Eyes of Darkly Blue
by Joe Butterman
“When I was fifteen, Saint Michael looked me straight in the eye.”
There was a pause as the Colonel General regarded me calmly, almost with disinterest. He was immaculately turned out in the undress uniform of a Guards Colonel. I knew that he was Colonel-in-Chief of one of the Household Regiments and I made a mental note to find out which one. The Swords and Eagle of a Knight Imperial glittered at his neck; otherwise, he wore only a miniature of a youthful Tsar Alexei lower on his tunic. He wore no other decorations or orders, though I knew that he had many.
This man, after all, has been the faithful intimate of Tsar Alexei II from the rescue of the Imperial family at Yekaterinburg, through the restoration, the conclusion of the Great War and the prosecution of the Second Great War. This was not the sort of thing you would expect to hear from such as he; I looked up quickly though I strove to keep any expression from my features.
“You don’t believe me, of course, but that’s of no concern to me.”
His tone dismissed me, but his eyes twinkled, and the smile lines around his mouth and eyes did not suggest contempt. He was a striking man: clean shaven, silvery at the temples but with a full head of vaguely rumpled, graying, light brown hair; his nose was straight and formidably sharp, perfect for looking down. He was looking down at me now, sharp eyed, down that straight edged nose, from a position both serene and impregnable.
“Well. His Majesty has asked me to spend time with you. Has asked that I answer all of your questions. If necessary, I may decline to answer some of your questions until His Majesty has reviewed them, but still, I think this narrative is important to him. Should you do anything to cause him displeasure, well.” His pause was promising rather than just threatening. He quirked an eyebrow in question.
“Yes, then Your Excellency, where is the beginning for you? Where is the place to start?”
“When I turned fifteen,” he looked off into space, “it was 1917. And many things were happening to me. And all around me. It was sometimes hard to keep everything sorted out. Surely you remember what it’s like to be fifteen. You’re closer to fifteen now than am I. Some of these changes happened within me, and I think some of these things happened because Saint Michael looked me straight in the eye.
“Like most of us, I was raised in the True Faith. I attended church regularly, but not necessarily because I felt any deep spiritual motivation. I attended church regularly because my Mother or my Aunt made sure that I did. There was no discussion of the matter. Certainly, there was no vocation. I had no desire to be a monk or a priest, or to serve the church in any way.
“And then one day, after services, I happened to look up at the beautiful sculpture of Saint Michael in our cathedral. I saw that he was looking straight at me. Straight in the eye: deep into my heart, I think.”
There was a long pause, as the General seemed to withdraw into himself, as one does when one is recollecting deeply. I waited, then prompted him gently, “If you please Your Excellency, how can I describe Saint Michael looking you ‘straight in the eye’. How can I say that so a reader might make sense of it in a hundred years or so?”
“Ah,” he paused almost as if for effect and his lips quirked into a hint of a smile. “Well for one thing, his eyes are blue.
“Now you should know, young scrivener, that I really do not care in the least, what you might write, or what you might quietly think of me. But so that the narrative will be right for the archive, and because it is His Majesty’s wish, which settles it, I will tell you. Go and look at the statue of Saint Michael in the Novosibirsk Cathedral. It is now, as it has always been, pure white marble. It is not hollow, no one looked through eyeholes or any such rubbish as that. Can you imagine anyone going to the trouble of hollowing out a statue so that they could look at the humble son of a railroad man? Not likely that! No, that one time, in 1917, Saint Michael looked down on me from his statue on the wall with clearest eyes of blue.
“It even took a few seconds before it struck me. I’d walked on several steps and then I stopped and looked back, and his eyes had followed me in that cold marble face. And I looked at him in awe, and offered a little prayer; I went home in a daze. I thought I might have imagined the whole thing.
“So now you might think, well he was fifteen with an active imagination.
“Well, that night Saint Michael came to me in a dream for the first time. As I said, I was fifteen, most of my dreams were anything but holy; those that involved Nikolas, then as now the love of my life, were, well – let’s just say they were rousing. Dreams of love at that age almost always are.
“That night, though, Saint Michael the Archangel came to me in all his grandeur. It was as if he stepped down off the wall. Only he was not cold and marble. He was warm and flesh, his hair is blond and falls to his shoulders and his eyes, as I said, are blue: blue to an unfathomable depth. He is, as you know, the Patron Saint of soldiers and healers, so his shoulders are broad and his arms are powerful. Unlike the statue in the cathedral, no cloth drapes his great physique. The blade of his sword gleams stronger than steel and richer than silver. The sword’s golden hilt is vibrant with gems that glow from within. In the dream, he has no wings, although he has them in the cathedral. I’ve always remembered this. I’ve always thought about this; I think it proves my dream was real; I don’t think that the Archangel and Taxiarch Michael has any need of wings at all.
“In the dream, he is holding the sword above his head as if preparing to strike at some unseen evil. But then he sees me. He slowly lowers the sword so that the point of the blade touches the ground before him. He takes the hilt in his left hand and leans lightly on the sword. He looks deep into my soul reaching out to me with his right hand. He looks directly at me and smiles ever so lightly. I feel as if I am moving with him, drawn into the loving blue of his eyes. I am safe in the love of his smile. I know that he loves me and that I shall follow him. Then he fades. I think that I always wake when I had this dream. Good Saint Michael knows I’ve not had it since the end of the Great War. Still I know that he will come again if I’m needed. I know beyond doubt that I am loved and I know that Alexei is loved.”
There’s a pause while the General waits for me to catch up. Or at least I think that’s why he’s paused; I’m using the latest shorthand method so I’m right with him.
“The Tsar. What I meant to say, was that His Imperial Majesty, Alexei II, is loved.” He glowers at me as though the informality were mine. And now I know how he addresses the Tsar when they are alone. Even though appearing to glower, the twinkle in his eyes comes through.
“So! Well, that should do it then!” His smile was broad and winning, but he was just playing with me, for he did not stand up. Just testing me a little. I knew my cue.
“But surely, Your Excellency, there is more to the story than that. I mean, all that’s happened so far is: you went to church then had a dream. But it’s a long way from Novosibirsk to Yekaterinburg.”
He sighed and collected himself. “Well, 1917 was a terrible time. You weren’t there, nothing like it has happened since, so you’ve no way of really understanding what it was like. You can thank God and the Tsar for your good fortune. But then, the war was not going well, the filthy Bolsheviks had fomented revolution, and the world was coming apart: everything was in short supply, we were never really warm that winter, we never had enough to eat; there were no young men about, they’d all gone for soldiers. My Mother and I hadn’t seen my Father for almost three years. He was a railroad man and had been mobilized first thing in the war and was trying to keep our armies in the west supplied. When the revolution came, we stopped receiving his pay allotment. The post was erratic even before the revolution. Once, we received two letters from him on the same day. One wasn’t even a week old; the other was two months old. Now it didn’t seem to work at all. We’d not had any word from him in months. We were very proud of him. He was a Reserve Lieutenant in the Transport Corps. Not exactly the Life Guards Preobrazhenski Regiment, but still he was the first of our family to be commissioned by the Tsar.
“Now you need to know about Nikolas. He is the one who really organized the rescue and recruited our little band of Alexei’s men. Men? I say ‘men.’ Well we did a job for men even if we were mostly in our teens, but for the one grandfather amongst us. Nikolas and I were the youngest.
“He is also the love of my life: we discovered love together, we explored passion together, we’ve never had a secret from each other. In my eyes, then and now, Nikolas is beyond beautiful. His hair, I suppose, is a rather nondescript brown; his sister infuriates me when she calls it ‘mousy’, she does that, even today, when it’s more like sterling silver; she does it just to get me going. His eyes are gray-blue and sparkle with humor, or with passion when we make love. His eyebrows have a gentle arch and seem to think they’d like to join across his nose, but they just can’t quite make it. His nose is pert and pug. His lips are narrow. Normally, they angle just ever so slightly down, and give him a solemn expression; but it only takes a heartbeat and up they go, and his joy and humor are obvious to all. We were both skinny then, but that was the war. I don’t guess you’d call us skinny now. He’s a Field Marshal you know. Not on active duty any more, but neither of us will ever retire from the service of our Tsar.”
The General swiveled in his chair and rang for an orderly. The response was virtually instant and he ordered tea for us.
“So that brings us back to February, 1917. It was a bitter winter and, as I said, nothing seemed to be working right, which just seemed to make the winter even colder. Saint Michael, by this time, has visited my dreams several times, but hadn’t really told me what I’m to do. So I’m trudging home from the bakery with our meager bread ration when I heard a feeble mewling and saw a kitten in the snow next to the storefront. The poor thing was abandoned, bedraggled and injured. Hell, the poor thing was dying! I tucked the string bag with the bread up under my coat, pulled a mitten off, and knelt beside the kitten. I presented my hand for inspection by the poor thing before attempting to offer any comfort. It sniffed me gently without suspicion or concern; I was approved, so I gently touched its head. That’s when I knew that Saint Michael had marked me out for something. For when I touched the kitten’s head, it was as if I immersed my hand in a running stream of water. It was as if there was something flowing between us, something that felt like water, but was invisible: certainly not water. It’s virtually impossible to explain. I do not understand it myself.”
The General applied himself to one of the raspberry tarts that the orderly had brought with our tea. He smiled and gestured amiably with the tart, “not skinny any more.”
“Before my eyes the kitten was regaining his health. I knew that the kitten was a Tom, though I’d not looked. I knew that the kitten had a broken leg, for I could feel it mending; his coat was growing lustrous before my eyes and I could suddenly hear him purring above the clatter of the street. I gently picked him up and we went home.
“It was then that Nikolas came down with pneumonia. As soon as I’d regained my composure after healing the cat, for that is what I’d done, I went to talk to Nikolas about this miracle. But his Mother had put him to bed and wouldn’t let me in to see him lest I too, fall ill. She loved us both.
“Now you’ll think I’m mad, but it seemed the most natural thing in the world to discuss this situation with the cat. Mostly he’d purr and doze. But sometimes he’d look up, attentively, as if what I’d just said was just exactly the right or wrong thing to say, or think, or whatever. Somehow, I knew to introduce him to others as ‘Defiance’, but I always called him Kiki. He’d come when I called him; he liked to ride around on my shoulder. He was very comforting. I told him that I must get in to see Niki and he seemed to approve and agree. We both seemed to agree that pneumonia could kill and that Niki was way too important to risk.
“’I’m off to see Niki.’ I tell Mama what I’m about and she tells me to keep warm and dry. Just as she always does. Kiki rides under my jacket, across my chest with his head peaking out between my lapels; he appears to find this perfectly normal.
“When we get to Niki’s flat, his sister Kristina (her of the ‘mousy’ hair effrontery) opens the door to my knocking. ‘Oh you’ve a kitten,’ she exclaims as she opens the door, ‘what’s her name?’ I explain that his name is Kiki if you want to be his friend, but otherwise you must call him Defiance.
“Kiki has got us right into the flat. I hand him to Kristya (I really do love her) and give her a quick kiss. She takes him eagerly. He purrs mightily and is petted and made much of as they sit together on the divan.
“Kristya, I’d like to look in on Niki if that’s all right. She looks around Kiki who is nuzzling her and tells me to go in, ‘he’ll be happy to see you if he’s awake, he’s in the second bedroom’ she assures me. I leave her and Kiki on the divan and step right into the bedroom.
“Very quietly I slip into the bedroom and gaze worriedly on my beloved. He’s pale and his breathing is shallow and raspy with a horrible liquid sound that is very wrong. I’m terrified for us: for him as he is very sick, and for me from the fear of losing him. I kneel beside his bed. When I touched Kiki on the street I felt this flow between us, but I had no idea what the flow was, what caused it, or how it worked. But Kiki began to heal before my very eyes. Will the same work for Niki? I pause to pray to God. I visualize Saint Michael. But it’s not like the dream. All I see is his face and those eyes of darkly blue.
“I muster my courage and my love and finally resolve on a tiny touch to see if anything happens. Having decided, I hesitate, and say another prayer.
“I wonder, my young friend, if you can imagine what it is like to be fifteen, in love, and faced with the most terrible unknown. A terrible unknown that effects the one you love, and thus also you. If you’ve not known love, my young friend, you cannot possibly know just how terrible this feeling can be.”
The General regards me with leveled eyes. It is truly a terrible question to have to face and certainly, nothing in my life has come close to such a moment. One can only shake one’s head and wait for him to continue.
He closed his eyes and started, “I reached slowly for him with two fingers. Just a touch: just a touch whilst I pray to feel that flow that brought Kiki back from the edge of this world.
“But there was no flow. It was a sharp jolt that caused me to jerk my hand away. It was a different feeling than when I touched Kiki, and yet is was the same, for I had this sense of Niki; like when, with Kiki, I knew that he was a Tom, and I knew that his leg had been broken, but now was mending. But with Niki, I’d had this sense of a rising cloud of angry congestion in his chest that was threatening and growing. I reach for him again and take his hand, again I feel that horrible congestion, but now I can also feel the flow, only it is much stronger than the flow that Kiki needed. I concentrate on the cloud in his chest and whisper of my love for him. I sense the cloud is smaller, or rather dissipating a little, and I know that I’m helping. It’s a sort of battle. Niki and I are pushing through the cloud as if we were the morning’s sunshine. We are gaining strength and brightness while his illness is fading. I bring his hand to my lips for I know that I’m doing it, I’m somehow breathing life and strength into Niki and helping him to repel the pneumonia that sought to steal his life in Novosibirsk in February.
“I release his hand and try to understand what has been happening. Niki has some color back in his cheeks, seconds before he was ghastly pale. His cheeks are always rosy. More so, of course, when we were outside playing ball, or sledding, or planning some kind of mischief, it is a great relief to see a hint of roses back in his cheeks. His breathing is easier now, too. He’s not laboring and his breath, while still a little raspy, no longer has that scary liquid gurgle that I’d heard at first. I reclaim his hand and lie down beside him for I’m suddenly very tired. I kiss him. There is a surge of love and hope and joy. I see Saint Michael and fall deeply into the pool of his eyes. Unconscious of all else.
“You know,” the General regards me calmly, “I’ve spoken to priests and doctors trying to understand what this is and how it works. The priests, of course, call it a miracle and are content with that. Some of the doctors say the same; other doctors want to start doing experiments with their ‘scientific method’ whatever in the hell that might be. Fortunately, they can’t catch me.” He smiles winningly and I’ve a sense of what it might be like to know him as a friend.
“I’ve even asked Alexei. He said that the Starets Rasputin could ease his pain, but could never keep it away. He thinks it must be a miracle, so that settles it for me.
“I don’t guess we’ll know in this life. Anyway, the next thing I know is Niki’s voice from afar, ‘he’s waking-up Babka.’ Almost lazily I become aware; I’m in bed, safely enfolded in Niki’s embrace, warm throughout, with a purring warmth at my feet. I open my eyes to the smiling approval of Niki’s Grandmother. I can feel her love and I know it is for me as well as for Niki.
“’Ah Paisii,’ she says, ‘beloved grandson. I know you now for an Old Soul my dear. You’ve done a miracle just now.’ She smoothes my hair and strokes my cheek; she tells me that I’m ‘from beyond the steppes, from before the ken of man or priest.’ She fixes us both with a formidable eye and asks us if we’ve prayed to learn our challenge. ‘You must you know, both of you, for you surely have one and it must be met. Such gifts are not given idly away. Tea, I think,’ and she leaves to fix it for us.
“Now you need to know that Nik is a hopeless romantic. Oh, not in the falling in love sort of way, he fell in love with me and that was that; but in the sense of faithful knights and boyars, loyal Cossacks, great feats of daring-do in the service of a loving Tsar – a Tsar who loved all and was loved by all in turn. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that within two days he came dashing to our apartment and announced that he knew what our ‘challenge’ was and I must come with him at once. So we went, he and I and Kiki. When we got to his home, Babka was there, visiting with a man about her age. They were enjoying tea.
“’Dedushka Konstantin.’ Nik announced, ‘here is Paisii who’ll be coming with us to rescue the Tsar.’
“I was stunned, but Kiki wanted down, and when released, walked over to Konstantin, and jumped into his lap. Grandfather, I said, and bowed slightly to him. All this time my mind is whirling with this rescue the Tsar business.
“A great discussion now ensued. Basically, Babka stated we knew what our challenge was and we must proceed. Nik, of course, agreed with her. But Konstantin said it was impossible and pointed out that the Tsar was miles away in Yekaterinburg, was doubtless well guarded, that the problem of moving the Tsar, Tsaritsa, Tsarevitch, and four Grand Duchesses would be a nightmare even if it were possible. And finally, glancing around in sad triumph, Konstantin pointed out that he was ill and could not help, and far more importantly, that the Tsarevitch Alexei was sick almost to the point of being crippled.
“’No problem,’ Nik said pulling me forward. ‘Pai is sent by Saint Michael. He’ll know what to do.’
“So I go to Konstantin, who is seated in the good chair. I kneel in front of him and look into Kiki’s eyes where I sense approval. I look up to Konstantin who is smiling bemusedly, and say my prayers. I carefully put one hand on each of his knees at exactly the same time, and I can feel the flow pulsing strongly into Konstantin. This time it is different again. I can sense that Kiki is with me, seemingly helping to direct the flow. And the sickness is different too. With Niki, it was as if I were dispersing a viscous cloud. But with Konstantin, it seems almost like his body is trying to devour itself, so I must focus on stopping that. I’m concentrating on that when I feel Nik’s hands on my shoulders. Nik’s presence gives me additional strength and I sense that the disease is losing strength just as a sandbank can be washed away as the river flows on. Yes, like a river. That’s a better description. You can look out upon the surface of the river and everything seems calm and placid. Beneath the surface though, the current can be strong as the river sweeps away.
“It took me two days to wash away the sickness from Konstantin. Most of that time, to be sure, was spent asleep. I can only maintain the flow for a short period and then I must sleep and regain my strength. Babka understood this. She made Konstantin sleep on the divan and she had Niki take Kiki and I to bed with him in the second bedroom. Somehow, despite all of the shortages in the city, she contrived to feed me until I was full.
“When Konstantin was well, he looked ten years younger and he was convinced that we could, should, and would, rescue the Tsar, the Tsaritsa, the Tsarevitch, and the four Grand Duchesses. While we’d been recuperating, Niki had been busy. He’d recruited four of our friends and two of his cousins to our mission. These were important additions to our crew. Two of them were talented thieves whose skills had been honed by the adversity of our world. We now had four rifles, three pistols, a half-dozen swords and shashkas as well as some explosives and lots of ammunition.
“Konstantin urged us on. He’d been in the Horse Guards in St Petersburg and was an intelligent and well-read man. He told us that it was not unusual for the previous rulers to be executed after a revolution. He feared the dirty Bolsheviks would kill the Royal Family, as they must know that loyal Russians would try to rescue them just as we were preparing to do.
“I arranged transportation on the railroad. My Father had been well thought of and there would be no trouble getting on an empty boxcar when it was time to go.
“And so, on the 15th of June, 1918, we set of in a boxcar for Yekaterinburg. We were now ten teenagers, a grandfather, and a cat.
“They wouldn’t let me do much when we got there. We found a camping spot deep in the beech forest well outside of town. Konstantin organized a thorough reconnaissance of the city and the Ipatiev House. They set about locating horses, tack and the all the essentials. And then we started hammering out the plan.
“First we had to know what Alexei’s condition was. This was my contribution. I emphasized that I wasn’t sure what his affliction was and until I knew this, I could not be sure that I could cure him. If I couldn’t cure him, our escape was going to be much more difficult.
“’If you cannot cure him,’ Konstantin interjected, ‘we might as well go home now and give no one false hope.’
“We were shocked into silence. ‘Listen,’ he continued, ‘Tsar Nicholas is doubtless a fine man and would have made an excellent squire on his country estate. But he’s not been much of Tsar. Has he? He glared as us. Well, has he? He’s done aught but lose wars, give his God-given authority to grasping aristos, and let his people be trod into the mud.’ We were spellbound. ‘And I remind you all that we are here because Saint Michael came to Paisii here and gifted him and charged he and Niki with this mission. Nicholas is no longer the Tsar. He himself set aside his crown with his own hands. The rightful Tsar is Alexei and we must cure him and take him to Admiral Kolchak so that Alexei can unite the loyalists and restore Mother Russia. Only Alexei can do this. Saint Michael did not come to Pai so that we could go to Nicholas and say: gracious me, you’ve made an awful mistake old boy, so now you must get back on your throne!
“’Here’s our plan.’ He said, ‘tonight, Pai and Niki will sneak into the Ipatiev House and go to Alexei’s room. We know he has a room to himself because of his illness. They will begin his cure. If he can be cured, then it will begin.
“’They’ll return to us and let us know. If a cure is possible, tomorrow we will enter the house and liberate the royal family. Some of us will take Alexei to Admiral Kolchak. The rest will go deep into the forest with the rest of the family where they will stay hidden until the army can come.’
“So that night, having entered that gloomy old pile, Nik and I hid in the fusty gloom behind heavy drapes as we waited for the household to settle down. We could hear some of the guards in the rear getting drunk and playing cards. Alexei, our Tsar, is in the next room. Soon, Nik and I will be able to slip into his room and talk to him. Soon, as soon as the healing can be completed, Alexei Nikolayevich Romanov will emerge from the Ipatiev House to renew and resurrect Mother Russia just as his ancestor, Mikhail Fyodorovich Romanov, emerged from the Ipatiev Monastery to become the Saviour of Russia three hundred years ago. Yekaterinburg will be the new Kostroma. So, at least, I pray.
“The drunken talk and laughter became drunken muttering. It was time to go to the Tsar. In sock feet, we cross the hall to the door. It isn’t even locked. The guard is confident of their ability to keep the household immobilized. Stinking Bolsheviks! With my next thought I thank Saint Michael for their overconfident incompetence. We enter and move quietly toward the slight figure all but engulfed by the bed. We stand beside him. Even in the gloom of the room he looks sick.
“He wakes. Startled, he rises on his elbows and starts to open his mouth. I make a shushing gesture. But what quiets him is Kiki leaping onto the bed and moving quickly to nuzzle his chin with the top of his head. I’d no idea Kiki was even with us. I can’t say that I was surprised; I take Niki’s hand and we go to our knees beside the bed.
“We are your men, Majesty, I whisper, we are your men in your service. Here to promise that help is coming. Keeping Niki’s hand in mine, I rise slightly and take his hand to kiss. When we touch, I’m almost staggered by the intensity of the touch. He’s in great pain. Oh Good Saint Michael and Sweet Jesus Lord, can I do this?
“He’s wide awake and staring. Holding tight to Niki as a ship does to an anchor, I try to drive his pain away; I try to direct this torrent of healing and find out what, exactly, is wrong. This is far worse than pneumonia or cancer. There is something fundamentally wrong and his blood seems weak. I concentrate on driving off the pain and fortifying the blood. He does not resist as I hold his hand more firmly and rest my forehead on his hand. There! I sense Kiki, also in contact. He seems to be bleeding from bruises. There is only so much that can be done with the energy that Nik and Kiki and I have tonight. So I concentrate the healing forces on easing his pain. It’s the bruises! That’s what’s causing the pain. That makes it easier. That’s way easier than a broken bone. Now, enrich the blood. I can do that! It’s almost as if I were strengthening the body to defeat a cancer, but very different too.
“I’m starting to learn a bit about how to do this. So when I feel myself come close to passing out, I kiss his hand and release him. I sag back down on my knees with my head on the feather bed. I hear Niki whisper.
“’I am Nicholas Ivanovich Kotlyarovsky,’ I feel his hand rubbing my shoulder as if to ease any pain I might have, ‘this is Paisii Timofeyevich Chalikov. The Good Lord has sent us to ease your pain. We’ll be back tonight. Please Majesty, say nothing to no one; you must say nothing at all about our visit. Paisii must eat and sleep to regain his strength if he is to help you.’
“He nods and whispers, ‘the pain is gone. Completely gone. I feel alive.’ He pets Kiki.
“’Come Pai, Niki whispers pulling me up. Morning is nigh. The servants will be about soon.’
“We bow, then exit quietly retracing our steps and exiting the house, moving through the quiet streets, into the woods, as the coming morn begins to silhouette the horizon. I lose all track of time when I’m healing. Kiki stays with Alexei.”
The General paused and regarded me calmly. Smiling he asked, “More?”
“Oh please Your Excellency.” I was on my third note pad.
“While I slept, all the final preparations were made. Late in the afternoon one of our troikas rolled-up to the Ipatiev House and Anton, one of our friends, with a red scarf brassarded on his arm, asked where he could deliver the four cases of vodka that had been sent by the commune. The guards quickly unloaded it and Anton clattered off. No one even asked him which commune had sent the vodka.
“That night, Alexei was awake when we crept into his room. He sat up as we approached. Kiki was beside him, purring mightily. We went down on one knee before him.
“’I feel better today than I can ever remember.’ Alexei whispered. ‘Mama said I looked good today. I almost told her. Then I saw our cat watching me from atop the wardrobe. I said nothing.’ I can see a hint of his smile in the darkness.
“Thank God and Saint Michael, I aver. With their aid we’ll be leaving today. I take his hand in both of mine, and kiss it. The flow is present, but not so intense as last night; but then I can tell that he’s not in pain tonight, and his blood seems stronger too. I concentrate on fortifying his bloodstream. I reach beneath the covers and run one hand over all of his body to make sure I’ve missed nothing. Niki has gone out into the hall. I release him when I’ve given him all the strength that I can.
“Now we need to pray, I tell him, as we wait for rescue.
“Niki is back! ‘They’re here,’ he whispered though his excitement seemed loud. Get dressed your Majesty. Alexei bounces out of bed and explodes out of his nightshirt; he begins to dress in a soldier’s uniform. I cram some of his stuff into a pillowcase. We can hear the sounds of a muted scuffle from the back room. Seconds later, Konstantin and Fjodor arrive. I give Alexei his uniform cap and tell him to put it on.
“From here on, Majesty, you are the light of Mother Russia. He looks solemn for a second, then grins and dons the cap at a jaunty angle. He climbs into a uniform great coat, picks-up Kiki who settles into the coat, peeking out from the lapels, as he is wont to do. We start down the hall to the courtyard. In the kitchen two guards are unconscious but tied securely. A third lies in a pool of blood, released from all ties to this life. There are empty vodka bottles everywhere.
“As we enter the courtyard, we can hear some muffled popping from the depths of the house. Konstantin curses, orders us to mount up and stand-by, disappears into the gloom of the house. There are two troikas as well as the saddled horses in the courtyard.
“Seconds later, Ilya comes into the courtyard with four young girls and a spaniel on a leash. ‘Please hurry! Please hurry! Please hurry!’ He chants while trying to herd them courteously to one of the troikas. I’ve not yet mounted, so I bend the knee and tell them they’ll soon be safe.
“Konstantin comes out of the house, pistol in hand. ‘Mount up Pai,’ he orders. ‘Niki, take ‘em away! You know the route. We’ll be right behind!’ We walk out the gate and down the road out of town. Niki keeps us at a quiet walk until we’re into the country then we let the flustered horses canter for a bit until they’ve worked off their excitement. There are five of us in our party: Alexei, Niki and I, with Fjodor and cousin Dmitri. Well six, if you count Kiki, as you really ought.
“We remain on the road until the sun is well-up. Then we turn southward onto a country trail. It was a beautiful morning. We finally stopped for a rest about mid-day. We watered the horses, and picketed them to graze. I was sore; it had been a long time since I’d spent this much time on a horse. Feeling that the same would be true of Alexei, I went to him and asked how he felt.
“’Better, I think, than I’ve ever felt before.’ His smile is radiant. He glows in the sunshine. ‘May I ask what our plan is, Paisii?’
“It is to restore you, Majesty, to Russia. But you know that. We’re taking you to Admiral Kolchak who has the closest loyal army. There your liberation will be proclaimed and you will begin your reign. Dedushka Konstantin and the others have taken the rest of your family to a secret place in the forest. They’ll be safe there until we can get a sufficient force to escort them safely. It would be almost impossible to travel safely for any distance with all of you. Your Papa is quite recognizable.
“’That’s another thing, Paisii’ he tells me. ‘You keep calling me Majesty. That’s not quite right. Majesty is for the sovereign.’ He’s smiling as he lectures me on protocol for a few moments. His blue eyes sparkle and his smile is infectious. I thank Saint Michael for selecting me for this great service.
“Now, I interrupt Alexei and kneel before him; it is as good a time as any. We call you Majesty because you are the sovereign. The Grand Duke Nicholas abdicated in your favor. Then when they thought you were too ill, they changed it in favor of your Uncle Mikhail. In any event, Your Majesty, you are now our Tsar by all rights, by all law, by all tradition, and by all that is Holy. I will tell you later how Saint Michael sent us to you.
(“I didn’t know it at the time, but before we actually made it to Admiral Kolchak, the Grand Duke Mikhail had been foully murdered by the verminous Bolsheviks.)
“He stares off into space for a long moment. ‘Please rise Paisii,’ he takes me in his arms and kisses my lips. He grips my shoulders and looks at me with a serious expression. ‘I guess it’s a good thing that I know Admiral Kolchak. He used to tell me stories about polar bears and the frozen arctic.’
“Two days later, Dmitri spotted soldiers who had not a hint of red anywhere about their uniforms. They were moving toward Yekaterinburg. We watched them for another two days and decided to approach them. As was fitting, we spent several hours making Alexei beautiful. One of the things I’d crammed into his pillowcase was a medal- mounting bar with four medals on it. We found a hangar for a shashka and when we were done he looked very imperial.”
The General stood and started moving items around on his desk to demonstrate relative positions and then resumed talking as if he were lecturing me in tactics. (The Tsar was now a crystal paperweight.)
“Then we waited at a wide part of the path that the scout we’d been watching was following. Alexei, properly, was before us. Niki and I were in the center behind Alexei with Dmitri and Fjodor on either flank. Alexei had given some thought to this meeting. So he’d insisted that Dmitri, Fjodor, and Nik have their rifles slung across their backs. I didn’t have a rifle, but I’d positioned myself so that Alexei did not know that my revolver was in my right hand where it would be invisible to him and the scout. Alexei had his shashka sloped along his right arm.”
The General demonstrates a sloped shashka with a ruler and looks down the room as if it were a path, as if he were listening for the arrival of a mounted scout.
“Dmitri had picked the spot for our meeting beautifully. The young soldier rode out of a dense thicket and there, suddenly, we were. Face to face. The tension was so thick it held us motionless for several long seconds. Then the horses nickered amiably to one another, reminding us that all were friends.”
With a flourish he raises the ruler as if he were saluting with a real shashka and intones, “I am Alexei Nikolayevich. And I… am your Tsar.” He gazes across the march of years.
“Naturally, I could not see Alexei’s face; but I could hear the smile in his voice. The young soldier, I could see that he was our age, now that the tension was gone, looked relieved. He’d never even grabbed for the carbine on his saddle.
“The Tsar returned the shashka to the slope, ‘Will you bring your officer here please?’
“The soldier smiled hugely, ‘At once Your Majesty,’ he saluted. He paused as if to engrave the tableau in his memory, then turned and went back down the path making haste quietly as a good soldier should.
“That was the first acknowledgement of Alexei’s reign. In many ways it was the most important. Both he and Alexei, in their youth and idealism, represented the future of Russia. His name is Andrey. Like Niki and I, he remains in Alexei’s service to this day.
“Andrey returned with his officer, a bedraggled major who had lost one of his shoulder boards somewhere. The major took one look at Alexei, saluted, and tears began to course down his cheeks.
“And that is how an obscure provincial regiment, the 115th Mounted Infantry, originally raised on the fringe of Empire to guard against the Turk, became the 115th, The Tsar’s Own, Mounted Rifles. To this day, one company of that regiment is always on guard with the Tsar. They are the horsemen who always precede him in all parades.
“You, and every school boy, know the rest of the tale. The 115th returned with us to Admiral Kolchak who was overjoyed, at first, to see us. He had told the Tsarevitch many tales of explorations in the Arctic and perhaps when he saw Alexei, he thought of the small boy and not of the Tsar. Soon it was no longer Admiral Kolchak’s army. It was the Tsar’s. And indeed, this became the core of the Tsar’s strength, the sword, if you will, that ended the revolution and evicted the Germans and the Austrians from the territories they thought they’d take for themselves. But let me tell you why this army so quickly became a group of armies and was so thoroughly the Tsar’s.
“After greeting Admiral Kolchak and telling him of our adventures and that the rest of the family was safe, immediately after a light snack, accompanied by only Nik and myself, the Tsar started moving through the camp talking to the soldiers and sailors of the army. Moving from campfire to campfire. He asked after their families; their homes; their dreams; he put them at ease; they came to know him and knew that he cared for them and for Russia. Quite unconsciously they suddenly came to know him as their Tsar. We did this every night.
“Then, wholly by accident, the Tsar came to heal a young peasant soldier who took a bullet in the stomach, just a few feet away from us. Heedless of the shooting, he rushed to the boy and took him in his arms trying to comfort the lad. I knelt between the Tsar and where I thought the shots had come from; I meant to pat him reassuringly on the shoulder, but when I touched him, I felt the flow of healing and knew that the Tsar was now a conduit for Saint Michael. Before our eyes, and before the eyes of many of the soldiers, that young peasant soldier was made whole again.
“Perhaps needless to say, that story was all through the army by nightfall.
“So when Dedushka Konstantin’s messenger came, Alexei summoned the Major Commanding the 115th and sent them to get the Imperial family. Later in the day, he casually mentioned this to the Admiral. The Admiral was immediately flustered and stood openmouthed before the Tsar for a long second. Then he closed his mouth. Alexei stepped up to him and gripped his forearm. ‘Thank you most excellent Admiral,’ Alexei smiled, now in command.
“There are many others who can better tell you of all of Alexei’s reforms and how we’ve come to be where we are today. But you should know that Kiki stayed with us for twenty years. He and Alexei’s spaniel Joy became best of friends. Then one day he was simply gone. We never found him. He’d gone to Saint Michael. No doubt about it in my mind.”
The door flew open and a silver haired general and a beautiful older woman entered the room with casual familiarity. “Come on you old goat,” the man said to His High Excellency, Colonel General Count Paisii Timofeyevich Chalikov, Comptroller General of the Imperial Household, Knight Imperial, “it’s teatime.”
“Ah,” my General smiles, “Niki, Kristya, meet my young interrogator. He’s been asking me to tell him stories from our youth. I guess he’ll get to you, too, afore long.”
An orderly has appeared. “Piotr, please insure that this young man has his dinner.” His smile sweeps the room.
He looks solemn for a moment, “Enjoy your dinner, my young friend,” he smiles at me, “I can scarce imagine what a mess we’d have if the damned dirty Bolsheviks had won.” The three of them sweep off to take tea with the Tsar.
Some Explanatory Notes:
The spelling of “Michael” is used for the Archangel, as opposed to “Mikhail,” in an effort to be trans-national.
The rank of Colonel General does not exist in the army of the US or UK. It does in Russia and in the old German Army. It falls between a full, or four star general, and field marshal.
Colonel-in-Chief is an honorary position providing a number or perquisites, including the wearing of the regimental uniform, but the holder of the title is not the actual commander of the regiment in question.
The Order of Knight Imperial is fictional.
Wearing a miniature is indicative of the particular favor of the ruler. These were hand painted to order and usually mounted on gold or platinum with diamonds surrounding.
I do not know if there is a statue of St Michael in the Novosibirsk cathedral. If there isn’t, there ought to be.
In life, St Michael held the military rank of Taxiarch.
I’ve used a respectful title for Rasputin, in deference to Alexei, to whom he brought some comfort.
Kostroma is the city in which the first of the Romanov’s was elected Tsar.
Admiral Kolchak was a noted Arctic explorer during his early career. There was an island named for him on the maps until the Bolsheviks remembered it.
A shashka is the traditional sword of the Cossack. A slight curve to the blade, balanced to cut as well as thrust, notably lacking a hilt.
The Preobrazhenski Guard was an old Imperial regiment dating back to Peter the Great. To the best of my knowledge the 115th mounted infantry is wholly fictional.
Russian names and words are transliterated. The spellings I’ve used all appear in books published in English.
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