Spring 1919

"My darlings!" Natalya exclaimed, hugging and kissing Michaela and George. It was the first time she'd seen her children in about a year. Michaela was now seven, and George was five. While George bore a stunning resemblance to his father, Michaela's features were more ambiguous. Natalya had long ago given up hope of ever seeing definite traces of Michael in them.

With the help of the Ukrainian consulate, Natalya had escaped from Russia disguised as a nun not long after her release from the nursing home. By ship and train she'd eventually arrived in Sussex, England, where she was staying in a rented house. As soon as she was settled, she'd sent for the children.

"Where's Papa?" asked Michaela.

"He had some business to take care of in Russia, but he'll join us soon," Natalya told her. In truth she hadn't heard from Michael since she'd said good-bye to him in Perm. She'd heard varying accounts of what his fate had been but had so far been unable to prove or disprove any of them. She still prayed daily for his safety.

It remained to have the children tutored in English so that they could attend an English-speaking school. At their ages, they had a much easier time learning the new language than did their mother. After much struggling, Natalya barely managed to learn the language well enough to carry on a conversation, while Michaela and George were fluent in it in almost no time.

One day the children were in school and Natalya was eating lunch outdoors at a cafe when she caught sight of a couple sitting at a nearby table who looked familiar. Her heart almost stopped when she realized that they were Nicholas and Alexandra. Alexandra saw her at just about the same time and smiled warmly.

In a flash Natalya had joined them.

"I'm so happy to see that you're safe!" she exclaimed. "I heard that you'd been sent to Siberia and then I never heard anything more."

"We were held captive by the Bolsheviks in the Ipatiev House until the White army, with the assistance of my cousin, King George V, rescued us and smuggled us into England," Nicholas told her.

"How are the children?" asked Natalya.

"They're fine," said Alexandra. "The girls have all finished school now, and Olga and Tatiana are both engaged. Alexei is enrolled in an English secondary school and is doing very well."

"Where's Michael?" asked Nicholas.

"I last saw him in Perm a year ago," Natalya replied. "He was being held captive there. I joined him for about a week until the situation got too dangerous and he talked me into returning to Moscow. I've heard various things about what might have happened to him, but nobody knows for sure. I'd give anything in the world to spend just another moment with him." She began to cry softly.

Alexandra placed a caring hand on her arm. "We must trust God that His will be done, as I have during Alexei's many bleeding episodes," she said.

"I pray for him every day, that God will keep him safe," said Natalya.

"I shall remember you in my prayers as well," Alexandra told her.

"I hope that everything's going well for you," said Natalya. "I remember how distraught you were when Rasputin was murdered."

"Things are much better between Nicky and me now." Alexandra smiled and clasped her husband's hand. "I finally told him about the affair I had with Rasputin because I just couldn't bear the guilt any more. I expected him to be angry, but he forgave me. He said he understood how deeply hurt I was over his affair with Mathilde and how badly I needed comfort while he was away at war. I told him that I forgave him for his affair with Mathilde as well since it happened a long time ago and he was young and it was at a time when we couldn't be together. He said that he still keeps in touch with her, and I said that I wasn't happy about that but that I wouldn't ask him to give it up."

"I'm happy that things are going well for you," said Natalya. "Now, if I could only hear word about my darling Michael..."

"Trust God. He will see you through," said Alexandra.

Natalya couldn't wait until she saw her children again.

"Guess what?" she said to Michaela and George when they got home from school. "Your Uncle Nicky and Aunt Alix and your cousins are here in England now as well!"

"Hurray!" shouted Michaela. "Can we go visit them?"

"Of course!" her mother told her.

Michaela and George had a happy reunion with their cousins. Although Olga, Tatiana, Maria, Anastasia, and Alexei were all much older than Michaela and George, the cousins had always gotten along very well.

If only Michael were here, our happiness would be complete, Natalya thought to herself.