Anastasia, Anastasia

*for the historical fiction competition*
Three days. Three lifetimes. I thank you for that, Anastasia Romanova.
Or, Anastasia lives through three more lifetimes she didn't expect, and one that she did.


1. Anastasia, Anastasia

Russia, 1547

She was hidden among a thousand waiting bodies, breathing synchronised and staccato, waiting for the Tsar to notice her, the dark space between a thousand shining stars.
He paced in front of the first line of women, and she caught a glimpse of him through the gaps between shoulders and waists. He was tall, with a shadow of a beard on his handsome face and Anastasia could feel the rage radiating off him, the way she once felt ripples at the Barents Sea, caused by a giant wave. 
Tsar Ivan's solid form disappeared in front of a shapely daughter of a nobleman, and Anastasia breathed a sigh, whether it was out of relief or disappointment she did not know. Her hands were clammy as she clutched the red fabric of her dress, and she imagined her father's face in her mind. 
You will become a fine bride for the Tsar, my daughter, he said, his voice rattling with illness, I go knowing that you will bring the Romanov family honour and pride.
Anastasia held her chin up high and focused her eyes on that flickering space where she last saw the Tsar. 
She would do her father proud. 

The footsteps came back rather quickly this time, and once again Anastasia found herself staring at the Tsar. This time, instead of lowering her eyes when he approached, she stared directly at him.  She felt proud when he stopped, and stared at her, brown eyes drilling holes into her fair blue ones. 
"You." he said, pointing to her. Like the flutter of a bird's wing, the women gasped and turned their heads to face her. They moved aside so that Tsar Ivan could look at Anastasia properly. 
"Speak, girl. What is your name?"
Anastasia forgot how to speak in that single, terrifying moment. 
"Anastasia Romanova, daughter of Roman Yurievich Zakharyin-Yuriev."
Her hand trembled as he reached for it, but to her surprise, he brought it to his lips and kissed it gently.
"You are quite beautiful, daughter of Zakharyin-Yuriev."
Anastasia blushed.
"May we take a walk?"
The Tsar held out his arm for her. The other women sighed as she took it and they walked out of the palace and into the gardens. 
The palace gardens were something that Anastasia was unfamiliar with, but still she found the sight quite beautiful. Flowers blossomed everywhere she looked, trees sprouted in the corners and she could hear a steady trickle of water splattering against a rock in time with the beat of her heart and the breath in her lungs. The garden was illuminated with flickering torches, and the stars smiled down at the pair from up above. 
"If I may say so, my lord, you have been quite an accomplished tsar in the three weeks of your reign."
Here, in the dancing light, the Tsar looked less terrible than he had been described to her. At first, when she heard that she was to be paraded with a thousand other women in the hopes of becoming his bride, Anastasia was terrified. The young Tsar was know for his rage and his temper and his many lovers, but now that he had chosen Anastasia out of all those other women, she felt confident that she could turn him around to a brighter side. 
"It has not been easy," the Tsar answered in a gravely voice, "But I think having a wife will make it more bearable."
He smiled at her, and Anastasia thought of her father, who had helped her get this far. 
"It would be my honour, my lord," Anastasia sunk low in a curtsy, and Tsar Ivan pulled her up. 
"Thank you, Anastasia Romanova."

Their wedding was held three days later and on the third day of the second month, Anastasia stood with Ivan and was bound to him forever. Though she knew she would grow to love the Tsar, somewhere in the back of her mind, Anastasia feared him and his terrible rage. Somehow she knew it wouldn't be too long before the monster broke out of that carefully sculpted, intelligent mould. 
When morning broke on that next day, Anastasia slipped out of her new room, leaving the Tsar sleeping peacefully in the bed behind her, and glided down the palace steps. Her new home was quite grand, and although she was grateful for the help of her handmaidens, she wished to explore the palace and all the secrets it held. As she approached a group of servants, they stared at her with glossy eyes and when she had passed she heard them giggling to themselves. Her new status as Tsarita was of much chatter in the palace, and was something that Anastasia was sure would die down through time. 
"You dare insult my wife with your mockery!" Ivan's voice came booming down the corridor, and Anastasia turned around to see Ivan pounding his fist into the very servants that laughed at her. 
"Ivan!" she shouted, not bothering with formalities in this time of urgency, "Ivan, stop!"
There was blood, so much blood and Anastasia felt like she was swimming in it, and there was Ivan, his face a twisted version of itself and his fist just kept coming...
Anastasia laughed herself into the fray and screamed his name again and again until Ivan stared at her, and she couldn't believe that this terrible man was the same one that held her so gently the previous night. 
"Ivan," she said so softly, it felt like a feather, "Please."
He flinched, like her words weighed as much as a brick. 
Ivan dropped the servant and cradled his hand, broken in so many places Anastasia almost wept for him. 
"Quickly," she said to the other servants, their faces contorted with shock and fear, "Take this man to a healer. Quickly, get him to safety!"
They picked him up and dragged him away. Anastasia stood in a pool of blood, holding her husband's broken hand as gently as she would do to a bird. 
"Ivan," she whispered, pressing a hand to his cheek, "I have known you for but three days and yet I feel like I have know you for three lifetimes."
His brown eyes looked as sad as a cow's before the slaughter as he looked down at her. 
"Please," Anastasia begged, "Pray to God that your anger is restrained. For me. For your people. For yourself."
She was crying, she realised. Hot, wet tears spilled down her cheek and got lost in a tangle of fabric and hair. 
"I need not to pray to God for restraint," Ivan finally said, "When I have you by my side. Whether I have know for you three days or three lifetimes, you make me feel calm. And I thank you for that, Anastasia Romanova."
He took her fingers from his check and kissed them, one by one. 
Anastasia sighed and leant into his chest, cradling his broken hand, and she knew that she would be his calm sea for the rest of her life, for the rest of forever. 
But forever came too soon. 


Russia, 1625

Anastasia was a child of God.
She had grown up in the Novodevichy Convent with her mother and sister, surrounded by the people of God, but she had never felt the pull towards the divine that they did. 
She was meant for something greater. She could feel it. 
Her mother, Elena, was a nun, but Anastasia sensed that she hadn't always been. There was something about the way she held herself, sort of like the tsaritas she had glimpsed once through a crack in the convent walls. Her mother held herself with her head up high, but her eyes downcast, like she was royal underneath the clothes of a person of God. 

Anastasia ran through the convent, blocking out the disapproving hisses of the nuns. She climbed the spiralling stairs, going round and round and round, and up and up and up until she reached the topmost room, right before the bells, where she lived with her mother and Anna, her sister. She pushed open the wooden door, the name of her mother on her lips, when she saw a stranger in the room. She faltered, her hand lingering on the doorknob. 
The stranger was old, impossibly old, quite possibly the oldest person Anastasia had ever seen in her sixteen years. There were lines on his face Anastasia never knew existed on a human face, but she supposed that the women of the convent didn't experience the same wrinkling of skin that he did. Or maybe she just never noticed. 
"Can I help you, sir?" she asked, and then the stranger noticed her. His glassy eyes focused. 
"Greetings, child." he said, "I was told to meet here by Elena. Do you know where she is?"
Footsteps sounded behind her, and Anastasia turned to see her mother and Anna. Her mother looked weary today, tired and fragile like a sheet of glass. Yet she still had the strength to push Anastasia outside. 
"Stay outside," she ordered, "Anna, take care of her."
Anastasia's older sister pulled her aside as the door swung closed. 
"Who is he?" Anastasia whispered. Anna, pretty Anna, shook her head, making her dark hair sway. They shared its ebony colour, but somehow Anna's shone more beautifully in the sunlight. 
Crouching low near the door, Anastasia pressed her ear to the wood and listened.
"Patriarch Philaret," her mother was saying, "I do not understand why you have visited me today."
"My son is getting married next month," the man replied, "As a previous member of the royal family, I would like you to attend."
Anastasia gasped, and Anna shushed her, trying to drag her away from the door. 
"I - I thank you for your kind offer." Elena said. 
"You remind me of my aunt, Anastasia Romanova. She shares the same name of your daughter, yes?"
"Yes," Elena said, "The Tsarita was a great namesake for my youngest."
"Perhaps," Patriarch Philaret said, "One day she will be as fortunate and as prosperous as her. She is a tsarevna, after all." 
Anastasia nearly squealed as Anna wrenched her from the door. They ran down the stairs, Anna barely holding back a smile. 
"We're tsarevnas," Anastasia whispered excitedly, clasping her sister's hands, "We're royalty."
Anna doused her smile and whacked her sister over the head. 
"Don't be a stupid child, Stassie. You are almost of marriageable age, if you do not commit yourself to God. You can't be so gullible."
Anastasia's shoulders slumped. 
"You are right, sister."
She tread away from Anna, but still she hoped that what Patriarch Philaret said was true. 

Later, her mother came down the spiralling stairs to find her praying in the church. 
"Stassie, what are you doing here?" Elena asked. 
"I am praying that I will become a tsarevna and acquire a good husband, just like Anna said."
Elena froze in place, and stared down at her daughter. 
Anastasia stared right back. 
"Is it true, mama? Were we once royalty?"
Elena sat down next to her, and covered her hands with her own. 
"I wasn't always Elena."
Her mother wrote a tale with golden thread, of princesses and royalty and Anastasia's father, the Tsar. Of the time of troubles and the fake prince come to steal their throne and how they were forced to take monastic vows and come to the convent that Anastasia called home. 
And Anastasia cried with her mother when she learnt of her father's death, when she was but an infant, even though she would never know him. 
 "Will you go to the palace, mama?" 
"I hope so," Elena replied, but her body was racked by a terrible cough and fear began to grow in Anastasia's chest like a weed. 
"I am fine," Elena reassured her daughter, "If the sisters of the convent allow, maybe you and Anna could attend with me?"
Anastasia gasped and hugged her mother gently.
"Thank you, mama!"

As the month grew on, it stole Elena's strength, little by little. 
And then finally, on the day of wedding, as the church bells sung in celebration, Anastasia and Anna prepared to dress in black. Those nuns loyal to Elena prayed for her soul to be delivered to heaven, and Anastasia prayed that her mother had found peace. 
While she grieved for her mother, she thought that if they hadn't been asked to leave the palace, her mother would have been alive right now.
If only she was a tsarevna. 


Russia, 1878

She approached the balcony with all the vigour that was expected of her, even though she could muster none herself. Her father led the way, and she stared at his back as they twisted through the corridors. Her mother brought up the rear, she could feel her presence behind her, possibly trying to make sure that she didn't run away. 
If only. 
Anastasia wore her finest dress on this sunny afternoon, her head protected by a flowery hat, dark curls pinned under it to perfection and hands sheathed in dainty gloves. The hat tried and failed to shield her from the glaring sun as she emerged from the castle on the balcony. Anastasia squinted into the sunlight, and when it had receded, she saw the man she was to marry. 
He was tall and looked like he was approaching thirty years of age, at least ten years older than her and he coughed when he saw her, whether it was out of embarrassment or illness she did not know. Dark hair spouted underneath his hat and he wore a pointy moustache and beard to match. 
"Grand Duke Friedrich Franz of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, I present to you my daughter, her Imperial Highness Grand Duchess Anastasia Mikhailovna of Russia." Anastasia's father announced. 
She just froze, until her mother poked her back and hissed in her ear, "Be polite."
Anastasia stepped forward and curtsied, and the Grand Duke bowed. He took her hand and kissed it and Anastasia felt disgusted. 
"I am glad to make your aquaintance, your imperial highness," he said. 
Anastasia was very aware of her parents staring at her in expectation. 
"The pleasure is all mine," she replied.  
He held out his arm and then gestured to the lovely gardens below. 
"May we take a walk?"
Anastasia felt her head swim, and she felt as light as a feather. Blood roared in her head. The phrase felt familiar. Had someone said that to her before?
"Are you alright, my dear?" Her father asked, and Anastasia blinked back to the present. 
"I am fine, Father," she insisted, "Shall we?"
He lead her down to the garden and they sat before a splendid water feature.
"I sense that you are not pleased with the marriage," Friedrich announced.
"I had hoped that my parents would not arrange my husband," she admitted, "My brothers, too, resent it. I am very close to them."
"How many brothers do you have?" he asked. 
"Six," she replied, "My eldest brother, Nicholas, is not particularly pleased that he should lose me so soon."
"Your Imperial Highness, might I be permitted to address you in an informal manner?"
Anastasia thought for a moment. 
"Stassie," she said, "My brothers sometimes call me Stassie."
Friedrich smiled. 
"Stassie," he said trying it out, "What a lovely nickname."
Already, she felt the strange sensation that she had on the balcony, the funny feeling of déjà vu, like she had heard that name before. 
Of course you have, Anastasia thought, Nicholas always calls you that. 
But, somewhere in the back of her mind, a voice whispered to her. 
No. Go back even further, to the time of troubles and the age of the tsars. 
Anastasia whipped her head around to face him. 
"I - I'm sorry, your imperial highness, was that too soon?"
He broke off in a coughing fit. Anastasia's hands hovered over his back, unsure of what to do.
"Our betrothal has not been announced yet," Friedrich said once he had recovered, "I apologise for any informalities that occur before our wedding."
"Nonsense," Anastasia said, "You shall call me Stassie and I shall call you Friedrich, if you allow me to do so. There is no point in keeping to such lengthy titles when we are to be married."
"So you accept?"
Anastasia sighed. 
"It's not like I have any choice in the matter, but yes, I accept."
Friedrich looked up on the balcony, where their parents were discussing the marriage. 
"Shall we go back up?"
Anastasia looked around her at the garden, at how lovely it seemed. This was not the day she had planned, but she was rather enjoying it. She had surprised herself. 
"If you don't mind, I think that a walk through the garden is in order."
Friedrich held out his arm and she took it and they paraded themselves down the garden path, disappearing in the midst of lilies and roses and lavender.  


Russia, July 14,1918

The great Ipatiev House had fallen to the Bolsheviks, and so the royal family would fall too. 
This Anastasia knew. She tried to keep busy, playing with her sisters, performing plays for her family and servants, and writing letters to her friends outside, telling them of their captivity.
But she saw in her sisters' and mother's eyes. Their captivity would not last long, and it would not end with her releasing into the world that lay outside the palace. 

Anastasia sat on the floor of her room later that night and went through the belongings she had brought from Tobolsk. The Reds had brought her family to Yekaterinburg in the summer. Now the winter was coming, and Anastasia curled herself up in a blanket to keep warm. She came across one of her dresses, the family jewels, or medicine, as her mother called them, sewn into the corset. She was afraid that the Reds would find them, her precious jewels. 
Next to it in the trunk was a poem Anastasia remembered writing for her tutor, back when they were studying Robert Browning. 
"When she died she was only sixteen," Anastasia read aloud, "There was a man who loved her without having seen her, but knew her very well."
There were many spelling errors, and Anastasia winced at seeing them. Her tutor would not have been pleased. 
"And she heard of him also. He could never tell her he loved her, and now she was dead. But still he thought that when he and she will live their next life, whenever that will be..."
A face appeared before Anastasia's eyes. 
Soft, but sharp and with brown eyes like a cow and he looked so sad and calm at the same time. 
Three days.
A wind whipped the windows, making them rattle. Anastasia jumped, and looked around, but there was no one. 
Three lifetimes.
I thank you for that, Anastasia Romanova. 

Anastasia's eyes widened. That was her name. She was of the house of Romanova. 
"Who are you?" she asked to no one, for there was no one there. Only inside her mind. 
Her bedroom door slammed, forcing her back to reality. Her eldest sister, Olga walked into the room. 
"It is time for church, Nastya." Olga held out her hand, and Anastasia took it, letting her sister drag her out of the room, down the many corridors of the House and then out into the small chapel where her family was waiting. The priests conducted the mass solemnly, their voices were the only ones crying out. No sound came from Anastasia's lips.
The priests whispered to each other. 
"Something has happened to them in there."

The next day, Anastasia and her sisters moved their beds out of their rooms. The cleaning ladies filed in, accompanied by the guards, to clean the floors. Anastasia could pretend like she wasn't held captive for a moment, and helped the ladies clean the floor.
Olga and Maria and Tatiana plastered fake smiles on their faces as they helped her clean, as the guards watched over the women like hawks. 
One of the guards turned away, and Anastasia whispered to one of them women, "His face looks like a hippo!"
The woman covered her mouth to stop herself from laughing. Anastasia couldn't contain herself and let out a sharp laugh, causing the guard to turn around. She looked down and went back to cleaning.
From the reflection of the shiny floor, she saw the head of the guards, whom she recognised as Yakov. He surveyed the cleaning before turning around and exiting the room. 
Anastasia stuck her tongue out at his retreating form. 

The next few days were somber. Anastasia hadn't heard the man's voice or seen his face since the fourteenth, but she remembered his message. 
Three days. 
She peeked at the calendar hanging on the wall of her shared bedroom. Today was the seventeenth, and the third day since she had received that spooky message. She desperately wanted to tell one of her sisters, or even her parents, but what would they think? They would just believe she was playing games. 
So she said nothing, and after saying goodnight to her sisters, crawled in to bed and drifted off to sleep. 

He came to her in her dreams, and he looked scared. 
Three days, he screamed, Your three days are up, Anastasia Romanova!
What do I do? she asked, What do I do? 
There will be pain, he cried, There will be pain but it will end and you will rise again. I must see you again, my Anastasia!
Anastasia bolted upright and screamed as she stared into the face of one of the guards. He grabbed her wrist and covered her mouth, but her sisters had already woken up. There were guards standing over their beds as well. 
Footsteps sounded in the hallway, and she glanced over at Olga, who put a finger to her lips and smiled. Their parents rushed into the room, with little Alexei in tow, and Anastasia sighed in relief. 
"Mama," she tried to say, but the guard's hand muffled the sound. Her relief soon turned to fear as more guards marched into the room, Yakov among them. 
"Come," he said, "Its alright. You are being moved to a safe location. I am sorry about the guards, your imperial Majesties, but there would be spies anywhere."
Anastasia saw her mother breath deeply and smile, comforted by the guard's words, but Anastasia still doubted this mysterious Yakov. 

The guards led them through the corridors and down down down into the cellar. It was quite small, with a couple of chairs for them to sit on. Her mother and father sat down, Alexei in their laps, so Anastasia and her sisters followed suit. 
"Please," Yakov said, "Wait here." 
He marched outside, the rest of the guards following, except one. He stood with his hand on his waist, fingers twitching. 
A few moments passed, and Anastasia saw some familiar faces. The cleaning women, and the doctor, and the maids. They were herded into the room and stood beside the family. 
"Excuse me," Anastasia's father demanded, as Yakov and the guards walked back into the room, each one carrying a gun in their hand. Alexei started to cry and Anastasia reached out for Olga's hand. 
"You are going to be executed," Yakov announced.
"What?" The Tsar cried, and then the most horrible sound occurred, the sound of bullet being fired, embedding themselves in the flesh of her father. Anastasia screamed. Her mother and sister tried to make the sign of the cross, but they too were shot down. There was o much smoke from all the bullets, so much noise and Anastasia was so terrified that she held her hands up to her ears to block everything. 
Bullets were firing on her now, but Anastasia didn't feel anything. Just the shock of the bullets hitting her chest but no explosion of pain. 
The jewels, she thought, the jewels I had sown into my dress! They're protecting me!
A hand grabbed her own, and dragged her into the corner of the room. Maria wrapped a protecting arm around her younger sister in an attempt to shield her. Both their dresses were being torn apart by the bullets, and finally, they ripped. A bullet hit Anastasia's stomach and she screamed, blood gushing out of the wound. Maria too, was hit, and they screeched in pain together, as the relentless bullets rained down on them. 
Finally, the bullets stopped. Anastasia felt pain rippling through her body. She was afraid to move, and her vision was blurring. She waxed and waned in and out of consciousness. All she could feel was the pain and all she could hear was her own breathing, and the breathing of her sister, growing slower and slower. 
And then, other voices joined. 
"They're not dead yet," one said. 
"We'll fix that." 
She opened her eyes just in time to see a bayonet coming down towards her face. 
Again and again it hacked, and Anastasia thought she knew pain before this moment, but she was wrong. She was covered in red, so much red and blood and pain. 
Go to sleep now. 
There is was, that voice. She knew she must be hallucinating.
Go to sleep, and have faith in me. 
Who are you, her mind muttered as it drifted off. 
You have saved me once, and I thank you for that, so I must repay the favour. 
Sleep, now, for a hundred years, and when you wake we shall be equals once more. 
Three days,
he whispered, but four lifetimes. I would like to share another with you. 
Anastasia closed her eyes and the world went dark. 


Russia, 2018

Anastasia stood on the Borodinsky Bridge, overlooking the Moskva River, the waters twinkling in the twilight. Her breath condensed in the cold air, and she hugged herself, pulling her black overcoat tightly around her thin frame. Her light hair stood out against the dark of the night. Her phone was clutching tightly in one hand, and she ran her finger over the screen, deciding whether or not to call. 
She sighed and stared out at the river, wondering whether it would give her the answers she needed. It didn't. It just whispered, the noise being lost in the sounds of the busy road beside it, the lights of cars looking like shooting stars in a city as dark as space. 
"You didn't call?"
A deep voice forced her to turn around, and then, there he was. He was tall and handsome, dark hair and the hint of a beard, brown eyes as a sad as a cow. He was dressed like Anastasia had previously seen, wrapped in a long dark coat, jeans and a strange twinkle in his eye that never seemed to dim. 
"I had to wait three days," Anastasia admitted as he walked over to her and leant over the bridge beside her. The river was reflected in his eyes. 
"Just to be sure," she finished. The wind whipper her hair around her face, and some of it got stuck in her open mouth. He pulled it out and laughed. 
"What, they don't have reception in 1918?"
"You certainly took your sweet time to contact me," she argued, "Took you, what? 318 years?"
He smiled.
"You didn't even recognise Stassie, did you?"
"Well," she huffed, "Wasn't until the Bolshevik revolution that I pieced it together."
He laughed again, and Anastasia looked at how much he had changed over the centuries. He was calm now, smiling, loving. 
"Come here," he said, and he wrapped his arms around her. 
"Anastasia, Anastasia, look at us," he whispered, looking up, "Underneath the stars again. How long has it been since we have done this?"
"Forever," Anastasia smiled. 
 "This time forever won't come too soon, hey?"
They smiled together underneath a million stars.
Anastasia and Ivan, the Tsar, and the Tsarita, just the way it should be. 

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