An Excerpt From...

Across the Fickle Winds of History



The Journal of Olga Nicolaievna Romanov

July 16, 1918
History, I’ve been told, is fickle.  It favors the strong-bodied, the strong-willed, and paints them as heroes.  France’s Napoleon could be seen as such. In my own country, my great-grandfather, Alexander II, was considered as a hero among my people, for freeing the serfs.  His physical stamina was amazing and it took an assassin’s bomb to stop him from carrying out reforms that my country desperately needed.
            As I sit here now, on the steps of the Ipatiev House, before the supper hour, I listened to the sounds of the artillery guns ratting in the distance. I wonder what fickle history will write about my father, Nicholas II.  I have always adored him since I was a toddler, but while my father was strong in body, he was not in spirit.  He took our country down a path no one expected it to go – least of all himself.
            He is inside playing bezique with our mother, who has always had a delicate constitution.  Alexi is resting in their room, his knee painfully swollen.  Our father wonders what our fate will be, but Tatiana and I doubt we will leave here alive.  Sadly, for one brief opportunity, my father had a chance in 1913 to exercise his strength and set our country, and my destiny, on a path that might have seen happier days.  If only he had the strength of will to follow this bold way!  However, I have a feeling fickle history did not want to see him follow this opportunity through.
            This may be one of my last journal entries, so I write freely, with little shame, not caring if my other mother sees it, for if she did, she would punish me even now.  I know history will cast my father as a weak man.  It will not favor him and I fear the scandal it will bring the Romanov name.  But for another weak man, Czar Paul I, I would have been Czarina of all the Russias.  Only he, like my father, was a man history did not favor.
Chapter One – The Handsome Stranger
And so it began on a cold, March day in 1913.   I was seventeen years old.  Some would say the world was at my fingertips – being the daughter of Russia’s ruler, Czar Nicholas II, but I didn’t feel like it was. Oh, I suppose I led a carefree life, but I was missing something.  What that something was I did not know until I met him.  But I digress and jump ahead of my story. 
It was the tercentenary of the Romanov dynasty, 300 years after Michael Romanov had been crowned Czar of Russia.  My father had planned a grand celebration of the event, which would last several months and include a tour of our country.  Our family would proceed from the Winter Palace at Tsarskoe Selo to the Cathedral of Our Lady of Kaman where a Te Deum mass was to be sung in the family’s honor by the Orthodox patriarch of Antioch. There would be a twenty-one-gun salute and that evening, a royal ball would be held at our home in the Catherine Palace. It would be the first ball my father had hosted in eight years – and the first ball my sister, Tatiana and I, would attend.  Both of us were looking forward to the event.  Tatiana and I were of age to marry, but neither one of us were thinking of such a thing.  We were enjoying our youth far too much.            In fact, we both had reputations as flirts around the castle, but it wasn’t that as much as we were discovering the fact we were blossoming into young women, and that men actually found us engaging.  Mind you, the only men we were allowed to be around were the soldiers that guarded the castle, but still, it was enough to intrigue us.
While I had three sisters, Tatiana, Marie, and Anastasia, I was closest to Tatiana.  She was sixteen and very outgoing compared to my own reserved nature. When we returned from the Te Deum mass, Tatiana and I went to our dressmaker and tried on our dresses for a final fitting.  Last minute alterations were made.  As we proceeded to the room we shared, we found out the younger pair as they were known, Marie and Anastasia, were missing from Tatiana Botkin.  She was a faithful friend to us all and was the daughter of Alexi’s doctor. With so many last minute preparations for the royal ball going on around us, it was imperative that Marie and Anastasia be found immediately.  Tatiana and I felt they might have gone out to play in the woods around the Palace, as they had taken to doing that recently, and so we snuck out through a side door near the servants’ quarters. 
Tsarskoe Selo was a huge complex, consisting of two palaces, the Catherine and Alexander.  We lived in the smaller, Alexander Palace, which was also known as the Winter Palace.  The Catherine Palace was mere feet away, and Father would go there to conduct official matters of state.  I cannot begin to adequately describe the Catherine Palace’s long façade, the classical colonnades or the curved spires that shot up toward the sky except to say it was very intimidating. The courtyard of the Catherine Palace was wide and spacious, and over the years hosted several military inspections, parades, and announcements.
As Tatiana and I made our way across the cold ground and dead winter trees, we thought we heard giggles coming from near the wrought iron fence by the roadway.  There was no snow on the ground, but it was hard and frozen.  The trees were lifeless, their shivering branches without leaves to warm them, and several large boulders, gray and rugged, dotted the woods that surrounded the palace.
Soldiers normally patrolled the roadway from an elite Cossack regiment, of which my father had made me an honorary colonel.  Tatiana was also an honorary colonel of a Cavalry regiment.  Marie would receive an honorary title on her sixteenth birthday as well, which was still two years away.
Tatiana suddenly stopped and caught my wrist.
“Do you hear that?”
I shrugged my shoulders and Tatiana frowned at me with her big, hazel eyes, pulling me to a nearby rock to hide ourselves.  There was nothing that exasperated me more than when my sister looked at me like I was a ten-year-old.  Mind you, Tatiana and I shared all our secrets, and were each other’s closest confidantes, but she was far more outgoing and bold than I.  She peered around the side of the thick, gray boulder and I looked over her shoulder.
I was totally unprepared for what I saw.  Marie and Anastasia were talking to three young people, two men, one girl, closer to my age.  They were laughing and giggling over some unknown joke, but the sight of him nearly stopped my heart from beating.  I stumbled against Tatiana, accidentally pushing her to the ground, collapsing on top of her.  She screamed my name at the top of her lungs and he immediately ran to our position.  His strong hands helped me to my feet while his companion helped Tatiana to hers. The electricity that jolted my body sent waves of pleasure rippling down my arms, and I had no idea a touch could inspire all that.
The minute our eyes met, I stumbled again on the hard ground, and he wrapped his muscled arm around my waist to prevent me from falling.  His firm lips curved into a sweet, sincere smile and his almond brown eyes held me riveted to the spot. His thick black hair gleamed in the beams of the sun.  He wore a long overcoat to keep warm, but underneath he wore a simple shirt, with the top button undone to reveal manly wisps of dark hair curling against the opening.  I had no doubt he was used to the cold and that he enjoyed it. My mystery man had an air of authority and confidence of one who commanded respect.  As his body pressed ever so gently into mine, I could feel his granite-like muscles and I knew in that moment he was a man fickle history would recall as a hero.
“Are you all right?”
His deep, masculine voice seemed to purr in my ear and I thought my cheeks might color under his heavy gaze. 
“I’m fine, just a little…”
“Embarrassed?” Anastasia volunteered.
“I think Olga likes you, Paul.  I’ve never seen her blush like so,” added my sister, Marie.
I took a step away from him, glaring at my young sisters, as I brushed off the remnants of the ground’s hard dirt from my jacket’s sleeves.
He stopped my hurried, flustered actions by taking my hand in his.  Another warm jolt of electricity seemed to shoot down my arm the minute he touched me.  Then, like an imperial gentleman, he bowed before me, sweeping his lips lightly over my knuckles.
“It is a pleasure to meet you, Grand Duchess, Olga.  I am Paul Kerensky.”
He was Russian! I swore to Tatiana I wanted no man unless he shared my nationality. Could a man be so perfect?
I watched him stand up, his height perfectly complementing mine.  I wanted to lean closer to him, to smell his wonderful, musky scent, to feel his hard body next to mine.   I wanted to shamelessly flirt and say something witty like I know Tatiana would, but under my sisters’ teasing eyes, nothing witty came out.
“It…I…ah…thank you.”
Tatiana, as usual, took charge of the situation.  As I stood there, trying to admire Paul without being obvious, she fired question after question at the three pleasant intruders.  And that’s what they were – trespassers to Tsarskoe Selo.  They admitted their crime freely, relating they had done so out of curiosity.  They were from America and had never seen such grand buildings and pageantry before. They were curious about the celebration, so we explained to them it was the tercentenary, and as we talked, time escaped us.
How they came to trespass upon Tsarskoe Selo none of us really paid attention to, or cared; however, I did conduct a brief scan of the fence, and to my surprise, I found no bent bars or damages that might have given them access.
But my curiosity as to how they came to enter the compound quickly left as Paul and his friends asked questions about Russia.  They seemed to absorb everything we told them, yet they were brief and vague when it came to answering our questions about them.  I also noticed that when we spoke they listened intensely, but did not reply back immediately.  There was a moment’s hesitation before they replied back to us.  It was as if they there thinking of the right words to say in Russian.  Now, I totally understood, after all, being from America, their first language was probably English, and that was a language all of us were tutored in and spoke fluently, yet they seemed intent on talking to us in our native tongue. 
I wanted to know everything about Paul and what brought this handsome trespasser to our woods.  Their explanations were brief, yet plausible, and I suppose since they charmed us all, we easily believed them.  Paul’s parents had died recently in America and he wanted to come to Russia to search for his family.  His friends, Ian and Stephanie, accompanied him on this quest.
I learned that Ian’s name was van Rennsular, and he was of Dutch descent.  He too was handsome, with blond, curly hair and sparkling blue eyes.  He wasn’t as tall as Paul, nor did he appear as confident, but he carried himself with a quiet air of assurance. In fact, the comfortable way he looked at Paul, and Paul at him, gave me the impression they were closer than friends – they were brothers – much like Tatiana and I were sisters.  Still, their physical differences were obvious – if they were not brothers physically, they certainly were in their hearts.
As for Stephanie, she was about my height, with short walnut brown hair that came in a bob right before her shoulders.  She was slender and lithe, and I got the impression she was very agile. Paul and Ian seemed very protective of her, as though she were a younger sister. She was very engaging and in a way, slightly in awe of my sister, Anastasia. My youngest sister was also quite taken with her.  They shared laughter and jokes in a coquettish manner that surprised me; though they had just met, they seemed to know each other well.
“Do you want to see the palace?” Anastasia finally asked.
Tatiana pushed back her coat sleeve and frowned. “We have to get back.  Olga and I are supposed to meet Father in his study in an hour!”
Paul’s face fell ever so slightly and he took a small step toward me.  There was an unspoken longing in his sweet eyes, and I knew he did not want me to leave.
“Why don’t you take Paul and Ian to the ball as your escorts?” Marie ventured.
Now Tatiana had been shamelessly flirting with Ian in her way, batting her eyelashes, and slyly touching his arm, but at Marie’s suggestion, I could see her pull away from him. It became obvious to all that Ian would escort Tatiana and Paul would escort me if we agreed to this.  Tatiana and I exchanged tentative looks.  Certainly, Paul and his friends meant no harm.  They had convinced us their being here was out of pure curiosity, but to take such strangers into our home was practically unheard of.
After a nervous silence, Anastasia came up with a plan.  She said that her and Marie would acquire some dress uniforms from the regiments we were honorary colonels of, and we could tell Father we asked our soldiers to escort us. Again, this seemed plausible. Our father had only to meet our escorts before the ball began.  He would trust our discretion, and as long as our escorts were from our regiments, polite, and minded their manners, they would be allowed.
Paul looked at me with such a passionate stare, I found it hard to refuse him.  Our eyes met, unwilling to leave each other.  He walked up to me, putting his firm hands on my upper arms, and raked his eyes over me in such a fashion, my knees became weak.
“I would be honored to escort you to the ball.  I know we are strangers having just met, but I, for one, would enjoy this opportunity to get to know you.”
I could barely breathe under his intense look.  There was something in the air between us, electricity, heat, longing; I had no idea how a man could affect me so.
“Well, Tatiana, Olga, what say you?” asked Anastasia.
Tatiana looked in my direction.  She knew me well enough to know that despite our better judgment, I wanted this.
“I think it would be nice to have such handsome escorts,” Tatiana replied.
Paul’s lips curved into a sweet smile, and in that moment some hunger inside me wanted to press my lips into his.  I wanted to feel his arms wrap around my body, pressing me into him.  When it came to being near him, I must confess I could barely think straight.
Once it was agreed, Marie and Anastasia would sneak back into the palace through a secret trap door near the servant’s entrance.  Those two were incredible in finding secret doors and hidden rooms.  Anastasia especially could sniff them out.  She was very knowledgeable of the palace.  It was how she was able to get away with so many pranks.
Tatiana and I went through the servant’s door and quickly rushed up to our rooms to change.  My sister gushed at how Paul was very handsome and that he only had eyes for me.  She swore they never strayed from me, and they sparkled in the sunlight whenever I dared to look at him.  I blushed at how she recalled this, realizing that there was no hiding from my sisters how smitten I was with him.  Still, I was concerned. How could a complete stranger capture my attention so quickly?  I hoped we had not been too bold or rash letting them into the palace. 
As I dressed, that concern was replaced by something welling up inside me that was indefinable.  Paul stirred serious longings inside me I thought no man might.  Despite how I came to meet him, I wanted to be with him and learn more of his past.  I hungered to dance in his arms and have him hold me close to his body.


Return to Previous Page

Buy The Book!