Karin was cold. She was cold and wet and tired. The dampness of the concluding day seemed to close in on the coach as if to suffocate its passengers. They lurched to one side and Mary reached out to steady her lady. Karin brushed Mary’s hand away. Mary’s kindness was appreciated for the hundredth time, but Karin was too road weary to indulge the overzealous handmaiden. Still, she managed a small smile before adjusting her skirts. There were patches of still-damp cloth that had gotten drenched in the rain and road puddles when they’d stopped for the carriage to be pulled out of a rut.
Father’s voice warmed the still space. “Karin, need we ask the coachmen to stop to stretch your legs?”
“No, father, I’m quite all right.”
“We are almost there, I am quite certain. You’ll fair better once you are on solid ground again.”
Karin nodded. “Yes, father, I’m sure you’re right.”
The car fell silent again. There had been many of these short spurts of dialogue, mere pleasantries, between Karin and her father, followed by long stretches of silence. This had been much of their conversation for the journey. And for much of the past month, she mused. In other circumstances, she would have welcomed the opportunity to spend time with her father, but the last weeks of tension between them did not allow for that.
Catching Mary’s eye, Karin considered once more that her handmaiden, too, was being moved far from the place she called home. But she found this change of scenery exciting—a grand adventure. Yes, Karin may have been lost in self-pity the last several days, but she could still hear the servant gossip.
Karin closed her eyes against the reality of her plight. But she was powerless. Moments later, the canter of the horses slowed. Father and Mary moved to the window. Who would catch the first glimps of their lodgings? Feigning interest, Karin did the same. The summer palace, now off in the distance, was fast approaching.
At the heart of the structure was a portico, shielding the door which would give them access. Large burgundy walls reached toward the clouds, still dark and spewing moisture. Tall windows indicated the massive structure had but two stories, while two towers alluded to more above the second level.
The foregrounds did not appear elaborate. Among the carved-out pathways, Karin saw an ornate fountain in the yard. Trees and shrubs dotted the landscape. It was a grand estate — albeit not as grand as the palaces in Prague — but as big as any summer home or hunting lodge she had known the royal family to possess.
This particular chateau was the favorite hunting lodge of her father’s friend, Viscount Vlastik Dvorak. And it would be her home for the next days, weeks, perhaps months. To be sure, she hadn’t been privy to that information. It was, perhaps, an appropriate place for her exile. There wasn’t another living soul within easy riding distance. These places were built for seclusion. And that was what she was here for.
Their carriage slowed and tilted as it climbed a final hill, closing upon the portico. Karin leaned back, focusing her mind in silent prayer. The horses’ hoofbeats created a tempo that measured the steps to their destination and to her fate.
The carriage slowed to a stop. Karin opened her eyes. And the pitter-patter of the rain above them had ceased. This was the purpose of the portico—such an occasion as this dreary, rainy day. Horse and carriage fit underneath and their exit out would be onto dry ground.
A manservant stepped out of the massive structure and opened the carriage door. Father exited, then turned, offering his hand first to Karin and then to Mary. As she set her feet onto the firm land, she sent another prayer of gratitude.
“This way, my lord,” the manservant said, ushering them into the chateau.
They stepped first into a foyer. Karin drew in a breath. Indoors at last. She embraced the warmer and much drier climate. With difficulty, she resisted the urge to shake the rain from her strawberry-blonde hair. The décor of the chateau drew her eye. Deer and elk heads, along with a variety of hunting weapons, some primitive, hung on the walls. A servant took father’s overcoat and Karin’s cape while a maidservant stepped closer to Mary.
“Zuzana will take you to your room,” the manservant said to Mary.
The two maidens separated from the group as the manservant led Karin and her father farther into the house.
They paused in a large, circular room. Was this the receiving room?
“I will let Lord Dvorak know you have arrived.” The manservant bowed and took his leave.
Karin’s gaze wandered around the ornate room — too much to take in. The ceilings were massive and high, dwarfing Karin in the space. One wall boasted a large fireplace, the flames within hard at work warming the room. On the adjacent wall stood a large mahogany doorframe and door, more intricately carved with artistic design and scrollwork than anything else in the room. A family crest hung on the doorframe. At each corner of the room, and at each side of the mantle above the fireplace, stood small suits of armor looking down on them.
Karin turned in a small circle. Family portraits covered the walls. These images were the faces of the men who had established the royal lineage, made the family known and carried it through the generations. One lone round table in the room held flowers. She breathed in the sweet subtle fragrance of the seasonal blooms, a bouquet of yellow daffodils.
A voice sounded, bouncing around the space. “Viscount Vlastik Dvorak.”
Karin spun to meet her host. A warm, robust man entered. She arched a brow. At some point she must have met him, but his features were not familiar. His nose was round, and his eyes were bright.
Though it was quite unnecessary, they were introduced, “Earl Petr Bornekov and his daughter, the Lady Karin Bornekova.”
Viscount Dvorak rushed for father, seizing father’s forearm with both of his thicker ones. “Petr, my friend! So good to see you!”
“Vlastik, how is the hunt?” Father’s face broke in a wide grin.
“Good, good. You will see, it is a great time for the hunt. We have been out every day, save today. Such weather for your journey! I hope it was well.”
“One wheel found some bad road. Except for the rain, I think our trip was pleasant.”
“Ah, some of those roads are maybe not so good, I think. But, it will be worth the trip.”
“It already is, I assure you!” There was a pause in the pleasantries as father remembered Karin. “It has been a while, Vlastik, but you may remember my daughter Karin.”
“Yes, yes, but this cannot be the small girl I knew!”
Karin fought the urge to drop her gaze. What must she look like? For certain her long, curled hair was wet and matted. Did her complexion belie an even greater pallor than her typical fair skin would?
“A girl no more,” Father confirmed.
“No, indeed,” Karin inserted. How was she to measure up this robust man? But she could always fall back on her good breeding. She curtsied. “Thank you for your hospitality, my lord.”
The man’s overbearing personality made Karin feel even more small and unsure of herself.
“It is my pleasure,” Vlastik said. The man’s eyes gleamed bright, but they sat small in his face.
He seemed an easy man to be in company with, but perhaps not easy to trust.
“I am pleased for the excuse to bring your father to this hunting lodge!”
“My absence has not been for lack of want to join you, my friend,” Father said.
“It is no matter. You are here now. Come, come, let me show you the chateau.” He waved his arm.
What could they do but follow him?
The conversation soon became that of banter between two old friends as the Viscount led the party from the receiving room toward the rest of the house.
Brushing past Karin, she was all but forgotten as the Viscount led them from room to room. What was his destination? Was his purpose as innocent as it seemed?
Neither the Viscount nor Petr made any attempt to speak to Karin or include her in conversation as they toured the grand estate.
Karin attempted to take in her surroundings, but it was impossible with the speed at which they would quit each room. It also seemed as if the Viscount didn’t exercise even the occasional breath, as Father had a difficult time getting a word in.
At some length, Father did speak into a rare space. “Perhaps Karin would like to retire to freshen up.”
“Of course,” the Viscount said.
He motioned for a young girl who passed in the hall. “Would you show the Lady Karin to her rooms?”
The servant girl nodded, curtsying to her master.
Karin nodded and hid a short sigh. She was all too happy to take her leave of the two men and even happier at the prospect of being alone, if for even a few minutes.
Smiling at the young servant, she followed her deeper into the enveloping halls.
Why was this young woman at the chateau? A great secret surrounded her arrival, and no one seemed to know it. The servants always knew everything, but this was an exception. Everyone in the house was perplexed about her arrival. Only one thing appeared to be common knowledge: she was going to be staying for quite some time. Perhaps the Viscount had plans for her. It would not be the first time he entertained taking on a young girl. Either way, her presence did not make everyone happy—one person least of all, someone who didn’t like surprises, who didn’t like intrusions.
Did the Viscount already have designs on her, already have a claim? That would not do. No, someone would have to do something about it before anything more progressed. Prudence may beg one wait to gain more information, but it would not do to risk the situation developing any further. Again, it would not be the first time.
Earl Petr Bornekov was not a hard man. However, he had his limits. And Karin had been able to do as she pleased, her behavior gone unchecked, for far too long. Now he faced the results of this indulgence. Was pressing upon her some of the consequences of her actions truly so bad? Somehow Karin saw it that way. But there was nothing he could do about it. This was how it was to be. Of that he was determined.
The Earl and the Viscount had been close friends for many years. It was an advantageous alliance for the Bornekov family. Vlastik had become a special friend of the royal family. Something that propelled his value far above his station. And so, Petr had chosen his words with great care when proposing that Karin might enjoy an extended holiday at the hunting lodge with the Dvorak family. Petr’s friend seemed all too pleased to reconnect with him, so much so that Vlastik did not concern himself with the details of the circumstances. In this way, the plan had come into being.
During their first days, Vlastik did everything in his power to distract Petr with hunting, wine, and all other manner of merrymaking. Perhaps Petr was more ready for abstraction than he realized.
Karin kept to herself, making only the obligatory appearances. Watching his once vibrant daughter become so subdued wasn’t as easy as he would have thought. It concerned him.
During the day, Karin spent much of her time walking the grounds and sitting alone. She was polite and pleasant to those she interacted with, but those instances were rare. And, though she kept her distance from him, Petr could see the effects of her sleepless nights. The weariness in her eyes and the darkness underneath were telling. This doubly concerned him, as the time for his return home approached. What had he expected? What had he hoped for? Perhaps that she would be more adjusted to life at the chateau before his departure.
Vlastik tried to encourage him often. “Do not worry yourself. She will settle in to life here.”
Had he not a care for why Karin’s countenance was so dejected? Perhaps he did not. It would be best, in fact, if he did not.
“My son and his friends will arrive tomorrow,” Vlastik continued at a noon meal.
Karin had begged off that she wasn’t hungry and had excused herself early.
“She will enjoy the company of young people closer to her age. You will see. It will lighten her spirits.”
Vlastik’s son and his friends? Coming here? Petr and his wife had intended this to be a time of solitude. But how could he express that without opening himself up to more questions?
“So much has changed for her, Petr,” the Viscountess soothed. “Give her time.”
The concerns of the coming guests aside, Petr wanted to take solace in their words. But they didn’t know Karin. They didn’t know how stubborn she could be and how impassioned that fiery spirit of hers was. And now he was caging that spirit.
Stepan Dvorak gazed out of the window of the large library. His gaze drifted over the grounds of the Charles University. He had come to love this place. Many of his friends chided him, teasing him for wanting to come here and study. His position and future as Viscount would not depend on anything he did or did not do at the university. Whether out of sheer determination to prove them wrong, or as a product of his character, Stepan outperformed his peers. Yes, his professor’s accolades would have made any father proud — except his father did not care. His father knew this truth as well.
But now he looked over the buildings with a heavy heart. This might be the end of his time at the university he had so come to appreciate. His conversation with one of his professors echoed in his thoughts.
“What a pleasant surprise, Lord Dvorak!” Professor Evzen was quick on his feet to greet his pupil with all due respect and propriety. “What brings you here?”
Professor Evzen had been a mentor to Stepan throughout his time at the Charles University. Stepan appearing at his door was a common occurrence.
“I came for one of our chats,” Stepan said. Would the weighings of his mind be evident in his stance?
Professor Evzen’s eyes told him they were. “Please, come sit.” Evzen indicated a pair of chairs at one end of the room.
Stepan crossed in front of Evzen to one of the proffered seats.
“What has brought you?” Evzen probed.
Stepan was quiet for several moments. Many thoughts clouded him. He chewed at his lip. Should he speak from his heart, weighted into his stomach? Where to begin?
“Just say what is on your mind.” Evzen encouraged, sitting back in his seat. From all appearances, he was not concerned in the least.
“I do not think I will be returning.” There. He had voiced it.
There was no surprise in Evzen’s face. Was Stepan’s plight that obvious? Stepan stared at his mentor. Surely there was something to be said.
Stepan drew in a long breath. “I fear my father does not see the reason in my studies.”
A stoic face greeted him.
Stepan stood and paced the room for some moments as the silence filled the space. Then he stopped, staring at the bookshelf on the wall opposite Professor Evzen.
“He says that my tenure here has been an indulgence. That it is time I took my proper place.”
“Is he wrong?”
Stepan jerked around to meet Evzen’s eyes. They were clear and neutral. Neither challenging nor urging.
Running a hand through his hair, Stepan pushed out a breath through his teeth. “Perhaps. But maybe not. What does a Viscount need of these philosophical things?”
Stepan winced. If he was looking for easy answers, he had come to the wrong place. He sat and leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, letting his attention rest on a spot on the floor as if the answer would magically appear there.
“Any leader needs to understand better how to rule.”
Stepan sat straighter. “I could understand his hesitation when that heretic was rector. Not even I wished to remain here under his leadership and teachings. It is a benefit to us all that the Council of Constance has seen an end to his preaching.”
Evzen raised a brow.
“I should hope that Hus will remain shut up and put away for the remainder of his life. Surely the king will not see him freed.”
No reaction from Evzen. His voice remained even. “Come now, Stepan. You know the king only cares about the papacy…that things go his way, and the university remains in his back pocket. It is his brother which burns with hatred for Hus.”
The Papal Schism…Stepan remembered it all too well. What a mess that had become. Perhaps that was what led to the current situation. Two men vying for the papcy, King Wenceslas inserting himself in the politics of the university, Hus being allowed to teach his heresy…was it all connected?
A noise behind Stepan brought him to the present.
“Here you are! I have searched half of Prague for you.” His best friend stepped into the library.
Stepan turned toward the open door.
“Why the long face?” Pavel’s eyes betrayed his concern.
Stepan moved from the window. “It’s nothing.”
Pavel frowned. Then a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “It’s time to forget all of this and think about the hunting trip.”
“Yes, yes, it is. Did we convince Radek to come?”
“I spoke with him on my way here. After he finished his last lecture, his thoughts about going changed. You know how he can get so engrossed.”
Stepan nodded, smiling. Radek was by far the quietest and most serious of their small group. “I am set to leave at first light.”
“I haven’t seen Zdenek or Luc today, but I’m certain we can find them before nightfall and ensure they are prepared.”
“The hunting chateau will be the perfect getaway,” Stepan said to himself more than to Pavel. “And my father will be happy to see us.”
“He’ll be thrilled to see you for certain,” Pavel said, smiling.
Stepan nodded back, but he was not convinced.
Karin rose just before dawn after yet another sleepless night. Dressing with haste, she wrapped herself in a shawl against the cool morning air. She was restless. But as she gazed around the room, she knew it was not for lack of comfort in her accommodations. Her room at the chateau was far more than adequate.
The room was every bit as spacious as she had come to expect from the rooms in this manor with their high ceilings and large living spaces. If the chilled air circling around the room had a color, it would no doubt match the pale blue featured in the tapestries. She held the shawl tight and walked the perimeter of the room around the mahogany furniture. Such a fine sitting area. Such a fine room. The gold and blue themes proved rather soothing. Karin sighed. Why couldn’t her mind be still in such a marvelous atmosphere?
Some nights she slept for stretches of minutes from exhaustion, but her sleep was disrupted by the lightest sound and quite impossible to recapture once interrupted. She thought about her life, her childhood, her mother. Never could she have imagined finding herself in such isolation — her parents’ idea of imprisonment. And to what end she still was not sure. Leaving the warmth of the rushes, her feet bore the cold of the floor as she gazed out the window.
It was true she had disappointed them. But was her sin truly so great it required such measures? Karin expected her mother to speak for her or at least with her, to give her some further explanation, but there was none. Her mother had been more silent than ever. What was happening? What would happen? Night after night, the questions remained.
Shaking her head to clear the uneasy thoughts, she wrapped the shawl taut around herself and slipped out into the early morning. She found solace in her walks, which she took daily. On one of these walks, she had found a place within fair walking distance of the chateau yet secluded enough for her to sit, think, and pray.
Her special place was near a blue stream — a place where the water tripped over stones as it made its way through the forest. The flowers were bright and the grass green and soft. Pieces of the chateau were still visible, yet her safe place was hidden well in the tree line. It isolated her from the goings-on of the hunting palace and the people within.
Dawn broke over the horizon. Karin paused to breathe in the new day and whisper a prayer of thanks. Her body swooned a bit, but she opened her eyes and kept going. Was she so tired? She was weaker today, but so it had been the day before and the day before that. Such is the way it goes with exhaustion.
How she wished she could find deep, replenishing sleep. She had been unable to close her mind, her thoughts. Perhaps she was not trusting God? Trying to find a way on her own strength? Fighting for her own answers instead of leaning on Him? Something for my journal.
Karin’s favorite spot lay mere steps away. Once there she could rest. Rest. Oh, if only it would come. Her mind raced and her legs ached. She winced and lowered her head. As a young, vibrant woman, she should not be worn by a two-mile walk as if she were her mother’s mother. Something was not balanced in her body. Just thinking about it made her head swim.
The field in front of her gave way to the stream. Karin moved to the left to her tree — a steady oak, weathered by storms and long years. Its strong roots fed from the waters of the stream. Somewhere in its life, something affected its growth and caused it to angle to one side. The curved spot on the trunk made the perfect place for Karin to lean back.
She settled next to the tree and captured a moment of peace. Breathing in, she let the stress of the days and the negative thoughts of the morning exhale from her body. Perhaps another breath would revitalize her being. Taking the fresh air into her lungs, she imagined it fed her body as much as it fed her soul.
After several breaths, she pulled out her journal papers to study and write about the thoughts that plagued her. She let the sounds of the stream and the morning birdsong soothe her as she dove into her work. These papers were precious — so much so, she had kept them close for weeks. They were with her wherever she went, tucked neatly inside her dress at all times. And now they were all that were left to her.
After some study, words poured from her pen and into her journal until her lids grew heavy. Her sight blurred. She slumped forward, working to salvage her energy. Oh, Lord. If only she could stay awake a bit longer. Her pen could not work fast enough to rid her of the thoughts that tortured her so.
The time spent in thought and prayer these last few days had been a gift. Karin began to find her way through the maze of turmoil and back to her faith. She closed her eyes and offered silent words of gratitude. It was the first blissful sleep she’d had in weeks.
Earl Petr Bornekov gazed out the window. Clouds opened, and rain poured onto the thirsty earth. He did not celebrate the refreshing of the earth; he was concerned after his daughter. It was past midday, and she had not been present at either of the meals.
Hearing a noise behind him, he turned to see Mary standing timidly just inside the doorway. Her face was downcast. Did she bear bad news?
“Yes?” he said, his voice grating. He tried not to let his anger show.
Mary had been unable to account for Karin’s whereabouts. She was only able to report that Karin had left the room before Mary rose to dress her. Who was at fault if not Mary?
“There is still no sign of Lady Karin. The horsemen have returned with nothing.”
The muscles in Petr’s jaw worked as he attempted to contain his emotions. Vlastik had sent a couple of horsemen to search the grounds. If they had not found her, where could she be?
“That will be all,” he said, dismissing Mary with a wave as he fixed his gaze back out the window. A rustle of cloth let him know Mary left the room.
Petr stood vigil in the large library — overlooking the back of the chateau, giving him the best view of the forest line. Did he hope Karin would just appear? If so, he would be the first to spy her.
How could she have disappeared like this? Was she hurt? Dead? Killed by an errant hunter’s arrow? Had she run away? Were his overbearing demands too much? Had she been taken? If so, for what reason? Each question led to more.
And so Petr continued to go in circles, ineffective as it was. What more could he do? The only thing left was to brave this torrential rain himself. Perhaps that time had come.
As Petr moved toward the stables, he heard a commotion in the hall behind him. Vlastik came into the study, several young men trailing behind him.
“Petr, come, see how my son has grown into a man! He and his friends have arrived just before this horrid rain,” Vlastik said, opening one arm for Petr to join them.
“I would be eager to do so, my friend. But, I fear I cannot.” For certain, there was worry etched on his face as he had not the presence of mind to disguise his features.
Vlastik’s booming jovial voice dissipated. “What troubles you, old friend?”
“Karin has not returned. She is not to be found in the chateau or the stables. No one has seen her since last night. I am certain she slipped out this morning for one of her strolls, and I fear something has happened to her while walking in the forest.”
Vlastik’s eyes widened. Had he forgotten the hour? Neglected to keep track of whether or not she had been found?
“If this is the case, we must go at once.” He spun to face the young men. “Mount your horses. We must brave the rain for the sake of this young maiden’s safe return!”
The young men moved down the hall with great haste toward the stables.
Petr started behind.
“We should wait here in case she returns,” Vlastik reasoned.
“I can’t sit and do nothing,” Petr said. “I must go.”
Vlastik nodded. “Then I will go with you.” He laid a meaty hand on Petr’s shoulder.
“Thank you.” Petr put his opposite hand on Vlastik’s shoulder.
Karin laid still, her mind and body at odds. She pawed through darkness to reach consciousness, while her sleep-deprived body refused to awaken. Thunder rumbled, and rain drizzled on her face. Stirring, she attempted to waken, but everything seemed almost dreamlike — dark, damp, and dreary. Thunder sounded once more, and the sky cracked with a sound clap.
Karin shuddered. She needed to get to the chateau, but her body wouldn’t rouse, and she slipped back into her unconscious bliss.
Voices called out, attempting to pull her toward consciousness.
“Pavel! I found her!”
She sensed someone leaning over her, hands on her wrists.
“Is she all right?”
“Her pulse is weak.”
Karin struggled to open her eyes, to tell them she was fine, but they were slow to work. After some moments, she forced her eyelids to obey. A pair of bright blue eyes met hers. Who did these eyes belong to? Trying to sit up, to push away, she wanted desperately to take in her surroundings, but nothing in her body would work.
“It’s all right,” the voice belonging to the eyes said. “Be still, you are safe.”
Another face appeared. “We are friends. I am the Viscount’s son. Are you unwell?”
“No.” Perhaps an untruth, but at least she managed one word. She struggled to sit up.
“Here,” the blue-eyed man said, sliding an arm under her shoulders to help her recline at a slight angle to the ground. His eyes were captivating; it was difficult to pull away from them.
The other man’s hands moved over her arms. Was he checking for broken limbs?
It was dark. How long had she been asleep? No, not night, only raining. She returned to herself a little more.
Her papers! She reached for them, hoping to crumple them to herself before they could be seen.
“Don’t worry, my lady,” Vlastik’s son said, “We won’t leave those.”
“No…it’s,” she tried to explain, but the darkness started to come over her again. “I can’t…” The man with the blue eyes firmed his grip on her as she started to slide, and all was dark once again.
Mary moved about Karin’s bedchambers, caught up in her own concerns about her mistress — and her future employment — when she heard a commotion at the door. She reached the latch just as the door burst open.
A small collection of men, one of which carried Karin, rushed inside. Turning, Mary was quick to make herself useful, directing the unfamiliar young man toward the bed. He brushed past her as if she wasn’t there.
Petr hurried alongside as the young man laid Karin down. Her eyes opened to reveal slits of green. Everyone paused, as if afraid to breathe.
Mary drew a hand over her mouth. Surely the mistress was alive?
“Who…?” Karin managed to croak out with much effort as she gazed at the stranger who had borne her body such a distance. She made an effort to continue her question, but he answered her.
“Pavel,” he said, resting a hand on hers, “My name is Pavel.”
Seemingly satisfied, she offered him a slight smile before closing her eyes once more.
“Karin!” Petr moved toward her, reaching for her hand as Pavel took a step back.
Mary cleared her throat. “Let us give the lady and his lordship some room to breathe until the doctor gets here.”
The younger men nodded and made their way toward the door and out of the room. It did not escape Mary’s notice, however that Pavel stole one last, long glance at her mistress’s lax form.
Over the next several hours, Karin had more snatches of consciousness. In and out of reality. What was dream, and what was real?
A physician examined her. Mary attempted to give her tea. Others talked to her or around her. All this fuss over a bit of drowsiness! Karin worked to speak, but words failed. Her limbs refused to obey and lay, as if heavy weights, at her side.
Karin’s eventual return to sustained consciousness was slow. It began as if she were climbing out of a pit; little by little, she inched her way toward the light. Then it occurred how strange it all was, how unlike any dream she’d ever had.
At first the light was but a pinpoint, and her progress slow. Clawing at this invisible mire which held her in place was more effort than she believed she could muster, but as she came closer to the light, the thick substance holding her became thinner and more aqueous. She moved as if swimming, and no longer constrained, it seemed as if the light rushed for her.
Karin’s eyes fluttered opened, and her hold on consciousness was firm; the darkness would not come for her again. She sent up a silent prayer of gratitude as she drank in the sights, sounds, and sensations.
One quick glance about the room and she saw that she was in her bedchambers at the chateau. Someone had changed her into a nightdress, and her hair fell loose. The nightshift and her hair clung as if her vision of swimming had been more than illusion. Her eyes adjusted, and what had seemed like incredible light before was now dim. Dark drapes were drawn, and she could only just make out the sunlight in the window beyond.
How long had she been caught in this strange sleep? It seemed like so many hours ago she had been in the meadow. But could she trust her perception of time? She strained to listen for sounds beyond the door. Steps, movements in the hall were evident. But how close or how far was difficult to distinguish.
Testing the mobility of her limbs, she shifted to sit. Her muscles protested, resisting but obeying with some hesitation. And so, with some effort, she worked her way into a sitting position.
The footsteps in the hall came closer. And the door’s latch creaked. She could only manage to turn her head in that direction as Mary entered. Her maidservant carried a tray bearing a cup and fresh damp cloths.
When Mary noticed that her mistress was awake and struggling to sit up, she almost dropped the tray, catching it in time to save the cup of hot liquid.
“Milady!” She rushed forward. “No, milady, let me help you!” She grabbed for pillows to prop Karin up.
Karin wanted to protest, but she couldn’t deny how grateful her body was for the relief. “Thank you, Mary,” she croaked.
“I have your tea.” Mary grasped the cup and held it to Karin’s lips.
Karin reached to take the cup. “I thank you, but I am strong enough.”
“Of course.” Mary relinquished the cup but insisted on patting down Karin’s face and arms with the cool cloth.
Perhaps this was part of Mary’s routine while Karin lay unconscious. Now that she was awake, it was wholly unnecessary, but Mary seemed to be a creature of habit.
“Could you open the drapes? I would like to see the sunlight.”
Mary nodded and moved across the room.
“How long have I been like this?” Karin’s voice grew stronger. The warmth of the tea helped.
“Seven days, milady.”
“Seven days?” Her teacup rattled.
Mary rushed over to help steady it.
Karin settled the cup in her lap.
“Yes, you were quite sick,” Mary continued, turning away to continue her work around the room. She told Karin the story as if bored, as if she were telling it for the hundredth time. “You were in quite ill when they brought you in, and no one could figure what had happened. When your father called for the doctor, he said it was poison.”
“Poison?” Karin brushed a hand across her forehead. Could it be true?