The ring of the queen (t.., p.43
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       The Ring of the Queen (The Lost Tsar Trilogy Book 1), p.43

           Terri Dixon

  Part XXXIX

  I wanted to tell the truth about secrets: How much pain they give, yet how much relief, even happiness we may feel when at last the motive for secrecy has passed.

  -Joyce Carol Oates

  Oranienbaum, was out of the way and out of town. We drove along the Bay of Finland past Peterhof to get there. I understood why the Germans didn’t find Oranienbaum during World War II. Being a high profile empress, I could see why Catherine the Great was so fond of it. If no one could find her, then no one could bother her. I knew the place was different when I saw the entrance gate. It had not been preserved. There was an archway with a pagoda on the top. I smiled. I felt that once I got to know her a little better, I was going to like Catherine.

  There’s more than one palace in Oranienbaum. There’s the glorious . There’s also Peter III’s miniature palace which was more of a playhouse for adults. We went past all of that to the that was the home of Catherine the Great. There were pagodas and pavilions all over the grounds. It wasn't royal. It must have felt like a real home to a Tsar.

  We met Olga, the curator of the grounds. She was an older woman, dressed like a librarian and carrying a huge set of keys. She led us into the Chinese Palace. I immediately felt as if I had been there before. Déjà vu. I felt at home, even though it was a palace. It had gilding, and one room was decorated with tiny glass beads. It had parquet floors that had up to 17 different kinds of wood in the designs. It wasn’t that the palace was any less impressive than the others that I had seen in , it just seemed to have more personality. It hadn’t been redecorated for every generation that came along, because, as Olga explained, not every generation went there. It was Catherine’s private home, and it still looked the way that she’d designed it. Catherine the Great loved oriental design, and the Chinese Palace was born of it.

  Olga insisted that we take a tour of a building called the Sledging Pavilion that stood behind the palace. She told us that it showed how progressive and rebellious Catherine the Great was. The Sledging Pavilion was where Catherine did her private entertaining in the summer. There were many concerts there during her life. This was where birthdays were celebrated and picnics were held. The building was as beautiful as any palace. It was gilded like the other royal buildings.

  Olga was right about the Sledging Pavilion providing insight into Catherine’s personality. Lydia showed us where we could walk right out onto the roof. When I asked, she told me that there used to be a primitive roller coaster there. The first known roller coaster in the world. There was a large empty space between the rows of trees that extended a great distance from the building. The roller coaster or slide started at the roof and went over several hills to land in the yard.

  A tear rolled down my cheek. I’d spent my time in angry about being related to tyrants. I’d worried that I would be next for execution. All of a sudden I realized that there was at least one of them that had been completely human. She’d had a roller coaster in her back yard and a pagoda over her entrance gate. She was a real person. She was my ancestor. All of a sudden, I didn’t want to go home. I wanted to stay and learn about her. I wanted to know all that there was to know about Catherine the Great.

  Olga watched me almost exclusively as our group traveled the grounds at Oranienbaum. She made me nervous, but I tried to slough it off. I knew that many people in Russia were watching me. I thought I should get used to it. It would all be over soon anyway.

  Olga was an older woman. She was a little bit hunched over and appeared to be well over sixty. She still had a sparkle in her eyes, especially when she talked about the former empress. She finally came over to me. “I hate to be so forward, dear, but are you her?”

  “Excuse me?” I replied.

  Lydia joined us. “I think she recognizes you.”

  Then Lydia did something that shocking. She turned to Olga and said, “Why yes, she is.”

  Olga’s eyes grew wide and she slapped her hand over her opened mouth. “I can’t believe it. I thought you were only a tabloid story.”

  I’d not even considered that. Great, I was in the RussianNational Enquirer. I didn’t know what to say. “No, I’m real.”

  Olga removed her hand from her mouth and held it out for me to shake. I shook it. She stood for a moment, smiling. I felt uneasy. “I’m honored to meet you,” she finally said.

  “You mean, you don’t want to turn me in?” I asked.

  “Why, of course not. I want to help you. What can I do?”

  I couldn’t help but smile. “I don’t know. We heard that they think I’ve already left, so I should be all right.”

  Her face fell a little. I wondered why. “If I can’t help, then I may at least give you a gift?” Olga asked. “Come.” She motioned to us to follow her.

  We followed Olga through the snow from the pavilion back to the Chinese Palace. She didn’t talk in the bitter cold, so we all not knowing what she was taking us to get. Oranienbaum was fascinating. I couldn’t imagine what was next.

  Olga led us through the palace to a room that was locked next to the private quarters in the back corner section of the palace. She took out an old key and opened the door. It was a storage closet that looked more like a bank vault. She took a key from her huge key ring that went to a large drawer in an entire wall of drawers. She unlocked it and pulled it open. She picked up a bundle of green material. She handed it to me. It was heavy in my arms. Next, she unlocked the drawer next to it and took out a pair of boots and a three cornered hat. She handed these things to me.

  “What’s this?” I asked her.

  “It is a military uniform,” Olga replied.

  Lydia jumped in. “Is that the one?”

  Olga nodded.

  “Would someone like to explain it to us?” Tania asked.

  Olga smiled at me. “This is the uniform that Catherine the Great wore when she had Tsar Peter III arrested and took over the country. I thought that if you really are her ancestor, you might want to have it. It has been here in this drawer for over a hundred years. It is one of the most important things that you could have as a family heirloom. She was the only woman ever to directly control troops in this country. She was certainly the only Tsarina to put on a uniform and ride into battle. She was one of a kind. That is why this uniform is still guarded. Please, promise me that you will cherish it and hand it down to your children.”

  “Wow,” I replied. “I don’t know what to say.” I looked at the uniform. It was so manly. I’d always seen Tsarinas in gowns and robes. “I love it.”

  “I thought that it was in the Hermitage,” Lydia commented.

  “That is a replica. They would never let something that precious out where the public could get it. Most of the jewels and everything that you see at the Hermitage are actually here in this vault. Even the crowns are here.” She pointed out the door at a group of cameras. “Most of the time, there are guards standing outside that door. There are over 20 cameras aimed at this room. It is one of the most heavily guarded places in . Fortunately, they do not worry about me going in and out of here.”

  I admired the woman’s moxy. “Wow. Are you sure you won’t get in trouble?”

  “No. What would they want to punish an old woman for? They will never know it is gone. Try it on and see what you think.”

  I couldn’t resist. I took the jacket of the uniform and put it on. I had to take my hat off to do it, and remove the scarf that was hiding half of my face.

  “My God, you look just like her,” Olga commented. “You could get yourself a white horse and ride into battle yourself.”

  “No thanks. I just want to go home. I should be leaving in the next day or so. I wish I could stay here and help, but I still say that you don’t need me. The power of the people still works. I’m just a kid. I’m not ready for any of this. I need to go home and learn something before I can chang
e the world.”

  “Catherine was about your age when she became the Grand Duchess,” Lydia said. “I wouldn’t be so sure that a kid can’t change the world.”

  I ignored Lydia’s comment. I turned to Olga. “I can’t thank you enough for this. It means a lot to me. I want to learn more about the family. I will have to do that from the . I’m not safe here.”

  “I understand,” Olga replied. “At least now, if you ever change your mind, you’ll have the perfect outfit to wear.”

  I smiled. She was right. I looked in one of the shiny as glass pieces of wall in one of the antechambers, and I saw me with the uniform coat on. Even I could not believe how much I looked like the pictures that I had seen of Catherine the Great. It was the most exciting and scariest feeling I’d ever had.

  It was almost when we left the grounds at Oranienbaum. I felt as though I’d connected with my ancestors. I didn’t want to leave. There was so much more I needed to know. I wished I had the time. I looked out the back of the Pathfinder as we drove away from the pagoda topped gate. I turned, and saw that snow was falling, illuminated by our headlights.5:00

  Then I heard Boris’ phone ring.

  The Ring of the Queen

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