After Catherine was dressed in a black mourning dress, she and Alexis clamored into his hired hack. A little ways down the road their hack halted beside a waiting carriage. A gentleman poked his head from the window, revealing Catherine’s lover, Gregori Orlov.
“As usual, you look lovely,” called Gregori.
Catherine gave him a small smile. Even amidst the most dangerous hour of their lives, her lover was able to fit in a bit of flattery. “Bite your tongue. You may say such things when I am made Russia’s sole ruler,” she ordered.
Alexis rolled his eyes, departing from their hired hack. He held a hand out for Catherine. Her fingers wrapped around Alexis’ hand. He felt her trembling slightly.
“Everything will work in your favor. You were destined to rule,” he whispered.
“Have you also decided to whisper endearments to her, brother?” jeered Gregori.
Alexis assisted Catherine into a seat beside Gregori before saying, “I do not see how you can act so lighthearted during a coup.”
Without waiting for a reply, Alexis shooed the hack off and clambered into the carriage. The vehicle was off for the headquarters of the Ismailovsky regiment. Before eight o’clock in the morning, the trio arrived at their destination.
As Catherine descended from the carriage, a large cluster of soldiers greeted her. The men knew her as the Grand Duchess and Empress, but these ordinary men had never seen her in the garb of a traveler. With her black dress covered with dust and strands of hair escaping her simple up-do, Catherine looked to be a delicate, fragile woman.
With dozens upon dozens of expectant faces staring at her, Catherine lifted a stubborn chin. She could not turn back, nor could she take the Roman’s way out of such a feat. Peter started this personal war, and she would end it. “I have come to you for protection. The Emperor has given orders to arrest me. I fear he intends to kill me.”
She said nothing more. The soldiers felt bound to her, as if their honor depended on serving this woman. The men encircled her to kiss her hands and the hem of her dress. Several went so far as to call her their savior.
The regimental chaplain came to her side with a cross, stating an oath of allegiance. The regimental commander knelt at her feet. These men were hers.