397. Home Is

In the middle of everything, I manage to write the start of the next chapter of Hammer and Magic. That gives me more energy than – almost – anything else I have managed.

Nothing more really needs to be said. But all of this needs to be remembered – every day.

Chapter 3: Home Is
The English Embankment
10 AM, 8 November 1917

Tatiana felt even more of a stranger in Petrograd as she prowled the English Embankment in search for the address of the Ladovnas – no. 231 – and not just because she was, well, a sorceress.

She had cast of her disguise in an alley, ending the spell with a simple gesture, and now everybody who cared could see a 17-year old girl with long waving blonde hair, wrapped in a thick coat and hauling a big suitcase; see her searching up and down the fine old quarters of Petrograd, by the Bolshaya Neva river.

But nobody seemed to care.

In fact, it seemed as if nobody even lived in this part of Petrograd. The streets along the river were eerily still and devoid of people.

That feeling of suddenly being totally alone in a city that should be teeming – that made her feel like a stranger … or more unsettling: it made her feel unwanted. She couldn’t tell why. Only that it was so.

She looked across the river and saw a small armored car parked almost on the exact opposite side but no soldiers were there – or Red Guards. But rest assured it was a reminder that she had just crossed through a city that had reached a boiling point and now, in the streets behind her there were droves of Red Guards marching to and fro as if they were the only authority now. So the guards were there and thousands of people – mostly women – drifting through the streets like ghosts, crouched and nervous and looking for all the necessities that had become so scarce even in the city: firewood, bread …

Tatiana stopped and sat down on her suitcase. She shivered.

What was I thinking? Lara, Anushka and I used to talk all night long about Petrograd and all the wonderful things here … and I knew they would not be here. I knew there was the war – and now this … revolution. And yet, I feel sorry that the city isn’t like we dreamed of back in the village.

She kicked a stone into the grey water of the river and gritted her teeth.

I feel sorry that I am thinking like this … I am supposed to be on an important mission for the Council.  I’d better get started. What would Oleg think if he knew I was sitting here, like this?

She got up and began the search again, still too aware of the eeriness of being the only soul in a part of Petrograd that should be a rich, lively part of the city. Yes, a part of the city that should have been like the fantasies which she had tried to exorcise completely from her mind before arriving at the Finland Station and then think only of the mission.

Of course she had failed, and fallen for the first temptation to stray and just play … tourist. And she had taken the rap for it. If that sailor had not been there who knows how much trouble the Red Guard would have given her?

But there had been too many long evenings in the village with no exciting things going on except trying to figure out how late you could go to bed and still be ready to get up and milk the cows at sunset.

And magic … well, she had thought it would change everything after that first wild thrill of discovering it and that she had been chosen for training. It was like being admitted to the most prestigious school you had always hoped existed and then suddenly it was real.

But so was several hours a day of studying arcane books and mumbling strange words over and over and practicing how to make the current in the stream behind the house turn this way or that or summoning a certain number of owls from the depths of the forest.

Day in and day out. Year after year.

Long days. Dreary days. Because you got up early to study and then milk the cows and there were no exceptions.

There were no days like that first fantastic day, when Oleg had taken her to the Secret City and she had met Baba Yaga and the Council and seen the talking giant tree of life and the arches that moved between the crystal houses and … so much!

But Oleg had said she could only go back once she had trained enough to graduate and become a fully fledged koldun’ya and only the Council decided when that was.

And only then could she go back to the Secret City and fly over the taiga and inspect the hidden caves of the salamanders deep below the grounds and … all the things she had seen that first day and all the things Oleg since had told her about. Only when she graduated could she do all that and get there.

That first day had been the day after her 7th birthday. 10 years ago …

So she knew she was special and she could do fantastic things, but it was kind of hard to feel when all you were allowed to do was train and train and stay in the village and do all the hard work, too. And you were not allowed to do anything else until some uncertain time when someone you hardly knew gave the word.

She wasn’t even sure this mission would make her graduate. But she had eagerly said yes when Oleg had told her about the Council’s wishes and given her the special necklace she was to wear at all times.

Anything to get out of Rovnoye. It was a nice village. It was her home. It was also like death sometimes …

But now she was here, in Petrograd, and she found herself longing briefly for the security of the wooden house and the knowledge she had so much ability in magic and nobody else – but Oleg – had that.

Tatiana gazed up at the grand old mansions and wondered why so many of the windows were blacked out. Some of the windows were completely dark, and it was impossible to tell if it was because they had been blinded by curtains or there was no light in there or both.

They look like skull eyes …

She shook the thought, irritated with herself. She was a koldun’ya. She was here because she wanted it.

Perhaps she was not able to cast fireballs yet and summon hellcats but she could make herself invisible and fly away and she could do all sorts of things that would protect her.

A lot more than those poor people looking for bread …

Tatiana looked across the river again. The armored car had not moved. Perhaps it had been part of the provisional government’s arsenal and had just been abandoned as the loyal soldiers abandoned their loyalties and fled, before Red Guards.

Tatiana studied the mansions again. There was no. 229. So she was close now.

Could they all have fled? It was no secret that the richer people lived here. Oleg had not spoken much about his cousin, only that he and his family were servants of one of the wealthy old aristocrats of Petrograd.

And Oleg had also told her that the Bolsheviks planned to take all the property of the wealthy people and give to the workers. Not that Tatiana had seen many signs of redistribution as she stood in that line for bread and was chased away by the Red Guard …

And then, she reached the Nikolaevsky Bridge and suddenly there was no. 231 right in front of her.