Aksinya: Enchantment and the Daemon

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Chapter 4

Aksinya woke with a start. She touched warm and clean bedclothes. The light of the day was bright. She covered her eyes and yawned. A wide awake voice came to her, “Mistress. Mistress.”

Aksinya focused her eyes on the voice. A girl sat in a chair beside her bed. Aksinya’s thoughts came together at once, and she remembered everything from the night before, “Lady Natalya. Yes, Lady Natalya.”

The girl smiled, “Countess. Would you like to eat first or shall I draw your bath?”

“What time is it?”

“It is very late, almost two. You slept well?”

“Yes, well. I’m starving. Please draw my bath first and bring me something more substantial than breakfast.”

The girl smiled and made a beautiful low curtsy, “Yes, mistress.” She left by a door at the side.

Aksinya pushed back the covers. She wore one of her mother’s silk gowns. It was very fine, but the fabric was a little slippery and slightly uncomfortable. It brought a touch of excitement against her body and lustful thoughts to her mind. Aksinya swung her feet over the side of the bed and glanced at the floor. She didn’t remember putting on this gown, but she remembered making a magic circle around her bed and Natalya’s pallet. The circle was still intact. She noted where the lines were slightly smudged, but they were still whole. The demon wasn’t present. She wondered where he might be.

Natalya reentered the room and helped Aksinya off the bed. Aksinya was too weary and thought filled to care. The girl led her to a grand bathroom and pulled her gown over her head. She helped Aksinya into the bath. Her smile was bubbly, “Mistress, would you like me to wash you?”

Aksinya shook her head.

“I’ll get your luncheon. Bathe as long as you like.”

Aksinya lounged in the hot tub. The day outside was cold and windy. She could hear the windowpanes clatter and felt the chill through the floor. She wondered again what the demon was about. Then she remembered the problem she must put her mind to--the bookstand. What made her bookstand different than the one the demon had stolen for her? She focused her thoughts on her cellar in the guesthouse. She saw the bookstand in her mind’s eye. She could have called out an enchantment to remember it exactly—she didn’t have to. She knew the small piece of furniture too well. It was made of oak and aligned at just the proper angle for reading. It had once been part of the small chapel niche in the guesthouse. She had removed it from there. Its sides and front were carved and the carvings were crosses. Orthodox crosses covered its three vertical sides.

Aksinya leaned back in the tub. The cross was rarely an impediment to magic. In fact, many magic circles and magic items incorporated crosses or were cross shaped. But perhaps crosses were a problem for demons. That made sense. Her books didn’t say so explicitly, but tradition explained that demons were affected by crosses. They were said to not be able to abide them.

Aksinya wasn’t sure all that was true, but her demon displayed an inability to act through a magic circle and some unwillingness or inability to move a cross. She lounged in the warm water. Many of her own, her mother’s, and her sister’s jewelry were crosses. Suddenly, Aksinya wondered if any of her jewelry made it into the demon’s chest. He wasn’t beyond lying—in fact, Aksinya was certain that he lied most of the time. She thought for a while longer and made a plan. The first step was to ask the demon to show her, her mother’s jewelry. The water was getting cool. Aksinya made the slightest sound in the back of her throat. Natalya knocked on the door, “Mistress, do you need me to warm your water?”

“I’m getting out.”

Natalya rushed through the door and helped Aksinya out of the tub. She put a towel around her and adroitly dried her and her short hair. Natalya already had a silk dressing gown ready and a heavy robe. She dressed Aksinya in them and led her back into the bedroom. A large meal was arranged on the table in the room. Natalya seated Aksinya and served her. After a moment, Aksinya asked, “Have you eaten, Lady Natalya?”

Natalya colored at being addressed so personally by a countess, “Yes mistress, I have eaten breakfast and luncheon in the kitchen.”

“Are you still hungry?”

“No, mistress.”

“Where is Asmodeus?”

“Your courtier?”

“Yes.”

“He has gone to make arrangements for you to travel.”

Aksinya glanced up from her meal, puzzled, “Where are we?”

“You were so tired last night, Countess. Your courtier carried you here.”

“But where is here?”

“We are at a very fine inn on the vul. Kazinca near the railway station. Last night, you could barely stand, but after I dressed you for bed, you insisted in drawing these circles around our beds.” Natalya gave a broad smile.

“Did you sleep well?”

Natalya pressed her hands together, “I have never slept better. I was so excited that you took me into your household. My heart was so free that I couldn’t stand it. I thought I would never get to sleep, but I did.”

“You needn’t be afraid of me, Lady Natalya. I will not mistreat you.”

Natalya pressed her lips together, “Did you know?”

“I know.”

“I tried to hide it from everyone.”

“You must be cautious of Asmodeus.”

“Is he dangerous to…to women?”

Aksinya face twitched in a slight smiled, “He is dangerous. You must be cautious around him. You should tell me anything he says to you. You don’t need to worry about your virtue, but perhaps about other things.”

Natalya’s face turned into a frown, “Other things?”

“I don’t want you to worry about them, just be cautious of him. When you are with me you should be safe.”

A solid knock came at the bedroom door and it flew open. Asmodeus strode into the room. The faint whiff of sulfur came with him.

Aksinya didn’t look at the demon, “You should at least wait until you are invited in.”

“I heard my name mentioned.”

“You were mistaken. Where have you been?”

“Taking care of your business, Countess.”

“And that would be?”

“Our travel arrangements.”

“The next time you arrange for my room, ensure there is a sitting room.”

“My choice doesn’t please you?”

“A countess and her lady should have a sitting room. Then you will not be able to burst directly into her boudoir.” Aksinya carefully blanked her mind, “I would also like some things from my baggage.”

“Yes,” the demon’s voice was silky.

“I need my mother’s jewelry box so I may make some choices before I step down to dinner.”

“You are not going anywhere for dinner.”

Aksinya turned around with a glare.

“There are Bolsheviks watching this inn. You shall not go down to dinner. We shall leave tonight.”

“I wish to look through my mother’s jewelry.”

“You may when the time is right. It is not the right time for such frivolity.”

“There are jewels that I may use for enchantments.”

Asmodeus cocked his head in an attitude of listening, “You are telling the truth?”

“Of course I am telling the truth.”

“I will see what I can do. Is there anything else you wish?”

“I wish my sewing things so the Lady Natalya can begin to fit my mother and sister’s clothing to me.”

“Perhaps I wish you to appear as bedraggled as you first stood before me—or like you did last night.”

“Such dress would tempt no one and only embarrass your vanity.”

Asmodeus’ lip rose, “You unfairly judge your enticements. At the proper time, I will retrieve your sewing things from the baggage.”

“Thank you. You might take on a more civil tone when you speak to me in front of the Lady Natalya. I would not want to shame her or you.”

The demon bowed. “Which gown would you like to wear tonight?”

“My green traveling gown and the green padded boots. What will the Lady Natalya wear?”

Natalya ducked her head, “I repaired the back of my blue dress. That will be sufficient.”

Asmodeus smiled, “I took the Lady Natalya’s clothing from her room in the servant’s quarters. She does not have much.”

Lady Natalya spoke quickly, “I had…, have plenty. Three dresses and five petticoats. They were finely made…”

Aksinya put out her hand, “And hand me downs. When we have an opportunity, I will buy you something new. For now, which would you like to wear?”

“My green dress.” She glanced down, “I shall wear green too.”

Aksinya glanced at the demon, “You have your instructions. Are you happy to not have to draw my bath and serve my meals?”

“Yes,” laughed Asmodeus, “And to not sew your clothing.”

“When will we leave?”

“When the sun is fully down.”

Aksinya and Natalya ate a light supper in Aksinya’s bedroom. Natalya would not sit, and in spite of Aksinya’s protests, ate hers in the bathroom. Aksinya did convince her to leave the door open so they could converse. They dressed for travel. Asmodeus brought a wardrobe out of the magnificent chest so Aksinya could choose the clothing for Natalya to adjust.

Aksinya gave a flitting smile, “Why don’t you find my small trunk, and we shall transfer the clothing I wish the Lady Natalya to work on. That will make it much more convenient for us all.”

Asmodeus stared suspiciously at her for a moment, but brought out the trunk and Aksinya’s sewing case but not the jewelry box. After he left, Aksinya, with Natalya’s help, chose from among Aksinya’s mother’s gowns. They packed some into the trunk and put one in the sewing case.

When the glass panes in Aksinya’s window turned completely dark, a rap came on the door, “It is I, Asmodeus.”

Aksinya waited a moment before she replied, “You may enter.”

The demon came in and glanced around, “You are both ready?”

Aksinya nodded and Lady Natalya parroted her. Aksinya pointed at the packed trunk and her sewing case. Asmodeus held the trunk under his arm and carried the sewing case.

The demon gestured with the case, “Very well, follow me.”

Aksinya stood and Natalya placed the long mink cloak over her shoulders. She tied the clasp at Aksinya’s throat. Then Natalya pulled the heavy woolen cloak Aksinya had given her over her own shoulders. She closed her eyes and buried her nose in the collar for just a moment, then she tied the clasp.

Asmodeus led them out the back door of the inn. There he placed the trunk and the sewing case into his great chest and lifted it onto his shoulders. He headed into the darkness. Natalya gave a gasp each time she saw something come in or out of the amazing chest. And though Aksinya had seen it happen so many times, she was a little surprised herself at it.

The Lady Natalya whispered, “It is like Koschei’s chest. Does he also keep your soul in it for you, countess?”

Aksinya glanced at Natalya, “I am simply mortal, and not at all like Koschei.”

Natalya followed Aksinya into the frozen darkness. In spite of Natalya’s reference to Koschei, Aksinya believed the Lady Natalya saw the demon as a handsome courtier and certainly not as he really appeared. At least she thought her lady-in-waiting did. Aksinya controlled herself from taking a peek at his current appearance.

They only had to walk about a block before the railway station came into sight. It was brightly lit and filled with activity. They approached the station from the rail side. At the sides of a set of tracks, the demon stopped abruptly. He laid down the chest and turned, “The trains are especially dangerous for you, Countess. They will be equally dangerous for your lady-in-waiting.”

“Then why did you bring us this way, you fool?”

“I brought you this way to give you yet another opportunity.”

Aksinya’s head dropped, “What do you want me to do this time?”

“My request is simple. I wish you to make an enchantment that changes both of your external appearances. This way you may travel in safety and comfort.”

Aksinya put her hand over her eyes, “If I won’t do it?”

“If you don’t make this sorcery, you could walk all the way to . Or, I could strip you like I did before.” The demon grinned around his fangs, “I could strip your lady in waiting. Perhaps I could tempt you to whip her. That would be something she is very used to.” Asmodeus leaned against the chest, “In any case, if you don’t make an enchantment, a group of young Bolsheviks will soon come along these tracks. They have been drinking since noon. They will rape your lady-in-waiting and attempt to rape you. I will have to step in to protect you and do your bidding. I suspect you will be so mortified you will ask me to kill them. For rape, I can even torture them in front of you before I kill them.”

“You are cruel, demon.”

“I have been called that many, many times, so it must be true. Quickly, what is your decision?”

Aksinya whispered, “I will do as you ask.” She spoke more loudly, “What of Lady Natalya? Didn’t she hear what you said to me? How you threatened me?”

“Only what I allowed her to hear. She will be very pleased to see you make such a great enchantment. And it must be great. You must make it strong enough to last seven days.”

Aksinya spat on the ground, “Get my things and my book. The great brown one.”

Asmodeus obliged. Natalya stared as Aksinya drew a magic circle large enough to encompass them both. Aksinya placed candles at the five corners of the pentagram. She gathered wax and clay then bits of cloth from a box. She shaped them a little with heads and arms and legs then stuck sprigs of an odd herb in them. She lit the candles and a brazier of incense. When she was done with her preparations, she sat in the center of the circle with Natalya beside her and the book on the stolen stand before her. She closed her eyes, “Listen, Lady Natalya, you must not say anything. No matter what you hear or what happens, don’t make a sound from your mouth, from your vocal cords. This is very important. I will be speaking in Latin. The forms and the words are very important. It is like a word and sacrament in the church. The words are those I must say for the enchantment to work and the implements are sacraments. They are the corporal things that will cause the world to change. Remember don’t say a word.”

Natalya nodded.

Aksinya began to speak. The great book was opened to the correct page, but she didn’t need to look at it. She knew the dark words to say, knew them by heart. This was one of her favorite enchantments. She could make herself look any way she wished for a long time. The enchantment could easily last at least a week if she desired. She had done that before—tweaked her clothing and her face. She once changed the color of her hair for over a month.

Aksinya moved her hands and touched the clay and wax models she had formed. The words she spoke endued them with the clothing and characteristics she wished to place on herself and Natalya. She picked up her dagger and nicked her finger. She let a heavy drop of blood fall onto one of the wax models. Aksinya grabbed Natalya’s hand. Natalya had been holding it out to her, ready. Aksinya cleanly sliced the lady’s index finger and gently milked a drop of blood from it. It fell on the other piece of wax, clay, and cloth. When Aksinya released her hand, Natalya stared in amazement at the newly healed cut.

Aksinya lifted both wax models and placed them in the brazier. Immediately it began to pour out heavy smoke. She censed Natalya then herself. The scent of the incense was thick and cloying. It smelled of cheap perfume and age. It was heavy like the scent of an old woman. Under that was the smell was sweat and dirt. Aksinya repeated the censing and impressed the dark Latin words on them both. The brazier suddenly stopped and slowly the thick smoke rolled away.

Natalya stared at Aksinya. Her hands reached up to touch her own face, but it felt no different than before.

Aksinya smiled, “You may speak now. The enchantment is finished.” She turned away a little, “Put away my things, demon. I did as you wished.”

Natalya stuck out her hand, “Countess, you look so different. Like an old grandmother. Your beautiful dress is now rags.”

“Look at yourself in the next dark window glass we pass. You are an ancient granny yourself. You will find you smell like one, look like one, are dressed as one, and sound like one. In time, our appearance and clothing will turn back to what it should be. That is, unless I make a second enchantment. Unfortunately, we can’t change our clothing until then.”

“You will not be able to bathe.”

Aksinya muttered under her breath, “It is simply another torment from my personal demon.”

Natalya might not have heard her, “I’m sorry, Countess.”

Aksinya didn’t turn toward the demon, “Asmodeus, I did as you wished. We are ready to travel.”

“You performed well, countess. Are you certain you don’t want to wait for the young, drunken Bolsheviks?”

Aksinya half turned her head and scowled.

The demon continued, “I know you are feeling that desire.”

Aksinya bit her lip then she began to pray. She had made a rosary as part of the costume of the old women they had become. She couldn’t truly touch the rosary at her fingertips, but by every appearance, she touched it. She began to pray it, and her desire decreased. Asmodeus frowned. He lifted his lips so his fangs showed clearly.

Natalya laughed, “Certainly, old women would pray. They pray continually.” She began to tick off the prayers by counting her rosary. She was completely caught up in the amazement of having something that appeared to move in her hand, but that had no real substance. Even so, the rosary reacted as though she touched it.

Aksinya took Natalya’s arm and together, both praying in almost synchronicity, they walked toward the train station. Glumly, Asmodeus followed behind them with the heavy chest on his shoulders.

They all three entered the train Asmodeus indicated. It was a mixed freight and passenger train. The goods wagons were painted a dark red that look black in the darkness. The carriage the demon led Aksinya and Natalya to was not much different from the freight wagons. It was painted a lighter red to indicate it was the lowest class of passenger transportation. The other passenger carriages were painted in lighter primary colors. None of them were red. The door near the front opened inward on hinges instead of slid to the side, but like a goods wagon, no windows, only vents near the roofline allowed air or light within the car. A heavy wooden partition split the car down its center. On either side of the partition and on the walls of the car, four railless long wooden seats ran from one end to the other. The demon led them to the back of the carriage as far away from the doors as possible. It was the darkest and dirtiest part of the passenger carriage. It smelled of unwashed bodies and urine. The vents at the top of the carriage let in a little light but didn’t seem to relieve any of the stench. Though the rest of the carriage was full, no one sat near them. Aksinya and Natalya huddled together. Asmodeus settled directly across from them. The space was so small his knees almost touched Aksinya’s. She twisted to the side to keep as far away from him as possible. Aksinya gave into temptation while the dim light of the station still came through the high vents. Under her breath, she mouthed some Latin words, and saw the demon as he displayed himself. He was a man as ancient and careworn as they. Aksinya smiled to see him. The demon grinned at her. She ignored him and continued to tell her phantom rosary. Her prayers obviously disturbed the demon and that pleased her immensely.

Eventually, after a typically long Russian delay, the train started with a bump that pressed Natalya against Aksinya and began to slowly accelerate down the tracks. Even with its movement, the air didn’t seem to circulate at all. Aksinya and Natalya spoke together quietly. When Aksinya felt a twinge of desire, she prayed. She dared not think too much about the demon or how she might thwart him. Still, she could not help but think. Asmodeus sat alert across from them.

As the sun arose, the light from the vents slowly illuminated the dirty interior of the passenger carriage. In the morning, during some nondescript stop, Natalya found breakfast for Aksinya and herself. A man came on board while the locomotive took on fuel and water and sold to the passengers. Asmodeus provided the rubles. Aksinya and Natalya ate dark bread and sausage and drank weak lukewarm tea. Asmodeus did not eat, but he must have given the impression of eating because Natalya didn’t remark about it. At noon, they had nothing. Supper during another long wait at some outlying station added cheese to the sausage. No one on the train bothered them. No one spoke to them. Certainly, they didn’t interact with anyone except when they needed to. Aksinya wanted to speak to Natalya about many things, but the demon kept his silent vigil on her, on them.

Finally, bored, on the second day, Aksinya addressed Asmodeus, “Creature, get us books. The ones from my room.”

“Books?”

“This trip is nothing but tedium. I want to read. We have nothing else to do.”

Asmodeus raised his brow, “I will get your books, but not too many.”

A little later, a stack of ten books lay on the bench and Aksinya and Natalya could read. Their travel went much more quickly after that.

Still, the days and nights of travel engulfed them in fear filled monotony. The ladies slept in the night, read during the day, and ate when food became available. Within the towns and cities, they heard numerous gunshots and angry cries—the fiercer the cries, the greater Asmodeus grinned. Many times the train didn’t stop at its scheduled stations. More than once, the demon woke Aksinya and Natalya to lead them through a dark station to another train where the only light was the bright red glow from the locomotive's firebox. Each time, they found themselves in a similar dreary closed low-class passenger carriage. When the daylight finally returned, Aksinya dragged out her books. When it became too tedious to read, they slept or spent time in light conversation, but all of that was whispered.

After six long days and nights, Asmodeus, gained their attention, “Countess, Lady Natalya, we are about to cross the boarder into . We will have to change trains there. The city is Chop on the Ukrainian side and Zάhony on the Hungarian side. In Chop, you may return to your usual attire and forms. We will spend the night in the city on the Hungarian side and continue on to Wien the next day.”

Aksinya curled her lip, “We both stink. I hope you have some plan to get us to a place where we can bathe and rest.”

Asmodeus shrugged, “I care little for your comfort or your needs.”

“Our comfort and our needs make this trip necessary.”

“I will find a suitable place. You will be required to make the change.”

“I will do my part. It is time for us to return to our proper positions in life.”

“I will remind you, a great war has just come to an end. The aristocracy of the Austria-Hungarian Empire is held in much greater respect than the aristocracy in .”

“They will not attack us in the streets, I hope.”

“They will likely not attack you in the streets, but was one of the enemies of this empire. You should use caution when you speak.”

“We should not speak Russian, you mean.” Aksinya turned toward Natalya, “Lady Natalya, can you speak German or French?”

Natalya stammered, “I speak French.”

Asmodeus laughed, “She should not speak her French. A Russian accent might end her life.”

Aksinya scowled, “Why are you being so helpful, demon?”

“I will soon require your cooperation again to aid in your temptation. I don’t wish any entanglements with the authorities at this time.” The demon sniffed.

Aksinya’s lip lifted, “Your concern is delightful to hear. Do you know just how much I hate you?”

The demon smiled, “I have a general idea. It is nothing compared to the hate you will feel in the future.”

Zάhony was a city being rebuilt. Chop was not. Both were war torn and weary. The people of both cities looked at anyone who was different with suspicion. Ragged Russian soldiers lounged everywhere on this side of the border. Asmodeus, Aksinya, and Natalya exited at the station on the Ukrainian side. Asmodeus led them back toward the and behind some storage buildings. There Aksinya said her Latin words and suddenly she and Natalya were again in their normal forms and their clothing. The sorcery was very simple. After the change, they were completely bedraggled, and they stunk. Aksinya could smell herself. She was very uncomfortable, and she wanted a bath.

Asmodeus led them back to the station. The Russian guards stared at them, but here the revolution and civil war was still an event in and well away from this place. Here some degree of the old order of still reigned. Their officers were adequately dressed, but the soldiers appeared as bedraggled as Aksinya felt. The Russian sergeant at the border bowed to Aksinya and Natalya. He glanced at their papers in the hands of Asmodeus, and escorted them over the bridge across the river and to the Hungarian side.

At the sight of Aksinya and Natalya, the Hungarian border guards in their crisp uniforms immediately came to attention. When the Hungarian officer reviewed their papers, he bowed to the ladies, and added an extra deep bow just for Aksinya’s sake. She hoped he didn’t catch a good whiff of her. Aksinya spoke French. The soldiers nodded politely but did not respond to her. Asmodeus spoke Hungarian and the officer pointed and gave him directions. Asmodeus led them into and through the town to a very fine inn on the other side of the city.

The demon engaged them an apartment with a sitting room. The very first thing Aksinya did was tear off her stinking clothing. While Natalya drew a bath, Aksinya stripped off everything. She entered the tub before it was half full and let Natalya continue to fill it with hot water from the stove in the bathroom. She let Natalya scrub her. She didn’t dally, but stepped out before the water was cool and started to help Natalya remove her clothing.

Natalya fended Aksinya off. She hung her head, “I’ll take care of my clothing myself, Countess.” She blushed, “It is unseemly for my mistress to help me.” She gave Aksinya an imploring look.

Aksinya didn’t say anything—she returned to the bedroom. The demon had placed a selection of clothing there. Aksinya caught a sulfurous whiff. She put on a warm gown and pulled on a heavy robe. Almost before Aksinya was clothed, Natalya entered from her bath. She carefully kept her back turned away from Aksinya and pulled on her old nightgown and robe.

When a knock came at the door, Natalya answered it.

A woman and two kitchen girls stood there. Natalya nodded at them. Aksinya addressed them in French, “Good evening.”

The lady and the girls curtsied and ducked, but didn’t say a word. They filled the small sitting room table with many dishes and fine food. They laid out very nice china and silver. When the table had been set and filled, they all curtsied again and left.

Aksinya took a deep breath. She sat at the table. Natalya stood at her elbow. Aksinya tugged on her sleeve, “Lady Natalya, please sit with me and eat.”

“It would not be proper, Countess.”

“It might not be proper, but it would please me. We ate together all the way across from to here, and you didn’t complain.”

Natalya blushed.

“There is no need to be embarrassed. You will be my lady and my friend both. It would please me if you would eat with me.”

“Only in private, please mistress. I would never want to embarrass you.”

“And I would never desire to embarrass you.”

“Thank you.” Natalya guiltily slipped into a chair and tried to make herself a little lower than Aksinya.

Aksinya served Natalya a plate of food and placed a fork in her hand, “Please eat and converse with me, Lady Natalya. You are very pleasant company and a very fine lady-in-waiting.”

“Thank you,” but it was slightly muffled as Natalya demurely filled her mouth with a bite of meat.

In the morning, Aksinya took a more leisurely bath and Natalya dressed her again in clean clothing. When Asmodeus came to the door, they had eaten and were dressed and ready to travel. He looked them over and started to leave the room.

Aksinya addressed him in French, “One moment, Asmodeus. I wish something for the trip.”

“Yes, Countess.”

“I want you to get my small trunk. I need my mother’s red and white dress and my sewing case. The Lady Natalya can adjust that piece of clothing to me during our travels.”

The demon frowned, but bowed, “I shall retrieve them for you when we are on the train.”

“Remember, bring the trunk. There is more than one red and white dress in it.”

Already the excess clothing and items had made their way back into the demon’s chest.

“Thank you, demon.”

Asmodeus led them to the Hungarian side of the station. There they entered a very well kept and clean train. They had a private compartment but because of the reduced gauge of the rails the space was a little less than Aksinya was used to on a similar class Russian passenger carriage. She noticed, although the motion wasn’t uncomfortable, the train swayed a bit more. At lunch, they dined in a wonderful restaurant carriage. The tables were covered with white lace tablecloths. Their utensils were silver. Aksinya ate a meal of many courses with fine wine at each. A few other wealthy patrons ate in the car, but none of them appeared as finely dressed as Aksinya or Natalya. Natalya stood at Aksinya’s elbow and formally served her. Aksinya didn’t linger at her meal too long so Natalya could go to the kitchen and eat at the servant’s table there. Aksinya drank coffee and read a book until she was certain Natalya had time to eat then she called for her.

When they returned to their compartment, Asmodeus was gone, but the small trunk lay on one of the seats. Aksinya smiled, “Now, Lady Natalya, I wish to give you some very specific instructions about my dresses.”

Natalya glanced expectantly at her.

“I need you to fit all my mother and sister’s dresses to me. I will also have you fit some of my sister’s dresses to you. You are almost her size. But there is something very important I need you to do when you fit them.”

“Yes, Countess.”

“I need you to sew a cross at each sleeve, shoulder, the collar and every two feet along the hem.”

“A cross?”

“Yes, a small cross. You may make it the same color as the material so it is not too noticeable.”

Natalya licked her lips and the corners of her mouth turned up, “Is this something to do with the enchantments?”

“Yes,” Aksinya lied.

“And you will allow me to also have them on my clothing?”

“Yes, especially on your clothing.”

Natalya put her hands over her mouth then slowly let them down again. She was breathless, “Thank you, mistress.”

“You needn’t mention this to Asmodeus, it is none of his business. I also don’t want him to handle my clothing. Only you are allowed to do that.”

Natalya nodded excitedly.

“Ensure you pack the dresses yourself in the trunk or the wardrobes. That way only you will touch them.”

Natalya nodded, “Yes, mistress.”

Aksinya sat next to the window. She cleared her mind and picked up her book. She glanced out of the glass at the passing fields and woods and smiled.

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