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It was a cold, dreary Sunday morning in St. Petersburg, Russia. A woman, in her mid twenties, carried her one year old son up the beaten brick road. She was following her enthusiastic husband who was carrying a banner with the tsar’s face across it. They were just outside of the Winter Palace now, joining the rest of the riotous workers. Her husband was dissatisfied at being in the far back of the crowd so he began making his way towards the front. So wrapped up in his emotions, he left his wife and child behind.
The woman, who had been sharing worries with a close friend, became hysterical. She begged her friend to take the boy for just a little while so that she could retrieve her husband and talk some sense into him. The woman placed her son carefully in the arms of her friend and pushed frantically through the crowd. The vast crowd seemed to swallow the woman whole.
Close to fifteen minutes later, the child’s parents had not yet returned when shots were fired in the distance towards the front of the crowd. The woman escaped the sea of people by running, the boy clutched to her chest, from the first waves of retreating rioters. The boy would never again see his parents.
“Come on, come on!” Mona urged Sergei out the door. “You’ll be late and if you lose work at the palace, then what will you do huh? You got lucky with the work at the palace, don’t expect to be so fortunate with work in the future.” Sergei stood in the doorway listening to Mona’s droning. The two had been through a lot together, he thought. It had been thirteen years since Mona escaped the from the Winter Palace riot with Sergei. Sergei’s parents were killed in the shootings during the riot along with Mona’s husband. Mona was and had always been the only mother Sergei knew.
When he finally left the house Sergei started to think, this could be dangerous for him since he often became lost in his thoughts. He slowly made his way from his little house on the edge of St. Petersburg towards Winter Palace. He had acquired the job of a servant at the palace from a neighbor who was one of many cooks working in the kitchen. At first, Sergei spent his days sweeping and scrubbing the kitchen floors. Since then, other servants had made use of him and employed him in little jobs such as fetching the kindling for the bedroom fireplaces.
Lately though, there had been little work to do around the palace now that Lenin’s men were in charge. The men took pity on the young boy and made him useful. They paid him for small jobs and let him go home every night. The tsar and his family had not been so lucky.
With all his work throughout the palace, Sergei had never interacted with a member of the royal family. Though once, the girl about his age, Anastasia, had attempted to start a conversation with him. He knew he would be scorned if those above him found out he had replied.
“Ow!” Sergei stubbed his toe on a loose brick in the road. He came back to reality just in time to notice that the clock in town square was telling him that he was going to be late. If the guards at the palace noticed he was even a few moments behind they would send him away and not allow him to return. A part of the income him and Mona relied upon so much would be gone. So he picked up speed and ran as fast as he could through the remainder of town. He reached the little door behind the palace that led to the kitchens just in time. He came to a quick halt just inside the door where three large men stood, there arms crossed behind there backs, guarding the door. They didn’t budge at his entrance. Sergei made his way through the palace looking for the guards that had employed him the past couple of days. Security around the palace was tremendous today, he thought, he had never seen the palace so packed with the soldiers before.
As he made his way through the great hall towards the grand marble staircase, Sergei was interrupted by an outburst from the library just off the main hall. It was the girl, Anastasia. She burst through the library’s doors, Lenin’s guards on her heels. They caught her by the elbows and yanked her back towards the library. Anastasia fell to the ground screaming. The guards picked her up from the shoulders to drag her back towards the library. She continued to scream for help, something about being taken away with her family. They were to be killed. Sergei knew he had to do something to help her, he had to save Anastasia. Acting on impulse, he charged the guards but with no prevail. His attack was short lived before everything went black.
He awoke in the darkness but felt the presence of others. When he came to, there was just enough light for him to make out several people in the tiny room with him. It was the Romanov family, all of them. Sergei himself was lying in the corner of the room, Anastasia and her sisters surrounding him. They informed him that one of the guards had struck him hard on the back of the head with the butt of his gun. The girls quickly made inquiries of Sergei to see that he was ok. He assured them that he was fine, a bit groggy, but he was okay. “Thank you my boy,” A deep voice resonated from across the room. Sergei looked up to meet the gaze of Nicholas Romanov himself. He was leaning against the wall on the opposite side of the room, his wife by his side and the youngest two children at his feet.
“For what?” Sergei asked, “I failed miserably.”
“Thank you for showing me that there is yet some loyalty and kindness left in this world. I had feared that it had all been lost.”
Just then footsteps echoed from outside the room. Sergei rose to his feet and stalked to the center of the room to see if he might be able to hear them better. He realized that the room that he and the family were being kept in was located in the uppermost part of the building, most likely an attic of some sort. The footsteps had stopped momentarily but now continued their trek up the stairs. There were many more feet to create the noise on the steps this time.
Sergei backed towards the outermost wall of the small room and came to stand beside Anastasia. They were here, outside the door. The tsar gave Sergei a grim smile before closing his eyes and raising his face towards the ceiling. He took a deep breath before focusing his gaze back to the door. The entirety of his family now clung to his sides. All except Anastasia, she remained, her back against the wall, next to Sergei.
It had been days since the two had left the horrid house and its inhabitants behind. Anastasia had yet to speak even a word when the two decided to sit and rest a bit. Anastasia sat on the ground and began to sob so hard she could hardly breathe. When the sobbing subsided do a slow trickle of tears Anastasia stood and continued on the dirt road the two had been on prior to stopping. Sergei walked beside her and reached for her hand. She held on to him tightly as the two disappeared down the old dusty road.
Sergei was contemplating this over in his head when Lenin’s soldiers came through the door. They marched in, guns drawn, towards the tightly packed family. In an attempt to separate the family chaos broke out. The children scattered and who once was past ruler of Russia fought like a trapped dog. Amidst the chaos Sergei wrapped his arm around Anastasias waist and hurled the both of them through the loose square in the wall just as bullets began to consume any empty space in the crowded room.
The space behind the plywood proved to be a sort of crawl space and there was a chilly draft throughout the entire space, so there was a way out. Sergei urged Anastasia forward and the two made there way through the dark on their hands and knees. Sergei wasn’t sure that during the confusion in the tiny room they left behind that none of the soldiers had seen him disappear with the princess, but he wasn’t about to stop and find out.
After what seemed like hours in the small tunnel, Sergei and Anastasia emerged from a trap door just outside of an old barn. Sergei instructed Anastasia to sit against the bran while he peeked around the corner to see where they had ended up. Relief threatened to bubble up from inside him at the site of one lonely, little house far off in the distance. Sergei couldn’t begin to think why the tunnel had been put there but thanked God for its existence. He knew he couldn’t let his guard down yet, they still needed to be far away from here with the princess. Sergei made his way back to the princess and explained to her his plan of retreat.
There was a low murmuring outside the door now. Sergei took yet another step back, pressing himself against the wall. He seemed to almost pushing into the wall. Something was loose on the wall behind him. He reached behind himself and searched the area with open palms. The whole room had appeared to be brick but Sergei had found a small section of plywood in the wall. It was painted so that it blended in with the brick. He continued to press inward until he could fit the entire length of his arm inside the space. There’s no way Lenin’s guards could have known about this, otherwise the prisoners wouldn’t have been placed in this room. Or maybe they did know and it was nothing more than a large recession in the wall.
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