1. Winter Night
It is pitch dark, and cold. So cold.
I'm trembling horribly. A piercing wind cuts through my thin shirt, as chilling as if someone had poured a stream of icy water over me.
I can barely see at all. A thick mist seems to whirl around me, and there's a strange, droning sound in my ears. I recognize that my feet are bearing me forward, my steps stumbling and uncertain, but I don't know where I'm going. My knees feel as if they might buckle beneath me, and I reach out with both hands, searching desperately for something to hold on to. Finally I stop, shivering with fear, my breath coming in painful gasps.
My eyes clear a little, and there is water in front of me, the surface glittering with reflected lights, yellow and white. It must be night. Gradually I become aware of trees, bare flower borders, carefully laid paths. A garden? But an empty garden, and very quiet. The only sound is a sort of constant hum in the background, which I cannot identify.
I dare a few more steps. There is frozen grass under my feet; it crunches faintly as if I were walking over bits of broken glass. I can see more clearly now.
Where am I? And how did I get here?
The silence ends suddenly. A roar of noise rises to the west, louder and louder until it breaks off abruptly. My eyes are blinded, painfully, by bright lights, glistening white and blue, and I hear footsteps approaching. Then there is someone in front of me, a man, and he says something. His voice is terribly loud; my ears are still ringing and I don't understand what he's saying. It sounds like a vaguely familiar foreign language. I raise my hands helplessly, and suddenly the dark figure reaches out for me. Panic washes over me in a stifling wave, and I turn to run. It's a miserable attempt and I don't get far.
My knees fold under me and everything turns black.
(From the police report November 14th, 2003)
Near 23.30 residents near the local park observed an unknown woman and notified police by phone. The patrol found the woman wandering disoriented near the edge of the pond. When they spoke to the approximately 20-year-old female, she first attempted to escape and then lost consciousness. Her identity could not be ascertained, as no i.d. card was found, nor any other personal documents. The patrol called an ambulance which took the unknown female to the local hospital.
(Entry Emergency Room Journal, November 15th, 0.30 a.m.)
At 0.10 a unconscious female patient of approximately 20 years was brought into the E.R. Blood pressure and body temperature indicated a state of shock, and blood analysis revealed a severe iron deficiency. The identity of the patient cannot be ascertained. Until she regains consciousness and a case history can be drawn up, she has been taken to the central house (Internal Section, Room 124).
I open my eyes to a world of pure, overwhelming whiteness, above me, beneath me, and on all sides. I move one hand and my palm strokes some smooth fabric. Someone has covered me, and dressed me in something other than my pullover.
I blink, prop myself up on my elbow, try to sit up. A whirling dizziness makes me sink back into the pillows; I close my eyes and swallow the saliva that fills my mouth.
Wisps of memory drift through my dazed exhaustion. I welcome them thankfully, even though I can't get them in order.
Another bed, another room. But the walls surrounding me there are gray, not white. The room has no windows, and on the desk beside the bed burns a candle. There are men, and gentle hands touching me. Someone lifts my head and gives me something to drink the taste of hypericum and willow bark, the sharp bitterness eased with honey. And voices above me, quiet and concerned.
"Will she recover?"
"We do for her what we can. But she is weak."
Where was that? A monastery? An old castle? I don't know. But the memories are coming fast now.
Grass under my booted feet. A deadly gray sky. And a thundering of horses' hooves that makes the ground shake.
I gaze up at the white ceiling, my eyes wide open. The next image is the clearest of them all, and it hits me violently, like a blow.
A stone city, fair and venerably old, but strangely deserted; parts of it seem to have been destroyed. A high wall and an immense green vastness beyond, but fires are burning everywhere, and the air is full of fumes, black plumes that drift aimlessly across the view of a narrow, silvery lace that must be the river, near the horizon.
I am standing on a wide plain. Once it must have been green and beautiful, but now it is broken up and ravaged. Corpses lie everywhere, and the smell is unbearable. I become aware of my own body; my knees tremble and my right arm hangs useless by my side, blood dripping from my fingers. A single rider is staring down on me from his saddle. His face is black with smoke and he wears heavy beaten chain armour. His long black hair is tousled and dusty. I look up at him, the pain in my arm nearly bowling me over, and in spite of this I start to laugh. And the rider smiles, his teeth stunningly white in his dirty face.
How clear these short dreams are – especially the last one! It was like a film, sharp and vivid, running inside my mind. Suddenly I am intensely thirsty. Maybe there's a glass of water somewhere about? I turn to look for one, and at this moment the door opens.
The woman who comes in is white all over, like the room. She must be a doctor; her smock looks freshly ironed and a stethoscope hangs around her neck. My eyes are caught by the ballpoint pens in her breast pocket, and I lie staring at them. She draws up a chair to sit beside my bed and feels my pulse with professional competence.
"Very good," she says. "Much better than last night. How are you?"
"I... I don't know."
The sound of my voice, hoarse and strangely guttural, surprises me. The oddest thing is – I wonder at the words I'm using.. It is as if I were speaking another language, without quite knowing which one.
"The police found you in the local park, near midnight. It seems that you were wandering around there close to the pond. Do you know how you got there?"
"Can you tell me your name? Shall we call someone for you?"
"I... I am Sabrina... Sabrina Steinenberg."
At least one thing I'm sure of. My name is Sabrina.
"Fine, Miss Steinenberg. We didn't find an identity card or other personal documents in your pockets. Can you tell me where you had been before you were found in the park?"
"I... I have no idea."
"Never mind." The doctor pats my hand comfortingly. Her face is tired and not really young anymore, but she looks very kind. "All that will surely come back. At least your head isn't injured, as far as we could see. Your loss of memory must be due to exhaustion. But we found something else. Your right arm must have been broken not very long ago. It seems to have been an open fracture and a deep laceration, as if caused by a long knife. Can you tell me how it happened?"
I stare at her. Then – with a hasty movement – I tug the hospital shirt from my shoulder and gaze at my arm. A long scar, freshly healed, red and bulging on the pale skin.
A crashing strike. I'm lying face to the ground, screaming into the broken earth. My death is standing behind me, a jagged sword in his hand.
No. Oh no.
The smiling rider. He lifts me up on his horse, and I feel his chain mail against my back, bruising me. I smell blood, despair and the death of thousands on the body of this man who presses me with great gentleness against his chest. His horse begins to walk slowly.
That is not true.
And suddenly everything is there again: every detail, every image, every single memory. My head rolls back, my hands claw at my nightshirt, and I hear somebody shrieking, in a frenzy of despair. Then for the second time within a few hours, everything before my eyes turns black.