Authors: Robin Bridges
The Katerina Trilogy, Volume I: The Gathering Storm
This is a work of fiction. All incidents and dialogue, and all characters with the exception of some well-known historical and public figures, are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real. Where real-life historical or public figures appear, the situations, incidents, and dialogues concerning those persons are fictional and are not intended to depict actual events or to change the fictional nature of the work. In all other respects, any resemblance to persons living or dead is entirely coincidental.
Text copyright © 2012 by Robin Bridges
Jacket photograph copyright © 2012 by Michael Frost
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Delacorte Press, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc., New York.
Delacorte Press is a registered trademark and the colophon is a trademark of Random House, Inc.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
The unfailing light / Robin Bridges. — 1st ed.
p. cm. — (The Katerina trilogy; v. 2)
Summary: Katerina Alexandrovna, Duchess of Oldenburg, wants to forget that she ever used her special powers and pursue her dream of attending medical school but is under imperial orders to remain at finishing school where she can be kept safe from Russia’s archnemesis, until the protection spell unleashes a vengeful ghost within the school.
[1. Ghosts—Fiction. 2. Supernatural—Fiction. 3. Good and evil—Fiction.
4. Courts and courtiers—Fiction. 5. Schools—Fiction. 6. Russia—
History—1801–1917—Fiction.] I. Title.
Random House Children’s Books supports the First Amendment and celebrates the right to read.
For Tabitha, who dreams giant dreams and weaves stories of her own
Russians have two official first names: a given name and a patronymic, or a name that means “the son of” or “the daughter of.” Katerina Alexandrovna, for example, is the daughter of a man named Alexander. Her brother is Pyotr Alexandrovich. A female patronymic ends in “–evna” or “–ovna,” while a male patronymic ends in “–vich.”
It was traditional for the nobility and aristocracy to name their children after Orthodox saints, thus the abundance of Alexanders and Marias and Katerinas. For this reason, nicknames, or diminutives, came in handy to tell the Marias and the Katerinas apart. Katerinas could be called Katiya, Koshka, or Katushka. An Alexander might be known as Sasha or Sandro. A Pyotr might be called Petya or Petrusha. When addressing a person by his or her nickname, one does not add the patronym. The person would be addressed as Katerina Alexandrovna or simply Katiya.
The Smolny Institute for Young Noble Maidens
November 1825, St. Petersburg, Russia
wo little girls in identical brown dresses skipped down the long corridor on their way to dinner. It was Thursday, and they knew the cook was making cabbage soup that evening. And cabbage soup meant warm black bread to go with it
They stopped when they saw the tall, thin woman standing in the shadows at the end of the hall. It was not the headmistress, nor was it one of their instructors. Sophia and Natalia had never seen this woman before
The woman had dark hair pulled tightly against her head, with loops of raven-black braids twisting prettily from the back. Sophia’s eyes grew wide at the woman’s elegant red gown, which was trimmed with several rows of lace and embroidered pearls at the sleeves and neckline. She was certain this woman must be the empress. Sophia skidded to a stop and curtsied. She nudged Natalia to do the same
This did not seem to please the beautiful woman. With a slight frown, she told Natalia to “run along.” Suddenly dull-eyed, Natalia abandoned her friend without a single glance back. The cabbage soup would be getting cold, she was thinking, and it tasted best when it was piping hot
The strange woman stared down at the little girl left alone with her in the hallway. “Walk with me, Sophia Konstantinova.”
“Yes, Your Imperial Majesty.”
“Foolish girl. I am not your tsarina. I am here on behalf of your father.”
Eight-year-old Sophia had never known her father. Orphaned as an infant, she’d been brought to Smolny and raised by the nuns until she was old enough to attend classes. She knew her mother had been a lady-in-waiting to the dowager empress Marie Feodorovna, the wife of the old tsar Pavel, but Sophia did not even know her mother’s name. She had, however, overheard the vicious whispers of the nuns regarding her paternity. She knew she was a Romanov bastard, even if she wasn’t quite sure what that meant
The dark-haired woman suddenly clutched Sophia’s arm and pulled her into the empty library. “Your father has wanted a child for so long. And I have been unable to give him one. Until now.” She smiled a sharp, wicked smile. Sophia gasped as she saw the tiny fangs
“Why does he want me now?” the little girl asked, turning pale
“He has watched over you from afar since the day you were born, my dear. But his mother and brother would not allow you to come and live with us.”
“And now his brother, the tsar, is dead, and your papa is going to be tsar.” There was a gleam in the woman’s eyes that frightened the poor girl
“Who is my father?” she asked. “And who are you?”
“You are going to come and live with us, little Sophia. And we will live happily together forever.”
Sophia shrieked, “But you are a monster!”
“Yes, my love,” the woman crooned. “And soon you will be one too.”
But the poor child panicked and tried to get away from the woman who wanted to make her immortal. She pulled away from her with such force that the woman let go of her arm in surprise. Sophia stumbled backward, not expecting to be freed so easily. She could not catch her balance, but instead hit the back of her head on the doorframe. There was a dreadful thud, and then Sophia Konstantinova slid to the floor, lifeless
The woman sighed as she picked up her skirts and stepped around the growing puddle of blood. Her nostrils flared slightly, as if she were trying to hold in something terrible. She reached down and picked up the dead girl’s hand. It had already turned cold