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    Real Strategy Requires Cunning

Henry v. Keiper

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Ah, spycraft. Always makes for a good yarn. Leonid seems like quite the character, flirting with everything in sight. Will we see him again, I wonder?

Hey now, he only flirted with one waitress.

So far.

Interesting way to see what has been happening outside of Russia, seems Britain is on the verge of a Socialist reformation. Stalin and Trotsky are at each other's throats eh? Seems the Reds aren't as united as I thought. Still though, seems they have big plans against the Whites and Wrangel's government.

Without giving too much away, the in-game world does go quite a few interesting directions that even I didn't expect. It's always fun when the AI doesn't quite follow the historical route.

Also, I need a way to fill in the gaps at times, and demonstrate what is going on around the world, even as Russia tries to get itself together.

As for Leonid: Well, sounds like he's had an exciting career, if this is what a typical day looks like for him. He may want to skip town and lie low for a while...

"I've been meaning to talk to you about that. You should find yourself a safehouse or a relative close by. Lay low for a while, because you're probably wanted for murder."

Leonid seems like a reasonably competent chap. He certainly did for his quarry easy enough.

But it also sounds like the noose is tightening around our little birdie.

The cat is on the prowl.

The Reds clearly have taken the initiative, and it's up to Wrangel to finally regain it.

BUT WILL THEY? FIND OUT NEXT WEEK - SAME WRANGEL TIME, SAME WRANGEL PLACE!
 
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Henry v. Keiper

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rBKVCB2.png

Chapter 4
Bobrova


October, 1936

Bobrova Konstantinovna.

It was strange to see her name there, on her desk, and yet, there it was, right above the title Trade and Industry Minister. Bobrova had been hired by the Wrangel government to attempt to stabilize the Russian economy and review many of the issues facing the government after fifteen years of rule. In other words, she had the pleasant and oh-so-easy task of making sure the Russian economy didn’t completely fall apart.

KrVqHbV.png

What was the current state of Russia’s economy? The financial situation in the former empire was a mess – and that was putting it mildly. Businesses were suffering, and the industry had lagged behind terribly. Nations like Germany were their equals, and intelligence said Hitler was building up the Reich’s economy day by day. Even Britain had a greater industrial capacity than Russia. It didn’t help that the vast majority of the economy was being spent having to import supplies needed for the industry, which was hampering construction of further factories. Many more were being redirected to assist with the development of the Okhrana. Given the increasingly bold terrorist attacks from the Communists, Bobrova couldn’t say she didn’t understand the latter move – but it still made things difficult for her.

Bobrova had put in an order that industry experts seek to update the machine tools used for Russian industries. The equipment used in her factories was woefully inadequate, and in some locations the workers looked like they had stepped right out of the turn of the century. Many of the workers complained that the older equipment was breaking down or in a constant need of being repaired, to the point that barely anything got done. In fact, Bobrova was at that moment reviewing a rundown of statistics regarding the issue with factory equipment over the past few years. It wasn’t a pleasant subject to study.

hoZKvfr.png

There were some positive news to be had in the midst of all this. She had to remind herself of that to keep everything from seeming too daunting. Russia had managed to upgrade her electronics up to modern standards, and had managed to even get a Russian-made computing system developed. Construction equipment was up to speed and already being used to develop infrastructure. The upgrade in construction material had permitted Bobrova to look into developing Russia’s drilling techniques. She had hopes that there would be future potential to expand on Russia’s buried natural resources, rather than nabbing them from Pacific islands or other European countries. But that would take time, and that time was often slowed or extended by the military with their own requests. The government only had so many funds and manpower, and when the military ruled the government, they saw that they got priority.

BNeOMse.png

Across the room was her radio, which was playing music. As she recalled, it was a segment from the opera Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, written by some up and coming composer Bobrova had never heard of. What was his name? Dmitri Shostakovich or something like that. As the tune came to an end, a woman’s voice came on.

Dobroye utro. This is Maria Stepanova for the Moscow service. Here is the news. Reports have come in from Finland of riots breaking out on the streets of Helsinki and the surrounding area. Demands have come for greater autonomy within Finland and a leaving of the Pact of Petrograd, as well as full elections and a democratic government. General Mannerheim has announced that peaceful protests shall be tolerated, but insurrection will not be permitted to exist. Many of the rioters are believed to be Communists or in league with the Communists. There is concern by the Russian government that this may affect the recent trade deals signed with Finland, due to the threat from rioters towards businesses and resources.”

wjJpCzf.png

“In France, the government declared that Communism will now be banned from all political activities at a national and local level. Current members of the Communist Party in France have been given a month to leave or may face charges for membership. Experts say many French Communists have already fled into neighboring Spain or Britain. Top French political leaders have also met to hold discussions on potential reforms in government, including revisions to the government. A growing trend among some of the French populace is a shift towards restoration of the monarchy.”

Bobrova found that news amusing. At a time when the nations of the world seemed to be leaning towards greater democracy or greater nationalism, it seemed peculiar that France, of all nations, would expel the Communists and seek to restore a monarchy. Then again, there were some voices in Russia who wanted the same thing.

“In the United Kingdom, Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin has announced plans to begin the dissolution of the British Empire. Across Asia and Africa, British territories will be made independent nations, under the guidance of British advisers. Baldwin declared that the independent nations will be part of a united confederation with Britain, but as individual parties. The British government hopes to see this plan carried through within the next few years. Currently, the plan is to grant greater autonomy to nations such as Canada or Australia, followed by India, and then the various African colonies.”

9Y2xUqw.png

The door to Bobrova’s office clicked open. Her personal aide, a young blonde woman who had, surprisingly, been at her position longer than Bobrova had, stepped in. She adjusted a strand of her hair that had fallen out of place, then patted the bun in the back of her head. Stepping towards the desk, she held out a slip of paper in her hand. “A telegram has just arrived for you, from Petrograd.”

“From Petrograd?” Bobrova took the paper and unfolded it. Her eyes scanned the page, and as she reached the end, she pursed her lips.

The secretary clutched a clipboard to her chest. “What is it?”

“There is to be a special council held in December, in Tsaritsyn. Only the top advisors and leaders are invited. The military, clergy, and bureaucracy will all be represented. Ministers of government are to attend. And of course…” Bobrova lowered the paper and stared off into space. “…that includes me.”

“Oh my. Everyone?” The girl blinked, her eyes going crossed a moment as the thought processed in her brain. “What is the meeting for?”

Bobrova chuckled a bit. “What else? What is to made of Russia. Apparently I’m not the only one who realizes there is a problem.” She put the paper down on the desk and tapped it a few times with her fingertips. In truth, as much as she hated meetings of any sort, she knew that it was a step in a positive direction: at last, people in power were waking up to the fact that simply staying the course was not a proper one. Perhaps now they would be willing to fund her newer projects…?

V8Iuq50.png
 
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stnylan

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This has a fateful sort of feeling.
 

Captured Joe

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Why Tsaritsyn, of all places?

And I suspect, with all that's going on, the Okhrana will get priority over industrial development again.
 

TheButterflyComposer

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Germany is as OTL, a right wing France and communist Britian decolonising the world and turning it red looms like a lot of problems for Russia to deal with.
 

DensleyBlair

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Stanley Baldwin of all people leading the charge for decolonisation is pretty amusing. Which, frankly, is a nice bit of light relief given the state of Europe. I don’t like the look of that France–Germany bloc, not one bit.
 

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Tsaritsyn is where the little bird is hatching her nest, and where the fate of all Russia lies. Lets hope that this gamble pays off
 

Henry v. Keiper

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This has a fateful sort of feeling.

Or overly positive.

Why Tsaritsyn, of all places?

And I suspect, with all that's going on, the Okhrana will get priority over industrial development again.

Why Tsaritsyn?

Easy.

Because that's where the mod was having it. :cool:

Germany is as OTL, a right wing France and communist Britian decolonising the world and turning it red looms like a lot of problems for Russia to deal with.

Keep in mind that France's "right wing" is more traditionalist than Hitler's brand of nationalism.

As for Britain, yes, this is quite the interesting route for them.

Stanley Baldwin of all people leading the charge for decolonisation is pretty amusing. Which, frankly, is a nice bit of light relief given the state of Europe. I don’t like the look of that France–Germany bloc, not one bit.

As mentioned above, France and Germany aren't exactly heading in the same direction, ideology-wise. I wouldn't worry about them.

As for Stanley Baldwin leading the charge for decolonization? I might write it as pressure from the Communist circles in the country. Either way, not the craziest thing I've seen in an AAR. And still not as crazy as Civilization's infamously nuke-happy Gandhi...

Tsaritsyn is where the little bird is hatching her nest, and where the fate of all Russia lies. Lets hope that this gamble pays off

Or will it?
 

Henry v. Keiper

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rBKVCB2.png

Chapter 5
Leonid


November, 1936

Leonid snuffed out the cigarette under his boot, then glanced at his watch. It was getting close to 10:00 PM, and it was about time he looked for his contact. He had been told little about the man other than it was an older man with a bushy mustache and beard on his chin, and that he was to meet him at this tavern in Yekaterinburg. There was also a secret phrase to be exchanged between the two of them, just to ensure that they knew who was speaking to whom. The phrase had been agreed upon by the man and his Okhrana contact, which in turn had been given to the contact and Leonid – and all of which by word of mouth. Point being, there was no way it could have been intercepted.

The city had gone quiet that night. It was probably the cold of approaching winter putting many in their homes. A few pedestrians walked about the streets, perhaps going home from work, though in this rough economy it was difficult to imagine anyone going home from a job that last well into the night. The lights burned in the darkness, illuminating the snow that had begun to fall. Leonid watched it a moment, and found the sight peaceful. He never cared for the snow when it piled high, nor for the cold when it grew too bitter, but the descending snow, in the middle of fall, was a beautiful sight to behold. He found himself transfixed by the halo made from each of the dozens upon dozens of street lamps. A cold breeze brushed over him, as if God were speaking from the Yekaterinburg cathedral, and reminding Leonid of his duty.

Taking a deep breath, Leonid turned and stepped into the tavern. Two factory workers were seated at a table in the corner, playing a boisterous game of checkers. A tavern-keep stood behind the counter, cleaning some glasses. There, at the counter, was a man with gray hair and a huge, bushy mustache and a thick beard on his chin. A five o’clock shadow thickened along his cheeks, and his clothes looked worn and torn, with patches in sporadic parts. Leonid grinned, identifying this as the person he was to meet, but also wanted to verify that this wasn’t a trap. He went over to the corner of the room and stretched, glancing about like someone who had just come in to warm up. He waited for quite a while, looking to see if anyone else was keeping an eye on the old man, or if anyone else was preparing to enter from the outside. When the two men playing checkers seemed only interested in cursing one another for certain moves, and no one else seemed to be lurking outside, Leonid decided to make his move.

Leonid stepped up to the bar counter. When the tavern-keep caught his eye, Leonid pointed to a whiskey bottle and held up one finger. The keep nodded and prepared the glass. As he did, Leonid looked over to the man sitting there by himself. He kept staring even as the whiskey glass was placed before him. Finally, Leonid turned, lifted the whiskey up to the front of his mouth, and whispered, “The dogs were barking last night.”

The man snapped his eyes over towards Leonid. A gleam of confusion rested on them. He opened his mouth, closed it again, then finally replied, “I heard the cat too.”

Leonid sipped the whiskey. “No. That was my wife.”

“You…?” the man remarked. He pointed a finger towards Leonid. “But I was told you had a beard.”

Leonid smirked. Another little tweak, done by his contact, to make sure this wasn’t a trap. “Let’s say I shaved on the way here. But I understand you had some important information? About a little sparrow?”

At the mention of a little sparrow, the man’s demeanor changed. His lips went tight together, and his head turned away, as if Leonid had just said something incredibly embarrassing. The man was frozen for a moment, sitting there like that, for several seconds. At last, he turned back towards the counter and wrapped both hands around the glass. “I do.”

“Where might I find this little sparrow?”

“You will find her not far… she didn’t fly very far from here. Her wings were clipped, after all.” He reached into his jacket pocket, then pulled out an envelope. He placed it on the counter, then – without turning his gaze from the glass – slid it across the way towards Leonid. “There’s a photo. I was approached by some men. They wanted me to shoot the little sparrow. Smash her eggs. Kill her mate, too. ‘Finish the job you started,’ they said. I thought about it. But I…” The man smacked his lips, then took a gulp of his drink. “I couldn’t.”

Leonid took the envelope, but didn’t open it. “What did they say when you turned them down?”

“They were just going to send some others to do it, then. They let me go my way, said I was a hero of the Revolution.” The man brought the drink up to his mouth. He gulped it down again, only much harder – much like it was nothing more than water.

“Why didn’t you take the job?”

“I couldn’t do it. I just couldn’t.”

“Very noble.”

“Noble?” The man gave a throaty, wheezing laugh. “Noble… pah. Noble isn’t what I would call it. You know when Judas betrayed Christ, he was so overcome with guilt that he killed himself. It really tortured him that much. That he had betrayed someone with whom he had favor, and to whom he was entrusted. A friend, and a noble one at that. Someone of authority and wisdom. The God-Man. Isn’t that what the priests call Him? The God-Man. He betrayed God Himself, and threw Him to the dogs. It must have tore at his insides.” One of the man’s dirty fingers lifted up and began to slowly, methodically trace itself around the edge of the glass. “It gnawed at his conscious so greatly that he ended his life. Ah… but you can imagine the pain that he might have felt… the agony he would have endured…” The man gave Leonid a sideways glance, “…if he were forced to do it a second time?”

Leonid listened, but said nothing.

“We all sin… and yet some of us have drowned in the blood of our wrongdoing. The blood of our crimes remains in our lungs, burning us from the inside out. It wears down your soul. It tears down your esteem. It reminds you every day of what you’ve done. You can trek miles upon hundreds of miles, and yet it will always be there… because it will be deep inside your heart, branded by the burning of your past sins.” There was a pause, and the man once again took time to gulp down his drink, finally finishing it. He took out some coins and began to count them on the table. “It will do nothing for me. I know that much. I’ll still sleep rough tonight – if at all. Tomorrow I’ll be here again, to spend what I have left on what numbs the pain best. In any case… after they left me, I felt like I had to do something. That’s why I came to you all. I thought maybe it would make things better… somehow. I don’t know. Perhaps it won’t make things well at all. Pah…” Having finished counting up what he owed the tavern, the man waved his hand at his own words and turned to leave. “Good night…”

Leonid watched the man head towards the door. Curiosity inside his mind got the better of him, and before the man left he called out, “What’s your name?”

The man stopped right at the door, then turned. His empty eyes stared at Leonid with the same reservation as a man about to face his executioner. He gave a sigh, then murmured:

“Yakov Yurovsky...”

With that, he stepped outside, and disappeared into the falling snow.

Left alone at the counter, Leonid now turned his attention to the envelope. When he opened it up and looked inside, he found a worn down photograph. Taking it out of the envelope, Leonid saw on one side a smudged, poorly developed photo of what looked like a woman about his age, if not a bit older. When he turned the photo around, he saw words scribbled on the back. His eyes scanned the words...

URvizA1.png
 
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Yakov's monologue seems like it would fit in nicely with a Dostoevsky novel -- sin and redemption, a soul at war with itself and desiring a peace that it may only truly be able to find in the grave. Very sobering stuff.

Agreeing with the above comment -- "she had her wings clipped" sounds rather ominous in and of itself, even if she ends up being alright in the end.
 
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Can't even begin to imagine the amount of guilt that Yakov would be experiencing right now. Lets hope that the Little Sparrow didn't get her wings clipped a little too much, simply for her own health and safety.
 
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There is something very Russian about this - by which I mean ever-present sense that anything positive is about to washed away by it all going wrong - or it already has done wrong, or even if goes right it will shown to be the wrong thing.
 
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So she stayed, but got her "wings clipped", huh?

Well, she did get shot several times...

Yakov's monologue seems like it would fit in nicely with a Dostoevsky novel -- sin and redemption, a soul at war with itself and desiring a peace that it may only truly be able to find in the grave. Very sobering stuff.

I'll admit I have yet to read Dostoevsky - however, I've been meaning to. It's been on my bucket list since high school. Maybe I should change this...

Yakov's monologue, and the way he leaves the scene, were actually inspired by the scene from The Robe where Demetrius bumps into Judas. Which in turn also inspired the reference to Judas, although he is pretty much the posterboy for traitors any way.

Can't even begin to imagine the amount of guilt that Yakov would be experiencing right now. Lets hope that the Little Sparrow didn't get her wings clipped a little too much, simply for her own health and safety.

There are records of people who met Yakov long after the murders took place, and supposedly he really did express guilt at being involved with the murder of the Tsar's family. I don't think there's anything concrete to prove it, but honestly it wouldn't surprise me. From all I've read on the murders, he was the only disciplined - and sober - one involved in the whole mission, and he had to do a lot to keep things in order. It had to add to the stress of the situation, which had been thrust upon him by his superiors.

There is something very Russian about this - by which I mean ever-present sense that anything positive is about to washed away by it all going wrong - or it already has done wrong, or even if goes right it will shown to be the wrong thing.

Sometimes I find it hard to get into Russian literature, precisely because it often gets too depressing. It may be because in high school the only Russian authors they forced us to read were the depressing ones.
 
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Sometimes I find it hard to get into Russian literature, precisely because it often gets too depressing. It may be because in high school the only Russian authors they forced us to read were the depressing ones.

Nah, it really does seem to be that most of the good stuff is depressing or sad, except one book by Nabokov where he has siblings as lovers. That one is relatively happy.
Seems to be part of the national psyche, which makes sense given the long and awful history of that people.
 
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Nah, it really does seem to be that most of the good stuff is depressing or sad, except one book by Nabokov where he has siblings as lovers. That one is relatively happy.
Seems to be part of the national psyche, which makes sense given the long and awful history of that people.

That's probably why I mostly stick with Russian film and music.

Eisenstein and Tchaikovsky, even in their most depressing moments, leave ya with at least a little bit of hope or joy. That and Russian war epics are often the best. (Liberation series, anyone?)
 
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rBKVCB2.png

Chapter 6
Anastasia


November 29, 1936

The smell of the stew rose up from the cauldron. The steam seemed to dance as it swerved through the air, swirling about in dignified patterns. The large spoon in her hand stirred about, shifting the contents of meat and vegetables inside. It made her tummy rumble, and she was thankful that, soon, it would be time to eat.

Olga, her daughter of sixteen years, was seated in a chair nearby, helping to cut up the carrots. The sliced chunks would fall into her apron, where a pile had already formed. Finishing up with one, she gathered them together and brought them up to the table where Anastasia had collected her ingredients. As Anastasia stopped to gaze at her daughter, it struck her how much she was starting to look like her namesake. She had never told her of how she obtained her name, of course. Oh, Olga knew about the Civil War, that the Tsar’s family had been killed, and that Russia was still living in the consequences of that war even today, but that was all. She never told her children about where she got her own scars, or what her and Mikhail had done during the war. All her children knew was that her and Mikhail had met, they had gotten married, and they had children. They lived out in a rural farm, rather than in the city, because they had always lived on a rural farm, and that was the easiest way of life.

It had been an easy way of life. Mikhail was already used to living rough, while Anastasia was able to adapt quickly. Her mother had raised her daughters to live meekly and humbly, despite their royal upbringings, and since it didn’t behoove Anastasia to make a bed or two, it also didn’t behoove her to do other household chores. She had been transformed from Anastasia the Grand Duchess into Anastasia the peasant girl, and a quiet life it had been. Rare was it that she ever saw anyone from the village, aside from a few trips, and even then it was usually with family, and with her head covering on. It had been not only easy, but quiet… and after events from her past, she was thankful for it.

“Mama, when will papa and Alexander be back?” Olga asked.

“I think they will be here soon.” Anastasia looked out the window, and saw two figures in the distance, trudging through the snow. The taller one she recognized as Mikhail, her husband. He had cut a log into several bits of firewood, which he tugged along on a sled behind him. The smaller figure was her son, Alexander. On his shoulders he carried a massive piece of wood, perhaps as tall and thick as he was. Though fourteen years of age, the boy showed immense strength. Just like his great grandfather, Anastasia thought. The two made their way up to the house, then began to pile the wood alongside the other firewood to the side of the house. Alexander plopped the big piece of wood from his back onto the ground, then wiped his brow in a comically theatrical fashion.

The family had been forced to be as self-reliant as possible, especially in recent years. After the war, the army had begun to set up shop in various parts of the country, creating almost little mini-countries. It was difficult to head into the city or any deeper into the countryside, because you might get stopped by soldiers who demanded you pay a toll. Sometimes they would even harass you and take some of your supplies. In some areas, they just took anything you had that they wanted. It got to the point that it was just easier to stay in one area and not do much traveling. It made things harder for those who wanted to move and look for more work. Mikhail and Anastasia had spoken about moving eastward, or even westward, perhaps towards Ukraine… but with things as they are, it was easier and cheaper to just stay put. Either way, they had grown content with their life here, especially after having two children.

“Your father and brother are here,” Anastasia said. “Let’s get the meal ready. They’ll be hungry.”

“Is Alexander showing off again?” Olga asked.

“Of course he is. He likes to show your father how strong he is.”

Olga giggled. “If they went to the village, I think he’s just showing off for Nadia.”

“Oh? Who’s Nadia?”

“A girl in the village. I think Alexander is smitten with her.” Olga held up the carrots up to her chest and stared off into space. “Can you see it? Alexander and a wife, in a wedding ceremony? Perhaps Alexander can wear a strapping military uniform. And ah, can you think of his wife in a beautiful white dress? And the look of love as they gaze at one another?”

Silly Olga, Anastasia thought, ever the romantic. I should have named you Maria. If they had given birth to two other daughters, Anastasia might have gotten around to naming one one of her children Maria.

The door opened, and Mikhail and Alexander both stepped in. Their cheeks were red from the cold, and their clothes covered in white from the knees down. Anastasia could feel the chill of the outside air from the brief moment the door was opened. “Whew! That smells good, what did you make for us, Olga?” Alexander asked. He walked over and grabbed a carrot. “Ah, thank you!” Anastasia used her spoon to wack the boy on the wrist. He winced and dropped the carrot, which comically landed back in Olga’s lap. “Ow!”

“You will wait for dinner to eat, like the rest of us, young man,” Anastasia said.

Mikhail took off Alexander’s cap, which he still had on, and dropped it atop his son’s head. “Yes, I didn’t have a dog for a son, so you can eat whenever you want.” He continued walking, heading out the back door for a brief errand.

Alexander frowned. “I worked hard today. I’m hungry.”

“Then work your way to the table, so you can increase your appetite even more,” Anastasia said.

“It’s the feast day of the Holy Apostle and Evangelist Matthew,” Olga said matter-of-factly. “Can we read from the Gospel of Matthew at dinner?”

“We shall see,” Anastasia said. The back door opened and Mikhail came back in, shutting it behind him. At once he walked over and planted a kiss on Anastasia’s cheek from behind, which made her smile. “You’re cold, love.”

“And you’re very warm, my darling,” Mikhail said. He leaned forward and wrapped his arms around Anastasia’s waist, then pressed his head against her shoulder. His wife smiled at that all the more, and leaned her head back.

Olga let out a happy sigh as she watched the two. From the table, Alexander’s voice cried out, “Yeck!” Anastasia looked over and stuck out her tongue.

After dinner, the children were sent to bed, up in the loft of the house. Mikhail and Anastasia retired as well, getting into their night garments. Anastasia was in her night gown, and seated at a small desk, with a mirror in front of her. As her eyes lifted up, she caught sight of herself, and pondered how some things had changed, while others had not. After all, she was 35-years old now. Yet even then, some of her youth was still on her face, though her eyes looked more tired now from the work she did every day. And as she sat there, in her nightgown, she caught sight of the upper part of her chest. Two large, round scars were there. She knew underneath her dress were some more, including one on her leg. Her lips pursed as she gazed at the wounds. The flesh there was tarnished, and gnarled, and small lines scattered out an inch or two from them. The small marks of stitching could still be seen around the edges. Soon the sight disgusted her too much, and and she reached up to tug her neckline up in vain.

“Are they bothering you again?” Mikhail asked.

Anastasia was silent a spell before asking, “Do you still think I’m beautiful?”

“Of course I do. I think you look beautiful, Nastenka.” Mikhail grinned wide. “And I like every inch of you. Even those scars.”

“I can’t bare to look at them.” Mikhail turned his face away as she said this. He knew the reason why, but Anastasia continued to speak. “They remind me of that day. Every time I look at them, I can see my father falling to the ground. I can hear my sisters screaming. I can hear the whimpering of my brother. I can smell the blood and smoke in my nostrils, and feel the pain in my body.” She held up a hand towards her chest. Those long, slender fingers that had become worn from work traced over the gunshot wounds, until they were covered by her palm. “I… I think on how I should have told my family goodbye. I should have told them I loved them one more time. I should have told them I was sorry for all…” Anastasia’s lip quivered, and her eyes welled with tears. The hand flew from her chest to her face, and she fought the sobs that wanted to come out. “But… I can’t. It happened so fast. I didn’t have… a chance…” Tears fell on the palm of her hand, dripping over and falling onto her dress.

“Nastenka...” whispered Mikhail. He walked over and hugged her from behind. As those big, strong arms wrapped around her head, clinging her to his chest, Anastasia felt safe. Just as safe as she did far back in 1918, when those big, strong arms had carried her from hell into freedom. “They know… and one day, you’ll have an eternity to tell them.”

There was a sudden noise of snow crunching outside. It was a small, erratic rhythm. Mikhail blinked and looked over. He could see nothing through the pane but the night sky of the horizon and the white of the winter floor. Despite this, those crunching sounds on the snow could still be heard, moving around the house.

“What is that?” Anastasia asked. Her fingers clutched the neckline of her gown again, though now from a sense of dread. Something inside her told her this sound was not a good thing. Her heart was beginning to beat rapidly. Inside her mouth, her teeth began to chill. She swallowed as her eyes scanned the windows, trying to see if anything would appear. Nothing did.

“I don’t know. It’s probably those wolves again.” Mikhail walked over to the windows and looked around. “I don’t see anything. Let me check. If it’s them, I’ll scare them away.”

Yes, just the wolves, Anastasia said. They’d seen them plenty of times. Small dogs, really. Mikhail would run outside and wave his arms, and they would disperse. Even Alexander, at seven years of age, managed to scare them off. Yet never before had they gotten this close to the house. As she stood up and followed Mikhail out the door of their room, Anastasia repeated to herself that it must be the wolves. Her husband walked into the main room of their house and approached the front door. He opened it wide.

And was kicked to the ground by a snow-covered boot. As soon as he was down, his assailant planted the other boot on his chest and pointed a rifle to his face. Mikhail looked up to see a bearded, grinning mouth decorated with yellow teeth. Beady eyes stared at him from under thick eyebrows. “Don’t move a muscle,” said the man. “Or we’ll kill your children.”

Three more men poured in, each of them carrying rifles. Mikhail opened his mouth to cry out, only for the man to stick the rifle in his mouth, silencing. Anastasia had frozen in place when the first man appeared, and shrieked now as the saw the others. One grabbed her by the hair and threw her to the ground by her husband. “Get down, little sparrow!”

“Get the kids,” ordered the bearded man.

The three others went up the steps. Anastasia crawled over to Mikhail, who now clutched her head with his hands. She heard her children upstairs screaming, and saw the men forcing them down. Alexander was held at his arms by two of the men, and even for a boy of his youth, the men twice his size and strength seemed unable to hold him. Like his great grandfather, Anastasia thought bitterly. The two men held him down to the ground, cursing at him to hold still. Olga came next, pulled and yanked by the third man. She screeched and called out for help before being thrown down to the floor. When she saw her parents, she rushed for them on all fours. Mikhail and Anastasia both hugged her close.

The bearded man peered at Anastasia, then reached into his pocket. He pulled out a crumpled photo and studied it. Those beady eyes squinted as the thick eyebrows furrowed. Slowly, those yellow teeth came into appearance as his lips curled into a Cheshire cat grin. He looked over to Anastasia, and a light chuckle left his throat. “It is you. We found you, little sparrow.” That light chuckle became a deep, breathy laugh. “Or do I call you Grand Duchess?”

Mikhail winced. Olga looked between the man and her mother. “Mama? What does he mean?”

“Didn’t tell your little brats, eh?” the bearded man asked. He grabbed Olga by the shoulder and yanked her away. Mikhail rose up in protest and was batted away with the butt of a rifle. Anastasia was yanked by her hair onto her knees. “Sit up! Sit yourself up, your highness.” He backed up a bit, then lifted up his rifle. Anastasia looked in terror as the barrel was pointed in her head.

“Mother!” cried Alexander. The two men pressed him down to the floor.

Olga rose up, but the third man shoved her back down. Mikhail tried to get up again, but the third man grabbed him by the throat with the rifle and held him back.

No, it can’t be, Anastasia thought. They’ve come for me… after all these years… this is how I’m going to die…

The bearded man laughed again, then said, “I gotta say something to you, your highness. I bet it’ll sound mighty familiar.” He cleared his throat, then said, “Anastasia Alexandrovich… in view of the fact that your relatives are continuing their attack on Soviet Russia, the Ural Executive Committee has decided to execute you…”

Mikhail, Alexander, and Olga all let out a scream. Anastasia closed her eyes.

This is it. Mama, papa, Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Alexei… I’m coming…

The bearded man now took aim. Anastasia gazed up, sad eyes awaiting the end…

…as the sound of a whirring engine was heard outside.

The bearded man lowered the rifle and peered around. “What’s that noise?”

The third man, holding Mikhail, now pushed him down and stood up. He rushed over to the window and peered out. His eyes squinted a moment, only to grow larger. “A snow automobile’s coming!” The bearded man walked over and, peering out the window himself, cursed at what he saw. Sure enough, a large vehicle with tractor engines in the back and sled-like legs on the front was headed their way. It was going down the path, headed towards them.

“What do we do?” the third man ask.

“Bother it all!” cursed the bearded man. “Shoot it!”

Both the bearded man and his accomplice lifted up their rifles and broke the windows of the house. Swirling their guns to aim outward, they opened fire. Olga and Alexander screamed as the loud shots filled the house. Shell canisters landed about the ground. Outside, the windows of the vehicle shattered as many bullets found their mark. The car careened off, then rammed into against a carriage outside. The carriage toppled over, and the automobile came to a standstill. The engine continued running, but the vehicle, now with shattered windows, rested still.

The two men looked at each other a moment and grinned, then turned to look back outside.

That’s when the other man blinked in astonishment. “Hey… I don’t think anybody was driving the vehicle.”

“What?!” cried the bearded man. As he gazed at the automobile, he realized there were no blood stains on the window, which would have happened had someone inside been shot. Neither was there any sign of a body slumped over in the chair, nor anyone attempting to get out the door. Yes indeed – no one had been steering the automobile. “Then where’s the dr-”

The back door was kicked open.

Leonid rushed in, pistols raised.

Shots flashed across the room. Bullets plugged the bearded man’s chest. The second man jerked about madly. The two men holding Alexander now rose up. Leonid swung his aim and fired three shots each at them. Both men toppled backwards. Off to the side, the bearded man and his partner slumped down to the ground, dead before their butts touched the floor.

For a few seconds, there was silence in the house. Olga, Alexander, Mikhail, and Anastasia were frozen in place, all of them staring at Leonid. The man continued to stand there with his two pistols, studying the four Bolsheviks, as if challenging each man to rise up again. When they remained still, he grinned, then put his pistols back in their holsters. His eyes now turned over to Anastasia, who looked at him unblinkingly with wide eyes. With a few measured steps, he walked over to Anastasia and held out a hand. “Anastasia Alexandrovich, I’m Agent Leonid, of the Okhrana. I’m here to escort you to General Pyotr Wrangel.”

Suddenly it dawned on Anastasia that she hadn’t breathed in quite a while, and now she took several deep breaths through her flaring nostrils. Her mind spun as she stared up at Leonid. The past several minutes had seemed so surreal, and she had gone through so many emotions that she was unsure what to say, let alone feel. Her eyes stared like a deer caught in headlights.

“Are… are we safe now?” Olga asked.

Leonid grinned at Olga. “Yes, you’re safe for now. However, once the Bolsheviks find out their assassins are dead, they’ll be sending more.”

“Bolsheviks?!” cried Alexander. He looked at the four dead men. “Father, they were Bolsheviks! Real Bolsheviks! What did they want with mother?”

“I think we can do the explaining on the way there.” Leonid looked to Anastasia again. “For now, I must insist you let me take you all to Tsaritsyn. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Bolsheviks have some men nearby to swoop in if there’s trouble. I can only hold off so many, and I can’t guarantee I can protect you all. However, I can guarantee your safety once I get you to General Wrangel.” Once again, he held out his hand towards Anastasia. “Will you come with me?”

Anastasia was hesitant. At last, she took his hand and stood herself up. “Yes. Take us, please.”
 
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mike the knight

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That was truly a Bond chapter ;) i really loved the depiction of the common family life
 
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