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Posts Tagged ‘Russian Nights’

Sorry to be late this morning.  I’ve been taking care of some business for NRP before breaking long enough to blog. I know this is my writing blog, but I do want to give everyone a heads up that we’ll be  making some announcements soon and I’m really excited about it.

I also want to thank everyone who has purchased Nocturnal Origins and have been helping spread the word.  Please, keep it up.  You guys are my best form of PR and I do appreciate it.

Now, since it is Thursday, here’s another snippet from Russian Nights.

*     *     *     *

“Katya, please, go upstairs and make sure your brother is getting dressed for dinner.  You know your papa will be home soon.”

            Irena Baranova stood in the doorway to her husband’s study and shook her head.  She’d made this simple request once already.  Not that Katya had heard.  The girl – no, she had to quit thinking of Katerina as a girl.  She was a young woman now – had her nose in a book.  As was almost always the case when she read, Katya was oblivious to the world.

Not that Irena minded.  They had a few minutes before Feodor returned home.  Time enough for Katya to finish the page and then see to her brother.

            Eighteen year old Katerina Yelizaveta Baranova sat in a well-worn chair before the far window.  The heavy draperies were pulled tightly against the falling darkness outside.  The dark of the room was relieved only by the glow from the lamp next to Katya.  Not that Katya realized how late it had become.  Once lost in a book, nothing else existed for her.

            Aggravated as she should be, Irena couldn’t help smiling as she looked at her daughter, her eldest child.  Tall and willowy, it was hard to guess it from the way Katya sat curled in the chair, much like Kisa, the family cat.  Katya’s thick auburn hair fell in soft waves below her shoulders.  She might not be beautiful in the classic sense.  But Irena knew she’d grow more beautiful as she matured, something other women would resent with the passing years.  Until then, there was a strength to Katya’s features, softened by compassion, that couldn’t be ignored.

            “Katya,” she repeated, a hint of impatience creeping into her voice.

            “Mama.”  Katya looked up from her book, her expression a mix of affection and aggravation.  “Sasha’s probably got his nose pressed to his window, watching for Papa.  You know how he misses him.”

            “Which is why I need you to make sure he’s not so busy watching for your papa, he’s forgotten to get ready for supper.”

            “Mama, you worry too much.”  Katya carefully marked her place before closing the book and placing it on the table next to her chair.  Then, with a cat-like grace Irena envied, she uncurled her legs and climbed to her feet.  “But I will go hurry Sasha along.  I want to make sure he’s worked on his lessons for morning any way.”

            Katya lightly kissed her mother’s cheek before leaving the study.  Irena looked after her, no longer trying to hide her smile.  Katya was just one example of why no one would mistake them for a “typical” Russian family, noble or not.  In fact, being an atypical Russian family was something both she and Feodor, her husband these last twenty years, prided themselves on.  Just as they prided themselves on raising an intelligent, independent daughter.

Of course, there were times she might wish Katya was just a bit less independent. . . . But not often.

***

            “Papa’s home!”

            The door to her brother’s bedroom flew open and the boy hurtled into the hallway.  With the ease of much practice, Katya stepped to the side, all but hugging the wall.  Her right hand reached out and closed around Sasha’s arm as he rushed past, pulling him to a halt.  Twelve year old Aleksander glared up at her, outraged that she’d stopped him.  Then, as she reached out to ruffle his dark hair, smiling in affection, he ducked his head and grinned in response.

            “Papa may be home, but do you want to greet him by bouncing down the stairs on your head?” she teased.

            “But my head is hard, Katya.  You keep telling me that,” Sasha said with a cheeky grin.

            “So I do, Sashel.  But think how sad it would make Mama if you bled all over your new shirt.  And what of Anna who would have to clean the mess?”

            “Well –” He tilted his head to one side as he looked up at her, a slight smile tugging at the corners of his mouth even as he pretended to consider it all.  “I guess it would make for a homecoming Papa might not enjoy.”

            “Then, shall we go down now and give him one he will enjoy?”

            Together they made their way downstairs a bit more slowly – although, to be honest, not that much more – than Sasha wanted.  After all, he wasn’t the only one anxious to see their father after Feodor’s week long absence.  But there was one person in the household who had missed Papa more than either of them and that was their mother.  Knowing that, Katya hoped she’d managed to stall her brother long enough for their parents to have a short but private greeting because it would be their last time alone until Sasha went to bed and she retired to her room and her own studies.

            As they entered the salon, Katya smiled to see how her father still held Mama close, love clearly reflected on both their expressions “Papa!” Sasha rushed across the salon and flung himself into Feodor’s open arms.

            “Irena, I do believe our son is glad to see me,” he said, his brown eyes twinkling.  “But how about our daughter?  Have I been gone so long she’s forgotten me?”

            Katya grinned and hurried to join her brother in their father’s embrace.  “Never, Papa, but little Aleksander here didn’t look like he’d make room for me.”

            Feodor cupped her chin in his big hand and kissed her cheek.  “It is good to be home.  Now, I know your mother and Anna have supper almost ready.  Why don’t the two of you help set the table while I freshen up?”

            Katya hid her smile to see how badly her brother wanted to protest.  After all, Papa had just gotten home.  But neither of them had been raised to either backtalk their parents or take for granted anything they had.  That was one thing that made their family different from so many of those of Katya’s friends.  Despite the fact her parents came from old, aristocratic families, they had taken great pains to make sure both Katya and Sasha understood that did not entitle them to anything they did not earn for themselves. 

            Because of that, they did not have a houseful of servants.  Instead, they had Anna Petrovskaya, their live-in maid who helped Irena with the cleaning and cooking, and her husband, Viktor, who acted as butler and chauffeur.  Both had come with the family when it moved to St. Petersburg in 1906 when Feodor began working for Peter Stolypin, then Minister of the Interior.

If an occasion arose when they needed additional help, Irena hired it.  As a result, both Katya and Sasha had learned early on how to pick up after themselves and care for the home.  After all, if they were lucky enough to have a home and nice things, they should learn how to care for them themselves.

            “Come along, Sasha.”  Katya smiled once more at their father and winked at their mother.  “You can talk to Papa over supper.”

            Later, they retired to the sitting room, as they did most evenings when the entire family was home.  Unlike many of the other families of their acquaintance, they did not follow the trend of the children being sent to their rooms or the nursery while the adults went their separate ways.  No, Irena and Feodor believed in the importance of spending time with their children, sharing the events of the day with one another.

Katya smiled indulgently as she watched her brother all but run across the room to settle on the floor next to their father’s favorite chair.  How many nights had he spent sitting there, looking up at Feodor, raptly listening to their father talk about any variety of topics?  Not that she blamed him.  Katya had spent her fair share of nights sitting there as well, at least she had until her mother had taken her to one side and explained how important it was for Sasha to have some of their father’s attention now that he was growing up.

            “So,” Feodor began as he leaned back and reached for his snifter of brandy.  “How have things been while I was gone?”

            “You know how it is, dear,” Irena began, her blue eyes twinkling as she glanced first at Sasha and then at Katya where she curled on the far end of the sofa opposite her mother.  “The children miss you, but try to act as if they don’t.”

            “Mama!” Sasha protested, a blush creeping across his fair cheeks.

            “Don’t let your mama tease you, Sashel.  I know you do your best to be the man of the family, and I appreciate it.  I feel better when I have to leave, knowing you are here looking after your mother and sister.”

            But he didn’t, not really, and Katya knew it.  Just as she knew he wished she had been born a son.  Oh, he loved her.  There was no doubting that.  He made it clear every day.  Still, she knew he’d feel better if she had been a son, just as she knew some sort of trouble was coming and it worried her father.  But what could she do?  He wouldn’t talk to her about it.  Nor, she suspected, had he discussed it with her mother and, until he had, there was very little any of them could do to help.

            “Katya.” Concern touched Feodor’s voice and she shook herself.

            “I’m sorry, Papa.”

            “You were a world away, child.  Is everything all right?”

            “It is.”  She smiled to reassure him.  “I was just thinking about today’s classes.”

            “Are you sure you weren’t thinking about some boy?” he teased and it was her turn to blush.

            “I’m positive,” she answered firmly.

            “Feodor, quit teasing the girl,” Irena scolded, her eyes sparkling with good humor.  “Katya has been quite busy this week helping with Sasha’s studies as well as attending her classes at university.”

            “Good.” The smile he turned to his daughter had Katya all but preening in pride.  “And, Katya, I promise we will discuss sending you to either Uncle Stefan in New York or Aunt Katerina in London to attend university there very soon.”

            For a moment, Katya just sat there, looking from one of her parents to the other. Then, as the full import of what Feodor said sunk in, she all but flew from the sofa to throw her arms around her father’s neck.  She couldn’t believe it.  She’d hoped — no, she’d prayed — to be able to go to university in England or America, but she’d never thought she’d be allowed.  It cost so much money and her parents had said many times they did not want her so far away.  Now, all of a sudden, it looked like her dream might come true.

            What had happened to change Papa’s mind?

            “Thank you, Papa, Mama.” She returned to her seat, pausing long enough to give her mother a hug equally as enthusiastic as the one she’d given her father.

            “No promises, Katya.  We will have to see.  But I do promise your mother and I will discuss it with you soon.”

            She nodded, knowing she shouldn’t get her hopes up, but unable to help it.  Even discussing it was more than she’d ever expected.  Whenever she’d brought up the possibility before, one or the other of her parents had always changed the subject.  She didn’t care why they suddenly seemed to have changed their minds.  Not if it meant possibly being able to live out her dream.

            “I understand, Papa, and thank you.”

            “Tell us, dear, how bad was the trip home?” Irena asked.  Her fingers lightly traced the floral pattern of the teacup she held.  A hint of concern colored her voice.  Katya understood.  They’d both worried the weather would delay Feodor’s return.

            “Uneventful.  Of course, if I’d left Moscow any later, I might not have made it home today.  The closer to the capital we came, the worse the weather.  I admit, I worried about ice on the rails.”  He sipped his brandy and the reached down to ruffle Sasha’s hair.  “And how was your day today, Sasha?”

            For the next few minutes, the boy described in infinite detail everything that happened at school.  Both Feodor and Irena listened, occasionally asking a question.   Katya wasn’t surprised when her brother commented on the number of his classmates who had not been in school, taking advantage of the weather to stay home.  Nor was she surprised when he named several of them.  Too many of his classmates came from families who felt the rules did not apply to them unless the Tsar said they did.  That attitude would only lead to more trouble for Russia.

            “And your religion class?”

            For a moment Sasha didn’t respond and Katya frowned in concern.  He generally enjoyed his classes with Father Dmitri and couldn’t wait to tell them what he’d learned that day.  Worried, Katya leaned forward, waiting.

            “Sasha,” Irena prompted.  “Did something happen today?”

            “I don’t know, Mama.”  A frown creased his forehead.  “Father Dmitri taught us more about God’s covenant with man.  It was interesting.”

            “Sashel, what is it?  What troubles you?” Feodor asked.

            “We had a visitor today, Papa.”

            Katya glanced from her father to her mother and back again.  This was the first she’d heard of a visitor and, judging by her mother’s expression, the first Irena had heard of it as well.  Still, that didn’t explain Sasha’s reluctance to talk about the class.  Could something have happened, something Father Dmitri hadn’t spoken about with Irena when she collected Sasha from the cathedral?

            “Who, son?”

            “Father Grigori.”

            For a moment, no one said anything.  Then Feodor cleared his throat and spoke softly, gently.  “Grigori Rasputin, son?”

            “Yes, Papa.”

            “Did he say anything?”

            “He said he wanted to know how our studies were going and he listened to us recite scripture for a few minutes.  Then he left.”

            “Sasha, what else?” Irena asked.  When he didn’t reply, she moved to kneel before him, taking his hands in hers.  “Sashel, you know you can tell us anything, no?”

            He nodded once, almost reluctantly.

            “Then what troubles you?”

            “I know it’s wrong to fear him, Mama, but I do.  He scares me.”

            “Sasha.” Katya couldn’t help herself.  She moved quickly to kneel next to their mother, closing the protective circle around her brother.  No one, no matter who they were, was allowed to scare him.  “It’s all right.  There is nothing wrong with fearing him.  To be honest, he scares me too.”

            For a moment Sasha said nothing.  Then, when he looked up at her, his blue eyes that were so much like their mother’s filled with tears.  “Really?”

            “Really,” she confirmed.  “He is so different from Father Dmitri and the other priests.  Maybe because he’s so intense.  Maybe because of his role with the Royal Family.  But, yes, he scares me.”

            She did her best to let him see she spoke the truth.  Grigori Rasputin did frighten her.  She’d met him once, in Nevsky Prospect when she and their mother had been shopping.  That day, she’d realized Irena didn’t like the holy man despite the fact her mother had been nothing but respectful as she introduced him to her daughter.  That alone would have been enough to keep the memory sharp.  But it was her own reaction to him that surprised her, and that came rushing back. 

Never before had she reacted so strongly to anyone.  Nor had she ever wanted to avoid being near a person as she did the holy man from Siberia.  It had been all she could do not to turn and cross the street, leaving her mother to deal with Rasputin on her own.  There was something about him that was wrong.  She knew it, even if she didn’t understand it.

And now the man had been near her brother and had scared him.  Why?

            “Your sister is correct, Sasha.  It isn’t wrong to fear Rasputin.  But it also isn’t something to discuss outside of the family.  Not even to Father Dmitri,” Feodor said, his expression troubled as he looked over his son’s head to Irena.  Seeing it, Katya swallowed hard, a knot of fear growing deep inside her.  “Did he do or say anything else?”

            “No, Papa.  Only that we were credits to Father Dmitri’s fine teaching.  But it didn’t really sound like he meant it.”

            “Don’t worry about it anymore, Sasha.  You’ve done nothing wrong.”  Feodor pulled him to his feet and gave him a hug.  “Now, it is bedtime for you, my young man.  Go up with your sister.  She’ll help you get ready.  Your mother and I will be up shortly to kiss you good night.”

            “Papa’s right, Sasha,” Katya said, taking her cue from their father as she climbed to her feet.  “I will take a look at your lessons while you change.  Then you can read to me for a change.”

            He grinned, almost despite himself, and slipped his hand in hers.  With one last look over her shoulder at their parents, Katya knew she wasn’t the only one worried by Rasputin’s sudden appearance in Sasha’s class that afternoon.  Unfortunately, she had a feeling neither Feodor nor Irena would discuss their concerns with her, at least not yet.

            And that worried her more than the rest of it.

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A year or so ago, Sarah A. Hoyt and Kate Paulk challenged me to write a historical fantasy.  Now, I know some of you don’t see that as being all that hard.  But you have to take into account the source of the challenge.  Sarah has been known to put on her pointy boots and kick me in the butt to get me to write.  Kate, on the other hand, can be down right evil in her attempt to assist Sarah in keeping my butt in chair and fingers on the keyboard.  So any old historical fantasy just wasn’t going to do.  Oh no, they had to choose something not only off the beaten path but also something, to quote Monty Python, “completely different”.  The result was Russian Nights.  It’s almost finished, but hasn’t been edited yet…so take that as fair warning.

Set in St. Petersburg, Russia in the months before the Russian Revolution, this is a world of intrigue, political machination and magic.  Grigori Rasputin, the Mad Monk, is at the center of it all and knows his life depends on finding a way to save the life of the tsaravich.  But in this world, young Alexei doesn’t suffer from hemophilia, although the world at large believes he suffers from the “curse of the royals”.  No,  magic is the source of his illness and the only means to save him.  But to do so, others must be sacrificed.  All for the good of Mother Russia — and, of course, Rasputin.

As with our own timeline, Rasputin is feared and despised and the royals mistrusted.  Too many people, too many children have simply disappeared.  The tsars cossacks have been too enthusiastic in quashing the protests and strikes.  The pogroms have only stirred the troubled pot even more.

That should do as an intro…at least I hope it does.  Kate and Sarah didn’t give me much more than that when they set me down this road.  Now, with apologies to those who have already seen this, I give you the opening of Russian Nights.

*     *     *     *

St. Petersburg, Russia
January 1913

Winter settled on the city, blanketing it with a fresh coat of snow. Several blocks away, ice covered the Neva River, a reminder Spring was still several months away. Clouds hung heavily in the sky. Only the pale light from an occasional street lamp broke the darkness that mimicked an early dusk. Snowflakes, larger than any he’d seen in a long while, danced in the wind and mocked him as he moved as quickly as he dared in the direction of Rastelli Square.

Why had he insisted the cab drop him so far from his destination? Surely the need for discretion didn’t require him to chance freezing to death. Of course it did. A little discomfort was small enough price to pay to avoid discovery. He’d learned that lesson well over the years.

A gust of bitterly cold wind blowing in from the Gulf of Finland cut through him, chilling him to the bone. His step faltered as his boot heel landed on a patch of ice. His foot slid. His arms flailed as he struggled to keep on his feet. He would not fall. He wouldn’t.

No doubt about it. Winter here had to be the earthly representation of the Third Circle of Hell. Only Russian snow was white, not the black Dante wrote of.

Damn Peter the First! He’d wanted the Russian capital to be a showpiece; something to prove to the Europeans that Russia was a country to be reckoned with not only militarily, but artistically as well. That was all well and good, but Peter had not considered the problems with moving this far north. Nor had he thought about how those coming after him would pay for his ambition.

Instead, he’d instructed his ministers to find the best engineers to design a new capital on the Gulf of Finland. That would give him the natural port he desired. More importantly, the new capital would be closer to Europe, better for trade and, if one was to be honest, rapid troop movement.

Of course, engineering prowess hadn’t been enough. Not to build an entire city on marshlands. So many of those possessed of the old magic had been pressed into service. They had reshaped the land and the weather so construction of Peter’s showplace could proceed.

None of that mattered when all Grigori Yefimovich cared about was reaching his destination without catching his death of cold.

If only Peter I had left the capital in Moscow. St. Petersburg was too far north and too cold in the winter, especially now that the royal mages seemed unable to control the weather as they once had. Something had happened since the days of Peter the Great – and even Catherine after him. The old magics had deserted the royals. But this was neither the time nor the place for contemplations about things he could not control.

He hunched deeper into his heavy coat and reminded himself that, cold as it was, this was nothing compared to all those winters he’d survived in Siberia as he grew into manhood Not that the memory warmed him any.

Today, however, the weather acted as his ally. The threat of being caught in one of Russia’s infamous blizzards kept the faint of heart safely inside, all but insuring he’d arrive at Smolny Cathedral without curious eyes seeing. He might look like someone from ordinary peasant stock — which he happened to be – and, therefore, no one of any importance. But, as the last few years had proven, sometimes unpleasantly, he was no ordinary peasant, no ordinary man. Because of that, even the most lowly of St. Petersburg’s citizens knew his face and would mark his passage. At least now he had a chance of moving through the streets unseen.

He quickened his pace and soon turned down the stone path leading to Smolny Cathedral. A slight smile touched his lips as his gloved hands worked the ornate iron gate’s locking mechanism with an ease that betrayed the number of times he’d done so before. Neither Elizabeth, daughter of Peter the Great, who had envisioned the cathedral as monastery for nuns, nor Catherine the Great, who had halted construction on the cathedral because she disliked the design, could have imagined his use for Smolny. Not that they would object. Both of those great women knew the importance of protecting Mother Russia and her rulers, no matter what the cost.

His booted feet moved surely yet carefully along the path, avoiding the occasional ice patch, until he stood before an unadorned door near the rear of the cathedral. A quick look over his shoulder confirmed what he already knew. No one who might be passing could see him from the street.

He didn’t pause to knock or announce his presence. He didn’t need to, not when he came in service of the Tsar or, more precisely, the Tsarina. Besides, it would be so much better if he could accomplish his task without any of the priests inside realizing he’d been there.

He closed the door behind him and almost moaned in relief to no longer be buffeted by the wind. Cold as the corridor was, it was still much warmer than outside. He could take comfort in that and not much else.

The cathedral might be a showplace with its ornate stylings, high ceilings and polished Revel stone floors. Yet it offered him little in the way of comfort. No, that wasn’t right. It wasn’t the building itself that denied him. It was the priests within, those who resented him and his place with the Royal Family.

Determination replaced his relief to be inside. He had no time to waste, not if he wanted to avoid being caught there should the weather deteriorate even further. So no more ruminating. He had a job to do.

A soft footfall as he turned to the ancient coat tree in the corner warned him he was no longer alone. Frustration boiled and, for one brief moment, he closed his eyes. He’d prayed that just this once he’d be able to slip in and out of the cathedral without the priests knowing he’d been there. Perhaps this was his test. If he managed, again, not to let them know the real reason for his visit, he might finally accomplish his goal.

That had to be it. God did work in mysterious ways. Perhaps He used these priests to remind Grigori Yefimovich not to become too sure of himself. The sin of pride had felled many men. Grigori yefimovich would not be one of them. But what to do now?

That he had an answer for, one born from experience. He wouldn’t acknowledge the newcomer. Not yet. Let them make the first move so he could decide the best way to respond.

He waited, doing his best to ease the frustration from his expression and still his emotions. Instead of turning, he finished unwinding the scarf from around the bottom of his face and neck. Then he removed his hat, stuffing his scarf and gloves inside his hat before placing it atop the coat rack. To give himself a few moments more, he slowly unbuttoned his heavy black coat, ignoring the frayed cuffs and the third button barely hanging on by a thread. He must remember to have someone fix that. Or maybe not. A missing button, like the frayed cuffs and worn wool of the coat, even his long hair and scraggly beard, were all part of the image he’d so carefully crafted to suit his needs.

By the time he shrugged out of his coat, revealing an equally worn black cassock beneath it, hands were there to assist him. He bowed his head slightly, indicating an appreciation he didn’t feel.

“It has been some time since you last visited us, Father Grigori,” the newcomer said as he made use of the coat rack.

There could be no mistaking the slight note of censure in the younger man’s voice, and an anger as cold as the wind outside knotted in Grigori’s Yefimovich’s stomach. How dare he!

“My duties to the Royal Family keep me very busy, Father Dmitri.” Let that be a reminder as to which of them bore the real power. “Is the bishop in residence today?”

“He is. Shall I announce you?”

Grigori Yefimovich paused and chewed the edges of his scruffy mustache, as if deep in thought. Let Father Dmitri believe him hesitant to interrupt the bishop. Much as he hated it, he had to maintain the illusion of a respectful servant, one not worthy to be interrupting Bishop Malenko. How ironic. If anyone was unworthy, it was Malenko and the priests who served him. They had no true calling from God, not as he did.

Fortunately, the bishop hadn’t realized why he continued to visit. Of course, that was because Malenko and the younger priests were so busy being bastions of condemnation for what he did and for how he served the Royal Family, especially the Tsarina. Let them. He would no more abandon his calling as spiritual advisor to the Romanovs than he would willingly return to Siberia.

“Shall I tell Bishop Malenko you wish an audience, Father Grigori? He has a full schedule today, so I cannot promise he will be available to speak with you.”

That hint of impatience, of censure he’d come to expect once more crept into Father Dmitri’s voice. Fool! He would never enjoy the privilege of serving the Royal Family. Dmitri Rostapovich, newly ordained and assigned as the aging bishop’s secretary only because of who his family happened to be, would never understand that either.

Full schedule, indeed. Now the young fool lies to me. One day he shall learn just how foolish it is to try my patience.

Before he could answer, the sound of young voices raised in hymn filled the air and Father Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin smiled slightly. Excellent. He hadn’t braved the elements for naught after all.

No indeed. He’d come to the cathedral, as he had on a number of other occasions, to make a selection. He would visit the boys he’d heard singing and take their measure. Then he’d choose from them a suitable candidate to act as companion to Alexei Nickolaevich Romanov, Tsarevich and supposed hemophiliac.

It sounded so simple, so harmless. One or two boys chosen by the priest who advised the Royal Family, the holy man who’d saved the future tsar of all Mother Russia. The lucky one would become playmate and confidante to the Tsarevich. What an honor, not only for the boy, but for his family as well. An honor none had yet to decline.

But the one chosen would also be so much more than a simple companion to the Tsarevich. Not that the boy, or his family, would be told. The Royal Family couldn’t afford for their subjects to know the truth, not when so many already questioned the need for a tsar. Any hint of weakness in the Tsarevich, any hint of him being different, had to be avoided, no matter what the cost.

It fell to Rasputin to make the selection. After discussing his choice with the Tsarina, he would visit the boy’s family and give them the glorious news that their son had received the honor of being the Tsarevich’s close companion. It was his duty to convince the family to say goodbye to their son, to remind them of the benefits their son would receive – private tutors, the finest clothes, social contacts and, most important of all, a personal connection to the future ruler of Mother Russia. Then he’d promise they would soon be invited to the Winter Palace, or one of the other royal residences, to visit their son.

A visit that would never happen if everything went as it should.

So he had to be careful, not only in how he dealt with the bishop and the priests at Smolny, but also with his choice of whom to invite to become the Tsarevich’s companion. The lad, just like all those before him, would be chosen for something very unique to him. He must be strong in the old magic. The magic that had run through the royal lines of Russian aristocracy since before the Romanovs took power three hundred years earlier. A magic that had tragically, disastrously been declining within the Royal Family for generations.

A decline, Rasputin knew, that had led in great part to the challenges now facing the Tsar.

But that would, if all went according to God’s plan, change once the right boy was at the royal palace and introduced to the Tsarevich….

It was best not to think about that now, however. Several of the priests assigned to the cathedral were senstives. Of them, some already plotted against him. He knew it. Just as he knew they were jealous. Jealous of how God favored him. Jealous of his relationship with the Royal Family. Because of that, Rasputin couldn’t allow himself to become careless. He’d play their games and be patient until the day came when he could finally show them just how dangerous it was to attempt to undermine him.

A soft cough reminded him one of those sensitives stood before him, waiting impatiently for an answer. Rasputin once again carefully schooled his features before answering.

“Please, Father Dmitri.” He bowed slightly, hands folded before him. “While I wait to see the bishop, I shall look in on the boys and see how their lessons progress.”

For a moment, it seemed Father Dmitri might object. Then, with a nod just short of being curt, the young priest turned and started down the corridor. Rasputin watched, his pale blue eyes cold and hard.

Father Dmitri was just like all the rest, all those who whispered their poisonous lies in the Tsar’s ear. Just like those who tried to diminish him in the eyes of the Tsarina. They’d succeeded once because he’d allowed himself to grow too sure of himself and of his place in the Royals’ lives. That carelessness had found him torn from the Royal Family and his place at their side as ordained by God. Not again.

Never again.

How much simpler things would have been had the priest on duty been anyone save Dmitri Rostapovich.

Still, plans made could just as easily be altered as the situation dictated. That lesson he’d learned well back in Siberia. So he’d look in on the boys today, making note of any who seemed likely to suit his needs. It would be easy enough later to arrange to meet the boy somewhere away from the cathedral. Some place where they would be uninterrupted as he took the boy’s measure. Then, if the boy was suitable, an “introduction” to the Tsarevich would be arranged.

Yes, patience today, success later and without those of his enemies who would work to foil his plans being forewarned

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