The Countess Erdmuthe is dying. Her son, Christian Rena- tus, is already dead and buried in the foreign land of En- gland. She feels very little pain and, in fact, there is little physically that is wrong with her. Yet she steadily weakens. Her skin grows pale and translucent, clearly showing her veins.
A knock at the door. One of the Single Sisters waiting on the countess goes to open it, bows to whom she sees and swings the door open widely, stepping back herself, for Nicholas to enter.
Erdmuthe sees all of this, sees her husband staring at her, sees her dying reflected in his face, and waits for him to draw near her bed. He sits in the chair vacated by the sister, who leaves the room, shutting the door quietly behind her.
Erdmuthe still stares at Nicholas. He looks away, then looks back at her and begins, haltingly, to speak.
"My . . . dear . . . "
She holds up her right hand, the index finger raised, and points it at him.
"You pathetic, weak creature," she says.
"Erdmuthe . . ."
"No!" she snaps. "Say nothing. You disgust me. You killed our son and now I gladly join him, far from your grasp, your heart religion that has no heart, no center, but vacillates daily depending on how you feel. How - you - feel!" she stressed. "As though your feelings mattered. As though your feelings could affect the world. As though your hot and cold, your wet and dry, could ever stand up to its pressures. Well, we know the answer to that now, don't we?"
Nicholas said nothing at first, then, slowly, "I didn't know you hated me so much."
"I didn't at first," she admitted, "Not when we were young. I saw you as beautiful, beautiful and firm in the spirit. I saw the spirit using us to create a new religion, a religion for now, for our people, for all people. And we started it. WE started it! And then you collapsed. You gave in. Rumor frightened you. Scandal scared you. And worse, the threat of penury made you weaken. You had no faith. No faith!
"Our son did," she continued. "My son, my beautiful boy. Remember how proud we were of him?"
Nicholas said nothing.
"We wrapped him in silks and linens, with lace from the hands of the Single Sisters wrapped all about his head. And he never cried, never whimpered. He was a good boy. The Son of God lived through him. You said that. I knew it and he believed it. He acted on it. And we, our family, didn’t we represent the very Trinity itself, Father, Son, the Holy Spirit as Mother, and Benigna as the wisdom of Sophia? Didn’t the very godhead live through us?”
"Hush, Erdmuthe, blasphemy," said Nicholas, looking towards the door. "We were wrong, so very wrong."
"No, we were not wrong, my husband; we compromised!" she shouted. "Compromise the spirit and it leaves! Yes, you have nice, decent church towns all over the world, filled with nice, decent people who worship their carefully selected truths and beliefs, but they . . . feel . . . nothing. Where is the passion? Where is the ecstasy? That is what you have destroyed. That is what you killed. You had it. You helped create it. And then you destroyed it. Nicholas, you are cursed!"
"The church had to survive," he said. "What good is truth if it cannot be sustained? The church lives."
"The church," she replied, "has no guts."
He stood up and walked to the window.
"I'm sorry you feel that way," he said. "Especially now. But changes had to be made. We had to mature, to refine our beliefs. We . . . went astray, somehow. But now we’re back on the right path and converts are increasing daily. The Word spreads and will continue to spread long after both of us are gone. What is wrong with that?"
"Christian was the future and now he’s dead so there is no future!"
"But if you only realized how much Christian spent on those festivals of his. The church was being bankrupted. We had no choice."
"There is always a way," she emphasized. "You should have found the money."
"I did," he replied. "I bled our missions dry to keep him and you going. I kept the creditors and scandalmongers away from you both for as long as I could. But even I couldn't deny what I saw in that room, the blasphemy, with his male harlots."
Erdmuthe slapped the mattress hard with her hand. It made a sharp crack. Nicholas looked at her in surprise.
"How was that different from our hymns which sing of the Bridegroom coming for his brides?"
"Erdmuthe, be serious."
"I am serious!" she shouted, then fell back against her pillow with a gasp. The door opened and the sister looked in. Erdmuthe saw her and shook her head slightly. The sister withdrew and shut the door.
The countess looked at Nicholas and smiled weakly, then held out her hand to him. He came back to the bedside, sat in the chair again and took her hand in his. It was cold to his warmth. He rubbed it gently between his hands. She looked at him kindly.
"Soon I will leave you," she said, "And you will manage the church as you wish, as you have always done. Early on, you sought my advice. We always worked together. We were a team in the first days of the world. But after a while, you turned your ear towards new advisers until you were surrounded solely by men, and I was just a woman, after all. Then I only had Christian while you had the world. It was an even swap. I raised him and taught him the way he should go until he burned with the spirit inside him like fire.
"You say he was extravagant, that he was unrealistic. But you don't know how much he loved you. How much he needed your respect. How much he wanted to be with you and how much he wanted you to be proud of him. He was never the same after that night."
Nicholas has stopped rubbing her hand, dreading to think where her words were going.
"His spirit was broken. He wanted your approval so much that he was willing to deny all he believed, all he'd been taught and all he knew about who and what he was, in order for you just to love him. And, like you, he was very weak, very fragile. I protected him as long as I could, but I knew there was a time when you would take my son away from me, but I never, ever, thought you would destroy him."
"Please don't," said Nicholas. She took her hand, pressed it to his cheek and he started crying.
Erdmuthe pulled her hand away and pointed towards the west, looking far beyond the walls of her room, far beyond German soil, beyond Europe, across the Atlantic to the New World and saw very clearly in her mind's eye what she was looking for.
"They say his spirit is not dead, you know. They say it lives in Pennsylvania, in the spring named for him, and that the brothers you cast out from Herrnhaag drink of that spring, which is his blood and also pure, clear water. They drink of his blood and he enters them and they become one and whole in the spirit.
"You killed him, Nicholas, but our son lives on. And even when all those men die, and the buildings themselves are leveled, I promise you the water of his blood will flow again and someone, some day, shall drink of it and know it for what it is and on that day I shall rejoice."
She looked at Nicholas, who had nothing to say. She gave him her hand. He drew it to his lips and kissed it.
"Now leave me," she said. "Leave me alone."