Home > The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(5)

The Morning Star (Katerina #3)(5)
Author: Robin Bridges

"The imperial guard has orders to watch your movements, Katiya. They always know where you are."

A sick feeling rose in my stomach. "So you've known about my studies with Dr. Badmaev? And the tsar knows as well?" There truly were no secrets left untouched in St. Petersburg.

He nodded as he sat down in the chair next to me. "I understand what you're trying to do, but it won't work. My illness was caused by dueling with the crown prince at Vorontsov Palace. Blood magic wounded me. Medicine cannot help me."

"But I believe Eastern medicine can," I protested. "Dr. Badmaev is the one who cured the Koldun after I brought him back from the Graylands. Remember how awful he looked? Eastern medicine treats the spirit as well as the body. Please let the Tibetan doctor examine you."

"My parents have expressly forbidden it," he said. "Badmaev is the Dark Court's physician. Besides, the Light Court has all of St. Petersburg's finest trained physicians at hand."

"None of whom can do a thing for you," I said. "I have learned so much from Dr. Badmaev. Not enough to cure you, I know, but I'm certain that soon I'll know what to do to make you better. If the tsar will not allow the Tibetan to treat you, then allow me to help you."

"Marry me, Katiya. That is the best way for you to make me better." He took the teacup out of my hand and set it on the table. Grasping my hands in his, he looked up at me. "Make me a happy man."

He would force me to have this conversation right now. "George, if something were to happen to you and I could have prevented it by continuing my studies, I couldn't live with myself. I love you too much."

"What are you saying?" There was a flash of silver in his eyes.

"If your father will not change his mind about my becoming a doctor," I said, dragging the words out and hating myself for what I said next, "then I cannot marry you."

George's face darkened. "Katiya, the tsar does not change his mind."

"I'm sorry," I whispered, trying very hard not to cry in front of him.

He stood up so abruptly that I thought he was going to break something. Frustrated, he ran his fingers through his hair. "Why must you be so hardheaded?"

"Why must you?" I asked, praying he wouldn't notice the trembling in my voice. "I can't stand by and watch you waste away. Not when there's something I can do to stop it." I stood up and grabbed his arms, pulling on his sleeves. "And what if you died? What if I was tempted to bring you back for selfish reasons? I don't think I could let you go. Or what if I brought you back from the grave accidentally?" I continued as my imagination ran wild with dark thoughts. "Don't you see how horrible that would be? I would damn us both!"

He touched my cheek. "Katiya, I'd rather be damned with you than live a blessed life without you."

I held his hand in both of mine and kissed his knuckles. I did not even bother trying to stop the tears anymore. They were falling too fast. "Georgi, please don't say that. You know you don't mean it."

He looked sad. "I asked you not to give up on me last year. And I believed that you had not. Why now? When our happiness is within reach? Or was I just dreaming?" But he did not wait for me to answer. Instead, he leaned forward and kissed me on the forehead, murmuring, "Goodbye, Katiya," against my skin.

I didn't respond. I stood shaking, dazed and in shock, and watched him leave, listened to his boots echo down the wooden hallway as he left Dr. Badmaev's office. I heard the bells on the door tinkle as he opened it and walked out. Did he truly believe I'd given up on him? On us? Why couldn't he understand that what I was doing was out of love? Had I lost him for good?

Masha returned to pick up the tea things. She hurried across the room as soon as she saw me crying. "Duchess? Are you all right? Duchess?"

I blinked slowly at her, ignoring the tears rolling down my cheeks. "Masha, what have I done?"

Chapter Eight

Masha, the poor old thing, did not know how to comfort me. I went to the washstand and dried my face. There was nothing left for me to do but dig back into my research. I spent the rest of the day finishing my studies of the respiratory system. Badmaev was pleased with my progress. He assigned me readings on the endocrine system.

I rode the tram home, not bothering to get off at the stop before the Field of Mars. Let my parents see me mingling with the commoners. Let them learn why I threw away the chance to become a grand duchess. I did not care anymore. It would not be long before the whole of St. Petersburg's aristocracy knew what a fool I was.

Maman met me on the stairs. "Katiya, where on earth have you been? Don't try to tell me you've been with Dariya, because I refuse to believe it!"

There was no point in deceiving her any longer. I took off my hat and gloves as I climbed the stairs to my room. "I've been at the Tibetan doctor's clinic."

"A doctor? Are you sick?" She followed me into my room.

"Does it matter?" My heart was broken. I felt wretched.

"Of course it does. We're to attend the ballet this evening. And you still have not told me what the tsar wanted to speak to you about last night."

I sank down onto my bed and realized right then I wanted nothing more than my mother to comfort me. "George asked me to marry him, and the tsar has given us permission," I told her, "but he said I will have to abandon my dreams of becoming a doctor. So I had to turn the grand duke down."

Maman stared at me, speechless for several seconds. There. My last secret was out.

"George?" she whispered. "George Alexandrovich?"

Had she truly not noticed the way we gravitated toward each other? Whenever I was in trouble, it seemed the tsar's son was always there to scowl at me. Or to rescue me. I began to tear up again. I was so sick of crying over him. And I missed him so much it hurt.

Maman moved toward me and wrapped me in her arms. "My sweet Katiya. My dearest. I don't pretend to understand why you have made such a decision, but if it's making you unhappy, why not change it? I'm sure the young grand duke is not happy right now either."

"I know you can't understand, Maman," I said, closing my eyes until the tears were all squeezed out.

She smoothed my hair and rocked me as if I were a baby. "Perhaps this is a spiritual test of some sort. Should we consult the tarot cards?"

"No, Maman. I think I've already failed this test. But I am not going to give up my studies now. It's too late to change my decision."

"Did you and George argue?"

I laughed bitterly. "A terrible argument."

"He will forgive you, I'm sure of it," she said, patting my hand kindly. "The ballet will cheer you up."

"Please, no, Maman," I begged. "I can't face anyone tonight. Especially if he is there."

"Nonsense," Maman said. "The tsar's sons never attend the ballet."

Which was untrue. "I'm sure they'll be there if Mathilde Kschessinska is dancing," I grumbled.

"Oh, she's not scheduled to perform, dear," Maman said. "Though I can see why every young man is fascinated with her. Such a bewitching little beauty! And the way she danced that pas de deux at her graduation! I hear she wants Petipa to revive The Pharoah's Daughter."

"Maman!"

"You have nothing to worry about, dearest." She peered into my face critically. "Wear your pale blue silk gown; it will bring out the blue in your eyes. Rest now for a few hours and the puffiness will go away. I'll have Anya bring up a cucumber compress."

I sighed. Maman was sure that as long as I looked presentable, everything would be back to rights. "Yes, Maman." Perhaps a nap was what I needed. And perhaps I could still convince her to let me stay home.

Chapter Nine

Anya's compress worked miracles on my eyes. By that evening, there was no trace of fatigue or emotional distress on my face. And Maman was right about the pale blue silk.

But she was very wrong about the ballet program. Mathilde Kschessinska did dance that night in the Mariinsky Theater. And the tsarevitch and his brother did attend, with their mother and sister, seated in the imperial box directly across from our own. George Alexandrovich very studiously avoided looking toward the Oldenburg box.

Princess Alix and her sister Grand Duchess Ella joined us after the first act. Alix looked unhappy. "What shall I do, Katerina? I am leaving for Moscow with my sister this week. Nicholas is going to forget all about me."

"I will miss you," I said, wondering when I would see my shape-changing friend again. "And I am certain that the tsarevitch will miss you as well."

"We argued at the palace the day of the luncheon," she said. "He denied that there was anything between him and the ballerina, but I don't know if I should believe him."

The ballet was about to resume, and Alix realized her sister had already left our box.

"Walk me back?" Alix pleaded. "I don't dare go alone. What if I run into Nicholas Alexandrovich?"

A glance at the imperial box told me that was highly improbable. The tsarevitch was sitting on the edge of his seat, eager for the curtains to rise again. But I knew how anxious Alix was and told Maman I would be spending the second act with Alix and Ella.

Maman, who was busy gossiping with my aunts Anastasia and Zina about the Worth gown the empress was wearing, waved me off. I told Alix to lead the way.

The upper-tier hallway was almost completely empty. Everyone had returned to their seats before the next act began. The only person in the passage was a stranger cloaked in black, with his hood pulled down over his face. He moved in front of us as we attempted to pass him.

"Duchess, it has been a lifetime since I've seen you."

I recognized the voice before he raised his head. It sent a chill slithering down my spine. "Danilo? What are you doing in St. Petersburg?" I asked as Alix gasped next to me.

"I am looking for my sister. She is in the Oldenburg box, is she not?" He did not look right. The crown prince's cold light seemed different. Brighter than before.

"The guards will arrest you if they see you." I glanced around, hoping the guards were nearby.

Alix was glaring at the crown prince. He had been one of the wizards intent on killing her in a ritual at Vorontsov Palace. He had needed a werewolf's heart to raise Konstantin, the lich tsar, from the dead. Alix had not forgotten, nor had she forgiven him. "Perhaps we should call out for help, Katerina," she said.

Danilo was pale, but he laughed. "Of course, Your Highness. Let the guards take me away. But first allow me to speak with my sister."

"Why? What has happened to you?" I asked. I knew I should not care, but I did not know how the blood bond between us worked. If he fell sick, would I be sick as well? "Is it the lich tsar?"

Danilo looked at me with haunted eyes. "Konstantin is coming soon, Katerina. And he is looking for you, his necromancer."

"I belong to no one," I said, a little too forcefully.

Danilo's eyebrow raised a fraction. "Indeed?"

Alix tried to step in front of me. "You should die for the things you've done, blood drinker." Her voice was so low it sounded like a husky growl.

"I probably will, Your Highness, but first I must see my sister. The Dark Court must be warned about the lich tsar's plans."

"And the Light Court?" I asked.

The crown prince smiled his devilish smile. "I'll leave that to you, my dear duchess."

Alix was not happy. But she was finally convinced we should let him speak with his sister. Then we would notify the guards.

Danilo's sister, Princess Anastasia, was a veshtiza, a blood drinker who could turn into a moth, like the rest of her sisters from Montenegro. She was enjoying her first evening back out in society after giving birth to her son a month earlier. And she'd eagerly attached herself to my mother, the one blood drinker in St. Petersburg who was more powerful than her own sister, Militza.

I slipped back into the family box and whispered in Anastasia's ear, "You're needed out in the hallway. Alone." I glanced at Maman, who was enraptured by the dancing on the stage below. She did not notice my return.

Without a sound, my blood-drinking aunt followed me into the hallway. "Dani?" she whispered when she spotted her brother. "What has happened to you?"

Alix pulled at my gloved arm. "Do you think it's safe to give them a bit of privacy?"

I shook my head. "Not at all. And if the guards find him, they find him," I said. "But we should notify the Light Court of the lich tsar's threat."

"Dani, when did you return to St. Petersburg?" Anastasia asked in a hushed tone. "Does Militza know?"

He shook his head. "I'd hoped to see her here with you. I just arrived this evening. And I must return to Cetinje as soon as possible. I have discovered troubling news about the lich tsar."

"We must leave for the Nikolayevich Palace at once," Anastasia said, linking her arm in her brother's. "Militza was not feeling well enough to go out this evening."

Alix and I looked at each other warily. Was it wise for us to let the Montenegrins depart? What if the crown prince had more information than he had already disclosed to me?

I hesitated. "Your Highness, I'm afraid you cannot wander the streets outside the theater. The imperial guard is watching for you."

"Of course they are, Katerina," he said with a lazy smile. "Are you concerned for me?"

"Don't be ridiculous," Alix said. "The Light Court must be allowed to hear whatever it is you are going to tell the Dark Court."

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