The moment Natalya goes to refresh Aksinya's wine, a young gentleman approaches Aksinya, goes to one knee, and addresses her...
He glanced at her hand and then at her face again and smiled, “You are truly the one, Countess.”
Aksinya took a deep breath, “The one…?”
His smile broadened, “I have met you twice, but we have not been introduced. Please don’t think me forward if I introduce myself. I am Ernst Franz von Taaffe. My father is the Graf von Taaffe. So, you see, we are of nearly equal rank.”
Aksinya tried to pull her hand from his, “Why should that matter to me?”
“Because, first, I am infatuated with you. I warn you, I will do anything to have you. Second, I know exactly what you are…”
Aksinya pursed her lips and yanked her hand back. The man would not let it go. “Where did you meet me?” She hissed.
“Outside the Golden Adler Gasthaus.”
Aksinya’s free hand stole to her face, “You were one of the rapists?”
The furrows in Ernst’s smooth brow deepened, “Dear Countess, surely you don’t count me with that sort. Search your memories. You stared directly at me. You spoke to me. I carried your sweet body back into your house and placed you in your bed. Your blood ruined one of my good suits, but I purposely haven’t thrown it out.”
Aksinya’s eyes widened, “You were that man.”
Ernst’s lips drooped, “Yes, that man…”
Aksinya’s eyes filled with fear. She tried again to pull her hand from his grasp, “Why were you there? What did you see?”
Ernst grinned, “I was there because your courtier, Anatov Aznabaev told me you would be there.”
Aksinya shook her head, “Wait, Anatov Aznabaev.” She whispered a sentence of Latin words under her breath, “Say that name again.”
Ernst repeated, “Anatov Aznabaev.”
And clearly to Aksinya’s ears came, “Asmodeus.” She puffed out her cheeks, “Scheize.”
“Countess! I was led to believe you were a completely refined woman.”
“I don’t care.” She stared at the man, “What do you know?”
“That you are a most wondrous sorceress. I saw everything. You made a great enchantment without any protection. Such power, unbelievable power…” He noted the look on Aksinya’s face, “Don’t worry, Countess. Your secret is safe with me, but only if you do as I wish.”
Now, the plans of Asmodeus are coming to fruition. Did you imagine the actions and the events outside the tavern were there only to tempt Aksinya into sorcery. That was less than half of it. There is much mush more that will come out of that single incident. It is like the widening ripples when you throw a stone into a pond. These ripples will not stop until the accomplishment of everything the demon desires.
The gentle claims to have met Aksinya twice, but he only tells us about one time. The other is left in obscurity and Aksinya doesn't ask him. He introduces himself--this is a faux pas in that culture, but he is of almost equal rank--his father is a count.
I love the imagery of Aksinya trying to pull her hand from his. Do you see that. This isn't the last time. Ernst has made a demand on her--she doesn't wish to accept it. Then the confession of Ernst von Taaffe. He is infatuated with her, and he knows what she is. The what is important. Aksinya asks the obvious question. The answer surprises her. This shouldn't surprise us, Aksinya doesn't look at these details. Unless they are beholden to her, people are unimportant to her.
Ernst reminds her about the events we learned only second hand. That he hasn't thrown out his ruined suit should tell you, he has it bad. Aksinya gets it--he was the man Natalya and Sister Margarethe told her about. The reason Ernst was at the Gasthaus was that Asmodeus told him to come. We see the demon's plans inside of plans inside of plans. We also learn that Asmodeus is acting on his own as Aksinya's courtier. He uses the name Anatov Aznabaev. Aksinya uses sorcery to confirm what she realizes--Anatove Aznabaev is Asmodeus.
Aksinya curses. This surprises Ernst. It shouldn't. He knows she is a sorceress! He saw the enchantment and seems to understand what it meant. He knows Aksinya's greatest sin, and her greatest secret: “Don’t worry, Countess. Your secret is safe with me, but only if you do as I wish.” Tomorrow, we find what Ernst desires from Aksinya.