Second to Great

(The story begins with an introduction from the sound of Catherine's voice.)

Catherine: (Voice) I never thought that I would come this far. I never thought that a grand opportunity such as this would ever fall upon me. I never thought of it easy never the less. But what I did think of was the power, the control. The names and claims that came with it. Yes, this opportunity to bring a great empire on its feet once more as Empress . . . of Russia. The journey was long and difficult with many obstacles to overcome, but every journey has a beginning and my journey begins in Germany, my homeland. As daughter of Christian Augustus and Johanna Elisabeth, it was my duty to serve as princess. When I was a child, I was well educated and thirsted for knowledge as I got older. Then, I was 18: I was proper, beautiful, and elegant as all princesses are. I had to be presentable. I had to be prepared. I had to ready for anything despite the cost. Then that day came and my life was changed forever.

Germany 1744

(The story moves to the city of Berlin where the royal family lives in the royal palace. Coming into the library is a young woman; the princess Sophia. She scans through the titles of many books. Finally, she comes across a book that catches her eye. Sophia pulls it out and begins flipping through the pages. Just then, a voice calls out for her.)

Nanny: Princess! Princess?

(It is her old nanny looking for her.)

Nanny: Oh, goodness sakes! Where is that child? Princess!

Sophia: In here, Nanny!

Nanny: Oh, there you are! Your father would like to speak to you at once."

Sophia: Is it that egret?

Nanny: Yes. Now, put that book down and come with me.

(Sophia puts the book back in its proper slot and follows her maid out of the library into the hallway.)

Nanny: May I ask what the princess what reading today?

Sophia: I was going to read Shakespeare's Hamlet until you told me to put down the book.

Nanny: Well, you can thank your father for that. This way, Princess."

Catherine: I know my way to Father's office. I'm not a child, Nanny.

Nanny: In my eyes, you are.

Catherine: Your eyes are getting too old to see the true woman in me.

Nanny: Touché. Now come, your father's waiting.

(The old woman guides Sophia to the king's office, where the French doors are opened for them as they enter. The king, Christian, is sitting at his desk while his wife, Johanna, sits on his left. He lowers the documents in his hands when his daughter takes a seat.)

Nanny: The princess, your majesty.

Christian: Thank you, Nanny. Please leave us.

Nanny: Yes, sire.

(Nanny leaves the room with doors being shut behind her.)

Christian: Sophia, we received a letter from St. Petersburg from the empress of Russia herself.

Catherine: What does she want?

Christian: She has a nephew, the Grand Duke Peter III, who has no wife and wants you to marry him.

Catherine: Marry him? I haven't even seen him! I don't know if I

Johanna: Sophia! Let your father finish!

Catherine: Yes, Mother.

Christian: Now as I was saying, the Empress wants you to marry him, but of course it's your decision. Before you choose, you must think of the benefits and risks. For example, you'll be farther from home; actually, you'll be a few countries away. Your mother and I won't be there for you, but we will always support you as our daughter.

Catherine: What about the benefits?

Johanna: Why, you'll be the Grand Duchess of Russia. Soon, you'll be Empress once Peter takes the throne. My dear, this is the Romanov Dynasty we're talking about. You'll have the fame, fortune, and many titles.

Catherine: That's quite a lot to consider leaving my life here.

Christian: Yes, it is. But we just want you to know that no matter what you choose, we want you to be happy.

Catherine: I love you both so much. I don't want to let you down.

Christian: You never will. We are proud of you and we always will be.

Catherine: How long do I have to think about it?

Christian: The empress would like a reply as soon as possible. Why not sleep on it and give your final decision tomorrow at breakfast?"

Catherine: Yes, father. Good day.

(Sophia stands up from her chair and walks to the doors.)

Johanna: What do you think she'll choose?

Christian: She'll choose whatever is right for her.

(Lying in bed, tucked away in her sheets and covers, Sophia is fully awake. Her mind is full of endless thoughts and questions. Why a simple German princess like her would be chosen to be the wife of a Russian prince, who is the grand duke of the most powerful empire in the world. Such title to behold, but is it worth leaving her homeland? Then the words pop in her head: Grand Duchess, Empress, Queen of all the Russians. She tests them on her tongue and it makes her shiver, but she likes how it sounds coming out of her mouth. Maybe it would be something to experience. Living in a different country, learning their culture and their knowledge. Living in a country far away from her home here in Germany. She's only 18, so young yet so daring. Longing for adventure and excitement: Russia could be the place for that and for change of her destiny.)

(The morning came and the royal couple is sitting in the garden, having breakfast and waiting for their daughter and her decision. At last, Sophia comes in wearing her robe and slippers. Her parents turns to her as she comes in. She stands before them with a deep breath.)

Catherine: I have decided to go to Russia and take the Grand Duke's hand in marriage.

(The king and queen exchange a look. Then, her father stands up and walks to her.)

Christian: You understand that it won't be easy. You will have obstacles before you.

Catherine: I understand, Father.

(The king pulls his daughter in a hug.

Christian: I'll send word to the Empress immediately.

(And so he did and soon it was time for Sophia to leave for St. Petersburg. Her luggage is being packed into her carriage. The young girl watches as massive chests and trucks are being secured on a sled behind her coach. Her nanny walks over to her with a wet, handkerchief at hand.)

Nanny: (Sniffs) Oh my dear princess. I never thought this day would come.

Catherine: I'll miss you greatly, Nanny. You have been a wonderful woman in my eyes.

Nanny: At least your eyes are younger than mine.

Catherine: Does it matter?

(Her nanny shakes her head.)

Nanny: Farewell, Princess.

(They hug tightly and Sophia walks over to her parents for her final goodbye.)

Catherine: So, this is it. I'll think of you two. Always.

(She can see that her mother is full of tears.)

Catherine: Mother.

Johanna: It's all right, dear. I'll be fine. I have something for you.

(She pulls out a small box out of her pocket and hands it to Sophia. She opens it and takes out a simple necklace with a diamond stone.)

Catherine: It's lovely.

Johanna: It was my mother's and grandmother's. As they left home, they were giving this necklace so that they wouldn't forget where they came from. What they were representing. And now it's your turn.

(There, Sophia fells in her mother's arms.)

Catherine: Thank you for everything.

(Both mother and daughter let a tear fall down their cheeks. As the carriage was ready for departure, they separate. Her father hugs his little girl for the last time. She says one more goodbye before getting in her coach. She looks outside as she is pulled out of the palace grounds. Looking back, Sophia sees her mother crying in her father's chest with her nanny crying in her handkerchief. Heartbroken, she has no choice but to cry too.)

(The journey to St. Petersburg takes weeks, but at last the carriage arrives at the frozen city. Waking up from a nap, she looks out of the window. It's nothing what Sophia expected; she sees nothing but poverty and starvation around every corner. Peasants live with little food and nothing but cloths hanging behind their backs. She turns away in horror, what kind of a society has she just entered in. Just then, her eye widen with wonder when the carriage passes a giant gate. The carriage pulls up in front of the entrance with a servant to open the coach door. Sophia steps into the snow and looks up. She has arrived at the Catherine Palace, home of her hostess and her future husband. There was no going back now.)