The Girl with No Name Ch. 20bycaligula97236©
Chapter Twenty – The Great Fire
Silvítya was worried that the Grand Duke might somehow find out about her conversation with Protector Buláshckt, given his talent for figuring out people's secrets. However, living two years in the castle had made her as talented at hiding her emotions and thoughts as the ruler was for discerning them. Besides, he was distracted by a secret project. He constantly wrote letters and studied mysterious architectural plans. At first she thought he was still worried about expanding the city wall, but that didn't explain his behavior, given the entire country knew about the wall project. So, whenever she had the chance, she glanced at the drawings any time she happened to be near a work-table or desk. The drawings had nothing to do with fortified defenses; instead they were pictures of strange beautiful buildings unlike anything she had seen in the Duchy, with columns and domes and elaborate stone carvings.
The training of the foreigners went extremely well. By the end of their first six weeks as concubines, they had a working knowledge of Danubian. Three of the girls were literate in their own language, so the spokeswoman trained them to read and write in Danubian, with the understanding they would teach their illiterate companions how to read and write in the Duchy's language. Silvítya also trained the new girls how to sexually satisfy their master, showing them the submissive postures they were expected to assume and how to massage the ruler to get him aroused after he had copulated with the first of his women for the night. Without directly saying it, she made the newcomers understand that the sooner the Duke became aroused, the sooner he would have sex with the remaining women, and the sooner they would be released for the night. Silvítya took it for granted the foreigners found dealing with the Danubian ruler unpleasant and wanted their time with him to end as quickly as possible.
During the late spring of 1755, the Grand Duke's behavior towards his favorite concubine changed. He actually started treating her decently and with limited respect. He did not force her to kneel while he fed her treats, he made love to her in a completely normal manner, he quit threatening to sodomize her, and most importantly, he quit fondling her scalp and running his fingers through her hair. He talked to her in a conversational tone, dropping a lot of the condescending phrases he used to address his concubines. Usually he referred to her as "Servant Silvítya", which was the name by which she was known around the castle. That was much better than being called "my favorite minx". Silvítya hated being called a "minx".
Another sign of the ruler's increasing respect for his servant manifested itself when he forced her to bring the foreigners to his bed-chamber. He was as rough and demanding with the newcomers as much as he was with any of his newly-acquired women, but he did not make his favorite participate in the group sex sessions. In fact, he never had sex with her at all if any of the other women were present. Not at any time during her two years in the castle had she ever heard of any concubine, even Magdala, not being forced to have sex with the ruler while the other women were present. Apart from forcing her to remain naked at all times, he quit doing anything to her that a normal Danubian woman would consider disrespectful or humiliating.
On the first day of June, the Grand Duke gave Silvítya a set of bracelets to match her necklace. The necklace was shocking enough, but now the former peasant girl was walking around with bracelets as well. The castle staff stared at her as she wandered around in her new jewelry. Never had anyone seen a concubine wearing such items, which were among the most expensive pieces of jewelry in the Royal Family's collection.
Silvítya forced herself to smile and act grateful, but to her the necklace felt like a criminal's collar and the bracelets felt like metal cuffs. She dreaded to think what the jewelry might mean; that possibly the Grand Duke was falling in love with her. He certainly enjoyed having her with him as much as possible, especially at night. He spent hours with her in the bath or in his bed, massaging her shoulders and talking about his various experiences while growing up.
There were a couple of memories he inadvertently shared that gave Silvítya some important insights into his character. He talked in a detached manner, as though trying to distance himself from whatever emotion he was feeling at the time, but the experiences were real and must have been traumatic when they happened. There was one incident in particular that stuck out in his mind. His father had been making him train with both a long bow and a crossbow throughout his childhood. At age 12, like every other Danubian child, the future Grand Duke passed the farewell-to-childhood ceremony at the Great Temple in a hugely public ceremony. When the ceremony was finished and everyone went home, the old Grand Duke gave his son a long lecture about what leaving childhood behind meant for a future ruler. He then celebrated by taking his son to the castle courtyard, where a prisoner had been tied to the execution post. The old Grand Duke handed his son a longbow and told him he had to pass his first test to prove he could become the next sovereign. The boy, at age 12, had to carry out an execution. The prisoner looked at his young executioner with a totally despondent expression, more like he felt sorry for the boy than anything else. The Royal heir, terrified of displeasing his father, did as he was told and shot five arrows into the prisoner. Unfortunately, the man was not quite dead after the fifth arrow, so the boy had to shoot him with five additional arrows. The heir was trembling and felt totally sick after the tenth arrow. His father commented:
"You shot that prisoner like you were a woman. You'll need to learn, boy. You'll learn to kill a man with your first shot, and if I have to bring every criminal in the country into this courtyard for the next decade, I will, until you learn archery like a man."
The heir had to kill over 20 prisoners before his father was satisfied with his performance with the longbow.
The Grand Duke treated the incident as a legitimate right of passage, but Silvítya wondered how much it really affected him, deep down. It was interesting that the Grand Duke, for all the women he had taken as concubines, had not yet married. He had as many illegitimate sons scattered around the country as daughters but, apart from sending their mothers a silver coin each month, he never interacted with them. The concubine vaguely wondered if subconsciously the ruler was afraid of having to raise a son and having to decide whether to repeat his father's harsh system of "tests of character" to for the heir to claim the right to assume the throne.
At the beginning of June the Grand Duke decided to offer his favorite concubine a second wish. Since she couldn't expect release from her servitude, she pondered what she could ask for that would be useful in her life. She decided to ingratiate herself with her "sisters" by requesting that all of the concubines have access to the garden, if she escorted them. The ruler surprised her by granting that wish. For the rest of the summer the concubines could enjoy being outdoors, as long as their spokeswoman kept watch over them.
When Silvítya announced that she had obtained permission for all of the "sisters" to enjoy the garden, they were thrilled. However, their spokeswoman used the privilege to re-assert her authority over the others. Since she decided who could go out with her and who would have to stay behind, she re-instituted the regimen of reading and learning. The girls from the Kingdom of the Moon would have to participate as well, reading books with simpler texts and discussing them in Danubian.
In the garden, Silvítya established a regimen of exercise which included relay races and ball-catch games. The guards and male servants spent their afternoons watching the 12 naked young women as they ran around the garden, but the concubines were enjoying themselves too much to really worry about their audience. The Grand Duke noted with satisfaction that the girls had the chance to truly enjoy the summer and that their mood as a group had improved.
At the end of June, Antonia gave birth to a son. Silvítya was relieved the child was not a daughter and that the ruler would not seize her offspring in 10 years. Antonia was distressed that Silvítya still showed no signs of being pregnant, since she had been hoping that perhaps they could reunite, share a house, and raise their children together. Silvítya sadly responded:
"My Path in Life brings misery to those I most love. So...I ask you to forget about me...you'll be free soon, in your own house and making your own decisions and happily eating from His Majesty's coin. You'll have a pleasant life, if you choose to be happy."
"But...my happiness was when I was with you, Sister Silvítya."
"Then you were deceived by the Destroyer. You don't want to be with me. I don't bring happiness into peoples' lives. The Profane One looks over my shoulder and has cursed everyone I ever loved. I want you to be the first person who escapes my curse. Leave this castle, don't look back, and banish me from your thoughts. That is the only way you can spare yourself from the curse I carry with me."
Silvítya handed the baby to Antonia and squeezed her hand. It would be the last time they would ever see each other.
Antonia left the castle, but did not receive her own house. Instead, she went to the estate of one of the Grand Duke's foreign emissaries. He was about to become the Grand Duke's ambassador to Montenegro and needed a translator. Antonia accepted the assignment, since she really had no reason to stay in the Duchy.
Antonia spent the rest of her life in Montenegro, living within sight of the Adriatic Sea. She married the ambassador's nephew and bore him a son and a daughter. She raised three children and spent her free time writing stories about her former lover, making up several adventures that were totally fictitious. She wrote from the perspective of a heartbroken lover, so her future readers assumed the stories had been written by a man. Like the others before her, Antonia never mentioned Silvítya by name, preferring to leave her heroine more mysterious. Years later, when the Grand Duke's son returned to visit Danúbikt Móskt with his stepfather and half-brother, he took his mother's writings with him to see if they could be published. The strangely-written fantasy stories about a girl with no name quickly became popular reading in the Duchy.
It was fortunate that the concubines were able to spend the summer outdoors in the Royal garden, because the middle of 1755 was unusually hot for the Duchy. Temperatures everywhere were unbearable, especially in the upper floors of the castle where the concubines' quarters were located. The women were outside sitting in the shade during the long hot days, reading and practicing penmanship and embroidery.
Silvítya had to keep the others within her sight, but she often wandered away from them to be alone with her thoughts. Often she stood looking out at the East Danube River and the steep cliffs along the western shore, wondering what life would be like in Austria, Prussia, and some of the other kingdoms of Europe that were nothing more to her than drawings on maps.
Less frequently she walked around to the east side of the garden and studied Danúbikt Móskt. The tall wooden buildings and their dilapidated rooftops were not an attractive sight at all. The only improvement was that the smoke had mostly cleared, because the majority of the city's population had departed to work in the fields or spend time relaxing along the river. The Danubian capitol was most unpleasant during the summer, so summertime was when most residents tried to get out for a while. The summer of 1755 was particularly hot and dry, which made the residents even more desperate to go somewhere else and the city even more deserted than during a typical year.
The view of the capitol and the countryside beyond reminded Silvítya of the outside world, a world that was both threatening and alluring. Another reminder of that world was Protector Buláshckt, who occasionally showed up in the garden to maintain or clean weapons. He wanted to see her and to talk, so he often took spare weapons from the armory and cleaned them to provide himself with justification to be in the garden when the concubines were out. The friends chatted, usually in places where others could overhear their conversations so that no one suspected them of having a romantic relationship.
She continued to work on her narrative of the battle of Hórkustk Ris, so he brought updates on what was going on in the region. The ruler considered the province the most important project for securing the Duchy's future. The region was more secure than it had been in decades, but the Grand Duke was not satisfied. His biggest worry was that, even with the resettlement of the civilians from the city itself and the forced repatriation of the refugees living around the capitol, the number of Danubians remained inadequate. After going on about some details concerning the re-settlement of various villages, the Royal Guard got to the point:
"The Grand Duke had no way of knowing how long the respite will last and when the House of Moon or the Ottoman empire will again turn their attention towards the Duchy. The only solution is to populate Hórkustk Ris province with loyal Danubians as quickly as possible. Now there are 110,000 Danubians in the southern region, but everyone knows that's not nearly enough. The Grand Duke thinks that the province will not be secure unless at least 200,000 people from the Duchy live there. So...the Duke's dilemma is from where he will recruit those additional 90,000 loyal citizens. If we didn't have to worry about our enemies, over time we could convince landless peasants and debtors to move, but we can't wait for a gradual re-settlement. The Duke needs to move a bunch of people there quickly, and I am very fearful thinking about where he will find them and how he plans to force them to move. I've seen what he's capable of...things I never could imagine him, or us, doing. And yet we did them. As an army, we lost our honor after the defense of the city, and often it seems I'm the only one who can see that. And now...something terrible...and I don't yet know what it is...must happen to our people, so the Duke's plans for Hórkustk Ris can be fulfilled. And the worst part is that His Majesty is right. We do have to secure that province."
Love is the strangest of human phenomenon. It strikes when a person neither expects nor wants it. It is truly blind and forces even the smartest man to see what is not there. So often a man will do things to make himself irresistible to the object of his desire, only for the actions to have the exact opposite effect.
The illusion of love struck the Grand Duke in the late summer of 1755. He showered his favorite concubine with gifts such as exotic food treats and more jewelry to match the items she already had. By August the "favorite concubine" was walking around the castle wearing the sapphire necklace and bracelets, along with sapphire anklets, rings, and a waist chain. Everyone thought the jewelry was truly stunning, which it was. However, to Silvítya the items felt like additional chains and shackles, each item signaling that she was less and less likely to ever recover her freedom. However, she was patient. Just like her friend Protector Buláshckt, she'd have to keep the ruler happy while waiting for the opportunity to escape.
The Grand Duke never realized that every additional piece of jewelry made Silvítya more determined to get away from him. Precisely because he was so enamored, he became foolish around her and placed confidence in her that he never would have placed with anyone else. He left military maps lying around when she was in his chamber, held secret conferences with his advisors with her hidden under his desk, and allowed her to overhear schemes he had against various rivals within the Duchy. Had Silvítya been a foreign agent or in the pay of the vice-Duke of Rika Chorna, she could have done some real damage to the Grand Duke and his ambitions. However, she didn't care about most of the things the ruler carelessly shared with her. She did not want to harm the Royal Household nor the Duchy. The only thing that interested her was picking up information that would aid her plans, or Protector Buláshckt's plans, to escape his reach.
In the middle of August she was in the Duke's study when she noticed a large map of Danúbikt Móskt laid out on his desk. The map was strange, because it clearly portrayed the city wall and the area surrounding it, but the layout of the city's interior was totally different from the way it was in real life. Instead of the narrow, winding streets of the real capitol, the map showed wide boulevards, large parks, and rows of elegant symmetrical ministry buildings with domes and columns. The buildings were very nice, but they did not look like anything Silvítya had seen anywhere in the Duchy. However, there was no question the map was of Danubkt Mostk because a few existing buildings, such as the cathedral, the Duke's castle, and the Temple of the Ancients were included. The old city walls also appeared in the city plans, but several large openings were added to accommodate some of the boulevards. It was clear the city walls were not going to be expanded, nor the old walls further fortified for defense.
There were a lot of other documents scattered around the Duke's study...such as correspondence with foreign architects and city planners. Most of the documents were in German. The Grand Duke did not know that his servant could read German: that was one of the few secrets she was able to keep from him. So, he allowed her to mill around the table and glance at the letters, not realizing she was able to understand them. The letters focused on a massive building project, but not one that had anything to do with fortifying the capitol's defenses. No...instead it was apparent the Grand Duke was in the final phases of planning the complete rebuilding of the Danubian capitol.
That night, after the foreign girls had performed their duties with the ruler and were sent back to their quarters, Silvítya remained behind to comfort her master. She carefully observed his mood, making sure he was talkative enough to give up information. She smiled and massaged his chest as she absent-mindedly commented:
"Your Majesty, your humble serving girl was wondering about all those drawings...of the buildings..."
"Ha! Inquisitive little one, aren't you? And observant...I might add..."
"Yes, Your Majesty."
"Well, let me ask you something. How would you like to go visit the city where those buildings are? Actually see them for yourself?"
"Your humble serving girl would be honored, Your Majesty."
"My humble little love will be honored. Hearing that pleases me, because you will indeed be privileged to see the buildings you so admired in those pictures. They are not reality yet, but soon will be. To see them, you won't have to go anywhere. You will see them from the garden of this very castle."
"Your Majesty will build them here in Danube City?"
"Yes. It is the Duchy's Path in Life to have a new capitol. Every building you see in those plans will become reality. So you will see the grandeur of the future, without ever having to travel. The Duchy will build next year."
Silvítya wasn't sure she had heard correctly. Next year?