Several months passed since the death of Czar Alexander III and the ascension of Czar Nicholas II. The year was now 1895. So far, nothing happened despite his worries that his reign would begin with a terrible disaster. But he knew the peace that was present in Russia would not be there for long.
In spite of everything, Nicholas knew that the time would come when the Snoweagles and the seven wolf clans would try to usurp his throne. They were angry that their chosen heir, Alexander Smirnov, was not crowned czar when Alexander III died. Nicholas knew he would have to deal with them soon.
Nicholas frowned as another paper was shoved under his hand, awaiting his signature and seal. He had been at this for 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 attend an opening ceremony at a newly-built theater in St. Petersburg later that month, and another complaint from the Snoweagle coven.
"I swear, I must find something to do with them," he said to his valet as he took the letter from Arameus and set it aside. "They're impatient and will not wait for change to happen themselves."
"Yet you may, sir," 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 punished him for fathering a child on a disabled woman," said Constantine. "This is no way for a child like him to live."
"Yet, he's only seven years old," said Nicholas. "We must handle this case with care." He promptly signed his name and added his seal. He would deal with that case later.
Constantine said, "Has Sir Nichollo given you his answer yet regarding the little one?"
"He hasn't," said Nicholas. "In fact, I don't blame him for not speaking to me; 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 contained the sleeping baby. She had gotten bigger than when she was born, but it wasn't 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'm sorry to interrupt your work..." she began.
"No, you have not," said Nicholas. "In fact, I was 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've heard that you are pregnant."
"That's true, and there's little doubt the people will find out soon," said Alexandra." We must hope it will be a son."
"Or a daughter," said Nicholas.
"It matters little these days," said Maria. "Son or daughter, the child you carry will diminish the claim Alexander has on the throne."
"If you ask me, I know he won't be a good ruler, for he's too much like your father," said Constantine. "No ruler should be like the one before him, but he should carve his own path."
"And what of the path that I carve?" said Nicholas. "I already know what the people expect, but it's too much for me to handle right now. Plus, I've had enough of the Snoweagles and the wolf clans and I haven't dealt with them yet!"
"Indeed," said Alexandra. "I already don't like them. Their reputation for murder and cruelty precedes them. Only a fool would ally with them, and my husband is no fool."
"And yet, Leo Trichenberg expects you to ally yourselves with them, if nothing else," said Maria. "But why should we join with those who seek to take over Russia?"
"We have no choice," said Constantine.
"Well, between them and those in favor of a revolution, I don't know who to trust," said Nicholas.
Alexandra said, "Speaking of trust, have we gotten any requests from Aramaeus yet?"
"We have, and I like it not," said Nicholas. "He wishes to continue eating people as he did under my father's rule, but I have plans for him, plans he will not approve of."
"What plans are they that he will not like?" asked Maria.
"The devouring of criminals," said Nicholas. "People who 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."
"Devouring criminals?" said Constantine. "Is this a good idea?"
"Why not?" said Maria. "It's a good compromise."
"Yet, a good compromise always leaves everyone angry," said Alexandra.
"Indeed," said Constantine as Hadassah began to wake up. She was three months old 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, at least you're still with us," said Alexandra. She reached out for the baby and hugged her.
"Indeed she is," said Nicholas as he stared at the baby. "How long she will live, we don't know."
"There are those who are at the edge of death who live, and there are those who aren't standing at the edge of death and 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. However, that was not for them to decide.
Nicholas knew now that he would have to face the Snoweagles and the wolf clans and tell them of his compromise. He knew they would not like what he would have to say to them. With any luck, they would not approve, nor would they destroy him.
While he was thinking of the compromise and what would follow, Hadassah suddenly stood up on her own feet. Within a few moments, she began walking around the room. 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 wore 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. Aramaeus and several other vampires were there, staring at him. They wore white coats, white pants, and white boots. Nicholas hoped the clothes they were wearing weren't made out of fur.
Aramaeus said to him, "The clan tires of your arrogance. What is your decision?"
Constantine said, "The Czar is neither arrogant or cruel, but he's 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 for a long time, then at the small child who stood at his feet. Children do not walk or stand on their feet at the age of three months, he thought. This one's different. I'd like to know why.
Nicholas said, "I have conferred with the council; we agreed that criminals should be dealt with. Under my father's reign, your clan were given young men and women to consume, and consumed 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 as the vampires laughed. "I never liked your grandfather; he was too much of a pushover in my opinion. He definitely earned the death that he received."
"Yet I will not die his death," Nicholas. "I was 12 years old, and my grandfather died because he failed to deal with the revolutionaries that plagued his reign. I watched as my father destroyed those 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 dare 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 do this to insult you, but only use this to keep you in line," said Nicholas. "I've heard of your consumption of many of the poorest of the people for many years; 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 Alexander Smirnov will destroy your family and take the country if you continue to allow his existence," 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 11 years old. 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 and their place in the royal family. Most of the Romanov family did not think Alexander should have adopted the boy, let alone attempt to make him his heir. Nicholas himself did not feel destined for ruling Russia.
But that was not for him to decide, as his mother fought to have him named as heir to the Russian throne. He wasn't about to waste his mother's efforts now that she had gotten what she wanted.
The woman spoke again. "And what of the girl?" Everyone stared at Hadassah, who stood next to Nicholas. "She's unnatural, that one. Leo Trichenberg was 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 an angry look on his face. Evangeline glared at him, but she wisely held her tongue. She already knew many Russian citizens had protested against Nicholas's decision to raise Hadassah; those people wondered why Leo Trichenberg didn't take charge and raise his own daughter when her mother died. He had raised his children with Slavena when she died and took care of his bastard children, so why didn't he take Hadassah when he had the chance?
Nicholas then said, "If you don't like my answer, remember that my father 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.
"And yet, it's 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 know that if Leo were to publicly announce that he was the father of Hadassah, it would have been a huge scandal," said Aramaeus. "And with him being known as 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, "Nicholas thinks he's wise, but for all the wisdom in the world, he has none. He's unprecedented, he's 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 it's time for a disaster to happen. That way, we will remind the people of who's really in charge of Russia."
The clan cheered as they plotted to cause a disaster for the czar. Whatever it was, Aramaeus was sure that no matter what the outcome was, Nicholas and his family, as well as the people of Russia, would learn that it’s not a good idea to push away the Snoweagle Coven.
"I don't know how or why 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 will happen to my daughter. Has she had her teeth yet?"
"I 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."
"I wonder why," Marie said as she came to join them.
"Last night, I went to the church; they told me that my marriage to Slavena Shapiro never should have happened, I should have married her younger sister Lizena instead," said Leo.
"Indeed," said Marie. "And who exactly do those men think they are to judge a marriage, especially if none of them are married to begin with? I already know that the church did not object to your marriage to Slavena Shapiro; her father pushed for her marriage despite her physical and mental illnesses. You were right to marry her and not her younger sister, whose mental and physical health leaves much to be desired."
"And I have my reasons to believe that the church is objecting to the marriage now that George Shapiro is dead," said Nicholas. "I wonder what happened to a marriage made in holiness?"
"So, what are they doing about your marriage, since they believe it was a mistake?" Marie said with a hard look on her face.
"They decided that for the good of my baseborn children, my trueborn children will be sent to a place where they cannot interfere with their upbringing and lifestyle" said Leo. "They will never marry, nor will they have children. I especially weep for my son Vasily; 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 a possible remarriage is now out of the question; with my death, my family will be extinct."
"Not if we were to legitimize the births of your baseborn children," said Nicholas. "I know if that were to happen, perhaps we could stem the decline of your family. I know that your father's second family was killed by various diseases and murder; only Sir David's daughter Johannah remains. Your stepmother was also killed for murdering your mother and marrying your father. You are the only son of your father still alive, and it's your duty and right to father more heirs to your family legacy, if not your fortunes."
"My fortunes are not in the discussion, for I already have enough dealing with people trying to get their hands on my inheritance," said Leo. "They swore to kill anyone whom I name as my heir, and I don't take that kind of threat lightly."
"Indeed," said Nicholas. "I will gladly deal with your relatives as soon as I can. Only you have the right to decide who your heir will be, and they're going to have to accept that, whether they want to or not."
"And if not, we could always remind them that they stood there and did nothing while that evil witch Selena Turner tried to destroy everything you and your father worked for," said Marie. "They'll learn that it wasn't right to abandon you when you needed them the most."
"Indeed," said Leo. "I was nothing more than a small boy at the time of the marriage, and my father wanted to keep me away from Selena and her family, lest they bewitch me with their lies. And who was it who brought me to the royal palace as a child and raised me with his own children, among which was your own father?"
"My grandfather," said Nicholas.
"Exactly," said Leo. "My father and your grandfather had known each other since they were boys; yet my father wanted Alexander to cease his indulgences and to take up the mantle of Czar-Liberator, as he should have been. Yet, your father and I had never gotten along, not even when we were children and we grew up in this very palace. Do you remember the final fight we had before I left the Peterhof Palace?"
"How could I forget?" said Marie. "I remember you and Alexander fighting over something (I forgot what it was you were fighting over, but it wasn't good), you storming away from the palace, and Nicholas standing at the gates crying, begging you to come back. You didn't return to the palace for ten years."
"And I will regret that decision for the rest of my life, as I could have prevented so much drama from happening," said Leo. "But enough about that. What has happened since I was here last?"
"Nicholas tells me that he and his wife are expecting their first child," said Marie.
"I see," said Leo.
"And I told you that Hadassah is walking for some strange reason," said Nicholas.
“Indeed,” said Marie. "How did that happen?"
“I don't know why, but when Alexandra announced that she was pregnant, that's when Hadassah began walking,” said Nicholas. “Who knows how that happened?”
"She grows quickly," said Leo, who was none too pleased with how fast his youngest child was growing.
"Maybe it was due to her being so small when she was born," said Nicholas. "Who knows how these things work."
"Some babies grow quicker than others," said Leo. "Yet I wouldn't know, as all my children started walking when they were three months old. I'm not surprised this happened to Hadassah, though. Just beware when she starts talking; you'll be in trouble then."
"Indeed," said Marie. "She's no different from your other bastards, isn't she?"
"No, she isn't," said Nicholas.
"And what of the Snoweagle Coven?" said Leo. "I know that you've been dealing with them, and 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 to punish us for that suggestion. They believed that we have insulted them, as if I would dare to insult them at all. I'm certain they won't let us get away with this."
"I never liked that Aramaeus Zempanga," Marie snapped. "He's arrogant, stubborn, and very cruel. He, his clan, and the wolf clans are trying to undermine my son and force him to bend to their ways, which I will not like or tolerate."
"If only they knew the truth about why your father used them, then they would be privy to your deal," said Leo. "I would be careful about what I do next regarding them."
Nicholas nodded, but he knew the problems between him and the Snoweagle clan were far from over. In fact, they were only beginning...