Government Without the Tsar's Consent
"Any good news from the front, any at all, General Evert?" Nicholas all but pleaded his top military adjutant inside the throne room.
"I'm afraid there's none to give, your Majesty," Evert shook his head grimly, "In fact, I'm sorry to tell you to that the Germans have just taken Warsaw. We're in retreat across the whole front."
"I see," the tsar mumbled. He put his face in his hands. "How could this all go so wrong!?" he asked no one in particular, "How can the Germans seem to know everything we do!? First Tannenberg, then the Masurian Lakes, now this. I'm starting to wish I hadn't had to banish Michael; he would have known how to handle something like this."
He sighed sadly. Recalling his brother would have been impossible anyway, for Michael appeared to have dropped off the face of the earth, with no word as to his whereabouts following his banishment. He had, though, apparently gone against his brother's orders and taken Natalia Wulfert with him, as she had also vanished completely, and her husband kept peppering the palace with demands to find her at once.
"We've got to stop, now," Alexandra pleaded with him, "Surely the Central Powers are tired of the fighting by now too; I'm sure they'd accept any...!"
"And I've told you I can't; my promise to the Allies to fight till end is binding," Nicholas told her resignedly. He sighed in frustration. "General, call together the General Staff," he instructed Evert, "We're going to have to make some changes."
"I'm still not sure how you got the money to buy this," the curio shop owner reluctantly handed the paper bag to Dmitry.
"I swear, Count Vladimir paid me enough for this," Dmitry insisted.
"He actually has money to spare?" the shop owner snorted, "Well, it's yours now either way, kid, but be careful, because it's really fragile."
"Right," Dmitry nodded. He picked up the additional bags of bread and wine he'd been ordered to pick up for the palace from the floor and stumbled out of the shop. Once on the sidewalk, he put them down and dug into the bag he'd just been given. He hoped Bishop Feofan's advice on simple gifts was right, because Vladimir's payment, while substantial by Dmitry's own standards, had been just enough to allow him a modest gift. In his palm now was a glass angel, which he had instructed the owner to stencil TO ANASTASIA, AN ANGEL IN REAL LIFE on the robe. He hadn't bothered to elaborate on who he was going to give the gift to out of concern he'd be refused service, and indeed the owner had raised a suspicious eyebrow when Dmitry had given him the name to put on the angel, but he'd followed through after that without any complaints.
"I hope this works," he thought to himself as he put the angel back in its bag and picked up the food again. It was time to book it if he wanted to get back to the palace in time and avoid Lebedev's wrath. Fate, however, was with him for once, and even with all the food he managed to actually get back ahead of schedule. He dropped the bags on the table for the cooks to process once they'd stopped bustling around making the evening's arrangements with each other. Which meant he had time-time to find her and give her what she deserved.
No one noticed him slip off down the servants' hallway, the special bag tucked in his pocket. He had no idea where she was at the moment, but he had a few ideas of where to look. The children's playroom was empty, though, as was the drawing room. He backtracked, think she might be downstairs in the courtyard playing tennis, and was about halfway there when he passed a pair of butlers standing at one of the wall entrances, listening in on whatever was going on inside. "That's all for them," one of them was mumbling, "Given how they've botched everything from the start, I only can ask why the tsar didn't make the switch sooner?"
His colleague shrugged. The two of them walked off, no longer interested. His own interest caught, Dmitry pushed the wall panel open ever so slightly. The tsar was seated at the head of his conference table, staring abysmally at his war ministers. "...swear it's not my fault everything went wrong!" Grand Duke Nikolaevich was protesting to the sovereign, "I just know there's a leak somewhere tipping off the Germans, perhaps even..."
"As I have said before, I will not stand for my wife to be accused of espionage!" Nicholas thundered at him, "She is no more guilty of treason than I am, and I refuse to let you blame her for all our failures to date!" He took a deep breath and collected himself before continuing, "And so, Nikolai Nikolaevich, it is with a heavy heart that I relieve you of your duty as commander-in-chief." He turned to his right. "I must inform you, Mr. Sukhomlinov, that I am removing you as well. It is clear we need a new angle of looking at the war if we are to salvage victory from the current situation."
"I understand, your Majesty," Sukhomlinov took his firing stoically, "Who will you be filling the opening with?"
"It shall be I, he has decided," came Rasputin's voice from the doorway. He strode in triumphantly, flashing the generals, many of whom glared back at him with deep revulsion, a sharp smile. "Your Majesty, I must strongly protest!" Nikolaevich rose up, "This man has no military knowledge at all; to entrust him with the well-being of our troops...!"
"But he has Heaven's will at his beckoning, something that I can tell we've been sorely lacking so far," Nicholas defended his decision, "And as you are removed from your post, I'm afraid your opinions can no longer be held in official regard."
"Your Majesty," another general rose up, miffed, "I respect your decision as ruler and am loyal, but I cannot in good faith work with this man. I thus resign my position as well."
He removed his epaulets, placed them on the table, and walked out solemnly. The tsar waited a minute in case anyone else would do the same, but the rest of his war council remained seated, although their expressions towards Rasputin remained murderous. "Now then, Father," Nicholas turned to the presumed holy man, "You have said you had several visions before I formally appointed you to this position. What did they tell you about who should be the next commander-in-chief?"
"They made it very clear to me, your Majesty: you yourself must personally take command of all the armies," Rasputin told him, "As the supreme force for good in Russia, only you can restore order to our soldiers' decline in confidence. After all, the military blood runs deep in the Romanovs' veins, and your very name will send chills down the Central Powers' spines."
"Not when he hasn't had any active military experience," Nikolaevich spoke up again, "Don't listen to this man, your Majesty; your place isn't in the field, it's...!"
"I believe you were told you were dismissed?" Rasputin told him off with a smug smile, "As the new minister of war, I could have you arrested for counter-active measures against the Russian war effort if you don't leave this minute."
Furious, Nikolaevich grabbed up his papers and stormed out the door. "Very well, Father; I shall take command at the front as you say," Nicholas conceded to his advisor's request as most of the other generals shook their heads silently, "Seeing me willing to stand on the front lines should encourage the troops more as you've said. Now, have you any other ideas on how to improve the situation on the home front?"
"Indeed I have, your Majesty," Rasputin proclaimed, jumping to his feet. An intense look crossed his face, one that from Dmitry's standpoint seemed to be etched with hate. "I have been shown the core source of the problem through my visions, your Majesty. The Jews have been working hand in hand with the Germans from the beginning, sabotaging our every effort, just as they have done for centuries," anger rose up in his voice as he continued his rant, "You would do well, your Majesty, to put an end to their treachery as soon as possible; call out the Cossacks and have them stamp out their evil machinations for good."
Dmitry's blood froze. "Please don't, please don't, please don't!" he silently begged the tsar; more pogroms were the last thing his people needed after everything they'd gone through over the years.
"I'm afraid that's out of the question, Father," Nicholas mercifully shook his head, "We're going to need every available man, Jewish or Orthodox, to finish the war as it's currently unfolding. Also, pogroms as you propose would be counterproductive to national morale; we need unity until the war is over."
"Very well," Rasputin accepted the decision, but Dmitry could see furious disappointment on his face. "Do you have more, then?" the tsar asked him, also looking somewhat taken aback that the supposed holy man had made such a hateful proposition (as did, from what Dmitry thought he saw, the bat on Rasputin's shoulder-but of course that couldn't be possible...).
"Yes, and I think this one will be more to your Majesty's benefit," Rasputin regained his composure, "We must revamp the entire economy into a wartime effort. We need trains running twenty-four/seven carrying supplies to the front; we need a national draft of all males between the ages of fifteen and seventy; we need..."
"Well, finding the bourgeois lice's machinations amusing?" came Artyom's unwelcome voice from behind Dmitry. The older boy pulled him back from the doorway. "If you're so interested, why not just finish the sell-out and become their full-out lackey!?" he taunted Dmitry. "And what have we here?"
He had noticed the bag in Dmitry's pocket and seized it before Dmitry could cover it up. "Well, well," he sneered, examining the angel, "A present for your stupid bourgeois princess."
"That's mine, and I want it back!" Dmitry demanded far more bravely than he actually felt.
"Oh I'll give it to you all right," in a fluid movement, Artyom smashed it to the floor, shattering it. "That what I and the people think of your stupid princess," he shouted hatefully, "And we're going to do the same to her when the revolution comes to...!"
Dmitry launched himself at his antagonist again, but once again Artyom was too strong and shoved him to the wall, his hands around Dmitry's throat. "I could crush your throat right now," he threatened, "I'm in the right to do anything I want, because I'm stronger, and might does make us right, not anything your nonexistent God says..."
"Stop that, now!" Lebedev came storming up the corridor. He forcefully pried Artyom off Dmitry. "I will not stand for violence by my staff!" he thundered at the older boy, "And I have had it with you in general, you little wretch! You are fired, starting now!"
"I quit, you running-dog lackey of the bourgeoisie!" Artyom thundered right back, "But I'll be back some day with the rest of the proletariat, and then it'll be your head on a stake-yours and his precious little princess!" he jerked a contemptuous finger at Dmitry before storming up the hall. Lebedev bent down and snatched up a piece of the shattered angel. "How dare you think to approach the princess!" he turned his wrath on Dmitry.
"But...but...!" Dmitry had no idea how to recover from such a gut-wrenching turn of events.
"You are a servant!" Lebedev berated him, "You were born to be one, you'll die one, and you have no business dreaming about the princess! So don't ever forget your place, boy! Don't ever let me catch you contemplating anything like this again! Now back to work this instant!"
He dragged Dmitry roughly back towards the kitchen. Dmitry cast one final forlorn glance at the broken angel on the floor. Why did everything have to conspire to keep him from telling the princess how he felt? That wasn't all troubling him, though. Rasputin's tirade against his people still hung over him. How truly holy was the holy man, he had to wonder with a shudder? Was the tsar setting the stage for catastrophe by trusting him?
"I wish you didn't have to go, Father," Olga sadly told him on the train platform.
"I have to, dearest," Nicholas was fighting to maintain his composure as well, "My services are required for our country as much as the lowest person. Don't worry about me, though; the Central Powers aren't going to do anything terrible to me. I'm counting on you and Tatiana to keep up the good work with the injured and the commissions while I'm away."
"We will, Father," Tatiana nodded firmly. She and Olga hugged him in unison. Nicholas sniffed back his own tears. "Marie, Anastasia," he swept up his younger daughters, "Don't be afraid. Everything will be fine; I will come back alive. So please, don't be afraid."
"Papa," Anastasia dug quickly through her handbag, "I've been drawing these up over the last couple of months," she pulled out a handful of cards, "Just some well wishes for the soldiers. I was only wondering how to get them to the men at the front lines; maybe you could give them to them."
"Well," Nicholas managed a smile as he examined them, "I'll certainly see what I can do. And then if you want to draw any more, I'll set it up so they can get forwarded to the front. Anything that lets them know we care for them is a plus, thank you."
He rubbed her hair softly as the train whistle blew shrilly. "I'll miss you, Papa," Alexei leaped into his father's arms, tearful.
"I'll miss you too, Alexei," the tsar sniffed, "But I'll make the arrangements so you can come to Headquarters from time to time; it'll be like I've never left. Once I'm all settled in, I'll have them send you on over."
He put his son down. "Mother," he turned to her next, glancing at his watch to make sure he wouldn't be left behind, "I know you probably have second thoughts about me doing this..."
"I do, Nicholas," Maria Feodorovna shook her head gravely, "Now that you're in charge of the army, any failures from here on will be pinned directly on you by the public, whether fairly or not. And as Nikolai Nikolaevich told you when you took command, you don't have any military experience, and by having let him run the war effort at home while you're at the front..."
The train's whistle blew again. "Still," the dowager's tone softened considerably, "I wish nothing but the best for you, my son," she hugged him quickly, "Please come back safely."
"I will, Mother," Nicholas promised her. Time was running short now. "Take care of everyone, Alix," he gave his wife one parting hug, "Hold down everything while I'm away."
"You will write?" she asked between her tears.
"Every day," he assured her through his own, "And I've got to get going now."
He strode into his private car just as the train lurched forward. "Wish us the best," he called to his family in parting, waving goodbye out the window as the train chugged out of the station towards the front. His children chased it to the end of the platform and waved back until it was completely out of sight. "Well," Alexandra sighed sadly, waving them back over, "Might as well head back to the palace now. We've got a long wait ahead of us."
Her children nodded and fell in behind her going back to the royal carriage. "Greeting cards!?" Olga whispered almost mockingly to Anastasia as they got in.
"It was the best I could think of!" her youngest sister protested under her breath, "I had to do something to make them all feel better in the trenches!"
"Greeting cards!?" Olga repeated, suppressing an outright laugh, "What good could greeting cards do?"
"Do you, Ivan Mansevich-Manulov, swear eternal loyalty to me, the Supreme Khlyst, and everything the Khlyst order stands for, till your dying breath?" Rasputin asked his newest potential recruit inside his unearthly tunnel between his apartment and his citadel.
"I do," Manasevich said affirmatively. He had previously served as an intelligence gatherer for the tsar's foreign service, but, bitter over what he perceived to be negligence by his bosses over being passed over for promotion, had decided to sell out and thus had made overtures to the Germans in the last few months that he'd be willing to sell them critical information. As such, Rasputin had decided to approach him to serve him, and since Manasevich was not a natural Khlyst, he had a special incentive gift for him. As such, when Manasevich shook his hand to confirm their partnership, waves of green energy disengaged from the space around him and zipped through Rasputin's arm into that of the spy, who looked quite unnerved by the experience. "Congratulations, my dear Manasevich," Rasputin commended him, "You can now do tremendous things."
"I can?" Manasevich looked confused.
"Come with me back to my office and see for yourself," Rasputin lead him back down the walkway through the unnerving dimension to the safety of his office on Gorokhovaya Street. "Try and do anything, anything at all," the sorcerer told his new apprentice. Manasevich shrugged and pointed his finger at the bookcase in the corner-and was amazed when his finger shot forth green energy that lifted it up in the air. "Incredible!" he exclaimed, aiming it next at the desk and doing the same thing. He then pointed it at Bartok, who was sent flying through the air against his will. "Hey, hey, I can fly on my own!" the bat protested, stopped from saying anything else as he crashed into the wall.
"That will be all," Rasputin told Manasevich firmly, who lowered his hands. The bookcase and desk crashed hard to the floor. "Now," the Supreme Khlyst informed his new apprentice, "I have a specific job for you my dear Mansevich; go to the Finland Station and wait for me. I'll be delivering you a special package there in a few hours."
"But why do you need to steal the war plans from the palace now that you're running the war effort here?" the spy had to ask.
"I coordinate our efforts to run the war so to destroy the tsar's armies here, but the tsar himself as commander-in-chief makes all the final decisions," Rasputin said grimly, "And he only tells the tsarina of his personal plans, so I need her to give me that information for our benefit. So, I will need you, given your background, to deliver it to the Kaiser's agents at the front line."
"Whatever you say," Manasevich shrugged, "But I do appreciate the extra powers, certainly I do. Good day to you then."
He bowed and walked out of the office. "Speaking of the war effort," Rasputin put the reliquary on the desk next to a still dazed Bartok, "Let's see how our efforts are going so far."
"Prince Andronikov here to see you," came Laptinskaya's voice over the intercom, "He has what you asked him for."
"Good, good. Tell him I'll be just a minute," her employer told her. He stared at the scene emerging from the reliquary's mist: Varnava and about half a dozen robed Khlysts at the foot of a railroad bridge. Rasputin rubbed his finger across the image, the way to make the reliquary a two-way communication device. "Is it set, Brother Varnava?" he asked his second-in-command.
"The train'll be by in about five minutes at most, Rasputin," Varnava assured him, "We're ready."
"Good, because you're about to be named first assistant Chief Procurator of the Synod," Rasputin told him.
"But why can't I just lead it outright?" Varnava protested.
"Because the people can't suspect we're maneuvering for the final power play," the Supreme Khlyst sighed; he was surrounded by blind idiots, he rued, "The government still has to look legitimate until we strike, so I have to put someone outside our organization to head up the high government posts. But don't you worry, because he'll be just a figurehead; you'll have all the power behind the scenes at the Synod, Varnava, and so I'm counting on you to force our doctrine down the people's throats if they resist at all. Once we're in power, you can do whatever you want with the puppet I name Chief Procurator now, and take the position for yourself."
"Here it comes," came a shout from another Khlyst. A train whistle could be heard in the distance. "Everyone to your positions!" Varnava ordered, "Mudrolubov, Soloviev, take the far pillar; Skvortsov, Damansky, the middle ones! Get ready to blow it when it's right in the middle!"
The whistle sounded again, louder, and the train could be seen chugging over the ravine. "NOW!" Varnava ordered. A series of blasts from several magical devices brought the bridge crashing down, taking the train with it with a thunderous crash and a massive explosion of artillery pieces destined for the front. Rasputin laughed in delight. "Less for the pathetic fools to use when they find themselves under withering German fire!" he gloated.
"Supposing they do go to the fight the Germans, sir; you heard the tsar the last time he called; they might go after the Austrians and Turks next," Bartok pointed out, still shaking off the effects of the spell Manasevich had put on him.
"Oh they'll start that offensive, but we'll divert them to face the Germans; an army of blind men could beat the Austrians and Turks the way they're fighting right now," Rasputin grumbled, "I need as many of the tsar's legions dead as possible when we strike, so if they refuse to turn away from the Balkans, we'll send out my own legions to take care of them if I have to. In the meantime, let's see how our behind the scenes efforts are going."
He waved at the mist, which dissolved into a scene of several more Khlyst standing near an armaments factory. "FIRE!" Pitirim, in charge of this detachment, ordered. More magical blasts went off, and the factory exploded spectacularly. Laughing harder, Rasputin waved to the next image. "THE KHLYST ARE RISEN!" screamed the now insane Madame Lokhtina, preceding a field of crops being set ablaze by another set of spells. The next image showed his fourth in command Isidor casting a spell to switch a signpost. He moved into the bushes as a motorized unit zoomed down the wrong road and right off a cliff. Another dissolve showed the reliable pair Martemian and Augustin hypnotizing a general somewhere in Poland, it appeared. The general stumbled blindly out of his tent to an artillery gun and promptly opened fire on his men. Rasputin cackled in delight. His personal war behind the war was going perfectly.
"Prince Andronikov's still here," Laptinskaya reminded him over the intercom.
"Send him in, then, Akilina," Rasputin said. An eager-looking Andronikov bounded into the office. "As your secretary might have told you, Mr. Rasputin, I have the names you've asked for," the prince handed the sorcerer a set of papers, "I think these men can be trusted to be loyal to you. Can I have some more diamonds for this?"
Rasputin scanned the lists. A wry smile crossed his lips. "Yes, Mr. Andronikov, I do believe a reward for this will be in order," he told the gullible prince, "I shall have Simonovich send you diamonds and gold in quantities you can't begin to imagine. In due time, the new order will be in place, and you'll be practically at my right hand, a fitting reward for a true believer like yourself. Come, Bartok," he took hold of the bat in his free hand, "Let us return to the palace to tell the tsarina to promote these worthy men to some valuable posts, and get rid of some of our implacable foes at the same time."
"I've been fired," a numb Dzhunkovsky related to the dowager in her parlor at the Anichkov Palace, "Orders came down from the empress I was to clear out immediately, that I was transferred to Siberia. It looks like they're stopping any and all investigations on Rasputin; anyone else who tries surveillance on him from here on will be arrested, they said. But it doesn't look like I'm the only one, am I right, Bishop?"
He turned glumly to Feofan to his right. "I should have known something was amiss when Chief Procurator Samarin was fired two days ago," the bishop related, "I've been ordered to the lower Caucasus, and I'm not to return to St. Petersburg under any circumstances, under penalty of arrest. It appears Goremykin's been sacked as prime minister as well. I fear something terrible's afoot, your Highness, and the empress is unwilling to stop it. For whatever reason, she's just blindly going along with whatever he tells her."
"I tried to call the tsar about it before the order for me to clear out was given to me, but he maintains full trust in his wife," Dzhunkovsky told Nicholas's mother, "He says she has his permission to run the country in his absence as she sees fit. This frightens me, because here's some more of the people who'll be running the country in the near future."
He handed her a set of papers with the Department of Police seal on them. Maria Feodorovna's eyes widened at the list. "That settles it," she declared, "I can think of one last tactic we can use." She strode to the phone on the mantle and started dialing it. "We need to get the whole family to get Alexandra to stop trusting this man..."