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Ghosts of Tsaritsyno

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In 1776, Vasili Bazhenov was commissioned to build a grand palace for Her Imperial Majesty, Empress Catherine, but was banished from the project and court in 1785. Now, ten years later, he has returned to greet the ghosts left behind by his Empress' death and the looming wars to come... A tale of two builders, a Queen and the legacy they have left behind.

Liza Green
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Tear it down.” Vasili Bazhenov stared up at the vast empty palace, the Tsarina’s words still echoing in his head, all these years later. “The rooms are too dark, the buildings too small and this is unacceptable. I’d rather stay in the Peterhof than this dismal place.” Her words had been sharp, and all those years of work had gone to waste. Kazakov had been given the job instead, tearing down his palace in 1786 and now… this.

Tsarina Catherine II was dead. The great Empress had died, if rumour was to be believed, on the toilet. It was not the only rumour to be circulated, although the one about the horse was carefully never whispered in her son’s hearing. The new Tsar, Paul I, had no taste for great architecture, more concerned with centralizing his rule and establishing lineage than art. It truly was the end of an era and Bazhenov sighed, staring up at the bare bones of what should have become one of Russia’s greatest palaces, now nothing more than a skeleton.

It will be lost to time he thought. There were little to no traces of his own design- separated into five smaller buildings, Kazakov had torn them down and built a new palace to encompass the entire hill, bridging the Great Gully with a stylistically matching bridge. No matter from which side of the lake one approached, they were overshadowed by his contemporary’s design. Or at least, they would have been, had the building been completed properly. Instead, it was nothing more than hollow walls and crumbling brick. Only one of his original towers had been worked into Kazakov’s design, if one could say that. More like built over. An insult to his plans, another slight to show the Tsarina’s displeasure. He ought to have done better.

He should have done better.

Bazhenov had not been thinking of grand scale when the Tsarina had outlined her plans to him. In fact, Vasili had been informed that the new palace was to be a getaway for their illustrious ruler. When he had finally met with her, she had described only what features she wished for there to be- a good view of the lake, places for the court to stay and for it to be discreet. How was he supposed to know she wanted something like this? A monstrosity of a building designed to rival even the Winter Palace itself, but still in keeping with the Neo-Gothic style so favoured by Her Majesty. Well, at least he had gotten that much right.

The kitchens were still where he had built them, incorporated into the main palace. A huge circular building, now named the Breadhouse and connected to the building rather than off to one side, Kazakov hadn’t torn it down completely. It was the only piece of his work that had survived the Tsarina’s displeasure, although it was now dwarfed by the palace itself. Vasili shifted in place, staring up at it and wondering if this was to be the end of his career. Bad enough that he had been fired by the Tsarina- now neither he, nor Kazakov, would see their dreams come to life.

“Dismal, isn’t it?” Speak of the devil and he shall appear. Vasili frowned but allowed Matvey Kazakov to join him, the early December snows crunching underneath his boots. He would never say that they were friends. Acquaintances at best and political enemies at worst. Kazakov had been a part of the conservative movement while Bazhenov followed the teachings of the Enlightenment, just as Her Imperial Majesty once had. No doubt, Kazakov had been drafted to add insult to injury, but Vasili knew what it felt like to see one’s dreams die.

“It is always sad to be forced to watch such grandeur crumble,” Vasili said and Kazakov scowled.

“Careful with your words Bazhenov. One would think you part of the Revolutionists,” Matvey spat, lips curled at the very thought. “I could get you arrested for that.” Vasili flinched. With the Revolution still raging in France and the worrying rumours of some man named Napoleon having risen to head of the French Army and sweeping through Europe, tensions over ‘liberal’ ideas were higher than ever. It was an ever-present worry for the upper echelons of society that revolution would come to Russia. That he, himself, could be considered a part of that was deplorable.

“I would never turn my back on Her Majesty’s family!” he retorted sharply, wounded by such an insinuation. “I was merely commenting on the remains of our efforts.”

My efforts you mean,” Kazakov sniffed. “You were incapable of fulfilling the Tsarina’s needs.” That drew another flinch from Vasili. It was the truth after all.

They were silent as they stared up at Kazakov’s masterpiece. It was eerily quiet, now that there were no workmen milling about, no construction occurring. Even the lake was empty, all of the swans and geese having migrated to warmer climes, even this far south. A grim day indeed for them to have come so far out of the city.

“We should return,” Vasili said quietly. “There is nothing but ghosts here now.”

“Ghosts,” Kazakov scoffed, shaking his head. “A ruin more like.” He paused then, still staring up at the red façade, considering. “You have heard the rumours?” Vasili blinked. That was… unexpected. Which rumours? There were many at court, not that Bazhenov was invited all that often, even before the Tsarina had died, anymore. But he still had friends within, friends who kept him well informed of the beloved royal family.

“Which ones?” he asked cautiously. As far as he knew, Kazakov was similarly banished under the new Tsar. After all, what use was an architect when one had no concerns for their craft? “If you are about to imply-“

“About the Tsar.”

“The Tsar?” That he hadn’t expected. “What about the Tsar?”

“You know Yekaterina had no wish for him to take the throne.” Kazakov was looking resolutely up at the remains of his design, face carefully blank.

“Of course,” Vasili said quietly, confused and mildly disturbed that he would refer to the Tsarina in such a familiar way. “But he is her son. He has every right to the throne.”

“She named Alexander her heir,” Kazakov stated matter-of-factly and Vasili frowned.

“Now who is talking treason?” he snapped, not liking this direction their conversation had taken. They were not to question the royal family! It went against everything they believed, everything he had ever been taught. And they were most definitely not to take a turn like the French and start executing their leaders!

“Not treason. Sense,” Kazakov argued. “You are a part of the Enlightenment, are you not? I thought you were against the monarchy?”

“Of course not! Her Majesty followed their ideals for the betterment of all, as do I. But I would never be so bold as to become a Revolutionary!” Vasili was horrified by the very thought of being associated with them. Kazakov shook his head with a sigh.

“Nevertheless, Pavel cannot stay on the throne for long. He is giving power to the Revolutionaries every day.”

“I would have thought you would agree with his policies,” Vasili sniffed. Kazakov scoffed, not deigning to reply. It was eerie, to be so confronted with this new line of thinking. “Besides,” Vasili started once again, if only to fill the silence, “he was never officially named as heir.” Again, he got no reply as his companion merely gazed up at the remains of his work that had become nothing more than a footnote in history. It ought to have elevated him into high society, to have his name written in the annuals of history but no longer. Now, he was like Bazhenov- forgotten.

“I have no business here anymore,” Kazakov stated, turning. “Stay here to stare at the ruins if you wish. I am heading out of this damn cold.” He crunched his way through the snow, leaving Vasili alone once again to stare up once more at the bare walls of red brick. Vasili sighed, turning to watch him go.

Perhaps I ought to bring the girls here he thought idly, eyeing the frozen lake below. Kazakov was right about one thing- Tsaritsyno had become nothing more than a ruin, if one could call it that. With no money and no workmen, it was a palace without a tenant, an empty land to be filled by nature once more rather than a place for kings and queens. War was on the horizon and he found he would rather spend the time with his family than critiquing his failure once again. After all, no one was here to patrol the land despite it being officially still owned by the Tsar and no one had ever revoked his permission to be here.

He began the long trek back to the city, following his footsteps the way he had come, only partially covered by the still softly falling snow. It was time to leave this ghost behind him. Perhaps a different noble would be interested in his ideas- after all Tsarina Catherine II had left him with a letter of recommendation (albeit reluctantly) which meant he still had work. He ought to be concentrating on that and hopefully, once Pavel died, Alexander would grace him with work, and he could return to the good graces of the Imperial royal family.

He didn’t look back at the ruins. Goodbye Tsarina he thought, crossing the bridge and the incomplete horseshoe fountain. You shall be missed, so much.

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