Perish By The Sword
“I love you, Nicky,” is the last thing his sister says on that cold Sunday morning in front of the
Winter Palace. January 9, 1905. It is as though she expects to die, as though she expected it when she took him to the Palace to watch the demonstration. His graceful sister in the lavender gown, with the long nose, who smells of perfume in the snow. She wanders out from the spectators, straight into the crowd of marchers, in ragged coats and rugged worn out faces, carrying icons and pictures of the Czar, along with their petition.
The minute she steps out, the crowd surges forward another step. Troops begin to fire, shooting frantically, shooting, shooting, shooting, as if they have an endless supply of bullets and bullets are the only way to disperse the crowd, as if they cannot understand peaceful demonstrations.Screams rises and the sister is struck left and right by a volley of bullets, striking her with full force, her slender figure tumbling to the ground with an odd sort of grace, almost like a leaf on a fall day. She waves, a faint little wave as she falls, even as curtains of blood form, consuming her figure, as if even in death she can go out with grace and love.
He can’t scream, but only stand there, amongst the other screams and wails that rise, as bodies pile up like dominoes, bodies obscuring his beautiful, petite sister. The sister who used to play spies with him in Papa’s study and comforted him nights after Papa’s drinking binges, when he’d tear apart their home, their lives, and Mama would go running, back into some affairs with someGrand Duke or another. She was the sister who knew how to calm his temper and kept him back from the precipice, from getting into fist fights with laughing classmates, and seemed to know everything. The sister whose life he knows so little of.
He can’t even cry, as much as he wants to. This all seems like it has no sense of logic.
Nicky wonders why she was so insistent on going to the demonstration. He wonders why she woke him up that morning, insisted he come. After all, it was a worker’s demonstration, something they weren’t a part of. He only remembers the way she spoke about the need to see justice, the need for rights. These were terms that to Nicky were so abstract, that didn’t fit his life of leisure and school, of playing, learning languages.
“Mama and Papa won’t like it,” she said. “But these people have been ignored too long, Nicky.We need to observe, to pay attention. When people don’t pay attention, things get out of hand. That’s why people become who they are.”
And he couldn’t argue. He needed that adventure too, after the old rituals of their fancy palace on the Neva, a world of servants, and timed meals and parties. It all seemed to repeat, day after day.But this wasn’t what he intended.
People jostle Nicky, moving around him, trying to flee the sight. But he just stands there, as
frozen as the Neva in winter. He tries to catch a glimpse of the body, over and over, but corpses line the snow in some mountainous formation and he cannot distinguish his beautiful sister from the rest of them. He feels a weight, a weight as heavy as church bells that toll mournfully all over Petersburg.
He stands there for what seems like hours, even as the bodies are carried off. He doesn’t have
time to bid his sister goodbye. Just stands there, as if this is a nightmare, and he cannot extract himself from it, from the villains. But his sister’s not there to console him, to assure him that everything will fall into place, that everything will be right once again. Men and women shuffle around him, Cossacks riding briskly on horses, surveying the scene.
“Bloody murderer,” a bearded priest says. He sports a long black robe. “Bloody Nicholas.”
“What?” the boy says to the priest. “The czar?”
“He let them die,” the priest says, huddling before Nicky. “The bloody czar let them die.”
“My sister died,” Nicky says, for the first time uttering these cold facts aloud. “They shot her.”
He begins to cry. A pathetic little cry. Not a cry worthy of his lost sister.
“Thank the Czar,” the priest says shaking his head at the Palace, shrouded in snow and shadows.
“He took your sister. He who lives by the sword, so shall he perish with the sword.”
It’s not like Nicky’s unfamiliar with death. He’s thirteen. But now, having watched people being shot, he can’t comprehend, can’t comprehend why people have been gunned down. Why the soldiers wouldn’t listen. Why they just shot. Why they shot his sister. But he’ll learn, learn that the workers wanted a better life, that people with hopes and dreams were ignored, turned away by the tsar, dismissed as agitators and revolutionaries. And he’ll wonder what his sister wanted, what kind of life she might have led.
Years will pass and he’ll try to imagine it. Marriage to some big-name aristocrat? No, this will
not fit. To travel? This seems far more in his sister’s nature. But he’ll never put his finger on it and for a long time, he’ll bury these thoughts like her own body.
In 1918, when he’s part of an execution squad, his mind will turn to his sister again. He’ll
wonder how her life passed before her, that moment between light and darkness, passing so quickly. What she thought that morning as they slipped out to the palace.
He’ll remember how she spoke of the ignored, the dispossessed. And he’ll fight for them, a hardened Bolshevik. And he’ll think maybe this is the life she wanted.
Nicky will wonder about all this, huddled in a Siberian home, as the tsar’s fate hangs in his own hands and he plans the execution with a kind of manic precision, right down to the way they’ll shoot the bearded murderer. Bloody Nicholas. He’ll watch as the tsar is felled, and he’ll think of the lovely sister, and wish a thousand things. He’ll wish he’d known what youth seemed to hold for her, and with every bullet fired into the tsar, he’ll imagine himself giving something back to his sister, giving those unknown things the tsar took on that January morning. He’ll remember the priest and he’ll keep firing, while the tsar falls, along with the tsaritsa, and the children as well, the bodies falling like dominoes. He’ll clutch his rifle and feel the weight, the utter power of the sword.
About the Author: Mir-Yashar is a graduate of Boise State University, with a BA in Political Science. He is currently a third-year candidate in Colorado State's MFA program in fiction. His short-stories have been published or are forthcoming in journals such as Crack the Spine and Gone Lawn. Mir-Yashar lives in Fort Collins, Colorado and considers himself a dark Romantic with a passion for Tchaikovsky and Debussy.