I did it – I took the challenge; I wrote a whole novel in one month. Toward the end my word count was low and the November 30 deadline was looming, so I wrote some swift, shabby, poorly thought-out exposition. I’ve still not begun the huge remodeling effort, the gutting and rebuilding of those final chapters, the streamlining and purging of deadwood from earlier scenes.
A quick synopsis:
LADY GRAVES and the Road to Lindenstein by Carol Kean
Buried treasure doesn’t usually bring to mind a young woman left for dead in a shallow grave, but when Herr Doktor Niklaus Stangler follows his barking dog in the night, he digs up more than a Fräulein who is barely even alive. He finds her dressed as a maid but when she gradually revives, she asserts she is a lady, and her name is–well, she can’t think of it–nor can she imagine who might want her dead. In a stone cottage hidden in Bavaria, she recovers under Stangler’s care, but her mind is slower to heal than her body. She yearns to remember her identity and regain her life–until she starts remembering. When the truth is too painful to face the mind is able to repress what we know, but she learns enough to send her on the road to Lindenstein, where her future with a prince was apparently usurped by an imposter.
In her new life as Lady Graves she has nothing–no money, no title–but her resources include a one-eyed dog named Emil, an exiled baroness charged with paganism and sorcery, and an impassioned Enlightenment-era doctor who escaped prison after being falsely arrested as a Bonapartist, and who dreams of starting over in the New World, the land of his dreams, America.
The story is a stand-alone at 50,000 words. It could be expanded with more descriptions and back story about Napoleon’s impact on Europe, especially the lands that eventually united in 1871 as The German Empire. The French Revolution, the Napoleonic Code, the ideals of the Enlightenment play a role in this story, but the focus is on Lady Graves recovering her identity and seeking the truth about her would-be assassin.
The one-eyed dog had earned his keep, but that infernal barking had to stop. It wasn’t like Emil to get riled up this way after retiring for the night with his master. Whatever was out there, Niklaus Stangler had no more concern for it than he did for Emil’s most hated foe, the squirrel in the oak tree. “Halt den Mund, Emil!” Stangler shouted, pulling a pillow over his head.
Boing! Boing! Emil leaped straight up, swatting the door latch. That crazy, crafty, stubborn little villain got the door open himself.
“I am no longer shocked that someone tried to kill you,” he added as his little dog catapulted into the cold, dark midnight air. Stangler hurried into his pants, boots and cloak. The moon was full and bright and probably the source of Emil’s Angst.
On a moonlit path through the trees, Stangler broke into a run along Emil’s well-worn course to the stream. He followed Emil’s yipping, past the usual rabbit warren, past the old oak with the squirrel, and on, until a gyrating tail gave him away like a white flag waving. Dirt and leaves went flying from his paws.
“Enough, Emil. Genug!”
Emil, so quick to learn new commands, obeyed only when it suited him. He pawed the earth until something pale and fleshy came to light. Stangler bent down.
This was no animal.
Not since his first day as a battlefield medic, sawing off arms and legs of young men who’d been perfectly healthy minutes before, had Herr Doktor Niklaus Stangler felt so queasy.
He pushed away branches that had been heaped over a human body. There wasn’t much for Emil to dig. A grave this shallow suggested someone in a big hurry to move on.
He grasped two ankles and stepped back, pulling, dragging. Emil sniffed around and started barking at the trail that led to the road.
“Ah, Emil. If you could talk, I’d have you go down that path and find out who did this.”
He laid out the body. A maid or a serving wench, bodice unlaced and skirts hiked up. He wished for someone he could send in search of the murderous gravediggers, but exiles like him had no neighbors.
On her arms, dark liquid beads formed along fresh scratches.
Dead people didn’t bleed.
He checked for a pulse. It was very, very slow, barely detectable. It would be easy to mistake her for dead. If not for Emil, she would have been completely dead before anyone ventured far enough from the road to find her.
The dog looked up at him with an eager expectation of attention and praise.
“Well done, Emil.” He couldn’t share the tail-wagging joy, knowing how little life remained in this cold, cold body. “Ach, Emil! This one may be harder to resurrect than you were.”
The dog listened, one ear cocked, his one eye full of concern. Surely, animals had souls.
Stangler scooped the dirty young wench into his arms, enfolded her in his cloak, and hiked back to the cottage.
She was so cold. Desperate to warm her, he allowed the dog to snuggle under a blanket with his find on Herr Doktor’s own bed. He assembled tools and implements, hot water and clean linens, then tended to her wounds. Her bleeding scalp indicated she had been dragged by her hair, which was tangled with dirt and leaves. A gash in the back of her head required sutures. Her pulse was stronger now, but she was far from conscious.
Like a mother hovering over her sick child, Emil watched over the wretched girl. Not long ago it had been the dog as his patient. Stangler wondered how he could saw off a soldier’s limbs but wince at having to snip off the eyeball that dangled from a dog’s head, clean the empty socket and sew it shut, and keep the dog from waking and biting off the hands that healed him. Perhaps he would have been wiser to let mother nature take her course, but it was the physician’s nature to intervene, to fix, to heal.
He plied the needle and thread, then dabbed a tincture of walnut leaves on her open wounds. His busy hands were well accustomed to this work, allowing him to examine his conscience and lament his plight. Why couldn’t he have left a mostly dead wench to complete her task of dying? If not for Emil, she’d be no concern of his. There was no telling what she might have done. He might be harboring a thief–or worse. Women, too, were capable of murder.
More likely, this woman was an innocent victim. Clearly, someone had tried to kill her. He would go off in search of her assailant but she might die in his absence. If Emil could talk, he’d send him on the trail of the assassin. That dog loved to run off and come home barking incoherently of his finds.
He saved a dog who saved a girl, but who was saving him? To warm her, he’d have to strip off all her garments and his own as well and lie with her, skin to skin, until her body temperature rose to a safe level. It was a dirty job but someone had to do it. Under the blankets, naked, holding her close. A terrible job. He almost smiled.
Soon he could hear her breathing and he shifted back far enough to start checking his patient for deeper injuries. Preferably before she awoke. Pray God she would not come to and find a stranger groping between her legs!
The cottage walls danced with shadows from the fireplace, and Stangler wished for a healthy dose of bright sunlight to illuminate his job. If the girl came to now, she’d think him a mad man and scream for help but there was none at hand, nought but a dog and a stranger.
She had not been raped. One consolation.
In fact, he could be sure this was no wench from a brothel. Nothing had penetrated her and broken her maidenhood.
At some point he must have drifted to sleep. The sun rose as always no matter what happened in the night, filling his cottage with light, but Stangler felt himself still in the dark. He took up his journal and noted the latest events, the nature of the maiden’s injuries, the medical interventions he ministered. Her face was swollen beyond recognition, cheekbones level with her nose, a countenance more leonine than human.
Keeping his new patient warm and hydrated would occupy him for hours. He had to implement a feeding tube to get something warm and nourishing inside her. Ancient Egyptians used reeds to give rectal feedings of chicken broth, wine, and eggs, but this was 1821, and physicians knew how to fashion a flexible, hollow tube of leather to deliver blended food to the stomach. Liquids first for this half-dead woman. Through the nose, down the throat, to the stomach. Stangler concocted a mix of warm chamomile tea for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory action, and cream, which reminded him–he must get out and milk the goat, if Nana hadn’t leaped the fence again. Emil had been preoccupied all night with his new charge. He let the little watchdog out to do his morning duty, sniff about, then return to the girl while Stangler milked the goat.
Sometimes the girl moaned but didn’t awaken. Better for her to sleep through the pain. Stangler added capsicum and more chamomile to the feeding tube and got her to swallow without choking.
He detangled her hair, rinsed it with vinegar followed by water infused with lavender. The girl would live, he decided, but not without his vigilance.
Time was wasting. He had work to do, gathering more roots and herbs from the woods, drying and storing, labeling and collecting. Fritz Lanza, the local boy, should pay Herr Doktor a visit soon to earn some chore money. Why had he told the boy not to come every day? If only he would come now, and the cleaning lady too, but once a week was all he’d asked of her. Now he’d squander more time hand-washing and mending the girl’s garments himself. Then again, he wouldn’t touch the stained and tattered dress or apron. Leaving them as is might make it easier to identify her.
Her thick, rippling hair finally dried, and Stangler admired the rare shade of dark blond with hints of red. How fitting that the leonine distortions of her battered face should be framed by a lion’s mane. He took up his sketchbook and tried to capture the image of a lioness-woman, unconscious in his bed. Then he started to tear out the page, lest anyone else come upon the image and think ill of him–but no, it was part of his medical work, and he would duly record what he observed.
Stangler checked the laceration on her head. The stitches looked clean. Gently, he brought her long, thick mass of hair to one side and separated it into thirds. So much more hair than Maria, God rest her soul. Plaiting the tresses of his English patient brought back memories and the sting of tears in his eyes, but he kept moving, kept looking forward. He fed Emil, fed himself, fed the fire, then sank into the wooden rocking chair facing the bed with a book in hand. True loneliness was hardly possible when he had so many companions on a shelf, always there at the touch of his fingers, opening up to him, allowing him into the minds of others, and never casting judgment on him. No disapproving stares, no head shaking, no mobs rioting for his head. There were men in this world who espoused the same ideas he held. They communed with him from the safety of books.
The mantel clock ticked the afternoon away .
Up! Up! Bark! Bark! Emil summoned him from a dreamless sleep, springing up and down like no other dog Stangler had seen. The dying flames were the only source of illumination now; daylight had fled.
A voice, soft and weak, murmured in English: “My head is on fire.”
Stangler bolted to his patient’s side. One eye opened and focused not on him but on Emil, who immediately sprang up and down again with unstoppable joy.
“Am I in hell?” she whispered. “What is that?”
Stangler laughed. “That little demon is your guardian angel, mein Schatz. His name is Emil.”
She gripped the blanket and held it like a shield. Did she know German? “My treasure” might translate into an unwelcome endearment.
A buried treasure, indeed, this Fräulein he had dug up in the woods.
“What has happened to me, and why am I here?”
Her voice was rather imperious, for a maid or serving wench. And accusing. As if he had brought here to this sorry state–he who had lost a good night’s sleep and used no ordinary skill to keep her from her grave!
Stangler tried to look past the sickly greens, grays, and blues of the bruised face of the stranger and into her heart.
“Fräulein,” he said, gentling his voice, “I would love to know the answer to those questions. I have been looking forward to your waking and telling me.”
Her head rose slightly from the pillow; her lips parted, she began a reply, only to sink back as if exhausted by the prospect of making a proper introduction. At this point, propriety was as far away as the brute who’d failed to kill her. Stangler had undressed her, bathed her, and inspected her wounds, with no such nicety as having been employed by her to secure his services.
But she had fallen under once more.
Her head was on fire and she didn’t know where she was or how she’d come to be here. A one-eyed dog stared at her, his head cocked, as if trying to choose the most courteous way to inform her that her life was ruined and she’d only herself to blame. Not that she believed that, but everyone else did.
To her sudden chagrin, she couldn’t recall who “everyone else” might be.
“Who are you,” she asked the dog, “and why am I here?”
He wagged his tail, then leaped from the bed and bounced up and down like a coiled spring. What a strange animal! She’d never seen a dog quite like this one, but she heard the name Emil in her mind.
She sat up, slowly, her throat raw, her scalp burning–and only one eye! She and the dog!
Gingerly, she touched the swollen, bruised flesh that sealed her right eye. Ouch. Very well, her eyeball was still there, hidden inside her head.
“What is this place?” she asked, though the man was nowhere to be seen. The dog yipped an agreeable reply.
“I have been abducted,” she whispered, coming slowly to her senses. “I must escape!”
Someone had dressed in her a clean linen shift, one she’d never worn before–that much she knew. Her one eye made a swift surveillance of the tidy stone cottage with a window on each wall. Steep, narrow stairs led to an upper level. The air was sweet with a yeasty aroma of bread rising, of drying sage, rosemary, lavender, and more herbs than she could discern in one sniff, and milk curdling over a warm stove. She caught a whiff of dog as well, but like horses in a stable full of hay and even the occasional skunk, the odor of dog had never offended her. This, she knew. How she came to be here, she had no clue.
She swung around and planted her feet on the floor, tried to stand, and fell back to the straw mattress and feather tick. Then she noticed a bedpan and shuddered to think of the indignity of a man assisting her to a chamber pot, much less dealing with–oh, the indignity! Surely the man had a maid she hadn’t seen yet.
Fräulein. She had been hearing that a lot.
Slowly, she rose to her feet and managed the chamber pot, then found the pitcher and basin for hand washing, then fell back to her sick bed. Her sick bed! She wasn’t ill–she was injured, grievously injured, and her only guardian was a one-eyed dog.
Apparently she had dozed off again, because her eye opened and there he was, the man with green eyes and dark lashes.
With a gasp, she shot up, just as he was bending closer, and their foreheads collided.
“Ach du Liebe!” he cried, rubbing his head, then clasping hers and investigating the damage. She flinched away from his touch. “Keine Panik,” he said. “You have good reason to be jumpy, but I can assure you, my mission is to do no harm. I a healer.”
Emil’s tail thumped the floor as if to vouch for him.
“Good Sir,” she said slowly, “if I am to trust you, then you must tell me who you are.”
He hesitated. “You may call me Klaus.”
“I would not presume to be so familiar, Mr. Klaus.”
“You are no ordinary maiden,” he said with a smile. “Perhaps you attend to a baroness–or duchess–in England, I should guess, by your fine speech.”
“Maiden. Maid. What do you take me for, and why do you hold me in such low esteem?”
“Why do you bite the hand that feeds you?” he returned. “And why do you not favor me with your name, young lady?”
“My name is–”
He cocked an eyebrow at her, the same way his dog did. She gripped her long braid and brought it closer to her eye, as if her hair might reveal her name.
“This is not how I braid my hair at night.” That was it–the one revelation that came to her while examining her hair. “This looks lovely, though. Like a herringbone. You must show me how it’s done.”
He laughed, and she remembered that he had been impertinent and presumptuous with her.
“My name,” she said, with every expectation that it would roll right off her tongue, “is…”
Tears sprang to her eyes, or one eye, at least; hot, salty tears ran down her throat which was already raw, and she couldn’t even let out a scream. Just a hiccup. She stared at the stranger sitting at the edge of the bed she’d so mysteriously found herself in.
“What have you drugged me with?” she cried out. “I cannot recall my own name!”
The dog moved closer, standing on two legs to lick the tears from her face, his front paws on the edge of the mattress. She managed a brave smile for the endearing little character but not for the man with the mild German accent.
“Emil found you, Fräulein, badly beaten and buried in a shallow grave,” said the man. “I’ve seen head injuries far worse than yours, and your amnesia is only temporary, I am sure, but very grave. If you’ll pardon that word.” He flashed her a penitent smile. “We found you dressed as a maid. I did not imagine a fine lady would wear her maid’s garments, but you tell me you are no maid. Very well. Until you can tell me your name and title, I shall call you Lady Graves.”