(This is the fourth snippet from one of my current works-in-progress. It is unedited and very likely to change by publication date. Needless to say, it can’t be copied anywhere else without my permission, etc., etc., etc. Hope you enjoy.)
* * * *
Irena looked up from where she’d been turning down the bed as the door closed softly, but firmly, behind her. The smile of pleasure that had sprung unbidden to her lips at the sight of her husband quickly disappeared. There could be no mistaking he was as troubled as was she. Nor was it difficult to guess why. Unfortunately, she had no idea what to do about it, short of packing up the family and returning home to their estate outside of Kiev.
For a moment, Feodor said nothing. Instead, he stood with his back to the door, his head cocked slightly to one side. The quick flash of desire in his dark eyes told her he’d missed her as much as she had him. But that would have to wait. They had to discuss what happened that afternoon.
“Did you know?” he asked simply as he moved to her side. “Had he said anything to you?”
“No.” She gave a quick shake of her head. “He was a little quiet on the way home, but that was all. And, before you ask, I don’t think he said anything to Katya either. She would have told me.”
“True.” Taking her hand, he led her to the small sitting area before the windows lining the far wall. A single lamp burned on a nearby table, a pale oasis of light in the darkness of night. “Do you know if he has been to Sasha’s class before today?”
“No, but I will ask Father Dmitri the next time I take Sasha to the cathedral. I have no doubt that he feels much as we do about that priest’.”
For a moment, silence hung between them. Irena waited, knowing her husband needed time to think, to consider the possible explanations for Rasputin’s presence at the cathedral. Feodor was the more deliberate of the two of them, the one more likely to take things slowly. She knew that was usually the best way to act. But now, with every instinct screaming for them to gather the children and leave the capital, she wanted him to act swiftly, not pause to consider the situation.
Unfortunately, no matter how badly she wanted to run as far away from the man many called the Mad Monk, she knew they couldn’t. Feodor’s position with the Ministry of the Interior required him to live in the capital, and Irena did not want their family separated. Besides, she didn’t know for certain there was anything untoward about Rasputin’s visit to the cathedral. Perhaps she was overreacting.
She hoped she was. But, seeing how concerned Feodor was, she didn’t think so.
“This feels wrong, Rena.” He reached for her hand and linked his fingers with hers. “There is so much going on just now. The Socialists are doing all they can to cause trouble during the tercentenary festivities. They don’t care that the Tsar will call out his Cossacks to put them down. In fact, they want it. They hope for a violent confrontation, something they can then use to prove the Tsar and his ministers refuse to follow the laws laid out by the Duma.
“But that’s not all. There is change in the air, and I fear it isn’t for the good. Rasputin is at the Winter Palace and Peterhof more and more frequently. This despite the fact he is causing trouble for the police and is an embarrassment for the Church and the Royal Family. Twice already this month the police have had to intervene in what could have been serious situations after he had too much drink and tried to press himself on women who were not interested.”
“Feodor, I know they say he has kept the tsarevich alive. I don’t know. But I do believe he will prove disastrous for the entire country if the Tsar doesn’t take care.” She shivered, as if cold. But it was the potential for trouble that chilled her, not the night air. “Rasputin causes too much disruption. Even if he does help the Tsarevich,, the harm he causes to Russia, and to the Tsar, may outweigh it.”
“I agree, but it is not for us to say.” He leaned back and closed his eyes, every line in his face etched with an exhaustion she hadn’t noticed before. “I can’t help wondering why Rasputin went to the cathedral today. What was important enough he risked the weather?”
“What do you mean?” She leaned forward, watching him closely.
“Rena, it doesn’t make sense for him to risk the weather to go to Smolny without a very good reason. So I have to ask why. No, I have to ask why he went to Sasha’s class. What is there about that class that might interest him?” He scrubbed his hands over his face as if he could scrub away his exhaustion.
“Each of the boys is on the cusp of puberty. That means if they have any of the old magic, it will soon begin manifesting. What worries me is the possibility that, somehow, Rasputin can sense it. It is possible the Tsar, or perhaps the Tsarina, has him looking for boys coming into their own. I know of at least three families, families with lineages as old and steeped in the ancient ways as our own, that have been sent to areas of trouble because the Tsar’s ministers hope they can use their abilities to calm the people and the land. But I don’t know why they might be searching out boys coming into their magic, and that, my dear, worries me.”
For a moment, Irena said nothing. She couldn’t. Not when the implications of what Feodor said were so serious. If the Tsar, or his ministers, were actively seeking out those families who had yet to lose their magic, things were much worse than she’d feared. It meant the Romanovs could no longer rely on their family magic to hold the land together. They could no longer turn the weather to prevent famine or flood. Perhaps they would soon lose the ability to control the land. Irena didn’t want to think about the havoc that would cause. Worse though was the possibility the Romanovs might be unable to control the Cossacks, who were more animal than human. They were ruthless enough, vicious enough when under control. If they were allowed to revert to their natural ways, the horrors they’d visited upon the Jews during the pogroms and the violence aimed at the Socialists would pale to nothing.
Peter the Great had begun the decline of Romanov family magic by moving the capital from Moscow, the heart of the land and the source of their magic. No one had realized what would happen by moving so far from what was a vital part of what they were, if not necessarily who they were. Nor did those who followed them.
At first no one realized their magic was declining. They were too busy reshaping the land, preparing it to become the capital, Russia’s gateway to Europe and the rest of the world. Then there were the years of war. Years where magic was used to keep Russia’s enemies at bay all the while consolidating territory gained by sweat and blood.
In truth, only in the last fifty years or so had it become obvious just how much magic had been lost. By then, however, the families who had left Moscow were no longer Muscovites. Even if they returned to their former homes, it would do no good. The magic no longer recognized them. They had no tie to the land in ancient Moscovy. In time, their families would no longer possess any of the old magic and, if some alternative was not found, the old spells would dissipate and who knew what dangers would result.
But just because the Romanovs and those families who relocated with them from Moscow and other areas around the empire to St. Petersburg were losing their magic, it didn’t mean that all were. Those still living near their ancient homelands maintained their magic. It was for that reason the. Baranovs returned to their home outside of Kiev at least once a year. While there, they not only insured everything was all right with the estate and those in the surrounding areas who looked to them, but they renewed their magic by renewing their ties to the land.
So it was possible the Tsar, or his agents, was looking for those still strong in the old magic. It would be one way to the damage from the loss of imperial magic. But, if that was the case, what were she and Feodor to do? Russia was their home. Their families had been loyal servants to the tsars and responsible caretakers of their lands for centuries. They held to the old ways, always knowing that those ways were what kept them and those who looked to them safe and healthy. Those ways also kept their magic strong and tied to the land they loved.
“What should we do?”
If Feodor was right, they had to be even more careful than they had in the past. They could do nothing that might lead the Tsar’s agents to suspect just how much magic the family still possessed. They’d done everything possible to keep their secret since they first arrived in St. Petersburg. They’d done so, Irena believed, to the detriment of their daughter. They had not schooled her in the use of her magical abilities as they should have. Quite the opposite, in fact. They had shielded those abilities from not only the rest of the world, but from Katya as well.
Had the time come to correct that?
“I wish I knew, Rena.”
He stood and once more moved to stare out the window. Not liking the worry she felt coming from him, Irena climbed to her feet. She hurried to him, sliding her arms around his waist and resting her cheek against his back. Together, they could face any challenge. They would do whatever was necessary to protect their children and all those they were responsible for back home.
“Until we do?”
“We increase the protections on the house and on the children.” He turned and held her close. She tightened her arms around him, drawing strength from him. “And we warn Anna and Viktor as well. Their protections will need to be reinforced and they will need to be aware of anyone who might be watching them.”
“You think it could be that serious?”
“I hope not. But one can never tell when Grigori Rasputin is involved.”
That much was true. The man had proven nothing if not an enigma since his arrival in St. Petersburg. No one doubted the Tsarevich should have died that first time Rasputin appeared by his bedside and healed him. But was it a miracle? No one but God could say. However, Rasputin had not cured young Alexei. Instead the family made the public admission that the young Tsarevich suffered from the same blood disorder that affected so many in Queen Victoria’s line, the so-called Curse of the Royals. Just as the magic faded, the blood weakened. Where would it end?
There was no answer, not that Irena had expected one. Her talents did not lie in knowing what the future held. Earth magic called to her, just as it had her to mother and her grandmother before her. Just as it called to her daughter. Please, God, don’t let it be too late to teach Katya.
“Rena, I wish we dared return home, but we cannot. It would be difficult enough to explain at the best of times. But now, with the festivities celebrating three hundred years of Romanov rule approaching, it would be next to impossible. Short of an emergency on the estate, we can’t leave until March at the earliest.”
“So we be careful, my love. Just as we always are.”
She smiled at him, wishing she could ease his worry. But there was little either of them could do. They would keep a close watch on both the children, especially Sasha. Perhaps they should send the children home to the Ukraine. At least there they’d be far from Rasputin.
But that wasn’t an option. At least not with regard to Sasha. Young as he was, people would wonder why his parents had sent him away at such an historic time in Russian history. It simply couldn’t be done, not when so many were doing everything possible to be in St. Petersburg for the festivities. Who wouldn’t want their children present to help celebrate three centuries years of Romanov rule?
They could send Katya away. No one would think twice about that, especially if they let it be known they had arranged a marriage for her. People would even understand if they thought Katya was leaving to attend university somewhere else. Those who knew the family knew of Katya’s desire to become a physician, something easier to accomplish in Europe or America than in Russia.
There was one problem though. Irena didn’t want to separate the family. If asked, she knew Feodor would agree. That was why they had all moved to St. Petersburg when he’d been appointed to his post with the Ministry of the Interior. It would have been so much easier for her, and for the children, had they stayed in the Ukraine. Feodor could have come home as often as his schedule allowed. It wasn’t that difficult by train. However, it hadn’t taken long to decide the entire family would move to St. Petersburg and Irena had never regretted it – until now.
“Very well, my dear. I will try to speak with Father Dmitri tomorrow. I believe he’ll tell me if Rasputin has been a frequent visitor to the cathedral.”
“Do you think he’ll tell you if there’s reason to be concerned?”
“I do. Father Dmitri may be young, but he takes his duties to the Church and the people very seriously. He’s a good priest.” Unlike Rasputin.
“Good.” Feodor nodded once and his expression eased some. “Come morning, we need to talk with the children. Then need to understand how important it is for them to tell us if Rasputin approaches either of them, especially Sasha.”
“Yes, and I will have a word with Katya, explaining that she has a new set of lessons to begin.”
Lessons that might be the most important of her life.