It was a beautiful morning. The Russian Empire’s leader was back.
The servants were fussing about today in Alexander Palace, the main residence of Russia’s most powerful woman. Olga and Alina, two of Katina Romanov’s maids, were in the immense bedchamber of the Russian princess, hastily folding Katina’s freshly-pressed military uniform, coat, and trousers. The wardrobes, bed, and vanity table were all dusty; the room hadn’t seen its master for many months. And now, she was back, and taking a nice long soak in the lavish tub inside her en suite bathroom.
“How could Her Highness have spent so long in the wilderness? I’m surprised her countenance hasn’t changed into a deathly pall. That’s what Siberia would do to her lovely skin,” muttered Alina, drawing back the high curtains of the window by Katina’s bedside.
“It’s not just Siberia… I hear Her Highness has gone everywhere. Villages, hamlets, rural settlements all east of Moscow, and south of Saint Petersburg… she’s even visited the auls, fortified towns of the Caucasus peoples we watch over, the kishlaks of the Turks, and the Cossack stanitsas,” said Olga. “It’s like her priorities completely changed upon returning to Arendelle.”
“Courtiers are gossiping that there was nowhere she stayed that was larger than this bedroom,” tut-tutted Anita. “What was Her Highness thinking? She deserves nothing less than the best – “
“Maybe I do,” came Katina’s calm voice, and Anita and Olga let out a squeal and jump, before turning to curtsey deeply before Katina. They let out one more surprised cry as they saw Katina’s nearly naked form, wrapped only in a simple white towel while running another smaller towel through her long, damp hair. “But self-imposed exile isn’t really that if I live in comfort equal to my home, right?”
“Your Highness,” cried Olga, her eyes to the floor as Katina walked barefoot over to her bed. “Please put on some clothes.”
Katina gave the maids a wry look. “You’ve bathed me since I was a little girl. What is a future queen if she can’t trust her closest attendants with her most vulnerable side?”
Alina scrambled aside from the bed. “About what we were saying: I just meant that you’re our great and mighty princess. You shouldn’t have subjected yourself to such a humble lifestyle, travelling with no bodyguards or servants.” She glanced Katina nervously. “We meant no offence. Truly, welcome back, Your Highness. It’s good that you’re back here, in Saint Petersburg. It’s where you belong. It’s where you need to lead our country.”
Katina looked at the two maids, and for a moment, they were worried that she was going to shout at them. But instead, Katina offered a sober smile. “Thank you. I know you were worried, but I did it for a reason. And I’m back now, aren’t I?”
She nodded at her dark, decorated coat. “I like this. It’s my favourite outfit. Give me my underclothes.”
Anita and Olga looked at each other, before Olga cautiously gave Katina her underwear and looked away. A lifetime ago, Katina was quite happy to scream at them for anything they said that annoyed or displeased her. Were it not for the angel Sora, who was a moderating and pacifying influence on the princess, Katina would have been a destructive, angry presence in the imperial household. But instead, Katina took everything in stride, pulling on her trousers and shirt, and buttoning up her coat, before turning to Anita. “Braid my hair, please,” she requested, sitting down on her vanity table’s stool.
Bewildered and feeling almost awkward, Anita muttered a silent “yes” as she hurried over, wondering when was the last time she ever heard Katina say “please.” That was probably a long time ago, when Katina was a little girl. As Anita began braiding her hair into a ponytail, Katina looked at her maids through the mirror. “Where I went, and what I did, isn’t important. Let’s just say that I needed some time to understand myself, to see where I went wrong.”
“You never went wrong, you don’t go wrong – ” said Anita instinctively. But Katina shook her head.
“I did, and I will,” said the princess quietly. “If I were so right about everything, Sora would still be here with me.” Her smile faded. “She’d be still here with you, taking care of you all while I obsessed over Arendelle. Was I a nasty piece of work.”
Anita and Olga looked at each other in horror. “Your Highness, we’ve said too much and we don’t want to remind you of anything you feel distressed about.”
Katina smiled, closing her eyes in appreciation at feeling Anita’s fingers sifting through and braiding her hair. “I don’t wish to lose anyone more. And for Russia to stand a chance, my own distress is the least of my worries.” She nodded at her two serving women. “Anna sent me a letter while I was out of Saint Petersburg, yes?”
“Yes. We were surprised when you said that the queen of Arendelle would write you so confidently,” said Olga, perking up. “I have it right here, as you predicted and requested me to keep.” She reached down her apron’s pouch and revealed an envelope, sealed with the signet of the wheat stalk – Anna’s royal insignia. “Now that you’ve finally returned, I can give it to you.”
Katina’s eyes shone. “Anna, it’s been too long since I last saw you and your friends. But thanks to your crazy new mission to find the elixir, it looks like our paths of statecraft will cross once again.”
FORMER EXALTED, RUSSIA’S CROWN PRINCESS, KATINA ROMANOV IS BACK!
TO BE CONTINUED!