Dimitri was only a baby when he was put in a Grigorev's All Boy Orphanage. His mother gave no reason for the abandonment. She simply gave Grigorev the baby and left. Later, when Dimitri would ask about her, Grigorev recalled that she seemed very down on her luck.
"She didn't tell you anything?" a six-year-old Dimitri asked. Grigorev, a hard, strict man had no use for sentimentalities. He was never particularly loved nor did he particularly love his boys but he was never cruel.
"She told me that your name was Dimitri and then she thanked me for taking you in. Nothing more" he said to the six-year-old, putting his smoking pipe back into his mouth and looking at the lit fireplace, sitting in the only comfortable piece of furniture in the orphanage. Dimitri looked away from his guardian and stared into the fire as well, tears piercing his eyes but refusing to fall.
Grigorev was from a military background and he ran his orphanage like a boot camp. Every morning he would wake the boys at six a.m. by banging a metal spoon to a pan. When they had awakened, every boy had to make their bed perfectly, and then to the showers which were always freezing and never pleasant. After getting dressed the boys would make and serve breakfast, their shifts alternating every day. Breakfast was always a bleak oatmeal-like substance and on good days, sometimes Grigorev would buy the boys apples. Apple days were more anticipated than Christmas to the ten boys and were about as rare. Christmas was a holiday that was never observed.
After breakfast the boys had to complete all of their chores. The boys had to scrub and clean every bit of the orphanage. All the dishes, the floors, the bathrooms, everything had to be spotless. Grigorev was not a man to tolerate any kind of filthiness.
When the chores were done they were permitted to play. If the sun was still up, the boys would play tag or any other games that required no equipment. If it was too late to go outside, Dimitri would read a book on Grigorev's shelf. Grigorev valued education and made sure that each boy could at least read and write. Though Dimitri could be rebellious at times, he was a fast learner and very capable at all tasks handed to him.
That's why, when the palace butler came looking for a kitchen boy, Grigorev suggested Dimitri. Grigorev called Dimitri into the sitting room where the butler examined every inch of him. Dimitri, now nine, did not like the invasion of privacy but knew better than to be disrespectful to someone who worked at the palace. The butler, liking what he saw, shook Grigorev's hand and said that he would pick the boy up in the morning.
Dimitri found it hard to sleep that night. Part of him was excited. Working at the palace probably meant apples every day! He'd probably get a bed that didn't have springs popping out of it and who knows, he may even get to meet someone from the royal family. On the other hand, he was terrified. He was leaving everything he knew, albeit he wasn't too attached to it but still, this was his home. Also, what if he screwed something up? Would the Czar put him in jail? Or worse, executed him? He pulled his thin blanket over his head and told himself he was letting his imagination get the better of him.
Dimitri got out of bed the next day at five-thirty a.m. and performed his normal morning tasks. Grigorev found him in the kitchen, about to make breakfast.
"No boy, I'll have another boy do that. You need to pack, the palace butler should be here in an hour" Grigorev said. Dimitri nodded and headed to his bed but stopped at the door. Grigorev noticed the hesitation.
"What are you waiting for?" he asked. Dimitri turned to him with his head hung low.
"I'm scared" he uttered. An uneasy silence fell upon the two. Grigorev sighed and walked over to the boy. He put his on Dimitri's should and Dimitri looked up at him.
"It is an honor to serve you country and your Czar, Dimitri. You must be brave in order to serve your country"
Dimitri swallowed, nodded and ran to his bed. He packed his few belongings in the small suitcase the palace butler donated to him. As he clamped the suitcase down he heard the door bell ring. His stomach fell but he picked up his suitcase and headed to the front door.
Grigorev had already opened the door and let the man in when Dimitri entered the foyer.
"Ah. Dimitri. Are you ready, my boy?" the man asked.
"Yes sir, Dimitri" the man said.
"Alright then, shall we leave?" he asked. Dimitri nodded and looked to Grigorev who put his hand on the boy's shoulder.
"Good luck" he said.
"Thanks" Dimitri replied. With one last look at the orphanage, he followed the man out the door and into the carriage that would take him to his new life.