I am Nostradamus,
the lightning rod.
I am Nostradamus,
the voice of God—
The members of Dark Stairway sat the lotus position on the floors of the grand hall. Five minutes had passed, since the imperial family left in horror to comfort their sick heir.
"Damn it!" Chris muttered, while he punched the floor. "How much longer do we have to wait here?"
James was about to answer Chris' question, but before he could, Count Fredricks returned.
"I'm sorry about that," Count Fredricks began. "But you must understand the seriousness of the situation."
James nodded. "Don't worry. We do."
Count Fredricks returned the nod. "Thank you. Their Majesties request that you return to your rooms for the evening."
"Um, excuse me, Count, but I don't know where my friends are going to be sleeping. No one ever showed them their rooms."
"Oh, dear, forgive me! So much has been going on today that, that completely slipped my mind. Here, let me show you."
"Before you do, Count," interjected James, "I have to ask you, will our equipment be safe?" he added, gesturing the band's instruments and equipment.
"Certainly, it will be fine. Now then, let me show you to your rooms."
Count Fredricks led the members of Dark Stairway to rooms that were adjacent to James. The rooms were also practically identical to one another. However, the members of Dark Stairway decided to take chairs from their rooms, and gather in James' room.
"Say, James and Andrew?" began Johnny. "You guys know a lot about the tsar's family; his son was a hemophiliac, correct?"
Both James and Andrew nodded, but James also responded with a "yes."
"So he could literally bleed to death from that nosebleed?"
Again, Andrew nodded. "Yes, it could literally kill him."
"But he won't die," added James.
Almost immediately after James responded, there was a knock at his door.
"Yes?" James said.
In response the door opened to reveal the grand duchesses, led by Tatiana.
"We're sorry that we had to leave you like that, James," said Tatiana.
"That's okay; we understand. How is your little brother?"
"The doctors are with him. But Mama sent a telegram to Petrograd for 'our friend' to come."
"Your friend?" James said. "I take it that you mean Gregory Rasputin?"
Tatiana nodded. "Yes, I mean Father Grigoriy," she said, using the transliteration of his name.
"It certainly would be interesting to see him," was the collective thought of the band. Even Chris, Johnny, and Adam, who did not know much about the history of the tsar's family, knew who Rasputin was—the 'mad monk.'
"James?" Tatiana began.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
"Since you're supposed to be 'something of a prophet,' I have to ask you…Will Alexei die?"
"Since it's not the summer of 1918, the answer is…No."
There was a collective sigh of relief among the grand duchesses, before Tatiana said, "Thank you."
"Um, excuse me," interjected Chris. "I hate to interrupt, but there's something that I have to ask."
"Yes?" said Tatiana.
"Well, it's only 10:30, and we don't exactly 'turn in' at that time. Is there something we could do?"
"Oh, I don't know. Drink? Party?"
James chuckled. "I seriously doubt you could get hammered in the Alexander Palace. Kind of like I doubt you could get drunk at the White House."
The grand duchesses smirked.
"But perhaps," continued James, "you could give us a tour of the palace, because my friends haven't had a chance to really see it?"
"Certainly," Tatiana said with a smile.
During the conversation between Tatiana and the members of Dark Stairway, Grand Duchess Maria had slowly been moving her way to a nightstand, where her mother always kept small pieces of paper and small pencils for her guests to use. Once there, she quickly grabbed a piece of paper and a pencil, and closed them in her hand. "Uh," Grand Duchess Maria said.
"What is it, Maria?" asked Tatiana.
"I need to use the lavatory. Could you wait for me?"
"Certainly, go ahead."
Maria excused herself to the lavatory, but she did not use it. Instead, the lavatory gave her the space she needed to quickly write a note. Once finished, she slipped the note underneath her dress, and returned to the group. "All right, I'm ready to go."
"All right then," Tatiana said. "Let's go."
As with James, the members of Dark Stairway were not allowed to enter rooms that were considered private for the imperial family, but what they were allowed to see was enough to impress them.
"Say, Grand Duchess Tatiana?" began Adam.
"Have you ever been to the White House in Washington?"
"No, I have never been to America. Why do you ask?"
"Well, I just wondered how this place would compare to the White House?"
Grand Duchess Olga chuckled. "That's funny."
"Because ambassadors from other countries have compared our palace with palaces in England, France, or that god-awful Germany, but no one has ever compared it with the White House in Washington. I think that's because no one really thinks of America as a place with palaces and castles."
As Adam talked with Tatiana and Olga, Maria motioned to James for him to hold out his hand. At first, James wondered if he and the grand duchess were going to hold hands, but instead, Maria quickly removed the note from her dress, and placed it into James's hand. "Read that later," she whispered.
James nodded, and put the note in his back pocket.
As the tour of the Alexander Palace took place between the members of Dark Stairway and the grand duchesses, the hand of a man with a gotee, brown hair, and spectacles was shaking. The man was Doctor Eugene Botkin, the imperial physician, and he was in the room, where the tsarevich lay.
"The blood hasn't stopped," he said to his assistant—Doctor Vladimir Derevenko.
Doctor Derevenko, a moderately tall man with a trim beard and glasses said, "I know, but he has suffered much worse—the incident in Spala from 1912, for example."
Doctor Botkin nodded. "True, but the tsarevich has suffered nosebleeds before, and they are usually stopped quickly."
The conversation between the doctors was cut short, when the empress entered. But she was not alone. Next to her was a moderately tall man with large green eyes, long dark hair—which was kept in a knot, and a big bushy beard. The man was dressed in a monastic robe—even though he was not a monk—and around his neck was a Latin crucifix.
Leaning over her son's bed, Alexandra said, "Sunbeam, Father Grigoriy is here."
Alexei wanted to cringe. As much as he loved his mother, he hated many of the 'pet names' that she had given him. But he could not cringe. Dried blood rested against his cheeks, and the bandages in his nose were soaked with fresh blood.
Gregory Rasputin made the Sign of the Cross in the air just like a priest—even though he was not a priest. "In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost," he said over the tsarevich.
While Doctors Botkin and Derevekno kept their distance from Rasputin, they gave the 'wandering holy man' a look from behind his back. Botkin and Derevenko knew how much the empress trusted Rasputin, and they were reluctant to lose favor with her; yet they were also skeptical at Rasputin's 'miraculous power'—even though they knew there were times, when Alexei should have died, and Rasputin seemed to bring him back from the 'jaws of death.' Such as the incident Doctor Derevenko mentioned earlier—1912 in Spala. In the fall of that year, the tsarevich began hemorrhaging from the stomach, and Botkin and Derevenko announced the case as hopeless. So hopeless, in fact, that notices were being drawn up that would announce the tsarevich's death. Yet somehow, Rasputin was able to bring Alexei back from a potentially early grave.
"Your Highness," Rasputin said, while he gently brushed back the tsarevich's sweaty hair.
The heir to the Russian throne slowly looked at the wide-eyed Siberian peasant.
Rasputin smiled, while he gave the tsarevich a deep look. "You just came back from the front, I understand, with your father?"
The sick heir nodded. "Yes."
"You do not need to nod. Your words are all you need to get your message across—just relax."
Alexei did not say anything, but Rasputin could tell that he understood him.
"You reviewed the troops with your father, the tsar, right?"
"And you blessed them, correct?"
"What did the troops do?"
"They kissed my hand."
"And how did that make you feel?"
"Wonderful! It made me feel how much they loved me. I love them too, and I want them to be happy. One day, when I am tsar, I am going to make sure that everybody in Russia is happy."
Rasputin smiled. "Good. Now close your eyes."
Alexei did as the staretz, or wandering holy man, commanded.
"Now," Rasputin added, "think of the troops. Think of the day, when you'll be tsar. And think of the reaction on the faces of your happy subjects, when you've done what you could to make them happy."
Alexei rested his head further against the pillow and smiled. Through the darkness, he saw no one living in poverty and no one sick from a disease like his own. Everyone was happy and shouting 'God Save the Tsar!' and 'God Bless Tsar Alexei II!' Soon, the tsarevich drifted off to sleep.
With his hand gently touching Alexei's forehead, Rasputin muttered a brief prayer. Once he finished, he slowly removed the bandages. Incredibly, the bleeding had stopped!
Alexandra was beaming, when Rasputin turned to her. "All is well, Mama," he said, referencing Alexandra's role as the 'little mother of the Russian people.' Then the staretz bowed and said, "I must get back to Petrograd."
"No, Father," Alexandra said. "It's late. Please stay the night in the palace."
Rasputin nodded. "Very well."
"Well, everyone," began Tatiana, as her sisters and the members of Dark Stairway returned to their starting point, "that's the end of our tour. And according to the clock I just saw, I think I'm going to turn in. I think I'm going to spend the day tomorrow with Mama, if Alexei isn't feeling well."
"I think I'll probably go to bed as well," said Grand Duchess Olga. "Papa and I might have something planned tomorrow, if Alexei is feeling better."
"I should probably turn in as well," said Grand Duchess Anastasia. "Since I think I'm going to keep Alexei company tomorrow."
"I think I'm going to wait a little while, before I turn in," added Maria. "I'm not tired yet, so I think I might read for a while."
Tatiana nodded at her next to youngest sister, before she turned to the members of Dark Stairway. "Goodnight to you all, and thank you for your music. It was certainly interesting."
"You're welcome," James said with a smile.
Tatiana returned the smile, as she and her sisters began to walk away. But before all the grand duchesses could no longer be seen by the members of Dark Stairway, Grand Duchess Maria turned and gave one final smile to James, which he promptly returned.
"You really like her, don't you?" Andrew said with a grin.
"Yeah, just a bit," James replied, blushing. With his cheeks still a little rosy, James removed the note that Maria had given him.
"What's that?" asked Andrew.
"I don't know. She gave it to me earlier."
"Who?" asked Johnny.
"Grand Duchess Maria."
"Well, what's it say?" asked Adam.
Unfolding the note, James read it out loud. "'I need to talk to you. Please meet me in the grand hall, where you and your friends played.'"
"Wonder what this is all about?" asked Chris.
"I don't know. But I guess I'm going to find out."
Maria sat against a pillar in the grand hall not too far away from where the members of Dark Stairway kept their equipment. But once she saw James enter, she immediately stood up.
"Hey, there," James said with a gesture. "I understand that you wanted to see me."
"Yes, James," she said, while she crossed her arms and looked at the floor.
Noticing the expression on her face, James said, "Am I in trouble?"
"Huh?" replied a stunned Maria.
James chuckled. "Well, that look on your face. It reminded me of the looks teachers gave me in high school, when I was in trouble."
Maria laughed. "Oh, no, no! You're not in trouble. I was just trying to think how I could ask you this question."
"And what question is that?"
"Well, that song that you sang, 'Mother Russia'?"
James nodded. "Yes, what about it?"
"You mentioned in the song how it 'tells the tale of a great empire,' but Russia wasn't considered an empire in the period before the Time of Troubles."
"Damn! She sure is good at nitpicking…Well, Maria, I think that the composer of that song was just being general about calling Russia an 'empire.' I don't think he was trying to be as literal, as you're making him out to be."
"But in that same song, you also said how an old man was 'reminiscing an age gone by.' Who in the world would want to reminisce about the reign of Ivan the Terrible?"
James crossed his arms, and looked at the floor. He was trying to come up with a good answer. "I suppose someone could say the same thing about your great-great-grandfather, Nicholas I."
"Huh?" said a stunned Maria. "Nicholas I kept Russia and Europe safe from revolutionaries."
Finally, James sighed, and threw his arms in the air. He was not good at telling lies, and Maria, constantly nagging him, made him to decide to finally tell the truth. "Okay, the song is about the reforms of Russia that took place in the '80s."
But Maria was confused. "The '80s? What reforms are you talking about specifically? I know that my grandfather passed laws to strengthen the autocracy, and to eliminate the threat of revolutionaries."
James shook his head. "Not the 1880s, but the 1980s."
Maria's confusion doubled. "What? The 1980s?! That's like 70 years in the future! How could a song be written about events that haven't even taken place?"
"Because it was written in 1990."
Maria was now flabbergasted. "What?! Are you insane?"
James turned, and placed his hands behind his back. "I might be a little crazy; I must admit." Then he turned back to Maria. "But I'm also from the time that, that song was written. And if you think I'm insane for saying that, let me ask you this, how else would I know the things that I know—perhaps I'm 'something of a prophet,' because I've read the history books that relate to this time?"
Maria truly thought that James was insane, but she had to admit that he did have a point. How could James know the things that he did know? "All right then," Maria began, "what's the song about then?"
"It's about the reforms of Mikhail Gorbachev?"
"Gorbachev? Who's that?"
"He was President of the Soviet Union."
"The Soviet Union…A workers' union?"
James nodded. "It's what Russia eventually became, after the fall of the tsarist empire."
But James merely nodded.
"That's not possible! The Russian people love Mama and Papa. There's only a few of them, and they're not true Russians, that hate them."
James briefly turned away, before he said, "I wouldn't count on that, Maria."
"If you visited Petrograd, I'm sure you would see the opposite."
"I've visited Petrograd many times!"
"And you've been where—to the Yusupov Palace to see your cousin, Irina? Ever consider visiting an area of Petrograd that's the equivalent of London's east-end—a working class area?"
Maria prepared to respond, but James cut her off.
"But let's assume, hypothetically, that you do for a minute. You go into a bar accompanied by Count Fredricks or some other guard, and you shout 'God Save the Tsar.' Naturally, the patrons are going to shout back 'God Save the Tsar,' because the presence of somebody in a military uniform is going to scare them."
Maria was silent. She turned away from James and began to pace. "Well," she said, turning back, "then I'm going to go, and see it for myself. And I want you to go with me."
Now it was James who was stunned. "Huh?"
"I want you to come with me to Petrograd. I know where the city's working-class district is. I also have clothes that are like that of a rural peasant—in case you're worried about somebody identifying me."
James sighed. "Maria, I know that your intentions are well-meaning, but how in the world are the two of us actually going to leave Tsarskoye Selo and enter the city?"
Before Maria could answer, the doors from where the tsar and his family left with their sick heir opened. On the other side was Gregory Rasputin. While James had not seen Rasputin before, he assumed that this was the infamous wide-eyed Siberian peasant, due to photographs he had seen, and by how the man was dressed. He certainly did not look like a member of the court.
"Is that Rasputin?" James asked.
As Rasputin approached the grand duchess, he bowed, and spoke to her in Russian. Maria acknowledged the gesture, and responded in Russian. The two talked briefly, until Rasputin turned his attention to James. The staretz gave him a look, as though he was trying to figure out just what kind of person James was.
"Damn, those eyes are scary!" James said, as he tried his best to keep himself from looking at Rasputin's almost hypnotic gaze.
Eventually, Rasputin turned back to Maria. Through their dialogue, James was able to pick up his name being spoken, the word 'American,' and the word 'Russian.' Finally, Rasputin bowed to Maria and walked away.
As James watched the Siberian peasant leave, he turned to Maria. She looked as though she was bewildered, when James asked, "What was that all about?"
"He said that he was staying the night in the palace."
"You mean he said that after looking at me like he did?"
"Oh, no, he wanted to know who you were. And I told him that your name was James, that you're an American, and that you don't speak Russian."
James nodded. "Was that all? The way that you looked, after you finished talking with him, you seemed as though you were quite confused."
"He said that you seemed like you were from another world. Like you didn't belong here."
James smirked. "Damn, he is good…I take it that because Rasputin said it that you slightly believe what I said earlier?"
"…I don't know, James. I mean, when you first told me that stuff, I thought that you were crazy. But at the same time, you had a point. I don't know how you could know the things that you do. But when Father Grigoriy said that…"
"It makes you more likely to believe me?"
"I don't know." Maria paused, before she said, "James?"
"I know how we can leave Tsarskoye Selo."
"And how's that?"
"We can do it tomorrow. We're going to sneak onto the train that Rasputin will take to return to the city. The guards will be so occupied with him that they won't even notice us get on and off the train. And I'll tell Mama and Papa that I'm going to give you a tour of the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo, and you should tell your friends that too."
James nodded. "That sounds all fine and good, Maria, but how are we going to be able to back to Tsarskoye Selo with no one suspecting that we were ever gone? When my friends and I arrived here by train from the city, I'd say that it took at least 15 minutes. I don't know how long it would take on foot."
Maria pondered James' question, before she slapped her fist into her palm. "Aunt Olga!"
James was puzzled. "Your aunt?"
Maria nodded. "Yes, she'll help us out."
"What makes you so sure? I mean, you left the grounds without your parents' permission."
"She's just like that. Aunt Olga's just one of those people, who knows that girls like to have fun."
"And what if she's not at home?"
"Why do you have to be so pessimistic?"
"Because I'm trying to think of every possible scenario."
"…If that happens, then we'll say that our tour was longer than usual."
James sighed, chuckled, and shook his head. "All right, how are we going to get back into Tsarskoye Selo?"
"The guard changes at a specific time. I can just say that I briefly took you outside the gates during the change."
"There aren't guards there all the time?"
"Oh, there are, but that doesn't mean one still couldn't slip by them during that time."
James grinned, and turned to the floor. "Well, it all sounds crazy," he said, before he turned back to Maria. "But what the hell—let's do it!"
Maria giggled. "All right then. You make sure to get some sleep tonight, because our 'tour' begins at nine."
"All right then," he said with a smile. "Goodnight, Maria."
As the two walked away, the Russian Grand Princess and the American could not help but keep their eyes on each other. It was not until they had to turn the corner of a hallway that they could no longer see each other.
When James returned to his room, his bandmates immediately wanted to know what had happened. "Nothing major," James said. "She just wanted to show me the grounds of Tsarskoye Selo tomorrow."