Chapter 11: An Unexpected Family Reunion

Claus and Albrecht, who had been sitting with their backs to the door, turned around to look at the newcomer. Hildegarde paled as she realized who the man in the door was. She may not have seen him since he was ten years old, but she recognized him at once. It was her lost, mad, brother Georg. But he should be at least sixty by now. How come he hasn't aged Hildegarde mused.

The children had fortunately been sent to bed an hour ago, so there were only adults in the room. No need to subject the kids to whatever might happen.

Georg walked slowly to the table and sat down beside Ichabod. Everybody in the room felt that something was not quite right. Georg's age for one thing.

"Hello", said Claus. "You haven't changed much." Claus didn't manage to keep the tremor out of his voice.

"You have, Cain", replied Georg.

The conversation between the three brothers deteriorated from there. No-one else but Hildegarde could follow the argument since the quarrelers were shouting in German, and not High German or Low German, but the dialect spoken in the area of St. Radegunda. She heard Georg accuse his older brothers of their neglect, of their cowardice. Claus and Albrecht defended themselves, but one could see that whatever Georg said, it hit home.

Gérard tried to follow the argument, but had to give up since he had never been taught that particular German dialect. Now he began to suspect that this was because his father did not want him to know when he was cursing.

Ichabod never was one to manage to keep his cool in situations like this. He tried in vain to pull Georg away from the others, but Georg didn't budge nor lift a hand against his brothers.

Katerina began to think that maybe she had really messed things up.

Hildegarde ordered everyone out of the room. "This is something that should have happened fifty years ago", the nun said calmly.

"What are they saying?" asked Ichabod.

"A lot of things." Hildegarde pushed him out of the room. "This is between Georg and our brothers."

"That was low, calling me Cain", said Claus in German.

"How were we to know?" added Albrecht.

"Why didn't you ask yourselves why we never wrote?" replied Georg.

"We were young, naive! How were we to know?" said Claus

"You could have at least wondered why!"

"We know! And we have been living with it since!" answered Claus. Albrecht nodded in agreement.

"And so have I!"

"Well.."Claus bristled, "you didn't have to live like *that*! Like a bloody homicidal maniac!"

"What I did with my life concerns only *me*"

"Father would have been so ashamed to see you like a mercenary, like a paid servant, paid killer!"

"Father is *dead*!" Georg yelled. "I don't think you even cared about what happened to me, and to Ermengarde, and Karolina."

"Don't take their names in your mouth, you filth."

"Filth, right?" said Georg with a sudden cold fury. "Not even worth a letter to the Academy at Christmas? Not even worth an excuse for abandoning me in a place where they *trained* killers? That's what they did at the Academy you know. That was the only education I ever got. In killing. Oh yeah, you've treated me well."

Albrecht bit his lip. Claus blushed. And it was so silent that one could hear the conversation going on in the other room.

"Well", sighed Georg. "Some unexpected family reunion, right?"

"Never thought we'd see you alive again", said Albrecht. To the surprise of the two old men their younger brother began to laugh. Georg laughed so hard that he had to sit down. Albrecht and Claus looked at him, then at each other, then back at him. "What's so funny?" asked Albrecht.

"Well," said Georg, "I'm dead!"

"Don't be silly."

"That's the truth."

"You are joking!"

"No."

Still giggling Georg decided to give his brothers the worst shock of their lives. He grabbed his head with his hands and twisted. There was a sickening ripping sound, as Georg lifted his head from his shoulders. Claus was the first one to react. He screamed. Albrecht fainted.

When the others heard Claus's scream they opened the door and rushed into the room. They saw the two old men beside themselves with terror, and Georg was nowhere to be found. Ichabod looked under the table and saw Georg lying on his stomach, covering his head with his hands. He had put his head back in place, and the regeneration of the flesh and hair had just finished.

"What happened?" whispered Ichabod.

"Payback" answered Georg, with grim satisfaction.

Katerina spent the rest of the night, and the following morning, explaining herself to the present members of the Aschenbach clan. When Claus and Albrecht had calmed down, Katerina apologized to them and Georg. "I just wanted to see what would happen. I never thought the truth would shock you like that. I am sorry."

"Well", said Gérard, "This might be a rather inconvenient time, but I have a question I'd like to ask you."

"Go ahead", said Katerina.

Gérard walked over to her and then got down on one knee. The whole room knew what kind of question he would ask.

"Miss Van Tassel, would you like to do me the honor of becoming my wife?"

Katerina was stunned. This man, the nephew of the Hessian Horseman, the witness to her vanity and fondness of intrigues, actually wanted to marry her. She thought about it for a couple of moments. "Yes."

Chapter 12: And then they all lived...

Katerina sat in front of the mirror in her room at the van Tassel manor. In the mirror she saw a bride, dressed in the latest fashion from Paris. Something old; that was the gold chain, worn by her mother at *her* wedding. It now hung around Katerina's neck, telling everyone of her wealth. Something new; That was the wedding dress, sewn in New York by the very best seamstresses after the latest Parisian fashion. The silk in the dress was of best quality to be found in this part of the world. Something borrowed; The crown resting in a box on her bed. Gérard had told her that it was a family heirloom, and that it was a family tradition for the brides to wear this crown at their weddings. It was a large, old crown made in silver with small gold leaves hanging from the upper parts of the crown. The crown had been slightly altered by a jeweler to fit Katerina's head. When Katerina looked at it for the first time she thought it looked very heavy. She had told her future mother-in-law, and she had agreed with her. Something blue; Her engagement ring, in silver with a blue stone. Gérard had given it to her when they got engaged a couple of weeks after the 'Georg incident.'

Gérard's mother entered the room.

"You are very beautiful," said old Mrs. Aschenbach. "My son is very lucky."

"Thank you."

"Are you ready for the crown?"

"I guess so."

"It is a heavy piece. I wore it when I married Claus, so I know."

"It looks old."

"It is old. From the seventeenth century, I was told."

Mrs. Aschenbach picked up the crown out of the box and held it up in the sunshine. The sun sparkled in the golden leaves. "You will look stunning in this."

Then Mrs. Aschenbach put the crown on Katerina's head. The veil kept the hair from getting tangled up in the intricate silver-work of the crown.

"It's heavy," said Katerina.

"I know."

The wedding ceremony was to take place at the Van Garrett manor. It was a beautiful spring day exactly ten months after Gérard's proposal.

The decision to not have the ceremony at the church had been a topic of discussion among the pious citizens of Sleepy Hollow. When it had been explained to the inn-keeper, the greatest gossip in the area, that Gérard was Catholic, the public opinion had changed to 'why don't he change his religion then?' Later this changed into 'well, as long as there's a good party, who cares?'

The ghosts at the graveyard were happy that the road to the van Garret manor passed the church so they could have a look at the bride, and the groom. Baltus was still against the idea of the Hessian's nephew marrying his dear little girl. Too bad she did not appear to be able to hear him when she was visiting his grave.

At the inn, Gérard was getting very fussy and nervous. He, a young doctor, was to marry a rich heiress. All he had to offer her was respectability and himself. Was that really enough? His friends who had come all the way out to this remote place tried to cheer him up by telling him that he was a fool if he backed out now, and that Katerina was very pretty.

At last it was time. Katerina sat on her horse, with her head held high. The crown shone in the sunshine. Everyone who saw her thought she looked like she came right out of a fairy-tale. She rode through village, and past the graveyard. The ghosts clustered at the fence to see her. Soon she was at the Van Garrett manor. The whole Aschenbach clan was there, as was most of the population of Sleepy Hollow. The magistrate would perform the ceremony, but the new priest would be holding a speech at the party afterwards. It was the only compromise that could be accepted by everyone involved in the arrangements.

Gérard was there too. As was Ichabod and Georg. Katerina drew a deep breath. Gérard walked to her and offered his hand. The bride dismounted from the horse. The bridegroom held her close. "It will be all right", he whispered.

"Yes, it will."

"I'll stand by you."

"And I by you."

They smiled at each other. "Let's do this right", said Katerina.

They walked inside to meet the waiting magistrate, and were followed by all of their families and their friends.

And then they all lived happily ever after.

The End