sábado, 9 de diciembre de 2017

ONCE UPON 24 TIMES: STORY IX

Story the Ninth:
Six of Swords -
Snow White
(Yuuri on Ice, Viktuuri AU. Seven Bogatyrs version)

I. Child of Victory

Skin as white and soft as new-fallen snow; hair wispy, brittle, and so fair it appeared white as frost; eyes as blue and cool as two frozen lakes. The Czarevich, a winter child, came to this world exactly like his mother had wished for, on Christmas Day at midnight in that white winter, when the fountains of the royal castle were dry, topped with ice sculptures of pegasi and unicorns, and the lake beyond the garden walls had frozen solid.
It was one of those few occasions when the Czardom enjoyed a much sought-after dream of peace. The snow swirled outside the frosted windows and upon fields, woods, and streets, as if the clouds were sowing ice-flower seeds everywhere.
The winter before, Czar Nikifor had not been deterred by the white winter to ride out into the steppes at the southern border of the realm to keep the barbarians at bay. He kissed his queen goodbye, stroked her golden locks, and her belly rife with life and hope. Warfare was his life, even more than statescraft, and he was still young, a foolhardy frontline leader; he knew every time he rode out of the castle could be the last one. That he could return laid in state and crowned with laurels, through gardens and hallways draped in black, as dirges, threnodies, were sung for his sake. "So often went the pitcher to the fountain, that, sooner or later, it had to shatter." Those were household words he uttered every time he reviewed his army upon the esplanade, right before going forth at the head of his ranks.
Those were household words that His Majesty always told his lords and generals, now even more that his lovely, highborn lady wife was expecting since springtime, giving him more than ever a reason to return alive, victorious, to the landscaped grounds of that fortelesque palace of red sandstone.

...
(The Czar is killed in action two winters later, the Czarina dies of an illness before springtime, the court is in mourning)

(Archduchess Lilia) She was a tall, slender noblewoman with raven hair and piercing eyes the colour of steel above a sharp aquiline nose. Her cheekbones, so prominent among the Slavic people, were more prominent than usual, giving her lower cheeks and face a sunken-in look, which, together with her pale skin, made her look like a consumptive. For decades, ever since her adolescence, she had straitlaced her ribcage within a tight wire corset, thus misshaping her thorax, barring her from the loving joys of motherhood, though she saw that sacrifice as necessary; trading fertility for slender beauty. Yet that sickly appearance and barren wasp-waist deceived at first sight, for her spine and her limbs were indefatigable, her wit sharp and shining as a Toledo rapier, her resolve haughtily stubborn and unyielding, whenever she had a purpose: she would rather break than bend. As for emotions, the courtiers whispered that she had most surely had her heart frozen by a shard of the Mirror of Truth; caring far more for realpolitik than for taking up a husband, or helping the needy of the realm; even called "unsexed" and "mannish" by men who feared a female overpowering them. She had once had a man in her life, back when she was young and unafraid; one of the Czar's generals, but, ever since he fell upon the field of battle, she had hardened her heart and consecrated her life to more serious matters. Said resolve was fixed even more when the Czar spurned her advances to marry the foreign princess bride that had been chosen for his sake. Surprisingly, the marriage, though arranged, had grown full of love and warmth and expectations, strengthened even more through the cruel storms of war.
And now this foolish royal pair had shuffled off their mortal coil, their only child and heir left an orphan in the cradle, and the realm needed strong, hard hands to grasp the reins of state until his coming of age... The position of Czarina Regent was tailormade for Lilia; it was unanimously decided by a council of lords and generals in which she was the only female presence.
"Certain it is, after the untimely demise of her lord husband, she received large sums of money, under pretence of paying off her troops, surrendering of hill-forts, and Heavens know what besides. She was permitted also to retain some insignia of royalty... She leaves her court when she pleases, and has been as far as Fort St. George before now. In a word, she does pretty much as she likes."

(some called her usurper)

II. Thirst for Love

Years turned to lustrums, and the royal child grew into a comely stripling. A tall man, long legs in black slacks carried him. Wide torso stretched his light uniform jacket and his strong shoulders were decorated by shouldermarks, like silver epaulettes. The boy was now almost a man, a grown-up graceful prince, fair and willowy as a healthy lily. His beautiful soft silver hair was cut short in a shapely helmet and covered one of his eyes elegantly. The cobalt blue cloth and silvery buttons and epaulets of the uniform did nothing but heighten the colour of his eyes, the fairness of his hair and skin... 
He was a bright, beautiful boy, as beloved as a prince, delicate and fair as the prince he was, as beautiful as an angel or a faery. Now he was so tall, and was fourteen years old, handsome and clever. How tall and slender and thin he had grown! But he still had his beautiful eyes, and the angel-sweet faery mouth! How tall, thin, and lanky he was, but he still had those charming eyes and that angelic mouth, and had plenty of learning and accomplishments.

(Education / other things than ballet/ice sk8ing)

He was furthermore skilled in dancing, so right then, at fourteen, he was sent to a boarding school in western lands, where he trained ballet. A tall young woman with a face like the full moon and almond eyes, as much a stranger in a strange land as the Czarevich himself, Minako had become his instructor during that foreign sojourn, and accompanied him back to his stepmother's court, since she lived apparently in her family tavern at the edge of the czardom. The reason for their return had been none other than the growing unrest in the capital of that refined western realm; the royals themselves having even been taken prisoner by the new revolutionary government. Back at the Czarina's court, Viktor was pushed to practise ballet with Minako for a couple of hours. They had a special room set up for his practise and it did a good job for what it was.
“Port de bras, round arm, yes. Attitude, à rélévé, pique à balance. Arabesque, arabesque, soutenu. Port de bras, stand up. Pirouette and hop! Get ready, apothéose!” 
Though her French accent left much to desire, her steady voice led him through the routines and guided him to new heights. It was quite odd, since his body listened to her commands and his mind could think of sore subjects calmly. The ballet rid him of his anxiety. The more time passed, the less sense it made to His Royal Highness why Minako made such an emphasis on training him.
With a blink of an eye they were at the lake and Viktor quickly put on his skates. He was eager to try new things, impatient and unable to wait for his lessons.
When something unexpected like a chance spin or an impromptu footwork happened, Viktor was ecstatic. Little by little he skated further away from the people who skated the slow laps.
At first it was great and Victor was very enthusiastic, but as the days passed and spare time didn’t come fast enough, what with all the cares of state... he grew restless again and disappointed that he can’t figure out the things he wanted to do.
By the end of the winter Viktor learned to skate the basics and mastered his first simple jumps. When spring melted the last snow and there was no ice to skate on, Viktor grew a tad distant.
What must have been the strangest of it all, was how Viktor skated. He was reckless, without regard for his safety and the others. People barely got out of his way and in the end they simply left the ice, because no one wanted to argue with him. He didn’t seem to listen at all. Aloof. Absorbed, in his own inner world.

Even more since the fateful day in which Minako had been cashiered.
“How is this, my dear?” said the Czarina Regent, with unruffled front, to Minako, as she entered; “are you not gone out for two or three days, as I tell this gentleman? — mais c'est égal — it is all one thing. You will say, How d’ye do, and good-bye, to Monsieur, who is so polite as to come to ask after our healths, and as he sees us both very well, he will go away home again.”
“I believe, madam,” said the ballet teacher, with appearance of effort, “that I must speak with this gentleman for a few minutes in private, if you will permit me.”


“That is to say, get you gone? but I do not allow that — I do not like private conversation between young man and pretty young woman; cela n’est pas honnête. It cannot be in my house.”
“It may be out of it, then, madam,” answered Minako, not pettishly nor pertly, but with the utmost simplicity. —“Mr. Hartley, will you step into that garden? — and, you, madam, may observe us from the window, if it be the fashion of the country to watch so closely.”
As she spoke this she stepped through a lattice-door into the garden, and with an air so simple, that she seemed as if she wished to comply with her patroness’s ideas of decorum, though they appeared strange to her. The Queen, notwithstanding her natural assurance, was disconcerted by the composure of the Eastern maiden's manner, and left the room, apparently in displeasure.


That day in the evening, she took her leave of the Czarevich; waving him goodbye as she explained that she had been cashiered, and was returning to her family tavern.

All Viktor had been able to do was watch as she disappeared beyond the garden wall and into the treeline. Powerless.


(Getting lost and fatigued before he finds the ryoukan)
He smelled a heavy sweet fragrance and it reminded him of honey and syrup at the harvest fêtes at the end of the summer, back when his parents were still alive. Right in front of him, there was a large shrubbery in the shade of tall blossoming linden trees. The youth came across a long wall covered by rose bushes that stretched to each side, with no end in sight.
He didn't see any other way around the bush, so approaching it, he started to cautiously make his way through it. He brushed the leaves away, moved the branches aside and slid himself in between them with determination.
“If there is a drive, there is a way.”
Just like he had been taught. His body was gulped down by the shadow underneath all the greenery. His hand found something solid. It felt like treated wood and he traced his palms on it in a rush, only to touch a warm metal ball.
“A handle! It’s a door!”
So Viktor grabbed onto it and firmly pushed against the pales. At first it didn't want to give in, but then it surrendered under his weight, his body falling through it, followed by loud screeching.
He stumbled into a large garden. There was a pond and in the middle of the it - on the wooden beams - stood a big house, completely unlike any other in the czardom. He had to take a moment to take it all in, still believing he’s dreaming.
The tall grass brushed against his legs and butterflies flew around his face. He passed several strange statues, which looked kind of foreign and quirky, like chubby babies each with a tall staff in hand and heads bald as tennis balls. He wondered what the owners of the house were like, judging their taste it must have been very particular people.
He walked over a small bridge made of rocks, the gravel path and stood in front of the gate. A bamboo fountain went to and fro with a doink in the middle of the lake, to the left side of the bridge. In the lake, orange and white carps, more colourful than the grey ones he had caught hitherto, lazily flicked their tails and retreated from his presence. A large sign decorated with colourful flags hung above the entrance. It said something in a strange kind of signs, surely written with brush and ink by hand.
He looked around for any sign of a living soul just to make sure, but nothing except chirping of the songbirds, and the clinking of a glass windchime at the threshold, implied a life here. And thus, he walked in, calling out cautiously.
“Hello, is anyone there?”
He entered a big hall with a check-in counter on the side. Everything was so polished, the floors gleamed like soup above a hearth. Actually all was kept well, looking old but cozy. He felt very calm and as if his journey came to a rest. As if this was a...hotel?
“Excuse me? I’m coming inside!”
He barely stepped a foot into the hallway when a loud shout came out of nowhere.
“No, no! First the shoes off, darling!”
He bent down instinctively to comply, but swayed dangerously. Before he knew it, he was grabbed by three pairs of hands. Chatter spilled over him like April showers and he felt even more warm than before. The heat became too much and he succumbed to his exhaustion.
The Czarevich woke up all fuzzy. He tried to focus on the light beams which danced on the ceiling. Dust flying in the air tickled his nose. He was laying on the floor on something very soft. It appeared like a makeshift bed, but it was too nice to be set up just like that. Looking around he saw that the rest of the room was odd as well. Paper walls with wooden grid, a strawlike floor, and practically no furniture.
One of the walls opened and a tall woman announced herself ardently.
"Wake up! It’s lunch time already.”
She was very beautiful, dressed in a loose bathrobe. He had never seen such a detailed, patterned clothing. It had flowers on it, wisteria, almost as pretty as the living ones outside. Definitely too fancy for a bathrobe. Perhaps it was a common type of clothes here?
It was all so unusual. She was a stranger but he felt at ease with her regardless in a matter of seconds. He blinked at her owlishly.
“Oh! So you’re awake already! Wonderful, everyone is waiting for you.”
She put a small tray on the ground and knelt on the floor beside him. She offered him a cup with warm green tea, from a cast iron kettle, so he took a sip. He was parched with thirst, but the drink tasted awful, without any sugar or honey. The young man in uniform, whom she took at first for a subaltern officer, didn’t want to be rude, and his thirst overpowered him as well, so he pretended he liked it and finished it all. Weirdly enough, it did help him feel less foggy. The woman played with her long, dark brown hair and rose her eyebrow expectantly when he was staring at her over the cup.
“Excuse me, but - where am I? And who are you?”
She didn’t seem a bit fazed by his question. Perhaps a little sadness crossed her gentle features. Viktor noted he couldn’t tell what her age was, though he was sure she was older than him. There was a strong mature air around her, the way she carried herself so elegantly and spoke with loud clear voice.
"You’re home of course! And I’m Minako! Your most beloved ballet teacher." Ah, Mina! So this was where she lived, with her parents and brother... that inn in the middle of the woods... They way she said it, it felt right, so Viktor didn’t question it anymore. But two days of sleep rushed him to a bathroom, where he relieved himself. She was laughing all the time, waiting at the door and chatting about people and things he didn’t remember. When he came out, he got increasingly nervous and thus Minako rested a hand gently on his shoulder. She gave him courage to ask once more.
“Minako… who is - everyone - exactly?”
“Hm. So you were more tired than we initially thought.”
She hummed in contemplation.
“Let’s see. My mother and father. That’s all actually! They are very excited to see you. But don’t worry, it’ll be fine. It’ll come to you in no time.”
Sleek dark hair and almond eyes as black as midnight. Faces as round and fair as the moon, soft in a state of perpetual youth. Foreigners from the far east... He had always been curious about that nation, especially since their ruler had practically outlawed trade with the people beyond the oceans. Including the subjects of the Czardom itself...
With that as his only straw to hang onto, he followed Minako to the common room.
He was greeted by a lovely small woman, Hiroko, who had the warmest hands on earth. A taller and thinner man, Toshiya, who had a distinctive, impish smile on his face, made a place for him at the low table. Minako's parents.
A bittersweet taste filled his mouth, which he couldn’t even begin to understand. They spoke to him gently and quietly prompted for simple answers.
“Are you hungry? You must be, I made you your favourite! Oh, you don’t remember? That’s ok, you’ll remember.”
The bowl with fried pork and rice - katsudon - was so good he gulped it down within minutes. It was refilled promptly with a knowing smile on Hiroko’s lips. His father told him funny stories about the guests they had, ever since they had left the Shogunate.
So it was a hotel of sorts. They had healing springs here, guests coming from afar to enjoy the hot mineral waters. Sent into exile by the military dictator who ruled their island nation, for no apparent reason than a whim of the powerful, the Katsuki family were regarded with suspicion by the general public of the mainland czardom, their new foster realm, merely for not sharing their features.
Yet, they were very patient and supportive.
From then on he integrated in this new life the best he could.
Toshiya showed him the grounds. The garden was vast. A lot larger than he initially thought. Beside the hot springs, there were numerous little lakes and paths one could get easily lost on. He walked often around a couple of zen gardens. He didn’t understand what zen really meant, but Toshiya nodded a few times like a lazy cat, giving his quiet comment on the matter.
“It will come with time. Perhaps when you’re older. You don’t have to understand for these to help you.”
He was right, the fair stripling did feel better every time when he visited the zen gardens and returned to the house in better spirits.
Hiroko taught him how to help in the household, in the kitchen with the preparation and simple tasks like cleaning the premises. He was glad they left him out off the waiter duties though, he didn’t feel right among so many people regardless of how nice they were.
As a royal, he fell in love with this simple life helping the landlords out, free from the cares of state and the pressure of courtly concerns. As an orphan whose stepmother and tutors selfishly left him aside, he had finally found the right set of foster parents. The Katsukis were, furthermore, honest innkeepers who, unlike those born within the czardom, never swindled or robbed their customers. And, as an only child, he found these young people far more interesting than the shallow lordlings and debutantes he frequented on a day-to-day basis.
Soon, Viktor, every time he left the court for the inn, forgot everything that led him here. He was like a small stone which dove into the brook and embedded itself firmly into place among other pebbles, filling a hole he always felt inside. The waters running above him, muting all the confused thoughts he had before. It felt right.
“A place for everything and everything in its place.”
But there was a reason why he made these escapades far more frequent than getting to know Shogunate culture, or to find a foster home that soothed him as a detached royal orphan: and that reason was Minako's little brother. He spoke to the courtiers and his stepmother of a thirst for tea, but, as the liquid entered his body, another thirst was kindled within the Crown Prince. The first cup had been served by Mina, but those that followed were poured by that chubby, awkward Asian boy with thick-rimmed spectacles on, who had shied away from his parents and sister as they led the uniformed visitor around the ryoukan inn. To make little Yuuri Katsuki open up, they tried to push him to serve the fair regular. At first, Yuuri was reluctant, fearing that this officer of the Queen's Guards would eye him with a piercing stare and a sneer of discontent.
(...viktuuri, coming closer to one another.)
Seeing the smart uniform he wore and how often his presence was required at the castle, the Katsukis took him for a subaltern officer of the Czarina's personal guard. Only Minako knew the truth about the fair stripling, but she never told her parents or brother, fearing that His Highness, if this were discovered, should never be allowed out of the castle again. And, for that same reason, Viktor himself concealed his real identity, being regarded through the eyes of his hosts as any middling lieutenant. It felt far better that way, didn't it?
(more viktuuri scenes)
Yuuri watched the boy's face with wonder and admired his alabaster skin. It was very different from his own darker complexion, and the uniform fit him like a glove. He looked almost as a doll, but there was blush to his cheeks and warm breath flowing over Yuuri’s hands as Yuuri embraced both of them and tried to keep the small cover in place to keep them warm. The fair young man with ashen hair and large sad eyes of ocean colour... Yuuri had seen the ocean once up close and on a daily basis from the window, writhing on the horizon during a storm. Back in their old ryoukan inn, in a castle town on the main island of the Shogunate, he told Viktor.
(Othello and Desdemona - compassion - world of sighs)
It didn’t take long for Viktor to warm up, he was a bright and smart boy who loved surprises. Especially surprising others. He and Yuuri became inseparable. They still hung close to each other, but Yuuri noticed Viktor released his hand quicker in the presence of others when they were teased. Viktor seemed restless, always wanting to move. They spend a lot of time in nearby woods and fields, exploring the nature or playing with the other children. As the colder months approached once again, Viktor didn’t find solace in carving boxes as Yuuri did.
One night, as Viktor and Yuuri shared their futon, Yuuri whispered into the darkness.
“Are you asleep?”
“Yes.”
“How come you’re speaking to me then?”
“I’m talking in my sleep.”
“No, you’re not! Stop teasing me!”
He swatted Viktor’s shoulder to make a point and they giggled for a long while.
"I know you must be an orphan and an only child," Yuuri Katsuki nodded, "seeing how often you frequent our inn and how much at ease you feel here... you said you had no one who cared at court, right?"
In response, Viktor nodded and sighed. "I am... an orphan, indeed. And an only child..." There was no point, seeing how close they were, to pretend any longer and to keep his identity a secret, if the one he loved could keep that secret as well. Quid pro quo.
"If that is the case, I wish to keep you glad company, to know more about you... about a person who is so graceful, and so bright, and so kind-hearted under that aloof exterior, like flowers budding beneath the ice. Doubtless, you must be a military officer."
The silver-haired stripling winked an eye in response.
"Lieutenant?" Yuuri resolutely asked.
"Ah, oui, lieutenant... Better than that," the young man in uniform winked an eye.
"Captain, then?"
"Better than that."
"Commander?" There was little to no way such a young man could hold a higher rank, but maybe he had shown a considerable prowess upon the battlefield, Yuuri thought.
"Even better than that," Viktor smirked.
"Colonel, maybe?!" The higher up on the ladder he got, the more unlikely high the rank of the young blond felt.
"Far better than that," the fair prince leaned in, as the innkeeper boy adjusted his thick-rimmed spectacles.
"General?!" Yuuri retreated into a corner of the room, all aghast.
Viktor merely tsk-ed in response.

"Field Marshal?!" Yuuri quivered like a leaf on the branch.
Viktor merely tsk-ed in response once more.
There was no other rank higher up on the social ladder. Yuuri Katsuki gasped in amazement, visibly flustered, as he kowtowed face first on the floor: "Excuse me... YOUR ROYAL HIGHNESS-S!!"
"It's all right. You may call me Viktor..." the Czarevich replied in a friendly tone, after raising the Asian lad's head up to his eyes and letting out a cheerful chuckle. The foreign innkeeper boy had seen the man, not the prince, at first sight... his visage in his mind, beyond the uniform... and that was exactly what he had always sought. A simple life helping the landlords out, free from the cares of state and the pressure of courtly concerns. And someone who saw him for what he was, and who loved him for himself.
Yet...
(Lilia makes advances on Viktor, Potiphar-wife-style; she resists)


III. Cold Steel Blade


Viktor sighed and rested his head on Yuuri’s chest. When he sighed again, Yuuri carded his long hair, gently brushing away the strands behind his ear and tracing his eyebrow with an index finger.
“What’s troubling you? I’m here to listen.”
Viktor nuzzled into Yuuri’s shirt and rested his chin on Yuuri’s collarbone. He spoke lightly, but he always did, even about the heaviest subjects. He tried to appear happy as usual, but Yuuri knew how to read him long ago. So he waited patiently until Viktor broke the silence in a whisper.
“I miss the ice. And I’m disappointed.”
“Why?”
“Well, you couldn’t borrow the skates since it’s not safe to wear a bigger shoe for that. And we couldn’t afford to get you your own pair. There is no time and no ice. And I’m bored and sad.”
“Ah, don’t be! Till the winter comes, we’ll find a way to get me a pair as well. And we can practice more at home to gather strength for all those jumps. You’ll teach me then. It won’t be long, I promise!”
Yuuri encouraged him quietly, brushing away his fringe.
“Comfort me!”
Viktor’s whiny voice broke the serious mood between them. Yuuri’s hand stopped in the middle of the caress. He spoke taken aback.
“I am comforting you.”
Viktor risen his head, the most childish pout on his face, adding to Yuuri’s confusion.
“Not enough. Comfort me more!”
Yuuri poked him in the middle of the forehead and mocked him quietly.
“I didn’t know you still could be such a child. Such a big forehead would suggest your brain grown and you’re mature...”
“I am mature. Common, pet me more!”
He took Yuuri’s hand and pressed his face into Yuuri’s palm, just like a affectionate lapdog would seek out peting from its master.
“You’re not a dog! But needy still...”
“Oh, I am needy! But you like it!”
He bit playfully into Yuuri’s wrist just on the tender skin and they broke into laughter again. Soon they drifted of to sleep, Viktor playing the bigger spoon with Yuuri safely tucked into his arms.
Yuuri tried to take Viktor’s mind off of the melancholy by teasing him on an occasion. He stole his pen and as Viktor tried to win it back, Yuuri tricked him into a small dance. It was common for them, and Minako trained them both in ballet. It was common for them to turn a chase into a simple pas de deux. Yuuri seemed to fall into Viktor’s arms so well it was beyond her comprehension, which she mumbled under her breath sometimes. Their bodies were lithe and kept up their condition and away from boredom.
In November, the lake near the old town froze and Viktor could begin his lessons again. To the tutors' concern, Viktor didn’t work on his homework anymore and was adamant about his future.
Viktor was convinced he’ll be the greatest artisan of their time and will earn so much money with his skills as a skater... But he was born to be a warrior, a leader, a ruler... As impossible as it sounded, Yuuri could imagine Victor accomplishing that. His second winter on the skates and the whole town admired him on the ice already. The local magistrate asked if Viktor could perform for the new years celebration and it seemed that his stelar path was about to begin.
Nothing changed between the two boys though, Viktor was still set on teaching Yuuri. Each morning they woke up and when Viktor took too long combing his hair, Yuuri shifted his weight on the doorstep. He called out to him, urging him on with a smile on his face.
“Common! Hurry up! Be my coach, Viktor!”
It seemed to please Viktor greatly and he hurried to put on a kubanka. People loved to see them together on the ice. Even if Yuuri was clumsy, Viktor evened out their movements, keeping his hand safely on Yuuri’s back. Their bright smile and laughter made the bystanders look at them fondly. Viktor was dedicated and earnestly tried to teach Yuuri all he knew. Even when other children left for the homes, they stayed on the ice.

One day,
(Gays being burned at the stake in the Czardom, but tolerated and even encouraged in the Shogunate. However, Europeans living in ghettos. The reason why the Katsukis were exiled.)

(Lilia finds out the truth -scrying in her mirror- and asks a hitman for Viktor's heart and lungs)
The sickly green thorns of jealousy grew within her chest, like weeds sown in a grain-field, and tore at her broken heart; she could not find any respite or repose, neither in the daytime in her study nor by night in her embroidered canopy bed. The cares of state, and even the simple acts of feeding and breathing themselves, had become second to smiting the betrayal, and the infamous sin against nature, of the young man whom she now both loved and loathed (not wisely but too well) at the same time.
One day in her study, shortly after a listlessly-consumed breakfast of tea and macarons, she called for ... and addressed him, coldly and commanding like only she could do:
"Take the Czarevich into the birchwood forest, so that his lovely face nevermore dares to appear before my dazzled eyes. You shall slit his throat and rip his chest open, and you shall bring his heart and lungs to me, as ocular proof that he is clinically dead. As for what I will do with those vital organs, 'tis a secret of state, confidential and reserved for the Czarina. Anyway, it has been such a long, long time since jealousy first mocked my heart as she feeds on its flesh..."


(Viktor flees deep into the woods, through both birch and pine, and finds the holdfast...)
(Simultaneously, Lilia eats "her stepchild's", actually a fawn's, heart and lungs for supper, alone)


IV. Holdfast of Safety

The tall man towering over him, wore a red coat of gold brocade. He wore the biggest grin the Prince had ever seen, with blue piercing eyes.
“Hey! JJ, mon amie! Leave something for me, will you? Oh, what’s this? A mink coat!” Another man leaned into his field of vision and his golden eyes glimmered upon Viktor's coat and his hands pulled it from him, haphazardly bringing up the young royal to his feet. He staggered as the piece of clothing was coming of him roughly.
It was fine, he still had his dublyonka. Trying to assure himself shakily, His Highness hugged himself to keep the escaping warmth on him. That caught the eye of the man, who snatched his coat. He was completely wrapped in it, lovingly brushing his fingers over the fine fur but the moment he saw the winter lad hunching, he turned to him predatory.
“Chris, I see you found something to your liking more than a coat.” JJ chuckled and observed them with amusement. Chris, with the hair color of yolk and sideburns reminding of dark hollander cocoa, purred in a low voice. “Well, I’ve yet got to see under that last coat. Darling, you are dressed up like an onion, I’ve got to peel you layer by layer.” Chris pulled the Czarevich to himself and he hit his chest with his own. He would try to get out of his grasp... weren’t it for Chris’ hands firmly pressing the stripling's hips to his own, kneading his derrière as best as he could. The shock was so huge that Viktor couldn’t find any words nor strength to muster any action. He simply froze in the man’s arms and watched as his face got closer and closer, alarm ringing in his ears.
He didn’t want this. He didn’t want to cause any resistance which could cause him trouble. He just wanted to go on and let the group take what they wanted. He didn’t care about the possessions. One coat was enough, he would find a way. But this was something he didn’t count with and it pushed against his threshold.
“Chéri, I hope you taste as delicious as you look. You won’t mind me taking a taste, will you?” Chris kissed his jaw lightly and whispered into his ear with a syrupy oath. “I promise I’ll be gentle and I know how to reward… very well.” His short stubble tickled the Czarevich upon his cheek and if it were any different circumstances, he might like the soft quality and enjoy the pleasant fragrance, but the only thing he could feel was anxiety gripping on his throat and a shout crawling up.
“Hands off!” A threatening yell cracked between them like a whip. Their heads shot towards it as on command. 

A tall, willowy redhead stood behind them, her piercing eyes sounding them to their very core, marching towards them and flapping her embroidered scarlet cape aside. She looked at the fair young man in her bed from crown to toe. Her icy eyes widened and she nodded all pleased. “I like you, you’re mine!”
Chris pursed his lips and propped his hips. “I’ve got an eye on him first! Finders keepers, that’s our rule!” The red-headed maiden yelled at him sternly. JJ laughed, Chris was insulted, but no one dared to opposed the captain. Or the one who called herself the captain, given that Jean-Jacques still defended his right to the leadership.
The rest of the troupe arrived after a while. And they were as diverse as they were close to one another, in spite of the differences. 

(The rest of the troupe)
Fire was waiting for them and their cook Leo had a soup ready boiling in a big cauldron over the fire.
“Don’t try to escape, we know the woods better than you and will catch you before you get too far. I have some things to take care of, but once I’m back, we’ll go to sleep.” Mila turned on her heel and strode back to the camp, where the men celebrated.
It seemed he was really out of luck that night, since Chris happened to oh so sit beside him and not so subtly slide his palm to the inner side of the Crown Prince's thigh. He managed to murmur to his ear. “Won’t you consider? I’ll keep you extra warm tonight.”
“Wow, Chris, looking at your resolve, I’d almost say you’re serious in settling down!” JJ mocked him loudly.
Maybe they could be good friends even. Her and Chris. Guang Hong, Leo and...even JJ. The Crown Prince couldn’t imagine they were bandits just for fun. There must have been something good inside every one of them. The heat slid into his exhausted body and enveloped him in coming sleep once more.

V. Gift of a Medal

Three days into his stay with the rebels, Viktor was finally safe and sound, quiet murmur around him. Leo played on his mandolin and Guang Hong accompanied him with a guitar. The song rippling from their plucking among all present, making Viktor think of Venice and the beautiful aquarelles he had seen as setpieces for Shakespeare at the Court Theatre. The beautiful, slim gondolas swimming in the narrow canals. The talk turned into caresses and unconscious touches, the ones gathered around the bonfire clung closer to each other on an instinct.

(more descriptions of everyone else at the rebel group; They find out he's the Usurper's stepchild, and he finds out they're the Resistance. More shenanigans ensue)


The Czarevich's lily fingers itched to touch those of the young innkeeper and to run them through his raven hair, just like they did almost every time they had been able to see each other. But it wasn’t meant to be, because he was ripped out of his memories quite suddenly. Chris’ hand slid from his shoulder down his elbow, aiming for his behind and it would arrive there in a particular lustful grab, but His Royal Highness put an unexpected twist to it. Literally.
He held Chris’ wrist, making a turn with his body and leading Chris’ hand so that it landed on JJ’s muscular derrière. It was protruding very nicely since JJ’s jacket was cut shorter on the back. It served as the best target for Chris’ hand to end upon.
“Oh.” Chris whispered and JJ slowly turned towards, not moving an inch. Chris gave the buttock a tentative knead and purred. “Oooh!” It was very clear Chris found the test pleasing, completely losing interest. JJ’s eyebrow has risen and suddenly he uncrossed his hands, moving onto Chris. The next thing they knew, the music stopped, everyone watched on completely flabbergasted as JJ literally swallowed Chris’ lips and claimed his ass with his fists closing around the globes tightly. The others couldn’t help but smirk as the two completely melted into each other, fell down into the snow and continued their affectionate exchange with loud whistling of the rest of the band.
The week was almost over. Chris was a remarkable host, who had an ability to make anything mundane or poor look intriguing. Even something as simple as lard and onions looked like the most top notch delicacy. Chris spread the cut onion like a flower on a diagonal slice of bread, accompanied with flourish commentary that made everyone else within the holdfast start to salivate just from listening to him.
Chris had a full deck of tarot cards laid out for him, making a reading for His Highness's lovelife. The Two of Cups, the Six of Swords for crossing troubled waters, the Four of Swords for repose... and, last of all, the Star for hope. While the specific details made the stripling's face burn and caused him to choke on breadcrumbs, a topic stretched into another one and soon enough the hours passed by without realising it. He had to give it to Chris - he was very entertaining, well-read and a great conversationalist. He didn’t try to harass Viktor anymore and haven’t shown any interest in him, apart excitement for Yuuri’s tale.
He mentioned only briefly that Mila would be gone for the most of the day and that she’s on an errand. Whatever that meant, he wasn’t keen to figure it out, since she returned in a sour mood, throwing daggers with her eyes at everyone in her way. She disappeared in her tent briefly, then rolled out a small barrel and proclaimed that in the evening there was a content in who would get drunk as last one. She didn’t spear the Crown Prince a glance, which was odd, since before she was keen on guarding him like a hawk.
Guang Hong offered him a cup full of scarlet wine. He declined and just shook his head, observing the raven-haired lady downing the alcohol like water. The way she went about it, it looked like she was trying to lose the contest. At that rate she would be the first to get drunk. Uneasiness settled within Viktor as he watched her from afar. The more he saw Isabelle abandon herself, the more his fingers fidgeted. It was odd. She didn’t seem to have fun, even though she laughed heartily and sung loud. It felt forced how she threw herself onto JJ’s shoulders and swayed with him in the rhythm. She looked… desperate.
At some point, the ginger must have had enough, because she detached herself from the group and walked away from the fire. She walked as a newborn deer as she approached the large reindeer on the outskirts of the camp. Her cup fell down on the ground and rolled in the snow, drawing a colourless rainbow.
At first the Czarevich hesitated, thinking if he should enter the scene and casually convince her to go sleep it off. Isa behaved very much not like a bandit captain would. “No! You’re not bad! You’re fine.” she looked up and glared with glazed eyes.
She eyed him quietly, pondering about what he said. It took longer, since she was drunk, so he almost thought she didn’t hear him properly.
“Your Highness!” she called him all jolly. The happy grin on her face didn’t last long, because as drunks tend to do, she switched to sadness very quickly, hanging herself on his elbow like a coat hanger. “Come now, we go shleep now, ok?” She shook her head and pouted. “I’m not tired,” he led her slowly to their corner and thought of what to reply as they passed a log. “But I am. Keep me company?” She considered and affirmed with a nod. “I can do that!"
"Il est, paraît-il,
que des terres brûlées
donnant plus de blé
qu'un meilleur avril..."
Isabelle sang to herself, shifting under the covers, in Jean-Jacques's strong embrace. The rolling French Rs, the warmth, the fact that the Crown Prince could hear them through the partition wall.
"La Révolution," she would explain the very next day, now completely sober without a trace of her hangover. Then she broke out into sobs in Jean-Jacques's arms, as he patted her back and let her dry up his tears on his shirt.
"There was," he rolled his French Rs far more deftly than Minako had ever done, but there was still something far more provincial than Versaillesque in his accent, "a révolution. In our country. Once a kingdom, but now it's a république. The people had had enough and rose up in arms; they would kill any lords and ladies they'd get their hands on... drowned, beheaded, by firing squad; depending of the province where the persecution took place..."
"And you had to flee... for your lives..." Now Viktor recalled something about a revolution that brought on the fall of that western kingdom whose speech had become his second language. He was left speechless.
"Mais ça n'est pas rien," JJ replied, his rueful expression writhing back into a smile. 
(Here there is more on a simple life; and compared with the cares of aristocratic court life. Viktor identifies strongly, and wishes he were stronger and had gone through more)
(The fall of Plisetsky Castle in the next kingdom over, and the nomad purge... sth like the Final Solution in the backstory of Otabek)


VI. Gift of Fruit


VII. The Innkeeper's Quest


Yuuri frowned as he was sitting on the bench. He was on a break after kitchen duty, watching the rose bushes behind the house. The deer chaser fountain clacked gently in the air (doink!), a wind chime whispered in the wind and doves were cooing on the roof.
Roses.
Yuuri’s hands dropped the fan he was cooling himself with and he stared at the flowers on the branches. The heads of the roses swayed in the breeze, yellow, pink and red. As if they were nodding to Yuuri, prompting him to go on, to recall some distant memory.
Roses on a terrace. Pressed inside books.
Roses from across the royal garden wall.
It was too right here. Too perfect. Yuuri felt like he was suffocating, the pain came out of nowhere and he couldn’t understand why he was so shaken. His vision blurred and his cheek was wet.
Oh.
A single tear trickled down his jaw and Yuuri wiped it off stunned. His parents arrived quietly from around the corner.
“Yuuri? Are you alright, dearie?”
For some reason Yuuri couldn’t bring himself to call them with nothing else than with their given names. As if calling them mother and father wasn’t allowed and not meant for his lips. They didn’t scold him, but Yuuri saw the sad glimmer in their eyes on occasion.
“Yes. Yes! I’m sorry, I’m maybe tired a little. It’s quite hot lately.”

Toshiya exchanged nervous looks with Hiroko and she whispered something to him, upon which he took off and came back with a wicker basket. His parents were quite simple folk and rarely worried about anything. Their fidgety attitude alerted Yuuri to attention.
“Yuuri, as it’s your birthday, we thought to give you a little gift. You always wanted it since you were little. We wanted to wait till the evening, but perhaps it’s a good idea to do this now?”
Yuuri frowned, thinking it was summer and he was sure his birthday was in November. Actually, it was summer here all the time, now that he thought of it. It was so confusing.
“That’s alright. If you think the timing is right now, I’d be glad to now. Though you shouldn’t have worried about gifts for me.”
Toshiya’s eyes lit up instantly, making him look like an excited child and Hiroko chuckled, tugging him on his sleeve. They didn’t step closer and put the basket on the ground. Exchanging the looks one last time, they removed the lid and exclaimed cheerfully.
“Happy birthday!”
A little brown fluff appeared over the brim and a small black nose peeked in the air. The pet didn’t seem to reach the opening very well, so his parents took pity on it and flipped the backed on its side carefully.
A small poodle rolled out of it all lumpish. It looked disoriented for a moment and started to look around. It saw Yuuri and immediately took after him just like a deer frolicking on a meadow.
Yuuri crouched down to it and let it lick his hands and felt his heart fill with joy. The fur was so soft and curly, his fingers easily found their way into it, petting the small doggie with reverence.
“Do you like him?”
Toshiya asked in anticipation, his wife clinging to his elbow waiting as well.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Yes! Thank you, I don’t know what to say. He’s perfect. Thank you again!”
Yuuri picked the puppy up and cradled it in his arms, letting it wiggle around in excitement and barely heard his parents over the high pitched barking.
“Wonderful! What will you name him?”
Yuuri paused briefly and answered in a daze.
“Vic-chan.”
For a while everything made sense again.

Minako visited them on a daily basis and no matter how busy it was at the onsen, Yuuri was pushed to practise ballet with her for a couple of hours. They had a special room set up for his practise and it did a good job for what it was.
“Port de bras, round arm, yes. Attitude, à rélévé, pique à balance. Arabesque, arabesque, soutenu. Port de bras, stand up. Pirouette and hop! Get ready, apothéose!”
Her steady voice led him through the routines and guided him to new heights. It was quite odd, since his body listened to her commands and his mind could think of sore subjects calmly. The ballet rid him of his anxiety. The more time passed, the less sense it made to Yuuri, why Minako made such an emphasis on training him.
One evening, when he couldn’t make the routine work and Yuuri was flustered, she broke off the lesson and invited him to the garden to sit among the roses. The moon shone brightly, the night was warm and the cicadas chittered loudly. The windchime didn’t move an inch and Yuuri in his frustration strongly felt its calming absence.
“What’s bothering you?”
Yuuri rolled the gravel under his foot winning some time to collect his thoughts.
“Why do you train me so hard? What for is all this? It’s so important to you to make me more skilled. But you all never speak about what will follow in the future.”
Minako crossed her legs and stared at the moon also lost in thought, just like Yuuri was before. She tapped her lips with an index finger and hummed an old tune from their land with furrowed brows.
“I still don’t know if you’re ready. All of this is for you of course. But it seems it’s not enough anymore. You’ve grown. You were so sad and tired when you came here.”
Her gesture reminded him of something, no - someone, familiar. Yet he couldn’t put a finger on it.
“Perhaps it’s time. I didn’t think it would come so soon. You keep surprising me and overcome my expectations.”
The way she spoke in riddles didn’t help Yuuri at all. Minako was always kind to him so he didn’t want to lash out on her. The thing was, she always seemed to be further ahead of everyone. As if they all were too slow or lulled inside a dream and she was the only person awake.
Standing up, he walked to the bushes in an effort to get some distance. His eyes found the roses once more and the petals seemed to catch him in a trance.
Roses. Dried roses. On a paper with scribbles.
Who made those drawings? Who dried the roses? Who grew them?
“Yuuri.”
Minako’s voice called gently from behind his back. It sounded firm like the voice with which she gave commands during a lesson.
The stick figures in the drawings. It was supposed to be him and someone else. The artist was his partner. They were supposed to dance… no, it wasn’t a ballet. What was it?
“Yuuri! Come and have some tea with us!”
The urgent call of Hiroko echoed in the garden at the kitchens backdoor. The cicadas chirped louder and louder. The windchime whispered in the air, but...there was no wind to move it.
“Yuuri, come with me to the main hall. Your parents and Vic-chan are waiting.”
Minako’s said as if she was reminding him, her voice drumming in his ears, manifolding the noise around him.
Yuuri saw a rose change its color from yellow to blue, as if it took a long inhale. The petals swirled, opening the bud and stretching like a waking up child in a soft bed.
“Yuuri, Vic-chan is waiting...come inside.”
Minako laid her hand on his shoulder once more. The buzzing was unbearable.
Viktor.
It stopped. Noise, air, the flora stopped its growth, water didn’t move. It was over. Just Minako’s eyes lost the confident shine and she looked suddenly forlorn.
“No. He’s not real. None of this is real.”
He shook his head and started to walk backwards. Minako stood there, bound to the ground by momentary paralysis.
“Yuuri, I’m so sorry.”
“Those are not my parents. This is not my home.”
Minako made a hesitant move towards Yuuri and spoke urgently.
“Stay! Yuuri, you were so sad and lonely. I wanted to give you a home, endless summer. Stay! You’ll be warm forever.”
Relief washed over him, it made so much sense now. Never ending summer, never changing seasons. His amiss birthday. His parents.  Ones he always dreamed of. A dog. Warmth. It was a beautiful dream, bittersweet, but not meant to be fulfilled.
Minako was a kind person, she cared for him and crafted all this, just to keep him safe. Unhurt. But Yuuri couldn’t do it. Not when Viktor was out there, far away in the cold.
“These won’t keep me warm. This is not my family, my real family is out there. Viktor! How could you trick me like this? I have to leave immediately!”
She attempted another step, but Yuuri took a few ones back. It was painful to talk to her like this. But no matter how well she meant, this was not his place to be.
“Yuuri, if you go out there, nothing but pain and hardships await you on the journey. There is not warmth or love waiting at your destination. He might be lost forever in her grasp. Stay! Consider!”
Yuuri made his choice, he would not let this place be his prison here, of his own device.
“I’m sorry, Minako. I can’t. In another life, maybe. Something tells me I wouldn’t have stayed anyway. Thank you for everything. I have to go now.”
He twisted and got on a run, trying to ignore the tears gathering in her eyes.
“Yuuri!!!”
Her desperate calls ripped at his heart, but the further he was, his mind was clearer. Suddenly he could see the walls covered by curtains of ivy and hops. The grass caressed his legs pleasingly, the stones rolled after him and it seemed like everything living and inanimate tried to hold him back even just a little.
He saw Toshiya step from behind a tree with a playful expression. He beckoned him to his side, holding Yuuri’s backpack. Although he wasn’t his real father, Yuuri knew he could trust him.
“Yuuri-kun. This way.”
He uncovered a familiar door in the wall, it had dead leaves scattered around it though. It was clear, the summer ended behind it.
“Don’t be angry with Minako, she meant well. She is a good person.”
He pressed the bag to Yuuri’s hands and Hiroko appeared at their side with a coat and scarf. Her wet eyes made Yuuri swallow and nodding, he accepted the clothes.
“How long...”
Yuuri asked with a bad premonition creeping up his spine.
“Seven years. You’re twenty-two now.”
Toshiya said simply without momentum. Yuuri whimpered and would let his legs give out under him, but the hands of the pair held him up in support. He exhaled in panic.
“So long! How will I find him now? He must have forgotten me completely! All is lost. I failed him.”
Hiroko patted him on the cheek and held his gaze strong.
“You will find him. Ask for the way to her kingdom. The next kingdom will show you around. Your love will reach him. True love surpasses everything. Have faith!”
She visibly fought the urge to embrace him and pressed her tiny palms on his chest, pushing him away. Toshiya wrapped an arm around her shoulders and they smiled sadly on him.
“Yuuri-kun, for what it’s worth, I hope we have been good parents to you.”
Such beautiful giving people, even if not real. And just like that it wasn’t important if they were real or not, if they were his parents or not. He hugged them tightly, reveling in the sensation. Words of Minako echoed in his mind, these would be the parents he would never meet again... The quest would be long and dangerous at the end of the day, and who said he would ever return alive?
“Take care of Vic-chan for me. Good bye!”
The door opened on its own and Yuuri stepped out dressed for the autumn towards the yellow covered ground, leaves making a soft carpet for him to walk on.
Viktor was waiting for him out there. He would find him.
Yuuri startled from the slumber. Rain was trickling down the shelter he hid in. The hollow trunk of a tree served as his hideout from the unkind weather. He traveled for a week in mad rush, trying to catch up the lost time. Even though he knew the momentum was lost, he did that because it was the only thing to silence the doubting voices in his head.
His sore feet walked over many muddy puddles and stepped over many fallen trees and branches. The ever present rustling of leaves above his head seemed to urge him on. At first he admired the bursting colors around him. The nature was colored in vivid reds, yellows and various shades of brown. But soon enough, the sky was overrun with clouds. They arrived as angry indigo rams and their angry battles resulted in ominous thunders. Lightning flickered all around Yuuri.
He had to seek out a place to hide and wait over the worst. He knew he shouldn’t stand under the tree in case the lightning hit it, but he didn’t see any cave or overhanging cliff he could take refuge underneath.
The large shrubbery and gaping, moldered tree seemed as the best choice in the moment. He hoped just to catch a break, perhaps rest his eyes a little. And here he was, gasping for air, woken by the uneasy dream. Once again Victor’s name hanging to his consciousness by a fading thread and strong on his tongue.
Yuuri watched the rain drum on the ground and sparkle in the puddles. He saw the clearing sky in them broken in little pieces like an ever moving kaleidoscope. His clothes were moist, barely dried on the surface in the humid air. The stole felt heavy around his torso and Yuuri could feel the cold seeping right through it and settling deep inside his bones.
No. No. He has to hurry.
He adjusted his backpack which became lighter as he spent his supplies and made his way through the autumn forest.
He wasn’t sure how long he walked, but the rain subdued and night pulled its curtain over the land, bathing it in darkness. Yuuri was sure he saw some lights on the horizon and thus he grabbed deep inside his reserve for the last bits of strength. He didn’t feel so cold anymore, perhaps it was the heat from moving and the effort or excitement. Hope filled his heart, he couldn’t wait for finding the nearest person and ask the questions which burned in his mouth.
The closer he got to the lights, the clearer it was that it wasn’t any ordinary land. There were no houses before him, but still a lot of commotion. Yuuri arrived at a large lake. It was full of life, the frogs croaking for their dear life, floating lights above the water - the fairy dust. It was pure magic, but Yuuri knew it was more real than Minako’s summer world, stranded in the nostalgia of a childhood and a native land that were gone for good. Until a strange sound came from the tree crown above his head.
He whipped his head toward it, but didn’t see anything well in the dark. It came again. It was a voice.
“Good evening, traveller!”

(It's the Moon God --Tsukiyomi-- with his rabbit in tow. Then in the daytime he meets the Sun Goddess --Amaterasu--; always nice to add some touches of mythology in there)

(Yuuri finds Viktor and wakes him up)

VIII. The Final Stand


But Chris had gotten in their way, pulling Guang Hong to the side. He stood in front, effectively barricading their field of vision completely, the smug troubadour smile on his lips and a familiar mink fur coat wrapped under his elbow.
“You’ll need it more than me.” Chris threw the coat over those narrow shoulders and kissed him heartily on both cheeks. The loud smooch almost popped in his ears. “Thanks for borrowing it to me, chéri!” Borrowed? How..? Guang Hong pulled Yuuri and Viktor away and they could only catch a glimpse of Chris winking their way. 



Jean-Jacques looked in the same direction with the two who were speaking, and his eye was caught by a regal-looking person, of unusual stature and amplitude, arrayed in a sort of riding-habit, but so formed, and so looped and gallooned with lace, as made it resemble the upper tunic of a hussar. Her robe was composed of crimson silk, rich with flowers of gold. She wore wide trousers of light blue silk, a fine scarlet shawl around her waist, in which was stuck a creeze with a richly ornamented handle. Her throat and arms were loaded with chains and bracelets respectively, and her turban-like ushanka was decorated by a magnificent aigrette, from which a blue flame-like plume flowed in one direction, and a red one in another. The brow, of European complexion, on which this tiara rested, was too lofty for beauty, but seemed made for command; the aquiline nose retained its form, but the cheeks were a little sunken, and the complexion so very brilliant, as to give strong evidence that the whole countenance had undergone a thorough repair since the lady had left her couch. (As you already know, dear readers, she was actually wearing a porcelain mask that replicated her face in youth, in order to conceal her scarred, disfigured features; the face of flesh and blood beyond the mask looking everything but regal). From the mode in which she was addressed by those who spoke to her, this lady appeared a person of too much importance to be affronted or neglected, and yet one with whom none desired further communication than the occasion seemed in propriety to demand.
She did not, however, stand in need of attention. The lieutenant who served as her aide-de-camp was sedulously polite to her; and two or three gentlemen, in equally embroidered uniforms, tended upon her as they would have done upon the safety of a rich argosy.
"Gods, is that... the Usurper?" said Yuuri to the gentleman whose whisper had first attracted his attention to this lofty dame.
In response, Viktor nodded with a sigh.
“Why, that Amazonian dress and manner,” said JJ with a sneer, “savour a little of the picaresca.”
“You must not,” said Yurio, “expect a woman who has commanded soldiers, and may again, to dress and look entirely like an ordinary person. But I assure you, that even at this time of day, if she wished to marry, she might easily find a respectable match.”


“Why, I heard that she had betrayed her husband’s fort..."
"Aye, that is a specimen of courtly gossip. The fact is, that she defended the place long after her husband fell, and afterwards surrendered it by capitulation."
"Another calumny, if you mean any scandal; and, besides, to enjoy the sort of rank which is yielded to a woman in her condition, she must refrain, in appearance at least, from all correspondence in the way of gallantry. Just so they said that the poor woman had a connection with the late Czar... and... later on... with the underage Crown Prince...”

“No — for to do so required brain and wit. But it was thine, flimsy villain, to execute the device which a bolder genius planned..."
"Peace!" he answered, reaching for her, “nor drive me to such madness as may lead me to forget thou art a woman.”
“A woman, dastard! Is this thy pretext for sparing me? — what, then, art thou, who tremblest at a woman’s looks, a woman’s words? — I am a woman, renegade, but one who wears a dagger, and despises alike thy strength and thy courage. I am a woman who has looked on more dying men than thou hast killed deer and moose. Thou must traffic for greatness? — thou hast thrust thyself like a five-years’ boy into the rough sports of grown men, and wilt only be borne down and crushed for thy pains. 
But me thou shalt not betray. I will not be made the tool of thy ambition — I will not give thee the aid of my treasures and my soldiers, to be sacrificed at last to this northern icicle. No, I will watch thee as I have always done, through my looking-glass or, like now, without it. Go where thou wilt, slave, thou shalt find me thy mistress.”

Of the fate of that adventuress nothing was known for certainty; but her forts and government were taken into the custody of the foreign-born young Czar Ivan Yakov, Jean-Jacques, and report said, that, her power being abolished and her consequence lost, she died by poison, either taken by herself, or administered by some other person.

But the truth about the Usurper's fate is far more gruesome and more sinister, for only the Usurper herself would know, and dead women tell no tales.


EPILOGUE

(In the European quarter of the capital of the Shogunate, Viktor and Yuuri spend the rest of their lives as simple innkeepers)

(JJ and Isa are now Czar and Czarina)




COMMENTARIES:
I have seen another story with this premise, but in that one, it was Yuuri who was "Snow White." I thought Viktor would be better cast in that role and Yuuri as Prince, eh, Innkeeper Charming. J.J. as the leader of the bogatyrs and Lilia as the stepmother, for instance, are recast from that fic, and so are all the other bogatyrs (Mila, Yurio, Otabek...).
As main inspirations, I took the Grimms' Snow White (various translations, checked out here: http://doras.dcu.ie/17982/1/Niamh_Chapelle.pdf) as well as Dumas's expanded retelling (which explains, among other things, the reason for her father's demise being due to war... as well as the medal attempt (the original text had a poisoned hairpin, but this is a queer version!) that occurs a fortnight before the apple attempt, and the smallpox scars: https://books.google.es/books?id=GmUCAAAAYAAJ&printsec=frontcover&dq=blanche+de+neige+alexandre+dumas&hl=es&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwikmZuf0NLYAhXJbRQKHQZoA0AQ6AEIMDAB#v=onepage&q=blanche%20de%20neige&f=false) and Neigefleur, Jean Lorrain's version (from which I took the petard-hoist pack of wolves finale). And of course the Slavic version, which trades the cottage for a holdfast and the dwarves for bogatyrs, with a watchdog (here, Makka-chin) as team pet (and which I consider one of the best Snow Whites EVER). As for Lilia being here a straight cougar scorned, Euripides's Medea and Hippolytus are not the only ones to thank... that motif already exists in the world's oldest fairytale, dating back to Pharaonic Egypt (the tale of Anubis and Bata).
The whole "Lieutenant? Better than that!" exchange is an anecdote told of royalty incognito across early modern Europe. It's told in Russia of Peter the Great and in Prussia of Frederick the Great, for instance.
Some details, like the inscription being in Latin letters on one side of the case and in Cyrillic on the other, or the Venetian mask (Phantom-of-the-Opera style) that a scarred Lilia wears into battle before her own magic turns against her, are of my own invention and for worldbuilding (also of notice in this case are the Katsukis' backstory and the epilogue, after the villainess is defeated).
The tavern (a ryokan in rural Russia!), in the green lindenwood with the rose hedge and the pond, is from this Snow Queen AU: http://archiveofourown.org/works/13079013/chapters/30448812 I made the "strange statues" jizos. All the Otayurio, Milasara, and Chris/JJ scenes are from that same AU. But the scene where Viktor is led to the tavern having strayed, with all that "thirst for love" commonplace, kneeling at the pond and being offered a teacup... and his repeated visits to the tavern, is from La Marquise de Salusses, this version in verse of the Griselda mythos: https://fr.wikisource.org/wiki/Œuvres_choisies_de_Charles_Perrault,_édition_1826/Contes_de_ma_mère_l’Oye/Griselidis
"So often went the pitcher to the fountain, that, sooner or later, it had to shatter." That comes from what Gustavus Adolphus said on his leave-taking speech. As for Plisetsky Castle, I took it from the same Snow Queen AU I have linked above. And I also listened to The Final Solution by Sabaton and thought of Hitler's Romany purges, for Otabek's backstory. 
As for the state of gays and Europeans in the Shogunate, that was exactly the way they were treated in Tokugawa-era Japan in real life.
Long story short, there is a lot of intertextuality here!



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