A BIG CHAPTER! This is possibly the best chapter I feel I have written so far. It's an important milestone for the girls. Hence why I'm going straight in. The day this goes up - 17th July - is the 93rd anniversary of something important to do with Romanovs that I will write about in this fanfic. Anyway, ENJOY!
MINE TO INHERIT- A NOVEL OF HISTORY'S LOST WOMEN -
PART I CHAPTER V:
This chapter is told from the Point-of-View of:
MARIA NIKOLAEVNA - third daughter of the last Tsar.
APRIL 1918 - TOBOLSK, SIBERIA.
Pain filled my lungs as the moonlight is drained from inside of Alexei's room, replaced with sunlight. All this night, me and my family have waited for dawn, but now as it arrives I wish it was still night, hours away from what I must occupy with my parents. As the clock ticks almost merrily, I'm reminded about just much time I have left with my three sisters and my brother, and how much time we are allowed as seven, as a whole family, before Bolshies move in to tear us apart.
Anastasia grips me. I could hardly pack without bumping into her. Our hands are so tangled into one another that I don't know whose fingers are whose. Everything is silent and still. None of us will talk and we don't dare cry. We pray everyday for something to happen, but when it comes we wish it away. All around me palms crisscross and cheeks press against shoulders. We study each other's faces so we can memorize them, so we can remember them when we are torn apart. But no matter how much we stare at one another, we cannot patch the holes that our departure has begun tear, like darning a skirt. We must endure it like Jesus with his cross. We must hold out strong.
Looking out of the window, I see a pair of ugly black tarantasses. The carriages are being inspected by the commissars. When Yakovlev gives the word, feet scuffle as the servants load our baggage and trunks. The sky is grim and looks ready to downpour. There's a sob, like a bird caught in ones throat, and Mama looks ready to downpour too.
My sisters and I break free from our parents and huddle together as mess of arms and legs and jewelled clothing. We rock each other like babies in cradles. Our throats burn until, finally, we release heavy cascades of salty tears.
I wish I was brave. I wish I had the courage to stand up strong and face the fate I have been given. But I am not. I am terrified, because leaving makes me different, and that is far from what I want to be. I am cold all over, from my toes to my fingertips to every lock of hair. We're still together and the cracks are already so deep.
By the time Mousier Gilliard raps on the door and calls to us to leave in his heavy Russo-French accent, all seven of us are crying. However, the tears drain from us without fuss. Papa's boots creak when he stands, pulling up his trousers, fishing out a cigarette from his pocket. My sisters and I follow like lost pups. Mama stays sat by Alexei's bedside, her tears staining the duvet.
I will never be ready to say goodbye to Alexei, but I force myself to settle on a hug and two kisses on either cheek. Mama needs more time with him than I do. Each second away from him damages her heart. When I turn to my sisters, I have no strength left. Tatiana throws herself in my arms first, kissing my cheeks and forehead, whispering 'God go with you, Mashka.' She backs away to dab her eyes dry with a limp handkerchief. Olga shuffles forward, holding me close as a newborn babe. No words are said between us. I breathe in her rose perfume for maybe the last time. My spine feels like a string of pearls underneath her blouse - she's so thin.
But when Olga lets go, my heart hammers. Anastasia is left standing there, moping her tears, trembling. How can I say goodbye to my Nastenka? Our mouths are dry as we nestle our faces in each other's shoulders and hold tight together until my arm ache. Never before has the pain cut so deep, not after the abdication nor when Alexei is ill, not even when we left our palace. All those terrible things cut us thin as tissue, but this could shatter us. Holding myself together flies out of the window.
Besides me, Papa blessed the Big Pair and Alexei. Anastasia and I don't breathe until he turns to say goodbye to her. It's too soon to let go, but I will not let Papa peels us away from each other. There is so much I want to say, but when my breathe returns to me all I quiver out is 'God go with you, my precious Nastenka.'
'With you too, my beautiful Mashka.'
'Here.' I press a sachet of my lilac perfume into her palm. We made one of each of our perfumes for Mama at Christmas, but Anastasia needs it more than Mama now. The other three are packed away. They'll be a source of comfort for me when I'm hundreds of miles away from them, and now they can share my comfort, too.
She sniffs it. 'My nose is too runny to smell anything, Mashka, but thank you.' she says with a smile. With a gulp, she steps back into place with Olga and Tatiana, and the cool air of the room becomes my companion. Mama has separated herself from Alexei and Papa now helps her in her coat, finishes blessing Anastasia, and then takes Mama's arm. My coat is already around my shoulders. With Nagorny rooting himself into place beside Alexei, we are all set to depart from one another.
My hearts strings are on the verge of snapping, as we walk through the door. Yakovlev, the sour beast, meets us with his scarf wrapped around his ears and a look almost pitiful in his black eyes. In the corridor, Papa stops to shakes hands with the staff that stay here. At the stairs, two guards steps between me and my sisters. 'That's far enough,' they growl.
Papa, Mama and I stop, stricken. The look on the faces of my sisters is like a bayonet through my stomach. Papa makes the sign of a cross over the crowd and speaks to Trupp, the footman; 'Watch over them.' Then we stumble down the stairs and when I look back, I know we are now truly apart.
Horses are harnessed onto the tarantasses that wait for us outside. They are the ugly equivalent of big wicker baskets strung on poles between wheels. Only one is covered, and we have to make so with straw on the floor for seats. Mousier Gilliard pushes a mattress into one of them. The men lift Mama in and she motions for Papa to join her.
'You must ride with me.' Yakovlev instructs Papa coldly. I scramble up beside Mama before they can order me elsewhere too. This is my job. I must comfort Mama and make my sisters proud of me. Ahead, Papa and Yakovlev hitch up into the other basket and shuffle around. Bitter wind pinches my fingertips. Yakovlev's men ride on horses all around us like a fortress, and some of our rifle men accompany them, which is a tiny breath of relief.
We bounce and jostle on the roads. Exhaustion clogs my muscles from staying up all night, but there is no chance of sleeping now. Mama groans each time we jump and gasps every second. I'm sure she would like to weep if I weren't beside her. Both of us are being brave for each other. I don't feel cheerful or useful one bit. Tatiana would know what to do. She's know how to soothe Mama. But all I can do is brace myself through all the ruts and puddles and try my hardest not to whimper. Thinking is impossible.
The entire day is awful. Wheels smash on ice and linchpins break. When we approach rivers, some have thawed the water rises to the horses' stomachs. It reeks all around me or manure and animals and straw, and the mattress underneath is hollow, uncomfortable and musty. We rattle against the tarantasses like two marble sin a wooden box. If I try to open Mama's heart drops, the grass dropper will shatter against the bottle, so she must go without.
When we finally stop and climb out of the baskets, I am bruised black and blue. There is an abandoned house that used to be a shop we are allowed to sleep in. We crawl onto mattresses on the floor. I couldn't care less that it isn't my camp bed. Mama is miserable, and the poor doctor's kidneys are playing up, so he is in great pain. He cannot tend to Mama, so it is me who must squeeze the heart medicine underneath Mama's tongue. I'm so achy and shaky I almost shatter the bottle.
Yakovlev scuttles around telegraphing in the morning, but he does not reveal what he is up to. We bundle ourselves up against the tarantass to shield our bodies from the cold. I pull on my mittens, and our flutters a scrap of Olga's writing paper. It reads: the very firstlings of my heart are the very firstlings of my hand.
I've never been so happy to read Macbeth. I clasp it to my chest and huddle my face into my muffler to hide my tears from Mama before she can see.
On the second day of awful travel, we arrive at a place called Pokrovskoe. Mama's eyes gleam. 'This is where Father Grigori lived, Maria!' she breathes. It might be luck that a wheel gets stuck in front of Mama's closest friend's house. Father Grigori's wife and children look out of the window and the little ones wave. Their eyes study us and make me shiver. Even we leave, they make the cross over us and turn away. I wonder if they heard the guards on the horses whisper, 'Rasputin's whore' and 'Rasputin's devils'.
At midnight, I remember that it is Palm Sunday. We're a gazillion miles from a church, so we make do with prayer. We finish with the tarantasses at long last and move onto a train. After those baskets, it's like luxury. The men make a chain around us for protection against those that come to see us. Most just stand and stare and the children throw flower petals over our heads. They seem forgiving enough. Perhaps they have forgiven Papa for whatever crimes we are told repeatedly he has committed? My head reels with tiredness.
For the next three days, we travel by rail. The maid and I share one car and Mama and Papa the other. In between are the commissars. We are denied stops to walk about, so Papa makes do with sit-ups on the floor. Sometimes he paces for hours at a time. There's nothing else to do but watch us pass the countryside and guess where we are heading.
'Toward Omsk, so far,' Papa says, peering out of the window. 'And then where do you suppose we're going?'
'West to Moscow.' Mama says, huddled over her embroidery.
'Or east to Vladivostok?' I suggest. Imagine seeing the ocean! After months of being cooped up with nothing to see but forest and roof, the sea would be fabulous. But in the morning, the sun is on the wrong side of the train. We've been turned around again. Where are we going?
'Maria, go to the next car and ask Yakovlev where he is taking us.' Mama instructs. 'It's ridiculous not telling us where we are going.'
Tatiana would definitely not choke on air like I do.
I slink across the next car towards the study where I presume Yakovlev is. Olga's little message inside my mittens swirls around my mind. The very firstlings of my heart are the very firstlings of my hand. I don't know what it means, but it comforts me anyhow. I knock quietly on the study door, feeling stronger.
'Please, Mr. Commissar, my mother would like to know where you are taking us?' I sound like an afraid little girl. Tatiana would definitely have said 'the empress', not 'my mother'. It came out like a question, too. I shouldn't have to inquire things towards this man.
For a moment, I ask myself whether I really want to know where I am going. What if he says somewhere horrible? What if he says to a prison? Yakovlev tweaks an earlobe and swallows, making my heart race. 'I'm sorry , Citizen Romanova, but that is classified information.'
I nod and turn and walk faster home to our car. Mama says nothing when I repeat what Yakovlev said to me. Papa finishes one cigarette and lights another. 'I would go anywhere at all, except the Urals.'
Which, of course, is exactly where we end up.
A mining town in the Ural Mountains, called Ekaterinburg, is where the train halts. Before we're even told to gather our hand luggage, my stomach caves in and I understand exactly why Papa did not want to come here.
'Lock the windows and pull down the curtains.' Yakovlev orders. If it was supposed to muffle the shouts and screams, it does not good whatsoever. They blare through the panes. It's like a nightmare, except when I pinch myself I'm horribly aware it's reality.
'Let's throttle them!'
'I want to spit in their faces!'
'Thank God, they're in our hands!'
'Let's give the tsar what he deserves!'
Hours pass as we sit in the train. Yakovlev tries to control the city folk and after a few attempts the crowd dies and dwindles. Papa smokes and strokes his beard. Mama's fingers shake and eventually she abandons her embroidery and sits staring at the carpet. At three o'clock we are ordered out. The open air slaps me in the face. They cram us in a motorcar and shout orders to one another, and when the guards are hauled into a truck we set off, driving over the cobblestones. Men see Papa's face through the window glass and hurl rowdy comments that scald my skin.
'Where are they taking us?' I whisper to Papa, even though he won't know even more than I do.
I know just what life will be like here just by a glance at the house. In the corner of a square is a ugly grey pole fence, and beyond that a large house. The walls are yellowed plaster and with the roof on top, it looks like a big stale wedding cake. When we climb out of the motorcar, soldiers pounce on us and roughly inspect our hand luggage. One soldier yanks Mama's bag out of her hands, and another, while pulling the drawstring, spits in mine.
'I see no reason for such rough treatment, men.' Papa says fairly, although I know better than the guards do that Papa fumes inside.
'You saw no reason for revolution either,' one Bolshie insults, sniggering with his colleagues.
A Bolshie snaps at him, looking like he wants to throttle him. The men snuffle away. The Bolshie motions for us to walk on inside the grey pole fence. Within the walls is a canopied door with both doors swung wide open. Another Bolshie stands there clutching his rifle. The whiskers of his black moustache prick his lower lip. He gestures inside as if he is giving us a warm welcome, but his sly grin makes me feel far from welcome. He speaks a gruff voice just as it starts to drizzle.
'Citizen Romanov, you may now enter the House of Special Purpose.'