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Chapter One:Fateful Visitants
It was a day of blue summer breezes. I was resting in the meadow, wondering what kept the sun above, what made it move around the earth, when birds flew up in waves of panic. The ground beneath me shuddered, as if a storm were raging in the bowels of the world. I scrambled up to my look-out on the old Linden tree in front of the house, and then I saw them bursting from the woods. My nine-year old mind imagined two-headed hounds from the gates of Hell racing toward our farm, reptilian eyes blazing and serpent tails pulsing. The moment my mother, rushing from the house, laid eyes on them, she cried, ‘Run Katrin, run and hide!’
I had no time to run. But I moved further up the tree where the branches were densest. When the four of them arrived in front of our farm dismounting from their horses, I could see they were no hellhounds but armored men with weapons clanging and closed helmets disguising them.
But they were no shining knights.
Two of them forced mother to the barn. The one holding a pistol pulled her arms behind her back, the other yanked her by the hair, tearing sounds from her throat I had never heard before. Once inside, her cries were joined by our maid’s shrieks – a duet of horror. I don’t remember how I suppressed mine. From the kitchen, where the other two soldiers had disappeared, came noises of bursting doors, hinges ripping from the wood, slamming, smashing. I thought that God had summoned the four beasts to announce that the world was coming to an end.
‘Where is it? Where have you hidden it, heretic?’ a man shouted inside. I am sure I heard sounds of crushing bones, like ice cracking against the river’s shore. The tortured screams of my stepfather
and uncle are etched forever into my memory.
One of the hellhounds emerged from the house carrying a large woolen sack that I had never seen before over his shoulder and dragging with one arm our only featherbed, while squeezing the wooden box where I kept my treasures under the other. He scattered around the trinkets that were in the sack, but, unsuccessful in his search, left them on the ground, turning his attention to the bed cover, which he slashed as if he hoped to kill the eider duck again. A cloud of feathers rose in the air, becoming playthings of the wind. I feared that he might look up and see me watching him, but he didn’t.
The screams from the kitchen rose in pitch and volume.
Then the brute emptied my treasure box, and, since it contained nothing he wanted, threw it down, stepping on everything I cherished with spiteful anger: on the cross pendant my uncle had carved for me from the wood of a Linden tree and on the tiny ceramic pot mother had bought at the market. He did not spare the small clay doll that looked like a princess, and my most precious possession, a clay knight on a horse with a spear, presents from our landlord. Only two marbles escaped the fiend’s wrath by twirling away.
The heat forced the soldier to take off the helmet revealing his face, red with excitement, and his hair, black as a witch’s cat. Even though this happened seven years ago, his features are carved in my soul – the disdainful sneer, the scar licking his left cheek, the eyes speaking of nothing.
The noises and unbearable screams from the kitchen finally ceased when the other villain came running from the house waving a bundle in his right hand.
‘I found it, I think I found it.’ Aghast, I realized he was the youngest son of our lord, the Count von Teufelshausen. Everyone in the county knew him by his copper hair.