Episode Eighteen – ‘The Emperor’s Last Dream’, Part Three

When I woke up it took me a couple of minutes of gazing around the thick dark shadows of the room to realise where I was. It then took another minute or two before I realised that the thick dark shadows indicated that sunset had long since come and gone and with it the much-anticipated lantern show. After a brief wave of regret I was still tired enough to shrug philosophically and roll over back to sleep. But then the consequences of the couple of glasses of rice wine I’d had with lunch made themselves felt and I realised there would be no more sleep until I’d answered the call of nature. So I reluctantly hauled myself up off my mattress and, leaving Michael snoring gently on his side of the room, headed off in search of the bathroom. Continue reading

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Episode Eighteen – ‘The Emperor’s Last Dream’, Part Two

We passed through the Western Gate of Khotya at around half past twelve, part of a great press of pilgrims swarming eagerly into the city. Less than three hours later we had located the hidden door and another room of Sturridge’s prison had been successfully knocked off the list. Continue reading

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Episode Eighteen – ‘The Emperor’s Last Dream’, Part One

Once the narrow pass had cut its way through the last of the snow-capped peaks and began to wind down the steep rocky slopes towards a grassy plain, our reward for three days of mountainous slog was a truly spectacular view of our destination, the imperial capital of Khotya. The city sat on a bend in the river, nestled securely within imposing stone walls that were liberally sprinkled with forbidding watchtowers. Down by the river wharves the buildings jostled for space but the streets seemed to breathe out as they moved away from the water, allowing the houses and gardens further up to sprawl elegantly. In the west the ground rose sharply towards the citadel of the Emperor himself, a walled palace complex that appeared to form pretty much a city within a city. Continue reading

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Episode Seventeen Poster

Episode Seventeen Poster

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Episode Seventeen – ‘One of Our Rasputins is Missing’, Part Seven

At this stage I feel obliged to point out that I have been to a number of dodgy parties in my time. I’ve been to office parties where the booze ran too freely and student parties where the booze ran out too soon. I’ve been to house-warming parties that wrecked the house and garage parties that wrecked the whole street. In addition it’s worth noting that the Everingham family has a particularly long and honourable tradition of awkward family gatherings, a notable lowlight of which was my cousin, Leanne’s 30th birthday party which just happened to take place during the death throes of a ten year relationship with her fella, Steve. I won’t go into all the gory details but suffice to say that what started out as merely an uncomfortable evening of awkward conversation and forced jollity descended rapidly into a bitter vortex of violent recrimination which not only killed off any chance of an amicable separation between the once happy couple but also did for Leanne’s prized Renault Clio, my Uncle Greg’s two front teeth and the relationships of at least four innocent bystanders by way of collateral damage. Continue reading

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Episode Seventeen – ‘One of Our Rasputins is Missing’, Part Six

As we left the Finlyandsky Station my emotions comprised about three parts warm glow of satisfaction at having saved the last Rasputin from his unhappy fate to one part anxiety over Secretary Pokrovsky’s likely response to our action. By the time the car turned down the Moyka Embankment towards the Yusupov Palace this ratio had pretty much entirely reversed itself. It was all very well embracing the noble gesture in the heat of the moment, with two big pairs of pleading brown eyes in front of you and any possible repercussions far away in a dimly grasped future. But it was quite another thing to remain confident and cheerful once the big brown eyes had been spirited far away and only the sharply disapproving eyes of Secretary Pokrovsky loomed up ahead. Continue reading

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Episode Seventeen – ‘One of Our Rasputins is Missing’, Part Five

Our driver took Olga Fyedorovna’s exhortation to ‘step on it’ rather more to heart than might have seemed entirely wise given the conditions. My recollections of the journey from Marya Andreevna’s apartment to the Finlyandsky Station consist mostly of being flung from one side of the car to the other as we careened around yet another icy corner, together with an alarming glimpse of vast chunks of ice floating down the Neva River when we slithered precariously close to the edge of a bridge that we crossed over. Continue reading

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Episode Seventeen – ‘One of Our Rasputins is Missing’, Part Four

Having relayed our instructions to Secretary Pokrovsky’s driver we soon found ourselves winging our way across the frozen city to a set of apartment buildings very like those we had spent the afternoon searching through. Here Olga Fyedorovna shared a fourth floor flat with a nursery school-mistress in an atmosphere of contented domesticity that only served to make Secretary Pokrovsky’s determination to find her a husband seem all the more misguided. Continue reading

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Episode Seventeen – ‘One of Our Rasputins is Missing’, Part Three

On leaving the restaurant we discovered that the temperature, which had scarcely risen above freezing all day, had dropped considerably and soft flakes of snow swirled around in the crisp night air. We scrambled gratefully into Secretary Pokrovsky’s waiting car, an enormous black boxy machine, and the driver set off at once. The journey was brief; it seemed no time at all before we were pulling up outside an enormous neo-classical building where the lights ablaze in the upper-storey windows dappled the icy canal opposite with reflected light. Continue reading

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Episode Seventeen – ‘One of Our Rasputins is Missing’, Part Two

It’s amazing the effect a single piece of officially signed and stamped paper can have when it comes to poking your nose in where it might not be wanted. The residents of the apartment buildings that crowded around the Tsarskoe Selo Railway Station received us in as many different ways as their respective moods dictated. We were alternately smiled at and growled at, puzzled over, grunted at and moaned about. But not one of them, once presented with Secretary Pokrovsky’s letter of authority, was willing to take the risk of refusing us entry to their property. Continue reading

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