By S.B. Zarben
Disclaimer: The story and the characters are mine although the two leads physical appearances are based loosely on two characters from TV. I'm not gonna say who, it doesn't really matter and if you figure it out for yourself, well, good for you. :-P
History Disclaimer: I have severely mangled Russian history in this story. I just thought I'd warn any history buffs that know better. So, we are going to pretend that the Russian revolution of 1917 never happened, oh, and Russia doesn't get involved in World War I. I've taken some real people and events, changed some things around, added my own people and now have my own version of things. One thing you must remember is that the country is severally underdeveloped. I'm talking no cars, no phones, electricity is under debate, no farm machinery... at least not in this country. For the security it gives some people- it's 1920 in my story.
Violence Disclaimer: Yes and yes. This is a revolution people... they aren't sitting around, drinking tea, and discussing the best way to dethrone the current ruler and take over the country! It isn't very graphic.
Language Disclaimer: A few words that people may consider naughty but they aren't in abundance.
Love/Sex Disclaimer: There are relationships here and there may be the development of a relationship of an alternate nature. If this bothers you then don't read it. I won't disclaim love, I think it is wonderful in all its forms and you're damn lucky to find it. Sex is implied... but it's all PG-13... kissing is as far as it goes in the writing.
Part I: Alliances
The rhythmic sound of horses hooves on the cobblestone road was slowly overwhelmed by loud music and cheering. The sounds came from the city square, where many of the citizens were gathered for the yearly harvest festival. Booths containing many different items, from food to cloth, to little knickknacks were located on the outside of the square. In the center, a large raised platform sat, containing musicians gleefully playing on different instrument.
In the thick of things, a young woman with blond hair was dickering over the price of a bolt of cloth. Her green eyes showed satisfaction as she succeeded in getting the merchant to lower his price. The woman gathered her cloth and waded back into the crowd. Her medium height made it hard for her to see, but that didn't matter since she had a predetermined meeting place with the person she was looking for. The woman made her way the other side of the street and entered a large wooden building, the tavern. The inside was filled with men drinking and smoking. Wild yells were heard as everyone indulged in the festivities.
Not seeing who she was looking for the young woman headed to an empty bar stool. "Ms Engels, it's nice to see you again," the bar tender said as he approached her.
"Hello Mick. Have you seen my brother?"
"Sorry, not today."
"Thanks Mick." Catherine Engels sighed, resigned to wait for her often absent-minded brother, Charles. Catherine looked around the tavern, noticing that a large number of the men were quite drunk and she hoped that none of them would cause trouble.
In a dark corner of the tavern, a lone figure sat and watched the blond woman at the bar. Visible only as a silhouette to the people in the main room, the figure wasn't concerned about being spotted or recognized. The door opened and the figure's attention was drawn to a younger man wearing a tailored suit and top hat. His dark hair and brown eyes made him nothing special to look at, seeing as the majority of people in the country have the same common looks as him. The figure watched as the man approached the woman at the bar and they started talking.
Catherine turned as she felt someone approach and saw her brother making his way towards her. "Charles, where have you been?"
"Sorry, Catty, I got held up. Did you get everything that you needed?" Charles' voice was rather high and scratchy, but his speech and dress told of his nobility status and cultured upbringing. His sister's speech and dress suggested the same, placing the siblings in the higher class of moderately wealthy Russian nobles.
"Great," Charles replied. "Now we can get out of this city. The vagrant population is starting to annoy me."
"Hey! Whoer yo' callin; a va...vagrant?" One of the drunken men at the bar yelled rather loudly, attracting the attention of the entire tavern. The patrons fell silent and stared and the man who had insulted them and their families.
"If we're so bad then get the hell outta here!" One of the sober peasants yelled.
"Yeah, we never asked for you stuck up, no good nobility types 'round here!" Every one in the tavern started to yell at the siblings standing at the bar. The figure in the corner took this opportunity to rise and slip out the back of the tavern as the nobles left through the front.
As they stepped out the front Charles grabbed his younger sisters arm and started pulling her down the street. "Come on Catty, lets get out of this useless city and its population of savages."
"If you wouldn't say things like that this wouldn't happen, Charles!"
"Oh, please. Don't you start standing up for these churls. We both know that they're uneducated, useless, dumb animals not good for anything except hard labour. Now come on!"
"Charles! These are people you're talking, about how can you..." To say the least, Catherine was shocked by her brothers attitude. She knew that his ideals were very different than her own but had never before heard him express them so openly. What she couldn't understand was how any son of Freidrich Engels, the man who was once a close friend to Karl Mark, could possibly have such radical ideas compared to his father. Being the owner of a large factory chain, with its main building in Moscow, Catherine figured that Charles' involvement in using peasants, or proletariats, for unskilled labour only served to reinforce his opinions.
"We'll talk about this later Catherine. Right now we have to get out of here." Charles pulled his sister down a side street, meaning to avoid the large crowds and ran straight into a wall. He looked up and realized that it wasn't a wall, but a mountain of a man. A very angry looking man who Catherine remembered seeing in the tavern. This man was holding a large piece of wood that Catherine was sure could easily be longer than her arm and twice as thick.
"I don't take kindly to people talkin' bout me family an' friends like that," the large man rumbled. "You ought a be taught a lesson, I'm thinkin'." He slowly raised the hand with the wood in it and aimed at Catherine who suddenly became the target since Chalres had started to cower behind his younger sister. Catherine, and even the large man in the alley who was about to bludgeon them to death, was disgusted by Charles' cowardice and lack of chivalry towards his sister
"Please..." Catherine trailed off, seeing that this man wasn't about to be reasoned with. She closed her eyes, listening to the sound of moving air and waited for the blow that would surely end her life.
The next thing Catherine felt was the cold cobblestone road as she got the wind knocked out of her. She heard a hollow sound followed by a slight cracking that sounded suspiciously like bones breaking. She could hear her brother next to her gasping as he watched what was happening. Catherine opened her eyes to see a cloaked form send a right roundhouse flying towards the large man. The figure hit him with a solid crunch and he went down, hitting the street with a muffled thud. "What...what happened?" Catherine wondered out loud. She turned to look at her brother who was slowly gathering himself and standing up. He held out his hand, which Catherine accepted, and allowed herself to be hauled to her feet. The siblings turned to look at the cloaked person who was standing over the large man, who was now unconscious. Taking a closer look, Catherine realized that the figure was more than six feet tall with broad shoulders, and was most probably male. The long black cloak obscured the figure's body and clothes, and the hood completely hid the face. In the growing darkness of the evening, the tall person took a step toward the two nobles and slightly cocked its head, as if asking a question. Catherine stepped forward, ignoring Charles' restraining hand and faced her savior. "Thank-you," Catherine said. "You saved us from that man."
Loud noises coming from the main street distracted the trio. Suddenly, the figure took another step closer and spoke. "You can't stay here," a low voice said, coming from the black void created by the hood. "It's not safe. Butterstick over there," the figure nodded towards Charles, who immediately assumed an indignant look "stirred up the locals. A large group will be a lot worse than him." The stranger motioned to the man on the ground then turned to leave. "Wait," Charles said, speaking up for the first time. "Come with us, or we'll take you wherever you need to go. It's the least we can do."
The cloaked form turned and looked at Charles, "Thanks, but I'll be fine."
"Please, consider it a thank-you."
"Yes, please come with us. We don't mean you any harm." Catherine spoke up. The stranger seemed to look at Catherine and she became slightly unnerved when imagining the stranger's eyes on her didn't produce any of the feelings of wariness she expected. The cloaked head nodded and motioned for the siblings to follow.
After a lengthy walk through the shadows, avoiding the angry mob the trio reached a wagon hitched with two bay horses. They climbed aboard with Charles taking the reins. The stranger gave Charles some directions which he acknowledged and started driving out of town. Catherine sat in back and gently spoke to the person sitting beside her.
The stranger settled into the wagon, manipulating his long body to fit into the small space. Catherine watched closely as the person sitting beside her reached up and removed the hood obscuring the figure's face. The cloak revealed long, loose black hair and as the stranger's head turned towards Catherine, she was shocked to see intense, sapphire blue eyes. Her tanned face, framed by black hair had high cheekbones and firm jaw giving the woman a regal bearing.
Catherine shook herself out of the trance when she realized that she was staring. 'My God, this isn't a man but a woman. And a peasant at that! Charles is going to flip.' Thankfully, the woman didn't seem to notice. As she was pulling her shirt out of men's trousers Catherine saw a wince briefly cross the strong profile. She gently moved the woman's hands and pulled the left end of her shirt out.
Catherine gasped involuntary when she saw that a large black, purple and blue bruise spread over most of the ribs on the woman's left side. "Did that guy in the alley hit you?" Catherine asked. She looked up and saw the dark head nod. She also noticed the clenched jaw muscles and realized how much broken or even cracked ribs must hurt. "Can I do anything?" The woman simply handed Catherine a strip of cloth that she had dug out of a saddlebag buried under the straw. The young noblewoman took it and started wrapping the taller woman's ribs.
"So," Catherine started, trying to take distract the woman from her injury, "what's your name?"
"OK, I'm Chaterine Engels. Where are we going?"
"To somewhere safe," Serge answered as Catherine finished wrapping her ribs as best she could in the complete darkness. Serge pulled her shirt back down and reclined back in the straw in the wagon.
"You don't live in the city?"
Catherine decided that Serge wasn't much of a talker in the best of times, and now with her hurt she really wasn't in the mood for small talk. She watched as Serge closed her eyes, seeking solace from the shooting pain in her left side.
To Catherine it felt like several hours in the cramped wagon before Serge told Charles to pull off the dirt road and directed him to a small clearing. "This is far enough for now, it isn't really that safe to travel in the dark."
Serge climbed down from the wagon and grabbed some blankets that had been sitting in the back. She handed them to Catherine and then moved off into the woods.
Catherine examined the four pieces of linen in her hands and decided that Serge wanted her and Charles to use them to sleep. She shrugged and started spreading them out on the ground, only to be interrupted by her brother's shrill voice.
"What on earth are you doing?! Did you see that woman? She's a ugh,... peasant, and you're actually considering sticking around here? I can't believe...."
"Charles, shut up! Like it or not those people back in the city probably want out blood. Staying with Serge is the best chance we have of getting through this. Besides, she really isn't that bad. Now go to sleep." Catherine threw her brother two of the blankets and then lay on the ground.
Sleep, however, didn't come easily. She was worried about Serge, having not seen her since they arrived in the small clearing. Finally, after two hours time she heard someone enter their little camp and was able to slip into slumber.
Travelling on a wagon, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, wasn't a fun experience. Catherine was thankful that it was the fall and a little bit cooler than the summer. Her brother had constantly complained until Serge had given him a look that could kill, which promptly silenced him.
Serge seemed unaffected by the heat and travel, and had hardly said two words all day. She had renewed her instructions to Charles and promptly sat back down in the back of the wagon. Catherine had tried repeatedly to draw the enigmatic woman into conversation, only to receive one word answers that lacked any enthusiasm.
Finally, Catherine resigned herself to spending the journey alone with her thoughts - which weren't very interesting. After several hours of silent travel something finally happened to break the boring stillness.
A group of three horses were visible, coming towards them, and Charles stopped the wagon at Serge's request. The tall woman stood in the back of the wooden cart and waited as the men pulled their horses up alongside the traveling trio.
"Lo, Serge." The closest man greeted. Serge nodded and returned the sentiment.
"Brewer, what are you doing out here?"
"I might ask you the same thing. If you were coming from that direction," the man nodded back the way they had come, "then you were far from home. And with two nobles, at that! Are you getting cabin fever again, Serge? Things too boring for you in that little place of yours?" Brewer said all this with a smile and a slight chuckle at the end.
Catherine relaxed after seeing this, deciding that the two knew each other and if weren't friends, at least didn't hate one another.
"No, friend, nothing like that. I was in the city for the festival, selling the town's goods."
"Ah, you got saddled with that job, did ya?"
"Wasn't that bad," here Serge leaned toward Brewer slightly, "between you and me, it was kinda enjoyable. It does get a little boring up at home." Brewer smiled at this, and touched the brim of his hat. Serge nodded again and sat back down, giving Charles a wave to continue.
As they started forward again, Catherine saw this as an opportunity to start a conversation. "He seems like a nice man."
Serge nodded and spoke, "He is. It seems like I've known him my entire life, and I almost have. Brewer was a good friend of my uncle's and I saw him a lot as a kid."
"You mentioned selling goods. What did you mean."
"Oh, well, in my town things work a little bit differently. We all grow crops together, the main things, to support the entire village. A lot of people have little plots by their houses to grow more of the things that their family likes. The main group of crops are normally enough to support the village for the year, seeing as a lot of it gets canned, or salted, or dried. Something like that. Anyway, anything left over from the main crop is stored but when storage is full, like this year, we sell what's left. People with private plots often sell their food, too. It makes a lot of rubles."
"What do you do with the money."
"The money made by food contributed by people goes back to them, and the money from the main harvest goes to the pot." At Catherine's questioning look Serge explained. "The pot is what we call the town's money. Sort of like a treasury in the big cities."
"Oh. So, what if there isn't anything to sell from the main harvest. Does someone make the trip just for the private plot food?"
"No, a lot of the people from town make different things. One woman makes great boots, a man makes really nice knives, and there is another fellow who makes tack for horses. Those are just the practical items. They make so many in a year, usually, and sell them at the market. They'll usually mend or give whatever they make to someone else in town who needs it. Most of the time they trade, or get paid a little money. All these things get sold at the harvest market. I got into the city three days ago and spent that time selling it all."
Serge finished her lengthy explanation and Cathreine was amazed at how many words the silent woman had strung together. The tall woman's speech gave Catherine a lot to think about, as she leaned back and went over everything she had learned. 'That's not how it works in the cities. Not even close! I'll have to see, but it seems to me that these people are doing pretty well. Maybe the tsar could learn something from whoever the landowner is about how to run an economy.'
The rest of the trip was ridden in silence, as each occupant thought about what had been said, including Charles who had listened with rapt attention.
"Where on earth are we going? The only thing around here are tiny hamlets full of peasants!"
Still grumbling, Charles nevertheless followed the instructions he had been given and turned off into what looked to be a run down, tiny, dingy village. Soon, the wagon proceeded through a stand of trees and the two nobles were rather surprised to find themselves in what looked like a rather substantial little town. They stopped the wagon in the Town Square and looked around themselves. Several wooden buildings that looked like a general store, butcher, and healer's office were located on different sides of the square. There was also a building that appeared to be a well-kept tavern. As Charles watched, peasants started coming out of buildings and in from the fields. They gathered around the wagon, loosely holding pitchforks and staves. Their faces showed disdain, anger, and hatred. Charles didn't have any misconceptions that these were hostile villagers, who had a good idea of how to use the weapons they carried.
They sat in the wagon, waiting for the peasant villagers to make the first move. A tall muscular man stepped out of the crowd and faced Charles, obviously the spokesman.
"We don't know what you folks are doing here. There is nothing here that you people could want, and if you try to take anything we aren't helpless. I suggest that you leave immediately."
A rustling in the back of the wagon alerted Catherine that the voices had woken Serge, who had fallen into a slight doze not long before. As she stood up, Catherine immediately saw a change in the villagers. The anger and hate was still there, but slightly less intense.
"Serge! Are you OK?" A young man shouted and came forward from the crowd.
"Joel, calm down, I'm fine." Turning, Serge started to address the entire crowd. "I'm fine, these people didn't hurt me. Please, treat them with respect and don't judge them until you get to know them." With that Serge stepped from the back of the wagon and moved around to the large man standing at the front. She briefly spoke to the man and then turned and nodded at Catherine, as if saying that everything was going to be fine. Then, she turned and walked into one of the buildings with Joel.
Catherine watched as the mob slowly dissipated, leaving her, her brother, and the man who had spoken to them when they first arrived. In the daylight, and the cloak no longer tied around her neck, Catherine got a better look at the dark haired stranger. She wore brown men's trousers and soft black leather boots. A baggy white shirt with laces loosely tying the V-neck together graced her upper body. The sleeves were loose, but tight at the wrists, giving her the image of a pirate. A brown leather vest covered the shirt and the long black cloak from the night before was hanging over her arm.
Catherine stepped down off the wagon to stand beside the tall man. She gave her quiet brother a look, noticing that his behaviour had changed drastically since arriving in the town. "So," the large man said, "you two brought Serge back here. Why?"
"Uh..um..well she saved our lives in the city and got hurt in the process. I guess it was sort of like saying thanks. We aren't here to do you any harm or anything." Catherine had a pensive look on her face, like she was expecting to be thrown out of the town.
"Don't worry about it. You must understand, we haven't had any good experiences with the nobility, and it didn't look too good, riding like that. We're very protective of our own. I'm Bernard, by the way." The large man held out his hand and Catherine shook it, seeing that the larger man's hand engulfed her own.
"Catherine Engels," she replied to the man.
"Nice to meet you," he said, then seemed to think for a moment. "Serge said the you folks stirred up the locals in the nearby city. You must understand that things like that aren't taken lightly in this region. It won't be too terribly safe to travel around this area for awhile. Serge told me to let ya both know that you're welcome to stay 'round here until things quiet down. You'll be safe; troublemakers don't come into our little home. Serge made sure of that."
"Bernard!" A voice yelled to large man from one of the fields. He turned and nodded his head than faced Catherine again.
"If you'll excuse me I have to take care of something. I hope to see that you decide to stick around for awhile." With that, the man turned and headed into the fields at a light jog.
Catherine looked around herself and decided that she would very much like to stay around for a few days, especially if she has a chance to learn more about Serge. Catherine looked at her brother who seemed to be mumbling to himself and decided that he wouldn't miss her presence too much. With that decided, she started walking to the building that Serge had gone into and she had identified as the tavern.
Charles sat in the wagon muttering to himself, completely oblivious to all the activity around him. "I can't believe that I was rescued by a peasant. And a woman! This will just not do and I don't like the way my sister was looking at that vagabond. Well, I'll fix this, these people won't poison my sister."
With his mind made up, Charles rose from the wagon to search for his sister. He was going to find Catherine then get out of this town full of stupid, useless animals.
Catherine entered the dimly lit building and looked around. At the back of the room was a long wooden counter that served as a bar. Tables filled the space between the door and bar. Behind the well kept counter was another door that Catherine gathered led through into the kitchen. In the back right-hand corner of the room a set of steps wound their way up to a second level.
As Catherine looked at the gathering occupants who were starting to settle as the afternoon meal came closer she was pleased to no longer see hostile looks. She was still getting a few cautious looks from the older villagers, but most everyone now showed a friendly openness towards her.
Catherine was privately amazed at the effect Serge had on these people by just saying a few words. 'They all must be pretty loyal to one another' Catherine thought.
She turned as she sensed someone approaching and smiled when faced with a young friendly face. The young woman held out her hand, which Catherine grasped, reflexively.
"Hi," the cheerful young woman greeted Catherine. "I'm Emily. I just wanted to say thanks."
"Catherine Engels. Thank me for what?"
"Oh, well you helped Serge out. I know it doesn't seem like that big of thing but most people would have just left her in the city. With her being hurt and all it would have taken her a lot longer to get back here. It's just that we all sorta worry about everyone else. Especially Serge."
Catherine smiled at the young woman and her last statement. Although she had a pretty good idea of to what the woman was referring she asked anyway. "Why especially Serge?"
The young woman looked around her then stepped closer to Catherine. In a conspiratorial voice she whispered, "She tends to get into a lot of trouble. But don't you tell her I said that."
"I wouldn't dream of it."
The two women laughed, feeling totally at ease around one another. "Seriously," Emily continued, "we all love Serge a lot. The older folks watched her grow up, and we younger people grew up with her. I know that's a normal thing, but Serge is special. She's really important to a lot of people. And her uncle! He lived here for awhile before Serge came, he was the nicest man. Everyone loved him, and he raised his niece like his own daughter. Did a great job, too. Jeez, listen to me babble on!" Emily smiled, and Catherine returned the favour, cherishing the information she had learned.
"Do you know where Serge is? I wanted to talk to her."
"Sure," the young woman replied. "Joel took her upstairs. Follow me." Emily turned towards the stairs and Catherine followed, anxious to talk to the tall stranger again. Emily's voice shook Catherine out of her remembrance of Serge's entrance into her life.
"She's probably throwing a fit by now, so Joel will be glad of the interruption."
"Why is she mad?"
"Oh, she isn't really mad. It's more of frustration. Serge is a great doctor but the worst patient you could imagine."
"Serge is a doctor." Catherine's voice showed her surprise at this revelation.
"Yeah, well, she isn't an official one or anything. It's just one of the things that Serge does. She's been teaching Joel for the last little while cause Serge figured that if anything serious ever happened, and with her not living in the town, that the time it would take for someone to go get her was enough for the injured to die. She decided that it would be best to have someone who had some idea of what they were doing in the town. Plus, Serge travels around a lot."
As they crested the top of the stairs Catherine looked down a long hallway with five doors in it. Two resided on the right side of the hallway while the other three took up the left. Emily led Catherine to the end of the hallway and stopped outside the last door on the right. Catherine, too, paused as she heard voices coming out of the room. She recognized the low tones of her hero from the alleyway.
"Serge, please, just sit back down. You have two cracked ribs and shouldn't be moving around so much." The voice of the young man was pleading and slightly worried. The reply was agitated and tinged with frustration.
"Joel I'll be fine. This isn't going to kill me and I'm not just gonna sit around in here for the rest of the day."
"Fine. At least sit back down and let me wrap your ribs better to make you more comfortable."
A slight grunt of assent could be heard and then a light thumping as Serge dropped back down onto a bed. Having decided that the argument was over, Emily opened the door and stepped into the room, with Catherine close behind.
As Catherine entered the room she turned to the right and took in the decor. A table and chairs sat in the center of the room, and a fireplace took up the entire back wall. Running against the wall adjacent to the fireplace sat a bed, with the head closest to the fireplace. Sitting on the bed was Serge and kneeling in front of her was the young apprentice in training, Joel.
The figures in the room turned as they heard people enter. Joel smiled quickly then turned back towards his reluctant patient. Serge gave a brief nod of recognition then winced slightly as Joel pulled the linen bandage tighter.
Serge sat with her brown leather vest off, holding her white shirt up to give Joel access to her torso. From where Catherine was standing she could make out the well-defined muscle on the flat stomach, with tanned skin stretched tightly over top. 'She's more than a regular farming peasant.' The thought went through her mind, and Catherine found herself wondering where, exactly, it had come from.
Joel finished wrapping Serge's ribs then stood up as she let her shirt fall back down.
"Thanks," Serge said. Joel smiled and nodded then turned towards Catherine. He held out his hand and smiled. "We weren't formally introduced before. I'm Joel Karmik."
"Catherine Engels. It's nice to meet you, Joel."
"Likewise," Joel replied. He smiled again then turned towards Serge. "Are you going to be down for lunch?"
"Yeah," Serge replied. She stood up and proceeded to tuck in her shirt. Joel nodded then turned, and latched onto Emily's arm, walking both of them out of the room. Catherine silently watched as Serge finished tucking in her shirt then struggled to put on her vest, trying not to pull on her injured ribs. The tall woman managed to get her vest on the turned toward Catherine with a raised eyebrow. "Did Bernard tell you about my offer?"
"Yes. I can't speak for my brother but I would like to stay around for a few days. I don't like the idea of traveling on the road with the possibility of getting ambushed."
"Good. You can either stay in one of the extra rooms here or come out to my place. It's more private if that's the kind of thing you like and really empty. It's your choice." Catherine was mildly shocked. Here she had been trying to figure out a way to be around the enigmatic woman and she up and gives Catherine an invitation into her house. Huh.
"Sure, I'd like that. Staying at your place I mean." Catherine smiled as Serge nodded.
A decision had just been made that would radically influence both woman's lives. It would remain to be seen if that influence would be good, bad, or potentially deadly.
Sitting in the tavern, Catherine had a better opportunity to observe Serge and the other villagers. One conclusion the she quickly came to was that Serge stuck out like a crow in a flock of swan's. Besides the fact that she chose not to wear the traditional clothes of most peasant woman, being a long skirt and linen shirt, what she did wear wasn't even considered traditional men's clothes.
Most Russian men wore trousers, as did Serge but hers had extra padding on the inside of the legs and around the knees. The men usually wore felt boots where Serge's were black leather. Long linen shirts, belted at the waist, was hardly the same as what Catherine was starting to call Serge's pirate shirt. Also, Catherine could never in her life remember seeing anyone wear a vest. Serge did. 'So, here I have a woman who I know nothing about and is a very complex looking mystery. I wonder if the way she dresses has anything to do with it?'
The other thing that caused Serge to stick out so thoroughly was her physical appearance. Most of the residents, as Catherine observed, were Russian. They all looked basically the same, with dark brown hair and eyes. There were about two people with blond hair and eyes another color than brown or an almost charcoal black.
Serge on the other hand sported her dark hair and impossibly blue eyes. They were, without question, her most striking feature. Topping six feet, Serge was taller than almost everyone in the town except maybe Bernard who about reached her height and another young man. Serge also had a presence that she carried with herself, that almost caused a physical shock when she entered a room. 'The power of personality.' Catherine smirked slightly at this thought and she continued to watch the occupants of the building.
Catherine found these thoughts running through her head as she watched almost every person talk to Serge and make sure that she was all right. She found herself slightly amused to see their steadfast loyalty, and decided that it was borne of more than being just a good neighbor.
'Another question, and so few answers. I doubt that Serge will be very forthcoming.'
Catherine shook herself out of her thoughts as Serge finished speaking with the last villager and sat at the table across from her.
"Did that go well?"
"Huh. Oh, yeah. They were just concerned."
Catherine decided on the direct approach. "Why? I mean don't get me wrong, you all obviously care a lot about each other, but every person in town came in and talked to you. I'm just wondering how they acquired such strong feelings toward you."
Catherine held her breath, while Serge processed what she had just said, hoping that she hadn't angered the woman.
"I've lived in this village since I was less than a year old, with my uncle. Pretty much everyone here either saw me grow up or grew up with me. They've been like my family for a long time."
"What about your uncle?"
"He...a...he died when I was 12. I don't have any other family, not that I know of. All my uncle told me was that someone dropped me off at his place when I was a baby, a little less than a year old. He didn't tell me about my parents or anything, even though I asked."
"Do you think he knew...I mean who they were. Did anyone tell you that you were his niece or did he just raise you that way?"
Serge briefly wondered why she was telling Catherine all this. She had never discussed her past and family with anyone. All the people in the town knew her story and didn't have anymore knowledge about her family. It was never a subject Serge particularly liked to discuss, often digging up her sour feelings toward her parents for throwing her out like garbage. However, with Catherine she felt sort of at ease and relaxed. Kind of like she was an old friend.
"He knew. He was told that I was his niece and any other things about my family that he wanted or needed to know at the time. When I asked him the first time, he told me that he knew everything, but for my own good it was better that I didn't know." Serge shrugged, having come to terms with her situation a long time ago.
Catherine felt a wave of sadness for the child that Serge had been. Not knowing any love from her parents or any siblings she might have had. But to know that the only family she ever knew had all the information about her parents, but had decided for her that she didn't need to know... that seemed like cruel torture.
Catherine and Serge turned as the door to the tavern was pushed open and Charles entered, his face showing anger and a mild feeling of frustration. As he approached the table with heavy steps Catherine saw Serge stiffen slightly. She gathered that Serge harbored some bad feelings toward her brother after the entire alley incident.
He stopped at the table and stared at Serge for a couple of long seconds. She looked back, a completely bland expression on her face, clearly communicating how unimpressed she was by Charles.
Not able to hold her intense glare, Charles shifted his attention to his sister. "Come on Catherine, we're leaving." His tone conveyed his annoyance and the fact that he wouldn't take too kindly to being disobeyed.
Catherine shook her head, not moving from her chair and uttered a single "No."
"What!!!" Charles practically shrieked. "How dare you say no to me. You will not disobey me, we are leaving this godforsaken hovel in the middle of nowhere and that is final."
"I said no, Charles. I'm not leaving, at least not yet." Catherine looked
Charles, while Serge silently observed, watching his face turn red with anger.
The incensed man stomped around the table to forcibly pull his sister up from her chair. Just as he was about to latch onto Catherine's shoulder he found his arm held tight in an iron grip.
Charles turned with his mouth open, ready to yell at the person who dared to grab him. He stopped cold when he looked up to be met with suddenly cold, hard eyes, that held a smoldering fire of rage.
"She said she wasn't going. I suggest that you forget about trying to take Catherine out of here forcibly and leave. Now." The low, dangerous voice, told of barley restrained fury.
If Charles was a smart man, he would of taken in the woman's stance, voice, and slightly wild eyes, plus the fact that he had seen this woman knock a man out that was twice her size, and backed off. But Charles wasn't a smart man; in fact, he was anything but.
"And what are you going to do about it, huh? You have no right, whatsoever, to do anything to me. You can't touch me, I'm nobility and you're just a lowly inconsequential bug."
"Oh, but you are wrong. I have every right to pick you up and throw you out of this town. You see, I asked you to leave and the moment you refused you became a trespasser. You are now illegally standing on MY land. I am the complete owner of all the land this town is on and everything surrounding it for quite a ways. Now get lost." Serge's last sentence was spoken in a rising crescendo until she was yelling out the words, shaking the walls of the tavern.
In one swift movement, Serge twisted Charles' arm, turning him around so he faced the door. She then let go and gave him a shove toward the wooden door.
Charles, slightly shocked, walked out the door without so much as a look back.
Catheine had watched the entire exchange; her mouth going slack-jawed, as the implications of what Serge had just said hit her full force. 'She isn't a peasant, not really...how...what's going on. That's a lot of land. My God!' Catherine's disjointed thoughts were ended when she heard Serge's low voice, addressing her.
"Come on, we need to talk." Serge walked toward the door with Catherine following, lunch forgotten.
As the two people, both seemingly from totally different worlds, walked down a narrow dirt road away from the village, Charles bolted from the town with revenge on his mind.
Serge lead and Cathrine walked a pace or two behind, both of them lost in thought.
Catherine looked at the strong back in front of her, wondering just what else there was to find out about this woman. Different scenarios started running through her mind, none of them particularly appealing. Doubts about people's motives in life came back to Catherine, issues that she had almost forgotten about, not having to deal with them for some time.
For the longest time it had seemed to her that almost anyone she had ever met had an ulterior motive of some kind. Wheater it was to squelch off of her nobility status for money, power, or prestige or someone with a weird idea of getting to her father through Catherine, there had always been some other plan.
Catherine tried her hardest to find out if anyone new in her life was up to something else. She had been free of suspicious characters for a long time. Now, however, with this latest information that Serge was more than she originally suspected, Catherine started to wonder what else was hidden behind that peasant exterior.
Serge was going through her own internal battle. She had never been a very trustful person, not even towards the people in the village who she grew up with. What she needed to decide was how much to tell Catherine. Serge had to decide if telling the woman everything was worth the risk it would bring both to Catherine, herself and everyone else she knew.
'The woman could be a great help to you.' Serge thought to herself. Her more cynical side, the one damaged by the events of her life replied. 'Yeah, or she could be just like everyone else, and as soon as you tell her she'll turn around and stab you in the back - literally. Not to mention everyone else involved.' Serge shook her head at these thoughts. 'No, Catherine isn't like that. She'd understand and help. Maybe even become a friend.' The cynic raised its head again. 'Oh, yeah, that's rich. When was the last time you had a friend? Uh, let's see, never! If you tell her, you're setting yourself up for crucifixion. Don't break your cardinal rule kid. Don't ever hope, believe, trust, or get attached. You learnt that the hard way the first time.'
Serge sighed and shook her head again. She couldn't decide. For the first time in her life, she had met someone who she seemed to be able to get along with. For some reason Serge felt inexplicably drawn to Catherine, like she needed to know the woman and that was her purpose in life. The only problem with that was simple. Knowing Serge, really knowing her and who she was, would get Catherine killed - if she was lucky. 'This is hopeless!!"
Seeing Serge shaking her head and mumbling, Cathreine decided to make the first move. She took two quick steps so that she was walking beside the woman and asked a straight forward question.
"How did you happen to just drop out of the sky and save my life?"
"Oh, well I sorta...was watching you."
"Yeah, I was in the tavern when your brother came in and opened his big fat arrogant mouth. I knew that he had just stirred up a lot of trouble. I've seen it happen before. So I kinda looked out for you." Serge didn't look at Catherine, afraid that the woman would be mad.
Catherine digested this information, wondering why a complete and total stranger, who obviously thought of herself as a peasant, would look out for someone considered nobility. She voiced this very thought to Serge and waited patiently for a reply.
"Uh...well, when I saw you I guess you could say that I felt this urge to get to know you better. To do that, you kind of have to be alive." Serge shrugged, explaining the best way she could something she didn't understand.
"I felt it too, in the alleyway. This surge of emotion and a familiar feeling like I know you, or that I should. That's one of the reasons I decided to stay."
The duo looked at each other, both of them nodding ever so slightly. And an agreement was reached, relaxing a slight tension that had been between the two of them. They would try to go with this strange feeling, get to know one another.... and see if it brought them to something else - something that neither one knew they were looking for.
Having decided that the conversation had gotten way too serious for two people whom had just met, Catherine did one of the things that she does best, asked a question. "Where are we going?"
"Out to my place. I figured that we might have a few things to discuss, it's more private."
Catherine nodded, looking forward to asking some questions and learning more about this woman who had entered her life no more subtly than a tornado.
Serge, for her part, was still waging an internal war about something that she hadn't given to anyone since her uncle died.
"So," Serge walked into the living room of her two story house that she inherited from her uncle, "I've told you some of my dirty little secrets, what about you?"
Catherine looked up at Serge from her spot sitting on the couch in front of a large stone fireplace. The living room was to the right of the entrance. As soon as you walked in the door you were faced with a long hallway that ended at a set of stairs. Exiting from the right of the hallway was the living room, while exiting from the left took you into a kitchen area. Further down the hallway, and slightly behind and underneath the rising stairs was a bedroom containing a single bed and a dresser, Serge's room. Slightly after the kitchen there was a room containing a desk and two bookshelves, stacked with bound volumes. Catherine figured that it served as a study of sorts.
Serge had given her a slight tour, saying this is there and if you go through that door you end up here. She had not ventured upstairs, and Catherine figured that Serge didn't use that part of the house. Seeing as she lived completely alone, it was probably easier to maintain one floor.
"Oh, well there isn't much to tell. I was born into a rich family, got an education of sorts, and had hoped to find some sort of job but Charles squashed that by saying proper ladies don't work. I'm involved in politics, some, although there are certain things regarding our whole government situation that I still don't get."
"Well, just events that happened back in 1917 and a few things that led up to that whole fiasco."
"It's really easy to understand. Tsar Nicholas was losing his power and control; the entire situation was about to erupt in 1917. Now, his nephew, Ivan V took exception to this and challenged Nicholas for the throne. He won out and became tsar. Ivan is more like his grandfather, Alexander III was, and he was determined to put an end to revolutionary resistance. I'm certain that if Ivan hadn't gotten involved there would have been a revolution back in '17."
"You are huh? Well what happened to Nicholas and his family, and why couldn't Nicholas' heir take the throne from Ivan. Surely he had the right." Catherine briefly wondered why Serge knew so much about events that happened three years ago, several thousand miles from this little village.
'Careful, Serge. If you say too much she'll start to get suspicious.' "His heir would have been able to take the throne with no fuss if they could find him. You see, when the tsar first gets married they have to make a decision right then and there. They must decide if their first born will become his heir or his first male born. Nicholas chose his first born, but here's the thing. His first child went missing about 10 months after birth. Nobody really knew what happened, but the official story was that the child was kidnapped. So, none of his other children had the right to the throne. By default, any of Nicholas' brothers' first born children had the right to challenge Nicholas for the throne. That's what Ivan did."
Catherine nodded her head, soaking up this new information. She finally understood something that had bothered her for a long time. The only thing she wondered, was why Serge could explain something so well that no one else could. 'There is something else going on here...something she isn't telling me for whatever reason.'
Catherine sighed, deciding that if Serge didn't want her to know than she never would, and if she did want her to know then she'd tell her when she was ready.
"Do you work?" Catherine had no clue as to where her question came from, but it seemed safe enough.
"Sort of. My uncle had money, that much is obvious." She waved her hand indicating the house and property beyond. "He also owned a bunch of mines, the Fedorovich mines. It was more of a way to keep him busy and distract him. I'm in charge of them now, but I don't openly get involved. My uncle worked very closely with another man when he was alive, and I gave him all the control. He runs everything, gives me a report every two weeks and only gets me involved if there is a big decision to be made. As far as everyone else is concerned, my uncle's son is running the show, not his niece."
"Does he have a son?"
"No. One of the mines is located about ten minutes east of here. A lot of the men from the villages around here work at it - better money. Sometimes, when I start feeling restless and need to do something I go over there and just mine. No one knows who I am, except the foreman."
"Why don't you get more involved in the mines? I mean, isn't that sort of a legacy left to you by your uncle."
Serge smiled slightly at this. "Catherine, you have to understand something. I was raised told that it was better off that I never found out who I was supposed to be. After a childhood like that, I have this, instinct, I guess, to stay out of the spotlight. Running the largest chain of mines in Russia would attract a lot of attention. Why do you think my uncle lived in the middle of nowhere? I'd rather that the world not know I exist."
"But, Serge, that isn't living. It's more like existing. Do you do anything? I mean, outside of going to the mine once in a while and the things you do in this village, do you go out into the world. Other, larger, cities?"
Serge shook her head. "My uncle lived. It got him killed." Serge abruptly stood. "It's late. You can sleep upstairs. Go up the stairs and go in the first door on the left, everything you need is in there. Goodnight." Serge turned and headed out of the room for her bedroom.
Great, Catherine, now you've done it. Get the woman talking, then open your mouth and she clams up again.
Catherine stood and made her way upstairs, hoping that in the morning Serge would still talk to her.
The night sky darkened to a pitch, nightmarish black. Roiling clouds filled the sky and started pouring rain onto the sleeping world below.
Lightning and thunder burst forth from the sky, venting its anger onto unsuspecting humanity. The seething clouds made its way toward Meknvich, a tiny town in the middle of nowhere, owned entirely by Serge Fedorovich.
Serge shot straight up in her bed, the pounding of the rain on the roof above her and the mind numbing thunder having woken her. She watched as bright flashes of lightning lit up her room, eerily making everything visible in a mixture of shadows and light before turning dark again.
She listened, trying to ignore the storm. Something besides the weather had woken her, something that filled Serge with nervous energy. Listening intently with her head cocked, she heard if very faintly.
A horse.. no lots of horses; her horses. Mixed with panicked whinnies was the slight sound of hooves pounding on the wet earth.
Serge bolted out of bed as the presence of these sounds finally penetrated her sleep fogged mind. The horses were out, they were panicked.
Serge pulled on a shirt, wincing as she was reminded of her cracked ribs. Running out of her room she grabbed her boots on the way into the hallway. In her haste to get outside she forgot about the bench that lined the wall. Tripping head over heals she cursed as the bench toppled, landing on her legs and an old vase that had been sitting on the bench shattered.
Hearing the commotion downstairs, and already awake from the storm, Catherine emerged from her room and headed down the steps.
"Serge." Catherine called tentatively. She was attracted by a low voice cursing a blue streak, down the hallway, in a language Catherine had never heard before. A bolt of lightning lit the house, allowing her to see Serge struggling on the floor. Catherine walked over and moved the bench off of Serge.
"You all right?" Serge stood and looked at Catherine then nodded her head.
"Come on, the horses are out and I need some help." Serge bent down to pick up her boots and proceeded to put them on while hopping toward the door. Catherine grabbed a pair of boots that Serge had loaned her, saying her own footwear was unacceptable. She followed Serge outside.
When they got outside, the entire place was in total disarray. Serge's four horses had further turned up the ground creating deep sticky mud. Lightning had struck a tree twelve feet from the front of the house and it continued to flame despite the rain.
Within minutes both Serge and Catherine were soaked, covered in mud, and highly annoyed with the rampaging animals. Serge had managed to get two of the large horses into the corral. The third was constantly running in front of the house and around another tree several feet from the one on fire. The fourth animal was standing calmly by the side of the house, but would bolt whenever either of them got too close.
They had decided to try and corner the fourth animal by approaching him at the same time from two sides. Slowly, they were close enough for Serge to grab him and slip a rope halter onto his head. She attached a lead rope and handed it to Catherine.
"He'll be fine now that we've got him. I'm gonna go get the other guy." Before Catherine could question Serge's methods she had walked off towards the tree that the animal would soon circle again.
Catherine watched as Serge easily jumped up onto the branches and crouched down, waiting.
As the horse came closer Serge judged the distance and lunged onto the animal's back.
Startled, he started to buck and gallop in fear. Catherine watched, scared yet amazed as Serge held on tight with her legs and leaned on top of his neck. Slowly, the animal responded to his mistresses calm voice and touch. He stopped running and allowed Serge to slip off his back and halter him.
Catherine followed Serge as they walked back towards the corral in the back of the house.
Totally drenched, both women were ready to head into the house and change into dry clothes. However, fate was against them when a man came thundering into Serge's front yard on a horse.
Catherine looked at him and remembered seeing him in the tavern the day before.
"Serge, there's been an accident. We need your help down the road."
"I'm coming." Serge turned to Catherine. "You don't have to come, go inside...."
"I'm going." Serge nodded and took off running down the road with Catherine close behind.
Catherine arrived at the scene just after Serge. The man who had gotten them was already there. A wagon had overturned and gotten stuck in the mud. It looked as if one of the occupants was still half trapped underneath.
Serge looked over the people, realizing that these were travelers not anyone from the village. It looked to be a family, consisting of three kids and their parents. The father was the one trapped under the wagon, his left leg stuck between the solid wood that made up the edge of the wagon and the ground.
Serge moved down beside the man and took a quick look. The leg was obviously broken, which would make getting him out from under the wagon even more difficult. The rest of the family seemed to be rather unharmed. She could see a few cuts that would need stitching and the youngest child had a broken arm.
Serge looked to the man who had come on the horse and started to speak. "Davis, see if you can find some big sticks to lever this thing off of him." The man nodded and started to look.
He quickly returned with four large sturdy looking branches. Serge placed them underneath the side of the wagon that the man was stuck under.
"All right. Everyone who can needs to help push on these branches to move the wagon."
All the people standing on the road, except the child with the broken arm, grabbed onto the sticks and started pushing. Slowly, and with a gross sucking sound, the mud let go of its wooden prisoner freeing the man on the ground. As everyone else held the wagon up Catherine moved in and pulled the man out of the way.
When he was clear they all let the wagon drop back into the mud. Serge moved over to the man and quickly set his leg, with him letting out a short scream of pain. She looked around and secured a couple of sticks, then ripped strips of cloth from his shirt.
Serge constructed a crud splint, made sure that no one else had any serious injuries and stood. Serge stiffened as her nape hair suddenly stood on end. Something's wrong. Serge turned and saw the little boy with the broken arm standing at the side of the road.
The next bolt of lightning hit the large tree that he was standing directly beneath. Serge yelled a warning even as she was moving towards him. As she saw the tree fall Serge jumped and pushed the boy out of the way.
Hearing a yell Catherine turned to see Serge pushing the young boy out of the way then froze in horror as the huge tree crashed down on top of Serge's body, hiding her from view.
Serge felt something impact her left side right where her cracked ribs were. Pain coursed up and down her side at this new abuse. The flaming trunk of the tree narrowly missed hitting the rest of Serge's body, but landed square on her legs.
A large branch came down and cracked Serge across the skull. She descended into sweet oblivion.
Catherine bolted over to where she had seen Serge fall, with Davis, and the oldest boy who looked to be 17, and his mother close behind.
Seeing the flaming trunk and Serge's legs underneath it Davis immediately ripped off his heavy jacket and smothered the flames, but not before the young teenager lit three sticks to serve as torches. He planted them in the soft muddy ground, giving the scene on the side of the road an orange glow.
While Davis and the young boy, whom Catherine would later learn was named Jules, started to find a way to move the trunk, Catherine and the woman- Georgia- started moving smaller branches off of Serge. The young boy that Serge had saved had moved off to sit with his father and other sibling on the road at Georgia's instructions. Catherine could tell that the mother was shaken by almost losing her son, she had hugged him and appeared to be crying. Catherine was impressed by the fact that Georgia had not doted on her son longer than she had and was now helping to free Serge.
Catherine started gingerly moving sticks and leaves at about the spot she figured Serge's head to be. When she finally unearthed Serge's dark head Catherine almost passed out with fear. A small cry escaped her lips, attracting Georgia's attention.
The position of Serge's legs suggested she was lying flat on her stomach. When, in actuality, her upper body starting at her thighs twisted around so she was laying on her right side. Blood covered the entire side of her right face, its source a large cut starting above her eyebrow and traveling to her temple.
The first thing that entered Catherine's mind when she saw the position of Serge's body was the possibility of a back injury. Catherine had some medical knowledge and knew that moving Serge without support to her back could possibly paralyze the tall woman. For some reason, Catherine was deadly sure that Serge would not be able to survive in such a condition. It would be unacceptable, and Serge would undoubtedly become a broken woman.
Catherine quickly told Georgia to take an ax that she had seen laying in the mud and chop off a large board from the wagon. She informed Davis and Jules of her concern and that moving the tree off of Serge's legs would have to wait until her back was supported. Davis wholeheartedly agreed.
Davis and Jules quickly secured the board that Georgia had cut onto Serge's back using strips of cloth ripped from various articles of clothing to secure it. The ax was then used to chop off any larger branches that were previously in the way.
Davis and Jules positioned themselves to move the trunk the same way they had moved the wagon. Catherine stayed at Serge's head to make sure nothing hit her and also to insure that if the woman woke up she wouldn't panic.
"OK, on three. 1, 2, 3, push." Davis' booming voice came out of the gloom instructing Jules and Georgia. The trunk moved agonizingly slowly, but it moved, allowing Serge to be straightened out and pulled free.
Once she was free, Davis and Jules wasted no time picking Serge up and moving toward the house to get out of the rain. Any injuries would be examined inside the house. Besides, the only person really qualified to examine Serge was Joel. Georgia and Catherine helped the man to navigate the mud with his broken leg. The remaining children walked in front of Catherine, Georgia, and her husband.
Catherine kept her gaze locked, through the pouring rain and howling wind, to the form being carried in front of her.
The thunder boomed and lightning flashed, mocking the procession and their mortality all the way back to the ranch house.
Davis and Jules moved Serge directly into her bedroom at the back of the house while Georgia and the rest of her family, minus the eldest son Jules, sat down into the living room. The father was sitting comfortably with the rest of his family, his leg set and in no immediate danger. The entire family insisted that Serge be taken care of first as any injuries they had were not life threatening. Davis left again on his horse to fetch Joel while Catherine and Jules stayed with Serge.
Serge's breathing was shallow and strained, with a slightly raspy quality to it. Catherine could see a bruise forming on the right side of her face, starting just under Serge's high cheekbone and spreading down to her jaw line. Her skin was pale underneath the permanent tan the woman seemed to have. Her long body was still on top of the wooden board that served as their backboard.
Catherine told Jules to start boiling some water, and see if he could find some rags. While the young man moved to do his job Catherine sat whispering to Serge. "Don't you go dying on me Serge. I mean it, I won't let you." She knew it sounded absurd, she had only known Serge for a few days and yet Serge had become a friend in that short time, a friend Catherine would hate to lose.
Catherine started pacing around the room, unable to sit still and wait for Jules to return. She walked passed Serge's dresser and accidentally knocked down her leather vest. When she bent down to pick it up a small book fell out of the inside pocket.
Catherine picked up the vest and looked at the front of the book. Her brow scrunched up as a wave of recognition filled Catherine at the title. 'Das Kapital' written in 1867 by Karl Marx was the title that stared up at her. Catherine knew for a fact that anyone carting around this particular book would be highly opposed to tsarism in Russia.
Loud footsteps in the hallway prevented Catherine from thinking about the book and its owner any longer as Jules burst through the door, carrying a bucket of steaming water and a handful of rags.
Catherine piled Serge's things onto the dresser and stepped back over to the bed. She took one of the rags and wetted it, cleaning the dried blood off of Serge's face. Jules started running his hands down Serge's limbs looking for any other injuries. When he reached Serge's legs the still unconscious woman moaned and flinched from the touch.
With a worried frown Catherine moved down to Serge's limbs and gently cut away her trousers with a pair of scissors that Jules had brought. When the clothing had been removed burnt flesh on the sides of Serge's legs met their eyes. They knew that it would be worse on the back of the tall woman's legs but they could not roll her over to check until Joel arrived.
Catherine sucked in a breath, remembering the burning trunk that had been lying across the long legs.
The two people in the room were stopped from doing anything further by Joel coming through the door. He carried a little bag with him and shooed Jules out of the room, asking that Catherine stay.
"Where is she hurt?"
"As far as I've found out is her head, some burns on her legs, and most likely some more damage to her ribs."
Joel nodded and stepped over to the bed, kneeling down beside Serge. He quickly cleaned the head wound and put on some salve followed by a bandage. Next, the healer-in-training pulled up Serge's sopping wet shirt to look at her side.
A fresh black, blue, and purple bruise spread over Serge's entire left side. The skin around was swollen and even Catherine could tell that the previously cracked ribs were now broken. Joel gingerly put on some more salve, also covering some scraps that had been caused by branches.
Once the woman's torso was once again wrapped Joel moved down to Serge's legs. His patient had not yet stirred and Joel hoped it would stay that way for a little while longer while he attended to the burns that were accessible. He hated to leave the back of her legs untreated for fear of infection, but they could not move Serge until she woke up and confirmed that all was well with her back.
Removing the rest of the pant pieces that had been burnt into the flesh was one of the hardest things that Catherine had to assist with. Joel had required some help in getting the cloth free and once it was complete Catherine had not allowed herself to leave. She watched as Joel put yet more salve onto the gruesome looking limbs, then carefully laid linen bandages over top to keep any other debris from finding its way into the wounds.
Thankfully, Serge had stayed unconscious throughout the entire process. Joel left the room to apprise Davis of Serge's condition and look at the traveling family.
Catherine stayed sitting by Serge in case the older woman awoke.
Joel walked through the darkened house toward to living room that was visible due to a slight glow from candles and a fire in the large stone fireplace. His steps echoed on the wooden floor, and the young healer was becoming more nervous about talking to Davis.
The entire town was awaiting news about the health of their leader, landlord, but most importantly their friend. Davis' headlong rush into the town, with the large man yelling Joel's name had awoken the entire town.
Joel's need to know what had happened before he could leave with the appropriate supplies had caused Davis to quickly give a summary of what had happened on the muddy road. Hearing Serge's name had caused all of the villagers to inform anyone else who remained sleeping of the situation.
Now, Joel was sure that the entire population was sitting in the tavern awaiting some news.
When Joel stepped into the living room Davis immediately shot up from his seat on the floor. Joel held up his hand to stop any questions. "Serge has a severe concussion and four broken ribs. Both of her legs have bad burns on them and..." Joel trailed off, unable to think what he was trying to say.
Daivs' gaze on the young man intensified as he realized what Joel was trying to communicate. "Is there a possibility that she'll be... uh... crippled?"
Joel looked up at Davis and answered truthfully. "Always.. there is always that possibility. The muscles in the back of your legs are really important to walking. But with Serge... you never know."
Davis smiled, knowing this to be the truth. Serge had always healed faster than anyone else he had seen. Being three years older than her he remembered growing up with the energetic child. Most of the kids had had at least one broken limb while growing up. Serge had gotten hers after falling from a horse that had been spooked by a group of nobility traveling on the road.
She had broken her leg and Davis clearly remembered that she had completely healed in half the time that it had taken anyone else to heal. And the break had been worse, too.
The young healer continued with his diagnostic. "I can tell you three things for sure. It's going to leave a lot of scarring, it's going to hurt, and it'll be awhile before she's up and walking again. I know that she'll be walking, probably heal up without even a limp!"
Joel's enthusiasm seemed to have a slight effect on the occupants of the room. He nodded slightly to himself as if to confirm his words and then proceeded to examine the rest of his patients.
A yell from the back bedroom sent Davis and Joel racing through the hallway. When they burst through the door they saw Catherine leaning over the bed with a slight smile on her face.
Joel stepped further into the room and sighed in relief when he realized that Serge had woken up and nothing was wrong. He stepped up to the bed, attracting bloodshot blue eyes. "Hey Serge. How ya doing?"
A weak smile answered him followed by, "I'm just great, thanks." The raspy voice was low and hard to hear over the continued rain and wind. Thankfully, the thunder and lightning had ended.
"OK. Listen I was sorta worried about your back. Can you feel and move everything?" The occupants of the room waited in tense silence as Serge gingerly tested her various limbs. At the tall woman's nod, the group let of a collective sigh of relief.
"All right. I want you to turn over so I can look at you back and legs, okay?" Serge nodded again and with the help of Catherine rolled over so she was lying on her stomach. The wooden backboard was removed.
Joel kneeled by the bed and took out a knife, slicing Serge's shirt open down the center. He pulled the halves away, exposing her entire back.
What immediately caught Catherine's attention was a tattoo. Just under Serge's left shoulder blade was a rather large and colorful tattoo. It consisted of a big black capital 'B' surrounded by bright orange and red flame. The word bolshinstvo- meaning majority- was curved over the top of the 'B'. Finally, running down the center of the 'B' was a long sword.
Catherine's brow scrunched as the woman realized that she had seen this somewhere before. Davis, also seeming to remember the tattoo, glanced up at Catherine with a worried and apprehensive look on his face.
Catherine met his gaze with her own bewildered one, which seemed to comfort the older man. A hiss of pain brought both of their attentions back to the person lying on the bed. Joel looked up and smiled, "Sorry. I just touched her ribs. Doesn't look like there's any damage."
"Great," a muffled voice came from the bed, "thanks for your help. Davis go back and let everyone in town know that I'm not going to drop dead."
"You got it Serge." The man clomped out of the room, slamming the door, and took off on his horse once again.
Looking up at Catherine, Joel saw that she was once again staring at the tattoo. He leaned towards Serge and whispered something in the woman's ear. He then moved down the bed to Serge's legs and was relieved to see that he would not have to remove a lot of debris from his friend and mentors legs while she was conscious. Joel worked as quickly as possible, Serge never made a sound, just flinching occasionally. Catherine was on hand to help but was really there to be supportive of Serge. Joel finally finished and before standing, he patted Serge on the back, and then walked out of the room.
Catherine helped Serge turn back over onto her back and then sat down on the edge of the bed. "Hey, you scared me!"
"Sorry. Catherine I..."
Catherine stopped Serge before she could get any further. "Wait. I have some questions for you but they can all wait. You need some rest and I'm not going anywhere. Anything you could tell me isn't as important as your health. Okay?"
"How's the kid?"
"He's fine. They all are, thanks to you. You're a real hero to them you know."
"Nah, I just reacted is all."
"Well, your reaction saved that little boy's life and the parents are very grateful."
Serge nodded and slowly closed her eyes, dropping into an exhausted slumber. Catherine laid down next to her friend and joined her in sleep.
Catherine woke up several hours later to two things. One being the incredible sensation of being hot and the other a low whimpering sound. She opened her eyes and realized that she had fallen asleep next to Serge, and the heat she was feeling was coming from Serge's body.
The next thing Catherine realized was that Serge seemed to be moving around in her sleep, and the low whimpers were coming from the injured woman. Catherine shot up in bed as she realized what all these things meant. Serge had a fever and was having a nightmare.
Catherine stood to go get Joel but was stopped when Serge's low voice penetrated the darkness with coherent words.
"No, please. Don't leave me uncle. This isn't fair...please...you can't die."
Catherine kneeled down next to Serge listening to the woman's words.
"I need you uncle....no....," Serge's voice trailed off and the woman started thrashing violently under the blanket covering her. Fearing that she would hurt herself, Catherine sat down next to Serge and wrapped her arms around the broad shoulders.
"Shhh..it's all right...you're safe Serge." Catherine's soothing voice seemed to calm the woman and Catherine was just about to get up when Joel walked through the door. He held up his hand, indicating that Catherine should stay put.
The young healer started checking Serge's injuries, spending a lot of time cleaning the burns on her legs. "These burns are what's causing the fever. I don't want them to get any more infected." The young man hesitated before continuing, "Catherine, it's going to take awhile for Serge to heal up properly. I can't be here as much as I would like to be. I know that she likes you, and I'm guessing that you like her." Here Joel stopped, looking for some sort of answer. At Catherine's nod he smiled and continued, "Right. Anyway, I was just wondering if you would be able to stick around for awhile or at least come and see Serge. We all have a heck of a time getting the woman to sit still."
Joel continued cleaning the burns, giving Catherine some time to think. "Joel, I was honestly thinking about sticking around. If Serge doesn't mind, that is. I won't be able to stay indefinitely, I'll have to take some trips back into the city, but I'll be here."
Joel nodded, a large grin splitting his young face. "Good." Having finished taking care of Serge, Joel stood and moved out of the room.
Catherine's attention was brought to the form that she still had her arms wrapped around by a low moan. She watched as Serge's eyes slowly opened and blearily focused on Catherine's face.
"Hey." The raspy voice choked out between dry lips. "Water?"
"Oh, sorry." Catherine reached over to a small table by the bed and gave Serge a cup with water in it. She helped Serge to drink, then set the cup back down. "Hey. How ya feeling?"
"I've been better, I've also been worse." Serge's brow scrunched up as she seemed to realize something, and then she looked up at Catherine. "My legs? What happened."
The young noblewoman sighed, having dreaded when Serge would ask. "They were burnt, when you saved that little boy. Do you remember that?"
"I remember catching my horses with you.... and Davis riding in... but not much after."
"Well, a tree was hit by lightning and was going to land on the little boy with the broken arm. You got him out of the way but it landed on you instead. Your legs were burnt. Joel says that it will take some time before you're up and about again."
Serge nodded her head, "I figured."
The blue eyes slowly closed again, and Serge fell back into a healing sleep.
Davis rode back into town, in a much calmer manner this time. He was thankful that the rain had let up, with only a slight sprinkle getting through the thick canopy of trees. He secured his horse in the medium sized stable in town, and proceeded towards the tavern where he could see light coming from the windows.
When the large man opened the door, the entire population of Meknvich greeted him, each and every one of them asking a question. Davis slowly made his way to a chair and sat down, enduring the concern and shouted questions for a moment more.
The large man finally raised his hand to his mouth and let out a piercing whistle, quieting the room instantly. "Serge is going to be OK. Her ribs are broken now and she has a concussion, her legs were badly burnt, but she'll be up in no time."
Davis' answer seemed to satisfy the crowd as they all slowly sat down again, the worry of the evening having worn them out. "Why don't you all go get some sleep. There isn't much you can do now."
Murmers of agreement were heard as everyone trudged off to their respective beds, Davis included.
The next two weeks were a blur of pain, arguments, and activity for both Serge and Catherine. Catherine had stayed at the ranch with Serge, along with the family that they had helped. Originally, everything had started out fine. But, as time passed Serge steadily became more and more frustrated with her inability to move around. Because of this it became much easier for her to lose her temper.
Catherine and Serge had started fighting about a lot of things in the past three days, and now exactly two weeks after the accident Serge was finally able to get around with the help of a cane. The farming family that was also staying at the ranch noticed that with Serge able to get out and about the fights between the two women seemed to get less frequent.
Their relationship seemed to be going back to what it was before the tree had taken away the use of Serge's legs. The tall woman was now able to spend time outside with her horses and this seemed to calm her.
Cathreine, for her part, was eternally grateful that she and Serge were no longer fighting. It had put a strain on their friendship and Catherine had been unable to ask certain questions that had been floating around in her head for a long time. 'That tattoo for one thing.' Catherine decided that with her needing to take a trip into the city tomorrow that she would ask her questions tonight, if it angered Serge - or both of them - then they would all have time to cool down.
Her mind made up Catherine started to make some sort of dinner for the occupants of the ranch house.
Dinner had been completed an hour ago, and Serge and Catherine were now sitting in the living room in front of a roaring fire in the large stone fireplace. Catherine looked over at Serge's face and decided that being direct was best. "Serge?"
"I've had some things that I needed to ask you since that night of the thunderstorm, and I kinda wanted to get them out of the way."
The dark head turned towards Catherine and nodded, giving her permission to continue and at the same time promising to answer. "OK, well, I was wondering about that tattoo on your left shoulder. I know that I've seen it somewhere before but I don't remember where."
"Ahh... the tattoo." Serge paused, and seemed to gather her thoughts before continuing. "Do you remember the night before the storm you asked me about politics and the tsar?"
Not expecting the question it took a moment before Catherine could answer, "Yes, I do."
"I told you that there would have been a revolution in 1917. What do you know about revolutionary groups?" Serge was talking with her eyes locked on the fire, as if afraid to look at Catherine.
"Well, I know that Tsar Ivan has been hunting down all the revolutionaries. And the main group was called the Bolsheviks. I also know that a bunch of revolutionaries were killed when Ivan became tsar, and that all the groups were considerably weakened."
"Yeah, the Bolsheviks would have taken over.. that's for sure. I'm a member of the Bolsheviks... the tattoo is used to signify leadership... it's our mark. Everyone in town is a revolutionary, too. Some of them are recognized members of the Bolsheviks as well." Serge swallowed, hoping that she hadn't said too much. Hoping that she had read this woman right and she shared her father's ideals.
"Hmmm... you've got a regular little pocket of resistance, don't you." Catherine smiled, trying to ease the tension that she could feel in the long body next to her. "Thank-you, Serge, for trusting me enough to tell me. But, why?"
Serge finally looked at Catherine, "You said the reason why. A lot of us were killed. We need new allies and, forgive me for saying so, but having an ally who is nobility would be helpful. I trust you Catherine, even though I still hardly know you, I trust in you."
"Good, because I trust in you, too." Catherine leaned her head down on the broad shoulder and smiled. "I'll help your cause in any way I can."
In the darkness of the night, in front of a bright fire, an alliance had been forged between the classes and a friendship reaffirmed.
To be continued... Part 2
Taiko's Scrolls of the Xenaverse