The last chapter for now. I am working on translation of Chapter 13 though. Please, be patient with me. I will be too busy in the upcoming autumn but definitely I want to finish this English adventure.

Enjoy, Dzana

Chapter 12

In front of the house, Vladimir stopped to look around. However, there was no sign of Anna. Without wasting time, he followed his instincts which led him in the right direction. He hoped to reach the girl before she met some troubling beggar.

He had no idea how long he had run but he could not stop. Before the street turned again he caught a glimpse of honey-gold hair. As he reached the corner, he slowed down and began to relax. He called to Anna, but she could not hear his voice He hastened his pace and finally caught up to her.

When Anna had run out of the house, she unthinkingly took an unknown direction. She had no idea in her mind where she should go; she was just running. She ran faster and faster, or at least it seemed so to her. She trusted in her instinct and felt certain she would find the way back to Korf's palace. However, for now she wished to run as fast as or faster than the wind. The air whistled by her ears and her hat slipped down her back, but she did not care.

She thought she heard someone in the distance calling her name, but she attached no importance to it. She must be hallucinating. Oh, how she longed to become intoxicated from the sharp wind, and to feel true liberty, if just for a short while.

Someone's arms caught her from behind. Alarmed, she nearly stumbled and fell on the ground. She did not, though, for the arms held her very tightly.

"Thank God, Anna, you have stopped running at last. I really did not want to offend you," panted a familiar voice. Anna turned around with relief. The street was deserted so nobody could observe the strange pair of heavily breathing young people. Anna shyly smiled at her guardian and replied, "You may release me, Vladimir Ivanovich. Really, I will not run away."

"You won't? So what? Oh no, I will not release you. I take my responsibility for you seriously. And I believe you are able to run to the very edge of Earth," Vladimir opposed fitfully.

"But I really didn't want to run away. I would return to your house, I swear," the maid continued.

" I don't understand..." replied Vladimir.

"Forgive me, my dear guardian," she said sweetly.

Upon hearing the word 'guardian' Vladimir felt a pang in his heart.

"You will make me walk as slow as a snail," she continued. "Oh I understand you. I will try to make you satisfied with me. I just... I just wanted to find out whether you are as good in running as I am," lied Anna a bit. She unsuccessfully tried to hide the twinkle in her eye.

This remark made Vladimir laugh so that he released Anna a bit from his strong arms. Anna, however, did not move. She made no attempt to escape, any longer.

The Baron said, "Alright, I will release you. But do not make jokes about me. You must have known that I would catch you. So, why did you run away, really? If you did not want to disappear, what else could be the reason for your behaviour?"

"I have already told you," said Anna, refusing to tell him the truth.

"Pray, Anna, trust me, please. All I want is to understand you. If we could trust one another, we could be good friends."

Anna slowly hung her head. After a while, she said quietly, "I just wanted to feel the wind on my face. I wanted to find out what it mean to be free... just for a moment... until I had to become your possession again."

"My possession? What are you talking about? I am your guardian, not your possessor. You silly..." He broke off his speech.

"What is the difference?" asked Anna, defeated.

Anna did not mean to speak so bluntly. She just did not know how to express her strange feelings properly. During the last ten days, her life had turned upside down and now she felt puzzled.

Vladimir wondered at her words but remained calm. "I am your guardian. That means I have to take care of you the best I can. I have promised Varvara that I will look after you, Anna. I do not want to replace your parents, but... "

Vladimir could not find the suitable words. Thus, he left his sentence unfinished.

"I am really grateful for that, Vladimir Ivanovich. I know that I have behaved silly. Will you forgive me my foolish act?" whispered Anna as her eyes dropped to the ground.

"Of course."

Anna composed herself and in a moment her expression again became quizzical, "Thank you. And oh, I must say that you ran quite well. To be honest, I did not expect you to reach me. But it was very sweet of you to try," Anna said and started to laugh so that she made laugh her guardian, too.

After both of them stopped laughing, Vladimir said, "We must return home. Happily, nobody has seen us. I would not be glad if gossips learned of this."

He looked at her hair. It was tangled from the wind. He longed to touch it and could not resist his desire.

"The wind has tangled your hairstyle. May I?"

Anna blushed and protested immediately, "Oh, this is inappropriate. I will do it by myself, Vladimir."

However, Vladimir did not give up so easily. He untied the ribbon on her hat. A moment later, he replaced the bonnet back on her neatened head and began to tie the ribbon.

"Will you be my new chamber-maid, Baron?" said Anna in an attempt to hide her discomfort.

"I have just explained to you the role of a guardian. So, why the surprise then?" replied Vladimir, as he finished tying the bow. He opened his mouth to add something more but apparently changed his mind, and his words remained unspoken.

Anna let the Baron serve her. After all, it was not uncomfortable. She was just unaccustomed to it.

"Dear Anna, let us go back home my way - I mean, snail-walking. Will you agree?" Vladimir continued in a sportive tone.

"Of course, Sir. I do not wish to destroy your good reputation," Anna agreed.

"I am not afraid. Just do not look at the ground while walking."

Thus, they set off home at a comfortable pace. Anna's steps were absolutely certain now, but still she watched the pavement beneath her all of the time.

"The sky is clear today, is it not?" Vladimir remarked in an attempt to trip her up

"Oh yes, it is so clear," said Anna, without glancing up.

"Interesting... It seems that a storm is coming," continued the Baron slyly.

"A storm? So what are we waiting for? Hurry, hurry up!" cried Anna, a bit frightened. She was scared of storms. She looked up to the sky and then at Vladimir. In no time she understood that no storm was coming; Vladimir was trying to fool her.

"That is right, Anna. As I have said, you must look up . But you seem to be so taken with Peterburg's pavements," said Vladimir, feigning reprimand. Actually, he enjoyed this advantage over the young Miss.

"Are you teasing me, Vladimir?" asked Anna, insulted.

"As you did, my dear," the Baron said drily.

Anna, in fact, had to agree with him in her mind. Nevertheless, she kept gazing at her feet until they arrived at home.