I’m supposed to be working on Peaks of Grace. But noooo, the main character in the WWII story insisted on dumping more of his tale on me. The time is February 1945. The place is a remote hunting lodge on the edge of the northern Hungarian mountains. Stephen is the protagonist of the WWI novel.
István “Stephen” Eszterházy dropped the letter onto the table and rested his head in his hands, fingers in his white hair. Why me? Oh, he knew all too well why: he was dead. Neither the Russians nor the Nazis would waste time hunting a dead man. And he knew how to get out, how to reach the Yankees. Why me? He asked again, this time of God.
But Mad Rudolph would never, ever ask this of him if anyone else had a hope of success. That had been their agreement: Rudolph hid and protected Stephen, and Stephen watched, listening, waiting and ready. Neither of them had foreseen the fury of the Russians, had imagined that they’d destroy Houses as well as lands. Now Rudolph traveled to Galicia, trying to get any survivors out and west, be they House or pure human, leaving the Houses’ greatest treasure at the mercy of the barbarians. Not that the Nazis were much better, both men agreed, and if the crown had been anything else, well, at least the brown hordes put things in museums, even if they had no idea what they were dealing with. The red hordes, however . . .
Stephen used the heavy table to help him stand, then leaned on his cane and limped to the window. Fingers of snow still hid behind the trees, pointing north, guiding the sun as it moved with the coming of spring. Spring, the season of life, of renewal, but not this year. The bonfires blazed in warning, not in celebration, not this year and not for many years to come. The bear never released what it dragged into its den, be the bear a Romanov or the man called Stalin. Cousin Imre had warned Mathias about the Soviets, and for once Mathias had listened, thanks be. Yes, well, your son listened because he’s had the optimism beaten out of him. And because it was Imre and not you trying to talk sense into his head. Not that he gets any of that from his father, of course. The aging man had to smile, even though it hurt to think about Mathias . He’d not seen his son since he’d “died” in the riots in Budapest six years before.
He turned his head and caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. His eyes, slit pupiled and amber, gave him away and he frowned, concentrating on relaxing and calming down. As Stephen watched, his eyes darkened to a medium brown, the pupils now round. He’d grown lazy, living here in the Matras with only the True-dragon woodsman and his Half-dragon housekeeper for company. He’d not had a patient come up in . . . he tried to recall. Since just before Christmas? No, there’d been the child with pneumonia at the Epiphany. The tired man shook himself. “I’d best get moving.” Staring in the mirror would not get the holy crown of St. Stephen out of Hungary and into safer hands.
“Crowning Glories” by Alma T.C. Boykin © 2014 All Rights Reserved.