Chapter Two Thousand One Hundred Sixty-One
2nd August 1972
Kat had needed to retreat from Berlin for a time because things had grown overwhelming. Beyond the expectations that people had of her, she had Marie Alexandra and Sophie to contend with. The two of them seemed determined to make things complicated in a way in which only young women were capable of. Sending them off to camp where they could be both closely watched and someone else’s problem for a month was a godsend.
On the other side was Aunt Marcella whose health was deteriorating. There was no explanation beyond her being an elderly woman who had lived a tough life and at the age of seventy-five her body was worn out. Despite Marcella’s assurances to Kat that she was going to be fine, Kat was aware that she would need to face the reality that she would no longer have the woman who had been her mother in her life at some point in the near future. The situation with Doug’s parents was not much better and Kat had started to dread hearing the phone ring, especially at night.
Staring out at the beach and the waves rolling in, Kat remembered wading in the surf with Gia thirty years ago to the day on the same stretch of beach. She remembered that she had pushed all thoughts of the war and everything that had been weighing on her out of her mind for a few hours and had just been carefree. These days, Gia spent her summers living in the Transbaikal region of Siberia with her son Alexei and her husband, provided he hadn’t been called away. Kat found that she missed the little sister who Gia had become. She also missed the other girls who had become the improvised family for them. They all had careers and families of their own these days.
Next week, it was expected that she was going to meet with the President of the United States in her capacity as the Prefect of Berlin. What exactly was she supposed to say? Thank you for meeting with me, Sir. By the way I despise your country and think that you treat the Office you hold as little more than a means to burnish your portfolio. The whole thing had the makings of a disaster. Of all the things that Kat had been accused of over the years, being diplomatic was not one of them.
Richthofen Estate, Rural Silesia
“I think that you will like it here Mathilda” Charlotte said, “Or at least it is much better than the State School.”
Anything would be better than being in that school surrounded by hostile strangers, Mathilda thought to herself as she looked out the window as the trees passed by. She was sitting in the back seat of the car that had brought her and Charlotte from the train station.
Plus, she was escaping from Berlin itself. She had always dreamed of going to the city, the reality of it though had been overwhelming. The crush of humanity, noise, and bright lights. All of those had become too much. There had also been the aspect of finding out what her father really thought of her. The context of all the comments he had made about hearth and home over the years suddenly made perfect sense. Her brother Wulfstan was expected to go out into the world and make something of himself, whereas Mathilda was supposed to stay home, unable to leave her father’s household. Charlotte had explained that she had been extremely vulnerable to coercion, whatever that meant. Mathilda’s thoughts kept going back to her beleaguered mother. While her father had been intent on living what increasingly felt like a childish fantasy, her mother had made jewelry that she had sold at the various fairs they attended. It had often been the main source of actual money that they had had. There was also the kitchen garden that Mathilda had helped tend, which frequently kept them from starving. Finally, there had been what they had been able to gather from the forest around their house. Besides boasting and arguing with people, what had her father ever done? The small hammer pendant that Doctor Holz had returned to Mathilda had been made by her mother and been a Name Day gift to her.
Looking out the car’s window, Mathilda saw that the trees that grew along the road had given way to a meadow and there was a collection of buildings that had additional trees growing among them. The car stopped in front of the largest and most imposing and the car’s door was opened.
“I need you to stay close to me” Charlotte said and if to ad emphasis, she took Mathilda’s hand as they entered through the house’s front door. “Kurfurst von Richthofen has agreed to let you live in his household until school starts and he would like to meet you. He is an important man, so please be respectful.”
“As important as Freddy?” Mathilda asked, and she saw a look of annoyance cross Charlotte’s face. She had been introduced to Friedrich, or Freddy as he had told her to call him. He had told Mathilda a few silly jokes before he had talked to her about what she wanted to do when she grew up.
“You’ll find that the Kurfurst has far more gravitas” Charlotte replied, “My hope is that one day my stepson will be as respected as his father, but that day is still far off.”
They eventually entered a room and Mathilda’s breath caught in her throat. Along one of the walls was glass fronted cases filled with weapons. The other walls were covered in hunting and war trophies of all kinds, along with hundreds of photographs. This was the inner sanctum of not just any warrior, but what she had always imagined what that of the high kings of the old stories looked like.
“So, you’re the little runaway I’ve heard so much about” An elderly man seated in a highbacked chair said.