Hungarian Rhapsody Ch. 01byscarletpassions©
This story is an idealized work of fiction. The setting, even though inspired by history, is by no means reflecting events of the past with historical accuracy. Essentially it is a love story that has been close to my heart for a long time now. Feedback is welcome. :o)
Chapter 1 - Shattered Dreams
"Through a millennium we have prevailed upon this land, the throbbing heart of a bleeding continent."
The words lingered in Amalia's mind long after the flames had consumed her father's memoirs along with his letter and last words of instruction. Soon the mysterious glow of the fireplace would be the only reminder of the past. Century old family treasures, certificates bearing the seals of kings and rulers long gone, their genealogy and linage, even her brother's letters from the Eastern front were reduced to ashes that would soon turn cold and be forgotten along with her family's unfortunate history.
Averting her eyes she glanced out the window, far into the snow covered endless darkness that stretched across the lake.
Peaceful, just like the grave, she thought sadly.
Looking up she searched for stars through the thick mantel of the cloudy winter sky, just like she had done countless times when missing Rudolf.
"Should you miss me just look up and up and up, right into the night sky. The same stars you see will shine down on me, where ever duty calls me," he had told her comfortingly when saying goodbye.
She had just turned eighteen then and felt highly insulted for being talked to in such a childlike manner. Years later she stood there, trembling, gazing out into the same night sky, looking up and up and up and seeing nothing but the darkness that had befallen their world, the same empty darkness that must surround her brother now, out there, somewhere, abandoned in the cold soil of the tundra with no cross to bear his name.
The frantic knock on the door tore Amalia from her mourning, her maid entering with a feverish rush.
"My lady ... my lady we must hurry," Mariska panted breathlessly. "They're at the village already!"
As toddlers they had played together, down by the lake shore at times of peace. When the first war had become but a stinging wound to their mutilated homeland, another boring topic of debate for the gentlemen hunting alongside her father high up in the hills. Looking at Mariska now, her eyes bloodshot with worry, her face pale with fear, she couldn't help but wonder, did she look the same?
Her mother's room had remained unchanged. Her health had started to dwindle rapidly after learning of her son's fate last winter. By the time the forget-me-nots started to bloom, her soul was reunited with that of her beloved son. At least Amalia liked to think so.
The baroness' presence still lingered in her rooms, even as her daughter stepped in front of the antique dresser eying her own reflection in the mirror critically.
No, she didn't look like Mariska at all. The evening gown she had chosen for the night was a dark, shimmering black complimenting her pale complexion and emphasizing her slender beauty. The jewelery sparkled elegantly in the candlelight. Oil for the lamps had become a rarity and electricity was gone from their daily lives since the first days of the occupation. The pins in her dark hair matched her mother's most precious collier and ear rings perfectly. She touched up her make up with great care, as if perfecting a piece of art before gesturing for the rich fur coat.
Mariska caressed the soft material for a moment sadly then assisted the young lady in draping it over her shoulders.
A final glance into the mirror: a majestic view. At twenty one years of age she looked utterly adult, gracefully noble and seductively feminine. When she was a little girl, she had admired her mother in her long, beautiful evening gowns, watched her enthusiastically as she got dressed for the opera or one of the governor's famous parties in the city. The image starring back at her now from the mirror, so proud, so elegant, would have made people's head turn at any of those events, Amalia noted contently.
Mariska didn't dare to hug her farewell, her sobs echoing through the empty corridors and rooms of the summer estate as she ran, frantically, helplessly after being dismissed.
"God be with you, my lady," she had cried.
The young baroness watched her run, out of her mother's rooms, heard her hurry down the steps that led away from the west wing of the villa, heard her run and cry, run to die probably in the forceful arms of an invader.
Gunfire sounded from afar at first, bringing her attention back to the velvet box placed carefully on the dresser by the trembling hands of her maid. Amalia opened it slowly, greeting her companion for this night with respect. Certainly worthy of any noble lady in beauty and style.
Her gloved fingers slid over the fine craftsmanship carefully, lingering, much like a loved one's caress. The gunfire was drawing closer to the estate now, she could make out distinct shots and the occasional cry for mercy, sounds of defenders' and invaders' fear in the dark.
She picked up the weapon gracefully, intent on not giving the satisfaction of raping and killing an Orlay to any of those dogs howling outside the doors. Determined to save their family's honor and follow her father's silent instructions, carefully embedded in the final words of farewell he was able to send her from his prison. She was determined, she would not fail. And yet she couldn't help her eyes blurring with tears.
Her thoughts drifted to her secret, a wound so fresh, her father in captivity could not have known about. To the one person she had given her word to forget. Her broken promise. Erich.
And with him came a thunder of emotions crashing down on her, blurring her noble plan with doubts. Somewhere, out there, he was most likely dead by now, wasting away atop a heap of corps or maybe resting just like her brother, far away from his home, in an unmarked mass grave. Or if not, he had forgotten about her by now. If he was not dead yet, he was soon to die. So in the end he would follow and find her anyways, wouldn't he?
"Oh God have mercy, what am I doing?!" she cried out desperately.
And there, in the middle of her panic, with the gunfire of foreign arms singing their deadly melody right below her balcony, she remembered the words that were now but ashes, that didn't exist anymore but in her mind.
"Through a millennium we have prevailed upon this land, the throbbing heart of a bleeding continent."
She dropped the elegant little gun as if burned, her breathing quickening, her mind running frantically on it's own accord.
"Forgive me, forgive me! Please, forgive me" she pleaded breathlessly, tearing at the smooth, rich fur and the exquisite material of her gown.
The late baroness' collier broke into pieces and elegantly set, tiny sparkling stones flew across the room. Gems to be picked up by pigs in time. What had been once whole and of most precious value fell apart that night.
Darkness stretched across the lakeside, only illuminated by the occasional gunfire, until a tiny spark appeared on the Northern shore, growing slowly, steadily into an all consuming fire that brightened the cold winter night of the invasion across the lake, leaving but a few burnt walls of the summer estate of the noble Orlay family behind.
She floated. Slowly, softly rocking and drifting away. A pleasant numbness engulfed her body and she finally felt peace settle over her mind.
It had been a magical October. The night of the first snow fall that year. The tension was palpable in the air as the black car rushed along the elegant homes lined up at the riverbank, passing numerous tanks and armed forces on the streets, only to find the town house deserted. There was an old housekeeper left to report that the baron and his daughter had moved to the villa at the lake after the baroness had passed away that spring. The baron occasionally still spent a night at the town house when his affairs demanded his presence in the city but for the most part has grown to prefer a secluded country life.
The drive should not have taken more than two hours, two precious hours he did not have. He had dismissed the chauffeur and decided to travel on his own. His flash light had started to dwindle above the map. Directions were not easy to get after nightfall. People all around the country were talking amongst themselves, guessing, getting more and more nervous and gradually growing aware of the inevitable outcome of the war. It was well past midnight by the time he arrived at the villa, having been there only twice before. The first time years ago, in fact when Rudolf had introduced him to his family, as a friend.
Now he knocked on the heavy oak door with authority and a vehemence that was bound to the uniform he wore.
No one was asleep in the villa that night. He could hear the radio broadcast as soon as he entered, they played a patriotic march. Amalia sat in the salon, accompanied by a handful of servants, the priest and the aged teacher of the village neighboring the estate. They had most likely come to gather and bring news.
The company seemed to pale like one man as soon as he entered the salon. All of them struck by fear, except Amalia. Despite his uniform, despite the hatred and the political turmoils of the day, she had recognized a friend in him, not an occupant.
Talking to her in private was easier than he had expected. The servants seemed eager to flee his presence. Only the aged teacher who had known her since childhood voiced concerns which she gently soothed away.
"The Obersturmführer had been a dear friend of my brother's. He is welcome as a guest in our home. Mariska, get some late supper readied, please."
He didn't like her distant and carefully chosen words and missed the light of warmth that had left her eyes after the initial excitement of meeting him again.
They had not seen each other in almost a year.
She was vaguely aware of him offering his condolence for the passing away of her mother, begging her pardon for the late hour, talking about urgency and matters of great importance. She listened to him, barely, for all she could do was look at him. He had not changed much, she noticed with delight. Despite the menacing uniform of the SS she could still see the same carefully combed sandy blond tresses, the same aristocratic, masculine face and gentle blue eyes that had captivated her heart years ago.
She had been a child then, unaware of love and the ways between man and woman. He was barely a young man himself, studying at the University of Nürenberg alongside her brother. Blue blood, influential family, just like their own. Albeit in a foreign land the ideas of which her brother had chosen to become a diligent student of. He admired Germany's strength and efficacy in battling the depression, saw hope and reason in the new order of the world they promised. His views had led to many a passionate debate between Rudolf and their father about true patriotism and the best interests of their homeland. The baron was the child of a declining era, fiercely valuing and preaching independence, calling for revision of the treaty of Trianon but utterly refusing the idea of serving foreign interests.
"Ignoring foreign influence and politics would be foolish. We cannot ignore the world around us, father!" Rudolf would often debate passionately only to provoke the baron's anger but never able to change the traditionalist's views.
Amalia was but a child and had grown to hate politics because of these very debates, never taking much interest until their country entered the war and Rudolf was sent to the Eastern front.
"I am afraid the news I bring you is grave. Baroness, your father has been arrested this afternoon."
The words seemed to drift to her from afar.
"Arrested? What are you talking about? Arrested by whom? Why?"
She looked at the officer confused and offended, taking a few cautious steps backwards and putting distance between them.
He hated to cause her mistrust.
"It seems your government has plotted with the Russians behind our backs, I am sure you have heard the news." He gestured towards the turned off radio. "Their attempts have failed. And of course the Reich cannot let such behavior unpunished."
"What does any of this have to do with my father?"
"Your Nazis have overthrown the government by evening fall and taken control of the capital."
"Is that right? Our Nazis? All on their own?" She spat the words at him, full of hatred, "Still, my father is a traditionalist, he has nothing to do with this."
"Several influential men were arrested today. Involved or not, the Baron Orlay was one of them."
His words bore the power of steel, finally breaking through her denial.
"Arrested? But, the governor knows him, my father is no traitor! Once the governor learns of this, he will be free. He must be free! This is a misunderstanding," she tried to reason, sinking down on the sofa as realization started to dawn on her.
He knelt by her side, touching her arm with gentle familiarity.
"Amalia, the governor has no means to save your father. He has no means to even save himself ... or his family. He will officially resign tomorrow."
"How can you know? He would not leave his people to those rabid dogs!"
His jaw tightened, just a little. It was clearly an insult, yes, but it also indicated trust.
"It is not important how I know. But I do know it, with certainty. The streets of the city are flooded with our tanks to support your armed Nazi forces. They are intended to punish the rebels. Tomorrow, or the day after, I don't know when, but they will come."
"What about father ... can't you do something? Anything?" She fell to her knees before him, all grace and dignity forgotten, begging him to interfere, to save her father, her only family left. "Please, have mercy! My brother died alongside the soldiers of the Reich, his son! Don't they know that? You must help him, please, help him!"
Her words turned to vehement sobs that even his gentle rocking could not sooth. He put his arms around her trembling body, so fragile in his arms, trying to give what little comfort he had to offer through his embrace.
"He'll be questioned, if not already. Then ... perhaps transported ..."
"No!" Amalia cried. By the time the late night supper arrived she had no more tears left to shed.
"I have come to take you with me," he said finally after finishing the meal, when she had calmed down enough to talk reasonably again.
She looked at him through glassy eyes, a sad smile on her lips. Oh how she had longed to hear him say those very words, for years even. But now, it seemed too late.
"I have the papers with me, we will marry tomorrow morning in the city."
"Marry? You are not making sense! Are you not here to arrest me as well? Why would we get married, you haven't even proposed!"
He took her hands gently in his own. The fingers of an artist. She could faintly hear the music in her ears, see him dressed in casual clothes, sitting in their music room, the summer before the war, carefree. Laughing and playing Chopin with all of his heart. Secretly she had hoped, she liked to imagine that he was playing just for her.
"I know this is a lot to take in for one night, I know. But you must understand, you cannot stay here. You are not safe here anymore."
"But father ..."
"Amalia, it breaks my heart to say this after all the grief I have caused you, but your father is not likely to return."
"Not likely? That means ... that means you don't know for sure, do you?"
Hope glittered in her eyes for the first time since he had broken the news on her. He didn't have it in his heart to extinct the spark.
"No, I don't know with certainty. Only God knows such things," he whispered. "But I do know, with certainty, that it would break his heart if anything happened to you. He loves you more than life itself."
"I have never told you this, but I can't propose to you without making you aware of the danger our union could bring. Actually, you were wrong love," he explained with a small, sad smile, the endearment rolling so naturally off his tongue. She didn't seem startled at all with the familiarity nor the liberties he was taking by embracing her, caressing her hair while speaking to her softly.
"I have proposed for your hand in marriage before. To your father. I was aware of his feelings towards my people and wanted his blessing before talking to you."
Amalia looked up at him, astonishment evident on her beautiful face. For even with her eyes red, her cheeks flushed and stained with drying tears, he couldn't help but gaze at her and think how beautiful she was, how lovely and utterly desirable.
"You never asked me," she ventured.
"No, I didn't," he agreed with a sigh of regret.
"You have changed your mind."
A pregnant pause followed, he contemplated how much to tell her, what to say.
"You didn't want me. I don't want your pity or sense of duty either!" She exclaimed suddenly jumping up from the sofa and turning her back on him.
"That is not at all how it has been. Your father and I, we may not have agreed in many things but ... we both wanted for you to be happy and ... to be safe."
He tried to wrap his arms around her again, watching her hug her body and rub her arms for comfort.
She shrugged his touch off though, stepping away.
"Your father was a wise man."
"Don't you dare talk about him as if he was dead already!"
"He was aware, that as an aristocrat, as an officer of the Wehrmacht any association of mine would be scanned closely, especially once I had been assigned to the SS. If he had agreed to our marriage, he would have agreed to our death."
She turned, wide amber eyes starring at him. Her lips parted but no sound came out.
"Your brother never knew, neither were you supposed to know, your father and the baroness had agreed on that. But your grandmother, on your mother's side, after whom you had been named Amalia, only converted to Catholicism before marrying your grandfather."
"She converted ... does that mean ... but that would make me ... a Vierteljüdin. An unsuitable wife to an SS officer."
"Amalia, please, you need to understand ..."
"Don't touch me! How can you even bear to touch me?"
He overcame her meek attempts of keeping him at distance this time quickly, hugging her to him in an iron embrace.
"How could I bear not to touch you? You can't know how much I missed you! How much I wanted to be near you. How I longed to hold you, how could you possibly know?"
She hugged him just as fiercely then, amazed to realize that the tears running down her flushed cheek were not her own.
"You wore a blue dress, like the midday sky," he whispered into her hair. "Blue like forget-me-nots when I first saw you. Your hair cascaded all around you as you ran down the hill to greet your brother. You were so young. Beautiful and free," he added planting a small kiss on the top of her head, tucked safely under his chin. "I think I have started falling in love with you then and there. Of course, it couldn't be, you were barely older than a child. But you have enchanted me, my love, and in the years to come, when I visited your family, watching you bloom into a beautiful young woman, I couldn't wait for the day when you would be mine."
"Please, I need to tell you, before I loose my courage again, " he added with a mirthless chuckle. "And when your father told me, that it could not be, not without putting your life at risk, I couldn't bear the thought."
"It was the day you brought the flowers, was it not?"
"You remember? Yes. That was the day."
"You said you came to say good bye. That you were leaving the country."