Chapter Two Thousand Two Hundred Five
18th March 1972
With it being a Sunday afternoon, everyone was watching television the common area of the dormitory when the show they were watching was interrupted by a breaking news story about the bombing of a Secondary School in County Tyrone, Ireland. For Mathilda it was more than just an annoyance. A year ago, she had been ignorant of these things. Going out into the wider world had meant that she had learned far more than she had imagined she would, but she had come to understand that it had not made her happy. In one of her classes, she had read a poem by an Englishman a couple hundred years earlier; Where ignorance is bliss, ‘tis folly to be wise. There had been discussion at length about what that meant, as if Mathilda didn’t already know. She had lived in a forest on an island for her entire life before she had run off to Berlin.
Having had enough of a modern world that felt like it was spinning out of control, Mathilda left the dormitory room that she shared with a dozen other girls, walked to the castle courtyard and out the gates. She noticed that it was a cold afternoon as she crossed the causeway, and she pulled the hood of her coat over her head. She didn’t intend to go too far, she just wanted to ground herself after witnessing some of the chaos of the wider world. Part of her arrival to this place had been to learn the history. How there had been a fortress here at Tzschocha for centuries and it had changed hands many times with each successive owner adding to the complex, before falling into ruin after a fire in 1793. Then in 1909, an eccentric named Ernst von Gütschow who had made his fortune manufacturing cigars had purchased the castle and engaged in a massive reconstruction effort. Later, von Gütschow had been involved in a dispute with the Government of Silesia, the Mayor and Council of Breslau in particular revolving around his large private library, extensive collection of artifacts from the Romanov Family of Russia, and how they hadn’t liked a historic monument being privately owned. It was said that he had made a point of having the castle turned into a Gymnasia as a part of his will out of spite. No sane Government official would want the image of dozens of young ladies being evicted to appear on the evening news, not if they wanted to win another election in their lifetime.
Regardless of that, Mathilda had realized that she had found herself in a place that was truly ancient. From the stones of the castle to the forest that surrounded it, she could feel the weight of ages. The other students walked through life unaware of that. To them it was just a place they went to live while they went to school. The worst of them by far was Anna Schultz and her friends. They just drifted through life, only able to see the superficial and Mathilda felt bad for them. The world was such a rich place for those willing to see beyond the surface. They were determined to keep their eyes closed.
Once she was among the trees, Mathilda felt like she was exhaling after holding her breath for a long time. Tzschocha was far from the main roads, so the only sound was the wind through the branches of the trees overhead. Spring had not yet taken hold in the land, so it still slept. Mathilda could see the green buds on some of the trees though, she knew that it was dreaming of the rebirth that would happen when there was enough warmth to melt away the blanket of snow that still covered the ground.
Mathilda remembered how she had not been thrilled when Ilse had bought her the shoes that she was wearing. Hearing the snow crunching under her feet this was one of the few times she was glad that she wasn’t wearing the sandals that she normally preferred. Breathing in the fresh air, Mathilda tried to order her thoughts, only to hear approaching voices approaching.
Much to her annoyance.
Scrambling to one of the tree trunks, Mathilda slipped into the shadowy side and made herself as small as possible. With her grey dress and brown coat, she was almost invisible. She willed herself to be as still as possible and pictured herself as part of the tree trunk. Mathilda had no idea if that really worked or not, just that people almost always walked right past when she did this.
A few minutes later, Anna Schultz appeared with one of her friends. Mathilda had not bothered to learn the names of Anna’s friends. There was a half-dozen or so of them and they were all pretty much interchangeable. Small minded, petty, and shallow for the most part, they slavishly followed Anna mostly out of fear of what would happen if they ever found themselves on the outside of that circle. That didn’t mean that the girl was happy about following Anna into the forest this afternoon.
“I saw her come this way” Anna said.
“It’s too cold for this” The girl whined, “Why are we out here anyway?”
“Because I want to really see if that little freak sings to the trees” Anna replied as she stomped through the snow. “She left a saucer with little bits of food on it by one of the doors to the courtyard the other day.”
That was stupid, Mathilda thought to herself.
She didn’t sing to the trees. She sang for herself, and the forest merely provided the backdrop. The food on the saucer had been for the Tortoiseshell cat in the castle who she had been trying to befriend.
After a few minutes, Anna and her friend plodded off. Mathilda could hear them bickering for several minutes after they were no longer in view. Standing up, Mathilda walked off in the opposite direction, back towards the castle. With Anna out here in the cold trying to find her, it would make for a nice afternoon inside next to a fireplace.