Nothing out of the ordinary today, except of course … a bit of magic:
Tatiana was about to run up to the big main door of no. 231, when she stopped in her tracks. There was a soldier sitting on the stairs.
Or rather: a man who had been a soldier. He sat there like a sack of potatoes thrown off from a cart going by, crouched and heavy, wrapped in something resembling bags.
Then Tatiana saw it:
The “bags” were what went for uniforms these days in the remnants of the Tsar’s army.
She had seen such bags before and she never wanted to see them again – torn and shredded, patched with stolen boots or jackets from dead German soldiers – or comrades.
No, she never wanted to see such a bag again – especially with a man inside.
But here I am … what do I do now?
It was too late to turn back. The man had looked up, wearily, and his bloodshot stare made her freeze.
Like that day in September last year:
They had brought Yakov home on a cart, because he could not walk himself, or ride. He would never be able to do any of these things again.
There were already stings of winter in the air as the other soldiers lifted Yakov down and into the arms of Oleg, his real father.
Oleg trembled, but not because of the weight of his only son in his embrace. Not just that …
“My son … ” Oleg’s voice was hoarse, and then he held Yakov tight. And he was not alone. Yakov’s friends had come down from the cart, and helped support Yakov.
And there she stood, the foster-daughter who was now part and parcel of the family. But at that moment felt apart from everything. Tatiana had been mesmerized by Yakov’s legs – or rather what was not his legs: both were gone. Amputated near the knee. One of them replaced by a wooden stump – the other nothing.
She then felt the tears, and how that dreadful feeling of fear and shock made her unable to move, although she wanted to run to him – to her brother. For he had always been her brother, even if he was not by birth. They had always been brother and sister. They had said that to each other so often it had become real … And he would expect her to come to embrace him, just like their mother – her foster-mother – did at that moment, along with Oleg. Yakov would expect Tatiana to be there for him.
But as her brother looked over Oleg’s shoulder and directly at her she saw nothing in his eyes. And she remained frozen.
“Shell … ” one of the men from the cart said to Oleg.
Oleg nodded. Their mother began weeping quietly.
The adults helped Yakov inside into the cottage and Tatiana followed without a word.
She had sworn then and there that she would study even harder.
For there were also spells that could grow back limbs and more. Oleg said he could do some of that but not enough to help Yakov. Not even grow back his legs.
However, when she had asked him about it, Oleg had admitted that he might be able to do … something. But –
“It is necromancy to create new limbs, new blood … ” Oleg had said. “You are very quickly tempted to do more than just heal once you concentrate on that school of magic.”
“But – ” she had begun. And he had silenced her with his stern look:
“You will not learn necromancy from me. After official graduation, you are allowed to use your abilities outside of the village without guidance from me or the Council. Then you are old enough to decide yourself, and I cannot stop you.”
“But that may take years. Yakov may die before that! Or go crazy because his body is wrecked … ” she had pleaded.
Oleg had just looked at her darkly as if he wanted to say something to that particular concern. But he said nothing. And he refused ever to talk about these possibilities again.
So in the days and weeks to come Tatiana washed her brother’s wounds. She helped him with his clothes. She helped him with his crutches. She fed him.
And at the same time she worked in the fields, and cooked and cleaned and collected firewood and in the early morning hours she had studied and memorized and memorized.
She had worked like she had never worked before. She studied like she had never studied before.
Until she knew every word, and every way of pronouncing every word in that little leather-bound book with the strange rune that Oleg had given her on her 7th birthday – right before they flew over the taiga to the Secret City for the first and only time.
And she finally decided to take the family name of her true father, much to Oleg’s chagrin.
She assured him it was not to hurt anyone, and that she would always hide it in public. But she wasn’t so sure about the first part as winter became a cold, nervous spring and the first marches shook Petrograd and the Tsar stepped down.
But one thing was for sure, though: Tatiana Olegovna Rasputina did not care about necromancy.
She cared about healing her brother. Before anything else.
With a determination that surprised even herself, Tatiana took all of those memories and packed them into a small needle of ice that she left somewhere deep inside her heart.
And stepped forward.
The bag-man soldier held out two dirty, bloody fingers sticking out from beneath bandages:
“Do you have some money, honey?” he asked in a gravelly voice.