andronikov. I know them. They visited us at my father’s estate before.”
“Your estate now…” the demon purred. He continued, “They are an aristocratic family, a royal family. They have a servant who takes care of their daughters and waits on the Prince’s wife. She is a lady-in-waiting, and here she is. Near the head of the table, the door opened. It wasn’t a door for a servant since the top was rounded. The girl who came in was petit and beautiful. Her hair was dark and silky. Her eyes were luminous. Her skin was pale and smooth. In all, she appeared very aristocratic and refined. Her clothing, likewise, though not as expensive as the gowns of the ladies around the table, fit her perfectly and brought out the best in her figure and features. It was not unusual that when she entered, the eye of every man and every woman turned toward her. She whispered to one of the older women at the table and sat against the wall behind her.
Asmodeus whispered, “That’s the one.”
“She has all the skills required to look after you.”
Aksinya’s voice was bland, “What’s wrong with her?”
“There must be something.”
“She is the lady-in-waiting to the ladies in a great house, a royal household. She is refined, beautiful, industrious, kind…”
“Everything I am not.”
Asmodeus was silent.
“What is wrong with her?”
“Nothing is wrong with her.”
“Then she must be evil.”
“No more than you.”
“Zatknis'8! I order you to tell me what’s wrong with her.”
Asmodeus turned his head away, “Like you, she seeks some power beyond herself. She hasn’t found it yet. The desire in her is so great in her that it calls out to me.”
“Because you wish to tempt her into some sin.”
“Specifically because I wish to tempt her into the sin of following you.”
Aksinya froze, “Why would it be a sin to follow me?”
Asmodeus didn’t respond.
“Answer me. Why would it be a sin to follow me?”
Asmodeus didn’t speak.
Aksinya let out a shuddering breath, “So her problem is that she seeks a power beyond herself. What about God, the Church.”
“Ha, that guy isn’t for everyone. Haven’t you rejected Him?”
“No! I haven’t rejected Him. I believe in Him. How could I not believe—I’ve seen demons. If there are demons, there is God.” She glanced down, “I don’t trust Him. I knew He would fail me. I didn’t expect you to fail me or my own strength to fail me.”
Asmodeus picked his teeth with a claw, “I didn’t fail you—you called me too late. You failed, Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna. I didn’t fail and that guy didn’t fail—you failed. Come, you’ve seen her. Now is the time to go.”
“Go where? You said you would make her my servant.”
“I said no such thing. You will make her your servant.”
Aksinya stared at him open mouthed.
“Close your mouth, Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna, now is the time for us to act.”
“I don’t understand you at all.”
They retraced their steps to the chest and Asmodeus put it over his shoulders, “Follow me, Countess. I will show you what to do next.”
Aksinya muttered under her breath, “I’m not sure I want to know what to do next.”
“You don’t have to speak your thoughts aloud for me to know them, and muttering behind my back is certainly not polite.”
“I didn’t intend to be polite to you.”
Aksinya followed the demon out of the alley and into the street. The wind had started to rise. Aksinya didn’t notice it at the back of the house. Now, it howled down the cobblestone streets. It was bitter and cold and foretold the full winter that would soon be upon them. They walked past many great houses until they arrived at a large cemetery.
Aksinya stopped and glanced around, “Here?”
“I am so tired. What do you want me to do?”
“Follow me.” The demon led her into the cemetery and toward its center. They came to a large area of flat stone that was very smooth. Its surface had been finished with heavy mortar. Ice and snow didn’t cover it. The demon stopped and put the chest down on the snow covered grass. He squatted in the snow beside it.
Aksinya stumbled to the smooth area and stopped. She wrapped the fur cloak more tightly around her, “I am cold, and I am tired of walking. Can’t we eat and find an inn? Please, I’m freezing.”
“Good. You are tired, hungry, and cold. This will make it much easier for me.”
“Wha…what do you mean?”
“You saw the girl. I want you to call her here.”
Aksinya shook her head, “Call her here? Why call her here?”
“That girl seeks power. She has never seen true power. You, Countess, have true power. I want you to call her here with your sorcery and let her see your power.”
Aksinya’s hand moved slowly to her mouth, “That’s what you meant when you said you wanted to tempt her to follow me?”
“You are a smart young woman when you put your mind to it. I’m surprised I can tempt you so easily.”
“I won’t do it.”
Asmodeus stood. He raised his arms. The smell of sulfur increased. He made a motion like he pulled something through the air. Suddenly, he held the thick warm cloak that had been around Aksinya’s shoulders. Asmodeus stroked the fur, “It is still warm from your body. Are you cold Countess?”
Aksinya shivered, “You are supposed to protect me. How is this protecting me?”
“You aren’t dead. I never said I was here to prevent you from suffering. Didn’t the great pain and agony you already experienced in your legs teach you that? To achieve my ends, I’m willing to let you suffer quite a lot.”
Aksinya stepped toward the demon, “I order you to give me my cloak.”
Asmodeus opened the chest and threw it inside. He closed the chest with a snap, “Get it yourself.”
Aksinya ran to the chest and tried to open it. It was solidly locked. She couldn’t budge the latch.
Asmodeus laughed, “Are you cold enough.”
Aksinya’s teach chattered, but she didn’t answer.
Asmodeus raised his arms and made another motion. Aksinya almost fell. The demon held her high-button shoes and her stockings. Aksinya grabbed for them, “Give them back to me. They are mine, not yours.”
Asmodeus only laughed and the shoes and stockings followed the cloak into his chest.
“Čort poberí9! Give me my shoes and coat.”
“Cursing me will do you no good. Plus, I am a devil already.”
“Give them to me.”
“Are you still not convinced?” The demon lifted his hands again. He raised them, and he held Aksinya’s dress and petticoats in his claws.
Aksinya stared at him in dismay. She wrapped her arms over bare breasts and tried to cover herself. She crouched on the stone and tried to make her naked body as small as she could. The wind whistled around her. She cried out, “I am your master. We have a contract. I order you to give me back my clothing.”
“I can’t hear you mistress.” Asmodeus examined his claws, “Countess, you won’t freeze for a long time, but you will be very uncomfortable. I know nudity bothers you. I know you hate your naked body. Ah, there you are, your worst nightmare.”
“Why won’t you obey me? Why won’t you do as I ask? Our contact requires it.”
“You should have read the contract more thoroughly. It requires me to do evil in your name. This isn’t evil. I am at liberty to serve you as I choose in all other things. If you asked me to do evil, I can certainly accommodate you. If you ask me to take the clothing from someone else or to steal it, I gladly will. However, that will be laid against your accounting. There are some other rules. Particularly, I’ve already told you, I can’t murder the innocent. For you, I can murder those who are not innocent. I can deliver torture as you desire but only in proportion to the sins a person has committed in this life. You, dear Countess have committed grave sins, and so I may torture you, but… I don’t wish to torture you.”
Aksinya crouched and whimpered on the pavement.
“Can’t you speak, countess. You are usually very fond of it.”
“Čort poberí! Čort poberí! Čort poberí10!.”
“I told you I am already damned. Cursing will do you no good.”
Her voice was weaker, “Merde, merde, merde.”
“Changing the language you curse me will do you no good.”
Aksinya bit her lip, “Promise me you will not harm this girl.”
“I will not harm her.”
She screamed, “Swear it.”
“I can’t swear, but I will not harm her, Countess. You will.”
Aksinya lowered her head, “I will take it on myself. I will do as you ask.”
The petticoats and dress reappeared on her body. Her shoes and stockings were suddenly on her feet and legs. Asmodeus himself laid the thick warm mink cloak over her shoulders again, “Call the girl. Call her, and you may dine and sleep and experience your erotic fantasies.”
“Zatknis'! Get me my things.” Aksinya stomped to the center of the pavement.
The demon lifted his hands and opened the chest. From inside came Aksinya’s staff and her dagger. Her chalk and her candles settled at her feet. A bundle of fresh herbs and a brazier of incense followed them. One of Aksinya’s heavy books sailed through the air toward her. She caught it midair. Aksinya pulled her cloak more closely around her. She glanced from the side of her eyes at the demon, “I want my bookstand.”
“The one that I used when I called you.”
“I didn’t bring it.”
Aksinya whirled toward him, “Why didn’t you?”
“What else didn’t you bring from my house?”
Asmodeus didn’t speak.
“I order you to tell me what you didn’t bring from my house.”
“Your request is neither evil nor within my desires.”
“I want a bookstand. Steal one for me.”
“Very well. I am pleased to steal for you and add this sin to your account.”
In an instant, the demon was gone. Aksinya knelt on the freezing pavement and drew a circle and a pentagram. She put up a tallow candle and lit her brazier and incense. She cut the herbs with her dagger and prepared to make a calling for the girl. For this she simple spell wouldn’t need a possession from the girl, she had seen her already. She wouldn’t even need her name. The face was clearly set in Aksinya’s mind.
After half an hour, Asmodeus returned with a fine mahogany bookstand. He laid it before Aksinya outside the circle and pentagram. She watched him carefully. She reached out and picked it up and placed it in front of her. She put her book on it and opened the right page.
“I know what you are thinking, Countess.”
“Perhaps you do and perhaps you do not. You are practiced at lying, demon. I didn’t trust you before, and I trust you even less now. Don’t bother me while I am at this work. Tell me the girl’s name.”
“You don’t need her name to do this.”
Aksinya barked, “But I want to know it, and I want to call her by name. That is a surety in this business.”
“Very well. Her name is the Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska.”
Aksinya turned a little toward the demon, “Is she the illegitimate daughter of Prince Aleksander Simonovich Andronikov?”
“Yes, very perceptive of you. How did you know?”
“Her patronymic and her family name. There was a rumor in the court about a Lady Obolenska. Does Lady Natalya know?”
“She is pleasantly unaware but suspicious. She only knows her mother abandoned her, and that she is a servant in the house of Prince Aleksander Simonovich Andronikov. She is a brilliant girl whose intellect is well above those she waits on. She doesn’t yet realize she hates them for this reason.”
“Do you know I am beginning to despise you, demon.”
“Only beginning. I though your hatred would be well grounded by now. Wrath is one of the seven deadly you know.”
Aksinya clenched her fists, “Yes, I know.” She pulled herself up to her full height, “You brought me out here to this place. Light my tallow candle. I can’t light it in this wind.”
“I cannot light anything within the magic circle, and I can’t continue to keep it lit when it is inside.”
Aksinya hid her smile from him, “Then find me something to block the wind.”
Asmodeus opened his chest, rummaged around a moment, and pulled out a heavy candle lantern. Aksinya recognized it from the cellar of her house. He placed the lantern outside the circle, and Aksinya retrieved it. She put her candle inside and lit it. When each thing was in its place she began to speak the dark words.
When she first began this business of sorcery, she had to be so careful, and it took her hours to set up everything for a simple enchantment. Now she knew her business so well, she knew the exact and precise steps to properly make everything happen. From years of practice came such ease. At the peak of the ceremony, she cut a sprig of the herb and whispered the girl’s name into it, “Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska.” It was so much simpler with the whole name. Aksinya placed the bit of herb in her brazier. It flared up and the incense caught it. She heard the name quietly repeated as she censed the five corners of the pentagram. A puff of incense went out calling the girl to come. It called her to come here to Aksinya. With a glassy-eyed smile, Aksinya continued to cense the points of the pentagram. Thought she knew one time was enough, she sent out call after call. When the incense was nearly all gone, she laid down the brazier and prepared the second part of her work.
Asmodeus glanced at her, “What are you doing now, Countess?”
“You wished a show for her. I will make her a display of power.”
“I asked you what you are doing.”
“Read it from my thoughts, demon.”
Asmodeus stood in silence.
“Yes, it is no secret now, is it? Neither your body nor your mind can cross this magic circle. What other things are impossible for you, demon. I didn’t expect a confession from you, but there is much more you haven’t told me.”
“You can’t remain within that circle forever.”
“No, I cannot, but it is enough to know, isn’t it?”
A noise startled Aksinya. She ducked.
Asmodeus laughed, “What do you fear, countess? You have encountered demons.” Then he raised his head and spoke excitedly, “She comes.”
Aksinya stood straight. She was too embarrassed to speak.
A shadow flitted between the tombstones. It moved closer and closer. It was the girl, the Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska. She was dressed in the clothing she had worn earlier. She had a light cloak over it. She moved warily and cognizantly. She made her way to the edge of the pavement and stared in amazement at Aksinya. She studied the magic circle and the pentagram. She gazed at everything on the pavement, but she didn’t step onto the flat stones. Finally, she swallowed, “Did you call me?”
Aksinya smiled a wide smile, “I called you, Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska.”
“How do you know my name?”
“I watched you tonight.”
“What do you wish of me?”
“I think you should run. I think you should go quickly away from here.”
Asmodeus stepped from the shadows. He waved his hand, “You will not leave, Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska. If you try to move, you will find you cannot.”
The girl stuck her chin forward, “I do not wish to leave. I want to know why she called me.”
Aksinya scowled at her, “Why don’t you run? Don’t you see the demon before you?”
Asmodeus grinned, “You are an idiot. She sees me as I wish her to see me.”
Aksinya spoke her Latin words and saw a handsome courtier.
Asmodeus addressed Natalya, “Lady Natalya, let me introduce the Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna. She is the one who called you, and she is a most wonderful and powerful sorceress in this world. She can teach you to be just the same as she. She called you here because she needs a lady-in-waiting and an apprentice. Would you care to join yourself to her? Would you like to become her lady and her apprentice?”
As if Natalya had waited all her life to hear those specific words, she fell to her knees and cried out. The tears were obvious in her voice, “Dear lady, I would do anything to become your lady-in-waiting and your apprentice. If you would only take me away from this place. Please take me away from here and never bring me back.”
Aksinya frowned, “I don’t want you for my lady-in-waiting or my apprentice.”
Asmodeus waved his hand. The world seemed to stop outside the magic circle. He glared at Aksinya, “I will only tell you once. I can destroy this girl. You will accept her gladly as your lady-in-waiting and your apprentice.”
“You swore not to harm her.”
“I will not harm her.”
“Plus, she is innocent. You cannot kill her.”
“I said I will not harm her.”
“You can’t make me do anything I don’t wish to do while I am inside this circle.”
“You are so naive. I did not set all this up for you to be able to reject her. Look.” The demon strode over to the unmoving girl. He turned her around, pulled off her light cloak, and ripped open the back of her dress. Whip scars crisscrossed the girl’s back. He lifted her skirt at the back. Her thighs and buttocks were covered with new whip cuts. They were still raw and oozed blood. “Didn’t you wonder why it took so long for her to respond to your call? You are the greatest sorceress on the face of the globe. She should have come running, but she couldn’t until the Lady Andronikov finished this work. The girl could barely walk here much less run. The prince’s wife and lady well knows this girl is his child. She never intends to ever let him forget it. The Lady Natalya believes she is punished for her frequent mistakes. Countess, she never makes a mistake. She goes over things in her mind again and again, certain she has done each step correctly, and the lady of the house punishes her every day for false errors.”
Aksinya sighed, “You tempt me again, demon.”
“Yes, this is indeed temptation.”
“Make time run right again. I will accept her. Get me a great cloak worthy of the lady-in-waiting to a countess.”
Asmodeus turned Natalya back around. He went to his chest and pulled out a warm long cloak that had been Aksinya’s. He raised his hand, and suddenly the girl was released. Natalya took a deep breath. She fell forward on her face. She cried again, “Please, Countess, accept me as your lady-in-waiting. Anything. I would do anything…”
Aksinya called out a couple of Latin words. She struck her dagger against the ground and a spark rose up. She spoke again and the world was filled with light.
Natalya jerked up from the ground. She raised her head. Aksinya stepped out of the magic circle. She clasped Natalya’s arms and lifted her up. Asmodeus held out the cloak. Aksinya took if from his hands and draped it around Natalya’s body. Aksinya embraced the girl. They were almost the same height. She held her and kissed her cheeks. Aksinya stated clearly, “Lady Natalya Alexandrovna Obolenska, I Countess Aksinya Andreiovna Golitsyna accept you into my household as my lady-in-waiting and as my apprentice. Welcome, Lady Natalya.”
The girl began to tremble. She clasped Aksinya, and her tears fell hot and wet against her neck. They stood together for a long time.