The Taking of Lena Ch. 10byablondegoddess©
"Take a deep breath for me, Lena," Karl said.
Lena nodded and inhaled slowly, filling her lungs to their capacity. The metal disc of the stethoscope was cold against her back, but Lena tried not to complain. In truth, she was very grateful that Karl had been caring for her.
"Now exhale very quickly...almost like you're trying to cough," Karl said.
Lena rapidly released the air, and her body shook with faint coughs once her lungs were nearly emptied.
Karl removed his earpieces and wrapped his instrument around his neck. Lena pulled down her pale blue lace dressing gown, one of the many fine, unworn pieces that had been purchased for her in Berlin.
"Am I getting healthier?" Lena asked. Karl gave her a quick smile.
"Your lungs are healing quite nicely. Another few days and I don't think you'll need me anymore. But you need to continue to rest for now," Karl encouraged.
Lena sighed and slid back beneath the covers. Resting in the beautiful suite of Schloss Wolfenbarger was all she'd been doing for three weeks. She'd enjoyed the first couple of days, remembering with great embarrassment just how much of a luxury a warm bed really was. Lena had spent more time sleeping than awake, lucid only for the brief moments Karl would change her bandages and administer her medicine.
Once she'd caught up on sleep, Lena was eager to see Renz. But it seemed as if Renz was not as eager to see her.
"You know...I wasn't the one shot," Lena mentioned. Karl released a faint laugh as he reached into his medical bag, and prepared Lena's final dose of medicine for the day.
"And you know as well as I how stubborn that man is. Drink this," Karl replied. Lena wrinkled her nose, hating the foul flavor. But she swallowed it quickly, and eagerly reached for a glass of water to rinse away the taste.
Karl was preparing to leave, but Lena was determined to find out more about Renz today. Karl had been evading her questions since she'd been back at Schloss Wolfenbarger, never providing much detail about Renz or his whereabouts. But Lena's patience had worn thin. Surely Karl knew something about Renz.
"Can you just tell me if he is all right?" Lena asked. Karl gazed at her sympathetically for a few moments, but didn't immediately speak. He briefly shook his head and cleared his throat, and Lena had a feeling he would not be telling her very much.
"The bullet only grazed his shoulder. I'm sure he's fine," Karl answered quickly. His tone was pleasant, but dismissive. Lena frowned at Karl, suddenly feeling as if he was keeping something critical from her.
"Then where is he?" Lena asked. Karl suddenly started appearing very annoyed, but Lena couldn't rein her curiosity. Lena realized then that being bedridden had diminished both her manners and her patience.
When Karl spoke again, Lena was somewhat sobered by the serious expression on his face.
"Lena...you need to understand...Renz shot his brother, his last close relative, very recently," Karl began.
"But Aleksandr was going to kill me...and he could have killed Renz," Lena argued. A faint bit of humor appeared on Karl's face, and Lena slightly blushed in confusion.
"From what Renz told me...you nearly killed Aleksandr yourself. By strangling him, no less," Karl mentioned.
Lena's blush deepened in intensity, and she lowered her head in embarrassment. She shuddered at the thought of how violent she'd been, completely uncharacteristic of the person she thought she was and how she'd been raised. Being treated like an animal in Aleksandr's depraved brothel had evoked the animalistic, feral qualities within her...qualities she hoped she'd never again express.
"You were defending yourself, Lena. What Aleksandr and his men did to you, to many other women...I'm sure many others would have done the same thing if they'd only been given the opportunity," Karl said. Lena nodded, but she still felt frightened by her behavior.
"Where is he?" Lena asked softly. Lena felt like she'd asked that question a thousand times, and the exhaustion on Karl's face indicated that perhaps she had.
With a heavy sigh, Karl finally spoke.
"I don't know, Lena," Karl said.
"Have you heard from him?" Lena pressed. Karl sadly shook his head.
"No, Lena. I haven't," he replied quietly.
Lena slightly reclined on the bed as the medicine began to sedate her. But she didn't want to sleep just yet. She needed to find out something, anything, about Renz.
"You don't think...the police won't try to come after Renz, will they?" Lena asked. Karl laughed and to Lena's overwhelming relief, shook his head.
"Heaven help the official that ever tries to go after a Wolfenbarger. Especially Renz," Karl replied. Lena sighed heavily, but was relieved to know that Renz was safe, at least from police.
"So...he just doesn't want to be around me, then," Lena said softly. Karl's brief humor faded, and he appeared uncomfortable again.
"Lena...I'm sure you have a lot that you want to say to Renz. And I'm sure you'll have the opportunity soon. But right now, your focus needs to be on recovery. Need I remind you just how fragile you were when you arrived?" Karl replied.
Lena sighed, trying to accept his answer. Karl really did appear to be very uncomfortable, and somewhat irritated, and Lena felt guilty for insistently prying. But then, a chilling thought entered her mind, and Lena quickly sat up, her head spinning painfully.
"Rest, Lena," Karl said, slightly scolding her.
Lena collapsed onto the large eiderdown pillows then, overwhelmed by a sudden rush of highly emotional thoughts. She'd completely forgotten about Renz's new wife.
"I need to talk to him," Lena said, words slightly slurring. She tried to sit up, but her arms wouldn't support her weight. The medicine was quickly overtaking her body, and Lena fought to remain awake and alert.
"You need to sleep, Lena. Think about this when you're healthier," she heard Karl say.
"I don't want to sleep...he said things...I said things," Lena mumbled as the medicine began to fully sedate her. She heard Karl's laughter as she began to fall asleep.
"Renz is stubborn, Lena. Whatever it is you're thinking, whatever was said...it certainly wasn't enough to keep him away from you."
The sun had barely risen when Lena awakened, and she was happy that her body had adapted to a normal sleeping schedule again. She couldn't remember any of her dreams, a pleasant effect of the medicine that Karl had been giving her.
Lena had been plagued by nightmares of being back in Aleksandr's brothel the first week of her return to Schloss Wolfenbarger. She'd had vivid dreams of being whipped and beaten until all of her bones were broken. She'd woken up, screaming and crying, when she'd dreamt that Renz had been killed. Sometimes it took well over an hour for a tired Karl or servant to calm her down enough to sleep again.
Karl and his medical assistants had dutifully remained at Schloss Wolfenbarger, even staying throughout the night, always available for urgent care. Even Renz's servants were more attentive than she'd remembered, assisting her with everything from bathing to eating, and Lena was filled with an overwhelming gratitude for everyone that helped her.
But the most attentive caretaker Lena had was undoubtedly Renz's four-legged companion Otto. From the moment she'd first woken up back in her suite of Schloss Wolfenbarger, Otto had remained perpetually perched by her feet at the foot of the bed, growling dangerously whenever someone tried to remove him.
Lena crawled out of bed, slightly wincing as her torso stretched, moderately agitating her sensitive rib and still sore back. She tightened the rope of her robe, taking a moment to appreciate the gentle sensation of the delicate fabric against her faintly bruised flesh.
She walked at a slow pace, for this was the first time she'd completely supported her own body weight since returning. Her legs felt a bit unsteady, but after a few moments, Lena was able to move with relative controlled ease.
Otto hopped off of the bed and followed her as she left the sleeping room and entered the lounge. Two of Renz's servants and one of Karl's medical assistants were sleeping on the chaises, and Lena quietly tiptoed past them, careful not to wake them. Even Otto was moving quietly, picking up his feet higher than necessary, and Lena scratched the dog's ears fondly.
Lena crept out of the suite, and finally exhaled when she'd successfully closed the double doors without waking anyone. She slowly walked down the wide hall, eager to stretch and use her muscles on her own again. To her displeasure, she became quickly winded and lightheaded when she began walking too fast. With a reluctant, defeated sigh, Lena resorted to sedate, cautious steps.
Lena continued to walk with Otto by her side, gradually feeling stronger and more confident in her movements. Her body ached, but it was not debilitating. The increased circulation of air and blood made her feel much more alive, and when she finally reached the main stairs, Lena was eager to test her endurance.
Lena gripped the intricately carved rococo railing of the stairs, just in case she became too dizzy. She took a deep breath and began to carefully climb. Step by step her knees cracked and muscles strained as they reawakened, but Lena was determined to finish. A brief clumsy movement caused a sharp pain to radiate throughout her spine, and Lena was momentarily paused by the vivid memory of Aleksandr beating her in his office.
Lena gripped the stairs until her knuckles turned white, and she closed her eyes until the thoughts, and her accompanying fear, faded. She reminded herself that Aleksandr could not hurt her anymore. She'd watched Renz, terrifying Renz, shoot his own brother. She'd felt the rapid, chilling shift from movement to stillness as Aleksandr's body succumbed to death against her own. She'd felt his blood rapidly draining onto her back and shoulders. She'd seen his glazed, lifeless gray eyes. She'd seen him die.
Once her heartrate slowed, she continued to walk. She was out of breath by the time she reached the landing, and she sat down on the rug for a few moments to compose herself.
The top floor was a floor that Erich had never taken her to, and Lena was especially curious about what she would find. There were fewer rooms in the wide hall, and a single ornate Oriental-looking rug led to two very large twin doors at the hall's end. Otto, seemingly highly familiar with this section of the estate, energetically trotted forward and began scratching at the door. Lena followed him, and turned the handle, and she knew instantly that she'd found Renz's master suite.
True to everything she knew about Renz, his suite was exceptionally large and powerful looking. She could see elements of his personality in every aspect of the masculine design, from the classically nostalgic paintings that hung on the walls to the strong, carved pieces of dark wooden furniture.
She thought briefly about her first real encounter with Renz, before she'd met him, when she'd been decorating his guest suite at Sterling Manor with Marie. Lena realized with slight amusement just how ill suited those choices were to his real tastes. Those decorations had been overly aggressive and violent. The décor in Renz's home suite certainly held power, but also qualities of sophistication, beauty, and understated elegance.
Lena was surprised by how clear and open everything was. Schloss Wolfenbarger was certainly beautiful, but it was also overwhelming to her, due to the sheer amount of elaborate decoration on every possible surface. Renz's suite, however, was not at all convoluted or overly detailed. Instead, it seemed to embrace wide, open spaces and solid colors, heightening the appeal of the few Baroque pieces that prevailed. Two full walls of the lounge area were completely covered in high floor to ceiling windows, opening the room even further with the radiant light of morning.
Lena tentatively explored the lounge, still tiptoeing, even though she knew she was alone. She felt like she'd entered something secret and untouched, and she felt anxious that she was some kind of intruder. But Lena continued curiously exploring, fully desiring to become a part of Renz's private world, at least for a few moments.
Lena had already seen the four libraries of Schloss Wolfenbarger, but Lena thought that Renz's lounge could have been considered a small fifth. There were several tall bookcases, neatly stacked with large volumes and ledgers. Lena briefly scanned the titles, surprised by the names that had been deemed worthy of Renz's private collection. There were several that she knew well with from the hours she stole reading at Sterling Manor, such as Shakespeare and Dante, and illuminated prints of William Blake. There were other names that Lena recognized, but wasn't familiar with, such as Goethe and Tolstoi, and an overwhelming number of names and titles that Lena had never before seen.
Lena was somewhat broken from her daze of staring at Renz's books when she heard Otto scratching at a far set of tall double doors. Lena followed, and slightly held her breath as she gripped the handle to what she had a feeling was Renz's bedroom. The heavy wooden door slightly creaked as it opened, and when Lena entered, she was suddenly filled with a sense of longing.
His oversized bed sat proudly at the far end of the room, highly layered with dark sheets and pillows, and Lena had the odd desire to crawl inside of it. Lena noticed that the scarlet sleeping robe that she'd been using during her previous stay was folded neatly on an ottoman below his bed, and next to it, a tall stack of what looked like folded letters.
Lena curiously walked towards the cushion and reached for the letters, which were written in highly elegant script. She was about to read one, but Otto suddenly sat up, ears slightly twitching. She noticed him looking towards the door, and begin to slightly growl.
Lena replaced the letters as neatly as she could, realizing that Otto could hear the rest of the estate beginning to rise. She walked as quickly as was comfortable and exited Renz's suite, careful to make sure it appeared undisturbed. She hurried back to her suite, and when she saw Karl glaring at her in disapproval, she blushed sheepishly.
"I didn't want to wake anyone," Lena said quietly. Karl's expression softened, and he faintly smiled.
"A little movement is probably good for you. But now, you need to be nourished," Karl said.
She followed Karl into the lounge of her suite, and began eating some of the sausages and breakfast pastries. Once Lena was able to tolerate solid food, Karl had insisted she eat very large portions several times each day. Feeling full had originally made her feel almost sick, but now, Lena's appetite was robust and healthy.
"Usually you talk to me in the mornings," Lena mentioned.
"You've noticed that, have you?" Karl asked in return, his expression slightly surprised. Lena nodded.
"Yes. You usually ask lots of questions," Lena added. Karl slightly smiled.
"It's just a way to see how you're healing. Especially those wounds that can't be seen," Karl answered. Lena nodded as she sipped her tea, a special herbal blend that was intended to help repair her damaged throat.
"But today you believe I am fully healed?" Lena asked. Karl slightly extended his cup as a servant gracefully poured his coffee.
"Certainly not. But I think you are very close. I'm not very worried about you," Karl answered.
"Does that mean I do not have to spend all day in bed?" Lena asked hopefully. Karl considered this for a few moments.
"Perhaps not. But you should not exert yourself excessively. Take your medicine and rest for a few more hours. When I examine you this afternoon...if you seem to be doing well, you have my blessing to move about as you please," Karl answered.
Lena struggled to maintain her excitement as she continued eating breakfast. An afternoon out of bed, moving around unsupported, seemed like a proposition too tempting to refuse. She hoped that she'd have some time alone, so that she could return to Renz's suite. She was especially eager to return to those letters, for she was certain she might have caught her name.
Karl was even quieter than he had been at breakfast, and by the time he finished his examination, Lena was certain he was keeping something from her.
"Why aren't you talking?" Lena asked unceremoniously. Karl appeared slightly perplexed, but then his expression became one of amusement.
"The healthier you get, the more demanding you become. Are you certain you worked as a maid?" Karl asked.
Lena's cheeks instantly flushed, and she lowered her head in shame.
"I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to be rude—"
"Lena, it was just a joke. No need for the apologies. You have been esteemed the lady of this house, after all," Karl replied.
Lena slightly gasped, baffled by his latter words. She didn't understand how Karl could possibly say that she was the lady of Schloss Wolfenbarger. Surely that title fell to Renz's new bride Gisele Friedrich. Was Karl mocking her?
But Lena felt deeply saddened, and slightly angry, when she thought of where Renz probably was. Perhaps he was on his honeymoon with his new wife. Maybe he was absent from Schloss Wolfenbarger because he had another estate somewhere else, a place where he would start his family with Gisele, with Lena kept far away so as not to interfere with his new life as a married man.
"And now you're unusually quiet. Usually you ask me lots of questions, albeit about just one person," Karl said with a slight smile. Lena was certain his tone held mocking then, and she frowned and tried to calm her steadily building anger.
"I'm not as curious today," Lena said noncommittally. She tried not to look directly into Karl's eyes as he continued to examine her.
"What changed?" Karl asked. Lena's first instinct was to snap at Karl for mocking her for being the kept woman of a married man, but what little remained of the subservient manners she'd been raised by prevented her from speaking honestly.
"Nothing. You don't know where he is. I no longer care where he is," Lena answered quietly. The words felt foul as they left her mouth, and Lena could feel her body rejecting the lie. She observed Karl, wondering if he was as aware as she of her dishonesty, but Karl seemed more focused on examining her. She kept her body still as Karl moved the disc of the stethoscope against her back, and she tried to keep her face as blank as possible.
"I no longer care," Lena interrupted quickly. She bashfully looked up at Karl once she realized how harsh her words were, and her face flushed hotly when she observed his expression of utter surprise.
Karl studied her for several moments, but then he sighed and returned to his examination.
"Breathe deeply for me, Lena," Karl said.
"I'm so sorry, Karl," Lena whispered shamefully. Karl glanced at her, focus momentarily broken from his examination. He smiled sympathetically at her, and placed his hand on her shoulder and softly squeezed.
"Just breathe, Lena," he said again.
Lena closed her eyes to fight back sorrowful tears and inhaled slowly.
"A drink, Herr Wolfenbarger?" a servant asked. Renz nodded tensely.
"Coffee, thank you," Renz replied.
He kept his head lowered as his drink was poured. He attempted to remain as composed as possible, but the icy woman staring at him from across the table was making him agitated.
"That will be all," she said. Her voice was soft and airy, yet highly authoritative.
There was an uncomfortable silence once the servants cleared the room, and Renz realized that he would need to be the first to speak.