Sophie Rathenau remembers the evening before her wedding in 1760s Dresden, just after the Seven Years’ War.
Late sunlight glistens on the dome of Our Lady’s. Sapphire with azure spots, my dirndl is thin, but my blouse is puffed at the shoulders, blue stitching at the neck and sleeves.
We don’t have much of anything. Half the world is ruined. But the war is over.
I lounge in the glow, a silk wrap tight at my elbows. The stone bench has soaked up warmth all day. It tingles through the grit under my soles. I want to sit here forever. I want to watch the river flow, count the arches of the Augustus Bridge.
“Good of them to call it after you,” I murmur.
His head shifts near mine. I lean against his shoulder, my eyes half closed, fixed on two joined dragonflies.
“Madame,” he says, “your nose is in my ear.” There’s a scroll of gold embroidery at his burgundy collar, a modest ruff at his neck. After the uniform, he doesn’t care for a patterned jacket.
“By dose is itchy.” I rub it from side to side. That ear’s a bit deaf since he came back. I settle my chin beside it, my cheek on his hay-coloured stubble.
His fingers slip into my hair, easing strand from strand. “I had a retriever who laid her head on my shoulder like that.” His voice is as warm as the stone, but I don’t hear the Salzburg hinterland the way I used to. He’s been gone a while.
I growl. “And you’re supposed to be a diplomat.” His ear is neat, tucked-in. I run the tip of my tongue around its rim.
“Daun’s the diplomat. All I do is keep quiet and look fierce.”
I press my ribs against his, thinking I smell pine needles. I always do with him. “Stick to what you’re good at.” I know that Daun values his opinion on the clauses.
His lower lip juts out. Its fullness would seem petulant on another man, his chin fleshy. I think they round out a square and solid face. “You have a bodyguard, too, Fräulein Süssmayr. She’ll be wild.”
I grin. It was easy to lose Aurelia at the Holy Cross. By the time she missed me in the ruins, the shard of its tower stood between us. I walked in the Zwinger and to the Residence, till he came out with Daun and the others.
“I’ll make it up to her.”
My hands, one atop the other, don’t look large on my apron. My naked fingers, shades of sand in the evening sun, tug the knot at the centre of my waist. After tomorrow, I’ll tie it on the right.
The hairs at the tips of his eyebrows are light and fine, hatching into the crinkles around his eyes. “You don’t still want Saint Sophia?”
I smile. “That would be nice. But there’s only one Catholic church in Dresden. If we’re getting married, it has to be in there. And Saint Sophia doesn’t look like that.”
The Court Church is a cutter in full sail, docked on the river. Its tower soars like a mast. He takes hold of my shoulders and eases me around. “Nor that.”
The slim grey bell of Our Lady’s, ringed by four cupolas, rises over the gallery behind us. He shakes his head as he stares up. Behind his hazel eyes there’s a web of scaffolding, hoists, and blocks fitting high above. He loves knowing how things work. I feel, sometimes, he sees me the same way.
I rest my chin on my fists. “Do you ever think that one day people could stand here, gaze up, and not see that? That something so big, so graceful, could disappear?”
It’s a miracle the church is still standing. A lot of the city is rubble. The Prussians weren’t good for it.
He stretches his legs. Gravel scatters, and the sun gleams on the buttons at his knee.
“We’ll be long gone, if that happens.” His hands inch around my waist.
I caress his shoulder. “Careful with that arm.”
“You’ll be Sophie Rathenau.” He squeezes my ribs gently. “Tomorrow.”
The sun slips over the Bastion Sol. I link my wrists at his neck, drawing him to me, saying his name. A last glint laps under the bridge.