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Searching For Sisi

by Maureen Kellar-Kirby 6 months ago in Series · updated 6 months ago
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The Reincarnation of Empress Elisabeth of Austria

Part One

It was midnight at Schloss Possenhofen, on the western shore of Lake Starnberg, Bavaria, Germany, home of Duke Maximilian, his wife Ludovika and his seven children.

Sisi lay sleeping, dressed in a white, ruffled nightgown, her long, dark curls splayed over the pillow with abandon, just a child of fifteen. Shadows of moonlight filtered through the windows illuminating her bedroom, shining on a parade of china horses displayed on a wooden shelf.

Sisi was dreaming, astride her chestnut horse Bummerl, riding in the wildest manner - bareback style, forbidden to the ladies of her time. And yet, she gripped the sides of her heaving gelding with her thighs clenched as they galloped over the meadow away, her skirt flapping in the breeze.

"On Bummerl, to the fence, to the gate!" Sis cried excitedly, slapping her horse with her reins. We shall take it!"

The eager gelding approached the stone fence without hesitation and jumped effortlessly to the other side, lunging up a hill to a meadow framed by a mixed forest.

"You did it! We did it my fine fellow! On to the lake!"

Through thick clover and tangled grass, towards the lake, shimmering through the trees in the distance, Bummerl slowed to a trot as they wove their way through the forest brush. Sisi ducked under branches and clung to her horse's mane as they maneuvered their way carefully towards the water's edge.

Coming to the shore, Bummerl stopped and Sisi jumped down, letting the reins fall where they may. He snorted and shook his head, scattering flies from his eyes, then lowered his head to take a drink.

Sisi ran a hand absently through her tangled, free flowing hair, adjusted her hat and smoothed her dress, chuckling to herself. She had defied them all, her mother, her father, her sister Helene and most of all her brother Karl. A lady didn't do these things. But she had.

Sisi tugged on her skirt and unbuttoned her blouse. No one was watching in the heat of a dusky summer's evening, or were they? She stole a cautious glance around her and then undressed hurriedly, her clothes falling to the forest floor. She kicked off her boots and then stood completely naked, beside her horse who was intent on stripping leaves from a young sapling.

She waded carefully out from shore, bare feet feeling their way over a pebbled beach into the deeper water. Sisi arose, spitting lake water and swam out, absorbing the deep pure water of the lake, feeling it flowing around and between her legs, her long hair floating behind her.

In the distance, Rose Island, Sisi's cousin Ludwig's precious playground emerged before her. He had envisioned a lovely, little private cottage there which his father planned to build. He and Sisi had spent wonderful days making plans, dreaming dreams and pretending that Rose Island was their own exclusive, fairy kingdom.

Sisi doubted however, that Ludwig would ever connect to the real world around them. He would go on, she predicted, to build more castles in the sky and on the ground perhaps and to withdraw even more from the mundane. There was something of Duke Max in Ludwig which ran through the Wittelsbach family and extended to Sisi - a crazy streak or was it simply an impractical but romantic urge which begged to be expressed?

This was Sisi's Heaven, a forbidden one, only to be savored in her wildest dreams, but this was a dream, wasn't it? Bummerl continued to rip at the grass along the shore while Sisi floated silently, rocked b the waves, then somersaulting one, two, three times before plunging even deeper, seeking the bottom of the lake. Touching only weeds, she rose to the top bursting for air. Then, taking deep gulps, she flipped over onto her back and floated, gazing up at the sky, watching birds take flight over her, Sisi, a child of nature, a mermaid at home in the water absorbing it's pure essence.

The breeze lapped the waves against the shore and swayed the trees which seemed to dance in a gesture of co-operation. Sisi heard a pair of loons calling out to each other. She followed a stray cloud above her, then turned over onto her stomach and breast stroked her way to shore, glancing around in every direction while she scanned the beach. Yes, she was still alone, and her secret was safe! Only her horse knew what she had done. This moment would forever be hers, an ultimate victory. No one would tell Sisi what to do. She had a mind of her own.

Stepping out of the water, feeling her way bare footed over the beach stones, Sisi located her clothes and dressed hurriedly, shivering in the darkness. Mounting Bummerl, who had grazed the area bare, she pressed both heels to his flanks and they took off, plunging through the eerie forest towards Schloss Possenhofen, arising ahead.

Dismounting, she led her horse into the stable and secured him in his stall with water and hay, removing tack and hanging it on a peg on the wall. Quietly, through the house until -

"Sisi! Where have you been?" Ludovika stood accusingly, hand on hips, by the dining room hall.

"Oh mother, you know I visit Bummerl in the stables at night to feed him carrots and apples," Sisi smiled.

"Do carrots and apples give you wet hair?"

"Only when it rains mother," Sisi giggled, playing the game along.

"Off to bed you go. We'll talk about this in the morning." Ludovika indulged her daughter with a forced smile.

"Then I shall have the whole evening to make up a good explanation," Sisi thought. She needn't have worried. Dreams often rescue us from complicated situations upon awakening.

Sisi drempt on through the night and into the early hours of the morning.

Castle Possenhofen stood isolated, its turrets majestic against the sky, a stark white against the background of trees and rolling meadows. Sisi's father, Duke Maximilian Joseph in Bavaria, known informally as Max in Bayern, an eccentric man of the House of Wittelsbach, lived a life that others might only dream of.

He dwelt in a world of fantasy, indulging his imagination and new few of the limitations that constrict the ordinary man.

Sisi worshipped him silently and when they spent time together he would often wander with Sisi through the woods, pointing out to her the wild mushrooms, forest edibles, the names of birds and wildlife and identifying the types of trees, explaining to her their role in the natural order of things.

His other passion was Bavarian folk music and he was an accomplished musician in his own right, nick-named "Zither Max" for his proficiency on the instrument. Sisi would sometimes find him in a quiet corner of "Possi", his ear cocked to the Heavens, composing his latest musical masterpiece and they would have long talks about the life of a circus performer.

The circus, another of Max's eccentric passions, he had indulged by creating a facsimile in his own backyard. That Sisi had inherited this propensity for dreams and adventure from her father was a sympathetic understanding between them.

Duke Maximillian had done his share of wandering, travelling even to Egyptian shores, scaling the Great Pyramid, keeping a written journal and bringing back with him, momentos of his journey, including the mysterious mummy of a young woman, assorted gruesome heads, temple stones and artifacts which Sisi was both fascinated and repelled by.

The other side of "Zither Max" was a more irresponsible one, and it did not bother his conscience to admit to more than a few mistresses and several illegitimate children scattered about the community who sometimes even found their way to Possenhofen.

Sisi's mother, Duchess Ludovika, resented the fact that she had married such an irresponsible and eccentric dreamer who wrote songs and wandered the countryside, mingling with the common folk. Her dignity would not admit to the many affairs and she turned the other way, pretending that they did not exist. Her greatest ambition of her married life had become match making and securing substantial marriages for her daughters who she vowed, would not suffer the same fate.


Sisi knew the woods, valleys and meadows like the back of her hand. She and sister Helene named them all fanciful names that they used to orient themselves when hiking as part of an invisible map - Cloud Valley, Fox Glen Hill, Bottom Road, Moonlight Galley...

"Let's go down to the glen," she urged her sister Helene. "I saw an old shoe there yesterday. It must have belonged to a witch or a gypsy."

"But what if it does," Helene gasped. Helene, the shy, insecure, thin as a rake and boyishly figured Helene.

"Then we shall claim it for our own!" Sisi exclaimed, grasping Helene's hand and pulling her towards the door.

"Sisi, you are too bold! It will get you into trouble some day."

Sisi laughed, a sparkle in her eyes, tossing her head. "What is there to be afraid of anyway?"

"More than you know." Helene chided her apprehensively.

"Then stay home. I'll take the chance." Sisi shrugged her shoulders and sighed, talking to herself. "Mother wouldn't care to pay attention to such foolishness anyway."

"Sisi grabbed her cloak, exiting the room while Helene looked on helplessly in her own inhibited way. She was jealous of her sister, she would not admit, but they were as different as night and day and it was this difference that separated them.

Sisi returned several hours later, holding an old black leather shoe, pointed toe, scuffed and worn. Entering the parlor where her mother, father, brother and sister sat, she brandished it triumphantly.

"See, I told you I'd find it!"

"Then the witch will come for you in the night Sisi" Helene gasped while Duchess Ludovika smiled and Duke Maximillian absent-mindedly chuckled.

"I think the witch would have more to fear than Sisi would!"

Sisi turned resolutely. "And I shall bury it by Fox Glen Hill and she will know it is there and come for it. Witches know these sorts of things" Sisi added.

Duke Maximillian laughed as Sisi raced from the room, clutching the old shoe.

"She's a wild one, that girl of mine!"

"Or crazy maybe?" Helene suggested with a smirk.

"Oh, let her enjoy her fancies. We're only young once", the duchess smiled in agreement. "I was young once too and I remember the way that it was."

Duchess Ludovika had an air of elegance and nobility about her, good breeding perhaps, and a formality that seemed out of place in the informal atmosphere of Schloss Possenhofen. Her sister, Archduchess Sophie, had married Archduke Franz Karl and even 'though Ludovika had deserted her noble roots a long time ago, they had stubbornly clung to her.

The life that she was leading was a sacrifice to her upbringing. She was clearly a fish out of water and had no recourse but to grin and bear the life that had chosen her. Her sister, she thought, had made a much better life for herself and now ruled over Austria.

Later that evening, Sisi sat at a table in the parlor writing poetry. She wrote about the woods, the trees, the birds and the lake. She wrote about her horse Bummerl and the splendid rides that they had taken together. She wrote about dreams and what they had shown her. Putting down the pen she suddenly leapt up and fairly danced around the room. Ludovika glanced at her spontaneous playfulness, surprised.

"What is this, Sisi?"

"This is what I want to be mother!" Sisi exclaimed excitedly, "a famous poet, admired by all and known throughout all of Europe!"

Ludovika's expression relaxed. "Just a poet my dear?" teased Ludovika, "and what about a husband and children and a beautiful home?"

"They will come too mother, when the time is right."

"That time is fast approaching my darling," Ludovika reminded her.

"But mother! I'm only fifteen!" Sisi protested, "Let me enjoy what childhood I have left."

"Have I ever prevented you from that?" Ludovika reminded her. "All of you children have had wonderful childhoods with more freedom than I ever had."

"Yes mother dear," Sisi exclaimed, kissing her mother and throwing her arms around Ludovika's shoulders sagging with weight of the world upon them. "We have all been so lucky to have had you and father and lovely "Possi" and hopefully many more years to look forward to here."

Ludovika's smile tightened as she rose to appear busy. Sisi, in her exuberance, had failed to notice her mother's cynical reaction. The future to her was a lifetime away.


About the author

Maureen Kellar-Kirby

Maureen Kellar-Kirby, author of "Go Back Jack" Total Recall Press (2018) and "The Leprechaun Who Was Not a Mouse" (2021).

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