Ten years had passed and Russia was in trouble; or at least, it was becoming filled more and more with angry revolutionaries. Naturally, the royals were worried, because if anyone would be the source of revolutionary attacks, it would be them.
"If it happens," the Tsar said over breakfast as he scanned the newspaper, "the main thing is that everyone gets themselves out and to safety. Away from the fighting we can be safe."
What none of them knew was that the people's anger was being fuelled by a mad monk named Rasputin; though not a magical man by any means, he had the ability to poison the people's minds and turn them against the royal family. He had once been an ally of the royals, until the Tsar had felt that they couldn't trust him any more and had him cast out of the palace. Humiliated and betrayed, the monk had then taken it upon himself to become the source of the revolutionist riots.
Belle shivered at the thought of having to leave her home. "But, Papa, surely the guards can keep them from actually coming into the palace?"
Her father smiled. "They will do all they can, Belle, but when a group of people are angry they are capable of anything."
"It isn't right, though!" Anya said, angrily, putting down her spoon. "Why are they attacking us? We haven't done anything wrong, have we?"
"Anya, sweetheart," said their mother, "these people don't care about right and wrong. If they think the palace needs to be stormed, they will do it, no time to stop and ask themselves whether it's the right thing."
"It's not right," Anya insisted in a mutter and she didn't say anything else for the rest of breakfast. Belle attempted to eat but her food tasted like cardboard now. She felt sick with worry.
After she had eaten, Belle went to her room and stared around it. She didn't want to leave it; her large comfortable warm bed with hanging curtains, her white chest of drawers and dresser with mirror, her large case full of books. The theme of her room was roses; they were everywhere, on the bedspread, the headboards, the curtains, the wall paper; even carved onto the back of her favourite long handled mirror. She picked this up. If her room was to be taken by rioters, she didn't want this to get broken. It was a special mirror that her grandmother had goven her when she and Anya were small. She lived in Paris now, their grandmother, and they hadn't seen her for years; being too busy with state affairs and the demands of the people. Belle hugged the mirror to her for a second and then went to her bed. Sitting down on it, she pulled a large saddlebag out from beneath the bed. Into it she slipped two clean dressed, clean undergarments, a change of shoes (boots, for it was winter now) a purse of money, a box of matches and her three favourite books. She wrapped the mirror up safe and tight in her nightgown and put that in there too. Then, quietly, she snuck down the stairs and went to the stables where her horse, Phillipe, was munching on a bag of hay. She patted him before saddling up and hanging the bag from the saddle. It wouldn't help to be prepared. Anya's horse, Nightshade, watched her with amusement. She smiled, in spite of herself. "It'll make sense if it happens," she said, more to herself than the horses.
When she got back inside the palace, she found Anya in her room, holding something. It was a small music box, another present from their grandmother, that played a soothing lullaby when wound up. She looked up as Belle came into the room. "I'd hate for this to get broken, Belle."
"You should do what I just did," Belle told her. "Pack a bag with a few essentials if we have to run for it."
"You really think it'll come to that?"
"Anya," Belle sat on her bed, "I may read and daydream a lot, but I'm not blind. I know the state of the world beyond the palace. Suddenly everything's become a lot more dangerous. It won't hurt to be prepared."
Anya took her sister at her word and did as she suggested. "How did you become so clever, Belle?"
"Probably from reading. Characters in stories always do this kind of thing when there's danger approaching."
"And do their stories have a happy ending?"
"Well, I won't worry then."
Belle smiled but she still fell ill with nerves; and with good reason. For, that very evening, it happened. The family had just finished their dinner and were gathered in the ballroom; the parents on their thrones, talking with Olga, who sat on the steps. Maria was drawing beside her. Tatiana was entertaining Alexei with a ball. Belle was sitting on the windowsill, reading. Anay was sitting beside her, rocking and humming a tune under her breath.
The doors flew open so suddenly that everyone froze. A servant came running in. "Sire! Sire! They have come! The guards are holding them off, but, oh, Sire, you have to leave this place!"
A chill caught in Belle's stomach as she felt herself being dragged to her feet by Olga. "We have to leave!" she repeated, her eyes wide with fear.
"Where do we go?" cried Alexei and Belle saw panic in her little brother's face. She turned to him, trying to reassure him. "It'll be alright, don't worry," she said, glancing at her father. "Papa?"
"Everyone just needs to get themselves out!" he repeated. "If we get separated...then everyone needs to find their way to the station or the road."
"Why?" Anya cried.
"Go to Paris; to your grandmother. You'll all be safe there. Hurry, children!"
This last made them all leap from their places and run for their lives. Around them, Belle heard crashes and screams of the rioters, and then she heard a sound that caught at her heartstrings.
She was running along the top balcony when she heard it. Glancing over, she saw a group of townspeople, anger in their eyes, poison in their hearts, setting fire to the palace. "No!" she screamed as the curtains caught ablaze before her very eyes. "Oh, no!"
She looked around and realised that she had become separated from the others. "Anya?" she shouted as smoke was filling the room. She coughed and then saw her sister come running towards her. Anya's face was streaming with tears as Belle caught her hands. "Where do we go?"
"To the stables! The secret passageway! Come on!"
Gunfire echoed around them as they ran and the girls screamed several times but managed to keep themselves from being shot. They made it through the secret passageway, which was hidden by a large portrait of the royal family. Belle wondered how long it would be before they set eyes on that painting again. The stumbled down the stairs but made it to the stables. Belle began to untie the horses one by one; Anya helped her. Even if the horses couldn't find those who owned them and help them to escape, they would at least be safe from the fire. In a great stampede, they ran from the stables, all but Phillipe and Nightshade. Phillipe tossed his head, waiting for his mistress. Belle leapt onto his back and watched Anya fling herself onto Nightshade. The shouts and sounds of gunfire were louder now. Belle's heart caught in her mouth.
"They're inside!" Anya shrieked and with that she and Belle urged their horses onwards. The last thing Belle heard as they left were the crackling noises of flames and firing of bullets whizzing around them.
They were deep within the heart of the forest that skirted the edge of the palace before they deemed it safe to turn. From here, they could see the whole town, and often used to come to this place to do just that when they were children, but now they could only look at one thing. The palace. Their home. It was ablaze with orange flames; they poured out from the windows and black smoke billowed up too in a great cloud that covered the sky. It was beginning to snow.
"No, Anya," Belle begged as Anya jumped down from Nightshade's back, but Anya only took two steps forwards before she held up a hand, like she could somehow brush away the smoke and douse the flames and erase this whole horrible nightmare from existance.
"It's...." Anya trailed off.
Belle leapt down from Phillipe's back and turned to her sister. "I know," she whispered and she realised that she was beginning to cry. "I know."
Anya dropped her hand and turned to her. "Do you think...anyone..?"
Belle gave a muffled sob. "No, they can't be! Not Mama, not Papa, not Olga or Maria or Tatiana - not little Alexei! He was so young!"
"I know!" Anya was crying too. "I don't like to think of it either!"
"They might have escaped. We don't know that they haven't."
"You're right. Until we know for certain...we're on our own, Belle."
Belle attempted to pull herself together. Crying could come later. For now they had to be brave. And strong. And wise. "What do we do now?" she whispered.
"We need to get away from here. If they find us, they'll kill us."
The two girls cast one last look of longing farewell to their home before they remounted their horses and began to ride away as fast as they could. Out of the forest was nothing but the countryside, but perhaps they might be safe there.
"We can't let people know who we are now, Belle?" Anya told her as they went. "We must make up new stories for ourselves; pretend we're not royatly."
"Dressed like this?" Belle looked down at her plain peasant-syle dress beneath her cloak and at Anya's faded green coat and grey cap. "Do you really think they'd suspect we were?"
"You never know. We must be extremely careful from now on. We must give ourselves new names too."
"Yes. I shall be...Jewel. I always liked that name and it'll remind me of the palace. What will you be?"
Belle thought. What name could she use that might still remind her of her home, her family, her room?
"Rose." Belle took a deep breath. "I'll be Rose. Oh, Anya, this sounds too much like a game from our childhood!"
"Jewel! You must call me Jewel now! And this is far too dangerous to be called any kind of game! Remember, Rose, if we slip up, our lives will be on the line! Always call me Jewel from now on, even when we're alone together, for people might be listening. Have you got that, Rose?"
"I have," Belle replied, meekly, following her sister. They were all the other had now in the world and the last thing she wanted was for them to be separated one way or another...
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Down the Memory Hole
^arctoa, Jan 18,
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Forms Lost love
bridgesleft in the
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