The rhythm of the moving wagon lulled its driver into a peaceful daze. Catherine had arrived in the city two days ago and was taking the wagon over to her last stop. Having Serge unable to get around for the last two weeks, and the other people living at the ranch had lessened the supplies. Catherine had left in the hopes that the sort trip would ease the last tension that still remained between her and Serge.
The tall revolutionary had been bedridden and unable to do the simplest things without assistance. It had annoyed her and also been a stab at Serge's incredible pride. However, Serge had lived up to her legendary healing abilities and had been walking around with the help of a cane for the three days before Catherine had left.
Finding out that Serge is an active member in the revolution hadn't been as shocking as the fact that she had casually come out and told Catherine. But, Serge was right. Having an ally in the nobility would be helpful, especially since they had experienced loses due to Tsar Ivan. Still, Catherine was slightly amazed that Serge had just come out and told her... but she probably figured that Catherine would have found out sooner or later.
She remembered where she had seen it, prior to seeing it plastered on Serge's skin. It had been four years ago, Nicholas was still in power and people had been getting restless. Tempers were exploding all over the country. Catherine remembered being on the street and seeing a man come running out of the alleyway, the Russian secret police right behind.
The man's shirt had been ripped open and was hanging around his waist. She had seen the tattoo when the middle aged man had turned and fired his last round into the chest of the nearest pursuer. He had been killed, but had taken some of the enemy with him.
Catherine shuddered in remembrance. All that blood.
She was shaken out of her memories when the wagon stopped outside of a tall brick building - her destination. Catherine stepped out of the wagon and moved down the alley, the door being off the main street. She was almost to the wooden portal when something to her left caught her eye.
Catherine turned and looked at the wall of the building beside her. There was one of the bulletin boards of sorts that anyone could post notices and the sort on. Catherine's heart started beating faster as she took a closer look.
A small cry escaped from her lips before she stepped forward and ripped a flapping piece of paper off the board. She turned and raced back towards the wagon, her long dress flapping in the wind. Catherine jumped onto her wagon and thundered out of the city as if the hounds of Hades were chasing after her.
The remaining supplies were left all but forgotten.
"Well Serge, you're pretty much as good as new." Joel looked at the tall woman sitting at the table in her kitchen. "Two and a half weeks. Your ribs are completely healed, your head has been fine for a long time and the burns on your legs are pretty much healed, too. We'll have to wait and see if there was any permanent muscle damage to your legs. You should continue to use the cane for awhile, okay?"
"Sure Joel. Have we gotten any news on..." Serge trailed off as Joel jumped up muttering apologies.
"Sorry, this telegram came today." He handed Serge a folded piece of paper and watched as she read it. Serge smiled briefly, then her eyebrows raised into her hairline and a soft snort escaped her lips.
The telegram was from Lenin. He was the overall leader of the Bolsheviks. At the moment he was hiding out in Moscow with a large chunk of the forces. The resistance out here, in the 'backwater' as some people called it, seeing as it was less populated, was considerably stronger. The Russian police weren't as diligent out here, seeing as the tsar was practically across the country.
Serge was basically a second in command to Lenin. The two had met years ago and had decided that they liked each other. Serge was in charge of all the forces in this part of the country and they were all loyal to the core. If Serge told them to jump they asked how high. All the members of the resistance were ready to start a revolution the moment Serge gave the word.
Professionals they were not, but Serge had trained everyone in this little town and trained others who set out to educate the remaining people. They knew how to kill, spy, sabotage, and assassinate as well as anyone else.
Not professionals, but deadly accurate and efficient.
"I don't believe it." Joel's attention was brought back to Serge when her low voice broke the silence.
"Lenin said that the tsar is going to be spending some time in the city of Tashkent."
"B.. but Serge, that's only two day travel from here!"
"I know. Lenin says that the tsar has decided that there is too much resistance out here. He figures that the Russian secret police will be more inclined to do their job if Ivan is closer."
"Are you worried? I mean he'll be really close."
"Not really. Very few people know the town is here. Anyone from the road would never guess that there is a thriving settlement out in the bush. I don't care how close the tsar is, the police are somewhat spoiled, they won't be tromping around off the main road. Lenin does think that this would be a good time to get rid of Ivan, though. Since he'll be out here, far from home."
"What do you think?"
"I think he's right. It's time to get rid of the biggest roadblock. He should be arriving in about a weeks time. We'll have to start preparing. Hopefully, this will work out the way I want it to. Joel, go into the town and get everyone together, I have to talk to them. I'll join you shortly."
Joel nodded and stood. He walked out of the house and got up on his horse, riding back into town.
When the unmistakable sound of Serge's horse was heard, everyone in the town had gathered in the tavern. They waited patiently to hear from their faithful leader, everyone hoping for their own reasons that the time for action had come.
Every revolutionary had their own reason for getting involved in the cause. If it was a simple belief that the tsar would never do anything positive or a more dramatic reason, like Serge's, everyone had something driving them.
The door to the tavern opened, and Serge walked in. Even with a cane Serge projected an aura of authority, command, and danger as she stepped up to the front of the tavern.
"I'll make this quick. The latest telegram from Lenin informed me that the tsar would soon be in a nearby city. He felt that, with the large support out here, the time had come to get rid of someone who is the largest problem to us revolutionaries. I agree. I'm going to be moving out of here soon and meet up with forces in the city. I'll also stop and pick up fellow Bolsheviks on the way. Anyone here who wants to help is always free to come... you know that. You also know that I don't expect anything from any of you. Let me know what you decide."
Any answer that might have been given by the villagers was stopped by the frantic rumbling of horses and a wagon.
Serge made her way out of the tavern, followed closely by Davis, Joel, and Bernard. The wagon came barreling into the town square and stopped in front of the tavern.
Recognizing the wagon and driver, Serge started moving toward Catherine as fast as her injured legs and cane would allow. Catherine tumbled out of the wagon and was caught by Serge's strong arm.
The young woman seemed out of breath and panicked. "Hey, what's wrong? Catherine.. what happened?" Serge's low and soothing voice seemed to register with Catherine and she stopped her angry muttering, the only words Serge had caught being 'Jerk', 'Slimly little', and several colorful curses.
Green eyes slowly tracked up to Serge's face and met with concerned cobalt blue. Catherine pulled a crumpled piece of paper from her pocket and handed it to the bewildered Serge saying, "I found this posted in the city. My brother...." Catherine trailed off as Serge raised the paper and unfolded it.
Most simply put it was a wanted poster. A wanted poster for her. It contained a very accurate picture, directions to the town, and stated a reward would be offered to anyone who managed to apprehend her and bring her in alive.
There was something slightly funny about the situation, though. And Serge may have laughed if the situation hadn't been so serious. The poster was faked, stating the Serge had been seen participating in some illegal activity. The poster had been faked by Charles... and it stated that Serge was an active member of revolutionary groups. It might have been funny if Charles hadn't been right.
Now, in every major city, posters stating that Serge was a revolutionary were hanging for everyone to see. Including detailed directions that any idiot could follow and find the town. And the tsar was arriving in a week with a whole bunch more Russina police. And the police that were already out and about would see this and take it upon themselves to look into its fidelity. To please the soon to be visiting tsar the police would tear this place apart.
Serge was in danger. More than that, everyone in town was in danger.
They were coming. Even if they didn't find her, more would be coming with Ivan. Soon, there would be nowhere safe to hide. Nowhere to go, and the only option would be to..
Serge dropped the poster and moved over to her large black stallion. She mounted and moved the large animal over to Catherine. Serge held out her hand and as Catherine reached up to grab it a sense of familiarity and well being over came her.
The two rode out of town at a gallop, with Serge yelling over her shoulder. "Meet us at the house Davis, right away."
When they got to the house Serge jumped off with a slight grimace, the impact jarring her legs. She moved into the house with Catherine right behind her.
Serge walked into her room and opened the door to a closet that Catherine hadn't seen before. The tall woman grabbed a set of saddlebags and started gathering up different things. Some different clothes, a flint and striker, and several items that Catherine couldn't identify were stuffed into the bags.
"Catherine, go out into the hallway. The big chest sitting out there should be unlocked. Open it up and start pulling everything out."
Catherine nodded, responding to the tense setting of Serge's body and the urgency in her voice.
Catherine had just finished pulling everything out of the crate when Serge kneeled down beside her. She had the saddlebags slung over one shoulder and had changed back into her pirate shirt, vest, boots, and black trousers - the brown ones having been burnt up and ruined.
Serge started sorting through the items that were wrapped individually in cloth. Catherine watched as Serge unwrapped three bundles, revealing a black leather gun belt and two shiny well kept revolvers.
Serge stood and fastened the belt around her waist. She reached down for a smaller bundle which revealed a hatchet. There were designs carved into the metal that looked vaguely familiar and Celtic in origin. Lastly, she unwrapped a long knife that she secured on her left, less injured, leg. The hatched found a home secured underneath Serge's vest on the back of her belt.
Finally, the tall revolutionary grabbed the remaining two bundles and motioned for Catherine to follow. The young noblewoman trailed behind until she stopped on the front porch, Davis standing uncertainly with his hat in his hands.
"Davis, I need you to do something for me. Take this," Serge reached up and removed a long chain that Catherine just realized she wore around her neck, it appeared to have a brass key on it, "and keep it safe. Get the chest from my uncle's room and guard it with your life. Do you understand me?"
"Yes Serge." The large man stepped forward and took the key, placing it around his neck. He then scurried into the house to secure the chest that Serge had mentioned.
Catherine turned and looked up at Serge as she felt the woman's gaze on her. "Catherine, I just got a whole wagon load of trouble dumped right on my head. I don't expect you to stick around. If you stay with me the chances of you ending up dead...." Serge stopped speaking by necessity as a small hand covered her mouth.
Serge looked down into serious green eyes and waited. "Listen to me. You are not dropping me off somewhere because all of a sudden there is a chance that I MAY end up dead. I could get run over by an out of control wagon and end up dead. The world is a dangerous place, Serge, and I'm not leaving you. I feel like I have to be with you. It feels right, good, like it's meant to be. Do you feel it?"
Serge nodded her head, unable to give a verbal answer sine Catherine had not removed her hand.
"Good. You're stuck with me Serge. Get used to it."
Somewhere in the back of Serge's mind the thought 'Some things never change' ran fleetingly through her mind. Once again Serge nodded and Catherine removed her hand.
"Okay, we better get out of here then, or this will be a moot point." Serge hobbled over to the large stallion and secured her remaining bundles on the horse, along with the saddlebags and her cane. She vaulted onto the horse and helped Catherine up behind her, getting the young woman settled.
They rode off of Serge's land just as a large cloud of dust and the thunder of many horses hooves arrived at Serge's doorstep.
Davis hurried up the steps to the room that had once belonged to his friend's uncle. He knew, unlike most, that the reason Serge hardly ventured onto the second floor was because of this very room.
She hadn't set foot in it since the man had died, and hardly spent any time upstairs. The room remained exactly the same, and Davis was constantly amazed that Serge was able to live in this house at all.
There were memories of Serge's childhood throughout the entire building, and they all contained the only person that Serge had ever called family. The only person that Serge knew had loved her.
Davis sighed, hoping that one day his childhood friend might find a tiny bit of the peace that she had had here for twelve years. Before it all went bad. Before her uncle was killed and a part of Serge died. That's when she started to shut down. That's when she stopped caring about what happened in the world around her and got involved with Lenin and the Bolsheviks.
Revenge is what drove Serge, her reason to be a revolutionary. She blames them all for her uncle's death, and with good reason, too. A darker part of Serge was born when he died, a part that has been hidden for the last fifteen years. Now, it's about to get released, and Davis hoped that it wouldn't scare off Catherine, the little imp. 'She could give Serge some of what she needs,' he thought.
He just hoped that when Serge let that darker part go, after all this time, that she'll be able to tell the difference between the good guys and the bad guys. 'Because if she can't I won't want to be in her way.'
Davis pushed open the wooden door and easily located the small iron chest that he had been entrusted with. He quickly decided that the best thing to do would be to just get it out of the house. The large man walked over to the box and heaved it up onto his back.
He quickly made his way down the stairs, only stumbling once and went out the back door to the house. Davis was just setting the crate down and covering it with some bushes when he heard the telltale signs of a large group of horses out front.
Davis quickly decided that the best thing to do would be talking to the group of, no doubt Russian police, and trying to send them in the wrong direction. As he got closer to the mounted men one stepped out of the group to meet Davis, apparently the leader.
"You, do you know where the owner of this house is?" The gravely voice of the Russian hurt Davis' ears.
"If you mean that tall bitch with the black hair she left about two days ago. All I can say is good riddance. Never caused nothin' but trouble!" Davis silently hoped that Serge was right and the Russian police weren't all that smart.
"Where did she go?"
"Took off that way," Davis pointed east, when in fact they had ridden west, "might still be some tracks. Haven't had no rain recently." Davis held his breath, hoping the trail that Jules and his family had undoubtedly made when they had left a day and a half ago was still there, and visible.
The officer motioned one of his men over to the path that Davis had indicated and when the lower ranking officer gave an affirmative, Davis breathed a sigh of relief.
"Thank-you for your assistance. Officer Wekinshire, burn down the house." Another officer moved from the group with a torch in his hand and threw it in the kitchen window. The wooden house started burning immediately, and Davis sent a silent apology to Serge. The house had been all the lanky woman had left of her childhood, and he was watching it go up in smoke.
The Russian officer nodded and moved off toward the path that Davis had indicated, his group following dutifully behind.
Davis was seething with anger, but knew that losing his temper would be of no help to Serge. He got back on his horse and headed back for town, knowing that retrieving the chest now would be dangerous with the police so close.
It would take longer for Serge and Cathierne to reach Tashkent now that Serge was being hunted. So Davis had lots of time to get the box and still arrive at their predetermined meeting place in the city.
He smiled to himself, thinking of the upcoming days. Serge wasn't the only one who was in this for revenge.
The coming darkness brought with it the beginnings of night sounds. It also was the cause of increasing apprehension for Catherine. The young noblewoman felt secure in the sunlight when she could see everything around her. However, the continual lack of light created obscure shadows on everything around her.
Nightfall seemed to have the opposite effect on her tall companion. The woman whose waist Catherine had her arms wrapped around had been stiff and tense, along with the rest of her body. It seemed, though, that as the sun progressed more towards the west the strong body in front of her gradually lost some of its tension. Now, with total darkness seconds away Catherine could almost convince herself that the posture of the woman in front of her was that of a normal rider. Not an armed revolutionary set on hair-trigger reflexes.
They had been riding nonstop on Serge's black stallion, Nighlong, since they had fled from her ranch. Catherine had been reluctant to break the silence, in fear of attracting attention to themselves. She was sore, not used to the riding, but was determined to not jeopardize their safety.
Serge was as alert as she had been all day, but Catherine could tell the long ride was also taking its toll on the tall woman's still injured legs.
Finally, with the sun completely below the horizon Serge stopped Nightlong in a clearing in the forest. Catherine slid off the tall animals back and watched as Serge descended to the ground. She saw a grimace of pain when her legs impacted the ground, but refrained from saying anything.
Catherine watched, feeling useless, as Serge moved around the clearing. She grabbed the saddlebags and a set of blankets that had been attached to the stallion and proceeded to arrange things to her satisfaction.
Once everything had been set out Serge turned and looked at Catherine for a long moment before digging into one of the bags. She pulled out a bundle and threw it at the shorter woman. Catherine just managed to get her hands up in time to catch it. "These should fit you. You can't walk around out here dressed in that. Go change."
Catherine nodded and walked off into the trees, being sure to not get lost. When she emerged Serge had started a tiny fire, giving a mumbled explanation that they were too far from the road for it to been seen.
The clothes that she had been given felt weird and would take some getting used to. She was wearing brown trousers and a beige linen shirt with a V-neck. Soft leather boots came up to her mid calf and a leather belt secured the slightly too long shirt.
Catherine settled herself on a log and watched as Serge dug around in another saddlebag. She pulled out some dried rations and threw one to Catherine, which she agreeably munched on while watching the tall revolutionary.
Serge was leaning up against a log across from her with her long legs stretched out in front of her. She had unwrapped on of the last two bundles that had come out of the weapons chest, which revealed itself to be a rifle. Actually, it looked more like an older style musket.
Serge was cleaning the item carefully, taking off some dust and ensuring that the weapon would work flawlessly at a moments notice. A leather strap was connected to the gun, allowing it to be worn slung over your shoulder or back.
After diligently cleaning the rifle followed by the two pistols, Serge pulled out her hatchet and long knife. She started sharpening the items with a whetstone. Catherine sat and listened to the rhythmic scraping, staring into the fire and letting her thoughts wander.
'Great Catherine. What have you gotten yourself into this time?? You're in the middle of nowhere, with a woman who you hardly know anything about, and by the looks of things, it's going to start getting violent soon. Yeah, well, I couldn't leave her. Something feels right... I don't know what it is though.'
Meanwhile, Serge was having thoughts of her own. 'This is just great. I'm about to get involved in a huge revolution and now have a noblewoman tag along. What have I gotten myself into?? Oh, stuff it Serge. You couldn't have sent her away if you had wanted to, which you didn't!!!!'
Sighing, Serge resigned herself to the fact that whatever happened in the next few days would happen to the both of them. "It's going to take us about five days to get to the city," Serge's voice startled Catherine from her thoughts, "casue we can't take the main roads. By then Davis and the others should already be there, and have hooked up with the group that lives in Tashkent. The tsar should get there about a day after we do."
Catherine nodded, soaking up the only information that Serge had offered about their current situation. "We should get some sleep. The next week is going to be tough. Good night."
"Good night." Catherine wrapped herself up in the blankets the Serge had given her and watched the taller woman stow her weapons and do the same.
The fire died down later in the night, leaving two lonely souls to sleep out the rest of the night in the dark oblivion that had colored most of their short lives.
The duo once again found themselves traveling toward a city where events would occur that would decide the future of the entire country. Serge had been leading them nonstop on a nonexistent path since morning. It was now midday.
Catherine had decided long ago that her tall friend was not one for small talk. So she filled in the silence herself. She asked questions, which Serge answered with monosyllabic words. The she just started commenting on the forest that surrounded them.
Currently, the young woman was puzzling over something. Catherine finally came to the decision of just asking Serge instead of wondering, or perhaps having the question come back later and hit her in the face. "Serge, that key that you gave Davis. What was that all about?"
The tall woman sighed, surprised that Catherine hadn't asked earlier. She had been expecting the question and decided that she would answer when the time came. "Before my uncle died he gave me that key. He said that it opened a box in his room. In the box he had put everything that was with me when I was delivered by another man He said that all the stuff in it would be enough to prove to anyone, without a doubt, that I am who I am. Or I am who I was supposed to be." Serge said the last part with a wry grin, finding amusement in speaking about her unknown identity. "He also made me promise that I would never open the box unless my family was threatened and it became necessary."
"But... you don't really have family."
"I know. But I consider all the people I grew up with, in the village, family. My uncle knew this. There was something really odd about the entire thing, though. He was trying to tell me something else, but I didn't catch it. All I heard were mumbled words about the tsar, Nicholas, and what would happen when the revolution started. The last thing he said was truly weird. It was really clear and precise, like he thought I needed to hear it. Now that I think about it, it was sort of eerie."
"What did he say?"
"His exact words were 'You are the revolution.' I didn't understand, and I still don't." Serge shook her head, and Catherine could tell that this subject was done being discussed for the time being.
Catherine watched the strong back in front of her as Nightlong carried them closer to their destination. In her mind she was puzzling together Serge's identity. She was sure that was the center of the whole puzzle- one phrase, four words, the last words of a dying man. They were the key.
'You are the revolution.'
They arrived at the outskirts of town one day early. That meant that Tsar Ivan would arrive in two days. The trip had been uneventful, Serge sticking to the forest and less traveled roads.
Now, they were standing on a slight rise looking down at the stone city. Serge had stopped and stared for a long time, as if seeing something Catherine couldn't. She could see lots of different emotions playing across Serge's face as she thought about what would happen in two day's time.
Serge held no misconceptions.
Catherine held none.
Ivan would arrive and Serge would kill him. The other revolutionaries were just here to watch her back and handle the guard. In two days Serge would commit murder. Sure, it was murder of a cold-blooded, heartless, maniac who is leading his country into ruin. But it was still murder.
Serge turned and limped over to the saddlebags. She pulled out her long black cloak and tied it around her neck. Throwing the hood over her face, hunching her shoulders, and exaggerating her need for the cane. No one would guess that this woman was a wanted revolutionary. She looked like a crippled hobbit.
Catherine smiled slightly, thinking that Serge's injured legs would come in handy while hiding her identity.
Serge sighed, hating the fact that she needed a disguise. She had kept a low profile for this reason. Sure, she had been involved in other revolutionary activities but her identity had always been kept hidden. A freak accident and irate nobleman had cost her years of being careful and staying out of the spotlight. 'If that stupid tree hadn't landed on me I would have caught that little pissant and the whole thing could have been avoided.'
Serge grabbed Nighlong and started shuffling to the city entrance with Catherine following behind. Davis should have already arrived and hopefully everyone would be where they were supposed to be.
They finally arrived in an old rundown stable on the east end of the city. There was no one around when the two women arrived. They had traversed the dirty city easily, everyone too busy to give a crippled hobbit a second glance.
The barn door squeaked open and the two occupants turned to look. A large silhouette appeared in the door, which soon dissolved into the welcome form of Davis. The large man smiled and walked into the building.
He held his hand out to Catherine which she took and returned his smile. "It's good to see you again little imp. You guys are early. Ivan is too, he'll be here late tomorrow. Serge, the police are being extra vigilant. It will be hard for you to case Ivan's palace."
"Is it doable?" The revolutionary asked, raising an eyebrow.
"Yes, my friend, it is doable. Just difficult."
"Then don't worry. You have my crate, right?"
Davis winced slightly, "Yeah, but the Russian secret police... they burnt down your house. I'm sorry."
Serge felt a pang of sadness. It had been all she had left of her family. Now it was gone. She quickly bottled up her feelings for later. She needed to focus now, not get emotional. This was war.
"Okay, how many people do we have here?" Serge moved to sit on the floor, her demeanor changing rapidly to strategist.
"Around eighty in the entire city. Jules, that young farm kid, hooked up with me on the road. Said he knew what was happening when he saw your picture and came to help out. You have an admirer in that one, Serge." The large man smiled at his long time friend and leader. "I figure we'll head on over to the troops and you can see what we have there. Tonight we can go out and look around, make a plan for tomorrow."
Serge nodded, her mind racing over the scenarios that might arise. She also needed a way to keep Catherine relatively safe. Maybe she should see how good Jules is at this revolutionary business.
The trio left the rickety barn, Serge with her face once again concealed and an exaggerated limp. They followed Davis into an older part of the city, inhabited only by homeless people. After a short walk they stopped in front of an old shack. Davis moved aside a piece of wood and motioned the two women inside.
They found themselves inside a long hallway. Catherine was amazed at the setup. The hallway ended with a dead end brick wall. Davis ran his hand along the wall, and grunting, pulled out a lever near the bottom. The wall to the right of him slid away, revealing a set of stone steps.
At the bottom, Serge moved off down a corridor leaving Catherine with Davis. She looked around, observing the activity around them. They were standing in a large cavern that held tables with different things piled up on them. Around the edges were boxes full of more supplies. There were two other corridors besides the stairs. One led off the right, the other to the left.
People were everywhere. A lot of them were working on weapons at tables, or sewing clothes of some sort. Others were moving in and out of the corridors, carrying supplies back and forth. Catherine followed Davis, as the large man received greetings from many of the people in the room.
Catching up to the large man Catherine voiced another of her never ending questions. "Davis, why are you doing this? I mean..."
"Ah, you mean why did I get involved in this. Why risk it? It's very simple, and it's what drives most of the people you see here. Revenge. When I was about seven I guess, my family and I were coming back from a trip. We were using a wagon, and were about ten minutes away from the village. A bunch of Russian soldiers rode up... and.. killed my family. I hid in the bushes and watched. Didn't leave until nightfall, I was scared stiff. The thing was, they didn't have a reason. Just came in and slaughtered us." Davis shook his head, his usually warm brown eyes showing the remembered pain of a child.
Catherine sucked in a breath, having not expected the answer. She knew that things like that happened, she wasn't that naive, but hearing it from someone she was starting to consider a friend made it seem more real. More tragic.
"Davis, can I ask about Serge. Why does..."
"Catherine. I can't talk about that, don't ask me to. If you want to know you have to ask her. And you probably won't get an answer, but then again, you might. Sorry." Davis walked off into the shadows, leaving Catherine to wonder about the overwhelming pain in his voice, more so than when he told his own story.
Perplexed, the young noblewoman turned and walked down the corridor that Serge had gone through. After seeing how many turns this one hall held, she decided to ask for some help. Stopping the next person she saw, Catherine asked about Serge's whereabouts. The young man gave her directions and sent Catherine on her way.
When she found the medium sized cavern that had been designated as Serge's, she hesitantly entered the room. Serge looked up from her spot on a raised stone slab covered in blankets. Her saddlebags were sitting on the floor in front of her, along with the rifle and still wrapped fourth package.
Catherine entered the room and gestured to Serge's legs, where she was applying some cream to a few of the still healing burns. "Can I help?" Serge nodded her head and handed Catherine the cream as the young woman stepped forward and started tending to her legs. "I was wondering... since I'm sorta involved in this. How did your uncle die?"
Serge closed her eyes at the question. She knew that it would come up, and that reliving that experience by talking about it was the last thing on earth that she wanted to do. But Catherine deserved to hear it. Hear about what had created the person she was about to see, up close and personal. If Serge had any hopes of keeping this friendship, then Catherine needed to know the truth. In all its glory.
Catherine waited, and sighed, figuring that Serge wasn't going to tell her and Davis was right. Just as she was about to retract the question, a low voice stopped her.
"It was fifteen years ago. I was 12, almost 13 I guess. My uncle was taking me to what was supposed to be a peaceful demonstration. We joined a man by the name of Father Gapon and two hundred thousand other workers and peasants. We had a petition for things that we wanted - you know, a minimum wage and better working conditions. Everyone walked up to the Winter Palace where Tsar Nicholas was. The guards... I guess they panicked.. or something. They fired.. into the crowd.... from fifteen yards away."
Catherine closed her eyes having not expected this, not in her wildest dreams. She remembered the event, even though she hadn't been very old. It had been a massacre, and anyone who was alive at the time would be hard pressed not to remember.
"It was Sunday, I remember. My uncle, he tried to protect me and get us out of there. But, that many people, they don't move very fast. I remember, he picked me up and ran. All around me people were screaming and crying. Then, I heard this pop and a crunching sound and I fell, my uncle landed on top of me." Serge's eyes were distant, focused on a spot above Catherine looking back into a tortured past.
"I rolled over and... pulled his head onto my lap. That's when he gave me the key and everything. I sat there, in that field with all those people dying around me and just watched him. I was wounded, too. Shot in my right shoulder and a bullet grazed my stomach. Funny thing, I don't remember it happening. Eventually, I got up and walked away from that. The death, and people crying over their lost family members. I decided then... I decided that I would avenge him. They took away the only family I had. For no reason, all the pointless death. It was 1905, and some crack journalist named it Bloody Sunday." Serge finished her story, her voice cracking on the last two words.
Catherine sat there shocked. She was 8 when it happened and of all the things that she had imagined, this hadn't been anywhere on the list. "What did you do, Serge?"
The tall woman shook her head slightly, her pain filled eyes finally focusing on Catherine. "I'm not sure, but I didn't get back to the village until I was 15. Guess I just wondered around for two years or something. Somewhere in there I met Lenin, although I don't really remember it." The woman shrugged, pulled down the legs of her trousers and stood. "I have to go see about supplies. You can stay here if you want." With that, the tall woman left the cavern, leaving behind Catherine to ponder this new information.
Her thoughts were disrupted by someone entering the room. She looked up to see Davis walking in, with Serge's crate. He set it up against the wall and looked at Catherine. "She told you." It was a statement, not a question. Catherine just nodded, unable to form any words. Davis nodded his head slightly, as if confirming thoughts of his own. The big man left the cavern, and Catherine once again buried herself in her thoughts.
Serge walked down the corridor, dodging fellow revolutionaries with one goal in mind. Jules. She needed to talk to the young kid. Finally spotting her target she made a beeline for the young man. As she drew closer he looked up and a slight look of apprehension came across his young face.
"Jules, I need to talk to you. Come with me, please." Serge turned and headed of into a more private cavern, expecting the young fellow to follow. He did.
Once they were technically alone Serge paused to gather her thoughts. Jules stood nervously, expecting to be told he had no right to be here and to go home. Serge turned and looked at him noticing his nervousness. "Have you ever fired a gun before?"
"A gun. Do you know how to use one?"
"Yes." Jules answered uncertainly, having not expected the question.
"Can you fight. Hand-to-hand, with other weapons."
He nodded, wondering where this conversation was going. Serge looked him over, then moved to the far side of the room. She bent over and picked up piece of wood that was lying on the ground. Propping it up in an indentation in the wall she tacked a piece of paper onto the board. Serge walked back over to Jules and handed him one of her pistols from her belt.
Jules reverently took the gun, gulped, and took aim. He squeezed the trigger sending a loud popping sound echoing through the cavern. The wood fell out of the compartment with the impact and clattered to the stone ground.
Serge walked over to the board and picked it up. Turning back to Jules she waved away the people that the shot had attracted. Serge looked at the board and smiled. "You're going to help me out Jules. You remember Catherine?"
He nodded. "Good. She is kinda stubborn, you see, and is going to insist on being out there with me and putting herself in danger. Listen to me very closely now. You stick with her. Wherever she goes, you go. If she manages to get herself arrested by Russian police or something, then I want you to get a message to me and get yourself arrested, too. Do you understand what I'm saying."
Jules nodded his head vigorously. "Her safety is my responsibility. You want me to look out for her." Serge nodded, affirming Jules' assessment of his job. "May I ask, why me?"
"Because you can take care of yourself, and I trust you. You're just a farm boy who decided to join the cause. I know you haven't been involved long enough to start playing both sides." With that Serge walked out of the room, setting the makeshift target on the floor. Jules looked at the ground and smiled, before he too left.
In the middle of the paper attached to the wood, a single hole resided.
The gathering clouds in the evening sky finally erupted, spilling their cargo onto the world below, just as an ornate stagecoach pulled up to a large walled in building. The immaculate gates opened, allowing the coach pulled by two pure white steeds through the only break in the stone walls.
Going up a long stone driveway the coach finally stopped in front of a three story semi-mansion of sorts. One of the armed guards stationed at the front door walked down the six steps to open the door of the coach.
Out stepped a medium tall man, wearing a traditional Russian military uniform. His jet black hair was blown into disarray by the wind. A slight mustache accented his small mouth and pointed nose that looked too big for his face. Tiny squinted eyes, almost coal black in color finished off the man's ghastly looking face. His features combined to give him an untrustworthy, scheming look. Taken out of his uniform, one would never guess this to be the face of the leader of the country, of Tsar Ivan. Looking upon him gave you the impression of a mean spirited, angry man who belonged living on the streets. He was anything but regal looking. His manners were that of a street urchin, and anyone would be able to guess that he wasn't born to rule. Not brought up with any manners that an heir usually obtained, Ivan wasn't the picture of royalty.
Tromping up the steps in the driving rain, Ivan immediately yelled for his Commander in Chief of the city as soon as he stepped through the doors. A tall harried looking man came scurrying up to the drenched tsar. "Yes, Tsar Ivan." He bowed slightly, and awaited his lord's orders.
"I expect, Greenwald, that everything is as it should be. Our... guests... are here?"
"Yes, they arrived at noon today."
"Good. I want that... woman... found tonight. Send out all the police tonight and bring her in."
"Umm.. Sire ...do you really think she's here. I mean... wouldn't coming here be sort of dangerous, to say the least." Greenwald cowered as Ivan turned beady black eyes on him.
"She is a revolutionary. A leader among them. She is here, and I want you to bring her in tonight, alive. Understand?"
"Yes, Tsar Ivan!" Greenwald saluted and hastily walked down that hall, breaking into a run as soon as he was out of sight. He sighed, thinking of his leader. 'Find the revolutionary... do this.. do that. What does he expect! He's just a snotty little kid, really. Doesn't deserve to rule. Someone needs to knock him upside the head. And poor Nicholas... his children and wife.. oh, Alexandra.'
Greenwald closed his eyes, thinking of the former royal family as their 'guests', all present and accounted for - except of course their missing eldest child. He shook his head, wondering why Ivan had them brought here, and what he was thinking of doing. Greenwald had served Nicholas loyally until Ivan had unseated him. He had just barely convinced Ivan of his loyalty to him as the new tsar. It had been hard to maintain that false loyalty, as he watched Ivan steadily run the country into the ground. By staying in service, he had hoped that when a revolution occurred he may have been able to help it progress. But, in reality, he could do little against Ivan. The only one who really could was Nicholas' oldest child, the true heir.
Greenwald quickened his pace to dispatch the police, hoping to not anger his lord.
Serge looked around the room at the assembled people. Ivan was supposed to arrive tomorrow, so it was time to do a little scouting. She had assembled a small group, consisting of herself, Davis, Catherine, Jules, and one other man, a native to the city.
The rain, well making things unpleasant, would help to hide them while scouting. Serge motioned to the group and started leading them up the stone steps and into the city. Armed with her pistols, knife, hatchet, and rifle slung across her back, Serge was sure that any trouble they ran into could be handled. All the members of the party wore long black cloaks to keep out the rain, hide their weapons, and in Serge's case her identity as well.
The plan was to scout the area around the palace where Ivan would be and decide the best places to hide and enter the palace. To the north of the palace there was a slight rise with bushes covering the top. The group crouched around these and observed the main gate in front of them.
Further to the right of the hill was the main cobblestone road of the city. A river broke this road in two, about thirty feet from the palace. A stone, arched bridge, covered the river with the highest point about nine feet above the rushing water. Wading the river would be dangerous at best, and crossing the bridge would leave most people exposed to the guards on the wall.
"OK," Serge's low voice penetrated the darkness around the group, "Davis, you and Bradstone go around that way," she motioned to the left, "and see if you can find anything. I'm going to check out this bridge, see if you're totally exposed on it. Jules and Catherine, stay here and watch the guards. If it looks like they see any of us whistle, all right?" Four heads nodded back at Serge.
Davis and Bradstone skulked off to the left, while Serge turned and dissolved into the darkness, her tall form became indistinguishable from the shadows surrounding her. Catherine crouched tensely next to Jules, staring into the darkness and hoping to see Serge.
The quarter moon offered only a tiny amount of light, and Catherine's efforts went unrewarded. After what seemed like hours to Catherine her tense concentration was broken by a low male voice.
"Is Serge back? You won't believe what we saw. Ivan is here."
Catherine and Jules looked at Davis and exclaimed simultaneously, "What! He's not supposed to be here until tomorrow!" Davis nodded his head gravely, expecting the worse.
Catherine noticed his expression and questioned him, "What are you thinking Daivs?"
"That something is very wrong."
Jules motioned toward the bridge again and eight anxious eyes focused on it. At the peak of the arched bridge, if you looked really, really hard, you could just make out something moving on it. In the next instant several things happened at once.
The gates to the palace opened and out poured at least three dozen men, mounted. The courtyard was suddenly illuminated by torches being lit. Serge's form was now more visible on the bridge, and that was exactly where the men on horseback were headed. Jules let out a piercing whistle, trying to warn Serge if she were still unaware of the danger.
Catherine gasped and tried to move towards the bridge, but was held back by Davis. "Hang on, Little Imp. We can't help Serge like this, and she isn't beat yet." The four people hunkered down in the bushes as they watched the horses thunder toward their leader. The closer they got the easier it was to see the bridge.
Suddenly, the unmistakable sound of gunfire broke through the darkness. Catherine watched as Serge took cover against the side of the bridge. Why she wasn't retreating back the way she had come, Catherine didn't know. She just hoped that her friend would be okay.
The sudden light coming from the courtyard, followed by a whistle from Jules was more than enough warning for Serge. She grabbed the rifle off her back and took cover. Looking behind her she saw that her comrades had stayed hidden in the bushes. She also noticed shadowy forms lurking back towards the city, and decided that going back that way was not an option.
Taking careful aim, Serge hastily put a bullet through the head of the lead rider. His uniformed body fell from his horse, giving the soldiers behind him a slight pause. The return gunfire came, and when it died down she noticed that it had had the desired effect. With the bad light, and the thought that they were being fired upon, the soldiers in the back had killed a lot of the higher ranking officers in front of them.
A feral smile split Serge's face, as she thought of the dead Russian police. Bullets started breaking the stone around her, and Serge decided it was time to go. Placing the rifle back over her shoulder she briefly studied the other end of the bridge.
Nodding her head, Serge took a deep breath and stood up. She ran across the width of the bridge and dove headfirst off the other side, plunging into the frigid waters. It was preferable to the dozens of angry Russian police with guns who awaited her on land.
The four spectators hidden in the bushes slowly moved away from the river, melding into the darkness so as not to be seen. The only thing that transpired between them were the whispered words, "Don't count her out just yet, Little Imp. That woman is a survivor."
The melancholy of the returning group, minus one, was quickly passed on through the hideout upon their return. Davis soon found himself facing the anxious faces of his comrades and friends, all of them worried about their leader. He briefly described what had happened and that with all the Russian milling around the river, the best thing to do had been to leave. Davis told the lookouts to be extra vigilant, not because he feared an attack, far from it. But because he knew Serge, and that she wouldn't let herself die until she had completed the goal that she had set for herself when she was twelve. Serge would return, and if she was hurt and afraid of being followed then she would come slowly and discretely. If the revolutionaries were to help Serge if she was followed or hurt, then they would have to be able to see her approach.
After addressing the concerned people Davis located the young noblewoman in Serge's personal cavern. She was sitting on Serge's furs and staring at the lock box that held in it Serge's entire identity should she choose to know it.
No words could be said to comfort Catherine of the unknown, only news on the tall revolutionary would do that. So Davis did the next best thing. He sat down with Catherine, waiting. Hoping.
Jumping into a raging river had not been on her to do list this night. And now Serge found herself in a rather large pickle. The Russian police that had ridden down on her were now scouting the river banks, looking for signs of her emergence or a corpse.
Listening to the voices of the men around her, Serge was having a hard time deciding what they wanted to find more.
She had managed to wedge her body in between a set of rocks and the river bank. The bank extended over her head, providing cover from the men standing almost on top of her and looking into the water. Thankfully, the rocks were large enough to keep Serge out of sight from the other bank, too.
The only problem was that more Russians had come and they were practically lined up along the banks, leaving no opportunity for Serge to get out of the frigid water. On the bright side, her impromptu swim had not caused any injuries. At least not that Serge knew of. Her limbs had started going numb awhile ago, but before that she hadn't detected any problems. Maybe a few bruises, but those were nothing.
Now, Serge waited. Coming out of the river now would surely mean her death. She just hoped that they would get tired of looking and go back to their nice warm beds. They'd leave a few men out, but a few tired cranky men Serge could easily handle, numb limbs or not.
After what seemed like a lifetime or two, but was really only an hour or two, the cold, mud, and continuing rain finally got on the Russian's nerves. They were called back into the palace, leaving the odd man stationed around the banks.
Serge smiled, it was time to get out of this stupid river. She cocked her head, listening intently, and smiled again when she heard only three men on her bank and standing far away. Serge grabbed onto the rock in front of her and hoisted her upper body out of the river. She stayed like that for a moment to let her arms adjust, then pulled herself further up onto the bank.
Serge immediately crouched down, even though it was still dark she didn't want to take the chance of being seen. Her soaked clothes were becoming bothersome already, and her long legs were frightfully numb still.
Hearing muted boot steps on the packed ground, Serge hunkered down lower, her body becoming stiff as a rock. Watching the shadowed Russian move toward her, Serge reached down to the knife in her boot and slowly drew the blade. She held it low to the ground, so it wouldn't catch the light and send out any reflections.
As soon as the man got close enough for Serge to see his face she whipped her arm forward and buried the knife up to its hilt in his chest. The man looked at her with stunned eyes as she moved forward. He dropped lifelessly to the ground, emitting a slight gurgling sound.
Serge removed her knife and whipped it off on his shirt. She started moving toward the last two men guarding the river. As she approached, Serge reached back for the hatchet and drew it too. Firing a gun would attract too much attention.
The two men were standing in a slight circle of light, which Serge boldly stepped into. Before the men could even register her presence, she sent the knife flying into another chest and the hatchet buried itself into the last man's forehead. They dropped into black heaps, not quite knowing how their end had come to be.
Serge once again retrieved her bladed weapons, and after a brief, silent conversation with herself, rolled over the higher ranking of the two and removed the saber from his waist. The revolutionary attached it to her belt, adding to her stash of weapons.
With one last cautious look around the riverbank, Serge's tall form dissolved into the darkness without the slightest sound.
Constant pacing coming from the end of the hall gave the man walking towards the door pause. The consistency with which the boot steps sounded attested to the agitated manner of the pacer. Greenwald was not looking forward to this. Giving his report of the failed attempt to catch the woman would not improve the pacers mood, just make it worse. He sighed, thinking that things were better when Nicholas had been the ruler.
Continuing his journey to the end of the hall, Greenwald opened the door which caused the pacing noise to stop briefly. Tsar Ivan looked at his commander in chief briefly, then resumed his course around the room. "Tell me."
"Our efforts were fruitless. Nothing came of it."
"Are we sure that it was her?" Ivan turned his beady black eyes on Greenwald, wanting to be told what he wanted to hear. The best thing they could do was stop this woman, here and now. She was already becoming something of a legend in the revolutionary world. Stories of her had started flying around when the posters had shown up. Ivan just wondered if there was any truth to them. No one knew who this woman was - just what she looked like. It didn't matter, though. Anyone who could inspire feelings of rebellion in the people had to be taken care of, even if they weren't really a revolutionary. She was turning out to be worse than Lenin.
"Considering how far away we were, the bad lighting, that we were galloping toward that bridge and that whoever was on it was able to take off Commander Bolakes head with one bullet, would make me believe that it was her. Not to mention the fact that we lost fourteen men and five others were wounded, before the figure took a sawn dive off the bridge into the river."
"At this time of year? She'd freeze." Greenwald shrugged at this, not being able to answer that if it were a question.
"I called for more men and sent them with the remaining ones to patrol the riverbanks. She won't be able to get out of the river for some distance and if she died we'll find the body."
"What if she's sitting in there, hanging onto a rock, waiting until there are less men?"
"Well, sir, given your assessment of the temperature, I don't think anyone would be able to survive in the river very long. They might be able to make it for two hours at the most. I'll keep men stationed out there until dawn."
"Very well, Greenwald." Ivan dismissed his commander, and after a brief moment of thought left the large room and headed down the hall.
Greenwald watched the tsar for a moment, indulging in a brief hope that someone would come along and kick him off the throne. Then he sighed, knowing that only one person in the world could rightly do that - and he didn't even know if that person was alive.
The official story had been that Tsar Nicholas' eldest child had been kidnapped, even though it was believed by few. Still, the common people were not one's to question the tsar and his family. In actuality, Rasputin, a peasant from Siberia and faith healer had had a vision on the night of the child's birth. He had seen the death of the heir-to-be in a planned accident, followed by the unseating of Nicholas. Ending the rein of the Romanovs that had lasted 300 years.
Knowing that Nicholas' loss of power to be inevitable, they had done the only other thing available to them. Nicholas and his wife Alexandra had sent their child, whom they had only started to get to know, out of their home. The small infant was placed in the care of a relative who the world had forgotten. By doing so they had hoped that the child, too, would be forgotten, raised properly, and its life saved. The choice had been made with the maternal instinct of protecting your child, and the slim hope that fate would intervene and their child would reappear to take the throne from Nicholas' unrightful successor.
Greenwald sighed, remembering his brief time with the youngster. The little heir had shown potential that was visible to all those who watched the youngster. Even only a few months old Greenwald had gotten good vibes off the child.
What a loss, to not even know if the child was alive. He knew, however, that if on some off chance he were to encounter the adult the child had grown into that he would know it immediately. Greenwald had bonded with the infant, and the heir had shown signs of growing up to look like Nicholas. Also, Greenwald had confidence in the person that had been charged with rasing the young royalty. He was sure that the adult would possess the seal that had been entrusted to the caregiver. It was a royal seal, know only by the members of the royal family. The only copy had been the one that would be given to the child. That would identify the heir at a moment's notice.
Greenwald shook his head, having learned that dwelling on these things that he was sure would never be only put him in a bad mood. He walked down the long hallway toward his bedchamber, looking for sleep.
Ivan walked down the winding hallways, thinking that this single woman was becoming a very large thorn in his side. Thinking and muttering to himself about this problem, the unrightful royalty looked up and found himself standing at the door that held his guests. An evil little chuckle left his mouth at that thought. Ivan nodded to the guard standing just outside the door, and proceeded to open the large portal.
The occupants of the room were all sitting around it in various different ways. Nicholas was laying on the large bed with his son, Alexis, while his wife sat at the window with Anastasia and Maria. The last two daughters, Tatiana and Olga, were seated at the table in the room.
Hearing the door open and seeing who was standing in the room, Nicholas moved to a sitting position on the bed. He looked to his nephew with disdain in his blue eyes. Ivan, too, stared back at his uncle wondering what had made this man a better leader than him. Ivan wasn't stupid, or at least not as stupid as he looked, he had heard the mutterings that things had been better with Nicholas in the seat of power.
The tsar found it slightly ironic that now, when his power was being threatened by a group of hack revolutionaries, he should find himself staring at the man he had unseated - seeing him as weak.
Tiring of staring at his nephew's ugly puss - he had not been blessed with the looks that ran in the family - Nicholas broke the tense silence first. "Mind telling us why you're here? First you exile us all and then you haul us back here after three years. So I'm just wondering why."
Ivan looked at Nicholas a little longer before he stepped further into the room and started talking, once again taking up his agitated pacing. "I'm not sure why I'm here, but I brought you all back here because a problem has arisen. Revolutionaries, again." Ivan paused and Nicholas took the time to speak.
"Surely you don't think I can do anything about that. You have managed to handle them better than I did."
"That's because you never tried to handle them. And that's not really the problem. Well it sort of is. A woman has recently come to my attention, a revolutionary. She has been inspiring a lot of revolt and the funny thing is that no one knows who she is. Just what she looks like. Anyway, these feelings that are being created are mainly because everyone seems to think I'm a bad ruler. And that you were better." Ivan stopped here and looked at his uncle, staring into his eyes and trying to see what made this man better.
Looking at the man standing before him, it was obvious to the former tsar that this woman was bothering him more than he cared to admit. "I can't tell you how to be a better ruler, Ivan. I can tell you that you weren't raised to be an heir and that may be part of the problem."
The tsar's eyes started burning at the veiled sarcasm and condescending tone that his uncle's voice held. "I also think," Nicholas stood and moved toward Ivan standing several inches taller, "that you're letting this woman get to you. Are you afraid of her, and what she might cause? Is she a bigger threat than Lenin?"
"Lenin is a bug - she has already proven to be a bigger threat than him. Scared? That's the stupidest thing I've ever heard! She's just one person, that is if she exists. What can one person possibly do against all the people in my army?! Absurd!" With that Ivan turned on his heel, leaving an amused Nicholas behind with his family.
Ivan stormed out of the door and stomped down the hallway, causing his steps to echo off the walls.
No, Ivan wasn't scared of this woman, hardly giving her a passing thought except to bring her in and make an example. Deflate some of the revolt she had stirred in the people of the country. She was just one person, one mind, body, and soul. He wasn't scared at all.
And that's the biggest mistake that Ivan would make in his life.
What could one person do?
Change the course of history.
To be continued....