As Laszlo tells his story, Stephen begins to think about the small trunk of letters he found in the basement of the gatehouse. He remembers wondering why his grandmother would have written letters to his deceased grandfather, now he realizes they were from her relationship with Laszlo. She must have tucked them away in the basement since grandfather was too ill to navigate the steps.
“She was unhappy, said she married for money, but I do not believe that is how it always was. I do feel they loved each other at one time.” Laszlo pauses to catch his breath and to find the best way to explain what follows.
“Stephen, your grandmother was different from most women I knew. She was very strong-willed and when she wanted something, she made sure she got it. She read many books and mixed herbs for various medicinal purposes but she went too far.” He looks at Klara but again, the old woman remains silent as she stares straight ahead as if this conversation is boring to her.
“One day she had me meet her in the woods, she was so excited about something she read that she wanted my input. I could not believe what she was saying to me. We have all grown up hearing of folklore and tales and spooky stories to make sure little kids stay in bed at night but. . . she wanted to summon a demon to kill your grandfather!” He blurts this out and the expression on his own face is one of shock.
“So what happened?” Stephen asks now very intrigued in hearing this bit of history.
“What happened was. . .” Laszlo repeats just under his breath. “She, your grandmother,” he looks at Stephen, “she began writing me letters, leaving them in jars on the steps of my house, dropping them in my pocket when she was near. All of this was right under your grandfather’s nose but I didn’t have the heart to tell him.”
“So you had an affair?” Zsofia questions honestly.
“Yes,” he answers quickly for he cannot deny it, “and I am not proud of it because I betrayed my best friend. If he had ever found out, it would have crushed him and I know it was wrong, but. . .” He does not finish his statement.
“I remember her being around the house, slipping in to talk to you. I never thought anything of it but now, it all makes sense.” Zsofia confirms.
“We had one daughter, your mother.” Laszlo nods at Zsofia and tears begin to build in his eyes and hers as well. “But she fell ill shortly after Tamas was born and you were only four when your mother passed.” He looks away as he wipes the tears from the corner of his eyes.
“You and grandmother took us in but then she too became ill and passed away just before I turned six.” The memories of losing her mother and grandmother are painful to Zsofia and recognizing this, Stephen puts his arm around her as they wait for the details of the story to continue.
“It was around that time, just months after my wife’s death that Stephen’s grandfather and grandmother moved into his family’s home.” He stops and looks around the room, “this home.” He looks over at Klara who is quietly listening. “Your grandfather and I had lost touch for several years and upon his return was the first time I realized who he married.”
“Your first love.” Zsofia says softly.
“Yes, I was surprised to say the least, but I had grown beyond that relationship and most importantly, I was thankful to have my childhood friend back in my life.” He smiles as he glances at the fireplace. “It was like being a kid again, we would meet for drinks and I helped him work on the manor when they began to update rooms or make repairs. Those days were very good to us.” His voice fades as he looks down at his fingernails.
“Your grandfather and I grew up together,” Laszlo states, “we were the best of friends and never a day went by that we did not spend time with each other. His family had money, mind did not, and that was never a problem within our individual households.” Laszlo looks up at Stephen.
“When he turned fifteen, he was sent away to school but we wrote letters and stayed in touch and he would come back twice a year to visit. It was around this time that I met your grandmother, Stephen.” The elderly man grows quiet for several seconds. “We, well. . . we fell in love.” He states as he looks down at his hands.
“We were very young and our time together was short lived because she and her family moved away a little over a year after they arrived in town. A year later I got word she married and was expecting a baby, so I moved on.” He grins as his memories filter into his mind.
“I was blessed in finding the beautiful wonderful woman who meant everything to me; this was your grandmother Zsofia.” He looks her in the eye. “We married and were very happy.” He smiles for these are fond memories and it is obvious to everyone in the room that he truly loved his wife.
“I do not understand. What have you done and how was my grandmother involved?” Stephen asks of Laszlo as he grows more impatient that they are wasting valuable time. “We need to be looking for Tamas, not sitting here dredging up the past!”
“I agree with Stephen, we are wasting time and whatever happened in the past is in the past. I’m going to look for my brother.” Zsofia says as she heads for the door.
“You will do no such thing!” Klara states in a low tone as she grits her teeth before slamming her cane across the threshold like a gate. “Your grandfather has a story to tell and he needs you to hear it.” She closes her eyes as to not be so demanding and Zsofia turns around and looks at Stephen.
“Istvan, come. . . sit.” Klara says as she walks toward Stephen and motions for him and Zsofia to sit together on the sofa across from Laszlo. “Carry on, Laszlo, you have a captive audience.” She says as she walks back to her post near the open door.
“What has happened and what is going on with you, grandfather? What is it that Klara knows?” The concern in Zsofia’s voice is obvious as the nervousness of the unknown feeds her fear.
Sitting slouched on the sofa, with his hands folded in his lap, Laszlo looks up at his granddaughter and then over at Stephen. Both are standing near the fire and Klara is intently watching from just inside the threshold of the doorway.
“It is all my fault.” Laszlo states but is quickly corrected by Klara.
“No, it is not all your fault, but you are partly to blame and definitely more involved than any of us in the room.” Her straightforward attitude seems stern yet necessary.
Laszlo looks up at her, much as a child would if caught in a lie. He runs his hand through his thick white hair and takes in a deep breath in preparation of his next statement.
“Stephen, your grandmother and I. . .” He pauses and looks at Zsofia then back down at his hands. “You have to understand, I did not realize the level she was going to. . .” he looks over at Klara as if waiting for approval but she does not say a word. “And now my selfishness has come back at me and because of it, Tamas is in danger.”
“You were part of this and kept it secret all these years.” Klara says in her Hungarian tongue to Laszlo. “Why did I not see it before?” She glances down the hallway. “It is your responsibility, not Istvan’s and not your grandchildren!” Klara states in a stern manner. “The chaos belongs to you Laszlo Eszes, and it is you who will set it straight.” Zsofia overhears this last statement.
“What is it he is to set straight?” Zsofia asks as she steps away from Stephen to walk back to the doorway.
“Stay inside; we must not disturb the entrance.” Klara says as she continues to hold her cane up as a barrier.
“Alright, but we are wasting time. We must find Tamas.” Zsofia says calmly. “Grandfather?” She questions for she does not understand what is happening and he will not look her in the eye.
“He will be released from this game, won’t he Laszlo.” Klara states firmly a she lowers her cane.
Without saying a word, Laszlo steps across the row of salt on the floor and walks to the center of the room, where two sofas sit facing each other near the fireplace. He slowly sits down on the one to his right. With the storm raging outside, Stephen begins to build a fire to take the dampness out of the room. There is no talking amongst the group, only the occasional cleared throat and then Zsofia speaks up.
Stephen cautiously steps over the line of salt and into the room, which is now spotless compared to how it was when he was last here. Numerous candles are flickering with light and are strategically in position around the room. Four lamps, two on the mantle of the fireplace and two near the sofas, offer a low yet consistent glow to the deep burgundy tones of the space. Zsofia and her grandfather begin to enter together but Klara will not allow it.
“No, one at a time and you dear girl, you go first.” Klara smiles as she puts her cane up like a gate behind Zsofia to keep Laszlo in place.
Zsofia walks directly to Stephen and touches his back in a caring way causing him to turn toward her. Watching his eyes, and without a single word, she reaches out to him as he pulls her into an embrace. They are unaware of the conversation starting up just outside the doorway.
The four adults walk as fast as they can down the hall and to the spiral staircase where the west and south halls convene. As they carefully navigate the steps, the pace is slow and deliberate which they did not anticipate. However, they are moving nonetheless.
Stephen can see the severe worry on Zsofia’s face as she helps her grandfather maneuver the steps and Klara keeps looking back is if watching for a follower. Oddly, Stephen does not see the Guta but he feels increasingly unsettled and confused by the statements made and the hurried actions the group is taking. As they approach the second floor, wind and rain begin to pelt against the windows of the stairwell.
Stephen wishes Tamas would call to them so he can bring him to safety. He glances at Zsofia, who is looking at him, and he knows she is thinking the same thing. Nodding his head to her in an understanding way, they silently press forward. They exit onto the second floor hall and walk east, until come to the suite Stephen has chosen to be his room.
“We are here.” Klara states as she opens the door and holds her hand out to stop them. “There is salt along the threshold,” she says as she points down. “Do not disturb it; be careful and mindful as you step over it.”
She looks at the three of them for a few seconds as if allowing the instructions to set in. She then drops her hand to allow them to pass but points at Stephen.
“You first.” She commands.
The actions and statements of this old woman frightens Stephen because Klara has proven to him, during his interactions with her, that she is indeed in touch with the mysterious hidden world around them. Trying to focus his eyes to see deeper into the murky corners of the hallway, he frantically looks around to see if he can catch a glimpse of the creature Klara obviously feels is near them.
“You stay back you demon of sorrow!” Klara yells as she stands firm in her footing. “I know your abilities and I know what you seek.” She mutters something that Stephen cannot decipher as she reaches into the small bag tied with a leather string around her neck.
“I bar you from us, you cannot come any closer.” She tosses salt up into the air letting it rain down upon the group. “We must be quick; I have prepared a room downstairs, on the second floor, where we will be safe.”
“But, what about Tamas?” Zsofia asks as she begins to panic at the thought of her brother helplessly held by something he cannot see.
“I know he is up here, I heard him calling out!” Stephen states as he stands his ground.
“Not any longer!” The old woman says angrily as she stomps her foot and cane on the floor at the same time. “He is no longer where you thought him to be.” She looks at Stephen, her bottom lip protruding with anger as if trying to force him into a trance. “Now move quickly.” She whispers.