Chapter 7 - A Revolting Prospect
Saint Petersburg, 1905
1905 had started badly for everyone in Russia but nowhere was it worse than in Saint Petersburg. In January, the revolutionary priest Gapon dared to lead a march to the Winter Palace to present demands for government reform. One of the demands was for a Duma, where the people would have some say in their governing. He and his followers had been killed by the hundreds by the Imperial Guards. Since then, all the industrial cities in Russia had suffered from workers' strikes and riots. The unpopular war against Japan was going badly, adding to the already teeming cauldron of social unrest.
Cecily (Halfrek to her new overlords, or "Hallie" as she preferred) was so glad she had sent Misha to England and protected him from the dangers that seemed to grow every day. She was a vengeance demon now, true, but even her powers had limits.
Her old friend Ann Harrison, now revealed to be Anyanka, a sister in vengence, had already wrecked havoc. She had used a wish from a wronged servant girl in Novodvinsk to light the match that set off the fuse leading to the current revolution. The order of Arashmaharr had tremendous power to wield. Vengeance ITSELF had power that was often hard to contain. It was always harder to put back a Djini into the bottle than to release it.
Cecily thought back to her gypsy rock and the two fateful wishes she had available to her and the results of her using them, however undeliberately.
The Yevtochenko men were all dead now. In a twisted piece of irony only Cecily could fully appreciate, all had died in some way involving ice. Even the sorcerer Rasputin had remarked on the strangeness of all those separate freak accidents that had suddenly befallen the once great family.
Rasputin was yet another of Anyanka's wishes in the making. An uneducated peasant, most likely not fully sane, he had rutted about the countryside, openly unfaithful to his spouse. It was said that she did not mind, but Anyanka had shared with her friend Hallie that the wish made by his wife was one of the most complex and insidious she had ever granted.
Rasputin was a sorcerer and something of a mesmerer, using his unusually compelling eyes to lead suggestible people into a sort of trance. Even he had no notion of Halfrek's true nature, however.
Some close friends of the Czarina had introduced the "monk" to her Imperial Majesty proclaiming him a healer of great power. The Czarina was beside herself with a secret worrry. Her baby boy, so long desired and heir to the throne, was born with her family's hidden illness, hemophilia.
Alexei was a beautiful but dangerously frail boy, prone to bleeding uncontrollably from the smallest of injuries. Cecily's old friend had virtually shut herself off from even her family, spending long hours in her lovely mauve bedchamber and seeing almost no one except her children and her beloved husband, her "Dovey". The royal couple were rare in their love for each other and their offspring.
The monk Rasputin had seemingly performed the miracle of curing the smallest Romanov. As the worried parents relied more and more on the healer, the nation began to worry that Russia herself would pay the price for his "advice" on ALL matters of state. This peasant was rapidly making policy, policy that could only lead to disaster for all parties concerned, indeed all the peoples of Russia. Anyanka's eyes had shone with glee in laying out the eventual outcome to her friend Hallie.
Cecily felt bad for her old friend the Czarina and had tried to drop warnings her way. The result had been a severing of all ties with the widowed Grand Duchess. No one was more important to the Czarina than her family and the man she believed held their small son's very life in his rough peasant hands. Well, Cecily had tried, it would be on their heads alone.
Cecily was preparing to vacate Russia and join her family back in England. This night she and Anyanka had been guests at a ball when Anyanka's small revolution broke into their reality.
The two vengeance demons sat at the table and finished their delicious Merlot as, all around them, men and women died in various violent ways. Cecily was a bit surprised to realize she truly had no real emotional reaction to what she witnessed. Her only emotion was surprise to find Anyanka subscribed to the agenda of the Marxists that Cecily's late husband had tried to eradicate prior to his untimely death. Sergi would be turning over in his grave if he could see her and her dear friend now. Both of them spattered in the blood of good Russian nobility, smiling and laughing at the dinner table as Russia burned.
Anyanka would be moving to Germany and then the Balkans in the next few days. There were wronged women crying for her assistance and Russia was starting to become much too warm for a change. As vengence demons, they would, of course, be able to teleport for visits on occassion.
Hallie had decided her powers could best be used in aiding children whose parents, especially fathers, had behaved badly. There were even more of these needing a vengence demon than wronged women. She would be vigorous in tending their needs while "Cecily" would enjoy her delightful son as they settled into British society.
Misha loved his school and was doing well. He would spend his holidays with her in London and board during the school term, as any well-bred British gentleman in the making would do. This gave Cecily time to be Halfrek and do her duty. Finally, Cecily had found her true place in the world, her calling.
She thought back to the results of her second, and last, impulsive wish on the gypsy stone. The sequence of events set into motion after her wish was so impressive that D'Hoffryn had made her one of his girls and set her to work immediately. She had left such a path of destruction and misery using only two wishes that he was certain she would be supremely effective with minimal training. He had been right. It was a job she had been born to fill.
Her father had learned how it felt to never quite measure up, to always want and to be let down. The widow he had placed all his hopes on marrying had left him at the altar. She took with her his political connections and a substantial amount of his fortune as well. From that point on, he encountered disappointment after disappointment. Business deals came ever so close to righting his finances only to fall through in the end. Friendships that he trusted turned to betrayal and isolation.
Even sweet Esme, his eldest daughter, had distanced herself from him when one of his increasingly desperate schemes had nearly cost her husband both his family business and his life. Esme dearly loved her husband and had never been particularily close to her father, so the choice was not too difficult for her to make.
The choice of words Cecily had used in making the wish also led to the tragic circumstance surrounding her father's death. When she had said, "have those around you withhold what you crave the most", she had no idea that what he eventually would crave the most was life-saving medicine that his overworked housekeeper delayed giving to him in time to save his life.
The housekeeper had felt horrible about his death until the reading of his will proved that she was completely overlooked. She would be homeless, jobless and in no manner provided for. Even her final wages owed had taken a year to collect.
The final bit of vengeance came when Ezra's grave marker arrived and they found that the stone carver had erred in the spelling of his name. No one chose to pay the cost of correcting it! Thus Ekra Adans, Baron Underwood lay, if not in peace, at least in the ground.
Cecily had truly a natural gift for revenge. Halfrek merely built upon it.
Chapter 8 - A Mother's Hope
London - 1911
Cecily was anxiously awaiting the arrival of Michael, as Misha was now called. His time would be all hers for the summer, he had promised. He was a fine, handsome, sturdy lad of sixteen years. He still adored his mother but had begun to spend more time with his set of friends on his visits home. Youth never really changed from generation to generation, Cecily thought.
Thoughts of Michael always led to fond smiles for his mamma. He was all anyone could hope for in a son. He was a full two years ahead of his age group at school. He was already at University, a "prodigy" the Deans concurred. He was larger than most sixteen-year-olds as well, but graceful nontheless. He had little of his father's features, yet he was a fine masculine specimen by any definition. All the young women eagerly awaited his visits to London.
Michael was popular among both genders of his friends. He had wonderful courtly manners that were guaranteed to make the girls feel respected yet treasured. He was quite the sportsman and an affable friend to the males in his set.
He even caught the eye, not to mention turned the heads of, women much older than he. Cecily had found it necessary to set more than one lady straight regarding HER plans for Michael's education and his teachers. Women were becoming shockingly brazen in this new century. Fortunately Michael had his mother nearby to ensure no one took untoward advantage of his trusting nature.
Halfrek had proved to be all that her patron D'Hoffryn could have hoped. She had an impressive list of creative wishes granted, mostly to children in need of some vengeance. Only D'Hoffryn's favorite, Anyanka, had a more impressive record.
Hallie had continued her friendship with Anyanka. The two had even worked together in a few cases. No matter how busy their respective lives became, they made sure to stay in close touch.
Cecily enjoyed all three of her lives: Cecily, the loving mother and society hostess respected by all; Halfrek, the vengeance demon who showed no mercy to worthless parents and righted their many wrongs; and Hallie the loyal, carefree, friend. She felt fulfilled for the first time in her life. She also felt needed, appreciated, powerful and free.
She had a lovely home, warm and wonderful friends, a challenging and rewarding career, a devoted son and full control over every aspect of her life.
Cecily knew that Michael was going to one day meet a girl and marry. She realized that his title and lands would one day lead him back to Russia. But all of that was for later, much later! She had begun to closely scrutinize the young ladies among his friends. She knew it would take a special sort of girl to survive the sort of life that Michael's birth would require of them both. He might be only sixteen, but time seemed to speed by and a mother had to be prepared for the inevitable. Soon he would be a man and one that Cecily would be proud of always.
It was because of this awareness that she had nearly begged him to indulge his mamma this summer. Instead of staying in London and reconnecting with his friends as in all the years past, they were going on a trip to the Continent. Mother and son would explore the capitals of Europe. They would study the art and architecture, explore the different foods and customs. In short, she would have her sweet boy all to herself one last time.
Michael had no notion that his mother was quite familiar with most of the places they would see. He knew nothing of Halfrek or her comings and goings. Teleporting made it a simple matter to keep such movements over long distances a secret, even from a beloved son.
He marveled at the continued youthfulness of his beautiful mother. Most boys thought of their mothers as lovely, but Cecily truly had not aged, nor would she. Halfrek was ageless. Cecily wasn't sure how she would handle that complication but trusted all would be well. She really didn't need to worry about such matters at this stage.
Rome, Italy - 1911
The trip had been delightful for both Cecily and Michael. Her son had made friends everywhere they went and Rome was no exception.
In fact, one friendship would have worried Cecily had it not been doomed by virtue of the children's respective homes.
Michael had seen Elizabeth Matthews as she toured the Colosseum with her family when he was sightseeing with his mother.
Elizabeth was a year older than Michael. She was really a lovely girl, inside and out. She was shy, sensitive and polite. She was also astonishingly beautiful with masses of deep auburn hair and the greenest eyes the Yevtochenko pair had ever seen. She was tiny, her head barely reaching Michael's chest, yet already well-rounded in a womanly way.
She was well bred and sturdy in spite of her delicate appearance. In a few years she might have been just the sort of girl Cecily would want Michael to give his heart to. Not at his age, of course. Had they but met at another time, in the future...well, it scarcely mattered as she would no doubt meet and marry a fellow countryman before Michael was ready to choose a bride.
Miss Matthews was from a place called Vermont in the United States. Her father was a wealthy businessman and her mother was a leader in society, well respected throughout New England. Elizabeth was intelligent and surprisingly well-educated for a girl, attending a women's university in Pennsylvania.
A lovely girl, it was almost a shame the timing was so wrong as she would have made a delightful Grand Duchess.
Michael was truly smitten with Elizabeth and before he left for Madrid, they had exchanged directives for mailing one another as well as a promise to see each other again at Christmas when she would be in London. Cecily suspected they had also exchanged a stolen kiss or two, but a mother should not pry into a boy's everyexperience.
The rest of the summer continued in the pleasant and peaceful way that it had started. Michael collected various items along the way that he felt Elizabeth might enjoy when he next saw her in London. Cecily added to her already impressive art collection choosing from the best that each country had to offer.
Paris, France - 1911
On the return trip, they had arranged to meet her old friend Anyanka (or Aunt Ann, as Michael knew her) in Paris. Halfrek took some time while Michael explored the Louvre to join Anyanka in a bit of business that could not wait. Justice could not be expected to take an entire summer off, Cecily supposed.
Cecily noted that Anyanka had looked at Michael in an altogether too appreciative way upon seeing him for the first time since childhood. Cecily's friend was not above offering herself as a tutor of sorts to a handsome, virile young man.
Michael's mother determined that she would not be inviting her old friend for any visits when Michael was home in the future. Some things one did NOT permit when offering hospitality to a friend. And some friends were easier kept at a distance.
Claiming homesickness, Cecily decided rather abruptly that their holiday should come to a close a week early.. Mother and son would spend the rest of his free time at home where he would be safe. Soon enough he would return to Oxford and all would be well between she and Anyanka again.
Lord D'Hoffryn would support Halfrek in this as the last thing he wanted was to have his two best vengeance demons seeking ways to harm one another. Things like that were bad for business.
Chapter 9 - And By Their Deeds You Shall Know Them
London - 1912
Cecily was hosting a small dinner party for some of the more fashionable of the ladies of her acquaintance. She didn't entertain as often as she liked, but her secret work schedule made it a bit difficult to arrange time for pleasure.
The last gathering she had undertaken had been nearly four months previous when the lovely Matthews girl had joined the Christmas festivities of the Yevtochenko mother and son. Elizabeth had been quite taken by the traditions that mingled British and Russian customs and foods.
Clearly Elizabeth and Michael still were attracted to one another and had spent the time apart in a flurry of correspondence. They were inseparable.
Cecily liked the girl but was thanking the dark lords that she lived across the Atlantic from Michael.
Cecily was rushing to and fro with the last minute details familiar to anyone who has ever played hostess to high sticklers and gossips. Everything had to be perfect and Cecily was determined it would be.
She was so engrossed in the seating arrangements that she had not heard the door open and her long time butler approaching. Hobbs coughed discreetly and begged madame's pardon. He had been handed a telegram sent from Master Michael and knew that she would want it immediately.
Cecily took the paper from her butler's hand and felt an inexplicable stab of fear as she began to read. People rarely sent telegrams containing good news and this certainly was true to form.
Cecily read aloud softly,"MOTHER DEAREST STOP NOW I AM A MAN STOP HAVE CHOSEN TO WED STOP KNOW YOU LOVE ELIZABETH STOP AM ON MY WAY TO ASK FOR HER HAND STOP EMBARKED FOR NEW YORK THIS DAY STOP TAKING NEW WHITE STAR BEAUTY NAMED TITANIC STOP LOVE YOUR DEVOTED SON MICHAEL STOP"
Mother Dearest was not pleased at all but consoled herself that he would return in a few weeks and she could talk sense into him then. Young men could be so rash in the heat of hormones and Yevtochenko men always had raging hormones. She marveled, "how quickly they do grow up!" and laughed lightly.
She rather envied her son for his wide-eyed romantic notions. She envied him the trip as well. Much had been written of the luxury ship he was now, no doubt, enjoying. Why, some of the very people she would normally be entertaining were taking this maiden trip on the most modern marvel of shipbuilding to grace the Atlantic.
Cecily smiled at the thought of her little boy off on his first real adventure alone, a grown man at seventeen! She needn't worry, she had prepared Michael's future with care and all would be as it should.