A few months had passed since the death of Czar Alexander III and the ascension of Czar Nicholas II. So far, nothing of note had happened despite his worries that his reign would begin with a terrible disaster. But he knew that the peace that was present would not be there for long.
Nicholas frowned as another paper was shoved under his hand, awaiting his signature and seal. He had been at this for about three hours now and already the requests were daunting. There were requests for a new factory to be built in one town, an invitation to an opening ceremony at a newly-built theater in St. Petersburg later that month, and yet another complaint from the Snoweagle coven.
"I swear, I've got to find something to do with them," he said to his valet as he took the letter from Arameus and set it aside. "They are impatient and will not wait for change to happen themselves."
"Yet you may," said Constantine. "You may."
Nicholas picked up another paper from the stack and read it; it was a request to legitimize the birth of the baseborn son of a dead minor Russian noble. "Surely we should have had him punished for fathering a child on a disabled woman," said Constantine. "This is no way for a child like him to live."
"Yet, he is only seven years old," said Nicholas. "We must handle this case with care." He promptly signed his name and added his seal.
Constantine said, "Has Sir Nichollo given you his answer yet regarding the little one?"
"He hasn't," said Nicholas. "In fact, I do not blame him; his lady is in deep anguish over her daughter's death. Even the truth about her and her sins has failed to diminish that pain. But his nephew must answer for trying to murder that child."
They both stared at the basket that held the sleeping child. She had gotten a bit bigger than when she was born, but it was still not enough for her. She was still tiny and weak. "Hadassah's strength improves," Constantine remarked.
"Yet, she will never be fully healed," said Nicholas. "Whatever sickness she has, she will carry it for the rest of her life. But to be able to live this long without giving in to her sickness, she has shown remarkable courage to the circumstances in life."
"We can ask no more from her," said Constantine.
Just then, Maria, the czarina's wardrobe keeper, burst into the room. "I am sorry to interrupt your work..." she began.
"No, you have not," said Nicholas. "In fact, I was just going to see her myself."
"She is pregnant," said Maria. "I noticed this when I was dressing her this morning."
"Indeed," said Nicholas as he stood up and left his office. Constantine followed him, carrying the baby. They went to the sitting room, where Alexandra was sitting in her easy chair. She was still wearing her dressing gown.
She noticed her husband coming into the room and said to him, "Why are you here?"
Nicholas said to her, "I have heard that you are pregnant."
"That is true," said Alexandra, "and there is little doubt they will find out. We must hope that it will be a son."
"Or a daughter," said Nicholas.
"It matters very little these days," said Maria. "Son or daughter, they will diminish the claim that Alexander has on the throne."
"He will not be a good ruler," said Constantine, "for he is too much like your father. No ruler should be like the one before him, but he should carve his own path."
Alexandra said, "Have we gotten any requests from Aramaeus yet?"
"We have," said Nicholas, "I like it not. He wishes to continue devouring people as he has done under my father's rule, but I have plans for him, plans that he will not approve of."
"What plans are they that he will not like?" asked Maria.
"The devouring of criminals," said Nicholas. "People who have committed the most heinous of crimes will be handed to the Snoweagles and the wolf clans for consumption. They will not like this and I do not approve of their lifestyle, but this compromise is to be made."
"Yet, a good compromise leaves everyone angry," said Alexandra.
"Indeed," said Constantine as Hadassah began to wake up. She was about three months old now and her hair and eyes were still pale. She looked around her and then at the czar and empress, who were also staring at her.
"Well, you're still with us," said Alexandra. She reached out for the baby.
"Indeed she is," said Nicholas as he stared at the baby. "How long she will actually be able to live, we don't know."
"There are those who have been to the brink of death who still live, and there are those who are not standing at the edge of death and yet they die," said Constantine. "We don't know her future."
It was true they did not have any knowledge of Hadassah's future. In fact, they did not even know the future of the impending child of the Imperial Couple at all. However, that was not for them to decide.
Nicholas knew now he would have to face the Snoweagles and the wolf clans and tell them of his compromise. With luck, they would not approve, nor would they destroy him.
While he was thinking of the compromise, Hadassah suddenly began to stand up on her own feet. Everyone gasped in horror at what they were seeing. Hadassah was walking unaided.
"My God, what has become of this child?" Constantine cried out in fear as he watched Hadassah walking.
"I do not know," said Nicholas, "but I do know it's wise to fetch her father immediately. He must know about this."
Just then, a representative of the Snoweagle clan walked into the room bearing a message for the Czar. He was dressed in the white furs of the ermine and mink that the clan wore. He said, "Aramaeus Zempanga wishes to meet with you immediately."
"Indeed," said Nicholas as he reached for Hadassah and walked back to his office. There was Aramaeus and several other vampires staring at him. They were dressed in white coats, white pants, and white boots. Nicholas hoped that the clothes they were wearing weren't made out of actual fur.
Aramaeus said to him, "The clan tires of your arrogance. What is your decision?"
Constantine said, "The Czar is neither arrogant nor cruel, but he is also unwilling to allow you to roam his country unchecked, unchallenged, killing at will. He has suggested the consumption of the lowest of the human scum that infests our great land."
At this, most of the group laughed, but Aramaeus was silent. He stared at the Czar and then at the small child who was standing at his feet. Children do not walk or stand on their feet at the age of three months, he thought to himself. This one's different. I'd like to know why.
Nicholas said, "I have conferred with the council and we agreed that criminals should be dealt with. Under my father's reign, your clan was given young men and women to consume, and consume them you have. However, I am not my father, and I will not hand you anyone to consume unless I have dealt with their case first."
"You're too much like your grandfather," Aramaeus cried out in protest. "I never liked your grandfather; he was too much of a pushover in my opinion and he most certainly earned the death that he received."
"Yet I will not die his death," Nicholas. "I was a boy of 12 years then, and my grandfather died because he failed to deal with the revolutionaries that plagued his reign. I watched as my father destroyed those young people left and right, no thanks to your clan. I will not make their mistakes."
"Indeed," said a vampire who sat at Aramaeus's right hand. She stared at him and said, "You may think yourself wise, but you are without wisdom. What your council is suggesting is an insult to vampires. You would mock us to our faces?"
"Never mock a vampire, my father said to me while he was still czar. Never mock a vampire unless you do not wish to live. I do not insult you, but only use this to keep you in line," said Nicholas. "I have heard of your consumption of many of the poorest of the people for many years and the fact that my father employed you and the wolf clans to devour them is an insult to 15 generations of czars and czarinas. I somehow wonder if his sins will make me the last czar."
"The boy will destroy your family and take the country," said Aramaeus. "Your time is almost at an end. Give us the boy and we will end him."
"I will not destroy him!" Nicholas said in anger. "Although Alexander is a baseborn child, I will not have him destroyed, not even if his death could save the realm. He is a child and he must be treated as such."
He thought of Alexander Smirnov, who was now a boy of 11 years. He remembered his family refusing to accept the boy as Russia's heir, and the many fights between his father and uncles regarding both Nicholas and Alexander. Most of the Romanov family did not think that Alexander should have adopted the boy, let alone attempt to make him his heir. Nicholas himself did not feel destined for ruling Russia.
The woman spoke again. "And what of the girl?" Everyone stared at Hadassah, who was still standing next to Nicholas. "She is unnatural, that one. Leo Trichenberg is a fool to get that child on that deceitful woman."
"You will never go near the child, not unless you wish to face the wrath of the father, Evangeline," said Aramaeus with a look of anger on his face. Evangeline glared at him, but she wisely held her tongue. She knew that there were many people who had protested against Nicholas's decision to raise Hadassah, and many of the people who wondered why Leo Trichenberg didn't take charge and raise his own daughter when her mother died.
Nicholas then said, "If you don't like my answer, remember that my father had put you up to this. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have more important things to deal with." He left the room with Hadassah following him.
"That was nice," said a vampire named Torvald as they watched Nicholas and Hadassah leave.
"It is not enough," said Evangeline. "I can't for the life of me understand why Leo Trichenberg has chosen to not raise his child. He already has raised his other children, most of who came from servant girls and whores, not to mention that Megan Kroger, but how and why he chose to allow the Czar to raise his youngest daughter I don't know."
"Yet, we do know that if Leo were to publicly announce that he was the father of Hadassah, it would have been such a huge scandal," said Aramaeus. "And with him being the sworn enemy of the previous Czar, who knows what would have been had this scandal broken out."
He turned to the group and said, "He thinks that he is wise, but for all the wisdom in the world, he has none. He is unprecedented, he is unpredictable, and he cannot be trusted to stop the revolution from happening. This is why we are here. We must do whatever we can to stop the revolution from happening and to keep him alive. He needs us, whether he will admit it or not. I believe that it's time for a disaster to happen. That way, we will remind the people of who is really in charge of Russia."
The clan laughed as they plotted a very dangerous situation. Whatever it was, Aramaeus was sure that no matter what the outcome was, Nicholas and his family, as well as the people, would soon learn that it’s not best to push away the Snoweagle Coven.
"I don't know how she started walking," said Nicholas to Leo when Leo showed up for a brief visit. "Babies generally don't start walking until they are about ten months old."
"Indeed," said Leo. "I wonder what else is going to happen to my daughter. Has she had her teeth yet?"
"I do hope not," said Nicholas, "but I fear that one day, her nurse will have to stop nursing her."
"She grows quickly," said Leo, "but I fear that my trueborn children will never grow up at all."
"I wonder why," Marie said as she came to join them.
"Last night, I went to the church and they told me that my marriage to Suzette Ximnadlo never should have happened, that I should have married her younger sister Lisbeth instead," said Leo. "They have decided that for the good of my baseborn children, my trueborn children are to be sent away to a place where they cannot interfere with their upbringing and lifestyle. They will never marry, nor will they have children. I weep for my son Wilbert; he is soft of body and weak-minded. He will never experience the pleasures of laying with a woman, never to hold a baby, never to carry on the Trichenberg family name. I fear that remarriage is now out of the question and with my death, my family will be extinct."
"Not if we legitimize the births of your baseborn children," said Nicholas. "I know that if that were to happen, then perhaps we could stem the decline of your family. Your father's second family has been killed off by various diseases and murder, and only his daughter Johannah remains. Your stepmother has also been killed for murdering your mother and marrying your father. You are the only son of your father who is still alive, and it is your duty and right to father more heirs to your family legacy, if not your fortunes."
"And what of the Snoweagle Coven?" said Leo. "I trust that they don't like your decision regarding their consumption of prisoners?"
"They like it not," said Nicholas. "I know they are plotting something to punish us for that suggestion. They believe that we have insulted them. I'm certain that they won't let us get away with this."
"If only they knew the real truth about why your father used them, then they would be privy to your deal," said Leo. "I would be very careful about what I would do next."
Nicholas nodded, but he knew that the problems between him and the Snoweagle clan were far from over. In fact, they were only beginning...