My name is Toma Nicolescu and I was a warrior, a servant of Her Majesty, the empress of Russia, Catherine the Great, who by her own hand and tender heart sent me on that mission at the urging of her most trusted adviser, Grigory Potyomkin, in the year of our Lord 1772.
“Stay clear of the sisters, please. At least one of you ought to have a clear mind.”
I had never aspired to be a king, and I had no mortal enemies save myself. My vice was honor: chivalry when it was appropriate, but loyalty to my duty first.
Four years had passed, and Lucine longed to be romanced by a true man who would win her for only one kiss if that’s all she would give him. A man who would die to protect her.
Looking back now, I can say the series of incredible events that forever changed my understanding of this ordered world began in earnest in that moment. Though I did not recognize or embrace it then, the axis of this planet surely shifted. The stars reversed their course and sent a spell of love and anguish, tears and laughter into the valley, and I was too thickheaded to yet see it.
She could have been the plainest of creatures and I would have felt the same because her spirit was that of an angel’s. I was drawn to her values and kindness, her honesty, and the ease with which she led me around, unencumbered by the social pressures waiting beneath us.
An invitation for a man—no matter how appealing—to bite through your lip? It’s absurd!
I don’t like the way this Vlad van Valerik acted. He was eyeing you like a vulture eyes a dead horse.
“Beauty,” he said. “Beauty like this is absolutely maddening.”
“I have a problem with any emotion that shuts down the mind and encourages stupid behavior,” she said calmly.
Look at me, Toma. I will show you pleasures that you could never know with her.
I was beside myself for her. My own emotions refused to give me any space. I had put up a brave face and made myself as invisible as possible after much vacillation, but none of it had tempered my feelings.
I cannot live but to say that you have taken my heart captive. Please, I beg you, release me from this cage, for I am bound by honor to my empress. Now you have become my empress, and these words I write now would be my death warrant.
Where all was once unseen, now it is seen. What was done in spirit will be done in the flesh, so all men will know that evil walks and speaks and that the Maker’s great romance is a kiss of love, an offering of blood.
As it is, he willingly gave his blood, in the flesh, so that others might find life, for it is written: “He did not come by water only, but by blood” and “without the shedding of blood there is no remission.” Now blood is required to give new life to the dead.
I could say nothing that I had not already said, and I didn’t want to breathe a word that might upset the moment. We clung to each other for a long time, and although I was weak she seemed to have the strength for both of us.