The Ghosts of Furstenheim
Wednesday 3rd June
7.30 am Central European Time
As Carina slowly opened her eyes, she wrinkled her nose, then sat up, the silk sheets slipping down as she looked at the freshly cut flowers arranged in a vase on the dresser.
“Good morning, lover,” Annie said as she lay next to Cari, her hand under her head. “It is not a dream – we really are here.”
“I know,” she said as she sat up, “but I still can’t believe it. It’s as if we are living in a fairy tale, and I’m the princess.”
“I don’t know if you’ve checked recently, but you are a princess,” Annie said as she stood up, wrapping a sheet round herself as she went to look out of the window. “I’m the one who is in a dream at the moment.”
Cari walked over and joined her, resting her head against Annie as they looked out over the forested slopes rising behind the formal gardens. “Well, I’m glad you’re here with me,” she eventually said. “Now, would you like to share the shower? Judith slept with Mom and Klaus last night, so we have a little more time to ourselves.”
“I’d love to,” Annie said as they kissed.
An hour later, the couple came into the dining room, where Juliette was feeding Judith her breakfast.
“There you are,” Klaus said as he looked over from a table, laden with bread, meats, cheeses and fruit, “sleep well?”
“Very well, thanks dad,” Carina said as she kissed Judith. “How was baby?”
“Slept until seven,” Juliette said with a smile.
“Help yourselves,” Klaus said as he sat down, “Ingrid should be down soon.”
Furstenheim was designed by Nicodemus Tessin the Elder in the early 17th century, and many of the ideas he used here were taken by the architect to use when he was commissioned to re-design Drottingholm Palace. The large palace sat in a set of formal grounds, but with the sun shining in through the windows, Carina’s main thought at the moment was somewhat more mundane.
“Now, Judith, you eat your breakfast,” she said as she handed Judith a slice of toast, the young blonde sulking as she held it.
“She’s still tired,” Juliette said as Klaus poured her some coffee.
“I know – why don’t we go for a walk in the gardens later,” Annie said as she sat with Cari.
“Good morning everyone,” Ingrid said as she came in and helped herself to some food.
“Before you go out, I wondered if you would like a tour of the palace, before we have to hide and the public get access,” Klaus said. “So long as you don’t mind a little additional company.”
“Good morning,” Natalya said as she and Willy came in, “ah good – I am very hungry this morning.”
“I’d love to see the place,” Carina said, “get a real feel for the history in these walls.”
“Then it is settled,” Klaus said. “Aunt, may I impose on you to show Carina and Annie round, while Ingrid and I show Juliette?”
“Forgive me if I decline,” Annie said, “but perhaps I can take Judith for a walk in the grounds? I feel the need to have some sunshine.”
“It is not a problem,” Klaus said with a smile.
“You enjoy yourself,” Ingrid said with a smile. “I know it can be a bit stuffy down there, especially in the gallery…”
“So this is her,” Carina said as she looked at the portrait of the blonde haired woman.
“It is indeed – Hildegard, Princess of Furstenheim,” Natalya said as she looked on. “She was a beauty on the exterior, but inside – well, we can both relate.”
Carina nodded as she looked down the line of portraits, each with a small plaque giving their name and years of birth and death. “To see your ancestry spread out like this – it is both awe inspiring and frightening, if that is possible.”
“It certainly can be,” Natalya said as they walked down the gallery, Carina in a short sleeved dress with a cornflower print, Natalya in a grey skirt and blouse. “My question to you would be, which of these do you think would be a Daughter of Hildegard?”
“I cannot tell just from these portraits – they all look so different, so innocent, so…”
“Carina, what is it?”
“Who… Who is this,” Carina said as she stood in front of one of the portraits.
“I’d forgotten this picture, if I’d remembered it there would have been no doubt as to your ancestry Carina.” Natalya looked up at the painting of the beautiful blonde young woman in her late Victorian finery with the glasses perched on the end of her nose. “The resemblance is so striking.”
“Princess Alexandra Malverino.” Cari read the name plate, “Who was she?”
“My Great-Great Grandmother, your Great-Great-Great-Great Grandmother, we descend from her via my Grandmother”
“I take it she wasn’t…?”
“No,” Natalya said, “but she was still an important figure I hear, she was an intellectual, a passionate supporter of women’s rights, she owned and bred racehorses, and according to family legend was a champion fencer and pistol shot.”
“Wow, she I’d like to have met.”
“Another legend has it that she shot and killed at least three men, but when you look at her, can you imagine her doing anything like that?”
“I don’t know Aunt Natalya, just look at the steel in those eyes, she may not have been one of us, but this woman had hidden depths and strength.”
“What are you looking at?” Klaus, Juliette and Ingrid walked towards them down the length of Furstenheim’s long gallery.
“Her.” Carina pointed. “Aunt Natalya brought me down here to look at these pictures, and – well, look for yourself mom.”
“Oh dear Goddess you look just like her Cari.” Juliette stood stunned for a second. “Is this a family picture?”
“My Great-Great-Great Grandmother,” Klaus looked closely, “and as you say my love, the resemblance is indeed striking.”
“Aunt Natalya was telling me a little about her, she must have been a wonderful woman.”
“They called her Lexa, and she had an identical twin sister called Helena, who they called Lena.” Natalya remembered. “Lexa’s husband, the prince was killed in the First World War, Lena’s was an early Minister of Health in Czechoslovakia, and though he was a Baron of impeccable German ancestry he was a Czech nationalist, the Nazi’s executed him in 1940.”
“I wonder in the world they grew up in if they ever foresaw the calamities that were to come?” Carina mused.
“Who knows?” Klaus shrugged his shoulders, “Anyway we had better retreat back to the apartment, they will be letting the public in at any time.”
“Come,” Natalya said as she took Carina’s arm, “we can discuss her more over lunch…”
As they sat round the table, Carina looked over the table and said “What can you tell me of Alexandra Malverino Uncle Wilhelm?”
“A few things my darling, she was for her age a rather liberated woman.”
“So Aunt Natalya was telling me.” Cari smiled as she wondered what this woman was like.
Willy sat back and sipped his wine. “She was born a Countess von Elchendorf, the grand-daughter of the so-called Butcher of Korvar…Let’s see what else…she was three-quarters English, she had an identical twin…”
“Yes…her brother Franz was killed like her husband fighting the Russians in the Great War, and she had a younger sister called Victoria.”
“Well that’s the genealogy, but do you know anything about the real her?”
“Oh you mean the stories of her riding, fencing and shooting as well as any man despite her being chronically short-sighted?”
“Are they true?”
“Probably not, but they are persistent stories, there is one that she and her sisters dressed as highwaywomen and held up coaches.”
“Another has her nearly shooting the Prince twice before she was married.”
“If true, then probably, she had a notorious little temper.”
“Oh the more I hear the more I wish I met her…how did she die?”
“Nobody knows, her body has never been found, she disappeared from here in 1944, and was never seen again.”
“Why did she disappear?”
“She was strongly Anti-Nazi, your Great-Great Grandfather was giving her shelter here at Furstenheim, and it’s suspected someone turned her into the Gestapo.”
“Oh no…the BASTARDS!”
“It was probably how she would have chosen to go from what I hear, dedicated to a good cause.”
“Were any of my ancestors Nazis, Wilhelm?”
“Most had an aristocratic disdain for Hitler as a very common little man, but your Great-Great Aunt Birgitte was a fervent Nazi, one of the very few women to be admitted to the SS. She was an officer at a couple of the death camps. The rest of the family had long since disowned her, but as a family they showed solidarity at her trial by listening to every moment of the grizzly evidence of her sadism.”
“Another daughter of Hildegard.” Carina thought to herself.
“There was never a question as to her guilt and she was hung for her crimes in 1946. Her portrait is also in the gallery – perhaps I can show you it later if you wish?”
“I’d like that very much,” Carina said as she looked round, “after we take a walk.”
“Strolling in such lovely gardens with the lady I love, and my darling daughter, can life get better then this?” Carina asked as she pushed Judith in her stroller round the palace gardens.
“It’s a magical place Cari.” Annie looked round at the tourists. “I just can’t get past the fact this will someday belong to you and Ingrid.”
“Maybe legally, but a place like this really belongs to the world. Ingy and I will merely be its guardians.”
“That is still a huge wow though.”
“You are a huge wow Monster Lady.” Carina gave her partner the tiniest of kisses.
“If my parents could just see us now.” Annie smiled. “I think they’d be happy.”
“I hope they would.”
Carina lay on her back, listening to Annie gently breathing as she slept beside her. What she had learned of Lexa and Lena still bothered her, as she slipped out of the bed, putting on a dressing gown and looking out of the window.
“How can such a beautiful place hide such things,” she whispered to herself.
“Oh don’t let it bother you – many old palaces and castles have their little secrets.”
The young woman whirled round to see an older, grey haired woman standing in front of her, wearing a pale blue blouse and knee length grey skirt. Her eyes sparkled in the dim light, and she had a pair of old fashioned spectacles on the tip of her nose.
“Hello Carina?” the old lady with the bright eyes said as she pushed her spectacles back on her nose.
“How do you know my name?” Carina asked as she reached for her own glasses and put them on.
“Oh it’s far too hard to explain darling,” the woman replied with a very English upper class sounding voice.
“Try please?” She looked at Annie, wondering if she should wake her.
“Let her sleep – it’s you I wanted to talk to. Well, let me just say I liked your assessment of my character when you looked at my portrait.” The old lady giggled.
“What portrait?” Carina asked as the old lady pushed her spectacles back again.
“This morning in the long gallery…”
“No that’s impossible…Lexa?” Cari asked timorously.
“Yes darling, I’m a ghost, but some greater force has brought us together I think.”
“Ghosts don’t exist.” Carina pinched herself, took her glasses off and cleaned them, then stared at the apparition in disbelief.
“Oh we do darling, it’s just one of them has never shown herself to you until now.”
“Oh dear Goddess!” Carina was now sure she was dreaming.
“You know you are the most curious combination Carina, my generosity, spirit and looks, and their sadism.”
“So why are you here Great-Great…”
“Don’t say how many Greats Carina, it takes too long, and besides it makes me feel old. Grandmother Lexa will do.”
“Grandma Lexa,” Carina said quietly, “why are you here?”
“You need to do something for me Cari, something only you with your talents can do.”
“And what is that?”
“To come find me…” the apparition began to fade. “Find my diary darling that will help you…” suddenly there was nothing in the room.
Seemingly almost at the same moment, Carina woke up - the sun was already up and the birds were singing.
“Hey,” Annie said, “what’s up?”
“Did you see her?”
“Never mind,” Carina said as she shook her head, “let’s get ready for breakfast…”
Thursday 4th June
“Uncle Wilhelm do you believe in ghosts?” Carina asked as they sat eating breakfast.
“Why do you ask Carina?”
“Because last night I either had the weirdest dream of my life or I saw one.”
“Anyone I might know?” asked Natalya as she sat down.
“Grandma Lexa…” Carina saw the look on her great aunt’s face…”I know, I know ghosts do not exist. It really was just probably a dream.”
“Was it a bad dream?” asked Wilhelm.
“Actually not, she was a lovely old lady wearing glasses, and she wanted me to find her bones.”
“Did she give you a clue how?” Wilhelm asked with a smile on his lips.
“Something about finding her diary, that would help me.”
“Well it sounds like a dream to me.” Wilhelm got up and picked up one of the newspapers. “If anyone wants me I’ll be in the library,” he chuckled as he walked off, “maybe I’ll find that diary?”
“Uncle Wilhelm thinks I’m stupid.” Carina buttered her breakfast roll.
“Carina you aren’t stupid.” Her Aunt looked at her seriously. “I’m the only person alive who knows her famous diary is missing, I was told by my grandmother. Most people don’t even know there was a diary.”
“Are you saying…?”
“What I’m saying is that if you believe in the curse of the Bathory passing itself onto successive generations in our family, do not instantly dismiss the idea that you saw her spirit last night.”
“Really?” Carina looked sideways at Natalya.
“Yes really darling, and we will talk later,” Natalya halted the conversation as Klaus and Juliette entered the breakfast room, followed by Annie carrying Judith, and Ingrid playing with Pitz her Labrador.
“Listen,” Annie said as she sat Judith in her chair, “I’m going to get in touch with Caroline later today. Any messages?”’
“Just that we’re having a great time,” Carina said as she tickled Judith. “So what are you doing later today?”
“Perhaps you will join Ingrid and me, Carina? We have something to show you.”
“Oh? What is that?”
“Wow,” Carina said as she carried Judith in, “you have your own fencing room?”
“Naturally – we are after all royalty. Have you ever fenced Carina?” her father asked.
“We had a chance to try it out at St Angela’s, but back then I was still into gymnastics, so not really.”
“Ingrid fences a little, maybe I ought to arrange some lessons so you can fence with her?”
“Let me think on that first please…” Carina giggled at the thought.
“Papa fenced at university, and he was quite good I heard.” Ingrid picked a foil out of the sword rack and held it in her hand.
“It was Sigrid who was the best fencer though, your aunt was on the National Junior Team.”
“Sigi was Dad?” Carina looked amused, “My little Aunt Sigrid was that good?”
“Oh just because she is small don’t underestimate my sister, she has the reflexes of a cat, and great natural talent.”
“Well I’m impressed.”
“I’ve tried fencing her,” Ingrid practiced a couple of moves with the sword in her hand. “She was far, far better than me, even after three children.”
“It was via Sigi’s fencing that I met your father darling.” Juliette wandered in. “I was doing a shoot at a match between the German and French youth teams, and your father tried to chat me up as the Brits say when we broke at the end of the shoot.”
“I would never have been in Paris if I wasn’t there to watch Sigi, and I’d never met your mother, who by the way treated me abominably.”
“I thought you were a model chaser?” Ju giggled.
“I met her though the next day at my hotel, and she melted enough to at least talk to me.” Klaus said before she kissed Juliette.
“If you two want to do that, I might just fence with Ingy.”
“Come on there is some old equipment back here might fit you.” Ingrid led her sister to an old dressing room in the back of the Salon.
“Now, we should be able to find a jerkin and face mask for you here,” Ingrid said as she opened a cupboard. “On the other hand, given your size…”
“Hey – I may be small, but I’m determined,” Carina said as she looked in the cupboard, and then pulled out a box. Opening it, she took out a tunic and looked at it.
“this might fit me,” she said quietly, and then she saw the initials AM embroidered on the chest.
“Could this have been Lexa’s,” Cari said as she held the tunic up.
“Possibly – it looks old enough,” Ingrid said. “That must be her head mask in there was well. Try them on.”
Carina tried them on, admiring the fit, and then picked up a pair of gauntlets – before she saw a brown leather bound book in the bottom of the box.
“What’s that,” Ingrid said as Carina picked it up and flipped through the pages.
“Just an old book,” Carina said, struggling to contain the exctitement she had felt on seeing the first page.
Property of Princess Alexandra Malverino Furstenheim
“Come,” Ingrid said as she picked up her face guard, “I will go easy on you…”
“Today would have been Josef’s 81st birthday.” Carina read a passage she picked out at random. “I still miss him so very, very, much. I am just glad that he never lived to see such things as are happening today in the name of so-called racial purity. My mind wanders back to the first time I ever saw him at the Governors Ball in Prague in that spring of 1893. I can still feel his touch, his warmth, that feeling as he entered me…”
“GRANDMA LEXA!” Carina blushed and giggled, “discretion please.”
Carina turned the pages, reading bits at random, and the more she read the more she admired her valiant ancestor. Her stories of her activities on behalf of the anti-nazi underground were couched in somewhat vague terms, and she used a code to disguise people’s identities, but it was clear that the old lady had been far from a pacifistic opponent of Hitler and all his works.
“Oh it is good to be back at dear Furstenheim,” Carina read some more, “Franz-Karl and little Vicky are doing their best to help me keep out of trouble and at least even the local Gestapo has at least still some of the old respect and does not poke it’s noses too deeply into what happens, at least within the palace walls. The only cloud on the horizon is that Birgitte has asked if she may come to the palace to stay when she comes home on leave. Franz-Karl of course said yes, she is after all still his sister, thus drawing the temper out of Victoria, who is more and more the re-incarnation of my beloved brat of a sister for whom she was named.
“As for me – I know I am only an honorary Aunt, but I am the closest living link to her grandmother there is. I hope, I pray, somewhere in there the remnant of my darling Lena is still there. Just as I see her late grandmother and parents in little Victoria, I still see it in her.”
“So she had a grand-niece called Victoria,” Carina said to herself, “A bit of a chop off the old block by the sound of it.”
“Oh yes, she was – a little firebrand.”
Carina suddenly turned round to see Lexa standing there.
“I see you found my diary – good. What are you doing now?”
“Just reading, thinking – I have asked great aunt Natalya to help. She knew of your diary as well.”
“Ah, the lovely Natalya – a very difficult woman, but a Furstenheim still.”
“Are you going to keep doing that – popping up to encourage me along?”
“Oh yes – as I say, you fascinate me, you and Annie and Judith. She’s going to take after me, you know – a very bright young girl. We had a chat before I talked to you last night.”
“You had a…”
“Oh yes – she loves you and her grandparents very much, as well as Annie and the rest of her family. But you’ll hear her say that soon enough. I’ll leave you to your reading – and I’ll talk to you soon.”
Carina watched as Lexa started to shimmer, before she heard Natalya say “Sleeping Carina?”
Opening her eyes, Carina rubbed them and said “it happened again.”
“So you found it – let us look at it together,” Natalya said as she sat down…
“Come sit Annie.” Klaus smiled as she poked her head inside what was called the smoking room, but was in fact nowadays merely a comfortable hidey hole with a TV and a couple of armchairs. “So are you enjoying yourself?”
“I am,” she beamed, “this is all just so magnificent.”
“Well remember that it is also a family home, and that Annie you are part of our family.”
“Thank you Klaus.”
“So I hear via Ingrid that you and my daughter are thinking of your having a baby.”
“Not Cari…me, I want to be a mother and to give Judith a little brother or sister…does that worry you?”
“No, I am getting accustomed to being a grandfather…I would though beg just one favor of you Annie.”
“And that is?”
“That any children take the von Furstenheim surname.”
“That’s important is it?”
“Annie, you’ve seen the Long Gallery, my name stretches back centuries, and Ingrid and Carina are the last of a very long line. I’d like to think that both Judith and any child you might have would carry on that family line and preserve our history.”
“And Ingrid’s children?”
“We have discussed it, and she too thinks that she would hope her husband might take her name, and that her children might also honour our past.”
“Klaus I can tell you that I at least agree, but let me talk it over with Carina first…please.”
“I can ask no more,” he smiled.
Carina looked over as her mother came in, Judith giggling as she lay on the changing table.
“Give me a minute to make baby decent, mom,” she said as she picked up a fresh diaper, her mother watching the whole time.
“Carina what is going on?” Juliette asked.
“Something is, I’ve seen this once before remember, you and Natalya having little conspiratorial chats…you aren’t planning…?”
“No Mom…we aren’t.”
“Then what darling?”
“If I tell you, just don’t think I’m going insane please?”
“Now that has me even more intrigued.”
“You saw the picture of Grandma Lexa?”
“Well that night I either dreamed, or her ghost really did appear to me.”
“Ghosts? Darling are you…”
“Mom I’m still skeptical, but something is making me less so. Grandma Lexa wants her body found, or so the dream or spirit, whatever told me. She mentioned that I need find her long lost diary as it would give me clues where to look.”
“Well half in jest I told Aunt Natalya, and for the first time I know of she looked genuinely shocked, as she had been told of the missing diary by her grandmother and she thought she alone knew it existed.”
“Now that is intriguing.”
“Well to cut a long story short, I found the diary yesterday in the fencing salon.”
Carina picked Judith up and walked over to Juliette.
“So we’re looking into ways to try and find out what we can. She’s suggested we take a drive tomorrow to Lexa’s ancestral home, see if we can find anything out. Can you and Annie look after baby while we’re gone?”
“Of course – but promise me you’re not going to do anything…”
“Mom, as far as I know the Beast is not hungry – I think she wants this solved as much as anyone else.”
“So what have you discovered so far?”
“She really was a remarkable woman – it looks as if she was one of the leaders of the Catholic resistance to Hitler. I need to think it over a bit more though. I can tell you one thing though?”
“Oh? What is that?”
“She really did not like Birgitte.”
“I asked Klaus about her – his father apparently was not a great fan of her either. He remembered him saying he had to accompany his parents once to her trial – not a pleasant experience.”
“I can imagine,” Carina said as she nodded.
“Have you talked to Annie about this?”
“Not yet, but it’s funny. I saw her again, and she said Judith had told her she really loved all of us.”
Juliette looked at her granddaughter, who seemed to smile for a moment before she burped suddenly.
“Oh dear, baby – a little less meat for you I think,” Carina said as she tickled her chin, Judith laughing as she did so.
Friday 5th June
“Metla Hory,” Carina read the sign as they entered the village.
“In other days it was called Mettenberg.” Natalya looked round for signs.
“Oh of course this was in the German speaking area, Hitler’s so-called Sudetenland, we read about it at school.”
“There,” Natalya saw a sign saying Hrad 17, and made the right turn.
“I was looking at the guide book, it says there isn’t much left.”
“So I’m given to understand Cari.”
“I understand your reasoning that maybe I need to see the place, but I’m not sure it will help us in the search aunt.”
“Maybe it’s not Carina who needs to roam over the place, you said she said someone with your talents, maybe it is the beast in you that needs to look?”
Carina lapsed into silence as they drove the 17 kilometres to the ruined castle.
“Well there it is.” Natalya eventually spoke as they entered the tiny gravel parking area beside the ruins.
“Well I’m glad it’s just us here.” Carina said as she looked through the windscreen. The sky was grey, but the ruins covered a large area, the layout of the ground floor rooms clearly marked.
“It must have been something wonderful in its day.” Natalya said as she got out of the car.
“It was a defensive stronghold, the original walls were 14th century and its position up here commanding the valley below…well it must have been amazing. She says in her diary you could pass through a door from a mediaeval castle into an 18th century mansion, it had been added onto so often.”
“I can see why the allies bombed the hell out of it, it was too strong a possible defense to be left alone.”
“Well niece are you ready?”
Both women closed their eyes and let the terrifying creatures within come forward.
“Now Aunt.” Carina stepped through what had been the front door and stood in the open hallway, looking round.
“These stones speak of so much,” she said quietly, “the battles, the fights, they sing of it.”
“I agree – the tales we could learn of here,” Natalya said as she touched the walls, “but we have a specific purpose. What we need to know is if there is any resonance of Lexa or her relatives.”
Nodding, Carina walked round the room, but after a few minutes she stopped in a small walled area.
“Aunt, what does the guide say of this area?”
Looking at the guide book, Natalya said “this was the reception room – why?”
“Do you feel it?”
Natalya came in and visibly shook. “I… I have never felt this before. Do you know what it is?”
“She does,” Carina said, “it is sadness – deep, absolute, intolerable sadness. But if we feel it, it means one of us felt it in this room. Who could that have been?”
Natalya looked round, before she said “I do not know – but I cannot tolerate it. We need to leave.”
“A moment,” Carina said as she looked at the charred ruins, and brushed some dust away from the wall. “Look – carved in, low and hidden.”
Natalya looked and read “Forgive me – BvF.”
“Who can tell, unless she appears? Come – I truly cannot tolerate this any more.”
Carina nodded as they left the ruins, the rain starting to fall as they stood for a moment.
“What… What happened there,” Carina said as she opened her eyes, “I’ve never felt the Beast actually be scared of something?”
“We saw something that made our other selves – almost ashamed,” Natalya said, “and I suspect it is to do with Birgitte. As it is, we can know no more here – come, let us return to the others.”
Carina nodded as they returned to the car, wondering what had happened to make a Daughter of Hildegard beg forgiveness…
“And how was your trip,” Annie said as Carina took her coat off.
“Hard – it was emotional as well, seeing where Lexa came from,” Carina said quietly as she leaned over and kissed her partner “How about you?”
“Ingrid took me round some of the local shops – I managed to pick up a few gifts.” Annie looked at Carina and said “is something wrong, lover? You look worried.”
“No – no, I think I’m all right. Just something I need to think through,”
After dinner, as Annie and Ingrid played cards with Willy, and Juliette sat talking to Klaus, Carina sat reading the diary.
“How are you feeling now,” Natalya said as she sat with her.
“I think I am getting the hang of her code for names,” Carina said, “it’s not really a code at all. 0319 is just CS, the third and nineteenth letters.”
“Alright Carina if that is CS who was he?”
“I think reading between the lines it was Claus von Stauffenberg.”
“The man who plotted to kill Hitler?”
“I think she had some advance knowledge of the plot…just look at the entry for July 17th…”had word passed that 0319 will soon try in his endeavor, may God and Our Lady aid him in his cause.” That was three days before the bomb attempt.”
“Alright, that might well she knew, though I think she was rather more liberal then most of the plotters.”
“Then on July 22nd, “It is true 0319 failed, has God deserted us?” To me that is pretty damn clear that 0319 or CS was von Stauffenberg.”
“I agree darling niece, but beyond confirming that she really was an important figure in the underground, where does it lead us?”
“I’m not sure – a week later, we have this. “Bug returned today. To see how much she has changed is both frightening and depressing. I can only pray she feels some form of remorse, of penance – the places she has been posted to as a guard, people never come out of.”
“I imagine so – she must have really been worried about her, given what else she writes.”
“Carina, come and join us,” Klaus called out.
“We will talk more tomorrow,” Natalya said as Carina stood up, putting the book on a side table as she did so.
Carina slowly opened her eyes, wondering what was happening before she saw Lexa standing by the bed.
“Grandma Lexa? What is it,” she said as she looked at the sleeping Annie.
“Don’t worry, they won’t wake up. You visited my home today, didn’t you?”
“We both did,” Carina whispered as she got out of the bed. “Something caused her great torment, but what?”
Lexa smiled as she said “it may help if I show you something. Come with me.”
Carina nodded as she put on a dressing gown and followed Lexa out of the room, and down the stairs. As she came down, she was surprised to see the lights on, as a young blonde haired girl ran past her, calling out “Papa, when will dinner be ready?”
“Soon, Victoria,” she heard a man say, and she was surprised to see Klaus come out, dressed in a forties suit.
“No – this is Franz-Karl,” Lexa said. “I want you to meet someone.”
“Forgive me, your highness,” a servant said, “but Princess Birgitte has arrived.”
As he spoke, Carina watched Lexa come in, wearing a white blouse and grey knee length skirt.
“Welcome home sister,” Franz said as she hugged the Gestapo officer.
“It is good to be home. Hello Aunt Lexa,” the woman in the black uniform held out her hand.
“Hello Birgitte.” Lexa ostentatiously refused to touch the beautiful SS woman’s hand.
“I see little has changed.” Birgitte smiled. “You know aunt, you really ought to be more careful, one day having me as a friend might be very useful to you.”
“When did you last confess your sins Birgitte?”
“The Fuehrer and the party frown on the superstitious rites of your church Aunt. Haven’t you seen how many of your priests and bishops have got themselves into trouble?”
“I will ask again,” Lexa said quietly, “when did you last go to confession Birgitte?”
Birgitte looked at her aunt before she said “I no longer regard myself as a Christian.”
“Well at least in that you are honest.” Lexa shook her head.
“I’ll let the cook know you have arrived – your old room is ready,” her brother said as he left Birgitte with the older relative.
“Are you keeping yourself out of trouble Aunt Lexa?”
“How can an old lady like me get into trouble dear?”
“You don’t fool me with your act Aunt,” Birgitte said, still smiling, “I suspect with a sword in your hand you might still kill most men, and as for a pistol…well?”
“Thou shalt not kill…”
“It never stopped you in the past.”
“I only ever killed in self-defence dear, while you…”
“Who said I ever killed anyone?” the SS woman stripped off her leather gloves.
“Bug we both know what is going on.” Lexa used the black clad woman’s childhood nickname. “Do you feel no shame?”
“We are doing the Fuehrer’s wishes, establishing a home for the true Aryan race.”
“Whatever happened to the little girl I used to take walking in Vienna?”
Birgitte frowned as she said “She grew up and learned the truth about the world.”
“Do you remember Elizabeth Rosenberg, that little girl you used to play with back then?”
“No.” Birgitte denied her memories.
“You were best friends.”
“I’m sure I’d remember if I had ever had a Kike as a friend, they are the oppressors who were milking the Aryan race dry.”
“Bug,” Lexa pleaded, “we both know there is no truth in all that.”
“Aunt Lexa, do not question me too much on what is the truth and what isn’t. I might reveal some truths about you as well.”
“Promises dear Aunt…Now I need to go and change, my dear brother prefers for some odd reason that I wear civilian clothes…Heil Hitler Aunt.”
“God save you Birgitte.”
Carina watched as Birgitte walked up the large staircase, shaking her head.
“It was her – it had to be, and yet…”
“And yet, she carved that message at my home. Come, let us follow her and see what happens.”
Carina suddenly found herself in the bedroom Ingrid was using, this time with Birgitte putting on a blue blouse, smoothing down the collar as she looked at herself in the mirror.
Birgitte then sat at her dressing table, combing out her blonde hair, just as Aunt Lexa had taught her all those years… No, she couldn’t let memories and family loyalties intrude on her life today. Now was the important time. Now was the only time that mattered.
She looked at the collection of family photos on her side table and smiled. She went over and picked up a couple to look at. The picture of her and Elizabeth with their nannies in the gardens of the Hofburg…no that she ought to burn; she knew that Elizabeth had met the final solution at Auschwitz.
The picture with Uncle Karel and Aunt Lena in Prague…that too should go. Her uncle had died a painful death after the assassination of Governor Heydrich of Bohemia, when he had revealed foreknowledge of the act under torture. She was just glad the Aunt Lena had died in 1937, long before it had happened. She saw so much of her beloved aunt in her great niece Victoria, including her strength of spirit and temper.
Victoria – she would have been an asset in the Hitler Youth, but her brother had objected, and so she had used what influence she could to get an exemption for her. She knew Victoria hated her, hated what she stood for…
She sat down once again at her dressing table and looked in the mirror, what looked back though was not the Princess Birgitte von Furstenheim, but the creature who dwelt within the Princesse’s body.
“Foolish sentimentality,” the reflection seemed to chastise her. “Just remember the warmth and pleasure you got from castrating that line of Jews last week, of removing their parts with your scalpel, the cries, the pain, that glorious feeling within yourself of pure pleasure.”
“It was terrible.” Birgitte told her reflection.
“It was what I was born to do,” the proud reflection preened herself, “to satisfy this yearning to maim and to kill. To gain my sexual pleasures in the suffering of others.”
“But creature it is wrong.”
“How can something that feels so magnificent be wrong Birgitte? Didn’t we have this argument when you were 12 years old? Just after I slit the throat of that boy who tried to lift your dress up?”
“And we agreed that what stirred inside you was too magnificent to deny?”
“Well toughen up girl, you do the glorious work of our fuehrer and fulfill yourself while you do so.”
“I know.” Birgitte shook her head. “But something inside still hurts more than anything,” she thought as she knelt by her bed and for the first time in years said her prayers.
Carina looked at Lexa, and for a ghost she had a great look of sadness on her face.
“Why was she called Bug Grandma Lexa?”
“Birgitte had an English nanny with rather a…rich…vocabulary.”
“You mean she swore?”
“Like a trooper…well when she was aged four Birgitte, who had a little temper, lost it with her parents.” Lexa chuckled, “She stood there hands on hips trying to remember Nanny McFarlane’s words, and the worst word she could think of she shouted…BUG…”
“Bug, but that’s not a swear word?” Carina tilted her head.
“It was the only part of the word she could remember…add ger.”
“Oh now I get it,” Carina laughed, “So after that the family called her Bug?”
“Well that explains the nickname at least, but the boy she spoke of?”
“Ah yes – that would have been in about 1923, before the troubles began. We used to hold a festival day for the locals here, until one of the local farmhands disappeared that year. They found his body some three weeks later, stuffed down a disused well.”
“Do you remember his name?”
“Konrad – Konrad Mueller. He had a younger brother, much the same age as Birgitte, called Deiter. You may want to ask Natalya about them – I believe she had some run-ins with them as well.
“Father mentioned her trial – that the family came to support her, and yet you were worried for her, Victoria hated her, her brother – well, he was her brother. But why would they all do that, if they hated all she stood for?”
“Family is a strange thing, Carina, as you well know, but it is time for you to sleep now. Just think over what you have seen, and what you have heard…”
Saturday 6th June
“Curioser and Curioser,” Natalya said as she sat with Carina at the breakfast table. I knew Deiter – or rather, knew of him. He was a local community leader during the second world war – not a Nazi, just someone trying to keep everyone safe as the fear grew. His son is one of the local burghers now.”
“Who are you talking of,” Klaus said as he looked over.
“Oh, our esteemed former Burgermeister – yes, he still lives locally. He and his family have been of great service down through the years. My grandfather used to speak of him in glowing terms.”
“Deiter Mueller – 0413.”
“So that code appears in the book as well?”
“Yes it does – I’ll show you later. I think I am beginning to figure out what happened – but if I’m right, it’s not going to be pretty…”
Furstenheim Town Hall
“Good morning Princess Natalya,” the receptionist said, standing as Natalya and Carina came in, “how may we help you today?”
“My great niece here is interested in studying the town records for the year of 1944 – if you will allow us access?”
“Of course,” the man said as he opened the side gate, saluting as both women walked through.
“This is one of the small privileges of being a von Furstenheim,” Natalya said as they walked to a staircase, and descended into the cellars, opening an office door and scaring the life out of a young woman sitting at a desk there.
“Baroness Buchenwald – you honour us with your presence,” she stammered as she gathered herself together.
“My great niece, the Princess Carina,” Natalya said as she indicated the younger woman, “wishes to examine the town records for July 1944. Kindly find the volume and bring it here please.”
“Of course,” the young woman said as she walked off, Carina shaking her head as she said “I could never do that.”
“Of course you can – you just do it in a different way,” Natalya said as the girl brought back a large black leather binder, and placed it on a reading desk. Carina thanked her and then flipped through, looking to Lexa’s diary as she did so.
“This was the last entry,” she said as she looked at the page. “July 25th – Bug seems preoccupied today, as if something is troubling her, but I cannot speak with her now. 0413 had sent word that he had information about a possible new move to squash our lines of communication – I will meet with him later to see what can be done.”
“Lexa disappeared that night,” Natalya said quietly, “and was never seen or heard from again. What do you hope to find in the town records?”
“I’m not sure, but…”
“Aunt, look at this.”
She pointed to a minute of a meeting in the town hall, dated July 30th, Natalya looking through her glasses and then removing them.
“It would appear you may be right my dear – but if you are, then we need to talk to someone.”
“No we don’t,” Carina said quietly, “the Beast does.”
The Mueller residence
Deiter Mueller was sitting in his study, reading a book and sipping on a drink, when he heard the door open and close behind him.
“I thought I asked not to be disturbed,” he said without looking round, “go away Manfried.”
“I’m not Manfried.”
He looked round to see a blonde haired woman standing in front of him, wearing a short sleeved black dress with stockings and heels – and a black stocking pulled down over her head, distorting her face. She carried a small bag in one hand, and smiled as she pointed a Walther at him.
“Manfried is enjoying some down time – I wanted to talk to you privately, Herr Mueller,” Cari said in a straight English accent.
“Who are you,” he said as he looked at the woman.
“Me? I’m a ghost from the past of your family – you can call me Lexa.”
The colour seemed to drain from his face for a moment before he said “It cannot be…”
“Ah, I see you do recognize the name,” Carina said with a smile as she placed the bag on a small table, opened it and took out two pairs of handcuffs. “I want you to stay where you are – take one of these and secure your ankles together.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Try me,” Cari said quietly as she threw the cuffs at Deiter, the man slowly nodding as he fastened the metal rings around his ankles.
“Good – now, take the second pair and secure your wrists behind your back.”
“Look, Lexa or whoever you are, I don’t know what it is I think you know…”
“I think you know where she is. Now, do what I say, or I may lose my temper.”
As Deiter cuffed his wrists behind his back, Cari watched him, smiling all the time.
“Now, let me tell you what I know,” she eventually said, “I know Lexa was coming to see your father on the night of 25th July 1944. I also know that five days later, your father was granted permission by the town leaders to start work on a new factory nearby – one that has proven to be extremely profitable, but required significant up front investment. So popular and successful, in fact, the American forces used it for their own supplies when they took the town over.”
“Of course our factory is successful,” Deiter said, “but as for Lexa, I have no idea what you are talking about.”
Carina kept smiling as she took a small box from her bag, and pressed a button, the sparks flying between the electrical contacts as she did so.
“I have Lexa’s diary – she talks of meeting someone with the initials DM on the 25th July. I also have her grandson’s diary, the then Prince of Furstenheim – he records on the 26th of July the alarm on discovering she had disappeared, and how his sister had tried to find out what had happened. You may have heard of her – Birgitte von Furstenheim.”
“The Bitch of Belzec? Of course I have heard of her, may her damned soul roast in hell for eternity.”
“You know,” Carina said as she took a scalpel from a cloth cap, “I’ve studied her methods, she had some interesting ideas that I’d one day like to try out…perhaps tonight is the night?” Carina ran the blade over the man’s cheek. “Now in summer 1944 she was at home on leave from the Mauthausen Camp.”
“Oh I think you have heard she was?”
“I’ve read a couple of peoples account of what happened on her leave, how does your family tell the story?”
“According to their records, on discovering she had not returned from her visit, they raised the alarm with the local police, who in turn spoke to the SS. Lexa’s opposition to the regime was well known, but they denied any knowledge of her disappearance.”
“So? They were fanatical record keepers – if they had taken her, the records would have existed.”
“Not for all cases,” Carina said with a smile as she held Deiter’s head from behind, “not if the person who betrayed her true involvement in recent events, such as the attempted assassination of Hitler, was an undercover informant – and one who had a reason to hate the von Furstenheim family.”
“I have no idea what you are…” Deiter fell silent as the blade of the scalpel was pressed against his throat.
“So let me ask my first question – was your father an SS undercover agent?”
“You see, as a good soldier, she would have asked the local SS commander in confidence if she had been taken. After all, it was known she was related – very well known by the local commander. He had turned a blind eye a few times, at her request, to certain activities of her grandmother.”
“So what does your family say?”
“After three days, when Birgitte could say nothing, her brother confronted her and demanded she tell if she knew what had happened. When she remained silent, he finally lost his temper and banished her from the house. She left that afternoon, in uniform, and was never seen again by them until her trial. He was convinced she was the one who had betrayed her grandmother.”
“And how do you know she did not?”
“Funny thing – I visited the ancestral home in what was the Sudentenland, and in the charred remains is a fascinating message – a message of remorse and regret, signed BvF.”
“I do not see what this has to do with AHHHHH!”
Deiter cried out as Cari stabbed his shoulder with the blade. “Close,” she said as she pulled it out, “almost hit the nerve there. You see, I have also studied the local records, and there is a fascinating postscript to your father’s award of the contract. It also says he was awarded a medal by the SS Commander?”
“The local one?”
“No – the commander of the Bavarian region.” Cari pulled Deiter’s head back, the blade against his throat, as she said “why did your father betray Lexa?”
“I am telling you he did not!”
“Then you tell me, what do your family say of what happened that night?”
Deiter shivered as he said “I was only a child then…”
“What do you remember?”
“I saw my father talking with the Princess, in our hallway. She left – that’s all I know.”
“Really – so if I search the family records, I will find no evidence…”
The slight hesitation was enough to make Cari pull his head back, and run the blade lightly over his skin, Deiter gasping as a slow trickle of blood ran down from his throat.
“All right,” he gasped, “I have no desire to die for the sins of my father. I’ve carried that burden for too long.”
“They say confession is good for the soul – where?”
“There is a box in the bottom drawer of that bureau – it contains a statement of events, signed by my father and the Bavarian SS Commander. The local commander knew nothing of this – he himself was sent to the front line and died in combat. The official records will show that.”
Cari nodded as she walked over to the set of drawers he had indicated, and opened the bottom one, bringing the locked box out and laying it on the table. As he watched, she used a set of lockpicks and soon opened the box.
“You’ll never use it though,” she heard him say, and instinctively thrust the tazer out, the sparks flying as it connected with the old man’s chest. He gasped, and then fell to the floor, his lifeless eyes staring up.
“Stupid bastard,” Cari said as she looked at the confession, and then placed it in her bag, locking the box and returning it before she removed the cuffs from the lifeless body.
Taking out her cell phone, she tapped her foot while she waited.
“Aunt Natalya? Can you contact the war archives, and get the war record of Grupenfuhrer Wermer von Bacchol, Waffen SS, sent to you?
“Because I think that is the last piece of the puzzle. Has Aunt Sigi arrived?
“Good – I’m heading back. Let’s get everyone together tonight.”
“Boys, why don’t you come with me. Your mother and her family have things to discuss,” Dieter said as the three boys went out with him, Sigi shaking her head as they left.
“They are certainly very taken with Judith,” she said as she looked at Carina. “Now, what is so important you had to speak to all of us at the same time.”
“I first have to apologise for being a little secretive with you,” Carina said as she looked at Sigi, Klaus and Ingrid, “but I and Aunt Natalya wanted to be sure of our facts before we said anything to you. We completed our fact finding this afternoon.”
“about what,” Klaus said with a smile.
“The final fate of Lexa,” Natalya said quietly. “Shall we take coffee in the lounge?”
Juliette saw Klaus look serious, as he said “Yes, I think we should.” He stood up, the others following before they sat round the table, Sigi pouring the coffee.
“It started when I found this in the fencing gallery,” Cari said as she put the brown leather volume on the coffee table.
“Her diary,” Wilhelm whispered, “so it really did exist?”
“It did – and it tells a tale that shows she was in opposition to the regime until the day she disappeared.”
“I think it is time that we have a serious talk as what Carina and I have found out in the past few days, and the part played in it by Aunt Birgitte.” Natalya spoke softly.
“We all know Birgitte betrayed her to the Gestapo.” Klaus looked his aunt in the eye.
“Actually Aunt Natalya and I have proved otherwise.” Carina spoke. “Birgitte may have been a creature with indescribable evil within her, but both Natalya and I have come to the conclusion she never really was a committed Nazi.”
“Oh come on darling,” Klaus looked hard at his daughter, “she was an officer in concentration camps, one of the women in the SS, and you say she was not a Nazi?”
“What she was Pops,” Carina said as she removed her glasses and rubbed her eyes, “was a sexual predator, sadist, psychopath, and mass murderer, a truly perverted person. But it wasn’t that Nazi ideology perverted her, she was that way inclined anyway. Nazism merely gave her the great opportunity to explore the depths of her perversion and insanity.”
“We have evidence that aged 12 she cut the throat of a boy who tried to lift her dress up to see what was below.” Natalya resumed the explanation. “Without huge research we can’t be sure, but I’ll not be surprised if a whole string of unaccountable deaths and disappearances followed on from that for the next few years.”
“The Mueller boy? I read of the case in grandfather’s journal,” Klaus said, “and you say she did it?”
“We obtained her full statement to the trial,” Natalya said, “something the family never read, if you compare both her brother and young Victoria’s accounts to hers. She states he had killed many times in the years before the charges laid against her, but gave no other details save she started when she was in puberty.”
“You mean you think she was already a serial killer?” asked Juliette.
“We do Mom.”
“How was the family not aware?” Sigi shook her head.
“She was probably extremely careful to cover her crimes.” Annie spoke softly.
“How the SS spotted her, or she discovered them, maybe we will never know, but I know from the little I’ve read in the archives, even her superiors regarded with dread and awe for what she did.” Carina looked downwards.
Klaus was sittiing silently, before he said “but if she was that demented, how can you be sure she didn’t turn Grandmother Lexa over?”
“”We have proof both that Bug protected her, and who actually did betray Lexa.” Carina pulled a document off the table.
“What is that?”
“You will have heard that Deiter Mueller died this afternoon of a heart attack?”
“Old man Mueller,” Ingrid said.
“I had heard – I had not said anything with the children present.”
“Today I received a letter from him, containing this document,” Natalya said as Carina laid it down. “It determines a discussion between Mueller’s father and the Bavarian SS Commander. You may read it for yourself, but in it Mueller agrees to lure Lexa to his house late that night, in return for a reward of a contract and a medal. It appears he played both sides.”
“Lexa’s diary is partly in code,” Carina continued, “but it suggests she left to see Mueller on the night she disappeared. What actually went between them we will never know, but the diary suggests she knew about Operation Valkyrie and supported it.”
“That does sound like her,” Klaus said with a little smile, “but what of Birgitte?”
“For that, we turn to this,” Natalya said as she picked up another object. “the service record of von Bacchol.”
“The local SS Commander? What about him?”
“After Lexa disappeared, he was reassigned to the western front. In the file, however, is a record of what can only be described as a dressing down of him by the regional commander. If I read this correctly, he was accused on numerous occasions of deliberately blocking investigations into the activities of the von Furstenheim family, especially Lexa. He denied the accusations, but comparing the dates of the accusations to statements in Lexa’s diary – well, it is obvious he was bene asked not to look into them.”
“Was it Franz-Karl?”
“No – it looks as if the requests came from within the SS. There is also a record of a conversation between Birgitte and von Bacchol, where he denied knowing what happened.”
“So what did happen?”
“Neither von Bacchol or Birgitte knew the area commander suspected them both, and used a hidden agent to lure Lexa into a trap. What I also pulled was Birgitte’s record. On the day she was banished from the castle, she received an order to report to the SS headquarters prior to returning to duty. She received an official reprimand – and then she returned. Poppa, I need to ask a serious question.”
“And that is?”
“Did Birgitte ever send a letter home before the trial?”
Klaus looked at Natalya, then at the others, before he stood up and left the room.
“I think you’ve upset him,” Juliette said.
“No – I think he’s thinking it over,” Ingrid said as Klaus returned, a yellowing envelope in his hand.
“This was delivered a week later – my grandfather never opened it, nor did my father, nor did I. To all of us, she was the greatest traitor this family has ever known. But with what you have said…” He handed it to Natalya and said “you open it.”
The room was silent as Natalya carefully opened the letter, unfolding it and reading the contents closely. After a few moments, she put the letter back into the envelope, laid it on the table and bowed her head for a moment.
“Forgive me, Klaus, Wilhelm, this is a job for the women of the family. Ingrid, Sigi, come with us please.”
The four women left the room, Juliette rising until Klaus said “no – allow them this, my love. If that letter says what I suspect it might, it is their privilege and duty.”
“What was in the letter, Aunt,” Ingird said as they walked along a downstairs corridor of the castle.
“Birgitte’s confession,” Natalya said as she stopped under Lexa’s portrait, and knocked on the wall. Feeling around the edges of the panel, she smiled as she pressed and the panel moved across.
“Oh god,” Ingrid said quietly, “a secret passage?”
“A secret one – a bolt hole, known only to the family up to the second world war,” Natalya said. “In her letter, Birgitte says she was presented by the region commander with her grandmother’s dead body – she had been executed without trial – and ordered to dispose of it. She was devastated, but she was under orders to keep her execution secret, so – she brought her home.”
“How did she get in without her brother knowing?”
“She does not say – all she says is that she laid her to rest, with due reverence, in this bolt hole. But the only entrance she mentions is this one.”
Sigi took a torch from Natalya and shone it round inside, before saying “to misquote that band, the only way is up. One of us is going to have to…”
As she backed out, she looked at the other three.
“Why am I always the one who has to explore the tiny spaces?” Sigrid complained.
“Because you are even smaller then I am darling aunt, and far more supple.”
“Well it’s a reason, not a great reason, but still a reason.”
Slowly, she stripped off her dress, before Sigi carefully wiggled her way into the entrance to the shaft. “I hope you’ve all thought out how to get me out if I get stuck,” she yelled back at one stage.
“We will address that problem should it arise Sigi.” Natalya reassured her niece.
“Can you see anything yet Aunt Sigi?” Ingrid called out.
“I think I can…hold on.”
For a couple of minutes the group outside awaited Sigi’s reply. Two minutes stretched to five.
“Are you alright Sigrid?” Natalya shouted.
Again they listened for a reply.
“SIGI!” Natalya yelled.
“Help me strip Ingy, I’ll have to go in” Carina said as she started to undress.
“Why bother?” they heard an amused voice from behind them.
“SIGI!” The three eomen embraced the tiny woman in relief.
“Thank the Goddess you are safe”” Carina spoke.
“What did you find?” the always to the point Natalya asked.
“Well” Sigi said quietly, “other than a better way in and out via a tunnel that comes out in the kitchen. Yes I found her. Two bullet holes in the back of her skull.”
The women looked at each other as Sigi dressed again. “We should inform Klaus, and make preparations for her removal and internment.”
“With all reverence and honour,” Carina said quietly.
“Amen,” Ingrid said as they walked back along the corridor, Lexa’s portrait looking at them.
Sunday 7th June
They stood in a line, dressed in dark clothing, Klaus, Wilhelm and Dieter bowing their heads as the undertakers carried the coffin out, the local police chief following.
“We will perform tests, your highness,” he said quietly, “but given what you have shown me, I think we have finally solved the mistress of what happened to Princess Alexandra. I believe we will be able to allow internment in three days.”
“Thank you, Captain,” Klaus said as he shook his hand, “if it can be sped up, I would be grateful if you would inform me.”
Klaus nodded as the others went indoors.
“What else did they find in the room,” Ingrid asked.
“Some boxes of documents – they have left them in our library.” Sigi sighed as she said “I’m going to see if there is anything interesting.”
“Let’s arrange some coffee,” Juliette said as she and Ingrid went to the kitchen, while Carina, Annie and Natalya walked down the corridor.
“Her message at the ruins?”
“She visited after she brought her grandmother home,” Natalya said, “and scratched the message in the ruins, before returning to her posting. There she was captured, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
“So that feeling we felt was her guilt and remorse at…”
The three women looked at each other before they went into the library, where Sigi was sitting, an open strongbox by her side and several more closed boxes by her side.
“Oh God this is going to turn history on its head.” Sigi looked up from reading documents from the boxes she had found with Lexa’s body. “Talk about two different sides of the same coin.”
“What do you mean Sigi?” Annie asked.
“We all know and have always known that Birgitte was one of the most notorious war criminals of World War Two…right?”
“I read something earlier on the computer that Jewish mothers still use her name to frighten children.” Annie spoke again.
“Well if I’m reading this right, she saved at least hundreds, probably thousands of Jews from the camps…”
“What?” Carina and Natalya shouted simultaneously.
“She messed with transit orders and trains meant for Auschwitz and the other camps were actually delivered to Italy, where the church and the Italian underground got most of them to safety.”
Natalya sat in a spare chair, temporarily stunned as Sigi continued. “She was in discreet touch with Admiral Canaris and his people within the Abwehr, I suspect they never even knew her real identity.”
“So Sigi, you are saying that unknown even to Lexa she, the most sadistic bitch of the war, was actually also aiding the resistance?” Her aunt asked.
“If these documents are genuine, and I think they are,” Sigi said, “then yes.”
“But why would a woman whose idea of a good breakfast was to begin by torturing and killing at least five Jews, also do that?” Carina shook her head as she looked round the room.
“It would appear she was a far more complex and torn woman than any of us realized,” Ingrid said, “but who’s going to tell Papa?”
“Oh leave that to me,” Natalya said, “and let’s inform the right people of this. It is time for the full story to be revealed.”
“Klaus,” Sigi said with a smile, “I think you’re going to want to sit down.”
“Is it normal to dress for Sunday dinner here,” Annie said as she fixed her earrings into place.
“I think this is a rather special occasion,” Carina said as she fastened Judith’s blue dress, and adjusted her head band.
“Come on, I’ll take her,” Annie said as she picked the young baby up, “you can finish getting ready.”
“Thanks,” Cari said as Annie leaned over and kissed her, before she took Judith out of the room, her mother smiling as she looked in the dressing table mirror.
“They do make a lovely couple, don’t they?”
“Goddess, Grandma Lexa,” Cari said as she spun round, “why do you keep doing that?”
“I’m a ghost, Carina – announcing my arrival is a little bit difficult, correct?”
“Hang on,” Cari said as she walked over and locked the bedroom door, “I don’t want people walking in and thinking I’m madder than I already am.”
“Not even Natalya?”
Carina raised an eyebrow, before she said “You know, don’t you?”
“Of course I do – the thing about dying is, you learn so much more of the family. Quite a history we have.”
“May I ask what happened?”
“There is not a lot more to tell, Cari. I was arrested as I left Mueller’s house, taken to SS headquarters, and…” She raised her hand, made a pistol and dipped it twice. “They did not even try to get me to confess – I like to think they had a grudging respect for me.”
“And then they made Birgitte move your body as…”
Carina suddenly sat on the head, looking at Lexa as she stood there, smiling.
“Why did they force Birgitte to do that – we discovered they knew she was protecting you, but why here, where she had those documents – oh Goddess, I get it now.”
“Carina?” Lexa’s smile was getting wider and wider.
“This was never really about you was it Grandma Lexa?” Carina was shaking her head as she said this, and then laughed quietly.
“What can you possibly mean dearest?”
“This whole thing wasn’t really about finding your skeleton.”
“Are you saying I had no wish to lie beside my beloved Josef for eternity?”
“No I’m not – actually, yes I am,” Carina said as she stood up. “I think this was all about her, it was all for Birgitte. I read Great Grandfathers diary, I also struggled to read the transcript of her trial. She confessed to everything, but the one thing the family were really there to hear.”
“And what might that be?” the old lady’s nose twitched and she pushed her spectacles back on.
“They went to hear about the one crime they could truly never forgive, the betrayal of you.”
“I knew you were special Carina.” Lexa’s eyes twinkled.
“They went not to support her, they went to hear why she betrayed you, but Birgitte wouldn’t confess to that, because it was the one crime she was accused of that she never committed. You wanted me to clear her name of just that one crime, didn’t you?”
“She did Carina,” another voice said as a much younger blonde woman appeared to walk in through the locked door.
“Yes Cari,” the new arrival said, “and Thank You for proving to the family that there was one thing even my creature would not do.”
“In torment?” the spirit smiled, “I am in both heaven and hell, just as you will be one day too. Our creatures must pay for their dreadful evil, but the good that is in us is spared that fate.”
“and the records now show you did a great deal of good – but you had to hide it, because of your position and because she would not tolerate it.”
“Oh she tolerated it, but she preferred it kept quiet. I suspect you know something of that – the Jamie Kirkham fund?”
“Is there nothing you ladies do not know?”
“Carina you have an amazing life to live, both you and what you call the Beast within. Live it to the full darling, and cherish your children and your grand-children, and their children.” Lexa smiled happily. “And especially little Judith, is she going to lead you a merry dance…?”
“Children,” Carina gasped, “you mean there will be more….”
“Goodbye Carina and thank you,” Birgitte started to fade.
“Be happy dearest granddaughter,” for a second Cari felt arms hugging her. “We will meet again.” Lexa smiled broadly as she too faded away.
Carina sat for a moment, before she stood up, brushed down her dress and walked to the salon.
“There you are,” Annie said as she came in, “are you all right?”
“I think so, yes,” she said. “Poppa, about Lexa…”
“We were just discussing that,” Klaus said. “We feel it is right she come with us to Vienna, and we will inter her there with her husband and family. I hope you approve.”
“I approve, and I am sure she will as well,” Carina said, “and Birgette?”
“It will take longer, but we will try,” Natalya said. “Are you all right dearest?”
“I think so, yes – may I have a drink?”