Chapter 1: Tatiana
The Finland Station
8 November 1917
Oleg Tertjenko looked for the last time at his foster-daughter with a mixture of pride, sadness and fear.
Tatiana Olegovna Rasputina just smiled at him in return.
She does not notice … he thought. How worried I am for her.
He embraced her
“Goodbye, my daughter. Stay safe.”
“You too, papa.”
No, he thought as he slowly let her go and put up his own best smile. No, it will not do to give her any indication of how I feel. She is perceptive enough. We must part quickly.
“So you have the address of the Ladovnas?” he asked her.
“For the 9th time, papa,” she said – and there was that stunning smile again – “yes!”
He used the occasion to feign embarrassment and look away. That meant she would not get to see his eyes, too much. And perhaps guess what he thought.
My little Tatiana … coming here in this climate of revolution and fear, that is bad enough. But risking your young life on such a dangerous mission – which I am not even sure is for the greater good – that is more folly. And I am responsible. I let Woland and the Council talk me into it.
“You will write soon, eh?” Oleg asked and quickly continued to look everywhere else but at his foster-daughter. There were so many people here, many more than there had been when they arrived from Pskov. And so many soldiers. Red soldiers …
“I will write every day, papa,” she said and kissed him on the cheek. Then she caught his eyes, finally.
“Papa – we have talked about this. I know what I am doing – of my own free will.”
He steadied himself.
“Yes, yes, of course. Your mother and I … we just … ” but Oleg broke himself of. He had noticed a larger grouping of red soldiers at the far end of the platform. They looked as if they were talking fervently and stopping ever so often to point in various directions, as if one of them – an officer perhaps – was guiding the rest.
For a search … ?
Could they know we are here?
“Yes,” Oleg forced himself to say … he had to end this now … “Yes, dear, you are a young woman now, all of 17 years old. And you can take care of yourself. Remember everything I have taught you.”
“I will,” she said with the deep seriousness that he loved.
She had come to their home almost 17 years ago after having been through God knows what, and had first been a sparkly little girl and then – now – a young woman, who could indeed turn the heads of many young men in the village. She was lithe, moved like a deer and had long blonde hair and ice-blue eyes. And that indeed turned quite a few of the poor youngsters …
Such a pity I had to keep them all away from her. Piotr would have been a good husband for her …
But it would never do for a koldun’ya to marry – not one of the Commoners.
“Goodbye then … ” he said with difficulty and embraced her quickly for the last time. Then he saw the red soldiers moving in their direction and let go just as quickly – and got on the train.
It was a wonder any train was still running if the rumors were true – that the government had fallen and the city was in the hand of the revolutionaries.
“Goodbye papa!” she yelled back, as the train began moving out from the platform in smoke and steam. “Give all my love to mama – many, many times!”
Oleg just smiled back then let his eyes guide her to what he wanted her attention to be on. Not him. But the soldiers, moving through the crowds.
She saw and understood. Tatiana turned, bowed down as if she had lost something and when she stood up again in the milling crowd … she was no longer there.
Instead there was a middle-aged woman with graying hair. The crowd was thick and everybody had their own to think of. Most thought of getting out of Petrograd while there was still time … Nobody noticed.
Then the red soldiers arrived and began to shove people to look for … something. But whatever it was they were looking for they did not find it.
Perhaps it had not been her. But one could never be too careful.
They did not know how much the red leaders knew. Woland had said they knew nothing, but Oleg suspected that that was not quite so.
The woman who had been Tatiana looked briefly in Oleg’s direction and nodded then disappeared in the crowd, carrying her big suitcase as if it was a lot less heavier than it looked.
Oleg allowed himself a last smile.
I have taught you well, dear Tatiana – but now you are truly on your own. As the Council has demanded … If something happens to you I will never forgive myself, but there is nothing to be done about it right now. You will go and do what you have to do, and we will just have to see what happens. If only you had not insisted on taking that name again …
Such names can be dangerous and although there is some honor in being true to who you are and your real father, I would say that in this instance we have a man who does not deserve such honor …
He bowed his head and went in to try to find somewhere to sit. It was quite impossible.
So Oleg Tjertjenko kept standing, all the way to Pskov and even further … all the while thinking about whether or not he should have been more adamant that Tatiana had not been ordered on this mission.
And if he could have done anything to prevent it …
The worst part of it was, that even if Woland and the Council had allowed him to veto it, Tatiana would have gone anyway. And he could no longer stop her. He knew all that. All of it was true.
It was not just her name – which she insisted on, despite the danger. It was about her growing up. Making her own decisions. Much more so than most young women were allowed, or even capable of in this time and place.
But then again, few of Russia’s other 17 year old females were fully trained sorceresses …
Tatiana allowed herself to stare. In fact, she could not stop herself. She took it all in and enjoyed every step, now that she was on her own.
In Petrograd. In the city …
She had been in Petrograd a number of times but always with other family members – like her cousins. Her foster-father, and foster-mother had never come there.
It is so fantastic being here … in a real- big – city. If only papa had not had to leave …
But he had, at the station. Oleg had told her often enough that he could not stay in Petrograd because there was a man here, whom he called simply The Georgian – now loyal to the Soviets – who was a sorcerer and an old enemy of his. The man’s henchmen had kept watch for some time, even before the revolution, looking for any koldun’yas entering the city. But specifically for Oleg.
Papa never told me much about this man … except that they became mortal enemies when they were both in Shpalerhy Prison, Tatiana reminded herself as she – still in her guise as an elderly woman – moved through the streets, looking for the Ladovna household.
“Oh, how I wish I could follow you all the way to the door,” Oleg had said to her as they neared Petrograd on the train. “But it is simply too dangerous. The Georgian and his men know me. But they don’t know you. Even so, I urge you to use the Change Self-spell we talked about … “
Yes, that had come in handy … Tatiana mused to herself, then felt a sudden surge of renewed excitement.
Here she was, all by herself for the first time in this splendid and big, big city. And in disguise! She was here and she was doing something clever and difficult with her art. This was nothing like the long lonely evenings when she had practiced this particular spell in front of the dented mirror her foster-mother had given her. This was real.
She felt like doing something even more … real.
Instead of continuing towards The English Embankment, where the Ladovnas lived, Tatiana turned down one of the narrower streets and got in line for a bread seller.
It was a very long line and she had not considered if she wanted to buy anything, although she was very hungry. But now it felt like a good idea since it was awfully cold and she wanted to save her spells for something more than just conjuring up a loaf of bread.
Spells were exhausting and although you could conjure up basic good items, something any young koldun’ya quickly learned, it was rarely worth the effort – except in a dire situation.
And Tatiana wanted something more than bread, she wanted to feel like … like fitting in.
She could only do that right now, she felt, by this little excursion. She could stop and listen and maybe … talk to someone. It seemed odd, and yet very natural to feel this way and she presently forgot all about the Ladovnas. There was time enough for them. She needed to feel this … city. Despite its cold, and poverty and restlessness and the barricades and guards … she needed to feel being here. So she stood in line and felt instantly better, although everyone else seemed to feel rather miserable.
But, Tatiana thought, they probably have not lived in such a boring place as I have – for 17 years ...
Yes, her home was the small village where she had lived all her life, in the outback – half a day’s travel away on horse to Pskov – and that was what she wanted to get away from.
In fact, she had entertained the idea of not returning once her mission here was settled and the revolution died down, or whatever happened. She didn’t really care that much, except for some proper government to come into place so people could live in peace and begin to farm again and do other things than fight for their lives – or in the terrible war against the Germans.
The war … Tatiana thought somberly as she patiently waited in the line alongside an old man, a young boy, a Red Guard, a sailor and almost 50 other people … Yakov went to war, my dear brother, and he came home as a cripple. It is not so much the government that decides if people are poor and unhappy although they certainly play a part. It is this ghastly war…
As if an echo of her thoughts, she overheard the sailor talk to the Red Guard:
“I’m telling you, Ivan, you guys need to move fast. The Germans kicked our asses in Estonia – they might be here any moment.”
“Don’t you worry,” the Red Guard replied, “we have the Winter Palace. Kerensky – the coward – somehow managed to flee. But we have the rest of them, and a new government will be proclaimed today. A true people’s government.”
“I don’t see how that’s going to stop the Germans … “ the sailor muttered.
“Germany is ripe for revolution, too,” the Guard answered looking like he knew a special secret that solved everything. “I heard comrade Lenin say it himself. He knows Germany well.”
“Figures,” the sailor answered, less enthusiastic, “they paid for his ticket all the way back to Russia … “
The Red Guard was about to protest this less flowery depiction of Lenin’s train trip from exile, when he suddenly stopped and turned towards Tatiana, who was standing right behind them.
“Hey, granny – what are you staring at? Mind your own business!”
Tatiana became aware only then that she had not been particularly discreet when watching the two men, or anyone else in the line as a matter of fact. She felt her heart beating faster.
“- And what’s with that big suitcase, anyway?” The Red Guard’s eyes narrowed. “You trying to hoard bread – so you don’t have to share with patriotic revolutionaries, eh? Perhaps even sell it on the black market like a filthy capitalist?”
Tatiana was speechless. There was so much bile and contempt in the Guard’s voice, and she began looking nervously from side to side, for a way out. She could hardly cast a spell now – of any kind – without being noticed and marked as even more suspicious.
And what was wrong with this soldier – Guard – anyway? She had only been looking at the two men – a little bit. Okay, maybe more than a little bit, but even so …
“Let it go, Ivan,” the sailor said, coming to her rescue. “She’s probably got starving grand kids.”
“We are all starving,” the Guard said fiercely, “but that will change soon, now that the people are in power. Isn’t that right, granny?”
“Y-yes,” Tatiana said, changing her voice mid-way to be more hoarse and old. That little detail was not part of the spell. As it was she came off stuttering and sounding a bit like a frog or some person who was not quite right in her mind.
Her luck, it seemed. The Red Guard turned away in disgust and continued in an even more animated conversation with the sailor expounding his theory about how the German army would collapse when their soldiers realized the revolution was the only thing that was good for them.
Tatiana heard every word but forced herself to now look away from anyone in the line – which had hardly moved an inch the last 20 minutes. She looked up and down the street, and suddenly everything looked different.
Everything looked a little bit darker, more tense. It finally dawned on her:
Petrograd was not a city waiting for her, to come and have any kind of silly good time – to feel any kind of freedom. None of those stupid ideas which she had not been able to suppress on the long train ride (even though Oleg had spent nearly every minute coaching her on her mission). She felt ashamed as she realized that …
No, Petrograd was a city of suspicion and fear of what might happen next. It was a city of revolution …