“Jozsef, you need me in your life, but to be honest I don’t need you,” she had told him after one of his friends had made a remark about her unknown father.
His friends had chided him on marrying so far beneath him. He had tried to fight the attraction believing that they were right, that she was only interested in him for his money. But like a moth to the flame, he was drawn ever nearer.
The petite blond had proved to be anything but a fortune hunter. She was a child born out of wedlock, but was openly unashamed of it. She had told him that she would live in a hovel with dirty bare feet as long as she had music and laughter in her life.
Katrina had been the joy of his life. They had been married for ten years. It hadn’t been easy, they learned who were true friends. The decision to retire to the country was only partly due to Katrina’s pregnancy. It was her thirteenth. She had miscarried three times before this, the last being stillborn twins. None of the others had survived beyond mere days.
Katrina had dreamed that this one was special; this one would be their little angel. Their miracle. She had been so excited. Her laughter even more musical. The dream had quickly turned into a nightmare.
“It was too soon, Jozsef. Katarina lost too much blood,” his mother-in-law chided as she rocked the newborn baby girl in her arms. Ilka was wise in many things, but even she had been unable to save the life of her daughter. “You must choose a name. It is bad luck for the child to go too long without a name.”
“I can not think.” Jozsef cast an anguished look at his dead wife’s body. He gently placed her hand on her chest and quickly stood up, knocking over the chair in which he had sat his vigil. The noise startled both he and Ilka. The child looked at him with her clear, ice blue eyes. Not crying, only staring.
Not sure where he should go, Jozsef quickly left the room. He ran past the servants who awaited news of their mistress. The maids held kerchiefs to their eyes.
Katarina’s maid, Lici, sat on the hall floor oblivious to all decorum as she muttered the Lord’s Prayer under her breath.
Straight out the door he ran, past the men who tended the stables. He could hear the uneasy knickers of the horses as the lads tried to calm the jittery beasts. They had been uneasy ever since the mistress had been found.
The coachmen shook their heads as they watched their young master go. One man looked toward the mistress’s window and crossed himself.
Jozsef ran till he came to the main road that led away from his estate and toward town. He paused to catch his breath. He looked around and realized he had come to a fork. One road would take him into town and the other would take him deep into the woods. Turning around he glanced back the way he had come.
How could he go home? She would be waiting for him. The little nameless one that had taken the life of his beloved wife. At that moment he wished Death to come for him. To end the pain and let him rest with his beloved.
He fell to his knees in anguish and cursed the God who would give one life at the cost of another. He raged and he ranted as he sat in the middle of the road. The skies, as if in answer to his pain, were rent apart as a bolt of lighting struck a withered tree just a few feet from where Jozsef grieved.
Soon the rain came down in torrents of cold wetness that seeped through his jacket, yet still he did not move. Muddy water began to pool around his knees and into his boots.
Dimly he heard a coachman try to avoid the crazed man kneeling in the road. He vaguely heard the cursing and the horses as they came to a stop. Too absorbed in his grief, he allowed himself to be lead into the carriage that would have surely tilted if the ground had been just slightly more muddied.
“Now is not your time,” said a cultured voice from the confines of the carriage.
Jozsef looked in the direction of the voice. Across from him sat a man of about thirty. He had long, glossy black hair. Though his dress would have been appropriate during another time, it seemed appropriate for him. That too was black. He was clearly a gentleman. His lashes looked to be rimmed in soot. The eyes were completely dark. Jozsef found himself becoming lost in the inky depths. He came to himself with a jar as he was handed a flask that revealed a very fine brandy.
“My time for what?” Jozsef asked as he took a swig from the flask. It burned as it hit the back of his throat. He took another and another as he waited for the man to answer.
“You said you wished to die,” answered a calm knowing voice.
The flask halted midair. The hair on the back of Jozsef’s neck stood up on end. He rubbed his arms to work off the sudden chill that had nothing to do with the rain. “Who are you?”
“I don’t think I need to tell you,” a flash of lighting illuminated the interior once again, throwing ghoulish shadows across the chiseled features. “You already know.”
Jozsef tried to swallow the lump that had formed in his throat, “If I’m not going to die, then what do you want with me?”
“Your wife was found collapsed in her garden, am I correct?”
“Yes, she said she wanted to take a stroll in the moonlight.” Katarina had been complaining about small pains in her back. Ilka said it was because the birth was drawing near. His poor wife had thought a short walk in the garden might help. Discovering the air chiller than she had first thought, she had sent Lici in for her wrap. When the maid returned, it was to find her mistress prostrate on the ground. “How did you know this?”
“My dear Jozsef, I know everything. I also know that her neck was bleeding as if an animal had torn the skin.”
“Yes, but it was a minor wound,” Jozsef defended. “If not for–“
“If not for the babe,” was interjected into the silence. “Isn’t that what you were about to say? She may even have survived it, if not for the babe.”
A cold hand was placed on Jozsef’s knee as the gentleman leaned forward, “I am sorry, but she was already gone. Once one is bitten, even if one survives, one is never the same.”
“Temper Jozsef, remember you don’t want to anger me,” a hint of a smile played at those plush lips.
Jozsef felt his skin grow cold and clammy.
“I have a proposition for you,” the silky voice purred. “Soon you will receive word that a position has opened for you as an emissary for the British Foreign Office. I advise you to take it.”
“What do you want me to do once I have secured the position?”
“You? All I want from you is to move your household to London. Raise your daughter in the traditions of the old and the new.”
“What has my daughter to do with anything?” A fierce protectiveness came over Jozsef at that moment.
“More than you know.”
The carriage pulled to a stop and Jozsef saw that they were in the familiar drive to his home. He could see Ilka watching from a window. She was still holding the baby in her arms. “My angel,” he whispered.
“I can make your life very easy or very hard. The choice is up to you which road you want to take. Remember, Jozsef, no one cheats me.”
Jozsef left the carriage and made haste into the house. He went straight to his mother-in-law and took his little girl in his arms. He turned towards Ilka, “Angylika. We will name her after the angels, so they may watch over her.”
Ilka laid her hand on Jozsef’s arm, “It is a good name.”
He could hear Death’s carriage in the drive. There was no choice. He knew that. Death would find a way to get what he wanted in the end. He would take the position.
What kind of place would this London be?, he wondered.