As is often true, amorous feelings conjure fleeting images of the past for Gungmarra. Die Shultze recalls a time before the burdens she bore could be seen so readily in her bearing and visage. Like most, her mind hearkens back to an earlier self, the earlier self, beholden to present circumstances, demanding explanation. “How did it come to this?!”
It begins with his face. A handsome, young man’s face, lit up with kindness and just a hint of mischief; exaggerated by the intensity of a young woman’s adoration and love. Overwhelming, Feverish intensity, flashes appear of dalliances in the woods and the garden, thoughts of marriage – everything would change for her! His voice in the dark calling “Marra, Marra” in passion, the lightness of his touch and her giddiness at being “chosen”. Fervent, desperate belief in her chances at a happy life, a better life fade into a stark image of him, Traugott Raubenschwartz, armored and mounted, riding off to war. Overwhelming, the feeling of drowning, terror of him dying, being maimed, finding another woman. For a moment we are alone with her realization: “I will never escape father!”
“He came back wrong!” screamed into our mind! Raubenschwartz the romantic, Raubenschwartz the idealist, who promised marriage, despite the disparity of their births, despite his Mother’s wishes. He was the young lord, he would make her his bride. GONE! In his place was a broken man, an angry man, a man filled with loathing for his station and his former self. At first he sought solace in her, but she could not provide it. Her dreams were still those of a young woman. He was her prince and he would save her from everything by making her his bride, his princess. Where before he saw her love, now he saw only greed, of using him to gain station, of her family’s reputation. Flashes of grief, pain, memories of weeping, nude, on the cold stone floor of his chamber as he looked upon her with disdain. Her swollen cheek the smallest part of the pain that overtook her hope and drowned it forever. A final sundering of love.
She would become what he accused her of. Her family was wealthy and sought to improve their own station through her marriage. Flashes of conversation with an ugly, fat, bearded old man, his blouse stained as he licks his fingers free of grease. Her father. He speaks of “marriageable age” and “making the most of our claim.” Her family seeking to be, once more, noble in name as well as money. She bent to father’s will.
For a “young women with ambition”, there were parties. Her beauty was her family’s only hope at rising once more amongst the ranks of the quality. Reeling through her mind; an endless series of balls and courtly dancing, of jewels and jealousy. She dressed like one of them but was not. Her gown and carefully taught manners were no shield for the cruelty of those who saw themselves above her, who would not even deign to elevate her to the level of rival.
She remembers an invitation, sealed with the crest of Freiherr Vornhard von Heftig, the winged truncheon. Her father opened it, as he did all her correspondence. We feel her trepidation at the thought of the Baron and his secluded estate and the rumors of the fêtes held there, of parties lasting weeks and unexplained disappearances. She remembers clearly her father’s face lit up with joy and greed. “Finally,” said he, “our time has come.” For a moment she let herself believe it might be true, that all those nights dancing and pretending at happiness might come to an end, that the Baron’s approval would lead to courtship and marriage, and she could finally rest.
Castle von Heftig looms in her memory. A foreboding dark gray edifice, shrouded in gloom. Within it’s walls she would become lost. She seems helpless but to relive these memories.
The grand ball began as they do. Nobles entering as late as they might dare and being grandly announced to those in attendance, their various titles growing increasingly elaborate as time wears on. Then dancing, dining, conversation and drink. More drink and stronger than she was accustomed. Everything blurs after. A whirlwind of pretty, painted faces, talking and laughing and then leering. Their painted visages becoming somehow savage and feral. A vague air of menace permeates the house and she realizes she is locked in with these creatures! They’re all around her, eating each other, rutting, screaming, tearing each other apart in their frenzy! The floor is thick with their blood and …fluids. All thoughts of bettering herself disappear and she flees, desperately searching for a quiet room to escape them. She finds a tiny room with a small table, some overstuffed chairs and bookshelves lining the walls as well as a dressing screen and behind it, a small bed. She sleeps there for a time.
She is awoken by their grunts and screams. Peering from behind the screen, her fear keeping her quiet, she sees them again as they are, the drugged drink having passed from her. A group, three men and two women are engaged in something other than love atop the small table and chairs in the room. There is passion, there is ecstasy and there is pain and blood. Her mind cannot reconcile the things they do with what she knows of intimacy. After it is over, the two women and the youngest of the men left the room in peace, apparently pleased with what had transpired. She recognized them from some of the parties she had attended, but couldn’t quite recall their names. The other two men, she certainly knew. The eldest was the baron himself, imposing and mysterious in dark velvet. The younger man is Ritter Welfrich Luftzugger, a knight who had acquitted himself well in the war but terribly as a lord. He was a bit of a laughing stock when he was out of sword range of his peers. He did not seem funny at the moment as he slowly dressed, wiping languidly at the splatters of someone else’s blood covering his chest and neck.
Baron von Heftig pours them both a brandy and the two men begin to talk quietly, conspiratorially. Marra cannot make out much, something about “land counting for nothing,” “perversion of tradition,” “no appreciation for the way things are meant to be done” and “east… helping to take back what was always ours.” The baron, seemingly growing bored by this, glances away from Luftzugger and toward the screen. Marra stumbles backward in shock, gasping and making quite a clamor in her haste. A grinning Baron von Heftig rounds the corner. “We have ourselves a little spy, Welfrich. Little in every way. This is the lovely common girl I was telling you about. Her father has such aspirations for her beauty, trifling though it is. He has tirelessly campaigned to have her invited to one of my little parties. After seeing her at Heinrich’s quaint affair, I decided to humor the vulgar man’s request. Sadly though, she has been missing all evening. I had so hoped to get to know her. It seems I will get my chance." Quick as lightning, his hand darts into his robes and produces a cruel looking cudgel. As she is brained by it she can’t help thinking how very much it resembles his family crest.
She awakes to a panorama. The forests and hills surrounding his estate spread out before her as far as the eye can see. She becomes aware of many things at once. The cold stone pressed against her breast and the view tells her that she is bound by her wrists to the stone railing of a balcony at the top of the highest tower of the estate. She is naked and she is not alone. She is being entered, invaded by a vicious presence behind her. It goes about it’s business almost silently for what seems like years; the occasional grunt the only reminder that this is being done to her by another person, not some silent embodiment of the stone to which she is so cruelly bound. She quietly weeps as it happens and tries to imagine herself down amongst the trees in a carriage, riding for home.
After it is finished her bonds are cut and she is wheeled about to see the baron, wearing the same velvet robes, leering at her triumphantly. “You should have known your place here, little Marra. You should have understood why someone like you would be invited here. You were to entertain, to serve, to worship at the feet of your betters that you might emerge from this improved like the little butterfly. Instead you skulked about like a common thief and spied upon the only person kind enough to entertain your family’s vulgar grasping. Had you played your roll, you could have left here with my good word and married, perhaps, some lowly, landless Ritter. Your children would have been titled, your name lifted from the common muck of your grandfather’s folly. Instead you have listened to secrets not meant for you, now what do you think will happen?”
Weeping, Marra pleads, claims ignorance of the conversation, says she has been punished enough, and swears never to speak of any of it again. His amusement only seems to increase. “Punished? You have been given a gift, you have been touched by one graced with nobility and you call it punishment? It is sad indeed that your family has hung all their pathetic hopes upon such a mewling wretch. You are right about one thing though, little caterpillar, you will never speak of it to any one, ever. Now fly, if you can!” In one fluid movement he charges forward, reaching down to grasp her by her ankles and standing and as he does lifting her up and over the railing. She falls, conscious the whole time. She feels it as her neck strikes the wing of a stone cherub on the way down, shattering in a unbearable crack. She feels it as her belly is impaled on the upturned branches of a gnarled old ironwood. Only after she suffers these does oblivion come.
She awakens, sometime later, to the warmth of another’s embrace. Panic comes, but quickly dissipates. Her senses soothed by the motherly presence that surrounds her. She feels soft linen beneath her cheek and smells sweet wildflowers, smells of childhood, of safety. She turns to see a face not unlike her own mother before her passing, wise and full of care and kindness, but also sad. She begins to cry and is startled by the sounds she makes, deeper and fuller and somehow stronger than she was before. The woman hushes her, “Time for weeping is done sweet child, innocence is fled. There can be none of that for those such as us. I am Aud, some might call me Saint Aud, but they would be wrong. I care for my own, and never has there been one more deserving of my care, little Gungmarra.” Her full name, for the first time since her mother’s passing she hears her full name!
Gungmarra feels the truth in her words and begins to feel the changes wrought in her own body. Desperate to know what has become of her and why she isn’t dead she flails herself up from Aud’s lap and staggers through a break in the trees toward the sound of water – a stream running into a tiny pond. She sinks to her knees at the shore, gasping. She is wholly changed, where before she was wispy and frail she is now stout and barrel shaped and completely enormous. Her skin is thick and gnarled like the Oak that impaled her, nowhere so much as her belly. She scarcely appears female. Her head is cocked at a strange angle, her neck bent away from the center of her now massive form. It gives her a look of constant skepticism. At seeing her own appearance in the stream she is so overcome with joy she begins to weep. “Now they will all stay away… And if they do not, I will make them.”
“Most will stay away,” says Aud from behind her, “but not all. A great time of change for you will be heralded by one such as will not. It will show great interest in you and you will know the time for revenge, if you still desire it, will be upon you. It is good that you see these gifts for what they are, Gungmarra. Use them well and you can make a good life for yourself, apart from all of this misery.” As St. Aud’s voice fades amongst the trees, she feels the truth in them and for the first time since her love’s betrayal, she feels hope.
Aud’s voice, almost imperceptible, drifts through the branches one last time, “…also avoid rabbits, they’re cute and can be delicious, but it’s never worth it. Never… worth… it…” Gungmarra blinks in confusion and sets off into the forest.