Chapter 27 of The Holy Lance, a fantasy thriller

Chapter 27, from which the details of the conspiracy emerge. Comments are welcome.

Chapter 27

The Stolypin family dacha was conceived as a getaway, a retreat from life in St. Petersburg, a place to leave urban worries and political intrigue behind. Indeed, its original design purposely omitted those traits that would be associated with the commercially and politically powerful. The sprawling compound included pantries and servants’ quarters, but omitted offices and conference rooms. Stables, later garages, and manicured gardens enhanced a manor aesthetic unspoiled by guardhouses or perimeter walls. Playrooms and fishponds were favored over map rooms and bunkers.

However, a later generation of Stolypins found it psychologically impossible to disconnect so thoroughly from the world. Alterations and additions were gradually made until the idea of a working holiday became the norm at the dacha. After the October Revolution, the utilitarian instinct of the Bolsheviks led to the further erosion of the property’s original purpose. By the time the property reverted to the Stolypin’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union it had been so thoroughly transformed that it could have easily been mistaken for the center of a fair-sized regional government.

Fyodor Stolypin spent a considerable sum rehabilitating the property during the last decade of the 20th century. His goal, to emphasize luxury over utility, to primarily project the former without entirely losing the latter, was realized, and those who are now privileged to visit the estate find themselves thoroughly cocooned in comfort with all the tools to instantly plug into their business and political worlds well at hand.

One of those tools is a large, modern conference room with a 15-foot high ceiling, and occupied primarily by an enormous, oval, solid cherry table. The two long walls of the room are wood-paneled. One wall at the head of the table is covered by a projection screen. The opposite wall consists of floor-to-ceiling windows looking out onto the compound’s private expanse of delicate birch trees. A massive portrait of Peter the Great hangs in the center of one paneled wall. A set of floor to ceiling doors is across from the portrait so that it Peter the Great is the first image encountered when entering the room. Twelve chairs surround the oval table. In front of each is a shot glass filled with vodka, and a black leather folder with the Imperial Russian symbol of the double eagle embossed in gold on it.

The doors open to admit three generals and two admirals, all in their finest dress uniforms, and four civilians, Fyodor Stolypin, Sasha Krupsky, DmitriBogdanov, and Anatoly Raznochenko, all dressed in gray slacks and black turtlenecks. Stolypin goes to the chair at the head of the table, closest to the projection screen. Raznochenko and Bogdanov stand on either side of Stolypin with Krupsky to Raznochenko’s right. The uniformed men stand behind the remaining chairs around the table, leaving the chair at the foot of the table empty. Once all are in place, Stolypin addresses them.

“Gentlemen, Sons of Peter, please be seated.”

They sit in unison. Stolypin continues to stand.

“Before the briefing from our military staff, Anatoly Raznochenko, our construction and excavation site superintendant, will provide you with an update on our progress in Echmiadzin.”

Raznochenko stands. He picks up a remote control sitting on the table in front of him, points it at the ceiling, and presses a button on it. A projection camera emerges from the ceiling, the lights in the room dim, and a curtain closes on the front wall of floor-to-ceiling windows. The light from the projector comes on to project a satellite map image of the Armenian city of Echmiadzin and its environs on the screen behind him. The image zooms in on the construction site west of the city. Raznochenko clears his throat before beginning.

“Gentlemen, let me begin by saying that the construction site at Echmiadzin has provided excellent cover for our archeological dig.”

As Raznochenko speaks, a montage of images appears on the screen detailing the work at the construction site from the initial groundbreaking through late last week.

“We have completed the sonar analysis of the region and are focusing now on a cluster of metallic objects buried at the base of a small hill at the north end of the site.”

The montage gives way to a virtual cross-section of the rise that is ostensibly the project’s greenspace when completed. The cross-section shows the location of several objects within the hill. The objects begin disappearing as Raznochenko continues his presentation.

“We have eliminated more than fifty percent of these objects through additional analysis. We will now go about the task of recovering and analyzing each of the remaining items. The recovery process, at the very longest, will take no more than a week. If we find the lance, and we are confident that we will, carbon dating and spectroscopic analysis can be completed within 24 hours of transport.”

An image of the holy lance, its tip broken away, replaces the cross-section on the screen.

Stolypin stands.

“Thank you, Anatoly.”

He applauds as do the others. Raznochenko bows slightly to acknowledge the applause, and hands Stolypin the remote before sitting.

Stolypin remains standing to continue.

“Gentlemen, as you know, the Sons of Peter have had the tip of the Holy Lance in their possession since it was liberated from Baghdad in 1924. It appears that we are now days away from having control of the enormous power that will issue forth from the rejoined Holy Lance and its severed tip.”

Stolypin pushes another button on the remote. The curtain opens, and the projector goes off and returns to its spot in the ceiling.

“That power will be used to rebuild the Russian Empire. And, to that end, gentlemen, it is with unsurpassed pleasure that I present to you the only living direct descendant of Peter the Great, the true heir to the Romanov throne, soon to be crowned Alexander the Fourth, Tsar of all the Russias!”

Stolypin gestures towards the conference room doors. They are opened by two Russian soldiers in dress uniform. At the open doors stands Alexei Kotuzov. He is clean shaven except for an immaculate goatee reminiscent of Nicholas II. His black hair is shorter, neatly cut, and swept back. He is not wearing glasses. His dress is that of a wealthy businessman: a fine blue blazer, gray slacks, highly polished black dress shoes, a starched white shirt, and a tie whose diagonal stripes are the colors of Imperial Russia, white on top, then blue, then red. The men at the table stand immediately and begin to clap. Kotuzov makes his rounds, shaking hands with each of the men at the table. Each man bows slightly with his head as he shakes Kotuzov’s hand while the others continue to clap. Kotuzov finishes at the foot of the table standing across from Stolypin. He motions for the men to stop clapping and to sit down. All except Stolypin and Kotuzov sit down. Kotuzov confidently addresses the room.

“Gentlemen, I cannot thank you enough for the great honor that your efforts and fate have bestowed upon me. I know you have much to do, and I will not take up much of your time.”

He picks up the shot glass of vodka in front of him.

“Before I depart, I ask that you take the glass in front of you.”

Kotuzov raises his glass as do all the others in the room, with the exception of Stolypin.

“First, let us drink to your future Prime Minister, Fyodor Stolypin.”

Kotuzov raises his glass to Stolypin, and drinks. The others follow suit while some shout “Na zdorove,” as Stolypin nods in appreciation. 

“And now, to the once and future glory of the Empire of Holy Russia!”

Kotuzov raises his glass again as do all the others, including Stolypin, and to collective toasts of “To Mother Russia” they finish the shots of vodka, slam the glasses on the table and immediately break into applause. The national anthem of Imperial Russia emits from speakers concealed in the four corners of the room eliciting exclamations of “God save the Tsar!” from those gathered. The men are nearly overcome with emotion as the music blares, and Kotuzov once again makes his way around the room.

The music stops just as Kotuzov takes a final bow, turns, and leaves the way he came, the doors closing behind him as he does. Stolypin gives the men in the room a moment to collect their emotions before continuing. He signals for them to retake their seats.

“Gentlemen, as you know, with the recent location of the sole Romanov heir, securing the Holy Lance itself is now the key to launching our glorious mission, and as you have seen it is most assuredly nearly within our grasp.”

Stolypin presses the remote once again closing the curtains and turning on the projector.

“And now, General Limionev, I turn the proceedings over to you for a briefing on the status of our military forces.”