A False Messiah
"St. Petersburg," Rasputin mumbled with a slick smile, trudging up the Nevsky Prospect as city life bustled all around him, "Swimming with wealthy, contented fools who don't know what's going to overcome them, and scores of greedy weaklings hungry for power who will happily join me. Yes, soon I'll be lord of it all."
"Yes indeed, sir, and I hear the nightlife is good too in this town," Bartok remarked on his shoulders. He'd clearly been to the capital before, for there was no awe in his voice at the sights of urban life around them. "There's probably loads of female bats everywhere that would love to have a romantic evening with a..."
"Will you forget your libido!?" Rasputin snarled at his "sidekick," "We're here on official business! Just remember to keep your mouth shut at the seminary and the palace; they'll get suspicious if I come in with a bat running its mouth off!"
"No problem sir, zipping it now, not saying another word, being completely silent," Bartok rambled to silence, relieving the sorcerer. Official advertisements announcing the need for a faith healer at the palace had started circulating a few weeks ago. He'd held off coming to St. Petersburg for a while-it would be better to get the tsar frustrated thinking a reasonable healer couldn't be found-but had decided the previous night that the time was at last ripe. Now he just had to convincingly pass himself off as an actual churchman. Luckily the phony testimonials he'd had his most loyal Khlyst followers sign stating that he'd healed them would go a long way.
"Here we are," he proclaimed, coming to a stop outside the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary, training ground for priests of the future, "Our ticket to the palace lies within."
He tapped his robe. The reliquary was stashed away in a hidden pocket where no one could see it. It was now working, and all would be set when he made his appearance at the palace. Confident, he strode up the steps to the seminary's door and tapped hard on it. "Yes?" a bearded priest opened it.
"Could you tell me where I may locate Bishop Feofan, kind sir?" the sorcerer asked with feigned humbleness.
"I am Bishop Feofan," the priest told him, "How may I help you?"
"You may help me greatly, and in so doing help others," Rasputin dug out his fake testimonials, "Allow me to introduce myself..."
"Presenting Matriona the Barefoot of Omsk," the courier announced at the far end of the throne room. Nicholas shuffled around on his throne. "I hope this one will at least be able to tell us something useful about curing Alexei's problem," he asided to his wife next to him, "If we get another one that speaks in riddles..."
"Shhh," Alexandra hissed. "Matriona the Barefoot," she greeted the old woman than knelt before them, "We have called you here on a matter of state importance. Tell us, how do your healing powers that you say you have work?"
Matriona glanced grandly up at the sky. "All gold of face, for fourteen eons, the rivers flow strong through the valley of no return," she started rambling at the top of her lungs, "Round about, inside out, chase the shadow through the well, over, under, back, through, strong is the cape that ripples like the...!"
"Thank you," Nicholas raised his hand, unable to suppress a rolling of his eyes, "You may go now. Next please," he called to the courtier as several guards ushered a befuddled Matriona out of the throne room.
"Presenting Daria Osipova of Perm," the courtier announced the next potential candidate. A younger woman wearing chains sauntered in next. "Daria Osipova, you have been called her on important business," the tsarina repeated her greeting as the next would-be healer approached their thrones, "Show us how you heal those who you claim to have cured."
For a moment Daria stood stone still. Then she let out an ear-splitting wail and started rolling around on the floor, convulsing. The tsar slapped a hand to his face. "Thank you," he said loudly, "You may go...by all means PLEASE go!"
A pair of guards carried the rejected healer out, still shrieking loudly. "This is a nightmare, honestly," Nicholas confided in his wife, shaking his head, "I'll bet half these people are just charlatans looking for a quick ruble. Maybe we should just call John of Kronstadt and see what he can do with Alexei."
"We have to choose someone from the common masses," Alexandra shook her head firmly, "John is too connected to the hierarchy; we need to connect with the people for this. Only someone like them who loves and respects us with all their souls can truly cure Alexei."
"Well I hope they come soon; I don't know how much more of this I can take, even for our son's sake," her husband shook his head again, looking deeply frazzled, "Next please," he called to the courtier again.
"Your Majesty," the courtier had been talking through the door during Daria's wailing to someone, "Allow me to present Bishop Feofan of the St. Petersburg Theological Seminary with a special visitor."
"Ah," the tsar looked relieved. Feofan was well known in the capital for his deeply holy stances and ascetic lifestyle. He could probably ascertain a true messenger from God better than anyone. "Bishop, welcome," he greeted Feofan as he walked into the throne room and bowed humbly at their feet, "To what to we owe this visit?"
"Your Majesty, I have heard of your quest for a healer from God and have been keeping a lookout for any that may fit that criteria," Feofan told him, "I am delighted to say I have come across such a person who may be able to help you." He rose up and turned towards the throne room doors, "Allow me to present for you Father Rasputin of Pokrovskoe."
An unexpected burst of wind blew through the open windows of the throne room as Rasputin strode slowly in towards the monarchs, Bartok fluttering up to the rafter where he'd be out of the way. "Your Eminences," he forced a smile as he fell down before them, "I am but a simple country holy man who has traveled from afar when I received word our sovereigns needed help."
"The bishop vouches for you. How many healings have you undertaken?" Alexandra grilled him.
"In the last three years, I have healed a dozen persons afflicted with varying severe illnesses," the sorcerer told her with forced sycophancy, "And I never ask for anything in return but for simple thanks, as would be God's own way of doing things."
"Here is the complete list of his achievements, your Highness," Feofan handed the testimonials to the tsarina, "I must admit it is an impressive resume; certainly more impressive than any I've seen in my tenure."
Alexandra's eyes widened as she read the phony reports. "Look at this," she waved her husband to lean over and look himself, "Father Rasputin made a lame child's lost leg grow back through prayer..."
"...Amazing; he healed cancer of the lungs with a simple touch," the tsar himself was impressed. "Well Father," he turned to Rasputin, "It appears you may be the right man for the job we ask. Of course, you'll have to prove yourself, though."
"I look forward to showing your Majesty the wonderful things I am capable of," Rasputin shot a glance at the back of the throne room. If he'd timed it right, any minute now...
"Mama, Papa!" came the frightened cry from the outside hall at that exact moment. He nodded; right on time. A panicked Marie came barreling into the throne room. "Mama, Papa, Alexei's bleeding again; he fell off his toy chest; it's worse than ever; I don't know if we can stop it this time!" she spilled out breathless to them.
"All right, all right, calm down," her father put an arm around her, but he looked panicked too. "Did you call the doctors!?"
"Olga put the call in, but I don't know if they'll get here in time this time; he's really bleeding bad; Grandma can't stop it either!" the girl cried.
"Well, help might be here right now, so don't be too scared just yet," he handed her to her mother. "Father," he turned to Rasputin gravely, "It appears your powers may be needed sooner than later. What I am about to tell you must remain a state secret for the good of the dynasty. The heir suffers from a rare condition that causes excessive bleeding at the slightest provocation. None of our efforts to solve it have worked so far."
Rasputin feigned a horrified gasp to coincide with Feofan's genuine one. "Well if that is true, your Majesty, we haven't a moment to lose right now," the bishop tried to retain his composure. "Father, let us see what you have."
"Lead me to the child, and I will do what I can," Rasputin vowed.
"This way, then, and quickly," Alexandra bustled rapidly out of the throne room. The sorcerer suppressed a snicker, flashing a wink at Bartok as the bat silently swooped down and followed them. The trusting fools had fallen for it hook, line, and sinker.
Loud cried easily identified the tsarevich's room. "Alexei, please hold still!" he could hear the dowager empress desperately pleading her grandson inside. The full horrible effect of his curse could be seen once he appeared in the doorway; blood was all over the floor, and the baby was writhing in agony in his grandmother's arms. "I don't know if any help will be in time this time, Nicholas, the...who is this!?" the former empress's eyes narrowed at the sight of the sorcerer.
"Allow me to introduce Father Rasputin; he says he can heal Alexei," the tsar told her.
"Another quack!?" Olga sarcastically snorted from the corner, holding onto a tearful Anastasia, looking desperate to break away and help her brother.
"I assure you, my dear, that my powers are truly from God," Rasputin bowed deeply to her, "Now," he addressed the whole room, "We must all work together on this. Place the child in the crib and step back."
Maria Feodorovna maintained a suspicious frown, but did as asked. "Now I must ask all of you present to kneel and pray as hard as you can," the sorcerer instructed everyone, "With a case this severe, we will need all the prayers we can muster. I will intercede for God's mercy on the child."
Everyone did as he asked. Rasputin approached the crib. "Don't be afraid, Alexei Nikolaevich," he whispered with forced gentleness at the screaming baby, "It is merely I, Father Rasputin, come to ease your suffering. Do not cry; you do not suffer anymore."
He bent and pretended to pray. After a minute's wait to make it look like authentic prayer, he glanced around to make sure no one was looking, then tapped the reliquary in his pocket. The warm feeling in his robe from the reliquary's glowing dissipated, signifying the end of the curse-for now. Immediately Alexei stopped bleeding-moreover, the blood started evaporating as the child grew calmer. "Yes, yes!" he exclaimed with mock ecstasy, "God has heard your prayers! See for yourselves!"
"I don't believe it!" Alexandra was ecstatic herself as she rushed to crib and lifted her now healthy son up. "Oh thank you, Father!" she couldn't stop herself from hugging the sorcerer, "We can't begin to express our gratitude...!"
"Your kind words are reward enough for me," he said robotically.
"Still," Nicholas was almost laughing in delight as he took hold of his son and hugged him in relief, "We must insist on a reward of some kind, Father. Where are you living now?"
"I just arrived in the city this morning after a journey of three weeks," he said-not exactly a lie, given he had flown from Ipatiev Mountain thanks to the relic that morning.
"Well you can stay in St. Petersburg from now on, in the best apartment we can get for you," Nicholas told him, bending down to hand Alexei off to Anastasia, eagerly tugging his leg with a smile on her face now that Alexei was all right again, "And you will have free access to this palace or any other royal palace from here on, I so decree."
"Well if your Majesty insists, I humbly accept," Rasputin bowed, "Now if my services are not needed any further at the moment, I shall take my leave and await your apartment. The Bishop here has offered me lodging until that time, so I will be at the Seminary if you need me further."
"We will call if we need you. And thank you, Bishop, for directing him to us," Nicholas thanks Feofan as well.
"Simply performing my duty to the sovereign, your Majesty," Feofan bowed himself, "I feel honored to have delivered such a messenger of God to help you. Well Father, let us be on our way."
"After you," Rasputin gestured to the doorway. The two of them walked out and back down the stairs to the front door. "Go in peace," Nicholas was grateful enough to wave them goodbye. "Well Mother, at last our problems have been..." he stopped when he saw his mother's still-suspicious look as she eyed Rasputin's back disappearing down the stairs. "What's the matter, Mother, do you doubt Father Rasputin's holiness?" he asked, surprised, "You yourself saw him heal our son in there; that was clearly an act from God helping us."
"I saw, Nicholas, and I'm grateful Alexei will be all right," Maria Feodorovna's eyes narrowed at Rasputin as he disappeared from her sight, "But I have a feeling that something just wasn't right in there."