“Names have great power, Sunny dear,” Grandmother’s voice echoes in my head. Grandmother, who had been christened Alexandrina at birth, but had donned the name Victoria on her coronation.
It is only fitting, I think, that I take my first steps into my new life taking a name reminiscent of Grandmama and Nicky’s adored ancestor, too. Alexandra. I still struggle to think of myself with such a weighty, regal name, a name suited to authority, a Tsaritsa’s name, so used I am to being Alix.
The silk of my gown clings to my skin, softly rustling with every movement. It is a heavy gown, the train difficult to bear. The Court Dress here, especially a wedding gown, is much more detailed and intricate than it is back home at Hesse.
Truth be told, I hardly feel like I am standing at a wedding, my own wedding. It feels naught more than a continuation of Father’s funeral rituals. Nicky would hate it if he knew I think this. He wanted this wedding so much, so ardently.
Truthfully, I can understand why Nicky felt so. He is hardly ready to be Tsar, he feels. Perhaps that is true, I do not know. From our long conversations into the night, I understand that he wants someone with him. Someone who will support him, be his mate in truth. It is my great honor that he has chosen me to be that person, I shall definitely do my best to be worthy of his trust, his heart.
“Daughter,” The Empress Maria. I sink into a curtsy. “Mother,” She helps me raise. “Mama, Alicky,” she says gently. I smile at her. “Mama,” She nods at a page. “Keep it here.” The page duly deposits a large box on which Russian words are written. Of course, I do not understand one word of it. I need to learn the language, the people of this country are going to my people.
One of my ladies enter. She has a veil in her hands, one that brings tears to my eyes. Mama’s veil. I have seen it so many times in photographs, yearned to touch it for years after Mama’s death, today, it will finally be mine. Nicky’s mama, my mama, smiles at me again. She opens the box carefully. Inside sits a crown of splendor, accompanied by a glittering necklace and similar earrings. “Tsaritsa Catherine’s, Alexandra,” she says quietly. Just like that, the two of us were distant again, no longer Alicky and mama, but Alexandra and the Dowager Tsaritsa. I am not used to changing like this in an instant, but it is part of life, whether I like it or not, and I shall try. I do not have a choice. I sit down as she gently balances the nuptial crown on my head. The necklace hangs heavily on my throat, its weight almost reassuring, but also a reminder, much like the sash tied across my dress, heavy with meaning. “Come,” says she. I take her hand as we walk out.
Nicky is standing outside. He looks resplendent, the light of the chandeliers hitting his medals at exactly the right places. My eyes are drawn to the sash of the Order of Hesse Und Bei Rhein that cuts across his uniform, same as his take in the sash of the Order of St. Andrei across mine. We bear each other’s symbols, it is clear to see.
We barely have the time to exchange smiles (even his smile is brilliant, glowing), when his mother leads me to the front of the procession. Nicky obediently falls in line behind her. I hold back a frown. Nicky is the Tsar now, he should be given importance! I and Nicky have discussed this at length. Until Nicky is crowned, he does not have precedence. I think it is most unfair. He is expected to do all the duties, should he not get the precedence too? I know that Nicky would not want anything to ruin this special day, so I remain quiet.
I cast around for a distraction. The ostentatious decoration of the way to the chapel is good enough, the rococo designs, as clear as though it is life itself and not a painting.
There is a murmur of conversation. I can feel eyes on me, the familiar painful shyness instinctively curling me into myself. I fight it, straightening my shoulders, smiling slightly. Alexandra, not Alix. I keep my eyes trained ahead, at my destination. The altar. Where the intangible yet so real bond that I and Nicky share will have a new meaning, finally tying spiritual to the earthly.
After I catch sight of the altar, I cannot remember much else of details. Individual moments stand out of the ordered ceremony, moments forever dear to my heart. Nicky standing at the altar, light flooding through the windows, limning him in a halo. The heady mixture of uncertainty, the tug of fear and yet hope.
The priest handing us the rings. The feeling of my heart filling more than it ever has before. Nicky’s beatific smile as he slid the ring on my finger. Our voices melding, almost, into the vows. At the end, there is but a single thought. I am his, he is mine. I am his, he is mine. Forever.
“Sunny? Sunny? Alicky?” I blink, so lost am I in memories. That day, I wed the man who belonged first and foremost to his country. My husband, standing in front of me, his face creased in a worried frown. My dear, darling Nicky.
“You’re back? I wasn’t expecting you so soon,” The council work usually takes longer than this. Nicky laughs. “No one wants a tired Tsar dropping off at his coronation, do they? So they let me off early.” I laugh back. “I see.” “What happened? Are you missing Olga? You looked lost.” “I can’t stop missing her, Nicky, but no, that’s not what I was thinking of.” “Then what is it, Alicky?” “I…” “Alicky?” “I was thinking of our wedding.” “Oh! Yes, a wonderful day. By far more wonderful than the day to come.” “Nicky…I know the coronation reminds you of papa. I know you feel that you are taking his place too soon. But, dearest, God above has a place for everyone. This is yours. As the Father of all Russia.” Nicky bows his head silently. I continue on, “Did you see the splendor all around? When we entered Moscow?” Nicky smiles at me. “I did,” he says.
So did I. More than anything else, I remember Nicky on his horse, his right hand raised in salute, straight-backed and proud, set apart from the lavishly dressed army officers in his simple but neat tunic. I remember the cheers, the people spilling across the barriers, reaching out to touch Nicky. His name and mine, chanted over and over again. And hers. It is an insidious thought, something that has been haunting my mind. I shake my head. She is Nicky’s mama. My mama. She deserves her place. But that voice is not quieting down, it isn’t. I am his wife. I am his Tsaritsa. Should I not be at his side? How long will she keep him under her thumb? Rationally, I know that I will be at his side, it will be I who will become the Matushka, the Mother of the people, tomorrow, not the Dowager Empress. But these deep seated fears…I shake my head. God has a place for everyone. Tomorrow, I take my place.
“Sunny?” “Oh, Nicky. Tomorrow…it will change us, won’t it?” Nicky looks solemn. “It will,” he says slowly “and it won’t. Tomorrow, you and I will be anointed, yet, in private, we’ll still be Nicky and Sunny. Besides,” he gives me a boyish, disarming shrug, “you’ll be at my side. I can weather all the changes to come,” I take his hand. “We will weather them together, dearest,” I say.
For all my brave words, when the day dawns and the furor begins, it is Nicky at my side bolstering my strength. As his valets help him into his regimental uniform, he keeps up a steady stream of reassurance. I smile weakly at him. Part of my fear and anxiety stems from the feeling of being so tangibly close to divine. Will I be enough for that role? I am no Goddess, I cannot fail this, it means so much to me, this country… “Sunny.” I look at Nicky, the coronation mantle wrapped around him. He smiles at me. “This is the place God has ordained for you,” he says quietly. “Remember that.” I smile at him. “Using my own words on me, Nicky?” He shrugs, holding up his hands. “Guilty.” We laugh together. My own mantle is at my side, my maids helping me into it. There are so many buttons on it! My hands clasp and unclasp them, over and over. When the time comes, nothing should go amiss. Not even buttons. There is controlled chaos in our apartments. Servants are bustling here and there, my hairdresser styling my hair so that the crown can be safely positioned. Nicky stands above me, the heavy crown in his hands. The crown that will give me authority and yet take away Alix forever, relinquishing itself in the Tsaritsa, not the girl who yearned to love, to laugh, to live. I take a deep breath. I do not need to lose that part of myself, I can still retain it being the Tsaritsa. The crown lands on my head, finishing that internal debate. The connection I feel is powerful. It feels like a marriage of its own, a marriage ethereal yet so easily felt. It feels like the hand of Fate itself.
The hairpin goes in too deep, scouring my scalp. “Ah!” Nicky immediately removes the crown from where it was, his hand reaching to my head. “Sunny! What is it?” “Nothing, Nicky. Just a hairpin gone in too deep.” I smile at him. He looks relieved. Relief is the last thing I feel. Stop seeing omens and portents everywhere. Sometimes, a hairpin is just a hairpin. The doubts submerge, but stay where they are.
I watch the procession start, standing in my place, holding Nicky’s hand tight. Nicky is tense, I can see it in the way he holds himself, but his face shows none of it. The priests lead, with the Dowager Tsaritsa following. The city is sparkling, the skies clear. The bugle blows the traditional three times.
Nicky and I slowly walk down the stairway, hindered by my heavy train. At the end of the stairway, we bow our heads. It is a solemn moment, a prelude for what is to come. The priests anoint us with holy water, marking us apart forevermore.
As we enter, walking towards the altar, soaring music plays. It almost feels like I am floating far above the cathedral, touching Heaven itself, and yet I have never felt so grounded and immersed in my entire life. The walls of the church is lavishly decorated with art I don’t pay attention to, my eyes are riveted on the screen of icons, of God and the saints.
The altar is crowded with the high and mighty of the clergy, the light striking the jewels on their regalia lending this moment even more of an unearthly air.
In front of us are the coronation thrones. Nicky sits on the throne of Mikhail Feodorovich, the Dowager Empress on the throne of Alexei Mikhailovich and I on Ivan’s throne.
The services begin. I have never felt so positively energetic in my entire life before. The hymns and the liturgies float in the air, elevating us above common man, above our own selves, tying us to a calling that is sacred, a command from God. Time seems pointless, our earthly bodies mere shells when compared to the sacrament we are receiving, so wholeheartedly from the people of this country.
The ceremony swirls around us, the notes of the Mass lilting and beautiful.
We stand as one when the Mass ends, the robing taking place, for Nicky first and then for me. The robe moulds itself to my body, my soul.
I sink to my knees, praying with the Metropolitan for God to preserve the Tsar, to prove myself worthy of the great responsibility vested in me, to give me the power to serve Russia and her people. In a way, this ceremony cements my marriage with Nicky, ties me as irrevocably to his country as he is tied by virtue of birth. It marries me to Russia, to the man who bears Russia on his shoulders.
I know now that Alix is needed no more, that Alexandra is who I shall be. Not for me anymore the ease of life I had at Hesse, the lack of responsibility; the woman who shall rise will a Tsaritsa in truth, wed to the country and the Tsar.
I stand, armed with my conviction. For once in my life, my heart is certain.
Nicky kneels then, the entire congregation standing, to pray for our country and her people. I cannot see his face, but I know Nicky. He is wholehearted in whatever his endeavors are, he will serve the nation well, lead its people to heights untouched before.
He stands as the Metropolitan anoints him with holy oil. His voice echoes in the vaults of the cathedral, clear with conviction, as he takes his oath. As he ascends the stairs to the altar, the chain of the Order of St. Andrew slips from his shoulders to the floor. Time stops then. Is it an ill omen? Nicky’s steps are unfaltering as he smoothly picks the chain and sets it back on his shoulders. I smile. No. It is no ill omen. It is an omen of hope. A sign that says Nicky shall hold strong, come what may.
He takes the Imperial crown from the Metropolitan’s giving hands with practiced ease, setting it firmly on his own head. After a charged moment, he removes it from his head and places it on mine. I force myself not to bow my head at the weight of the crown, instead draw strength from it. My strength is Nicky’s, his is mine. We belong to each other, the coronation a more sacrosanct validation to our wedding. At the wedding, Nicky and Alicky swore to uphold each other. Today, we, the Tsar and the Tsaritsa, Nikolai Alexandrovich Romanov and Alexandra Feodronova Romanov, give ourselves to our nation together, shoulder the burden of the people together, to have and hold not only each other, but this sacred tie as well.
Nicky lifts the crown off my head and places it back on his. What is his is mine. What is mine is his. A lighter, softer crown rests on my head, symbol of my lighter and softer duties in an official manner. But I remember the weight of the Imperial Crown, the weight that Nicky bears, the weight that makes him the Tsar. You will not bear it alone, Nicky. I shall always be with you. He bends slightly, flashing me a smile that’s mine alone, as he seals the ceremony with a kiss. The spirit of the nation, now embodied by Nikolai, by my Nicky, enters my soul as well, making me Matushka, the mother of the Russian people in truth, the consort to my husband for all my years to come.