Trudi was never sure exactly when her second marriage became a burden. She just looked up one day and found that everyone in the household blamed the pain on her failings. She supposed she should have expected it. Erich hadn't wanted her for company or for any quality that a man might seek in a woman. He'd looked at her and seen that she was the right shape to fill the hole in his household-- too old for more children but young enough and strong enough to pull her weight on the farm. Marrying her meant not needing to pay her and no risk of her finding another, better place.
She'd looked at Erich and seen security. He was a widower with children nearly grown; she was a widow without other kin. Erich's children, Otto and Tilda, didn't hate Trudi. If it came to that, they'd look after her when she was old. She might be a grandmother to their children.
Trudi had never been afraid of hard work, and she knew farm life. The scrap of land she had as her widow's portion from her first husband's family was close to Erich's farm, so she wasn't coming empty-handed.
But Erich didn't like Trudi's smell or how she seasoned the soup. Trudi couldn't sleep through Erich's snoring, so she was slow in the mornings and tended to snap at everyone. The first winter was unusually cold, and the next spring was too wet. No one starved, but no one had enough, either.
By the time the harvest came, Erich and Trudi communicated only through the children. It wasn't pleasant, but Trudi thought they could manage. There was work to be done, and none of them shirked. Losing even one strong back, one set of hands, would harm them all.
Then he traded her to the Devil for seven generations of prosperity. At least, that's what the Devil told her as he grabbed her by the hair and stuffed her into a burlap bag.
Trudi hoped the Devil was lying. That was a thing he was known for.
She'd also feel less angry at Erich if she'd merely been kidnapped. The desire to murder her husband must certainly be a sin. Actually killing him-- Well, the magistrates weren't kind to women who murdered their husbands.
She had to fight to right herself inside the sack, but she felt better once her head and feet were where they ought to be. She had her knife and used it to cut a slit big enough that she could see out. She was glad that she hadn't made the slit larger and hadn't simply stabbed the Devil to make him drop her because she could see treetops flying by below them. Even if they'd been nearer the ground, she'd never have dared jump at that speed.
And, really, where would she go? If Erich had traded her-- He hadn't. She just didn't know where she was or how far she was from home. At least being in Hell meant knowing the right direction to go once she was free. Anything upward and away would be right.
That didn't make the fire on the horizon or the weight of the heated air any less frightening. Trudi could smell burning fields and sulphur and rotting fish. She couldn't hear anything at all, and that was more terrible than the screams she expected. It was the silence that came when weeping was more than a person could manage. It ached and itched against her ears.
Trudi had not given herself to the Devil. Trudi was also quite certain that her sins were venial rather than mortal. She might spend a very long time in Purgatory, but the Lord had promised her escape from Hell. That was what baptism and faith meant.
She rolled up her sleeves and checked that her feet were fully inside her boots. The Devil would have to land at some point. She was going to be ready.
"Ho, children!" the Devil shouted. "I've brought you a new mother!"
Trudi heard voices then and sharp, high laughter. The sound felt like vinegar on cold-cracked skin. Trudi knew it. It was the laughter of a mob throwing stones at a dog with a bad leg or at an old man with his wits wandering and no protection. She swallowed bile.
"We'll eat this one, too!" a childish voice called.
She supposed it made sense that the Devil's children should be worse than the worst human. Any human could be saved. The grace of God would never touched the Devil's kin.
Trudi need have no hesitation in killing them all.