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To my beloved mother, Tatiana, who devoted her life to her children and never regretted it. Her feat is proof that the power of maternal love can work miracles and protect in the most difficult moments.
Chapter 1. The Malleus Maleficārum
O fortuna velut luna, statu veriabilis, Semper crescis, aut decrescis.
Oh, Fortune, like the moon, you are changeable, Ever waxing, ever waning.
~Vagants’ poems about fate, 15th century
The Black Duchess’ diary
Danger is approaching my home. I’ve got no choice; I must protect my family because I am the landlady of the estate. My family can be called a happy one. My husband, the duke, and I love each other. We have four beautiful children. We spent a lot of days filled with happiness in our summer castle, my daughter’s favorite place.
Ashanti’s (Bertha’s) diary (a maid brought from Africa, who in Europe was baptized and named Bertha)
The landlady is strong. For every trial she dresses as if for a big party. This day she had on a green dress, richly embroidered with ermine fur. She wore a high hennin to show her position before the clergy. Under it there was a delicate, white silk veil. She used Italian lipstick and whitewash and had made up her eyes. Her skin was unnaturally white; it was white, not pale. She was beautiful but at the same time, scary. It was cold in the courtroom. She tightened her hands under her breast and fingered the cord. I was the only one who knew that the cord was magical.
The landlady, full of condescension, entered the courtroom. A bunch of scavengers came to watch the sunset of the Black Duchess. However, they knew nothing about her; she was a great woman and the greatest witch of her era. No one knew her soul, but it opened to me at the very moment we met in Africa.
She came to our wild country to study some ancient Egyptian spells. She saw me at the market, an 11-year-old girl who was beaten every day. I was a slave and did the dirtiest of work. No one considered me as a human being. She was the only one who felt sorry for me; she was the only one to treat me as a person. She did not fear what those in high society thought of her as she brought me to her castle and gave me the opportunity to work, eat regularly, and wear warm clothes… she really treated me with respect.
Her servants even had everything they needed. She was strict and possessive. But could she be different… having such power? No one treated me as well as she did; so I will follow her till the very end… till the last minute of my life.
The court record on the charges of witchcraft against the Duchess de L*, the “Black Duchess Case”
“Do you admit that you have the ability to move objects?”
“Everything I answer at this trial, Your Holiness, will be interpreted incorrectly and against me. You don’t hear what I say; you hear only the things you want to hear. Is there any point in this interrogation?”
The Black Duchess exuded confidence. Even men rarely show such self-control during interrogations. The Duchess had a heavy, cold-blooded stare that demonstrated her unusual character.
“However, we have witnesses who saw you moving objects without touching them. Have you formed a pact with the Devil?” The prosecutor was serious.
“You don’t know what you’re saying, Your Holiness. A pact with the Devil is a deal of no advantage… only a crazy or fearless person dare do that. I’m not one of them. Besides, I wouldn’t be able to stay in church or wear a cross. Your accusation has no grounds.”
Another inquisitor, Bishop Le Brillon, intervened in the conversation. He was extremely emotional and bent his body back is if he himself was a demon.
“Respected audience, I want to object the Duchess’ words at once! We have known and unmasked witches so skilled in witchcraft that they could wear rosaries and crosses. Therefore, I suggest checking her innocence in a more effective way. Bring the broyanica! I learned that these rosaries, made in the monastery of Serbian Despotate, will unconditionally identify witches and any other supernatural creatures.”
Bishop Le Brillon was very excited and licked his lips, anticipating the victory over this most powerful witch.
The landlady abruptly leaned toward me and Meriem and whispered, “Someone has betrayed us. I will make this sacrifice for the sake of my children. When you get home, plant sage and honeysuckle around the house and buy broyanicas for the whole family. Tell this to the others. This will protect you. This will save you from — hostile — spirits.”
“But how, Madam?”
Meriem did not understand why this would protect them and from what. She was shackled by fear for her madam and for herself.
The inquisitor took the broyanica and slowly, with a sly grin, approached the Duchess.
“Duchess, hold out your hand,” the inquisitor said loudly.
The landlady stretched out her hand slowly and firmly. It was ermine white. The priest put the rosary on her palm. She endured the pain until the broyanica began to burn through her skin. Then she howled as a wolf. She became really angry. With one gesture she put the inquisitor on the floor, forcing his arms and legs to curve in different directions.
She shouted to me, “Tell everyone that I’ll be back! They won’t be able to destroy me!”
The courtroom gasped in unison. People arose from their benches to see this creature because it was not just a witch, it was a monster of which only legends spoke. A broyanica always unmasked them.
Bertha’s diary. All entries are made with a trembling hand.
The last thing she asked me to do before she died was that I would swear that I would make sure everyone believed that her children died of the plague… for no one had seen their bodies except for us, the servants. I thought that with the “death” of the whole family, all the troubles would end… but it was just the beginning.
Chapter 2 Diary of a Russian Journalist
Fortune plango vulnera
Stillantibus ocelllis quod sua michi munera subtrahit rebellis.
I mourn the wounds inflicted by fate And my eyes are filled with tears. She makes gifts to the living,
But she stubbornly bypasses me.
~Vagants’ poems about fate
The story that I will publish in my book will horrify you and raise distrust. However, all the described events actually did happen. And the hairs on my neck bristled much more than on the neck of those who listened to this story or read about it in the press because I was the witness of the events themselves.
Why am I taking the risk and telling the story? It is not that I am a journalist and that my job is to look for some “spicy” news. I am doing this because I want to reveal to everyone the fact that miracles do exist, and I myself have witnessed a lot of them. I would like to say that the power of love can really sweep away any obstacles and resurrect change to the march of time… and every one of us should know that love is the key to any door; for love is magic.
The main female character of my book is a real witch. Such people don’t exist anymore. There are fairy tales and legends composed about them, but one can’t make friends or communicate with them. Do you think that witches are scary creatures from a horror movie? No, witches are the people who are able to change reality by changing their own thinking, those who knew the laws of physics long before they were discovered… and you can’t even imagine how scary it is to see in real life someone change the law of gravity and lift an object into the air — and the capabilities of real magicians are not limited to that!
Oh, and those eyes! The most distinguishing facet of her appearance was her eyes. No one has ever looked at me like that. It was as if she was burning through me with a laser. I felt her reading my mind, seeing through me. This was a common thing for her… as common as to look at a watch for us. Her stare… it was like the stare of a hawk, the stare of a landlady of Gothic castles full of secrets. There was an impression that her eyes lived their own life, independent of their owner; and I would not be surprised if I learned that it was with her eyes that she could move objects.
There was another important thing: her indomitable power — animal strength — as if she had unlimited power and nothing could frighten her. I didn’t know then that this woman had experienced much more fear in her life than an ordinary person. She was an incredible human being… but was she a human being?
In order to tell of the events with maximum accuracy, I must include in my story the diaries of the participants of the events. The events not depicted by the eyewitnesses themselves will be described by me. Remember one thing: if you trust only what you see, you will notice nothing of what is really going on around you.
Moscow, 2: 00 a.m.
All night long my wife would sleepwalk. For many years we visited different doctors, spiritual healers, and other specialists… all in vain. One healer said that sleepwalking was the consequence of an ancient spell and that he was unable to deal with it. I could hardly keep from laughing out loud. If only I knew in what all this would result.
I did not sleep well again. I jumped up at 2 a.m. I woke up to the fact that she was sitting at the table – again — tapping her fingers. You will be very surprised: she spoke old French. My wife and I are both journalists and philologists, and we know foreign languages well. Therefore, I immediately recognized that she was specifically speaking old French. Later, when I told her about it, she did not believe me because she did not know the dialect, although she studied modern French seriously.
She addressed someone, “The hour has come. We’ve been waiting for this for a long time. Be patient. I’m coming to you; I will set you free. We will reunite.”
It wasn’t the first time she tried to “reunite” with her invisible “friends.” This was followed by a tirade that “they” could lose their souls if she was late.
“The priest warned me,” she said, “so I knew what I was up against. I wanted everything to end well so much.”
Early in the morning we had to leave for France on a trip of which Eleanor — simply Nora — had dreamed since childhood. France had always attracted her. She wanted to stay in a real castle, and I bought such a tour for our wedding anniversary. We were going on vacation to the Loire Valley. I booked a room in the Chateau of the Count Dupré. Nora was fascinated because it was a real hereditary castle with an ancient history… as she wanted.
However, the night before the flight, something changed in her somnambulistic conversations. She kept saying that it wouldn’t be long. I was afraid of those words. What if something happened in France? Although it is nonsense, for sure.
Two Aeroflot tickets for 7:20 a.m. lay on the table. At 11:30 we were supposed to land at Charles de Gaulle airport. Nora was pale, but this was not surprising: she had been sleepwalking all night long and did not rest at all. There was a trace of sadness on her face, which was strange because this trip was supposed to cheer her up. “Anton, don’t forget the documents.” She sounded serious as if she was going to a meeting rather than on a vacation.
“You look pale. How are you?” I was worried.
“Everything is fine. It’s just that my heart seems to be frozen and beating at the same time.”
“After another walk …,” I concluded.
“Yes, I have a very strange premonition… a strange feeling… as if something important is about to happen. But at the same time, I am scared. Maybe it’s before the flight?”
“Forget it,” I answered with a smile because I realized that she needed to be comforted. “It’s all because you’ve been wandering around all night. Everything will be fine. As soon as we arrive, you will feel better.”
Chapter 3 Loire Valley
We spent two days in Paris. It is an ancient and beautiful city. We walked through the streets and went to cozy, local cafés. We visited the Louvre and Notre Dame before the fire. We happily witnessed the medieval original.
Nora went there four times in two days; I even started calling her a nun. She said she was drawn there, that she was very calm there.
Indeed, it was a place with an unusual, strong energy. The choir that sang under the arches only enhanced the feeling. It was extremely calm and soulful there, albeit loud.
Nora wandered along the temple, examining the graves and icons. She prayed at a bench as is customary in a Catholic church. She said that she had a feeling that she had been there before and that she wanted to come back there. That’s why we went back there… four times!
We could never have imagined what role France as a whole would play in our lives.
A couple of days later we boarded a train toward the city of Tours. We were on our way to the Loire Valley. It was no less a fabulous place.
The trip took two hours by train. We managed to see the suburbs. Most of all I liked our car journey to the Dupré Castle. After all, outside the car window were the Loire Valley and its castles, which are considered to be among the wonders of the world. The Loire Valley… there is so much romance in those words in my opinion. The beautiful valleys, carefully cultivated by local farmers, were quiet and calm. The sun flooded all the fields with light, and they looked as if they were honey.
I felt that the Middle Ages were sleeping there… a fabulous time of kings, princesses, and knights. That time is not dead; it is just sleeping… and it felt like it might wake up.
On the way to our castle, we stopped at the castles of Langeais and d’Ussé — fabulous places. Langeais is a majestic castle that remembers history: spiral stairs in towers, elegant bedrooms of high-ranking people, and medieval furniture. All this created a certain flair. It was something close to me. It is mine; it is me. I can’t explain the feeling, but it felt like I was at home. Maybe I lived here in my previous life?
Check-in at Dupré Castle
We arrived in the evening, looked around a little, and made plans for the next day.
At the door we were met by the owners of the castle, the Count and Countess Dupré. Their names are Jean and Agnes… the emphasis, of course, on the last syllable. The castle has belonged to their family since ancient times.
They were an ordinary French couple: both were moderately thin. The countess pinned back her short, halfgray hair with a metal clip and smoked Marlboros as if in the good old ’90s. The count was tall; slightly bald; and wore large, round glasses. He had some sort of an acerbic smile. He was dressed in simple, country-style clothes… maybe too simple for a person of his caliber. He seemed to be kind and polite.
They welcomed us cordially; however, they stared a lot at Nora. The countess looked at Nora as if she was a bear and, therefore, did not want to check us in.
The countess repeated twice their rule: do not open the windows at night. I joked that we risked suffocation, but the owners sounded quite serious. Well, in September it is not so difficult to fulfill such a request although it seemed quite an unusual rule.
After they showed us to our room, the count and countess moved aside and began to whisper quite loudly and lively about something.
“Stop it! She doesn’t look at all like …,” the count’s voice trailed off as he tried to reassure his wife.
“She does, and it’s no good!” the countess replied firmly and excitedly.
“Not here!” Dupré abruptly cut off his wife and pulled her by the elbow to their part of the castle.
I wonder why my wife has scared them so much. It is funny because she is the kindest-hearted person I have ever known… and in general I think she is the most beautiful woman in the world.
Here I will add a description of my wife — I think it would be useful: she is of average height, about 170 cm. or about 5’7 “and was 25 years old at the time. She has a beautiful, Russian, round face; big eyes; straight nose; fair hair; and lips larger than average. Recently she got a popular haircut, a stupid bob where there is more hair in the front of the head than at the back. I don’t like that.
At the same time, she has good manners, always asking permission before taking something or disturbing someone. She feels sorry for all the cats, dogs, and children, and cries at every love story at the cinema. How could such a woman frighten anybody? Eh, nonsense!
We bought everything we needed for our first evening at the castle: wine from the beautiful city of Saumur, my favorite brie cheese, and some fruit. The owners allowed us to use the living room for such occasions.
However, the most important thing is that the castle just fascinated me… the medieval windows and doors! This part of the castle had been finished in the 19th century according to the owners… very curious. Of course, the owners have changed a lot of things: electricity and heating were added, and at some time they changed the windows. However, despite all the modern technologies, the castle remained medieval.
Our room was small. It had a fireplace and an ancient, double bed with a sort of ciborium. It was terribly uncomfortable but impressive. A Gothic, dark wardrobe with a mirror stood at the left side of the bed. A huge window overlooked the former stable — now a garage for the owners’ cars — and a small forest surrounding the castle. A 15th-century table rested below the window.
The side room had been converted into a large bathroom. Previously, it might have been a maid’s room, for example. However, times had changed; and such a room was often outfitted as a bathroom. It had not been a luxurious restoration, which is understandable because improvements to the castle required a lot of money. Therefore, the bathroom was covered with inexpensive wallpaper. There were two sinks and an ordinary small bathtub plus a wooden chair that served as a towel stand.
Chapter 4 There Is No Castle Without a Secret
We ate a late dinner in the living room and accompanied it with a bottle of wine we bought on the way to Saumur. Saumur is one of the best local wines… just an amazing taste.
“Let’s stop drinking,” Nora suggested. She was a little drunk and smiling.
“What else can we do here? I warned you it might be boring! After all, I really did warn you.”
“I’ve already had a couple of glasses of wine, and I am eager for adventure!” My wife was in a playful mood. “We must get into the tower! Come on… please! It draws me; I want to get deep inside a real hereditary castle. After all, there is so much that we haven’t seen yet. And this is the family castle!”
Suddenly she lowered her voice and looked into my eyes intensely as she spoke, “What if they’re hiding something there?”
The count made it clear that the towers were closed to visitors. Although — as we already understood — in Europe they do not close anything to outsiders. So, I thought that nothing terrible would happen if we looked around a little in the new place.
This is not the tallest castle in France that we have seen. The castle is built almost in the form of a square. If you looked at it from above, you would see a square castle with a square lawn in the middle.
The castle has four towers, one at each corner. Each tower had its own number the owners explained to us. So, if you are standing in front of the main entrance to the square, tower number one is on the left; tower number two is on the right; tower number three is on the far left; and number four is on the far right. Each tower also has four floors. Between the towers there are rows of rooms.
There is a huge ditch, a moat, behind the castle. There used to be water in it to protect the castle in case of an attack.
Initially, we went to tower number three, the one that was closest to the forest. On the ground floor there was an office of an ancestor of the Duprés, some count. This room was open for tours. Everything was clean: the cabinets with ancient books along the walls, weapons, and a coat of arms, along with a couple of hunting trophies on the wall. In the middle of the room there stood some medieval game, very incomprehensible but similar to modern table football. It was necessary to throw a wooden cap so that it hit other caps, causing them to tumble… such as table bowling.
Of course, we decided to go up to the rooms that were closed from strangers’ eyes.
We climbed up the spiral staircase and came across a small door in a niche.
“Anton, what is it? Let’s have a look.” Nora couldn’t wait to explore everything here.
I opened the creaky door, turned on our flashlight, and saw an ordinary toilet… nearly like what is in every Russian village house.
“Wow!” Nora laughed, “a medieval toilet! And I thought they had none in castles, that they used night vases!”
I have never understood why women are so amused by the toilet theme, but there is no limit to their laughter regarding it.
To the left of the toilet there was another locked door, a very old one. I easily opened it. It was immediately clear from its interior that it was the priest’s room.
“Why do they need a priest’s room in the castle? That is, why does the priest live here on a permanent basis?” Nora questioned.
“Maybe he was a relative.” I suggested. What a mystery!
It was clear that people were not allowed into these rooms since there were no funds to repair them. The room was completely shabby; however, it held a charm of antiquity! Everything was historical here. There was a huge, man-sized fireplace and a narrow, lancet window. Next to the fireplace was a real spinning wheel complete with a spindle as though from a fairy tale and an armchair with rose print fabric. A flag of heavy, red cloth with an embroidered portrait of a clergyman rested against the wall.
There was a large bed with a wooden shelter, and a Catholic icon hung above the head of it. The bed itself was all dirty and had a blanket spoiled by mice. On the right there were a desk and a chair where apparently the owner of the room wrote his letters to the Pope… or maybe to someone else.
There was also a small room in the recess in case of a siege: it had a small, narrow slot for guns to shoot at enemies. In winter, of course, it would be difficult to stay in this room since cold air would have penetrated through the cracks into the room.
The rooms in the other towers were similar: each had a bedroom with a recessed room for protection from attacks. After all, their times were cruel. People might live peacefully, but suddenly some danger such as war or other misfortune could come. It seemed that everyone living in these buildings had always been on alert.
Then we went up to the third floor. The room there looked even poorer. The bed was without linen and without a mattress.
Then there was an exit to an open roof apparently. Unfortunately, it was closed.
In the morning of our second day, the owner of the castle, Count Dupré, Jean, promised to give us a tour after breakfast.
He came out into the center of the courtyard of the castle. He looked friendly and quite cheerful.
“How did you sleep? Were you disturbed by ghosts during the night?” the count asked.
It seemed to me that some form of tricky or a sort of fear was hidden behind his gaze… as if it was him whom they disturbed.
“No,” Nora simply said.
This morning she was shining… and no surprise: her childhood dream was to stay in a real castle!
“Everything is fine,” Nora added.
“Well, I found out that you looked at some parts of the castle yourself,” the count offered as he smiled cordially again. “I think I’ll have to satisfy your curiosity and tell you everything about the castle.
“So, the part of the castle above the main entrance between the first and second towers are our family rooms. To be more precise, the second floor is entirely ours; we live there all year round.”
The count waved his long, thin hands as if he was a teacher in the classroom.
“On the first floor to the left is my cabinet… that is, to the left if you face the main entrance. Here I receive tourists and groups of schoolchildren who come for a tour. I also solve business issues there.
“On the right — again, if you are facing the castle — there is a lavish, 19th-century living room. We are very proud of it. One can get there through the second tower from the courtyard. We will definitely go there.
“So, to get to the other rooms, you need to go through the courtyard. This small, square spot of land serves as a lawn. It is the center of the castle. If you turn to the left after the main entrance, you will enter the first tower and the rooms between the first and third towers. In the left part of the castle — as you have already understood — is the entrance to our side, to the bedrooms, to the second floor, and to your room, as well. Also, on the ground floor there is our modern kitchen. To the right from the entrance and immediately behind it you will find the medieval kitchen in which is a huge fireplace with a boiler and a wooden table. This kitchen is maintained for exhibition. We will see it today. There were servants’ rooms on the third floor; they are now closed as they are ruined.
“You can see the same between the second and the fourth towers. All of them, including the bedrooms, were rebuilt in the 19th century. The entrance to the first floor is through the second tower.
“As I said, if you go to the right, you will find yourself in the front part of the castle with the lavish living room and a 19th-century grand piano. If you go to the left, you will see a large living room in an authentic style. That is where you already had dinner. Then there is a large dining room where we were served breakfast. Then there is a small kitchen, where the countess cooks breakfast for the guests. There’s nothing else… just a wall. On the second floor are the guest bedrooms; on the third are the servants’ rooms which are closed.
“The part of the castle between the third and the fourth towers is the oldest part. Here on the ground floor is an open veranda with a tiled floor and a utility room where we store garden utensils. At the top there is the castle chapel, which we will visit today. The rest is closed because it is ruined.”
“What are those trees up there?” Nora asked as she looked up. We did the same.
“Yes, the trees have miraculously grown up there. This happens with old castles, especially in abandoned parts.”
The count’s eyes became sly and sparkled when he told some kind of lie that he did not believe himself. Clearly, this man does not know how to lie. Why was he so worried as if something terrible was stored in those closed rooms? We were there yesterday and didn’t see anything. Although, as for the trees on the roofs of abandoned buildings, it seemed to be true… except that I have observed such things in absolutely inhabited buildings, as well.
“So, I hope now you will feel better in our castle,” the count continued. “Well, it’s time to see all the sights of our family home. Let’s start with the tower you examined yesterday. The towers are closed to the public. Frankly, most of them are just walled up. They are ruined. It is better not to go there; it can be life-threatening.”
It was already obvious that the count himself really believed in what he was saying because he repeated the phrase about being “ruined” a lot of times. This is the way children lie: focusing on a fact that should remain unnoticed in the dialogue.
We followed Jean to the original castle kitchen, the one open for exhibition. There was the huge fireplace with a cauldron, a large cooking table, and a lot of medieval, iron dishes and pots. Previously, food was prepared here for the owners of the castle.
“Now let’s go to the office of our famous great-grandfather, Count de L*. Notice the portrait of him, painted in the 18th century. In here, there is a library inherited from our valiant ancestors. You can look through it when you are free. All the books are authentic, written in medieval Latin or in old French. The weapons and mounted animals are also real. These hunting trophies have been accumulating since the time of the founder of our family, the Count de L*, the husband of the first owner of the castle. They loved hunting and started this tradition.
“What’s on the second floor? Are we going there?” my wife asked.
“The second floor is closed to exhibition, but we do not mind your looking at it yourself. It was a priest’s room. He occupied it back in the 15th century. We don’t know who he was, but we assume that he was a family friend or some ancestor of ours who went to a monastery and left no information about himself.
“This is mysterious. Wouldn’t you like to know more about your family?” Nora wondered why the Count spoke so coldly about the history of it.
“Nora, we have lived in this house since childhood; and, believe me, there is nothing mysterious here. We are sort of guards of a museum standing in the forest… nothing more. We would have sold this castle a long time ago; but it is impossible since there are a lot of inheritors, and they would receive nearly nothing. At the same time, to live here you need to have a lot of money to maintain this antiquity.
The count looked aside again.
“Well, let’s move on. Through the second floor you can get to a medieval chapel. The owners prayed here during the siege of the castle and also baptized children, carried on weddings, and more.”
We followed the count through the kitchen to the stairs that led to our rooms. There were pictures of the family members on the walls. Indeed, they had a lot of relatives. We walked to the end of a corridor. The count opened a heavy, old door; and we found ourselves in the oldest part of the castle. According to him, it had been preserved since the 15th century, along with the walled-up towers. The rooms, which were located on three floors and connected to the four towers, were mostly rebuilt in the 18th and 19th centuries.
We found ourselves in a big room, a sort of veranda. It was made of white stone in the Catholic style. The windows faced the courtyard and were decorated with frescoes of the 15th century. On the left was a carved, wooden partition with an ancient chapel behind it, a picturesque sight. In the chapel itself there were narrow windows on the sides also decorated with frescoes of images of saints. In the middle there was an altar with a medieval tabernacle and a large portrait of Christ with a heart at the base of it. It appeared authentic.
Nora was over the moon with happiness. I was no less happy about it; it seemed that the new emotions prevented her from sleepwalking. The smile never left her face. She touched all the objects with such love and enthusiasm as if she had really returned to her long-abandoned house.
To the right and left of the chapel were separate, small prayer rooms, each of which was large enough for only one person. The ceiling was sculpted with the grimacing faces of demons. As the count explained, this was done so that the worshipper didn’t get distracted from their conversation with the Lord. Tricky!
Nora was fascinated. She came to the same heavy doors that were located opposite those through which we entered. In theory, they should serve as the entrance to the third tower. She tried to open them, but they wouldn’t budge.
“Oh, no!” the count exclaimed. “You won’t get in there. The doors are tightly closed. Even we don’t go there anymore. The tower is completely in disrepair, as I said.” The count reacted briskly as if they were hiding millions of dollars behind those doors.
“Completely?” Nora asked in surprise.
“Yes, absolutely! It’s dangerous!” The count appeared tense.
“And what was there before?” Nora did not let up.
“The rooms of the duchess’ children,” the count answered quickly.
“Duchess?” Nora’s journalistic curiosity came out.
“Ah, yes! I haven’t told you everything from the beginning. This castle was the dowry of our ancestor, my 11th great-grandmother, Duchess Louise. She was of royal blood because she came from the family of Eleanor of Aquitaine, your namesake. She married the Duc de L*, and they had four children! Actually, almost everyone in our family had many children. Except during the Middle Ages, this was a regular thing. All the rich aristocrats tried to give birth to the maximum number of children since the mortality rate was high, and the heir to the fortune and castles should be a boy.
Unfortunately, we know little about the 15th century in the history of the family. They say something happened to her children… but it is just rumors, and there is just nothing interesting in the old towers anymore!”
The count shouldn’t have said that to Nora. Now she was sure that the most interesting thing about the castle she would find in the old towers. Moreover, we had already been in one of the towers and had seen a lot of antiquities there.
God, I’m in love with this castle! I have a feeling that everything here is sort of mine. How can one love castles so much? I don’t understand myself.
As for the castle, it is square with four towers. Between the two front towers is the main entrance to the castle. Next comes the courtyard. The tower on the left is allegedly closed; the tower on the right is rebuilt. Here, it seems, the count was not lying because the staircase did not go into the tower but went up and led to the floors on the left. The tower to the left and furthest from the entrance, the third tower, was the oldest according to the owners. There was a room of a mysterious priest which was the first room we examined. The far tower on the right was walled up; there was not even a hint of an entrance.
However, this is a magical place. When I found myself here, I began to breathe deeply! I felt so energetically strong, as if I had been plugged into an outlet. My fears have vanished. I wasn’t a sleepwalker that night. I’m something stronger than I was before… but what am I?
The count led us through the courtyard to tower number two, which was already, in fact, almost not a tower. On the ground floor there was a 19th-century living room with a grand piano and family portraits of that era. The count said that their not-so-distant 11th great-grandmother played music here. Everything was wood; the windows were large and let in a lot of light. There was not a hint of Gothic style, except for the old sideboards which had been preserved since the 15th century. They were an example of early Gothic: black with carved figures of people and animals. They were also locked.
In the middle there was a sofa and several armchairs around a beautiful, large tea table of the 19th century. Apparently, they gathered here in the evenings in a family circle, drank tea, played the piano, and discussed the latest news.
According to the count, there was nothing else interesting in the house, no expositions. He repeated this lie over and over again with sparkling eyes. He also rubbed his hands as if he was washing them.
Then we went with the count to the living room and the dining room where breakfast was served to tourists. As the count explained, these rooms were decorated in an authentic style, but were not antique.
After the tour, we went to see the surroundings and visited the Breze Castle, a magnificent monument of antiquity also built in the form of a square. As in Dupré, there were some ancient parts and parts that were completely rebuilt by descendants. Yet there was something mystically ancient in these places. We didn’t have time to go anywhere else. We decided to go back and have a rest… which, translated from my wife’s language, meant “poking one’s nose into other people’s business” and “continuing to examine someone else’s property.”
The weather is great. It is much warmer in France than in Russia in September. I sincerely admired the weather. We wore thin windbreakers and jeans, and we were hot.
“Let’s go back to the castle. We won’t have time to see anything else anyway; all the castles are closed,” my wife said slyly.
“I think I know why you want to go back,” I laughed.
“Stop it!” Nora laughed back. “Well, yes, I want to wander a bit around the castle without the count’s annoying gaze. It’s so interesting. My God, is there a walled-up room there?”
Moreover, from my wife’s point of view — childishly naïve — it was clear that she had already come up with what might be there.
“Yes,” I responded. I couldn’t help laughing. “The count shouldn’t have said that to you. By the way, did you notice how the countess looked at you when we arrived the first time?
“Well, she’s a little skewed. Do you think it’s weird?”
Nora clearly hadn’t paid attention to it, but she was a dreamer by nature and as such didn’t pay attention to such things.
“Yes. Why such a reaction all of a sudden?” I began to think out loud.
“Maybe because we are Russian?” Nora laughed.
I didn’t tell her what I’d heard. In the end, it really might mean nothing.
“Another thing seemed strange to me,” Nora began again. “Why were so many rooms closed?”
“Either tons of gold or slaves from China… maybe a pet cemetery?” I offered.
I liked to tease her.
“You idiot!” Nora laughed out loud. Don’t talk nonsense. I feel there is something there.”
Returning to the castle, we saw that the owners sat in the new kitchen in the left wing of the castle, located next to the first tower. One of the wonderful things about such large structures is that we could walk around the whole castle, and the owners would not see us.
We left our things in our room and took a flashlight. After all, there was no electricity in the towers. I must say it was quite light outside! It was only 6:20 p.m,, but there was enough time before it got dark. However, we knew the towers might be blocked, given the count’s story.
“Where do we start?” I asked my wife.
I thought to myself that her haircut was not so bad and that she was the most beautiful woman in the world. I won’t get tired repeating it.
“We’ll start our journey from tower number four, a good number… and the owners will be far away.” “Yes, but it’s walled up,” I pointed out.
“I don’t think so. If so, why did they leave a door? It would have been blocked, too,” Nora said.
“Come on, Boss!” I decided not to argue.
Through the courtyard we headed toward the 19th-century living room. There we turned left and walked along the corridor. We passed the medieval-style dining room. Then we went into the kitchen. There everything was blocked with a wall.
“I told you so! It’s all nonsense. Everything is closed.”
The plan to reveal the secret of the millennium was falling apart.
“Damn it! There must be some kind of entrance. There just has to be!”
My wife was very upset, and I frankly did not understand why all this bothered her so much.
“Why are you so sure of that?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I have a strange feeling. It’s like I’ve been here before. I just know there’s something important in there.” Then in a half-whisper, Nora asked, “Do you think I’m crazy?” “I think you’re a dreamer,” I responded as I smiled back.
“Let’s go around by the street,” ordered my wife and cheerfully headed for the goal.
We went through the courtyard to the open floor under the chapel. The floor was great: it still had ancient castle tile, black and white, like in the movies about medieval knights.
We went inside. If you looked to the left, there was something like a shed where shovels and other gardening supplies were stored. There were also some hunting trophies on the floor. On the right was the beginning of the fourth tower. And there was a heavy, faded tapestry hanging on it.
Nora decided to check for a door behind the tapestry. She pushed it away, but there was a wall there, covered with dust. A minute later she stepped out away from the tapestry, cleaning dust off herself. Suddenly we noticed the owners coming out of the kitchen and heading into the yard.
“Hide! Quickly!” Nora whispered as she grabbed my hand.
We backed up behind the tower so that the owners could not see us. It was fun just like when I was a kid.
While we hid, we saw an open passage to the balcony. It’s not even a balcony; it’s more like a platform or terrace from which in the old days, apparently, there was a view of the moat.
As soon as the Duprés went outside, we slipped onto the terrace. What a picturesque view! It’s a pity the count didn’t bring us here… of course, it wasn’t safe because the balcony was low, and one could easily fall into the moat; but what a lively, historical panorama that opened in front of us! The old walls were partly covered with moss, apparently because it was wet there. We also saw caves in the moat below. It was quite strange as there should have been water in the moat. If you looked at the castle itself, it seemed majestic and huge.
“Look, Anton!” My wife pointed to the right. “An entrance! And a passage around the tower!”
“Indeed, it looks like a passage for gunsmiths. I think they defended the castle from here in case of a siege. Let’s go and see.”
We walked along a narrow corridor that led around the tower. I followed my wife.
“The door! Anton, here it is!” Nora smiled now. “But what is that?” she suddenly said.
A pentagram was carved on the massive door… not a very pleasant start.
“Latin inscriptions… God, why is that?” Nora whispered.
“A spell for tourists?” I tried to joke. Then I added, “My dear, I don’t like it.”
My wife did not pay attention to my warning and pulled the door by the massive handle. The door swayed but didn’t open. Obviously, it was securely locked. The owners did not want anyone to go in there.
“We have to open it,” Nora said firmly.
“You’re crazy! They will definitely find us!”
To be honest, I was not thrilled with the idea of making problems abroad instead of quietly enjoying my vacation. “Please, please, let’s come up with something!” My wife did not give up.
Then I remembered about the utility room. I went there to look for some tools. I found a bolt cutter, and five minutes later I was hacking into someone else’s property. After all, marriage is a dangerous thing. I have been warned more than once.
Soon I opened the door to the tower. It was dark from the threshold.
“Where’s the flashlight? Let’s go!”
My wife turned it on and cheerfully stepped inside.
“Maybe you shouldn’t…” I tried for the last time to make a call for common sense.
“This is a real adventure!” Nora exclaimed and smiled brightly again. “Come on!”
There was nothing I could do. A wife’s smile is more important than problems with the law.
Beyond the door was a spiral staircase leading up, just as in the third tower… and there were no catastrophic traces of destruction here. I must pay tribute to my wife: she was right.
The count lied to us… but why?
Chapter 5 Disappeared Children
Fortune rota volvitur; Descendo minoratus;
The Wheel of Fortune is turning I find myself at the bottom.
~Vagants’ poems about fate
The count is definitely lying! It’s all weird, and I’m going to get to the bottom of it. I feel like I should.
This tower has left an indelible mark on my memory. I’ve never seen anything more heart-wrenching. We started walking up to the first room. There was a massive, carved, wooden door… however, a little worn out. Near it hung rosary beads on the wall. I wonder why.
We opened the heavy door and saw something incredible: the room did not look destroyed at all but rather neglected; and there was a feeling as if its owner had left for a while and would soon return. A huge bed sat against the wall to the right. There was a large fireplace. Everything was the same as in the other tower, but everything here was well preserved! There was a desk next to the window and an old bookcase along the wall to the left. A chest stood on either side of a table. A tapestry depicting hunting scenes hung on the wall near the bed. Everything was very dusty and dirty, but there was no doubt about the authenticity of these things.
I immediately rummaged through the papers lying on the table. The layer of dust was disgusting. I looked for something that would explain the puzzle.
“My God! Why aren’t they taking care of all this? It’s of historical value!” I almost shouted because I was excited by everything I saw and genuinely annoyed at the same time. I strongly love and respect antiquities. Gothic has always been my passion in all its manifestations: interior, clothing, and architecture.
“You’ve heard yourself that for them this is just a museum in the forest that they want to get rid of,” Anton replied.
“Look! These are letters.” I tried to read at least one of them. “I can hardly make out anything. They are all written in old French. It says here: ‘Summer castle… trip… Father was out hunting ….’ Oh, it’s hard to make out. The signature is Francis de L*, and the date is on it.”
“Awesome! Is the letter 15th century?” Anton shouted.
Letters dated 1426 impressed us. It was also impressive that their owners so carelessly left them to the rats. I concluded that Francis was the son of the same Duchess Louise, the 11th great-grandmother of the count, judging by the dates on the letters.
“Yes! And they didn’t even want to let us in here. It’s crazy!”
I looked up.
“What’s in the closet?” I quizzed.
We easily opened the old closet, which was full of men’s suits, eaten by rats. There were also a lot of men’s medieval doublets hanging there. They were something like a man’s sweater, only made of heavy velvet and sewn from multicolored fabrics, some decorated with stones or beads. I have read a lot about the Middle Ages, and I know that during that time “tear out the eye” outfits were in fashion according to the color scheme. Colorful fabrics were embroidered with beads. It symbolized a love for life.
There was a medieval library, as well. I opened the doors; one door almost fell off, but I managed to grab it. There were medieval books in Latin mostly. There were poems and more poems which were terribly interesting. It would take years to read all of them.
“God, can you imagine their value? And they keep it all in such condition! After all, the fireplace has not been fired up here for 500 years! Although… maybe we don’t know everything.” I took it all to heart. “I don’t understand… why have not the rooms of the 15th century changed for so many years? Did none of the descendants occupy these rooms? It looks as if everything has been left here from that time. And in general, there are a lot of incomprehensible things here. It begins to alarm me.”
Anton was right: there is some kind of mystery.
“I agree there is something incomprehensible here, Anton remarked. “However, the count will refuse to discuss it, I understand. Let’s move on! It’s all incredible! It’s like I’ve been to the Middle Ages.”
I hadn’t thought that my dream would come true. It was wonderful; but at the same time, I felt anxiety and suspicion.
“You are the only woman I know who enjoys digging through dusty, old things,” Anton commented.
My husband does not share my ardent love for the old things.
We went out onto the spiral staircase. I stopped, turned around, and kissed my spouse for I was grateful for such an unforgettable gift. After a long kiss, we moved into the next room. Here it was obvious that the room belonged to a girl… rather, some fabulous, medieval princess. Yes, it was truly a princess’ room.
“This room was probably for one of Duchess Louise’s daughters,” I speculated.
The room had an indescribable atmosphere. It was quiet and peaceful but, at the same time, exuded a subtle, barely perceptible mysticism in it.
Tapestries remained hanging on the walls. They were terribly dusty, but the images remained distinguishable although gnawed by rats. Paintings depicting gardens with cupids gave off a rather Greek theme. There were no images of wars and fights as in the first room.
The bed was high with a wooden roof frame and a large, feather mattress also eaten by rats. The bed was decorated with a canopy of tender white, transparent in color. The bed was once gilded, which made the room even more feminine. Now, there wasn’t much paint left. There was a beautiful plum-colored, corduroy bedspread on top. It was pulled back, revealing a pillow. In general, there was a feeling that someone had recently slept in the bed. I even got goosebumps running down my back. If I hadn’t seen with my own eyes that the door was blocked, I would have assumed that someone lived here.
The dressing table by the window was in good condition. It was wooden and had a large, carved mirror. There were boxes and bottles on it. I rushed to the table and grabbed one of the bottles.
“Stop! They may have already turned into poison!” Anton cried out.
“I think it’s just perfume,” I answered.
I opened the bottle, inhaled, and immediately winced. Oh, what a smell… disgusting! Then I opened the boxes, one by one. The largest one contained wooden combs decorated with stones — very authentic.
“You’re not going to do your hair with this, are you?” Anton cautioned.
“I would like to,” I answered.
I looked at all the objects, fascinated.
“God!” I exclaimed. I threw a large, wooden comb from me in surprise.
“What is it?”
My cry startled my husband, and he jumped up to me. “There’s hair here. Look… white.” I was a little shocked.
“Are they also from the 15th century? It’s disgusting if that’s the case,” Anton insisted. “Put it down!”
My husband was scared for me, and I put the comb back in the box.
This seemed very strange. How could the hair have been preserved for so many centuries? Of course, I am not a scientist.
We went on exploring the room: to the left along the wall were wardrobes — larger than in the previous room — and massive chests. Women in any era remain women. I went to the cupboards to see what was there.
“Watch out! Rats!” my husband decided to joke, but I didn’t appreciate it. I was already a little scared.
Belts and collars were decorated with stones which, of course, had lost their former chic. Spectacular! The princess probably attended receptions and dinner parties in these dresses. However, two dresses hung unevenly. They fell off the hangers as if someone wanted to try them on. I picked them up to hang them back in place.
“My God, Anton! This is the best trip of my life. Thank you. These are princess dresses… just lovely. I want to take one home.”
I really wanted it because it was a living monument of history and a memento that would remind me I had actually been here.
“Crazy,” Anton said as he smiled.
“That’s it; let’s move on,” I suggested. “God, look! We almost missed it!” I suddenly exclaimed.
I was shocked again as I pointed my finger at the wall behind the closet. There was a painting on the wall. No wonder we didn’t notice it. It was terribly faded, small in size, and displayed in a worn, white marble frame. A young, blonde girl was clearly visible in it. It had been painted by a talented artist.
“Charming! This is the duchess’ daughter… so young… looks like a doll,” I said.
Her portrait reflected the Burgundian fashion of the 14th and 15th centuries. At that time women tried to shave their eyebrows or powder them, raise the forehead line high with all sorts of hairstyles and tricks, and make their faces white. It was believed that this way they became closer to angelic, pure beauty.
In this case, however, the effect was exactly the opposite. The girl’s long and lush hair was blond and curly and fell loose. On top she wore a silver tiara which tightened the hair at the temples. The girl had a pale face. Her eyebrows were powdered so that they were practically invisible, but her cheeks and upper eyelids were highlighted with a scarlet shade. Her lips were covered in a vulgar manner with maroon lipstick. Her white dress looked like a nightgown because of the color.
The girl’s face was very unusual: the eyes were set far apart; the lips were small as if she was a doll; the cheekbones were wide; and, in general, the face looked like a heart pointed downwards.
The most sinister thing about this unearthly picture was that the girl had a very piercing look for such a young person. I even shuddered a little. She looked so straight, firm, and held such a slightly cunning squint. Her eyes were swamp-green.
The portrait produced a strange impression as if she saw you and spoke to you, “Who are you? Get out of my house!”
And that white hair in the comb… God, I must have imagined something. If I were shooting a horror movie, this girl had such an unusual appearance she could play a ghost.
This whole room was weird. The presence of a sweet, young girl could really be felt here, but at the same time there was some kind of a paranormal mystery that Anton and I found very difficult to comprehend. Let’s say a young, innocent — but devilishly tense — atmosphere filled the room. It was a strange combination.
Being here was a little creepy. Why? I can’t answer this question; but because it was creepy, I wanted to explore the room a little more.
There was a chest in the wardrobe. I looked inside and saw scattered, medieval, leather shoes. Thanks to natural materials they still hadn’t been spoiled much.
Then I turned my head to the right: I saw another interesting detail! There was a pair of shoes lying under the bed as if they had recently been taken off and thrown there.
“Look at the armory! Even here you can see that this is a girl’s room! Everything is covered with beautiful tapestries,” my husband shouted.
I decided to take a look. Indeed, the armory had been turned into a cozy room. There were tapestries with fragments of Greek mythology hanging there and a bench in the Gothic style made of dark wood. I sat down on it. The bench was very comfortable. The furniture had been made almost 500 years ago and was still so nice!
I got up and pushed aside a tapestry. Something prompted me to look at what was under it. I started moving along under the carpet.
“Well, what are you doing? Dear, there’s a century-old layer of dust ….”
Anton did not give up trying to call me to common sense. However, I really enjoyed exploring this castle, walking around in it. It produced a special feeling in me; I’ve never felt like this anywhere else. Suddenly I saw inscriptions and numbers carved in stone.
“Anton! Look! Give me a flashlight… or better yet, hold the tapestry,” I insisted.
My husband pushed aside the tapestry, and we saw inscriptions chiseled in stone: “Adelaida,” “Anna puella.” It revealed dates, 1425 and 1427, marked in Roman numerals.
“Anton, look ….”
I pointed to a date, 1764, followed by 1859.
“I don’t understand. Someone came and added the dates later?” I asked him.
“If the dates are authentic, it could not be the owners.
Maybe a family tradition?”
Anton held the tapestry with his left hand and leaned against the wall with it. Suddenly a wrapped paper fell out from behind it.
“Come on; let’s see! Wow!”
I was excited; our investigation was making sense. Everything was written again in old French… but on modern paper!
“What the hell?”
I was surprised. The paper was ordinary A4, but everything on it was written in ancient handwriting. “I wonder whose jokes are these?” my husband tossed out.
In the notes we managed to read the following: “I’ll be back… no one can kick me out of my house… I’ve always lived here… I will come back from as far as I can… it has been like this for all centuries, and today is 2015.”
“God! Anton, I’m scared. Maybe this is a joke.” I was nervous. “It’s nonsense! The year, 2015? Maybe there is a madman living in this castle who wrote this.”
My husband suggested, since he liked all this even less than I did, “Probably it’s the count; he has such a shifty look.”
“Let’s see; there’s something else behind the tapestry! That’s probably why the girl sat here: she wrote notes and left them in the wall,” I proposed.
We tore off the tapestry and saw a recess with a niche. There was a trunk in it. Fortunately, it opened easily; and, indeed, there were some papers in it… but not much.
There was an ordinary diary with some entries. In one of the strangest was written, “I’m scared and lonely… We can be torn out by force… Mom is practicing witchcraft rituals because of which we are all in danger… The sounds of water resound above me like devilish music… Help me; help me… Love no longer comes into this house. Who will save us from the curses? … My mother is a black duchess; sometimes I’m afraid of her.”
“Very strange writings,” my husband observed.
“To be honest, after all I’ve seen, I have more questions than answers,” I told him.
“So do I,” he answered. “But what happened to the girl? Where did she go? She couldn’t be a little girl forever. Judging by the interior, it is as if she has always been here and then disappeared somewhere… and why was she afraid of her mother, Duchess Louise… the Black Duchess? The girl looks kind of ominous. I shiver in this room. I feel like someone is here, too. Let’s move on.”
Well, the trip was getting more interesting. I had a feeling of anxiety during this whole tour.
We decided to go higher although the steps were thinner and seemed a little dangerous. The third door opened easily, and on the right was also an old rosary hanging on a nail. There was a bed much smaller than the previous one. Apparently, a child who had not reached adolescence lived here, judging by the size of the bed.
Wooden horses and soldiers stood on a wooden table. It was clear from everything that this room belonged to a boy. It was very touching. An empty nursery always brings sadness, especially in such large, abandoned rooms. What happened to these children? The wardrobe also stood along the wall. In the same place as the other room was a huge fireplace. However, the doors were missing; and there was nothing but dust inside.
There were chests on the floor. I opened one of them; there were bad-smelling children’s clothes, nightgowns, small camisoles, and sheets with big holes. The smell was because the clothes were simply suffocating in this chest; they hadn’t been aired for many years. If only for the sake of respect for history, it would be necessary to put everything in order here. Judging by the size of the clothes, the boy was about 10 years old.
Tears welled up in my eyes. It’s so strange, because once these people lived here and were probably happy. My God! Wow! The Duprés have such huge, historical wealth and are so careless about it. I don’t understand them. Why lock up this tower? This is very strange. I sincerely did not understand. Questions spun in my head. After all, just the exposition of this room could bring good income given that the castle needs to be repaired regularly.
“Why was it necessary to close these towers tightly given the values that are here?” Anton questioned.
“Yes, there is something abnormal in this: locks on the tower doors, such unsanitary conditions. And the pentagram on the door… I confess I don’t understand, either. I think there’s some reason we don’t know about.”
“It was enough to lock the doors from tourists… well, of course, not counting you, dear,” Anton tried to joke; but it was obvious that he was uncomfortable.
“Besides, it is obvious that these rooms have not changed since ancient times, and no one lived here except the first owners. How is this possible?” I continued the thought.
“I don’t know. I don’t understand.” Neither of us did.
Ten minutes later we climbed higher. This was supposed to be the last bedroom in the tower. Again, I noticed a rosary on the door. I took it off its hook to get a better look. It was an ordinary church rosary, but why hang them at every door? Maybe it’s a French tradition? Anton pushed the door.
I couldn’t help but exclaim loudly, “My God, Anton! This is Disneyland!” There was no limit to my joy. It was a nursery of stunning beauty… in Gothic style. The interior was a light shade which was unusual for the premises of that time. The ceilings were wooden; the chandelier was iron, as always. However, the wood was a light shade; and, unlike other rooms, the walls here were wood upon which all sorts of medieval subjects were carved. The lancet windows were decorated with mosaics arranged in images from the Holy Scriptures. However, this lovely room was not without its eerie strangeness: there was a thin, barely noticeable mist on the floor… in the room… in a residential building! I lost count when I tried to figure out how many times I had experienced shock that day.
“Do you see it, too?” I asked my husband who was standing on the threshold.
“Fog! What the hell?”
All this began to strain Anton very much.
“Look… it seeps from the ceiling,” my husband said.
He pointed to a hole above the window. Barely visible, a trickle of fog really flowed from there.
“I hope there are no traps on the floor… like snakes!” “Come on, be careful here,” I cautioned.
To say that I was scared is not to say anything.
“Let’s see what kind of strange closet this is in here,” I suggested. “By the way, where is the bed for the child here?”
In place of a bed, there was some kind of huge closet with shutters… a strange structure! I came closer and, opening the doors, I was very surprised to find a high bed hidden in the closet! It had a magnificent feather mattress… of course, dilapidated. In addition, colorful, corduroy pillows brightened the area.
The inside of the room was painted with all sorts of knights and buffoons… very colorful. Opposite, as always, there was a large fireplace at the other end of the room.
“Amazing,” I started. “I think this bed was made to make the baby warmer in the winter.” My maternal instinct suddenly woke up in me.
“Yes, it’s interesting,” Anton responded.
For the first time my husband called antiques “interesting.” This was a sure sign that even he stopped getting bored here… albeit it was creepy.
To the left and right of the fireplace were cute, painted, wooden wardrobes. A bunch of toys lay in them… some made of wood, others of fabric. There was a wooden horse on the floor. A small cradle rested next to it, in which there was a doll made of cloth stuffed with something. “My Anna” was stamped on the crib. I must say the room was very nice, but it felt like no one really lived here… just once a pompous renovation was done here.
While we were looking around the fabulous nursery, I constantly heard some strange sounds from above.
“Do you hear that?” I decided to ask my husband. “Yes, the sound of a drip upstairs.” Anton listened more intently.
“Where would the water come from?” I asked.
“The sounds are from the roof. I wonder if there’s something weirder than that laughing gas from the ceiling?” my husband tried to joke.
“Devil’s music,” I said as I remembered the notes of the blonde girl.
We listened and distinctly heard streams and drops pouring from somewhere.
“She dripped so loudly in this ancient nursery, as if she wanted to say something.” Now it’s clear why the girl described these sounds like that.
It’s strange what kind of plumbing is on the roof, considering that we haven’t seen anything like civilization in this tower. I shivered.
“Come on!” I commanded.
We tried to climb onto the roof, but these were wooden floors and in terrible condition.
“Nora, you see it’s dangerous here.” Anton always protected me.
“Okay, go first.” There was no way to stop me.
“Very funny,” he smirked.
We went to the roof, slowly jumped over the beams in the floor, and suddenly came across an iron door. It was a bit open. I went in first.
“My God!” I blurted out.
It couldn’t be seen from the street, but there was a statue of an angel with a jug in her hands from which a trickle of water really flowed out. Steam concentrated in the pool as fog, which evidently was what scared us in the girl’s room. It came from this water.
There was a stone bench around the fountain pool… that is, initially it was one. An angel stood on a raised platform in the circular pool. The small pool resembled a cup, the edges of which were made in the form of a bench.
The windows in the room were glass, painted with medieval subjects. Under the windows were niches in the medieval style of stone, where flowers in pots grew… most of which had wilted.
It was evident the countess left the flowers to wither, but many of them survived because there was condensation on their leaves! Amazing, that the evaporation of water saved them! They drank through their leaves. “Wow! Why make a fountain here? I’ve never seen anything like it!” I was impressed.
“Yes, this is the strangest castle I’ve seen lately.” Anton was no less shocked. “But where did this fog come from? How is this even possible, given the laws of physics? I do not understand.”
“And why did the owners plant flowers here… to then leave them?” I continued my husband’s reasoning.
“I don’t understand anything. So, the owners still lived here for a while, after which they closed the tower,” Anton thought out loud.
“We have to ask the count about it.”
“Don’t even think about it! I’ll have to tell him how we got here!”
My husband was getting angry. I didn’t waste time arguing because evening was approaching, and I wanted to take a closer look at the “attic.”
The frescoed windows around the outer wall of the room overlooked the outer wall of the castle just beyond the circular corridor surrounding this center room. The corridor had a floor of rotten planks. From the outer wall of the corridor was a stunning view: well-groomed and beautiful fields, hills, and a village. The room in the center was dark since sunlight hardly penetrated it. The ancient frescoes on the windows prevented the sun’s rays from illuminating the room.
I went behind the fountain where the wall was covered with blooming ivy. Looking closer, I saw another iron door. I knew it could possibly lead to the space with a rotten floor. However, it presumably could also lead to the roof with battlements, which we saw from the courtyard. I began to pull on the door. It was impossible to open.
“What’s in here?” I said to myself.
“This is the exit to the roof,” my husband explained, apparently immured because the roof was in such disrepair!
“It’s a pity. It would be interesting to see what is there,” I complained. I was upset.
“Honey, let’s get out of here. It’s late,” Anton urged.
“Let’s go to the first tower. We have to look around the whole castle to understand anything.” I wanted to solve the mystery of these rooms by all means.
Anton responded, “But there are the hosts and guests nearby… and what if there’s really nothing to see?” My husband was not happy with my curiosity.
“We’ll sneak in quietly; they won’t even notice! We are welcome to do that. I feel like I have to snoop around. They said there was nothing to see in the fourth tower.
But you saw with your own eyes that that was a lie!”
“Darling, don’t you think that this is a little out of our business?”
My husband wanted to protect me from nonsense since these strangers and their family secrets are not any of our business. But nothing will stop me from wanting to solve the riddle.
“And the angel is in a bowl,” I said, looking back at the fountain. “I’ve never seen anything more Gothic.”
This house seemed to be talking to me. Many rooms left a terrible impression, but I didn’t feel evil here… only a trace of mysticism. I felt the walls talked as if they were enchanted and trying to convey — no, shout — some information to me.
Here was a mystery needed to be solved… it was just waiting in the wings: children who disappeared from the luxurious rooms in which they lived so carefree; the Black Duchess, their mother, whom they feared; and the witching mist. What did Louise do? Was she really a witch? And most importantly, why did she conduct her rituals?
Chapter 6 Strange Parents
A quarter of an hour later we were already near the first tower located next to our room. The corridor that led to the tower was located on the side where the owners lived.
The laughter of the owners could be heard in the distance. The count, countess, and their son lived right above the main entrance. We quietly entered their part. Everything was repaired there better than in other rooms. It was clear they lived here permanently. To the right of the entrance was a wooden partition with a door. The door was locked. Clearly, if there was an entrance to the tower, then it could only be behind this door since there was a solid tower wall below and from the street.
“Damn it!” Nora said angrily.
Something mysterious, locked with a key, provoked in her an irresistible desire to look there.
“Well, they are the owners and have the right to keep their property locked from curious Russian tourists,” I responded, trying to calm her down.
“It is not funny! I have to get in there!” Nora really seemed nervous.
“What’s the matter with you?” I pressed. “Since you came here, your mood has been changing at the speed of light. I don’t understand. Why do you want to go in there?”
“I do not know! More precisely, you won’t understand me! I just know I have to. I have to go there! You see, I should have been in such a castle since childhood… it’s hard to explain.” She was very nervous now.
“Darling, since I’ve known you, a lot of things seem strange to me.”
I really did not understand her mood swings. She wanted to explore someone else’s property! It was insane. She was so seriously angry… although typically she was always friendly. In general, her behavior was not like her usual self.
Nora spun around on the spot, stamped her foot, and almost fell. She abruptly leaned her hand against the wall on which a box hung. When her hand bumped it, she heard a similar sound to the clanking of iron. She looked at the box in bewilderment.
“What is it? Have you hurt yourself?”
“There is some kind of box here. I thought maybe it could be a key box.”
“Open the box!” I urged her.
“Oh… what is this?”
As Nora opened the box, she saw a large number of keys. Many of them looked quite ancient. It was there where the owners must keep all the keys. However, Europeans are trusting people. There were many tourists who visited the castle, and the keys were available to anyone. The only thing that prevented someone from taking them was the fact that criminals would not guess where to look for the keys. Truly, their culture was a mystery to me! Why lock the doors so securely against outsiders and yet keep the keys to those very doors in the public eye?
Nora picked up a suitable key. It opened the door. We stepped through and found ourselves in total darkness. Immediately we heard one of the owners return to their room on the other side of the corridor. It looked like it was the son. My wife and I kept silent, switched off the flashlight, and did not move. All this was like a childish hide-and-seek game.
“I’ll remember this vacation for a long time,” Nora whispered. “I think he’s gone to his room; let’s go.”
“Are you sure? It would be a shame if we were caught.” “Therefore, we must hurry,” Nora prompted.
My wife turned on the flashlight, and a spiral staircase appeared in front of us… another rather inexplicable lie from Dupré. The count had clearly said the tower was rebuilt for rooms… that is, the tower space served as a communication hub between the floors, and it was impossible to climb vertically. One could walk only horizontally and only on his own floor.
We took his explanation to be true since there was another staircase next to our room. We climbed it on the first day. There were only small rooms for servants, and they were located directly above ours. The count’s lies could remain undisclosed… but only for those who did not enter his territory.
We continued our ascent. There were two floors left for rooms. We then saw another door on the third floor. However, it wasn’t as old as the doors in the other towers. It was heavy and decorated with carved scenes from medieval life. We pushed it, and it opened.
This was not at all the abandoned antiquity that we saw in other towers! Yes, there was a layer of dust, but the room was very richly decorated. Huge, dense, and beautiful tapestries with hunting scenes hung on the walls. (My wife taught me this word; they were not “carpets” but “tapestries.”) The fireplace was made of white marble. It was covered with soot, which is understandable since they once lived here. A carved desk with images of saints stood by the window. Something like another desk was located along the wall. There were small people depicted on it. In short, it was an antique.
“Anton,” my wife continued to whisper, “Do you see that?”
“Yes, it cannot stay unnoticed. I think they are extraordinarily rich! Maybe they should sell it and then repair the castle,” I suggested.
“God! It is from the 15th century! Look at the quality of the furniture. There are almost no such things anymore,” Nora said wistfully. “But everything is locked ….” Nora searched for something in her pocket and suddenly pulled out a bunch of keys.
“You took the keys with you? And if the owners see?” I exclaimed.
“I don’t care if they do! You and I have entered a parallel world. It’s worth it.”
This time I agreed with her. It’s not often that an ordinary vacation is so interesting. Nora turned the key that fit into the desk, and an old drawer opened. It turned out that time affected it a lot: the drawer almost fell into her hands. Inside were sheets of paper full of notes.
“How much did medieval people write?” I asked in astonishment.
“Anton, I think these are letters and… diaries! Old French is too complicated… even this handwriting is hard to read. But you can definitely see the capital letters. He wrote to his wife. It says, “Louise, my love… I am waiting for your return.”
It’s so romantic.”
“Yes, if only we could understand the rest.” “Let’s take it to our room!” my wife suggested.
“Are you crazy?” I was indignant at such proposals.
“Have you noticed the order that is maintained here?”
“Yes! You bet. Everything is pretty well cleaned and preserved. No sign of rats. I think a man definitely lived here… judging by the style and hunting trophies. There are more weapons. I wonder if the swords are sharp?”
I went to the wall to pull a sword out of the fasteners.
The sword turned out to be very heavy and sharp; it was difficult for medieval knights to fight with them.
“Try to use this in battle,” Nora commented.
Now my mood was improving. Finally, I found something that pleased me: weapons and thrills.
“I think this is the Duchess Louise’s husband’s room,” Nora observed. “Gorgeous decoration. Why do they care so much about these rooms and have not sold anything… or at least why not show it as a museum exhibition?”
My spouse was clearly caught up in our investigation.
“Good question,” I simply responded.
“Anton, I think I can read some entries from the duke’s diary: “She came down from the carriage so easily. She became as thin as a girl; her hair became better: stronger and shiny… as if she were a young girl. It had a more beautiful, darker color, too.”
“I can’t understand further… ah, here: “The nails have become longer and whiter. She tried to hide her face, but it was hard to hide. I couldn’t help noticing that her lips were bloodshot; they turned red like the garnets in her ears. Her eyelashes have become longer and darker. And the unnatural blush was clearly not paint. I asked if she had a fever, but she shook her head and said she wanted to have a rest from the road. She was definitely hiding something. She seemed ashamed and hurt. But she didn’t want to talk about it. I’ve known my wife for too long.”
“If my French teacher had heard me, she would have been proud of me!”
“Maybe you shouldn’t read any more. Why would you want to dig into their private life?” I was genuinely perplexed.
“I don’t know. I just have to; I want to. Just support me, please.”
At that moment, Nora was so touching. Of course, I couldn’t refuse her. But this preoccupation with the Middle Ages frankly began to frighten me.
“Okay, read on,” I replied.
““The strangest thing is that I’ll never forget her skin at that moment. It became pearly white and very beautiful; and her freckles disappeared. All the tan came off. In combination with the red velvet she wore and the garnets in her ears, her skin looked especially bright and radiant.
““She walked like an unearthly creature; it seemed to me that she was 16 again. Her waist became narrower with no traces of all her pregnancies. She hugged me so tightly and carnivorously that I was surprised… and I felt weak. Apparently, I missed her too much.”
“God, how romantic it is! He describes her so beautifully!” My wife made a childishly dramatic face.
“Yes, but a strange description… pallor was probably considered sexual,” I replied.
“In the Middle Ages pallor was at the peak of fashion… the symbol of a woman’s purity. However, dark hair was considered a sign of a predisposition to evil.” Nora loved to study history.
“Times have changed a lot. Apparently, he hadn’t seen her for so long that she seemed to him more beautiful than usual. Is there anything else interesting?”
“Here’s an entry for 16.10.1452: ‘The night spent with my wife exhausted me, although I was waiting for her so much. I must have gotten older. This is strange. She was weird and wild. I asked if she had a fever, but she only shook her head and said she wanted a rest from the road. She was clearly hiding something. My duchess seemed ashamed and hurt.’”
“Maybe she was really a witch?” I grinned as I grabbed my wife’s hand.
Suddenly a strong wind blew through the window. The shutters rustled. I even shuddered a little but quickly pulled myself together.
“Don’t scare me!” Nora shuddered. “Listen. There’s more: ‘21.10.1452, I constantly feel unwell after spending time with my wife. I must be sick.’”
“Either she was an insatiable or the duke started having problems,” I decided to joke again. “However, this does not explain anything.”
“I agree,” Nora responded. “Here’s more: “Entry from 09.11.1452, “I had a very serious conversation with my wife. She told me all the details of the trip and that she had found a remedy for our misfortune. This requires urgent measures; delay can cost lives. We are worried about our children. We will take them to a safe place. Then my wife will finish the job. We will save our family. I am sure that the Lord will not leave us.”
“Wow! Anton, something has happened in this family; it’s obvious! The children’s rooms look so strange! How can you explain that?”
“I agree, there is some mystery here. Something serious has happened in this family which the lying count does not want to talk about. Frankly, I am sure that the count knows everything, but this information is not for outsiders.”
Nora continued reading, “‘Her hugs are suffocating. She began to hug people often as if it could save her from something or give her strength. Louise sometimes tries to squeeze me forcefully with her fingers or pinch me. It’s like she gets vitality from it.’ Horror… our duchess loved BDSM,” Nora laughed.
“And she was very promiscuous, apparently.” I was also amused by all the pornography of the 15th century, but there was something disturbing in these records.
“I think we won’t have time to read everything; we have to go upstairs,” commanded my wife. “Clearly, there is a dark secret in this family, especially since the count mentioned that the duchess was a witch. Frankly, I’m a little scared of these records. What could have happened to her?”
“We can’t assume anything. It doesn’t look like a disease; it’s just some kind of madness. Come on, honey.”
We walked up to the fourth floor. There we were surprised even more than before: the big, oak door opened with a creak; and the first thing we saw was… ourselves! I know it sounds like nonsense. However, this was exactly the impression created by a huge, Gothic mirror about two meters high and framed with carved wood in the imitation of a Gothic cathedral’s rooftop. It was racy and a bit frightening. The mirror created a sort of corridor… truly the room of a magical witch. It was no less than the queen’s room!
To the left of the mirror was a dressing table, also carved from brown wood. To the left of the dressing table was a wall that divided the room almost in two with carved images of biblical scenes and other medieval themes.
I must say this room had a resemblance to the nursery upstairs as it was almost entirely decorated in carved wood. However, it was obvious that it belonged to an adult.
On the right side of the mirror there were a desk, a book stand, a window, and a huge fireplace. An amazing sight was the window which looked out onto the fields.
“I wonder if all the duchesses lived like this,” I said to my husband in a half-whisper; I was shocked.
To say that the room was gorgeous is to say nothing. Tapestries hung behind the furniture, large and soft. On both sides of the door were tall, Gothic, open wardrobes full of medieval clothes. Dresses and hats seemed to be everywhere. It was clear that they were all made of a rather chic fabric, embroidered with semiprecious stones.
I had an overwhelming wish to touch them.
The dresses were made of velvet of different colors: powdery, mint, and turquoise and trimmed with fur. There were dresses made of satin, mostly with a high waist and open chest as befitted the Burgundian fashion of the 15th century.
One dress attracted me especially — I couldn’t take my eyes off it. It felt as if some very stormy and important experiences were connected to it. It was a warm dress made of heavy, blood-red velvet. Made with a high waist, it was trimmed with silver threads and fur. The skirt was embroidered in the form of a cape — something like a petticoat — made of heavy brocade; and the sleeves were long and fairy-like and went down to the floor. Medieval women dressed much brighter than modern ones.
In one of the wardrobes were hats in which women put up their hair. The collection included two-horned caps with short veils, cropped cones, and, of course, my favorite: hennins, fairy hats. In my opinion, nothing reflected the Gothic era like a hennin. These tall, conical hats sometimes reached up to two meters, and silk fabric fell from the tip of the cap… a real fairy hat.
I began to pet the dresses like one would a cat. I had a feeling that I missed them.
My husband looked at me bewildered.
“Be careful in case these dresses haven’t been shaken out in the last 500 years,” he cautioned.
“The velvet… and the stones …,” I said dreamily.
I began to pull out dresses.
“They have been preserved in excellent condition, I must say!” I commented.
It turned out Dupré knew how to preserve historical heritage… it was just that not everything they had they tried to preserve.
“I think these stones and gold threads are real. Wow! Look at the hats! These are real hennins!”
“What is this? I’ve had enough of the word, ‘hennin,’” Anton complained. He hated talking about clothes and considered it a waste of time.
“Well, these are hats like fairies wore!” I smiled. “Just for the sake of these emotions it was worth stealing the keys from Dupré.
“Ahhh, is it like Madonna’s bra… only on her head?” The love of irony never left my spouse.
“Let’s see what’s behind the wall,” he suggested. “I’m sure there’s a bed there just like in the nursery. Definitely she had to sleep somewhere.”
We felt along the wall because there were no traces of a door on it, and there were no handles. Amazing! At first, everything was in vain. Then, closer to the exit, I found a wheel of fortune carved on the wall, a medieval symbol signifying the vicissitudes of fate. Usually, it depicts a circle in the center of which sits a blindfolded woman. She spins the wheel, which changes people’s destinies. Surprisingly, the wheel handle was protruding. So, I took hold of it and tried to spin it… and the door creaked.
To our surprise, two doors opened outward in the wall. It was dark inside and a little musty. We turned on the flashlight. It turned out that there were two rooms behind the wall. The first was a dressing room, completely made of wood. We stepped onto the wooden floor; it creaked. All the walls were decorated with carved wood, depicting scenes from the life of a medieval man. In general, the room left a rather heavy feeling.
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