The Romanov Bride

The Romanov Bride

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The last in the bestselling trilogy – the drama of a grand duchess and the peasant who determines her fate

As the Russia of Nicholas and Alexandra rushes toward catastrophe, the Grand Duchess Elisavyeta is ensconced in the lavish and magnificent Romanov court. In the same city, but worlds apart, Pavel is a simple village man in search of a better life. When his young wife, Shura, is shot and killed by tsarist soldiers during a political demonstration, Pavel dedicates his life to overthrowing the Romanovs. Pavel's underground group assassinates Elisavyeta's husband, the grand duke, changing her life forever.

Grief-stricken, the grand duchess gives up her wealth and becomes a nun dedicated to the poor people of Russia. When revolution finally sweeps in, Elisavyeta is the last Romanov captured, ripped from her abbey in the middle of the night and shuttled to Siberia. It is here, in a distant wood on a moonlit night, that Pavel is left to decide her fate.

The Romanov Bride is Alexander's fullest and most engaging book yet. Combining stunning writing with a keen talent for storytelling, Alexander uncovers more compelling Romanov drama and intrigue for his many readers and all fans of historical fiction.

Robert Alexander
The Romanov Bride

© 2008

For L and P,

who continually teach me what really matters

PROLOGUE

Solovetsky Islands, White Sea, USSR October, 1936

“I know that when you get right down to it people are not that easy to kill. And as I’m sure you are well aware, murder’s a very messy business, it really is. Oh, sometimes you get lucky with a single bullet, say, right in the temple. Or the proper angle of a knife shoved into a chest. But there’s always a struggle, usually some screaming, and then there’s always that mess-the blood, the splatter, the waste that comes falling out. Trust me, things get ugly even if you use poison. So, no, I can’t say I ever enjoyed killing. I only did it for the revolution-because it was necessary to clean the vipers’ den, because it was the only way to change things for the better, because there was no other way to move our country forward to socialism. As our great Comrade Lenin said-wait, now how does it go? Oh, yes: ‘There are no morals in politics, only expedience.’ Yes, that’s what Comrade Lenin himself said. And I can’t say that I disagree with that, not at all. In any case, how else were we to throw off the yokes of tsarist oppression and capitalism except with violence? ” Pavel picked up a stick and started poking at the camp fire. “But excuse me, I’m wandering…”

“No, no, Pavel, that’s quite all right,” said Vladimir, the other man, gray and worn, who sat on the other side of the fire, a tattered blanket pulled tightly around his black clothing. “I want to hear it all. It really is quite fascinating, you know.”

Feeling the chill of the October night settle gently yet firmly through his ragged clothing, Pavel scooted closer to the flames. He wasn’t a particularly tall man, and he’d always been trim, more so now than ever. Though he hadn’t gone at all bald, his shock of once dark hair was rapidly graying, while the skin on his face and hands had grown as coarse and thick as crude, wrinkled parchment paper.

When he lifted his feet right up to the fire, Pavel felt the blessed warmth and saw it too as steam swirled from his muddy felt boots. It had already snowed this week but, glancing upward, he knew it wouldn’t tonight. No, it couldn’t. They were so close to the polar circle, and the great northern sky was perfect, a vast blanket of deep blue, sprinkled heavily with stars and more stars yet. Indeed, it felt like the very last of all nights, and in a way it was, at least here, because by the first of tomorrow’s light he would be making a change of lodging. He sucked in the night air, let the scent of the loamy soil and sweet pine wood fill his body and soul. Bozhe moi, my God, he thought, Vladimir and he had worked so hard, digging and digging for nearly a week, and now this was their reward, a glorious night. How had he made it this far, lived this long, outwitting first the tsar’s secret police, next fighting for the revolution and civil war?

“I’m a lucky man, Vladimir. Do you have any idea why, eh?”

“No, tell me, Pavel, why are you so lucky?”

“Because I’m fifty and no men in my family have ever seen so many winters.”

“Truly?”

“Truly. My father’s father was born a serf and was crushed in the fields-trampled by his master’s horse-just a year before emancipation. That was the year of 1860, and my own father was only two.” Pavel shrugged. “As for Papa, well… his dream was to buy the land he farmed, but he died in misery of tetanus.”

“And brothers?”

“Both killed in the war.”

“Any sisters?”

“One, but she disappeared nearly twenty years ago, not long after the revolution broke out. Just where she is today, or if in fact she’s still alive, I have no idea.”

Tugging the blanket tightly around him, Vladimir suddenly started laughing. “I’m sure everyone in my family thinks I’m long dead by now.”

Staring at the other man through the flickering yellow light and studying his grandfatherly face, Pavel couldn’t help chuck-ling. Yes, he saw it quite clearly.

“You know, Vladimir, if you weren’t so thin you’d make the perfect Father Frost. With your big gray beard and those twinkling eyes-yes, in spite of everything I can still see the spark in you-you’d be fit for any New Year’s celebration.”

“Perhaps…” Holding up his dirt-caked hands, he laughed and said, “But first I’d have to sit in a banya for a day or two to steam off all this filth.”

The two of them sat at the crackling fire in silence for quite a long while, the darkness of the night seeping more and more densely around them. And Pavel found it wonderful. Such peace. Such quiet. If only, he thought, this night would never end.

Finally, Vladimir cleared his throat, and said, “So go on, tell me everything. I need to hear it all, you know.”

“Well… well, my point is that she was really hard to eliminate.”

Struck by the length of time that had passed since that fateful night-could it really be 18 years?-Pavel fell silent. And yet he could still see it in his mind’s eye with such startling clarity. Yes, there she was standing in the cart, singing that hymn. And there he was shoving her along the rutted lane, leading her right up to the edge.

Vladimir asked, “Why was it hard? Because she was so beautiful?”

“True, she was astonishing-people would just stop and stare. Imagine, she was the most beautiful bride in Russia, married first to the worst of the Romanovs, and next to Christ. But no, it wasn’t difficult because of all that.”

“Then, because her sister was none other than our Tsaritsa-I mean, the former Tsaritsa-Aleksandra Fyodorovna? As part of the Royal Family, she must have been well guarded at all times.”

“Well, you have a point. Before she abandoned society, she was flanked by the best of soldiers. But, no, we could have gotten through. After all, we assassinated many other notables, including, you know, her husband.”

“Then why? Why was that one so hard to do away with? Because she had taken to the cloth?”

Pavel shrugged. “Call it what you like, but she did seem to have some sort of divine protection. For example, while it only took us a few weeks of plotting before we blew up her husband, it took years upon years for her. That’s how powerful she was.”

“The soul is much mightier than the body, of course,” muttered Vladimir. “So in those final days did she have anything interesting to say to you?”

“Oh, a great deal. She was under my direct watch, and we talked for hour upon hour.”

“And what in the name of the devil did she speak of?”

“Actually, we told each other the stories of our lives, and the most interesting thing she told me was also the strangest.”

Chapter 1 ELLA

Though of course I was the granddaughter of the doyenne of sovereigns, Queen Victoria, I did not grow up in luxury by any means, for our little Grand Duchy of Hesse und bei Rhein in Germany was not a wealthy one, having suffered so in wars, recent ones at that. Indeed, it was during such difficult times that my mother, Grand Duchess Alice, wrote often to England, begging Grandmama to send lint and old linens from Windsor and Balmoral, things Mama and her ladies could turn into bandages.

Actually, my mother’s eternal want was by no means to remain cloistered within the cold confines of any royal court, but to go out amongst the people to see poverty and pain, so that her good intentions would never dry up. As if a heretic I heard her mutter more than once that it might be best if royalty itself were washed away. It was no wonder, then, that following the lead of her good friend and mentor, Florence Nightingale, my mother took it upon herself to be out and about in Darmstadt, here, there, everywhere, visiting those in need.