NOTE: I apologize for taking so long in getting this part posted. I was having problems finding time to sit down and write.

Part IV- Second Chances

The silence in the cavern was deafening. Nicholas and Alexandra still stood at the entrance, Catherine was perched on the cot watching Serge who was sitting completely still. The reaction that everyone had been waiting for finally came.

"You're nuts!" Serge practically levitated off the cot and started moving around the room. She wasn't walking in any pattern, just wandering erratically.

"Please, let us justify ourselves before you make any hasty conclusions!"

"Hasty conclusions?! You're worried about me making hasty conclusions!!? What about you two," she pointed a finger accusingly at the couple, "don't you think that your conclusion is a little hasty?!" Serge spat the last word out, making in sound like an obscene curse.

Catherine could see that her friend was on the verge of getting violent. She was practically radiating tense energy and was clenching her fists, the urge to hit something overwhelming. The noblewoman stood and walked over to Serge who stopped upon seeing this obstacle to her rampaging. Serge stared, and Catherine got the uncomfortable sensation that the revolutionary was looking right through her.

Reaching up, she placed a gentle hand on the side of Serge's face. "Just listen to them, please. Hear them out, find out what they used to come to this conclusion and then dispute it. All right?" Serge nodded. "Good."

They turned to face the couple standing nervously at the door and waited. Serge raised an eyebrow.

"Well first of all, our family has a crest. It's sacred and only known by the members of the royal family. Actually, that isn't exactly true. It's carved into the stone in the palace but no one except us knows what it is. Anyway, when we sent our daughter off we left the caregiver with a few things. One item happened to be a ring with the crest on it. Just like this one," Nicholas walked over to Serge's hatchet and pulled it out of the sheath, then back to stand in front of Serge. He removed a ring from his left hand and handed both the ring and hatchet to Serge.

The revolutionary took the ring and her hatchet and looked at both. Sure enough, the design on her unique weapon was a carbon copy for that of the ring. The royal crest.

She squinted and then looked up. "It doesn't really prove anything... anyone could have walked into your palace, seen the design, and liked it enough to put it on something else. And what about the guy that had to carve it into the stone? He would have been able to reproduce it almost exactly from memory. I don't buy it." Serge threw the ring back at the tsar who easily caught it.

"Okay, what about your family? Who are they?"

"Only family I had was my uncle... he's dead."


"Gustouve Fedorovich."

Nicholas looked at his wife who squinted and shook her head. She spoke next, "Was he married?"

Serge snorted. "Are you kidding? Not that I ever knew... if he was she died long before I was old enough to remember and he never mentioned her once. Why? Who'd you send your kid to?"

"A sister of mine. Natasha Roustave."

"Never heard of her. Next?"

"All right, our child also had a lot of papers with her.. in a chest." Nicholas looked around and spotted Serge's lock box. "A lot like that one?"

"Uh-huh... one question... what language did you write those papers in?"

"Russian, of course. Why?"

"Take a look." She gestured to the chest and moved out of the way.

Nicholas stepped forward and knelt. He picked up the first stack of papers and glanced at them. The tsar did this with several stacks before he stood and pursed his lips. Nicholas shook his head and sighed, walking back to his wife. He had a feeling they were right. Ever since Serge had jumped through their window at the palace something about the tall woman struck a cord within him. He had spoken with both Greenwald and his wife and they agreed that they had felt it too. But some things didn't seem to be adding up.

Running footsteps broke up the question and answer period. Davis burst into the room, so intent on his task he didn't give the tsar and his wife more than a passing glance. "Serge, problems. We just got word that Ivan is heading out to Meknvich... like right now!!"

"Shit...." Serge's eyes ran around the room, thinking. "Get some people together, only volunteers, though. Tell them to be ready to move in two hours. Go!"

Davis saluted and slid out of the room. Serge was on the move instantly, grabbing her belongings and stuffing them in saddle bags. Catherine was stunned.

"Wait, just wait a minute! I thought everyone left the village... I thought they all came here!"

Serge shook her head. "No.. the kids stayed, and most of the older people. So some of the fighters stayed, too. Family members of people who would have stayed anyway, to protect the others just in case. Damn it!! I knew I should have gotten them out of there... of all the stupid..." Serge trailed off, obviously talking more to herself.

Catherine would have started packing but she didn't have anything that belonged to her so she just started grabbing Serge's things to help the revolutionary move faster. The royal couple was all but forgotten.

That is until Serge went to leave.

She was met with determined blue eyes that sat a half a head below her own. Nicholas wouldn't budge.

"I'm going with you."

Serge was about to protest... it was right on her lips. Then she looked deeper and saw the stubbornness and decided she didn't have time.

"Fine! I don't have time to argue... get your stuff together and be at the door or we'll go without you." She pushed past him then, followed by Catherine, their footsteps echoing behind them.

Alexandra turned to Nicholas and saw that her husband would not be swayed in his decision. She would have to let him go.

"Alexandra, I know you don't want me to do this but I have to." She nodded. "I'm almost positive that Serge is our daughter and I think she knows that but just doesn't want to accept it." She nodded again. "Going with them is the best chance I have of getting through to her so please don't try and talk me out of it."

She nodded again and smiled. "I wouldn't even dream of trying." Nicholas paused and blinked, having expected some kind of protest. He smiled. She understood. "You just better make sure and come back in one piece, you hear me? The kids and I need you. And look out for Serge, even if she isn't our flesh and blood."

Nicholas nodded and smiled. "I will." He leaned forward and kissed his wife. "I better go." He turned and left, leaving Alexandra to stare at his retreating back.

"Be careful." She closed her eyes and leaned against the wall. "All of you."

A whispered plea, left unheard.


Davis trotted his horse up to Serge who was riding at the head of their quiet procession. He cast a sidelong glance at his friend and then at the silent blonde riding at Serge's side. He didn't know what had happened but it was something major that much was obvious. The revolutionary was riding almost rigidly, her hands so tight on the reins it looked as if the leather was cutting into her palms.

But, despite her apparent agitation Serge looked pretty good. Her bruises were almost completely faded which was amazing. Joel had taken a quick look at her cuts before she went out to, as he put it, 'play in the mud' and had reported that everything appeared to be healing well. Serge's ribs weren't giving her much trouble either and to anyone who hadn't seen the damage first hand, it would appear that Serge was in almost perfect health.


He was glad that his friend possessed incredible healing abilities, because he couldn't stand to see Serge in pain. Physical or otherwise and he was pretty damn sure that whatever was bothering his friend now was directly related to Nicholas. The large man glanced back to see the tsar riding quite competently in the middle of their group. Most people were keeping their distance, very aware of who was riding with them. It didn't seem to bother Nicholas.

Davis jerked his attention back to his immediate surroundings and tired to appear as though he wasn't listening when Catherine started to speak.


"So what?"

"What do you think?"

"'Bout what?"

Davis rolled his eyes. Serge had a knack for speaking and still not saying anything at all.


"I dunno."

"Come one Serge, you must have an opinion. Or thoughts, I know you have thoughts... if you didn't then this wouldn't be bothering you as much as it is."

True, Davis thought. Now lets see if Serge is gonna answer.

Serge sniffed and straightened in her saddle, scanning the area briefly. It was dark, and although she wasn't expecting any trouble she wasn't about to slack off and end up caught in an ambush. "Well, I guess I'm still soaking it all up."

"Come on, I don't believe that. When they started talking you were totally against the idea. So has something changed?" No answer. Catherine pushed on. "You must admit that it's possible. The details may not match up very accurately but the general background is stunningly similar. You can't deny that."

A long silence and then, "Sure I can."

Catherine blinked and shook her head. "Serge, you must know that if what Nicholas said is true then you can end this all right now. You just walk up to Ivan and claim your birth right. No one else dies and it's all over. So what's scaring you?"

Serge shifted uncomfortably and sighed. "If they're right then everything changes. I'll be leading this country," she glanced over, "do you know how scary that is?? Not only that, I won't know who I am anymore. This is all I've know, Catherine. I'm a peasant, raised that way if not born, and I'm a revolutionary. If I accept the possibility of being Nicholas' heir I'll lose who I am. I don't want that to happen."

Before Catherine could answer Serge urged her horse Nightlong forward to scout. The noblewoman shook her head and glanced over at Davis. The large man was staring after Serge, a speculative look on his face. He looked over after a moment and offered a smile. "Don't worry. Serge's just confused... wouldn't you be?"

Catherine had to give him that. This must have been a real shock to Serge's system and it would take some time to process and absorb it all. "Why do you think Ivan is going to the village?"

Davis thought on that for several long minutes before answering. "I spoke to Bernard before we left the caves. He said we did a lot of damage and Ivan lost a lot of people. As far as I could tell when we were in the palace Ivan wanted Serge caught real bad. When we escaped that desire probably increased tenfold." He shrugged. "Ivan probably figured that the best way to get to Serge was to go after the people she cares most about. And he's right."

"Hmm... Bernard wasn't too happy about having to stay behind, was he?"

"Nope..." the large man smiled, "but after Serge got to him and told him that someone competent had to stay behind in case they were attacked, well, he calmed down a bit."

They rode on for quite a while longer before Serge came back and directed the group off the road to a nice sized clearing. They made a minimal camp and settled in for the evening. Serge hoped to travel as far as possible each day, which meant long into the night in the hopes of reaching Meknvich before Ivan. Everyone was bone tired because of the traveling and fell asleep immediately.


The journey was tough and lasted several days but they finally arrived at the town. Thankfully, at least a day ahead of Ivan and his large group of soldiers. The townspeople weren't surprised to see Serge ride in. They had people watching the roads and had been aware for the last two days that Ivan was headed this way. They didn't hold any illusions that they could very well be the target.

People streamed out of the buildings to see their leader. Spirits were high despite the pending attack. Serge greeted everyone warmly and the other townspeople were glad to be reacquainted with family members that had accompanied Serge. Even Catherine was the recipient of warm hellos.

Nicholas sat back and watched it all, amazed. As the tsar he had been raised to rule with certain ideas about the peasants of the country and whatnot. His time in Siberia had worked to bring him more down to earth, but seeing the love and sense of community shared by these people still seemed to go against some ingrained ideas. Everyone looked so happy and content despite the fact that in a day or two they would be attacked and some of them would most probably die.

He shook himself out of his thoughts upon hearing his name. Looking over he saw that Catherine was waving him over to where she and Serge were standing. Nicholas started over and continued to follow when the two women started walking as well. He was only a few steps behind and briefly wondered where they were going.

Fianlly, when they were far out of the town Serge started to speak. "I'm willing to accept the possibility that you are my father simply because it will serve to stop all this fighting and keep anyone else from being killed. But we need proof, undeniable proof, because Ivan isn't going to surrender if I just walk up to him and declare myself the rightful heir."

Nicholas took three quick steps so he was walking beside Serge and Catherine and spent several moments pondering the matter. When he spoke he was hesitant, "Well, Alexandra and I did set up a few safeguards. Besides the box we sent along with you there was another. It contains out daughters birth certificate among other things."

"Um, what does that tell us?" Catherine spoke up. She looked truly perplexed. "I mean, any woman could take the certificate and claim they are your daughter. We need something more concrete, something no one else would have or be able to use."

"Originally," Nicholas looked over at Serge as he spoke, "a ring was sent with you that had our seal on it. If we could find that somewhere in your possessions it would do the trick. No one is able to recreate the design and only two rings were ever made. This one," he raised his hand, "and the one each tsar passes onto their heir. I find it hard to believe that your uncle would have gotten rid of it."

Nicholas looked up as he realized that they had stopped walking and found himself in a clearing. He took in the charred ruins that sat a few feet in front of them and then the expression on the tall woman's face. There was no doubt in his mind that this was once Serge's home. Burned to the ground by Russian police. Nicholas and Catherine hung back to give Serge some space.

The revolutionary moved forward and started sifting through the burnt wood and debris, looking for anything that may have survived. She spent long minutes working systematically through the pile of wreckage and stopped suddenly. Catherine watched as Serge kneeled and pulled at something. It came loose and Catherine could tell that Serge had no idea what it was.

When the revolutionary walked back over she sat down on the ground and simply stared at the item. Catherine lowered herself down beside Serge and looked. It was a small metal box, its normally shiny surface marred from the heat and ash created by the fire. She gently removed the box from numb hands and started inspecting it with Nicholas peering over her shoulder.

"Hey, look at this!" Catherine used her sleeve to rub away some of the dirt to reveal a faint design engraved on the lid. "It looks familiar." She scrunched her eyebrows together and continued to clean.

When the design was discernible an aged hand grasped the box and removed it from the noblewoman's grasp. Catherine looked up at Nicholas as he studied it briefly. "It's our crest."

And indeed it was. The same that was displayed on the tsar's ring, the same that was featured on Serge's hatchet, and the same that was carved into the wall in the palace.

"Where'd it come from?" Serge sounded quiet and subdued.

"Well it had to be somewhere in the house." Catherine shrugged, "Maybe your uncle hid it in a wall or something. Do you recognize the box Nicholas? Is it the same that you mentioned before?"

"Yes, I believe it is."

The threesome sat on the ground in silence, just the chirping of birds as their companions. The sky was a clear and it thankfully looked as if the raining spree was over. Catherine was glad, she was getting tired of all the mud.

Serge sighed and sifted to lean forward with her elbows on crossed legs. "Open it up."

Nicholas tried but it wouldn't budge. "It needs a key and I think that it has also melted shut."

Serge grunted. "We'll get Davis to crack it open, then." The revolutionary moved to stand.

"Wait, wait! Do you have the key?"

"Um... key, key, key..." Serge thought and then slapped herself in the forehead. She reached up and removed something from around her neck. "I got this out of the trunk." She handed the key over and Nicholas inserted it. It worked, but the box still didn't open.

"Good, this should be helpful."

"I sure hope so," Serge muttered as they stood and moved off back to town.


Davis didn't ask any questions when Serge and Catherine and Nicholas came to him with a beat up old box and asked him to crack it open. Carefully, they said. We want the pieces still intact, they said. Jeez, put enough pressure on me, he thought.

He stood at a table outside with a hammer taking careful aim. The other three were gathered around with somewhat eager looks like they expected millions of dollars in gold to come rolling out when he cracked the box.

One nice swing and the halves fell easily apart and clattered to the table. He grinned and looked up. Then frowned. After all the excitement they had shown now they all looked like they were afraid to know what was in the box. He sighed, people could be so strange.

"Are you going to look?" He raised his eyebrow.

Serge moved forward and plucked up the small cloth bag that had come out. She handed it over to Nicholas. The tsar was startled by this but took the bag without question and opened it up. He peered inside for an eternity before nervous shuffling spurred him into action.

Nicholas reached in and grabbed what had first came into contact with his fingers. He pulled the papers out and handed them to Serge. The revolutionary looked at them and saw a birth certificate for Tsar Nicholas and Alexandra's eldest child.

Serge blinked as she read through it and swallowed. Just the fact that this was in her uncle's possession was almost enough to convince Serge. It looked fairly real. But if they were going to convince Ivan they would need more than a piece of paper and Nicholas' word. She focused on Nicholas who was waiting for some signal from her before continuing.

Catherine stood next to Serge just offering support by being there. She thought Serge was doing amazingly well considering what had been happening for the last several weeks.

Serge nodded and Nicholas looked into the bad again. He removed his hand as a clenched fist this time and held his arm out in front of him, palm up. Nicholas raised a questioning eyebrow which Serge returned. He opened his hand. Everyone looked down.

The ring sat there in all its glory. A thick silver band that met a red triangle. The family crest was carved along the band and on the triangle, so small so that it would all fit. The detail was amazing, Catherine could tell by just looking at it. It would be exactly the same as the winding lines that covered Nicholas's ring and Serge's hatchet.

Serge reached forward and picked it up, studying it intently. She examined it from all sides and a small gasp escaped her lips upon seeing the inside of the band.

"What, what is it?" Catherine moved forward and gently touched Serge's arm. Serge looked up and blinked at Catherine before handing the ring to the noblewoman and walking away toward the inn. The blonde cocked her head and stared after her friend. Whatever she had seen, it had clinched the entire thing for Serge. She believed.

Catherine opened her hand and peered closely at the inside of the ring. There, engraved in tiny letters was Serge's name and date of birth. She looked up at Nicholas and was met by knowing eyes.

The tsar pursed his lips and removed his own ring. He passed it to Catherine. She looked and saw Nicholas' name on the inside just like Serge's was. "I don't get it." Catherine looked up, confused.

"The name of each tsar and the future heir is engraved on the ring. When it comes time for a new name to be put on and very fine layer of melted.... uh, stuff, is smoothed over and fills in all the holes. Then a new name is put on." Nicholas shook his head and smiled. "I never imagined that her uncle knew about that. He just solved all our problems. Ivan can't dispute the reality of that ring." The tsar nodded and walked off just like Serge had.

Catherine sighed and looked up at Davis who had observed the entire scene. He gave a hesitant smile and then flipped his head toward the inn. He was right, she really should go talk to Serge.


The door eased open but Serge didn't move from her spot on the bed. Catherine slipped in and moved over to the brooding figure slowly.

After a lengthy search, the noblewoman had discovered that Serge was hiding in the spare room in the upper level of the inn.

"So, now what?"

Several long moments passed slowly before Serge turned and laid down on her side, her head propped up on her hand. "Now... now we do what we came here to do. Stop Ivan."

Catherine handed over the ring that was still clenched in her fist. "And this?"

"This," troubled blue eyes looked down, "at the moment this doesn't matter. It's a way to end this conflict without any more bloodshed."

"What about you?"

Serge sighed and looked up, "I'll deal later. Right now stopping Ivan is the most important, not how I feel. This," the revolutionary lifted her fist, "is a means to and end."

"So you believe?"


"Without question or doubt?"


"So embrace it. You said it's a means to an end and that you accept it. So don't use who you are as simply a tool. Serge, you have to believe it right down into you soul or else it's no good to anyone else. If you show even a tiny bit a doubt, if Ivan picks up on anything coming from you that makes him think you don't believe you're in the right, then he won't stand down. He'll keep coming and coming and more people will die." Catherine fell silent and watched as Serge once again bowed her head.

A large hand reached up and very gently touched the side of the blonde's face. "You are an incredible person, you know?" Serge said to the bed.

"You really believe that?"

"I do."

She reached out and tilted Serge's face up. "Then tell me to my face."

Blue eyes looked up into green, full of sincerity and something else. "You're an incredible person."

Catherine smiled and bent her head. Very slowly, Serge rose up and their lips brushed gently and fleetingly. An affirmation of a bond formed in dangerous times and destined to continue throughout eternity.

They pulled apart and rested their foreheads together. Catherine smiled and whispered, "I know." Serge chuckled deep in her throat and flopped onto her back on the bed. She sighed.

"I don't want you out there when Ivan gets here. I want you to be safe and..." Fingers on her lips stopped the stumbling speech.

"No." Decisive, firm, not negotiable.


"No. I'm going with you. That's the safest place I can think of being."

The revolutionary blinked and stared at the determined noblewoman and nodded almost imperceptibly. "All right."

"Good. Now get up, rev, we have a war to stop."




They walked out, arm in arm, secure in the knowledge that when this was all over the other would be there to welcome them home.


The common room of the inn was teeming with people when the duo walked through the door. Before either of them could say a word they started cheering. Serge looked totally flabbergasted. Catherine gently took the large hand in her own and led the stunned revolutionary to the middle of the room.

Every two or three steps they had to stop so Serge could shake someone's hand or get slapped on the back. Catherine tried to keep it short, she could tell that Serge was just barely tolerating all the invasion of her physical space.

Fianlly, they got to the middle where a grinning Davis stood with Nicholas. Serge looked around at all the people smiling and yelling. Her family. "Wha..."

"They love you." Serge looked down at the quiet voice beside her. "And they trust in you. Trust you to end this." Green eyes blinked up at Serge. "So what are you going to do?"

Suddenly a large grin split across Serge's face. The taller woman started whooping and hollering

along with everyone else. She wrapped her arms around Catherine and picked the blonde up, spinning them both around the room. Then Serge's body dissolved into the wall of humanity surrounding them. Pre-battle celebrations.

Catherine stepped back next to Nicholas and looked at the tsar. He was staring at her with an inscrutable expression. His deep voice hesitantly reached her ears, "You're a miracle worker, you know?"

"I didn't.."

"Oh, but you did. I never imagined Serge would come down those stairs actually accepting what I know to be truth. But she did. All because of you." He shook his head. "Amazing."

"I didn't do anything that Serge couldn't have done on her own. It would have taken a lot longer and she still has issues to work through, but for the time being.." Catherine trailed off and nodded, "for now believing is enough."

"She's wearing the ring."

"Yes, she is."

They had just about been ready to step through the door to come downstairs when Serge had come up short. She had stayed very still and then finally slipped the ring easily onto her finger. They hadn't said a word to each other, just continued on.

The impromptu celebration wore on into the evening and everyone seemed to be having a good time. Everyone knew that it would have lasted long into the next morning if the threat of battle was not looming over the horizon.

As they lay comfortably in the small bed in the spare room of the inn a deep voice came out of the darkness. "You be careful tomorrow, okay?"

"I will, Serge. You too."

"Of course."

Sleep came quickly and carried them swiftly to a new day.


The sun had made its presence known many hours before and the entire village was buzzing with anticipation. Just as they had suspected, Ivan was morning swiftly toward the village and was expected to arrive within the hour.

Catherine was desperately trying to prepare herself for what she knew was coming but it wasn't working very well. Serge had disappeared before the sun rose and the noblewoman had only seen her tall friend briefly since then. Serge was, she knew, looking forward to thin confrontation in a morbid kind of way.

The tall form loping toward her brought Catherine out of her musings. Serge skidded to a halt armed to the teeth once again. "Where did you get these?" It was obvious that these were the revolutionary's weapons and not replacements.

"Jules came riding in late last night. He scared the sentries senseless. Said someone found these sitting outside during a patrol just after we left. Naturally, Jules volunteered to deliver them."


"Come on, we have to get to the road."

Catherine followed without a word, hoping that their plan would work. It was a big risk and they were all taking a crazy chance. Standing in the middle of the road when Ivan and his men road up hardly seemed smart. Nicholas guaranteed that Ivan wasn't the smartest man in the world and would be curious enough to not just order his men to shoot on sight.

She hoped he was right.

Serge seemed unconcerned, confident in her own abilities and her back-up plan.

It didn't take long before a large dust cloud could be seen rising in the distance and coming toward them. Serge, Catherine, Nicholas, Davis, and Jules all stood tall with weapons ready just in case things didn't go as planned.

Soon, five sets of eyes could distinguish Ivan riding at the front of his men on a large horse. Serge smirked and shook her head slightly. He looked totally incompetent. She was surprised he didn't fall flat on his face.

Minutes seemed to stretch into hours and an eternity later the large group of Russian soldiers were stopping no more than 10 feet away from the small group of revolutionaries.

Ivan looked arrogant, cocky, and extremely haughty. It ticked Serge off even more.

Ivan's black beady eyes took in the people standing confidently in front of him. His nasal voice rose and grated on their ear drums. "What is the meaning of this?! How dare you stand in my way. I could have you killed on the spot." His wild eyes looked frantically between his uncle and the troublesome woman that had escaped his dungeon.

Nicholas stepped forward slightly, drawing Ivan's attention. "You are not the rightful ruler of this country Ivan, although that is what you let others believe." Nicholas' eyes shifted to take in the men riding behind Ivan. He raised his voice. "You are all following a fraud, you are dying for a fraud. How can you believe that he," the tsar pointed accusingly at Ivan, "is the person destined to lead you to greatness?!"

They watched as the men absorbed this, a curious murmur moving swiftly through the ranks.

"Do not listen to him!" Ivan screeched. "I am your liege, your ruler, and your salvation." Black eyes turned hotly back to Nicholas. "The throne is mine, I challenged you for it rightfully and I won!" He smirked, triumphant.

"No, Ivan, no. Yes, you took it from me but by law you also have to take it from my rightful heir."

"Your heir is dead. There is no one to challenge my authority!"

"You're wrong Ivan. My heir is alive and more than willing to take leadership from you."

Ivan shifted uneasily, worried that his plans were falling apart around him. "Show me!" He demanded.

Serge stepped up next to Ivan.

"You!!" Ivan screeched. "Impossible...."

"How would you know that? I should think that I would recognize my own child more readily than you."

"Proof, I demand proof."

The duo walked up next to Ivan's horse. Ivan shifted and leaned away from them. Serge growled low in her throat, she'd be damned if she was going to look up at this sniveling excuse for a man. Faster than anyone could follow the revolutionary reached up and latched onto Ivan's belt. She pulled. "Down here, my liege."

Ivan landed with a thump and stumbled before he caught himself and stood up straight. He attempted to glare at Serge but backed down when he received a chilling look in return.

Nicholas smirked through the entire exchange.

They both removed their rings and showed them to Ivan who recognized the crest immediately. He looked inside the bands and paled at what was confirmed. He was in deep trouble. "So challenge me."

"Actually, since Serge is by law the ruler you have to challenge her to keep your throne."

"Fine. I challenge you."

Nicholas nodded. "Good. Serge, as the challenged, you get to pick weapons."

This came as a surprise and Serge thought quickly. She remembered their last fight with sabers and then inventoried her own body and reserves. "Nothing. Just hand to hand."

"All right." Nicholas took Serge's weapons as they were handed to him. He kept an eye on Ivan, knowing that the man was horrible when it came to throwing punches, knew that Ivan knew this as well and if the twinkle in his daughter's eye was any indication, she was also privy to this information.

The cousins squared off in a loose circle that had been formed with the help of a few soldiers that had dismounted. Catherine looked into their faces and smiled inwardly. They didn't look too pleased with Ivan and she knew that if the little weasel ran, he wouldn't get far.

Serge waited patiently, knowing that Ivan did not possess this virtue, nor could he control his temper. He caved in seconds later and approached, throwing a clumsy punch that Serge caught. She twisted his arm and turned him around, throwing a savage kick into his kidneys.

Ivan stumbled and almost fell. He was breathing hard already and Serge could see the grimace cross his features.

This time Serge went on the offense, using her long legs and strong punches to get in hit after hit, not letting Ivan even catch his breath. Each time she impacted on his body she was reminded of her uncle and his death. The rage she had held at bay for all this time emerged. She couldn't very well go and take this all out on the man who was ruling at the time. Despite what she wanted he was her father and Serge wasn't about to beat the man to death. Ivan seemed like a good outlet, though.

Catherine watched as Serge's attack got more and more vicious. She had no liking of Ivan but soon found herself wincing and hurting for the man that was being beaten to a bloody pulp. The noblewoman found it hard to believe that this was the same person whose shoulder she had woken on this morning.

Davis came up behind Catherine and sighed. He couldn't believe Ivan was still standing. "It was bound to happen sooner or later."

"What was?" Catherine asked, glad to have a distraction.

"All the anger had to come out sometime."

Nicholas was interestedly listening to then talk about his daughter. He had a lot to learn about his offspring. His attention was brought back to the fighting when Ivan fell and Serge kept kicking him. She was yelling incoherently. "Dear god, she's going to kill him."

Catherine latched onto his arm, "Is the fight over? Has she won?"

"Yes, she has."

Green eyes turned up to Davis. "Go!!"

The large man walked into the circle, careful to let Serge know he was coming. He wrapped long arms around her shaking body and took the hits that landed on his chest. With his precious cargo Davis moved out of the circle. Serge stopped hitting and yelling and was now just standing in his arms shaking. All Davis could do was hold her.

Nicholas moved into the circle and checked on Ivan. He was alive, barley, and unconscious. The tsar looked up into the faces of the soldiers. "Which one of you is in charge?"

A tall man stepped forward. "I am."

"Do me a favour. Bring him," he gestured to the lump on the ground, "into the town and our healer will treat him. You guys can set up camp just outside the town and feel free to come in and visit our little inn." Nicholas turned to go, hesitated and turned back to the man, "and soldier?"

"Yes, sir?"

Nicholas simply cocked his head.

"Our allegiance lies with Tsar Serge."

Nichols smiled, crinkling the skin around his eyes. "Goo, just don't let her hear you call her tsar. She'll have a fit."

"Yes, sir." The solider smiled. "And sir?"


"Are you and your lovely wife and children going to be returning to the palace?"

Blue eyes studied the soldier speculatively for several long minutes, recognizing him from the time he was tsar. He had been second to Greenwald. "That depends on Serge... everything depends on her now."

"Aye, she has many choices to make."

"That she does."

"I'm sure she'll make the right ones, sir."

"Me too, soldier. Me too."

The End

Author's Note: Well, it's finished!! Thank-you to all the people who took some time to send me a note. It was greatly appreciated. What do you guys think? Sequel?? I have a very brief idea for one but I have several other ideas for stories that are screaming to be written down before a sequel. Unless people beg me for one it will probably be awhile in coming. Contact me:

Thanks for reading, SB Zarben.

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