The last lover of the Empress – Іван Корсак

A coach was swinging on a far way, Kalnishevskiy was looking at fields and forests through the window, he seemed not to notice them – he wanted to see the future, in years, to see sounding gardens and hives buzzing anxiously.

But he didn’t have to run the show then. Not hives were waiting for him at home – fathers’ synod was booming.

“You must lay down a mace, Peter. Catherine didn’t like you somehow,” fathers lowered eyes. “You are a good man and a nice ataman. But it’s not time to make the empress angry.”

Kalnishevskiy laid down a mace silently. He would like to ask why they troubled him, an old man, when hunger was coming up to Sich, and now they don’t need him? But he didn’t say a word, only thanked and bowed in all sides.

19

Fogs were flowing to Shlisselburg fortress. They were born above water, covered banks, stone castles, and fogs were very thick till midnight – lanterns on walls seemed to be only yellow dots with easy nimbuses through this grey viscid haze. A guard walked around with torches, but there was no point in doing that, nothing was seen in three steps, only calling of guard helped.

Second lieutenant Mirovich, who was watching as a guard officer, thought, “It’s just his time, just starlight time to begin a great matter. A nature even helps.”

He was bothering long and he got an appointment to Shlisselburg fortress at last at one moment and not without help. He, an ordinary second lieutenant Vasiliy Yakovlevich Mirovich, must perform great matter this night, two nations will thank him, he has to dismiss a heir to the Russian throne, Ivan Antonovich, who was an emperor from infancy, – he will be thanked from far great-grandfather land. A boat is prepared to bring heir to the safe place.

The clock said two at night, fog didn’t lift, became even thicker.

“To arms!” Mirovich’s voice was husky, whether with emotion or from the wet weather.

Stamping of soldiers’ feet, ghostly flashing of torches. He has very little at disposal, only thirty eight bayonets, but it’s enough for the brave.

“Charge!” – second lieutenant’s voice becomes firm.

Sleepy lieutenant colonel, commander of the prison guards, jumped out in his underwear.

“Who gave the right to declare an alarm?”

He is pushed so that he is flying upside down. Mirovich reads out a manifesto about the release quickly, sometimes slurring the words.

A prison guard woke up after a mess, firing back, but to no avail, you can not get in the fog.

Mirovich gives soldiers a new order, “Shoot over the heads!”

A prison guard resists, and then cannon is rolled, core and powder are brought quickly.

“Charge!”

But suddenly a cry from the side of a prison guard, “Don’t shoot! We give up!”

Silhouette of a captain Vlasev floats out of the mist, as out of muddy water, goes to Mirovich.

“Go with me, second lieutenant” – Mirovich goes after a captain.

“Can it be so simple?” – The recent excitement gave way to an incredible surprise in his soul – “can this great matter be solved so quickly? And no killed soldiers!”

Tramp of soldiers who went to the officers, silences their solid steps that echoed first, on the damp floor of the fortress. “Is it possible in the world – so simply?” – Mirovich’s body froze more than from the pre-dawn dampness – “and a boat with strong rowers, who are ready, will bring an innocent prisoner?”

Finally, Vlasev stopped near a rough door, covered with mold and fungus.

“Here,” he said, took out a candle and lighted.

Vlasev, Mirovich and one officer from a guard, Checkin, entered the cellar slowly.

There was nobody in the cell, only rags, which are called clothes, hung on the wall, on the table and bed, and on the bench…

“And where is … Ivan Antonovich?” – Mirovich looked at Vlasev slowly.

And here, in shimmering of purblind flame, he notices something on the floor, bends to see, catches captain’s hand with a candle, tilting it lower.

A man, lying on a stone floor, didn’t move his neck was in blood, and blooding pool was running, a squirmed man was lying: either he was defending before death or recent seizures reduced the body.

“You?” – Mirovich turned to Vlasev and Checkin – “are you murders?”

Second lieutenant Mirovich didn’t recognize his voice, which was calm now, even too ordinary.

Just a drop of moisture fell from the ceiling, slamming, in silence, which set in suddenly.

“We have an oath” – Chenckin sniffed like a schoolboy and backed – “we performed our duty.”

Now everything that happened in Mirovich’s head was in the same mist, which wrapped up the whole top of the fortress. Soldiers carried the body of the dead former emperor on the ground, lined up in silence.

It was daylight, the sun could not possibly get through the gloom, and only the contours of the casemates were outlined against the background of a light sky.

“Weapon to the guard!”

The rustle of clothing, movements, memorized to subconscious as of mechanical toys.

“Last respects to the Emperor – discharge!”

Shots were heard almost at the same time as a rolling thunder, that thunder was darting on the ground, it overcame a squeeze of the ground at last, broke away from a fortress and rolled over the river, hollows, and it was rolling and calling to one another.

“You are arrested” – commandant of the prison guards, dressed in a uniform, came up to Mirovich – “your arms, second lieutenant. And you, Vlasev and Checkin, you are arrested too. Handcuff them.”

20

Kosh Otaman’s mace returned to Kalnishevskiy’s hand unexpectedly – elections fell as a white snow on his white head.

“Kalnishevskiy must be Kosh Otaman!”

“He knows well, we agree!”

He began to exhort society, “Brothers, why shall we change one man into another one?”

There was nothing to prove: Cossacks were booming, crying out objections, cackling like disturbed geese.

Then he began to tell about more important reasons.

“One can’t do this without edict of the empress. It’s bad to quarrel for a mace. And time is not the best for it.”

“We can do without somebody’s guidance! Somebody foreign has been stringing us as blind beasts for a long time…”

“Be afraid of God, we can elect from ours!”

“Kalnysh! Peter, don’t neglect us!”

It would be better warm the bones, these bones deserved rest, they worked hard, but people were crying so loud that he agreed at last.

First years flashed as one day. And Kosh Otaman began the matter discussed with Matsievich, matter he got angry for and advised – for economy. Appletrees and pears raised in the gardens on new farms, bushed, animals were bleating in those backyards; eventually land was covered not only with hamlets but with whole settlements.

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