Russia. The imperial capital of Saint Petersburg.
Nearly a year after the Russo-Arendellian War
It was a day the soldiers and servants of the Imperial Household would never forget.
The carriage was run-down, rickety, and looked like it was almost falling apart as it came to a stop before the massive gate of the Alexander Palace, the Romanov family’s favorite retreat.
One sharp-eyed guard remembered who had set off inside this humble vehicle, and panicked. “Oh, God. It’s Her Highness. It’s Her Highness! She’s back! Summon the Imperial Guard, right now!”
He hastily opened the gate so that the carriage could labor its way toward the steps of the palace. The Imperial Guard were quickly called to the steps below the great pillars lining the entrance of the palace, and from the carriage stepped out Katina Romanov, her attire nearly unrecognizable – she wore a tattered, mouldy cloak with a hood over a simple top and leggings, typical of peasants from the wastelands far away from Moscow and Saint Petersburg. Her hair, once in an elegant ponytail, draped down her shoulders and back, unkempt and smeared with grime and dirt. Her own face was weathered and slightly hardened, and her hands had visible calluses on them, perhaps from riding horses or working on the farm. “Your Imperial Highness!” cried the members of the Imperial Guard, who looked visibly horrified as they streamed out of the palace.
The chamberlain, Fyodor, rushed down the steps and bowed deeply before the princess commander, before grabbing her shoulder and hand. “How could you subject yourself to such treatment!” he cried. “Look at you! You’re exhausted!”
Katina stared at the man. “Because… this is how everyone goes about in the rural parts?” she said, raising a brow. “I said that I was going on exile, didn’t I? To see my own country? To work on the farms and join the serfs? It’s not like I was gone forever.”
Fyodor flinched. “Well, yes, but… I thought you were going with a well-stocked supply line, and staying in the country houses of our loyal nobles. The French and Germans have even been starting to build some lovely hotels and retreats in the countryside, you signed off the contracts yourself. And yet you look like you’ve been staying with the common rabble?”
Katina’s eyes looked distant as Fyodor shooed her up the stairs and toward her bathroom, which was grander and more comfortable than anywhere she’d stayed for the past year. Her voice was pensive as he ushered her upstairs, along a massively long corridor, before finally stopping at a set of glorious white doors with gold leaf knobs. “That was the idea, dear Fyodor. To learn something for myself, to understand what an angel of heaven wanted to teach a scumbag like me. The folks from Arendelle also had a lot to teach me, too. Especially Michael, Alan, and that little princess Danny.”
Fyodor looked down at her in shock. “Your Highness, how could you call yourself – “
“Don’t worry,” interrupted Katina, putting a hand on his chest and gently pushing him away. “I was just thinking about myself back then. This is now.” She smiled at her chamberlain. “Thank you. Now away with you, unless you want to watch me clean myself.”
Fyodor snapped to attention and clapped his hands. “OLEG! ANITA! OLGA!” he barked, before turning his attention back to Katina, “I wouldn’t dare. But nor should you presume to lower yourself to do… whatever you were doing in the middle of arse-screw nowhere.”
Katina suddenly burst out laughing, slapping her thigh. Her face was scrunched up in good-hearted mirth. “Like, taking my own baths? Seeing the real world for myself? Living without endless servants at my beck and call?” Her fit of chortles was not mean-spirited at all, and for a moment, Fyodor was in shock.
“You’ve never laughed like that before, Your Highness,” he whispered. “No one has ever made you laugh like that.”
“Only Sora ever did, and that was when I was a little girl. What a ridiculous family I was born into. But I will defend it with my life.” Katina wiped away a delighted tear. “Very well, Fyodor. Have it your way. Have chief maid Oleg and her junior wards attend to my bath.”
She glanced at him a final time, smiling. “In the meantime, prepare several lettersheets, and make sure my imperial chop is ready. I have much to reorganize and rebuild.”
Since her return, Katina had gotten used to being serviced at home once more. And her daily bath was one of those regular rituals that, even in the privacy of her palace, showed off her grandeur as Russia’s future monarch.
Oleg and her maids diligently washed Katina from head to toe, immersing her in an exquisite bubble bath with glorious rose petals and rejuvenating soaps. Katina leaned back in her bathtub, closing her eyes as Oleg scrubbed her long hair and massaged her head. Anita attended to her left and right arms, while Olga dutifully scrubbed her feet and cleaned her toes. This was the full imperial treatment, more sumptuous and spoilt than what most royals enjoyed (and certainly Arendelle’s).
She had to admit, it did feel very nice, as comforting and refreshing as it did when she first dipped in after returning to Fyodor and her retainers. She had needed to think things through after losing Sora, after all her Grand Dukes fell and her army was defeated by Arendelle’s much-outnumbered forces. After Yixin tossed her aside, having more use for Anna.
“I’m still sorry, my angel. After all this time,” she whispered, her eyes fluttering shut for a few seconds. “And I will always owe you guys an apology too. Nykras, Yaraslaf.”
I let them down too, she thought to herself. I exploited their hunger for vengeance. Nykras and his desire for revenge from beyond the grave, and Yaraslaf the werebear, the last of his majestic kind. I threw it all away because I thought I could surpass my father.
“Did you say something, Your Highness?” came Oleg’s voice behind her, as she continued to massage Katina’s scalp with the finest chrysanthemum-scented shampoo.
“Oh, nothing,” mumured Katina, opening her eyes woozily again. “Just thinking about… stuff. From a while back.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to tell the Arendellians about all that you’re doing? Not even Anna herself? You’ve stopped writing to her over the past few months.”
“Yes, because I need to keep my cards close to my chest,” replied Katina. It felt good to be able to discuss her intimate plans and political manueverings with people she could totally trust. “She’s trying to find the elixir of life, but she’s embroiled in a struggle against the first Moonborn that have placed themselves in her way. She could hold back the might of my armies, but two lonesome Moonborn are enough to throw her realm into chaotic limbo.”
“How do you know the state of her kingdom, Your Highness?” piped up Olga, who was delicately treating her toes.
“Don’t underestimate me, girls. Oh, I still have my intelligence network, my spies all around the world. And my army has recovered quite a bit from the losses of my war with Anna. Anyway, the Moonborn, as Chang’e’s children, are far ahead of the game than even Anna. In fact, I’d say she’s way out of her depth.”
Her eyes narrowed as she stared up at the chandelier and its candles. “Anna’s prime minister has disappeared. Her government is struggling. And the Moonborn strike and vanish as they please. And for what? Is it her dream, or Yixin’s goal? Anna’s heart is surely in turmoil.”
She glanced back and up at Oleg. “She needs help, you know. She needs my help.”
Anita spoke up, examining Katina’s elegant nails and wiping her arm with a warm towel. “I’m sure Arendelle will accept it, princess. Even if we take your history with Anna into account, she’s made peace with you and claims you as an ally.”
“Yes, and the time to announce myself will be soon. But not quite yet. Individually, no leader can defeat a Moonborn, not truly. We must work together to stand even a remote chance.” Katina gave a smile that was at once both fond and sad. “I’ve wasted much time. But I am still the commander of Russia’s armies. And without my membership of the Exalted and debt to Lord Yixin, I’m actually freer now.”
She opened her eyes, staring up at the high ceiling while her maids scrubbed and massaged her. “For the first two decades of my life, from the moment I was born, Sora watched over me without a word, thanklessly and tirelessly. Even before we drifted apart, even before I became lost in my own thirst for power, I never appreciated her silent watchfulness. I lost my chance to properly thank her even when we were closer… nay, inseparable.”
“My princess,” cried Oleg, gripping Katina slightly harder, “you’re breaking my heart, but at the same time, you’re making it sing. You’ve come so far and it’s like I’m staring at an already great leader for our country, strengthened and matured tenfold.”
Katina winced. “My head, Oleg. My head.”
Oleg instantly loosened her hands. “Your Highness, I’m so sorry.”
Anita and Olga looked at each other, smirking. The younger Katina would have thrown a childish tantrum, unable to be vulnerable or gentle. But since her return over the past year, the maids had been treated to a much more likable side of the princess. And they loved her all the more for it. “Ah, it’s alright.” Katina pursed her lips. “Seriously though, I sense dark days ahead for us Romanovs. If we don’t adapt quickly, change will hit us like a thunderbolt.”
Oleg bit her lip. She wanted to cry. Lying in her bathtub and being attended to by her servants, Katina looked like a Venus, if that Venus could wield a sabre, command armies, and generally kick serious butt. She looked so majestic, so beautiful. “Even though it’s been some time, I can’t believe you’re really back,” she blurted, unable to control herself. “You’re so different to how you seemed even just a few years ago. Back then, you looked desperate to lead. But now, you look so… ready. Ready to command us.”
Katina, for the first time in a long time, let out an amused but flattered giggle. Her maids, still scrubbing and wiping away, looked up, surprised. There was some of that old conceit and blue-blooded haughtiness, and perhaps that was classic Katina. It was something her maids didn’t want to change, and indeed, would Katina be herself without it? But it had been tempered by new purpose and reawakened benevolence, much of it thanks to her long talks with Uncle Mike, her correspondence with the queen of Arendelle, and her pilgrimage across Russia.
Her beautiful but deadly eyes glinted. “Prepare my towels, Oleg. Anita and Olga, wipe me dry and clothe me. I’m done here.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” the ladies answered in unison.
Katina slowly withdrew her limbs from her attendants and rose from her bath, warm water glistening off of her naked body.
“I will live and lead as Sora wanted me to. That’s how I honour her and bid farewell to Nykras and Yaraslaf. And I shall summon a new cohort of Grand Dukes, mighty and loyal retainers who will protect Russia… and help Anna, as she leads us to unknown places in Chang’e’s shadow.”
GREAT FAMILIES AND MIGHTY LEADERS CONVERGE ONCE MORE IN THE SHADOW OF THE MOONBORN AND A COSMIC BATTLE…
5 thoughts on “Rossiya Ascendant: Katina Romanov Re-enters the Fray!”
“As Elsa once said, the past is in the past.”
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We could not be happier with serving the princess as she is now. We presume she would like to get together with Elsa for tea sometime amidst restored relations between our nations – and, of course, her guardian, I presume it’s you.
– Fyodor, courtier to the palace
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Sounds like a plan!
I’m proud of how you’ve grown, Princess. I think Sora, if she was here, would also be very proud and happy for you. This “new” Princess Katina, suits you well.
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She mourned, reflected, and has started a different path, one that I believe she said you helped set her on. For that, we of the Saint Petersburg imperial household are grateful to the Arendelle royal household. We believe that it was divine providence that Katina encountered you all. She has more to offer you, I’m sure.
– Fyodor, courtier to the palace