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Æ Firestone's Crimea: Chapter 11




It was the fourteenth day of February around 20°,

it was snowing and everything was white around Sevastopol.


Irenaeus was getting some errands from town,

he was walking on the snowy ground 

in full winter clothing with his crosier.


As he was about to walk to the entrance of his church,

a mailman came with a bag full of mail.


"Privyet, are you the priest of this church?"


"Da, do you have mail for me?"


"Da, here you go..."


The mailman gave Iraenus a letter.


...Brrrr. It's freezing out here!"


The mailman was keeping his hands warm despite having cloves on.


Irenaeus asked generously.


"Would you like to come inside and stay warm for a minute or two?"


"That's really kind of you, sir, 

but I have to deliver these other mail.

But thanks anyway. 

Do svidaniya!"


"Do svidaniya." Irenaeus replied.


The mailman left for the streets,

and Irenaeus open the front door of his chapel

away from the freezing cold.


After that, he went to his room and sat on his desk 

He finally opened the letter and checked it out.


When he read it, he was happy 

but also serious at the same time

as this letter was very important to him.


Niko and Nikolai were walking to the church,

Nikolai was back on duty, but since he still had trouble with his arm.

Pirogov convinced the commanders on giving him guard duty to guard the city, 

but now he was off duty.


They both came in through the front door of the church.


"Father, we're home!..." Niko said.


"...Brrr. My hands are numb."


"Yeah, this weather makes the icicles long and huge."


They went to the back mudroom beside the kitchen where the stove was,

so they can get their numb hands and feet warm again.


Niko took off his mittens and put his hands near the stove.

He can feel the sensation of his hands waking up from the numbness.


"Ah, that feels so good," said Niko feeling satisfied.


"The warmness from the stove makes you wish you can sleep..." 

said Nikolai. "...I feel sleepy already."


The two heard someone in the kitchen.


"That must be Irenaeus" said Nicolia.


After they were satisfyingly warm,

Niko and Nicolai went to the kitchen

and seen Irenaeus sitting at the kitchen table.


"Hey Irenaeus, you okay?" asked Nikolai.


"Yeah, I'm just thinking."


"Don't think too much."


Irenaeus smiled, thinking Nikolia's reply was humorous.


"I have to make a trip," said Irenaeus.


"A trip, to where?" asked Niko.


Irenaeus hesitated to reply and said.

"I have to go to Eupatoria."


Nikolai asked Irenaeus.

"Eupatoria?! Eupatoria is over fifty miles up north.

Why do you want to go all the way over there for?"


"I've received a letter from my family in Crete,

one of my nephews serves in the Greek battalion

at Eupatoria. And I have a very important message to him."


"Is the message really that important?" asked Nikolia.


"Indeed, yes."   


Irenaeus looked at Niko and asked him.


"I would need your assistance Niko." 


"Me? All the way up there?"


"Unless you want to stay secluded forever," Nikolai said.



"But it would be too dangerous to go alone,

I doubt the authorities would let you leave."


"You are now one of the guard's aren't you, Nikolai," Irenaeus said with a smirk.


Nikolai forgot he was just recently positioned as a city guard a few days ago.


"If I let you leave the city without authorization, I could get court-marshaled.

Asked me again, Father, is this message really that important?"


"Truly," he said.


"If you're going to do it now, it's best to do it tonight. 

That's your best advantage."


"I would, but I need a horse. And they cost a pretty denga."


"We'll most of our horses are currently unavailable."


"Don't worry about it; I'll figure something out."


 

An hour later, Niko was outside at the back 

getting firewood for Irenaeus.


When he was about to go inside the mudroom,

he heard something walking, and Niko turned around.


He saw the pale horse again appearing through his sight.

The horse had no rider or no saddle on and was slowly approaching Niko.

This was the same stallion that Niko ride on to save Nikolai's life.


He gently bumped into Niko, 

wanting him to rub his head, and so Niko did,

feeling his soft short-haired fur.

Niko thought he wouldn't see him again.


"What are you doing out here in the cold, boy?" he said.


Niko thought the horse was the opportunity for Irenaeus' trip,

so he took the pale horse to a shed beside the church with extra hay to keep him warm.


Niko went inside to reach Irenaeus in his study.


'Father Irenaeus, Father Irenaeus."


Irenaeus was sitting in his chair reading his Bible 

and then put it down when Niko called.


"What is it, my boy?"


"The pale horse has returned!"


"The same one you rode?"


"Yes, I took him to the shed to keep him warm.

You can use him."


"But it could be somebody's horse, Niko. 

People don't take kindly to horse thieves."


"I don't believe so, 

I don't think it's a coincidence, 

like you said, everything has a purpose."


Irenaeus was hesitant and said.

"As a man who does not believe in coincidences, 

we'll use your 'pale horse".

Nikolai will be back at lunchtime,

and we'll discuss the plan with him."


It was nine o'clock on a cold winter night,

and a Golden Waning Gibbous was rising bright.

It was a dangerous time as the sounds of fire cause a fright.


Nikolai, in uniform with his firearm,

was guarding one of the entrances of the city with another guard.


The young said to Nikolai.


" 'Tis now struck nine. They should be here by now."


"Here they are," said Nikolai.


They saw Irenaeus with Niko riding the pale horse

with full winter clothes on that were all white 

and a long bag on the side of the saddle.

Niko was in front of Irenaeus since he was smaller 

and didn't want him to fall off.

With the pale horse, the trip wasn't going to be a slow one.


"Nikolai," said Irenaeus, then he looked at the other guard.


"He's aware. Don't worry, I trust him."


Irenaeus still looked at the guard and said.


"This never happened; you didn't see this."


The guard shook his head yes

and Irenaeus looked at Nikolai.


"You're all clear to run. 

But be careful Father, the enemy may be lurking.


"I will, my horse is fast as lightning, and

they will not catch me before the next Sun.

Yah!"



He called the horse to charge

and they passed the checkpoint at high speed

at 40 miles per hour.


They traveled for many miles across 

the snowy hills in the freezing cold

and never stopped 'til they crossed the river

and stopped to rest at Rivnopillia.


Then they continued the next morning 

traveling nonstop to their destiny.


Between Ivanivka and Chobotarka,

everything was white & bright from the sky

to the ground that you can see everywhere in sight.

It made the horse, Niko, and Irenaeus blend in.


Irenaeus was riding his horse slowly,

concerned about his sense of direction.

So he looked at his silver compass 

as it showed him that he was headed north,

obviously meaning he was going the right way.


"We'll be there in a few hours," he said.


"I hope so; it's so cold that I feel of nothingness in these lands."

Niko replied.


"Be strong, Niko."


"Father." Said Niko pointing his finger.


They saw six figures half a mile away from them, 

across the flat land coming towards them.


"Stay calm, Niko. Enemy or not, we must be vigilant."


They kept coming, as the figures got closer, 

it was revealed to be men on horses,

but had no idea who was who.



Irenaeus was observant and wondering in his mind who was approaching. He loved people, the internal souls of each person of humanity, but never trusted them because of their unpredictable nature as the world and reality, in general, were unpredictable too, especially in war times.


The appearance of the unknown figures was finally revealed;

It was the Ottomans in their winter uniforms with their guns and swords.

Niko has only seen a few as diplomats and messengers and often heard stories about them but has never seen the ones from the army in person before, and this made the boy nervous, but Irenaeus was calm as a statue.


The Ottomans arrived, and they halted as they saw Irenaeus,

they were surprised and almost didn't see him due to their 

camouflaged appearance with the snow and cloudy sky.


The Ottoman's horses were all Arabians,

all brown except one, that was black as coal.


Commander Attar was in that black horse,

he was in his grey winter uniform

armed with a red stocking cap. 

He was armed with Turkish made weapons,

a curved sabre called a Kilij 

and a fancy flintlock pistol, both on his side.


Behind Attar was Beyaz, also in winter clothing.


The other horsemen were Attar's servants Nubu and Zahoor,

the other men were a Turk and an Egyptian. 

They were all in the same grey winter uniforms as Attar.


Attar observed the old man and looked at his clothing, 

the Turk noticed his hat with the golden Christian cross on it

and he automatically knew was obviously an Orthodox priest 

as Attar has a hatred for Christians.


"Well, well, well. What do we have here?

An Orthodox Priest, no wait...a Greek Orthodox Priest..."


Attar looked at Niko in the eyes.


"...and a Caucasian boy."


His staring made Niko very uncomfortable 

that made his skin crawled.


"Now, what kind of individuals like you

are doing all the way here in this part of the Crimea?"


"We're travelers; I'm a missionary of the West," said Attar.


"A missionary, huh?..." Attar said with a smirk 

and all of his men laughed.


"...What is your mission?"


"To spread the word of the Good Lord.

The truth and nothing but the truth."


"I see."


Attar nodded Zahoor and commanded him to

"Check his bag and stuff."


Zahoor got off his saddle to get Irenaeus' bag.

He grabbed it and was about to grab the staff

'til Ireanus stopped him and said.


"An old man can't walk without his staff."


Zahoor looked at Attar, 

and Attar waved and shook his head no,

meaning not to take the staff.


Zahoor didn't take it 

and he threw the bag to Attar for him to look at.


"Let's see what we got here, a loaf of bread..."


Attar threw the bread to the ground.


"...clothes..."


He threw the clothes.


"...more clothes..."


He threw those too.


"...Aw, a Bible."


Attar hold Ireanus' old Bible,

he skims through the pages quickly 

without actually reading it.


"Blah, blah, blah...blah, blah, blah."


And threw it behind him on the ground 

like it was nothing to him.


"So, missionary, where are you headed to?"


"Eupatoria."


"Eupatoria, what's your business there?"


Irenaeus didn't want to lie, as it was not his way,

so played with his words carefully.


"We have family there, and they're expecting our visitation."


"Uh, huh," Attar said, not believing a word he said.


He threw the bag to the snowy ground

and moved his black horse closer beside Ireanus' white horse.

Irenaeus and Beyaz were observing each other, 

knowing they were both young of age.

Niko looked at Beyaz's piercing blue eyes and dirty blonde hair.

And Beyza looked at Niko's brown eyes and black hair.


Attar's dark eyes stared at the old man's silver eyes and said to him.


"I'm a proud military man, 

I've won many medals from the accomplishments 

of my great reputation."


"And our pride clouds you," said Irenaeus, 

as his comment triggered Attar into anger.


"I've toppled many lands, slaughtered rebels, 

slain priests, and burnt down their holy churches 

I even let my men hurt the woman and children.

My name has been feared by warriors and cursed by widows.


The fire of war rages through my veins.

My beating heart are the drums of my reign.


I am the knight, ready to take the bishop."


Attar got closer to Irenaeus and whispered to him.


"You want to know how many of your people I murdered?"


Irenaeus' face was calm, but inside was anger.


Attar smiled, showing his perfect shiny teeth 

and continued speaking but in a slow tone.


"Hundreds...and I'm proud of it.

Their screams were like music to my ears.


Go on with your business, Greek. We might meet again one day."


Attar called his men and one by one left forward.

Attar was the last one to leave without saying a word to Irenaeus.


Beyaz turned his head back to see Niko, 

and Niko did the same, looking through Irenaeus' shoulder to see Beyaz.


Niko wondered who the boy was and why he was with him.


"Who was the boy, Father?" Niko asked.


"Most likely a slave. 

The Turks's are known for their enslavement 

of others, including my people."


"Oh..." Niko replied.


Irenaeus sighed and said.


"Let's get our stuff and head off."



After that event, they continued riding to their destination

and after many hours they've finally arrived at Eupatoria.

There was no snow, but it was still chilly.


It was a strange place and was home to the Crimean Tartars

(or called Crimeans), the original inhabitants of the peninsula.

The people were mostly not Christians but Sunni Muslims, and

everywhere you go, you see the strange towers of their mosques.


Arriving in the city made Niko miss Selvstapol as he was homesick already.

They arrived at the only Christian church they've seen so far and stopped there.

The old man and the boy got off their high horse and approached the front door.


"Whatever you do, stay close to me. Most of the people here do not like outsiders."


They came inside, and Irenaeus called for someone. 


"Hello, Father Oleg?"


"Who is it?" said an old Russian man.


"Father Irenaeus, Bishop of Selvstapol."


An old Orthodox priest stepped forward,

he was like the age of Irenaeus with a long white beard,

blue eyes, bushy black eyebrows, and a short nose

wearing a golden robe and holding his staff.


"Ah, Irenaeus, what brings you all the way here?"


"Oleg, I have come to deliver a message."


"You are always welcome here, Irenaeus."


Oleg seen Niko and asked


"Now is who is this?"


"This is Niko." 


Oleg nodded hello, and Niko waved.


"Come and sit down."


They all sat down at the front bench of the church.


"What message do you possess?'


"Is my nephew here?" Irenaeus asked.


"Irenaeus, my friend, this timing is grim for you.

The enemy is lurking near."


"I know; that's why I have to find him."


"He will not be here 'til tonight."

Come and stay and eat with me while you wait."


"Very well."


After they ate supper, it was five o'clock in the afternoon,

Niko was in the back of the church checking on the white horse.


Then he later sits down on a bench in front of the church's graveyard 

and looked at his green compass.

The compass' arrow was pointing south, 

meaning he was facing south not north.


Niko was understanding how to use the thing 

and thought the device was neat.


Niko was sitting there calmly looking at the surrounding trees at the graveyard 

with the wind blowing peacefully and see the native birds, mostly House sparrows, 

singing songs to each other. Niko likes bird watching and knowing the names of each bred 

as he misses watching the Great Rosefinch eating the seeds from his feeder next to his room's window. 

In a rare moment, he saw a reddish-orange bird with a crossed beak, and it was a male Red Crossbill on the church's bird feeder picking seeds. It was very rare to see a Crossbill eating seeds because they prefer using their crossed beaks for leverage to extract seeds from conifer cones. This was the second time he has seen one, and it reminded him of the first time he saw one at his room's window; this made him miss home even more.


Something began to startle the white horse,

as something was spying around the bushes.


The wind kept blowing at the same time 

and shaking branches of the trees.


Niko heard the noise too and kept it getting worse.

So Niko put the compass on the bench

and quickly went to the horse to calm him down.


"Hey, what's the matter boy? Easy. Easy." Niko said calmly.

After that, they both heard something running.

Niko looked and discovered it was a local boy 

about 10 years of age running with his compass.


Niko freaked out and yelled. 


"Hey, that's my compass! Thief! Give it back! Thief!"


Niko chased after him through the graveyard,

the boy disrespectfully stepped over the graves

but Niko didn't because he didn't want to be rude 

for the ones that passed.


He kept chasing the boy 'til they went to the city streets 

passing by people and horses.


Everyone in the streets looked at the boys running,

wondering what in the world was going on.


The boy went to an ally, 

then made a sharp right turn 

and he was finally gone.


Niko looked through his surroundings 

and still didn't see him.


The Prince was furious about the stolen compass,

he didn't know what to do and realized he was lost.


Niko kept walking through the alley, 

passing by poor people, some children, 

women with hijabs with exotic clothing, 

and men smoking a long pipe.



He went to a marketplace full of people in the streets

selling their local clothes, food, and items.

Niko couldn't read the signs, because it was in native Crimean

and were in strange letters of the Arabic alphabet.


The items were mostly useless to him, 

then Niko saw a market booth at the far corner away

from everyone else with a sign that was written differently.

It was not written in Arabic, but it was in a different alphabet 

called Hebrew.


Niko heard about it but thought it was unusual to see it here.


He approached this specific booth 

and looked at the items for sale.

Some were junk, some were antiques, 

some were food such as a pie called a Kybyn,

and there was also useless Crimean coins 

due to redenomination for the Russian ruble. 

  

Then Niko saw his compass and grabbed it.


"Hey!" said a man's voice and frightened Niko.


He wasn't a Crimean but a middle-aged Karaite man,

standing behind the booth and was the owner.

The man was wearing traditional Karaite garb and hat,

his eyes were hazel, with dark eyebrows, 

a thick black mustache, a hook nose and was bald.


"Are you going to pay for that?"


"This item belonged to me; it was stolen!"


"Stolen?"


"Yes, a boy."


"You?"


"No, you fool! A little boy stole from me from a church."


"Oooh, that would be my son."


"Okay, then I will be going..."


"If you take it, I'll bring in the police."


"But's it's mine."


"Oh ho ho! My boy told me he found it laying there.

When he finds an item he keeps it.

That's how we make our living in these troubling times."


"Yeah...a family of thieves!"


"Come down, boy. No one's going to believe you.

If you want the compass, it's 30 rubles."


"30 rubles!? I only have 15!"


"The 15 it is!"


"But's that's all my money!"


"Is it really that valuable to you?"

Is it worthy for your possession?"


"Yes!"


The Karaite man held his hand,

wanting Niko to pay for it.


But instead of money,

he gave the Karaite man back the compass.


"Here," Niko said.

Niko thought he would go back to the church and get Irenaeus


The man looked at it and 

said Niko while grinning his teeth.


"I tell you what, I'll give you the compass

if you visit my house of magic."


"House of Magic?'


"Oh yes, the most marvelous place in the Crimea.

A great amusement of course. 

I'll let you go in for free 

and let you have your compass back."


Niko liked magicians since he was a little boy,

he was hesitant at first, but it was tempting.


"Hmm, alright."


"Excellent! Right, this way."


The man showed him to the entrance of this 'House'.


Niko stepped inside, it was very dark until 

he saw light, as he walked further.


He discovered he was in a hallway of mirrors.

They all reflected around him from left to right.

The mirrors sometimes make strange illusions when he walked by;

he thought it was weird and made him a little dizzy.


He accidentally walked to the wall hard and fell to the ground,

so he got up and turned around to go back.


But he kept walking to the wall over and over, 

making him confused on ere to go.


He was starting to get paranoid 

and claustrophobic and started yelling.


"Let me out! Let me out! LET ME OUT OF HERE!"


Niko's insides were up as he lost sense of gravity,

and then, in a quick second, realized he was falling down, 

through a trap door into darkness.


He felt pain when he hit the ground,

then got up to try to escape 

and quickly discovered he was in a cage.


"Hey, what is this?

What's the meaning of this?

HELP! HELP!"


The Karaite man appaered from 

the darkness in front of Niko.


"Sorry boy, someone's got to sell the goym."


"But why?"


"Business is business. 

We do what we do to make money, 

especially in these difficult times."


"What will you do with me?"


"We will sell you to the Ottomans.

Light skinned Caucasians are worth the price."


"Let me out of here, you imbecile! I won't be a slave!"


"Sorry, I have a family to feed."


The Karaite man left and went back to the darkness.


Niko shed a tear in his eye.


"God, please, help me."


Another figure came out from the darkness.


It was the boy who stole the compass.


He had light brown hair, blue eyes, and light skin,

wearing a children's traditional Karaite garb.


His face showed a sad face, and Niko wondered why.


The boy approached closer and said.


"Here, I feel bad about taking it."


He gave Niko his compass back.


Niko didn't say thank you or anything else

and made a mean and aggressive look towards the boy.

Showing his anger and frustration.


The boy felt so guilty inside-out that he cried and said.


"I'm sorry, I just wanted my papa to be proud of me. I'm so sorry."


Niko still didn't say anything and kept staring at him.


"I said I WAS SORRY!" 


The boy left and went back to the darkness crying in guilt.

Now Niko is alone again in the cage with his compass.

He looked at it and told him he was facing east.


There was nothing else to do,

he put the compass in his pocket

and decided to rest.


Many moments later, 

something rumbled the cage and 

woke up Niko without knowing the time

or how many hours he slept.


The cage was surrounded by a black curtain

so he couldn't see anything.


The rumbling continued as it got louder and louder.

Then he heard gunshots, yells, and screams.

After that, a sound of a cannonball erupted 

and made the cage fell on the left side, hurting Niko.


Niko had no idea what was going on,

but his heart was racing and fluttering.


There were more gunshots,

from the sounds of muskets and canons.


Explosions and battle cries were louder and louder. 


Every minute, the sounds get more intense.


Then he heard horses making their sounds and stopped.


After that, something uncovered the curtain,

and the sun bright shined upon Niko,

blinding him as he couldn't see what was happening.


Someone pulled out a caplock pistol,

shot the lock of the cage and

opened the cage.


When Niko's vision was clear 

and adjusted from the sunlight,

he can see the man who freed him.


It wasn't Irenaeus,

it was soldier,

not a Russian nor a Turk,

not a French or an Englishmen,

but a different soldier.


A Greek soldier,

but there was more than one.


They all had olive skin, brown eyes,

long black hair and a long fancy mustache.


Their uniform was nothing like the Russians and the others,

the Greeks had a red cap with a white cross on the front 

to represent Christianity, their religion

and wore a white and blue foustanélla, 

a traditional pleated skirt-like garment. 


"Niko, are you okay?" said the Greek.


Niko was in shock and confusion.


"Niko, I'm Lieutenant Helio.

Irenaeus has sent me here to rescue you."


Niko was still speechless, 

but Lieutenant Helio didn't have time to stand around 

and got him out of the cage.


Niko discovered the cage was on the back of a one-horse carriage,

but it was turned over from a canon 

and a dead brown Arabian horse was lying on the ground dead, 

killed from the blast. 


They ran together in a group of five,

avoiding the canons and upcoming fire.


It took them at least seven minutes to 

finally, reach Oleg's church, then came inside

and finally seen Irenaeus with Oleg 

and a few more Greek soldiers.


"Irenaeus, we find him," said Helio.


Irenaeus went to him feeling concerned, 

put his hands on his shoulders 

and said to him.


"Niko, are you alright," said Ireanus


"Yes, I'm ok," Niko replied slowly.


"Come, we have to leave for Selvstapol."


Irenaeus, Niko, and a few of the Greeks went to the 

back to the graveyard where the white horse was.


After he and Niko were on the horse, 

Helio said to Irenaeus.


"Efharistó."


"Eíste efprósdektoi, anipsiós." Irenaeus replied.


Niko didn't understand what they were saying, 

but he knew it was emotional and serious 

by looking at their eyes and faces.


"We'll see you soon," said Helio.


Irenaeus shook Helio's hand 

and waved goodbye like he was family.



Finally, they left the area trying to escape the city.


Irenaeus lead the horse away from the main streets

and the shore, away from the battlefield as possible.


They saw the Turks and Egyptians fighting

the Russians and Greeks with their muskets and sabres.

There were more sounds of canons, screams, and yells, 

and they were just as loud as guns and bells.


Omar Pasha, the leading commander of the Ottoman army

was observing the battle from an Ottoman ship 

and said to one of his offers.


"Prepare to send more men when 

our canons tear down these city walls."



Hours have passed, they successfully broke into the walls

and Ottoman forces breached the city 

but did not pursue any further.


An Ottoman general under the Egyptian division, 

General Selim-Pasha, commanded his forces to 

seize parts of the city.


An Egyptian officer approached the general

and handed him a note.


"Sir, orders from Omar Pasha."


Selim read it with a smile on his face and said to himself.


"So, Omar, what's us to trap the rabbits, eh."



Irenaeus and Niko went to a cemetery at the east,

and they passed Russian soldiers standing their ground defensively

and some were resting and sitting near the graves 

with tired and sorrowful faces.


After that, they've passed the cemetery,

they had made a long way north 

since it was too risky to go east 

and the city was beside a huge lake.


They went to the hills that were covered in some trees,

Irenaeus and Niko were tired and so was the horse,

but they continued their escape anyway.


But, in a surprise, 

a few dozen Egyptian troops came out of the bushes,

surrounding them and pointing their muskets.


Then a few more on horseback appeared from the forests.


General Selim-Pasha was on 

his black Turkoman horse and said Irenaeus.


"Where do you think you're going, priest?"


"We're going home," Irenaeus replied.


"Not today, 

because it is a glorious day, 

when this city is ours."


"Let us pass, and we'll let you be.

We're not soldiers, you know."


"Sorry, priest. Can't let you go.

You are our prisoners now 

until we question you both"


The general ordered his men to "Take them in custody."


But before they could, a surprise attack from the Greeks

came out of nowhere and shot many of the Egyptians.


Selim's was about to escape 'til his horse 

was shot and fell from the ground.


He got up to run, but Lieutenant Helio,

with his unloaded musket, was in front of him.

Selim had no other gun, so he took his sabre and charged at him.

But Helio tricked the general by quickly pulling out his pistol, 

then shot the Egyptian in the heart and finally fell to the ground dead.


All of the Egyptians in the area where shot,

and Irenaeus and Niko were relieved to be rescued.


"I told you, we'll meet again," said Helio.


"And I thank you again," Irenaeus replied, smiling.


"We're ordered to retreat from the city,

and our forces will arrive at Selvstapol.

It's best you go now."


"God be with you, Helio." 


Irenaeus and Niko waved goodbye 

and left for Selvstapol.



It was 3'o clock at Selvstapol and the waxing crescent of the moon 

can be seen in the middle of brought daylight in the blue sky. 

Nikolai was inside of his post taking a break from 

his duties sitting down on a bench smoking a pipe in peace, 

then two high-ranking officers approached him.


"Corporal Romanov?"


Nikolai stands up for respect of his superior officers.


"Yes, sir?" he replied.


"Come with us; we need to discuss something with you."


Nikolai came with them, thinking was he in trouble or something was wrong.


They went to a building occupied by the Russian military,

they went upstairs to a private room, and Nikolai sat down 

in on a chair next to a long table with other military men.


An older high-ranking officer spoke to Nikolai.


"Corporal Romanov, we're offering you an assignment

that could risk your life of being killed or captured."


Nikolai thought about what he said and replied.


"I'm listening."


"We want you to go undercover behind enemy lines

and spy in their camp at Balaklava. 

You will be both our eyes and ears."


Another officer spoke.


"We know why you joined the military, Corporal.

We've seen your record, 

and so far you have a great reputation with your career.

And we've heard about your arm; we're sorry about that.

That's why we picked you."


Nikolai knew this wasn't like fighting in a battle,

but like going to the lion's den with a pack of wolves in a cockfight

as long as you don't get caught. 

He was good at hiding and sneaking when he was younger.


"Alright, I'm in."


"Good, we know you speak French, but how's your English."


"Tha quick fox jumped ova tha lazy dog."


"Nay too unrealistic, the moment you say that you'll be shot. Try French."


"Le renard rapide a sauté par-dessus le chien paresseux."


"Excellent, now, say English with a French accent."


"Le quick fox jumped ova tha lazy dog."


"Good, this makes it more believable that you are French.

We've acquired a French Zouv uniform, it's crude, but

you'll have to wear it, so they'll know your just a grunt.

If you were a high-ranking officer, 

they'll most likely know you're an impostor."


The older officer said.


"You are not authorized to speak to anyone about this.

There could be enemy spies in the city.

Do you understand?"


"Da," Nikolai replied.


"Your name will be Private Jérémie Stern,

how does that sound?"


"I like it, sir."


"Good, we start tomorrow night.

Oh, and about your...troubles."


Nikita was walking with her bag down the street

and seen Nikolai came out of the door talking

to one of the high-ranking officers and finally left to another street.

She was puzzled about why he was with them.



A few hours later, Nikita came inside Irenaeus' church.

She saw Nikolai sitting on the middle bench on the right, praying.

She walked down the aisle and stood beside him.


"What's wrong, Nikolai?"


He replied without looking at her.


"It's nothing."


"Nikolai, tell me. Please."


He looked at her and stared at her pretty golden eyes 

and never seen such a beautiful face.


Nikita's cheeks on her face turned red as she

also stared at his blue eyes from his handsome face.

Both of their hearts were racing faster than usual.


She quickly turned her head and put her right hand 

on her left arm with her cheeks still red.


"Why...are you..."


The girl was so speechless she didn't know what to say in this situation.


Then Nikolai got up from the bench, 

he stood in front of her, and Nikita turned her head around 

so she can look at his face again.


As the two stared at each other, 

Nikolai gently took her left hand and hold it.

He can feel the softness and she can feel the roughness of his, 

knowing he's been through alot in his lifetime.


"Ever since we've met, I..."


He couldn't put his words right and improvised.


"Since you've helped and taken care of me when I was wounded, 

my heart felt warm and calm inside. I cannot explain it."


"Nikolai..." she said calmly nonplussed.


"I love you, Nikita!" he said bluntly.


Nikita gulped, and her jaw dropped.

She didn't know what to say as she 

has never liked Nikolai that way.


"I don't know what to say..." she replied.


"I've never met a Christian woman 

with a caring warm heart before."


"Nikolai..."


"You've helped me through the way

to get me better."


"I'm not supposed to get attached with my patients."


"Then why do you come to see me and the others.

I know deep down; you do have feelings for me."


Nikita felt pressured and said loudly.


"Nikolai, I can't love you!"


Nikolai's heart felt broken into thousands of pieces 

and shattered all over the floor.

He felt the world was coming to an end 

as he felt rejected.


"You... you don't?.... But why?"


"You are Russian; I'm Crimean."


Nikolai knew what she meant.


"But you're a Christian as Irenaeus has raised and taught you."


"That's not the point Nikolai,

Despite being the same race,

I'm from a different tribe, a different culture.

Your people will harass me because I'm not Russian blood.

If we had a child, who will that child be when it grows up,

A Russian or a Crimean?

And my luck, the child will be made fun of, be confused 

and will not know where it belongs in its place."


"I wouldn't let that happen...I..."


Nikita interrupted him.


"Good, because we won't be together!"


"Don't say that."


Nikita turned around with tears in her eyes

and she said to him.


"Why me Nikolai, why me? 

You can pick any other girl in this city and this country!

Why me?"


"Because your special."


"Anyone can be special."


"But you're special to me."


She turned around, looked at him again, and said to him.


"Why are you telling me this now?"


Nikolai knew he wasn't supposed to tell but he told her anyway.


"My superior officers offered me to go 

undercover behind enemy lines at Balaklava."


She was surprised and asked him.


"In exchange for what?"


He hesitated to answer and he finally did.


"To pay off my debts, It was a good offer.

I just wanted... to let you know my true 

feelings for you, before I...


Nikita walked off to the door with an upset face

and was about to leave.


"Where are you going? What did I say?"


"Enough."


She finally walked out the door.


"Women...," Nikolai said while shaking his head.


It was the 18th of February at 10:49 O' clock

at a cold night as a waning gibbous appeared in the night sky.

Irenaeus and Niko have arrived at Selvstapol with their horse,

they stopped at the checkpoint and were escorted by 

Nikolai and the city guards.


They were finally home from their long journey 

and came inside the church, escaping the blizzarding cold.


The horse was warm and cozy in the shed 

laying down on the hay with a blanket.


Irenaeus, Niko, and Nikolai were in the mudroom, 

next to the stove to get warm.


Nikita also came inside the mudroom with a smile on her face 

and was excited to see Irenaeus and Niko.


"Niko, Father Irenaeus, welcome back!"


But she stopped smiling as soon she saw Nikolai's face

and stopped making eye contact with him.


"And we are happy to be back," said Irenaeus.


Niko hugged Nikita and said to her.


"It's good to see you, Nikita."


"It's good to see to, Niko."


Niko not only hugged her because he missed her

but because he was cold and wanted her warmth.

She rubbed his back, and she can feel the coldness

of his numbed hands on her back.


Irenaeus asked Nikita and Nikolai.


"So, what have we missed since we were gone abroad?"


While Nikita was still hugging Niko, 

she looked at Nikolai right in the eye and said.


"Nothing, nothing much."


Nikita unexpectedly did something that she wouldn't normally do,

she stopped hugging Niko, looked at him in the eyes 

and kissed him in the lips for spite towards Nikolai.

The poor boy was paralyzed as his cheeks were full red,

it made Niko very uncomfortable because he never had this feeling before.


Irenaeus and Nikolai were surprised by her action. 

This made Nikolai was jealous and angry.


After the kiss, she looked at Nikolai, then at Irenaeus, and said.


"Excuse me."


Irenaeus yelled at her.

"Nikita!" as he thought it was very rude to do that to Niko.


The girl left the mudroom to go outside in the cold

and finally, shut the door on her way out. 


Irenaeus shook his head and said to himself.

"She knows better; she wasn't raised to behave like that."


Niko was in a daze and still paralyzed,

as he has never been kissed by a girl before

especially one that's four years older than him.


Irenaeus called to Niko.


"Niko. Niko!"


But the boy didn't answer as he was still daydreaming.


Irenaeus gently smacked him on the back of the head with his staff.


"Ow!" Niko yelled, coming to his senses.


Irenaeus looked at Nikolai and said to him.


"What was that all about?"


Nikolai hesitated to answer but said to him.


"It's nothing, but there's something you need to know."


He briefly looked at Niko, afraid to say in front of him.


"...but tomorrow night I'll be undercover, infiltrating the enemy."


Irenaeus thought about what Nikolai said and 

the old man knew how risky and dangerous it was.


Nikolai continued speaking.


"My superior officers knew about my gambling debts

and offered to wipe it out if I do this assignment for them."


"Is it worth it; is your life worth the risk?" 


"I believe so."


Irenaeus put his hands on Nikolai's shoulders

like a father concerned for his son.


"Then I shall respect your decision and

may God watch over you for every step you take."


"Thank you, Father."


"And don't worry about Nikita. 

She'll get over it; it's that the poor girl cares 

about you and don't want to get killed over there."


"I know."


Nikolai went to the door, waved goodbye, and left outside.


Niko wasn't old enough to understand everything, but he asked Irenaeus.


"What was that all about with Nikita, Father? 

Why is she mad at Niko, and why did she kiss me like that?

That's not like her at all."


"Niko, you're probably not old enough to understand.

But women can be unpredictable and may do strange things."


"Oh, I see. I guess it's a woman thing."


Irenaeus smiled, patted the boy's head, and said.


"Don't worry about it 'til your older."



On the same night at Balaklava camp,

Temples was lying in bed in the military hospital.

He was sick with Typhus, a disease caused by

ckettsia or orientia bacteria from mites, fleas, or lice.


Temples' head was covered in lice due to lack of high gene,

his skin was covered in a rash, and he was coughing and hanking

with fevers and chills.


The poor soldier boy was dying, and he knew it.

He was accompanied by Berry and Temples,

Typhus wasn't as contagious as cholera so 

it was safe to be with him.


"Berry, I want you to take this to my parents and 

tell them I love them, and I served my country honorably..."


He gave Berry a picture of his parents with a handwritten note.


"...Promise me you give it to them."


"I will," said Berry.


Temples looked at Hatman and said.


"Your... always never the type of role model, 

but I hope... you have a change of heart.


I'm not going to heaven nor hell

but rest in peace 'til our Lord Christ 

returns for salvation.


Goodbye... to you all...."


His heart stopped and took his last breath.


And right then, Berry and Hatman knew he was gone.


An hour later, they dug his grave beside the other soldiers' graves

and buried his body down there.


Berry was on the ground on his knees, 

he made a sign of the cross to pay respects

to his fallen comrade and prayed that his soul rests in peace.


There were a couple of horse riders coming slowly toward the graves.

It was a couple of Ottomans with black Arabian horses.

One of them was Commander Attar with his two servants.

He and his men came to Blakava by ship to meet with the other Ottomans.


He approached them and asked.


"Burying one of your men?"


"Yes," said Berry.


"How did he die?"


"Typhus."


"Pitty, what a waste of a soldier."


Then Attar with his men rode away back to the town.


Berry and Hatman stared at the Ottomans leaving,

Hatman said to Berry.


"Next time, I die next."


"Why you?"


"I'm not suicidal; it's just I'm not afraid to die. 

I don't care about my life.

I have no friends, no family, no children, no home, no faith."


To be Continued...


©2021 Æ Firestone


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