WeWriWa—Elegance after elegance

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. I’ve been sharing from my alternative history, And Aleksey Lived, which is scheduled to be released in exactly a month, if all goes according to plan. I’m currently experiencing computer problems, but I thankfully still have an 11-year-old computer as backup if the issues aren’t fixed in time. It runs a bit slower and isn’t so up to date, but the most important thing is that it works!

This week’s snippet comes a few lines after last week’s, when soon-to-be Empress Arkadiya had lunch with her future sister-in-law Tatyana and Tatyana’s three surviving children at Yelagin Palace. Everything about this palace and its menu impresses Arkadiya with its unfailing elegance. Now, dessert is served.

Menu for the Romanov Tercentenary, 1913

The cooks had prepared miniature hazelnut and chocolate mousse cakes, a cheese platter, plum tartlets, nectarine pudding, lemon and chèvre cheesecake with rhubarb and wine gelées, and chocolate raspberry roll cake. Arkadiya couldn’t imagine ever becoming used to such high-class dining. It always seemed far too much for one meal, particularly given how many leftovers these meals produced. Common sense would dictate the cooks only prepare as much as was expected to be eaten, instead of making too much and not keeping leftovers for the next day. Giving away the extras was wonderful charity, but the same could be accomplished by deliberately making food to be given to hungry locals and important visitors.

After luncheon concluded, Pavel and Varvara went back to their classroom, and Arkadiya followed Tatyana and Galina to the Poppy Red Salon. They entered through tall double doors of mahogany covered with delicate, gilt bronze decorations and engravings, flanked by very polished white pilasters, and topped by a pediment. As its name suggested, the room was full of poppy red furniture and silk tapestries. The deep red commingled with white, dark mahogany, and gold. In contrast to all the other finery in the room, the floor was plain parquet.

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WeWriWa—Inside Yelagin Palace

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week’s snippet comes a bit after last week’s, when soon-to-be Empress Arkadiya arrived at Yelagin Palace, on St. Petersburg’s Yelagin Island, to visit her future sister-in-law Tatyana to discuss the wedding dress.

The servants have had to gently explain to Arkadiya that it’s not a good idea to call Tatyana by her title and style, in spite of what protocol dictates. First name and patronymic will do just fine, since Tatyana and her siblings want to be treated like normal people.

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“Tatyana Nikolayevna is waiting in the dining hall with her children,” the oldest servant said. “I imagine she’ll take you to the Poppy Red Salon afterwards.  She usually entertains guests there.”

A majordomo led Arkadiya to the dining hall, which was outfitted with light walnut wood contrasting with white marble pilasters.  A row of windows on three sides of the room brought in beautiful, bright sunlight which bathed the room in illumination.  The bronze, gilt, silver, and gold carvings, statues, and busts arranged throughout the room sparkled in particular.  Facing the windows were mirrors giving reflections of the palace gardens, which weren’t completely hibernated yet.  It gave the impression of the lush greenery and bright flowers being right there in the dining hall.

WeWriWa—Arrival at Yelagin Palace

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Welcome back to Weekend Writing Warriors and Snippet Sunday, weekly Sunday hops where writers share 8–10 sentences from a book or WIP. This week, I’m returning to my alternative history, which, if all goes according to plan, should be released on 17 July, my primary protagonist’s real-life 100th death anniversary.

And Aleksey Lived is set from 1918–45 (with a brief Epilogue some decades later), and tells the story of a restored Russian monarchy. One of the many unusual things about the new Tsar is his choice of a bride, a morganatic princess instead of an equally-ranked princess from a ruling house. Radical revisions to the draconian House Laws have made this engagement possible. Arkadiya is also seven years his senior instead of a few years younger.

It’s now late autumn 1929, and Arkadiya, the soon-to-be Empress, has been invited to visit her future sister-in-law Tatyana at Yelagin Palace, on St. Petersburg’s Yelagin Island, to discuss the wedding gown.

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Forty minutes later, the Duesenberg drove through the gates of the looming white edifice.  Arkadiya took a few moments to take all this in, before slowly ascending the massive white marble staircase leading to the main entry.  Identical urns were on either side of it, depicting Tritons and Nereids.  Since winter was approaching, there were no plants or flowers in them.  The air was rich with the scent of oranges from the trees in a nearby greenhouse.

The main vestibule was richly adorned with artwork on the ceiling and cornice, along with four stern statues of maidens holding bronze candelabras.  All the simple furniture was dark mahogany.  Several servants in red livery stepped forward to greet her.

Meet some of the people in my alternative history, Part I

I ran out of time to put together a proper post for Monday, so I decided to do a quick photo post highlighting some of the real people who feature as characters in my alternative history. This is my primary writing focus these days, since it deserves all my attention.

These are some of the real-life characters I haven’t featured here yet.

Princess Yelena Petrovna, née Princess Jelena of Serbia (4 November 1884–16 October 1962), wife of Prince (né Grand Duke) Ioann Konstantinovich, daughter of King Petar I and Princess Zorka of Montenegro. Yelena studied medicine at the University of St. Petersburg, but gave this career path up after her son Vsevolod was born. Her daughter Yekaterina was the final child born in Imperial Russia.

In my alternative history, she and Ioann have two more children, Lyudmila and Kazimir, and settle back into Pavlovsk Palace. Yelena eventually returns to med school and becomes a doctor, serving as head of the women’s medical team in St. Petersburg’s Mariyinskiy Hospital during WWII.

Grand Duke Nikolay Mikhaylovich (14/26 April 1859–24 January 1919), called Bimbo, a grandson of Tsar Nicholas I. Because he and his siblings were raised in Georgia instead of St. Petersburg, they were much more progressive-minded than the rest of the family. His  traumatic experiences in the Russo–Turkish War of 1877–78 made him a lifelong pacifist.

Bimbo’s two attempts at marriage were denied, because the first woman was a direct first-cousin (forbidden by Orthodox law), and the second was a Catholic whose parents wouldn’t let her convert. Without a wife or legitimate children, he threw himself into a life of the mind, and became a venerable historian, writer, and scientist.

Like many others, he was horrified at the trajectory Nicholas II’s reign took, esp. the political influence of Empress Aleksandra and Rasputin. In response, Nicholas exiled him. Sadly, this didn’t save him from being murdered by the Bolsheviks.

In my alternative history, Aleksey makes Bimbo his second-in-command because of their shared political beliefs and love of learning.

Grand Duchess Mariya Pavlovna the Elder (née Princess Marie Alexandrine Elisabeth Eleonore of Mecklenberg–Schwerin) (14 May 1854–6 September 1920), called Miechen, the matriarch of the rival Vladimirovichi branch of the family. She had an open rivalry with both her sister-in-law, Empress Mariya Fyodorovna (later the Dowager Empress), and her niece-in-law, Empress Aleksandra.

She and her two oldest sons, Kirill and Boris, made no secret of their ambitions towards the throne. When Tsar Aleksandr III and his family survived a train accident, she lamented that such a chance would never come again.

In my alternative history, Miechen, Kirill, Boris, and their wives are sent to the Shlisselburg dungeon by Grand Duke and Regent Mikhail, and kept there until late 1940. A year later, during the siege of St. Petersburg, Aleksey takes her into his home, the Aleksandr Palace, so she won’t be alone and vulnerable during her twilight years. Whatever underhanded things she’s done and said, she’s still family.

Grand Duchess Yelena Vladimirovna (17/29 January 1882–13 March 1957), Miechen’s only daughter, and her husband Prince Nicholas of Greece and Denmark (22 January 1872–8 February 1938), called Greek Nicky. Due to political turmoil, they were twice exiled from Greece, and lived for a time in France.

In my alternative history, they’re very good to Aleksey while he lives in Paris and attends the Sorbonne, in spite of the bad blood between their branches of the family, and Mikhail’s outrageous behavior towards them.

Crown Princess Ingrid of Denmark (née Princess Ingrid Victoria Sofia Louise Margareta of Sweden; ultimately Queen of Denmark), 28 March 1910–7 November 2000. She loved sports, esp. tennis, skiing, and equestrianism; modernized court life; and served as official patron of Denmark’s Girl Guides.

During the Nazi occupation, she often rode her bike and pushed her baby carriage on the streets of Copenhagen, and put the flags of Denmark, Sweden, and the U.K. in the nursery window. These acts made her hugely popular. When her grandfather, King Gustav V of Sweden, demanded she stop it, she angrily told him she’d do no such thing.

In my alternative history, Ingrid invites Aleksey’s oldest niece Isidora and her husband Prince Gorm to move into Amalienborg Palace with her and Crown Prince Frederick, for safety’s sake. She also helps with rescue operations of Danish Jewry.

St. Vladimir

St. Vladimir, Grand Prince of Kyiv (ca. 958–15 July 1015), was the sixth Ryurikovich ruler of Kyivan Rus. He was the youngest son of Prince Svyatoslav and his servant-turned-wife Malusha.

In 969, Svyatoslav moved his capital to Pereyaslavets (modern-day Nufǎru, Romania). To his oldest son, Yaropolk, he gave Velikiy Novgorod (Great Novgorod), and to Vladimir he gave Kyiv.

Svyatoslav was slain by Pechenegs in 972, and in 976, a fratricidal war erupted between Yaropolk and his younger brother Oleg, Prince of the Drevlyans (an East Slavic tribe). After Yaropolk killed Oleg in battle, Vladimir fled to their relative Haakon Sigurdsson, Norway’s ruler.

Haakon sent many warriors to fight against Yaropolk. When Vladimir returned from Norway the next year, he marched against Yaropolk.

On his way to Kyiv, Vladimir sent ambassadors to Prince Rogvolod of Polatsk (an ancient East Slavic city) to sue for the hand of his daughter, Princess Rogneda (962–1002), who was engaged to Yaropolk.

When Rogneda refused, Vladimir attacked Polatsk, raped Rogneda in front of her parents, and murdered her parents and two of her brothers.

Vladimir secured both Polatsk and Smolensk, and took Kyiv in 978. Upon his conquest of the city, he invited Yaropolk to negotiations at which he was murdered.

Vladimir was proclaimed Grand Prince of all Kyivan Rus.

Vladimir expanded Kyivan Rus far beyond its former borders. He gained Red Ruthenia (Chervona Rus), and the territories of the Yatvingians, Radimiches, and Volga Bulgars.

He had 800 concubines, and at least nine daughters and twelve sons from his seven legitimate wives.

Though Vladimir’s grandma Olga had converted to Christianity and begun Christianizing Kyivan Rus, Vladimir was an unrepentant pagan. He erected many statues and shrines to pagan deities, elevated thunder god Perun to supreme deity, instituted human sacrifices, destroyed many churches, and murdered many clergy.

When a Christian Varangian named Fyodor refused to give his son Ioann for sacrifice, a mob descended upon his house. Fyodor and Ioann, both seasoned soldiers, met the mob with weapons in hand.

The mob, realizing they’d be overpowered in a fair fight, smashed up the entire property, rushed at Fyodor and Ioann, and murdered them. They became Russia’s first recognized Christian martyrs.

Vladimir thought long and hard about this. In 987, he sent envoys to study the major religions and report back on their findings. The envoys also returned with representatives of these faiths.

Vladimir rejected Islam because he couldn’t give up pork or drinking, and didn’t want to be circumcised. He rejected Judaism because he felt the destruction of Jerusalem was “evidence” we’d been “abandoned” by God.

Vladimir found no beauty in Catholicism, but was very impressed by the beauty of Orthodox Christianity.

Vladimir agreed to become Orthodox in exchange for the hand of Anna Porphyrogenita, sister of Emperor Basil II of Byzantium. (Porphyrogenita, “born in the purple,” was an honorific for someone born to a Byzantine emperor after he’d taken the throne.)

Kyivan Rus and Byzantium were enemies, but after the wedding, Vladimir agreed to send 6,000 troops to protect Byzantium from a rebels’ siege. The revolt was put down.

Upon his return to Kyiv, Vladimir compelled his subjects into a mass baptism in the Dnepr River, and burnt all the pagan statues he’d erected.

After the mass conversion, Vladimir formed a great council from his boyars, gave his subject principalities to his twelve legitimate sons, founded the city of Belgorod (Bilhorod Kyivskyy), and embarked on a short-lived campaign against the White Croats.

Though his conversion was politically motivated, Vladimir nevertheless became very charitable towards the less fortunate. He gave them food and drink, and journeyed to those who couldn’t reach him.

He married one final time, to Otto the Great’s daughter (possibly Rechlinda Otona).

In 1014, he began gathering troops against his son Yaroslav the Wise. They’d long had a strained relationship, and when Yaroslav refused to pay tribute to his brother Boris, heir apparent, it was the last straw.

Vladimir’s illness and death prevented a war. His dismembered body parts were distributed to his many sacred foundations and venerated as relics.

Several cities, schools, and churches in Russia and Ukraine are named for Vladimir. He also appears in many folk legends and ballads. His feast day is 15 July.

An ikon of St. Vladimir is one of the things my character Ivan Konev throws into a valise before he escapes into his root cellar to hide from vigilante Bolsheviks who’ve broken into his house in April 1917.

That ikon becomes very dear to Ivan and his future wife Lyuba. They believe Vladimir protected them during the Civil War. When their oldest son Fedya goes to fight in WWII, they lend him the ikon.