Dark tracks, p.22
Dark Tracks, p.22Part #4 of Order of Darkness series by Philippa Gregory
Brother Peter looked at the young man. “What you are describing could never happen,” he said. “People are cruel and unreasonable; someone like Lord Vargarten is a brute. But nobody would destroy a whole race. It could not be done, there is no way that it could be done. It is unimaginable.”
The innkeeper’s daughter tapped on the door and said that dinner could be served if they would move the writing box from the table.
“Come in!” Freize said eagerly. “Let me help you with the plates.”
Luca laughed as Freize swept away the papers. “Forgive me, Sparrow,” he said. “But I don’t want to inconvenience this lady as she brings the plates from the kitchen. It would be wrong to delay her, when she has gone to all this trouble to make a good dinner.”
She brought them roasted and cold meats, fresh bread, cheeses, and a rich, warm syllabub in a great bowl. Freize drew up his chair, waited for Brother Peter to complete the long Latin grace, and then lowered his head, eating steadily, hardly drawing breath.
They were all exhausted by the events of the long day. Luca kissed the hands of both the girls as they went up to their bedroom without saying a particular good night to either of them. Ishraq smiled at him as she left the room, but said nothing.
The two young women combed and plaited each other’s hair, just as they did every night, then dressed in their nightgowns.
“Are you afraid to sleep here?” Ishraq asked Isolde.
“No. I know that I am safe now. I know the dancers have gone away. Are you afraid?”
“No. I’m not afraid of the peddler; I am sure he is on his way back to Giorgio. And I don’t fear the dancers. I think that has burned out. I think the worst thing was as Luca says—what will happen? Not to us but to the Jews?”
Isolde knelt at the foot of the bed for her prayers, as Ishraq lay down and pulled the covers to her chin with a sigh of relief.
“I am so tired,” she confessed.
Isolde got in beside her. “Now you must tell me everything that happened,” she commanded. “About the peddler and about you chasing him.”
“Where shall I start?”
Isolde yawned deeply. “Tell me from when you went upstairs to look at the earrings in the landlady’s mirror.”
Ishraq made her voice deliberately quiet and slow. “I went up the stairs to look at the earrings. . . .”
Within moments, Isolde was asleep, her breathing quiet and regular. Ishraq lay on her pillow, looking up at the limewashed ceiling, listening to the creaks of the old house settling down for the night. She closed her eyes. She slept.
Late in the night, just before dawn, as the moon dipped slowly below the horizon, Isolde started to dream. It was a dream that meant nothing, not drawn from her experience of the day, not a wish that she longed for. It was as if it were someone else’s dream. She tossed in her bed and started to cry out, as if to shout a warning to people that had not yet been born.
In her dream, she saw a road that was not like a road at all. It was the road that she had danced so wearily, the road to Mauthausen. But it was not like a road, for she could see the moonlight gleaming on two parallel lines in the road—narrow tracks of metal, shining like silver, snaking along the river valley, going to the town like a poisoned arrow traveling toward a beating heart.
Along the tracks, terribly, came a monster of a machine, dark and smoking, sparks of fire spurting from its great chimney, with a roar like that of a dragon, pounding in the night with metal wheels turning on the silver tracks, overwhelming in its speed and threat and horror.
Isolde turned in her sleep and started to moan. She had never seen anything like this in her life before; she could not comprehend the speed at which the machine was traveling, faster than any horse, faster than a river in spate. She could not imagine where it was going, with such direct and terrible purpose. She tossed and turned, but she could not free herself from the dream.
She saw the smoking chimney at the front of the monster, and then she heard the scream and the whine of the metal brakes as the wheels locked; she saw the slide of the long line of closed carts along the silver tracks in the road. The carts came to a juddering halt before a raised stone platform like a quayside, but there was no reassuring splash of waves. There was a terrible silence. Waiting on the platform were men, with faces as hard as Lord Vargarten’s, with dogs like wolves on leashes beside them that gave tongue as if they had sighted prey.
The doors of the first wagon slid open and scores—perhaps a hundred—of starved, frightened people who had been packed inside the closed carts, gasping like fish for air, licking the rainwater from the sides of the cart, stepped unwillingly, sometimes falling to their knees, into the cold, hard moonlight of the stone platform. They looked around with dread, not knowing where they were, nor what was going to happen to them, but recognizing the time and place of their death.
Isolde flung herself upright with a scream of terror. At once, Ishraq was at her side, patting her back, hugging her shoulders. “Wake up! Wake up! You’re all right. It was just a dream! You’re safe, Isolde. What was it?”
“A dream,” Isolde said slowly. “I had a most terrible dream.”
“What was it? It’s no wonder that you are dreaming of horrors.”
“I don’t know what it was,” she said, her voice trembling. “I don’t know where it was. It’s something—but there are no words for it. It’s something so terrible that it is beyond description. I don’t know what I dreamed, and, if I could say it, you would not believe me. That was what they knew—the people in my dream—that they would tell of it, and tell of it, but that nobody would hear them, and, if anyone heard, they would not believe. I dreamed of Jews, but they had been transformed into ghosts in striped jackets, and they were walking to their death. The people around them had been transformed into monsters, men and women without hearts. And I cannot tell you, and they cannot tell you: it is something beyond words.”
Ishraq shuddered at the depth of horror in her friend’s blue eyes. “It was just a dream. It wasn’t real.”
“It was here!” Isolde cried out with sudden conviction. “It was here! In this town, in Mauthausen!”
“Hush, hush. No, it was a dream. It was nothing. You’re all right, Isolde. You’re safe. We’re safe.”
“Oh yes, I am all right,” the girl said quietly, coming to herself and looking around the limewashed walls of the room and the quiet dawn starting to lighten the window. “But what about them?”
The dancing sickness that is the subject of Luca’s inquiry can be seen in various outbreaks from medieval to modern times. There have been a number of attempts at explanation. Current theories call this “mass hysteria”—which suits our thinking, but may be no more useful to our understanding than labeling it “possession by demons.”
The legend of a golem who protects the Jews is a traditional Jewish story. The laws against Jews, their enforced separation in villages, the prejudicial traditions against them, and the regular assaults and killing are part of the history of anti-Semitism that has disgraced Christendom for two thousand years.
It is that track of thinking that leads from medieval persecution to the indescribable Holocaust, like the train tracks of Isolde’s dream, which ran to the village of Mauthausen—a hub of Nazi concentration camps, where prisoners worked until they were killed from 1938 to 1945. How many died is still unknown—it is estimated that between 122,766 and 320,000 died at the Mauthausen complex alone.
In the Holocaust itself, up to 6 million Jews were killed, 5.7 million Soviet citizens, 2.5 million Soviet prisoners of war, about 1.9 million Polish civilians, 312,000 Serb civilians, about 275,000 people with disabilities, 196,000–220,000 Roma, 1,900 Jehovah’s Witnesses, 70,000 so-called criminals, an unknown number of German political opponents and resistance activists in Axis-occupied territory, hundreds, possibly thousands, of homosexuals. These were not wartime deaths of combatants. This was the Holocaust, the deliberate mass murde
I drew Isolde’s nightmare from a recurring dream described by Primo Levi, who survived Auschwitz. He dreamed that he would go into a room of friends and be unable to tell them what he had seen, what had happened. He thought that his own experience was—in real life—beyond description, beyond belief.
The prejudiced, fearful track of medieval hatred led to this destination, and everyone who walked it through the centuries has some responsibility for treading it deeper into the mind. The fear and hatred of the other followed its old twisted course beneath the Enlightenment, beneath modernity, almost forgotten, until it remerged with such terrible force. We must never tread these ways again. Any time that we are invited to hate someone, any time that we are filled with self-righteous anger or fear, we should remember where this road can lead.
About the Author
PHILIPPA GREGORY is the author of many bestselling novels, including The Other Boleyn Girl, and is a recognized authority on women’s history. Her work has been adapted for the screen in the movie The Other Boleyn Girl and the critically acclaimed STARZ miniseries The White Queen and The White Princess. Her most recent novel is The Last Tudor. She graduated from the University of Sussex and received a PhD from the University of Edinburgh, where she is a Regent. She holds two honorary degrees from Teesside University and the University of Sussex. She is a fellow of the Universities of Sussex and Cardiff and was awarded the 2016 Harrogate Festival Award for Contribution to Historical Fiction. She welcomes visitors to her website, PhilippaGregory.com.
Simon & Schuster, New York
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Also by Philippa Gregory
Order of Darkness Volumes I–III
The Plantagenet and Tudor Court Novels
The Lady of the Rivers
The Red Queen
The White Queen
The Kingmaker’s Daughter
The White Princess
The Constant Princess
The King’s Curse
Three Sisters, Three Queens
The Other Boleyn Girl
The Boleyn Inheritance
The Taming of the Queen
The Queen’s Fool
The Virgin’s Lover
The Last Tudor
The Other Queen
The Wideacre Trilogy
The Favored Child
Other Historical Novels
The Wise Woman
A Respectable Trade
The Tradescant Novels
Alice Hartley’s Happiness
The Little House
Bread and Chocolate
The Women of the Cousins’ War
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This book is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real places are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and events are products of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or places or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
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Philippa Gregory, Dark Tracks
(Series: Order of Darkness # 4)
Dark Tracks by Philippa Gregory / Young Adult / Fantasy have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on25 votes