A rather thin, mysterious looking young man in his mid twenties pulled his cloak tightly to himself and shivered in the bitingly cold mid afternoon air. He dropped the hood from the cloak and quietly watched unseen as the women behind the fence took their daily walk in a garden. The Perm house where they’d been imprisoned since the summer of 1918 was in a rather remote location and not far from the Ural Mountains. It was now early December. The world believed them dead.
Count Carl Zurofsky, a descendant of the infamous Count Dracula, lacked his ancestor’s thirst for blood. If he was a vampire, as some believed he was, he was a man accustomed to daylight. He quietly observed one of the women, a slender girl of 19 with honey blond hair and wide searching gray blue eyes. The girl cautiously moved towards the figure on the other side of the fence and recognized Carl to be a friend of her family, who prior to the revolution, sometimes had visited them. The count knew Anna, her mother and siblings, had not died with the Tsar in the cellar of the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg. He had learned through Intelligence reports that only the Tsar, a doctor and a few family servants had died in the Ipatiev house. What Carl now saw, confirmed the report’s Truth.
Anna cautiously gazed at Carl before picking up the small terrier dog following her and holding him close. She was just a few feet from the closed gate where shadows blocked glaring daylight. Nobody seemed to notice her or the dog as a carriage approached the house, the gate swung open allowing a Bolshevik official to enter the premises, and Anna quickly slipped unseen through the gate.
Clothed entirely in black, his long cape matching his dark clothes, the count moved quickly towards the girl. If he wasn’t a vampire, then he was a magician. He opened the cape hanging from his shoulders and concealed the young women still carrying the dog. The gesture was not just a chivalrous one. The cape like a coat of armor was sufficient to protect the girl and the count from others. Anna and her family had always believed Carl to be a man of supernatural powers. He proved the rumors true as gently he led the grand duchess forward and directed her away from the loathsome house.
“Hurry” he said. “There is a train awaiting us. It will take us across the Russian border to Romania.” As they moved towards a waiting carriage appearing almost indiscernible in the sun’s late afternoon glare, Anna glanced upward at Carl’s piercing blue eyes. Then with the dog nestled in her arms, she nervously sat down in the carriage.
“My mother and sisters” she stammered. “What will become of them?” she asked as the carriage approached the train.
“Perhaps someday when you are Empress you will discover their fates” he replied helping the grand duchess board the waiting train. Anna quickly glanced over her shoulder, and tried to see if anyone had followed them as they made their way towards a comfortable private car.
She wasn’t sure she wanted to go on living without her family. Tears filled her eyes. She was frightened and uncertain. Was the count really a friend? Was he taking her away so that like her father, she might be executed? The girl sobbed as she contemplated last seeing her father alive. After the Tsar’s assassination the remaining family members had been moved from Ekaterinburg to Perm. So many sad things had happened since that tragic day. Anna thought of her younger brother too. When he was little, she and her older sisters had tried so hard to make him happy. He’d cried when he’d realized he couldn’t have a bicycle to ride with his sisters. He had to be protected. The Tsarevich finally was free from his misery. He had died in Perm from the hemophilia he’d had since birth. Anna’s face was somber as she thought about Alexei. She remembered a time he fell and bruised himself and that the doctors feared for his life. Only the holy man, a monk with strange healing power, had been able to stop the bleeding and save the boy’s life. The holy man hadn’t been there to save the Romanovs after the Tsar’s family was imprisoned. Rasputin had been murdered. He had prophesied that upon his death the Romanov rule of Russia would end. That prophecy had proven to be true.
“You have a future” Carl said gazing at her pale melancholy face. Anna dismissed his comment as nothing more than a cruel joke and recoiled at the count’s awkward effort to comfort her. She placed her little dog upon a seat before sitting next to him in the train’s private car. She then gazed uncertainly at Carl as he took his cape from her before handing the girl one of her own. “Put it on. It will conceal you from your enemies. In a few days we’ll arrive at the border crossing. Before we arrive there, the train will be searched.” He didn’t tell her that he worked with an underground network of spies that assisted members of the aristocracy to escape from imprisonment or flee assassination. “I assure you no one will recognize you”.
Anna clutched the little dog tightly to her. She wasn’t sure if any of the things Carl had told her were true. She wondered why in a time of revolution he traveled in a private railway car. As if reading her thoughts, he said, “In my capacity as Chief of the European Red Cross, I travel in a private car. I’m curtailing my mission to Russia. Now that I’ve rescued a grand duchess my mission has been accomplished.”
“A Matter of Loyalty” uses historical events from WWI, the Russian Revolution to the outset of WWII as a springboard for action: Chilling theories are presented as fiction regarding the disappearance of the Russian Royal family. Then there is the Non Aggression Pact and Stalin’s strained political relationship with Hitler prior to WWII. The lives of Stalin, Anastasia and a count intermingle against this background. At times the novel’s action focuses on one character more than another for the novel reflects the love of two men for Anastasia. After suffering grief at the loss of her family, Grand Duchess Anastasia Nicholaevna finds the forgiveness that helps her. Her story is one of love and loyalty not just for her husband who helped rescue her from imprisonment but for a world of wilderness and beauty she comes to know outside the one of war and revolution. Her love and loyalty encircle not just family both human and non human but the man who opened freedom’s gate for her.
About the Author
Award winning poet Gail Logan, first place “World Poetry Movement’s Best Poets of 2012” is author of “The Sundisk” and “Time is of the Essence” available from iUniverse or from e pub books. Gail attended New Trier HS, Winnetka, IL, and graduated from Lincoln School, Providence, RI and URI. For nine years Gail wrote book reviews for a major GA newspaper while working in business.