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Chapter Seven - Das Vadanya

Chapter Seven

серия фрагментов

The table remains silent for a long time, as Mishka stares down at his hands, and Ada stares at him. More than anything, she’s simply impressed. To think that this angry man has been hiding behind the anxious, mild-mannered tutor all along. He’s a better actor than she gave him credit for. Maybe Kapov is right. He might be able to help her, after all.

“How long did you stay there? With his body, I mean,” She finally cuts through the gloom.

“Until I was dragged off,” he admits. “And only after I got promised that he would be taken care of properly. I stumbled home somehow, and as I sat on cot, I remembered something. Vasily, you see, he said to me once: ‘If something ever is to happen to me, look in my box.’”

“And, you did?”

“It took up long time to find courage, but inside I find note, and money. Far too much money. He could have afforded much better place than that, if he wanted.”

Ada leaned forward. “Where’d he get it all?”

“Based on other contents of box, selling drugs, mostly.”

He seems embarrassed, but Ada doesn’t think he needs to be. She’s known people to do far worse for money.

“So, what did the letter say?”

“He wanted me to have it all. ‘Go to school,’ letter says, ‘Get yourself out of this place.’ So I did. I lied about my age and moved into dormitories at Imperial University two weeks later.”

“And that’s what you’ve been doing since.”

“Exactly. Now,” he straightens, shaking himself. His expression hardens. “I believe we had deal, da? Story for story?”

Ada sighs. Of course, she knew this was coming. And yet, something happens that prevents her from speaking. Her chest suddenly freezes like ice. Once the words come, it will all be fine, at least, that’s what she tells herself. But everything in the past, in Birmingham, seems so distant in this remote place that it’s almost unreal. Like all of that happened to some other girl. Speaking of it, she can’t help feeling, will make it real again.

She can’t. She can’t will herself to say the words. To bring him back to life in her mind, only to lose him again. To lose that life she once had, again. She doesn’t want Jack to disappear once more, leaving everything to fall apart in his wake.

~~ o ~~

Natalya has no accompaniment. The gramophone has been broken for over a month, and she doesn’t want to bother Maria. It isn’t worth it. She has no accompaniment, but she will dance anyway.

Her new practice shoes feel supple, and right on her feet, and she stretches experimentally. So far they feel good. She feels good. Once more, the hope rises that maybe this time, it will be different.

Deep breaths, count yourself in, she thinks, feel the rhythm. And she does. She feels that pulse that connects her to life, to the earth itself. The room is not right for it, no mirrors to observe her techniques in, no poles to balance on; the piano sits small and lonely in the corner. She’s never had those things anyway. Not in the manor, at least. Natalya will make do without, because that is what she has always done.

She begins simply, stretching her arms forward into first position. One, two, three, four. Then out into second. Third and fourth come easily, and she hums to herself to keep in time. Natalya does not know what song it is, but in her head a full orchestra is playing. Something quiet, something moody and low. She lets her mind carry her through the practical moves, movements that she has spent years to get right.

The first time Natalya saw ballet was when she was small, and the family was wintering in St. Petersburg. Just her and Ivan, her father and mother and baby Maria. One of her mother’s friends was the main patroness of the company, and so one dreary, wet day, the family had all dressed up and went to see a performance.

Though Ivan had fallen asleep halfway through, Natalya was enchanted. There was something so wonderful about the way the dancers moved, more like a river or wind than a person. There was something powerful and nearly... inhuman about it.

Being friends with the patroness, the Volkov family were introduced to several important members of the company afterwards, and up close, Natalya experienced love for the first time. The way the ballerinas held themselves was so graceful and still. And Natalya realized right then and there that more than anything in the world, she wanted to be one of them.

So she begged the dancing-master to teach her. Her father was against it from the start. It was not proper for a noblewoman to dance like that. But her mother simply chuckled, fiddling with her broad wedding ring as she tended to do, and reminded him that Natalya was not a noblewoman yet.

And so, every winter from then on, whenever they returned to the townhouse in St. Petersburg, Natalya would learn under Monsieur Braginsky, and would practice on her own at the manor over the summers.

Then, however, her mother died. And there were no more winters in St. Petersburg.

Natalya stumbles a little, and drags her mind back to the present. That time is not where she wants to be. She wills herself back to the music of her mind, back to the dance. Lets it carry her this way and that.

Don’t think, just feel. The weak sunlight hitting her face from the windows, the stale air set abuzz with her movements, kicking the dust from the floor. Yes, yes, forget everything, even if just for a little while. Natalya loses herself in the movement, in the strain of her muscles and resistance of her tendons. It feels wonderful to be in such a simple place, an easy place. A gentle place which only contains her and the music, and she controls both.

The orchestra begins to crescendo, and Natalya rises to meet it, leaping, twirling, raising herself up onto the tops of her toes...

And then she finds herself on the ground, a throbbing pain in her knee. It’s given out on her again, hasn’t it? Natalya clenches her fingers into a fist and punches the ground in frustration. Yet she only succeeds in making it hurt as well. Every time. Every time she dances, every time she feels that she can finally lose herself in it again, her body reminds her of that very sickening reality. She is not a ballerina. She is a noblewoman, unmarried though she may be. And ever since her knee was first broken, it has left her unable to forget it.

It was an accident. That’s what the doctors told her. That’s what her father told her. And at first glance, that’s exactly what it appeared to be.

After her mother passed, her father kept his children at the manor house year-round, he himself retreating into study in the cellar below the house. Natalya didn’t like to think about the things he did down there in the dark.

When her mother was alive, she’d had a stage built for Natalya to perform her little ballet routines in the manor, for when she couldn’t practice at a real studio. It wasn’t fancy by any means, really nothing more that a wooden platform a few inches off the ground. But it did have a working curtain. Natalya wasn’t allowed to touch it, however, because it was weighted with sandbags, which were very heavy. When she wanted to perform, her mother, or occasionally Ivan, would open them for her.

In the year after her passing, Natalya would spend a lot of time practicing in there. She would imagine her mother sitting in the audience and smiling, just as she always had, and it made her miss her just a little less.

Her father, on the other hand, had never liked her dancing. He couldn’t make her stop, not really, so he was always sending her off on errands or chores for him, and her trips down into that musty, damp cellar became far too frequent for her liking. The studio was her retreat, and in the small time she found to practice, she knew her time had come to an end when her father would appear in the corner of the room, sulking until he could get her attention. It was lucky he was there on the day of Natalya’s accident. At least, that’s what the few servants who still remained at the manor and doctor had said.

It is mostly a blur to her, even now, what happened that day. All she remembers was a snapping sound and darkness. When she came to a moment later, she was lying on the ground and her father was pulling a sandbag off her leg. The rope hadn’t been replaced since her mother stopped inspecting it, he claimed, as he saw it snap from across the room. He had been too far away, however, to stop it from falling.

Even then, Natalya wasn’t sure if she believed him.

The knee was seen to by a doctor and for the most part had healed alright. But Natalya has never been able to dance like she used to. Too much strain and her whole leg will turn red and swollen, or the cap may even wrench out of place, causing her a great deal of pain.

Perhaps it’s in vain for her to keep practicing like this. She’s already too old to become a Prima Ballerina like she once dreamed. How time slips away so fast, she doesn’t quite know. Maybe it’s just pure defiance against the cards life has dealt her that keeps her trying. Somewhere deep down, however, she knows that she couldn’t stop even if she wanted to. Regardless of the skill or the career it might have brought, in the end, it simply brings her joy. Sometimes she finds herself forgetting that.

After lying on the floor for a moment, assessing to make sure that her knee isn’t seriously hurt, Natalya stands. She puts a little pressure on her leg, then a little more. No pain, everything seems in order. Natalya stretches experimentally, then takes a deep breath in. A little more practice should be alright, just a little. No more Grand Adages for her, though.

Just when she’s about to go over the positions once again, she hears the door creak open behind her. Turning, she spots a familiar, round face hesitating there. Natalya smiles, and almost runs up to greet Ivan, but then Maria’s face joins his and she controls herself.

“Are we interrupting?” Ivan asks apologetically, sidling along the wall to stay out of her way.

“No,” Natalya shakes her head. “I’m nearly done for the day.”

Maria’s face falls. She’s already seated behind the piano. “And I was just about to ask if you wanted some accompaniment.”

“I said nearly, not entirely,” Natalya smiles wryly. “If the offer is still on the table.”

Her younger sister nods, and begins. Continuing with her practice, Natalya listens with half an ear. She is just a little jealous, she will admit. Maria has nothing standing in her way of improvement, she never has. Their father never opposed her playing in the least. He didn’t acknowledge her much at all, however, it must be said. But Natalya would have far preferred that than having his full attention as she had.

Every once in a while, her eyes drift over to Ivan, who is watching them from the far wall. She can see his eyes follow the curves of her body, but there’s a sort of peacefulness to his gaze. It’s almost like he’s finally home, but she knows that he won’t stay for long. Would that she could bring him back for good with just dancing alone.

She’ll have to settle for this, however, and she notices with a start how light the air has become. The three of them, Ivan, Natalya, Maria, they are all here. They are broken beyond repair, struggling every day, but they are here, in a sad sort of peace. Yet, peace does not mean happiness, and Natalya would do anything to make the two of them happy.

Just as she’s thinking this, however, she hears Maria play a sour note. Not a problem, of course, but then she plays another, and another. By the time Ivan and Natalya have made it across the room her head has slammed into the keys, unleashing a violent bang upon the empty room.

Maria clutches her head with both hands as Natalya gently helps her sit back up. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she mutters, even apologizing through the pain. “I interrupted your practice.”

“It’s alright,” Natalya coos, but she and Ivan exchange a glance as they see her eyes are nearly rolled into the back of her head.

“She mentioned she had a small headache, but I didn’t think...” Ivan trails off, at a loss for words.

“It’s alright,” Natalya repeats it like a mantra. She breathes deeply, straightening her shoulders. “I’m going to get changed. Bring her upstairs, would you?”

“To her room?”

“No,” Natalya shakes her head grimly. “To the north wing.”

~~ o ~~

Luckily, Ada hesitates long enough that she doesn’t have to kill Jack after all. One of the bells on the wall, right above the table, reading ‘N bedroom,’ starts to ring. Rather insistently. Ada can’t help but feel flushed with relief. Not yet. She doesn’t have to talk yet.

“Another time, I suppose,” she stands abruptly. As she glances back over she can see the near panic spreading across Mishka’s face. “Don’t worry. I will uphold my end of the bargain. I am a woman of my word. I’ll come find you soon. For now, though, the mistress calls.”

She herself doesn’t know if she’s telling the truth or not. She’s trying not to think of the past, let alone when to tell all. Ada will cross that bridge when she gets to it. For now, she exits the room with a brisk pace before Mishka has a chance to say anything more. Ada thinks, as she makes her way up to the second floor, that she has never been more grateful to hear that bell. The mistress may be cold, brusque, and somewhat intimidating, but it is impossible to deny that she has impeccable timing.

Arriving at Natalya’s bedroom in very good time, Ada takes a moment to compose herself, and then, once done, she knocks gently on the door.

“Enter,” says the familiar voice, and Ada does so. It appears the Mistress is behind her folding screen, her practice leotard flung over the top.

“Would you like me to find you an appropriate dinner dress, my lady?” Ada asks without preface.

But Natalya answers immediately. “Heavens, no. I’m already dressed,” she rushes out from behind the screen, seeming highly distracted. “I just have some instructions for you.”

Ada nods, plastering a neutral expression on her face.

“Ivan, Maria, and I will not be dining until later tonight, but please find Katya and see that she eats. And that she’s not, I don’t know, eating bugs somewhere.”

“Of course, my lady.”

Seeing that the message has been passed on, Natalya nods and rushes out of the room without another word. Normally, Ada would assume that Maria had just suffered another attack, but as she leaves, Natalya heads right. There’s only one destination that lies in that direction: the north wing.

The little brat can wait to eat. Something is happening, and Natalya may just lead her right to it. So Ada does the really only sensible thing she can think of. She waits a minute, and then follows swiftly behind her.

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