All eyes were on the beautiful young bride as she walked down the aisle. Anastasia, standing with her parents and siblings, thought that she was absolutely beautiful in her long white gown with her dark hair hanging down. At the front of the church, Anastasia's Uncle Michael waited, looking very smart himself in his navy blue uniform.
It was actually the second wedding for Uncle Michael and his bride. Their first had been in Austria, where they had fled to escape from Natalya's abusive former husband. Anastasia's father, Tsar Nicholas, had refused to acknowledge the Austrian wedding, so they were having a second ceremony here in St. Petersburg.
For Anastasia, it had seemed utterly inconceivable that a man would strike his wife. She could never imagine her father hitting her mother, yet she had seen the bruises, welts, and scars on Natalya's body where the woman's husband had taken his anger out on her. It had upset her so badly that she had asked her Grandmama about it.
"Why would any man hit his wife, Grandmama?"
"Some men are just like that, Nastya. They don't know how to control their anger so they take it out on someone smaller and weaker than themselves. Natalya's a lucky woman to have a man like your Uncle Michael to love her. He'll be good to her."
Anastasia knew that her Grandmama was right. Her Uncle Michael was very kind and was one of her favorite relatives.
Beside her, Anastasia's eight-year-old brother, Alexei, fidgeted uncomfortably. He hated having to get dressed up. Anastasia nudged him and whispered to him to stand still. On her other side, her three older sisters, Olga, Tatiana, and Maria stood with their parents. Olga and Tatiana, both tall and willowy, looked very graceful. Beside them, Anastasia felt so short and dumpy by comparison. Dear, sweet Maria, only a shade taller than Anastasia herself, had sobbed when she had seen the evidence of Natalya's former husband's abuse.
Now Uncle Michael and his bride were saying their vows. The priest pronounced them husband and wife, and Uncle Michael lifted Natalya's veil and kissed her. They they stood together proudly as their family and friends rushed to congratulate them.
"That's so romantic!" sighed Maria. "I can't wait until it's my turn." Alexei rolled his eyes, and Anastasia giggled. Tatiana frowned at her and pinched her arm.
Afterwards there was a reception with a huge wedding cake. Anastasia felt her mother's eyes on her as she dug into the cake and began to eat more slowly.
"Hello, Anastasia." Anastasia looked up to see her new Aunt Natalya smiling at her.
"Hello," she said. "You look very beautiful."
"Why, thank you, sweetheart. You're very lovely yourself."
"No, I'm not." Anastasia wrinkled her nose. "I'm too short."
"Oh, you'll grow taller," Aunt Natalya assured her. "Soon you'll be just as tall as Olga, I'll bet."
Aunt Natalya smiled and patted Anastasia's shoulder affectionately. Uncle Michael walked over and put his arm around his new wife. It was clear that he adored her. "So do you think I did pretty well, Nastya?" he asked his youngest niece.
Anastasia smiled and nodded. She was very happy for both of them.