Strictly speaking, interactions between the royal family and their servants were frowned upon, other than distinct formal interactions that took place between the Emperor and Empress and the heads of the various household staffs. Interactions between the princes and princesses and servants were supposed to be limited to expressions of gratitude for jobs well done.
Jensen, the new kitchen apprentice, had yet to be thanked for a job well done. He was easily distracted, he completed his work hastily, his attention always elsewhere. Anastasia had witnessed the cook smack him on the side of the head on more than one occasion. She mainly witnessed this when she was sneaking into the kitchen to steal a cookie or two. The cook would mock-angrily warn her about ruining her dinner, but there would be a huge smile on her face as she shooed Anastasia out of the kitchen. Anastasia would stick her tongue out at Jensen as she triumphantly held up her ill-gotten cookies.
Today was Jensen’s day off kitchen duty, and the tutor was finished with her for the day. Anastasia had ‘borrowed’ some of Alexei’s clothes, much more suitable than hers for playing outside. Although he was younger than she was, his clothes fit her pretty well. She had no proper shoes for racing, so she went barefoot. She had snuck down the servant’s stairs to the courtyard, not wanting a family member or a high-ranking staff member to catch her and send her back to the room to change.
Jensen laughed when he saw her. “I’ve never seen anyone look less like a princess than you do.”
They had known each other for a few months now and had gotten into quite a bit of mischief together. Jensen cared nothing for the formality the rest of the castle was seeped in, and Anastasia sought out his company for just that reason.
Anastasia felt gloriously free, away from prying, disapproving eyes. She smiled at her friend, pushed her hair away from her face. “Race you to the pond.”
“Sure, if you want to lose again,” Jensen said with a shrug. “You’d think you’d be tired of losing by now.”
Jensen might be four years older, but Anastasia was tall for her age, wiry, and fast. She just grinned at Jensen, and without waiting for any kind of a signal, took off running.
She heard a “Hey not fair,” being shouted behind her and then heard Jensen’s feet flying toward her.
She laughed, feeling happier in that moment than she had all week. Jensen had one day off each week, and as much as she could she get away from her studies and duties, she spent it with him.
Inevitably, the rough ground cutting into her bare feet began to slow her down. Jensen, ever the opposite of a gentleman, gave her a gleeful shove as he soared past her.
They were both laughing when they got to the pond.
They spent some time splashing their feet into the pond. Jensen complaining about how much the cook hated him, Anastasia complaining about her strict tutor. They climbed up their favorite tree, sang to the birds, made up outrageous tales of dark magic and dragons and witches.
Dusk was coming when Anastasia remembered that there was to be a ball that night. “I hate these things,” Anastasia commented as she climbed back down the tree. “I have to get all dressed up and be all prim and proper. At least Grandmother will be there.”
“You hate them?” Jensen asked. “I had to give up my night off because of this silly ball. Tell you what, I’ll trade places with you, you can deal with the cook and I’ll dress up all fancy like and put on grand airs.”
“Hmm.” Anastasia considered, as Jensen jumped off the lowest branch to land beside her. “You would look even prettier than me in a dress.”
Jensen growled at her playfully and then chased her all the way back.
It took Anastasia a while to get ready, even more time for her mother to fuss over her hair. By the time she made it downstairs, the ball was in full swing and Anastasia took her place by her parents’ side as her eyes scanned the room looking for her favorite relative.
“Grandmother!” Having finally spotted her, Anastasia broke away from her mother and father and raced to where her Grandmother was sitting, as primly as if she were sitting on a throne.
“Hello darling,” her grandmother said, arms open for a hug which Anastasia was only too happy to give. “You look beautiful tonight.”
Anastasia looked down at her long, fancy gown. “I look stupid.” She didn’t mind wearing dresses normally, but after the freedom afforded her by her brother’s clothes, the dress felt heavy and confining.
However, she did kind of like getting admiring glances and feeling pretty. Even Jensen had nothing disparaging to say to her when she had stopped by the kitchen to grab some water, but instead had grinned at her and told her she might be a princess after all.
“You look beautiful and anyone here would tell you as much. But I do wonder if you would rather be wearing your brother’s clothes?” Grandmother commented, with a twinkle in her eye.
Anastasia startled, and almost asked how she knew, but then she remembered. “I’m going to miss you when you go to Paris,” she said instead because it was true, but also to change the subject. “I wish I could go with you.”
“I do too,” Grandmother admitted. “But hopefully this will help.”
She held out a small decorated box to Anastasia. Eagerly Anastasia grabbed it. “Is it a jewelry box?”
“Open it and see.”
Anastasia did, and nothing happened. They both looked at the empty little box a moment before her Grandmother winked at her. “It seems to be stuck; I’ll just give it a push.”
Anastasia watched as her grandmother waved her hand over the box, her lips moving but no sound coming out. Seconds later, a twirling couple arose from the box, spinning to the sound of her favorite lullaby. “It’s a music box!” Anastasia exclaimed. “I love it Grandmother, thank you so much.”
What Anastasia knew, and almost no one else in the royal family did, was that her grandmother could do magic. As a child she had attended Koldovstoretz, a special school for witches and warlocks. Anastasia had found out about the magic by accident, having walked into her grandmother’s room unannounced to see a cup of tea floating in mid-air, but it was still exciting to have this special secret with her grandmother.
“That’s not all.” Her grandmother undid a latch on the bottom of the pretty box and presented Anastasia with the necklace nestled there.
“Together in Paris,” Anastasia read and then looked at her grandmother with wide, hopeful eyes. “Really?”
“Soon,” her grandmother promised her. “We will be reunited again soon.”
Anastasia threw her arms around her grandmother before hearing her father’s voice, loud and angry from the other side of the ballroom.
Anastasia turned around. The orchestra had stopped playing, the adults had stopped dancing. All eyes were turned on the Emperor and his former advisor Rasputin. Her grandmother stood up behind her. It was her grandmother that had known that Rasputin was a fraud and had informed her son.
There was something – strange about Rasputin. He looked different, there was an unearthly kind of glow surrounding him. Anastasia shivered.
Rasputin's voice rang out, loud, angry, bitter. “I curse you and your entire family; may your souls burn for eternity.”
There was an uproar, guards coming in to grab Rasputin, Grandmother pulling Anastasia away and out of the room. Rasputin was still yelling as Grandmother led her into the corridor.
Two Days Later
Anastasia looked out the window of her room at the angry crowd gathered below, her fingers were shaking as she pressed them against the glass.
The mob was at the front door, knives and swords clutched in their hands.
In two days, the royal family had gone from being beloved and respected, to being hated. Anastasia knew without a doubt that Rasputin was somehow to blame for this.
There was a loud crash, Anastasia drew back from the window instinctively. The shouts of the crowd, which had been muffled, were now much clearer. Their home had been breached.
Grandmother entered the room, her expression frantic. “Come my child, we have to make a run for it. The rest of the family has already left by the servant’s entrance.”
“Can’t you just - ?” Anastasia asked, waving her hand the way her grandmother did when she performed magic, sometimes wand in hand, sometimes not.
“I have no power against the dark magic that has descended upon our country. We have no choice but to leave, until the darkness fades. Come now child, there is no time to waste.”
There were more shouts, they were closer. Footsteps on the stairs, many of them. Anastasia could see the fear in her grandmother’s eyes, and it made her all the more frightened.
Suddenly one of the walls in the room moved, and Anastasia was staring, open-mouthed, at Jensen standing where the wall had just been.
“This way,” Jensen gestured. “Come quick.”
Grandmother grabbed Anastasia’s hand and they rushed after Jensen.
“My music box,” Anastasia remembered, and turned back around. Her grandmother did not let go of her hand, causing Anastasia to tug on it frantically. Jensen sighed and turned back toward the room.
“I’ll get it, just go. I’ll catch up to you later.”
Jensen was a blur as he passed them by, on his way back up the hidden stairs. There were shouts and a large bang, a muffled groan that sounded like it came from Jensen. Anastasia turned around again, determined to check on her friend but her grandmother’s hold on her wrist was iron-clad and she found herself stumbling after her grandmother, leaving the only home and the only friend she had ever known.
Outside it was chaos, people running and shouting. Far ahead, Anastasia could hear the train whistling, the same train her grandmother was supposed to have left on that day.
“Come my child, we are running out of time.”
The crowd was so thick, it was hard to get through. Anastasia’s dress, obviously made of rich materials, was attracting attention. A group of men in the distance were headed toward them, weapons in hand.
Grandmother led Anastasia into an alleyway as she pulled out her wand from the folds of her dress. “I’m sorry about this love, I will change you back as soon as I can.”
Before Anastasia could even voice her confusion, her whole body was tingling, throbbing. She was covered by a thick cloud of smoke, and when it cleared something was definitely wrong.
She looked down, and she was no longer wearing her purple brocade dress, instead she was wearing servant’s clothes, almost identical to what Jensen wore when he worked in the kitchen.
Anastasia turned and a boy, about Jensen’s age stood there, mouth open.
Grandmother sighed, waved the wand once more. “Sorry,” she said to him as she grabbed Anastasia by the hand. “I hope someday I have the chance to restore what I took from you.”
They pushed by him; his mouth was still open, but no sound was coming out. The group of men were behind them now. No one paid any attention to Anastasia anymore.
The train’s final warning whistle blew. Grandmother pulled her through the crowd. Anastasia could feel something different about herself, something more than the just the clothes she now wore.
Something weird about her body, something that should not be there, had never been there.
The train was already moving when they reached the station. Grandmother leapt on it, and held her hand out for Anastasia. Anastasia grabbed it, but her hand was sweaty from running and the crowd jostled her, and her hand slipped free. She could see her grandmother’s frantic face, see her lips move but the train was several yards ahead now and gaining steam.
The boy looked at the train, fading in the distance. He left a sense of loss, but he had no idea why. The crowd around him was yelling, some of them were angry, some talking happily about the decimation of the royal family. The boy had no idea what was happening, even worse he had no idea how he got here, no idea where he came from.
No idea who he was.
A boy stood In front of him, older maybe by three – four years.
“Who are you?” the boy asked him.
The other boy pointed to his mouth, shrugged.
“Do you know who I am?” the boy asked.
Again, a shrug. He took his hand, leading him away from the crowd. Despite his confusion, the younger boy was happy to be away from all the noise.
He followed the older boy, down stony streets, past the crowds, a long way away from the station.
The sign on the building read “Orphanage.” At least he knew one thing about himself, he knew he could read.
The older boy rang a bell. A woman, of undeterminable age and pinched lips, walked out the large wooden doors.
“Who did you bring me Chad?” the woman asked. “We are full up as it is; I don’t have room for more strays.”
Chad shrugged, pushed the boy toward her. “So, what’s your name?” the woman asked, turning her attention to him.
“I don’t – I don’t remember,” the boy admitted.
The woman sighed. ‘Well I have to call you something. I had a cousin named Jared, never did like him much. You remind me of him. Until you decide what your name is, I’m going to call you Jared.”
The woman turned around and started walking back to the grey, bleak building.
“Well come along now, I don’t have all day.”
Jared looked to Chad for help, but the boy had disappeared.
With no other option, Jared followed the woman into the building.