Chapter Two Thousand One-Hundred Seventy-One
27th August 1972
Schwielochsee, Spreewald National Park
Waking up this morning, Sophie had realized that summer was finally coming to an end. That was even before everyone had been assembled and told that as they knew arrangements had already been made for them to go home and they wanted for things to remain orderly as they boarded the buses that were going to take them to the train station. She remembered walking between the cabin she shared with Franziska along a few other girls their age and the Dining Hall for breakfast. The air had had an odd feel, particulates hung in the air giving it a soft feel.
Sophie knew as soon as she saw it that summer had passed into autumn. Though the trees were still a riot of green, it had taken on air of fragility, here and there were a few leaves that had already taken on fall colors. She couldn’t help but feel a bit sad. The summer had passed like a beautiful dream. Just like that, it was over. Going back to the cabin, Sophie took her time packing her bags. Ziska joined her and they started talking about the upcoming school term, all the things that they would be doing and what they hoped their families overlooked. Still, there would be the early mornings and awkward social interactions that neither of them was looking forward to. Like always, Ziska finished packing before Sophie and was sitting on a chair watching her finish packing.
“It would be grand if we could live out here year-round” Ziska said as Sophie put the metal loop through the eyelets on the canvas bag and throwing it on her bed. It had been stripped like all the others in the cabin, so it was just a bare mattress. “Watching the seasons pass. I bet autumn is spectacular here and during the winter, on the lake…”
“Where you wouldn’t be able to keep warm” Sophie finished, “Once everyone else went home you would be bored out of your mind inside a week.”
“Poor cynical Sophie” Ziska said, “Not every silver lining is attached to a coal black cloud.”
“Call it experience” Sophie replied. She knew that Ziska’s family lived a comfortable existence. Sophie on the other hand owed her present lot in life entirely to Kurfürstin Katherine. While she knew that Kat would never chuck her out on the street, what Sophie would do as an adult was totally unknown to her. While she was told at her school that the students were all considered bound for University, beyond that was Terra Incognita complete with signs that read; Here there be Dragons.
“What about one of those vacation houses across the lake?” Ziska asked, “When we are adults, a few years from now.”
“You think you will be able to afford a vacation house as a student?” Sophie asked. Most of those houses were second homes of people who lived in the City. They had explored around them and found that they were occupied for no more than a few weeks out of the year. Others were rentals that had a rotating roster of guests over the course of the summer.
“Me, no” Ziska replied, “But Poppa certainly could swing it.”
“Then it would be your father’s vacation house” Sophie said as she peered under the bed to make sure she wasn’t forgetting anything.
“Yes” Ziska said, “But I would be free to use it, Astrid wouldn’t be allowed to set foot in it though. That is nonnegotiable.”
Sophie did find that last part funny. Ziska’s older sister had been especially cruel to her over the last year so it was no surprise that she would want to exclude her.
Opa had left with the boys for the Summer Games in Munich a couple days earlier. The sudden quiet around the estate had been almost jarring. At the same time, Ilse had been joined Nancy, Bas, Anna, and Gretchen’s mother and they were intent upon preparing them to go to school next week. That had included Mathilda, who had never experienced formal education before, so she was equal parts scared and excited.
There was also the return of Albrecht, or the Admiral as Mathilda thought of him. He was Opa’s son, Ilse’s Husband, as well as Niko and Ingrid’s father. Mathilda had no idea what he would be like but was curious about him. On a Sunday morning, she spied on him playing with Ingrid. The little girl was just growing out of being a toddler and seemed to love everyone she came into contact with including the other people, horses, dogs, and cats on the estate. It was noticeable that the cats in particular didn’t love her back and fled as soon as they saw her. Mathilda’s observation post must not have been too good because after a few minutes, the Admiral asked her if she was planning on being social or would like to hide in the bushes all afternoon.
“Ilse told me a lot about you” Albrecht said as Mathilda crawled out from under the bushes. “Do you go by something like Mattie or Tillie, Tilda? Mathilda sounds so formal.”
“My Mum calls me Tilda” Mathilda replied, “No one else does.”
Of course, Mathilda hadn’t known too many other people. In the small community she had grown up in, she had thought that “Girl” said sharply was a nickname for the first six years of her life. Wulfstan had often called her different things that revolved around the word “Snot.”
“Well, I am pleased to belatedly welcome you as my family’s guest Tilda” Albrecht said as Ingrid hugged his legs.
The manner was similar, yet totally unlike Opa. The delivery though, that was what made it different. Despite herself, Mathilda smiled at that introduction.