WIPpet Wednesday—Contentious Funeral

Welcome back to WIPpet Wednesday, hosted by K.L. Schwengel, a weekly blog hop wherein participants share excerpts from their WIPs related in some way to the date. Since it’s the tenth of the month, I’m sharing ten paragraphs, the opening of my ninth chapter. It’s September 1918, the Tsar and Tsaritsa’s funeral.

Aleksey is now forced to wear calipers all the time, to recover and preserve the strength in his legs, particularly his weaker left leg. Since he’s in public, he can’t use his crutches, and he has to sit during services. Traditional Orthodox services only have chairs for the sick, elderly, and pregnant women, as I discovered when I attended a special Russian Orthodox service to see the famous Kursk-Root ikon.

Later on during the funeral service, the claws start coming out, and Aleksey starts discovering just what a lot of his relatives, including his own grandmother and aunt Kseniya, really thought of his belovèd mother. Other relatives take swipes at his uncle Mikhail, the Regent, as well as their unpopular Vladimirovichi cousins and the visiting King George V of England.

Koliva is boiled wheat served by Orthodox funerals.


The entire family in happier times, even if no one looks particularly happy

The priest led the procession to Peter and Paul Cathedral, carrying a large, ornate cross in one hand and a heavy censer in the other, as everyone sang “Trisagion.”  Alekséy could see the huge, high bell tower coming into view long before the cathedral itself was within close distance.  It still seemed beyond surreal to be on his way to his own parents’ funeral at only fourteen.

“Try to walk a little faster, Baby,” Ólga whispered. “You need to appear as normal as possible, so you won’t invite rumors.”

“Please don’t call me Baby.  I’m too old for that nickname.  While we’re on this subject, I’d also appreciate it if you stopped calling me Sunbeam.”

“All of a sudden you feel this way?  You always let us call you those names before.”

“Well, now I’m too old for it.  I’m not a baby anymore.” He continued clanking towards the cathedral, praying no one could see the outline of the calipers underneath his pant legs.  For once, he longed for the aide of his crutches.

Once inside the cathedral, the coffins were opened, and one of the assisting priests placed several bowls of koliva with lit candles.  The head priest then placed crowns on the heads of the Tsar and Tsarítsa, and put ikons of their patron saints in their hands.  Alekséy looked away as he drew closer, and retreated to one of the few chairs available.

“You’re not going to stand for your own parents’ funeral service?” one of his many Imperial cousins asked. “You’re more than old enough to stand for an entire service.  A nice religious boy like you shouldn’t shirk his Christian duty.”

“I hurt my leg, and I don’t want to see my parents’ dead bodies.  It’s bad enough I had to see them murdered, and that my father’s blood went all over my face after he was shot.”

“That’s no excuse to shirk your duty to your family and faith.  Your own father saw your great-grandfather after he was torn apart by a bomb, and he was even younger than you.  Be a man and do the right thing.”

“Please don’t speak like that to my nephew,” Mikhaíl snapped. “He’s been through a very traumatic experience, and is dealing with it in his own way.  You’re very lucky we’re not going to punish you for sassing the new Tsar.  I may be the Regent, but never forget who’s really the Tsar.  I’m only standing in for him temporarily, while he gets old and experienced enough to take over.”


11 thoughts on “WIPpet Wednesday—Contentious Funeral

  1. I think I like Mikhail. I still find it very telling that every picture you’ve shared, everyone looks grumpy (resting bitch face, maybe) except the Tsaritsa. She always looks inordinately sad. As if she knows what is going to happen to her family.

    Anyhow, love the snippet and how you’re building this piece.


  2. Taking pictures in those days was a grueling affair, so smiles were rare to find beyond those shots of professional actors and actresses who were used to pasting on a smile scene after scene, shot after shot…. They were probably quite happy, except for the Tsaritsa… She was never quite welcome in the family, and she knew it. And add to that her “sin” of bearing four daughters before a sickly son (because the knowledge of the father being the one to provide the X or Y chromosome wasn’t commonly accepted knowledge in the world)…

    She wasn’t likely to smile much, and when she did, she was likely to be left regretting it.

    A nice layered scene here, how Aleksey doesn’t want to draw attention to himself and then does because he cannot stand anymore….


  3. They do look serious, but the little girl in the back made me laugh because her particular grumpy expression is one I have many, many pictures of my own little girl wearing.

    I do like Aleksey and how in every scene you can feel the way he’s on that cusp of too old but not old enough. Like the grumpy girl, that stage of boyhood is familiar to me. This time, he’s young enough to give in to the need to sit but old enough to have a ready reply as to why. I’m looking forward to seeing Aleksey mature.


  4. That was an interesting excerpt. The dialogue really helped me to get to know your characters. And I wouldn’t want to be called “baby” and “sunbeam” either. lol It always got to me how back then no one smiled when they were getting their pictures taken. It was a more serious thing than it is nowadays.


  5. I like how Mikhaíl stands up for him like that.
    Quick thinking too about now wanting to see his parents.
    I didn’t realize the health issue was such a secret. Makes sense though


  6. I think this is my first reading of a historical piece and I really like it. The dialogue does help get to know the characters and relate to them on the level a reader should. I am looking forward to reading more.


  7. Mikhail seems a very interesting character, it was nice to see him move to Aleksey’s defense. I think I like him…

    LOL, Amy’s comment made me smile. That one grumpy expression does seem to be common throughout the ages!


  8. I love the details here, but I’d love to what thing SMELLED like (the incense, the candles, the koliva)…this is a strong passage with a lot of life, and a scent detail or two would breathe more life into it, I think…

    Those grumpy faces capture my imagination, especially since I’ve read that the girls were rather the lively sort!

    Your writing transports me beautifully into the heart of life at that time.


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