The Romanov Bride - By Robert Alexander


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. 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