Sitting on a settee, Gregori Orlov nuzzled at Catherine’s neck. The endearments he whispered in her ear went ignored, for she was enraptured with the book in her hands. Out of frustration, he slipped the tome from her grasp.
“Are words more entertaining than me?” he asked.
Catherine tried to retrieve her book, but Gregori pulled his hand back.
“Only when one is coming to the pinnacle of a book. Perhaps if you tried to pick up a book you would understand.”
A smile curved Gregori’s lips. “I prefer what reality has to offer.”
Gregori leaned forward to kiss his lover, but a servant came bustling through a door. He released a string of profanity at the unwanted intrusion. This welcome caught the servant off guard.
“I-I apologize for barging in on you, Empress. However, a letter from Alexis Orlov just arrived from Ropsha and the rider delivering it said it was urgent.”
Catherine motioned for the servant to hand her the letter. “Thank you. You may leave.”
The servant strode out of the room, glowering at Gregori. Catherine broke open the seal and scanned the letter. Her eyes widened as she read the words written by a shaky hand. Alexis most likely wrote this directly after murdering of her husband.
Seeing her distress, Gregori asked, “What does my brother say?”
“Peter is dead,” she said, still in a state of shock.
“Alexis murdered him.”
Gregori nearly jumped out of his seat. “What? Why? How?”
Speaking in a strangely calm tone, she said, “It does not say, but he confesses his guilt. He is ready to die for his actions.”
“Will he die? After all he has done for you? After serving you with such loyalty and zeal?”
Catherine stared out a window, refusing to look at Gregori. She already knew how to act so that a scandal not spread throughout Russia and the whole of Europe. “As far as I am concerned, your brother never touched my husband. We shall find doctors. It shall be said he died of natural causes.”
“Will that be convincing?”
“Peter’s health has always been questionable and shaky. It shall be convincing enough. If anyone goes against what the doctors shall say, I shall deny the objections of any skeptics or cynics.”
Gregori heaved a sigh of relief. “It is about time the Grim Reaper visited that bastard.”
“Yes, for his death has given me my freedom. I am…free.” A faint smile adorned her face as she realized this death was not a tragedy but the start of a bright future.
Much of Europe did not believe that Peter had died from natural circumstances. Cynics and skeptics claimed that Peter was murdered by his wife. Catherine died these allegations, but it did not calm the storm. European newspapers wrote that this new empress would be returning Russia to the days of Ivan the Terrible.
Despite her scandalous beginning, Catherine’s reign was a glorious time in Russian history. Under her reign, Russia’s borders extended into Poland, Lithuania, the Crimea, and Belarus. She continued the process of westernization that had begun with Peter the Great. An attempt was made to change the Russian government using her document Nakaz, which can be translated into Instruction, as a guideline. Many new cities and towns were built. During her rule, culture, art, and education flourished. She even had one of the first schools for girls built in St. Petersburg.
Catherine was a woman, a mother, a leader, and an empress. One could become tired listing all her achievements. It should come as no surprise that her reign is often called the Golden Age of the Russian empire.
I hope you enjoyed this short story, which is without a doubt my longest yet! Since I consider this to be a success, I will set up yet another poll in which readers can vote on the historical setting for my next short story. Make sure you vote and choose wisely!