Authors: Linda Holeman
Tags: #Fiction, #Historical
PUBLISHED BY RANDOM HOUSE CANADA
© 2012 Linda Holeman
All rights reserved under International and Pan-American Copyright Conventions.
No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Published in 2012 by Random House Canada, a division of Random House of Canada Limited, Toronto. Distributed in Canada by Random House of Canada Limited.
Random House Canada and colophon are registered trademarks.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
LIBRARY AND ARCHIVES CANADA CATALOGUING IN PUBLICATION
The lost souls of Angelkov / Linda Holeman.
PS8565.O6225L68 2012 C813’.54 C2011-908179-2
Cover design by Terri Nimmo
Cover image: © Mark Owen / Trevillion Images
In memory of my grandparents,
Theodor and Lyuba, who left me a rich Russian legacy
“Sans illusions, adieu à la vie!”
Motto from Reminiscences of a Mazurka
MIKHAIL GLINKA, 1847
“The hundred-year rise and fall of serf orchestras had produced precious few serious musicians and only one great composer who had been exposed to them—Glinka.”
Serfdom, Society, and the Arts in Imperial Russia
he day his son was stolen, Konstantin had noticed the difference in the air. It was a subtle smell, the first hint that spring might finally end the long winter. It is this he’s thinking about—the smell of the air—when the men appear in front of him.
They arrive from the quiet forest—his forest—slipping and weaving between the slender, leafless birch and green spruce. How did he not hear the hooves pounding in the hard snow, the heavy breathing of the horses as they charged in his direction? He remembers that Mikhail had called out to him,
Papa, someone’s coming
, yet he ignored the boy. Why? Would it have made a difference? Should he have stopped his horse and listened?
The men wear their tall fur hats pulled low, covering their eyebrows. Their wool jackets bear the distinctive Cossack insignia. Their noses and mouths are hidden with
scarves. On their swift horses they appear huge, monstrous. They charge at him with their sabres drawn, the sabres Cossacks favour.
Konstantin drops the reins he holds loosely in one hand, grabbing at his own sword. He pulls it awkwardly from the scabbard as he shouts over his shoulder,
Ride, Mikhail, ride away!
But Mikhail can’t control his horse.
Papa, Papa, I can’t turn him
. Mikhail is ten years old. He’s not on his own small and gentle mare; he rides a frisky dappled gelding. Grisha, Konstantin’s steward, had suggested the challenge would be good for the boy.
. Would it have changed things if Mikhail had his usual horse, the one instantly responsive to his commands?
There are three Cossacks, maybe four; it’s happening so quickly, and his eyesight … it’s no longer what it used to be. He’s too old to see with the clarity he once possessed, to hear what he should hear. Suddenly his son is beside him; he catches a glimpse of Mikhail’s thick blond hair, creamy skin. So like his mother.
Antonina, he thinks next, oh God, no, Antonina. She told him not to take the boy today, told him it was too cold, the child had been ill.
Don’t take him out, Konstantin
, she’d begged,
please, Kostya, he shouldn’t be out in the cold
He knows instinctively that whatever happens in these woods will destroy her. Her face rises before him, stricken, agonized, an expression he has never before seen. But it’s too late. He knows it’s too late.
Konstantin grabs the reins of Mikhail’s horse, pulling up on them sharply so that the horse and Mikhail are close beside him. The gelding still prances nervously. The Cossacks circle Konstantin and his son.
This was all because he was stubborn—
you stubborn old man
, Antonina had said when he’d insisted on taking Mikhail with him. She’d called after him again, when he’d refused to have any of the servants accompany them on their ride, and then Konstantin saw her speaking to Grisha, pulling on the steward’s sleeve. She was already unsteady, although it was only early afternoon. And then, after Grisha walked away, Antonina stood on the wide steps of the house, holding a pillar for support. She’d shouted at him one last time, her usually melodic voice hard and flat in the still, cold air, something about a hat for Mikhail. He looked away. A servant chased after them with Mikhail’s
, waving the ear-flapped fur hat.
He’d galloped towards the forest. Mikhail was a length ahead of him, and he admired the way his son’s thick hair blew in the cool breeze.
And now … The leader of the Cossacks, taller and broader than the other men, brings his chestnut horse up beside Konstantin’s silvery grey Arabian, shivering on its slender legs. The Cossack’s horse worries its bit, nodding its head as if in agreement with whatever its rider will direct it to do. Konstantin’s Arabian is taller than the Cossack’s horse and yet it shies, throwing back its head as though it feels the violence in the air.
Konstantin lifts the sword he holds—how has it grown so heavy?—but before he’s aware of movement from the Cossack, there’s a sly whistle, and a thin, deadly blade slices into the back of his ungloved hand. His sword is gone.
He doesn’t feel pain immediately, and manages to hold on to the reins of his son’s horse with his left hand. He hears Mikhail’s cry of distress, hears him shouting,
“It’s all right, Mikhail,” Konstantin says to his son.
Mikhail’s face is ashen, his mouth trembling.
“It’s all right, Misha,” he repeats. “Be quiet.” He feels that silence will help prevent the disaster about to take place. He also thinks he should have taken the hat: Mikhail’s head is too exposed, too vulnerable. Somehow the hat might have helped the child.
“Count Mitlovsky,” the Cossack in front of him states, his voice muffled by the scarf.