Of Changing History
Motto: "The first time we met I knew you would betray me. The second time we met I knew I would let you. Who am I to stand in the way of history?"
The windows were ajar and gleaming white against the fresh grass outside that seemed to grow a little way into the house. A breeze blew through the room, blew curtain in at one end and out at the other like pale flags, twisting them up towards the frosted wedding-cake ceiling, and then rippled over the wine-coloured rug, making a shadow on it as the wind does at sea.
Another shadow, an unexpected one, made its appearance on the burgundy-red stage of the rug. It stood still for a minute, before walking towards the window and sitting on the windowsill. In the blinding light of a typical Russian morning there was no doubt as to whom the shadow belonged. The Grand Duchess Olga Nikolaevna Romanova fingered the edge of a pale-blue curtain absently. She wasn't used to such a lack of luxury. Barely moving her head, she took in the horribly mundane decorations of the house.
Then, just as she was moving her eyes towards the grass (such an odd thing to have no snow at all in February), another shadow moved into view. Olga didn't even flinch. She continued mutinously fixing her eyes on a single blade of grass and it looked as if all of her life depended on its sways. Perhaps it even did.
"Good morning, Olga Nikolaevna." A harsh voice, that of a Russian peasant, made even more unpleasant by the obviously dark tones that crept into it, broke the fragile silence of the room.
"Is it really?" The Grand Duchess answered, without even turning her head towards the man.
"Your mother wouldn't appreciate this answer, I'm afraid. Tsk, tsk, what an education for a Grand Duchess…" The man's voice had the sound of a whip.
This time, Olga winced and spun around to find herself face to face with Vladimir Ilici Ulianov, later to be known as Vladimir Ilici Lenin.
"We are not here to discuss my education or lack thereof, are we?" When it came to making someone feel belittled, Olga could do it without raising her voice just one notch.
Ulianov straightened his shoulders.
"No, we are not. In fact, there is soon to come a time when your education won't help you at all… I will personally take care of that." He assured her, as if he was telling her the most ordinary thing.
"You were never a man to value education, Vladimir Ilici."
This time, it was Ulianov's turn to flinch, as he heard Olga addressing him by his proper name, almost... respectfully, as if he were one of the noble men that usually surrounded her.
"It's more about power with you, isn't it? You love the power the people gives you, even though you are not sure if you can hold it all in one hand." She continued, looking Ulianov straight in the eye.
His expression changed into something fierce and unrecognizable.
"What would you know about the people, Olga Nikolaevna? What would you know about being hungry and having no roof over your head?"
Even through her guarded expression, Ulianov could see that he had hit a weak spot.
"Oh, and you are supposed to be the savior of the Russians? Do they need saving? Remember, Vladimir Ilici, my family has been reigning for more than 300 years…"
"Far too long, if you ask me."
Olga tried ignoring his remark, but found that she simply couldn't.
"It's more about us Romanovs and less about the people, isn't it?"
"It's about both. Do you think that I can make whole cities murmur at their poverty and at your richness? Do you think I have it in my power to raise a riot just by words? Then you think too highly of me, Olga Nikolaevna. My powers are, still, limited. Is there ever smoke without a fire?"
Olga pondered his words carefully. She wasn't as blind as her father and mother. She had voluntarily worked as a nurse during the war, and she had heard the soldiers talking among them. Olga knew too well that the situation wasn't as bright as her parents were made to think by their counselors. Europe was starting to evolve to the constitutional monarchy system, which Nikolai Romanov refused to hear about. The people suddenly wanted to make their desires known and felt that this was the moment to rise out of poverty and hunger.
In the hospital, she had heard Ulianov's name for the first time. He was nothing more and nothing less than the others. An ordinary man, perhaps, if it hadn't been for his brother being murdered after he had unsuccessfully tried to murder Aleksandr the Third.
"You're on a personal vendetta, Vladimir Ilici. Washing your brother's blood with more blood… won't bring him back."
Olga looked him in the eye again and what she saw there scared her so much that she turned her eyes to the blade of grass she had been watching earlier. For a fleeting moment, Ulianov almost looked… hurt. Perhaps this wasn't the best way to explain it. There was something savage about his expression, like a wounded animal ready to jump back at its attacker.
"I know…" He admitted brokenly. "But it's worth a try."
Olga turned around so quickly that her long braid hit the window, sending it into the wall of the house and making it break in thousands of little pieces that glinted in the morning sun.
"Then is there any reason to this?" She asked, showing him a piece of paper that bore his handwriting. "Did you call me here for a reason or are you just a beast playing with its food?"
Ulianov took the paper out of her hands and looked at it closely.
"Do you know how long it took me to be able to write just this note decently? You would take being able to read and write for granted. I don't. All of the other Russians don't. That's why we'll continue living in Russia and you won't."
He let his eyes drift from the piece of paper to Olga's face. As she sat there on the windowsill, the sun shining behind her, surrounded by all the pieces from the broken window, she looked a bit like an angel unjustly let to fall in the middle of reality. Ulianov's religious upbringing hit him without notice.
"However, my plans merely include sending you and the rest of your family off to your mother's beloved England." He added, and tried to justify this sudden change in position. "I'm not as much of a criminal as you think me. The real criminals run this country."
Olga considered the "favour" he was making her. In a sudden flash of clarity of mind, she realised that his decision would change, soon enough.
"You will betray me, Vladimir Ilici. You will betray your promise and by this you will betray that little piece of humanity you still have left." She said, in a voice that was neither whiny nor arrogant.
Olga then stood up, and made her way towards the door.
Ulianov stood unmoved. Hours passed until he spun around, stepped out the door and into the garden, where he pulled the blade of grass Olga had been looking at out of the ground and stuck it into his pocket.
The windows were closed and gleaming white against the fresh snow outside that seemed to come a little way into the house. The curtains hung limply around the windows, like the flags of a country at war. The wine-coloured rug had been marred by cigarettes and boots and spilled vodka.
A shadow moved slowly into view and sat itself on the windowsill. A few moments later, it threw a cigarette out the window. The cigarette dropped like a tiny comet, until it fell to the place where, a month ago, a blade of grass had been intensely watched.
Even in the dark of the evening, any Russian would have recognized the shadow. Vladimir Ilici Ulianov was now more than a peasant. He had been turned into a legend.
Another legend stepped on the burgundy-red rug. But this time it was a legend that was to become a shadow.
"Good evening, Olga Nikolaevna." The voice was still harsh, but it looked as if the man had tried hard to keep the dark notes out of it.
"Is it really?" Olga wondered aloud.
Ulianov shook with silent laughter.
"No, you're probably right. It's not."
She drew in a breath.
"Do you remember what I told you the last time we met, Vladimir Ilici?"
He pondered her question and wrinkles appeared on his forehead.
"About my betraying you. I do remember. Are you going to do anything to stop me from it?"
"You know the power is not in my hands." She answered calmly. "It never has, although… I understand."
"You… understand?" Surprise was obvious in Ulianov's voice.
"More than you think. And I'm going to let you betray your promise."
Olga made a gesture with her hand, as if allowing him to do just that.
"And lose every shred of humanity I still have?"
"That is for you to decide. Who am I to stand in the way of history?"
The Grand Duchess made as if to leave, but Ulianov stopped her.
"Do you remember this?" He asked, while he was pulling something from his pocket.
It was a yellow blade of grass, but one that Olga recognised instantly.
"I once imagined my life depended on that." She whispered.
"It did. And its life depended on me. I picked it up. You see, I knew that the frost would come back and then it would have died in the cold. Better let it die in my pockets."
Olga lifted her eyes from the blade of grass to look at Ulianov.
"Nothing," she said, "nothing is worth dying in the pocket of a communist. Even if you get to live more."
She turned and left without further word.
Ulianov stood there for hours again. In the end, he let the blade of grass drop crumbled on the floor, where it would be under the boots of his fellow communists. Just like any other symbol, it would be crushed…