Both of my alternative histories, though conceived of years apart, were inspired by the same thing—wanting to give their respective heroes the happy ending they were denied in real life. In the case of Aleksey, I wanted to save him from being murdered so tragically young and to give him the chance to prove himself as history’s greatest Tsar. In Dante’s case, I really wanted him to marry the love of his life while still being inspired to write his magnum opus.
And Aleksey Lived: An Alternative History
Sometimes, the greatest heroes are those no one expects.
Aleksey, the miraculously rescued boy Tsar, knows he may not have a long life, but he’s determined to do all he can, as long as he’s alive, to bring his empire into the modern era and rule with love. But since real life isn’t a fairytale, there are a number of obstacles standing in his way.
Aleksey’s uncle Mikhail, his regent and guardian, radically transforms into a revenge-minded autocrat, and expects him to rule with the same iron fist. Mikhail’s behavior as Regent alienates and horrifies an increasing number of people.
As much as Aleksey wants to take power and start making everything right, he’s held back by his youth and inexperience. In order to gain real-world experience outside palace walls, he heads off to the Sorbonne for four years. After graduation, he begins co-ruling with his uncle.
Shortly before his twenty-fifth birthday, Aleksey is finally compelled onto the throne in his own right. Determined to endear himself to the people and demonstrate how modern and compassionate he is, he begins granting sweeping reforms. However, before he can be formally coronated, he’s ordered to find an Empress.
Arkadiya Gagarina is the least-likely Empress anyone could imagine. Not only is she a morganatic princess, but she’s also seven years older than Aleksey, walks with a limp, and carries several large, hidden burn scars. Regardless, Aleksey wants her and no one else.
Aleksey’s choice of a bride endears him even further to the people, and the reigning couple’s popularity increases even more with the birth of their first child. But just when it seems like Russia has finally come into the modern era, the biggest challenge yet comes when another war breaks out.
And thus begins the most heroic act of his life.
A Dream of Peacocks (working title)
What if one of the most famous love stories in history wasn’t unrequited?
When Dante Alighieri and Beatrice Portinari meet as children on May Day 1274, they’re instantly drawn to one another with a strong, precocious love which increases as they get older. Their dreams of marriage come to an abrupt end when their fathers arrange their betrothals to other people, but an unexpected second chance comes when they’re both widowed in their early twenties.
This happy life is torn asunder in 1301 when Black Guelphs violently seize control of Firenze. While Dante is getting his three daughters into a flight-ready carriage, his little sister Gaetana runs into the courtyard and says her newlywed husband was just murdered. By the time Dante goes back into the house, Beatrice and their youngest child Brunetto have mysteriously disappeared, and the increasing danger makes it impossible to search for them.
Dante receives a letter stating his pregnant wife and only son will be held as hostages unless he buys their freedom with an exorbitant ransom. The Black Guelphs also demand he return to Firenze to be tried on numerous false charges. He begins planning a recapture of the city with other White Guelphs, but none of their plans come to fruition due to bickering and treachery, and Dante has the additional responsibility of protecting his daughters and sister.
When Dante fails to appear in court, he’s sentenced to exile. If he’s caught in Firenze, he’ll be burnt at the stake. Shortly on the heels of this nightmarish development, he receives a letter claiming Beatrice and Brunetto are dead. During this darkest night of his soul, Dante begins writing a long epic poem in which he imagines Beatrice reaching out to him from beyond the grave to save him through an otherworldly journey.
But as his oldest daughter Gabriella insists, the only evidence Beatrice and Brunetto are dead is the word of their untrustworthy enemies. A reunion and happily ever could be destined for this lifetime, not Paradise.