(This is the third 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.)
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Grigori Yefimovich Rasputin – priest, mystic and confidante to Tsar Nicholas II and his wife Alexandra – paced the length of the parlor, like a tiger pacing in its cage. Frustration, an all too frequent companion these days, filled him. God continued to throw roadblocks in his way. Why? Hadn’t he proven his devotion to the royal family and Mother Russia? Why did God demand he continually prove himself?
He’d been so close today, only to have Fate snatch it all away at the last minute. Damn all those standing in his way. They conspired against him with no care for the consequences.
Bad enough the weather had turned against him, much as it had turned against Napoleon so many years ago. Of course, then it had been helped by Tsar Alexander I and the other weather mages bound to the royal family. They’d used magic to turn the notoriously bad Russian winter into a weapon the invaders had no way to diffuse. The French invaders had been forced to retreat, defeated and demoralized.
Today, no one had used their magic to worsen the city’s weather conditions. No, today merely proved how far the once proud Russian people had fallen. The simple threat of another blizzard had kept a number of boys home from their religion class. Obviously, neither they nor their parents possessed the strength of will necessary for what he needed. Unfortunately, he couldn’t dismiss those boys out of hand, no matter what he believed. Not when so much rested making the right decision.
If the problems related to the weather weren’t bad enough, he’d also been forced to deal with Father Dmitri. Thinking back on it now, a trickle of fear formed in the pit of Rasputin’s stomach. Father Dmitri had done everything he could to avoid leaving him alone with the boys. Was it possible the young priest had somehow gotten past his defenses to sense his true reason for coming to the cathedral?
If Father Dmitri had discovered why he was so interested in the boys, it could be disastrous. Perhaps the time had come to deal with the priest. All it would take was the right words, voiced with appropriate concern, to the Tsarina. She would then speak to the Tsar who would send his Cossacks to deal with the priest once and for all.
Attractive as that option might be, Rasputin knew better than to act too soon. There was already unrest because of the pogroms the Tsar had instituted before the 1905 Revolution. The strikes instigated by the Bolsheviks only added to the problem. Unfortunately, the Cossacks had been more brutal and all too public with their actions. Not only did Russia know what happened, but so did the rest of the world. They couldn’t risk the public believing the Tsar had turned against the Church.
So, if something needed to be done about Father Dmitri, it had to be done in such a way it appeared he was the victim of an unfortunate accident, nothing more.
None of which changed what happened that afternoon. The moment he stepped inside the classroom, Rasputin had felt the old magic wash over him like a tidal wave. Never before had he felt so much concentrated magic in one place. It woke that primal part of him he struggled against on an almost daily basis. It had taken every ounce of self-control not to react as the magic called to him.
Then came an almost overwhelming frustration. He couldn’t determine which of the boys was the source. Never before had that happened to him. The magic seemed to fill the room, flowing over, around and through the boys and everything else. It was almost as if it was mocking him, daring him to find the answer he so desperately needed.
Rasputin ground his teeth as he remembered his dismay as he’d realized yet another obstacle had been thrown into his path. No matter what he did, he simply couldn’t pinpoint the source of the magic. It was as if the boy – or boys, he corrected himself – was under heavy shielding unlike any he’d ever encountered. And that made absolutely no sense. Why would anyone take such drastic precautions?
Unless they, too, suspected what he was doing to save the Tsarevich.
Fear sparked. Failure swirled around him. Somehow they’d been discovered. Now everything was doomed. No, that was impossible. They’d been too careful. There had to be another explanation. But what?
Rasputin turned and glimpsed his reflection in the small mirror near the door. Bitter humor twisted his lips into a mockery of a smile. Dark hair, long and unruly, fell to his shoulders, looking as if days, perhaps even weeks, had passed since a brush had last been applied to it. Piercing blue eyes with just a hint of madness lurking in their depths stared out at him. Wide lips, obscured by mustache and scraggly beard, too often revealed his contempt for those around him. It was no wonder his detractors called him the Mad Monk. He certainly looked it. What they did not know was that he carefully cultivated that look. It was useful to keep those of no use to him from trying to attach themselves to him. It also kept others from looking too closely at what he was doing. After all, a mad man’s actions have no rhyme or reason, correct?
In the distance, a clock chimed nine times and his stomach rumbled in response, reminding him he had yet to eat. Soon, he wouldn’t have to worry about remembering to cook for himself on those nights when he wasn’t with one of his sponsors. A smile touched his lips at the thought of those women who gladly shared a meal, and quite often their beds, with him. Perhaps it wasn’t exactly proper behavior for a holy man, but then he wasn’t a typical holy man either. The pleasure, and the information, he gained from those women was merely his reward for all he did for the Royal Family and for Mother Russia. Surely even God understood that.
Perhaps those pleasurable past-times would have to end when his daughters finally joined him here. Perhaps not. Until that day, he would continue as he had, taking his pleasure, and his release, wherever he could find it.
Unfortunately, tonight he could not indulge himself. No, tonight he had to try to make sense of what he’d seen and felt at Smolny Cathedreal. How could discover which of the boys had called to him like a lamp calls to the moth?
Rasputin blew out a breath. Perhaps it would be best to visit his Anna tonight. She always knew how to ease him. But no. Not tonight. Tonight she was with the Tsarina and he was on his own.
He had to quit looking for trouble where none existed. He was Rasputin. Trusted by the royal family and hated by their enemies. God had sent him to save Russia. Why else was he the only one able to sense the old magic?
He’d learned as a young man not yet out of his teens that he could sense the old magic in those around him. Rare as that gift was, it was his other ability that made him truly special. Once he found the old magic, he could tap into it, draining it from its source. Then he could transfer it to himself or to others. After that first time, when the intoxication of power had overwhelmed him and left his victim near death, he’d learned to control himself. It wouldn’t do to leave a trail of bodies, living but with no mind and no desire to continue in this realm of existence.
So he’d carefully used the magic, channeling it when needed to heal the sick. Of course, if his cures weren’t always permanent, that was God’s will. At least that was what he told those who came to him. What he didn’t tell them was that the cure was only as permanent as the person’s ability to channel and retain the old magic in themselves.
His reputation as a healer first brought him to the Tsarina’s attention several years earlier. Anna Vyrubova, one of Alexandra’s closest friends, had been badly injured in a train wreck. The doctors managed to save her life, only to proclaim she would never walk again. Unable to accept that prognosis, Anna had sent for Rasputin, putting her faith in him to heal her when the doctors had given up hope.
That has been when his fortunes changed. God had brought him a champion who believed in him and who was possessed of a modicum of the old magic. Better yet, those closest to her were from the ancient royal lines, steeped in the old magic and the old ways. Their magic might have been diluted, weakened. But it had been enough. He’d tapped into them all, being careful not to take so much of their magical energy that they realized what he was doing. Not long after that, Anna had taken her first step. She might have to rely upon a cane from time to time, but that mattered not. She could walk.
And she had been his introduction to the royal family. God truly blessed him when he brought Anna to him.
Rasputin blew out a breath and turned his thoughts back to the day’s events. One of the boys came from the old blood. He knew it just as surely as he knew his own name and the names of his dearest daughters. More than that, the boy – or boys, he couldn’t rule out the possibility that there had been more than one – came from one of those rare families that had yet to lose their magic. Somehow, they had avoided falling prey to whatever had been draining the magical energy from the ancient lines for generations.
His excitement grew. It was possible – no, probable – that a family rich in the old magic lived in the capital. Could it be that a cure for the Tsarevich was finally within reach? Even if it didn’t cure him, it might be enough to carry him through until adulthood. That would be enough. Russia needed to know it had a strong heir to the throne, one who would embrace his duties to the motherland and lead them as his father and grandfather had failed to do. If the people believed in Alexei, the troubles looming on the horizon might be avoided.
If nothing else, it would give them time to find a more permanent cure to the tsarevich’s illness.
But first Rasputin had to identify the boy and his family. And that presented a problem. How could he discover their identities without raising the suspicions of the priests at the cathedral? They already suspected him of things no priest should ever contemplate. He must take care to avoid doing anything that might cause them to probe deeper. Priests they might be, but they were also sensitives. They had the ability to read him and, if done in an unguarded moment, they might learn not only what he was up to but why. That could not be allowed. Their deaths, as well as his, would result. The Tsar had made that quite clear the first time he allowed Rasputin near the Tsarevich.
So he had to be careful. But he could not risk delaying too long. He could feel the Tsarevich slipping away. All too soon Alexei would require another treatment. Somehow, Rasputin had to learn all he could about the boys in the class before then. Perhaps Anna could be of help in this, as she had in so many of his endeavors. He might have to pay her a visit come morning.