Spring beckons new life: Dimitri's past and his future with Anya is explored. Companion piece to Snowdrops.
Disclaimer: I own nothing, except original characters.
To see a photo of rue Bocquillot, Avallon: .
Chudovo is a real town as is Avallon; the railroad and estate are also real.
Avallon, Burgundy, France
Dimitri was so glad that spring was on its way. The cold always reminded him of Russia, despite the change of geographic location and lack of heavy snowfall. Though he had lived in Russia during his two decades of life and could never deny his Russian blood, Dimitri knew he had made the right decision in leaving Saint Petersburg. He was looking forward to his future in France with Anya and the baby they would welcome in summer.
Shortly after arriving in Avallon, Dimitri had found work at a vineyard in nearby Sauvigny-le-Bois, harvesting and pressing grapes as well as waiting tables at a local café, as working at the vineyard was not possible during the winter months. He was a hard-worker and later became friends with some of the native men his own age at the vineyard and café. The local men were at first wary of the newcomer and his wife—some gossiped she was a foreign Princess—but eventually were won over by the Russian's charm and easy-going demeanour. Before long, Dimitri found himself just as drunk as one of the local boys. At first, Anya was furious but calmed down once she saw Dimitri's exploits were rather tame.
Business Monday afternoon at the café was slow and Dimitri sat slumped in a chair in the back room, trying to decipher a local newspaper with the aid of a Russian-French dictionary. Anya had been pushing for him to learn French; quite a challenge considering he was barely literate in his native langue. He was beginning to tire of her lessons and constant drilling, although he appreciated her concern. He had always been able to provide for himself and stubbornly explained to Anya that conning someone didn't really require him to be able to read the morning's headlines. "Anyway, what do you expect for a kid from Chudovo?" he exclaimed one evening, exasperated at Anya's nagging. Anya had no idea where Chudovo was; her husband never opened up to her about his past. Just as well, Anya thought, because I can't really recall my own.
Dimitri Fyodorovich Smirnov was born on 24 September 1906 (in the Russian calendar) in Chudovo, a town 100 kilometres south of the great city of Saint Petersburg. The town was best known for a railway built decades before Dimitri's birth. His parents, Fyodor and Lyudmila, were the grandchildren of serfs attached to the estate of Count Arakcheyev. Life was difficult, for although Fyodor had gained steady employment at the railroad, he was struggling to provide for his family of nine. He had been married to his beautiful Lyudmila for nearly twenty years; all seven of his children had been born two to three years apart. The couple was blessed with six boys—Anton, Gennady, Gleb, Ivan, Oleg, and the youngest, Dimitri—and one daughter, Miroslava. All the boys worked alongside their farther as soon as they had been able, yet money was still hard to come by. Dimitri could not recall much of his early childhood, apart from a sad excuse for a shack he called home and the usual sibling rivalry. However much his parents loved each child and far from being his mother's favourite due to his status as the youngest child, Dimitri was ultimately yet another mouth to feed. At the age of eight, Dimitri had been sent to St Petersburg to live with a relative in an effort to relieve some of the financial strain placed on the family; what little money Dimitri earned would be sent back to Chudovo. Fyodor's brother, Pyotr, worked as a cook in the grand Winter Palace's kitchen and had been able to secure a post as kitchen boy for his youngest nephew.
Although Dimitri hated to leave the only home he had ever known, he was excited at the prospect of adventure. The servants' living quarters were far better than the deplorable shack he had lived in with his family and though work was hardly fun, being kitchen boy did have its advantages, such as sneaking bits of the most delicious food Dimitri had ever tasted. If caught, however, he faced a harsh beating at the hands of the head cook, a punishment Dimitri and the other kitchen boys rarely suffered as the cook was elderly and was more of a manager than actual cook. Another benefit was catching a glimpse of one of the imperial family. The Tsar's youngest of four beautiful daughters, Anastasia, caught Dimitri's eye. She seemed insufferable and stubborn, yet had a sense of humour similar to the young boy's own. Notorious for her pranks and jokes, Dimitri decided that Anastasia was easily the most fun in the family. Dimitri desperately wanted to join in on the fun but was harshly reminded of his status everywhere he looked—the kitchen, the servants' quarters, the slums… He vowed he would escape this life someday. He felt he was on his way by leaving Chudovo and the next step would be to earn enough money to strike out on his own.
Two years later, in 1916, revolution broke out and ten year-old Dimitri suffered the second dramatic change in his short lifetime. Just as he had settled into life at the palace, he was abruptly removed from familiar surroundings and forced out onto the street. He had gone two days without food and could scarcely keep from freezing to death when Vlad found him huddled outside the now deserted palace. Vlad took the boy under his wing, adopting the boy as one of his own. Together, the two struggled to make ends meet; although Vlad was nobility his social status and fortune had claimed by the revolution. He had tried to flee to Paris to be with his beloved Sophie, yet knew his illustrious name alone made his life dangerous enough. Thus, Vladimir Pavelovich Rostovtsev simply became known as Vlad, a merchant hawking authentic imperial goods on the black markets of Saint Petersburg. Both quickly learned what demeanour was needed to make a quick sell and, more importantly, how to fool the public into believing they sold the genuine article. Dimitri's day-to-day existence had taken on a monotonous tone: he and Vlad would rise before dawn in an effort to avoid competition for a booth at the market and the two sold as much as they could until dusk, repeating the process every day for nearly a decade. Vlad's noble title had awarded them for better imperial loot to sell, as he had managed to successfully save quite a few impressive items. However, genuine Faberge was a difficult sell in a desolate and impoverished nation and as a result the pair had to resort to selling the same knockoffs as everyone else.
Years after the imperial family's demise, the whispers of Anastasia's possible survival continued to swirl and Dimitri could ignore them no longer. One day he witnessed a merchant trying to sell a coat that had reportedly belonged to the princess. Although made of fine fur and luxurious satin, the claim was dubious. However, a customer had paid a large sum of money for the coat, returning to his own stall to sell the garment at an increased price for profit. After watching this exchange Dimitri was struck with a remarkable idea. That evening, he raced to the small apartment he shared with Vlad in an abandoned ramshackle complex near the palace. He eagerly raised the idea of Anastasia's survival with Vlad, a sore subject for both of them. Vlad knew they couldn't survive much longer on the black market and listened carefully as Dimitri explained that there was a possible reward offered by the Grand Duchess' grandmother in Paris. If they could just find a suitable look-alike and coach her to be Anastasia, the pair could make off with the reward money, and more importantly, escape. Furthermore, they had the benefit of presenting the Empress with a Russian girl, a technicality where other con artists attempting the plan had failed. Vlad surveyed Dimitri, thinking back to the boy he had been and watching him grow into a determined young man. The excitement in Dimitri's eyes was evident, and though Vlad was cautious by nature, he agreed that the plan was a risk he was willing to take. Although appearing in public to be proper revolutionaries content with their lot in life, Vlad and Dimitri both longed to escape to Western Europe. For Vlad, the continent held the promise of Sophie; for Dimitri, it simply meant escape.