Chapter One Thousand Nine Hundred Seventy-Four
20th April 1970
Niko had thought that he was going home to his Grandfather’s estate and that he could spend the weeks of the Easter Holiday in the forest. Instead, he had discovered that he was going to the townhouse in Berlin where his family lived while they were in the city and while that was a bit of a disappointment, he did find Berlin exciting. That was why he was less than thrilled to learn that was out of the question until there was an adult to go along with him, which wouldn’t be until next week because of the wedding. So, they were stuck in what had been dubbed the activity room under the supervision of Ina, Niko’s doe-eyed cousin who was Uncle Hans and Aunt Helene’s twenty-one-year-old daughter. He had swiftly learned the hard way that while Ina might have seemed to be a pushover at first, she was anything but that to anyone who didn’t know her. Even Bas, as stubborn as he could be, knew that Ina wasn’t to be trifled with.
That was also why he was aghast that Marie Alexandra seemed to come and go as she pleased. The explanation he had been given was that his cousin had lived in Berlin her entire life. She was older than him and street-smart in a way that Niko would probably never be. He also couldn’t help but notice that she was now at least a handspan taller than he was. The two-year difference in their respective ages suddenly was a far larger deal than it ever had been in the past. Today, Marie was accompanied by two younger girls, Aunt Katherine’s ward Sophie and Sophie’s best friend Franziska.
Into this, there was Bas and his sisters to contend with as Bas’ Mother was playing a key role in the wedding that was such a huge deal and shoving them in with the “other children” was seen as the best solution. Niko swiftly learned that Gretchen’s crush on him was still ongoing, much to Anna’s very vocal annoyance.
Ina had promised that they would be going to the park later so that the boys could chase a football around. Niko couldn’t help but notice that she talked to them the same way she did to their Grandfather’s Akita hunting dogs. Bas may have responded well to this, but there were times when Niko wondered if he was much smarter that those dogs.
Before they had left Wahlstatt a dozen of their classmates had finally decided that Bas needed to be taught a lesson and they had waited until Niko wasn’t around to talk them out of it before they had jumped him in a hallway. That had been the moment when their plan had gone sideways. Bas had always been among the biggest and strongest in their class, and this had not been the first fight he had found himself in. He had anticipated that trouble was coming, and he had been waiting for someone to take a swing at him. As soon as they had realized that Bas was going to put up a fight, most of them had chickened out. Still, Bas had found himself in a three against one fight until Niko had been among those breaking it up a few minutes later. Even as Staber Arbeit had been giving him the stink eye, Bas had taunted the three who had tried to give him a beating. The black eye and fat lip he had been left with had swiftly healed in the days since, and Niko had realized that Bas had learned nothing from the experience.
The activity room itself was a room that was painted a warm yellow and a hardwood floor with mirrors reflecting the bay windows that let in a generous amount of sunlight. It had been put to a variety of uses over the years. It had been a used as a studio by Niko’s grandmother when she had tried to get into watercolors, his father and aunts had learned to dance in this room, and his grandfather had used it for an exercise room. It was that last purpose that was the reason for Marie and Anna finding two of Opa’s Fencing sabers that they were playing with. The two of them were messing about with wild cuts and just waving the swords about.
“You look foolish” Niko said to Marie.
“Really?” Marie asked, “If you are having fun, then nothing is foolish.”
Of course, Marie would believe that. Everything about her was frivolous, it had been that way for as long as Niko could remember. Today she was wearing a blue and silver Drum Major’s coat that she had acquired somewhere, an oversized linen blouse and red corduroy pants. Her eclectic wardrobe choices reflecting her thinking.
“Fencing is serious business” Niko said, “Clearly not for you.”
“Is that a fact” Marie said with a slight smile.
“Yes” Niko said, matter of fact.
“Give Nikolaus your sabre Anna” Marie said.
Anna handed Niko the sword and he was left feeling rather foolish. Marie knew what she was doing. No matter what he did here he would look like an idiot. That was when Marie moved towards him in a wild attack that he moved to fend off, only to see that her form straightened out at the last possible second and she delivered a perfect thrust that eluded his guard, and he felt the touch on his chest.
“Point for Marie” Bas said with a laugh. Niko had been beating the socks off him for months. Which was why he was clearly delighted to see someone score on Niko.
That was when Niko went on the attack aiming a thrust at Marie’s midsection only to have her neatly parry it. As the younger girls cheered her on, Niko remembered whose daughter Marie was and her ambition to become a pirate a few years earlier had apparently included her taking lessons. Still, Niko was the best in his class in this sport and Marie clearly wasn’t taking this seriously. Drawing back, he again attacked, this time though Marie side-stepped the blow and Niko rushed past her. She then made a point of poking him in the backside much to the mirth of their audience.